"What happened with you and your aunt?" Hank inquired,
sipping his coffee. The blush of dawn painted the skies outdoors, the wind rattling the windows. Stray drops of
rain trickled down the windows and pelted the ground.
Paloma looked up in surprise. A copy of the Harmony Herald lay in front of her, and she clasped a steaming cup of coffee in her hands.
It was eight o'clock in the morning. She and Hank had been talking for the past hour, about nothing and everything...but
they skipped politics.
"Ummm," she stammered, "what do you mean?"
"Hmmm," he mused. "I've come to notice that everytime your aunt is mentioned, you get all jumpy
Paloma's face went pale. "Hank--"
"What's wrong, Loma?" he inquired, his voice full of concern. "What happened?"
"I can't tell you," she whispered. Standing, Paloma wandered over to the window in the kitchen that overlooked
a rose garden that Luis tended to every now and then. The ground outdoors was muddy and wet. She suddenly had the
longing to run outside and start dancing beneath the clouds.
Paloma jumped in surprise at Hank's close proximity. She hadn't noticed that he'd crept up on her.
"I just can't." She hoped that would put an end to the conversation.
"Paloma...please?" He hooked his index finger under her chin and tilted her head up, forcing her to look
"You can trust me," he promised.
Paloma's eyes filled with tears that didn't spill onto her cheeks. Blinking them away, she took a step backward
and bowed her head.
"Okay," she finally whispered. "I'll tell you."
Sheridan's eyes snapped open at the sound of music drifting through her bedroom. She sat up immediately and darted
her eyes around the room.
"Luis?" she called out, climbing out of her bed. She threw on a robe that had been draped over a wooden
chair sitting close to her bed.
The music was coming from the bathroom. She could hear the shower running, and Luis's own voice mingled with the
Giggling, she put her ear to the door and listened to him singing.
She frowned. He wasn't all that bad, either....
The door suddenly flew open. Sheridan stumbled inside, landing in Luis's arms. A stunned expression dominated his
features as she straightened up, her cheeks flaming red.
"What in the world?"
"Er...I...heard, ah, music playing, and I was curious..." Sheridan went a brighter shade of red as she
realized he was clad only in a white towel. Droplets of water were sprinkled against his chest, and his hair was
wet and dripping.
Gulping, Sheridan said, "I'll just go get Cook to make me some breakfast."
Luis lifted an eyebrow at her, then flashed a sexy grin and replied, "You sure you just didn't want to see
Sheridan's eyes went wide. "No!" she exclaimed. "Uh, yes! I mean--what I'm trying to say is..."
"Save it," Luis laughed. "I get the point." He slipped by her. "I'll just go get dressed
now," he added with a wink in her direction.
Sheridan watched his retreating figure, and then sighed and threw herself onto her bed.
"I was sent to Aunt Cassidy's house when I was seven years old," Paloma informed Hank softly. The livingroom
was silent, save for Paloma's quiet confessions and the soft trickle of rain outdoors. Pilar and Theresa had left
early in the morning, leaving the house under Paloma and Hank's care.
A fire burned in the fireplace to the left of the couch, and the flames on a few lit candles swayed in the light
breeze of the air conditioner.
No lights were on. Paloma preferred the fire to lights in the small livingroom as she revealed her most kept secrets
to her childhood friend.
"I'm sorry," Hank consoled, taking her hand in his.
"I missed Luis, Miguel, Theresa, and Mama..." She looked down at their clasped hands. "For so long..."
Hank gave her a sad look, squeezing her hand tighter.
"I-I was sent there after Antonio, my older brother, left. Aunt Cassidy convinced Mama that it would be better
if I stayed there, because Papa was gone, and Luis was the man of the house...and there were all these bills --
water, electricity, phone...there were so many bills." She looked at Hank, her eyes full of held-back tears.
"I didn't want to be trouble, so I agreed."
"But you were just one more person," Hank whispered. His hand went to her cheek. He carressed it lightly.
"God, I'm so sorry."
Paloma swallowed hard. "Luis was only nine years old, so it was really hard on us. Mama worked for the Cranes
back then, too. Her paycheck was so small, and-and I figured it would be easier if I just left. So, I did."
She bowed her head.
"Promise me you won't tell anyone what I tell you next."
Hank nodded and squeezed her hand. "I promise."
Taking a deep breath, Paloma confessed, "Aunt Cassidy wasn't the God-lover she was made out to be. She was
on my father's side of the family...everyone assumed she was just so sweet, so kind...so beautiful inside."
She choked on a sob. "But she wasn't."
Looking up at Hank, she cried out, "She was a damned witch! She wouldn't leave me alone. She insisted that
I attend every stupid ceremony she had with her--her heinous friends."
Standing, Paloma began to pace. "I refused, for Papa's sake. She beat me until I was black and blue. She would
find every reason to punish me. I'd spend hours in my room -- days!"
Twirling, she faced Hank. "I got so tired of it.... I left when I was fourteen. I spent twelve years with
David, my boyfriend."
Inhaling a few deep breaths, she finally sat down next to a sympathetic Hank again.
"He wasn't any better, though," she whispered, fiddling with the end of her red sweater. "He was
just like Aunt Cassidy. He was so damn domineering...."
"Loma," Hank whispered, touching her hand. "I'm sorry."
"He'd find me with a friend -- girl or boy -- and he'd tell me I had to stay at the house for a week or more,
or he'd turn me into the police -- if that happened, Aunt Cassidy would get custody of me again." She turned
tear-filled eyes on Hank. "I was so afraid that, even after I was eighteen, I stuck with him. I just--I didn't
want to be put in her clutches again. I knew she'd try to make me attend the stupid ceremonies...they were so awful."
She shook her head and took a deep breath. "I only got the guts to leave town a few months back. At first,
I didn't know where to go. But I missed my family so much..." Burying her head in her hands, she said, "I
decided to come back to Harmony. I don't want to tell Luis, Theresa, or Mama...or even Miguel. I don't want them
to believe that Papa's sister was so cruel."
Looking up, she locked him in a beseeching gaze. "Promise me you won't tell anyone. Please."
Hank expelled a long-suffering sigh and pulled her into a hug. "I swear. It's your secret...and mine."
"When I went outside yesterday to look for you, Sheridan, you weren't there." Luis lifted a curious eyebrow
at her over his plate of eggs, bacon, and toast. They were seated on the couch in the livingroom, enjoying their
Sheridan's eyes widened as she remembered the horseman. "Er..."
"Where were you? I was frantic with worry," he added softly. "I thought--"
"Julian came over, and he wanted to take a walk." She bit her lip nervously and dug into her plate of
Luis narrowed his eyes suspiciously and set his plate down on the coffee table in front of him, catching Sheridan's
attention. She looked up and swallowed hard, putting her own plate down.
"You're not telling the whole story," he accused.
"What happened? You went all pale." He touched her cheek briefly for emphasis. "Sheridan?"
Sheridan's hand flew instinctively to the spot where the padding of his fingertips had brushed across her cheek.
She shifted nervously.
"Nothing...I was just--well, I saw something, but...Julian didn't...so I guess I was imagining things..."
Even she didn't believe that she had been imagining things.
"What did you see?" He moved closer to her. "Did you see...it?"
Sheridan shook her head, chewing on her lower lip. "No," she whispered.
"The drug cartel?" He gave her a worried look.
"No," she replied quietly. "I-I saw..."
"Sheridan? What is it?"
"A headless horseman," she said in one quick breath. "That's what I saw."
Luis burst out laughing. "Good one! You had me so worried there." He slapped her shoulder playfully.
"Don't do that to me again."
Sheridan stared incredulously at him as he moved back to his previous spot and retrieved his plate of eggs. "Uh,
He looked at her with laughing eyes. "Yeah?" he questioned, shoving a bite of eggs into his mouth.
"I wasn't kidding."
He choked on his bite of eggs, but managed to swallow them down with a gulp of milk from a cup that had been sitting
on the coffee table.
His eyes locked on hers. Closing them, he sighed, "Don't do this to me, Sheridan..."
"There's already the one ghost...now a headless horseman? You were hallucinating. You must have been."
He opened his eyes. "After all, Julian said he didn't see it."
Sheridan shifted uncomfortably, a little worried. "But..."
Luis moved closer, concerned. "Maybe--maybe we should take you to a psychiatrist. You know, just to--"
"No!" Sheridan immediately shouted, jumping to her feet. "No. There's no way I'm going back to a
mental--" She stopped talking as her face went pale, realizing the secret she'd just given away.
"Sheridan...?" Rising to his feet, Luis approached her. "Back?" he whispered.
"I-I..." A worried look furrowed her brow. Luis gazed at her, his mouth pulled back into a thin line.
Biting her lip nervously, Sheridan bowed her head, and Luis embraced her.
Quietly, she sobbed.