Page 5 of 7
Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2003 10:50 pm
Thank you so much for the awesome feedback, gang! I am always so humbled and inspired by your kind words and your enthusiasm. It's just amazing.
I have to apologize for not making specific comments about some of the responses this week; I'm still struggling with computer problems. Hubby is working tirelessly to figure out what's wrong, but his efforts limit my time at the computer, and his lack of success so far limits what I can do when I'm here. I fear there may be the odd flaw here and there in this chapter. Its writing was rather disjointed, and my moments of inspiration didn't always coincide with my opportunities on the computer. I hope it's not too disappointing.
Jim glanced over at Amy and smiled. Her head was resting between the car window and the seat back; her mouth was open, and she was making soft little snuffle noises. Sound asleep. He felt damn lucky to be where he was right now. True, he wasn't Sheriff again yet, though he had a feeling that would come sooner rather than later--Hanson had flubbed an investigation right under the nose of a state official, and the honeymoon with the top brass was grinding to a halt. But he was a deputy with the solid support of the other guys on the force as well as a couple of well-placed FBI agents. He was keeping company with a pretty, sexy, feisty woman who had brought a welcome spark to his life and his bed. And he was finally relaxing a little about the fate of his son and the other kids he'd grown so close to.
The news about Kyle's son had thrown him for a loop, to be sure. And knowing what he now knew about Tess made the whole thing even more unpalatable. Tess had taken full advantage of his fatherly instincts and, apparently, his son’s baser ones. And Kyle wasn’t getting any points for restraint or self-discipline, either. He had trusted those two, never seeing what was going on just beneath the surface. And it absolutely blew his mind that he’d held his own grandson in his arms and not known it. Wasn’t there some part of Kyle in that bright face? Those tiny hands? That adorable smile? But he hadn’t looked for it. Why would he? He ached to hold Alex again. This time, he would look. This time, he would see it.
Interestingly, Isabel's message had hinted at a romance between Kyle and the young woman who was Alex's primary caregiver. Without knowing anything about her, it was hard to generate too much enthusiasm, but she seemed to have won the acceptance of the others, and he respected that. He just hoped she was worthy of Kyle’s love—or maybe more to the point, trust. He had a feeling that for Kyle, those were quickly becoming one in the same. After all Kyle had been through, it would take a huge leap of faith to trust his heart to someone again. Kyle had born up well in spite of the burden of growing up without a mother and with an often-distracted father. But Jim knew he’d been hurt deeply by both parents. Then Liz had hurt him, though theirs had been a high school romance with no expectation of a future. And now, without his ever realizing it, he had discovered that Tess had wrought more than a little damage to Kyle’s heart, as well. It was amazing the boy still had one to give.
Funny that the little boy's name was Alex. Poignant, in its way. If this little boy was half as smart, half as loyal, half as kind as his namesake, he'd be a fine man someday. Thinking of Alex always made him introspective, wondering if there had been some way to prevent the tragedy of Alex’s death. He'd been over it a thousand times, and had always come to the same conclusion—there was no way anyone could have anticipated such a move. Tess had used her mindwarping ability in front of them on numerous occasions, but never did she exhibit or explain the extremes of its power. None of them could have seen that coming. None of them had.
Amy stirred, peering through slits just long enough to rearrange herself against Jim's shoulder. He put an arm around her and sighed. He knew how important it was for her to see Maria. For all her blustering and spouting, she adored Maria and was willing to do anything and everything to ensure her safety and happiness. He was glad she had finally accepted Michael as fitting that bill. Yeah, the kid was rough around the edges, impetuous, even rebellious, but he loved Maria, and had proved it in so many ways, however unconventional. The news of their engagement was not shocking for the love that inspired it so much as for the attitude it represented. It was traditional. It was public. It was a minor miracle.
“How much further?” a sleepy voice murmured against his neck, and he couldn’t help but shiver a little at the mini-vibrations that flitted through his bloodstream. God, it was good to feel this way again. It seemed a lifetime ago since a woman had gotten to him like this.
“Only about 20 minutes,” he answered, patting her knee. “Better wake up.”
Amy nibbled his neck until he pulled away laughing. “Hey, I’m tryin’ to drive here.”
She sat up, smirking. “Just making sure I’ve still got it.”
He gave her a sidelong look and smirked back. “Oh yeah, baby. You still got it.”
She smiled happily and started through her giant handbag, pulling out a brush, a pouch full of make-up, and bag of little brown bottles. As she began touching up her blush and mascara, she began to anticipate their visit.
“So, Grandpa, you get the first grandbaby. Who’da thought? I always thought it would be Max and Liz, you know?”
“Yeah,” Jim sighed. “I actually hoped it wouldn’t be anybody for a while. They have enough to deal with. But I thought it would be Max and Liz, too. On the other hand, those two are planners. And I think they both want to go to college. They’ve probably just thought it through and decided to wait.” He paused a moment, then added, “I wish Kyle had.”
Amy stopped what she was doing and put a soothing hand on his thigh. “I know, Jim, but be fair. Isabel said Tess told him she couldn’t get pregnant from a human.”
He snorted and looked askance at her. “What every teenage boy wants to hear. She was half human, Amy. You don’t think it might have occurred to him that it could happen?”
Shrugging, he put his hand over hers. “Water under the bridge, I guess. I’ll be there for him, in any case. I know what it is to be a single father, and he doesn’t need my lectures on top of everything else.”
When she didn’t say anything, he looked over at her to find a look of . . . admiration? . . . on her face.
“If my husband had been as good a man as you, Jim, I’d still be married.”
A hot flush warmed his face, but he couldn’t suppress the smile. “Maybe you will be again.”
Satisfied with the shocked silence that filled the car, he squeezed her hand and pressed down harder on the gas.
“They’re here!” Maria squealed, pausing in the rut she’d worn in front of the window. “Michael, fix some drinks. Kyle, does Alex have a clean diaper on? Oh, sorry, Serena. I didn’t mean to imply . . . Anyway, Liz, get the cheese tray from the refrigerator, will you? And Max? I hope you finished making the bed. They’ll want a tour.”
She reached for a little bottle on the end table, unscrewed the top, and held it to her nose, breathing deeply. Catching Serena’s disapproving frown, she explained, “Cypress oil. It reduces stress.”
Michael encased the bottle and her hand within his own. Using his other arm to pull her close, he said softly and slowly, “Maria, why don’t you go out on the stairwell and wave to them so they’ll know which apartment we’re in.”
Maria stilled, letting the suggestion sink in. “Right. Right. Okay.” With a peck to Michael’s cheek, she turned, fumbled with the doorknob, and flew out onto the stairs.
“Hi! Up here!”
Michael turned to the group, rolled his eyes, and put the cap back on Maria’s little bottle of cypress oil. No one had moved to do Maria’s bidding, logic dictating that they’d want some hugging and visiting time before any food or drink got in their way. Max handed Alex over to Kyle.
“You’ll want to make the introductions,” he said quietly. Kyle nodded as the two men exchanged a look. Things were going to be very different between them from now on. They would no longer be simply coexisting. They would be raising a part-alien boy, together, because there was simply no other way.
As soon as Alex had vacated Max’s arms, Liz stepped into them, and Kyle reached for Serena, who took a deep, calming breath and clasped his hand. Michael, stricken with a sudden onset of nerves, perched stiffly on a barstool. This was the scene that greeted their guests when they entered the apartment, each with an arm around Maria.
“Hey, everyone!” Jim smiled as Amy rushed to hug Liz, then Michael, fussing happily over her tolerant son-in-law-to-be and the beautiful diamond he’d given his fiancée. No doubt Max’s part in that would come up later, given the obvious value of the stone, but Amy didn’t think to question it just then.
Jim greeted everyone cordially, obviously saving Kyle for last. When he finally turned toward his son, his face froze. Standing before him, holding a beautiful baby boy in his arms, was his son—gone from boy to man faster than he could ever have anticipated. Kyle’s face was riveted to his father, watching for a reaction that would calm his racing heart and make Serena relax her death grip on his hand. Jim’s wide eyes darted between Kyle and Alex, and everyone waited, immobile, for some sort of sign that Jim had accepted his grandson.
The reaction that came surprised all of them, most of all Jim. Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks while an awed smile gradually lifted the corners of his mouth. He took a step toward them, then two, and then his arms were reaching to touch his first grandchild.
“Kyle,” he choked, sniffling absently. “Kyle . . .”
“Dad, this is your grandson, Alex.”
“Yes, he is,” Jim managed, beaming now at the wary little boy. “He’s got your nose, I think, and your mother’s long fingers.”
Grandfather and grandson took each other in—Jim with roving eyes, trying to notice every detail, Alex with his trademark steady gaze, as if assessing this new intruder into his life. It was Serena’s quiet sniff that finally broke the spell, and Kyle turned to her guiltily.
“I’m sorry, Serena. Dad, this is Serena. She’s been taking care of Alex since her brother and his wife died. She’s Alex’s aunt.” More like his mom, Kyle thought, hoping that would be the case permanently someday. “Serena, this is my father, Jim Valenti.”
Jim turned to the petite girl, and his eyes flicked over to Liz, seeing the resemblance immediately. But this girl’s eyes were blue. Like his. Like Alex’s.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Valenti.”
“The pleasure’s mine, Serena. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for Alex. If we’d only known . . .”
“If you’d known, Mr. Valenti, I would never have met Alex or Kyle, and I think that would have been a terrible loss for me.”
The look that passed between Kyle and Serena caught everyone’s attention. That must’ve been some date they went on last week.
“This is just . . . just . . .” Amy was holding on to both Maria and a very uncomfortable Michael, crying openly at the touching scene. “This is just so beautiful,” she cried, laughing at herself. “You make such a perfect little family.”
“Mom!” Maria looked panicked. “Mom, they aren’t exactly a family. They’re friends. Well, dating. But don’t go making assumptions. You’re always assuming things! Like with Michael and me . . . always assuming the worst. Not that this is the worst . . . I mean, it’s good, it’s . . .”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean . . .,” Amy babbled. “I mean, whatever you do is fine. Not that it’s my business. Because it’s not . . .” She reached into her handbag and pulled out the bag of little bottles, snatching one quickly and opening it under her nose. With a glance at Serena, she handed it to her equally flustered daughter.
“Cypress oil. It reduces stress.”
Liz finished washing the glasses the group had used, while Max went down to get a few things out of the van. Maria, Michael, Amy, Jim, Kyle, Serena, and Alex were headed over to Oasis for the grand tour and needed the larger vehicle. When they got back, Jim was taking them out to eat. That left her alone with Max. Thank God. He’d been so quiet during their visit with Jim and Amy. Too quiet. And he’d closed off his thoughts to her, so she had no idea what he was thinking.
Drying her hands on a dishtowel, Liz peeked out the window, wondering why Max wasn’t back yet. He was leaning against the stairwell railing, looking off into the distance, a thoughtful expression on his face. Coming up behind him, she slipped an arm around his waist.
“Hey, I can’t hear you at all,” she said softly, then reached up to tap his forehead with a finger. “What’s going on up there?”
She watched, relieved, as a big smile broke through his distant expression. “Oh, I was just planning the rest of our lives.”
Liz laughed, surprised. “Oh, you were? Do I get a say in it?”
“No, I think I have it all worked out. No need to bother yourself about it,” he teased, and Liz realized his mood was much lighter than it had been before, though she couldn’t imagine why. She thought seeing Kyle, Serena, and Jim bonding even more with Alex might upset him, but he seemed relaxed and happy. Not that she was complaining.
“Okay, then, Mr. Prognosticator, tell me about the future.”
He looked down at her, his eyes soft with love and hope. “Remember that time we found the orb in the desert and fell asleep and got in so much trouble with our parents?”
Liz grinned. “Of course, I do. It was one of the best nights of my life.”
Max leaned down to share a light kiss. “Right before we went in to face the music, you asked me what your destiny was.”
“And you said, ‘I only know the part I’m hoping for.’”
“That’s right. Well, Liz,” he sighed, cupping her face as he so often did when he wanted to share his heart, “having you as my wife was the biggest part of that hope, but now I think the rest is coming true, too.”
Liz could see the happiness shining in Max’s eyes, and it made her heart sing, though he was still closed off to her mentally. She ran a finger down the side of his face, and when she reached his mouth, she stood on tiptoe for another brief kiss.
“Let me see what you’re thinking.”
He shook his head. “No, not all at once. I think it might be overwhelming. I want to talk it through. Slowly. And see what you think. You know I was kidding when I said you didn’t have a say, right?”
“I know, Max,” Liz laughed. “I’d never let you get away with that, anyway.”
It was Max’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, I know.”
He pulled Liz into his arms, and this time the kiss was neither light nor brief. It was deep and content and full of the all-encompassing love they now shared. “Let’s take a walk.”
They strolled aimlessly into the trees near the parking lot, hand-in-hand, their minds full of plans and images of things to come. The apartment building and cars and scrubby trees fell away, and the future seemed only a breath away.
“I think I know what I want to major in when I start college next semester.”
Her laughter filtered through the trees. “Ballet?”
He laughed with her, then stopped and turned, looking at her almost nervously.
“What?” Liz couldn’t have been more surprised. And here she thought she knew Max inside and out! “Why?”
“Because, Liz, that’s how I can make the biggest difference for the people who matter most to me. Think about it. When Isabel told us what Brody had in mind for Space Mountain, one of the things she mentioned was that maybe the kids there could have their own school. Alex is going to need a teacher. That little girl we’re going to have will need one. And so will her brothers and sisters,” he added with a gleam in his eye. Liz could only smile, caught up in the enthusiasm in his voice.
“Michael and Maria are bound to have kids. Michael can’t stop talking about his time with Alex the other night. Even though he pretends to be complaining, I think he loved it. And if Isabel and Jesse come . . . you see what I mean? And what if the kids from the hospital come? These kids will need a teacher, a special teacher who understands them. And who can control them . . . given their potential for an interesting array of special ‘talents.’”
Liz nodded. She’d wondered more than once how one raises a part-alien child, especially when they have powers and no judgment. She just hadn’t expected those concerns to have this kind of impact on Max.
“And these past few days with Alex, and that time with Maya and the kids on the dream plane . . . Liz, I’ve just found out I love kids! I could be a good teacher, I know it. Watching them discover new things and helping to guide their minds . . . think of the impact the right start could make on how they see their place in this world and what kind of contribution they can make. I don’t want any of them to have to grow up hiding like Isabel, Michael, and I did.”
He was building up steam now, and Liz wouldn’t have stopped him for the world. It was rare to see Max this excited, and his enthusiasm was contagious.
“If I can manage school full time for three years--which I realize will be hard with the job at Oasis but I think I can do it--I can get my degree and be ready when Space Mountain opens. I could just do daycare until Alex is ready for school, and who knows—there might be others by then.”
He was watching her closely. Her reaction meant so much to him, she knew.
“In the meantime, maybe we can save enough money for you to go to school, at least part-time. Then, when the resort opens, we can all go there. Even Isabel. And maybe Patrick and Scott’s family. And Miguel’s. Sydney will already be there with Brody. Liz, it’ll almost be like a whole community where we can be ourselves! Friends and family together. This could be great!”
His eyes had returned to the distant desert, where she knew he was seeing this future on the horizon, full of the promise of all the things he’d spent a lifetime yearning for. Closeness. Family. Acceptance. Love. Then his gaze returned to her, and she felt his love pouring over her. A tear she hadn’t even known was there slid down her cheek.
“Maybe I’m getting a little carried away. I knew I’d overwhelm you.”
“You’re not overwhelming me, Max. Because I have those dreams, too. I just haven’t thought about things as concretely as you have yet.” She slipped her arms around him and leaned against his chest, enjoying the excited rhythm of his heart against her cheek.
“I was afraid seeing Alex with Kyle and Jim might upset you.”
She felt him shake his head above her. “I thought it would, too, but instead, I realized that things have actually worked out for the best. I never wanted a child with Tess, Liz. You know that. The only babies I want are ours—babies that come from so much love, it just spills over into a new life. Kyle was in love when Alex was conceived. At least he thought he was. He already feels so much for that little boy, and Jim . . . did you see him? He accepted Alex right away. Just fell for him with one look. And from what Serena said today, and the way she and Kyle looked at each other, I’d say Serena might be a permanent part of this someday, too.”
He pulled away and lifted Liz’s chin so that she could see, as well as hear, that he meant every word.
“What I’m saying, Liz, is that Alex has found a home with people who love and accept him for who he is. That’s all I want. We’ll help them, of course. I have a feeling they’ll need it,” he chuckled. “But Amy was right. They make a great family. And now we’re free to make a great family of our own.”
Something had changed in the way Max was stroking her back, and now that he had talked through the enthused chaos in his mind, he was emerging from inside himself and focusing on her. He opened their connection, and Liz physically jumped in response—there was so much energy, excitement, and love sweeping through her, she realized he’d been right to talk it out. The rush of it may well have confused and overwhelmed her, just as he’d predicted. But now, she understood everything he was thinking . . . and feeling, and she felt as though a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Everything would be all right.
“You know what I love about being married?” he asked between fluttering kisses down her jaw.
“Me, I hope,” she answered, letting her own hands start to wander.
“Forever and always,” he smiled, a husky quality creeping into his voice. “But that wasn’t exactly what I meant.” He pulled back and cupped her face again. “What I love about being married . . . to you . . . is that no matter what I’m thinking or feeling or planning, I know I can talk to you about it. I know you won’t always agree, but you do always listen, and I know no matter what you think of what I say, you never lose sight of the most important thing--us. It’s like having a safe harbor no matter where I wander. When you said yes to me, I knew I didn’t have to fear the future anymore, because you were willing to commit to me forever. And if I have you, Liz, I have everything I need. I think that’s what it means to have a soulmate. You are my soulmate, Liz. I’ve always known it. I just didn’t always believe I would spend my life with you.”
Liz had felt the fuzzy warmth take hold when Max was kissing her and murmuring against her skin, but his last few words drew her back to the center of it all. This man. This incredible man. Whatever it was that he had recognized between them, even before she did, was at the core of her life’s meaning. She knew just as certainly as he did that he was her soulmate. And she knew, too, that all they had been through had brought them to this place, and there was nowhere she would rather be. At home, in his arms.
Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2003 10:52 pm
Part 39 continued
Dinner for nine. It was noisy and scattered, but it was family, and there wasn’t a face at the table that didn’t glow with the knowledge that they belonged together. Jim’s introduction into grandfatherhood had been a huge success. Just passing through Oasis, he’d already stopped and bought Alex a tacky t-shirt with the resort name in neon green and an electric blue camel playing a slot machine. Serena insisted that she could get him one for free, but Jim waved her off. This was a gift from Grandpa.
Now they were sitting at a huge round booth in one of Vegas’s family restaurants waiting for their food and talking about everything at once.
“So what’s the latest on Space Mountain?” Max asked eagerly. “Any proposals in yet?”
“I don’t think so. The deadline isn’t for two weeks, but I think there are at least three firms preparing proposals. One of them tried to talk Brody out of the space theme; they said it’d been done. But he shut ‘em down. He told them that wasn’t up for discussion.”
Max grinned. “Of course not. Think of all the décor Brody already owns!”
“Michael’s been sketching a lot lately,” Maria said, with a pointed look at her fiancé. “And I could swear what he’s been drawing would make an awesome lobby mural.”
“Really, Michael?” Amy exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could draw.”
“I’m just foolin’ around with it,” Michael said, with a glare at Maria. “I’m not that good.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Maria came back. “He’s really good if he likes his subject. It was his drawing of the geodesic dome that was good enough for Isabel to recognize it in a book. That’s how we found that place outside Marathon.”
“Right,” Amy drawled with a threatening look toward Michael. “If I remember Liz’s journal correctly, that was the night you abducted my daughter and took her to a cheap motel.”
Michael didn’t take the bait. He just put on his most innocent look and said, “She’s the one who insisted on coming. Wouldn’t leave me alone, in fact. Still won’t. So I finally proposed just to get her off my back.”
Maria swatted him, but her grin took all the sting out of it. “Jerk.”
He shrugged, a satisfied smirk on his face. “Too late. You said yes.”
She huffed and pretended to be exasperated, but beamed happily when Jim’s low whistle drew their attention. “Nice ring, Maria. They must pay pretty well around here. Where’d you buy it, Michael?”
“Oh, thanks, but . . . uh . . .,” Maria stuttered.
“I can’t take credit,” Michael said, a little embarrassed. “Let’s just say Max has a way with charcoal.”
At the surprised looks, Max winced. “It’s not something I’ve done except for the two rings,” he said, self-conscious. “I mean, it’s not like I’m making money off it or anything.”
“Max, my friend,” Kyle began in his smarmiest persona. “I think I see the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Oh, no you don’t, Kyle,” Liz warned. “You aren’t going to corrupt my sweet, upstanding husband.”
“Me?” Kyle protested. “We’ll talk later,” he stage whispered to Max with a wink.
Max was smiling as he caught Serena’s eye. She looked away quickly, then looked back. Her little shrug made him smile even more broadly. She looked like a woman who expected Kyle to ask Max for one of those someday. Maybe even someday soon.
“I’ll tell you what, Kyle. If you ever need that particular service, I’m your man.”
The group fell silent while Kyle and Serena both blushed deeply.
Alex, highly entertained by the constant conversation and laughter, seemed annoyed at the quiet. He looked toward Michael expectantly.
“What’s he saying?” Amy asked.
“I’m not sure,” Serena admitted. “I think that’s a new one. Maybe he’s asking for milk.”
She tried handing Alex his sippy cup, but he brushed it aside, reaching instead toward Michael.
“Oh my god,” Liz said, eyes wide. “I think he’s saying ‘Michael.’”
Michael looked momentarily at a loss, but recovered quickly. “Yeah, well, we’re pals now, right, Alex?”
The surprised laughter rippled through the group, gaining momentum when Alex smiled, too, and repeated, “Muk!” But this time, he was only showing off, beaming proudly at his appreciative audience.
“Well, I have a little news,” Maria said, waiting for attention to return to her. “Remember this afternoon when Grace dragged me off for a minute?”
All but Max and Liz nodded.
“Well, I guess my pinch-hit lounge appearance the other night went over pretty well. I’ve been given a small budget for costumes and told I am the Oasis entertainment sub for the small lounge. Just like if somebody doesn’t show or gets sick or something. But I’ll have at least one guaranteed performance each month, just to keep in practice.”
Maria failed miserably at looking casual about her first foray into the world of paid, professional performing. In fact, she looked about ready to burst. Michael swept her into his arms, squeezing a happy yelp from her while the others exclaimed their congratulations.
“Oh, honey,” Amy said in a squeaky voice, “I’m so happy for you. For everything. Michael. Your singing.” She looked around the group. “Your wonderful friends. You all have turned disaster on its head. It’s just wonderful.”
Their food arrived, and as they ate, the conversation sobered. With an eye on Alex, who was happily gumming French fries and applesauce, Jim broached what he knew was a sensitive subject.
“I don’t want to pry,” he said, “but what happens to Alex now? I mean, Kyle, you’re his father, but he’s a member of Serena’s family legally. Have you talked to a lawyer? Philip? Jesse?”
“We’re not completely sure, Dad. All we are sure of is that neither Serena nor I are willing to leave him behind. But . . .” He glanced at Serena and she took up the answer.
“My father thinks we should put Alex up for adoption again. He was only with my brother for three months, and now—according to him—there’s no one who can take him. He sees me as too young, and I am still in school. My aunt and uncle are past the point of changing their lives to accommodate a baby, and my mother died a couple of years ago, so . . .”
“. . . but we’re not going to let that happen,” Kyle resumed. “The thing is, I don’t know if a paternity test is enough to get me custody. I have no money, no home, and no wife. All I have is the same genes, and I don’t think that’ll get me father of the year.”
“What about the savings bond? Surely that’ll help.”
Kyle frowned. “What savings bond?”
Now Jim frowned. “The one in the package we sent from home. Didn’t Nate and Taylor give it to you?”
Liz gasped. “Oh my god, Kyle. You weren’t there when we opened presents from home. Your box is still in the closet back at the apartment! But it’s heavy and bigger than a savings bond.”
“Oh, we put some running weights in there, and some clothes,” Jim said, “but the main thing is that savings bond. We found it in your grandfather’s things when we finally sold his house a couple of months ago. When I asked him about it, he said it was for you. He bought it when you were born, and was going to give it to you on your wedding day, but given the circumstances, he said to give it to you now.”
“Wow,” Kyle said slowly. He hadn’t thought about his grandfather in a while. “How much is it?”
“Well, it was a $20,000 bond, but it matured 10 years ago, so it’s been getting interest for another ten years on top of that. I don’t know. Maybe $25,000.”
Kyle was speechless, as were all the others at the table.
“It’s not a fortune, Kyle, but maybe you could at least get a place of your own.”
“But I’m a chauffeur. I don’t make that much because my room is part of my salary. If I move, I can’t keep that job.”
“Let me see what I can do about that one,” Serena said softly. “Maybe I can transfer you to another position where you don’t have to live on-site. Or maybe . . .” She looked startled, as if she suddenly didn’t want to finish that sentence, but it was too late. Everyone was watching her expectantly. “Or maybe . . . maybe you could move in with me.”
“What? What are you saying, Serena?”
“I’m saying . . . oh god . . . Let’s get married, Kyle. Marry me and help me raise Alex. We’re his parents. You said so yourself. And we love each other, right? So why wait?”
All the air had been sucked out of their corner of the restaurant. It was like they were in a snapshot where nothing moved. Just eight shocked expressions and one curious baby.
“Would anyone like dessert?”
The waiter paused, eyeing the scene in front of him. No one at the table was moving. They were just staring and the attractive young woman next to the high chair, and he noticed she wasn’t even breathing.
“Is there a problem here?”
Still no answer. He thought about calling a manager for help when the young man next to her threw his arms around her and kissed her like no one should be kissed in the middle of a restaurant. The older man looked like he’d been slapped, and his companion had a slightly scary grin on her face. The others just started looking at each other, disbelieving.
The kiss ended and the young man said one word.
Everything had changed. They stayed at the restaurant for hours talking about the future. Max shared his decision to become a teacher. Serena and Kyle talked practically about adopting Alex between giddy smiles and tender touches. Jim and Amy began one list of legal questions and another list of wedding errands. Michael shocked everyone by volunteering to take Alex outside when he got bored and fussy, and they were more than a little impressed when Alex held his arms up to Michael and said, “Muk.” Liz and Maria sat holding hands, recognizing how completely the last three years had defined the rest of their lives.
It was almost 10 o’clock when they made their way outside amidst hugs and kisses and mutual congratulations. They had a lot of work to do in the weeks and months ahead, but they felt secure in the support system that held them together, and in the love that had brought joy and perspective into each of their lives. Every couple held dear the love they had found, understanding so well how precious and rare it was; no one was even tempted to take it for granted, because in every case, it had been hard won.
After Kyle and Serena waved goodbye to Jim and Amy from the back entrance to Oasis, they carried Alex, sound asleep in his carrier, toward the deserted pool area. They were strangely quiet, still in shock over their sudden and perhaps rash decision to get married. Somehow in the hush of the night, fingers entwined and hearts open, it was easier to talk about what they’d decided so publicly. They set Alex’s carrier down on the ground and turned to each other, questions and insecurities rushing unspoken through their minds.
“Serena, are you sure about this? We’ve known each other for barely a month. I don’t feel any hesitation about this . . . about you . . . at all, but I’m bringing a lot of baggage to this relationship, and I’m not sure it’s fair to you.”
Serena stopped, trying to read his face in the shifting light reflected off the pool water. “I’m sorry, Kyle, for putting you in that position in front of everyone. I don’t know what came over me. It’s just that . . . it felt so right, sitting there with you, with all of your friends . . . our friends, I hope . . . and Alex right there. I know we said we’d go slowly, get to know each other and all. But Kyle, most couples learn the little stuff first and work their way up to the big stuff. And that takes time. We had to do it the other way. I already know what kind of man you are deep down. I know you’re smart and caring and funny and most of all, a decent man. I know you love your son, and I’ve seen what you’re willing to do to give him a good life. And I know you love me. If I know all that, I can’t imagine that a taste for weird foods or an obsession with sports will change that. I love you, Kyle. And even as fast as it’s happened, I feel quite sure of it.”
Kyle stroked her face, momentarily speechless. The water lapped a serene cadence against the pool’s edge as erratic shimmers of light played across their faces.
“Besides,” she smiled, “you’re a really good kisser.”
Kyle chuckled and bent forward, accepting the compliment with a tender kiss. “I wonder if you really know how incredible you are, Serena. I can’t imagine any other woman accepting Alex so easily, and accepting me on top of that. You’re more than I ever dreamed of, and I promise I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy and keep you and Alex safe. It might be hard for a while. That money Dad mentioned is great, but it’s not like we can live on it. What if your family stops paying for your college? And I’m going to have to get a better job than chauffeur. Maybe I’ll even go back to school when you’re done.”
He stopped suddenly, and looked at her, a hint of panic in his eyes. “My god, Serena. You’ve been rich your whole life. Have you even thought about what it will be like being poor? Where you live, what you drive, who you know . . . it’ll all be different, and not even close to what you’re used to. What if you get tired of doing without? I couldn’t afford even one of your suits or one month in your hotel suite. And I don’t even have a car! And Alex, he’ll need so much . . .”
Her urgent whisper halted the rapid flow of words, and he stared at her, obviously afraid of what she was about to say.
“Kyle, do you love me?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Do you want to marry me, even though we’ll be poor and have responsibility for Alex . . . I hope . . . and have to work and study and watch every penny?”
He ran his fingers into her hair and pulled her face close to his so he could look into her eyes, even hidden as they were in shadow. “More than anything.”
“Then that’s what we’re going to do.”
They fell into each other’s arms and let the soft night air wash over them for a long time. The future was so full of pitfalls, problems, and potential danger, and yet they felt happier than they had in a long, long time. Finally, without releasing her, Kyle made one more promise.
“Serena? I would never ask you to go through with this if you have any doubts, so if you wake up tomorrow and see this differently, I won’t hold you to it.”
Serena was quiet for a moment. Her whisper was soft in his ear, “Will I be waking up alone?”
Serena let them into her apartment, dark except for some indirect lighting from the stereo cabinet.
“I’ll get him changed and put him down,” Kyle offered.
“I’ll get us something to drink,” Serena said. “And then I’m all yours.”
Kyle pulled her to him, already pulsing with desire. Their lips met in a heated kiss when suddenly they were bathed in light. They jerked apart, looking around the room in alarm.
“What the . . .?”
“How cozy,” said a man in a high-backed chair. “Hello, Serena.”
Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2003 11:43 pm
Hi, again, everyone.
A couple of notes, as usual.
First, a couple of people were asking about The Roswell Store. Other readers answered your question, so if you missed it, look back over the f/b. Strangely enough, I've always clicked through on e-mails from them and didn't have the addy handy.
Second, several of you have been completely sweet in offering advice or help re my computer problems. I thought I should at least explain that they aren't virus related (but thanks for all the links and such). In a nutshell, I've gone from dial-up modem to cable modem. We have two computers. The hard-wired one has been working fine, but the other one wouldn't talk to the router to get a wireless connection. (These are older computers.) As a result, hubby has spent every evening and weekend, trying different things, which has meant he's either ON the working computer or has them both torn up trying this, that, and the other thing. We're hopeful tonight, though, because he gave up on the wireless angle, and is trying a plug-in one that uses the house's lines. I wouldn't have bothered to explain this, except so many of you generous and helpful people have been sending me ideas and links, and I wanted to save you the trouble. Thanks!
And finally, this is the last chapter that will focus so heavily on Kyle and his situation. Many of you have loved that story. Many have felt that Max and Liz aren't getting enough attention. It's one of those, "You can't please all of the people all of the time" things. Ultimately, though, I've told the story I wanted to tell, and I've been so very grateful to those who have come along. We're not quite to the end, but closing on it fast. We'll be taking a more balanced look at everyone after the next chaper, and then taking a peek at their future. You will note at the end of this chapter, though, that Max and Liz are going to be front and center next week!
On with the show (in two posts):
“Dad! What are you doing here?”
“Your uncle was . . . concerned about you. He thought maybe you were having trouble making responsible decisions. I came to talk to you about coming back home with me.”
Dumbstruck, Serena stared at her father. A thousand words sprang to her lips and died there, leaving her mouth to move soundlessly against the onslaught.
“I’ll put Alex to bed,” Kyle murmured, wishing he were anywhere but here. On the other hand, he didn’t want to leave Serena unless that’s what Serena wanted, and at this point, he couldn’t tell. He moved toward the bedroom when David Crawford’s icily polite voice stopped him.
“We can take care of him, thank you. That will be all.”
Her father’s rude remark snapped Serena from her stupor, and she rounded on him, anger flashing in her eyes, tension holding her body rigid. Her words trembled under tight control.
“Don’t talk to Kyle that way. He’s welcome in this house as a . . . friend, not an employee. I’ll say who stays and who leaves, and right now, Dad, I wouldn’t push a choice.”
Her father blinked at this uncharacteristic defiance, but decided to retain what authority he could by choosing his fights.
“Fine, go ahead,” he waved dismissively to Kyle.
“What has Uncle Brad been telling you?”
Kyle could hear the conversation clearly from the bedroom, and went about Alex’s diaper change focused on their voices. Luckily, Alex didn’t wake.
“He says you’ve been spending a lot of time with some of the employees, especially that driver. He says you don’t seem to be going to class every day, and that you are doing the bare minimum in your job here. He also said that you’ve all but taken over Alex’s care.”
There was a brief silence, and Kyle ached to know what Serena was doing. He should be out there with her, supporting her, but Alex wasn’t ready for bed yet.
Kyle’s heart stopped. What was happening?
been spending a lot of time with new friends. Did you think I wouldn’t make friends out here, Dad? Or would you rather I hang out with the deadbeats who spend their nights gambling in our casino or drinking too much in the clubs? I’ve found a wonderful group of friends and yes, they work here. What’s wrong with that? I work here, too. As for taking care of Alex, of course I have. You know why? Because Aunt Megan and Uncle Brad have no interest in doing it. Aunt Megan might have thought at some point that it would be fun, but I think the first couple of days changed her mind. She’s been more than happy to let me handle it. Besides, I’m crazy about him. And Andy . . .”
Kyle could hear her struggling to control her voice, which was getting higher pitched and shakier with every word.
“Andy and Susan made me
godmother. They wanted me
to take care of him if anything ever happened to them. Not that they ever expected it to . . .”
Alex was dozing peacefully, so Kyle switched on the nightlight and tiptoed from the room, shutting the door behind him. He walked slowly toward Serena, giving Mr. Crawford a determined look. He lost momentum, though, when he saw the stricken expression on the man’s face, and when he turned back to Serena, he was shaken to see she was openly crying now. Crying, but not falling apart. He put a hand on her arm, and she immediately clasped his hand, though her eyes were trained on her father, who was, in turn, looking at their joined hands. He had lost some of his stiff demeanor, his shoulders sagging under memories of his son that weighed heavily on both of them.
“Serena, your brother never meant for you to have that responsibility at 19, still in school . . .”
“Oh, yes, you asked about school. It’s true, I’ve missed some, but Alex was sick and needed me. Except for one class, I’ve gotten everything turned in, and in the other class, I’ve gotten an extension. It’s fine.”
Kyle started to let go of Serena’s hand, not wanting to cause any further antagonism between her and her father, but she clamped down on it, whether to draw strength from him or to defy her father, he wasn’t sure.
“By the way, Dad, allow me to introduce Kyle Valenti. He’s from New Mexico, and he’s been a huge help to me. Kyle, this is my father.”
David ignored the introduction and pursued his original train of thought.
“Serena,” her father sighed, “this has gone far enough. Too far. You can’t let yourself get too attached to Alex. There’s no one in the family who’s in a position to take him, and there are thousands of deserving couples out there just dying for a baby to adopt. Alex is young. He’ll adapt; he’ll accept a new family as easily as he does a new toy. Believe me, it’s best. Just bring him back to New Jersey . . .”
Her father’s eyebrows drew together, sliding into the scowl he’d been wearing when they arrived.
“Young lady . . .”
“Oh, no, Dad. Don’t threaten. I love you. I do. But don’t make me choose. You just want Alex gone because he makes you think of Andy. And I understand that, because he makes me think of Andy, too. But you’re letting that memory pull you down, and it’s just the opposite for me. I need
to remember my brother, to love the son he loved, to make what he did count for something. Dad . . .” A soft hiccough interrupted her and made the sincerity of her speech all the more poignant. “Alex is part of our family now. You can’t just return him like a shirt that doesn’t fit.”
Kyle didn’t know David Crawford at all, but it didn’t take much to see that the man was waging a painful battle in his own mind. The grief morphed into anger, and then into resignation, and then into determination. It was like watching a screensaver fade from one picture to another, and never being sure which one would appear next. What came out of his mouth seemed colored by the emotion on his face at that moment, and changed from sentence to sentence.
“Don’t tell me how to feel about Andrew!” he shouted suddenly, jumping to his feet. “He was my son! I loved him! But I can’t raise another infant, and neither can you, and neither can your uncle. There are people who can love him . . .”
“I love him!
” Serena erupted, finally letting go of Kyle’s hand to face down her father. He rose to meet her challenge when a cry broke into the argument from the bedroom.
“You woke him,” she said, a glare of accusation tossed over one shoulder as she went to get Alex.
Kyle and David stood awkwardly, neither wanting to make eye contact with the other. Finally, David spoke, very quietly.
“I would appreciate it if you would do us the courtesy of allowing us a private conversation.”
Kyle was torn. True, it was a family matter, but Alex was his family, and he couldn’t be quiet about the fate of his son. He was happy enough to let Serena handle things as long as she was holding her own, but if David Crawford tried to take Alex out of here, he’d have Kyle Valenti to kill first.
“I’ll leave when Serena asks me to,” he said, equally quiet, though he knew he would be right outside that door if she did ask him.
Serena returned with Alex snuggled close under her chin. He was obviously half asleep, but had been roused by the shouting. Serena began to pace with him back and forth across the room, thinking deeply while trying to calm him with over-anxious thumps on the back. It was having the opposite effect. More unsettled than ever, Alex took matters into his own hands.
He reached toward Kyle, and Serena handed him off without missing a beat. “Go to Daddy, sweetheart. Mommy needs to think.”
Totally unaware of her words, Serena continued her pacing as the two men froze—one in indignation, one in fear.
“What . . . did . . . you . . . just . . . say?”
“I said that I love him, and I want him, and that has to count for something. He’s family!”
“Serena?” Kyle’s soft voice pulled her attention outward again, and she looked at him quizzically.
Then her father’s voice simmered menacingly. “Serena, what did you just call that boy?”
” She looked from her father to Kyle, confused. She seemed unaware of the turn in the conversation, and rather annoyed at the distraction.
“What are you talking about?”
“You just told Alex to go to daddy.
I think that’s a very unhealthy pattern to start, Serena. It isn’t healthy for Alex, and it goes back to my first concern that you are getting much too close to . . . some of the people here.”
The phrase “a deer caught in the headlights” was overused, Kyle thought, but if ever there were a singularly perfect example of its meaning, he was looking at it. As David’s expression grew darker, Serena’s froze for several seconds until a succession of reactions flashed across her face, finally settling on determined resignation.
“Sit down, Dad.”
He didn’t move. Kyle did, though, fairly certain he couldn’t be sure of hanging on to Alex if he remained standing.
“Suit yourself,” Serena sighed, sitting next to Kyle. Alex settled against Kyle’s chest and relaxed as the voices calmed. Serena reached over and stroked his back.
“I have something to tell you.”
“Serena, no,” Kyle half whispered, half gasped.
“In fact,” she continued, undistracted by Kyle’s plea, “I have something to tell each of you.”
That had both men quiet, and David sat again, though he didn’t seem to notice.
“Dad, I know this is a completely freaky coincidence, but we’ve recently learned that Kyle is Alex’s natural father.”
David Crawford went pale and his eyes flew to Kyle, shocked, but he couldn’t hide how the wheels were spinning inside his head. Kyle knew he was wondering how Kyle had convinced his good-hearted daughter of this unlikely fact, and was speculating what it might take to make Kyle go away—for good.
“I strongly doubt that,” he finally said, eyes narrowed now, assessing his moves like a chess player.
“Don’t bother, Dad,” Serena sighed preemptively. “It’s not a scam. Kyle didn’t even know he had a son when we met, but circumstances were such that we started to suspect that might be true, and he’s had a paternity test done. Alex is his.”
“What circumstances? How could you not know a thing like that?”
“His mother never told me,” Kyle said simply, quaking at the thought that this man could have him investigated, hauled in for another test, or just fired and blackballed throughout Vegas and the East Coast. Not to mention bringing another investigation down on his friends.
“So, she was some kind of slut who didn’t know who the father was?”
Kyle wasn’t inclined to defend Tess, but in this case, he had himself and Alex to think of.
“No, it wasn’t like that. She just left town before I knew she was pregnant,” he lied.
“Then how did you decide this boy was yours?”
“Dad, that’s really none of your business. The test has been done, it’s legal and binding, and that’s all there is to it.”
David sat quietly, fingertips pressed together in front of his face as he thought.
“I’ll give you $25,000 in cash to leave and never come back. I don’t want to see you again. And you’re not to see Serena, either.”
“Don’t you see it, Serena? He’s after your money. He thinks if he can get Alex or you or both, he’s set for life. Well, Mr. Valenti, you picked the wrong mark for this game. You take my offer and run. There won’t be another one except the one I make to the police.”
Serena started to stand up, but Kyle put a hand on her arm. She was shaking with anger, but he was seething. The sensation in his chest felt so intensely hot, it seemed to have come full circle into cold, and he was bursting with the desire to tell David Crawford what he thought of him.
“I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, Mr. Crawford,” he began in a deadly monotone, “but you’ve got the wrong man. I don’t have money, and I still have a lot to learn, but I think I already know more about being a father than you ever knew.”
“Kyle . . .” Serena was looking at him, hurt. “He’s not like that. At least, he didn’t used to be.”
It was hard to know if David’s startled expression resulted from Kyle’s statement, Serena’s defense of him, or the “used to” reference, but he was momentarily speechless.
“Honestly, Kyle, he’s changed since Andy died . . .”
But Kyle was on a roll, and Crawford’s past traits were of no interest to him. “All I know is, I would do anything to protect my son and ensure his happiness. You are rich, Mr. Crawford, and powerful and intimidating, and I have nothing. It wouldn’t take much for you to ruin my life. But I have found something wonderful here, and it’s not for sale.”
“And what is it you think you’ve found?”
Kyle didn’t answer right away, looking to Serena for guidance. Or was it permission? She gave him a brief nod.
“Love, Mr. Crawford. I’ve found love. I love Serena and I love Alex. I guess, in the end, I’ve found myself.”
“You love this boy, Serena?” her father asked, incredulous.
Serena smiled for the first time since her father’s arrival. “Yes, Dad, I do.”
David Crawford looked slightly rattled by the simple statement, and Kyle couldn’t blame him; he was still surprised himself. But this man’s tone and threatening expression squelched any remote inclination Kyle might have had to cut him some slack.
“Well, Mr. Valenti, what if I told you I could cut Serena off financially, at least until she comes to her senses? Even if she were foolish enough to stay with you, you still wouldn’t have money, but you would have two more mouths to feed. The world can be a pretty nasty place when you have nothing. Do you think love will pay the bills? Will it smooth over the frustration of a hot apartment, a lousy job, and a dismal future?”
“What is wrong
with you, Dad? Why are you talking like this? This isn’t you. I don’t even know you!”
Kyle’s hand gripped Serena’s arm a little tighter. He knew she was losing it, and he didn’t want to relinquish control to this bitter man.
“You’re right. We’ll struggle financially for a while. But Serena will have a degree in three years and I plan to work on one. I have family and friends who will help support us any way they can—and I don’t mean with money. I mean with encouragement, babysitting—just their friendship. But this
is my family, now,” Kyle said, realizing for the first time that this was really true. “I’m not leaving them.”
Serena’s expression relaxed into a soft glow, and she looked at Kyle with something bordering on relief. “Then I guess this would be a good time to tell you something I didn’t mention before,” she said, and Kyle heard her father grunt a warning. “I was going to tell him tonight anyway, Dad,” she responded without a glance in his direction. “Kyle, we won’t be poor. When my mother died, I found out I had a trust that I had access to starting at age 18. I haven’t touched it yet, but it’s worth $50,000 a year. Dad no longer has control over it.”
Kyle felt his breath rush out but he couldn’t seem to take another one. Try as he might, his lungs kept constricting instead of expanding, and soon Serena’s face was swimming in front of him.
The shout made Alex jerk against his chest, and the movement seemed to trigger Kyle’s system. He took a noisy gulp of air, then used it to blurt the first thing that came to his mind.
“You never said a word!” It was almost accusatory, and Serena jerked back momentarily.
“You wouldn’t have either, if our places had been reversed,” she said, taken aback by Kyle’s reaction. “Maybe you can’t know what it’s like, never being sure if someone is with you for you, or for your cash value.”
Kyle immediately regretted his harsh reaction, and lifted a hand to her face. “No, I don’t know,” he said, a bit of sarcasm in his voice in spite of himself, “but I guess I can understand it.”
She looked appeased, but he wanted to be sure she understood. “Serena, I love you
. Not your money. I’ve worked since I can remember, and I like it that way. Even when I was playing sports in high school, I found a way to work. I like to earn my own money, make my own way. Don’t ever think this is about money, Serena. In fact, I almost wish you weren’t rich. Although, I guess we wouldn’t have met, then, would we?”
“An easy speech,” David interrupted, and Kyle started. For just a minute, he’d forgotten David Crawford was even in the room. “But since you know she does
have money, you don’t exactly have to worry about it, do you?”
That was the last straw. Even before Kyle could react, Serena turned on her father.
“What is this really about, Dad? Over the last couple of years, you’ve grown so cold and bitter. You don’t believe in anything anymore—except power and money. I don’t think you even remember when you didn’t have either, do you?”
Her father scowled at that, but said nothing. “If I remember Mama’s stories correctly, you two started with nothing. Your parents didn’t want you to marry because they were afraid you couldn’t support a wife. And they thought you were crazy when you risked everything to buy pieces of property in Atlantic City before anyone even thought of a gaming center. But I remember living in an apartment when I was little. It may have been small and hot, but you know what I remember most, Daddy? I remember laughter and optimism and being happy. You and Mama were always finding ways to make life fun . . .”
She stopped abruptly, staring at her father as he glared at the floor. “Oh my God.”
Kyle was confused, but knew better than to say anything. He just watched Serena carefully.
“That’s it, isn’t it, Dad? Nothing’s fun since Mama died, is it? And since Andy . . .”
David gradually lifted his eyes to her, and she gasped softly at the raw pain she saw there.
“I loved your mother, more than life itself. But she was taken away from me. All I had left was you and Andrew. Then he was taken, too. Along with Susan. Even you left.” He was starting to tear up, and Kyle suddenly wished he’d left when he had the chance. He had no idea how to react. But David wasn’t looking at him. In fact, he probably didn’t know Kyle was there. He had eyes only for his daughter.
“Then I realized,” he said bitterly, “that the love and the fun can disappear in a heartbeat, but the power, the money—they don’t leave, and they don’t hurt you. They last.”
He was caught up in his own thoughts, now, pacing restlessly, and neither Kyle nor Serena moved to stop him. As if they could.
“If you invest yourself in people, they leave. It’s completely out of your control. But power—if you play the game right—can be controlled. You make the choices and reap the benefits. You’re not some pawn to be pushed around, abandoned . . . hurt.”
He stopped in front of Serena, his eyes refocusing. “I won’t be hurt again,” he said bitterly. Their eyes locked for several seconds, until Serena finally made the first move.
“Daddy,” she whispered as she threw her arms around him. They held each other as Kyle looked on, and he could see tears escaping her father’s eyes, in spite of his apparent determination to be angry.
After a minute or two, he backed away from his daughter, embarrassed about his outburst. Serena, however, looked relieved, as if she had finally found the father who’d been missing.
“Dad, let me say goodnight to Kyle, and we’ll talk. It’s been a long time.”
He nodded and sank back into his chair. Serena turned to Kyle.
“Help me put Alex back to bed?”
They walked into the bedroom and lay Alex in his crib. He squirmed for a moment, then settled back down with a deep sigh.
“Kyle, I wanted to be with you tonight, but I think it’ll have to wait. You understand, don’t you?”
He drew her to him and kissed her as something warm burst open in his heart. Her lips molded willingly against his, and her tiny frame pressed into him until he couldn’t control his reaction. But that was a physical reaction, and for the first time, it was secondary to what was happening in his heart and mind. He had felt lust, desire, even a pseudo-love before, but this . . . this was more than any or all of those things. This was . . . completion. He belonged here, with these two people, and he knew it more surely than he’d ever known anything. It felt right, like nothing had felt right in his life before. This was his family. How odd to feel that way.
If his kiss wasn’t enough to convince her, he hoped his words were.
“It’s fine, my love. We have a lot to talk about, too, but we have all the time in the world now. I’ll be downstairs in my room. If you need anything, or want to talk after you and your Dad have finished, you know where to find me.”
He hesitated long enough to press one more kiss against her cheek. “I’ll always be here for you, Serena. Don’t doubt that.”
She pulled away reluctantly. “I just might take you up on that.”
They looked down at their son, oblivious now in his warm cocoon of safety and love. Then they walked back out into the living room where David sat completely still. He looked up at they approached, the lines in his now-slack face deeper than they had seemed earlier.
“Goodnight, Mr. Crawford,” Kyle said.
A flash of indecision crossed David’s face before he nodded. “Goodnight, Kyle.”
Serena walked Kyle to the door, but when he moved to open it, she stopped him, offering up another brief kiss. Perhaps she wanted her father to see it, or perhaps she just needed one last reassuring touch. Either way, Kyle was happy to oblige. And as her lips left his, he braced himself to return to an empty room, but with a full heart.
continued in next post
Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2003 11:48 pm
Part 40 continued
Torture. Spine-tingling, heat-inducing, imagination-inflaming torture. He was slowly and methodically driving her crazy, and if that clock didn’t start moving faster, she was going to literally jump out of her skin.
He was making it impossible to concentrate, even though the lobby was humming with guests, many drawn by the local ads for a new resort, and others by the great word of mouth that started up as soon as they’d opened. The upside was job security. The downside was a frantic work pace. As a result, Max had been told when he arrived at work that if he wanted the honeymoon suite, as promised, it would have to be tonight, because it and every other room in the place was being booked solid. That’s why he’d surprised her with a quick and erotically charged visit in the office a short while ago.
She closed her eyes and let a dreamy smile replace the deferential one that she wore constantly while checking in guests. She could still smell him on her, could still feel the tiny vibrations against her neck when he’d told her this was the night, could still feel the heat of his hands on her, just teasing her with glimpses of the lovemaking to come. Then, just as suddenly as he’d appeared, he was gone, leaving her breathless and giddy with anticipation. Ever since, he’d been opening his thoughts—his very unbusinesslike thoughts—to her, preparing her mind and body for a night unlike any they’d ever had.
Liz jolted back to her real life, blushing at what was on her mind, even though no one could have known.
“I’m sorry. Oh, Serena! Hi!”
Serena laughed. “I guess if I were looking forward to the night you are, I’d be fantasizing, too.”
“What?” Liz was embarrassed and confused all at once. “How did you know about that?”
“Because they had to clear it with me before they told Max the room was his tonight. I was thinking you might like to get off early. You know, to get ready.”
“Oh, Serena, I couldn’t. I mean, it’s so busy and everything. I just couldn’t . . . could I?”
“I think I could arrange someone to cover your shift for maybe the last two hours. You and Max deserve a break.”
Liz looked thrilled for about ten seconds, then her face fell. “Thanks, Serena, but I can’t take the van back to the apartment and leave the others stranded. It was a nice offer, though. I’ll take a shower in the room when we get off work.”
Serena eyed her new friend and shook her head slowly. “Not good enough.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Liz, you are one of the few people in the world who can even begin to understand what my life has been like lately. In fact, you’ve been living with it for over 3 years. I won’t have you trying to prepare for a stress-free, romantic evening with your incredible husband by having to enter your love nest needing a quick shower. I’ll tell you what, you can use my place. I have all the smelly stuff you could want, and I’m going to buy you the sexiest negligee in our boutique as a thank you for everything you’ve done . . . and just for being my friend.”
“Oh, no, Serena!” Liz protested, unable to hide the bright smile that erupted at the idea.
“Oh, yes, Liz,” Serena corrected her with a grin. “Besides, I have an ulterior motive.”
“And what would that be?” Liz asked, amused.
Serena’s whole body slumped suddenly, and she bit at her lip, a habit Liz recognized immediately.
“I want to talk to you about . . . last night. Kyle . . . I have to . . . I need advice.”
Liz’s smile faded a little. “Serena, are you having second thoughts? I mean, about getting married?”
“Not exactly,” she hedged. “When do you get off for lunch?”
Liz stopped by the Conventions office to tell Max she was having lunch with Serena, but Joyce, the Director’s secretary, would only say that Max was unavailable, and she’d give him the message. Max’s thoughts—the ones that had been sneaking into her mind all morning making her squirm as she tried to conduct business as usual—had stopped a short time before, but she felt no concern. This was a day for intrigue and secrets.
She met Serena back in the office, already struggling to balance her curiosity about what Serena wanted to talk about on the one hand with her eagerness to get on with preparations for her night with Max on the other.
“What do you feel like eating?” Serena asked, her smile still a little tense.
“To be honest, I’m not hungry,” Liz confessed. “I guess I’m too excited about tonight. Whatever you want is fine with me; I’ll probably just sit with you.”
“I’m not hungry, either,” Serena admitted. “But we should have something, just to keep our strength up.” She winked at Liz, then laughed at her friend’s predictable blush. “I’ve got just the thing.”
Liz followed Serena into the more casual of the resort’s restaurants, noting how many of the employees straightened their posture or sped up their pace as they walked by. It was a different world that Serena lived in, and she wondered if that very thought was at the heart of her obvious concern today. Was it possible she regretted proposing to Kyle?
“Manuel, two raspberry yogurt smoothies, please . . . to go.”
A minute later, they walked out into the sunshine and made their way toward the pool area. On the far perimeter were some empty tables where they could talk privately. Serena sat quietly, though, nibbling idly on her straw.
“Spit it out, Serena. Are you regretting last night?”
The question got no response for several seconds; then Serena sat back in the chair with a loud sigh.
“I feel like my head’s going to explode.”
The remark made Liz laugh out loud. “Kyle’s been known to express that very sentiment,” she laughed, sobering again quickly.
“What’s up, Serena?”
Another sigh, and Serena seemed ready to talk. “When Kyle and I got back to my place last night, my Dad was waiting.”
“Oh my god, Serena, what did he want?”
“You mean after he told Kyle to leave, then tried to buy him off, and then found out he was Alex’s father?”
The smoothie lost all appeal for Liz, and she pushed it away from her, staring, horrified, at Serena.
“What did Kyle do? What did your father say? Serena, what happened?”
“Kyle was great. He kept his cool the whole time, but he made it clear,” and here she smiled, “very clear, in fact, that he wasn’t leaving and didn’t want my father’s money.”
“That’s our boy,” Liz nodded, pleased.
“But things went from tense to tense and weird when Dad sort of lost it. It was like instant therapy group or something because all this stuff came out about not losing anyone else and not getting attached to people anymore and some load of crap about power and money being all you could count on . . .”
Serena noted Liz’s surprised look and shrugged. “I guess he’s had a lot of stuff building up. He wouldn’t go talk to anyone after Andy died like the rest of us did. And I guess on top of losing Mom, things were just building up inside him. We just didn’t realize it.”
“So how did things end up?”
“Well, Kyle left . . .”
“No, not like that. Not mad or anything. It was just that when Dad fell apart, I guess he realized it was best that he leave us alone together. It was okay.”
Another in Serena’s long line of sighs was the only answer for a moment, and then she looked Liz in the eye. “I think Dad understands that Kyle and I are going to be together, and that we want Alex with us. But he asked . . . he asked me to wait. He said he wouldn’t put Alex up for adoption, and he’d let him stay here with me, if we put off getting married until we know each other better. I’m not sure he trusts Kyle’s motives.”
“Do you, Serena?”
Her answer was immediate and sure. “Yes, I do. And I don’t want Kyle to think I don’t, but I also think maybe waiting is a good idea if it doesn’t jeopardize things with Alex. I just don’t know how Kyle will react, and I thought you might be able to give me some advice. You’ve known him forever.”
Liz was thoughtful as she looked out over the vacationers basking in the sun. “I’m not sure I can answer that. I’m not even sure I should. All I can tell you is, Kyle loves you both. I guess if he thinks that waiting will make you happier or more sure about him, then he’ll be okay, as long as Alex is here. But it’ll be up to you to convince him that this isn’t mistrust on your part. He’s been hurt enough. He needs to be sure of how you feel about him.”
Serena nodded. “When he came up last night, it was at my invitation.”
At Liz’s frown of confusion, she elaborated. “I invited him . . . to spend the night.”
“Oh, uh, okay. So you were . . .”
“I’m ready to commit to him, Liz. And he knows that. I’ve never extended that invitation to anyone . . . ever.”
Understanding crept over Liz’s expression, and she reached for Serena’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “Just talk to him, Serena. It’ll be okay.”
“Thanks,” she said softly, smiling a little less nervously now. “So, how about we go buy you something slinky and sexy to dazzle Max tonight?”
Liz smiled back, a hint of impishness in her eyes. “Given what you just told me, how about we buy two?”
Max stood in Serena’s doorway trying to make casual conversation with his hostess and Kyle, who was red-faced from cavorting around on the floor amusing Alex. Liz emerged from Serena’s bedroom with a small overnight bag and a radiant look of expectation on her face; it was all he could do to swallow. Everything about her shone—her complexion, her hair, her eyes.
They were keeping their connection in check for fear of losing control before they ever made it to their honeymoon suite, but there was enough love and desire pulsing through it to give one dark-haired alien palpitations. Kyle, however, in his own subtle and tactful way, brought them back to the present.
“So, do you think you guys could have sex in another room? This one’s occupied.”
Serena swatted him hard, but Liz and Max just looked amused, if a little embarrassed. They had learned to let Kyle’s comments bounce off them long ago, and in light of recent events, the edge in his voice had softened considerably. This was just Kyle, being Kyle, and somewhere along the way, they’d learned to appreciate him.
“I think that can be arranged,” Max came back, earning a surprised grin from Kyle. “Shall we?”
He held out a bent arm for Liz to wrap hers around, and they headed out the door. At the last moment, Liz turned back.
“Thanks, Serena, for everything. Good luck tonight.”
Serena smiled at her and began to close the door. Before it latched, they heard Kyle asking, “What are you going to need good luck for?”
Liz said a little prayer for them just before Max covered her hand with his own. After that, there was nothing in her mind but her incredibly beautiful husband and his incredibly beautiful body and thoughts of what incredibly beautiful things it would be doing to hers very shortly.
The air crackled around them as they walked to their suite, and Max never lost contact with his bride, for that’s what she was to him again tonight—his bride on the wedding night she deserved the first time around and he couldn’t give her then. But he could now, and he was bursting for it to begin. At the door, he lifted her easily and carried her over the threshold, holding her eyes with his as he held her captive in his arms. Then, he eased her to the floor and let her turn to see their suite for the evening. She gasped in awe. It was incredibly beautiful.
“And so are you, Liz Parker Evans.”
She turned in his arms again, and welcomed the first kiss of what would undoubtedly be an incredibly beautiful night.
Posted: Fri Aug 29, 2003 11:52 pm
Well, my happy Chameleons, you’re in for a change of pace this week.
First, I’m posting a day early, and believe me, that was no easy task. But we’re going away for the weekend (everyone turn on your tv at noon Central time—Illinois [Go Illini] is playing Missouri [boo, hiss]; I’ll be the one in orange and blue) and then spending the night with friends, so no ‘puter for me.
Second, as the detectives among you may have deduced last week, we’re in for some Max and Liz lovin’. Well, more than some. A lot, actually. Having had a rather creative week at the computer, and worrying that Max and Liz are feeling neglected, I came to terms with the fact that I’ve been saving up a lot of lovin’ for our beautiful couple. So if you’re not into NC-17, I fear you will have little to enjoy this week. If you are into it, you’ve hit the mother lode! Our little ones are going to get a whole honeymoon out of their one night, so fasten your seatbelts. This is over-the-top, romantic, sexy Dreamer lovin’. Finest kind! Next week, either to your relief or disappointment, we’ll bring the gang back together and finish setting a course for the future.
Two more notes: I always use Saturday to read and reread what I’m posting—looking for inconsistencies and better phrasing, stuff like that. I’m not getting to do that this time, so if you find small errors in point of view (see next note) or carelessness of phrase here and there, please be kind. It was this or nothing.
Also, when you see *** , it’s meant to denote a change of pov. I tried to alternate between Max and Liz so we could know what each was feeling during the evening. However, this is where I have the most fear that I may have tripped myself up in this chapter, and where Saturday would have been the most helpful. I apologize in advance for slip-ups there.
Here we go!
Liz had expected luxury, spaciousness, glamour. What she hadn’t expected were the tender, romantic touches that only Max could have arranged. There were candles everywhere, flickering in candlesticks, bowls, and sconces. Fresh flowers in several small vases brightened corners of the room, and soft jazz slid through the air, soothing away the furious pace of the day. Liz stood, transfixed, touched to the point of tears.
“Max,” she breathed, “how . . . when . . . how did you do all this?”
His arms encircled her from behind, and she leaned back into them with a dainty sniff.
“Do you like it?”
She nodded wordlessly as her damp eyes swept the romantic setting, then lit on a picture that perched prominently on the coffee table. It was their wedding day, and the two of them were gazing so intensely into each other’s eyes that they didn’t even know Maria was standing only feet away to capture the joy and love on their faces for posterity.
“Max. I can’t believe you thought to bring that picture.”
“I think that moment is etched into my brain forever,” he said, a tight huskiness in his voice. “I kept wondering if it was really happening or if it was just another elaborate dream like so many of the others.”
She turned in his arms, eyes shining behind a sheen of tears. “You used to dream about us getting married?”
“Are you kidding?” His thumb gently swept away a fugitive teardrop from her cheek, and then stayed there, anchoring the large palm that cupped her face. “I started thinking about that somewhere in the neighborhood of puberty. In middle school, I used to practice proposing in front of the dresser mirror until Isabel caught me. My life was hell for at least a week. After that, I stuck to the shower.”
A tender smile lit Liz’s face thinking about a gawky, insecure Max proposing to his own reflection in the mirror. But she had been just as gawky and just as insecure, and she never would have imagined the enigmatic Max Evans could have feelings for her. He was a master of deception even then.
Her smile deepened as she was reminded of her own fantasies involving that amazing moment. She’d never told Max what she was doing when Future Max arrived on her roof!
“This is amazing, Max. It’s like a fairy tale.”
“And you are my queen.”
Their eyes locked, and they fell willingly in, comfortable in the depths of the other’s soul. Then his lips found hers, and the heat between them flared into need. Seconds later, Max tore himself from her with an iron will, and she knew he was making a disciplined effort to make this night about love and romance and not just physical pleasure, but his body was already craving her touch, and she wanted that, too.
“Want a tour?” Max mumbled against her hair, intoxicated by the subtle strawberry scent that filtered through senses already tingling with Liz’s kisses.
“Later,” she groaned. “Right now, I need to release some of this tension you’ve been working so hard to create all day, and I’m afraid there’s only one thing that will satisfy me.”
“Thank God,” he whispered, lifting her again into his arms.
Max had been nervous all afternoon, planning each detail of their evening, starting with the most romantic setting he could manage. Thanks to some creative molecular mumbo-jumbo and a spontaneous “shower” the mothering women in Conventions threw him at lunch, the effect was just what he’d wanted. But suddenly, it didn’t matter so much. He was holding everything that mattered in his arms, and he was going to do his level best to make sure she had more than the décor to remember this night by.
Carrying her toward the bedroom of the massive suite, Max was struck by how light she felt, and yet he knew from glorious experience that she was powerful in so many ways, the most relevant of which was how she could bring him to his knees with one sultry look, one sweep of her tongue across those luscious lips. In his efforts to prime her for tonight’s adventures, he’d also succeeded in pushing himself to the breaking point, and he didn’t see how he was going to concentrate on anything else until they’d made love at least once.
Liz’s hands were all over him even before he could lay her gently on the bed, and he had to clamp down on the urge to just ravage her—primally, roughly.
“Don’t hold back,” she whispered against his neck, nipping across his throat with little sucking noises. “I won’t break.”
With a groan of relief, he pushed her cropped top up over her breasts, gasping delightedly at the lack of any interference from a bra, and bent to suckle ravenously on the first rosy nub. He heard her sigh with satisfaction, and the very sound pierced his heart. Their love, their complete devotion, and their unequalled ability to satisfy each other sexually was a gift beyond Max’s wildest dreams. Even as a married couple, those three elements of their relationship never wavered. Now, lying on a bed in a luxurious suite with the whole night ahead of them, Max’s imagination took off. Oh, what plans he had for her!
But for now, they needed each other; they needed to experience that first release so they could take their time with the others. And oh, yes, Max smiled to himself, there would be many others.
Liz worked her hands between them, feeling for the edges of Max’s shirt. He was wearing a dress shirt because of work, and with a gleam of abandon in her eye, she parted it, letting buttons fly in all directions.
“Oh, like that, is it?” Max leered with a wicked smile.
“That’s only the beginning,” Liz promised.
Stripped of his shirt, Max returned the favor, then held himself above her, drinking her in until the hungry scrutiny made her blush with self-awareness. Liz, on the other hand, was also deliciously aware of how Max’s muscles strained as he held himself apart from her, little shifts sending ripples across the surface of his skin. She couldn’t help the lust that rose up in her. Yes, she loved him—the inner man. But dear god, he was so beautiful to look at, too.
With the soft pads of her thumbs, she rubbed small circles on his nipples, thrilling to the twitch against her thigh as her lover’s eyes closed with pure pleasure. Then he swooped down, crushing her with his body weight and devouring her mouth. His tongue sought its far recesses, and she knew he wanted what she wanted—to be inside her, completely, to enter her through whatever path would have him, and burrow there forever, safe and loved.
Her body wriggled beneath him, seeking to coax his length between her legs where it would help assuage the ache growing more urgent with every breath. When he shifted, she felt the momentary relief that she knew would lead only to more need. Anticipating, she wrapped her legs around him and pushed up, willing the fabric to disappear without their having to part. Max released her mouth, and she saw the transported look on his face. They were climbing fast.
“God, Liz, I love you so much,” he breathed, attacking her ear, her throat, and down to her breasts again. Every place he touched triggered impossibly heightened reactions, and she shuddered under the onslaught of sensation.
“I need you,” he panted, “and God help me, I want you. Now!”
Liz could hardly remember the last time Max had used his powers to strip them. It was a sign of utmost desperation on his part, and she was never so thankful. All barriers between them were gone, and he plunged into her welcoming center with her name a faint prayer on his lips.
“Liz . . .”
She met him, powerful thrust for powerful thrust, reaching with her heart and body for the gift only he could give her. As the warm tension coiled inside her, their emotions merged in a kaleidoscope of color and awareness, and then he tensed, plunging one last time with a long, low wail of release. As she felt him burst within her, she gave herself to it, feeling the invisible tether between her body and her heart strain as they both exploded in unison.
Their pounding hearts slowed to a single rhythm, and when Max finally slid to her side and gathered her into his arms, the cool air on their slick bodies caused little goosebumps to emerge, in spite of the heat they were still generating.
“You know I want to do that to you every single time I see you?” he confessed softly. “Even if we’ve only been apart since breakfast, I just want to take you, right on the spot. Like some sort of caveman. I thought maybe that was a ‘forbidden fruit’ thing, at first. You know, I would fantasize about it because I couldn’t have it, but since we’ve been married, I think it’s getting worse.”
Liz couldn’t help but smile. It might be dangerous to let him know how that thrilled her, but she loved hearing him admit to it. “Caveman, huh? Well, I don’t mind a little caveman once in a while, although the idea of alien cavemen strikes me as a contradiction in terms,” she teased. “Besides, you’re not the only one. I used to have daydreams about you after almost every bio lab, even before you saved my life. But after that, I could hardly sleep at night. It was like you’d put a force on me. I’d even blow off my friends at lunchtime and go sit on the football bleachers just so I could be alone to think about you.”
“Yeah?” He sounded pleased, in spite of the fact that he’d heard some of this before. “So, were you dreaming about me naked?”
Liz chuckled, already getting turned on again by his playful talk. “Are you kidding, Max? Sometimes, I imagined you coming to my room and just ravaging me. And sometimes, I’d be the aggressor, hauling you into the eraser room and having my way with you. But the best ones . . . the best ones were where you came to me and told me you loved me, and we just made love together. Those were the ones that made me realize I wasn’t just attracted to you, I was falling for you. Hard.”
She turned in his arms and kissed him, gratified to feel him springing to life again.
“We’ve been in training,” Max said with mock seriousness. “We consider this our New York Marathon, and we damn well intend to do ourselves proud.”
“Yeah, Max the Mighty and I.”
Liz fell back laughing. “Oh, Max! Please tell me you didn’t name it.”
He laughed with her. “Oh course! Michael and I both did, back in junior high. It’s a thing guys do. I just haven’t thought of it in a long time.”
“You’re kidding. What’s Michael call his? NO! Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know.”
“Good, because you’ll never get it out of me, anyway.”
“Is that right?” Liz rose up on one elbow. “That’s a challenge if I ever heard one. Hmmmm, where to begin?”
Her hand reached down to stroke Max’s cock, already partially stiff in anticipation. It leapt under her touch, and he rolled to his back, arms spread, completely vulnerable. “I am so dead,” he sighed.
Liz arranged herself on top of Max and pushed his wrists up over his head. He pretended to resist, but not for long; after all, it was exactly where he wanted to be. Her breasts bounced in front of his face, tantalizing him, and he lifted his head to take one in. Liz pulled back just out of his reach, a playful smile on her face.
“Ah-ah-ah,” she scolded. “You are withholding information, and there will be no treats until you’ve spilled it.”
“I thought you didn’t want to know,” he countered.
“I don’t. But the fact that you won’t tell me makes it a point of honor.”
“And you think your tactics are honorable?” He arched an eyebrow at her as her hips began to rub against him.
“Time-honored. This is how women have been controlling the world for generations.”
“Which world?” he quipped as his eyes rolled involuntarily toward the ceiling in delicious pleasure.
“We’ll see,” she replied, sliding down his body. He knew what was coming. He ached for it, and dreaded it, because he knew she would use it to torture him. A knock at the door stopped Liz mid-torture, and he wasn’t sure whether to growl in frustration or sigh in relief.
“Saved by the bell . . . so to speak,” he grimaced as he extracted himself and slipped on his boxers. “But who in the world comes knocking on the door of a honeymoon suite, for crying out loud?”
He answered the door to find the hallway empty except for a serving cart covered in delicacies: finger sandwiches, a vegetable tray with several appetizing dips, a fruit sculpture filled with bite-sized fruits of every kind, miniature quiches, and finally, chocolate-covered strawberries—dipped in dark and white chocolate. Two bottles of sparkling grape juice—not champagne—were chilling in the ice bucket. That alone would have given away the identity of their benefactors, but the little bottle of Tabasco sauce was the clincher. Only their good friends could conceive of this exact selection of treats, and only Serena could afford to make it happen.
“Max?” Liz called, impatient with the interruption. “What’s going on?”
Max rolled the cart inside and shut the door. He fixed a plate with a bit of everything, poured two glasses of sparking grape juice, and returned to find Liz lying very provocatively against the red satin sheets on the turned-down bed.
“I didn’t notice the rose petals when we first came in,” she said softly. “I used to dream of you coming to me and raining rose petals down on us while we kissed.”
“I know,” he told her, looking guilty. “Isabel told me.”
“Isabel . . .!” She huffed indignantly, but they both knew there was no sense going into it now. Her attention was drawn quickly away from that bit of unsettling news when she spied the plate in his hand.
“Is that food?!” she asked, suddenly very unprovocative. “Where did it come from? I haven’t eaten all day!”
Max chuckled at her change in demeanor.
“I asked for the strawberries, but apparently our friends bumped up the order a bit.”
Liz grabbed the nearest thing—a small quichette—and fell back against the pillows, savoring the warm flavors. Max leaned over and kissed her on the nose, amused.
“Well, I’ll leave you to refuel, my love. You’ll need your strength. I have a surprise for you.”
He slipped into the bathroom, turning to see his beautiful wife help herself to a succulent bit of pineapple and sigh contentedly. She would be satisfied for a little while, at least; she could feel his euphoric mood reach through their connection, but, for now, the details were still his secret.
“Max,” she breathed, trying to take it all in. Candlelight reflected off of mirrors, crystal, and the floor to ceiling glass walls; a faint lilac scent prompted Liz to breathe in deeply. Steam rose from the enormous tub, hovering lightly over the mounds of bubbles that sparkled like snow in moonlight. Next to a brimming ice bucket, glasses filled with pale gold stood on the wide tub ledge, trickles of condensation meandering lazily down their sides. Thick towels were draped carelessly over a small bench where oils warmed in a shallow dish set in hot water. It was heaven.
“Max, this is the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen.”
“Nothing’s too good for my bride,” he said, circling in front of her and holding out a hand to help her step in. She took a step forward, then faltered when her eyes caught the dizzying array of color from downtown Vegas in the distance.
“Oh my god! That’s a glass window, Max! Anyone could be watching us. Aren’t there curtains or anything?”
Max had been waiting for that one. “Don’t worry. The glass has a special reflective coating. We can see out but no one can see in.”
Liz looked hesitant. “How do you know that?”
“Well, Mr. Matheson told me, but . . .,” he raised his hand to stop her question, “just to be sure, I made Michael come up here a few nights ago and I went outside and tried to see him. He had all the lights turned on, he said, but I couldn’t see a thing.”
Still doubtful, Liz looked around self-consciously. “Maybe he wasn’t close enough to the window, or maybe it wasn’t as dark out as it is now. What if you were looking in the wrong window?”
“Liz,” he said quietly, waiting for her nervous look to return to him, “Not only am I sure I had the right window, I’m very sure Michael was trying to be seen.”
“Why? How do you know?”
Max couldn’t suppress the chuckle. “Because he told me he was mooning me. I didn’t believe him, but unfortunately, he had proof.”
Liz frowned. “What proof is there of a mooning?”
Max’s eyebrows just drew up, and he waited for the obvious answer to her question to sink in.
“Eeeewwww! A butt-print?”
Then it was Liz’s turn to laugh, and they slid happily into the silky water.
For a long time, they just relaxed in the soothing warmth, sipping their sparkling juice and admiring the impressive view. Liz was nestled comfortably between Max’s legs, her back to his chest, blissfully conscious of his hard, muscled body supporting hers.
“Who would have thought?” Liz sighed to herself.
“Thought what?” Max asked, sliding a hand down her arm and watching the bubbles race to catch up.
“Who would have thought three years ago that we would be here someday, especially so soon.”
Max didn’t answer for a moment, then, “Me.”
Liz’s fingers traced the thigh that rested against hers. “Really, Max? You thought we’d be here? I mean, not here in Vegas, but married and working and sharing our lives with our friends?”
“Not the details, I guess. My imagination never got much further than marrying you. That was pretty far out there as it was; the rest was unimportant. I guess I didn’t really expect it, but it’s just about all I thought about. That I could have the perfect life. And I do.”
“Perfect, Max?” Liz said doubtfully. “You’ve been tortured by the government; aliens have tried to kill you; you spent your childhood hiding the truth from your parents; and you carried the burden of everyone’s safety on your shoulders. Now we’re on the run—though I’ll grant you, that may not be necessary much longer—and we have an alien child to help raise. Where do you get perfect?”
He kissed her neck lightly as his fingers twined with hers, and his forefinger rubbed back and forth over her wedding ring. “Right here.”
His gesture was sincere and chaste, in its way—borne of the truest dictates of his heart. She felt his emotions in her soul, strong and untainted by any other motives than to share his deepest feelings. And yet, with that one simple phrase, that one innocent touch, he had set her aflame. The knowledge that his feelings for her ran so deep, and that all of the physical intimacy they shared stemmed from those feelings, drove her to open to him in every possible way. She wanted to share everything with him, withholding nothing.
Sliding her legs beneath her, Liz pushed forward to all fours, stretching gracefully to reach the bath salts, her movements purposely languid and seductive. As her body rose from the water, exposing the soft expanse of her back and the firm globes of her ass, she felt his surge of desire flow over her; he knew what she was feeling . . . and doing. A thrill shot through her at how easily she could make him want her. She felt powerful and bold, but not contrite. After all, she held no power over him that he didn’t hold with equal dominance over her; he could turn her to putty with a single look.
Her eyes caught his in their reflection from the smoky glass walls, and it was hard to tell if the lights she saw were from the cityscape or from the charged look they exchanged. A different kind of warmth spread through her, and she trembled in anticipation of what was to come.
Posted: Fri Aug 29, 2003 11:54 pm
Part 41 continued
He'd been relaxed, at peace, overwhelmingly content holding his wife's petite body within his own as they shared whatever came to mind. Just being able to express his love in whatever emotions or words or actions moved him at the time was a luxury he'd never dared to expect. But she was here with him . . . with him . . . by choice, and she loved him beyond measure, as her actions had proved over and over, and as her open soul showed him every time they kissed. Making love was just the icing on the cake . . . but god, he loved icing.
Then everything changed, and the air in the room became charged with their chemistry. He felt it as soon as it came over her, though he wasn’t sure exactly what had triggered it, nor did he care very much. She was fairly vibrating with desire, and it took him about two seconds to catch up with her.
Then, with only that flash of warning, she shifted from their comfortable spooning and was rising up from the water like a goddess, sheets of water cascading from her hair and back as the swell of her hips rose up in front of him in blatant invitation. Images played out in his mind, scenes of what he wanted to do with her body—places he would touch, sounds she would make—and he couldn’t keep them from spilling into their connection. He knew she saw them, too, and his heart slammed against his chest when her look turned feral. She was ready for him.
His lungs began to burn, and he realized he wasn’t breathing; he was caught in their ethereal image that played off the wall. He watched her face in the reflection as his hands rose to cup her heat-pinked cheeks, and he felt her press back into his hands, her legs spreading as she backed toward him. A slick finger slipped under the water and slid forward into her lips, and again, he could feel her press into him, welcoming every touch and inviting more.
He bent forward, blowing a narrow trail up and down her back and butt, and felt the slight shudder that sent her shimmying closer to his fingers, trying to direct him to the ache that was beginning to build. He could feel his own erection growing, in spite of the hot water, and he pushed his fingers inside her, anticipating the act that was already consuming his mind. She rode his fingers, eyes closed, until her frantic thrusts brought her into contact with his cock, and they both jumped, watching again in the glass.
It was Max’s turn to shift. He lifted himself onto his knees and reached for the water jets. Immediately, water was erupting around them, teasing, stimulating. Max reached forward, sliding his hands slowly around Liz’s torso until each hand was filled with a breast. Stretching back like a cat, Liz lowered herself further into his hands and tighter against his rigid cock, her eyes never leaving his in the glass. He tweaked her nipples, pulling and twisting gently, then harder as they formed pebbled peaks against his fingers. Then he slid his hands back and braced her hips. Neither of them wanted to wait much longer.
As the waves and eddies of the water whipped at Liz’s breasts and Max poised at her entrance, every nerve was alive with blissful torture. Even the mist that surrounded them was wreaking havoc with her over-sensitive skin, and the hair on Max’s legs was tickling her thighs. She spread them again, begging for him to take her.
“Max!” she gasped. “Please!”
Every cell was braced for his penetration, the promise of joining almost more than she could bear, so when it was Max’s gentle flick of her clit that shook her instead, she had to bite back a wail of surprise and pleasure. Her hips undulated against him then—hand and cock electrifying her core until she feared her arms would no longer hold her. The tension building in her body was pushing her to the limit. Somewhere in her mind, she knew she’d started it, but now all she wanted to do was finish it.
Her head jerked up, and she saw Max watching her, a sexual intensity on his face that matched her own.
“Dear god, Max, take me!” she screamed, clenching at his length helplessly.
He plunged into her with a guttural moan and they came together in a frenzy of want and need. The water swept around them, lapping and nipping at them as if caught up in the abandon of their act of love. Wrapped in sensation, they merged again and again until Liz cried out in release, and Max flooded her passage in a torrent that seemed to stem from the far reaches of his body, all focused on the quest to be one with her.
Max reached to shut off the jets and pulled his limp wife back into his chest, grateful for the solid support of the tub walls. He had next to no strength left himself, and was eager to come down from their high wrapped in the warmth of the soothing water and each other.
Minutes later, Liz finally moved, reaching for a drink. As soon as she set her glass down, her stomach rumbled, and Max’s followed suit.
“I guess it’s time to refuel again,” he chuckled, and felt Liz smile against his chest.
“Absolutely,” she agreed. “Because I’m not near done with you yet.”
Max sighed, happier than he could ever remember being. Every time he made love to Liz, it was like discovering a new facet on an infinitely faceted prism, and with each new surface, ground to a smooth perfection, the brilliance burst into another dimension. He didn’t ever expect to discover all those hidden facets, nor did he want to. For the quest to find them was the joy of it, and the depth and clarity of what they shared was the reward. Something raw inside was soothed, another wound healed. They would spend a lifetime submitting to life’s wounds, and a lifetime of love finding healing in each other.
With a promise not to keep him waiting too long, Liz begged Max for a little time alone in the bathroom. After a quick kiss to seal the deal, he slipped on the silk robe that was supplied with the room and went out into the living room to arrange their casual meal at the table. This room overlooked a different part of Las Vegas, as well as the pool and lighted garden area of the resort grounds.
True to her word, Liz appeared behind him moments later, but he was completely unprepared for what he saw. She was a vision—sultry innocence, dewy-eyed vixen. Her tiny figure gave beautiful contours to a long, shimmery, sapphire-blue gown, and her dark hair was swept casually into a large clip, letting a riot of tendrils escape around her face. Her skin glowed with warmth, sex, and scented lotions that were already enticing him, and little bare feet peeked out, pale against the deep russet carpet. He’d never seen anyone look so beautiful or so sexy in his life.
“You’re exquisite,” he finally managed to say. “I . . . you’re beautiful.”
Liz beamed under his admiring scrutiny, and used his moment of complete immobility to admire what she was seeing, too. The black silk clung to his skin, still moist after their bath . . . and other activities. The material stretched across his broad shoulders and powerful arms, and a tantalizing bit of chest was visible above the lapels. His hair was slicked back and he was holding a wine glass of sparkling grape juice. He looked like a man who belonged in this setting. A rich, gorgeous, confident—though temporarily speechless—man. She felt like a princess.
“Where did you get that?” he asked, eyes still glued to her.
“Serena said it was a wedding present,” Liz answered. “I hope you don’t mind that I let her buy it. We’ve sort of bonded lately, and it seemed okay. I won’t let her buy us anything else.”
Max finally moved his gaze to the table, set with plates filled with delicious food. “I think she already did, but as long as it doesn’t become a habit, I think it’s fine. I mean, she’s new to all this, and I suppose she’s just trying to make sure we know that she is a friend and not a threat. Besides, between Alex and Kyle, I think we’ll be friends for a good, long time. She’s nice. I like her, don’t you?”
“Very much,” Liz said, taking the seat Max offered her. “I think even Michael does. Either that or he just feels glad that Kyle finally has someone. Which reminds me, Serena bought one, too.”
“A nightgown, silly. She and Kyle are probably, you know, probably going to make love soon. In fact, it almost happened last night, but her father surprised them in her apartment.”
“You’re kidding! Not while they were . . .”
“No! No,” Liz laughed, then grew serious. “But he threatened Kyle and tried to pay him off.” At Max’s alarmed reaction, she hurried on. “But he backed off eventually. He did, however, ask her to delay marrying Kyle until they’d gotten to know each other better. He promised to leave Alex with her if she did.”
Max’s expression hardened. “That’s blackmail. And besides, don’t you think he’ll spend that time trying to dig up dirt on Kyle? On all of us?!”
“I don’t know, Max, but I don’t think he could learn anything that Serena doesn’t already know. It won’t change how she feels about him. Still, it might stir things up in Roswell. What do you think we should do?”
Max started to answer, then sat back in silence, sharing his thoughts. Liz answered him with a smile.
“You’re right. Tonight is about us.”
They clinked glasses ceremoniously, and settled in to enjoy their food and their view.
“I can see why this place is getting booked,” Liz said, admiring her surroundings. “It’s absolutely beautiful. Luxurious without being tacky.”
“Well,” Max admitted, “I did make a few changes, but really, for Vegas, it’s not bad.”
“Oh, really?” Liz watched Max closely when she felt him withdraw his thoughts. “What exactly did you change?”
He grinned, his eyes turning playful. “I don’t think I should share all my secrets,” he said coyly, “but I will tell you that the bed is bigger.”
“And why, exactly, would that be important since we sleep practically on top of each other?”
“Well, that’s true, but I’m not sure we’ll actually be sleeping, and besides, I didn’t know how wild you might get.”
He’d managed to surprise her, but only for an instant. With a glint of challenge in her eye, she picked up a chocolate-covered strawberry, licked it on all sides, and pushed it slowly into her mouth. He was watching her, lips parted, until she swallowed. Then, she looked him straight in the eye and said, “Good point. I’ve spent years imagining a thousand interesting ways to use strawberries.”
“Tell me one thing I don’t know about you,” Liz demanded after they’d eaten and talked and eaten some more. Finally, they had made their way to the balcony. It was very late now, though the lights of the Vegas strip gave no indication that that mattered to anyone there. Still, the moon had almost finished its arc across the sky, and there was little activity on the resort grounds below.
“When I see flashes from you, Max, it’s usually important stuff—things that have scared you or been milestones or something. I want to know something small and personal that you’ve never told me. Or shown me.”
Max shifted behind her and clasped his hands over her abdomen. He thought about her question while he nuzzled her hair, thinking of much more interesting things than his boring childhood, because being alien had definitely impressed upon him the importance of not being interesting.
“I don’t know. You know everything that counts.”
“Please, Max? We spend all our time on these big crises and I don’t know anything about the small stuff, like what was your favorite bedtime story and were you ever a Boy Scout. Stuff like that.”
“Hmmmm. Well, I once took swimming lessons even though I didn’t like swimming.”
“Why’d you do that? Hey, you were in my swim class, as I recall.”
It took a second, but soon Liz was smiling up at her adorable husband. “You signed up for that class because I was in it?”
“I can’t believe you did that. We were probably only 9 or 10 then. Wow, that was quite a sacrifice.”
She looked back up over her shoulder, puckered for a kiss, which Max gladly supplied.
“Well, that was a nice payoff,” he said with a squeeze around her tummy. “Let’s see. How about when I aspired to be a strawberry.”
“A strawberry. I begged our teacher to cast me as a strawberry in the school play, even though she wanted me to be a vegetable, I think.”
“Okay, and why . . .?”
This time it didn’t even take a second. She turned in his arms and offered up a real kiss, the long, wet, passionate kind, and Max deepened it immediately.
When they broke apart, Liz was looking at him with renewed wonder. “Heavens, Max, what else did you do that was uncharacteristic because of me?”
He locked eyes with her, and his face grew serious. “Healed you in the middle of a crowded restaurant and ruined your life.”
Liz didn’t say anything for a moment, but her expression was tender, and she brushed her hand down his face. When she spoke, it was breathless and straight from the heart.
“Yes, you healed me in the middle of a crowded restaurant, but you ruined me for anyone else.”
They drifted together, this kiss soft and exploratory, almost like their very first one on Liz’s balcony so long ago. Max pulled back and sighed, searching her face as if the intensity of his gaze could somehow impress on her the truth of his words.
“You want to know about my life, Liz, but I’m not exaggerating when I say you are my life. I didn’t have one before you, and I can’t imagine one without you. I promise you: there is nothing in the world I would do to jeopardize you or our life together, and nothing I wouldn’t do to save it. If anything in my life matters, it’s had to do with you, Liz. It’s always been you.”
Now the sheen of tears had made another appearance, and one blink sent the first few skidding down Liz’s cheek. The first wave splatted quietly down to Liz’s chest where they scattered a series of dark splotches on the fabric over one sapphire-clad breast. Max kissed each eye reverently, then bent to scoop his bride into his arms. This time, when they lay together on the bed, there was no urgency, no physical mandate to assuage the demands of chemistry. There was only tenderness, trust, love.
They worshipped each other, seeking to give of themselves for the other’s pleasure, every gift of physical sharing a metaphor for their sharing of life’s burdens and joys. Each of them knew they were half of a whole, irrevocably committed to each other for their earthly journey; each knew they had no intention of ever navigating that journey alone.
Max feathered kisses across the damp spots on Liz’s gown, nudging one spaghetti strap out of the way so he could tease her nipple to life. When his attention had elicited the first whimper from his beloved, he shifted to offer the same to her other breast, which was already waiting for him. As his hand coaxed the gown down past her ribs, her waist, her navel, her curls, her thighs, her feet, he feasted on each delectable, sweet-smelling part of her, rejoicing in every little sound that escaped her throat, every tiny shudder that skittered through her.
When she lay naked, candlelit-gold against the red satin sheets, he whispered a promise and disappeared, returning seconds later with a shallow bowl of body oil. With a subtle cupping of his hand, he warmed it, then rolled Liz onto her stomach. He carefully straddled the same beautiful butt cheeks that had driven him wild earlier, but this was a different mood, a different purpose. He poured a few drops of the warm oil into his hands to coat them, and began to massage Liz’s neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs. Patiently, he warmed her body and her heart with his gentle attention, until Liz felt as if she were one with the bed.
When he was finished, he rolled her back again, and began to massage her front. She watched his face this time, wanting to cry yet again at how he cared for her, but as his hands massaged her breasts, they both reacted. Liz reached for the erection that brushed her hip again and again, but Max only murmured a quiet “not yet” and continued his loving attention.
Liz was getting increasingly aroused as she watched his hands on her, but when he reached her upper thighs, she found herself arching toward him. He only continued down her legs, making her ache and melt all at once. She felt a profound gratitude when he finished—both for his incredible loving massage, and for the lovemaking it promised.
Liz raised her arms to welcome him to her body, but he didn’t come into them as she had expected. Instead, he moved her soft, slick legs apart and began to trace the lips that had been waiting for him. Liz was already so sensitive to the touch that she jumped slightly when he began to stroke her—small circles around and over her clit, then a slow finger down to her passage and in, a lulling cadence that seemed to do anything but lull her. Just when she felt she had the strength to demand more, she felt him move in, nuzzling, nipping, lapping at her with increasing pressure.
Perhaps he had come to know her better than she did herself, but she gasped in surprise when her first orgasm unraveled within her. It had snuck up on her, then spiraled through her like wildfire, leaving her panting in the arms that miraculously surrounded her. She felt like weightless lead. No, that didn’t make sense. But how could she feel bolted to the bed even as she floated above it?
“Oh, god, Max. Thank you. That was . . . incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Where . . . oh . . .” She stopped to enjoy an errant aftershock, and then sighed. “Wow. Where did you learn to give massages?”
“I didn’t,” he said, nibbling at her ear. “But I’m a healer, aren’t I? I can feel every muscle and bone and bit of cartilage. I just read your body.”
“Uunnhhh,” she groaned. “Did you ever.”
He smiled at her. “My pleasure.”
“Speaking of which,” she purred, eyes open wider now, “maybe it’s time to address that issue.”
“No, Liz, this is for you.”
“That’s absurd,” she countered. “Giving you pleasure gives me pleasure. Didn’t you enjoy what you just did for me?”
“Immensely,” he conceded, allowing her to push him back against the pillows.
“Then I rest my case.”
Before he could object, she pinned him—or at least they pretended she had—beneath her, and she kissed him, opening her heart and thoughts to him as her breasts grazed his nipples. She registered the leap between her legs, and tried not to smile. He’d gotten over his objections in record time.
Liz slid down his body, stopping to lap at his pebbled nipples and to tease a moan from him as she flicked her tongue into his bellybutton. But the best, of course, was last, because in spite of his protests to the contrary, he was ready for her. More than ready. Her mouth closed over him, first with a trail over his seeping tip, then fully around him, the strokes long and languorous, the suction mild. His hips bucked up, but she accommodated him; she knew he would pump into her furiously before she was finished.
It didn’t take long. She cupped his balls and felt them pull up in readiness. He was close. She drew up, ready to coax him to his final release when she felt his hands pull at her arms. She looked up to find his face rapturous, and she knew what he was going to say before he said it.
“I need . . . I want to be inside you, Liz. Please.”
With a final erotic tug, Liz allowed him to lay her down; then he lifted himself over her.
“I just feel like . . . this time . . . I can’t explain it, Liz, but I want to be inside you. I want this one to be us, not just me.”
She nodded, feeling what he was feeling. He began to move within her, and instead of kissing her, he held her eyes with his, opening a visual connection that seemed to intensify the strength of their usual mental connection. Senses were heightened; flashes flew by; love swelled.
Max felt a familiar tug on his consciousness, and knew that it was tied to Liz, a link to something that was both of them and more all at once. One minute, Max had his eyes squeezed shut in an effort to feel every nuance of their joining; the next, he had forced them open to steal a look at this being—this entity that could only exist when they were joined like this. Their lives and souls seemed to spiral together, and they burst into a communal plane.
The explosion shook them suddenly, as if they hadn’t been prepared for it. Liz whimpered, and Max knew she was crying—not in pain or fear, but in open acknowledgment of how she had disappeared for just a moment inside something bigger than herself. Max had felt it, too, and succumbed to the trembling that shook him as his muscles reclaimed their control. Whatever had touched them was so much a part of them, and yet something of its own as well. He felt no disquiet about it, just curiosity and a little . . . well, awe.
He withdrew from her then, and welcomed her into his arms, a limp and pliable mass. Tucking damp ribbons of hair away from her face, he continued to stroke her gently as she calmed. He knew that some part of her recognized this entity that they became when they were one in mind, body, spirit, heart. He had felt it for some time, always wondering if it were a vestige of his alien side, a distant connection to a life he would never know. But he thought this might have been the first time that Liz felt it. He wanted to give her time to come to terms with a part of herself that was new, a part that was not just of her, but of them.
“Did you feel her?” she asked.
Max felt Liz look up at him, and he gazed at her euphoric expression, a smile of amazement playing at the corners of her mouth.
“Our daughter,” she whispered reverently.
His eyes grew wide, but he said nothing. It was true. He knew it. And the way his face lit up was directly reflected in Liz’s wide eyes. Their daughter, not yet conceived, was already a presence in their lives, in their love. He had recognized her, Max realized, without being able to name the recognition, and the peace it brought him was beyond description.
Liz snuggled back down, and Max felt a mantle of serenity settle over them, a serenity borne of confidence in the future. Max encircled his wife in his arms and looked toward the window where the darkness was being challenged by the first hint of morning.
And when you can see your unborn children in her eyes, you know you really love the woman.
“I love you, Liz.”
Posted: Thu Sep 11, 2003 10:25 pm
A promise is a promise!
I told you if I got a chapter finished, I'd post early (or late, depending on your pov
), and here I am. This means there won't be a new one on Saturday night, but I'll be working on another by then.
We're back with a peek at everyone this week. We'll add a little postscript onto the honeymoon night as well as a visit with the others, so I hope everyone will find something to enjoy.
Two posts, of course. I mean, get real, this is me.
Kyle watched his two friends leave Serena’s apartment and turned to his fiancée with a suspicious frown.
“What are you going to need good luck for?”
Serena bit her lip and looked at the floor, nervous body language if ever he’d seen any.
“Serena, is somethin’ bugging you?”
She crossed the space between them and slid her arms around his neck, pressing a very distracting kiss against his willing lips. Kyle had almost forgotten his question when she pulled back and said, “Let’s take Alex for a walk.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were cruising companionably through the landscaped gardens, pool area, and golf path pushing a stroller and watching the stars come out. They paused to watch a well-played tennis game on the lit courts.
“Kyle, I want to make a suggestion, but that’s all it is. I’m not deciding things for both of us, okay?”
The suspicions came flooding back, and Kyle’s fingers tensed on the stroller handle.
“It’s your dad.”
“Yes . . . and no. It’s his request, but I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t think it had merit. Here’s the thing.” She seemed to brace herself, and Kyle tensed even further. “Dad’s going to leave Alex with me, but he’s asked that we wait to get married.”
It was just about what Kyle had expected. David Crawford wasn’t an idiot; he knew his daughter was smart and headstrong, and that if he made her choose between them, she would pick Kyle—for now. But if he placated her with Alex, which was the path of least resistance, he would keep their lines of communication open, and still have time to gather any dirt on Kyle that might dissuade his daughter from what he saw as a terrible mistake.
Kyle wasn’t worried about how what he discovered would affect Serena’s feelings; he’d told her everything. But he was
worried about how new questions might dredge up the investigation in Roswell all over again. The last word from Nate and Taylor had been that the Special Unit was all but disbanded. However, pointed inquiries from a powerful man with money to throw around could bring it all back again.
He looked over at Serena, who was watching him closely. Maybe that wasn’t all. Maybe Serena was thinking she had acted too hastily, throwing herself on the grenade to assure Alex’s future. If she had doubts, Kyle told himself, it was only natural. They didn’t know each other as well as a couple should before getting married. Somehow, he didn’t feel any doubts, in spite of the newness of their relationship, but he could see how she would. He was disappointed, but not surprised.
“If that’s what you want, Serena,” he said quietly.
Her silence pulled his eyes back up to hers. She was studying him, assessing his reaction.
“You think I’ve had second thoughts,” she said matter-of-factly. “You think I’m not sure marrying you is a good idea.”
He only looked at her, a mute assent.
“You’re wrong, Kyle. I know my dad’s right—we haven’t known each other long enough, we haven’t discussed all the contingencies of a life together, like more kids or where to live or career goals—but that’s not what this is about. Because what he can’t know is that the extraordinary circumstances of our meeting have told me more about Kyle Valenti, the man, than some women might find out in years of dating. I don’t have doubts, Kyle, but what I do have is a hope that Dad can accept you into the family. This delay would be about giving him
time to get to know you. When he does, he’ll love you as much as I do.”
Kyle couldn’t stop his eyebrow from arching quickly over one eye in amused skepticism, in spite of the seriousness of their conversation, and Serena couldn’t stop the smile. “Okay, not like I do, but you know what I mean. I want the two most important men in my life . . .” Then, with a glance at Alex, “. . . the three
most important men in my life to get along. Dad’s not like you think he is; he’ll come around. It’s just hard for him right now. I had no idea how bitter he’d become.”
She was absolutely sincere, Kyle knew, and yet his evaluation of David Crawford’s motives was much less altruistic; he was sure Serena’s father only wanted time to talk her out of it.
Kyle looked down at Alex, who was fascinated by the tennis ball’s fast and regular change of direction. His eyes were glued to the action.
“Did you tell him where we’re from?” Kyle asked.
“Oh, no, Kyle,” she assured him quickly. “I only said your father had been a sheriff in New Mexico. I thought that would, you know, impress him, I guess.”
Kyle suppressed a snort. Yeah, a sheriff named Valenti, in New Mexico. That should take about ten minutes to track down with the right connections. And Kyle had no doubt that Crawford had the right connections. There was nothing to be done now but to warn his father. He’d have to ask Max to send Isabel into his father’s dreams tonight. Oops, no, not tonight. Max was otherwise occupied.
The thought of how Max and Liz were spending their evening gave him a tiny jolt, and his thoughts turned sexual, in spite of himself. How would this affect Serena’s decision to invite him to her bed?
“We’ll do whatever you want, Serena. I don’t want a bride with any reservations; things’ll be tough enough. And I’m sure there’ll be lots of surprises on both sides. Like that news about the trust fund. Jeez, Serena. That really blindsided me.”
“I’m sorry, Kyle, but you have to see it from my side. In high school, as soon as some guy would ask me out, there were little expectations, like couldn’t we use my family’s yacht on the Fourth of July, or why not borrow Dad’s Mercedes for prom night. And these were from guys already going to a private school! I always wondered if the guy was dating me or my family’s fortune.”
As Kyle opened his mouth to reply, Serena stepped forward quickly and pressed two fingers to his mouth.
“I know it’s not about the money for you. What I worry about more is if it’s about Alex. Kyle, could you love me if I weren’t connected to your son? I mean, enough to marry me?”
Kyle was incredulous, but he had to admit, it was a good question. Of course, she would wonder about that.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” he said honestly, and felt her tense beneath his hands. “Here me out,” he added quickly. “It’s just like you said, Serena. The circumstances with Alex have made all the difference. I was attracted to you from the moment I set eyes on you, but I thought you were way out of my reach, plus I figured you were married because you had Alex. But without all that intimidation, I would have asked you out in a second. The thing is, though, I don’t think I could have gotten to know the real you so quickly without Alex. How you are with him, what you’re willing to do and to give up for him says the world about you. So it’s like you said. I know I could have loved you, yes, but not so quickly and not so certainly without Alex.”
A slow nod of her head was all the reaction he got until she raised her lips to his. His arms tightened around her and he deepened the kiss instantly, needing to offer and receive the loving reassurances. As their tenderness began to turn to passion, Kyle’s hand crept under her tank top at the waist, and his thoughts once again turned sexual. Every bit of her frame molded to his, and she didn’t shy away when she felt his hard response between them. Instead, a tiny whimper vibrated in her throat, and she pressed harder against him. A rush swept through Kyle’s body, focusing every thought on one heated goal.
Serena wriggled closer for one intimate moment when a ball crashed loudly against the chain link fence next to them.
“What the hell?” shouted a trim middle-aged man, staring in confusion at his racquet, then back at the ball that lay at the base of the fence near Alex.
“Damnedest thing I ever saw!” said his partner, a slightly younger man with a similar frown of confusion on his face.
Kyle and Serena, jolted apart by the sudden noise, watched with growing trepidation as the two men approached their errant ball. The older man looked at the young couple as he bent to pick it up.
“Did you see that?”
“Uh, no sir. What happened?”
“I could swear I returned this ball with a perfectly good stroke, but it was like it got sucked sideways. I never saw a ball with a mind of its own like that in my life.”
His partner just stood shaking his head. Then, with a grin at Alex, he said, “Hey, little fella, you put a hex on that ball?”
The men chuckled, still shrugging and shaking their heads as they returned to their game. Alex laughed and raised a hand toward them. Kyle leapt to push it back down in the stroller next to Alex.
“Sonofabitch,” he whispered with a nervous look at Serena. “We’d better get outta here.”
Having the apartment to themselves at night was a rare treat, and Michael was surprised at how relaxed he felt with just Maria around. He had come to believe that she accepted him, warts and all, and that alone was enough to smooth out a few of the rough edges. He didn’t have to wage his alien testosterone battles when he was alone with her—not anymore.
He didn’t want to lose his edgy reputation, of course. He liked people thinking twice before pissing him off. But then, Maria had never even thought about it once, so that didn’t apply to her, anyway. Somehow, she had gotten under his skin from the first, and no one could get him angry or horny or tender faster than she could.
He watched her fussing in the kitchen. She had offered to cook for a change, and he’d been touched by her thoughtfulness until he saw her pouring half-and-half into the pasta sauce. He knew full well that Billy was a long way off—from their apartment and from Maria’s heart. But old habits die hard, and jealousy seemed to come with his territory. The thought of anyone else touching her, kissing her . . .
Maria leaned back into him as his arms encircled her from behind. She replaced the lid on the pot and covered his hands with her own. Gradually, they began to sway to the music playing on the radio. After a few bars, Maria turned in his arms, smiled that impish smile of hers, and pulled him out into the small living room.
“Dance with me.”
He thought about protesting; after all, he didn’t dance. But the thought of holding her in his arms and swaying together was damned appealing, so he allowed himself to be carried away in her come hither smile.
He recognized the song. It was a new one . . . Dido maybe? He’d heard it, but had never really given the words much thought. This time, though, they spoke to him, and he realized how they seemed to apply to both him and Maria at the same time. A small almost-chuckle constricted his chest, but Maria felt it.
“What?” she asked, raising her head to read his expression.
“Nothing. It’s just this song. I was thinking that it’s almost like you and me talking to each other.”
Maria put on her “and how exactly do you figure that?” expression, and he bent to kiss her lightly. He liked being able to predict her, understand her . . . at least a little. Even though she still surprised him more often than not, he had been sure she would insist on an explanation for this one.
“Well, listen to it; the verses sort of apply to me, but the chorus applies more to you.”
They listened as the second verse started.
I know I left too much mess and destruction
to come back again.
And I caused nothin’ but trouble;
I understand if you can’t talk to me again.
And if you live by the rules of it’s over,
Then I’m sure that that makes sense
But I will go down with this ship.
I won’t put my hands up in surrender.
There will be no white flag above my door.
I’m in love, and always will be.
He could feel her smile as it pushed her cheek harder against his chest.
“So, you’re the troublemaker, and I’m the one going down with the ship?”
“Yeah, sort of. I messed up a lot, Maria. I know that. I burned bridges with you so many times, but you just kept coming back and coming back. You wouldn’t give up. It’s like the song says—‘no white flag above your door.’ I still can’t believe you’re here.”
She kissed him then, and all the answers were there. She didn’t know the meaning of surrender, and he blessed his lucky stars for it, too. In the end, he was the one who surrendered, and it had saved his life.
The sound of boiling water hissing as it hit a hot stovetop shattered the moment. Maria yelped and ran into the kitchen, muttering over the mess. He watched her, wondering if this was the time to feel her out on something that had been gnawing at him. He began to arrange the dishes Maria had set out for their meal, eyeing her carefully. He had no idea how this conversation might go.
“What do you think of Alex?”
She shot him a look of surprise. “Alex? He’s adorable. Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s weird thinking of Kyle having a kid. Especially a kid of Tess’s. Serena’s being a really good sport about it, though.”
I would say that committing to raise him, falling in love with Kyle—who happens to be Alex’s father—and then proposing marriage qualifies as more than ‘being a good sport,’ Michael. Her life has been turned upside down. She’s practically been a saint.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I meant.”
Maria rolled her eyes at him, and he struggled to get the conversation back on track.
“So you think having kids would turn your life upside down?”
“Absolutely. That’s what they’re for, in fact. Suddenly, all that attention you’ve been giving to your own life, or even your partner’s, takes a back seat. Once you have a kid, it’s all about the child—what she needs, what’s best for her . . . or him. Your life isn’t your own anymore.”
Michael frowned. This wasn’t going the way he’d expected.
“So you don’t think you ever want kids?”
That stopped her cold. She turned slowly to look at him, oblivious to the pasta sauce erupting in messy bubbles that burst and splattered on the stove and on her shirt.
“What did you say?”
Michael squirmed under her relentless gaze, wishing he could start all over. Or maybe just forget the whole thing.
“I just wondered, you know, how you felt about kids. I mean, we’ve never talked about it, so I didn’t know if you, you know, had thought that we might, someday, maybe try to have any or if you thought that your career or even my genes would make that a crazy idea because, you know, it’s something that we should probably agree on . . .”
He had been staring intently at the fork in his hand during his ramble and failed to notice that Maria had taken several slow, incredulous steps toward him. When she appeared in front of him, he jumped and shut up with a snap of the jaw.
“Are you telling me, Michael Guerin, that you want to have a baby with me?”
Well, that certainly was the obvious question, wasn’t it? So how was it that he felt completely unprepared to answer it all of a sudden? Is that what he wanted? Or was that insane? Another mouth to feed, another person to keep safe and be responsible for. Hell, they were barely responsible for themselves. But she was looking up at him so surprised and expectant, and he thought maybe he’d give honesty a shot.
“I don’t know. I mean, not now. Not soon. There’s too much to deal with right now as it is, but what about later, when we’re all at Space Mountain and it’s safer and we have a real income and . . .” He sank into a chair and automatically pulled her into his lap. “Hell, Maria, when I took care of Alex last week, it was the damnedest thing. He was all curious and independent, out there making his own decisions without one idea in hell what he was doing. He reminded me . . . of me. It was like we came to an understanding, you know? We connected at some level, and it felt good having him need me.”
He looked startled at his last comment, frowning as he played it back in his head. This wasn’t just about wanting to be needed, surely. Besides, that was only half the story.
“But then we came to see you at the club, and you looked so beautiful and so happy and you sounded sexy and wonderful, and I realized that you belong in that life. Maybe you don’t want to be a mother. Maybe you want to be able to go wherever the music takes you, and I can understand that, too.”
He felt his face being lifted and suddenly there were moist eyes shining above moist lips, full and soft on his, giving him everything he needed. Those lips, and all they represented in his life, were where all of his courage and self-esteem began these days, and he was always happy to drink them in.
“Michael, I think that’s the most thought I’ve ever heard you put into any one idea since I’ve known you.”
He wasn’t sure, but it sounded like an insult, and he pulled away. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She smiled. “It means the world, Michael.” She shifted so that she could look him straight in the eye. “I can’t tell you what it means to me that you have been thinking so much about me, about our future, a family. Those are things I’ve never let myself dwell on because I never felt sure that you were truly committed to staying . . . with me or even on this planet, for that matter. But now . . . Michael, now you’ve told me that we have
a future, a forever.”
She leaned down to kiss him again, and this time he pulled her close, unleashing at least some of the powerful emotion that coursed through him. The kiss deepened until a timer dinged discretely in the kitchen. Only their lips let go, and Maria sighed contentedly.
“I think you’d make an awesome father, Michael. And someday, we’ll give it a shot. But like you said, it can’t be soon. Let’s see what happens with the resort, my music, Alex. You might have second thoughts as he gets older. I have a feeling he’s going to be a handful.”
Utterly satisfied with this vague plan, Michael put on an insulted expression. “Are you implying I couldn’t handle him? I’m bigger than he is, smarter than he is, and more experienced than he is. I think I can take him.”
Maria was laughing openly now as Michael’s bravado gained momentum. “That’s funny, Michael. The way I heard it, you lost him, freaked him out, let him eat sand, and stripped him in a fountain. Tell me again who was in charge?”
With mock outrage, Michael stood, lifting Maria with him and throwing her over his shoulder. In the space of seconds, he turned off the burners on the stove and marched into the bedroom, tossing Maria down on the mattress. Then, with a spectacular Tarzan yell and wild fit of chest-thumping, he threw himself on top of his fiancée, who was howling with laughter.
“Me in charge!” he yelled, attacking her neck.
Dinner was very late that night.
continued in next post
Posted: Thu Sep 11, 2003 10:27 pm
Part 42 continued
Their bodies lay intertwined, a single unit of sated contentment roused by a splash of unrelenting sun. Max breathed in the addictive aroma of Liz and sex, and snuggled against her sleepily. He’d never been so blissfully exhausted in his life, and he vowed never to move again. Liz, too, sighed heavily and wriggled a millimeter closer to her husband. He had fulfilled her fantasies all night long, as she hoped she had his. And above all, they had shared an awareness of their daughter in one of the most profound moments of their lives. She didn’t think it was possible to be any happier.
“Do we have to get up?” Liz whined against his chest. “I don’t think I can move.”
“No, we don’t,” Max assured her. “I’ll just fly around the Earth counterclockwise like Superman and turn back time. Then we can get a do-over on last night.”
“Mmmmm, perfect. But can’t you think of a way to do that without leaving this bed? I don’t want to stop touching you.”
He smiled into her hair, loving the playful banter, loving the weight of her body against him, loving the warmth of the sun on his skin.
Sun. Strong sun. Bright, high-in-the-sky sun.
“Liz! What time is it?”
“What?” Liz struggled to see the clock on the nightstand. “Max! It’s 10:15! We were due at work over two hours ago!”
Their relaxed and tired bodies flew into overdrive. Max dove for the phone as Liz sprinted for the bathroom.
“I left instructions for a 7 a.m. wake-up call! I’ll call Mr. Matheson. Shit, I hope we don’t get fired!”
Liz knew she should just throw her clothes on, but last night had been quite a marathon, and she just couldn’t face the horde of well-to-do and immaculately groomed guests knowing that she was still wearing traces of their sexual exploits. She stepped into the shower and reached for the complimentary shampoo, working up a good lather with hurried and frantic strokes. Seconds later, she felt the cool draft as Max joined her. His hands covered hers, slowing the harsh rhythm to a languid massage.
“Oh, Max, that feels wonderful,” she crooned, reluctant to put an end to his pampering. “But we’re soooo late. We can’t . . .”
“Yes, we can,” he murmured in her ear, teasing her earlobe with his teeth. “It turns out Serena cancelled the wake-up call. We don’t go on duty til noon.”
Liz let the weight of her head sink against Max’s hands. “Oh, that is so great. I can’t believe she did that. Wish we’d known 10 minutes ago, though.” Now she leaned her full body back against Max and let him caress her. Everything about his touch was magical to her, and she wished briefly she could just wear him like a body suit every day.
“How in the world did she find someone to take our places on such short notice?”
“Well, she’s working in your place this morning, and I have to put in a few extra hours at next week’s convention registration anyway, so Mr. Matheson said okay.”
“Serena is working for me? That’s absolutely amazing, Max! She’s already become such a good friend. I wish there was some way to repay her.”
Max chuckled. “I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll be repaying her on a regular basis—babysitting, trauma containment, alien training.”
Liz laughed, too, and turned in Max’s arms. Kissing him lightly, she shifted her hips against him and felt him harden in response. “It’ll be good training for raising our daughter.”
She watched his face change from amused to awed, thinking once again of the little girl who would one day turn them into a family.
“Did you notice how much she looks like you?” he asked tenderly, pushing wet hair behind her ear. “She’s so beautiful with her big dark eyes and her long hair.”
“And did you notice the expression of hero worship on her face as she tried to walk to you? I have a feeling you two will be an impossible pair.”
Max grinned, his sense of well being skyrocketing beyond its already sky-high level. He was living the Dream, no doubt about it.
Having the morning to themselves was a bonus neither had expected, and they grew playful in the shower, teasing each other as they washed, pushing all the secret buttons they had come to know so well. Their resistance to each other was usually nonexistent, given their minimal time alone together, but after a night of energetic lovemaking, they had just enough control to make the game slow and deliberate—an erotic contest they both savored.
Liz lingered as she washed Max’s hips and thighs, never touching his semi-arousal, but skirting it just close enough to see his jaw muscles clench against the low growl she knew was dying to erupt.
“You know,” she said casually, “you never did tell me what Michael named his . . . uh . . .”
Max looked down at her, determinedly suppressing a snort of laughter; she could be a sex kitten one minute, but shy away from naming male body parts the next.
Liz jumped slightly, a little shocked in spite of her best intentions.
“No, I never did tell you. Nor will I. I don’t think Michael would appreciate it.”
Her fingers grazed his swelling erection and he sucked in his breath, closing his eyes to gather his wits.
“Well, I’m not exactly planning on talking to him about it, Max. I’m just curious. I mean, judging from the “Max the Mighty” idea, I’m guessing you two had a somewhat inflated perspective on your untried sexual prowess.”
Max’s smirk would not be contained. What an opening.
“And are you still convinced I was overstating things?”
Liz, on her knees lathering his calves, looked straight ahead at the powerful evidence to the contrary. She quickly flicked her tongue over his tip and watched with satisfaction as his whole body jerked.
“Hmmm, I’d say he’s growing into his name.”
Thoroughly clean now, Max reached for the soap to wash Liz, intending to make her forget all about the question at hand. He stared in surprise, though, when she shut off the water and stepped out of the shower. Grabbing a towel, she bent at the waist and flipped her hair over her head, rubbing it briskly from her roots to the ends that nearly touched the floor. Meanwhile, Max was left to gape at her dewy skin stretched over a beautifully firm ass right in front of him. One step forward and he could . . .
Then she was upright, arms raised to wrap the towel turban-style around her hair, breasts lifted high and inviting. One step forward and he could . . .
She was gone, sashaying right through the doorway into the bedroom. Max grabbed a towel and starting running it over his body even as he stumbled through the doorway behind her. She was already rubbing scented lotion over her body. Everywhere. Max the Mighty was chomping at the bit, but his prey was blithely running her hands over arms, neck, stomach . . . oh god, breasts.
She was headed for her thighs when Max ceased to a give shit about winning any games. He finally took that one step forward and grabbed her, tossed her like rag doll onto the bed, and straddled her. Liz was not ready to submit just yet, though. Taking the offensive, she wrapped her legs around his waist, pulled him down to her—not exactly against his will—and then rolled sideways, effectively flipping them.
“Are you under the impression I’m going to have sex with you, Max? When you’re keeping secrets from me?”
The sparkle in her eyes made Max’s heart race. She was everything to him, and the way she challenged him—in bed or in the more serious aspects of their lives—made everything exciting. He would have happily capitulated right this minute, but where would be the fun in that?
“And are you under the impression that I rat out my friends’ secrets?”
The eyes flared with challenge, and he knew he was lost, but man, what a way to go. Seconds later, she crawled down his body and launched the final assault. It had begun, and he allowed himself to enjoy as much as she was willing to give.
Her mouth held him firmly, setting a long, slow rhythm that had him arching into her within seconds. The mild suction began to pull at him from deep within his groin, and soon he knew she had him seeping. His thrusts became deeper, and he wondered—not for the first time—how she took so much of him. He felt his tip glance off the back of her throat, and it sent ripples of electricity shooting through him. His balls tightened, and he let out a low moan in spite of himself.
And then she was gone. He felt the cool air wrap around him, an unwelcome shock after the hot, warm recesses of her mouth. He whimpered a protest that died in his throat when he felt her finger lubricating his tip, then his shaft, with the abundant precum she’d coaxed from him so easily. He squeezed his eyes shut, aware of every cell that her finger brushed sending more of his juices oozing to the surface. He was insanely sensitive, and he knew he just needed her mouth for a few more seconds.
This time when she disappeared, she didn’t come back, and he opened his eyes to plead his case with a look, one he knew she’d seen before and always succumbed to. But she wasn’t looking back. She was sitting up, her eyes closed, one hand at her breast, the other buried in glistening curls. Her legs straddled his knees, leaving her partially revealed to his riveted eyes.
The little minx was out to make him crazy, but he couldn’t stop watching what she was doing to herself. Without conscious thought, Max reached for his cock and began to stroke.
“Oh, no, Max,” she said softly, eyes open again as she replaced his hand above his head. “You aren’t allowed to do that yourself.”
“Then you do it,” he growled, feeling slightly desperate. At first, he thought he would get his way, for she positioned herself over him, and lowered her whole body. The kiss distracted him momentarily. He could taste himself and her, mingled together in a nectar so sweet, it made him dizzy. Soon, though, he felt her lower lips rubbing over him, and he shifted to enter her.
She had something else in mind, however, and seconds later, Max was watching her hovering above him, breasts swaying as the friction she was creating against his pulsing heat was working its magic. He could read her sexual expressions so well, and he knew she was about to climax without him. The little witch had upped the ante. Her speed picked up, and little whimpers escaped her open lips in quick succession.
“Gargantuan Guerin!” he shouted, lifting her swiftly and impaling her on his rigid cock.
Liz’s eyes flew open, and with a grin of delight, she rode him. They were both only seconds from explosion, and as Liz quivered around him, Max finally claimed the orgasm that she had cunningly denied him. He pulled her down on top of him, still panting, and whispered hoarsely, “If you ever let him know I told you that, he’ll see to it that we both die.”
Liz snickered. “If I ever tell Maria, she’ll die laughing.”
On the one hand, the neighborhood was nothing more than middle class predictability. On the other hand, the small frame house reminded him very much of his father’s proudest moment—the day he moved his family out of an apartment and into a home of their own. This had to be the place; there was a squad car in the driveway, and a faded “Valenti” on the mailbox. It looked likely the man was at home.
He took the steps to the porch slowly, suddenly nervous. He could have had the PI do his footwork for him, but somehow he felt the need to take care of this one personally. This man’s son was most likely intimate with his daughter, and she fancied she loved him. The boy was also laying claim to a member of the Crawford family, though David had been trying hard not to think of Alex that way. But he knew what a strong motive money could be, and he wasn’t about to hand over family and fortune to a punk from the desert who knew a sweet deal when he saw it. Meeting the father would go a long way to helping him get a line on the son, and that’s why he had to do this himself.
He wiped his damp palms on his pants, then huffed in disgust. What was the matter with him? He hadn’t been nervous in years. But in spite of his belief in his cause, he couldn’t get the image of Serena out of his mind. What made her think she was in love with that boy? They barely knew each other. And besides, he’d been enough of a prick to get some girl pregnant in high school and then take off for adventure in Vegas. Why couldn’t she see that? Serena had always been so levelheaded. David didn’t believe for a minute that the boy was kept in the dark about the baby; teenage girls rarely kept a thing like that secret--not when they were in trouble.
He knocked tentatively on the door, temporarily relieved when there was no answer. He would check into a hotel and do some more research before confronting this man. He’d rushed this, and it wasn’t like him to enter a critical negotiation unless he knew he was holding all the cards. He turned to go, coming face to face with an attractive woman cradling a watermelon.
“Hi,” she smiled, friendly but wary. He should have thought about his clothing more carefully. Here he was in an Armani suit and silk tie while this woman sported shorts, a halter top, and sandals. He was completely out of place. When had his common sense disappeared?
“Have you come to see Jim?”
“Uh, well, yes, but I don’t have an appointment. I can come back later.”
He moved to skirt around her, but she started talking. “Don’t be silly. If you’ll get that door for me, I’ll get him for you.”
He didn’t want her to get him, but he couldn’t very well leave her standing there with her arms full of watermelon and not open the door for her. As he leaned toward the handle, another face appeared behind the screen.
“Hey, Amy, need a hand?”
A young man pushed the screen door open and scooped the heavy load from her arms with a grin. “Who’s your friend?”
David was confused. This man was much too young to be Kyle’s father. Brother, maybe?
“Not sure, Nate. He’s here to see Jim. Can I tell him your name?” she asked, turning back toward him.
“Uh, David. David Crawford. He won’t know me, though. I know his son from Las Vegas. He’s seeing my daughter.”
“Serena?” The young man named Nate turned a friendly smile toward him. “I met Serena recently on a visit up there. Wonderful girl. Kyle’s a lucky guy.”
“Well, yes, uh, thank you.”
Before he could formulate a new plan to escape the crowded house, Nate and Amy had swept him through the kitchen and into the backyard where several other people were sitting around sipping drinks and talking. A grill was heating up on the patio, and several men who could be Kyle’s father were laughing together. Dear god. He was falling down the rabbit’s hole into suburbia.
“Jim!” Amy called. “There’s somebody here to see you.”
A trim, slight, middle-aged man peeled himself from the small group of men and strode forward, curious but welcoming.
“Hello, there. Jim Valenti. And who might you be?” he asked, extending a hand.
David shook the hand and looked into intelligent blue eyes. Jim Valenti was sizing him up, just as David was doing to him. Both men recognized what was happening, and you could almost see the shields go up. Suddenly, everyone was quiet, watching the exchange.
“I’m David Crawford. I’m Serena’s father.”
The pieces fell into place quickly, and Jim maneuvered carefully through the shark-infested waters.
“It’s good to meet you, Mr. Crawford. I’ve met Serena. She’s a lovely girl. You must be very proud.”
“Yes, I am, thank you. I’ve met Kyle as well.”
It was what he didn’t say that echoed through the group, challenging the silence that followed. The two men maintained a steady look for several seconds until Jim took control.
“Let me introduce you to my friends. This is Jeff Parker, Liz’s father. His wife, Nancy, is the attractive redhead over there by Amy, who invited you in. Amy is Maria’s mother and my fiancée.”
“I’m sorry,” David said politely. “I don’t know Liz or Maria. Should I?”
Jim eyed the newcomer, an icy courtesy in his smile. “Oh, I just assumed you’d met Serena’s friends. Liz and Maria work at Oasis, as does Liz’s husband, Max, and Maria’s boyfriend, Michael. They traveled to Vegas with Kyle and all found employment in your beautiful resort.”
“I see. Well, that’s very nice.”
“Max’s parents are here. Allow me to introduce Philip and Diane Evans.”
Philip and David shook hands, but said nothing.
“Over here we have Lt. Nate Christopher, his girlfriend Lt. Taylor Holbrook, and his father, General Eric Christopher.”
More handshakes. More barely polite nods.
“The Parkers own Roswell’s most popular eating establishment. Philip is an attorney, and our military contingent is on temporary assignment in the area.”
“And this Michael you mentioned? His family isn’t here?”
Jim was quiet for a moment, and Philip spoke up. “Michael has no legal family, but we’ve tried to fill the void. What brings you to Roswell, Mr. Crawford?”
David scanned the group of people he had just met, struck by their impressive positions in the community, but even more by the closeness he detected among them. He felt a twinge as a melancholy memory of good times with good friends flitted through his mind—but that was before his wife died.
“I had hoped for a private conversation with Sheriff Valenti. I can see this is a bad time. Perhaps tomorrow.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Crawford. And by the way, it’s Deputy Valenti.”
“Really? I thought . . .”
“If you heard my son refer to me as sheriff, it was only habit, I assure you. I gave up the badge for a while, but I just couldn’t stay away. In the blood, I guess. So for now, it’s Deputy. Have a seat, Mr. Crawford. There is nothing you can say to me that my friends can’t hear, and if you’ve come about Kyle, they’ll want to hear it, anyway. We’re a family of sorts ourselves.”
David sat reluctantly in the proffered lawn chair, startled when Diane offered him a beer. He was out of his element. Or rather, out of his recent element. Because this felt familiar, in an odd sort of way, and he struggled to maintain the air of formality and command that he usually carried so easily.
“Are you aware, Deputy Valenti . . .”
“Call me Jim.”
“Very well. Are you aware, Jim, that your son, Kyle, has accepted paternity of my grandson, and that he intends to marry my daughter?”
He’d hoped to start with surprise—always a good way to establish early control of a negotiation. He felt mildly disappointed to find his adversary smiling carefully.
“I’m very well aware of it, Mr. Crawford, and I’m very happy for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly pleased that Kyle has fathered a baby at such a young age, but I’ve met Alex and I’ve met Serena, and I think they are all incredibly lucky to have found each other. We intend to support them a hundred percent.”
David felt somewhat deflated by the brief speech, and looked around the group for any hint of dissent. He found none. He tried a new tack.
“How is it all of you fine people allowed your teenage children to go off on their own to make a life in Vegas? Surely, you had different hopes for them. College? Local jobs?”
He felt a surge as the playing field leveled. No one had an answer. Then a voice from behind him began to speak with authority.
“I’m afraid I will have to take some responsibility for that,” he said, walking around to face David. “You see, Mr. Crawford, as you will undoubtedly discover when you look into this further, as I’m sure you will . . .” His knowing look sent a shudder down David’s spine. “. . . those young people became the subject of a military investigation. In the end, the government realized the entire operation had been based on erroneous information and skewed evidence gathered by an unbalanced and violent officer, but by then, circumstances had forced the lot of them to flee in fear. That’s a burden that will plague my dreams for years to come, Mr. Crawford, but I can tell you without hesitation that they were unfairly implicated.”
“Implicated in what?”
David swallowed hard as the General squinted menacingly. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Deadly quiet froze the whole group until Nate snorted in poorly contained laughter. Then he laughed out loud. “Man, that line so rarely works. Just once, I’d like to get an opening like that.”
The General relaxed as the other adults chuckled. David knew his face must be a truly embarrassing blank, but when he saw the General’s mouth twitch, he felt more angry than embarrassed.
“I didn’t come here to be mocked,” he declared indignantly.
“I’m sorry,” Eric said, looking mildly guilty, “but the fact is, that’s not far from true. I’m not at liberty to discuss any details. I just felt it was my duty to make it very clear that Kyle and the others have done nothing wrong.”
“Why are you really here, Mr. Crawford?” Jim pressed. “Were you hoping to solicit my help to discourage this marriage? Or did you just want to threaten me and my son?”
David groped for an answer. He wasn’t used to playing things straight up like this. He was much more adept at the verbal chess game, a contest of cunning and subtlety. He grasped at his last line of questioning, weak as it was.
“I have made no threats, Deputy. But I do have my daughter’s best interests to protect, as I’m sure you can understand. You must know that my son and his wife—the ones who adopted Alex—were killed in a car accident. Now Serena feels bound to take care of the boy. I’d like to know where the child’s mother is and what your son’s relationship with her might be.”
He’d hit a nerve; that much was clear. Every face paled. There was a story behind those tight lips.
“Tess was an orphan,” Jim began carefully. “She passed through town with a guardian who was always on the move. She left town before we knew about the baby. We understand she died.”
Nancy Parker rose from her chair and moved slowly toward David. He tensed, but when he looked into her face, he saw only sincerity.
“I imagine, Mr. Crawford, that you are upset about Serena’s choices. She’s 19. She’s in college with a promising career in the family business. I’m sure you imagined her as a well-educated, well-married woman who would balance career and family with the social expectations of her position. Am I right?”
David felt very small, all of a sudden. He had no answer in the face of a simple and completely accurate truth.
“I know how you feel. My daughter is 18. She should be in her freshman year of college right now. Did you know Harvard wanted her, Mr. Crawford? They were going to give her a scholarship in microbiology. But instead, she’s married, working in a resort, and living in Las Vegas struggling to pay her bills. There’s a lot about that I would change, if I could, but what I wouldn’t change is the fact that she is an intelligent young woman who has found a great love very early in her life. Someday, she will get that education. Someday, she will have that family. And someday, she will make a difference in the world. All those things are within her control.”
Nancy pulled another lawn chair closer to their guest and sat down as the others watched, more than a little surprised. David felt trapped, yet the woman’s words were ringing true.
“I know all of these kids, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. In fact, I’d better stop calling them kids, because they are truly adults now. They’ve been through a lot, but they’ve come out of it with true friends, deep and committed love, and the courage to pursue their dreams. I understand your reservations, Mr. Crawford. Any good parent would have them. But believe me when I say, Serena is in good hands.”
David sat, mute and confused, as Jeff bent to slip an arm around his wife and kiss her temple. Each person, in fact, seemed affected by the woman’s words and reached to touch their own partner. Only the general stood alone, a melancholy expression on his face.
The smell of grilled meat grew stronger and Taylor, closest to the grill, leapt to open the lid. Smoke poured from the grate, and Taylor coughed, turning to them with weeping eyes, her hand furiously waving away the smoke.
“Dinner’s ready,” she choked.
“Care to join us, Mr. Crawford?” Jim asked.
David searched the faces that watched him expectantly. These were good people. They weren’t looking for anything from life except the ability to take care of their families. He could almost see his father, standing in front of that first house, beaming with pride as his family walked through the door of their own home. And like his father, these people had children out there, too, taking chances on life and scaring their parents silly. Somehow, he felt they understood what he was feeling. And for the first time in a long, long while, his perspective took a dramatic turn.
“Yes, thank you. And please, call me David.”
Posted: Sat Sep 20, 2003 11:19 pm
Another week, another chapter—for two more weeks, as it turns out.
I had told you all (or some of you, at least) that this could well be the last “present time” chapter. However, having worked through things in my mind, the official word is—one more chapter in present time and then the epilog. So in spite of forecasts that this story would finish at the end of summer, I’m leaking right into autumn. Ah, well. It’s not like it was a promise,
A few responses:
asked if Liz had conceived when she and Max “saw” their daughter. She did pick up on the words “not yet conceived,” but thought there was evidence to the contrary, too. The answer is no, Liz is not pregnant. But what was different is that they were looking into each other’s eyes—the implication being, they were making a connection—and that’s what heightened the awareness of a child they’d already seen several times because of Liz’s gift of future site that she had shared with Max.
: My word, girl, I have no need of an agent with you around!
Your posts give me such a boost, and I thank you. With enthusiasm like that, I just want to keep writing!
: A couple of issues you raised—first, you called Max “whipped.” Well, I can’t quite agree, but I think you were referring to his caving under Liz’s pressure about Michael’s pet name for mini-Michael, yes? You seem to think Max will never get “the upper hand” with Liz. I guess the way I see it is, technically, they both know he has the upper hand. If he were so inclined (unthinkable!), he could wipe her out, drive her crazy, overpower her, or destroy her at will. But his love for her has caused him to purposely level the playing field. He doesn’t want her to feel weak or inferior or subservient. After all, she brings more than love to their relationship. I think he enjoys seeing her and treating her as an equal, and if he succumbs to her pressure, it’s because he wants to.
You also asked if the General might be taking a risk in hanging out with the parents. You may have a point. I suppose the smart thing is to keep a professional distance in order to avoid any questions. I guess in my mind, the danger is all but past, and since Philip Evans was Nate’s attorney, the relationship could be seen as a professional one that spilled over into friendship. You do have a point, though.
One personal note:
I hope this isn’t too tacky, but I’m excited and want to share my good news. I entered a short story contest (just Central Illinois) and won 2nd place! :flasingsmile: It was a great feeling to think maybe I could attempt a non-Roswell story and succeed. However, it would never have happened without Roswell fanfiction, and my impetus for that comes from you, so thank you!
Okay, story time!
David Crawford strode through the lobby of Oasis, his chaotic state of mind completely hidden beneath his façade of authority and control. His visit with Kyle’s father and the families of Serena’s new friends had left him juggling a confusing array of emotions. It had awakened in him some comforting and familiar emotions to do with friendship and family and priorities that can’t be tracked on a spreadsheet. On the other hand, he had to wonder how teens from an obscure town could have—even inadvertently—attracted the attention of the military. There was a story there that no one wanted him to know, and if Serena was on the verge of being sucked into it, he was damn well going to make it his business to know.
His brother, Brad, approached from the far end of the room, his hand extended in greeting.
“Did you get what you needed, David?”
A wry expression crossed David’s face. “I’m not sure. I guess that depends on what I needed.”
Brad frowned in confusion, but before he could ask the next question, David preempted him with a question of his own.
“In the office behind reception. She was working the desk this morning, for some reason.”
David turned abruptly and headed for check-in, nodding perfunctorily at the man behind the desk. It was just before noon, so those checking out were gone and those checking in had not yet arrived. Although the lobby hummed with activity, the desk itself was quiet.
His hand was on the door to the office when he heard the commotion inside. Laughter and loud, jumbled conversation tumbled through the door, and he scowled at the unprofessional atmosphere it created, though no one outside the immediate vicinity could hear it. Pushing the door open just a crack, he looked in to see his daughter at the center of a bevy of young people. Kyle was dressed in the Oasis chauffeur’s uniform and was pretending to protest as a slim blond woman pulled Alex from his arms and thrust him into the arms of a tall, scruffy boy who needed a haircut. Meanwhile, a handsome young man was kissing Serena’s cheek, though Kyle seemed completely unconcerned.
“I think I love you,” the man said, though the casual grin on his face made the words less than passionate.
“My pleasure, Max. No one should have to get up early to work after a honeymoon night.”
Next, an attractive young woman who could have been Serena’s sister, given her petite frame and long, dark hair, threw her arms around Serena. She was beaming with happiness.
“You’re the best
, Serena. Thank you!”
Now Serena was laughing and hugging back. “You’re welcome, Liz. Consider it a wedding present.”
“A wedding present? Serena, you’ve already done so much. The lingerie, the room service, now this? You have to let us repay you somehow.”
“Well, since you offered . . . are you free to babysit tonight?”
The young couple exchanged a brief look and nodded. “Absolutely. Got something planned with Kyle?”
Serena looked over at Kyle with a shy smile. “I hope so.”
More hugs were exchanged when Liz said, “Well, I better get out there.” She turned to Max and gave him a restrained but lingering kiss. “Have a good afternoon.”
They left through the opposite door, and Kyle came toward Serena, circling his arms around her waist.
“Hi, you. What’s up with kissing Evans? This is a pattern in my life I could do without.”
He was smiling, though, and Serena didn’t seem bothered by the question. “Don’t worry. I don’t think Max Evans will ever truly look at another woman as long as he lives. From the look of it, they had a wonderful night. Which reminds me, are you busy tonight?”
“Only if you have something planned,” he said with a brief, chaste kiss. “My last airport pick-up is at 7:15, so I should be free by 8:30 or so.”
“Max and Liz have agreed to babysit Alex tonight, so we can be alone.”
This got a wide-eyed reaction from Kyle, and he pulled back to look intently at her face.
“What did you have in mind?”
She didn’t answer, but leaned in to kiss him, and there was nothing chaste or brief about this one.
“Get a room,” Michael drawled, bouncing Alex gently in his arms. “Don’t look, Alex. You’re not old enough.”
“Neither are you,” Kyle snorted, giving Serena one last peck. “Gotta get to work. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Kyle tousled the fine blond hair on Alex’s head.
“Daddy’s off to the wars, buddy. See you later.” With a quick wave to the others, he was out the door.
The scene added substantially to the confusing contradiction of feelings doing battle in David’s mind. Shaking his head determinedly, he pushed through the door.
“Hello, Serena, what are you doing working the desk?”
“Just a favor for a friend, Dad. You need something?”
David eyed the other couple in the room and heard Jim Valenti’s disdainful words in his ears. Oh, I just assumed you’d met Serena’s friends.
“No, honey. I just, uh . . . are these friends of yours?” he asked, indicating Maria and Michael, who looked like they were trying hard to be invisible.
Serena’s face brightened at his interest. “Yeah, this is Maria DeLuca and her boyfriend, Michael. He and Alex have become friends, too,” she added, watching her father carefully.
“I see. I mean, that’s nice. Hello there, Alex.” David stepped closer and raised a finger to Alex’s hand. The toddler shrunk back against Michael and hid his face. Serena hurried to keep her father’s interest in Alex from disappearing inside Alex’s rejection.
“Come here, sweetheart,” she murmured, peeling Alex from Michael’s shoulder. “Grandpa wants to say hello.”
“Muk has to get to work, little man, but I’ll see you later.” Michael beat a hasty exit, leaving the two women to grapple with Alex and his grandfather.
“Where were you yesterday, Dad? Uncle Brad just said you had an important meeting. If it was about the entertainment contracts, maybe I should have come. You said I should observe some of those discussions.”
“No, it wasn’t about contracts.” He looked at his daughter as she casually bounced Alex on one arm and closed down her email with another. She wasn’t a little girl anymore; she was a young woman. And a competent young woman at that.
“Are you free for lunch, pumpkin? I’m buying.”
Her look of surprise relaxed into a tentative smile. He hadn’t called her that since she’d moved to Vegas over a year ago.
“Free as a bird, Dad. Maria, could you watch Alex for a half hour?”
“No, bring him along,” her father blurted, then looked embarrassed. “After all, I have some lost time to make up for.”
Nate watched his sleeping girlfriend, a bittersweet expression on his face. He had intended to tell her as soon as he arrived, but she’d had dinner waiting and now . . . it was still waiting. They had gotten lost in each other somewhere between the wine and the salad, and he’d been more than willing to abandon the inevitable conversation in favor of immersing himself in her body. Now it was almost dark, and he knew he couldn’t put it off.
He woke her with feathery kisses across her forehead and a mumbled suggestion in her ear. She stirred, blinked groggily, then looked into his face. The smile that crept across her features until it reached her eyes pierced his heart, and made what he had to say that much harder. He leaned down to kiss her, postponing the words for one more precious minute.
She pulled back and the smile was gone. In its place was the look he’d been expecting, but it was premature. He hadn’t even told her yet.
“You got your orders.”
He sighed and fell back against the pillows, pulling her to his chest. “Yeah.”
“Irwin! Good grief, why? What are you supposed to do out in the middle of the Mojave Desert?”
He couldn’t help but smile; if it weren’t for Taylor, he’d be on cloud nine. “The National Training Center. I’ll be learning to train hand-picked officers in undercover ops.”
In spite of what the news meant, Taylor found her smile as well. “The Center? Nate, that’s a fast track to promotion!”
“Could be,” he said modestly, though the smile had turned to an all-out grin. Then he sat up, sitting cross-legged on the bed and tugging her up to sit opposite him. His hands clasped hers, and his face and tone turned serious.
“Taylor, I’m not ready to leave you. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. But I have to go, and I know you know that. The base is between Vegas and LA, so if we work our leave right, we could meet in one of those cities every few weeks. That is, if you want to keep this going . . . as much as I do.”
Green eyes take on a prismatic sparkle when their tears catch the light, and he felt mesmerized by the emotions that shot in all directions—sadness, pride, hope.
“Of course you have to go. We both knew this was coming.” Her hand reached for his face, and the warm softness felt so like her—like all of her. He covered her hand with his and pressed it between his face and palm.
“But if you think you can get away from me by moving into the middle of some godforsaken desert, then think again. I’m a soldier, remember? I’ll find you.”
The love in her words and in her eyes told him all he needed to know. Their kiss spoke of promises and loss and need, but it spoke of something else as well—the future.
“What about you? No orders yet?”
She shook her head. “No, but I heard White Sands needs a new JAG liaison, and I put in for it. I guess we’ll see. I’d like to stay around here, if I can. You know, with the family situation what it is, and Brody’s project just getting off the ground, I’d just like to stick close.”
Nate could only nod; he’d have liked to stick close by, too, for a whole slew of reasons, the most important of which was sitting right in front of him.
“Taylor, I have to say one more thing, and I hope you’ll understand when I do.”
He hoped he didn’t look as nervous as he felt, but the little crease between her eyes told him she was bracing for bad news.
“I’ve told you I love you, and I’ve told you I want to make this work in spite of the miles between us, but there’s one thing I haven’t said, and I want you to understand why.” He took a deep breath, squeezed her hands, and plowed in.
“Part of me wants to ask you to marry me. I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone but you. I’ve never met anyone stronger, braver, or more beautiful than you are. But another part of me—the part that won—told me not to do it . . . yet. But it’s not because of me, because of any doubts; it’s because I don’t think it would be fair to you.”
He saw her open her mouth, but he read her protest long before she could utter a sound.
“Wait, let me finish.”
She subsided, looking like a child waiting for the lecture to be over so she can give her speech.
“We have met under very intense circumstances, and you’ve been incredible. But I was the one who needed you, and you took it upon yourself to take care of me—first legally, then personally. I want you to use this time apart from me to think about how you feel. Make sure what you feel for me is love, and not pity or responsibility for a project that you got attached to. And if you find that our time apart gives you a new perspective, or even if you meet someone else, all I ask is that you be honest with me. I couldn’t bear to come back to someone who didn’t feel the same way I do. I’d rather give you up to a life that can make you happy. Will you promise me that, Taylor?”
She sat looking at him for a long time—a very long, uncomfortable time. He squirmed beneath her scrutiny, finally releasing her hands and hissing, “Say something.”
“You’re an idiot.”
He blinked at her, at a complete loss as to how to respond.
“Do you think that I am so inexperienced, as a lawyer and as a woman, that I could confuse my feelings for you with pity? Or responsibility? Are you so devoid of respect for me that you imagine I don’t know love when I feel it? Nate Christopher, you are the least intuitive man I’ve ever met, and I’m not sure I’d marry you if you asked. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Damn it all! He still
didn’t have an answer! He had foreseen several possible reactions to his statement. Anger and insults were not on that list.
“I love you, you big dolt, and that’s that. Now let’s eat.”
She was through the bathroom door in a flash, her long legs and shapely hips only punctuating her anger with their rigid muscles. Seconds later, a silk robe wrapped tightly around her, she came back through the room and out the door to the hallway. Even before Nate had unfolded himself from the bed, he heard plates clanking together too loudly and silverware being thumped angrily against the table. He pulled on his sweats and ventured out.
Without a word, he moved into the kitchen and pulled the wine from the refrigerator. He could feel her eyes on him as he poured two glasses and set them on the table. His next stop was the stereo, where he settled on a station that knew enough to play love songs at night. And finally, he went to where his uniform jacket hung next to the front door and dipped his hand into the pocket. Returning to the table, he arranged one chair at right angles to the edge.
Taylor had given up pretending not to watch him; now she just frowned in open confusion. He approached her confidently, taking her hand and leading her to the chair. He asked her to sit with only a look, and she complied out of curiosity more than anything.
Her eyebrows flew up when he knelt in front of her and presented her with a ring box, which he opened to reveal a graceful marquis diamond in an asymmetrical gold setting. Her mouth fell open, but nothing came out.
“You have just called me a dolt and an idiot. As offensive as that is, I am forced to concur. I was trying to protect you from making a mistake, but if you can love a man who is both dolt and idiot, then I’m not going to protect you from me any more. I’m just going to go after what I want. And I want you.”
He took the ring out of the box and slipped it on her trembling finger. “Marry me, Taylor.”
A little hiccough escaped her throat, and she looked from the ring to Nate and back to the ring. Residual tears of anger were replaced by tears of joy, and maybe a few of embarrassment.
“You big jerk,” she whispered through a throat almost closed with emotion.
“Is that a yes?”
She nodded and then they were in each other’s arms, kissing, laughing, crying. Nate swept her up from the chair and began marching back toward the bedroom.
“We’ll never get dinner at this rate,” she laughed between kisses.
“Speak for yourself,” he growled. “You
are what I’m hungry for.”
Max and Liz’s first stop was the pool. The baby pool, that is. Armed with diaper bag, stroller, and a pretty wound-up baby, they had decided that some energy-draining fun might be just the way to start their night. They joined two other families inside the gated area and pulled out a few pool toys. Then, pulling off the shorts she wore over her bathing suit, Liz helped Alex to stand in the water. Max stripped off his t-shirt and joined them.
“What a cute little boy you have,” another mother commented, smiling at them. “Reminds me of mine when he was a baby. Wherever did he get that blond hair, though?”
Max and Liz exchanged a few phrases telepathically, then Max said, “He’s our nephew. We’re just babysitting.”
“Oh, good idea,” she nodded. “It’s always smart to know what you’re getting into before you start your own family.”
That elicited very real smiles from both Max and Liz as their daughter’s image flashed through their minds.
“That’s what we thought,” Liz agreed.
Alex, it seemed, was part fish. Within seconds of finding his feet submerged, he was toddling unsteadily in every direction, eventually making each step more of a stomp and watching the water fly. A slightly younger baby standing nearby simply watched him, looking impressed with his courage. When he stopped to look at her, she tentatively held out a plastic tumbler she’d been banging against the pool’s edge. Intrigued, Alex drew closer as Max trailed behind, watching carefully. Serena had warned them about Alex’s repeat performance with the tennis ball, but how was Max supposed to tell the difference between Alex simply reaching for the cup and preparing to zap it to himself?
Max tensed as Alex raised his hand, ready to countermand any inappropriate actions on Alex’s part, but Alex only took the cup from the little girl and bent to fill it with water. When he poured it out again, she smiled. Buoyed by her reaction, he did it again . . . and again . . . and again. Beaming now at her accomplished new friend, the little girl relinquished her hold on the pool’s edge and attempted to walk toward Alex.
“Careful, Sarah!” her mother called, also watching the interaction with interest.
Whether it was her mother’s voice or just legs too unused to negotiating the water, Sarah pitched forward, falling face first. At a depth of only a few inches, she easily pushed herself clear, but the scare was enough to trigger a bout of frightened wailing, and her mother scooped her up quickly. Sitting back down on the edge, the young woman cuddled her shaken daughter, cooing softly and rocking.
“Is she all right?” Liz asked, concerned.
“She’ll be fine,” the woman said. “Just a little water in the face. She’ll settle down in a minute.”
Alex was unconvinced. He watched his little friend with alarm as he made his way toward them. His eyes swung plaintively toward Max, as if asking him to help her.
“It’s okay, Alex. It’ll be okay. Come see your toys.”
But Alex turned back to Sarah instead, lifting his hand to touch her gently on the back. Sarah’s mother smiled down at him.
“Aren’t you the thoughtful little boy? But she’s all right.”
With a sharp intake of breath, Liz grabbed Max’s arm. He turned to her with a start, and saw Liz give a quick nod toward Alex. A soft glow emanated from Alex’s hand, then disappeared. Almost immediately, Sarah stopped crying, even offering Alex a small smile. Satisfied, Alex turned to pick up another toy floating by, unaware of the two adults gaping at him.
Continued in next post
Posted: Sat Sep 20, 2003 11:22 pm
Part 43 continued
Serena heard the soft knock at her door and glanced around the room. It was just perfect—soft lighting, mood music, hors d’oeuvres, and champagne one of the chefs had slipped her with a wink. She had spent the last hour and a half making herself as soft, smooth, and sweet smelling as she could, and now he was here. She felt a jolt of anticipation shoot through her, and her stomach tightened in response. She sure hoped she wouldn’t make a fool of herself.
As soon as she’d unlocked the door, Kyle swept in carrying a Wendy’s bag and apologizing for being a little late, but he stopped short when he noticed the very specific mood Serena had created. She watched his face, hoping he would be pleased. His eyes did a sweep of the room, then came to settle on her, and her heart leapt at the surprised wonder on his face.
“Serena, this is beautiful.” He dropped his dinner on a table and began to wrap her in his arms. One kiss later, though, he backed away.
“Kyle, what’s wrong?”
“You smell like a million bucks, but I can’t say the same. Give me 10 minutes to shower? I promise I’ll be better company then.”
She nodded happily, then spotted the Wendy’s bag again. “Kyle, wait. You must be starved. Eat first. I’ll get you something to drink.”
She followed him into the kitchen and was reaching for the refrigerator when she saw him swing open the trashcan lid and throw his food inside.
“Kyle! What are you doing?”
“Just getting rid of something that doesn’t belong here.” Then, with a kiss on her cheek, he murmured, “Ten minutes.”
Serena paced as she listened to the shower spray hit the tiles in the bathroom. She’d read plenty of novels about this stuff, and even did a little research on the Internet, thinking it would prepare her for this day, but the fact was, she was inexperienced, ignorant, and scared. Not of making love with Kyle; she wanted that with all her heart. But he’d had way more experience than she had. And with an alien, no less. For all Serena knew, Tess had worked some kind of alien voodoo that made sex thrilling for Kyle in a way she never could, being stuck as she was with human constraints. What if it wasn’t what he expected . . . or wanted?
She began to pace. Maybe she should go in there. She’d read a number of sexy scenes where one lover gets in the shower with the other. That was supposed to be erotic, right? But maybe that would be taking it too fast. She’d have no idea what to do. She’d never seen Kyle naked. In truth, she’d never seen any man entirely naked. At least not in person. So what would happen if she went charging in there and got in the shower? Then what? Would she look wanton? Or maybe just stupid.
No, wait for him on the bed. Some provocative pose. Take in the champagne on ice and turn down the sheets. The sheets! She’d meant to change the sheets! Was there time? What if he came out and she was wrestling with the pillowcases and there were dirty sheets on the floor. Oh, god! Why hadn’t she remembered the sheets!
She reached for her glass of champagne and took a sip, wrinkling her nose as the bubbles seemed to rise into her sinuses.
“No fair starting without me,” said a voice in her ear, and she jumped.
“Hey, it’s just me. Why so jumpy?”
Her smile was thin and forced. “No reason. Champagne?”
Kyle gave her a long look, then took her glass from her and set it on the table. Tugging at her hand, he led her toward the balcony doors.
“Come with me.”
They stepped onto the balcony and looked toward the horizon where the very last streaks of purple flowed in wisps of clouds across the darkening sky. It was deep dusk, and although they were on the opposite side of the building from downtown Vegas, the metropolis still spread around them with the twinkling lights and lit highways of any big city.
“Beautiful night,” Kyle sighed. “Is our boy with his would-be aunt and uncle?”
“Yeah. They came for him a couple of hours ago, actually. I think they were really looking forward to it. They wanted some time with him before he had to go to bed.”
“Well, after last night, I think we’d better restrict babysitting to the four of them. Who knows what he’d do with a regular sitter . . . or your Dad. And speaking of Mr. Congeniality . . .”
“Kyle,” Serena scolded gently, “he’s my dad, and I love him. Besides, I had lunch with him today, and he’s already softening toward things. Us. Alex.”
Kyle slipped an arm around her, but his face was skeptical. “What makes you say that?”
She turned toward him, afraid and excited to tell him the news. “Don’t be mad, Kyle, because it turned out to be a good thing. But yesterday, Dad was in Roswell.”
Kyle flew back as if she had punched him in the stomach. “What! Are you fucking kidding me? Serena, how in the name of all that’s holy is that a good thing? We need to tell Max. Did he see my father? What the hell is he trying to pull? I swear . . .”
He pushed past her, trying to pace in the ridiculously small space. His hands were running through his hair, agitation evident in every bit of his body language.
“I knew this would happen. We’re going to have to leave again. And this time, we’ll have to go underground.”
“Kyle! Wait . . .”
“I’m going to have to take Alex, Serena. He can’t be here without the rest of us.”
“Kyle, shut . . . UP!”
Her shrill tone seemed to have some effect; clearly her words weren’t. She eyed him with a combination of anger and sympathy. This group had been through a lot and had every reason to fear. Still, he was rearranging everyone’s life and had no idea what the facts were.”
“Thank you,” she said with deliberate enunciation. “I’m trying to tell you that he met your father and all the other families, too. They were having a barbeque, and by the time it was over, he was pretty impressed.”
Kyle stared at her blankly.
“He went to a barbeque at my house?”
The notion was so impossibly ridiculous, he almost laughed out loud.
“He went from threatening me and trying to buy me off to having beer and brats with my father? In two days? Serena, you’re not making sense.”
Then his face froze, pinched with horror. “It’s a trick. He’s trying to dig up dirt on them and he’s doing it right out in the open. Serena, he doesn’t want to be friends with them; he wants to bury them. Bury us all!”
Now she just wanted to slap him. Conspiracy theorists had nothing on Kyle Valenti.
“Kyle, put a cork in it and let me talk!”
He looked up sharply, surprised by her scathing tone.
“Kyle, I’m sorry.” She walked toward him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I understand why you’re thinking this way. I know you’ve had plenty of reason to be paranoid in the past, but this is my dad. I know him. Listen, I had a talk with him today. He told me where he’d been and why.”
“And what was his version of why?”
She ignored the sarcastic skepticism. “He admitted to me that he’d expected to begin an investigation of you in hopes of discouraging our marriage. He didn’t trust you, and he definitely didn’t like the idea of us marrying so young. BUT . . .!”
She punched out the word to ward off Kyle’s next angry comment. “. . . instead of letting his investigator do the digging, he felt he owed it to me to take care of it personally. He knew from our talk the night you two met that I was serious about you, and he wanted to be sure he knew what he was doing before coming to me again. So he went to Roswell to meet your father. I think he hoped either your dad and he could both fight our relationship or he’d find something that he could use to convince me this was a mistake. But when he got there, everyone was there for a barbeque—even Nate and Taylor and the General. I guess what started out as a pissing contest wound up being good for us instead.
Obviously, they didn’t tell him anything about . . . you know . . . but they did at least convince him that they were good people. He’s . . . I don’t know, he’s got a different perspective now.”
Kyle digested this new information with a scowl. “I’ll skip the rant about invasion of privacy and what kind of balls it took to go skulking around Roswell trying to break up our engagement and go right to the part where he’s not going to fight our marriage. Is that how this turned out?”
“Not exactly,” Serena said.
“He’s not going to do any more investigating, but he still wants us to wait. And I think . . . I think he wants to know how you guys wound up the subject of a government investigation.”
Kyle’s eyes flew wide. “We can’t tell him any of this!”
“I know, I know! But you can imagine how curious he must be. I mean, think about it, Kyle. How weird is it that teens ran away from home to escape a military surveillance and then it was all dropped?”
Kyle seemed to see her point. They needed to create an explanation for this that would work for Serena’s father and anyone else who stumbled across the public part of the truth.
“Yeah, we’ll have to work on that.”
They looked outward again and realized night had fallen in earnest. For several minutes, they took in the bright lights of the desert’s “town that never sleeps.” The glow shot straight to the sky and made it hard for the stars to display their more natural glory, but the strongest and most powerful ones still prevailed. Serena sighed.
“What a shame it would be to spend this gorgeous night talking about my father.”
Shaken from his thoughts of cover stories and intrigue by Serena’s sultry voice, Kyle came back to the present with a vengeance. The change in his thoughts must have been broadcast on his face because Serena’s mouth fell open.
“And what would you rather do?” he asked suggestively, pulling her toward him.
Wide-eyed, Serena bit her lip as there bodies met, and Kyle was once again reminded of Liz. He wished he’d quit flashing on her when he was with Serena. It’s just that they were alike in so many ways. He obviously had a “type” when it came to girlfriends, and he stuck to it to a weird degree. Had he known that sooner, maybe he would have realized his attraction to Tess was lust and not love. On the other hand, without that relationship, there would be no Alex, and the thought of that brought him up short. In fact, it horrified him, and it occurred to him that somewhere along the line, he’d become glad that he had a son. Not to mention the fact that without Alex, he and Serena would probably not even be dating, let alone engaged.
She released her lip, and an air of decision penetrated her words. “I want you to make love to me, Kyle.”
The statement was so honest, so innocent, he was speechless. This relationship was completely different—from Liz, certainly, and most definitely from Tess. This woman loved him. Really loved him. And she wanted to share something new and beautiful with him. He pushed away the feelings of guilt for the freewheeling sex he’d had with Tess. It had been nothing more than a game—a dangerous and dishonest game. But this woman in his arms now was the real thing, and the impact of that truth turned him into someone new.
Kyle had been very strict with himself in terms of intruding on what other people were feeling. He used his gift “professionally,” in the sense that he picked up on the mood of people he was driving, just so he would know how to act to make them most comfortable. With some, he joked. With others, he was a silent presence. And others, in spite of how it galled him, wanted to be treated like royalty, which he did with his own attitude held firmly in check. It had made him popular with the small but growing number of regular guests and had entrenched him firmly in the good graces of his boss. But with those he cared about, he was very careful; he never wanted to be perceived as intrusive or high-handed, and so far, so good.
Tonight, though, Serena had set a seductive stage, and then they had immediately argued. He didn’t want to mess up one of the most important nights of their lives, and he felt he was justified in feeling her out. She was over her anger, he deduced, and she was both eager and nervous about the idea of making love with him. She needed to be loved and reassured and introduced to this new experience with the utmost care.
All the old moves were history. This would be something different and special that they would forge together; he was suddenly breathless with anticipation. He would be gentle and caring and let her dictate their lovemaking; it had to be the perfect start for their life together.
Their lips met, and the tenor of the kiss was something completely new. This was not just a kiss, it was the opening of a door, a threshold in their relationship. She was soft and willing and just a little tentative, and he thrilled to it. He felt his own response leap between them—physically and emotionally—but she didn’t shy away. She melted against him, taking all he could give and wanting more. With a gasp of pleasure, Kyle bent to swing her knees up, and he cradled her to him as he carried her inside.
The room smelled like Serena. The sheets, the pillows, the very air. It infused his being, as if her aura were seeping into his pores. As he kissed her with his lips and adored her with his hands, he felt her tentativeness melt away. She sought him out, pressing herself against him and exploring him openly for the first time. Her hands on him had an aphrodisiac effect, and he knew his mind was becoming muddled.
As he undressed her, he took the time to admire the way her skin warmed when he touched her, the way her hair shone dark against her breast, the way her eyes glowed with wonder. They would never have another first time, and he was bound to remember as much as he could of this, in spite of the fog her body incited.
Soon she was naked against him, and his own clothing became an unbearable barrier. He began to tug at his shirt, but she stopped him, rising above him with uncharacteristic boldness. Their intimacy had unleashed something unexpected, and he was mesmerized by her expression of abandon as she took over the job. Bit by bit, she relieved him of the bothersome fabric, stopping to stroke and explore whatever was revealed to her.
Finally, with a hint of her original hesitation, she unzipped his jeans and peeled back the placket. He smiled to himself when he saw her swallow hard at the still-hidden length that pushed up against his boxer briefs. Her eyes were riveted, and Kyle had to remember that Serena was a virgin; otherwise, he thought, he might have been inclined to think she was making a comparison. He reached for her hand, and when she grasped it, he guided it to him, biting back a whimper of elation when her fingers closed around him.
After the original shock, Serena’s instincts took over. She stroked him slowly, and Kyle could tell she was watching his face. He was in heaven. But this was not just about him. In fact, it was all about Serena, and he shook himself mentally. His pleasure could take a back seat, and that in itself, he realized, was a firm indication of how he had changed.
Taking Serena by the shoulders, he shifted and laid her down on the bed. Shedding the last of his garments, he vowed to make her completely relaxed and ready for him. He began by tracing her body with feathery kisses, stopping occasionally to lick and nip at her sensitive areas—her ear, her neck, her navel, her inner thigh. She had watched him for a moment, but soon let her eyes drift shut to concentrate on his erotic journey.
The next half hour was only for her—awakening her to loving touches and erotic intimacies she had never known. Kyle’s control had never been so challenged, but he found he didn’t mind when he looked at her face as she discovered the new world they would share. Finally, he heard the words he’d been waiting for.
“Now, Kyle. I need you now.”
Positioning himself above her, he took her—gently, lovingly, feeling more love than he thought it was possible to feel. This act meant the world to her, and so . . . it meant the world to him. It was a new experience for that reason alone. And when their union was complete, and he saw the single tear trickle back into her hair, he kissed it away, wanting to take away the pain.
“I wish it didn’t have to hurt you,” he whispered, caressing her face with his lips. “I wish . . .”
“It was only for a few seconds; I was prepared for worse,” she confessed with a shy smile. “Now comes the best part, right?”
She moved beneath him, and he returned her smile with a groan. The gentle rocking resumed, gaining momentum until the gentleness was overrun with the passion they had held in check. Serena gasped and stilled as her inner walls convulsed around him, and Kyle swore; the euphoric expression on her face would have been enough to bring him with her all by itself. He let himself feel what she was feeling, and it was beautiful. She was beautiful, in every way, and as his orgasm hit, Kyle wondered if a person could die of happiness.
Back at the apartment, Max and Liz told Michael and Maria what had happened at the pool. The four watched Alex with renewed awe as he cruised the room examining everything within his reach.
“Did anybody else see him?” Michael demanded, already looking panicked.
“No, I’m sure not. We were the only ones who had the right angle on it,” Max reassured him. “But do you realize the implications here? He’s not even a year old, and his powers are developing. He’ll be more powerful than any of us have been.”
“What did he do, though?” Maria wanted to know. “I mean, it’s not like he healed her. She wasn’t even hurt.”
Liz and Max had been pondering that exact question ever since they left the resort. All the way home, they had built a hypothesis, exchanging their thoughts so quickly that the only way they could keep up with each other was to conduct their conversation telepathically. It was becoming almost second nature.
“We have a theory,” Liz said. “We could be wrong, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Well, let’s have it,” Michael snapped. Max threw him a warning glance.
“Obviously Tess was a hybrid, and her most obvious power was mindwarping—getting into someone’s mind and manipulating what they thought and saw, right?”
Everyone nodded, curious about where this was going.
“Kyle had already been healed by Max when he and Tess . . . got close.”
“You mean screwed like bunnies. Yeah, Liz, what’s your point?” Max’s second warning look was more pointed than the first, and Michael glared back. Liz ignored them both, deep in thought.
“Even though Kyle was exhibiting no powers then, we know that the changes were already at work in his body. We also know that the younger the child, the sooner the powers manifest themselves. Kyle’s gift turned out to be reading people’s moods—at least so far. What if, between Kyle and Tess, Alex is able to read minds?”
“Holy shit,” Michael breathed.
Max continued the explanation. “He knew that the little girl was upset, and he instinctively wanted to make it better. What if, with his touch, he was able to just calm her and make her feel better?”
“Like a healer and a psychologist in one—a mental healer,” Maria mused. “Only he uses touch instead of a couch.”
“What about when he zaps things right into his hand?” Liz pressed. “Can you guys do that? I’ve never seen you do it.”
The two men looked at each other, and Michael shrugged. “I honestly can’t say I’ve ever tried. Don’t know why not, though.”
He fixed his gaze on the remote control and concentrated. It moved quickly toward him, but dropped short of his hand. Max tried and managed to move it across the floor, but it didn’t fly up into his hand, either.
“I guess if we worked on it, we could do it. Michael seems further along than I am,” Max observed, frowning slightly.
“Like blasting in reverse,” Maria said.
Liz seized the idea. “You’re right, Maria! It is like blasting in reverse. It might be that Michael is better at this, but the point is, it’s something Alex is doing now that the rest of you can’t or haven’t learned to do. How in the world are we going to control him?”
Alex had stopped to watch the remote moving toward his two uncles. Without warning, he held out his arm and the remote shot off the floor, glanced off his small hand, and landed back on the floor at Alex’s feet. He had retrieved it successfully, but his hand was too small to hold onto it. Unperturbed, he bent, grasped it by the narrow end, and turned to Max, offering up his prize.
A wide-eyed Max took the remote. “Thank you, Alex.”
Alex offered him a quick smile, then moved on to more interesting matters, like the straps of Liz’s sandals that criss-crossed her foot.
“Now you’ve got a name, too,” Maria laughed. “But between ‘Muk’ and ‘Muks,’ you’ll have to listen pretty closely.”
What Alex called him was the least of their problems, Max thought as he watched their charge blithely investigating his world. They had to figure out a way to control these impulses, or they’d never be able to let the boy out of the house!
“I’m going to try something, but Alex can’t be distracted at all. Let me take him into the bedroom; you all wait out here.”
Max, what are you going to do?
Liz’s thoughts drew Max’s eyes back to her. Out loud he said, “I’m going to try to connect with him. I don’t know if he’ll be able to understand anything, but it’s worth a try. Parents on Antar must have had this same problem, except they didn’t have to keep it a secret.”
Everyone looked skeptical, including Max, but since no one had a better idea, they watched silently as Max picked up Alex and disappeared into the bedroom.