The Book Café was dominated by cheerful smiles, happy chatter, and soothing Christmas carols. Fake snow
painted the windows, and pictures of reindeer and Santa Claus added to the jolly atmosphere.
Sheridan hustled inside, her thick, long blue jacket hugging her shoulders. Stray snowflakes had caught in her
hair. She shook them free and bustled to the front counter of the Book Café, ordering some hot coffee before
leaving to sit at a table nearest to the front door.
She tapped her nails restlessly. It was Wednesday. Two days from the day she and Luis had made plans to meet.
She wondered what he would look like. He’d informed her that he was rich, engaged, and had one helluva cocky family.
Would he himself be arrogant and pompous? Had his online personality been a hoax?
She doubted it. His attitude was much too genuine to be fake.
Bells at the front door of the Book Café rang, indicating that someone had entered. She looked up, then
back down. A man and a woman had entered. Definitely not Luis. He’d told her he would be alone.
"Your coffee, Miss Crane." A steaming black cup of coffee was held in front of her. She offered a grateful
smile to the young man who’d handed it to her and took a soothing sip of the liquid.
She looked up and frowned. The man and woman who had entered were standing in front of her; the woman pretty with
auburn hair and green eyes, and the man incredibly handsome with dark black hair, golden eyes, and a fabulous build.
"Do I know you?" she asked, uneasy. That woman...she seemed so familiar. And the man...his eyes...
He smiled warmly, as if he’d known her for a long time, and held out his hand. The woman beside him appeared irritable
"Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald. This is my fiancée, Emily Hanson."
She blinked rapidly at both his greeting and introduction. Emily Hanson. That was Darren’s sister. No wonder she’d
appeared so familiar. Darren had shown her a family photo from only two years back, when his sister had come to
She stuttered an, "Oh," and accepted his hand, rising to her feet. "It’s, ah, nice to meet you...both
of you. I’ve heard a lot about you, Emily."
Emily looked her over and rolled her eyes before asking, "From Luis, I’m sure?"
Offended by her curt manner, Sheridan retorted, "No, from your brother, Darren, whom you so often visit."
Her sarcasm was apparent.
Emily blinked in surprise. "You know my brother?"
Momentarily forgetting Luis’s presence, Sheridan replied, "He and I dated for three years." At Emily’s
disgusted expression, a smug grin formed on Sheridan’s lips. "That’s right. The rich and famous Darren Hanson
dated a low-life like myself."
"Oh, brother. I always knew he was the rebel in the family." Emily sighed and folded her arms over her
chest. "I assume he came to his senses and dumped you in a flash?"
Sheridan seethed with anger. "I’m sorry to inform you that that’s not what happened. In fact, he asked me
to marry him."
Emily’s mouth dropped open in astonishment and disgust.
Luis watched the conversation proceed with mounting discomfort. He had expected that Emily would be rude, but that
Sheridan had dated his fiancée’s brother was a complete shock to him. She’d never mentioned a boyfriend,
nor a fiancé. A small amount of jealousy rose in him, but he brushed it aside, feeling guilty for even caring
about Sheridan Crane’s love life.
"You’re going to marry my
brother?" Emily said incredulously. "You’re going to be...be a Hanson?" She put a hand over her open mouth. "Oh, God. This must be some
horrible nightmare. I think I’m going to vomit."
Sheridan narrowed her eyes into a glare. "Get over yourself, Ms. Hanson. I refused his proposal. We’re no
Sheridan found her cheeks flaming as she suddenly realized that Luis was still there. She mentally kicked herself.
God, what a way to first meet a man. Fight with his fiancée.
Oh, yeah. That’ll catch his attention. In fact, Sher, I think he just might ask you to marry him after witnessing
this little escapade! Right.
Luis smiled tightly. "If you’re through...arguing...perhaps we could order something to eat and drink?"
Emily laced her arm through her fiancé’s and said, "Do we have to? I was looking forward to returning
to the mansion."
Sheridan clenched her teeth and looked away. That Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald could have any interest whatsoever in a
woman as rude and arrogant as Emily Hanson was beyond her understanding, especially since he’d seemed so sweet
and caring online. Maybe it had all been a facade. Maybe he was just as callous and self-centered as that conceited,
bitchy woman that stood next to him.
She suddenly found herself indulging in another fantasy...of strangling that woman named Emily Hanson.
"I never invited you to come along. You can go home if you like. I had plans to meet Sheridan, and I intend
to go through with them, Emily."
At his words, Sheridan looked up and caught his gaze. She blushed and averted her eyes.
Emily harrumphed and took a seat in Sheridan’s chair.
"I’ll be staying right here," she replied haughtily, eyeing Sheridan with obvious dislike.
"Be my guest," Sheridan responded with a nasty look her way. She grabbed a chair from a nearby table
and pulled up next to Luis -- as far away from Emily Hanson as she could get.
"Emily," Luis said, gesturing towards an employee at the counter for him to come over, "if you’re
going to stay here with us, stop acting so childish."
Emily turned crimson and mumbled, "Really, Luis...you shouldn’t embarrass me like that."
"You already embarrassed yourself, Ms. Hanson," Sheridan cut in with a grin.
Emily shot her a withering glare and said, "You’re the one who made a spectacle of yourself in front of so
Sheridan snorted. "Sure."
Luis clapped his hands to silence them. Sheridan flushed red and glanced at him. His eyes twinkled with laughter,
but the rest of his face remained calm and collected.
"You two...are acting like children. Stop it."
"Sorry," Sheridan mumbled. Emily merely huffed and looked away.
"What kind of place is this, anyway?" Luis’s fiancée muttered, glancing around the Book Café.
"So small and...local-ish."
"Local-ish," Sheridan muttered. Was that even a word? She held back a laugh.
"Shouldn’t we have gone to that place that your father mentioned, Luis? What was it? The Seascape Resturaunt?"
She caught Luis’s gaze and frowned. "Blueberry muffins and coffee...what a filling dinner." She rolled
her eyes, her sarcasm apparent.
Luis sighed and shook his head in annoyance as the employee approached with muffins and coffee. "You know
what? You should go home."
Emily blinked in surprise. "What? Why?"
"You, my dear, are being very rude this evening." He reached for a styrofoam cup of coffee and handed
it to her. Emily grabbed it, but her hold was a little too loose. She yelped in surprise when the cup fell into
her lap, the contents spilling over her tan skirt.
Several people glanced her way, but said nothing.
Sheridan put a hand over her mouth and looked down, her shoulders shaking with silent laughter as Emily sputtered
a string of curses.
"Damn this place! I’m never, ever, ever coming to one of these local torture
chambers again! You!" She pointed angrily to the employee
that had delivered their food and coffee. "You...you clumsy man! You put the coffee in the cup wrong!"
Sheridan couldn’t stand it anymore. She burst into hysterical laughter, clutching her stomach, tears running down
"Put the...put the...coffee in--oh, my God..."
Emily turned an angry glare on Sheridan, but the truth of the matter was, Luis was having trouble himself containing
his laughter. That his fiancée could accuse someone of putting coffee in a cup wrong was too much. He had
to avert his gaze to keep her from seeing how hard of a time he was having not laughing along with Sheridan.
"Oh, you! You little...oooh, I’m going to get you, you gold-digging tramp!" Angrily smoothing the front
of her wet skirt, Emily stalked out of the Book Café, all eyes on her. At her departure, everyone returned
to their conversations and food.
Her bout of laughter dissipating, Sheridan turned her eyes on Luis, only to find him staring at her with an amused
smile on his face.
"Sorry," Sheridan quickly apologized, and blushed. "I didn’t intend for our first meeting to go
so badly. I’m terribly sorry about your fiancée..."
He smiled. "Don’t be. She can be very rude sometimes, especially to what she considers poor people."
He cleared his throat nervously and corrected, "Not to say that you’re--"
Sheridan waved her hand in dismissal. "Don’t worry about it. It’s true. I am poor." She shrugged. "It’s
not like it’s something to be ashamed of. Some people just end up that way, just like others are born into wealthy
He nodded slowly and offered a smile. "Still, I have to apologize for Emily’s behavior, and for bringing her
along when I said I was to come alone. She insisted on coming. When Emily sets her mind to something, there’s no
stopping her." He added with a grin, "And I was having a hard time myself not laughing at her accusations
against the employee."
Sheridan giggled at the memory. "So I noticed."
Luis sat back in his chair and clasped his hands together at his lap. "You said you were an author,"
Sheridan nodded. "I am. I have two novels published, and I’m working on a third one."
Luis lifted an eyebrow. "Oh? What field do you work in?"
"Fantasy," she replied with a slow smile. "Well, romantic fantasy, I guess." She looked at
him with a grin. "You wanted to be a police officer?"
"Still do," Luis said. "But, of course, my parents disapprove." He rolled his eyes. "Doesn’t
matter to me. I’m a grown man. I can make my own decisions." He offered her a toothy grin. "It’s not
the best line of work, but it’s what I love to do."
Sheridan smiled at him. "If it makes you happy, it shouldn’t matter what others think." She leaned forward
and grinned. "So, Luis...have you ever been ice skating?"
Luis skittered to a stop in the middle of the frozen-over pond, only to fall face-forward with a loud "thud."
Sheridan burst out laughing.
"Still not getting the hang of it?" she shouted from the other end of the pond, skating over to him.
He looked up and sighed, propping his elbow up on the cold ice.
"Does it look that way to you?" He grinned at her. In all honesty, this was the most fun he’d had in
years. No matter how bad of a skater he was, he felt at ease around Sheridan. And he’d noticed with pleasure that
the woman he’d known as "IceAngel" was very beautiful.
She had dark blonde hair and azure blue eyes that matched the skies on a cloudless day. Her figure was pleasantly
curvacious, and her personality made her that much more beautiful.
She came to a halt next to him and held out her hand with a grin. "Come on, you. You can’t be that bad."
Luis laughed at her and took her hand, pulling himself to his feet. He slipped and fell again, bringing her down
with him. Both of them giggled, but their laughter came to a stop when their close proximity was suddenly realized.
Luis brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and smiled softly. "You know," he whispered, "I loved
to talk to you online, but to know you in real life..." His voice trailed off.
Sheridan nodded her agreement, and replied softly, "I know what you mean."
Christmas music floated over the area from a boom box that a group of teenagers had brought along. Sheridan suddenly
realized that they weren’t alone, and quickly looked away, rising to her feet. Luis stood clumsily after her.
"You’re dangerous when you’re in ice skates, did you know that?" Sheridan teased to lighten the mood.
Luis threw her a grin. "Oh, yeah? I bet you’d be dangerous at a formal party."
Sheridan shook her head rapidly. "Don’t even mention those things to me. It would be a disaster if I attended
one of them," she added with a laugh.
Luis chuckled at her. "See? So don’t tease me about my ice skating." They approached the edge of the
pond and sat down on the snow, untying their ice skates.
Once finished, they approached Luis’s limousine, and he offered to drive her home. She thanked him and accepted,
pointing out the directions to her house.
When they pulled up to the small home, Sheridan nervously looked at Luis and said, "So, I’ll see you again
Luis nodded. "Definitely. You can come visit me anytime."
Sheridan smiled. "The same goes for you."
There was only one Lopez-Fitzgerald mansion in Harmony. She knew exactly where he lived.
He leaned over and gave her a friendly hug. "See you."
"’Bye," she whispered, and cast him one last glance before departing the vehicle. Approaching her front
door, she turned and watched the limousine slowly drive away before sighing and turning to fit her house key into
She dropped her black purse carelessly to the couch and approached her telephone that sat on a table to the side
of the couch. The red light on her answering machine was blinking.
She pressed the "play" button and turned to remove her jacket while listening to the message.
"Sheridan, it’s your father. Your mother is in the hospital."
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face the answering machine, her heart pounding.
"She had a heart attack." His voice cracked. "Y-You can come in when you get this message. She needs
all of our support."
The message ended.
Feeling as though the world was spinning around her, Sheridan walked blindly to the couch and picked up her purse.
She didn’t have a car. She’d taken a taxi to the Book Café.
Uttering a panicked sob, she poured the contents of her purse onto the couch when she couldn’t find her wallet
and spread them out.
No sign of her wallet.
Turning quickly, she stumbled over to the phone and dialed the only number she could think of, and prayed that
he would be home by then.
The number to the Lopez-Fitzgerald mansion.