From the kitchen doorway, Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald watched
the woman that had somehow managed to steal his heart wipe away the tears falling from her normally sparkling blue
eyes and felt his heart constrict with pain. She had gone back into that protect shell that he had spent months
trying to tear down. He had no idea what else he could say to her. She accused him of something he knew he never
said and yet she seemed so positive that he said them. Why was it so much easier for her to believe that he was
lying to her than it was for her to believe he genuinely cared for her?
She had told him about the guys in her past, but he was nothing like those bastards and he thought she knew that.
He thought she knew him. Obviously he thought wrong. Shaking his head, he dropped his hand from its resting place
against the wooden doorframe then slowly stepped forward into the living room. The kitchen door swung swiftly shut
behind him, causing a whoosh of cool air to hit his back.
The door shut with a slight creak and drew Sheridanís attention to him. The moment their eyes connected something
passed between them, but she, not very surprisingly, turned her attention back away from him. It was as if she
couldnít even look at him anymore. It had been like this ever since he refused to admit that he said those things
about her. She had asked him to admit it, said sheíd forgive him, but he hadnít been able to bring himself to lie
to her. He never wanted to lie to her and it was ironic that the very thing she accused him of doing, lying to
her about saying those things, was also the very thing she asked him to do last night, lie and say he said those
things when he really didnít.
She told him that if he admitted he said them then she could forgive him and that they could be together. He knew
she meant what she said. Heíd seen it in her eyes. All he had to do was tell her what she wanted to hear and he
could be with the woman he loved. But if he told her he said those things, he would be going against everything
he believed in, everything he valued, and he couldnít bring himself to do that. He wanted to. Heíd give anything
to be able to utter the words she wanted him to say but he just couldnít.
She thought it was his pride that kept him from admitting he said those things, that he was upset that she had
caught him in a lie. If she only knew how wrong she wasÖ Why didnít she know? Why couldnít she see how hurt he
was that she didnít believe in him? That she didnít trust him? Oh sure she trusted him to protect her, but she
didnít trust him to love her and he was beginning to wonder if she ever would.
He picked up the Harmony newspaper off the glass coffee table in front of the couch then without uttering a word,
he walked past her and out the front door. He was used to reading the morning paper outside. Heíd done it for the
past week and a half now. Usually, Hank was here to watch Sheridan so heíd go to the gazebo to read the paper,
but this morning Hank said he had work to do. Whatever that meant, he thought lowering himself to sit on the front
porch step. As far as he could tell his best buddy didnít work much. In fact, he wasnít sure he work Ė
The sound of the front door creaking open behind him interrupted his thoughts. He turned in surprise. Sheridan
never came outside to talk with him. In fact, she didnít barely talked to him at all anymore. He didnít think theyíd
had more than a two-syllable conversation in almost two weeks.
"Did you need something?" He asked hiding all trace of emotion from his voice.
"I want to go for a walk around the grounds. Is that okay with you?" She asked her voice taking on a
haughty tone that he hadnít heard her use in months.
"Fine with me. Crane security has stepped up their protection measures so you should be fine walking along
"You mean you arenít going to argue?" She asked surprise lighting her tone. "You arenít going to
insist that you come with me?"
"No. Itís obvious you donít want me around and thatís why I placed a call into Agent Freeman earlier this
morning. He is going to try to get another agent in here to take over my duties as your bodyguard. At first he
told me he couldnít, but when I explained that my guarding you was no longer in your best interest he relented
his position. So," He said waving a hand dismissively through the air. "With any luck Iíll be out of
your hair this afternoon. That should make you happy."
He searched her eyes for some kind of sign as to what she was thinking but her eyes were as closed off as her heart.
"That is probably for the best. Your guarding me wasnít the best decision in the first place. Not the way
we fought all the time."
"Yeah, youíre right about that." He answered in a voice cold to his own ears. "Iíll be glad to get
back home and Iím sure youíll be glad to have me gone."
He saw her bottom lip quiver but she turned her away from him so quickly he wasnít at all sure he hadnít imagined
it. He saw her struggle for a breath and he knew, even before he got to his feet and turned her to face him that
she was crying. He felt it. He felt her pain. He raised a hand to wipe away her tears then met her eyes with his.
"You are a walking contradiction, Sheridan Crane. One minute you act as if you canít wait to have me out of
your hair and the next youíre crying because I might be leaving. Which is how you really feel? Do you or donít
you want me to go?"
"I - Ö I donít want you to leave, Luis. But I donít want you to stay either."
"So you want me to be in limbo? Is that it?" He asked shaking his head in confusion. "Sheridan,
you canít have it both ways. You either want me here or you donít. Which is it?"
"I know what you want me to say but I canít say it. I canít say those words to you."
"Join the club." He muttered under his breath. "You wanted me to say something I couldnít say too.
The only difference is you wanted me to lie and I want you to tell me the truth."
She gave an exasperated sigh then once again tried to turn her back on him. This time he wouldnít let her. He was
through letting her hide. It was time they talked about things and laid everything out on the table. He knew it
would be hard Ė for both of them Ė but he was determined to fight this thing that was keeping them apart and he
was even more determined to beat it. He loved her and whether she knew it yet or not, he wasnít giving her up without
Sheridan stared into Luisí intense dark eyes and immediately felt the air leave her lungs. He studied her eyes
as if he were trying to see into her soul. Because she was afraid he could, she closed them. She didnít want Luis
to see into her soul because that would allow him into access to her heart as well and she could never allow him
to have that kind of power over her. Heíd already broken it once. She couldnít survive the pain a second time.
"Let me go." She said opening her eyes and struggling to get free of his grip. "I donít have anything
else to say to you."
"Then how about you listen?" He asked quietly. "Because I have something to say to you and I donít
want you to interrupt me. I want you to listenÖ really listen. Can you do that, Sheridan? Can you listen to me
without interrupting me or getting angry with me? Just this once can you really sit down and listen to me?"
She wanted to say no. She wanted to say she didnít want to listen to anymore of his denials of the truth. But somehow
or other, she ended up muttering a week "yes" instead. She still wasnít sure how it happened and as Luis
took her hand in his, she wasnít sure she wanted to know either. Maybe she should listen to Luis. Maybe he was
finally going to admit the truth to her. And maybe he would finally tell her the reason heíd said those awful things
about her too.
"How about we talk at the gazebo? I donít want to get interrupted and something tells me if we stay at the
cottage someone will call."
She nodded and allowed him to lead her through the heart of the Crane rose garden toward the place sheíd called
paradise as a child. Some of the happiest times in her life were spent in the gazebo. She could remember listening
to her mother sing there every afternoon. It had been her motherís special place. The place she said helped her
to be happy when she had so many reasons to be sad. Sheridan didnít know what those reasons were, but she was reasonable
sure they had something to do with the tyrant she called father.
Shaking her head of the memories, she followed Luis into the gazebo and didnít utter a single protest as he sat
her down on one of the white stone benches. He didnít sit down like she expected him to. Instead, he started to
pace the wooden floor beneath their feet. He seemed so unsure and it was so unlike him that she sat in awe for
a few moments. She had never seen Luis soÖ nervous. He always seemed so confident, so self-assured, but right now
he was anything but. Was what he had to say really that monumental?
As he turned to look at her, his eyes full of determination, her heart screamed answered her question with a simple
yes. Something was about to change between them. She could feel it. Whatever Luis was going to say would have an
affect on their current situation. She didnít know how she knew, she just did.
"Do you remember the first time we met?" He asked his voice calm, his gaze steady.
She nodded unable to speak through the sudden tightness in her throat. She remembered it like it was yesterdayÖ
She was through with men. They were all jerks and sheíd
had enough of those to last a lifetime. She pressed her foot down further to the floor. She was almost home. Home
she had never really thought of Harmony as home before, but for some reason that was the only word that came to
mind tonight. She had been living in Paris since she was a young girl and she had never really thought of it as
home either. Now that she thought about it, she never really thought of any place as her home. Even all the time
she and Jean-Lu had spent at his cottageÖ it had never felt like home to her. It was just some place she happened
to live. Home was something else. Something she wasnít sure sheíd ever have.
She whizzed by a dirt road off to the side and a second later, the sound of a police siren lit the hot balmy night
air. There was no way she was going to stop to listen to a lecture on speed limits. Not tonight. Tonight she was
in no mood to deal with Harmonyís finest. She was almost to the Crane Mansion and she wasnít stopping for anyone,
let alone a cop trying to make his daily ticket quota by hiding in the bushes trying to catch unsuspecting cars
as they drove on by.
By the time she saw the police cruiser it was too late for her to stop. The sound of screeching brakes and spinning
tires lit the night air, but the only sound she heard was the unmistakable sound of metal hitting metal. The sudden
impact as the two vehicles hit threw her forward and she was fairly certain that, if she hadnít been wearing her
seat belt, she would have been thrown through the windshield. The nerve of that cop to block the road! How dare
"You try anything else and Iím using your tires for target practice." A firm masculine voice called out.
As he walked closer, his voice became clearer and his irritation was crystal clear. "Well, I hope you had
a good time, buster, because you're about to say good-bye to life as you know it. There is no way your sorry behind
isnít doing jail time for those moves."
"My name isnít buster." She said unbuckling her seat belt and starting to dig in her purse for her wallet
containing her driverís license. "My behind is anything but sorry and you canít arrest me."
"You've broken at least ten laws in the last minutes. Give me one good reason I shouldn't arrest you."
"Because my last name is Crane." She said finally looking up and suddenly finding herself lost in a pair
of deep brown eyes.
She remembered that day all right. Luis had been mad as
hell that sheíd totaled his police cruiser. In fact, heíd been worse than mad, heíd been livid. "I remember."
She said finally finding her voice. "I remember everything."
"What about the first time we danced the tango? Our first date? Our first kiss? Do you remember those too?"
He asked kneeling on the ground in front of her and taking her left hand in his right. "Sheridan, you werenít
the only one that felt things. You were the only one who was in a position to be hurt. I was to. When you slapped
me that day at the youth center, I had no idea what it was for. I just knew you had turned on me. You called me
a boy toy. Just some fling, you said. Do you know how that made me feel? It hurt like nothing has ever hurt me
before. If I was just using you, how could you have had the power to hurt me?"
She looked into his eyes and saw the hurt and pain. She saw confusion and sadness too. They werenít the emotions
she wanted to see. She never wanted to see that pained look in his eyes again. She wanted to seeÖ love. Love for
her. She wanted him to love her more than she had ever wanted anything in her life. But she wasnít sure she could
trust that love. Not with that night hanging over their head.
She removed her hand from his then slowly stood
up. "Iím sorry Luis. I just canít -"
"I know you canít trust me therefore you canít have a relationship with me. Iíve heard all this before."
He said finally getting to his feet. When he turned his back on her a second later, she felt the loss down in the
deepest part of her soul. "Not that you will believe me or anything but I have to say it anyway. I canít keep
it to myself anymore. I love you, Sheridan. And Iím not telling you this because I want to change your mind about
what you say you saw and heard that night. Iím telling you because itís true. Whether you believe me or not is
entirely up to you."
With that he walked out of the gazebo and back toward the cottage up on the hill. As her knees threatened to buckle,
Sheridan sank down onto the stone bench behind her. He loved her? Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald loved her? Surely, he didnít
mean it. She was a Crane after all. He hated the Cranes. Heíd never let himself fall in love with one. You canít
help who you love. Hadnít Ethan told her that recently? She wanted more than anything in the world to believe Luis
truly loved her, but if she believed he loved her then she would have to believe what she saw and heard that night
on the wharf didnít happen and she knew damn good and well it did.
Luis walked back into the cottage and immediately began packing his black leather bag. He only prayed Agent Freeman
sent his replacement soon. He had to get out of here. Heíd already given Sheridan even more ammunition with which
to hurt him and he knew the longer he stayed her bodyguard, the more likely the possibility of her hurting him
again would be.
As he unzipped the inside front zipper and reached inside, he felt the round shaped compact heíd bought for Sheridan.
Heíd never given it back to her after heíd found it in Jean-Lucís place back in Paris. Heíd meant to but for some
reason the time just never seemed right. She probably already bought a replacement anyway, he thought taking the
compact out and turning it over in his hands. Heíd bought it thinking it was a replacement for the one he broke
in New Mexico, but heíd later found out hers had been an antique and was virtually priceless. Heíd felt like an
idiot, much as he did now.
He started to place the compact back inside his bag, but a small gasp from behind him caught him off guard and
he turned without thinking. Her eyes were glued to his hand and he swallowed hard as she slowly began to make her
way toward him. She took the compact out of his hand and the minute she held it in her palm, she raised her head
until her tear-filled blue eyes met his. "Itís the same. Itís not new. This is the one you gave me after New
Mexico. I lost it in Paris when Ė Where did you find it?"
He cleared his throat, as it had suddenly become too tight. "Jean Lucís place. Itís how I knew you had been
there. I put it in my pocket and forgot about it until I got arrested. I meant to give it back to you Ė"
"Why didnít you?" She asked searching his eyes with hers. "Why didnít you give it back to me?"
"At the time, you didnít particularly like me very much and I was pretty steamed at you too, if you recall."
She nodded but her eyes never left his. "Yet you kept this. Why?"
"Because it was yours." He said shifting his stance suddenly feeling uncomfortable. He cleared his throat.
"I always intended to give it back to you."
"When?" She asked tilting her head slightly to the side. "When were you going to give it back to
me? Youíve had it for months. Did you think I wouldnít want it back? Is that it?"
"No." He said shaking his head. "I was waiting for the right time and then you never mentioned you
were missing it so I assumed you bought a replacement."
"I didnít. I tried to find another like this one but the sales lady said they didnít have anymore like it.
I was really upset about it. I didnít want to hurt you by letting you know how careless I was in losing it so I
"Careless?" He asked taking her gently by the arms. "Two men tried to kill you and you dropped it
during youíre escape. You think you were careless? If you hadnít dropped it I might not have known you were there.
They might have actually gotten away with - "
He broke off unable to say the words. Every time he thought about what those bastards tried to do to Sheridan,
his stomach went into a fit of knots. What if he hadnít gotten to her in time? What if he hadnít found the compact
signaling that she had been there? What if Ė
"Luis?" She asked raising a hand to his face. "I never thanked you for saving my life and I should
have. I should have thanked you for a lot of things, actually."
"No it isnít." She said shaking her head. "I let my hurt over what I heard that night cloud my judgment
of who you are. Iíd always thought I could trust my own eyes and ears, but now IímÖ now Iím seriously doubting
"Why?" He asked not moving an inch, afraid that at any moment she would say she didnít mean what she
was saying. "Why are you suddenly doubting what you say you saw and heard?"
"Because," She said looking down at the compact in her hands then back up at him. "I know you meant
what you said. I know you love me and because of that I know you would not have said those things about me. I donít
have any answers as to what happened that night, but I know how I feel about what you told me tonight and I know
I donít want to walk away from that feeling. Not anymore. Because you see IÖ I love you too, Luis and I donít want
to fight it anymore."
He let out a breath he hadnít even been aware he was holding then cupped her face in his hands. "Do you mean
that? Do you really and truly mean what you just said?"
"Yes." She whispered looking into his eyes. "And I only need just one chance to prove it to you."
A second after she whispered the words, she covered his lips with hers. It was a kiss that spoke of love and promisesÖ
and maybe just maybe there was a happily ever after in there as well. He sure as hell hoped so because there was
no way he was going to let her go now that he had her. He didnít care if he had to slay a thousand dragons to keep
her either. He would slay every one he had to because out of all the people he knew Sheridan most deserved the
happily ever after ending and he planned to make damn sure he was the one to give it to her.