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Haunted Love
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epilogue


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Haunted Love
by SheridanC

     

Chapter Eight

Paloma leaned into the kiss as Hank deepend it. Her heart pounded against her chest, nearly matching the beat of the rain pouring onto the pavement.

Her knees weakened when Hank wrapped his arms fully around her and tugged her closer, so their bodies met. She whimpered and fell limp against him. If it weren't for his arms holding her firmly upright, she was sure she would have fallen to the ground.

Her hands traveled to his face. She cupped it, carressing his cheeks, feeling the stubble of his beard against her open palms. Hank grunted and kissed her more passionately.

When they were both out of breath, they pulled back and gasped for air. Paloma's eyes widened in surprise when she realized what had happened. What she had wanted to happen.

Hank stared at her for a moment, and finally said, "I'm sorry if I...offended you."

Paloma bit her lip nervously and replied, "No. You didn't."

"I've just been wanting to do that since I first saw you," he continued, "and I couldn't resist the temptation any -- what? I didn't?" Her words finally dawned upon him, bringing a smile to his face. The rain slowed, and the sun peeked through the clouds.

"Of course not," Paloma told him, smiling back. "Do you really think I believed you when you said you wanted to discuss politics?" She laughed.

Hank chuckled. "Didn't think so." He stepped nearer to her. "I just wanted to be around you. That's all." He touched her cheek affectionately, then leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips.

"Will you go out with me sometime? To the movies? Anywhere?"

Paloma nodded. "I'd like that, Hank."

He took her arm in his, and they both headed back into the house. "Can I tell you something?" he asked when they entered.

"Anything." Paloma's thoughts were still on the kiss.

"You won't laugh at me?" he replied hopefully.

Paloma shook her head. She turned to face him, rubbing her goosebump-covered arms. "No. Of course not."

He looked at her. She was shivering. "I'll make this quick, so you can go take a shower," he promised.

Paloma nodded and smiled, blowing warmth into her hands.

"I told Luis something yesterday." He nervously cleared his throat. "That I-I feel different around you...and that I enjoy it."

A wide smile came to Paloma's lips. He continued before she could reply.

"I-I didn't know what it was...but I...what I'm trying to say is that I..." He took a deep breath. "I think I fell in love with you, Loma."


"Tell me why you did it!" Luis demanded, pushing Julian against the wall. Julian's eyes widened in fright.

"I will not be treated this way," he stammered. "I'm a Crane!"

"And I don't give a damn! Tell me what ever possessed you to scare your sister like that! Now!" He put a hand to Julian's throat, threatening that he would strangle him if he didn't tell.

"Luis," Sheridan said nervously. He shot her a warning look. She hugged herself, shivering.

"Fine! I'll tell you," Julian replied. "Just let me go. I'll tell you if you let me go."

"No, no, no," Luis responded, glaring. "I'm not a fool. You'll tell me
now."

"I could have you arrested," Julian harrumphed, glaring right back at him.

"I could strangle you before you did," Luis told him smugly.

Julian's eyes widened further. He was obviously terrified.

Swallowing hard, he said, "Our uncle...he-he died and left a great sum of money to Sheridan."

Sheridan's mouth dropped open. He continued before she could get a word in.

"A-And I just wanted to be free from Father's clutches...I planned to have her sent to a mental institution, and take the money for my own." He bowed his head shamefully.

Luis glared. "Is there anything else you're not telling me?" he demanded.

"No--er..." Julian bit his lip nervously.

Luis tightened his grip on Julian's neck. "Tell me."

"Fine, fine," Julian stammered. "Father hired an imposter so that Sheridan would believe you were using her."

In the background, Sheridan uttered a startled cry and fainted dead away.

Luis's head spun. He let go of Julian -- a little too roughly -- and began to pace. Then, he faced Sheridan's brother once more.

"That's all? Nothing else you're hiding?"

Julian shook his head. "Nothing," he told Luis truthfully.

"Why did you want to be free from your father's clutches?" Luis interrogated.

"So...so Ivy and I c-could live the life she always wanted. A-And so I didn't have to harm Sheridan anymore." He was being honest, Luis observed. Maybe not all the Cranes were bad....

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," Luis said to him, pacing. "I'm going to have Alistair Crane arrested. I'll leave your name cleared. You'll have the whole Crane fortune, and do what you please with it. Sheridan will get her uncle's money."

He faced Julian. "If you bother her any longer...in any harmful way...I'll arrest you, too."

Julian shook his head rapidly. "I don't plan to," he said quickly, truthfully.

Luis nodded and glanced at Sheridan. Now, to clear up this whole using-the-Crane mess...


Paloma's shock was too much to make an immediate reply to Hank's confession. She finally managed to gather her voice, and squeaked, "In the course of three days?"

Hank swallowed hard. "I've known you since we were just kids. I-I think the reason I teased you so much was because I was attacted to you, although I hadn't thought that at first," he admitted, bowing his head.

Paloma gulped. "Y-You love me?"

Hank looked up, forcing himself to gaze into her eyes. "More than anything else in the world. I love you, Paloma."

Paloma closed her eyes. It was all she ever wanted -- for someone to love her. Her dream was coming true.

And it was Hank Bennett who loved her. The boy she'd liked since she'd first met him. Since he and Luis had first become best friends.

Choking on a whimper, Paloma uttered, "I love you, too, Hank."

She could have thrown herself into his arms. Instead, she opened her eyes, and looked up at him. Slowly, he smiled, and then he moved forward and wrapped her in a hug.


"He didn't want to do it?" Sheridan asked quietly. They were in the cottage at her livingroom. She couldn't sit -- she was restless -- so she, instead, paced. Luis was seated on the couch, watching her movements.

"No. He wanted to be free from Alistair's clutches. I had Alistair arrested. I'm leaving Julian free. He seems to be a nice enough guy..." Luis couldn't believe he said that.

Sheridan faced him, her arms folded over her chest. "I trust your judgement," she finally said. "But...the imposter."

Luis looked up grimly. "I told you to trust me. I told you to believe me." He ran his hands through his hair. "You didn't."

Sheridan kneeled before him, a pleading look in her eyes. "You have to understand how much it hurt me. He looked just like you...his voice was yours. I was seeing who was supposed to be you through my own two eyes, gloating over how you'd lured me into your trap."

"Why didn't you trust what your heart told you, instead of what logic told you?" Luis asked irritably, standing. "Why didn't you trust
me?"

Tears filled Sheridan's eyes. "I wanted to," she whispered.

"You didn't," Luis stated curtly. "Trust is important in a relationship, Sheridan."

"C-Could we start over?" Sheridan implored.

Luis looked at her for a moment. Then, he turned away with a growl. "No."

Sheridan felt like her whole world had come crashing down on her. She moved forward with a sob.

"Everyone makes mistakes," she stammered. "I made a terrible mistake in not believing you. In not trusting you."

"I agree," Luis replied darkly.

"I'm sorry," she whimpered. "You said you wanted to be with me."

Luis turned to face her. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I do."

"Then why do you refuse me?" she inquired, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Luis closed his eyes and expelled a sigh. "You don't trust me."

"I
do."

"Now."

"I always did."

"You would have believed me if you did," Luis pointed out, opening his eyes.

"My heart trusted you. Everyone pushed me to stay away from you." She shook her head. "Do you know how stressful it is when you know what logic is telling you, but your heart is saying a different story, and then there are all these people in the background reminding you of that night?" She moved closer. "It's
hard."

Luis took in a breath and released it slowly. He stared at her. She blinked away tears, making his heart ache.

"To hell with it," he finally said, and tugged her into his arms, placing a passionate kiss on her lips.

The emotions he'd held in since he first met her finally broke loose, released in the kiss. When they finally pulled apart, Sheridan offered him a warm smile.

He grinned back. Then laughed and shook his head.

"You're just too tempting," he whispered, and touched her cheek briefly in affection. He leaned forward and kissed her lightly, adding softly, "Be with me."

Sheridan nodded. "I will," she breathed.

Luis took her into his arms. "Be with me...forever," he said, gazing deeply into her eyes.

Sheridan trembled. "What?"

"I love you, Sheridan," he whispered, tracing her jawline. "Be with me forever," he added, and cupped her chin, forcing her to look at him.

He loved her.

The words dawned upon her, making her gasp in surprise. He
loved her.

A series of emotions ran through her, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. She pulled him into a tight hug and replied, "Forever. I love you, too, Luis. I do."

Luis held her tighter. "Thank God."

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