The Kindness of Strangers (AU, ML / Mature) (Complete)

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Majesty
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The Kindness of Strangers (AU, ML / Mature) (Complete)

Post by Majesty » Sun Feb 01, 2004 8:04 pm

Winner - Round 9

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Liz and Max see each other in the rain outside Maria's house.

Winner - Round 6

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Diane

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Winner - Round 5

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Best Author of a Dreamer Fanfic
Best Author of an Alternate Universe Fanfic
Author Who Should Have Written for the Show


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The Kindness of Strangers

Rating: Mature for now

Category: M/L AU

Summary: The kindness of a stranger gives Liz Parker a chance at a new life, but secrets from her past and the suspicions of an infuriating man threaten to ruin everything she has rebuilt.

Disclaimer: Don't own any of the characters, but this ain't like Roswell, so don't sue.







Author's Note: This is my back-up story that I work on when I am frustrated with everything I am writing. It started purely as a tension-releaser, and I've never written anything like it before. Can't promise when it will be updated, and I make no apologies for that, but I do have twenty parts written already and will post those regularly (once, maybe twice a week). But I warn you, after twenty, updates may be once a month, depending on my level of frustration with my other stories. It's completely outlined from beginning to end, but finding the time to update it is another story. I do so when I am inclined.

Safe and Sound - Sheryl Crow

Maybe this is forever
Forever fades away
Like a rocket ascending into space
Could you not be sad?
Could you not break down?
After all, I won't let go
Until you're safe and sound
Until you're safe and sound
There's beauty in release
There's no one left to please but you and me

I don't blame you for quitting
I know you really tried
If only you could hang on through the night
Cuz I don't want to be lonely
I don't want to be scared
And all our friends are waiting there
Until you're safe and sound
Until you're safe and sound
There's beauty in release
There's no one left to please but you and me

Until you're safe and sound...

Feel like I could've held on
Feel like I could've let go
Feel like I could've helped you
Feel like I could've changed you
Feel like I could've held you
Feel like I could've hurt you
Feel like I was a stranger
Feel like I was an angel
Feel like I was a hero
Feel like I was a zero
Feel like I could've cured you
Feel like I could've healed you
Feel like I could've touched you
Feel like I could've saved you
Feel like I should've heard you
Feel like I could've moved you
Feel like I could've changed you
Feel like I could've held you
Feel like I could've kept you
Feel like I should've told you
Feel like I could've loved you
Feel like I could've loved you
Feel like I could've loved you
Feel like I could've loved you
Feel like I really loved you


*******


I promise...I will protect you with all that I have and all that I am...


PART ONE

Liz Parker sat up as straight as the bindings that slashed her hands behind the chair would allow. She tried not to sway as her body fought against her will, wrought with pain and exhaustion.

Her throat was cracked and parched, and her left eye was swollen shut, evidence of their impatience. Dried blood caked around her nostrils, and her cheek throbbed painfully. Her hair was caked with dirt and her own blood, and she felt as if her right shoulder had been ripped from its socket. And it probably had. She was pretty sure it was dislocated.

She was trapped, and she knew it, but she would not show fear.

She'd been caught red-handed with the stash, and would surely be sent to a South American prison. Her mission was critical, and she failed.

A Federale paced back and forth in front of her in impatience, and she knew her time was growing short. First they'd tried to lie to her, telling her that if she gave up her source, they would let her go, but she knew better. She was trapped either way, but if she gave up her source, she'd surely die a mysterious and suspicious death, and that wasn't even the worst of what she was worried about.

She wasn't stupid. There was no way they were going to let a gringo go, and extradition was out of the question. She doubted that the embassy had even been informed of an American citizen being detained. She was on her own, and she knew it. She had accepted that long ago, and knew that the consequences were grave, but she'd had no choice. These men did not want to apprehend her source to stop the drug trade. They wanted a piece of the action.

She'd been tied to this chair for two days, and she was tired and in great pain. She knew that this time, there was no escape.

"Mírelo ramera pequeña, nosotros podemos hacer las cosas la manera fácil o la manera dura. Si usted habla, nosotros nos cercioraremos a los guardias no tienen su manera con usted antes nosotros lo cerramos arriba para el resto de su vida. Si usted hace no, yo no puedo prometer seré tan comprensión."

Look you little bitch, we can do things the easy way or the hard way. If you talk, we'll make sure the guards don't have their way with you before we lock you up for the rest of your life. If you do not, I can't promise I will be so understanding.

"Somos de la paciencia pequeña, así que usted habla o llamamos a los guardias aqui."

We are of little patience, so you talk or we call the guards.

"I don't speak Spanish, for the hundredth time," Liz grated, lying through her teeth.

Liz stared at him defiantly with her good eye, and the Federale lost the little patience he had left and slapped her resoundingly across the mouth. She felt blood well in her mouth and she leaned over slightly to spit it out, before raising her head again.

The Federale slammed his hand down in violence on the table before her, causing her to jump in involuntary response. His eyes narrowed and he looked at her.

He relented.

"Don't think I don't know you know every word I am saying. You've been here long enough, two years in fact, isn't it?" he said in a lilting accent.

She blanched, seeing that they knew more about her than she had anticipated. What else did they know? Her heart clenched in fear.

"I see I have your attention now," The Federale said, with a malicious chuckle.

This was worse than she had thought.

"Yes gringa, we know more about you than you can imagine, and we know whose buttons we have to push to get what we want. It's amazing what a little torture will do to open the mouths of your confidants," he said.



Liz felt tears spring to her eyes as she thought of Felipe.

"What did you do to him?" she yelled in outrage.

The Federale clucked in mock sympathy.

"It was very sad, really. But you can take comfort in the knowledge that he screamed your name as my guards slit his throat," he said.

"NOOO!!!" Liz cried in anguish, trying to yank her hands from the unforgiving wire, not feeling it as it dug into her flesh.
The other guard held her down as she struggled, and after a time her movements ceased in defeat.

"He was just a boy," she whispered in hatred, no longer able to meet the man's gaze.

"A boy who knew what he was into. Who knew the consequences," he answered, unconcerned.

"He had to feed his family!" Liz grated.

The man shrugged.

"Enough of this," he said. "You talk, or you meet the same fate."

"No," she said with quiet force.

Liz kept her head lowered, and a rough hand grabbed her hair and yanked it back to expose her tear-stained face.

"I see," he said and raised his hand to strike her.

The door flew open, saving her the blow. The man looked at the officer in impatience.

"¿Qué es?" he said in irritation.

"Señor, algo necesita su atención inmediatamente," the officer said.

Sir, someone needs your attention, right away.

The Federale laughed in contempt.

"Es el Comandante," he said to Liz, reverting again to Spanish.

"Ahora usted deseará que usted habrá hablado a mí. El no es paciente como mí."

It must the Commander. Now you will wish you had talked to me. He is not patient like me.

Liz watched the man walk out of the room, and tried to prepare herself for whatever fate might become her.

She barely listened to the arguing in the hallway. Everything hurt from being tied into the chair for such and extended period of time. She felt the hot slicing of the cables embedded in her wrists that had gone unnoticed before.

She winced in discomfort, knowing that this would seem like a walk in the park once they were done with her.

She looked up to find the remaining guard leering at her, and she glared at him.

They could take her body. They could beat her until she couldn't see straight, but they would never get the information out of her. Her source held the key to everything, and she would die keeping his location a secret, as much as she hated it.

It was the hard life of a smuggler, and she had accepted it when she had been accepted into the fold. She hadn't had a choice. She'd become hardened, seen things too horrible to imagine, too monstrous to comprehend, and yet she had gone on, because there was nothing else for her to do, but bury it somewhere in her head. She'd always thought that someday it would all crash around her, choking her with the sheer cruelty and senselessness of the things she'd witnessed, but she had prayed that it would be long after she had paid her dues and was safe.

Her imagination often when into overdrive when she came across the atrocities. She couldn't stand leaving the innocent dead desecrated and did what she could to make it right. But sometimes when she buried them, it made it all the more real for her. Looking at their faces frozen in terror or pain, made thoughts of the last moments of their life more real to her, and without bidding, her mind would create horrible scenarios that stayed with her long after she had buried the body and moved on. It was as if her subconscious was creating a horrific memorial to all she had witnessed.

The argument in the hall grew louder, and she heard the Federale shout in indignation.

A sharp slam erupted from outside the door, and the voices lowered in volume instantly.

She didn't care what the disagreement was about. It did nothing to change her situation, but to postpone the inevitable.

She said a silent prayer that someone would have mercy on her soul and would make it quick, if it had to be painful.

At that moment, the door swung open again, and another guard came in with the Federale.

"Desátela," the Federale said in a gruff tone, and Liz's head snapped up.

Untie her?

What the hell was going on?

The guard who had been leering at her walked behind her chair and with unnecessary roughness, pulled the cables from her skin. Liz bit down to keep from crying out as the blood immediately started to rush to her fingers, causing a razor-like pain to shoot into her hands.

"Levante," the Federale barked, ordering her to get up.

She stumbled to her feet, and her left arm was grabbed tightly by the new guard, warning her not to make any sudden moves.

The Federale jerked his head toward the door, and the guard shoved her toward the door, pushing her though it. Liz hit the wall and her hands rose to it automatically, staining the beige paint with blood from her wrists.

"Obténgala fuera de mi vista," the Federale grumbled.

Get her out of my sight.

The guard led her purposefully to the door, propelling her toward an old squad car, or more specifically a small, old VW Rabbit that had a light-bar installed on its roof.

He pushed her into the backseat, and she cried out as her shoulder hit the dirty vinyl seat covering, sending bright sparks of pain shooting through her arm. She struggled to maintain consciousness, eyeing the door.

He slammed the door and got into the front seat. Liz reached for the handle on instinct, hoping it would be open.

"Don't bother," the guard said in English. "It doesn't open from the inside."

"Where are you taking me?" Liz asked, her voice cracking.

"It is not for me to say," the guard answered. "You will see, soon enough."

The small automobile took off with a lurch and threw Liz against the seat back, causing another paralyzing jolt of pain to run through her body, and she mercifully lost consciousness.

~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Some Time later, the Rabbit jolted to a stop in front of a beautifully maintained villa overlooking the gorgeous mountain forest of Fazenda das Posses.

The guard got out of the car just as a well-manicured matured gentleman opened the intricately carved wood doors that decorated the front entrance to the large abode.

"All went well?" he asked, as he watched the guard walk around the car to the back passenger door.

"There was a little resistance Senor, but nothing that I couldn't handle," the guard replied with a nod. "And your offer was too tempting to refuse. She is unconscious."

"Probably just as well for the moment," the man replied, as the guard opened the door and lifted the young woman out of the back seat.

"Be careful with her," the man said.

"Of course," the guard said, careful not to jostle the small figure he held. "She is injured."

He nodded, noting her appearance. She had been beaten badly as a result of the interrogation.

Her eye was swollen shut, broken blood vessels discoloring the area around it. Her wrists were bloodied, and he imagined she had other injuries not visible to his eyes. But it could have been much worse.

"I would have thought as much, after being in the Federales' custody for two days. I wish we had known sooner. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble, but there's nothing we can do about it now," the man said. "I'll have Carolina tend to her."

The man stepped up onto the landing with the girl.

"Yes," the man commented appraising her. "We'll help her. From everything I've read, she is a crafty one. I am surprised they were able to capture her at all."

"I have heard it was more luck than anything Senor," the guard said.

"It turned out to be lucky for me as well," the man smiled.
She is a brave and fascinating young woman."

Manuel looked at the man with a curious expression, but new better than to ask any questions. His employer would volunteer the information if he saw fit.

"I'll take her upstairs now, Senor," the guard said, and the man nodded.

"Well done Manuel," the man said with approval, running his hand through his graying hair. "If you would bring her to the guest quarters please."

"Of course, Senor," the guard assented and walked through the front door, still ajar.

Yes, she was an interesting girl, who had led a harrowing and dangerous life. He had much respect for her, and with any luck, he would turn her life around.

To Be Continued.....
Last edited by Majesty on Tue May 25, 2004 8:45 pm, edited 41 times in total.

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Two

Post by Majesty » Tue Feb 03, 2004 11:22 pm

Part Two

Liz awoke with a start, expecting to be struck yet again, and instead found herself in an opulent room, surrounded by down pillows and soft, light cotton sheets. She moved her arm without thinking, and a painful throb jolted her completely awake.

She glanced down and saw that her arm was cradled in a sling, and her wrists were bandaged.

And at that moment, she realized she had no idea where she was.

She slid out from under the sheets, putting her feet on the floor in a stiff movement and stood, every bone in her body singing with a dull ache.

She grunted, unable to silence herself, and padded barefoot to the doors that opened out on to a large balcony.

With cautious deliberation, she peered out on to the balcony and confirmed that no one was there before stepping out.

It was a glorious day, much like many of the days in Brazil, with a moist warm breeze caressing the senses.

Spread before her was a breathtaking view of mountains, a tropical forest spread at their feet. But Liz didn't notice it. She was looking for a way out. She didn't know where she was, but she sure as hell knew she had to get out. Enclosing the huge manicured property was a large iron fence, and surveying it she could see that atop the posts were electrical wires. Damn.

Continuing her study of her surroundings, she noted the surveillance cameras posted strategically to catch every angle of the property. There was no part of it that was out of their reach.

She cursed to herself and walked back to the doors, freezing when she saw a woman enter the room.

She took a defensive stance, ready to run.

"Hola, Señorita. Por favor no tema. Yo lo significo no daño," the matronly woman said.

Hello, Miss. Please don't fear. I mean you no harm.

Liz remained guarded as she watched the woman set a tray next to the bed, before moving to the closet.

"He escogido alguna ropa para usted. Espero que usted apruebe," the woman continued, taking out a few items and laying them on the bed.

I have chosen some clothes for you. I hope you approve.

Liz stood frozen in place, as the woman gave her a kind smile.

"¿Dónde estoy yo?" Liz asked, not really believing the woman would answer her question. After all, she had no idea who now had custody of her. She had no reason to believe they would tell her the location of this house.

"Fazenda das Posses," the woman replied in a matter of fact manner.

Fazenda das Posses? This was getting even stranger. There were no detainment centers is Fazenda das Posses. Which could only mean that?no. Her source had come for her and?

Liz saw the woman frown, and Liz's face hardened. She couldn't let them know she was vulnerable.

"El Señor lo estará esperando cerca de la piscina cuando usted está listo," the woman said, her voice halting, staring at Liz strangely.

The Mister will be expecting you near the pool whenever you are ready.

The pool? She thought.

"La piscina?" Liz asked.

"Sí. Baje la escalera y a la derecha. Siga el vestíbulo a las puertas del vidrio," the woman said, backing away after giving her directions to the pool.

She backed all the way out of the room and shut the door, leaving Liz by herself.

Liz stood still for a moment, trying to figure out what exactly what type of situation she was in at the moment. Her first reaction would be to believe she should be dead by now, if this was Carlo's house. But she knew better than to try to second-guess his actions. Perhaps he was just toying with her.

She walked over to the bed and looked at the clothes that were provided for her, loose linen pants and a comfortable white silk t-shirt, undergarments, and a pair of sensible slip-on leather sandals.

She glanced around and saw the bathroom, and decided if she was going to die today, she might as well have one last shower.

Twenty minutes later, she stepped out of the tub and rubbed at the steam on the mirror with a towel, cringing at the sight that met her.

Her eye was still swollen and purple faded to yellow as it spread around it. Her lip was split and as she touched it, she winced at the sting she'd first noticed in the shower. She'd already seen the bruises on her arms and legs and the lone large one on her ribs where an overzealous guard had kicked her when she'd first been captured.

But in the end, it didn't really matter. She'd long given up on her worrying about the way she looked when she'd entered this dangerous world. She'd found that looking pretty was a liability.

Turning away from the mirror, she carefully dried off, favoring her shoulder, which she knew for sure was dislocated, and stepped back into the room.

She started to dress, pulling on the panties on the bed with difficulty, and sighed with relief when she saw the bra. The woman had thoughtfully provided a pull on sports bra, so she didn't have to deal with the hooks.

After several minutes of maneuvering, she had somehow pulled the bra over her narrow hips and had managed to get her arms through the straps, pulling one over her good shoulder and leaving the other under her arm, before donning the t-shirt with great effort. She pulled the pants on and slipped her feet into the shoes.

With a look of what she hoped was determination, she stepped out of the room and headed down the stairs.

**************

Liz stepped out on to the terrace, the tiles that covered it ornate and obviously expensive. She heard water bubbling, and looked toward the source, seeing a beautiful waterfall at the end of the large kidney-shaped pool. Beautiful flora decorated the surrounding area, probably originating from the nearby forest.

Whoever held her captive certainly led an opulent life. The house and grounds were fit for a king.

Getting out of here unnoticed was out of the question. A man was stationed at the front door, as she discovered when she'd come down the stairs. He'd stepped forward and motioned for her to follow him. The gun holstered at his belt didn't go unnoticed, and she decided to play along for the moment. She knew to choose her opportunities wisely, and this was not one of them. Escaping under the cover of night would improve her odds of success.

The man left her on the terrace, closing the French doors behind him as he walked back into the house.

Scanning the rest of the terrace, she noticed a low voice, and tried to see whom it belonged to, but the high back to the chair that was pulled up to the glass table prevented her from identifying him. She walked slowly toward him, lifting her head in defiance, refusing to reveal that she was terrified.

"Yes, I know all of that. Tell my son that if he wants to speak to me, he can call me himself," the man said, spotting her and motioning for her to sit down.

This was definitely not Carlos, but she wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. She'd never seen this man before, but she knew he wanted something. Everyone wanted something from her. What would it be this time?

She sat warily in the chair, her back ram-rod straight.

"Yes, I know, I know. He's very impatient," the man said, sighing. "Fine, just have them messenger me the documents."

He paused, listening and an amused smile appeared on his face.

"He did? Well I wouldn't expect anything less from him. He takes after his father. I am sure that he had Darrington jumping through hoops," he chuckled.

"Yes, tell him I'm proud of him," he answered a short time later. "I know he doesn't want to hear that. That's exactly why I want you to relay that message...yes, a hard hat might be wise when you tell him...ah, you're welcome," he laughed. "Good day Tracy."

He hung up the phone and looked at Liz expectantly for a moment.

Finally, he reached out a hand.

"Miss Parker, we finally meet. My name is Phillip Evans," he said. When she continued to glare at his hand without making a move, he lowered it.

Liz started.

"How do you know my name?" she asked, willing her voice to remain steady. There were only two men who knew her true last name. Even the men she worked with called her by the false moniker Carlos had created for her, Elizabeth Cruz.

"What do you want from me?" she asked in a flat tone, preparing for the worst.

At that moment, the woman she'd seen earlier came out with a tray of drinks.

"Gracias Carolina," Phillip said, with a kind smile.

"De nada," the woman answered, setting the tray on the table, and leaving them alone again.

Phillip sat back and stroked his lip thoughtfully.

"Relax Liz," he said, giving her a kind smile. "May I call you Liz?"

"Whatever suits you," she said in a monotone voice. "I'm being kept here against my will, so it doesn?t really matter what I want, does it?"

"I mean you no harm," Phillip said.

"I find that hard to believe," Liz quipped in a hard tone.

"I know more about you than you think," Phillip said.

"Do you?" Liz asked, her voice laced with derision, hoping he was bluffing. If he knew...

Phillip leaned forward, lacing his fingers together.

"I have a proposition for you, Liz..."
Last edited by Majesty on Wed Feb 04, 2004 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Majesty » Sun Feb 08, 2004 9:45 am

Part Three

Three months later...

Max Evans strode the floor of the study in irritation.

"Max, would you stop that?" his sister retorted.

"Stop what?" he barked.

"That pacing, it's annoying," she sighed.

"Doesn't this concern you at all?" Max said, swinging toward her.

"Of course it does!" she said.

"Really? Because this could ruin everything we've worked for. I told you that he hasn't been right since Mother died, but you didn't want to listen to me. And now he's coming home with this...this whore or lord knows what," Max said, and stopped when he saw the flash of pain cross his sister's face at the mention of their mother.

He instantly regretted saying what he did. He knew how much Isabel missed their mother even now, and knowing that this woman...this person was going to try to take over just...

"Max, cut it out," Alex said in a warning tone, putting his hand on Isabel's shoulder in comfort.

"I'm sorry," Max said in a gruff voice. "It's just that we don't know anything about this woman. He didn't even give us a last name!"

"And I doubt it that was a slip on his part," Alex said in a knowing tone, as Isabel squeezed his hand.

"He knows you'll have Michael on it as soon as you find anything out. Face it Max, we can't *do* anything until we talk to him, until we find out more about this mysterious Liz person...and if you act this way, you know damned well he isn't going to cooperate!" Isabel said.

"If we don't do something about this, she's going to be his wife, and his state of mind lately...who knows what he's told her already?" Max said.

"If its money she's after, you know I'll try to talk some sense into him," Alex said.

"That doesn't mean anything and you know it. He's thick-headed..." Max said.

"Like father, like son," Isabel said with a touch of bitterness.

"We have to play this right Max. Everything is riding on it. Don't lose your temper. For all we know, she might actually love Dad, as impossible as that might be for you to believe."

The barbed comment from his sister was not lost on him.

Max's jaw hardened as he glanced out the window.

"They're here," he muttered.

*****************

Isabel followed Max out to the front foyer, Alex close behind. Together the three stood on the marble steps, waiting to get a first glimpse at their father's infatuation, his new fiancee.

He'd been shocked when his father had phoned earlier in the week to talk to him, and shocked even further when he'd dropped this latest bomb-shell on him. A lovely companion, the true beauty he'd found, the person he thought that he might be content to spend the rest of his days with.

Flags of alarm immediately raised in Max's head, and he had barraged his father with a slew of suspicious questions, which his father had evaded with effortless skill.

"Patience Max," he'd said. "You're tipping your hand. What was the first thing I taught you when you were young?"

"Never reveal your motive," Max gritted.

"It seems you've forgotten that for a moment, which is probably a good thing. You work too hard, and have forgotten what it is to live. Don't let yourself end up like me, regretting it when it was too late. So much time I wasted with your mother," his father had said wistfully.

"Dad, you're making yourself vulnerable," he snapped. "You of all people..."

"Don't you 'of all people me', Max!" his father said, irritated. "You are too suspicious by nature."

"I learned that from you," he retorted, and was met with silence on the other end.

"I have to be," Max said in a defensive tone. "If I'm not, who will be?"

"Was Alex what you thought he was?" his father countered, and Max shook his head in exasperation.

"Alex was the exception," Max said.

"Alex was right for Isabel, and she almost lost him because of *your* meddling Max," his father said.

"They've forgiven me for that," Max answered in a sullen voice.

"Max, I am not going to give you any further information on Liz, and mark my words, if you try to investigate her..."

"Fine," Max muttered, writing a note to make a few calls to his contacts in Brazil.

"We're coming home next week," Phillip said.

Max paused, and crossed out the words he'd just written. This was going to be easier than he'd anticipated.

"Don't sound so excited," his father said in a dry voice, and Max put his pen down.

"That's wonderful Dad. I am looking forward to seeing you again. It's been awhile," Max said, turning his chair to look out the window of his office, which overlooked the busy streets of Santa Fe below him.

"Yes, I know I said I was retiring, but I think I might come back into the office for a bit. I miss it," Philip said, and Max's face hardened.

"Did someone say something to you, about the company?" he asked. "I've had nothing but success..."

"No," his father chuckled. "I've heard it's never run so smoothly."

Max leaned his head back against the leather chair.

"It's nothing like that at all, Max. I just miss it. I won't interfere with whatever you're doing," his father said.

"That's not what I meant," Max protested.

"I know," Phillip said. "Listen, I have to go. We'll see you next week."

"Goodbye, Dad," Max said in a quiet voice, as he heard the click on the other end.

And so he'd stewed for a full week, making futile phone calls, and playing the waiting game, his distrust in this stranger growing with each passing hour.

And now the moment had arrived. He would finally meet this person who had gotten her hooks into his father, and he was more than prepared.

The darkened windows on the Benz revealed nothing to the waiting group, as Manuel got out of the driver's seat with a friendly wave to his employer's children waiting on the stairs.

Max gave a distracted nod, not even turning to see if his sister greeted the man.

Manuel walked to the back of the car, popping the trunk before he went to the back passenger-side door and opened it.

Max held his breath and his fury as he watched his father get out of the car with a jovial wave. His appearance hadn't changed much in the year since he'd been home, Max noted, with a forced wave in return.

He then focused his gaze back on the car, where his father had reached in to give a supporting hand to the person inside.

A small foot encased in demure heels and a shapely leg were revealed clad in a knee-length camel colored skirt, and then a cascade of silky chocolate colored hair.

He craned his neck to see the face hidden by the long locks as she stepped out of the car.

She was turned away from him, and he saw her head turn up to his father's, before his father gave her hand an encouraging squeeze and he turned her around.

And Max's eyes met those of his decided foe for the first time. They were eyes that studied, sized him up in one glance.

He challenged her gaze with a defiant gaze of his own, and she turned her head to whisper something in his father's ear. She had an allure about her, he'd admit, and could see why his father was taken with her. But her small stature in no way defined her. He saw it in her eyes, something guarded, hidden beneath the surface.

"Isabel, Max, Alex...I'd like you to meet my fiancee Liz," his father said.

Without a word, Max turned on his heel and walked back into the house.

To Be Continued...
]

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(4)

Post by Majesty » Wed Feb 11, 2004 8:03 am

Warning: Confusing plot-points ahead for the next few chapters. I am fully aware of them, hehe. Don't worry, everything will start to be answered in due time. Hope you stick with it.

Part Four

She'd known it. She'd known it from the moment he'd suggested it that it wasn't going to work.

A growing feeling of unease had been creeping over her the past week, when Phillip had announced that they were coming back to the States with their precious cargo.

There was no other choice. They were no longer safe at the Villa, and the protection she needed could only be found here now, where his people were.

She'd resisted his proposition at first, questioning his motives, because she trusted no one. She'd even tried to escape the grounds twice, and had been gently but firmly escorted back to the house. She was free to roam as she pleased on the grounds, but leaving was out of the question, for her own safety he told her.

She knew she could take care of herself, and thought he was lying. But when he sat down with her one night a weekafter she'd arrived and revealed her sordid history in detail, she'd broken down.

So many years of hiding, of shoving down the pain and the horror had finally caught up with her and had flooded her head with emotions she'd long suppressed. Agonized sobs wracked her body, as she scolded herself inwardly for being weak. She couldn't afford to be weak, ever.

He'd comforted her, and she'd resisted at first, but it was all too much. He'd stroked her hair, and patted her shoulder kindly until she had no more tears to cry.

For the first time, she listened to him with an open mind.

And she found that she couldn't afford to resist his offer.

They'd become close, he as almost a father figure to her, and at first she'd been uncomfortable with it, but gradually as he revealed more to her, she found herself grateful for someone who finally knew everything, someone who understood.

When the time came that he told her they had to leave, he'd warned her of his children's suspicious nature, and it frightened her a bit. They had every right to be suspicious of her. After all Phillip Evans was the wealthiest businessman in New Mexico, with his son coming a close second.

She had worried what they would think of her, whether her past would hurt Phillip in the end. Was he being too optimistic in thinking this could work out? That no one would get hurt?

She ran with dangerous people, and worked for dangerous people who did not take kindly to being told that she was no longer in their employ.

They accepted the buyout and the favors from an intermediary Phillip trusted implicitly, but both he and she knew it was only a matter of time before it wouldn't be enough. Her employers did not know Phillip's true identity. The Brazilians were a powerful group, but technologically deficient. They were contracted by a larger group in the states, and she had been hired out to the Brazilians through them.

It was the group in the States, and more specifically Carlos that was the real threat. She was sure that he was livid over what had been stolen from him, and Liz's disappearance was only adding to it. She was sure that he would stop at nothing until he found what had been stolen from him, and Liz who had dared defy him. If they found her, she knew she was as good as dead.

Phillip had counted on the stupidity and the greediness of the Brazilians to acquire what he needed from the States, and two weeks ago, they'd had it. And once they did, they had to move. If they didn't, their identities would be traced by the US faction, and then there would be no protecting anyone. And so they'd fled the Villa to Argentina, and hid there for a few days. Phillip had arranged for a fake passport for Liz, and utilized two passports for himself and Manuel that they'd already acquired.

Liz knew in agreeing to his offer, she was putting him and his family in danger, but she had no choice. It was either death, or to take this chance. She was starting to wonder if she should have chose the former. She had come to rely on Phillip too much, and it wasn't like her to do that. But she was tired, so tired of it all. Tired of worrying, tired of running from death and the law.

They'd made one stop on the way to Phillip's new house, and emotional one for her, and then continued on to the place she'd soon be calling home.

When the car pulled in front of the house, she'd seen his children before they'd gotten a look at her, and in that moment, she knew she was in trouble.

Isabel, tall and beautiful, with long blond hair and an icy veneer that seemed to make her un-approachability somehow enticing.

And her brother, Max, a perfect foil, dark-haired and glowering. Both were a year older than she; twins in fact, she was told. But as icy as Isabel seemed, she knew that her troubles would lie with Max. From the car she caught the fiery countenance of his gaze.

Phillip had gotten out and reached his hand back in a show of support, and she'd taken it gratefully. Only he would know how vulnerable she felt.

"This is never going to work," she whispered frantically, afraid to turn around.

"Trust me," he'd whispered back and turned her around to face his children.

But meeting his son's gaze for the first time only confirmed her original instinct.

He would be disarmingly handsome if not for the hard lines of his expression. His lithe and muscular frame exuded confidence, a person used to getting things done, getting what he wanted. The only concession to his powerful appearance was the sweep of shiny dark hair that fell across his forehead. It softened his countenance and gave him a bit of a boyish appearance.

But she knew better than to underestimate him. She'd met too many men like him to ignore her instincts. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, clad in a dark sweater and jeans. She noted the determined tilt of his head as he studied her with eyes that were arresting in their golden glow, now darkened in irritation. She felt his disdain as if it had soaked into her skin. It took every ounce of concentration she had to counter his gaze with a similar gaze of her own.

She knew it in that instant. He would not give up until he knew the truth, no matter what the expense.

His expression was filled with distrust and malice.

Then Phillip cleared his throat, and Liz broke the staring contest, and Phillip introduced her.

He'd barely finished before Max turned on his heel and walked inside the house without a further word.

Liz turned a pale shade of red, and Phillip's face tensed in anger. Even Isabel broke her indifferent veneer enough to look dismayed.

The tension was thick in the air, and then Alex stepped forward.

"It's nice to meet you, Liz," he said in a friendly tone, "I'm Alex, Isabel's husband."

He held out his hand, and Liz took it gratefully.

"Nice to meet you," she said, hoping her voice sounded as confident as she imagined it did.

She let go of his hand and Isabel held hers out.

"Isabel Evans," she said dryly.

"It's nice to meet you Isabel," Liz said.

"Likewise," she said in a flat tone.

Phillip's lips tightened in anger.

"What the hell is wrong with Max?" Phillip said in anger.

"Dad, you know how he is," Isabel said in a pointed manner.

"I don't care. That was unacceptable. It was rude and uncalled for," Phillip bit out.

Liz put a calming hand on Phillip's arm.

"It's alright, Phillip," she said gently. "It's completely understandable. I don't know how I'd feel if some stranger was barging into my house and my life with barely an announcement. It's got to be a shock for him. Just give it time."

Isabel looked at her in confusion, and Alex smiled at her.

"Yeah well, let's see if you say that after a month of it," he said in a dry voice.

"I'm talking from personal experience...OW!" he said, as Isabel drove her elbow into his stomach.

"What? It's true!" he said, and Phillip relaxed.

"Yes, you and Alex can commiserate, and maybe he can give you some tips on how to soften up my son," Phillip said.

"Oh no...nuh uh. I just got on good speaking terms with the man. Sorry Liz, but it's every man for himself," he said, and Isabel gave him a glare.

Phillip put his arm around Liz.

"Don't worry about Max. He'll come around," he said, giving Liz a squeeze. She appreciated the sentiment, but she thought that Phillip was underestimating his son.

"Come on, I'll show you to our rooms. You can freshen up, and then we'll all have dinner," he said, and Liz nodded.

She could feel Isabel's cold glare, and would be glad to get away from it. Her face remained impassive. She couldn't show any signs of weakness. It was something she'd learned a long time ago.

"That sounds wonderful Phillip," she said, and he put his hand at the small of her back, guiding her into the house.

"We'll see you in about an hour Isabel," Phillip called over his shoulder as they climbed the stairs. Liz didn't turn around to see her reaction.

To Be Continued...

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Five

Post by Majesty » Sun Feb 15, 2004 11:08 am

So, y'all are thinking that Liz has got a "Mr. Robinson" complex and Max is being a total weenie, right? :) Well, you probably won't like Max much more after this one.

But the next few chapters will explain much, so hang in there.


Part Five

Liz's shoulders slumped and she released a sigh as Phillip closed the door to the bedroom behind him.

"I can't do this," Liz said, walking over to the bed and sitting with a heavy thud.

"Yes you can, Liz," Phillip said.

"You weren't on the receiving end of your son's glare," she reminded him.

"He'll get over it. Just give it time," Phillip said.

"I think you're wrong, Liz said, pulling her hair back.

"My son doesn't control my life, Liz. I made a promise to you, and I am going to keep it, and no one, especially my son, is going to stop me from that," Phillip said, sitting beside her.

"I don't deserve this kindness Phillip. I know this is putting your family in danger?"

"Let me worry about that," Phillip interrupted. "This is exactly what I didn't want to happen. You are not to worry about any of this anymore."

Liz shook her head.

"I know you feel some sort of responsibility for this, though I don't know why. This isn't your problem, Phillip. If I even start to suspect anyone is going to be put into danger, I-"

"Enough," Phillip said in gentle reprimand. "This is not some misguided sense of duty. You are a truly remarkable girl, and I am not one to be easily impressed by people. Your secret will be safe. I place my word on it."

"Phillip, your son-" she started.

"I have taken care of that end. If my son decides to start snooping around, he will find a colorful story, but one that is very far from the truth," he answered.

"Trust me, Liz. Help me to keep the promise I made by letting me help you," he said. "You know the story we've agreed on. Stick to it. Maybe Max will leave it alone, but if he doesn't, there will be another story waiting for him, one that is just shady enough to throw him off from searching any further. If he confronts me, I won't deny it. But if I know my son, he will come around eventually. I'll give you the dossier we created, ok?"

She nodded, distracted.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I guess I'm just nervous about leaving her," she said.

"She's perfectly safe. You know that," he said.

"I know, it's just that I've spent so long being worried, it's easy to fall into old habits," she answered.

He nodded.

"Understandable," he said, standing.

He walked over to a door, apparently a closet and motioned her to follow him.

She got up and walked over as he opened the door and turned on a switch, which lit the large closet and walked the few steps to a door at the other end, opening it and revealing another bedroom.

"This was my wife's sitting room at one time, but there is a bed in here, and you can just make yourself comfortable in here. I will instruct the servants that you sleep lightly and may be using this room at night because you don't want to wake me," he said.

"Thank you Phillip," she said in a quiet voice, seeing that Manuel had already brought her bags into the room.

He gave her a fatherly kiss on the head.

"Just try to relax for a little while. I'll come and get you when it's time for dinner," he said, and she nodded, giving him a small smile.

He left her alone in the room, shutting the door behind him, and she crawled wearily on to the bed, pulling herself into a fetal position. Her shoulder ached again, and she knew without a doubt that this last time she'd really done a number on it.

That hadn't been the first time she'd injured it. She'd dislocated it once before in the forest, one of the few times she'd been at a disadvantage. It was not the law however, but a rival smuggling group who had planned to seize their goods.

In the end, Felipe and she had escaped with the package, but they'd lost two men and she'd been injured. Not that she felt any sorrow that the two men were gone. She hated all of them, except for Felipe. Poor Felipe, who had been brought into this against his will, just as she had. But he hadn't been as lucky as she was. He'd died doing something that he hated, something that he didn't believe in, but had no choice in.

Her eyes closed, willing the tears to recede, knowing that what was done could not be changed, but her heart went out to him and to his family.

Her lips tightened as she regained control of her emotions. This wouldn't do. Not now. Not when she had to face Phillip's children in an hour.

Though it was the last thing she wanted to do, she tried her best to make herself presentable, changing into a pair of khaki dress pants and a button down shirt. She ran a brush through her hair in distraction and looked at herself in the mirror. Such a change from three months ago, when her face had been swollen and badly bruised, her body battered, and her spirit beaten.

Unsavory things had to happen in order to make this plan work, and Liz still cringed when she thought of it, but she couldn't change any of it now.

This was so unlike her. She was used to wearing ripped cargo pants or shorts, hiking boots, tank tops. Here she stood with makeup on, in casual, but obviously expensive clothes. If anyone would have told her that this would be where she'd wind up, she would never have believed it.

She looked down at the large champagne diamond on her left ring finger. Phillip was her guardian angel, and she wasn't sure how she was ever going to repay him, but somehow she would find a way, even if it took the rest of her life to do it.

**************

All too soon there was a knock at the door, and Phillip was there to escort her to dinner.

"You look wonderful," he said in approval.

"Thank you," Liz answered, taking his arm.

Once again, she wished that this ruse was really true and that she could fall in love with Phillip Evans. He was a kind man, though he would disagree that he hadn't always been so. He contributed his change to the death of his wife, making him realize that he had wasted so much time, taken so much for granted. But Liz couldn't imagine him as some ruthless businessman. She'd only known him as he is now, and she was glad. The thought of him being anything like Max was unimaginable.

They walked down the stairs and to the dining room, Liz steeling herself for the tense scene that was sure to occur.

Walking into the huge room did nothing to soother her nerves, with it's imposing dark cherry-wood table and extravagant adornments. An exquisite crystal chandelier hung over the table, and the table was decorated with an ornate lace overlay and runners. The crystal glassware and gold-inlaid china gleamed under the light that reflected from the crystal drops that hung from the chandelier.

Max, Isabel and Alex were already seated when they entered the large room. Alex and Max rose from their seats automatically, and Phillip led her to a seat across from Max, beside him and pulled her chair out for her. She sat in a stiff manner and the men sat down.

Immediately, servants appeared with the first course. Liz felt Max's gaze on her, and had to will herself not to lower her eyes. She glanced at him and held his gaze unabashedly for a moment, before turning her attention to the girl who was laying a cloth napkin across her lap.

"Thank you," she said, giving the girl a smile, and the girl returned it before slipping away and through the door to the kitchen.

An uncomfortable silence settled across the table as everyone concentrated on the soup set before them.

This was definitely not going well, she thought to herself, lifting her spoon to her mouth.

"So Liz, Dad never told us your last name?" Max said, and Liz had to stop herself from choking on the liquid that she had put into her mouth.

She sputtered a bit and then cleared her throat, lifting her head to meet his eyes.

"Maxwell," Phillip warned.

"No. it's ok Phillip. They should know something about me. I know you were trying to keep us a secret for awhile, but there's no point any longer," she said, with a pointed look at Max.

"Delatorre. My last name is Delatorre," she said, unblinking.

"And how was it exactly that you two love birds met?" Max asked in a sarcastic tone, and Liz knew that now it was imperative that she give the best acting performance she could summon.

Turning to Phillip with what she hoped was a private smile, she laid a hand on his arm. He smiled back at her, with a look that anyone else would have taken for adoration, but she recognized was a silent show of support.

"We met in Argentina," she said in a soft voice.

"A young man had snatched my purse, and Phillip was kind enough to send Manuel after the boy. I got my purse back, and we started to chat, finding we had the same love of art and interest in South America. I grew up here, but had always wanted to return to my parents' homeland. I had finally gotten the chance, and had saved just enough for two weeks there. My purse contained all the money I had. If it hadn't been for Phillip and Manuel, I would have lost everything, my money, passports, credit cards..." she trailed off.

"We just...hit it off," Phillip said. "Elizabeth is a bright, charming, funny and exciting young woman. She makes me feel alive."

"As do you," she whispered, and placed a lingering kiss on his cheek.

She turned to Max to find him looking on in distaste. And she understood it. After all, she could rightfully be Phillip's daughter such was the difference in age. She wasn't sure how she would feel if she were in his shoes. She supposed she would be just as protective of her parent, so she really couldn't blame him. But her life was hanging in the balance and she had no choice.

"It came time for Liz to leave, and I didn't want her to go. At first she was resistant to coming to stay with me, but I wouldn't take no for an answer," he grinned, and Liz caught the double meaning. He hadn't taken no for an answer on his proposition months ago at the villa, that much was true, but the rest of this was just a big farce; a farce that gave her a second chance.

She smiled back at him in a grateful manner and turned to face forward.

Alex was watching with one eyebrow raised, and Isabel's eyes were glued to her father.

Phillip sighed.

"Look kids, I know this is all rather sudden. But I know that you'll come to love Liz just as much as I do," he said, as he squeezed her hand.

Liz felt as if her face should melt under the furious glare Max shot in her direction. She winced inwardly.

"Sudden?" Max said in mock surprise. "You told me that you'd never get over Mom, that she was the love of your life, and that there'd never be anyone else. That there couldn't be anyone else," Max ground out, meeting his father's gaze. Some unspoken battle waged when their eyes met, and Phillip lowered his eyes as if wounded.

"Sometimes things happen that we have no control over Max, you should know that better than anyone," Phillip said in a voice so low, Liz almost missed what he said. But Max caught it, and his face reddened in anger.

What was Phillip talking about? Liz wondered. Whatever it was had pushed Max's buttons, as she could see by the look on his face.

"Dad, don't," Isabel said in a warning tone.

Max let out a harsh laugh.

"I'm sorry if I am a little shocked at your about-face," Max said, "though I really shouldn't be. You professed this great love for Mom, but you were never around to enjoy her while you had the chance. I'm beginning to wonder if that was just a front for our benefit."

Liz felt the fury rise in her throat, and she wanted nothing more than to jump over the table to slap that look off of Max's face. A few months ago in her old life, she would have done it without hesitation, and it took every ounce of will she had to remain in her seat.

If Max knew the truth of the situation, he wouldn't be treating his father this way. Phillip remained faithful to the memory of his wife, more than Max could ever know. Her teeth ground against each other and her hand tightened around Phillip's fingers.

Max saw that he'd hit a sore spot and continued.

"I wonder what Mom would have thought of this, you with someone like her," Max said in derision.

Liz caught his warning look, but it was too late. Her control snapped.

"I don't know what you mean by someone like me," she said angrily, "but I don't need your approval. I would have liked it, but neither of us require it. You say such terrible things to your father. I hope you don't regret it someday. You just never know what can happen from one day to the next. One thing people like me learn never to take for granted, are the people in our lives that we love, because they can be taken from you in a heartbeat."

"Liz," Phillip whispered, and as she looked at him, she knew that she'd said too much.

"Oh really, which loved one have you lost?" Max asked. "Another rich husband perhaps?"

"That's enough Max!" Phillip said in a warning tone.

"What do you expect from us? You met the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, but you neglect to tell us until you decide to come back here. How else would you expect us to react?" Max argued.

"Dad, you have to admit this is a little sudden," Isabel said, in defense of her brother.

"And how long did it take you to tell us about Alex?" Phillip said, turning to his daughter, and Isabel looked away.

"This obviously isn't a conversation we should be having in front of Liz," Isabel said in a quiet voice, placing her hands in her lap. Alex put his arm around her waist.

"We shouldn't be having this conversation at all," Phillip said. "I would have thought the fact that I care for Liz should have been enough for all of you."

"Phillip please, let's just drop this," Liz begged in a low voice.

"You're so blinded you won't even consider the possibility that she's a gold-digger, or something worse," Max said in frustration staring at his father.

Phillip's face hardened as he straightened in his chair.

"I will not have you speaking of Liz that way. I assure you Max, there is nothing to be concerned about. Now I suggest you drop this now," he said, giving Max a withering look. Liz felt the palpable tension in the room, and knew that there was more going on here than was being said. Some secret hung in the air, unspoken, and whatever it was had now put this rift between father and son.

Max's lips tightened and he turned his attention back toward the soup for a moment, pausing, and then lifted his napkin from his lap throwing it to the table as he rose.

"Max, where are you going?" Phillip said as he started toward the door.

Max stopped.

Without turning around, in a barely controlled voice, he spoke.

"I have work to do at the office. I'll be back later," he said, and then continued out the door.
Liz closed her eyes and set her napkin down.

"Please excuse me," she said, standing. "I've suddenly lost my appetite."

Her hand lingered on Phillip's shoulder as she walked behind his chair and left the dining room to go back to their room.

She made her way up the stairs hurried to the room, shutting the door heavily behind her.

She crawled onto the bed, and let the tears that had been threatening to spill fall free.

This was never going to work. She wasn't sure why Phillip thought it would, but Max wasn't going to stop until he knew the truth, and when he did, she was quite sure he would reveal her to Carlos to get rid of her.

She lay there for a long time, desperate thoughts running through her head. She could run. She would get her mother and run. But where? And how far? She knew they would be running until they were found, and when they were found, they were as good as dead.

She was used to feeling hopeless. She'd never felt anything but hopelessness and fear for as long as she could remember. But Phillip had offered this ray of hope, and she'd grabbed onto it, and it would soon be ripped away cruelly by his son.

The daylight had long faded before Phillip came into the room, putting a comforting hand on her cheek.

"I'm sorry," she said in a cracked voice.

"Liz, I don't want you apologizing," he said. "Max is the one who owes you an apology."

"I don't blame him Phillip," she said, turning on her side to face him.
"Think about it, truth be told, I am not the ideal wife material."

"Liz, whatever may have happened to you, and whatever you may have done, was not within your control. I want you to have choices for the first time in your life," he said.

"You don't owe me anything," Liz sighed, turning back over.

"Humor an old man, will you?" he asked softly, and she couldn't help the laugh that escaped her throat.

"You aren't exactly geriatric material," she said in a dry voice.

"Then let me feel as if I can still protect someone. My children are far too independent now," he said.

She reached behind her and took his hand, laying it against her cheek.

For long moments, they sat in companionable silence.

"Phillip?" she said.

"Hmm?" he said absently.

"What else was going on between you and Max?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" he asked quietly.

She shrugged and stared at the darkened window.

"It seemed like there was something more between the two of you than just being angry over me," she said.

"It's nothing that you need to be worried about," Phillip said in a comforting tone, stroking her hair.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Positive," he said. "Now why don't you go get ready for bed and let the old man get some rest, hmm?"

She smiled and gently slapped his arm.

"Cut it out with the old man stuff," she chided. "I wouldn't be surprised if you could out-run me."

Phillip chuckled.

"I like the thought of that," he said.

Liz smiled and kissed him on the cheek, before standing up.

"Have I told you lately how grateful I am?" she asked, looking fondly into his eyes.

"Only about twenty times today," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "Now get out of here."

Liz smiled and walked to the door that joined their rooms. She turned once again to him.

"You know Phillip, your wife must have been some lucky woman," she said quietly.

A sad laugh fell from his lips.

"I was the lucky one. Max was right. I just didn't know how lucky I was," he said.

A far-away look crossed Phillip's face.

"I think she knew you loved her Phillip. I can see it in the way you've talked about her, so I know she must have known it too," she said.

"Thank you," he said.

"For what?" Liz asked.

"For what you just said. Maybe you're right. Maybe she did know," he said.

"Goodnight Phillip," she said.

"Goodnight sweet Liz," he whispered, as she went through the door and closed it quietly behind her.

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Six

Post by Majesty » Wed Feb 18, 2004 8:26 am

I'm telling you guys, I still can't believe that this story has gotten the response it has, especially since it was started on a lark.

Thanks so much for the feedback.

Kelly

Part Six

Max sat back in his chair, finally giving up on trying to get any work done. He couldn't concentrate.

He cursed under his breath and threw the contracts on his desk in irritation.

Their business was security and investigation, and they were the company to call for the best in surveillance, security and investigation. Max still marveled at his father's brilliance in choosing this field in which to make a name for himself.

They'd made many powerful contacts over the years, both in the government and private sectors. Their clients included celebrities, officials, politicians and powerful businessman, and they did it flawlessly, building an impeccable reputation over the years, one that Max now maintained since his father had retired.

Unfortunately, right now the business was the furthest thing from Max's mind as he rubbed his eyes in frustration.

It was no use. It didn't matter what he looked at his thoughts kept turning back to the infuriating woman his father had brought home with him.

Wouldn't take no for an answer? She makes him feel alive? That was so not like his father. Of course it was unexpected when his father suddenly retired, saying he wanted to do the things he'd never gotten to do before he died, but Max had assumed it was just his grief and had accepted it. But now, he was concerned about his father's mental state. Three years ago he would have never been taken in by someone like Liz Delatorre. He used to be able to spot danger from a mile away. What had changed?

Despite her best efforts, it was plain that she was not in love with his father. There was no spark of passion in her eyes when she looked at him. There was no flush to her cheeks when he turned his gaze on her, a telltale sign of passion. Max had seen it enough to know it, his own mysterious air beckoning to women. But he'd never felt that rush of adrenaline looking at another woman. He'd never felt the quickening of his heart from the mere glance of a member of the opposite sex.

Well, he had to amend that. The adrenaline he'd felt today was anger at this woman's duplicity, and his heart quickening in fury at her eyes challenging him from across the table. She was hiding something. It was written all over her face, and he was going to find out what it was.

He picked up the phone, and dialed a long-memorized number.

A grunt answered on the other end.

"Hey Michael," Max said his voice tight.

"What's up Maxwell?" the man on the other end of the phone answered.

"I need you to do me a favor..."

**********************

He returned late that night to the house. It had long since gone dark, only a light in the foyer left on for him.

He stalked through the door, his irritation even more evident.

Michael was going to work on it, and had called him back a few hours later, saying a preliminary search had turned up nothing. Any files that existed on her were well hidden, if she really existed at all.

Max had hoped to have some answers this evening, and if there were answers to be found, Michael would be the one to locate them. He'd been the head of security for Evans International for four years now, and had been an excellent asset to the company. That in itself was an accomplishment, considering the nature of the business. Michael had the uncanny ability to dig up information that was almost impossible to obtain, and had aided in many a takeover of smaller surveillance companies in his tenure.

He and Max were as close as brothers for as long as he could remember. His cousin, the son of his Uncle Edward, had been introduced to he and Isabel as a small child and they had been almost inseparable since. Because the Evans' were not like other people, nor was Michael, it was a secret that had to be protected at all costs, and they remained a close-knit group. It was why his father sought financial security, building up the company, hiding his family in plain sight, becoming powerful, in control over their image, of who they were.

Phillip was methodical and brutal about it, acquiring a reputation of a ruthless businessman with a brilliant acumen.

Max had studied his father closely, watching his actions, learning the business from the ground floor up.

Max didn't understand his father's apparent turn-around, but he would not allow this woman to endanger any of them. He was starting to wonder if his mother's death had affected his father on a much deeper level than he'd anticipated. Perhaps his father was going soft. It seemed unlikely given who he was, but nothing was impossible. But Max couldn't risk his father telling this woman anything that would put any of them in danger. Alex was enough of a risk, and they'd been lucky he had been someone they could trust. Max had long ago decided that the family's revelations would begin and end with Alex, and he wasn't about to back down.

He walked into the kitchen and turned on the light, and looked at the counter, a wry and not often seen smile appearing on his face.

Charlotte had done it again.

As he looked at the note she'd left he shook his head, moving to the refrigerator to pull out the plate the kindly cook had left for him. She'd always looked out for him, and there had been many a night he'd worked late and she'd made sure he had something to eat when he got home.

If it weren't for her, he probably wouldn't even remember to eat half of the time. She was always scolding him that he was too skinny, that he looked tired, that he needed to slow down. But there was no time for that, now that it was up to him to protect his family.

That was the paradox of the human race, he thought to himself. Though he appreciated Charlotte's kindly nature, but he dared not trust her. He couldn't afford to. He'd learned that long ago. He'd often wondered how she would react if she knew the truth. With any luck he'd never know.

The household help knew nothing of them, kept around merely for appearances when his father's business associates came by the house. If they suspected anything, it was nowhere close to the truth. His father had objected to having any help around the house, but his mother insisted, if only for appearances.

Even so, they were closely watched after the life-altering incident so many years ago. None lived on the premises, and all were required to wear uniforms issued by the family, made of a state-of-the-art micro-fiber his father had created for this specific use. The material was washable, and picked up vocal vibrations that were relayed to the surveillance center at Evans International. Conversations were monitored and logged. No one was trusted, even the employees who had worked for the family for years, and with good reason.

Max glanced around the room as he often did when he came home at night.

The kitchen used to be a place of comfort, safety and laughter for he and Isabel as young children. Now it was empty, because the person who made it that way was gone, never to return.

Back then, they didn't know the true dangers that lurked in the outside world for them. All they knew was that they had to hide what they were from all except their parents. They knew they were different and always had. When he was younger, he didn't understand that people would be frightened of them, but the look of fear on his parents' faces whenever they used their seldom called-upon abilities was enough for him to know that they had experienced what he couldn't yet understand.

But that did not stop his mother from loving them unconditionally. She made their home-life as normal as possible, while his father was engrossed in building the empire that would ensure their safety. At times he resented his father for his aloofness, but as he grew older, he understood it. He'd had no choice, just as Max had no choice now.

Someone had to be the protector, the one to keep them safe. Now, Max resented his father's weakness, because he didn't understand it. He'd never known this side of his father, and he wasn't sure he liked it. In fact, he resented his weakness, that he would let a stranger bewitch him like Liz Delatorre apparently had.

He grabbed a can of soda out of the side door and shut it, moving to sit on the stool at the counter.

Searching, he spotted the Tobasco that had become a staple in their kitchen from the time he was a boy. He shook some of it into the can of soda and then on the sandwich before taking a huge bite of it.

Perhaps he could intimidate this Liz into telling him what she was about. He'd have to be careful in his approach, but if it was a battle of wills she wanted, well she'd chosen a master opponent.

Almost against his will, he was curious about the young woman. He'd seen the shadow of darkness in her eyes, the look of someone who has been hunted, someone who is always looking behind them.

For the first time he wondered if she was even working this alone. Perhaps she was working with someone else to bilk his father. That had to be what she was after, unless...unless she was an agent. But he would have known about any investigations through his contacts, and he trusted them implicitly.

No, there was something off about this situation, and he was going to find out what it was before his father made a fatal error in judgment.

He finished the sandwich barely tasting it, and walked over to turn the light off, intending to go upstairs. He flipped the switch and remembered he left his keys on the counter. As he walked over to the counter, he heard a noise on the stairs and froze.

Someone was in the hall.

Moving back against the counter, he waited.

A moment later a small figure walked into the kitchen and silently padded over to the door.

The dim light from the moon filtering through the French doors illuminated the figure enough for him to know that it was her. His eyes narrowed as he watched her open the door and step outside into the cool night.

He walked quietly across the kitchen and followed her out into the darkness.

****************

Max held back, making sure that he remained unseen, trailing her to the entrance to the enormous garden, surrounded by expertly trimmed hedges.

A soothing breeze brushed across the property lifting her hair in a cascade from her shoulders, and he noticed that she was in her nightclothes, a long light cotton gown that seemed to glow beneath the light of the pale moon.

She appeared to be an apparition, some sort of ghost, and apparently in some ways she was, because Michael's preliminary scan showed that she didn't exist.

But he knew better than that. It was only a matter of time before he found out the truth. It was just going to take a little longer than he had expected.

Her bare feet seemed to glide through the grass as she looked at her surroundings, and he paused behind a small tree when she stopped and held her hair behind her neck as she leaned to smell a delicate bud that had caught her eye.

"Beautiful," he heard her whisper, almost as if in awe, and his brow furrowed momentarily, watching her appreciation of the flowers unseen.

She continued on and he furtively moved behind her, keeping behind the cover of the foliage.

He hadn't been out to the garden in years. He and Isabel used to play out here, turning the whole area into their secret garden. Later Michael joined them, and they had formed their bond, promising to look after each other no matter what happened.

The garden had seemed so big to them then, but now walking through it, Max realized that the world had gotten a lot smaller when he wasn't looking.

Looking around him he admired the landscape. He'd forgotten how beautiful it was out here. It had again taken on that long-forgotten mystical quality bathed in the shimmering light of the moon.

His mother used to love the garden. She used to do much of the gardening herself. He remembered sitting beneath the large tree at the back of the garden, watching his mother without her aware he was there. She'd been sitting on her knees digging, and Isabel had come up behind her and thrown her arms around her neck.

At first she'd been startled, but then her infectious laugh rang through the air, and Max wondered how anyone could not smile when they heard it. He wondered how anyone could fear such a kind and giving soul. How was it possible?

But Max knew just how easily it could happen.

Right after Max and Isabel were born, Phillip, then Phillip Gregson, and Edward Redmund, Diane's brother had established a lucrative meat distribution business in Texas. They worked hard and doctored information for loans, and within a year and a half Phillip was a multi-millionaire.

Diane had convinced Phillip to take the family on a vacation, something they'd never done before. Their children had never even been out of El Paso and she thought it would be safe for the children's beloved nanny, Portia to come to mind the children as well.

Portia had been highly recommended by a long-time business associate, Tom Warner. Warner had helped him with many an acquisition and Phillip found that he trusted him, as much as humans could be trusted.

Warner's children had outgrown their nanny, and Portia was going to be in need of a job. He had mentioned it to Phillip, and after discussing it with Diane, he agreed to take her on. It would be good for the children to have more interaction with humans. After all they might never get off this planet, and they would have to survive among them.

Portia had spent many a night reading to them, and had cared for them for two years, since the age of four. The children understood that they were not to use their abilities around the woman, and as they were mature beyond their years, they were able to keep that secret from her.

Phillip finally gave in but insisted Uncle Edward come along for protection, as a trained warrior, a descendant of an ancient society of males that were trained to defend their people in fierce combat.

When his parents first arrived here, it had been Edward and his brother Kail, or Cal as Max's father called him when he spoke of him.

Cal, the unfortunate who had had been captured and killed. Cal the brave warrior that with Edar, or Edward, had managed to escape with the bodies of his sister Dia, now known as Diane, and Pfiul, son of Rilos, the powerful King of Antar, now known as Phillip. They brought them safely to Earth, a planet untouched by the wars that raged many galaxies away.

Max still cringed in disbelief thinking about his family's roots even after all of these years.

Visitors, extra-terrestrials, aliens.

It sounded so unbelievable. But it was true, for he felt the constant hum of biological energy that seemed to fairly vibrate within him at times. But he squelched it, ignored it, because it was dangerous. It could get them all killed.

Around that time his father had started to explain to him the way that things really were out there in the world. He told Max of Uncle Cal, who had been captured and tortured, experimented on and killed.

Max's own Uncle Edward had almost died as well, but he'd managed to escape. Phillip said he needed to explain the hard reality of their lives, because Max needed to understand what was at stake. Someday he would be taking his father's place, and would have to make sure that he did his job as well as his father did, because his mother and sister had to be protected, as well as Michael.

War had erupted on Antar, a gory and vicious Armageddon that had killed everyone in the Royal compound and millions of citizens.

Cail and Edard had smuggled the two bodies off of Antar, all the damaged transport could handle. The journey to Earth, the destination they had chosen, had taken ten years.

In that time, Cail and Edard had studied the species that inhabited the primitive planet. They created human DNA with organic material housed on the ship. Their first trial created Michael, a mix of human DNA and Edard's own.

But something was off in their first experiment. The fetus housed in the organic pod was developing entirely too slow. They set Michael's pod aside and made further progress, finally mixing the DNA of Dia and Pfiul with the human male and female DNA they had created. This time there was success. The fetuses developed at a fairly rapid rate when compared to the first pod, and by the time they neared Earth they were almost ready to emerge.

They hadn't anticipated the failure of the cloaking mechanism on the transport and soon enough they were spotted by the US Air Force. Their small transport was shot out of the sky outside of Roswell, New Mexico.

The crash caused the two babies to emerge from the pods, disoriented, confused and crying lustily. Cail was wounded. He knew that he would hold Edard back. He told Edard to take the children to safety and to leave him behind.

Edard reluctantly agreed. Cail would hide the remaining pod, Michael's, and would rendezvous with them in Texas at an agreed on location.

Cail had successfully hidden the pod but never made it out of the desert. Michael's pod matured at a snail's pace until he emerged from it forty two years later, his appearance that of a six year old boy.

Edard felt the boy maturing over the years, as he protected the newly created version of his sister and her intended. He taught them the language and customs of Earth, which he himself had learned while en-route.

Cail never showed up at their rendesvous. Edard waited another two weeks and decided it was no longer safe to remain. He and the children left and traveled much like transients until the two were eighteen, and Edward decided that it might be safe for them to settle down somewhere.

Somewhere along the line, in their constant companionship, Phillip and Diane fell in love.

Edard watched this in silent contemplation, pleased that he had succeeded in giving his sister a new life. All the while, the ghostly sensation of the growth of the podded boy left in the desert remained with him. He attributed to the fact that the boy was essentially an extension of himself. Not a son exactly, but a true part of him.

In a strange twist, Michael emerged from the pod approximately the same age as Isabel and Max. Edard felt it happen and taking his now grownup charges, made the first journey back to New Mexico in forty two years to find the child that had survived the crash and continued to develop in an unmapped cave.

He'd brought Michael back with him, and they set up residence in a small cottage on the Texas property the Gregson's inhabited.

***********

The vacation had started uneventfully, and Diane and Phillip had actually started to believe that perhaps they were finally safe, that perhaps they might live a normal life. They enjoyed the sandy beaches of a small island off of the coast of South America with their children and Michael, under the watchful eye of Edward.

Max, Isabel and Michael had been told not to use their abilities, ever. In fact, Max had only seen his mother use hers twice, once to heal a deep cut Isabel had gotten falling from a tree and one other time which had frightened him too much to think about often.

The trip had been peaceful and uneventful and the group grew complacent under the hot sun, never expecting what would befall them two nights before they were due to head home.

There had been no moon that night, and the group was sitting on the beach before a fire, Portia running a brush through Isabel's long tresses. They were all tired after a long day of play in the water, and the adults talked quietly, waiting for the children to drop off to sleep. Max and Michael horsed around in the sand, wrestling each other to the ground.

The conversation was inconsequential Max remembered, and he often wondered if that bothered his mother in later years. He was sure there were so many things she would have wanted to say to her brother if she had known that those were to be his last moments. But no one knew. No one suspected anything.

For during the conversation, Portia suddenly grabbed Isabel roughly by the hair and her arm slipped around her throat, pulling out a gun.

"Don't move, or I'll kill her," Portia hissed. "This area is surrounded. Don't even think of trying anything."

Max looked at his Uncle in desperation, ready to try to wrestle his sister away from the cold human that had been the nanny they had grown so fond of. Edward shook his head at his brave nephew. Max turned to look at Michael, who had also caught Edward's look.

Phillip and Diane froze, frightened for their daughter. It was happening again. Cal had been tortured until he died, and now it was going to happen to their children.

Edward's warrior instincts were razor-sharp, and within a split second he had raised his hand and aimed a fiery blast of energy at the woman that held Isabel.

A scream erupted from her throat as the blast hit her square in the forehead.

The scream spurred Phillip and Diane into action and they wrenched Isabel away from the woman.

"Run!" Edward yelled. "Into the forest, now!"

Diane yanked Max from the ground and Michael took her hand as they ran for the safety of the trees that flanked the beach. Gunshots rang out in the air around them, and a bullet passed Max so close that he felt the air move as it passed within centimeters of his cheek.

Max didn't look back, but he would never forget the sound of the Uncle Edward's agonized cry behind him.

He remembered his heart beating furiously in his chest as his mother ran beside his mother into the trees. He could hear movement in them, and he knew that there were other dangerous people lurking in the dark.

Isabel was crying and Phillip put a gentle hand over her mouth, his eyes pleading for her to be quiet. She understood. With a whimper, she grew silent.

Diane and Phillip crouched to the ground with the children. He looked at Diane and she nodded, and he whispered.

"Don't make a sound," he said, and closed his eyes.

Diane held tightly to Max and Michael, and Max lay his head on her shoulder, wondering if they were all going to suffer the same fate as Uncle Edward.

He wondered if Michael was going to be ok after this. He'd lost the man he'd been closest to.

A few seconds later, men seemed to appear from nowhere behind the trees. Max closed his eyes tightly, sure that they were going to be dragged from the ground. He heard the slight clink of the rounds of ammunition against one of the men's belts but felt no rough hands dragging him from his mother.

He opened his eyes and looked around.

They hadn't been seen! But that was impossible! They were in plain sight!

And then he realized his father had used his abilities, made it appear as if they weren't there. He had made them invisible!

A moment later, the men had moved through, and Diane touched Phillip's arm. Phillip dropped the mind-warp.

"We have to get them in one place," he whispered to Diane.

"That won't be for hours," Diane answered.

"Phillip, we need to get out of here, now!" she said.

"If we don't take care of this, we'll have no chance. We both know it," he said.

Diane closed her eyes in defeat. Max put a comforting hand on her cheek, for he knew what was to happen, and he knew his mother hated to hurt any living thing.

"It will be ok Momma," he said in a small voice, and she hugged him closer to her.

***********

Two hours later, there were 20 men on the beach.

Isabel had not spoken since Portia had grabbed her. She clung in silence to her father, her eyes fearful and dazed.

Max's sense of hearing was as sharp as his parents' was, and they heard the transmission come across.

"Bring all the men in. They have to be here somewhere. We'll form organized crews. We'll traverse the island from one end to the other. They'll have nowhere to hide."

"Who are they Daddy?" Max whispered looking at the men clad in black. He tried to hide the fear in his voice, but knew it had shown through when Michael gave him a knowing look.

"They're bad men Max," Phillip muttered. "This is why we can trust no one, son."

"Did they kill Uncle Edward?" Max asked.

Phillip nodded without a word, and Diane turned her head to hide her tears.

"Why? Why do they hate us so much?" Max asked.

"Because we aren't like them. We aren't human," Phillip answered bitterly.

"But we are...kinda," Max said.

"They fear what they don't know," Phillip said, and Max fell quiet. "They destroy what they fear."

"Phillip!" Diane said in a scolding tone.

"You've always been too trusting Diane. You of all people should know better, after..."

"Enough," Diane interrupted. "Max, not all humans are bad."

"But we don't know which ones are and which ones aren't," Phillip added.

Max fell silent.

He wondered if they'd make it off the island alive, and what they would do if they did.

As if his mother sensed his thoughts, she took his hand and squeezed it in reassurance, and Max squeezed hers back.

"Diane, I'm sorry that it has to be this way," Phillip said, and Diane nodded without looking at him. "If there was any other way..."

"I know," Diane answered in defeat.

"Take the children away from here," she said.

Phillip nodded and took Max's hand. He leaned in and gave her a tender kiss, before leading Max away, holding Isabel against his chest.

A terrible sense of fear ran through Max as they moved further and further from his mother, and as the trees blocked her, he was suddenly sure he would hear her scream as Uncle Edward did. Without warning, he pulled his hand from his father's and ran back toward his mother.

"Max!" his father hissed, but he was already gone. Hindered by holding Isabel, there was no way to catch him but he grabbed Michael before he could take off after Max.

Max ran through the trees, their trunks a blur in his peripheral vision. He needed to reach his mother.

"Momma!" he whispered, and she appeared in his sight, her hand raised, a giant ball of deadly energy forming in her hand.

Luck was not on her side, for one of the guards happened to turn toward the trees and spotted her.

Max saw him shout and draw his weapon and he cried out. He barreled toward his mother, knocking her away with all the inertia he could muster. He felt a burning sensation, and an icy hot pain explode in his stomach as he fell to the ground beside her.

"Max!" his mother cried, crawling over to him.

His vision blurred and became foggy, and like an apparition, his father appeared above him, his face a mask of rage.

"Max honey, just hang on," his mother whispered frantically, and stood up next to his father.

Even now, those next few minutes were remembered as if a dream. As if in slow motion he watched his parents join hands, their free hands straight out in front of them and the beach seemed to erupt in a scorching fireball. His last coherent thought from that night was seeing the grim determination on his parents' faces and the terrible cries of the men on the beach echoed in his ears.

He lost consciousness, and remembered little of their journey from the small island on the boat the men had used to get to the island.

Snippets of memories remained, of rocking and the sound of water slapping against fiberglass, the rumble of an engine that seemed to vibrate his whole body, pain, the worried eyes of his sister, the tightness of bandages around his abdomen, foreign voices heard as if from a distance.

Max remembered the burning, tingling sensation that filled his body as his mother laid her hands on his stomach. But she could not heal Max. She tried, and the bullet dissolved, but whatever chemical they'd used to coat it had insinuated itself in the wound, making molecular manipulation impossible.

He faded in and out of consciousness.

When finally did awaken, it was on a plane, bound for the States.

His father had used the last of his money from the business to acquire the plane under an assumed name and a hired pilot that asked no questions. His mother had changed their appearances, making them unrecognizable to those that were looking for them.

It had cost them dearly to land in Cuba and to assume new identities, flying into Canada and then crossing the border into the States from the Northeast.

Max remembered being in much pain and the worried looks of his parents, who didn't dare take him to a hospital.

They traveled by car to New Mexico and started all over again, Phillip determined that nothing like this ever happen to his family ever again.

He started Evans Security and Surveillance three months after they arrived, and within five years, the small firm had built itself into a mini-empire with satellite offices in every major city around the world.

The Evans took permanent guardianship of Michael, who had seemed lost without Edward. Max remembered many a night of hearing his quiet sobs from the other side of the room when he thought Max was asleep.

Max knew he would never undserstand the humans doing the horrible things they'd done to the people he'd loved. He vowed never to put his trust in one, and even at that young age, made a promise to protect his family with all that he had.

His father had grown even more suspicious of humans. Relationships were strictly forbidden. They were to be kept casual and nothing more, which suited Max fine. It was too dangerous and there was too much at stake, and Max could feel nothing but contempt for beings who would kill what they could not understand.

***************

Max shook himself from his thoughts and looked around for the stealthy woman he had trailed into the garden.

He'd lost sight of her.

He cursed himself in silence.

Nothing should have broken his concentration. He hadn't thought of his childhood in years, knowing his duty, accepting it, and running the business with his father. There hadn't been a threat in all of this time and now this woman had crashed into their lives, bringing it all back.

She had disrupted their lives and he was going to make sure that it was taken care of so that he could go back to his orderly life.

Then, behind a hedge he heard a whispered voice.

"Ria? It's Liz..."

He froze in place, listening.

"Yes, I'm fine. It's good to hear your voice too...Calm down...shhh...I wouldn't be talking to you if I was dead, would I?"

Maria. Max mentally made a note of the name.

"No, she's fine...yes, I'll explain everything later. I just had to call you..."

Who was fine?

"I can't tell you where I am. It's not safe, but I will, soon..."

A breeze kicked up in the garden and her voice became unintelligible.

Frustrated, Max moved closer to the hedge to hear more of the conversation.

His foot came down on a twig with a loud snap and he froze.

He closed his eyes and a host of expletives ran through his head.

Silence reigned in the dark blanket of night covering the garden. After a long moment, he moved to the edge of the foliage and peered around it.

She was gone.

Max's face tightened in fury at his blunder, and moved away from the hedge.

He made a quick tour of the rest of the garden, but there was no sign of her.

Irritated with himself, he turned toward the house and a figure stepped in front of him.

He stepped back, startled to find an angry Liz Delatorre staring up into his eyes, her own glittering in the darkness.

"Why are you following me?"

tbc

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Majesty
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Seven

Post by Majesty » Sat Feb 21, 2004 10:41 pm

Part Seven

"Jesus, are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Max swore.

"I asked you a question. Why are you following me?" she asked, never breaking her unblinking, angry contact with his eyes.

"I wasn't following you," Max said. "It was hot in the house, and I decided to get some air."

Liz snorted in disbelief.

"You expect me to believe that?" she asked.

It's the truth," he shrugged.

"Bullshit," she answered.

"So the lady has a mouth on her after all?" Max answered in derision.

Liz was not taking the bait. She was playing his game. A few moments ago, he'd had the upper hand when he'd spied on her. She didn't know who it was at first, and she felt a raging fear that Carlos had come for her. She wasn't going to let him see how he'd startled her.

She'd made a mistake calling Maria, a momentary lapse of judgment. Her time in South America had honed her senses, but she'd become a little complacent in the past few months with Phillip's people protecting them. She should have known better, and when she heard the snap of the branch so close, she'd panicked and hung up on Maria, running for the cover of the hedges in honed stealth. She hid there motionless for a few long moments, and then Max appeared in the clearing. Her eyes narrowed in both relief and suspicion. She didn't know how much he'd heard, but any of it would have been too much.

"Avoiding the question?" she asked, her voice tinged with steel.

"No, it's the truth. I needed some air," he insisted.

She knew his type all too well. Her aggressive demeanor had taken him aback. She saw it in his face. In the short encounters they'd had, she'd been quiet and afraid, but she knew now that this wasn't how to handle Max Evans.

"Tell me Max, what is it about me that you dislike so much?" she asked.

"Do you think I don't care for your father? Or is it that you suspect I am going to try to take his money? Do you really think that's why I am with him?" she asked.

With inner satisfaction, she noted the look of surprise that crossed his face.

"What, did you think I am that dumb? That I don't know that you don't trust me, or my motives? Or is it that you didn't think I would be bold enough to bring it out into the open like this?" she asked.

Max was silent for a moment, and then quickly recovered.

"Quite a change from your attitude earlier, Ms. Delatorre," he answered. "Another reason not to trust you. The needy young woman act might work with my father, but I didn't believe it for a second."

Liz's lips tightened.

"If you must know, I was on my best behavior to impress you and your sister, and your father was well aware of it. Do you really think he'd fall in love with a simpering idiot? I would have thought you'd give him more credit than that," she retorted. "It's obvious you don't think much of his judgement, but I would have thought you'd give him that, at least."

By the light of the pale moon filtering down, she could see his face darken.

"You don't know anything about what I think of my father. You don't know anything about me at all," he glowered.

"No, I only know what I've seen so far, and that is you disrespecting your father and his wishes," she said, putting her hands on her hips.

"This is none of your business," he said.

"It involves me, and it involves your father's happiness, so I'd say it is," she asked.

"Who is Maria?" he asked, in a lightning quick change.

"A friend," she answered.

"One you can't call inside the house?" he asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Like you said, the house was hot," Liz said, evasive. "And I didn't want to wake your father."

Liz watched as Max's jaw clenched and he looked away for a few seconds before turning to her again, meeting her eyes in a challenge.

"Ms. Delatorre, I suggest you cut your losses and move on, before it's too late," Max said, his voice frightening in its calm. She knew the storm that was brewing behind it too well. Carlos was always almost serene before he unleashed his temper.

This encounter was progressing from bad to worse, and Liz wasn't sure how to diffuse what was quickly becoming an explosive conversation.

"Look, I know you don't like me, Max. I know that you are going to do everything in your power to discredit me in your father's eyes. I've known too many men like you, and it's not going to work," she said.

"And who would those men be, exactly?" Max retorted, and Liz felt a flash of fear at her outburst, masking it almost instantly. But she was too late. Max had seen she'd made a mistake.

"People from a past I'd rather leave untouched," she said in a low voice.

"I see," he said, with a smirk of satisfaction.

"You don't know anything about me," Liz said. "I know that you have no reason to trust me, but know this. I mean none of you any harm. If it's the money you're concerned about, I'll suggest a pre-nup agreement to your father. That should put any doubts to rest."

Max's face was unreadable, and she swallowed as she felt her skin almost burning under his scrutiny. A suspicious look passed over his face, and his eyes narrowed, his whole body stiffening.

What had she said to cause this? She thought that if she told him that she didn't want money, that it might cause him to back off just a little, but instead he seemed even more suspicious. What was it that he was so worried about? She again wondered if there was something Phillip wasn't telling her.

"If it isn't money, then what is it you want? What are your motives?" he asked, stepping toward her, aggressive in his stance.

He invaded her personal space and for a short moment, his very presence made her take a step back, faltering under his intensity.

But she knew she couldn't let him intimidate her. If she did, it would all be over.

"I don't have any motives. Your father has been wonderful to me, more than anyone has been in a long time. I want to make him happy, so if that's a motive, then there you have it," she snapped.

Max eyes glittered in the dim light, full of distrust.

"I don't want anything," she insisted. "I only want to make your father happy."

Max was silent for a moment, scowling at her.

"I don't believe you," he said finally. "I willfind out what you are hiding Ms. Delatorre."

He turned away from her and started to walk away from her toward the house.

"What happened to you in your life?" Liz called on impulse, and he froze, turning toward her with measured control.

She wished she could take the question back, because seeing the look on his face, she knew she'd hit a sore spot.

"What are you talking about?" Max asked.

"You accuse me of keeping secrets, when you're obviously doing the very same thing," she said. "What happened to you to make you so bitter and distrusting? Why do you not even trust your own father? I haven't had it very easy, but even I can see when someone is trying to be sincere. So what's your excuse?"

It was a moment before he answered.

"I don't have secrets. I do have a family that has considerable interests that need to be protected, and I have no reason in the world to trust you, Ms. Delatorre," he answered.

Liz caught the hitch in his voice and knew he was lying.

"It's Liz," she corrected.

"Excuse me?" he answered.

"It seems like we are going to be adversaries, but I would prefer to be called Liz. Besides, I am going to be your step-mother," she said, feeling a twinge of satisfaction at the dig, "and I think it would raise eyebrows if you continue to call me Ms. Delatorre."

Max shook his head and stalked toward the house.

A small smile appeared on Liz's lips as she watched him go. At least she knew she'd gotten to him even in a small way, after the way he'd treated her earlier.

****************

Max strode toward the house, furious.

How dare she?

A twinge of disgust made his stomach churn.

He hadn't even thought of the stepmother angle. She looked to be the same age or younger than he was. It was disgusting! What was his father thinking?

He knew what his father was thinking with, he amended.

It was very obvious. The girl was attractive. Anyone would have to be blind not to see that. But there, he thought, lay the difference between he and his father. He would never let a woman interfere or put their lives in danger in any way. He thought his father was of the same opinion, but was quickly finding out that this wasn't the case at all.

His father had been bewitched by her eyes that seemed only Max could see were brimming with the untold secrets she was hiding. Or was it her skin perhaps, that seemed to glow even under the dimmest light, or maybe it was her hair that looked like silk, and probably felt like it too, when touched. He didn't know what it was that had entranced his father, but he'd be damned if he was going to let it destroy the livelihood and security they'd created for themselves.


I only know what I've seen so far, and that is you disrespecting your father and his wishes.


You accuse me of keeping secrets, when you're obviously doing the very same thing.

What happened to you to make you so bitter and distrusting? Why do you not even trust your own father?


Those comments had hit too close to home, because she was right. He and his father had not been close other than business in a long time.

So long in fact, that it made him uncomfortable with his father's sudden turn after his mother died. Suddenly Phillip wanted to know if Max was happy. He wanted to know what he did with his personal time. Didn't he have any hobbies? Other interests than the business?

Max didn't know how to handle the sudden compassion coming from his father. For as long as he could remember, his father had been wrapped up in the business.

His father had been vigilant after their brush with danger on the vacation. His office a hub of information about the FBI and CIA's activities, as well as the KGB, MI5 and 6, and all other government agencies around the world. With his unprecedented access and powerful political ties, he was able to keep any inquiries from coming too close to his family without ever revealing anything about what he was.

Max studied his father for years as he worked, admiring his stamina and his fierce protectiveness. What he was doing was important, even if it was at the sacrifice of a relationship with his children. And he could live with that if his children were safe.

But Max had started to see a change in his father right after his mother died three years ago. A softening toward humans, and a disinterest in work.

Finally he'd turned the reins over to Max, saying he needed to live a bit. Max had been beside himself at his father's unexplained turn-around, and they'd had a furious argument about it.

But the truth was that though they fought bitterly about it, Max was a bit relieved to see him go. His father's sudden outward show of humanity had made him uncomfortable. He wasn't used to it, and had learned at an early age that it was a weakness. He hadn't wanted his father around if he was going to continue to act as he had been. In arguing with him, Max had tried to snap him out of his current behavior, but it had no effect on his father at all.

Max had been convinced his father would simply become a recluse, as that was what he had been heading toward before he left. He rarely went into the office any longer, holing himself up for hours in the library.

Natural curiosity spurred Max to investigate what Phillip was doing all day. One late night, he let himself into the library after his father had gone to bed and took a look around. He checked books, the computer, the papers in the desk, and came up with nothing. He couldn't imagine what his father did in there, but whatever it was left no trail of evidence.

His father had kept regular contact with him while in South America, and Max was confident that every security measure was taken for his safety. Max and Isabel had even agreed she should dream-walk the men that went with him just for extra measure, an ability she hadn't revealed to Max until after their mother's death. There was good reason not to use their abilities. They'd long ago realized that the threat to them was not and would never be of the alien persuasion. Using them on humans, as they found only drew unneeded attention. In fact, Max wasn't even sure of the abilities he possessed, as he had barely ever tried to use them. He felt a constant energy humming through his veins, but the thought of actually allowing them to physically manifest themselves, possibly exposing him for what he was terrified him.

Diane's death had devastated all of them in their own ways, but the most changed was Phillip.

All those years ago after Uncle Edward died and they returned to the States, Max saw his relationship with Phillip changing slowly but steadily. Phillip related to Max on a whole different level, as an adult, because he knew that Max would be the one that would have to protect the others when he was gone. He taught Max that he had to be tough, that he couldn't act on emotions, it was too dangerous.

At first, Max had been resistant. He'd missed the close relationship he'd had with his father, when they would play ball, or when his father would tell him stories of Antar. But Phillip taught Max well, and he found he had a gift for the business, starting part-time while he was still in high school. He became dependent on the new business-like relationship with his father, because it was something, at least. He strove to make Phillip proud, working his way up through the ranks, coming aboard full-time instead of going to college. After all, what was the point? He and Isabel absorbed information like sponges, and found school to be quite boring and unchallenging.

He was the consummate businessman, and it became his life, much to his father's delight. Max grew comfortable in relating to his father in purely a business manner, and found they had many of the same ideas when it came to the company.

And then his whole world turned upside down.

To Max, it was sudden. One morning his mother didn't get out of bed, and wasn't in the kitchen when he came down for breakfast before leaving for work. He knew immediately that something was wrong when his father walked into the kitchen with a stricken look on his face.

"What is it?" he'd said, fear stiffening his muscles.

Phillip couldn't look at him.

**********

When Max had gone up to see her it was as if she'd aged overnight. She hadn't looked like she did now the morning before. Or had he even noticed?

Isabel sat next to her mother on the bed with tears in her eyes. She couldn't meet Max's eyes.

"Mom, what is it?" he'd asked, and she smiled sweetly at him.

"I'm dying sweetheart," she'd said, as if she were talking about washing the dishes.

Max laughed, nervous.

"Mom," he said with a smile, sure she was joking, but as she looked into his eyes, he knew she wasn't.

He moved to the side of the bed with a look of concern, taking her hand.

"Dad can help," Max said, and she shook her head.

"No," she said, touching his cheek. "Healing only helps when death isn't meant to be. This is meant to be, Max."

His mother had hidden her sickness for quite awhile. He should have seen it, the pallor to her skin, the drawn look around her eyes, but with the late nights he worked, he'd barely noticed her. Except at breakfast, the one time the whole family was together.

But even then, he was caught up in the latest advances in security that seemed to be emerging at lightning speed from their engineering department. It was everything he could do just to keep up with his father's drive to have the best of the best. For weeks, he'd barely glanced at his mother in the morning as she spoke in a quiet voice at the table, simple yes or no answers becoming the norm as his eyes traveled back to the papers in front of him.

Max and Phillip were practically living at the office. It would have never even occurred to them that she might be sick, because none of them had ever even had a sniffle.

They didn't find out until it was too late. By then, the alien sickness had eaten at her insides. They didn't dare take her to the hospital, for fear of discovery. It was unlikely that they would find a classifiable illness.

His father later told him that this alien cancer-like virus was something that couldn't have been foreseen. It had grown inside of her, slowly spreading until it could no longer be stopped. She hadn't even felt sick until the end, her Antarian genetics fighting it for years.

She'd told Phillip that morning, knowing that the time was coming close.

Max never asked his father anything about what she said to him, only listening to what he volunteered to tell him, trained in the don't ask, don't tell mentality his father had drilled into him for years.

Phillip spent almost every moment of those last days with Diane. Phillip scanned himself, Max and Isabel for the cancer, and found no trace of it. The cancer was something that had been encoded with her genetic material.

The morning before she died, she called each of her children into the room separately.

Isabel went first, coming out some time later with tears in her eyes, fleeing from the house.

Max was almost afraid to go in to the room.

He opened the door slowly, thinking to himself that if she'd fallen asleep, he didn't want to wake her. But somewhere deep down, he was afraid she was already gone.

He stepped into the room, and looked upon his mother for the hundredth time in the past week, still shocked at her appearance.

How could things have turned so bad so quickly?

She gave him a weak smile and beckoned him over to the bed.

He walked over without saying a word, sitting down beside her. It was hard to look at her. Lesions had broken out on her face and her hair had thinned dramatically. It was as if time had fast-forwarded thirty years, making her an old woman.

She laid a cool hand on his and patted it.

"It's time, Max," she said.

He started to protest, but she put her finger to her lips.

"There are some things I need to say to you, and I don't have much strength. But it needs to be said," she whispered in a hoarse voice.

Her eyes filled with tears.

"My son," she said. "My beautiful boy."

Max felt a lump in his throat as he saw the pride in his mother's eyes.

She sighed.

"You know that your father and I didn't agree on many things," she said.

He nodded.

"Max, there is only one thing I want you to promise me. Do what makes you happy. Don’t waste precious time," she said.

"Making sure all of you are safe makes me happy," Max said, his voice quivering.

A wracking cough erupted from Diane's mouth, and Max squeezed her hand.

A moment later she quieted with a wheeze.

""Life is short and precious, Max. Don't waste it. Keeping us safe did nothing to stop this," she said, motioning to herself.

"It's who I am now, Mom. I don't know how to be anyone else," he said, fighting back tears.

She closed her eyes.

"I know," she whispered. "That was our mistake."

"So many mistakes," she muttered.

"Just...promise me that if it ever becomes too much, you'll let it go. This isn't all there is," she said.

Max didn't know how to answer her.

She opened her eyes and looked at him with startling lucidity.

"Promise me," she said again.

"I promise," he said, his voice cracking.

"Now give me a hug and a kiss, and say goodbye," she said, holding her arms out to him.

Max leaned into her and was enfolded in her frail embrace.

"I love you, Max," she said.

"I love you too," Max whispered, eyes squeezed tight.

Her arms fell from him and she sat back.

"Now go," she said in a gentle voice, wiping her tears away. "I don't want you here when the time comes."

There were so many things that he wanted to say to his mother, but the words wouldn't come.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek and pulled away.

"I love you Mom," he said.

She smiled.

"I love you too," she said.

Max turned away and walked out of the room without looking back, knowing that it was the only way he could leave her.

He walked past his father and out the front door to his truck and got in, starting it and leaving without a backward glance.

He drove for almost an hour, to a barren spot on the highway in the desert before pulling over.

He slammed his hands against the wheel in helpless fury as he finally allowed the tears to flow freely, mourning the loss of his mother in wrenching sobs.

**********

That was the last time he'd allowed himself to feel anything for anyone other than anger.

As he strode into the house, he cursed Liz Delatorre for her ability to seek out his vulnerability. But she wouldn't win. He didn’t know what she was up to, but she had no idea who she was up against. She'd waged a battle, but he'd win the war, at any cost.

tbc

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Part 8

Post by Majesty » Tue Feb 24, 2004 10:09 pm

Just wanted to say a quick thanks to all who voted for Serendipity and for me in the Fan Fic awards. I am completely blown away that it won anything.

I can't begin to tell you what an honor it is.

You guys are the best. :)

Kelly



Part 8

Liz watched Max stalk away toward the house, and she shook her head, her small sense of victory short-lived. What was it that so infuriated her about Max Evans?

Common sense told her not to be confrontational, but she couldn't help it. Something about him rankled her normally calm exterior as few people had ever done.

She knew she'd pushed his buttons, and she had a feeling that Max Evans was the wrong person to anger.

She sighed in frustration as she walked back toward the house.

None of this really mattered, as long as her mother remained hidden. Even now, she was still getting used to the idea of knowing that she was safe. She'd spent too long worrying about her. It had become habit.

Still, she'd come to care for Phillip. He was her savior, and she would be forever grateful to him. She worried that Max would dig too deep, putting his own family in danger without knowing it. She wouldn't be able to live with herself if anything happened to Phillip or his family because of her, and if it came down to it, she would hold Phillip to the promise he'd made. That agreement had been the root of many arguments before she'd agreed to come back to the States. She agreed to come with him and remain under his protection, as long as he agreed that if things became too dangerous for his own family, he would let her go, promising not to come after her. It was the only way she could accept his offer. Too many people had been terrorized because they knew her.

But she also knew that Phillip had the best resources at his disposal to protect them all, and this was the main reason she'd agreed to let him help her in the first place.

She decided she would have to keep her mouth shut around Max. She couldn't afford to have any more of his anger or distrust directed at her than was already present. There was too much riding on this. She wasn't sure how she was going to tell Phillip about her slip-up with Maria. It would surely only complicate matters.

She chided herself for her carelessness. She hadn't dared contact her dearest friend until she knew she was safely in the states. But it had eaten at her all night and she tossed and turned until she finally decided to use the secure cell phone Phillip had given her, knowing she wouldn't sleep until she'd spoken to her.

She hadn't counted on Max following her.

Reaching Phillip's door, she opened it without a sound, afraid she would wake him. She didn't dare use the hallway door to her own room. If Max saw her do that, it would only make him more suspicious, and she didn't know where he'd gone once he entered the house.

She shut it and allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness before moving toward her room.

"I see Max is home," a voice said, and Liz froze. A light flipped on and she turned around. Phillip sat at a small desk near the window.

"I couldn't sleep either," he said sheepishly. "I got so used to the humidity in South America, it's almost too dry for me here now."

Liz knew she had to tell Phillip about what had happened, but she cringed at the thought of his disappointment. She'd set things in motion way too early.

"I messed up Phillip," she said, contrite, lowering her head, fighting back tears that seemed to come so easily lately. It wasn't like her at all to be so emotional, but she couldn't stand the thought that she might disappoint the one person who had been kind to her.

Phillip rose from the desk and moved to stand in front of her.

"I doubt that," he said, lifting her chin.

Her vision was blurred with the tears that threatened to spill from them.

"No, I did," she said, her voice trembling. "I couldn't sleep, and I kept thinking about Maria. I know she's worried because I haven't contacted her in weeks. I didn't want to wake you, and I had to...I just had to speak to her, so I went out to the garden."

"Liz, you're safe here. You can do whatever you like," he said in a gentle voice.

"I know, but I was careless. I didn't know Max followed me into the garden. He heard me talking to her," she said, her voice hitching in a sob.

"When I heard something, I hung up the phone, and hid. Then I saw him. I was so angry that he was watching me that I confronted him," she said.

"I think my son needs a confrontation or two," Phillip chuckled.

"No, you don't understand. He heard me. He heard me call Maria by name," she said.

Phillip nodded in understanding, and sighed.

"I'm sorry Phillip," she said, her lower lip trembling.

He smiled at her and pulled her into his embrace.

"Liz, it's not the end of the world. We made allowances for every possible situation, including them finding out about Maria. She was going to be part of this, remember?" he asked.

"It's too soon!" Liz said, pulling away. "I didn't want to involve her unless we had to. She doesn't even have the dossier yet."

He smiled at her, pulled her back into his arms and stroked her hair.

"Liz, from everything you've told me about Maria and what she's told me on the phone, she's more than able to handle herself. If I don't have any reservations about giving her the dossier, then why do you?" he prompted gently.

"It's not that I think she can't handle it, it's just that she shouldn't have to. She's been through enough with me Phillip. It isn't fair to ask her to get involved with the mess, with me again," she said.

"Liz, you have to stop this. You can't keep torturing yourself, thinking that you're a burden to everyone you come into contact with. Maria will go to the ends of the earth for you. You know that and I know that. What you and your mother did for her mother saved them, saved their lives," he said.

"And it put them in danger and ruined their lives as well," she said, her voice bitter. "Was it worth it? Always having to look over your shoulder?"

"Liz, sometimes things happen that we have no control over. But everyone has the right to make their own decisions. Maria said she wanted to help you, and I believe her. Don't you see yourself? Don't you see what you mean to the people who love you?" he asked.

"I don't want to mean anything to anyone. Being important to people gets them killed," she said, her voice hardening.

"Contrary to what you want me to believe, I know how many people you've helped, even in your own disaster of a situation. I heard the stories of the money and the food you left with the farmers and the villagers on your smuggling runs. You helped people, even when no one could help you.” He pushed her away and held her at arms length, looking in her eyes. “Why is it so hard for you to accept other people's help?" he asked.

"Because it breaks my heart, that's why!" she said, swiping at her eyes in anger. "Because everyone who has gotten close to me is dead! I couldn't stand it if anything happened to Maria."

"Nothing is going to happen to Maria," he said in a gentle voice as he ran his hands along her arms soothingly. "I promise you. It's probably better this way. She's going to be prepared. Maybe it's better that Michael and Max find out about her. We'll plant the information and we can control what happens. I'll have Manuel send the dossier out. You just have to take care of the phone," he said.

Liz nodded, knowing that because of her misstep they had no other choice. She'd hoped that she could keep Maria out of this for as long as possible, but it wasn't going to happen.

"Have you gotten any word on Carlos?" she asked in a dull voice.

Phillip stepped away slightly.

"Nothing unusual. He's following his normal patterns. I'm keeping an eye on him, but he hasn't found any information on you, though not for the lack of trying," he said.

Liz felt an icy blast of fear coat her veins. He was a monster, and he'd done unspeakable things to her while she was in his "care". She couldn't even think about what would happen if he found her. She'd rather die first.

"He doesn't know anything about Maria or her whereabouts, if that's what you're worrying about," he said.

Liz nodded in relief.

"I'm going to take care of you, Liz. I promise, as long as you trust me and are with me, no harm will come to you or anyone you care about," he said.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Don’t worry about Max. We'll set him on the trail we created. I worked a long time on that dossier. He'll believe it. It's that good," he said.

"I'm not sure I'll want to be around when he reaches the end of that trail," she said. "I can only imagine how he's going to react when he finds out that "truth" you created," she said.

"There will be the counter-balance," he said. "We talked about that. We just have to hold him off long enough so that he gets to know you. I'm not worried about that. He's angry right now, but even he won't be able to ignore the goodness I saw in you the moment I met you."

Liz snorted without humor.

"I don't think I helped that situation any in the garden. I don't know what it is about him, but he irritates the hell out of me with his 'I'm better than you' attitude. I know I shouldn't feel that way, because your family has been so good to me, but something about him rubs me the wrong way. You warned me about him, but I didn't expect it to be this bad," she admitted.

Phillip walked over to the window.

"Max has his own demons he's dealing with, and I am one of them," Phillip said.

"I don't believe that," Liz said, crossing her arms over her chest. "They way you speak of him, I can tell he was loved by you and your wife."

"There are a lot of things you don't know about me Liz," Phillip answered quietly. "I've...made a lot of mistakes where Max is concerned. He's justified in feeling the way that he does."

"No," Liz said, disagreeing with him as she walked over and put a gentle hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry Phillip, I don't believe that. If you made any errors, I'm sure you did it to protect your family."

"You're right about that, protecting my family did come first, but I didn't always go about it the right way. I have a lot of regrets," he said, wistful.

Liz leaned up and gently kissed his cheek.

"It's not too late to try to repair them," she said. "It's never too late. I'm living proof of that."

Phillip smiled sadly.

"You should get to bed," he said. "It's been a long day."

Liz looked at him concerned, but didn't push it.

"I am tired," she admitted.

"Go on then. We'll talk more tomorrow. I'll have the dossier sent by courier to Maria in the morning," he said.

She nodded and gave his hand a quick squeeze.

"Goodnight then," she said in a soft voice.

"Sleep well," he answered as she turned toward the door.

*******************

Phillip watched Liz go through the door and allowed his shoulders to slump in weariness.

Max was dead set on exposing Liz, finding out whatever truth he thought lurked behind her beautiful face.

He had expected a reaction from Max, but not one this intense. The look on Liz's face told him that the encounter down in the garden hadn't gone well, but even if he hadn't seen that, he observed their body language from the window, and that had told him everything.

He hadn't seen a reaction like that from his son in a long time. He'd shut himself off from everyone after Diane died, but if he was honest with himself, that had begun long before Diane had ever become ill. Phillip knew that much of the responsibility for that lay with him. He'd taught Max to be the way that he was, not to let anyone in, not to allow himself to be vulnerable.

Helping Liz was going a long way toward healing his own past. He'd never realized how wrong he'd been, how bitter he'd become, and it wasn't as if Diane didn't try to get through to him. He wasn't listening, and he would have to live with that regret for the rest of his life.

But Max didn't. He'd wracked his brain trying to find some way to heal the rift between them, to find a way to let Max know that the way he'd taught him to live was not the right one, but one of loneliness and distrust. And that wasn't living at all.

Yes, something about Liz had penetrated that wall of coldness and indifference Max had put up. He didn't know if it was the threat he perceived her to be to the family's well-being, or something else entirely. She pushed some buttons in Max's head that hadn't been pushed in a long time.

Phillip walked over and turned off the light, climbing into bed.

He knew it was going to be a rocky road with his son, and the insurance of Liz's safety hinged on his belief that there was still a beating heart somewhere inside Max. He hoped he would come around, would see that his own marriage to Liz would be an asset to the family, that it would have been something that would have made Diane happy. Liz knew that he would never love anyone like he loved Diane. Liz didn't love him either, and it was probably better that way, because he wouldn't be able to return that love. This act was to honor Diane, though Max would never know it.

He had no plans to tell Liz their secret. He didn't feel the need to. It was enough to know that she was ok with the fact that he had secrets. She knew better than anyone that sometimes it was necessary.

But he knew he couldn't tell Max the truth. If he knew, there would be no telling what he would do, knowing how he felt about humans.

He had to hope that somehow Liz would find a way to make him realize that she meant the family no harm. He had every faith that if anyone could do it, she could.

************

Liz lay in bed, unable to sleep despite her weariness.

Her shoulder nagged her with an irritating ache, but she'd been through much worse.

She knew she should be sleeping, but too much had happened. So many things to worry about.

She would have to call Maria again in the morning. She knew Maria wanted to help, but she couldn't stop herself from worrying about her lifelong friend. Things had finally been normal for her over the past few years. She'd finally settled down in one place without having to run, and now Liz was about to drag her into the mess that was her life all over again.

They'd been through so much together, and through it all, Maria had stuck by her, loyal without question. Liz knew that she would do anything for her. Liz would have done the same.

The years in South America had been hard, and at times the only thing that had gotten her through the worst of it were the occasional phone calls she was able to make to Maria. They weren't often, many times only feasible due to her ability to charm the use of a phone from one of her compatriot's family's. She paid them well for the call, most times at least 10 times the worth of the call, but she couldn't chance Carlos finding out about Maria's existence. If he did, she would have no hope.

Now she was going to be involved. There was no other way around it, and she knew it would have happened sooner or later. Max was too smart. But some irrational part of her had hoped that he and Isabel would accept her, and that everything would be ok.

Foolish, she knew.

Her thoughts again turned to Max. The image of his face, and the myriad of emotions that had glittered in his eyes when she'd confronted him wouldn't leave her alone.

Those questions asked flew from her lips before she could stop herself, and she wondered where that brazen attitude had come from. She'd made a habit of keeping quiet over the years. She learned quickly that being confrontational only left her vulnerable.

So where had that come from?

There was something going on with Max, and it went much deeper than protecting the family's money. Phillip wasn't going to tell her what it was, and she respected him too much to push the issue.

But something about Max Evans bothered her. He was rude and arrogant, confrontational and highly unlikable. But in those few seconds, she saw something else in his eyes, something she'd come to recognize in her own gaze long ago.

Pain. What had caused him to be so cold? She knew herself after everything she'd been through, that you could either go one of two ways after experiencing hurt and fear that was paralyzing. It was either do something constructive with that pain, or shut yourself off. Max Evans has shut himself off, and was not taking kindly to anyone opening that door, reminding him of it.

She was more sure than ever that unless she got to know Max, that she would have no chance in pulling this off. And, against her better judgment, she was curious. Perhaps if she made him realize she could be trusted, that she meant them no harm, he might lay off a bit.

The hard part was figuring out how to do that.

She sighed and turned over.

She'd screwed up royally, and she'd only been here a day. But tomorrow was a new start, and she was going to make it her mission to try to get off on the right foot with Max.

Closing her eyes, she finally fell into sleep.

tbc...

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9

Post by Majesty » Thu Feb 26, 2004 8:33 am

I know there are a lot of questions right now, but all will eventually be revealed, I promise. There's a lot more to this than meets the eye.

Here's the next installment. :)

Part 9

Max stalked out of his room in a foul mood.

The morning started with a phone call to Michael.

"Maxwell, I've got some info," Michael said without preamble as he picked up the receiver.

"So do I," Max snapped, rubbing his eyes.

"Ok, you first," Michael replied wondering why Max was so mad first thing in the morning.

"I caught Liz in the garden last night talking on a cell to someone named Maria," Max said.

"Who is she?" Michael asked.

"I don't know. She must have heard me or something because she hung up and took off. I went looking for her but couldn't find her. When I started back to the house, she popped up out of nowhere and confronted me for spying on her. She's smarter than I thought," he said.

"And that worries you," Michael prompted.

"Of course it does," Max said. "I asked her about this Maria woman, and she turned the conversation on me. She was very vague about her."

"What do you mean, she turned it on you?" Michael asked.

In an instant, Max decided that he wasn't going to tell Michael about her questions, and how they'd gotten to him.

"She was pretty forward in letting me know that she knows that I am going to try to...what did she say? Discredit her," Max said.

"Which probably means that she's been in a situation like this before," Michael muttered. "That's a pretty pro-active strategy, I have to give her that. Probably figures if she's up front with you, you'll think she has nothing to hide."

"Yeah, I think she was trying to catch me off guard," Max said.

"And did she?" Michael asked, in a knowing tone.

"Michael, I think you know me better than that," Max snapped.

"Just curious," Michael said. "I got her photo this morning, and she seems to be exactly your type."

"Michael, I don't have a type," Max muttered, walking over to the window.

"Yeah you do," Michael answered. "Or haven't you looked at the women you've taken to the company functions?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Max said, his brow furrowing. "I take women to the functions merely for appearances. They're window dressing, nothing more. Gees Michael, you've done it too."

"That's exactly what I mean. Look at their appearance," Michael answered. "You always show up with petite brunettes with beautiful eyes and bodies that... Well, you know what you always choose and I know that it isn't safe. Isabel got lucky. But you go for a specific look, I don't."

"Drop it Michael," Max said. "It isn't true, and you know it."

"Whatever man," Michael said. "I'm not holding it against you or anything. I'm just saying..."

"Jesus Christ, where the hell is this coming from Michael? She's marrying my father! Never mind the fact that she poses a potential danger to all of us," Max said, furious.

"Calm down. I'm not getting on you man. I'm just telling you to be careful," Michael said.

"When have I ever been anything but careful? There is nothing to worry about. I've never gotten involved with any woman, and I don't intend to start with the one my father is supposedly in love with," Max answered in irritation.

"I just met the woman yesterday, and already I've decided she's one of the most obnoxious people I've ever met. She looks at me like there's something wrong with me," he said, thinking of the almost piteous way she was looking at him the night before when she'd called him bitter.

"And she's deceptive," he added. "She played the meek fiancee at dinner, but she completely changed out in the garden. One thing she definitely isn't, is meek."

"See that's my point," Michael said. "It's been bugging me since last night. I haven't heard you that pissed off in ages. That worries me Max."

"It's because I want her exposed and out of here," Max ground out. "And if you remember, I was just as 'pissed off' when Alex made an appearance. My only interest in the woman is making sure she doesn't take my father for a ride, or worse, get us all killed. I am not Isabel."

"No Max, that's where you're wrong. You seem to be taking this personally. You seem to be letting your emotions take over. I don't want you to make some mistake that we can't cover up because you're on some crusade. Your father's no idiot," Michael tried to reason.

"Emotions? You're telling me I'm letting my emotions get involved?" Max seethed, "You, the one that always..."

"All right, all right. Maybe I was wrong." Michael cut in defensively. "I'm sorry I said anything."

There was an uncomfortable silence, Max trying to rein in his temper while Michael realized just how true his shots at Max were. Michael realized he better keep a close watch on both Liz and Max.

"What did you find on her," Max interrupted, changing the subject.

Michael switched into business mode.

"Liz Delatorre's real name is Elizabeth Cruz. No steady home, grew up in various places, never really settling down for long," he said.

"Why?" Max asked, jotting the information down.

"Her mother was a small-time scam artist and drug user. Currently incarcerated for a large coverage mail-order scam," Michael said.

Max's jaw tightened.

"But get this," Michael continued. "She's serving time in the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility."

"On Highway 66?" Max asked, surprised.

"Yep," Michael answered. "Been in the can since 2001."

"So, Liz has been on her own since she was 17," Max pondered.

Max found his mind wondering about the kind of life had Liz had, running from place to place a possibly unwitting participant in living a life of crime. Something about her told him that she hadn't had an easy life, even before she'd said it, but she didn't seem hardened, really. Cautious, definitely hiding something, but she didn't have the characteristics of a criminal. He'd seen enough profiles through the business to have a pretty good idea.

He was sure that if half of what he was now imagining about her childhood was true, then it was probably pretty bad.

His family had to remain hidden like criminals, but not for the same reasons. They'd committed no crime, yet if they were discovered they would be treated as criminals...and worse.

He had to remain focused on the situation.

"Max, you still there?" Michael asked.

"Yeah," Max answered quickly, turning his attention back to the phone call.

"You weren't able to find anything on Liz though," he asked.

"Not yet," Michael answered. "But there's got to be something. It's too coincidental."

He remembered the flash of fear in her face when she'd said she'd known men like him, and he'd asked who those men were.

"I haven't had it very easy..."

"On the off chance, what if there isn't Michael?" Max asked on impulse.

"There has to be," Michael said with conviction. "Either she's a scam artist, or worse an agent. There's too much coincidence, and I've barely started to dig. Doesn't it seem strange to you that she "happened" to meet Phillip in South America, while her mother is in prison not 15 miles from here?"

"I don't want anything..."

He shook her voice out of his head. He couldn't afford to make a mistake. This was his life.

"What about this Maria girl?" Michael asked.

"The cell Liz was using was a secured line. Dad knows me too well," Max said.

"Any chance of getting it away from her for a little while?" Michael asked.

"I don't know," Max mused, thinking how to do it. "I can try switching it out."

"Do it. Be nice to her, fake it, do whatever you have to do. Maybe if we find out who this Maria woman is, we'll get some more answers," Michael said.

"Yeah...ok," Max said.

****************
Max shook his doubts off irritably as he made his way downstairs.

He hadn't slept well with dreams of his mother and dreams of Liz leering at him in the darkness, goading him with questions she had no business asking, about his relationship with his father and what had made him the way he was. She might have moved around a lot as a child, but she couldn't possibly understand what his life was like, running, always hiding who you are, living with a constant fear that at any moment that life could be taken away from you, because of who you were.

What was he thinking? Why was he reasoning his own actions in his head to make them seem justified? He didn't care what she thought.

Max's mouth tightened as he got to the bottom of the front stairs.

He didn't care. He wasn't the monster in this scenario. He was protecting his interests and his family, which obviously didn't have the common sense to protect themselves, as evidenced by both Isabel's and now his father's trysts with humans.

Michael's investigation was already beginning to reveal her secrets, and Liz would be exposed for what she was...a fraud. He wondered if she had told Phillip that her mother was in prison. Somehow he doubted it.

He debated on telling Phillip, and decided against it for the time being. The evidence they had concerned her mother, not her, and if he played his hand too soon, his father wouldn't listen to him if...no, correction, when the information they needed came to light.

He had to figure out a way to get that phone from Liz for a few hours. That meant being in her presence, which irritated him greatly. He didn't know how he was going to find a way to be ingratiating, but it had to be done if he wanted to get that phone to Michael.

He walked into the large kitchen to find Phillip sitting at the breakfast bar with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Max saw him glance up as he walked in.

"'Morning, son," Phillip said, looking back to his paper.

"Good morning," Max answered, as he walked over to pour himself a cup of coffee.

Max finished and leaned against the counter to drink it, after liberally shaking Tabasco into it.

"So, has Liz noticed your affinity for this yet?" Max asked, and Phillip looked up again to find Max holding the bottle up.

"If she has, she hasn't said anything," Phillip said, in a tone that said he didn't want to discuss it further.

"Just trying to make conversation," Max shrugged.

Max felt Phillip studying him, and the tension rose palpably in the room.

"Sleep well?" Phillip asked, with feigned innocence.

"No, as a matter of fact I didn't," Max admitted. He was going to have to play this for all it was worth.

"I think I hit it off on the wrong foot with Liz, and I'm sorry," Max said, inwardly gritting at every word.

"Oh really," Phillip answered.

"I'm sorry Dad," he said, turning away from Phillip, knowing that he would see the truth in his eyes. "I know I over-reacted, but it's habit, and you didn't help matters when you were deliberately obtuse in telling us anything about her."

There was a moment of silence where Max didn't dare look at Phillip praying he would take the bait.

"I'm sorry about that Max," he said. "I should have told you more. But I know how you are, and you would have started to dig. I didn't want any further strain with Liz's arrival than there already was. I thought that once you met her, you'd see that she isn't here for any other reason than because she cares about me. I should have told you more about her before we got here. But I should tell you that even if you had uncovered something, unless she was an agent, it wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference to me."

"How do you know she isn't?" Max asked before he could stop himself.

"Because I know her heart Max," Phillip said, his voice laced with meaning.

"Did you...ugh, God forget it. I don't want to know," Max said, shaking his head.

Thought of young Liz and his father together...

If his father saw her, through whatever act they committed together, and he didn't want to know, then did he know about her mother in prison?

Was that a cover? He didn't know. She didn't seem like an agent for all of her irritating qualities, but then neither did Portia.

Still, he couldn't rule it out.

Maybe she'd gotten caught at one of her mother's scams. Maybe they'd recruited her, threatening to throw her in jail along with her mother, unless she joined them.

If she were an agent, had they since been trained to control their emotions and thoughts? To close themselves off from revealing true feelings?

And if Liz didn't love her father, did that make it easier to manipulate emotions and thought patterns to fool him?

Max had caught snippets of information over the years about the advances of the Unit through the firm's contacts. The government had been making progress in hormonal manipulation, which would allow the agents the ability to hide the truth. Its use was not exclusively for use to deceive his kind, but also in case agents were caught as spies by other governments. The psychological and chemical technology was supposed to be effective against truth serums and other forms of interrogation.

It was the main reason his company had designed the uniforms for the staff, because they could no longer trust that they could accurately read people.

Two years ago, the experiments had allegedly lost their funding, and were stopped. But were they really?

"I see the wheels spinning in your head Max," Phillip said, and Max snapped back to attention.

"Sorry, I just have a lot on my mind with work," he said in a dismissive tone.

"Anything I can help with?" Phillip asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No I'll handle it," Max answered.

"I've been thinking about coming back...to work I mean," Phillip said, turning back to the newspaper.

Max's head snapped up.

"Why? I mean...what?" he asked, in shock.

"I miss it," Phillip said. "I miss going to the office."

Max cringed inwardly, dismayed.

He and Michael were going to have to be extremely careful if Phillip decided to come back to work at Evans International. Phillip had once had his hands in everything, and if they slipped up once, he'd know about it.

"I thought you were enjoying your retirement?" Max asked, trying to keep his tone impartial.

"I was, but since we're back now, and I am planning on staying, I think I'll just go nuts around the house," Phillip said.

"You managed to keep yourself busy before you left," Max pointed out, still wondering what Phillip did for hours on end in his study.

"I was trying to work through the loss of your mother," Phillip said in a quiet voice, and Max remained silent.

An uncomfortable silence hung in the air, and Max cleared his throat.

"Is Liz up yet?" he asked.

"She's been up for awhile," Phillip said. "She took her coffee out into the garden. She seemed unusually quiet this morning. You wouldn't have had anything to do with that now, would you Max?"

Max felt Phillip's eyes boring into him, and he sighed.

"Like I said, we hit it off on the wrong foot. I saw her in the garden last night and we had words," Max answered, deciding to tell as much of the truth as possible, without revealing his knowledge of the existence of the mysterious Maria. He didn't know what Phillip did and didn't know, and he wasn't about to broach the subject until he had a solid case.

"I see," Phillip said, with a frown. "What did you do now?"

"She didn't say anything to you?" Max asked.

"No," Phillip answered. "She wouldn't. She isn't the type of person to complain or make trouble."

Max caught the accusing tone in Phillip's voice.

"Ok, point taken," Max said. "I'll go and apologize."

"Don't do it just to appease me," Phillip said. "I know you don't trust her, and don?t think I am naïve enough to think that you aren't checking into her background."

"I don't know what..."

"Don't try to be obtuse Max. It doesn't work for you. But let me tell you this...you do all the digging you feel necessary, but if you hurt her in any way with your need to expose her, you're going to have to answer to me," Phillip said, and his flinty tone wasn't lost on Max.

"You think that little of me," Max stated quietly.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt, but it was quickly smothered when he thought of what was at stake. They couldn't afford to take any chances. Already they had started to uncover secrets. It was only a matter of time before they found more. His father might hate him for a bit, but in the end, he would have to see that he did what he was doing because he loved him.

"I know you too well Max. I know you think you are doing what's best for the family, but sometimes you go too far," Phillip said. "Do what you need to do, but until you have your facts can you at least attempt to be civil? She's feeling a little displaced at the moment. I know you have your suspicions, but I'm confident you will find them to be wrong. You're going to feel like an ass for treating her the way you have been since she got here."

"I'll try Dad," Max said. "I'll see if I can find her to apologize."

"While you're at it, see if you can manage a civil conversation, hmm?" Phillip said, turning back to his paper. "I'm going out for the day. There are some things I need to take care of. Perhaps you might keep Liz company as penance."

Max nodded, unable to believe his good fortune. It would be a good opportunity to grab the phone if he played his cards right.

Steeling himself, Max finished his coffee and made his way out into the garden for the second time in 24 hours.

He was going to have to make this good. He couldn't be too nice, or she'd know he was up to something.

He had to get that cell phone. It was the key to finding out who this Maria person was.

He crossed through the hedges and paused, spotting her.

Across the lush lawn, on a bench under an arbor twined with lush roses, she sat staring out across the property, seeming lost in her own thoughts. She seemed to be unaware of his presence, and he took the opportunity to study her for a moment, undetected.

A soft breeze stirred her long hair, silken strands that she absently pushed from her face. Her shoes lay on the ground underneath the bench and her bare feet were tucked up on the bench underneath her.

Yes, his father was right, she was beautiful. Dressed in jeans and a tiny t-shirt, her clothes unremarkable in any aspect, she somehow made a striking picture, and that was dangerous.

He started to walk toward her, trying to prepare what he would say to her, but the words seemed to disappear from his head as he got closer. He stopped again.

He was close enough to see the little crinkle in her forehead, a worried expression plain on her face.

What secrets did she hide in that head of hers, beneath the enigmatic façade she had created for herself? And what would those secrets mean to his family?

"Good morning Max," she said in a low voice without turning toward him, and he stiffened, momentarily startled.

She hadn't given him any impression that she knew he was there.

"Good morning," he said, walking around the bench to stand beside it.

"May I?" he asked, motioning toward the bench.

She shrugged, but didn?t turn to acknowledge him, instead keeping her eyes trained on the meticulous landscape, brow smoothing out and her expression inscrutable.

Max felt a temporary sense of discomfort sitting next to her. He'd planned the apology out in his head, foreseeing every response she might have, weighing them with analytical efficiency, and yet here he sat, unable to remember a word of it.

"To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked.

He cleared his throat.

"I came to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I was rude, and that isn't like me," he said.

"Really," Liz said, her mouth curving into a smirk before it was quickly hidden. She uncurled her legs from under her and sat up straighter on the bench. She rested her hands by her knees and leaned forward studying the grass at her feet.

Max felt his irritation rise.

"Yes, really," he snapped.

"Oh," she said.

"Oh, what?" he prompted, suspicious.

She shrugged, seeming indifferent. She started to sweep the grass with her toes as she lazily swung her legs.

"What?" he repeated.

"It's just that that's not what I heard," she said glancing at him.

"What did you hear?" Max asked, his jaw tightening.

"Nothing," Liz said enigmatically. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything. You came out here to apologize, and I am making you angry all over again."

"You're not making me angry," Max answered in a tight voice.

He watched Liz's mouth tighten in an effort to hide a grin.

"You find this funny?" he asked, frowning.

A small chuckle burst from her mouth before she suppressed it.

"I'm sorry," she said, biting her lip, her lips unsuccessfully trying to hide her humor.

Max felt his face reddening in anger. What exactly had his father told her about him?

"I fail to see the humor in my attempt to apologize, or what you think you know about me," he said.

She turned toward him and sighed, the smile dropping for real.

"Exactly," she said.

"What is that supposed to mean?" he asked, defensively.

"Nothing," she sighed, shaking her head, moving to stand up.

This wasn't going at all as he planned. He was supposed to apologize and try to work his way into her good graces to get the phone. The phone... The phone!

"Wait," he said in a sharp voice, and she froze, still facing the house.

"Please," he said in a quiet voice, and she turned toward him, expectant.

"I think we got off on the wrong foot," he said.

"I don't know what you heard, but I'm not this ogre who goes around biting people's heads off," he said.

She looked away quickly and then looked at him again. For a moment, he caught a flash of something in her gaze before it was quickly covered.

She remained silent.

"Is that what you heard...that I'm an ogre?" he asked, truly curious.

It didn't consciously occur to him that he cared.

She pushed her hair behind her ear and looked at him. Suddenly she appeared uncomfortable.

"No," she said slowly, "not exactly."

"Not exactly?" he asked.

"No, I've just been told that you take everything very...seriously," she said.

"What's wrong with that?" he asked.

"Look, I really don't know you, and what I may have heard..." she started, trying to change the subject.

"No, continue," he prompted.

Liz looked at him as if trying to decide if she should answer his unasked question. She finally decided that a bit of honesty wouldn't hurt, "You just look like you need to loosen up a bit," she said, her cheeks reddening a bit.

"You're right, you don't know me," he said in a flat tone.

Her words hit too close to home, again. He didn't have time for fun. His very existence depended on his keeping an iron grip on his actions.

His eyes remained trained on her, and she looked down at the ground.

"I didn't mean it in a nasty way. I just think that..." Liz tried to explain, she glanced up and saw the mix of anger and pain in his eyes and ended by saying, "Look, I'm sorry. I'm just going to go back to the house," she said, motioning toward the hedge.

"What sort of things do you do when you're 'loosened up'?" he asked, and she turned to face him again.

A cautious look appeared on her face, and she narrowed her eyes, her mouth tightening, and he realized his error.

"That's a very loaded question. I'm not sure what you mean by it, or how I am supposed to answer it, and I made it my mission not to start off on the wrong foot with you today," she said.

Max saw that this conversation was going nowhere fast. If he told her, he knew she wouldn't believe it, but it was an innocent question. It hadn't occurred to him that she might think he would make innuendoes, though he supposed he didn't blame her.

"I didn't mean it in any way but the straight-forward one," he responded.

"Sure you didn't," she said unconvinced, crossing her arms over her chest and giving him a skeptical look.

"Look, I didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with you either," he said, holding his hands up in a calming gesture while shaking his head. "Yesterday I was wrong. I realize that now."

He needed to convince her that his rudeness was the exception, not the rule. That would be the most important factor in finding out what he needed to know.

"I'm sorry I was rude you, it's just that this whole thing took me by surprise. You can understand that, can't you?" he asked. "It's not everyday that a father comes home with a beautiful woman and declares that he plans on marrying her."

She studied him for a moment before nodding.

"Good, at least that came across the right way," he sighed with a rueful smile, hoping it was convincing.

When Liz made no move to respond further he cleared his throat.

"My father has things to do today, and he suggested that I show you around," he said.

"And why would you want to do that?" she asked, sounding suspicious.

He turned his gaze up and met her eyes. At a glance, they were unassuming, but as she met his gaze with her own unwavering look, he felt his heart start to race. For a moment, he would have sworn she could see right through him, as if she could read his mind with a mere look.

Momentarily shaken, he turned his head to look out over the garden, and then met her eyes again.

"As a peace offering," he answered.

"Really," she answered, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. "This wouldn't have anything to do with trying to find out what you think I am hiding, would it?"

Max stood and stepped closer, making a split second decision.

"I'll be straight with you. I told you last night that I don't know you, and I don't really trust you. But my father and I had a talk earlier, and I agreed to at least try to get along with you. I am just trying to honor that agreement," he said remembering that the best lies contained some of the truth.

Liz appeared to think about his words for a few seconds.

"At least you're honest, I'll give you that," she said, turning again, walking back toward the house.

"Well, aren't you at least going to give me an answer?" he called after her.

She turned her head back toward him as she continued to walk.

"I'll be ready in an hour," she said, and turned forward again as she rounded the hedge.

As Max watched her disappear behind the hedge, he realized he wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

tbc

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Majesty
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Post by Majesty » Sun Feb 29, 2004 1:33 pm

Part Ten

After changing into a pair of comfortable pants and a button-down shirt and looking over some paperwork to pass the time, Max waited impatiently for Liz to come downstairs.

He walked out on to the veranda, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket.

He dialed Michael.

"Any luck Maxwell?" Michael answered without preamble as he picked up the phone.

"Not yet, but I think I'll have a chance to get the phone today," he said. "I'm taking her out for the afternoon."

"Really..." Michael said. Max could practically see the smirk on his face at the other end.

"Michael, don't start," he warned, with a sigh.

"What? Did I say anything?" he asked feigning innocence.

"Look, I told my father I?d be nice to her, try to give her a chance. Max tried to explain. "This fits in perfectly with what I plan to do."

"So, what are you going to do with her all afternoon?"

Max shook his head, pacing the pale brick of the patio.

"I have no idea," he admitted, looking out over the garden. "This isn't the type of situation I'm really familiar with. I don't have the time to just dally around on a whim. Any suggestions?"

"I don't know, you're asking the wrong person," Michael said. "The places I take my dates?"

"This isn't a date Michael!" Max snapped.

"Okay. Okay. It isn't a date. But I still wouldn't know where you could go."

"I was thinking, maybe Old Mesilla?" Max asked.

Michael snorted.

"That's appropriate," Max could hear the humor in his tone.

"What do you mean?" Max asked.

"Oh come on, you don't see the parallels?" Michael asked. "Mesilla is where the Outlaw Billy the Kid was tried and convicted. You didn't know that?"

"No, why should I?" Max answered, stopping in his spot.

"You definitely have to get out more often," Michael commented.

"Shut up Michael," Max said, irked.

"Anyway, there's no hidden significance. The only reason I thought of Mesilla is because it's close and we can take a tour," Max snapped. "It's going to be hard enough to keep a civil discussion going; this way the tour guide can do all the talking."

"But that's the whole objective, Max. Aside from the phone, the point is to get her to trust you," Michael said.

"I doubt that's going to happen," Max said, turning back to look toward the kitchen. "I am starting to think she's already tried me and found me guilty."

He froze.

She hadn't noticed him out on the veranda. She stood behind the marble counter facing away from him as she busied herself pulling her hair through a headband to keep it out of her face. As she held her hair up, he saw an angry red scar that slashed across the back of her neck, disappearing below the neckline of her shirt.

"What the hell?" he said under his breath.

"So then try an appeal, at least for appearances. This is really important Max. Don't fly off the handle," Michael said, not hearing Max's confused muttering.

"I'm not some loose cannon Michael," Max said, unable to take his eyes off of her, wondering what had been the cause of the scar. It looked almost as if someone had tried to saw her neck off from the back.

"That's not what Isabel said," Michael retaliated. "She told me about what went down last night at dinner."

"She exaggerates," Max said, distracted. Seeing her turning toward him, he quickly averted his eyes.

"Just make sure that whatever it is about this girl that pushes your buttons doesn't affect you judgment one way or another," Michael warned.

He heard the door open. She was coming outside.

"I have to go," Max said in a low voice.

"Don't forget to switch the pho-" Michael started to say, and was cut off when Max snapped the phone closed.

"Max?" she said in a tentative voice, and he turned toward her with a strained smile, still taken a bit off guard by what he had seen.

She had changed her jeans to a skirt, but the high-necked t-shirt remained.

Now he knew why. Who did that to her, and why?

She looked at him expectantly.

"Are you ready?" he asked, and she nodded.

"My car's out front," he said, motioning for her to walk ahead of him.

Together, they walked through the house and out to the front. A black Mercedes MLK waited in the driveway. Max opened the passenger side door and held it open for her while she got in.

He shut the door and walked to the other side of the car, getting in behind the wheel.

"Nice car," she commented.

"Thanks," he said. "I use this during the week to go to work."

She nodded and an uncomfortable silence settled in the car.

He reached for the ignition and she turned to him.

"Max, maybe this isn't a good idea," she said. "You shouldn't feel obligated-"

"I don't," Max said firmly, "I told you, I wanted to make my behavior up to you."

"Yes, but there's no need," she said.

"Let's at least try to make this a nice day, ok? For my father," he said, and after a pause, she nodded.

He started the car and drove down the sprawling driveway.

He had a feeling it was going to be a long day.

***********

Liz looked out over the landscape as they drove.

She had no idea where they were going, and she supposed it didn't matter. As hard as she tried to remind herself that she was safe, she couldn't help feeling as if any moment she could be dragged back into that old life of running. It was force of habit, all she had known.

Max posed a threat to her in more ways than one.

Should she believe his intentions were true? He seemed sincere enough, but appearances could be deceiving.

Today would be the test. Phillip had already instructed her to leave the cell phone within reasonably easy reach, giving Max the opportunity to take it if he so chose.

She almost found herself wishing that he wouldn't take it.

There was something undeniably comforting about his fierce protectiveness of his family, even when his ire was directed at her. She knew without a doubt if she passed his test gauging her integrity, that being under his protection would help her to sleep soundly at night. She was surprised to realize how much she wanted to pass that test.

She hazarded a glance in his direction.

His open window was ruffling his hair across his forehead. Her eyes wandered over his handsome profile, and his muscular physique.

Something had affected him deeply in the past, so deeply that his trust in others had been destroyed. She could spot the same pain that she saw mirrored in her own eyes. What could have happened to him? Phillip didn't discuss it, and she didn't feel she had the right to ask.

The radio played softly through the passenger compartment as he sped along the highway.

Max glanced in her direction and caught her looking at him.

"Something wrong?" he asked, and her cheeks reddened slightly as she faced forward.

"No," she answered.

"You look really at home in this car," she said, trying to change the subject.

He shrugged.

"I do a lot of driving. It helps me to think," he said.

"I used to sit in my mom's car when I wanted to be alone, to straighten things out in my head," she said, without thinking.

She should have seen the next question coming.

"Where is your mother?" Max asked, and she stiffened. "Does she know you're back in the States?"

"We don't talk much anymore," she answered quietly.

"Argument?" he asked.

"No, there are just, uh, things...that have kept us apart," Liz answered.

"Like?" Max prompted, looking at her.

"I don't really want to talk about it," Liz answered as she shook her head slightly, feeling her eyes fill with unbidden tears.

She fought them with grim determination, refusing to let Max see weakness in her. She cursed herself for letting his innocent question get to her. She'd been tortured and interrogated, beaten until she was near death in her lifetime and she bore it almost stoically. Yet one mention of her mother could still bring her to tears.

Max saw the look of pain flit across her eyes before she was able to control it and he felt a twinge of sympathy, "I'm sorry," Max said. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"I'm not," she said, forcing a bright smile to her lips. "I just don't like to talk about it."

"Fair enough," he said, turning his eyes back to the road.

"So, where are you taking me?" she asked, trying to keep the conversation light.

"We're almost there actually," Max said. "I thought I would take you to Old Mesilla."

A little chuckle escaped Liz's lips.

"Where Billy the Kid was tried?" she asked, with an enigmatic grin.

"You knew that?" he asked in disbelief shaking his head. "I live here and I didn't know. I just thought it was close, historical and neutral until Michael..."

"Who's Michael?" Liz asked, already knowing the answer.

"Uh, a cousin," Max said.

"And what did Michael say?" Liz asked, a twinkle of mischief in her eye.

"The same thing you did," he admitted with a chuckle.

"How did you know about that? I can see why people who live around here would know, aside from me of course, but that's kind of obscure, unless you're a Billy the Kid fanatic of course," he added with a lop-sided grin.

"No, not a fanatic, just a history buff," she paused, debating on how much to reveal.

"I read a lot of history books when I was younger. I didn't have much else to do, and I found it fascinating," she added, deciding it was harmless enough. "Plus, my mind seems to be a sponge for useless information."

"I see," he said, glancing at her, perplexed.

"What? So I am a history geek. So what?" she asked defensive.

He couldn't help the laugh that spilled from his lips at her defiant defense of her former habit.

"A little defensive?" he chuckled.

"No," she grumbled, not volunteering any further information. How could she explain that those books were a sole escape from the life she'd led as a child? One of constantly running, constantly worrying that they'd be caught?

She couldn't, and so she remained silent.

The tension rose again in the car, and she could sense Max's honest confusion.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by that," he said finally, breaking the silence.

"No, it's ok. It just brings back things that I would rather forget," she said in a low voice.

"Consider the conversation closed then," he answered diplomatically, which made her even more suspicious.

What was he up to? This sudden turn-around was completely uncharacteristic of what Phillip had told her about Max. But then, he'd warned her that he could be charming when he wanted to be.

She'd have to wait to see if he took the bait.

Ten minutes later, they pulled into the historical town of Old Mesilla, and Liz momentarily forgot her suspicions as she took in the landmarks around her.

They drove through the town, past the old plaza and gazebo, and she took in the San Albino church?s stained glass windows, the antique stores, the Southwestern craft and fashion shops, the art galleries. They passed by the well-stocked regional bookstore, the restaurants, and the local tavern.

An excited smile crossed her face as she looked around the little town.

She turned to find Max looking at her with a curious expression, and she found herself embarrassed. Pink tinged her cheeks as she avoided his eyes.

"It looks like an interesting town," she said.

"You must not have gotten out much, " Max said dryly.

From the look on his face, she could see that he thought the town screamed tourist trap.

Still, he'd chosen the location, not her.

He circled around and parked the car in a parking lot near the church.

They both got out of the car.

He glanced around, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Where would you like to go?" he asked.

"Max, we don't have to stay here, I mean I can tell that you're not really into this. If there's somewhere you'd rather go, I can find something to do back at the house," she said.

"No, I promised Dad to take you out, and I promised you that I would prove I am not the bastard my father told you I was. This is fine," he answered, with a sheepish look.

"Ok..." Liz said, hesitating.

"So, it looks like there's Billy the Kid gift shop over there. How about that?" he asked pointing to the store.

Liz nodded and together they walked toward it, that awkward silence reappearing between them.

As they got closer, even Liz had to admit to herself that it looked a little cheesy.

But once inside, she found out that the building was once the old courthouse where, in 1881, Billy the Kid was convicted by a jury of ambushing and killing Sheriff William Brady in Lincoln, New Mexico.

For awhile she forgot that she was even there with Max as she allowed herself a small guilty pleasure she'd been denied for at least ten years...to immerse herself in history.

******

Max watched Liz as she meandered through the shop, completely oblivious to the tourists around her, ignoring the tacky souvenirs and concentrating on the interesting displays and books. She looked around at the interior architecture of the store, with a small smile on her face.

Max couldn't help but notice the hunted look that Liz always seemed to have be replaced with a look of interest as she wandered around. She was an enigma for sure. And that maddened him more than anything.

For someone who was apparently a con-artist, she seemed so...sheltered. After all, who in their right mind would take pleasure in this seedy excuse of a store?

And that scar...what did that have to do with her apparent lack of worldliness, or was it just that, an act?

He shook his head in frustration, and realized that the only way he was going to get answers was if he sought them himself. He had to get that phone. It might hold the key to finding the answers he needed.

He eyed her bag, where the cell, encased in the small pouch on the outside seemed to beckon to him. He automatically felt in his pocket for the replacement. It was an exact replica of the phone his father had given her. It didn't really matter anyway, as he only needed it for a short period of time to get the answers he sought. With any luck, she'd never know it was gone.

But why was he suddenly feeling like a slime knowing he was going to attempt to take it?

It was the scar, he rationalized.

Some part of his mind was sympathetic to whatever had happened to her, because he'd been through something similar.

And who knew if she hadn't done something to deserve it?

It didn't matter that there was a small voice of protest in his head that didn't believe that.

It could have been the victim of an old con that caught on to her act, or maybe...maybe she was an agent and had gotten the wound in the line of duty.

That thought greatly sobered him and brought him back to his mission.

He could handle this. He had to.

"Max," she said, as if remembering he was there, "look at this."

He walked over to stand behind her, and saw she had a book in her hand.

The Judge Warren Bristol sentenced Billy to "be hanged by the neck until his body is dead, dead, dead."

"He probably deserved it," Max said.

Liz got a thoughtful look on her face.

"What?" Max asked.

"Nothing," she said, shaking her head and closing the book. She turned and started for the door of the shop.

"Are you romanticizing Billy the Kid?" he asked with amusement as he followed her.

"From the little I know of you Ms. Delatorre, I wouldn't have guessed it of you. It's well known that he was a cold-blooded murderer."

"Sometimes things aren't always as they appear to be," she said, walking outside, shielding her eyes from the bright afternoon sun.

She started to walk down the sidewalk, and he fell into step beside her, unable to resist.

"Come on, he killed...what, twenty one men? You can't possibly excuse that," he said, looking down at the stubborn set of her chin.

She halted and turned toward him, startling him, and he stepped back.

"I prefer to believe he was a victim of circumstance," she said. "He was a product of the times, unwanted, caught between political wars, and divided factions. I think he did what he did to survive," she said.

"His friends were killed in cold blood, and he was a wanted man. What other choice did he have? He had to live on the fringe," she said, more sharply than she intended.

She tempered her voice.

"I'm not saying that what he did was right. I'm saying I understand it. Sometimes people have to do things that aren't pretty in order to survive. Sometimes they don't have a choice," she said.

Max was dumbfounded at the ferocity in her tone.

"Are...we speaking from personal experience here?" he asked, locking his eyes on her.

Liz's face reddened a bit, and she looked away.

"No...no not at all," she stammered. "I just hate it when people tend to focus on the simplest answer. The convenient facts aren't always the truth."

Max had to admit she was right, but it opened up a whole different set of questions. How had someone so young gotten that kind of wisdom?

Liz Delatorre was definitely mysterious, and almost against his will, he felt even more determined to discover what made her who she was.

**********

Thankfully, Max had dropped his line of questioning about Billy the Kid. They continued down the sidewalk as Liz reflected on their conversation so far. She hadn't meant to reveal that much and she chided herself for being so careless. It seemed that was the only way she knew how to be around Max Evans, and she wasn't exactly sure why she revealed parts of herself to him.

The man was out to expose her, and she should feel threatened, but she was finding it hard to be objective when she could see the carefully masked pain lurking in his eyes. The wariness that he thought he was hiding so well was readily apparent to her sensitive gaze, because she recognized it mirrored her own.

Perhaps in another lifetime, the two of them could have commiserated, but in the situation she was in, that was impossible. Beneath his arrogance, she saw his true curiosity about her. Somehow, she felt that if the circumstances were different, he would have understood.

"Do you want to take a tour?" Max asked, breaking into her train of thought.

"Sure," Liz shrugged, thinking a tour was better than having a conversation with him. It seemed every time they did, she wound up in trouble.

"Are there tour guides here?" she asked, looking around.

"I'll find out," he said, slipping into a store.

Liz's cell phone rang, and she picked it up.

"Liz?" Maria said.

"Maria, hey," she said, looking to make sure Max was still in the store.

"I can't talk long," she said. "I'm in Mesilla with Max."

"I just wanted to let you know that I got the package from Phillip," she said. "Plus, there was a note to call the phone again, just for good measure."

"That was quick," Liz commented. "Then again, I shouldn't be surprised."

"I need a day to look this over, and then I'll be prepared," she said.

"You'll have it," Liz said. "He's caught on to you, but he doesn't know where you are yet. It will be soon though."

"Don't worry. It'll be fine," Maria answered, pausing. "How are you?" she asked, concerned.

"I'm doing...ok," Liz asked, glancing again at the window of the store, seeing Max talking to the shop owner. The woman behind the counter was chatting animatedly to him, and he nodded his head at whatever she was saying.

"And your Mom? How is she?" Maria asked.

"She's safe," Liz answered. "That's what important."

"Maybe this is it, Liz finally. Maybe you are finally safe, both of you, after all this time," Maria said softly.

"Maybe. I'm almost afraid to hope that we can pull this off," Liz said, watching Max run a hand through his hair as the woman continued to talk. The afternoon sun cast a warm glow to his skin that made it seem almost golden in through the slightly tinted glass. The woman behind the counter looked quite charmed by him.

Her hand went unconsciously to the back of her neck to touch the scar that had been there to remind her of her failures.

"We will," Maria answered. "I won't let you down Liz. I promise."

"I know you won't," Liz said, her eyes filling with unshed tears. What was wrong with her?

"I miss you Maria," Liz said softly.

"I miss you too," Maria answered.

"But look at it this way," she continued cheerfully, "if all goes well, I'll probably be seeing you soon."

"Yeah," Liz said, "I can't wait."

"Me too," Maria answered.

"I have to go," Liz said, not wanting her friend to hear her upset. "I'll talk to you soon."

She said goodbye to Maria and put the phone away.

Biting her lip, she watched Max return a charming smile at something the woman said.

The woman turned and pointed to something near the church, and Max's gaze followed her finger. He nodded, and his head turned and caught Liz watching him.

His smile widened a bit as he looked at her.

Liz felt uncharacteristic heat rise to her face, and she bit her lip, unaccustomed to the unguarded expression on his face.

He turned back toward the woman, and said a few more words and then left the store with a wave.

He approached her with a satisfied grin.

"Well, there aren't any "official" tours, but that man over there," he said, pointing to an older man sitting on a bench near the church, "will take us for a few dollars."

"You look quite pleased with yourself," Liz commented as they started to walk over to the church.

"I am," he said. "I always get what I want."

An amazed laugh fell from Liz's lips.

"What?" he asked, turning toward her.

"Yes, I see that you can be quite charming when you want to be," Liz smirked.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Max said, trying to hide his smile.

"Oh come off it!" Liz laughed. "You had that woman wrapped around your little finger! She would have probably taken you on a tour for free with a smile on her face if she wasn't working. Is that how you usually operate? Playing the charming gentleman to all of the ladies?"

"Not all of them," Max replied. "Some of them are immune to it."

He glanced at her with a knowing look, and she looked away, suddenly uncomfortable.

"Well, you should practice hiding that arrogant bastard that wants to pop out more often than he should," she said with feigned lightness, folding her arms around her waist in an unconscious posture of defense.

"You're probably right," he admitted, and her head snapped toward him quickly, meeting his eyes, before looking away again.

"So...why haven't you charmed some lady into being your wife then?" Liz asked. "It's obvious that you wouldn't have a problem finding female companionship if you want it."

"That's probably because I don't want it," Max asked.

Liz's mind flew into a torrent at that loaded comment. Was that what Phillip hadn't told her? She glanced over at Max, surprised.

"Well, that's ok I guess. I mean, I can understand why Phillip didn't say anything, after all it's none of my business," she stuttered, unable to come out with what she meant to say.

He looked at her and his eyes widened, realizing what she was thinking.

"No!" he said quickly. "No, I'm not...gay, if that's what you're thinking."

"Max, it's okay. You don't have to care about what I think."

"I'm not. Really," he said, cutting her off. "Is that what you thought?"

"Not until a moment ago," she answered, feeling strangely relieved that he wasn't, and then cursing herself for even thinking about it. Why would she care?

"Oh," Max said.

Why should I care whether she thinks I'm gay? Maybe it would be better if she did think I was.

Nothing more was said about it, as they were close to the older man. He was of Mexican descent; that she could see by his manner of dress. With hair graying at the temples, and a well-worn face with an easy smile, he appeared almost as if he had come from the past.

Liz waited while Max spoke with him, and a moment later, he came back with the man.

"This is Juan," Max said. "Juan, this is Liz."

Liz smiled at him, and the man nodded his head.

"Are we ready?" Juan asked, and the two nodded, following behind him as he started toward the Fountain Theater.

*****

Max found himself drawn into the history of the town that Juan wove so masterfully. But perhaps Liz's enthrallment was rubbing off on him a bit. She seemed to genuinely interested in it, and he couldn't help but be drawn into it as well.

Juan had spent the next few hours walking them around town, pointing out various buildings and landmarks, filling them in on the local lore.

Max would have never imagined one small town could hold so many stories.

"Mesilla really became a town over a settlement in the mid 1800's, after the United States appropriated western Texas and the Southwest , a region roughly the size of Western Europe, in the course of the Mexican/American War and its aftermath," Juan said, as they continued their tour," he said with flourish.

"It was one of the most important settlements in the new territory. The town serviced the Camino Real freight caravans, fought the Mescaleros, supplied the U. S. Army's nearby Fort Fillmore, entertained Butterfield and San Antonio-to-San Diego stage coach passengers, endured Union and Confederate occupations, and served as territorial capitol," he continued.

"I heard some famous people have stayed here," Max commented, thinking of the trial of Billy the Kid he and Liz spoke of earlier.

"Yes, we had our share of celebrities of those times. People like Kit Carson and Pancho Villa, promoters like Albert Fountain, gunfighters like Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid, and hustlers like future Langtry, Texas, Judge Roy Bean. The town staged fandangos, bullfights, cockfights, theater and some pretty entertaining gunfights, and that tended to draw all kinds of people in from miles away," Juan said.

They walked toward one of the restaurants.

"La Posta is one of the earliest structures in Mesilla and an entry on the national register of historic buildings. It served as a way station for Butterfield's stagecoach line, which failed. It was also a business building for Sam and little brother Roy Bean's short-haul freighting and passenger service, which also failed, and a lodge known as the Corn Exchange Hotel, where Kit Carson, Pancho Villa and other famous people stayed and where the owner died of the plague," Juan said.

They continued on to a graveyard.

"This is the Old Mesilla Cemetery," Juan said.

"Legend has it, that La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, one of the most famed ghosts of Mexico and the Hispanic Southwest, haunts the cemetery, sometimes scaring the bejesus out of school kids who run among the graves at night on a dare. La Llorona, a beautiful peasant woman, discovered that her handsome aristocratic lover, the father of her two small children, had betrayed her. She spiraled into hysterical grief. She flung each child into the Rio Grande to drown. Realizing the monstrosity of her crime, she immediately took her own life. Now her spirit, adorned in a diaphanous white robe, wanders along river banks and through cemeteries across Mexico and the Hispanic United States in an endless and hopeless search for her children," Juan said.

Max suppressed a grin. Juan was definitely the consummate tour guide, relaying the most sordid tales of the old settlement. It had completely captivated Liz.

"So, are there any other ghost stories?" Liz asked with a smile, and Juan turned toward her.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asked.

"I believe in the idea of them," Liz answered.

"Then I have a story for you. Come," he said. They followed him back toward town, Max amused at the barely contained curiosity he saw swimming in Liz's eyes.

Again he thought there was so much naivete about her for someone who also had so much to hide.

He found himself enjoying the day, and the tour despite its rocky start, and that surprised him more than a little. It had definitely turned out differently than he had imagined, though he supposed that it was going better than he had hoped. If it continued the way it was it was heading, there would be no problem in getting the phone.

He squelched the guilty feeling that rose in his conscience. He was deceiving her. He found that he didn't like it, but he had to know the truth. He could deal with the truth, whatever it was. But it was impossible to deal with the unknown, and he couldn't afford to remain in the dark. Why should he feel guilty about trying to protect his family?

Perhaps she wasn't who he thought she was. Maybe she really was just a girl. A girl in love with his father, he reminded himself, surprised at the strange feelings he experienced when that again came into his mind.

It wasn't disappointment. No. Why would he be disappointed? It was disgust, he told himself, and felt that familiar irritation rise in his throat again.

They'd come upon another building, and Juan stopped.

"This is the Double Eagle restaurant. La Senora Carlota Maese, lived here. She was a nasty woman, ambitious and wealthy, and pretty powerful in the community. She planned for her eldest son, Armando, to marry into the aristocracy of Mexico City," Juan said.

"Senora Maese tiene las estrellas en los ojos," the women of the village used to say," Juan recited.

"'Mrs. Maese has stars in her eyes," in English, for you gringos,'" Juan said with a wink.

Liz smiled.

"Young Armando, however, had cast his eye on a different star, a beautiful teenage servant girl, Inez, whose long black shock of hair hung to her waist. All Mesilla whispered of the young couple's love, their "secret" rendezvous," he said, with a slightly dramatic lilt to his voice.

"Well, La Senora learned of the tryst. Infuriated, she discharged Inez, ordered her to stay away from the home and Armando. 'You must remember,' she said to Armando,' your station in life, the reputation of your family, the aristocracy of Mexico'", he said.

"Soon afterward, La Senora left town but returned earlier than anticipated from her trip. She discovered the young couple embraced in Armando's bedroom, at the southwest corner of the courtyard. Insane with rage, she stumbled from the room, out into the courtyard. Her hand fell on a pair of stiletto-like scissors. On a rampage, she flew back into the room, slashing with the scissors," Juan said.

"No, Mama, no!!!" they say Armando screamed. But she stabbed young Inez in the breast. She struck again, this time stabbing her son, who had tried to shield his love. Inez died cradled in Armando?s arms, his kisses on her lips, his hands stroking her long black hair. Armando himself died three days later," Juan said in a quiet voice.

"From that moment until her death, La Senora Carlota Maese never spoke another word. The spirits of Armando and Inez never left the room, now a gracious and cozy dining room called the Carlota Salon, nowadays called the Double Eagle," he said.

"They still whisper each other's name. Inez's perfume mysteriously fills the air. The two light candles, leaving them burning on the dining table. Mischievously, they sometimes move furniture or shatter wine glasses. They rest in a pair of overstuffed chairs at the corners, leaving the arms and seat cushions slightly worn," Juan finished.

"They must have had a great love between them, to carry them beyond death," Liz said quietly, as Max watched her expression turn wistful.

His brow furrowed. Had she had a great love like that?

"Yes, it was the love of a lifetime, and even more powerful having been forbidden," Juan answered.

"If you believe in the tale, then you believe that love that is powerful enough never dies. Perhaps the two of you might have that love." He looked at them wistfully, nodding his head. "I can see the possibility of it, if you nurture the fire..."

"No, we're not," Liz stammered, pointing between she and Max, as she shook her head violently, "I'm not...the two of us aren't together that way."

"Then what way is it?" Juan asked, his brow raised.

Liz looked at Max, looking for his support in an explanation, but he merely looked at her with a bemused smile. Let her explain that she was marrying his father. He was sure Juan would find it as distasteful as he did.

"It's...complicated," Liz said, not volunteering any more information.

"I see," Juan said, nodding. "Well, nothing worth anything isn't complicated. I hope you work out whatever it is that keeps you apart."

Max felt Liz's discomfort and started to feel some of his own. In the beginning it had been humorous, but considering the circumstances, the game quickly lost its charm.

Liz remained uncomfortably silent her eyes trained to the ground, knowing any explanation she gave would only spur a further discomfort.

"Well muchachos," Juan said, "that concludes our tour. On that note, I will bid you adios."

Liz pasted a smile on her face that didn't reach her eyes.

"Thank you for the tour," Liz said. "It was wonderful."

"De nada, Senorita," Juan said, with a smile.

"Yeah thanks," Max added, going to his pocket to give him some money.

Juan waved it away.

"I won't hear of it. It was as much fun for me to take you, as it was for you to come along," Juan said.

Max paused, and saw Juan was dead serious.

"Thank you," Max said, shaking his hand.

"I need to use the ladies room," Liz said suddenly, motioning to the Double Eagle, and Max nodded.

"Would you mind holding my bag?" she asked, holding it out to him.

Shocked for a moment, he reached out and took it.

Juan watched her go into the restaurant, and turned to Max.

"It doesn't matter what the complication is, it'll be up to you to fix it," Juan said, giving Max a penetrating look.

Max shook his head, "No, you don't understand, she and I..."

"You think I am old, so I don't know the problems young people face? You've both been damaged, but she more than you. If you want to fix what's between you, if you want to make it real, you're going to have to be the one. Her heart can't handle any more," Juan said. "It's in her eyes, if you dare to look."

Max wasn't sure how to reply. The man had obviously thought he'd seen something that wasn't there. But now that he found himself in Liz's earlier position, he realized that he didn't want to explain the true circumstances either.

"I'll definitely take that into consideration," Max said finally, hoping to end the conversation.

"Don't wait until it's too late," Juan warned. "Too many make that mistake."

Max nodded, oddly embarrassed, and Juan clapped him on the shoulder.

"Best of luck to you my friend," he said.

"Thanks," Max said, distracted.

And then he was alone, Liz's bag in his hand.


Note: I did read up a bit on the Las Cruces area where the Evans live in the story. I was trying to find an interesting place for Max to take Liz that wasn't too far away, and then found a link to Old Mesilla.

I like the connection of the outlaw Billy the Kid, and the parallels you will later see to what I have in mind for my own story. It just clicked.

From there I did a bunch of reading both on their official site, and accounts on the net of people who had been there. The historic descriptions are mostly theirs, not mine. Some of it is word for word history from oldmesilla.org

http://oldmesilla.org/html/history_of_mesilla.html

and some of it (like Juan's ghostly accounts) came almost verbatim from the websites of other folks, like

http://www.desertusa.com/mag01/jan/stories/ghost.html

I tweaked some of it here and there to make my own story flow, to try to create an atmosphere for the reader, but for the most part the above websites were my main source.
Last edited by Majesty on Sun Feb 29, 2004 7:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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