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Crashing Into Me R.L JACKSON

Copyright © 2017, R.L Jackson. All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by United States of America copyright law. Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, Characters, Places, and Incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. ASIN: B01NCRZAF9 ISBN 13: 978-1542665629 ISBN 10: 1542665620

For Ronald

Contents 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

"The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart." — Helen Keller


First and fore-most thanks be to God for allowing me to have the courage and strength to step out in faith and share my talent with those who wish to experience it. To my mother Paranell who has inspired me from as early as I can remember, I owe everything to you. To Alma, Sylvester, Emily, Tarven, Tredell, Kordell, Sabrina, Sharmaine, Caroline, Shanda, Ronald Jr., Collin, Reginald and Norlon this is for all of you who give me strength. To my patient husband Raymond who has supported me through all my many ventures, I love you and thank you. And to all the other amazing women in my life, Takesha, Kelli, Vicki, Elaine and others: You know who you are. You are dreamers, thinkers, entrepreneurs and believers. Thank you.

1 The bagel bite Lana Mckenzie just put in her mouth was like ambrosia from Greek mythology. She had just gotten off work and having not eaten all day, couldn’t pass up the crispy cheesy morsel being passed out by the sample lady in the store. Mentally, she added them to her grocery list and pushed her rattling shopping cart away, as she eyed the remaining samples; concerned she might devour the entire tray. Her legs felt like lead, and her feet were sore after having stood on them the previous fourteen hours at the hospital. Thankfully, she made the decision to change out of her sneakers and into flip flops in the parking lot, giving her tootsies some relief. Usually she’d make a beeline straight home and soak her feet to try and stave off any blisters before work the next day, but that wouldn’t be the case for her tonight. The four week vacation she’d been dreaming of started the next day and she couldn’t wait to “veg” out on the couch and do absolutely nothing. The thought gave her a small jolt of excited energy as she continued to push the cart towards the frozen food section, in search for her evening dinner. It wasn’t late yet, just after eight in the evening, but the store was packed with people and only three registers were opened at the moment. She yawned at the thought of waiting in the checkout line and wished she’d gone home instead; but there was nothing to eat in her apartment other than microwaveable popcorn and she was absolutely ravenous. Her pale blue scrubs were wrinkled, and her thin frame was engulfed in the oversized cotton mess. She looked more like she’d just rolled out of bed than spent the whole day saving lives as an E.R Nurse at Broward General. Lana’s black curly hair was piled in a messy bun, and any traces of makeup on her face was long gone. As she stopped in front of the ice cream freezer and eyeballed a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the glass door. She ran her hand through her hair in a sad attempt to fix it. No dice. This should be a crime, she thought, and decided it was time to make a quick exit. She reached in and grabbed the tub of Chunky Monkey ice cream, threw it in the cart, and pushed around the corner. Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks. Across the aisle, less than ten feet away from her, there he was. Her ex Samuel, and he was with her. It was Joanna, one of the hospital administrators where they all worked and a notorious gossip. Lana was convinced she had her eye on Sam the entire time they dated. Lots of the female staff had a thing for him and that was the price she paid, for dating in the workplace. She watched them as they laughed and held hands, picking through fruit in the produce section as if their lives depended on it. It didn’t help that Joanna looked like a model either—tall and super slim with her perfect nose and botoxed lips, wearing this seasons Manolo’s and a clingy Chanel dress. She had long red hair that reached her waist line and couldn't weigh more than a hundred and five pounds wet. Sammy, as Lana used to call him, was as handsome as she remembered, but it was only a year ago when he abandoned her at the altar. Hard to forget a face like that.

They had met at a Christmas party the hospital was throwing a few years prior and hit it off right away, locking eyes at the eggnog bowl. They both reached for the ladle at the same time, and she was smitten with him almost instantly. He was six foot one, slim, chocolate skinned and had the brightest whitest smile she’d ever seen in real life. Lana never stood a chance, as she always fell in love way too fast according to her mother. He had the type of charm that could make any woman with a heartbeat stop and take notice. After exchanging number’s that night, they dated for three years when he popped the question at the annual Christmas party. Sammy had a way of making grand gestures, and after recruiting several of their co-workers to help him sing “their song,” he dropped to his knee holding a diamond ring box and changed her life forever. Six months later on the day of the wedding, he was running late, the church was packed, and no one could reach him on his cell. Only after one of the guests read a Facebook message he posted, did anyone realize he wasn’t coming. Facebook! Later on she learned the message stated a simple, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” Most of the guests in the church were family and co-workers, so it only took one person to see the post before it spread like a California wildfire. The memory of standing in that dressing room, ready to spend her life with him and then having the wind knocked from her body, was still like yesterday for her. Lana’s heart fell from her chest and shattered into a million shards that day, and she had been trying to pick up the pieces ever since. She never got an explanation as to why he did what he did, but she had a feeling Joanna had something to contribute to that. After the fiasco, she spent a great deal of time avoiding him as much as possible. She switched departments, specialties, and recently decided it may be time to switch hospital systems in general, as she never shook the gossip and drama that still lingered in the halls. Re-living those memories brought tears to her eyes. Lana was still standing in the middle of the store aisle, as the two of them melted into a watery blob. She turned away quickly before either of them saw her and wiped her face with the back of her hand. She was angry at herself that he still had that effect on her. She wasn’t in love with him anymore, but the wounds of what had happened still hadn’t healed. I will not let him see me cry, she thought, and straightened her posture. I’ll be fine. I can walk up to them and say hello. No biggie. Then it hit her. I look like road kill! Quickly, she turned away from them and pushed her noisy cart, headed toward the front of the store to make her great escape. She got to the middle of the aisle, when suddenly her left leg was extended in front of her and before she knew what was happening, slid in something wet in her flip flops, and landed onto the floor. She was staring up at the ceiling now as the pain in her back sent shockwaves up her spine, causing her to cry out. Her cart careened ahead of her and crashed into a flower display, sending vases and flowers airborne, creating even more commotion. The pain in her back was no contest to the mortification she was feeling as she lay on the ice cold tile looking like a wrinkled pile of laundry.

Lana started to peel herself up off the floor when the familiar cologne Sammy wore was surrounding her—and then there he was, bending over, his face inches from hers, his outstretched hand reaching for her. “Lana?” Sam asked, his eyebrows arched in surprise, “Are you OK?” He still wore the linked gold chain necklace she bought him for Christmas a few years ago, as it now dangled over her face. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and then all the air was gone from her lungs. The room seemed to be spinning and for a moment she thought she might pass out. That would certainly be easier to deal with than having your ex see you on your ass, she thought in the moment. Still having not answered him, she ignored his hand and pushed herself up slowly as other shoppers ran up to her and stared. Before she knew it, a group of people were crowded around her, some whispering, some looking concerned. A store clerk, wearing a lime green vest with a Sure-Mart logo embossed across the front, ran to her side, his face twisted in a panic. He reached down and helped her the rest of the way up. “Miss, are you OK?” he exclaimed. “Yes,” she managed to squeeze out. It was a lie and all she could think of was rewinding the last five minutes of her life. Her big red rimmed eyes wanted to regurgitate tears but she swallowed the urge. All she wanted was to get out of there as fast as possible, but she felt like a trapped animal. It seemed as if everyone in the store had come over to see what happened. She could barely remove the grip the store clerk had on her arm as she tried to walk away, when Sam took a step towards her, his face laden with pity. “Lana,” he repeated. She glanced up at him, unsure of what her response should be and decided a simple, “I’m fine” would suffice. Before she could speak the thought, the clicks of high heels grew louder and louder through the murmur of the crowd. As Joanna stepped from behind him and linked her arm into his, Lana couldn’t help but see the huge diamond ring on her finger. Sam opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted as her cellphone rang. She instinctively reached into her scrub pocket and pulled it out—Saved by the tone. Glancing at the screen her best friend’s name “Paula” pulsated across the long rectangular device. She began to limp away now, using the call as a get out of jail free card. The crowd parted like the Red Sea as she made her way toward the exit as fast as she could. Slowly everyone began to disperse, taking their cue from her, as several store clerks began to clean up the mess created. Lana eyed the melting Chunky Monkey ice cream on the floor, now mixed with flower petals as she passed by. She wanted to get the managers contact information but wouldn’t dare to turn back. That’s something I’ll have to deal with another day. As she limped forward, she wondered what Sam had opened his mouth to say, before her phone interrupted him. What could he say really? “Sorry you made a fool of yourself?” “Sorry I keep witnessing your humiliation?” At least he wasn’t entirely the cause of it this time.

The hospital staff would have a field day with this once Joanna spilled her guts. How am I going to enjoy my vacation once those texts and calls started pouring in? Lana continued to fight the urge to cry as she wove in and out of aisles and headed for the front door. Her back was on fire, so her swift departure was more of a slow hobble and hop combination, then finally she pressed “answer” on the phone. “Let me call you when I get home,” she choked out, afraid she might burst into tears if she had to tell Paula what had just happened. Lana didn’t wait for a response before pressing “end”, as she finally made it through the automatic doors. As the warm evening breeze hit her, it felt like a welcome hug her mom always gave when she visited home and couldn’t help the river of tears that were lying in wait a few minutes prior. She cried all the way to her truck, no longer caring who saw her. *** Lana was jolted out of her sleep by the sound of her ringing phone. She reached over to her bedside table in the pitch black room as turning on a light was out of the question. Her back was still hurting despite the medication she took earlier, so whoever was calling had better have an emergency. Her hand felt around on the bedside table first hitting the alarm clock, then her tablet, before feeling the familiar cube of her smartphone. Easing her eyes open, she saw “Paula” was flashing across the screen and she hit “answer.” She sighed. “Hello,” she grumbled, wishing almost instantly she had just ignored the call. Lana slowly laid back down and let the phone rest on her ear. She’d forgotten to return Paula’s call once she got home and went straight to sleep. She wasn’t exactly in a rush to share what had happened at the store anyway and wanted the nightmarish day to end. Before she could decide whether or not to spill her guts, Paula was talking a mile-a-minute about the new adventures she and her husband Garret had been on that month. They’d been married for six years, but were jet-setting like it was still their honeymoon. One month they’d be in Bali and the next Morocco. Paula never did know how to stay still. She was the same as she was back in college, always in search of adventure. Her family was wealthy, and her husband was a Hollywood producer, so she didn’t have to work—some people had all the luck; but even with all she had, she was the most generous, down-to-earth person Lana had ever met. Never once had she ever caught Paula mistreating anyone or looking down her nose at them. She could barely keep up with Paula’s diatribe until she heard what sounded like music to her ears. Her best friend wanted her to house sit while she and Garret extended their vacation due to a family emergency. Lana didn’t acknowledge Paula’s made up lie she, as everyone was aware that it had been a year since the wedding fiasco. This was Paula’s attempt to distract her from the awful anniversary and one of the reasons why she loved her friend so much. No matter where she was, or what she was doing, Paula always thought about others. She had a beautiful house in a small quaint town, and Lana had spent

time there on many occasions housesitting. This could be the answer she needed to clear her mind. Lana sat up in bed, the throbbing in her back a distant memory now. “I’d love to!” she exclaimed. For the first time in a long time, Lana smiled. This was what she needed in her life for the time being, and couldn’t wait to get up to that slice of heaven in the middle of nowhere and forget the last year of her life. *** As her SUV moved up the turnpike, the swaying of the stethoscope hanging from the rear view mirror occasionally distracted her—especially since the factory radio in the truck was beyond repair. Keeping her hands at ten and two, there was only the blur of trees whizzing by the windows to keep her company. Lana reached down to the cup–holder for her bottle and took a sip of her diet peach iced tea. The lightly sweetened elixir was crisp and smooth on her tongue and throat. She rested the bottle down again and glanced at her watch. Seven more hours on the road to go, and not a rain cloud in sight to slow her down. The sun was high in the sky at eleven in the morning and there wasn’t any traffic. Glancing up at the rearview, there were no cars or fourteen wheelers behind her either which was odd—but she was grateful. Too many cars always gave her anxiety driving at high speeds. The less vehicles, the less risk of dying in a fiery car pile–up and the better for her nerves. Paula had offered to fly her up instead of driving, but Lana refused—she liked road trips even if they were alone. Paula’s house was located in the small town of Hamby Georgia, tucked away in a valley and surrounded by nature. To Lana, it was a magical place where no one was rude, nosy, or constantly in a hurry like most big cities. People actually smiled at you and said “good morning” and “y’all” and men held doors open for you. The townspeople were very laid back and friendly. Important ingredients she needed at the moment. Hamby itself was picturesque, with its mountain top skies, country roads, and historical buildings around every corner. The temperature was also something that she loved as it was seldom warmer than sixty-five degrees in February. Lana was born in The Bahamas and grew up in Fort Lauderdale Florida, so the heat had been a constant in her life and something she had looked forward to changing in the near future. The best part of Hamby other than the scenery and people, was the two story house on the hill surrounded by forest; it was like some exclusive members only resort with only one guest, her. A gust of wind snapped her out of thought—it was really getting cold now. Looking down at the broken heater, she wished she had gotten it fixed before leaving town. She was almost to the Georgia line and could tell not only from the temperature drop, but because the trees were getting taller and more beautiful. Back home the majority of trees were palms and while beautiful as well, she longed to see foliage that changed with the seasons. There’s barely a winter season in the southern part of Florida; you were lucky to get three or four days of “cold” weather, which consisted of degrees in the upper sixties.

Although she was wearing blue jeans, black boots and a thick black sweater, her thin frame was beginning to get frigid, so she hit the window up button on the door panel to preserve what heat she could. As she continued down the road, her mind wondered onto Sam and the ordeal from the night before. The pain in her back was nearly gone, but the embarrassment was still fresh. She was reminded of it a few hours ago when some of her co-workers texted her things like: Are you OK, OMG, and Call me! She didn’t respond to any one of them. Instead, she focused on packing her warmest clothes and finally getting the chance to wear a pair of boots she bought few months ago. What people didn’t seem to understand was that she was over him, not necessarily what he had done. The fear of being broken in that way by another man was what kept her at bay when it came to dating, so she kept to herself. Shaking the thoughts from her head, Lana focused her eyes on the road and pressed on the accelerator a little harder. Flicking her eyes to the rearview mirror, she noticed a black sports car was approaching from behind at an alarming speed. It was the first car on the road with her for hours and it was flying like a bat out of hell. Lana held her breath in anticipation of a collision, and wondered if she should merge into the next lane. She shook the thought away, knowing the car would eventually go around her—why wouldn’t it? Stop being a freak. She furrowed her eyebrows and concentrated on the road ahead, and waited to see the car zip past her at any moment. There was loud music blaring from behind her truck so she knew the car was closing in. Tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, she contemplated what to do next. Do I merge or…. But the person in the car was laying on the horn now, making her nerves unravel. “Why don't they just go around?” she asked out loud, as the car tail gated her. There are no other cars on the road besides us, so what’s this person’s problem? Lana pushed on the gas pedal a little harder to put some distance between them and turned her left blinker on. Once she could see the cars headlights again in the rearview, she returned her eyes back to the road. “Jerk,” she stated and started to merge into the left lane, when suddenly the car, a black Tesla, sped around her at a tight right curve in the road, way too close. Her heart pounded in her chest, as the car lurched inches next to her. Bracing herself, she squeezed her eyes closed and nudged the steering wheel to the right, hoping to avoid the collision. As she slammed the brakes, her truck fishtailed off the road and smashed into the guardrail. She opened her eyes and saw the sparks her truck and the metal rail made from the impact in her passenger side view mirror. Finally, it screeched to a halt. She panted uncontrollably as she gripped onto the steering wheel for dear life. The Tesla slowed down and pulled over in front of her, the person cutting the engine. Then the driver, a man, jumped out of the car. With her heart pounding out of her chest, she struggled to catch her breath as her body shook from

the fright of the last few seconds. Her legs felt like jelly and her knees were knocking against each other. She released the steering wheel, laid her head against the headrest, and started taking slow deep breaths. She caught a glance of her reflection in the rearview mirror. Her caramel colored skin had lost some color and there was a sheen of sweat on her forehead. She wiped her face with the cuff of her sweater, and the smell of the cherry scented car freshener helped to calm her. Lana closed her eyes to focus on slowing her heart rate. Deep breath through the nose, slowly out the mouth. The knock on her driver side window startled her and she jumped up when she saw the well-dressed man there, running his hands into his hair. He took a step back from the door and she slowly pushed it open and climbed out. As she stepped out into the cold air it was like having a plastic bag removed from her head. “Are you OK?” he asked, as he stepped towards her. Lana took a step back instinctively and glared up at him. He was towering over her; he had to be six three or four against her five six stature. His dark hair fell into his face and the sunglasses he wore hid his eyes. People who wore sunglasses made her uncomfortable—for one, she could never tell where their eyes were looking and two she couldn’t tell what they looked like. “I’m fine. My truck however is not,” she barked angrily. “Are you completely insane? Why are you driving like an idiot?” Lana stomped past him towards the side of her vehicle to inspect the carnage. Standing against the guardrail she placed her hand on it, leaned over and looked down the side of her truck. From what she could see, there was a long series of dents and deep scratches from the rear passenger side door all the way up to the front passenger side. The fact that the side-view mirror was still holding on was a miracle. “Great,” she stated sarcastically, and stomped back over to square off with the stranger. He had taken his shades off now and they revealed eyes so pale blue and piercing she forgot her initial thought to slap him. She could see his full face now and it was something to behold. High cheekbones, a strong chin, with a delicate but manly nose. He also had a five o’ clock shadow that made him look rugged and tough. Lana could tell he had a muscular build under the expensive leather jacket he wore and she was speechless for a moment. Wow; she thought to herself as she looked up at his distracting face. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention back there. Here, take my card,” he replied as he reached into his Armani pants and produced a leather wallet. He opened it, pulled out a business card, and handed it to her. As she reached for the card, her hand grazed his, sending a small bolt of electricity through her. What the hell was that? The wind started to pick up and he smelled of a heavenly men’s cologne which didn’t help her sudden lack of composure. “Give me a call and I’ll pay for all the damages.” She looked down at the card and back up to his concerned face. At least he seems apologetic, but it doesn’t excuse his behavior. She looked at the card—and the name Kayden Capshaw printed in embossed ink in fancy lettering jumped out. She looked at him and tried not to focus on the eyes again. She

needed to stay focused and his were like kryptonite. “Why not give me your insurance information? Wouldn’t that be easier?” she asked. She almost wished he would put the sunglasses back on, as she felt silly having a conversation while trying not to look someone in the face. Instead of calling the police like she should, Lana found herself growing nervous and intimidated while he just stood there and looked at her. Usually, she would have ripped him a new one at this point but, she was entranced by him. He may have been the most handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on. He certainly made Sam look like a gargoyle. “If you don’t believe me, just follow me to the next exit, and we can find a garage,” Kayden pleaded. She thought about it for a moment and it was a decent offer, but it would add way too much time to her trip. “I’ll agree if you can get me a rental so I can finish my drive. I have a long way to go and I can’t wait around for it to be fixed.” “Sure, that sounds great. Shall we then?” Instinctively, she looked into his eyes, saw his sincerity, and nodded her head in submission. A huge white smile spread across his face and it almost took her breath away. He was more than attractive, he had to be an actor or something—regular men did not look like that. Immediately, she felt embarrassed realizing she’d been staring instead of talking and quickly collected herself. “Fine,” she replied quickly, “you really need to chill with the fast and furious road antics. You could kill someone.” “Yes ma’am,” he replied, his face serious. Other than the words between them, it was almost completely silent on the road. The sky was a deep cobalt blue with thick white clouds squeezing by one another. With the tall looming trees lining the road, it could have been an oil painting they were standing in, it looked so perfect. Everything was instantly too quiet and intimate, and very intense as they stood there sizing the other one up. Lana turned away slowly and reached for the trucks door. “I didn’t get your name,” Kayden continued, taking a step towards her, and Lana held her breath. Doesn’t this guy believe in personal space? She felt her stomach tighten being less than a couple feet away from him now, his smell assaulting her senses. “Lana,” she replied quickly, and pulled the door open. She climbed into the SUV, slammed the door shut and hit the door lock. He chuckled at her and walked back to his car while she tried to catch her breath, for very different reasons this time. Lana watched him walk away, his stride containing a sense of pride and sophistication. He had to be someone important. She held her breath again, when he glanced back at her over his shoulder and smiled. *** As he turned away from her SUV, Kayden couldn’t help the smile that sprang on his face. She was beautiful and kind of shy, but he liked her stubbornness and the way she handled him. He wasn’t used to

women speaking to him that way and he really liked it. He opened the door to his car and turned back to her, and smiled again. She was gorgeous, and he couldn’t help but steal a glimpse of her bending over the guardrail to check out her truck a few minutes earlier. The jeans she wore fit every curve in all the right places. He would definitely look forward to her call later, he thought as he jumped in the car and took off down the highway. *** Lana sat in the truck and watched as the Tesla sped away. He was driving way too fast for someone she was supposed to be following. She started the truck, pulled onto the roadway and hit the gas. He was running! She should’ve known better and called the police—it served her right. It didn’t take a genius to see that she reacted to him like a grade school crush and when he caught on, he played her like a fiddle. Lana slammed her hands down on the steering wheel as she accelerated towards the car from hell. As hard as she pressed the pedal, the aging Ford couldn’t catch up to the Tesla. As her truck went up a steep hill in the road and came back down, the Tesla was nowhere in sight. “Damn it!” she yelled, and took her foot off the gas, letting the vehicle slow down to speeds it was more accustomed. She glanced down at the business card in the middle console and rolled her eyes. Kayden Capshaw had probably spent his entire life getting out of things like this because of his looks and she was just his newest victim. Taking another deep breath, the cherry scented car freshener slammed into her nostrils and made her feel nauseous. She grabbed it off the rearview mirror, rolled the window down and threw it out. She knew she’d have to find a way to track him down and make him pay for her truck, but that was tomorrow’s problem. She just wanted to get off the road and make it the rest of the way to Hamby, safe and sound. As pissed as she was with him, she couldn’t get his gaze and those eyes out of her mind. She wiped the thought away and for the first time in a long time, she wished her car radio actually worked.

2 As she pulled into the small town of Hamby Georgia, there was an immediate release of any stress Lana had a few hours before she crossed the county line. The tranquility of the mountains was a welcome reprise from the highway of trees and asphalt. As the sun began to set in town, the sky was ablaze in warm pinks, purples and orange tones. Mom and pop shops lined the main streets, and up ahead there was a quaint little park where a small family was having a picnic in the middle of it all. The one and only public library was situated to the left as she got closer to the town center, and Lana could already smell the aroma of library book pages she planned to read. It made her giddy inside and she couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. To the right as she drove onward, there was a series of small boutique shops and a grocery store further down the adjacent street. Visitors wouldn’t find mainstream chain stores or restaurants in this little haven. Hamby resembled a town from the early fifties; frozen in time and untouched by the haste of modern life. Most buildings were old brick constructions, but looked like they could have been built a year ago—all incredibly maintained through the years. Architecture isn’t done like that anymore, she remembered thinking when she first visited. It was like stepping into a time capsule. Back home, whole sky-rises were built in a few months’ time, and they always felt rushed and cold. She could feel a physical release of any remnants of anxiety as she drove further. Lana turned on the roundabout in the middle of the square and once inside the heart of the town, there were no highways, no hustle and bustle, no blaring car horns—just people walking and holding hands, or riding bicycles— peace. After spending sixteen hours on the road she longed to be still for the remainder of her stay. She made a right at the stop sign and across from it was Mason's, a mechanic shop she visited once before. The building was one story, white brick with tall red lettering and even though an auto garage, it looked warm and inviting like everything else. As she continued, the local barbershop window was aglow with its twirling blue and red sign on the corner. From the outside looking in, men were being shaved, and getting their hair cut while a few read newspapers, waiting for their turn. A cliché in any town, but slow, easy and the normal in Hamby. Observing the utopia before her, she realized how close she almost came to never seeing it again and felt herself getting angry. Lana took another deep, soothing breath and allowed the elixir of this sleepy little town to wash it all away. Further down the cobblestone street, was “Aunt Mae’s Diner.” A quaint little eatery with the best food she’d ever eaten next to her mom’s cooking. Lana had already planned to order one of the delicious chicken pot pies and take it up to the house.

She could already taste the fresh flakey crust, carrots, gravy and juicy chunks of organic chicken. No preservatives, no fillers, just real food the way God intended it to be. She pulled into the diner’s parking lot and turned off the ignition. As she reached for her purse on the passenger seat, her hand touched nothing. She looked down on the floor and found the purse and its contents spilled out of it. Lana rolled her eyes as she reached down and tossed everything back in the small black leather handbag, and hopped out of the truck. The chill in the air stopped her mid-step. The temperature must have dropped by thirty! She slammed the truck door closed, and rubbed her hands together as she made haste toward the entrance. Pushing open the stained glass double doors, the smell was exactly as she’d anticipated. Aromas of fresh baked bread, collard greens, ribs, and an assortment of other savory smells filled the air and it was really warm inside. Stepping inside the foyer, the chill of the cold was almost immediately gone. It was due to the toasty fireplace blazing along the side of the wall to her right. Then a waitress, an older woman in a white button up shirt, bright pink shorts and black apron smiled at her. She had to have been in her late fifties, as the wrinkles on her face were very apparent. Her hair was pulled into a pony tail way too tight that made her eyes lift at the corners. Her lipstick was long gone, and only the remnants of the liner she used earlier was visible, breaking off into the cracks of her wrinkled lips. “Well hello and welcome to Aunt Mae's,” she chimed, with her southern drawl, “Will you be dining in tonight honey?” Lana loved their accents—it always tickled her when they spoke. “No, I’ll be ordering to go tonight please,” she replied. “Well alright then, if you'd like, have a seat at the counter, and I’ll be right with you to take your order, okay,” her arm extended to the bar stools up against the counter in front of the kitchen. “Okay thanks,” Lana replied, and in a Nano-second the waitress was gone to help other customers. The diner was like any you would see on TV. Juke box in the corner, album memorabilia hung on the walls, and even a few autographed celebrity pictures. The plush booths were green and white, with wooden table tops and the walls had wood paneling on the bottom with floral cream colored wallpaper on the top. The windows were large providing a beautiful view of the outside town. The first time she visited, there was a McDonald’s being erected right across from the diner. Most restaurant owners in big cities may have been worried, but not Aunt Mae. When the local TV news interviewed her at the diner and asked how she felt about it, she smiled and replied, “It won’t last a month,” tossing her dish towel over her shoulder and bustling back into the kitchen. Aunt Mae was the cutest thing Lana had ever seen. She was about five foot one, African American in her early sixties but she didn’t have a wrinkle on her face. She had an exuberant personality and always wore a huge smile on her face. Mae wasn’t overweight nor skinny, however her bosom and posterior made her look larger than she was. As predicted, by the time summer came to an end, the McDonalds was

shut down and converted into a general store. Lana could see Aunt Mae through the window in the kitchen door, bossing around the cook staff. She ran a tight ship and it showed in every meal. On the counter in front of her, there was an array of cake stands with dark chocolate, red velvet and a strawberry frosted cake. Her mouth watered instantly being so close to them as hungry as she was. Next to those were other stands with every pie you could imagine. Lana was already deciding which ones she wanted to try, but before she could form another thought, the waitress was back with her pad in hand. The name “Rachel” was scrawled on the hot pink badge and Lana made a mental note to remember it. She felt it was only polite to use the names of the people serving you. “What'll you have this evenin' sugar?” Rachel asked. “Hi Rachel, I’d like the chicken pot pie and a slice of pumpkin pie please.” “Good choices. I’ll be right back with your order in two shakes of a lambs tail,” she replied tapping Lana on the shoulder with the pad and a grin on her face. It wasn’t forced or phony like you sometimes get in the city because the waitress wanted a good tip. You could tell she loved her job, and was probably a happy person in general. Rachel marched over to the kitchen window and placed her ticket on the order wheel. Watching the people in the restaurant and seeing the smiles and laughter, she could feel the love of this community. Hamby always brought out this feeling in her when she arrived. It was like she was coming home, like nothing in her regular life could touch her there. Then, the windows started to vibrate as loud music was blasted from the street, something that was very un-Hamby-like and caused everyone in the restaurant to pause and look to the window. That black Tesla! She recognized it immediately. It swerved through the roundabout too fast, taking out a park bench and was speeding towards the diner. As it got closer, the high beams casted the colors of the stained glass door, spewing beams of green, red and yellow lights through the diner blinding her. When she adjusted her eyes, the lights grew more intense and it didn’t look like it was going to stop! Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion now as she saw what was unfolding in front of her. Rachel, carrying her take-out order looked toward the lights and shielded her eyes while she stood in front of the entrance door. Before she could react, her face was painted in horror as she realized what was going to happen next and it was already too late. All the color drained from her thin face as the car crashed through the double doors, into the podium and then into Rachel—the bag in her hand flying one way, as she disappeared under a sea of shattered glass and wood, the car stopping before it ran her over completely. The chaos was unfolding in front of Lana and she was frozen still like one of the animals in the La Brea Tar Pits, her eyes not believing what was happening. She usually treated victims after something like this, but never witnessed anything like it first-hand. She finally collected herself, and jumped off the bar stool and ran towards Rachel. Please don’t be

dead. Please don’t be dead. The podium that was in front of the door was on top of Rachel and she pulled it off. It was made of real wood, so it was harder than it looked and she had to use some serious upper body strength to get it to budge. People in the diner were screaming and running as far away from the car as they possibly could. Some were in obvious shock as they were transfixed on the wreckage and were unmoved. Children were crying and clutching their parents, while others attempted to go around the car and leave the building. It was madness! “Are you OK Rachel?” Lana asked. Aunt Mae flew out of the kitchen, the door slamming the wall so loud it sounded like a shot gun going off. “What in the blazes of hell is going on?” she yelled, then stopped as she saw Lana bending over Rachel. The car was in between where her front door used to be and the dining room. “Turn off the gas!” she screamed, running back into the kitchen, waving her oven mitt in the air. Although most of the damage was in the front of the building and unlikely a gas leak would happen, it was better to be safe than sorry. Sturdy architecture. Lana couldn’t help but think how much worse this might have been if the building was in disrepair. She studied Rachel to assess her injuries and there was a gaping gash on her forehead, the crimson of her blood oozing down her face. She was trying to sit up but Lana dropped to her knees and held her down to stop her. “No, don't move. We don't know what other injuries you could have and you may make it worse,” she said in a huff and lowered her back to the floor. “I'm OK, my leg just hurts like hell,” Rachel managed to get out. Lana looked down at her lower body. It was covered in a large piece of wood from the entrance door. She crawled over to it and carefully and slowly removed the wood. Only then did she see part of Rachel’s femur bone protruding out of her thigh. This is really bad. If she doesn’t get to a hospital fast she could lose her leg or bleed out and die right here. Lana, now in full nurse mode searched the room with her eyes and spotted a man standing and watching them, the color gone from his face. She pointed to him. “You, call nine-one-one, now!” she barked. He was startled by her tone, but snapped out of his fixation and fumbled with his cell phone. “No! Use the land-line it'll be faster,” she continued. He nodded his head in submission, and ran behind the counter. He slipped on something but caught himself before he hit the ground. Probably my pot pie dinner. He steadied himself on the edge of the counter and grabbed the rotary phone on the wall. Lana reached for a broken chair leg and took off her sweater. She stood and walked back to the counter, leaned over, and grabbed a knife. She started ripping the sweater into strips. The man she sent to call the police, touched her arm and she spun around, the knife

inches from his chest. “They’re on the way,” he said, looking down at Rachel’s leg. He was starting to look green now. “Thanks,” Lana replied, “go outside and get some air OK?” The last thing she needed was for him to pass out and hurt himself. She didn't need two people she had to provide help for. People started leaving the diner through a back exit, herded by Aunt Mae and some of the kitchen staff. She returned her attention to Rachel and tried to figure out how she would address the leg, and glared up at the car. Kayden must be hurt because he hasn’t moved. She kneeled down again and started using the pieces of her sweater and the broken chair to place Rachel’s leg in a splint. The bleeding wasn’t too bad which was good. It meant any major arteries weren’t punctured, but she needed to get Rachel to the nearest hospital right away. “Now Rachel, I need you to stay as calm and still as you can for me okay,” Lana said to her. Rachel nodded her head in compliance as Lana slowly started to move her leg. She screamed but Lana knew she had to keep moving. It didn’t make sense to stop only to have to restart again. “Almost done,” she said and tied the pieces of the wood as tight as she could get it to Rachel’s battered leg. She let out another scream but it was weaker than the last. She would probably pass out from the pain. Lana moved to her head and smoothed her hair back to provide her with some comfort. “It’ll be OK now. The worst of it is over,” she whispered to her. Rachel grabbed her hand, and squeezed it tight. Lana didn’t notice when the car door opened, so when she looked up and saw Kayden, it startled her. Gone was the cocky reserved jerk she met on the road hours earlier. He looked scared. He should be. His face was gripped in pain, as he looked down and saw the small broken woman lying on the floor. His now panicked, watery eyes found Lana’s. “Is she dead?” he asked, his face devoid of color. He looked almost supernatural with his eyes being as light as they were. What were they blue? Green? She pushed the distraction away from her mind. He was a reckless ass, who obviously didn’t think before he made idiotic decisions. He was probably used to just throwing money at his screw ups to make them go away. It’s what he did on the highway with her. His Armani shirt probably cost more than the salaries of everyone in the restaurant. What made people like him think they could tear through this world and treat people anyway they wanted? She rose from the floor slowly, placing Rachel’s head down on the ground softly. The rage in her built up so fast she began to shake as she stood toe-to-toe with him now. “No, she's not!” she yelled him, her fists balled in anger. A look of relief flashed across his face as his gaze narrowed on Rachel, her chest rising and falling slowly. Loud sirens were approaching and red and blue lights started to flash into the darkened diner, getting more intense as they get closer. A few local police cars sped up to the curb followed by an

ambulance. Lana shivered feeling the cold draft and remembered she was in nothing but her bra. She started to cover herself with her hands but it didn’t do much to hide her ample bust. Kayden pulled off his leather jacket and handed it to her. She snatched it from him and put it on, knowing it was rude of her, but rude was what he deserved. “You’re welcome,” he said, as he ran his hand into his tousled hair. His eyes were fixated on her chest and she flashed him a look that could kill if possible. Seriously? She wrapped the large jacket around her making him shift his eyes back on her face where it belonged. His mouth turned up in the corner a faint smile, and it took every ounce of will power in her body not to slap it clean off his face. “Are you OK?” he asked quietly. “Please don’t pretend you care about anyone other than yourself,” she snapped coldly. “Hey! We need to move this car out of the way now!” They both turned to face the voice and it was an EMT. Kayden jumped into the car and Lana returned to Rachel. She kneeled beside her as Kayden started the car and backed it slowly out of the doorway. Part of one of the shattered stained glass doors slid off the roof of the car as he reversed, and it hit the floor with a thud. When the doorway was clear, Kayden got out and walked back into the diner with the EMT’s. Lana stood and moved out of the way as they got to work placing Rachel on the stretcher. A police officer, a tall lanky man with a ridiculous mustache turned his attention to Kayden. He was much calmer than he was a few moments ago, but his attention was on Lana. “Are you the driver of this vehicle sir?” he boomed, his voice way deeper and more foreboding that his small stature would presume. He was already removing his handcuffs, and that made Lana smile. Good, she thought, take him away. “Yes,” Kayden replied, never removing his eyes from her. She was starting to feel as naked as she had before putting his jacket on. “Sir, I need you to step outside please.” Kayden finally broke his stare and was led out of the diner as the officer started reading him his rights. The EMT’s finally finished with Rachel and lifted the stretcher. She reached her hand over to Lana’s again, and gave it another squeeze. They started wheeling her away when Lana felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to find Aunt Mae standing there. “Thank you,” she said, and handed her a takeout bag. Lana took it and could smell the contents right away—the chicken pot pie. She reached into her jeans pocket to pay for the meal but Aunt Mae placed her hand on her forearm, stopping her. “Don't you dare,” she said with her radiant smile, the lights in the room making them flash red and blue. Before Lana could say anything, Aunt Mae rushed back into the kitchen. She grabbed her purse off the floor and walked out of the restaurant, her shoes crushing shards of stained glass and splintered wood.

Once outside she saw the tire’s skid marks leading from the street, into the entrance under her feet. Lana glared at Kayden as the police officer finally placed him in the back of the squad car. Idiot, she thought to herself, he’s lucky he didn’t kill anybody. A strong wind blew and she put her free hand into the jacket pocket, and her hand hit something cold and hard. She pulled it out and it was a metal flask. It was stamped: KAYDEN CAPSHAW. Anger spread through her again and she was ready to explode like fireworks. She looked up at him and he dared to be smiling at her again—that crooked, gorgeous, self- indulgent grin, as the squad car pulled away. He didn’t hand over his jacket just to be a nice guy, he was trying to get rid of his evidence! She was already stomping to her truck to follow the cop when another police officer approached her blocking her path. The flask won’t matter either way, Mr. Capshaw. It won’t stop a breathalyzer test. She took the flask out of the jacket pocket, and handed it to the officer.

3 After giving her statement to the police, it was after ten o'clock when Lana finally left the station. The temperature must have dropped to single digits because she could see her breath in huge white puffs, inside the truck. It had been way too long of a day and as she passed the diner on her way up the hill, she was still shocked by what had happened. The Tesla was long gone now, pulled away by Mason’s tow truck, and the diner would be closed for the time being until repairs could be made. As for the welldressed idiot who caused all the terror of her day? She hoped never to lay eyes on him again. Except maybe at his bail hearing to tell the judge about her earlier encounter with him on the highway. All Lana wanted to do now was shower and climb into the big California king bed waiting on her at the house, and forget the last few hours. In the morning she would go and visit Rachel at Shelby General. It was about ten miles away, and was the closest hospital that could handle a serious trauma like hers. Hamby only had a dentist’s office, and an urgent care clinic in town and they could do little for someone in a true emergency like Rachel’s. She yawned, completely drained from the day’s adventures and steered the truck up the hill on Main towards Deleveaux Circle. The sky was so dark you could see every star in the sky. Back home, there was so much light pollution in the city, it always looked like dusk. The moon was big and bright and it made shadows that jumped out of every tree. Lana made a right turn up on Deleveaux, the headlights chasing away the shadows, and drove away from the town square, towards the warm inviting house on the hill. *** Kayden Capshaw sat across from Captain Jackson at the police station sipping coffee with his cuffed hands. Jackson hunched over his desk and studied him intently, as if trying to solve a hard puzzle. Captain Heathcliff Jackson was a Hamby native and took his job seriously—the diner incident had been the most action the department had in a while, so he relished the opportunity for real police work. He was in his late fifties, balding, but still handsome for his age and profession. The lack of actual crime in Hamby didn’t make for much stress induced aging like some big cities. Kayden took another sip of his coffee and waited for the barrage of questions to begin. “You know I’m going to have to call her right?” Jackson finally asked. Kayden nodded his head in agreement. The "her" he was referring to was his mother, and she was not someone he wanted to piss off. This latest run in with the law was sure to do just that naturally. Kayden ventured to Hamby to visit family, and was already unsure of the reception he would receive. Now he was certain no one would want to see him. He’d made a lot of bad choices over the last couple years and

it seemed no matter what he did, he kept screwing it up royally. “Do what you have to,” Kayden replied, setting the mug down. “You know you have to make some serious changes son.” “I’m working on it Captain. I’m still not even sure how it happened—I looked down at my phone and the next thing I knew, I was in the diner.” “You’re sure all you did was get distracted, because I have a flask and business card given to us by the good Samaritan that says otherwise. That could shed some additional light.” Jackson was getting angry. She gave me up, he thought, a slight grin on his mouth. Lana obviously didn’t know his family name or that they practically built Hamby from the ground up. He also figured she wasn’t the type to give a damn either and that made him smile even more. “You think any of this is funny, jackass?” Jackson yelled. The tall arresting officer with the mustache walked by, his leather boots creaking down the hall with each step. He looked over at Kayden and snorted in derision. Kayden knew most of the people in town didn’t like him and it was his own fault. People thought he was a spoiled rotten kid with far too much money and not enough discipline. And they were right to an extent. Back then he didn’t care what people thought of him, but he did now and wanted desperately to change that perception. Almost killing a beloved waitress and shutting down the only restaurant in town wouldn’t help much in his efforts. He would have a lot of making up and ass kissing to do because of it. “Captain, I’m going to see to it that Aunt Mae’s is repaired and that the waitress—” “Rachel,” Jackson interrupted. “Rachel is taken care of. This will never happen again. I give you my word.” Kayden locked eyes with him. He meant what he was saying, and he was sick of being a massive disappointment to his family. He wanted to make it right. “I hope so kid, or the way you’re heading, your word won’t mean much from prison. I have to call the Chief, excuse me.” Jackson stood up from the desk and walked away shaking his head. Kayden knew the next call he would be making was to his mother as soon as he got the chance. As Jackson stomped away, Kayden remembered the way his dad would tease his mom about Jackson, and how he had been in love with her since high school. He’d caught the Captain ogling his mother on many occasions so it wasn’t hard to believe or notice. It kind of reminded him of the way Lana looked at him earlier that day on the road and he hoped to run into her again—preferably not in a car. *** As she pulled up to the large house Lana got a little nervous realizing she’d never arrived at night before. She’d never done anything in Hamby after dark as a matter of fact. A girl had to be careful

nowadays, small town living or not. As she now pulled into the driveway, the casted shadows against the house looked like a bad movie scene. There was only one road leading up to the house and it was surrounded by dense green forestry. Before you reached the house, about a quarter mile down the hill, there was a lake, but not much else. Anyone could be hiding in the trees. She shook the thought from her mind, knowing if she allowed herself to think on it too much, she’d never sleep tonight or even get out the car for that matter. She sat in the driveway and admired the house and its details although in the darkness it looked foreboding. It was a new construction, but it still had a lot of character. There was a cobblestone driveway leading up to the stairs to get onto the massive porch. Stone masonry donned the outer edges of the double front doors, that were made of wood with frosted glass panels. And all around the first floor of the house were panoramic floor to ceiling windows, so you got a three hundred and sixty-degree view from almost every room. Deciding it was now or never, she climbed out of the truck, her purse and dinner in hand, and ran up the stairs not even bothering to lock the doors behind her. She knew her imagination had gotten the best of her when all of a sudden she was trembling at the dark shadows casted on the house by the trees. She fumbled with the keys, while trying to unlock the door as fast as she could, and finally stuck the key into the lock. Paula insisted on her keeping a set for herself and she was happy she did. Glancing up she saw what looked like a shadow through the frosted doors, but there were shadows everywhere. She stopped a moment and looked back at the truck and shook her head. I’ll take my chances. The temperature was dropping by the minute and she’d probably freeze to death in her jalopy. The latch turned and she pushed the doors open slowly and stepped into the darkened house. Standing in the foyer, the house was warm, as if someone left the heat on. Paula. Lana knew the house was equipped with the latest technology and she probably turned the heat on from her cellphone knowing her. Paula was thoughtful that way. Lana relaxed at that realization and closed the double doors locking them behind her. She did stuff like that—let her imagination get the best of her at the most inopportune times. Lana walked down the foyer and noticed a dim light coming from the living room and she paused when she smelled smoke. When she walked in the fireplace was blazing and she screamed, dropping her purse and dinner to the hardwood floors. Jumping and also spilling his drink was Kayden Capshaw, sitting on the couch, in only his boxer briefs. “What are you doing here?” Lana yelled, trying not to crawl out of her own skin. Embarrassed and caught off guard, Kayden grabbed a throw pillow and covered himself. He rested what was left of his drink on the glass coffee table, the earlier contents all over his bare chest. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here? This is my sister’s house,” he replied, startled but pleasantly surprised. “Paula asked me to house sit—wait she’s never mentioned anything about having a brother.”

How could this be? She’d known Paula for almost ten years. Lana snatched up her purse and takeout bag off the floor. She couldn’t believe her eyes for maybe the millionth time that day. “Well, I am her brother, and I’m pretty sure she left town to avoid having to see me—so there’s that,” he replied, and reached for his drink again. “Ok. So when are you leaving?” She paced back and forth, arms crossed. Lana now realized Paula wasn’t lying about the family emergency when she called her, but why would she invite her up knowing he would be there? “I'm not leaving, and seeing as I’m here now, you’re free to go if you want, Good Samaritan,” Kayden replied. Lana glared at him the way she did at Aunt Mae’s and he smiled that half crooked smile again. Holy crap, it is kryptonite! Immediately, she found herself focused on his jet black hair and sea colored eyes, as they twinkled in the dim light from the fireplace. The shadows from the light detailed every muscle on his body. Well cut and defined, you could tell he spent a lot of time in the gym. She realized she was staring again and forced her eyes away. She stuck her hands in her pockets to conceal her fists and realized she was still wearing his jacket. Lana removed it as fast as she could and threw it at him. It hurled past his head and landed behind the couch on the floor. “I’m on vacation! I drove here for fourteen hours and I, Mr. Capshaw, am not going anywhere!” “Not a problem, roomie,” he replied, as he removed the throw pillow and stood up. Oh wow. She turned away to stop the uninvited thoughts that kept running through her mind then suddenly spun around on her heels. “Wait a minute! Aren’t you supposed to be in jail right now? How are you even here?” “Please. The bail was two hundred bucks, I paid it and left,” he replied, walking in her direction towards the decanter of brown liquid on the side table. The light danced on his exposed skin making every curve and crevice more detailed than before. How is it possible for someone to look like this and be real? “So they didn’t do a breathalyzer on you?” she asked in disbelief, forcing her mind to focus on the issue at hand. “Oh you mean because you gave the cop my flask? No.” “So let me get this straight. It took me longer to report what you did, than it took for you to be arrested, get booked, make bail, and get here before me, so you can lounge around in your underwear?” She was livid. Who was he? He walked slowly towards her and she could see his eyes were moving from her mouth to her chest, and it pissed her off even more. Who in the hell does he think he is? “Do you even care that you almost killed Rachel tonight? Or the fact that you ran me off the road about twelve hours ago? I could’ve died!” She took a step towards him now, her fists balled as tight as she could get them her nails digging into her palms so hard she couldn’t even feel the pain anymore. The spell

he was casting was broken. “I do care,” he said, putting his drink down on the table, “believe me, I’m going to make it up to her. To you both, I promise.” “So what, is that supposed to mean something,” she started, “because I only know you to leave a women stranded after you make a promise.” She searched his face for any remorse, but mostly just wanted to punch him in it, no matter how perfect it was. If there was one thing she hated, it was people believing they were entitled because of their money, and right now he was at the top of that shit list. He took another step towards her, the smile gone from his face, replaced with concern and it was intense. Whatever cologne he wore had taken over her senses because the mixture of it, the fireplace and his eyes started making her dizzy. Lana took a step back, then another. “You spoiled rich kids get away with everything, don’t you?” It came out as a whisper and didn’t have the impact she intended. His eyes narrowed as he looked her in the eyes and they spoke volumes without him having to say a single word. She knew she had offended him now. Good, he could benefit from being taken down a peg or two. She backed away from him and walked in to the kitchen, needing to get out of his personal space to think clearly. She forced herself to think of anything other than the surreal man standing in nothing behind her. As angry as she was and as much as she hated him, the attraction was overwhelming and she forced herself to concentrate on the kitchen to catch her breath. The kitchen had the typical finishes—granite counter tops, hardwood floors and industrial grade kitchen appliances. They always made her feel out of place using them, so she never did. The most she touched ever were the coffee machine or the microwave. The house never felt lived in—too perfect like it was a model home on a construction site. Then quietly and softly he spoke, breaking through her thoughts. It was so quiet in the house, save for the crackling fireplace, that it was as if he was whispering directly in her ear. That’s was how quiet the house was in general and her reason for wanting to come, but ever since she’d met Kayden everything was already too loud—her thoughts and her emotions. She turned and faced him as he spoke. “I’m truly sorry about the turnpike gorgeous. I really was in a hurry, trying to catch Paula. I wrote down your license plate and had every intention of contacting you, but I’m sorry for leaving you the way I did.” He looked sincere and she softened a little at his words. “It's not like you actually almost died,” he said slowly and carefully making air quotes at the word “died.” Her blood pressure instantly rose again. “Go to hell! But before you do please be sure to check yourself into a hotel by morning.” She was going to have a talk with Paula tomorrow for sure. Lana stomped into the kitchen, opened the fridge and threw her dinner in although she was still starving then headed up the staircase. Her purse

dragged behind her, slapping each stair as she ascended. Kayden couldn’t help but enjoy her reaction, she was all fire all the time. A smile spread across his face as his eyes landed on her rear end before she disappeared up the stairs. After the door slammed upstairs he sat back down on the couch and took another sip of his drink. He liked her—a lot. She was bold, and hot headed and so damned beautiful at the same time. Very unlike anyone he had ever met before, but he had bigger things to worry about. He had to see to Rachel, and prepare for the wrath of Maureen Capshaw, his mother. Lana didn’t know him well enough to know that he was being sincere. He was actually disappointed in himself about what happened more than she would ever know, which was the reason for his drinking. He took the last sip from the glass and rested it back down on the coffee table. Kayden leaned back on the couch and watched the fires dance in front of him until they died out and he fell asleep.

4 Tossing and turning all night didn’t help Lana get any sleep and before she knew it, the sun rose and filled the room. Don’t Paula and Garrett believe in blinds, she thought, as her eyes adjusted to the light. Remembering she had a house guest, sent a series of images from the previous night through her mind. Those eyes, that smile, and him standing in front of her in nothing but boxer briefs. Yes, he was smug and arrogant and impossible, but what pissed her off more, was that she was attracted to him. She stumbled out of bed, eyes barely open and into the on suite bathroom. She snatched up the toothpaste and toothbrush and avoided her reflection as she rigorously brushed her teeth. She felt

disgusted with herself for having that reaction to him last night. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get the pompous jerk out of her head and as much as she wanted to punch him in the face—she also wanted to kiss him on the lips. Gross, she thought, and stopped brushing. I’ve really lost my mind now. She spat the toothpaste out and rinsed her mouth, then turned the shower on. Once the water was nice and hot, she took off her clothes. Sleeping in her jeans and bra was very uncomfortable, but she left her luggage in the car last night. She was so exhausted she collapsed in the bed and couldn’t move another muscle. Luckily, she and Paula were the same size so she didn’t need to go out in the cold to retrieve her duffle bag. Stepping into the shower she let the heat beat on her muscles like a million tiny fists, pounding out the tension. The vanilla scented body wash was aromatic and soothing. Her favorite and always in ample supply there. Paula had one of those rain shower heads that was perfect in the walk in shower. The heated bathroom tiles made you feel like you were in a spa, and later she planned to take a nice long bath in the seriously oversized whirlpool tub. For now, all she wanted was to wash the traces of her drive up to Hamby away, the diner fiasco and Kayden down the drain. *** She carefully took the stairs unsure of what to expect. The beautiful black wrought iron railing was cool to the touch as she let her hand skim across it, as she crept down to the first story. The walls were adorned in textured wallpaper, with floral designs that seemed to jump out at you. The rose and cream colors gave the house a warm feel. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, there was silence. Walking into the open living room and kitchen area, the floor to ceiling windows showcased a spectacular panoramic view of Hamby down below. The dying hemlock trees didn’t look half as daunting anymore in the early morning light. The weather claimed tons of leaves over-night, as evidenced by the

dead ones all over the expansive back yard. Then the smell of fresh brewed coffee caught her nose and she walked into the kitchen. On the counter top there was a bright pink sticky note. She picked it up and read aloud: “Gone to see Rachel. Enjoy the cup of Joe gorgeous- K.” Balling up the note, she turned the coffee machine off, grabbed her keys and started for the door. Her stomach stopped her with a growl loud enough to wake a bear. She hadn’t eaten last night or much on the drive up. Lana grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and rushed down the foyer. His leather jacket was hanging on the coat rack as she exited the door, a sure sign that he didn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. *** As she drove towards town, everything looked almost normal. Mason’s had the Tesla still up on the tow truck, and there was barely a scratch on it. It was a comparison to the way Kayden probably lived his life. Causing destruction without the messy consequences affecting his life. As she passed Aunt Mae’s, there was smoke, but it was coming from a grill. They were probably trying to salvage a breakfast service. She saw them milling about in the parking lot and despite the night before, everyone had a smile on their face. They were making the best out of a bad situation. The smell of barbecue reminded her that the apple wasn’t enough and decided she would stop there on her way back from the hospital. Alone this time, if she could help it. Lana steered the Ford through the roundabout, as city workers repaired the park bench. The engine roared as she got onto Main Street and headed out of Hamby, towards Shelby. I wonder how long he’s been there? It was only nine thirty so he couldn’t have gotten far. Lana pressed the gas pedal and hurled out of town. *** Shelby General looked like every other hospital in the country. It wasn’t a level one trauma center or anything fancy, but the staff seemed competent and the facility was actually quite nice. Being only half an hour away, the town was a little more modernized than Hamby and had three times the people. After getting her visitors pass, she took some time to take it in. Electronic check in computer, no dust or cobwebs in the corners of the walls—she couldn’t help herself being a nurse. Lana always inspected and compared other hospitals to her own. This one looked to be only thirty or forty years old which wasn’t too bad. Most hospitals have been around since the dinosaurs and cleaning wasn’t always a top priority in some hospitals. She eventually reached the elevators and waited for it to come down. Rachel’s room was on the second floor in room two-twenty-two. The secretary wrote it on a piece of paper even though it was an easy number to remember. As the doors opened and she entered, she found herself a little excited. Not to see Rachel in such a rare form no, but to see him. He’s the last person I should want to see, she thought as the elevator lifted to the second floor. It wasn’t as if she’d never seen an attractive man before. There was just something about him that drew her in. He had none of the attributes she wanted in a

man—physical ones aside. She cleared her mind as the elevator bell sounded and opened. A few people were waiting to get on and she hurried out into the hallway, and looked for the signage on the puke green walls for the rooms. Seemed the color was another thing all hospitals had in common on one floor or another. The smell was also that familiar antibacterial, sterile smell like all facilities. The nurses and doctors on the floor were busy running to and fro, going about business as usual. A typical Med/Surg unit. A floor like this had a variety of patients, everything from surgeries, to cardiac issues and broken bones. You name it and it’s probably there. Finally, after having walked down the long stretch of hallway, she reached two-twenty-two and knocked lightly on the door. Her heart began to race at the thought of him being in there. No, she told herself, this is not why you’re here. Slowly she pushed the door open to the private room, paid for by Kayden no doubt, and walked in. The room was filled with flowers, cards and boxes of chocolate. The scent overpowered any antibacterial possible. Rachel was sitting up in bed watching TV and she beamed a smile as Lana approached her side. “Hey darling!” Rachel exclaimed. She looked really good, even with the cast on her leg. If it weren’t there, you wouldn’t be able to tell anything was wrong with her at all. “How are you feeling?” Lana asked, and sat in the chair next to the bed. She grabbed Rachel’s hand and held it. “I’m fine honey, don’t you worry. The doctors patched me up and said I could go home in a few weeks,” she replied. “That’s great! I’m so happy everything went OK. How’s your nurse? Has she been taking care of you?” “Yes, yes. Everyone has been at my beck and call. It’s all thanks to Kayden. He got me this private room and paid all my medical bills. He’s been amazing.” “That’s great to hear, but he’s also the reason you’re in here in the first place,” Lana replied her tone tinged with anger. “You know what honey? I been working on my feet for thirty-five years and I got to tell ya. I don’t like how it happened, but I can finally take a vacation,” she said smiling, “get off these old legs for a change.” Lana smiled at her, and in the early morning light coming through the window, Rachel’s features were even more detailed. Without the pony tail lifting her eyes, Rachel was much older than she predicted. Maybe early sixties? Her blondish gray hair fell down her shoulders, still thick and healthy. You could tell she was a knockout when she was younger. As she looked at the fragile, vulnerable woman before her, she became misty eyed. Lana understood from experience that a severe injury like that at Rachel’s age, could mean life and death, even if a surgery went well. Rachel frowned.

“What’s the matter sugar?” she asked. “It just upsets me that this happened to you,” Lana removed her hand from Rachel’s and wiped her tear away. “Well aren’t you a nurse, uh… you know what in all the commotion, I never got your name,” Rachel said, the toothy smile on her face, revealing teeth stained by coffee most likely. “Oh, it’s—,” she started. “Lana,” Kayden finished. He walked into the room with a tray of food. Lana glared over her shoulder at him, as he stood there dressed to the nines in a well-fitting cashmere sweater and slacks. He walked up to them and placed the tray down on Rachel’s over bed table. “I’m back beautiful,” he said to Rachel, “I see you’ve met the heroic nurse that helped you last night.” He beamed a huge grin at Lana and she rolled her eyes at the over the top display he was putting on. She still didn’t trust his generosity completely, especially after finding that flask. “Yes, she’s quite the lady. I was just talking with her about that,” Rachel replied. Kayden raised the bed as Rachel prepared to eat breakfast. When she was set up, he turned to Lana, still beaming that smile and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him again. “I took the liberty of ordering you some breakfast as well. I figured you’d come for a visit but I wasn’t sure, since you went straight to bed last night.” Seriously? He winked at her and Rachel glanced over at them both. Lana frowned, eyebrows furrowed at the way he just made that sound. She glared at him, then glanced sheepishly at Rachel unsure of what to say. She started eating her oatmeal, with a slight grin on her face. “Yeah, well I didn’t feel like talking much. You could understand why,” Lana replied, “unwanted house guest and all.” Kayden sat on the edge of Rachel’s bed and faced her. “Yes, I understand, and regarding the accident I’ve expressed my deepest apologies. All her hospital bills, time off from work, physical therapy and anything else she needs will be provided for her by me.” He said, never taking his eyes off her. How can he afford to do all of that, she thought, I know Paula’s family had money, but what did he do for a living? “Yup, and once I’m back on my feet,” Rachel interjected, “I’m going on a real vacation for a change.” “Really? That’s awesome,” Lana replied, breaking his intense gaze, “where are you going?” “Probably a cruise, or to New Orleans. I’ve always wanted to visit there but Henry and I could never afford to go, God rest his soul,” she said, as she moved on to the eggs and bacon on her tray. “Eat up, aren’t you hungry?” Kayden asked nodding to Lana and the second tray of food. He had that damned crooked smile on his face and those eyes began sucking her in like an abyss. The cool bluish green color like an ocean spray captivating her and all she wanted to know was what secrets they kept. What has he seen, experienced, who was Kayden Capshaw? He wasn’t married, she was sure

as there was no ring or outline of one recently removed. She noticed it last night as he held his drink in his left hand. He couldn’t be much older than she was, no wrinkles in his face, no graying hair, skin smooth like butter. He was in a limited gene pool for sure. Suddenly, being so lost in thought, she felt a tapping on her shoulder. When she looked up, the doctor and six medical students were standing behind her and the trance was broken. Shelby General was also a teaching hospital. “Excuse me ma’am,” the Dr. said annoyed, “I need to get to my patient.” She stood, feeling very foolish and embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she replied, and moved out of the way to let them by. Kayden also stood from the bed, allowing them to do their rounds. “I’ll come visit you later, enjoy your breakfast,” Lana said and started for the door. “Thank you for coming honey, I appreciate it,” Rachel replied as Lana left the room and closed the door behind her. What was that? She walked down the long hallway and headed toward the elevators. Rachel is fine and in good spirits, so why am I taking what happened to her, harder than she is? She was almost to the elevators when she wondered how she would enjoy her vacation forced to share a roof with him. Standing in the hallway again, she hit the down button for the elevator and waited for it to open. When it did, she stepped in and pressed “one.” As the doors began to close, a hand stuck through it causing it to open. Kayden stepped into the elevator and the doors closed. “Of course,” she said out loud. “Of course, what?” he asked. “What?” “You just said “of course”. What’s the matter now?” “Nothing. Just thinking out loud.” They stood in the elevator for what felt like forever. This elevator is taking really long to get to the first floor. “What was that, back in Rachel’s room?” he asked breaking the deafening silence. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly without meaning to. She really didn’t know what was happening, but she wanted to tell him to back off and find somewhere else to sleep tonight, to find someone else’s vacation and thoughts to invade. “I definitely felt something. Even on the highway and I know you felt it too,” he said turning to face her. She was beginning to lose sense of time and space as he spoke the truthful words, she could feel herself begin to unravel again. She backed away from him and bumped into the elevator wall, there was nowhere to go. “Please,” she whispered averting her eyes anywhere but his. When she did look up at him, she was suddenly on fire. Her legs felt weak and the aching in her body,

was too much to withstand. She imagined reaching out and grabbing his unruly hair, kissing and biting down on his full bottom lip. He wasn’t even touching her but she could feel the heat radiating between them. He leaned in close, reached around her and pressed the elevator button for the first floor, never breaking eye contact. Shame sank in her chest fast as she then realized she hadn’t hit the button again. He invaded her space, with both arms on either side of her holding onto the elevator rail. Only a breaths space in between them, she could smell his skin and could almost imagine what his mouth tasted like. “I don’t know what it is about you,” he whispered, pressing his forehead against hers. As she breathed in, the minty smell of his breath was in her mouth and she had to swallow a few times to catch her breath. When the elevator reached the bottom, the doors opened and a group of people walked in. A woman and her daughter looked over at them and the little girl giggled, holding her mom’s hand, hiding behind her leg. “Can you hit three please?” an older man asked Kayden. He smiled, reached over in front of her and pressed the button. Lana pushed past him, out of the elevator and down the hall trying to put as much distance in between them as possible. She was walking so fast, trying to reach the automatic doors to leave, she didn’t notice the garbage can in her path and ran into it knocking it down. She kept moving though, not looking back. I didn’t press the damned button. Lana was mortified at how easily she was overcome by him. If that elevator door didn’t open… no, she didn’t want to think about that. She just wanted to get back to Hamby and start the vacation she had intended to—and maybe die of embarrassment. Yeah, that was highly more likely. *** Kayden stood in the parking lot of Shelby General next to his red Lamborghini Aventador. He owned a garage in town that housed his favorite toys and had it brought to the house earlier that morning. He watched Lana pull out of the parking lot in her truck and head west towards Hamby. He was as drawn to her as she was to him, and watching her fight it was a turn on. All he could think about was running his hands through her onyx black hair, and staring into her almond shaped eyes all day. The small dimple above her upper lip, that appeared and disappeared whenever she spoke drove him absolutely mad, and it took the will power of God not to kiss her a few short moments ago. As much as he wanted to follow her back to his sister’s house and finish what was started, he had other pressing matters to deal with. Like how he would convince his mother not to cut him out of the family business. The last time he screwed up this bad, she told him that was his last straw and anymore screw-ups would result in him being on his own. Maureen was a stern woman who could be misinterpreted as cold and calculating at times, but she had her moments. Granted, she wasn’t the same since his brother Joel and his father died, but who would be? He felt he was to blame for that and he promised to spend the rest of his life earning back her trust. Last

night was not a good start to that promise. She’d often fix his legal issues as they’d pop up over the years, but the days of that were long gone and it was time to do some serious growing up. He was surprised he hadn’t heard from her yet, and was certain Capt. Jackson had contacted her by now. He probably couldn’t wait to be the one to spill the beans before he had the chance. As if it would get him any closer to her, Kayden thought. How in the hell will I explain this? Hamby was his childhood home, the place his parents built an empire by restoring most of the properties in town to their original glory. The Capshaw’s soon expanded to a multimillion dollar operation and left Hamby in search of other towns in similar need. He loved the idea of being able to keep a piece of history the way it was intended. Most buildings nowadays were planned in a week or so and up and erected in a few months. No real love went behind it. After everything with Joel and his dad, his mother lost the passion and vision the company once had, and he desperately wanted to take over in order to get it back to what Capshaw Realty originally stood for. He opened the door to the car and sat, pulling the door down and closed it shut. His cell phone made a noise and he looked at the screen, it read: “Miss you sexy XOXO –Kimberly.” He hit delete on the phone, and looked down the road where Lana’s truck was slowly disappearing in the distance. How did Kim get my new number? It had to be his meddling mother. The woman couldn’t get through her head that it was over between them. It’s the only thing she still seemed to want for him, and he couldn’t understand why. Kim and Kayden or “KimKay” as all their friends would call them, dated on and off for about five years. They met at a frat party in college and at one point he thought she was the one and even considered marriage. Only, after his car accident a few years ago, he was hospitalized for months, and that’s when he learned where her loyalties were. She would visit him every day for a while, then that tapered off to a few times a week, to once if he was lucky, to nothing at all. Once he literally got back on his feet, and was able to get back to a somewhat normal way of life, she tried to rekindle things but he wasn’t interested. He had considered it at first. She was beautiful, long legs that would go on forever, blonde and perky —the all American girl. And the sex wasn’t half bad either. But her ambition always made him wonder what it was she wanted from life. She didn’t finish college, or go to a trade school, she didn’t work and never really spoke about plans or goals for her life. She was more concerned with partying and keeping up with the Jones’. One night at a party thrown by his best friend, he found out through the grapevine that they were sleeping together while he was in the hospital convalescing. It didn’t take her long to move on to her next meal ticket and he was grateful for the betrayal. He didn’t need, nor want anyone in his life like that. Kayden lifted the mini hatch in the middle console of the car revealing the start button and pressed it, revving the powerful engine. The onlookers loved to see this car move, but no way, he thought. He’d been in enough trouble over the last twenty-four hours and wanted to just get back to the house and get to know the woman who saved the day for Rachel, because honestly she saved the day for him too. He pulled the Lamborghini out onto

the road and headed back to Hamby, the only place he considered home, doing the speed limit the whole way there.

5 Lana had gotten a barbecued sausage burrito at Aunt Mae’s. The parking lot was now converted to outdoor seating with picnic tables and she opted to eat there with the rest of the patrons. She didn’t know where Kayden was, but wanted to avoid running into him at the house at all costs. After wiping the last of the sauce remnants from her mouth and tossing the plate in the garbage can, she took a minute to observe her surroundings. She really didn’t know anyone there. Most of her other visits consisted of spending time curled up with a book in the house alone. She considered going to the library, but she was still pretty tired from the day before. Lana really wanted to go to the house and take a long nap, but she couldn’t if he would be there taking up residency and ruining her quiet time with more gazes and talk. Her cellphone vibrated in her pocket and she fished it out. One text message showed on the screen and it was from Carmen, her friend and fellow ER Nurse from home. The message read: CARMEN: Hey hun... I’m worried about you. Call me. Lana knew the gossip must’ve had the walls of the hospital on fire, but decided she wouldn’t respond. She knew anything she texted back would ultimately lead her to reliving the grocery store debacle, followed by an hour long call and more self-loathing. She slid the phone back into her pant pocket instead. She’d call her in a couple days. As she glanced around the parking lot resigned to head to the house, she overheard a couple talking about the accident. Lana sat back down and pulled her phone out, to pretend she was texting, and to not appear that she was obviously eavesdropping. “Can you believe that boy? Shame he hasn’t a bit of respect for this town,” asked a man to a woman who looked like his wife. “He has zero respect for anyone other than himself. That’s how he’s always been. Makes me sick,” she replied, in between bites of her eggs and ham. “After all that family’s done for this town. He’s giving them a bad reputation. Can you imagine what that idiot would do to that company if he ever took over?” he asked. “I don’t even care. As long as he leaves here, and goes somewhere else to do it,” she replied back, sipping her ice tea. They really don’t like him. Soon others began to chime in around her and the consensus was the same. She never knew much about Paula’s family, only that her father had died. Lana did attend the funeral a few years ago, but she couldn’t recall Kayden being there. Lana was fully aware that Paula didn’t really get along with her mother and of course she knew about the real estate business, but Lana took that to mean single family homes, not multi-million dollar towns. Paula’s married surname was Smith and Lana had been accustomed to it after six years, so when Kayden showed up, she didn’t connect the dots then either. Sitting in between all those gossiping people,

she stuck out like a sore thumb, and made her way back to the truck. Although it was eleven thirty and the sun was almost the highest in the sky, it was only around thirty degrees. Tonight would be colder than the last, with the weather in the single digits and snow flurries expected by morning, according to the weather app on her cellphone. She wanted to be well warmed and cozy by then. Perhaps even catch a movie on the sixty-five-inch TV in the living room. As she climbed into the truck, Lana couldn’t help getting upset at the scratches and dents on the side of it. She was supposed to go to Mason’s, but there would be time later in the week, she rationalized. For now, she just wanted to get in the house before he did and relax. *** Captain Heathcliff Jackson, sat in his office in the Hamby police station, holding the phone away from his ear. Chief Powell was currently screaming at the top of his lungs about Kayden and the fact that no charges would be pressed against him from Aunt Mae, Rachel or the state. Heathcliff understood his frustration. That kid was slippery and always seemed to get a free pass. Once the Chief took a breath, Heathcliff began to speak again. “I agree with you Chief, it’s just that in spite of all that, they have friends in high places. The Mayor for one, who is vouching for him. You know the Capshaw family sir,” he replied. “And you know my patience with all of them has run out,” he replied and the line went dead. Heathcliff hung the phone up and although he was pissed, he had prepared himself for the call. This wasn’t the first time they had used their position to enlist the help of higher ups, but he knew for a fact it would be the last. He remembered Kayden as a boy. He was quiet, reserved and never got in any trouble. But as a teen, he was wild and loud when he realized what his money and things meant to those who didn’t have them. That persona only grew as he became an adult and had gotten him into a great deal of trouble since. It just seemed that everyone else around him paid the price. Five years ago to be exact, was the worst the town had ever witnessed and he hoped it would be the last incident. He picked up his stained coffee mug and took a gulp of the bitter bile the precinct passed for joe. He then thumbed his fingers through a rolodex on his desk and flipped the card for “Capshaw, Maureen”. He picked the phone handle up again and began to dial the numbers. He was excited to finally hear her voice, just not necessarily for this reason. *** When she pulled up to the house, the Lamborghini was parked in the driveway. He has a lot of nerve, she thought as she pulled in behind him. Lana jumped out of the truck, upset that not only was he there before her again, but now she would probably be confined to her room the entire day. It was unfair! All she wanted was solitude and everywhere she went, he was there. It may have been his sister’s house, but

Paula had asked her to house sit, not him. Her phone vibrated again as she reached the porch and she rolled her eyes. Lana already knew it was Carmen again before pulling the phone out of her pocket. She looked at the screen and hit “open” on the picture message. Her heart stopped a second as a picture of her sprawled across the grocery floor was made into a meme. The caption reading: “WIPEOUT AUDITION ANYONE? LOL.” Then she read Carmen’s message. CARMEN: I’m so sorry, I just didn’t want you to find out about it on Facebook. Joanna’s a bitch. Call me please. Lana closed her eyes and took a deep breath immediately wishing she never opened the message. This “vacation” was becoming impossible and her pride had taken two serious beatings today. She entered the house cautiously. Not a sound. She walked down the foyer and straight into the living room and kitchen area. Kayden wasn’t there either. She ran up the stairs to the guest bedroom ready to give him a piece of her mind and knocked on the door. No answer. She had a sinking feeling and walked to her room down the hall, cracked the door and peered in. Luckily he wasn’t there either, although what would she have done if he were? Through the window next to the bed, she could see movement down below and went over for a closer inspection. There he was, shirtless, chopping wood in the back yard garden. Is he insane? Its freezing outside! He did look good doing it though. He stopped swinging his axe and picked up a bottle of water. As he drank he looked up at the window, and winked at her. She ducked out of the way and instantly felt foolish. He just saw you, idiot. What was the point of that? She rushed down the stairs whizzing by all the ornate picture frames and sconces, out the patio door and in to the yard. The space was landscaped to the nines and still mostly green despite the weather change. Flowers still clinging to what little life they had left, lined the lawn edge and manicured hedges made up the rest of the greenery. A beautiful sculptured bird bath was in the middle of it all, although no bird in his right mind would use it this time of year. She stomped towards him in her flip flops, the cold blades of grass stabbing at her toes, making it very uncomfortable and reminding her she needed to go shoe shopping soon. Besides the black boots that pinched her toes, the flip flops were her only other pair. He swung the axe once more, and the large chunks of wood fell into even piles to the grass. “Hey!” She yelled and nudged him on the shoulder. He spun around, his wet hair cascading his face. The sun shone behind his head so he looked like some angelic portrait you’d buy in an art gallery, or some cheesy perfume commercial actor. “What’s up?” he asked, breathless and smiling. He dropped the axe on the stump again, and she watched as the sweat beaded down his neck and traveled to his chest. She forced herself to look at his forehead and dared not look in his eyes again. Lana was not in the mood for another “episode.”

“Why are you still here? Aren’t you leaving town?” she asked focusing on his forehead. He frowned. “No, I told you I was staying. Besides, I intend on keeping my promise to Rachel.” At least he was trying to keep his word, but did he have to do it here? Kayden was moving his head around trying to lock eyes with her, and she avoided his attempts, by looking everywhere but at him. “You OK?” he asked concerned, “Is there something wrong?” He wiped his forehead and she glanced up at him for a quick second. “No nothing’s wrong. Just stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine alright? I came up here for peace and quiet and I intend on getting it.” She turned to walk away and the wind ripped through her sweater, causing goose bumps to appear on her neck. At least she hoped it was the wind. He grabbed her by the arm gently as she started walking away. “Hey,” he held her for a second and she froze, her stomach twitching in anticipation. She looked up at him this time and her legs grew weak. “I’m chopping the wood for a fire, because it’s gonna be one of the coldest nights we’ve had in a while. Perhaps we can get to know one another, instead of avoid each other the entire time?” he asked. Here we go again. He looked so sincere, no smugness or arrogance detected, so she nodded her head in agreement. “Will it get you to leave me alone for the rest of my vacation?” “Perhaps.” “Then I’ll be there,” she replied and turned to walk away, but he still held on and she looked at his hand then back up to him. “May I have my arm back?” He smiled and loosened his grip and she headed for the house. She wondered if he was watching her leave but fought the urge to turn around to see. Once she was back inside, she closed the patio doors and looked over her shoulder at him. He stood there, still watching with his hands on his hips, and their eyes locked again. He gave her another wink and she turned away from him focusing her eyes on the couch and couldn’t wait for the fire. The loud crack of the axe resonated through the house, signifying he had returned to his task at hand. She quickly stole another glimpse of him while he wasn’t looking. A faint smile crept onto the corners of her mouth, as she walked back up the staircase and was very interested in learning what he would reveal about himself—if anything at all. It would definitely be an interesting night one way or another, but her expectations weren’t very high. *** After eating the delicious chicken pot pie from the night before in her room, Lana decided it was time to go downstairs and face the music. She’d spent most of the day up there since their earlier encounter in the garden and was ready for some human interaction. The hallway connecting the two rooms on the second floor was dimly lit and she could see that the door to Kayden’s was cracked a bit. She

slowly walked down the hall, and couldn’t help sneaking a peek as she passed, when he opened it. She could see his bathroom door was opened behind him and the warmth from the shower steam and aroma of his cologne slapped her firmly in the face. “Ready?” he asked, drying his hair with a towel and her stomach tightened that familiar way again. She nodded and quickly moved down the stairs ahead of him. Every step her feet took, one of his would follow, his smell engulfing the small corridor of the stairway. Once she reached the bottom, the entire house was beautifully lit by the fireplace. The recessed lights throughout the house were also dimmed very low, creating a warm and sensual atmosphere. Through the windows the sun was just beginning to disappear under the tree tops, with dark purples and pinks of sunset drenching the sky. The scene before her looked like a romantic diamond ring commercial where the guy eventually dropped to his knee and asked the giggly overly happy girl to marry him. Lana reached over to the wall, and turned the dimmer bright, changing the illusion to the way the house normally looked. Feeling the heat from his body up against her back, she felt tingly all over and went into the kitchen where breathing would be a little easier. She no longer trusted herself around him, not since the elevator incident earlier that morning. “Why’d you turn the lights on?” he asked, “What’s the point of lighting the fireplace?” He reached over to the dimmer switch and lowered them completely. The shadows and flickering from the fireplace illuminated the house instantly. At least he’s wearing pants this time. No shirt though, of course. Only pajama bottoms which were sitting low on his hips, exposing the band of his Calvin Klein’s. She averted her eyes to the cold slab of granite on the kitchen counter, feeling herself get distracted already. Kayden walked into the kitchen and reached for the double doors of the refrigerator and she instinctively took a step away. Smirking at her unease, he pulled out a bottle of wine and she rolled her eyes. “Are you serious?” she asked. “This is just a gift. My apology for ruining your vacation.” He sat the bottle on the counter and she eyed the bottle’s label. It was a 2007 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. She knew her wines and this one was about nineteen hundred dollars a bottle. “You can open it or not, it’s your choice.” “How do you even know I like wine?” “I called my sister and asked,” he said with that grin. Damn it, Paula. I forgot to call her and kill her. Arms crossed, Lana walked over to the living room and sat on the couch next to the fireplace. It was so grand you could almost walk into it. It also was beautifully designed in a light stack stone that spanned all the way to the ceiling. It was really spectacular even when not lit. Kayden came in now, holding the bottle in one hand and an opener and a single wine glass in the next. He sat them on the coffee table in front of her and winked at her.

What is his deal? Is that just something he does, or does he think it’s charming enough to get me in bed? She fought the urge to roll her eyes, sure they’d fall out of her head, she was so annoyed. The uncertainty of a person’s intentions bothered her more now as an adult than it ever had in the past. He moved to the other side of the table and sat on the cream colored love seat, across from her. After a minute, he spoke. “You’re not sure whether you like me not,” he stated, as he leaned back on the couch, and folded his arms behind his head. Now she was getting pissed off. If he thinks this whole “look at me I’m sexy” routine is getting him anywhere he has another thing coming. Yes, she was attracted to him, she already admitted it to herself, but the more he acted that way, the less she liked him. “Whatever gave you that impression?” she asked sarcastically and rolled her eyes. He smiled. “I can also tell you’re intimidated by me.” He knew exactly what he was doing if he’s thought that this whole time. “I just don’t know you. You don’t intimidate me one bit,” she lied. “Well we’re both here and we’ve established that neither of us are leaving, so get to know me. I promise I won’t bite.” “Promises are a comfort to a fool,” she reached for the bottle and began to open it. From the way things were starting, it was going to be a long night and she could stomach it better if she were tipsy. As she struggled with the cork, he reached over the table, placed his hand over hers, and took it from her. His eyes glowed in the darkness and the warmth of his huge but gentle hand touching hers sent a bolt of electricity through her. She felt herself reeling reluctantly and quickly removed her hand before she forgot that she couldn’t stand him—again. He took the bottle, keeping his eyes locked to hers but she turned her focus to the blazing fireplace. A gentle tug from his muscular arm and the cork popped open with no effort. He poured her a glass and pushed it across the table to her. “You’re really beautiful, you know that?” he asked as she reached for it. She paused, surprised as she wasn’t expecting that to come from his mouth. She picked up the glass and drank half of it in one sitting. “Not sure what to say to that,” she forced out finally, the wine burning her stomach. “You could start with thanks.” Lana downed the remainder of the wine and refilled her glass. She took a small sip this time and looked him in the eyes. “So you wanted to get to know one another? You start.” The wine was making her brave already and she didn’t feel half as intimidated anymore. She was a lightweight, and drinking alcohol fast wasn’t a brilliant idea, but she needed to numb her very raw feelings. “What do you want to know?” he asked.

“Let’s start with, where do you live? Where did you go to school?” This would be interesting. She twirled the crimson liquid around her glass letting the wine aerate more. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her intently. A defensive position already. “I live in Atlanta and before that, New York where I went to Cornell and majored in Architecture.” Wow. She took another sip of her wine. “A Cornell graduate?” “Yes. Now you.” “I live in Florida, where I went to the University of Florida, and majored in Nursing. Why architecture?” she continued. Lana was sure the decision had to do with his family’s business, but was interested to hear it anyway. Not everyone chose to follow their parent’s footsteps and something about them intrigued her. He poured himself a drink from the decanter on the end table and took a sip. As he leaned forward, holding his short glass tumbler, he seemed to struggle with what to say. “My parents, naturally. They started a small company here when we were just kids. It expanded and eventually so did we.” “And now you’re in charge of the company?” she asked and he smiled. “No. Not yet anyway. My mother is still seated as the CEO and when she’s ready to step down, I’ll take over.” He took another sip of his drink and stared into the glass. “Why were you driving like a maniac on the way up here?” “I’d had a shitty day and as you know, because of my flask, I had a few drinks. I wasn’t thinking clearly and I’m truly sorry for the entire ordeal,” he picked up his drink again and she couldn’t help but look at it as he raised it to his mouth. “Do you have a drinking problem?” she continued. “Perhaps,” he sat the empty glass down. “Why were you in such a rush to get here?” He looked at her expressionless and she locked eyes with him now. Searching for truth, she wasn’t nervous, or looking away this time and he looked caught off guard and uneasy. He took a deep breath and turned to the fireplace. “My brother Joel. He died five years ago yesterday and his ashes are here. I come every year to pay my respects and this year I was hoping to do that with Paula, but you know the rest of the story.” His eyes grew dark as he said this, never looking at her, only the fire. He picked the glass up and poured another drink. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had a brother that died,” she rested her wine glass down on the table. He took another sip of his drink, pain trapped behind his eyes. He was good at guarding his feelings she could tell, but she was better at spotting them in the most reluctant of people—a gift she acquired in

her nursing profession. “Of course not. I’m not surprised Paula didn’t fill you in about it. It’s our family’s dirty laundry. Best kept under the rug.” “Do you mind me asking how it happened?” Lana sat closer to the edge of the couch, her eyes intense and sincere. He could sense that she was genuinely interested in his story, so he rubbed his stubbly chin, and took a deep breath before speaking. “It was a car accident,” he looked down at the glass in his hands, staring at the amber liquid. “It was after our annual Capshaw Realty Gala in Shelby and we had both been drinking. I thought I was the soberest of the two of us and decided to drive instead of calling a cab like I should have. We were blasting music and singing, so I was distracted, wasn’t paying attention. With the road being black ice that night, I lost control of the car doing around eighty miles per hour and crashed into a pole. He died on impact. I survived and…” he couldn’t finish. He twirled the drink around in his hand a few times, then gulped the last of it. He reached for the decanter again and Lana got up, walked over and sat next to him as he poured another. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked,” she whispered. She didn’t realize how close she was sitting to him until he turned his head to her and they were almost nose to nose for the second time that day. This didn’t cause the usual reaction in her though. This confession was way deeper for him and she got the feeling he didn’t get to express what he’d been dealing with since it happened. He obviously had a lot of guilt and hadn’t forgiven himself either although he was looking for it from his family. He smiled weakly at her, his eyes glassy. She thought about holding his hand for a moment, feeling awful about coercing him to talk, but decided not to. She didn’t want to give him the wrong idea about her intention. “It’s okay,” he replied. He stood from the couch and walked towards the panoramic windows. Watching him, Lana realized she had judged him too quickly. There was more to him than good looks and arrogance but that begged the question. If he felt this badly about his actions, why not be more cautious? Why continue to behave the same way that caused the tragedy in the first place? It didn’t make any sense to her. “The accident is the reason I’m not the CEO right now. My mother blames me for losing her son and husband, and she doesn’t want me ruining everything they’ve built. Can’t say I blame her.” Husband? Lana didn’t understand that, but wouldn’t ask. She felt bad enough and didn’t want to make him feel worse. He kept his back to her staring out into the empty garden and Lana had no idea what to say to him. This was deeper than what she anticipated for the night. A few more moments of silence passed by before he continued.

“Joel was the favorite son and I was always the screw up. Sometimes a part of me thinks she wished it were me instead of him. It would have been fair anyway. He didn’t deserve to pay for what I did.” He blinked back his tears, surprised at himself for exposing those dark feelings to her. She raised from the couch, walked over to him and held his hand the way she did with her patients. As a Nurse, she heard things like this all the time and understood that a person needed an ear, someone to show compassion even when they didn’t realize it was what they needed. “Don’t say that. Your family may be pissed but I doubt any parent would have those kinds of wishes for their children. No matter what the circumstance.” He smiled and turned his head to her, eyes watery and she was caught off guard. “That’s nice of you to say, but I know them better than you. Why do you think, you had no idea who I even was?” He looked back over the darkened sky as the first of the snow flurries began to blow in. “I don’t mean to be insensitive, but if you feel this way why would you contin—” she started, but she instantly couldn’t finish her thought. She didn’t have to. He turned fully to her now, eyebrows furrowed, pain beneath the surface of his eyes, raw and exposed. He looked broken. It was a new expression and one Lana already didn’t like to see him have. “I wish I knew why. I ask myself that every day and I still don’t have an answer.” He gave her hand a slight squeeze then let it go. He went over to the fireplace, grabbed the poker and stoked at the embers, the fire flaming bright orange. He sat back down on the couch and motioned for her to sit next to him. She followed, but sat on the opposite side as they were before. “So tell me, why is a woman as hot as you, up in a mountain house all alone?” he winked at her. Any trace of his previous vulnerability had evaporated and she was surprised by the question. It took her a moment to answer. “Because I didn’t think I needed an escort?” “In other words, no boyfriend?” And now we’re back. She picked up her glass and took another sip. Regardless of his turn in direction, he had opened up to her and she felt it was only fair she did the same. “Last year around this time, I was left at the alter by my fiancé and boyfriend of four years,” she replied in one breath and it stung. She worried admitting this made others think something had to be wrong with her, and that maybe she deserved what she got. He frowned. “I’m sorry. It truly was his loss,” he replied. She glanced down at the wine, and realized she was already lightheaded. “I appreciate the sentiment.” “A real man, would never do something like that to someone as brave and kind as you. You dodged a bullet.”

She heard the sincerity in his voice and saw it in his face and it was a glimpse of who Kayden was at his core. She hoped she got to know that person a lot better over the next few weeks. *** Kayden followed her up the stairs to the second story. He was convinced she was a very private and protective person and wanted to know everything about her. Her perfume scent made him want to reach out and taste her neck as she was only a foot in front of him. What was she wearing, vanilla? Almond? Whatever it was it was driving him crazy, especially when she sat so close to him earlier that night. As Lana continued on to her room, she turned slightly and gave a brief nod as she closed the door behind her. He went into his, and shut the door behind him as well. He’d learned a lot about her tonight and couldn’t understand why he decided to spill his guts the way he did. Why did he feel so comfortable with her? Looking into her big brown eyes, he knew he could be himself and trust her with those thoughts. He let everything out before he knew what hit him. No woman in his past, not even his mother ever made him feel that reassuring. He regretted what happened to Joel every day of his life, and missed him and his dad so much, it hurt him to think about it sometimes. His solution was to reach for the alcohol and that numbed the pain—for a little while. It had been a long time since a woman showed any genuine interest in him. He knew he was good looking and he had taken full advantage in his earlier years. But now as an adult in his early thirties, it wasn’t something he was interested in anymore. He wanted someone concrete, someone real. Once upon a time, Kim was the only person he thought he could open himself up to, and when he did, she broke his heart. Lana was special, he could tell. Aside from being attracted to her like a magnet to metal, he was attracted to her conviction and purpose. She put others first and he could learn a thing or two from her in that regard. He understood why she was so guarded and untrusting of men, once she told him about the broken engagement. That would make anyone think twice before getting close to another person again. Secretly, he was happy it happened, because now a real man could show her what it meant to be loved by someone. Kayden kicked off this bedroom slippers and stood at the window in his room. It was past eleven and the snow had left a cool blanket over the garden, the moonlight making everything sparkle. He thought of his brother’s ashes buried by the bird bath and sighed. He knew he had to call his mother and get what he had coming to him but he would do that tomorrow. He walked over to the bed and fell onto his stomach, and stared at the bedroom door. He wished he could go to Lana’s room, and grab her and kiss her goodnight. He knew he probably could, but wasn’t ready for the repercussions that would have either. She would probably leave Hamby all together and he didn’t want to push yet another person away. She was still fragile and he wanted her all to himself, so he would be patient, and wait as long as it would take before making a move. ***

Throughout the following week the snowfall was getting heavier and less fun to deal with each day. It was becoming harder for Lana to go visit Rachel due to visibility and the ice on the roads. Her Ford wasn’t equipped to deal with those conditions and it took her a full forty-five minutes to warm it up each time she wanted to drive it. After the night by the fire last week, she kept her distance from Kayden as much as possible, which wasn’t easy when they shared the same roof. Everywhere she seemed to go in town, he would appear. Whether at the grocery store, or in the small shopping plaza, even the library once. She didn’t think it was on purpose at first but with him, she couldn’t be certain. He would often visit Rachel or the police station for which she was thankful, because it gave her some time alone in the house, then she’d grab a sandwich at Aunt Mae’s for dinner as they had just started to make repairs, in order to get out of the house each night. One day, as she stuffed her face with strawberry shortcake, she spotted him on his cell phone pacing the side walk in front of the diner. Dressed in jeans and his signature leather jacket, he looked damned sexy as usual, but could see he was upset. Whoever he was talking to, he was pleading with them. His mother most likely. She had overheard an argument he had with her on the phone one day as she was headed to go visit Rachel. It seemed most of their conversations were heated, but at least she understood why now. Lana scarfed down the cake and took the opportunity to high tail it back to the house. Most days after visiting Rachel, she’d go to the small library and curl up with a book, often finishing them in one sitting. Only once did the librarian have to warn her of closing time which was about six o’clock, and she had to hurry back to the house before dark. Driving through the snow was hard enough during the daylight. They had fallen into a pattern. She didn’t speak of his brother and he didn’t ask about her ex. A simple “hi” in the morning and goodnight at bedtime. Last night though, she returned to a cooked dinner of steak and salad, but she declined the meal, not ready for another sit down with him at all. She felt bad seeing the effort he had made, but she knew it was for the best. The less time she spent anxious and wrestling with her feelings, the better, and she’d even devised a new plan for the remaining three weeks left of her vacation. Volunteering at the diner as they made restorations seemed like a fun way to spend her time. She loved the building and the people, so why not help out all she could? As much as she liked the library, the selection wasn’t as big as city libraries and her supply was dwindling. Her plan was devised: Visit with Rachel in the mornings, Volunteer at Aunt Mae’s in the afternoon and return to the house to sleep. Not the ideal vacation itinerary, but it would do for now. *** Kayden wondered why Lana was avoiding him so much, afraid that after she got a better look at who he was, she didn’t like what she saw anymore. It made him angry a bit to think he was successful at pushing yet another person away, when he let his guard down in an attempt to do the opposite. At least

Rachel was still happy to see him every day, but he knew the visits would have to slow with the impending storm on the way. He wondered if Lana even stopped to check the weather forecast? It was getting more dangerous to drive and soon the town would be on lockdown. All roads would eventually be closed and it’s not uncommon to be snowed in for weeks at a time. This also impeded his plan to help with the diner repairs. He wanted his mother to allow Capshaw Realty to restore the entrance at gratis, as a peace offering. This didn’t sit well with her and she told him that it would be on his own dime, and she wouldn’t use company money to fix his problems again. Standing in front of Aunt Mae’s and accessing the damage, he knew it would cost at least fifty thousand. He could handle that easily on his own, but he still had to be careful with what he had. His inheritance was substantial as the company was worth a half billion dollars, but if he was cut off, that would be gone, so he had to spend wisely. Kayden also owned three houses and the mortgages alone would eat up his savings if he was put on his own. After having a heated argument with her, standing in the cold, he looked over at Lana, eating alone as she often did. He wanted to prove to himself that he was changing and evolving and it didn’t hurt to prove that to her as well. Inevitably, he agreed to take on the restorations himself, but decided he would do it under his own company ledger. Maureen hung up with no acknowledgment or encouragement and that made him angry. It was as if she didn’t care about the efforts he was making to try and better himself. He had to figure out a way to stop letting his mother control his emotions. It was the catalyst to his spiraling behavior and he refused to let it happen anymore. By the time he got off the phone with her, or got hung up on rather, Lana was gone, her truck already turning onto the roundabout. Kayden walked up to Aunt Mae and the smiling expression on her face melted into a glare. After twenty minutes of explaining to her what it was he wanted to do, her frown turned into a smile and the ample woman he had known all his life, grabbed him and hugged him. It would take about four weeks and the work would begin once the storm blew over and Aunt Mae was elated. Now, he was more excited than he’d been in a long time. He was forming his own company, breaking away from his mother and doing some good for the community he loved. For the first time Kayden saw a light at the end of a very dark and lonely tunnel. He couldn’t wait to share the news with Lana and hopefully it would help her to see him better and maybe she’d look at him the way she did before.

6 She rose early the next morning in an attempt to leave the house before she ran into Kayden. Lana took a long hot shower and dressed in the warmest clothes she had. Her favorite pair of denim jeans, a light pink turtle neck sweater, and a brown leather jacket. She pulled her hair up into her signature work bun, but thought it looked too librarian and opted to let her curls hang free. It was seven fifteen when she crept carefully down the stairs to not wake Kayden, but the smell of food, alerted her that she was too late. Coffee and bacon should be a cologne in her opinion, the two were a perfect match. As she reached the bottom of the landing, Kayden was at the stove cooking, while two place settings were up on the granite counter top. “Morning,” he beamed as he stirred the scrambled eggs. “Morning. You’ve been busy.” She looked at the spread which included cheesy grits, pancakes, bacon, coffee, and now the eggs which he was plating up. “Yeah. I didn’t sleep much last night anyway and wanted to make breakfast,” he smiled, putting the pan in the dishwasher. “You didn’t have to do that. I would’ve gotten something at Aunt Mae’s,” she lied. Lana wasn’t looking forward to freezing in the parking lot, while hunched over another breakfast burrito. “Don’t be silly, eat up.” He grabbed one of the stools and pulled it out for her. She looked at him, a thin smile on her lips and sat. She wasn’t getting out of it and the sound her stomach made sealed the deal. He sat next to her and poured her some coffee. “This all looks amazing, thanks.” She took the steaming mug and mixed in some yellow packet sugar substitute and way too much creamer by some people’s standards. She couldn’t drink it any other way. “You’re welcome,” he replied with his signature wink. He picked up the TV remote on the counter and turned it to the weather channel. From the TV you could hear the weather man: “Three inches of snow last night, which isn’t bad, but later this week it will be up to five feet. Yes, you heard right, there's a blizzard headed for the following counties, Hamby, Shelby, Covington…” He turned the TV off. “I think we need to go into town and get some supplies before we get snowed in completely. In another day or so it'll be too late.” “You mean snowed in like, can't step outside snowed in?” “Yes darlin’.”

“For how long?” “Who knows. Winter is coming,” he said with a smile. He caught her watching an episode of Game of Thrones last week so she picked up on the inflection in his voice. “My vacation ends in two and a half weeks; I have to be back to work.” He took a sip of his black coffee. “I doubt it will last that long.” He knew he was lying and hoped she couldn’t sense it on him the way she usually did. Lana continued eating and it hit him as he watched her. She had to leave eventually. She had a life of her own outside this place. The blizzard would most likely last way longer than a couple weeks, but he didn’t want to tell her that. She may pack and leave Hamby sooner than he was ready. It was selfish, but he couldn’t help it. “So do you want to go shopping after breakfast?” he asked, digging into his cheesy grits. “Sure,” she replied surprised at how skilled he was in the kitchen. They ate in silence for a few minutes when he put his fork down and turned as she was mid bite into a crispy piece of bacon. “Thank you,” he said. Lana still had a mouthful of food so it took her a minute to swallow and clear her throat before responding. “For what?” she asked confused. “For listening to me last week when we were by the fire. I really appreciate that.” “Oh. You’re welcome. Anytime.” She said as her heart almost stopped at the look in his eye. “You really have a good bedside manner. I guess that’s important being a nurse,” he smiled then started eating again. She relaxed a bit now and stared down at her plate of food. “It helps,” she replied and continued eating as well. They ate and continued talking about her job as a nurse, then his work in architecture. It was really nice to have a conversation where she wasn’t pissed or lusting after him or both. After, she helped him clean the kitchen and it all felt way too domestic for her. She was itching to get out of the house. Lord only knew what people in town thought about them both being under the same roof. Another scandal was the last thing she needed in her life. *** Stepping outside in the brisk morning air was a wakeup call. It was fifteen degrees outside, but felt like negative fifteen. Kayden locked the door behind them and Lana trotted down to her truck, keys in hand. “What are you doing?” he asked, as he started down the snow covered steps.

“Um, getting ready to leave. I know you don’t think we’re gonna hold almost three weeks of groceries in that?” She asked pointing to the Lamborghini. “Well I had planned on ordering the bulk of the stuff and having them delivered.” She frowned at him. “Seriously, you can’t even buy your own groceries?” He smirked at her and put his keys in his pocket. “Fine, you lead the way.” He said extending an arm to the driver door. She opened the truck and slid in, the leather seats colder than ice. Kayden went to the passenger side door and observed the damage. Damn, he thought as he struggled to pull the door open. With a loud crunching creak of metal, the door gave way and he jumped in and had to slam it several times to get it to stay closed. “Sorry,” she said, starting the engine, “there was this idiot who hit me on the way up here—oh sorry. You already know this story,” she said chuckling and he laughed. “Okay, I had no idea it was this bad.” She reversed the truck slowly out of the drive way, forgoing the forty-minute warm up, turned and began rolling down the hill toward the town square. “I’ll be sure it gets fixed before you have to leave. Scouts honor,” he raised his hand and put it over his heart. She smiled at him the way he liked. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad person, but he definitely had some issues to work out. He reached over to the heater and turned it on and ice cold air blasted through. “It takes a while for that to actually work,” she said. “Time for a new ride ya think?” He replied while rubbing his hands together. “Nothing wrong with this one, Richey Rich.” He grinned and relaxed back in the bucket seat, his knees hitting the dashboard. As they drove down to the round-about, it seemed the whole town was milling about, carrying firewood or pushing shopping carts through the snow. Winter storms were not taken lightly. The snow casted a different light on the town. It was still cozy, but the amount of snow falling was unforgiving and she doubted anyone would be holding hands and taking strolls again anytime soon. “You sure about that time frame for the storm?” she asked as she observed the frenzy around them. “Yeah. I’ve lived here my whole life practically. This is just the way people are here. Better safe than sorry.” She nodded and pulled onto the roundabout, passed Main and turned onto Patterson Court. Along this street were clothing and jewelry shops, boutiques, an outdoor farmers market and a grocery store. The store sat across from the only hotel in town, Spence Hotel. Patterson Court was considered a strip mall of sorts rather than a busy thoroughfare. The owners of the farmer’s market, a couple in their mid-sixties, were putting the last of their produce in the back of a pickup truck, when Lana pulled into the grocery

store parking lot. She cut the engine just as the heater finally began to kick in. *** Once inside Fresh Picks Grocery store, Kayden immediately walked up to the employee standing near the customer service counter. The grocery store was quite warm and had the faint smell of apple pie and cinnamon. Lana observed Kayden and his interaction with the tall man in his blue vest. “I’m going to need a few assistants if you have them,” he said to the man wearing a name tag that read “Sherman-Manager” on it. A smile erupted on his face as he scurried away behind the customer service desk. “Yes sir, give me one moment,” he replied proudly over his shoulder and grabbed the intercom on the wall. “Jason and Dominic to the front please, VIP service. Jason and Dominic to the service desk please.” Sherman said, then placed the intercom down with a proud smile on his face. An older couple passing by them turned to Kayden and Lana and glared at them as they walked out of the store. If she weren’t already cold, that look would have really done the job. Kayden leaned in close to her. “Don’t’ worry,” he whispered, “it’s me they can’t stand. Not you.” Then, two teen boys around seventeen, each arrived with a shopping cart in hand. They’ve obviously done this before. Kayden handed them each a list and a hundred-dollar bill. ���What was that?” Lana asked as they giddily ran away down separate aisles. “They’re going to get the dry goods and we’re going to get everything else. He pushed one of the carts down the produce aisle and she grabbed the second one and followed. *** Two thousand dollars later, they had just put the last bag in the back of her Ford. Jason and Dominic also had to pack up their own cars to haul it all up to the house. The snow fell a lot harder now, as three hours had passed since they started this mission. Lana tried to keep her cool to not alarm Kayden but it was getting increasingly harder to see as she barely navigated the truck through the snow. Twenty minutes later, they finally reached the house to Lana’s relief and she almost let out an audible sigh as she cut the engine. They spent another half hour getting everything in the house with the help of the grocery boys, after which Kayden paid them each an additional two hundred dollars. “Thanks!” Lana called out from the doorway, as they pulled away from the house and back down the hill. She hoped they would be OK getting back to the store as it was eleven o clock and the snow was already falling harder than when they had arrived. Closing the door, she walked back into the kitchen to help Kayden with putting things away.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” she said looking at the mess in front of her. There were grocery bags everywhere. All the counters, the entire kitchen floor as well as the living room were filled with bags. “I guess, let’s start with the cold and frozen that way if we need a break, nothing important goes bad.” He said, tossing a frozen bag of peas to her. Lana caught it and opened the freezer. Luckily it was empty and there would be plenty of room for things to go. Watching him in the kitchen, she observed the way he moved—he had a slow and peaceful grace about him now. More relaxed and calm as opposed to the nervous, overly flirtatious guy she met a week and a half ago. She could tell as they worked, that he was also in deep thought. Most men she knew would have been embarrassed after talking about their feelings the way he did the night by the fire, but he thanked her and seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to get if off his chest. He just moved along like nothing had happened at all and wasn’t acting stand-offish. They didn’t say much the hour and a half it took to put everything away—just the occasional, “where do you want this” of various snacks they got. She loved plain potato chips with ridges and spinach dip and peanut butter cookies. He was way healthier than she was, buying freeze dried edamame and natural un-roasted nuts and seeds. Now she knew why his body was in such good shape and kind of liked getting a peak into his lifestyle. At least the calm regular part of it, not the driving while intoxicated and hitting little defenseless ladies part. They had developed a rhythm and moved in unison as they put things away and by the time they were finished, she was starving and it was one o’clock. Lana had plans to visit Rachel today, but she had to grab a snack first as her blood sugar had plummeted. Her thought was that if she hurried, she could make it there and back by four o’clock, before the weather was really too bad to maneuver in. She was putting the last of the paper bags in the recycling bin as Kayden dragged wood from the back patio of the garden, into the living room and started stacking them. “I’m gonna get started on this before it gets too bad and maybe lunch after?” he asked, all domestic like. “Sure,” she replied, “How long do you think that’ll take you?” “Couple hour’s tops.” He had chopped a ton of wood and it was all stacked on the lanai. “Ok, sounds good.” Lana ran up the stairs as he made his way through the glass doors and onto the patio again. Feeling now was as good as any time to get going to Shelby, she wanted to get a warmer jacket before leaving. Stopping mid step towards her room, she turned to the guest room Kayden used knowing she didn’t have anything near as warm as he would. She figured she could borrow the leather jacket he wore outside Aunt Mae’s the other day. Entering his room, the aroma of his cologne was all she could smell. Instinctively her eyes fell on his dresser and she saw the bottle and picked it up to observe the label. It was called “212 by Carolina

Herrera.” Resting it back down she took a moment and glanced around the room. He was neat—very neat. Nothing was out of place as opposed to her room, where she made her bed when she felt like it and dropped trou’ in the middle of the room. She looked out the window and could see him down in the garden moving wood as fast as he could, braving the falling snow. At least he was wearing a shirt this time. She looked forward to getting back and having lunch with him and thought they could even catch a movie later. Lana walked over to the closet, eased it open and admired the colors before her. All his shirts, pants and jackets were color coordinated, as well as his socks and underwear. There wasn’t a thing out of place. His shoes were polished and sitting on racks, ties and watches, everything you could think of was there and it all had a place. Spotting the thick black leather jacket, she took it off the rack and slipped it on. Instant warmth. As she closed the closet doors, a cellphone began to ring. Her eyes were drawn to the flashing lights of the device on the bed side table. Maybe it was someone or something important? She picked it up and realized it wasn’t a call but a text message. The banner on the screen showed the message and she read it instinctively: “Really can’t wait to see you and repeat the fun times on the hill -K.” Who the hell was K? Resting the phone back down and angling it the way she found it, she started backing out of the room. So he does have a girlfriend. She stalked out of the room upset with herself. It served her right. Why would a man she barely knew, tell her the truth about anything? And this K, definitely seemed to have plans with him at the house later. Men. They were all the same. *** Driving down Deleveaux Circle, Lana had her windshield wipers on to combat the relentless snow. It wasn’t helping much as she could only see maybe ten feet in front of her. All she had to do was make it to the roundabout and it’d be fine. Slowing to the stop sign next to Mason’s, the streets were now deserted. No one was out now with the exception of one car driving down Patterson, the person probably on their way home to a cozy fireplace. Realizing the risk involved, she thought about turning around. Thinking about that text message and how foolish she felt, she pressed the gas and pushed the truck forward around the turnabout and out of Hamby. She just needed a little space today. *** It wasn’t snowing nearly as bad there in Shelby, at least not yet. Lana valet-parked the truck and ran inside from the frigid temperature, brushing the snow from the leather coat before it got wet. Kayden would probably kill her if she ruined his jacket—it probably costed more than she made in a year. Walking up to the reception desk she saw the same woman that was stationed there every day, Nancy. “Hi, patient name and your ID please,” she said. Lana reached into her jeans and laid the ID on the counter.

“I’m here to see Ms. Rachel Brown, she’s in room two-twenty-two.” Nancy took the ID and punched something into the computer. She looked up at Lana and her shoulders slacked, her expression one of concern. “Are you family?” she asked. “No, but I’ve been here before. Every day for the past week and a half in fact. What’s going on?” Nancy took her glasses off and that scared Lana. She knew that look all too well being a Nurse. It was the I’ve got horrible news face. “I’m sorry, Ms. Brown isn’t in room two-twenty-two.” “Ok, so where is she?” Lana’s heart pounded in her chest so loud it was all she could hear. She and Nancy stayed locked eye to eye and after a few moments of silence, Lana knew all she needed to. A lot of communication past between them with just the look. Nodding her head, her eyes welled with tears, Lana grabbed the ID off the counter and turned away. “I’m sorry honey,” Nancy said. Her head was swimming, and everything around her was a watery blob. She was breathless, unable to grasp the reality that Rachel was gone. Her head was swimming in a pool of thoughts and questions. What could have happened? Anything could have happened. A pulmonary embolism, internal bleeding--something went wrong with the surgery. And Kayden, he can now be charged with vehicular manslaughter. He hasn’t even gotten over what happened to his brother and he’ll have this to deal with too. Wiping her face free of the tears, she walked out of the lobby onto the overhang by the valet’s booth. He approached and she handed him the little pink stub. He grabbed an umbrella and disappeared to get her truck. Why didn’t she just stay put at the house? Surely the police will be notified soon, Kayden will go to jail and if her family presses charges, that’s it for him. His mother won’t lift a finger to help him out of it. The valet pulled her truck up to the curb and jumped out. She climbed in and shut the door, pulling slowly out to the road and on her way back to Kayden.

7 Maureen Capshaw was beyond fed up with her son. He was an adult, yet he still stumbled through life like a toddler learning to walk. She was tired of him going through life as if she’d fix all his mistakes. Sitting in the plush seat of the Capshaw private jet as it touched down, she sipped her cocktail and her eyes were affixed to the snow outside, as her mind wandered. Since the loss of “her boys” nothing was ever the same to her. She had a daughter who barely spoke to her despite all her efforts, and a son who wouldn’t give her a moment to breathe. Maureen felt that if he could just settle down, he’d have to grow up and take responsibility of his life. Then, maybe, she could retire and start living her own life. “The snow’s really bad huh?” Kimberly asked leaning over and peaking over Maureen’s shoulder. “You haven’t seen bad yet, dear.” “I can’t wait to see Kayden. It’s been so long, I’m so excited,” she chimed like a giddy school-girl. The jet was now slowing to a stop, and after having flown five hours from New York, Maureen couldn’t wait to get out of the plane and relax a bit. She dreaded having to see Captain Jackson to find out more about the accident and the diner. She had a plan in place to end the insanity once and for all and brought Kim with her to force an ultimatum on him: Get married and prepare to run Capshaw Realty, or he would be cut out. This new company he wanted to start on his own wouldn’t last six months in her estimation. Capshaw had the capital and the reputation and Kayden wouldn’t stand a chance without her help. Kim would help steer him in the direction Maureen wanted the business to go in although she was bored with the day to day of it all. The endless meetings with city officials, contractors, architects and building plans that seemed to bleed into the next, was causing grey hairs she didn’t need nor want. It was time for Kayden to take over and hopefully catapult Capshaw to greater heights, under her terms or not at all. Paula naturally was her first choice, but she wanted nothing to do with the family business. Maureen didn’t blame her daughter for how she felt. It seemed with their success came great tragedy, and she’d had about enough of it all. The flight attendant emerged from the cockpit and helped Maureen into her coat. Kim unbuckled her seat as well and put on her fur hat, gloves and coat as the attendant opened the doors. “Welcome to Hamby Georgia”, she said as they began their slow descend onto the tarmac. *** Lana pulled up to the house and was surprised to find Kayden on the porch locking the front doors. When she cut the engine, he turned in her direction, his face pained and clearly annoyed. Oh no. She got out and climbed the stairs to the porch holding onto the railing, to avoid slipping on the snowy, icy steps.

“Where were you?” he demanded, panicked. “I went to Shelby to see Rachel,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Are you insane?! Do you know what could have happened to you out there?” “Calm down—” “You can’t run off in a snow storm and not tell anyone where you’re going!” “I’m sorry, did I need your permission or something?” she replied. It was freezing and she couldn’t believe they were arguing in the middle of a snow storm on the porch! She tried to walk past him and he blocked her from getting to the door. “Get out of the way, Kayden.” “No Lana. Listen, I don’t know how many snow storms there are in Florida, but here, you die if you get stuck out there. Do you get it?” “I get it,” Lana replied. As she looked at his face, she could see he was genuinely scared for her and she couldn’t really argue with him about it anymore. He was right. “I figured I could get there and back before it got too bad and we couldn’t visit her at all. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was. I’m sorry.” He shook his head at her, turned and unlocked the door. They walked inside, she took off his jacket and put it on the coat rack as he closed and locked the door behind them. “That was really stupid,” he said. “Listen, I said I get it okay,” she replied raising her voice. “You’re really lucky you know that? All the roads are iced, you could’ve—” he stopped. She realized why he was so upset especially since he had lost his brother under similar conditions. Granted, his drinking and driving played a part in it, but his panic was real. He obviously cared about her well-being. “I know. I won’t do that again, I promise.” She turned to leave and he grabbed her hand in his, turning her to face him. His eyes were darkened and his breathing was elevated. “I didn’t mean to scream at you,” he finally squeezed out. “I know.” She squeezed his hand reassuringly and started towards the living room. As she entered, the stacked fire wood in the corner of the room was halfway up the wall. “Wow, you work fast.” “Not fast enough.” Before she knew what hit her, Kayden spun her around and held her close to him, his forehead pressed into hers, breathing deeply and loudly. He was clinging to her like she was life itself. Before she could process what was happening, he pressed his mouth to hers and kissed her slowly and deeply. She was caught off guard, but found herself returning the kiss more passionately than she’d ever imaged. His lips

were smooth and persistent as his tongue searched hers. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer feeling every muscle on his body. His taught chest pressed against her breasts, and his arms wrapped around her back, encasing her. They were tangled like weeds in a garden and she was adhered to him, not wanting to let go. She was metal and he was her magnet. Finally, pulling his lips from hers, he trailed soft warm kisses all over her face as she ran her hands through his thick dark hair, something she had imagined doing for weeks and before she knew it, the room was spinning around her. Was this really happening right now? Was she somehow having a very lucid hallucination? No one could feel this good, because those types of unearthly desires were surely all in her head. Slowly, carefully, they pulled apart and stared deep into each other’s eyes, breathless. The want and need that passed between them said everything that needed to be said. Was she really about to do this? After spending so much energy trying to stay away? Lana knew she had to talk to him about Rachel, he deserved the truth, but right now wasn’t the time. Not when he was already feeling as raw as he was in this moment. He watched her as if waiting for her approval when she kissed him again and whispered, “Make love to me.” Instantly, he took her into his arms and lifted her up as she wrapped her legs around his waist. He walked slowly towards the stairs, still tangled in kisses when he bit down softly on her bottom lip as he ascended to the second floor. Every fantasy she’d had about this moment paled in comparison as she kissed his nose, his mouth, his chin—there wasn’t a place on his face she wanted to miss. As they reached the second floor landing, she pulled her sweater off and pulled his shirt up and over his head. As they made their way down the hall, he unbuttoned her bra and it fell from her body, exposing the tautness of her nipples. The chilling air causing them to constrict. He bent his head and took one into his mouth and the warmth of his mouth caused her body to shake and tremble almost causing her to orgasm. She arched her back as he held on with his lips, sucking a tender combination of pleasure and pain. He kicked her room door open and released his lips as she slowly let herself down, letting his tongue trail from her breast to her neck. She took a step back, and removed her jeans and panties, exposing herself fully to him. She stood there breathless and heaving waiting for him to do something as he admired every curve of her body. Kayden walked over to her graceful and smooth un-buttoning his pants and letting them slide to the carpet. His hardness strained against the fabric wanting to break free of his boxer briefs. In another swift movement he collected her in his arms again and pulled her close. He kissed her deeper, the passion building in his body, his rod poking the softer, moister area of her body. He cupped her rear and gave it a squeeze. Feeling the hardness against her she almost lost herself, and all her senses were on fire. All she could hear was the sound of her own heart racing, falling deeper and deeper into the madness. Their bodies pressed together so tight, she thought they would melt together

and create one being. Lana found herself craving more and instinctively he lowered her to the bed, running his hand down her body as she lay flat gazing into his eyes. She was spellbound, willing and waiting for his next move. Kayden raised her leg and began tracing her thighs with his tongue, as if he could read her mind. She grabbed a handful of his hair gently as he moved about, leaving soft wet trails all over her legs, then that wicked half smile returned to his face and he kissed her there. He took his time licking, nibbling and prodding with his tongue and she let out a noise even she’d never heard before. He reveled in her until her body shook and could take no more. Somewhere in their tangle of movements his briefs were gone and he moved slowly up her body, trailing more of his kisses from her legs to her lips. He wasn’t lacking in any area she noticed as he took the condom out of his jean pocket and slid the thin material over himself, neither one of them breaking eye contact. She thought she would explode in anticipation when suddenly he was on her again and their mouths locked. She arched her back as Kayden carefully slid every inch of himself inside her slowly and repeatedly. She dropped her head back as he sucked her neck in unison while she held onto his muscular arms as he moved faster and faster, a low and hungry moan escaping his mouth. When she could almost take no more, she pushed him slightly. “Stop. Lay down,” she breathed and he obliged, rolling onto his back. Lana straddled him and slowly eased herself down on him. With her hands on his broad and perfect chest, she rolled her hips in a slow circular motion never moving her eyes from his. She had never felt so free and natural before in her life. She leaned forward and kissed him again as she bounced and rolled on him faster and faster until he groaned and she cried out as he lifted his hips while grabbing her derriere and pulling her down. She collapsed forward as they both reached that peaceful bliss, her wild hair hanging in his face. He smoothed it away and tilted her face, kissing her softly and sweetly. Lana lay her head on him still trembling from the euphoria as he kissed her forehead, and rubbed her back lightly. She felt like she belonged to someone again. Something she knew better than to feel, but she would allow herself to enjoy for the moment. Right then, she was his and he was hers. They lived in a beautiful mansion, near a lake and spent their days making love and restoring buildings. Lana drifted off to sleep with a slight grin on her face at how ridiculous that sounded, but allowed herself to believe in the fantasy if only for a night. *** Have mercy, Kayden thought as he lay in bed as Lana snored softly. This sweet, soft, loving woman wanted him as bad as he wanted her. She’s going to leave eventually. This thought made him sigh and he understood she lived a state away, but being a Nurse she could find work anywhere—although she wouldn’t need to, not if she was his. Lana was a handful, but it was a challenge he would gladly accept if he could convince her to stay. As he gazed up at the ceiling now, he thought of all he had left to do to get his life in order if he was to

be of use to anyone. He still didn’t understand their connection; he just knew he couldn’t lose her. He was itching to tell her about his new company but that could wait until later. He didn’t want to wake her or let this feeling end. He rubbed the smooth velvety skin of her back, she stirred a little and clutched him tighter and he smiled. As long as Lana was by his side, there was nothing he felt he couldn’t do. His eyes slowly closed and he drifted off to sleep, for the first time hopeful about what opening them up again would bring.

8 Kayden awoke, his face pointed toward the huge window in the darkened room as the sun was setting in the sky. He rolled over to an empty bed—Lana was gone. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. How long have I been asleep, he thought as he removed the comforter from his naked body? He searched the floor for his boxers and didn’t see them. Standing from the bed, he stretched out the sore muscles from earlier and looked around the room. He saw them folded along with the rest of his clothes on the recliner next to the closet. Picking them up, he slipped the boxer briefs on and walked out of the room and down the hall. Music was coming from downstairs, and he hurried down to see what she was up to. He stood on the landing and leaned against the wall smiling as he watched her dancing around the kitchen. She was cooking something that smelled heavenly and looked so sexy in his shirt, which was too big yet short enough that it barely covered her perfect thighs. Her hair was an insane mess of curls but it was gorgeous, much like herself, bouncing around to the beat of the music. She swayed and spun her hips turning around and caught him admiring her and smiled. Kayden walked down the last step and into the kitchen, then grabbed her around the waist, using both hands to grab two handfuls of her rear. He bent down as she stood on her tip toes and they shared her a lingering kiss. “What are you making?” he asked her between kisses and walked her toward the stove. Lana had the cooking spoon in her hand and was holding it up, the white sauce oozing down her arm. “Chicken Alfredo. You hungry?” she asked in between his never ending kisses. He reached for the spoon and put it down on the counter, then held her arm up and licked the sauce off. She couldn’t help her fit of giggles as he tickled her with his mouth. “Stop it,” she protested in between fits of laughter. He pulled her close, and pressed his forehead to hers rubbing his nose lightly on hers. “That was yummy,” he said, licking his lips. “Thanks, I wanted to cook for you this time.” “No, not the food,” he replied, that wicked grin returning along with a sexy wink. “Oh,” she whispered shyly and planted a sweet kiss on his mouth, “you were quite yummy yourself.” He released his hold on her and she turned to the stove and flipped the switch off. He eyed the creamy Alfredo in the simmering pot and his stomach growled. He was audibly famished. Kayden sat down at the granite counter top and watched her, admiring how she moved in the kitchen. “I have something to tell you,” he said.

Lana turned to him and gave him a smile, then returned her attention back to the stove. The smile disappeared slowly as she remembered she had something to tell him too—something that was going to break his heart. “Oh yeah, what is it?” she asked reaching into the cupboard for the plates. He got up and walked over to her. “Well, I’ve decided to start my own company, and the first order of business, is to restore the diner, free of charge.” She stopped plating and smiled. He took the spoon from her hand and continued plating the dinner. “That’s amazing Kayden!” she exclaimed hardly believing her ears. “I’m so excited, it’s going to be awesome. I was also wondering, since I know you love Aunt Mae’s, if you would like to be part of helping me with the redesign?” He handed her the plate of pasta, and looked down at her sweet and eagerly. She wanted to die inside thinking of wiping that look from his face with her news about Rachel. “I don’t know what to say. I’d love to,” she replied and he beamed that beautiful smile again. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He took both their plates over to the counter and set them down and she followed behind him. “I think this is what I need to finally get my life on track,” he said wrapping his arms around her once again. Lana was genuinely happy for him, but as happy as she was, she couldn’t help feeling guilty. How the hell was she supposed to tell him now? She couldn’t think of a way she could without disrupting the delicate balance they’d just formed. It could wait another night, she thought as they sat down, ate dinner and talked about his plans for the diner. *** After dinner Kayden loaded the dishwasher and Lana went upstairs to take a bath. He stood in the living room and watched as the snowfall drenched the mountains of Hamby. For the first time in a long time he felt like he was home and he didn’t want to leave it behind again. He also knew he was falling in love with Lana. He hoped she knew it too. Finally, things were going good again and he vowed not to screw it up this time. Maybe the accident was a blessing in disguise, and this was what he needed to snap him out of his self-destruction. He walked up the stairs intent on joining Lana and heard his cell phone ringing in the next room. He hesitated about whether to go in and check it, but it might have been Taylor, his lawyer, calling about the diner. He rushed into the room and picked up the phone from the bedside table. When he looked at the screen however, “MOM” was flashing across it and he let out an exasperated sigh. He was not in the mood. Kayden hit “Ignore” and pressed the power button, not wanting anymore distractions for the rest of the night. Not today mother, you’re not going to ruin this today, he thought, and walked out of the room and down the hall to Lana.

*** Maureen and Kim were standing in the elevator of Spence Hotel on Patterson Court across from the farmer’s market. They weren’t far from Paula’s house but had checked in anyway against Maureen’s will. She couldn't convince anyone to drive through the snow storm to get her up on the hill, so she and Kim would have to make do with the hotel during their short stay. The establishment wasn’t up to her regular Four Season’s standards and she didn’t intend on spending a moment longer there than she needed to. The elevator chimed and they both stepped off, and headed to their respective rooms. As she stepped into the room, it was neat and tidy with antique furniture and a dainty comforter covered in floral prints. It smelled stale but the hotel wasn’t regularly packed so it was to be expected. It wasn’t the four seasons in any form, she thought. Placing her bag down on the floor by the bed, she sat and took her cell phone out of her purse. She had called Kayden earlier knowing she could convince him to fetch her, but he didn’t answer, and there were no missed calls to indicate he’d tried to call her back. Perhaps the signal was bad up on the hill or he simply ignored the call. Either way they had some serious business to discuss. First she needed to tell him that his restoration project was dead in the water. She’d already called Taylor and Associates from New York and killed the contracts. She understood it would piss him off, but he’d get over it when he realized what was at stake. Kim was in a room down the hall and Maureen was relieved to finally have some space from her. She kicked her Chanel pumps off and rubbed her toes into the light blue shag carpet. Kim would make a perfect trophy wife for Kayden. She was beautiful and envied by other women, so it made men envious of him and that would gain him respect among the titans of the field. “People have to want what you’ve got, to buy what you’re selling,” was her motto. Kim wasn’t a business woman or particularly smart, but she was loyal and cared for her son. She also had full knowledge about what this life entailed and could guide Kayden in better understanding of the social logistics of it. Maureen hit redial again, put the phone to her ear, but only got his recorded voice. A bit of worry flashed through her mind as she wondered if he'd heard about that Rachel woman and done anything drastic? Of course not, she thought. He hadn’t visited the last few days so he couldn’t know. She ensured that anyone who wasn’t family wasn’t given any information. Another task she checked off her to-do list before she left New York. The only person who visited Rachel was some nurse who stepped in during the crash and she wasn’t family at all. Maureen had everything under control and she intended it to stay that way. Come morning, she would get Captain Jackson to take her up to the house, straighten out her son once and for all, and get out of this frozen hell and back to New York where her comforts awaited her. *** Kimberly was under the blankets on her bed, in her room quite content with herself. She was with her guy’s mom whom she adored and she was just hours away from seeing him again. Kayden was her first love and the hottest guy in their circle of friends and everyone envied them. Flipping through her

worn bridal magazine, she circled a dress by Vivian Westward. It was perfect! She planned on wearing Swarovski crystals in her hair that matched his eye color and had even picked out her engagement ring already. The wedding was going to be fabulous! Although they hadn’t been together, or even seen each other for a while, she wasn’t worried about him fighting the marriage. Kayden did what his mom wanted anyway, even though she admittedly didn’t always like the way Maureen played him at times. This time though, it benefited them all. Their family dynamic had been strained since Joel and his dad died and Kayden still wasn’t handling it well at all. He partied way too much and not the fun stuff either, just drinking and street racing at every hole in the wall he could find. It’s like he wanted something bad to happen. It didn’t matter, because all that was going to be behind him, and pretty soon they’d be the royalty of real estate. She knew he loved restoring old stinky buildings, but she would help usher him into the twenty first century and design high-rise condominiums, and hotels like Maureen wanted—it was going to be fantastic! I’m so lucky, she thought as she circled another dress by Gucci in the book. Their wedding was going to be the talk of the town! Kim rolled over on her back on the bed with a huge smile on her face as she clutched the magazine to her chest.

9 The sun was up but the sky was dull and grey through the overcast sky. Kayden’s revelation about his new plan yesterday shocked her to say the least. Lana was embarrassed by how wrong she had prejudged him and knew it had a lot to do with her own past. Maybe all men weren’t alike after all. Her cellphone vibrated and she picked it up from the bedside table and swiped the screen: CARMEN: Guess who got DUMPED?! Hint…Dragon in heels She rolled her eyes but proceeded to respond to her friend finally. LANA: Don’t even care. Have so much to tell you. CARMEN: So you don’t care that he dumped her when he saw the pic she posted of u on FB? LANA: Nope! CARMEN: Damn girl, what’s going on up there? You need to call me ASAP! She placed the phone back down, climbed out of bed and walked into Kayden’s bathroom where she turned the deep whirlpool tub on. Adding her vanilla scented body wash, she removed what little she had on and slipped into the steaming water. They had made love three times since yesterday and her muscles ached in all the right places. He was insatiable, she thought as she bathed away the night’s adventures. Lana woke up alone, but knew he wasn’t far. He was probably cooking breakfast or chopping wood since the roads were closed. He couldn’t go to the hospital to see Rachel even if he wanted to. How was she going to break that to him? She lay back and rested her head against the cold porcelain of the tub. Perhaps if I did it now it wouldn’t be so bad. The longer she dragged it out, the worse it would be and his heart being broken was inevitable either way. Either it would come from her, or the police and she couldn’t let them catch him off guard that way. Once she was finished in the bathroom she put on a thick soft and fluffy terry cloth robe and slipped on Kayden’s bedroom shoes. They were huge and she could hardly walk in them, but she didn’t have any of her own as she was unprepared for the snow storm. Walking slowly down the stairs to avoid slipping, there weren’t any aromas of a breakfast being made, just freshly brewed coffee. He was sitting at the dining room table and was intently drawing something on the large sheet of paper spread across it. His back was turned to her and she didn’t want to startle him, so she went into the kitchen, grabbed a mug and poured herself a cup of his way too strong coffee. “Morning beautiful,” he called over his shoulder. That made her smile. “Morning,” she replied, walking towards him now, mug in hand.

He reached his arm around her waist, pulling her close to him as he drew ruler-straight lines with his free hand. It was a masterpiece, she thought looking at it. “That’s amazing Kayden,” she said. She could hardly believe her eyes. He had sketched the exterior of the building with stained glass, and made it look like a home rather than a diner entrance. “You like it?” he asked while he pulled her on his lap and looked up at her. “I love it, and I know Aunt Mae will too,” she said and kissed him on the nose. “I love it too, but it’s not for the restaurant,” he replied returning her gesture of a kiss but on her lips instead. He tasted the coffee on her mouth and licked his lips. “Oh yeah? Then what’s it for?” she asked perplexed. “It’s a house I want to build here in Hamby. I’ve been working on it for a while but I’m inspired to finish it now.” “Wow, that’s awesome. It’s huge,” she said as he flipped the plans so she could see more. The house was three stories with a covered lanai, and six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a media room, formal dining and private tennis court. It was beyond anything she had ever seen for sure. “You’re really talented you know that,” she said looking at him. “If only my mother agreed.” “Well, show her. You can’t let this stay a secret. Build it and show her you’ve got what it takes.” He smiled at her. “I plan to build it and move back here to live in it,” he said waiting for her response. He searched her eyes and she could tell that he wanted to say more. “I think you should go for it,” she kissed him and stood off his lap, but he took her coffee, placed it on the table and held her hands in his. “I was hoping I’d have a roommate,” he replied and kissed her hand, looking up at her with eyes as deep and beautiful as the sea. Lana froze like a statue although panic coursed through her body. Was he serious? Could she really move here and leave her life behind? For the first time in a long time she was lost for words. They had so much more to learn about each other still. She took a deep breath and smiled weakly at him. “That’s a big question Kayden. How do you know you want to live with me?” She removed her hand and grabbed the coffee mug taking a huge gulp that seared her esophagus. “Don’t husbands live with their wives?” he asked pausing for her response. The question stunned her and she began choking on her coffee and he stood. “Are you OK?” He asked again, taking the mug from her and placing it back on the table. “I’m fine,” she choked out tapping her chest, as a small bit of coffee was now in her lungs. She wasn’t sure she heard him right and if she did, he had to be crazy. Pulling her hand from him slowly and backing away, the light in his face dimmed.

“Kayden…that’s…we can’t…slow down,” she stammered, “We’ve only known each other a few weeks.” “I know all I need to. And it’s not as if I’m a complete stranger. You and my sister have been best friends forever,” he replied. That reminded her again that she still hadn’t called or texted Paula at all, but now she was afraid of the thought. He approached her slowly, and she backed up instinctively. “I know you’re caring, bright and strong-willed,” he reached an arm around her back and pulled her into him. He pressed his forehead to hers as he always did, his eyelashes tickling hers and kissed her. “You’re brave, beautiful, thoughtful,” he continued, his kisses getting more intense. “And I’m in love with you,” he said looking into her eyes. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think clearly and definitely couldn’t believe what was happening. “Oh Kayden, so am I but…” she searched his eyes as hers filled with tears. He wiped one that escaped her face with his thumb. “But what?” he asked so soft and so sweet, she almost died inside. He looked so sure of himself, more confident than she’d ever seen him before. What if he was actually telling the truth, she thought, as she was pretty sure she had fallen for him way longer than she wanted to admit to herself. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she said, with tears running freely down her face. “Shh...,” he hugged her and continued, “What’s happening is, for the first time, in a long time, I feel free. Being with you, it’s like someone opened the shades of a dark room and let the light in. I can breathe again. I feel like I have a purpose and I want to spend the rest of my life thanking you for that.” “I wish I was as confident as you,” she said searching his face, wondering if she could trust another man the way she had in the past. She really wanted to with him and he was making a very compelling argument. “You showed me compassion when I least deserved it. You call me on my shit when I need it, and by simply being the most considerate and thoughtful woman, I’ve ever laid eyes on. The thought of losing you in a few weeks scares me worse than anything else right now. That’s how I know it’s you.” He leaned in and kissed her again and she didn’t resist. His words floored her as she never dreamed she could have that kind of impact on anyone. She kissed him back as he slowly pulled her robe down around her shoulders and it hit the floor. They made love in front of the fireplace as if their lives depended on it. *** After a day spent cooking, watching movies and making more earth shattering love, Lana woke in bed laying on his chest. She thought about everything that had happened since she arrived in town a few

short weeks ago and how her life was suddenly spinning out of control in every good way imaginable. She had literally ran into someone she couldn’t stand the sight of, but now couldn’t imagine not being with him every minute of the day. Kayden was sound asleep and the moon was full in the night sky, the light spilling through the panoramic windows and filling the room. She had a lot to think about as she hadn’t said no to his wild proposal, but she never said yes to it either. She had to tell him what had happened with Rachel and there was no faking through that no matter how much she wished it. There just never seemed to be a good time to bring it up the entire day. Also, there was the matter of that Kim girl texting his phone and so many questions that she needed answered in order for her to agree to uproot her life and move to Hamby, let alone marry him. What if this was just a phase she was going through—or worse, what if she was just a phase for him? Already having her heart demolished once and by someone half the man Kayden was, if he did it too, she would be undone for sure. He stirred a little and squeezed his eyes closed then they opened lazily and slow. Small slits showed only a peak of color, but the moonlight illuminated them like emeralds. It amazed her how many different colors his eyes could manifest at different times of the day. He smiled as he gazed at her but didn’t say anything. They didn’t need to speak. They had a way of conveying lots of communication with simple glances or lingering stares. He wanted her to be his wife and she was unsure of her future, let alone his. She scooted closer to him and planted a small kiss on his lips. “What was that for?” he murmured sleepily. “Because I’ve fallen head over heels in love with you,” she replied. “But you won’t marry me.” “I didn’t say that,” she replied. “You never said yes either,” he deadpanned. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said shifting her weight onto her elbow. “What is it?” he asked yawning. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time, she thought. Maybe I should just make something up and leave it alone. As she looked over at him, his hair disheveled, and adorable, she couldn’t wait anymore. He had to know what was going on and be prepared for what was coming. She sat up in the bed and turned on the small lamp on the bedside table. He sat up, more intent, worry creeping into his face. Lana wrung her hands, not sure of how to say the words or of what his reaction would be. “What is it, baby?” he took her hands enveloping them in both of his, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. Finally, she took a breath and prepared herself. It’s now or never, she thought. As she opened her mouth, the doorbell chime started ringing throughout the house. It startled her because she’d never heard it before and also because it was well after midnight. “Who the hell is that?” he asked and jumped out of bed.

Kayden headed for the bedroom door and her heart sank. The police were here to take him away and I’m too late. Idiot, she chastised in her thoughts. She jumped out of bed and ran in front of him, blocking the door and the doorbell sounded again. “What's going on Lan?” he shortened her name for the first time since she'd known him and she liked it. “Yes.” She replied. “What?” he asked confused. “I’ll marry you,” she said, the words falling from her mouth before she could think. Lana resolved to not tell him she knew about Rachel at that point. She would just be there for him and explain it all as best she could later. Regardless of how he took it, there wasn’t much more that could be done. She was out of time. They both were. Kayden grabbed her and hugged her planting kisses all over her face. The doorbell sounded for the third time and caused her heart to skip a beat. “You’ve made me the happiest man on the planet, you know that?” he asked. Lana smiled at him weakly and grabbed him again stealing another kiss, sure that it would be the last for a while. “Let’s see who’s at the door,” he said holding her hand and leaving the room. They walked down the stairs, passed the kitchen and Kayden flipped on the foyer light. They stood hand in hand at the front door when Lana turned her head to the windows across the house. The snow had stopped falling but it was at least five feet out there. Someone really needed to get there and she knew it was the police. She wiped away a silent tear as the bell rang again. Kayden looked through the peep hole and his head dropped. “Shit,” he turned and looked at her worried. Lana stood in silence, and didn’t know what to say. He opened the door slowly, and standing on the porch, through mounds of recently dug up snow was an older woman, a young blonde and a police officer. “Hey mom,” Kayden said. Lana’s eyes grew wide as his mother stalked past him and stopped in front of her. “Mom?” Lana repeated in shock. Lana was only wearing a thin nightgown and folded her arms over her chest in a failed attempt to cover her see through material. “Well,” Maureen started as she eyed Lana in dismay, “I see nothing’s changed one bit.” She took off her coat and handed it to him like he was a servant and he placed it on the coat rack. She was dressed in Chanel from head to toe, typical of what you’d see in old family money. A snobbish and trite cliché. The blonde walked through the door next, dressed in jeans so tight, she was sure to contract a yeast infection by morning, Lana thought. “What in the hell are you doing here?” Kayden asked angrily. She smiled at him, turned her nose up at Lana, and returned her attention to him.

“I’m happy to see you too Kay,” she replied, then followed Maureen into the living room, shooting darts through her eyes at Lana. Captain Jackson walked in and nodded to Kayden and Lana and followed after Maureen and Kim. As Kayden closed the door to the house. He mouthed the words “I’m so sorry.” She felt raw and intruded upon by the brat pack that just waltz into their space without invitation or warning. “Who’s the blonde?” she asked, her arms still folded across her chest. “My ex Kim and trust me, I have no idea what she’s doing here.” Kayden stalked into the living room still in his boxers towards the group as Lana slowly made her way into the kitchen hoping she could make it upstairs to put more clothes on. “What’s going on Mother? I figured you would make an appearance but why is she with you?” “Please put some clothes on dear. There are some pressing matters we need to discuss,” she replied, like she was the queen of England. He turned around and started for the stairs that Lana was almost halfway up. She caught Kim looking at him in his boxers and didn’t like it. When he made it next to her he wrapped an arm around her waist and she kissed him on the shoulder as they walked up the stairs together. Kim’s smile faded quickly when she saw the affection between the two of them and looked over at Maureen. “Not to worry, I’m sure that’ll be over and done with once we leave here in the morning,” she replied. Kim relaxed in the couch a little, but still didn’t’ like what she saw. Lana and Kayden walked into her room and closed the door behind them. “I’m so sorry Lan, I had no idea she was coming,” he said turning her around to face him. “I know Kayden,” she replied raising her eyebrow to him. She grabbed his hand and sat him on the edge of her bed. “Listen, I meant what I said. It’s crazy and wild and we might both be crazy, but I’ve spent my entire life playing it safe for far too long. I will marry you, but what I was trying to tell you earlier wasn’t about that.” “Then what is it?” he asked, searching her eyes. “It’s Rachel.” Kayden’s face went from frustrated by the drama downstairs, to instantly blank. He wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t moving and it was as if he’d turned into a statue before her eyes. “The other day when you yelled at me for going to see her in the storm, I didn’t have a chance to tell you everything. Things have just happened so fast,” she said talking a mile a minute. He put his hand over hers. “How bad is it?” She looked up at him, her eyes full of tears. And he dropped his head. “I’m so sorry. The receptionist wouldn’t let me go up to see her. She said she wasn’t in the room any

longer—” “Shh,” he cut her off, and stood from the bed, walking to the window. Suddenly his eyes were full of tears and he ran his hands through his hair. It was something she’d recognized as a stress signal in him. He’d done it on the highway, at the diner, and the first night by the fireplace. She wished there was something she could do, but was drawing a blank. “Kayden, I didn’t know how to tell you. I wanted to so much the last few days but you’ve been so happy and inspired, I didn’t want to ruin that for you. It was selfish of me and I’m sorry.” He turned to her now, his face now the one full of tears and she leapt from the bed and ran across the

room to him. He held onto her almost too tight and she let him as he cried softly on her shoulder. It’s my fault. I’m the one who keeps ruining people’s lives,” he said, wracked in emotion. She hugged him even tighter. “Don’t say that. Don’t you think like that.” “It doesn’t matter,” he pulled away from her, “I deserve whatever happens to me this time.” Lana’s face went stern and serious. She held his hand up to her chest over her heart and used her other one to tilt his face to hers, his messy hair in his face. “You’re my heart now and the only thing you deserve is someone who is going to stand by your side. You’ve opened my eyes to more than you could ever know. This doesn’t change anything between us,” she said, and couldn’t hold back her own tears anymore. “I’m here and will be here for you regardless, you can bet your last dollar on that.” He smiled, and some of the light returned to his eyes as he pulled her close to him again. “You sure you want to marry me now?” “Yes today, yes tomorrow and yes to the rest of my life.”

10 They walked hand in hand downstairs to face the mini mob waiting in the living room for them. Someone, Maureen more than likely, had taken it upon themselves to light the fireplace. Lana sat on the love-seat with Kayden and Kim and Heathcliff looked at Maureen as if awaiting instruction. She took her time to study Lana for a long minute, then her eyes flicked to her son. “This is a family matter. Why is she here?” “She’s more family than Kim is and she has a name,” Kayden replied defiantly. “Yes, I’m Lana. Lana McKenzie,” she chimed and held her hand out to shake Maureen’s. Maureen looked at her hand then back to her face and over to Kayden. Lana dropped her hand down when suddenly Heathcliff grabbed it, shaking way too hard. “Yes Ms. McKenzie, thank you for all your help with Ms. Brown. It was courageous of you to step in there like that,” he leaned back on the couch releasing the death grip. Kim rolled her eyes and kept her attention on Kayden, who hadn’t even looked in her direction. “Fine,” Maureen replied to Kayden, “I’ll bottom line it for you then.” She stood from the couch and walked the perimeter of the living room, like a shark circling its prey. She was ready to attack him and Lana couldn’t help but feel disgust at a parent who wanted to torment their own child. “The Rachel woman has died unfortunately,” she continued and sauntered slowly in front of the fireplace where she lingered a moment. “Fortunately for you, she had no family or next of kin that could press charges. Now the state could, but it’s highly unlikely that would happen based solely on our family’s reputation in this town.” Lana and Kayden looked at each other the same time. She couldn’t believe it. Yes, she was still devastated by the loss of Rachel but this was actually good news for him. She felt a weight lift from her chest and couldn’t help the beaming smile on her face. “That’s good news then,” Kayden replied. “I’m not finished yet,” she said and continued her slow circling theater act. “I’m nearing the time of retirement as you well know and I’ve lost the passion I once had for realty. I’m here to hand you the keys to the kingdom,” she turned to him and his face lit up. He grabbed Lana’s face and kissed her. Kim stood up from the couch hyperventilating, angry and red faced. “I can’t stand this anymore,” she yelled, her hands on her hips standing over them both. “Please Kimberly let me handle this,” Maureen shot her a stern look and Kim sat back down, her eyes never leaving Lana and Lana’s never leaving hers. Lana was not about to give the bitch the satisfaction of intimidation. “What’s this got to do with Kim anyway?” Kayden stood and faced his mother. His body towered over

Lana, a mass of muscle and strength. From that angle he looked like one of those Greek God statues that you’d see in a museum. “The only way I hand over the family business, is if you agree to my terms.” “Which are?” he demanded. “That you be married.” He smiled but Lana didn’t. She realized all too well what Kim was doing there now and it hit her like a ton of bricks. It was an arranged marriage! “You will marry Kim, receive your currently withheld inheritance and by default half your brothers. The remainder of which will go to Paula. Then and only then will you take over Capshaw Realty as CEO,” she replied proudly, her face stern and unmoving. “I don’t love her. Hell, I don’t even like her!” He boomed and looked at Lana, whose face was filled with anguish. “Love has nothing to do with it.” Maureen looked at Lana and smiled. “See dear, this is why you were better left upstairs.” “Mother!” he yelled, so loud the entire town must have heard. “I’m not marrying Kim, are you serious? Who in the hell do you think you are? You don’t get to plan my life!” “As if you’ve done so great on your own thus far? Need I remind you in front of your little friend here, what I’ve had to do for you?” She continued walking around the living room her heels clicking like a metronome during piano lessons. “Street-racing, accidents, DUI’s…the death of your brother,” she yelled, “Your father was so stressed and heartbroken, it sent his health spiraling and that’s what killed him! Your irresponsibility has cost this family enough and you will do whatever is necessary to fix it. End of story!” Lana felt herself rise from the couch, anger coursing through her veins, seeing only red. “He doesn’t need reminding Mrs. Capshaw, because he lives it every single day of his life!” She didn’t even realize she was now standing face to face with her. It was as if she'd stepped out of her own body and was watching someone else altogether. She continued. “Perhaps the reason for his behavior is because you’ve used it as a tool to control him while you look down your nose at him. This isn’t parenting, he’s an adult and you should be ashamed for treating him like a child and then using his misfortune as an excuse for you behaving like a shitty mother!” Lana grabbed her mouth unable to stop the ramble of words as they tumbled out. Kim’s eyes were the size of saucers and Maureen stood there with her mouth ajar searching for words that didn’t come. Heathcliff looked frantically at Maureen and Kayden, clearly out of his depth when Lana turned to Kayden. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disrespect your mother, but I won’t let anyone talk to you like that or treat you that way anymore.” She turned back to Maureen. “I don’t give a damn who they are.” Lana stomped out of the living room and up the stairs leaving everyone in suspended animation. She

didn’t dare turn around for fear she would pass out from the amount of adrenaline coursing through her body. When the door to her room slammed, Maureen’s blue grey eyes fell on her son. “And to clarify mother, she isn’t my little friend. She’s my fiancé.” Kim’s face turned as white as a ghosts, which made him smile. “Feel free to sleep in one of the guest rooms down stairs as me and my future wife would like to be undisturbed for the rest of the evening.” With that he turned to leave. “Kayden!” Maureen shrieked, her body heaving so badly, she could barely breathe. He turned to her. “If you choose to defy me, you’re cut off for good! And just so you know, that little project with the diner was stopped as of yesterday. So if you think you’re doing something special there, you’re not!” “What?” he replied, barely believing his ears. Did she really go that far? “Yes, you heard right. Capshaw is taking over the project and KDN Properties’ contract was cancelled.” Kayden looked at his mother, tears welling in his eyes. Kim stood and walked over to him. “Listen Kayden, it’s not worth it. If you do what your mom wants, you get to control the company and do the types of projects you want to do. Total freedom. Don't throw that away for someone you don’t know.” She touched his forearm and he pulled away from her. “Listen to her son. She’s the only person in here other than myself that’s thinking of you.” Kayden snorted and wiped his face. He looked into his mother’s eyes and tried to search for any glimmer of love or affection and couldn’t find a salt grains worth. Maureen’s face softened, having not seen her son this vulnerable in years. She finally studied the fine lines that started to appear around his eyes, the weariness of a man, that had been through too much. She could see the toll it had taken on him. “Mom, I love you,” he said sweetly, then continued, “and there’s very little that will change that. But I’m done jumping through hoops. If you want to cut me free, then cut me free,” he continued. “I’d rather struggle the rest of my life with a woman who loves me for who I am and not what I can give her,” he looked at Kim. “I’d rather be penniless if it means I can finally have some peace in my own life! You have to let him go, Mom. Joel isn’t coming back; Dad isn’t coming back!” Maureen flinched at the sound of Joel’s name coming from Kayden. “I’ve apologized all I will...all I can. You can accept that and love me anyway, or you can walk away and say goodbye.” He turned and walked up the stairs, as they stood in silence. Kayden couldn’t believe the extent his mother had gone to and he no longer cared. He would find a way to hold on to this newfound happiness, no matter the cost.

11 It was six o’ clock in the morning and sleep escaped both Kayden and Lana. They spent most of the night talking about the absurdity that had occurred way earlier that morning and how they’d go about getting the diner contract back. The snow was falling heavily again and Lana was afraid of being trapped in a house with his mother and ex. The thought made her cringe inside. Neither wanted to get dressed and go downstairs to see if they were still there but Lana made the first move and put on her robe and walked downstairs. She smelled fresh coffee and instantly wanted to run back upstairs to her room, but she was too late. When she had hit the last stair Maureen was in the dining room dressed to die in more Chanel. That was obviously her thing. She stood over at the drawing table looking at Kayden’s sketches, holding a cup of coffee in Lana’s favorite mug. “Good morning,” Maureen called out, as Lana walked into the kitchen. She stopped and looked at her and the fake Cheshire smile on her face. “Good morning, Mrs. Capshaw,” she replied and rummaged the cabinet for another mug. “My son is quite the talent wouldn’t you agree?” she asked as she flipped through the plans for the house Lana hoped to live in with him someday. “Yes he is. It’s just a shame it’s taken you so long to figure that out,” Lana replied pouring her coffee. Maureen placed her mug down and walked over to Lana, cool, slow and calculating. Lana was trapped in the kitchen with her and there was nothing to do but face the wicked witch head on. “You have a lot of opinions about a man you know nothing about.” “I know plenty about him,” Lana replied. “Can you look me in the eye and tell me you really know him?” “I know all I need to Mrs. Capshaw. Can you look me in mine and tell me you do?” Maureen smirked at her and shook her head. “Do you think this is new for him, or that you’re the first girl he’s brought up here and made promises to?” “You see, that’s where you’re wrong again. He didn’t bring me here. Paula, your daughter, who happens to be my best friend for years now, asked me to house sit for her. As she’s done five times before since she built it.” Lana put her mug down now and stood face to face with Maureen. “You barely know your own children, do you?”

Maureen walked away from her and grabbed her coat draped over the bar stool. Heathcliff emerged from the end of the hallway with bags in his hand and nodded at Lana as he walked to the front door. “Tell my son when he decides to come to his senses, I’ll be at the Spence Hotel until this storm blows over, and the airport re-opens. When I leave town, the offer leaves with me.” She stalked down the hall and Heathcliff opened the front door and they stepped out into the frigid air. Kim emerged from the hallway next holding a duffle bag in hand. “Have a safe trip home,” Lana called out, as she walked past her. Kim stopped, dropped her bag and stalked up to Lana. “What’s his favorite color?” Kim asked, her arms crossed over her chest. “What?” Lana replied, confused. “It’s a simple question. What’s his favorite color? Or his favorite food? Hmm?” Lana didn’t know any of this and it bothered her that Kim was getting the upper hand. “You have no idea who he is,” Kim continued. “Do you know how he got the scar on his shoulder or what his biggest fear is?” Lana could say nothing. She stood there and felt the weight of the questions Kim threw at her and a frown erupted on her face. “You’re not from our world honey. No one will accept you and everyone will turn their backs on him because of it. And please don’t be fooled into thinking money isn’t important to him either.” Lana was ready to deck her in the face, but instead she walked away slowly feeling the rage inside her build. “When he’s broke and penniless, he will come back to mommy, he will marry me. And you? You’ll just be used up and tossed aside.” Lana spun on her heels and stalked towards Kim. As her hand sailed through the air, it was caught abruptly by Kayden, who now wrapped his other arm around her waist from behind. “Don’t babe, she’s not worth it,” he said as he held her back. “Get out,” Lana said through clenched teeth. “Your gonna regret this,” Kim said to him. She picked up her duffle bag, stomped down the foyer, opened the door and slammed it shut behind her. The engine of a snowmobile started outside, the transportation many in town used recently. “Don’t let them get to you,” he said, still holding her from behind. “But it’s not totally wrong what they were saying.” “My favorite color is black,” he kissed the back of her neck, “My favorite food is shrimp and anyway, it doesn’t matter.” She smiled. “My favorite TV show is full of vampires.” He chuckled and turned her around to face him. “Those aren’t the important things to know about someone. Things like, what are a person’s dreams,

their desires? What kind of person they are, and who do they want to be? Those questions are the important ones and neither she or my mother know any of them about me.” “The little one’s matter, even if it’s just a little,” she kissed his nose. “We’re engaged; it doesn’t mean we’re getting married tomorrow. We have all the time in the world.” He kissed her and she held him around his waist, the warmth of his body calming her down. “Your mom wanted me to tell you she’s at the Spence Hotel, and she’d be there until the storm blew over.” “Well, my mom is the last person on my mind right now. I need to make arrangements for Rachel at the hospital and have my lawyer file an injunction against my mother.” This was getting serious fast, Lana thought. “Coffee?” he asked and walked into the kitchen. *** Lana had never used the garage attached to the house. She stood in the snow as Kayden pulled out a snowmobile so they could travel the town to visit Aunt Mae. It was a blue and grey Yamaha, and looked very fancy by her standards. All bundled up in his warm thermal parker, Kayden climbed on and she climbed on behind him wearing a parker she found stuffed in the back of Paula’s closet. The snow was so white, he made her wear dark red tinted shades to protect against snow blindness, whatever that was. The scenery looked cool in the shade of red since everything was blanketed in white. As they rode down the drive way and into the road she couldn’t help but mourn her half buried Ford. The snow was so high you could only see where the bottom of the window started. As they slowly made their way down, the streets were silent. A few kids and their parents were on some skis, but that was it. No one was out. Life crawled to a halt at this time of year. They passed Aunt Mae’s, which was of course still closed and the parking lot was buried under snow, so no barbecue grill was on either. They were open rain or shine but apparently snow was out of the slogan for a reason. They turned down Patterson Court and saw a snow mobile with a seat attachment. It was probably the one Captain Jackson used to oblige Maureen and Kim. Kayden applied the gas as they passed the building by and drove all the way up the hill to a suburb Lana had never visited before. Pretty soon they were pulling up to a modest blue house in white trim with a glowing light on through the windows. It looked so warm and cozy inside. The smell of food wafting through the air affirmed to her that they had reached their destination. This was where Aunt Mae lived. The houses in this neighborhood were all cottage styled and small, but full of charm with smoke emitting from all the fireplace chimneys atop them. The streets were lined in tall maple sugar trees and although they were bare, they stood tall and proud, like generals in an army. They both climbed off the snowmobile and soon stood on the porch of Aunt Mae’s as Kayden knocked on the door.

“Comin’,” was yelled through the door from a male on the other side. The front door swung open and the heat and aroma of food slammed into them like a sauna. The man at the door was an older gentleman who had to be in his mid-sixties. He was wearing a blue crocheted sweater with slacks and he bent forward slightly as he held onto a cane. What was left of his hair had greyed and receded and the wrinkles in his face served as a testament of a long life lived. “You picking up?” He asked, turning back to the interior of the home. Aunt Mae emerged from her kitchen, wiping her hands on her floured apron, curious as to who was at the door. She smirked at Kayden when she saw him, but smiled at Lana. “Well come on before you let the hawk in,” she said, prompting them to walk into the house. The man closed it promptly and turned around to face them. He pointed to the couch and they took a seat. “I didn’t know you were serving from home,” Lana exclaimed smiling at Aunt Mae as she walked into the living room. “You know my kitchen never closes baby,” she replied and sat on a recliner, next to a brown upholstered couch. “What can I do for you?” She asked Kayden. He smiled at her and removed his shades, then his gloves and ski cap. His messy hair fell into his eyes. Seeing him was like seeing him for the first time every time and it always made Lana’s heart skip a beat. She removed her shades as well and could see the home in regular light, which kind of bothered her eyes now. “You know that momma of yours took over, so I don’t know what it is I can do,” Aunt Mae said, before Kayden could say a word. The older gentleman, her husband Lana surmised, had gone into the kitchen and pots and pans could be heard banging around. “You could deny her the project Aunt Mae. My mother claims she wants me to grow up and take responsibility for my life, and when I do, she finds a way to make me dependent on her.” “Kayden, now I’ve known you since you were a baby, before your parents became what they are. I know your heart and I know you’re a good person. Your momma is heartbroken son. That’s all it boils down to.” Her husband returned with a tray of steaming mugs and Kayden jumped up to help him. “Sit on down boy, I got this,” he said. And he was right. He may have appeared fragile and weak but he held the tray with four mugs in one hand and his cane in the other like it was nothing. Kayden sat back down and smiled at him sheepishly. “This is my husband Joseph, by the way,” Aunt Mae said to Lana. “Nice to meet you Joseph.” He took a seat on another recliner next to Aunt Mae, and nodded to Lana. “Nice to meet you too young lady. Kayden, good to see you.”

“Same here Mr. Smith. So what should I do then?” Kayden returned his attention to Aunt Mae who started handing out the mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Lana took a sip and it was rich, smooth and creamy. “I’ll do my part and help you all I can. Of course, not much can happen yet until this snow goes away so you have until it melts to get your affairs in order I’d suppose.” She winked at him and Mr. Smith looked at Aunt Mae. “Hey now, no flirting in my house,” he said laughing to himself. Aunt Mae whacked him lightly on his shoulder. Lana observed them as they continued to laugh and talk about the old times, then about how KDN Properties would file the injunction and begin work on the diner. There really was a lot of love between them all and Hamby started feeling a lot more like home and the idea of leaving Florida behind felt a lot easier. *** After being fed by Aunt Mae and her charming husband, Kayden and Lana made the long snowmobile ride back up to the house on the hill. She couldn’t wait to get there to take a nap as she was exhausted from the trek. The last few days had also felt more like work than a vacation and it was beginning to wear on her. As they passed the diner and turned into the roundabout, Lana made another mental reminder to call Paula and fill her in on what was happening. It would be after her nap though, as she could barely keep her eyes open as she held onto Kayden. *** Perhaps she should’ve warned Lana that her house was full of cameras and audio equipment. Paula was in a private cabana at a resort in Hawaii looking over footage on her laptop. It wasn’t to spy on Lana, but rather to make sure her friend was safe up there all alone. She didn’t think Kayden would still go up to her house, after their last conversation had went downhill, so naturally she didn’t think to brief Lana. But yet there he was, chopping wood in her back yard. When he called to ask what type of wine Lana liked, she warned him to leave her friend alone. Lana didn’t need the type of attention Kayden usually gave women, which was just enough for one night never to be seen or heard from again—she deserved better than that. After Lana disappeared off camera in the video Paula sighed and closed her laptop down. Paula was always considered a knock-out with her long dark hair, tanned slim body and hazel colored eyes. They were currently hidden behind a pair of Gucci shades and Garret her husband, a film producer sat down on the side of her lounge chair. He and grabbed the tanning oil and began to pour some in his hand. “Everything ok?” He asked smiling, dripping wet from the pool. He looked more like he should be in front of the camera with his equally tanned muscular frame, blonde hair and chocolate eyes.

“Yeah I guess. Neither one has called me so everything must be OK,” she replied rolling over on her stomach. The sun was bright and the wind was cool as Garret lathered her back in the coconut scented oil. Paula was grateful to be there rather than in six feet of snow. It was seventy-eight degrees there and she was enjoying every bit of sun she got. “You may want to call them yourself. You know how Kayden can be,” Garret continued, as he rubbed. Paula turned her head towards the sea. She knew he was right and she didn’t want to lose someone else on the count of her brother. “I’ll call tomorrow,” she stated and closed her eyes, as the smell of the sea, and the massage relaxed her. *** Kim sat at her hotel room desk with her laptop opened, while she sipped on a glass of wine. The last couple days were pretty uneventful as far as her reunion with Kayden, but she wasn’t a quitter. Not when it came to getting what she wanted. She looked down at the clock in the corner of her computer screen, the time being five o’ clock in the evening. She moved her mouse over her web browser’s bookmark tabs and clicked on the tab for Bergdorf’s. It opened to a Bridal Services webpage where it listed all the services offered for brides and grooms. There was also a bridal salon service she intended to call the next day in order to book as early as possible. As she scribbled down all the numbers listed for the various options available, she received a Twitter notification in the lower right corner of her screen. It was Kayden and he’d just posted. She quickly clicked it, but no page popped up. Blocked again, she thought to herself as he often did this to her. She closed the Twitter window down and clicked a program on her desktop, that began running a string of code. A little gift she received from an M.I.T friend of hers, that could unblock her access, it always came in handy. The process would take about twelve hours, but that was fine by her. She needed to keep an eye on what he was up to, in order to know if the plan she and Maureen cooked up had worked. Inside she knew it was a little intrusive, but her philosophy was that you never got anything you wanted in life by being passive about it and she applied that as fiercely as she could in every situation. Kim downed the last of the Chardonnay in her glass and refilled it from the bottle that sat next to her computer. She reopened her web browser and clicked on another saved tab. It was a state board of nursing page and Kim smiled to herself as she scrolled the page and sipped her wine in silence. *** After finishing a dinner of shrimp skewers and risotto, Kayden was back on the phone with Taylor and Associates discussing their course of action for the injunction. It was nearly nine o’ clock and Lana didn’t want to disturb him, so she went upstairs to grab some laundry to throw in the wash to keep herself

busy. In her old room she grabbed her jeans out of the hamper and heard her cell phone vibrating. She hadn’t checked it since her last text conversation with Carmen and she really didn’t feel like getting any updates about Sam. It could also be her mother and she didn’t want to worry her as she hadn’t called to check in, in a while either. Digging the touch screen device from the pant pocket, she saw three missed calls. One from the Nursing Agency she worked for and two unknown numbers. Who would’ve been calling me from a twoone-two number, she thought? She slid her finger across the screen and listened to the first voice mail. It was the charge nurse from the E.R asking her to call about returning early but she hit “seven” and deleted it. They knew her better than that and she would never leave an out of town vacation to return to work early. Who would do that anyway, she asked herself as she listened on. The next message was from Maureen. She wanted Lana to call her about an urgent matter and would wait to hear from her. That was from yesterday. Keep waiting lady, Lana thought as she pressed “seven” and deleted it. The third message was from Maureen again, and this time she said it was regarding the state pressing charges. “If you care for my son, like you claim you do. Call me immediately,” her message said in its regular demanding tones. Now Lana was worried. Was Maureen really about to use her son’s freedom as leverage to get her own way? The message was from earlier that morning when they were out visiting Aunt Mae. Lana was pissed and she had some choice words for Maureen, but didn’t want Kayden to hear the conversation either. Easing the door of the room closed, she pressed “CALL BACK” on the phone, it rang once before she picked up. She held her breath as she waited for Maureen to speak. “I’ll be making one last stop to the house, Ms. McKenzie. I’ve decided what I have to say needs to be in person.” Lana wasn’t sure what to say to her and before she could reply the phone went silent. She sank to the bed in the room, her mind spinning. What is this woman up to now, she thought as she sat there twirling the thin phone around in her hands? She knew when Maureen arrived it would be with her mini entourage. This was a game to her and it was obvious she wasn’t near ready to end it. Dropping the jeans and the rest of the clothing she had, she left the room, preparing to give Kayden the bad news. When Lana got down stairs, Maureen was already in the living room, removing her white leather gloves. She was so conniving, she actually answered her from right inside the house. Keeping her head held high and her eyes on Kim who was watching her like a hawk, Lana entered the living room ready to face the music. Kayden was outside chopping wood now and she could see Heathcliff outside with him, the glass doors, pulled closed. How long was I upstairs, she thought, as it wasn’t that long ago he was sitting at the table on the phone. Maureen smiled un-genuinely and motioned for Lana to sit next to her. She thought about sitting as far

away as possible but opted not to give into those thoughts and sat right next to her. Sitting this close to someone so cruel, made her skin crawl and she couldn’t believe Kayden was produced from this woman. Kim sat across from them with a grin on her face, revealing she knew something Lana obviously did not. She thinks she’s won. It’s like Kayden is a trophy to her, Lana thought as she rolled her eyes waiting for Maureen to speak. She watched Kayden swinging the axe outside as Heathcliff appeared to keep him distracted. It was all so calculated and from the look of it, she doubted Kayden knew what was about to transpire. “Lana,” Maureen said evenly and slow. “There’s been some interesting developments lately regarding the accident on February twenty first.” Lana’s eyebrow raised, her physical manifestation of what stage her patience was at. “And what would that be?” Lana asked crossing her arms over her chest waiting for a reply. “Before I get into that, I want to clear up one thing first.” She stood from the couch and started her circling act again. Kim kept her eyes on her, the smile on her face widening. It was like she was a hungry hyena waiting for prey to finally die so she could take a bite. “I love my son. More than you could ever understand.” Lana scoffed. “I would do anything for him—anything. No matter how much he’s disappointed me.” She stopped and looked at him through the glass as he chopped wood, his back still facing the door and she spun around and faced Lana again. “But there is no one, and I mean no one, I would allow to take him from me,” she finished, her stare burning through Lana’s cornea’s. “Do you have a point you’re trying to get to? What’s this have to do with the state pressing charges against him?” Lana asked. This time Kim scoffed and crossed her legs keeping her eyes on Lana, waiting and watching. “I never said the state would press charges on him,” Maureen replied, the big smile on her face revealing dimples that were quite pretty, but showed just how maleficent she was. At first Lana was confused and furrowed her brows not quite getting it. “Take your time dear,” she said stalking around the living room and finally sitting next to Kim. “What, you mean me?” “Yes, dear.” “That’s ridiculous!” Lana couldn’t believe her ears. This woman was truly insane if she thought something like that would hold up in court. “Is it?” Maureen asked, leaning forward across the coffee table. “You see, one could argue that you were practicing outside your scope of medicine and in providing those services you contributed to the embolism that claimed poor Rachel’s life. You’re not licensed in the state of Georgia are you? So

providing any medical service under the title of Nurse makes you liable to any outcome therein.” Maureen’s eyes flashed with excitement as she said this, never taking them off Lana. Instantaneously, Lana couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening? Why? Why was this woman hell bent on ruining not only her son’s life, but now hers?! “I’m an ER Nurse so of course trauma is within my scope of practice,” Lana said weaker than she intended. “True, but that’s in the state of Florida. See here in little old Georgia, your Florida license means shit.” It was like a wave of evil crossed her face when she said it and Lana knew she was right. The state could press charges, she could go to jail and with a powerful enemy like Maureen, she wouldn’t stand a chance. “I told you to give up, bitch,” Kim chimed, winking at her. Lana didn’t have the energy to deal with her just then. “Why are you doing this?” Lana asked, the tears welling in her eyes. “Because I know my son. He would fight tooth and nail for you and spend every last dime he had making sure you had the best legal team and trust me honey, he would need every penny to come up against me.” Lana could only listen as the tears fell from her eyes. In this moment, she had never felt more hopeless and defeated in her entire life. “After all his money is gone, of which he will eventually lose his company, the property he owns and the house he’s building—what will he have then?” She stood up now and looked down at Lana. From this angle Maureen looked like the sea witch in the mermaid fairy tale, towering over her. She had never felt so small. “He will resort to his old behavior again and probably end up doing something foolish because of it. And for what? You?” she asked pointing at her. “Forget your nursing career because you’d never practice in that field again either,” Kim chimed in. “At least I went to school and got a degree in something important.” Lana managed to say. “So did I honey.” “I didn’t know they gave degrees for fellatio,” Lana retorted matter-of-factly. Kim’s mouth dropped open but she didn’t say anything. “Let’s be a little more respectful here ladies,” Maureen interjected. Lana just smiled at her, her face full of tears. “So this is my ultimatum, otherwise I’d be in handcuffs already?” “Yes and its simple. Leave Hamby and go home. Don’t leave him a note or an explanation—nothing. Just disappear into the night the way you arrived and move on with your life.” Maureen deadpanned. “You’re truly a monster,” Lana said and stood from the couch. She turned her back, not wanting to give

them the satisfaction of seeing more of her tears, but mostly she wanted to run outside to the man she loved and tell him everything that had just happened. But she knew she couldn’t. “You have three days. The plow trucks will be arriving just in time for you to be able to get back on the road,” Maureen said, “If you contact him after the fact in any way, you’ll live to regret it.” “That’s a promise,” Kim finished. Lana’s shoulder’s heaved as the pain she was feeling was too great. It was just all too much, but she turned and faced them anyway. “How am I supposed to get home? My car is ruined.” Lana managed to say evenly, as she took slow even breaths. “I’ll make the arrangements, don’t worry about it. You call me and I’ll have the Captain collect you and your things.” Maureen replied. Lana nodded her head, turned around and walked slowly up the stairs. With each step, the tears streamed faster. She placed her hand over her mouth, this time, to stop the scream she felt bubbling up inside of her. She was losing him now, no matter what she did. Maureen and Kim looked at each other after Lana disappeared upstairs. “You think she’ll tell him?” Kim asked. “No, I think she actually cares about him enough not to. She knows he’d ruin himself and she couldn’t live with that. It’s a done deal,” Maureen replied and winked at Kim. Heathcliff and Kayden came back inside and Maureen handed him a large manila envelope. “I should have known,” he said glaring at Heathcliff. “What, were you both hiding outside when I let him in?” he asked as he tore open the envelope. He looked at the contents and it contained his contract for Aunt Mae’s. “What’s this?” he asked confused. “That’s Capshaw Realty backing off our offer and allowing KND Properties to continue with your original plan,” Maureen exclaimed. Kayden dropped the envelope on the dining room table. “Why? What’s your angle mom?” “No angle. I heard you the other night is all. It’s time I backed off a bit and let you handle things your way” she lied. Maureen walked over to him with her arms outstretched and gave him a hug. He looked over at Kim who smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if she was unsure of what was happening. He hugged her back, not sure what to think. Is this real, he thought to himself as she kissed him on the forehead. “Come on Captain, let’s go back to the hotel. Give my son the chance to share his news with his fiancé.” Heathcliff tipped his hat and the four of them walked down the foyer. When they stepped outside,

Kayden grabbed Maureen’s arm. “Thank you. You don’t know what this means to me.” “Yes, I do,” she replied, and walked towards the snow mobile. Kayden shut the door and spun on his heels yelling, “Baby! You won’t believe what just happened.” He ran through the house and up the stairs still not sure of what made his mother change her mind. Things were getting better but they still had a lot of work left to do.

12 Lana stood over the sink in the bathroom washing her face free of her the tears when she heard a yell. It was Kayden and he was worked up about something, and she wondered if she should just tell him what happened for a moment. She couldn’t get Maureen’s words out of her mind though and she decided against it. Despite her attempts at “shielding Kayden” from the pain about Rachel, what she would do to him in a few days would be far worse. It would make her no better than Kim, Maureen or anyone else who had hurt and turned their backs on him in the past, and there was nothing she could do about it. She was no actress, but would put on her best performance to ensure her physical freedom as well as Kayden’s future. Beaming the brightest smile she could muster in the mirror, her face showed no signs of the previous twenty minutes of her life. Kayden sailed into the bathroom and literally swept her off her feet, as he spun and kissed her. Realizing all at once that these would be some of the last kisses they’d share, she returned them passionately, vowing to herself to make the remaining days with him memorable. Her only hope was that someday he could find it in his heart to forgive her, or that somehow he saw through the farce eventually. The truth was, this time next year he could probably be married to Kim. There was no doubt in Lana’s mind Kim would swoop in to comfort him once she was gone. Kayden began talking a mile a minute about what had happened downstairs. It took a lot of effort, but Lana put on the best show she could in an attempt to appear excited. He was so busy talking and pacing back and forth about contractors, interior designers and city permits; he didn’t notice the few moments the façade of smiles fell away and turned to heaves as she fought desperately to keep it together. As she spoke, his words faded to muffles and she studied him as he continued. The fact that she would miss waking up to him every day was unbearable. And an understatement, she thought as his voice broke the trance. “I’m going to go call Taylor,” he said finally, giving her a peck on the lips and leaving the bathroom. She followed him into the room as he left and when he descended the stairs, she closed the room door quietly and locked it. She walked over to the bed and fell onto it, grabbing a pillow and burying her face. She let out the loudest muffled scream she could and wept until the pillow was soaked. *** Later that night, they made dinner together and all he could talk about was the restoration of the diner. He was on full throttle and there was no way she could think of to tell him the truth without serious

repercussions. After they had gone to bed for the night, she waited for him to fall asleep before rolling out of it. Lana put on his bedroom slippers, his thick coat and went downstairs where she raised the dimmer switch to a low glow. The snow had stopped and had blanketed the town again. Through the glass windows it looked like a million twinkling lights, the way the moon light hit the snow. She eased the doors open and stepped onto the frosty lanai. It was so quiet you could hear the breath of a butterfly. There was no wind blowing, no birds, not even the rusting of leaves from the huge trees. Everything was just silent. It was as if the town was holding its breath and it was the calmest moment she’d had since arriving in town. Everything with Kayden had been danger, excitement, adventure and drama. Why did you have to step in and help at Aunt Mae’s that night, she asked herself. Because that’s who you are an inner voice replied to her. Why did you have to fall in love with him, she asked herself. Because you don’t get to choose who that is, the inner voice replied to her again. Looking up at the moon and the beautiful light show it was giving off, she knew she would never see this view again. Not him, not this house, never step back into the town of Hamby. The tears sprang to her eyes again and this time she didn’t wipe them away. She reached into the jacket pocket and pulled her cellphone out. She pressed “Paula” on the screen and waited for the familiar tone of her best friend’s voice. It rang three times and went to voicemail. She hated leaving messages, and hit “End”. She looked down at the phone and hit “Messages”, and then “Carmen”. She pressed “Reply” and typed through her salt water drenched face. LANA: I’m coming home. A few seconds passed, then her phone vibrated. CARMEN: Why? LANA: Long story. Ask the charge nurse to put me on the schedule in 72 hrs. The shift doesn’t matter. CARMEN: OK…Where’d you go again? LANA: Hamby, GA. CARMEN: What, too hot to handle? Lana looked up at the sky then the bird bath covered in snow. LANA: Heat’s the thing that’s the problem here. Lana turned the phone off and slipped it back into the pocket. She wiped her face, then took a long icy breath in. Out of nowhere, Kayden’s warm arms were wrapped around her waist, his chin resting on her shoulder and it made her jump. She tried keeping her head tilted to the sky hoping he wouldn’t see her still wet face, then he kissed her neck. “What are you doing out here?” he whispered in her ear. She shrugged being unable to form words and trying to hold back everything she wanted and needed to say. He turned her around. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “It’s, it’s…,” she had to stop herself now as it was on the tip of her tongue.

Maureen’s threat was a real one. She looked into his handsome face and for the second time she lied to him and it killed her inside. “It’s just so beautiful out here,” she replied, wrapping her arms around him so she didn’t have to look him in the eyes anymore. “You look upset for someone enjoying the view,” he replied, tilting her head up. “You sure that’s it?” he asked, searching her face. She tried averting her eyes from his for far different reasons than before. “I’m sure baby, it just overwhelmed me was all,” she said forcing a big smile and that wasn’t a complete lie. “When we build our house it’ll have a view three times as good as this. You’ll need an IV, if you keep this up,” he teased kissing the top of her head. She wanted to say no, she wouldn’t. That his mother’s actions against her would make her a liar, but she didn’t. She held onto him for dear life trying to mentally remember every curve of his body, every kiss, and every touch. Pretty soon it would be all she had left of him and Hamby. Just memories that would eventually fade away and her with them. *** Heathcliff was outside in the snowed over parking lot of Hamby P.D, his thermos and keys in hand. It had been a long boring day of Hulu marathons at work and he looked forward to his warm bed. As he reached the P. D’s snowmobile, the flip phone on his belt clip started to ring. “Maureen” flashed across the small green LCD panel on the front and he flipped it up in a hurry. “Hey there,” he answered, the grin on his face, deepening the wrinkles on the corners of his mouth. “I’m in the mood for company,” she replied and the line went dead. He looked around the empty street, surprised at her candor, but giddy like a school boy. He put his ski cap on, jumped onto the snowmobile, and took off down the street. He’d waited almost an entire lifetime for Maureen Capshaw and he wasn’t about to let the fact that it was two o’clock in the morning stop him now. *** They were up early and Kayden was in a particularly chipper mood as was to be expected. He thought his mother actually was having a change of heart when it came to him. Lana observed him as he excitedly held a conference call with Taylor about when the construction would begin. The living room was serving as his makeshift office, until he could secure office space in town. The snow plows were moving in from Shelby and pretty soon people would be able to roam about again. She’d be able to do what she had to as well. When he was done on the phone, he beamed another smile her way and she tried her hardest to match it, hoping he would believe it and not question it.

“You ready?” he asked her, holding out his hand. She grabbed ahold of it and he pulled her in close, giving her a warm hug and a quick kiss on the neck. “Ready for what?” she replied, not in the mood for an adventure. She really had to figure out how she was going to leave when they were together practically every second of the day. “It’s a surprise,” he replied and started walking her to the door. She followed him grabbing the leather jacket from the coat rack and out onto the porch. *** Before she knew it they were speeding down Deleveaux towards the town square, the ice world tinted in red once again. Hopefully we weren't going to visit his mother, she thought for a moment, but then they passed the hotel. People were starting to come out more now that the snow had stopped falling. It was high enough to ski in, so they wanted to enjoy some of it before the trucks took it away. They pulled up to a boutique and he turned the engine off. Kayden jumped off then lifted her off, holding her for a few seconds in the air. “Stop it Kayden,” she laughed embarrassed. People were looking at them, but he could care less, he was ecstatic. Her cell phone from her pocket fell in the snow and he put her down. “Sorry,” he apologized and picked it up. Before handing it to her, he swiped the screen and held it up pulling her close. “Say cheese,” Kayden said smiling that big white smile, teeth sparkling in the limited sunlight. She realized over the last few weeks they hadn’t taken one picture together the whole time. They hadn’t done a whole lot together actually. No dates, no movies, but then again your options weren’t exactly vast up there when it came to entertainment. She would make sure she snapped pictures over the next couple days though. If she couldn’t be with him physically, at least she’d get to have some memories to remind herself that this whole ordeal wasn’t a fantasy. She leaned into him and smiled as brightly as she could and he hit the camera button. They both looked at the screen and it was perfect, like those cheesy camera commercial couples. She tucked the phone back in the leather jacket and he grabbed her hand again and pulled her into a vintage jewelry shop named “Arnolds.” Now she understood what was so important as he pushed the door open and the bell chimed over their heads. It was the engagement ring. There was a middle-aged woman standing behind the counter, very refined and very serious. You could tell she was the type of woman who thought more of herself than she actually was. Her hair was short and curly, and looked as hard as a baseball. The smell of Aqua Net confirmed her theory as they got closer to her. The shop had a floral green patterned wallpaper with brown stripes on its walls. A grandfather clock stood in one corner behind the facing display and other display cases on the perimeter of the walls to their left and right. It wasn’t Zale’s, but it was charming. Kayden pulled her closer and closer to the display and it held a treasure of beautiful, rare looking jewelry.

“Mr. Capshaw,” the woman stated. It wasn’t a friendly greeting, more formal than anything. She flashed a brown grin, the result of either too much coffee or possibly cigarettes. “I’m in the business for a ring, Mrs. Arnold,” he said, leaning over the glass display. “I see,” she replied as she gave Lana a disapproving glare. “You know I’m still heartbroken you and my Melissa never got the chance to marry.” She attempted a coy look that failed miserably. Kayden shrugged his shoulders, while smiling but Lana could tell his patience was already wearing thin with her. “Well Mrs. Arnold, Mellie was always a social butterfly. I don’t see how she would have found the time,” he said, with a hint of amusement in his voice. He sure had a nice way of calling a woman’s daughter a slut to her face, Lana would give him that. Mrs. Arnold gave an embarrassing grin and grabbed the keys from the table behind the counter. “What can I help you with?” she replied opening the case. Kayden looked at Lana and waited for her to respond, but she froze. Accepting a ring from him now reminded her of having to leave it and him behind later. She decided not to make it a drawn out affair and would pick something out that was modest so they could be on their way. Lana looked over at the case and quickly understood that modest didn’t exist in there. The stones were some of the most beautiful she’d ever laid eyes on and nothing appeared to be under four karats. The clearest of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, as well as chocolate diamonds were before her eyes and she couldn’t help lighting up as she looked over at them all. “You gonna try one?” he asked. She glanced up at him from the case and nodded her head. “Well which one dear?” Mrs. Arnold asked annoyed. “All of them,” Kayden replied. Mrs. Arnold’s mouth dropped open. *** After spending the entire afternoon putting Mrs. Arnold through her paces, Lana picked out a four karat princess cut in white gold. It was the most beautiful thing she had not only seen, but worn before— even if for only a few days. She was in Kayden’s room or what had turned into their room and was putting her clothes in the suitcase she kept tucked behind his coats in the closet. He was downstairs cooking dinner, so she had time to plan her forced abandonment. Lana caught a glimpse of the light coming off the ring and held her hand up as the flecks danced around in the stones. Man was it nice, she thought, but I’d give up fifty of them for one Kayden. She thought of the wedding plans they had made one evening in front of the fire. They were just throwing ideas out, but it came together rather perfect in her opinion. He wanted to fly them into New York sometime in the

upcoming weeks to pick out the wedding bands and get their registry started. It was early March now and they had decided on a December wedding. The house would be finished by then and Kayden thought the best way to christen it would be a lavish estate wedding. They would spend two weeks in Bali on their honeymoon before moving back to Hamby for good. It was a fast time table and if she thought she was actually getting married, she would have called her family by now. One day the truth would eventually come out, she hoped, but when that was and if it would make a difference to him would be another thing. She zipped up the suitcase and stood in the closet saying a mental goodbye to him and Hamby. She wept quietly for a moment, then calmed herself before going downstairs. *** The sun was bright and the sky was a cerulean blue. Paula wore her designer bathing suit like a pro, with tall Louboutin’s. Other women at the pool were shooting her nasty looks but she didn’t notice. She was too busy sipping her Bahama Mama drink and watching the DVR feed from her house on her laptop. From the screen she could she her mom, Kim, Lana and Kayden. She turned the volume up in the headphones to listen in on what was happening. After the scene unfolded with Lana telling her mother off and stalking up the stairs off camera, Kayden turned to his mom and spoke. Paula couldn’t believe the words from his mouth although she knew everything he said was true. Their mother did treat him badly and so did she at times, but she was happy to see for herself the changes that had started happening in him. Lana was a good influence on her brother and Paula could see herself proud to be his sister again if he kept it up. Paula also wished she hadn’t seen quite so much of her brother and Lana in their intimate moments and fast forwarded through them. Peaking in on them was becoming like her own “Netflix and chill” and she was hooked now. The time stamp on the video was already a week old and it made her wonder why she hadn’t heard from her brother, mom or Lana yet. She closed the laptop down vowing to watch it all first before she called. She picked up her phone and looked at the signal bar: nothing at all. The signal sucked on their part of the island. Her mom had no right to tell Kayden who he could be with. Especially pushing that conniving she-slut Kimberly on him to make matters worse. Garrett splashed water at her from the pool and she smiled putting the laptop down, kicking off her heels and jumping in the deep end with him. *** Kim, Maureen and Heathcliff sat in the small café downstairs at Spence hotel and enjoyed an early dinner. Heathcliff kept shooting loving gazes at Maureen and while sweet, Maureen wasn’t the affectionate type and Kim felt a little bad for him. Maureen chewed men up and spit them out back home, so she doubted there’d be any difference up there. The two were having a conversation under hushed tones but Kim wasn’t paying either of them attention anyway.

She hunched over her laptop and ignored the Cobb salad on her plate, eyeballing Kayden’s twitter feed. The un-block program had taken longer than normal to finish its job, but now she was finally back on hers. As she scrolled down his timeline, a picture of him and Lana popped up on her screen where she then snorted and kept scrolling. Kim clicked on Lana’s twitter profile to check out her timeline, but it was set to private. Damnit, she thought and finally picked up her fork stabbing a chunk of ham and lettuce. As she chewed, a notification popped up on her laptop, it was from Kayden. She dropped the fork and clicked on it before she got blocked again and was instantly livid. It was a picture of Lana’s man hand wearing a diamond ring, the caption reading: “She said yes!” Kim turned her laptop to Maureen. “Look at this,” she yelled way too loud in the quiet room, as other patrons were now all looking at the three of them. “Calm yourself,” Maureen started evenly and cool, “What is it?” “An engagement ring? Why would he be buying that for her, if the wedding is off?” Maureen smiled at the not so bright girl in front of her, as she spoke. “Why wouldn’t he? He has no idea the wedding is even off yet, remember?” Kim sat back in her chair, and breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Oh. Duh,” she replied matter of factly and turned the laptop back around to face her. She hit reply on the message but the page was gone again. She rolled her eyes, clicked her desktop and ran her unblocking program again. “Anyway, the ring is ugly and small. Just like her,” she chimed with a huge grin on her face, then started eating her salad. Heathcliff gave Maureen an odd glance. “What’s that about?” He asked, not being in the loop. “We’ll discuss it later,” she replied giving him a sexy wink. He grinned at that knowing what it meant and forgot what had bothered him about the conversation minutes before. *** After a dinner of poached salmon, salad and wine, Lana lay on her back across Kayden’s lap on the couch. The fireplace was lit and she listened intently as he read from a book of poems. He was so romantic and it was a major turn on to learn that he was into poetry to begin with. They should have had all the time in the world to learn these little nuggets about one other. He was reading one of her favorites by William R. Stoudt. Feeling tears well in her eyes as he spoke, she shifted her weight and turned toward him. His strong muscular stomach, was breathing slowly in rhythm with the words he spoke as he finished the end of the poem. “Life and love run in circles, once begun, the circles never end. Through time, across generations, over distances unimagined, their love maintained its intensity, its warmth, its genuine pull of hearts towards the unknown known. The circle came all the way around and true, genuine love was discovered

again, a love that will continue to span the universe and last throughout all time,” he finished. He put the book down slowly and looked down at her, a faint smile on his face. He gathered her up in his arms, and kissed her slowly. It wasn’t a kiss full of lust, it was normal, patient—an expression of love. She looked into his sparkling eyes and leaned her forehead onto his. She wanted to capture this moment and reached for her phone that sat on the couch next to him. Sitting up and straddling him, she held it up and snapped a picture of them. Two days left, she thought as she pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it and the phone on the coffee table. They embraced again and their kiss grew more intense, and more urgent for her. Her desire to be with him made her movements erratic and greedy. He grabbed her hips and stood up from the couch in one strong move. Pushing the coffee table away with one leg he slowly bent his knees until they hit the soft area rug underneath them. He lowered her onto her back running his hand from her neck down her stomach as she arched her back. With her legs still wrapped around his waist he slowly pulled down her panties exposing her the way he liked. He slowly raised her legs and pulled them free where he placed her right leg on his shoulder. He ran his other hand up her thigh then back down again holding her left leg above his head. Kayden sat up on his knees slightly, which lifted her from the carpet a little and kissed her ankle, her calf, and her thigh. She moaned with every kiss of his mouth as he slowly made his way down to his favorite place. Instead of going there, he grabbed her rear and pulled her up onto his face, holding her up with nothing but his muscular arms, as she balanced on his strong shoulders. He took all of her in his mouth and used his tongue like a joystick as she writhed and moaned, barely able to contain herself. He finally rested her onto the carpet completely and continued his sweet assault on her. Before she was spent, she eased his head away slowly, then sat up and lowered him to the rug next. Lana kissed his neck, his chest, and traced her tongue down to his abdomen. She took her time removing his jeans, where his manhood was eager to join. Kayden helped her to get them off, along with his boxer briefs as she gazed up at him, her own wicked smile on her lips and lowered her face to enjoy him. She took both her hands and held onto his thighs and used only her tongue and mouth pleasing him until she was satisfied. She thoroughly enjoyed making him moan as well. When she could tell he couldn’t take anymore, she sat up and reached for his hand where she pulled him up. Lana turned around on her knees and lowered her stomach to the carpet, where she waited to receive him. In a swift yet gentle move, he plunged into her from behind and she cried out at the familiar feel of him inside her. He reached around to her chest and pulled her up carefully, into a sitting position as he sucked and kissed her neck, while running his hand over her breasts. She pushed down onto him repeatedly in a slow rhythm of their own and could feel every nerve in her body ready to explode. Lana watched their reflection in the floor to ceiling glass windows in front of them. Kayden was watching as well and their eyes locked on one another’s in the glass. He turned her head and kissed her as they climaxed together,

where they collapsed in front of the fire, in each other’s arms.

13 Maureen stood in front of her floor length mirror and admired her reflection. She had everything a woman could hope for and at fifty-eight she still had the body of a thirty-year old. As she stood in her night gown and combed her long dark hair, she caught a glimpse of her ring finger and the faded mark where she once wore her ring. She and Vincent Capshaw were married for thirty years—that was more than most people could hope for with the state marriage was in nowadays. As she thought of her husband, she couldn’t help thinking of his death. She rolled-over in bed one morning and felt his cold lifeless body next to hers, and it was something she would never forget. After having buried their youngest son only three months’ prior, Vince became a different person. He stopped his regular exercise routine, and in his mourning he often neglected his heart medications. She had been busy running the day to day operations in his absence so it didn’t afford her the time to keep on top of him like she was used to. Her face grew cold as she thought of Joel that winter night, burning and mangled in the car on the highway. They had just left an event where they’d all discussed the future of Capshaw Realty and Kayden hadn’t taken being told he wouldn’t be the CEO well. He and Joel left to head back to Hamby and she didn’t think either of them were too drunk to drive, or she would have demanded they take a car service. That was the last she saw Joel alive and one of her biggest regrets. She loved Kayden, but it wasn’t the same as before. Every time she looked in his face she saw Joel and Vince and the heartbreak would start all over again. It was an accident. A tragic, foolish accident that spiraled her life out of control and she still didn’t know how to handle it. She knew Kayden had to be taught a serious lesson about consequences and Maureen obliged every opportunity to get that point across. Lana made it easier for her to accomplish her goal and she did not accept anyone who disrespected her the way she had. The thought of her crawling back to whatever hole she came from made her feel good inside. She knew Kayden wouldn’t just let her slip away easily, so she planned on taking him out for the afternoon as Kimberly did away with the un-welcomed distraction. Maureen believed now, more than ever, that Kim was the better match for her son. She had concocted the plan after they left Paula’s house the morning after their blow up. Maureen was admittedly ready to concede to her son, but Kim wouldn’t allow it. She was a calculating girl and reminded her a lot of herself. Wiping the thoughts away, Maureen sauntered over to her bed where Heathcliff was laying in his boxers, reading a golfing journal. She placed her leg onto the bed, causing her gown to ride up her thigh. He promptly put his magazine down and sat up in bed, moving towards her. He wasn’t Vincent by any means but she had needs too. She’d always known Heathcliff Jackson wanted her and she needed to feel something else while she

was in Hamby. The memories of that town flooded her brain every minute she remained there and made her more depressed than ever—she couldn’t wait to leave. But I could have a little fun in the meantime, she thought as he pulled her onto the bed. *** It was Thursday and Lana had a lot to do. First, she and Kayden had into go to Shelby and retrieve Rachel’s ashes. They had planned to hold a ceremony for her the day that Aunt Mae’s reopened. Too bad I won’t be there, she thought as she pulled on the leather jacket that smelled of her “almost husband”. The snow plows had finally made it into town and cleared much of the snow so cars could get around. The weather forecast warned of more snow fall later in the night, so they knew they had to get a move on. Kayden came downstairs in Khaki pants, a tight black shirt, and a different black leather jacket. He was clean shaven except for the goatee he was letting grow in, and pulled his hair into a ponytail. He was so scrumptious, she thought as they walked through the interior garage door. She couldn’t blame Kim for having a hard time letting him go even if for selfish physical reasons only, but she knew better. Kim had an agenda that had nothing to do with her heart. Lana wasn’t sure if she could trust Maureen’s word about not pressing charges against her and planned to have her sign a contract guaranteeing it. This was just in case she wanted to be spiteful, which Maureen had more than proven she was capable of with her own son. It also would provide Lana proof of Maureen’s deceit, which she would promptly show Kayden and put an end to this charade. She still had a little ammunition left in her, although it would be a Hail Mary of sorts. Kayden opened the passenger door of the Lamborghini and she sat in. It was pretty low to the ground and not very comfortable, she thought as he closed the door. It was fancy though and it looked like a futuristic car with a dashboard full of buttons she had no idea what to do with. Kayden opened his door and slid in, shutting it down and flipping the hatch in the middle of the console. She looked over at him. “Seriously there’s not even a key?” He leaned over and kissed her. “Shh, just enjoy the ride,” he replied as the engine roared. And boy was it loud. Lana reached for the seatbelt and clicked it and he did the same. It was an impressive car she admitted, as the garage doors opened and he put the car in reverse. *** Kim couldn’t wait until Lana was out of Hamby for good. As soon as she was, she already had every move she planned to make with Kayden rehearsed. First comfort him in his time of sadness, blah, blah, and of course she’d have to talk him out of going to look for her. She doubted they did anything but screw anyway so tracking her down in Florida was probably out of the question. Kim had continued with her wedding plans, already picking the caterer, the flowers and even put a deposit down at The Foundry in

New York. It would be the most spectacular backdrop for all of New York City to gossip about. Standing outside at the farmer’s market she spied a vintage jewelry store and knew there had to be something beautiful in there for her to pick out. She loved shopping and the pickings were slim there in Podunk, No-Where’sVille. As she walked through the newly plowed street, she slid a little but caught herself before she hit the icy asphalt. Embarrassed, she looked around to see if anyone saw her and a couple of kids on the sidewalk laughed and pointed at her. It didn’t matter though, nothing would ruin her day. She held her pointy nose to the air and continued across the street to the store entrance. She didn’t care about the way the wedding happened, it didn’t matter. It was what she did with it that would. She made a mental note to email a picture of Kayden and herself to Page Six, a notorious celebrity news and gossip magazine based out of New York. She’d have to do this by Saturday so they could run their wedding announcement in it. Everyone who was anyone read it and her guest list would be a mile long. I can’t wait until that bitch is on a plane and out of my hair, she thought. Most importantly out of Kayden’s life. *** Kayden squeezed Lana's hand as they waited in the office of the funeral home to retrieve Rachel’s remains. The office was small and dark although there were two windows with the blinds opened. The walls were a maroon almost rust color which didn’t help the gloomy atmosphere in the cold room. The big desk was surprisingly spotless. No folders, pens or sticky notes to be seen. Just a name plaque that read Herman Dill. They sat in silence while Kayden gazed off into thoughts she wished she could look into. Lana knew this would be hard for him and all too familiar territory, so she was happy to just be there, no speaking required. He was sullen, the corners of his eyes rimmed red as he fought back the emotions that clearly wanted out and she rubbed his hand with her thumb to give what comfort she could. The funeral director, Mr. Dill entered the room. He was a very tall man with huge white rimmed glasses and wore a lab coat over his dress shirt and black slacks. He was holding a small white box in his hand and sat at the table where he placed it on the desk. He opened the desk draw, pulled out some papers and pushed over a release form for Kayden to sign, where he reached over and began filling his signatures. The box was small. Way smaller than Lana had imagined as she’d never seen real life ashes before. It was amazing that a human body could be reduced to so little. When Kayden was done he pushed the form back over the mahogany desk and stood up, the director standing with him. They shook hands and he handed Kayden the tiny box. Lana stood next and grabbed Kayden’s free hand as they left the office. ***

Kayden didn’t say much on the drive back to the house. He was still in deep thought and she didn’t want to disturb him with anything trivial. If they were actually getting married she’d distract him about those details. And if she would be living with him, she’d distract him about the plans that were drawn up for the house. She didn’t want to make matters any worse for herself or risk telling him about the elaborate plot his mother had put together, so she rode in silence with him all the way back to Hamby, taking in the scenery of this beautiful place before she had to go. Abruptly, he pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped the engine. “Why’d you stop?” she asked confused. Kayden glanced over to her, his eyes filled with tears then opened his door of the car. Lana wasn't sure what to make of it but climbed out of the low sitting car and followed him into the icy air. Kayden walked up to a lamp post that had old scorch marks on it and placed his hand on it and wept. It dawned on her that this was where it all happened; the accident, his brother and the night that changed his life forever. No words formed in her mouth as she watched him fall apart. The best thing she could think to do was to console him, so she approached him and hugged him. He held onto her, squeezing her uncomfortably tight on the desolate highway. She couldn’t help the emotions she felt bubbling up inside. The heartbreak of seeing him so helpless, losing Rachel, the fact that she would have to leave him and then her own tears joined his. He finally broke free and wiped his face. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Don’t you dare apologize,” Lana replied, as she pulled him by the shirt and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “Not a very manly thing to do huh?” “Quite the opposite Kayden Capshaw, and don’t you ever forget it.” “I love you so much,” he replied and pulled her into another hug. “I love you to the moon and back,” she replied. “Can’t wait to marry you.” Lana pulled back from him and looked around the roadside. “Hey, if you think about it, this is kind of where we met,” she replied, not really meaning to change the subject. He looked around then back down to her. “You’re absolutely right,” he replied grinning, “Did you think it would end up like this?” he asked kissing her forehead. “Nope. Not in a million years. And I don’t regret a single moment of it,” she replied. She took his hand and started leading him back to the car and back to Hamby for the very last time. *** If she was going down, it would be with a bang. This was her last night with Kayden and she wanted

to make it special. After the stop on the side of the road, she had picked up some candles from the grocery store and now had them lit throughout the entire house. It gave off a warm glow, that illuminated the house and she also started the fireplace which took care of the warmth. For dinner she made him shrimp Alfredo, a favorite of his that also reminded her of the happier times a few short weeks ago. She hoped those memories would be enough to comfort her on her way back to Florida the next day, as it will be the hardest thing she would ever have to do. Lana placed a bottle of white wine in the ice bucket on the table and had set two place settings. Cutlery, napkins and the nicest china Paula had in the house were laid out. Kayden was busy having another conference call as she got things together and she was grateful. This wouldn’t have happened if she had the distraction of his stare on her all night. Placing the thick sauce full of huge prawns in a serving bowl, as well as the linguini in its own bowl, she went to the oven and pulled the garlic bread out. It smelled lovely coming out of the oven, with glistening golden butter and speckles of parsley. After putting it all on a serving tray, everything was ready to go. As she sat down, the light coming off the huge stone in the engagement ring, kept catching her eye and invading her thoughts. It wasn't the ring, but what it signified. Just when I let someone in again, it would be over before it starts, she thought, as she had no intention of keeping it. Lord only knew what his mother would say once she was gone and she didn’t need to add any fuel to that fire. Lana looked up at Kayden who was still on the phone and pointed to her wrist. He nodded his head at her. “Listen I’ll have to call you back. The future Mrs. Capshaw is trying to feed me dinner,” he said to Taylor. After a few seconds, he laughed. “You’re disgusting, chat soon.” He hung up and put the phone in his pocket. Lana raised her eyebrow to him and he stopped and turned the phone off. She wanted his undivided attention. “Ok, it’s off. I’m starving,” he said as he grabbed her around the waist and planted a huge kiss on her mouth. “Let’s dig in,” she replied. While they ate and drank, they talked about the plans for KDN which took her mind off just how sad an occasion this actually was. They didn’t speak about the roadside either. She studied him as he spoke, his facial expressions, his mannerisms, the way he chewed his food, all in an attempt to mentally engrave him in her mind. The thought that she would never sit across another table from him like that again, wiped her appetite away so she focused on enjoying the wine in her glass. Looking over at the strong, handsome and accomplished man sitting across from her, brought her to realize that she really didn’t regret one experience with him, no matter how good or bad. Not one. A tear escaped her face as she raised her glass in a silent solute to him. He frowned at her and then raised his. Their eyes locked across the table with nothing but the soft crackling of the fireplace filling the silence. “Love you,” he said.

“To the moon and back,” she replied. They each took a sip and he wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood from the table. He walked over and sat in the chair beside her. Then he dabbed her face with the unused napkin that lay next to her uneaten plate of food. “Why so many tears lately?” he asked curiously, searching her for the truth. “I’m just—happy and grateful,” she replied and it wasn’t a lie at all. He made her very happy and she was grateful for every second she got to spend with him. “I’d hate to see you sad,” he said chuckling, but his eyes were still serious, unmoved from hers. She stood and took his hand and led him into the living-room. Taking the stereo remote off of the mantle, she pointed it to the entertainment system, turning it on, and it lit up. Her favorite rendition of “Wicked Game” by Johnny Swim began to play and she set the remote down on the coffee table, turned to him and out stretched her arms. He walked to her slowly and slipped one arm around her waist, the other holding her hand. With her face pressed next to his, they danced in the middle of the room as she closed her eyes and tried to imagine them dancing at their wedding. In her mind she could see the beautiful details of her dress, her proud parents and all the happy guests wishing them well in their lives. Although she wouldn’t be able to tell him in spoken vows, she promised silently that she would love him until the end of time.

14 The morning had arrived far too fast and Lana woke up with a hangover. Great, she thought. It was all she needed on top of everything that she had going on today, and she still didn’t know how she’d actually make her exit. It would have to be today though, her time was up, the fairy-tale over. Rolling over on her side towards Kayden, she saw he was still fast asleep. He looked so peaceful and cute with his hair wild and crazy, so she reached over on the bedside table and grabbed her cellphone. Placing it on silent mode she snapped several pictures of him, then tucked the phone under the pillow. Before he woke, she wanted to get showered and dressed and get her duffle downstairs without interference. Slowly Lana eased out of bed, feeling the familiar soreness of their lovemaking and made her way into the shower. She stopped at the mirror and looked at herself. Her eyes were gaunt and puffy from spending most of the night crying after he’d fallen asleep. She had a small hickey on her neck and wished it would never heal, as her mind flashed back to last night when he gave it to her. Touching the spot, her ring was staring back at her, tauntingly and she took it off, resting it onto the counter. After a quick shower, she dressed in the bathroom so she didn’t have to make much noise in the room. Lana left the ring on the counter too, no need to prolong that anymore either. As she stepped in the closet and grabbed her duffle bag, she heard her name. “Lana?” He called out, still groggy from sleep. She threw the bag back down and walked into the room. He wasn’t there. “Hey,” he called from the bathroom, holding up the ring. She forced a smile and walked in. Damnit, she thought. How was this supposed to work? “You’re never to take this off again,” he deadpanned. He grabbed her hand and kissed it, slipping it back on her ring finger. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I promise,” she lied. He kissed her again and took off his boxers raising his eyebrows. “I just came out the shower,” she protested, backing away, a wide smile on her face. Insatiable. He picked her up and carried her into the running shower soaking her from head to toe. “Kayden,” she moaned as his mouth closed over her water drenched shirt and his teeth tugged on her nipple.

*** After the morning tryst, he got out of the shower first and she was overcome with emotion—she didn’t want to leave. Why should she? It wasn’t fair! What happened to Rachel wasn’t her fault either. The only thing she was guilty of was loving a man. Not being able to hold it in anymore she sank to her knees in the shower. The pain she felt as her knees slammed into the marble floor, was nothing compared to what was happening in her heart. She sat there and let the water wash away her tears. *** When Lana descended the stairs, Maureen was sitting at the kitchen island sipping coffee in her favorite mug again. Lana walked into the kitchen and Kayden placed a mug of coffee in front of her and kissed her check. Maureen winked at her. “Good morning,” she said to Lana. Lana put on the phoniest smile she possibly could. Here we go, she said in her head. “I was wondering if I could borrow my son for a few hours?” Maureen asked. So this is how it was gonna happen. The sting of tears started to return as she looked at Kayden who was drinking his coffee in the living room watching the news. “Don’t even think about it,” Maureen mouthed. Lana looked at her, one tear defying her will and falling free. She wiped it fast before Kayden could see. “Sure,” Lana replied and was very chipper as she walked over to him. She slipped her arms around him and kissed him. “Where are you guys headed?” she asked him. “We’re gonna catch up a bit on the business stuff. I’m sure you could come with us if you wanted, right mom?” Kayden asked looking at her. Maureen looked at Lana then her son. “I was hoping we could discuss some personal family matters and get some time to bond again,” she spread that fake smile across her face like butter on toast. Lana turned to Kayden and smiled. “It’s OK, honey. Spend some time with your mom. Besides it’ll give me time to finally call my own.” He bent and pecked her lips. “You’re the best you know that?” He turned to Maureen. “You see why I want to marry her?” The second smile Maureen forced looked like her whole face would snap off if she tried any harder. But Kayden couldn’t see it. He was finally getting his mother back—a second chance at family, so it didn’t surprise her that he couldn’t see what she did. Eventually he’ll see through it, she thought to herself. She gave him one more lingering kiss and he slapped her butt on the way to the kitchen where he picked up his keys. She couldn’t believe this was it, as she watched him walk towards the door with Maureen in tow.

He exited first and before Maureen stepped outside, she turned around and winked at her and mouthed the words “So long” as she shut the door behind her. Lana couldn’t breath—that was it. It was really—it. She ran upstairs to their room and grabbed her bag. She wiped at her face, just wanting to get out of the house before she did something she’d regret. When she made it back downstairs Kim was standing in the living room. “What are you doing here?” Lana asked. “I’m Maureen’s insurance policy. You’re gonna get back in your piece of shit car and leave and I’m here to make sure that happens,” she said with too much pleasure. Lana shook her head and grabbed Kayden’s jacket off the back of the dining room chair. She put it on and grabbed her keys off the counter. “I don’t need a babysitter,” she replied as she started walking through the house ensuring she didn’t leave anything behind. Nope nothing. Just her heart. Kim followed behind her as she started towards the front door. “Well I’m just making sure the trash gets put out.” Suddenly, Lana swung around, and decked her in the nose, her fist tightened so hard her knuckles ached. Kim stumbled back on her high heels, and her ass slammed the hard wood floor. She was holding her nose, her face full of surprise and fear as she began to scramble backward away from Lana. Lana grabbed a tampon from her purse and threw it at her. “Here, cut this in half and stick it up your nose, it’ll help stop the bleeding bitch.” She turned and walked out of the house angry and ashamed at how she let Kim get the best of her. She wasn’t sure if leaving without something written and signed was smart or not. It was doubtful either one of them would sign it anyway. She stomped out the door and down the porch stairs dragging her duffle bag like a rag doll. She jumped in the truck, which was repaired, as Maureen promised, and started the engine. Kim appeared in the doorway of the house, the tampon string hanging from her nose and her cellphone to her ear, then came running down the porch towards the car. She tapped on the window, and Lana glared at her. What does she want now, she thought as she lowered the window. “If you come back here, I’ll put him away.” “What are you talking about?” Lana was thoroughly confused. “Everything Kayden’s done over the last couple years, his mother got him off. I have all the evidence I need, to take it to court and bury him if I need to.” “You wouldn’t.” Lana replied, in awe of Kim’s spiteful nature. “To make sure I get everything I’ve been working for and to keep him away from you? Yes, I would. This is my personal insurance plan.” she smiled, standing back from the window. Lana couldn’t believe her ears. She was every bit of the monster Maureen was. “You don’t love him at all, if you’d do that to him.”

“What’s love got to do with anything? Kayden’s mine and that’s all that you need to know. You come back here, and neither of us will have him.” She stalked back to the porch and walked up the stairs to the house. Lana, her face fresh with new tears, backed out of the driveway, spun the car around and careened away from the house. The sobs coming from her body were intense as she drove closer to the town center. Steering the Ford down Deleveaux Circle, and around the roundabout, she applied pressure on the gas pedal and was on her way out of Hamby for good. *** Kayden and Maureen stood on a plot of land overlooking most of Hamby. She had her arm linked in his and Kayden couldn’t help but smile at her. “This is a beautiful place to build a house son. I wish you many years of happiness in it.” “Thanks mom,” he replied, surprised at the new attitude she had. He turned to her and looked into her eyes. “What is it son?” “Why the sudden change of heart? Why now?” “I guess when you spoke the other night, I listened for the first time.” She unlinked her arm and looked back over the landscape. “It wasn’t fair of me to hold what happened to your brother against you for so long. I understand that now.” He looked at her and believed what she was saying. Her face relaxed as she looked over the land and although his mother was still a pretty woman, her age was starting to catch up with her. “So you’ll come to the wedding?” he asked her. She looked at him not sure what to say. Surely she couldn’t tell him that Lana was gone by now, it would foil all her efforts. “Of course I will. I only want to see you happy,” she said as the crocodile tears dripped down her face. He wiped them away and gave his mother a huge hug lifting her from the ground and spinning her. “Kayden!” She screamed startled, “Stop that this instant!” “I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that mom,” he rested her back down. “Lana is an amazing woman, she really is. She’s smart and so kind—” he started, and looked down in his mother’s face, “She’s the completion of me and I don’t know where I would be without her.” Maureen smiled but inside she felt a pang of fear for the first time when it came to her son. If he ever knew the lengths she went to, he would never forgive her and she truly would lose him and everything she had planned for the future. She just had to make sure that never happened. Maureen turned her head back toward the view of the town as Kayden continued to fill her in on his plans for the house. He spoke of plans to build a gazebo for the wedding and how he wanted to create a garden like the one Paula had in her yard.

He was enjoying his time with his mother for the first time in ages and couldn’t wait to get back to Lana and tell her the good news. *** Paula and Garret sat in the loading area for their private plane as Paula watched her laptop screen in horror. There was her mother, setting up her best friend in an attempt to ruin her! And Kayden had no idea. She snatched the headphones out, the look of disgust that crossed her face was obvious. “What’s the matter honey?” Garret asked. “We have to get to Hamby now,” she replied. She wanted to call her brother right that second and tell him everything she learned but she knew that wouldn’t be enough. She needed the evidence and she wanted to be there to present it to him herself. Paula opened the laptop up again and hit fast forward to watch the rest of the footage of what was happening in her vacation home. She couldn’t be more ashamed that her own mother could be so calculating and evil! Of course she held a grudge against Kayden herself for a while, but she loved her sibling and only wanted the best for him at the end of the day. If that was Lana, then so be it. She closed the DVR feed and clicked the web browser on her desktop. In the search engine she typed: “Rachel Brown, Hamby GA obituary” and waited for the results to pop up.

15 Kayden Capshaw thought he knew heartbreak but nothing prepared him for what he felt when he walked into the house and Lana was gone. Only the ring they had picked out was left on the granite counter top in the kitchen. She left no note, no text message, nothing. It was like she was never even there. He turned to his mother who was standing by his side, and she looked upset. “I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense,” he yelled waiting for his mother’s reply, “She wouldn’t just up and leave me!” Maureen trembled, at the sound of his booming voice. Her eyes welled as she thought she may have made a grave mistake. Witnessing the agony on her sons face, and the range of emotions he displayed, was like a person flailing in the depths of the sea about to drown. “I don’t know what to say dear, women are rare creatures,” she mumbled. “Did you do something?” he stood now looming over his mother who was only five foot two. Her eyes grew big. “Of course not Kayden, why would you say something like that to me?” she asked accusatory. “Because you’ve done worse in the past mother,” he replied, his eyes brimmed with tears. His head was spinning. This was all wrong. “I swear to you Kayden. I don’t know what happened. She was here when we left and she didn’t give any indication that she was going to leave you.” Kayden ran his hands through his hair and picked up his cell phone. He hit “Lana” on the screen but the phone just rang. “Please pick up the phone baby. Pick up!” He pressed the call button again, but only got the generic voicemail message. “Damnit,” he screamed and smashed the phone to the ground, where it erupted into a hundred pieces, and it scared Maureen. She had never seen him react that way before about anything. What have I done, she asked herself, as her son sank to his knees in the living room and wailed. Kim walked through the front door of the house, no evidence of her earlier brawl with Lana apparent on her face. She stopped when she saw Kayden on the floor and looked at Maureen, whose eyes were the size of saucers. She motioned her eyes for Kim to approach him. Slowly, Kim walked over to him and kneeled next to him. “What happened Kay?” she asked slowly and sweetly.

This plan was working better than anticipated, she thought to herself. Kayden looked up at her wanting to scream, wanting her to go away but he couldn’t get out any words. He began to slow his breathing and wiped his face. He stood from the hardwood floor and composed himself. “She’s gone,” he replied and walked outside in the garden, closing the glass doors behind him. Once outside Kayden took slow deep breathes and tried to think of what had gone wrong. Maybe he really didn’t know her, maybe he scared her off somehow. He shook the thought from his mind—he couldn’t accept that. They shared too much about one another for it all to have been a lie. Why would she lead me on, only to disappear? Why make plans for a future she never intended on having? Maybe she couldn’t handle the type of life I wanted or she couldn’t spend the rest of her life with an eternal screw up. Whatever the reason, he was numb and apart of him died in the garden, like the flowers withered away by the snow. *** A week had gone by since Lana had left him. Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if she was just a figment of his imagination. His mother had been there for him the entire time helping with the contracts and legalities of KDN and Capshaw Realty, so it kept his mind busy. When Lana’s voicemail was too full to accept any more messages, and he got no responses from Twitter direct messages, he had contacted three private investigators to try and track her down but neither came up with much. He called the hospital she worked for, and never got anything other than she wasn’t available. When he explained that she could be missing, they told him she hadn’t yet returned to work and they couldn’t give more information than that. He even had Taylor run a license check on her and was elated when they obtained her address. When they dispatched a colleague out to her apartment, it was vacant. She had moved. How hard could it be to find a registered nurse in Florida, he thought. Kim was around a lot and was helping his mother settle her affairs for retirement. He didn’t trust her and never would. Some things you leave in the past and Kim was one of them. The contracting crew broke icy ground on Aunt Mae’s so the work had officially begun. It would take a few weeks for the full takeover to be legal, but he was starting off strong and it was the only bright area of his life at the moment. Kayden couldn’t help thinking about Lana's face. Her perfect beautiful smiling face. He was truly more worried about her than anything now. Did she make it home OK? How was she? Why did she leave me? Kayden sat at his drawing table and day dreamed about her as he looked over the blue prints for their house on the hill. He wasn’t about to give up on her not now, probably not ever. *** Lana lay in the bed of her darkened room where she had been the last week of her life. Her new townhouse was still unpacked and the duffle bag from Hamby still lay on the floor where she dropped it. Her lease had run up at her old apartment and she decided not to re-new it. She thought a change would

help her but it didn’t and still felt the same dread she did every morning she woke up away from Kayden. Her cellphone had long since died and she purposefully didn’t charge it. She couldn’t ignore his calls for fear of picking up and she couldn’t listen to his recorded messages without falling to pieces. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, or see anyone anyway. It was easier to sleep away the pain instead of accepting that he was gone from her life for good. Lana squeezed her eyes shut for the third time that day and willed herself to stop crying and to fall asleep again.

16 It had been almost a month since she’d left Hamby and Lana still wasn’t sure if what had happened there was a dream or an elaborate hoax. She was running along a trail at her favorite park, in an attempt to return her life back to some semblance of normal. The huge green palm trees gave little shade as the sun was high and scorching. She dripped sweat as if she’d just stepped out of a shower. Slowing to a stop, she bent forward, her hands on her knees to catch her breath. Although hot, the feel of the sun was welcome after weeks trapped in the snow with him. The storm leading out of Georgia had gotten better the farther she drove away from Hamby, but the effects of the weather had taken its toll on her truck. While at a rest stop, in between fits of rage and anger, the truck wouldn’t start and she had to call triple A to rescue her. They took her to a car rental company where she was able to get a small mid-sized vehicle to take her the rest of the way home. She had contemplated calling Kayden back every second of everyday and had over a hundred missed calls from him—her voicemail box full. Lana couldn’t bring herself to listen to any of them. The sound of his voice might send her running back to Hamby and she knew full well the consequences of what would happen if she did. She stood up straight and turned the volume up on her iPod, then sprinted down the track, as if someone was chasing her. As long as she could keep the up tempo beats in her ears, she didn’t have time to think of anything else. *** Later, Lana walked into her small townhouse still trying to catch her breath from her run. She threw her keys on the small table by the front door and stretched her arms as she stood in the living room. Her new place wasn’t fancy. It was minimal, nice couch, decent sized TV on the wall with a bookshelf filled with her books. It was all she needed and she was content with that. She didn’t own the house, so painting was out of the question, but she did her best to bring color into her domicile with throw rugs and pillows to add a pop of color here and there. Walking into the kitchen, she opened the fridge and it was bare as she had no appetite as of late and didn’t feel the need to grocery shop. The answering machine light on her home phone in the small kitchen was blinking and she knew it was the representative from the state board of Nursing to inform her that her license was OK. Although Maureen didn’t report her to the police as promised, someone contacted the board and filed a complaint against her, putting her license under review, and taking her out of the ER until her file was reviewed. Probably Kim, she thought at the time. Lana had been struggling on whether to return to work anyway, and this gave her the time she needed to sort it all out. With all he free time, her

new itinerary was spent hanging out with Carmen hitting the clubs or at home watching Netflix. Anything to numb her pain. Although clubs never were her scene, they served as a distraction much needed. With Lana unable to confide in anyone what she’d been through, her way of letting it out, was to dance and run it away—for as long as that would last. She trudged into her living room, kicked off her Nikes and sat at the computer desk. She rubbed her burning toes against the cool hardwood floor while she pulled up an application for Nurses without Borders. It was a travel assignment program that would take her out of her comfort zone. The N.O.B association helped other countries with poor health services and she struggled with whether she should go. It would be nice to give back, but hitting “apply” had a lot of implications that came with it. She moved her mouse to a new tab and opened a search engine. In the search box, she typed: “Kayden Capshaw Wedding.” And there it was— a Page Six announcement of his pending nuptials to Kim. It had only been a month since everything went down and she had to hand it to Maureen. She knew her son better than Lana ever would. Kim swooped in just as she said she would and comforted him in his time of need. Maybe she was just a phase for him. She shook the thought away as her eyes welled with tears. Looking at her cell phone, she picked it up, turned it on, and hit the voicemail button for the first time since leaving Hamby. She put it to her ears and heard his voice and in an instant she was back in the house lying in bed with him, her head on his chest. His messages went from fear, to disbelief, to anger. Every human emotion a person could have, Kayden left on her voicemail. She could only hope that he didn’t spiral out of control and start drinking heavily like he did before. She pressed the phone for the next message and it was a woman’s voice. It was Paula. She explained that she had been looking in on the house over her vacation and had witnessed everything that had happened between her and Kayden but mostly Maureen and her. Paula explained that she had proof and wanted to present it to Kayden and show him what his mother had orchestrated. That message was three weeks old. Lana put the phone down and for a second she was happy to hear that. But her reality couldn’t allow her to believe that such a thing would make a difference. She didn’t have the stamina to fight with Maureen and Kim anymore. All her fight was gone. Hopefully he will see the videos and understand why I did what I did, she thought. But going back to Hamby was out of the question and there wasn’t much that would make her change her mind. *** Kim walked into the living room from the guest room at Paula’s wearing only panties and a pair of heels. She had been trying to get Kayden’s mind off that girl for weeks and nothing was helping. Finally, she thought she had to be bold and would surprise him. Kayden was sitting at the dining table going over the blue prints to his house and clearly his mind was preoccupied. He had bags under his eyes and his temper had been getting the best of him lately. Kim walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder startling him, he jumped.

“Damnit Kim!” He spun around. She jumped back covering her bare chest with her hands. “I’m sorry. I wanted to surprise you,” she replied. “What in the hell are you doing? Put some clothes on!” He snapped. Her eyes filled with tears and she ran towards the guest bedroom, “her bedroom” and slammed the door closed behind her. Kayden returned to his plans, hunched over the table and continued to study them. He may have agreed to marry that girl but only on paper. Nothing said he ever had to touch her. His mother made it very clear that although she understood how he felt about Lana, the handing over of the company was only to be official after he married. Kayden knew deep down in his gut she had done something to cause Lana’s sudden departure. He just didn’t know what or how he would prove anything; at least not until he got his mother off his back. Until then it would be futile to even try. Maureen was going to leave town in a few days to go to New York and he was elated. The reopening of Aunt Mae’s was fast approaching and he’d rather not have her to deal with as well. Wherever Lana was he hoped she was safe, but he wished she were there with him. She was the motivating force behind him and the project and she deserved just as much appreciation as anyone did for the remodel. Sure it was just the entrance but it was grand and the team worked tirelessly to get it completed. He was proud of the work he was doing and couldn’t wait to share it with the people of Hamby. *** Paula arrived at Fort Lauderdale International Airport just after six p.m. Lana could ignore her all she wanted, but she was going to find her and make her listen. She didn’t want to just show up unannounced, but with no response to calls, texts, or email, she was getting a little worried herself. Paula had gone back to Hamby to check in on her brother and the house and found Kim taking up residence. As bad as she wanted to toss her into the street and spill her guts, she contained herself for the time being. Her brother had thrown himself into his work on the construction site at Aunt Mae’s, as well as laying the foundation for his new estate. She got to see her mother as well and partook in the formalities, talking about her vacation and of course the Capshaw Reality handoff to Kayden. Paula watched as her mother spoke so beautifully about how proud she was of Kayden and all he was doing for the community, it almost made her sick. If she hadn’t had the video evidence of what Maureen was really up to, she would have believed every word coming from her mouth. Paula wanted to make sure that when she revealed everything—all the key players would be there to witness it. She hired a lawyer to draw up papers regarding the legalities of her mother’s black mail concerning Rachel Brown and Lana’s possible license suspension. It was wrong on so many levels that her mother would threaten an innocent woman’s future to secure her son as a lap dog to the likes of someone like Kim. When Paula asked her mom about Lana, the distaste flashed over her face so fast, if you blinked you would have missed it, but Paula knew her mother.

She claimed not to like the influence Lana had on him, and that she had been trying to convince him to leave his family business behind, in order to pursue his own goals. This convolution was preposterous to Paula. She did her best to come to Lana’s defense but Maureen wouldn’t hear of it. She promptly changed the conversation to the wedding that she and Kim were planning. Another sickening event Paula would make sure would never happen. She knew good and well Kim’s “love” for her brother had more to do with securing her bank account than anything else. How could a mother wish that kind of deceit on their child? Something in Maureen died when Joel died, and from the look of things, it wasn’t coming back ever again. Walking outside to the pick-up area, Paula had a driver waiting for her with a sign held up. She jumped in the car and the driver closed her door, rushed to the driver side of the car and took off into the traffic. Lana will listen to her if she had to sit on her and make her. She’d come too far to give up now. *** Hattie-Mae Smith was beyond excited to open up the new restaurant. Although the kitchen would be the same, the entrance and dining room were brand new and spectacular. Kayden said he didn’t want to modernize it too much, fearing the diner would lose its small town appeal. The snow stopped long enough for all the work to be done and the crew was finishing up final details so she and her workers could get acquainted with the new layout. The dining room had a retro fifties look to it with fifties themed menus and seating. Kayden even managed to find an old malt shake machine fully operational that he added as well. He really poured his heart into the project and took everything she wanted into consideration. When that young lady up and left him, Aunt Mae thought they were in for the old Kayden to return again, but not this time. He was more determined than ever to fulfill his promises and had truly grown up by keeping his word to the people in the town. One-day last week, after the crew had left for the day, only she and Kayden were left to lock up. She sat down at one of the new tables admiring the work, while Joseph took his time walking around inspecting the rest of the diner. He didn’t like change, but was easing into the new look with careful consideration and admiration. “Kayden, baby you outdid yourself,” she remarked, running her hands along the chromed edges of the table top. He smiled at her weakly. The rims of his eyes revealing he didn’t sleep much lately. “Sit down a minute and rest,” she said patting the table with her hand. He walked over to her and sat, looking around the room. “It’ll be beautiful once we’re done,” he said looking at the ceiling. “You miss her don’t you?” Aunt Mae asked. He looked at her and nodded his head as she reached across the table and held onto his hand.

“Sometimes people come into your life, for a reason. And other times it’s just for a season,” she replied looking into his face. “What’s that mean?” he asked confused. “It means that she was exactly what you needed at the exact time you needed it.” Kayden shrugged, pulling his hand away. “I just don’t get it Aunt Mae, we were happy.” “I know you were, and I could tell by looking that she loved you. I don’t know what happened to cause her to leave, but this could be a blessing in disguise.” “Really?” “Really. She did her part and now you have to do yours sugar.” Kayden was beginning to get annoyed because he didn’t understand the parables Aunt Mae was speaking in and she could tell as well. “What I mean to say is, don’t you give up. Not on yourself, not on your dreams and not on her. You move hell and high water if you have to, to find your way back to her.” He looked up at her and smiled. If only she knew the money he’d blown through to find her already. “Happiness isn’t always a choice son, but when you find it, you hold on.” Aunt Mae stood from the table now and walked over to Joseph. They held hands and made their way to the new front doors and stepped outside. She hoped Kayden would eventually find a way back to Lana and prayed that her words gave him some peace.

17 The nightclub was packed and Lana had been dancing since she arrived three and a half hours ago. There was no mistaking it, she was very tipsy and was having a blast. At least that’s what she kept telling herself. She had just finished dancing with a tall handsy guy who wore way too much cologne and was walking back to the bar, to order another drink. He followed her, putting his arms around her waist. She didn’t like it but she was single and free. She could do whatever she wanted. Lana leaned over the bar, and waved at the bartender who walked up to her. “Can I get a long island ice tea?” she screamed over the blaring music. The bartender nodded her head and proceeded to mix the drink, flipping bottles, dancing and putting on a show. It was an impressive talent, Lana thought, swaying to the music as she watched the young girl twirl and throw bottles in the air. When she was finished, Lana handed her a twenty. Drinks were expensive but she didn’t care, she just wanted to lose herself in them and dance the pain away. As she started marching towards the dance floor, she took a huge gulp as Carmen approached her and seemed a little annoyed. “Let’s go Lana, I’m exhausted,” she said grabbing her arm. “Cologne guy” was still holding onto Lana and pulled her back, away from Carmen. Giggling, Lana took another huge gulp and tried to get back on the floor and dance. “Let her go!” Carmen yelled, pulling Lana’s arm, causing her drink to spill. “You see what you did you stupid bitch,” cologne guy screamed as Lana pulled her arm free from him. “She’s not a bitch,” she slurred. “Here, let me buy you another,” he demanded, grabbing her around the waist and turning her into a crowd away from Carmen. He leaned in and tried to kiss her, but even drunk, she knew she didn’t want that. She tried to push him away but he wouldn’t let her. He’s way too strong, Lana thought as she started to panic. Before she knew it he had stuck his tongue in her mouth. A mixture of cigarette and hard liquor. He started leading her away from everyone towards an exit. What’s happening, Lana thought as cologne guy seemed to have five arms around her. She couldn’t break free of his gross kiss and it was clear whatever he had in mind, he wanted to accomplish. Finally, she pried his face away from hers and yelled “help” but no one could hear her. It was way too loud, and

no one was paying any attention. She was only somewhat tipsy a little while ago, but now she felt like she had drunk way more than she did. Then, she realized what was happening. He must’ve slipped me something! As the room began to spin around her he pushed on the exit door, but struggled while trying to hold her up. All she could see was black and the slow fading of the red exit light. The music got quieter and quieter and suddenly she hit the floor with a thud. With her eyes barely able to stay opened, she saw Carmen and the bouncer who then tackled the guy to the floor. This is out of control, she thought as she slipped into unconsciousness. *** The next morning Lana woke in the hospital, her head on fire. She opened her eyes and the light shot a pain straight to the back of her head. She shut them back and covered her face with her hands. She rolled over onto her pillow and buried her head deep, then she felt a hand on her head. “Who is that?” she muffled into the pillow. “It’s me honey,” Carmen replied. “You’re ok, but you got roofied last night. Do you remember?” Then, it all came crashing back and she remembered the guy, the drink and the feeling of losing consciousness. She started to sob into the pillow as Carmen stroked her hair, which was a tangled matted, mess. There was a knock on the door and then it swung open as a police officer walked into the room. He nodded at Carmen who stood up. “It’s the cops Lana.” She forced her eyes to open through her tears to look at him. She could barely see anything, as everything was way too blurry to make out more than shadows. “I’ll give you some privacy,” Carmen said as she walked out of the room and closed the door behind her. *** Carmen waited patiently in the hallway as Lana spoke with the police. He had been taking the report for the last twenty minutes and wished he’d hurry up so Lana could rest. She sat in a chair outside the room thankful that her friend was OK and exhausted from staying up all night to watch over her. Just then, a woman came stalking down the hall, nose in the air, dressed to kill in Vera Wang. You could tell she was important and didn’t take shit from anyone. Paula breezed up to the door and started to push it open as the police officer was walking out. He stopped for a moment to look at her, but she hurried past him closing the door behind her promptly. “Lana!” She exclaimed, seeing her friend such a mess. Last night’s makeup was all over her face, her hair was atrocious and she was sitting up in bed, covering her face with her hands sobbing. Paula stopped, taking the situation in. She walked over to the bed and sat next to her friend and couldn’t help crying herself. What was happening to the people she

loved? “Shh,” Paula soothed and sat on the bed. She held Lana as her best friend cried on her shoulder. Lana knew it was Paula before she said a word. She couldn’t look her in the face, mainly because she couldn’t see anyway, but also because she didn’t know what to say. When Paula sat on the bed, she unloaded the pain from the night before as well as everything she had kept hidden away over the last month. Paula stroked her head and held her friend tight as she cried for hours. *** Paula opened the door to Lana’s town house and helped her get in the door. She was still slow on her feet from the drug and coordination was a bit of a problem. Lana headed to the bathroom and turned the shower on, leaving Paula in the living room. They didn’t say much on the way there. As Lana closed the door to the bathroom, Paula had a seat on the couch and looked around the room a bit. Her friend wasn’t rich by any means but she had good taste. A familiar feeling came over Paula at that point. Lana was spinning out of control, making poor decisions and nearly put her life in danger last night. It reminded her of Kayden after Joel. She wouldn’t let her best friend go down that path. Paula stood from the couch and took a closer look at her friend’s place. She saw pictures of her family, her nursing degrees on the walls, then her eyes landed on the computer screen on the desk. It was the wedding announcement Kim had put in the Page Six magazine. She heard the shower turn off and closed the browser on the desktop computer. She sat back down on the couch when Lana came out the bathroom and she looked a hell of a lot better without the running mascara and eyeliner streaming down her face. She flopped down next to Paula and looked at her. “How long you been in Florida?” She asked. “A couple days. You wouldn’t answer my calls Lana, and then you moved. I finally decided to check the hospitals and there you were. I’m glad I checked when I did, or I’d have never found you.” “That was a coincidence.” “Yeah, a lot of that going around lately.” “I can’t go back to Hamby Paula.” “Yes you can. You have to.” Lana rose from the couch slowly and walked into the kitchen. She opened the cabinet above the stove and pulled down a box of hot chocolate. She turned to Paula. “Want some?” “In this heat, are you insane?” Lana smiled and turned back around. She grabbed a mug from the counter and opened her microwave. “What’s going on with you Lana? And don’t B.S me either.” Lana knew it was useless and fresh tears were already coming down her face. “I don’t know how to move on I guess,” she managed to say.

She put the mug in the microwave and hit the button. Paula got up, walked to the small kitchen and sat at the tiny breakfast table. When the microwave beeped, Lana sat next to her and sipped the chocolate. “You shouldn’t have to move on honey. What I saw on those tapes was beautiful, with the exception of the sex all over the house.” Lana laughed a little. “Sorry,” she replied embarrassingly. “You didn’t know. I wish I had told you and saved my self some serious therapy,” Paula replied. Lana laughed, but they turned to tears and intense and Paula pushed her chair closer to Lana. “I’m trying to be strong, but I don’t know how to stop from dying inside,” she sobbed, leaning her head on Paula’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be OK. It’s why I’m here, it’s all gonna be OK.” Paula spent the rest of the night explaining to Lana the ramifications of what her mother had done. She had a lawyer prepare to serve her mother papers along with the video evidence of the blackmail. Lana sat up and shook her head. “I don’t know what you have, but Kim threatened to show evidence in court of Maureen using her pull to get Kayden out of all his past legal trouble. She said she’d put him away if I showed my face there Paula. I can’t risk that,” Lana replied. “What a bitch!” Paula exclaimed. She grabbed her cellphone and started texting someone at lightning speed. “I’ll have Taylor look into it. We will just have to be extra careful when we get there. No worries.” Paula reached into her expensive briefcase and pulled out an envelope. “Take a look at this,” she said and slapped it down on the table. Lana wasn’t sure what was in there and was kind of afraid to open it. “Go ahead. I want to show you how much of a monster my mother can truly be.” Lana picked up the envelope and pried apart the metal tabs. She pulled a stack of photos out and looked down at them. Dropping them on the table she looked up at Paula in horror and almost fell out of her seat. “Let’s get you packed,” Paula said and stood from the table. Lana was still not believing her own eyes. There was Rachel, in New Orleans—very much alive and well.

18 Maureen was in the grocery store pushing her own cart for a change, grabbing the ingredients to cook her son one of his favorites, shrimp scampi. She hadn’t cooked in so long she wasn’t certain how good it would be, but was sure he’d love it either way. She was relieved for the first time in a long time. Her son was finally becoming the man she’d always needed him to be, and she was that much closer to being able to retire. The papers needed for Kayden to take over Capshaw Realty were all drawn up and the only thing that was left, was for him and Kim to say “I do.” Once that wedding was over, he was free to sign on the dotted line. Kayden hadn’t been behaving the same, since Lana finally left. It was very apparent that his heart was still broken, but it had been a month now. In her opinion, he needed to hurry up and get over it already. Honestly, she thought the situation was just a fling, and hadn’t realized how much he really loved her. Not until she saw him on the floor of the house crying on his knees. Perhaps she could’ve left well enough alone and let him marry the girl, but the influence she had over her son, didn’t sit well with Maureen. She needed to be able to keep a finger on him and the projects Capshaw was involved with and Lana being in the picture wouldn’t have allowed that. What she did, she did to preserve her family. It just had to be done, she convinced herself. When Kayden hired the private investigators Maureen paid them off to ensure Kayden never found her. They would always return with some story that made it almost impossible to track her down. Lana actually made it easier for this to happen by not returning to work right away. Besides, if he really wanted to find her he could, and Maureen took the fact that he accepted what the investigators told him, as a sign he was getting over her. Pushing her cart to the checkout line she caught a glimpse of a Page Six magazine and picked it up smiling. Boy did he and Joel look like Vince when he was younger. She threw it on the conveyor belt along with the rest of the items she needed for the dinner. Tonight would be a good night. The restoration project was complete and Aunt Mae’s would be opening tomorrow. A few of her media connections were coming into town to cover the story of how Capshaw was returning to its roots—at least for this project, she said to herself. It was all almost over. Earlier that week, Kayden wanted to take a trip to New Orleans to spread Rachel’s ashes, but she talked him out of it—several times already. Maureen knew eventually he’d take the trip whether she

approved or not, but Rachel wasn’t visiting New Orleans, she lived there now. It was tough trying to convince her to leave her life behind, but Maureen made up some story about Kayden, prison and legalities—the poor woman ate up every word. She also didn’t protest the one and a half million dollars that appeared in her bank account either. Maureen would have to coordinate for Rachel to leave town temporarily, when she finally allowed Kayden to spread the “ashes”. She had to make sure those loose ends stayed tied. The checkout girl smiled as she scanned the groceries and Maureen smiled back at her. “Hello, did you get everything you wanted?” she asked. Maureen flashed her that million-dollar smile and thought of her plans since she arrived in town. “I most certainly did,” she replied. One more day and she’d be back in New York and couldn’t wait a second more. *** As Lana boarded the private jet, she was worried about how the night would end. She still wasn’t sure how deep Kim’s claws had sunken into Kayden yet, and hoped she wasn’t too late. It would be easy to convince him of Maureen yes, but if he rekindled his relationship with Kim, everything could be for nothing. Lana could visit Hamby all she wanted, but without Kayden in her life to enjoy it with, it simply wouldn’t be worth it. She sat down in the plush leather seat next to Paula who was already sipping a glass of white wine. One of the flight attendants closed the airplane door, as the other brought the bottle over to Lana, but she held her hand up in protest. After the night in the club, she was doubtful she’d ever drink again. The doors to the cockpit were closed and the plane began rolling forward. As the jet sped up, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer for a safe flight. One way or another, her life was about to change again and the anxiety was making her nauseous. *** Kayden stood from the dining room table where Maureen and Kim sipped wine after dinner. He picked up the plates and took them to the kitchen, neither of them attempting to help. He thought about the last time he had a shrimp dinner, when Lana made it for him. She still occupied the house, although she wasn’t there. He placed the dishes in the dishwasher and leaned against the counter watching his mother and Kim talk about the latest reality show on television. They’re both so empty, he thought, as the dishwasher began its cycle. He stuck his hand in his pocket feeling the engagement ring he bought Lana. He didn’t trust leaving it anywhere in the house, not with Kim always snooping around, and he didn’t want to think what he’d do to her if he ever came home and saw her wearing it. To keep the “what ifs” at bay, he opted to keep it close to him at all times. As he twirled it around in his pocket and watched Kim laughing the annoying way she did, he knew there was no way in hell he was marrying her. Kayden didn’t give a damn what she posted in Page Six or

how his mother felt about it. At first, he agreed so he could stick it to his mother by getting the family business, along with his inheritance, leaving him free to find Lana as well as have the financial means to fight his mother. But the thought of going through a wedding with Kim, was too high a price to pay. He would face whatever consequences he had coming his way. He knew it was now or never and started walking over to the table to sit down and end the cackle fest they were having. As he sat, Maureen looked at him and recognized the expression on his face—it meant something was up. Keeping her composure and trying not to reveal her worry, she took a sip of her wine, smiled lovingly at him and sat her glass back down. “What is it dear?” She asked as sweet as she could. Kim watched them both still grinning ear to ear and poured herself another glass of wine. As Kayden opened his mouth to speak his cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket and pulled it out—it was Taylor. “Excuse me,” he said and stood from the table. He walked upstairs leaving them sitting there and Kim glanced at Maureen now, panicked. “Who do you think it is?” she asked, taking a big sip of her wine. “I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be worried,” she replied, pouring herself another glass as well. “Maintain your composure Kim. You must never give away your position, no matter what you think the other person may know. Stay calm.” Kim nodded her head in agreement and took a much longer sip of the wine this time. She had done everything Maureen asked of her and nothing seemed to be working with him. She took every opportunity she could to cook for him or flirt with him, even pretend to be interested in his feelings about Lana and even that didn’t work. If he didn’t marry her, she’d be a laughing stock back home and wouldn’t be able to show her face anywhere. She couldn’t let that happen—her life would be over. *** Kayden stood in Lana’s old bedroom, staring down at the bed as he talked to Taylor and he was livid. He had asked Taylor to hire an investigator to search for Lana in his name, after he suspected his mother was involved in his own failed attempts. He was right as Taylor was successful and had just updated him on Lana’s whereabouts as well as an incident that occurred at a nightclub a few days earlier. Kayden couldn’t think, or couldn’t breathe. All he wanted to do was grab his keys and head for the family jet at the airport. He knew he couldn’t do that without his mother ruining everything he’d been working for. He had to play this smart. “And what happened to the guy?” he asked through gritted teeth. Kayden paced the room and it appeared to be spinning in all directions. He had to go to her. Taylor explained he was currently in jail in Miami and that Lana was OK and released from the hospital with no injuries.

“At least now I know where in Florida she is,” Kayden replied, his face softening. He sat on the bed and thought of her laying in a hospital room all alone. Just like Rachel. It seemed that whenever he took one step forward he got knocked back thirty. “Make sure he doesn’t make bail. I owe you one Taylor,” he said and hung up the phone. In an instant, the huge weight he’d been carrying around was lifted from his shoulders. He stood and walked to the huge window overlooking the garden below. He was going to take control and bring his girl back home to Hamby where she belonged. Taking the ring out of his pocket he looked down at the stone and imagined her hand in his. “I’m coming for you baby,” he said, and put the ring back in his pocket. *** As Kayden walked back down the stairs, Maureen held her breath not sure of what to expect from him. Kim glanced up at him, then Maureen. She straightened her posture in her chair trying to match her idol’s stature. Kayden sat down, picked up his glass of wine and stared into the fireplace. It took the will of God for him to not go ballistic in their presence. “So dear, what was it you wanted to say earlier? What did Taylor want, is everything OK with the contracts?” she asked. “Everything is just fine mother,” he forced out, “Last minute details is all.” Maureen studied him as she could always tell when her son was lying. She couldn’t tell if that was the case right now, and it bothered her. After all, she hadn’t given him much reason to be honest with her lately. He sat so confident in his chair and his body language looked of a man in complete control. He definitely had changed a lot more than she even realized until this moment. Kayden’s temper was very short nowadays as well, so she decided to proceed with caution. “What about? If you don’t mind me asking,” she replied sheepishly. “They just wanted to know if it would be OK to send someone from the firm for the grand opening. Of course I told them yes,” he lied, a smile as phony as Maureen’s on his face. “Oh yeah,” Kim interrupted, “The more the merrier. I mean, without their work for KDN and Capshaw Realty, there would be no grand opening,” she said while reaching over to touch his hand. He removed it and picked up his drink, then stood from the table. He turned and walked outside on the back porch closing the door behind him. Kim looked at Maureen and breathed a deep sigh. “He hates me,” Kim said after the door was closed. “He’ll learn to love you again. Just don’t push it. Don’t be desperate. Let him notice you.” Maureen got up from the table and walked outside on the porch, leaving Kim at the dining room table. I’m not desperate, she thought to herself, her face furrowing in aggravation. She was pretty and knew it. She could have any guy she wanted—almost any guy that is. Kim looked outside and watched Maureen stand next to Kayden, like they were in a member’s only club that she wasn’t invited to. She knew she couldn’t walk out there and join them. It would just piss him

off even more. Standing from the table she walked over to the fireplace and stared into the flames. I’ve worked my ass off to earn my place in this family, she thought to herself. Having no parents of her own and very little family, she felt closer to the Capshaws, than anyone else in her life. Being used as a pawn in Maureen’s scheme only benefitted her if the plan worked. She threw the wine glass into the fireplace and stomped off to her room. One way or another she’ll make him realize why he needed her. She had no other options, this was it for her. It was do or die time. Kim stalked into “her room” and flopped down on the bed. She opened her laptop and clicked on a file on the desktop named “Kayden”. In it, were all the police reports of Kayden’s DUI’s, the judges, that were in Maureen’s pocket, and the email trail she stole from Maureen’s personal accounts. She hoped it didn’t have to come to this, but if there was one thing she learned from Maureen, it was to take no prisoners. *** Outside on the porch, Maureen wrapped her scarf around her shoulders and leaned her head onto her son’s shoulder as they stood looking over the town below. He wanted to instantly move, but resisted the urge. “What’s going on up there in that head, son?” She asked quietly. “Just excited for tomorrow and Aunt Mae is anxious to get back to work. The towns fire alarms have been going off non-stop since the kitchens been closed,” he both joked and lied. As cool and collected as he was on the outside, he was raging inside. He wanted to confront her and ask her why she did what she did, but knew he’d only be met with more lies. He’d play her game until she was out of town for good and he’d be free to do what was necessary. “Hattie-Mae Smiths cooking has surely been missed.” A few moments of quiet passed between them and Maureen turned her head to him. “Have you given anymore thought to getting a ring for Kim?” She knew this was a sore subject, but needed to keep him talking in the event he revealed more than he was letting on. “No mother I did not, and I do not plan to buy one.” “Kayden, how will it look to others if your wife doesn’t have an engagement ring or a wedding band?” She asked, seriously surprised at his answer. “Frankly, I don’t care how it looks,” he replied, with a calm and even tone. “This is a marriage I’m being forced into. This is your requirement. I don’t love nor like her, but because it’s the only way I can move on with my life, I’m doing it.” He lied to her face without a flinch. He was getting better at this than he thought. “So, it’s OK, I’ll jump through the hoops. I’ll marry her, but only because I don’t want to see the company my father built turned into a joke,” he said, and that part was the truth. “If she wants a ring, she can buy one herself.” Maureen didn’t know what to say back to him. He was serious and she doubted anything she would

say would change his mind. This worried her now as she wasn’t sure if Kim would even be able to do what was needed of her. That Lana girl had totally changed her son’s DNA. “But you loved her once Kayden. Surely those feelings can’t all be gone,” she replied, grasping for hope. It was all she could get out and not very convincing even to herself. “Once upon a time I did, and then she slept with my best friend while I was hospitalized and needed her. She doesn’t care about me mom. She never did.” “She made one mistake. You can’t hold it against her forever.” “That’s funny. I recall saying something similar a few years ago,” he replied and walked away from her into the grass. That stung. She didn’t know what to say. Kayden took another sip of his drink feeling rather liberated, then he turned to her now, a slight grin on his face. “Why do you like her so much is the real question?” He honestly wanted to know. There wasn’t a whole lot to Kim other than physical looks and it didn’t matter how pretty someone was if they were ugly inside. “She may not have been there for you after the accident, but she was there for me when your father died.” Kayden’s face softened as he remembered how much of a wreck his mother was during that awful time. He and Kim were very over at that point, but she did stay by Maureen’s side almost every day. They became good friends because of it and but it annoyed Kayden to have to see her all the time. “I understand that mother, I do. But it doesn’t make someone a good person or wife either. How is it fair to force me to marry her? Why her? Why someone who doesn’t care about anyone other than herself?” Maureen was at a loss for words again and couldn’t find a worthy rebuttal. She thought about his words and knew he was right. Kim wasn’t the best choice for her son on a love, level. It was the one thing that kept her marriage to Vincent all those years fresh and exciting, the true love they shared for one another. As she searched her mind for words, she could find none and felt a small pang of remorse. Kayden shook his head and started walking towards the door, past her where he disappeared inside. She stood there on the porch and smiled as she recalled him saying that he understood why she liked Kim. Understanding was the first step to accepting and sooner or later he would learn to trust her again. She walked inside the house closing the doors behind her, new hope for Kim in tow. *** Grabbing her purse, she gave Kayden a hug as he walked her through the foyer and to the front door. Outside he opened the car door for her as she climbed into her rental. As much as he loved his mother he couldn’t wait until she was back on a plane heading for New York. “Drive safe. Love you,” he said and closed the door. He watched her back out of the drive way and head down the road all the way down the hill. The car made its way to the roundabout and disappeared when she turned on Patterson. He walked into the house

and closed the door behind him. He had no idea where Kim was, but as long as she was downstairs and nowhere near him, he'd be fine. He went into the living room, snuffed the last of the embers in the fireplace and turned the lights off, making the room almost pitch black. The moonlight shined through the glass doors, which and reminded him of the night he and Lana stood on the porch admiring the view. When he turned around, Kim was standing behind him completely naked, a sly grin on her face. He was instantly exhausted with her. “I’m too tired for this shit,” he said as he tried walking past her. She hopped into his path blocking him, and he dropped his head. Kayden grabbed the couch throw blanket and tossed it to her, but she let it hit the floor and slid it out of her path with her foot. “This is something we both need,” she replied and walked towards him slowly. He was getting really pissed now. “You can’t tell me you don’t miss this,” she said, as she ran her fingers down her stomach. He grabbed her by the shoulders as she smiled. “Kim. I need you to listen to me. This is never going to happen. Ever. Do you get it now?” He let her go and took the stairs two at a time leaving her standing in the darkened room alone. Mortified, she picked up the throw blanket and erupted in tears. She couldn’t believe that just happened. Dragging the blanket behind her, she walked to the guest room and closed the door behind her. She fell onto the bed, covered in wedding magazines and started ripping them to shreds. Everything she wanted with him was falling apart. How long would he stay married to her if he couldn't stand to look at her? Maybe, she thought, it would be an open marriage. People did those all the time. Strictly business and she could get what she needed elsewhere. With that thought, she calmed herself. But it still hurt. It hurt like hell. *** Kayden locked the room door behind him and began taking his clothes off. Kim was losing her mind he was certain. Walking around naked didn’t mean anything to him—the old Kayden vacated a long time ago. He always knew she was a little unstable at times, but even that was out of character for her. Brushing the thought of her out of his mind, he climbed into bed and laid back with his arm under his head. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he would see Lana’s face again, and for the first time in a month he drifted off and slept soundly.

19 Lana opened her eyes when Paula touched her arm. She slept through the whole flight with the help of an over the counter p.m. medication, and couldn’t believe they were there already. The flight attendant walked up to them and handed Lana a bottle of water. “Welcome to Georgia!” She beamed, grinning ear to ear. It must be painted on, Lana thought as she opened the bottle and took a sip. Paula leaned close to her and rubbed her forearm. “You ready?” she asked. Lana nodded. It was a total lie, she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to see Maureen or deal with the drama that would be in high gear. The only person she was ready to see was Kayden and she was unsure of how that would turn out. The airplane door opened, allowing the frigid air to ooze into the jet cabin. It was almost midnight now so the temperature was about five degrees. Closing up the leather jacket she took from Kayden a month before, she and Paula stood and started down the stairs of the plane. A car was waiting on the tarmac of the private airport, the driver holding the doors open for them. Paula climbed in first and Lana took a look around the scenery. The snow was still on the ground a few feet, but plowed this time. It looked the same now as it did when she was driving out of town. As if the snow froze everything in time until she returned. She stepped into the toasty car next to Paula who was removing her scarf. “I’m scared,” Lana said looking her friend in the face. She still couldn’t believe everything Paula was doing for her and Kayden, and didn’t know how she would ever repay her for it. “I know baby doll,” she said, “You shouldn’t be. Kim and my mother on the other hand should.” “Where are we going to stay tonight?” Lana asked as the car pulled forward. “Spence Hotel.” “We can’t! Your mothers there,” Lana replied panicked, sitting up with her eyes as big as saucers. “It’s ok, we’ll check out by morning and keep a low profile. I still have to bring Kayden up to speed on everything if we’re going to do this right.” “How are you going to tell him?” Lana asked relaxing in the seat a little more. “Oh I have a plan. Don’t you worry.” They rode in silence as the warm interior of the luxury car made its way towards Hamby. The drive wasn’t more than ten minutes before they were turning at the familiar roundabout. The streets were deserted and quiet, a light snow covering the roofs and treetops, with warm glowing streetlamps. It looked as if they were driving through a computer screensaver. As they prepared to turn left onto Patterson, Lana caught a glimpse of Aunt Mae’s, still partially covered by tarps. I guess not to give too much away before the big ceremony, she thought. The car continued down Patterson and a few minutes later, stopped in front of the hotel. Lana felt the anxiety building in her chest, like heart burn. The driver exited the vehicle to open her door and Lana couldn’t help staring at the jewelry store across the street. Only a month and a half ago Kayden practically dragged her in there to buy that gorgeous engagement ring.

She smiled, remembering how happy he looked when he slid it on her finger. The driver opened the door and she and Paula hustled out in the cold and entered the hotel. Paula stalked straight to the elevators and Lana followed suit. “Don’t we need to check in?” she asked confused. “I told you, I’ve been planning this for a while. I booked this room and got the key in advance two weeks ago. We’re good.” Lana couldn’t help but smile. She had to give it to them, there was never a dull moment when it came to the Capshaw family. *** Lana lay in the queen sized bed of her hotel room, unable to sleep for the last three hours. The uncertainty of the status of Kim living under the same roof as Kayden for weeks on end unnerved her. Even though Paula reassured her the whole way to Hamby that there was nothing to worry about, the Page Six announcement photo still haunted her every thought. Every fiber of Lana wanted to leave the hotel and trek up the hill to the house, but Paula already had a plan in place that required her to wait and she had to respect it. The last few weeks had been a series of extreme ups and downs and she wanted off the rollercoaster, and for that to happen she had to be patient a little while longer. Turning onto her side, Kayden’s jacket lay on the pillow next to her and for a moment, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine him lying there. Finally, she grabbed it and held it to her face breathing in the now fading cologne, as she’d done every night since she left him behind. As she squeezed her eyes closed, she prayed that he could forgive her for what she did and eventually drifted off to sleep. *** It was five a.m. and Kayden had risen early to get a jumpstart on work. He sat at his office desk and stared down at the piles of pictures laying before him. They were of various stages of the new house being built, all exterior and foundation work. The shell of the entire house was completed, but it was far from finished. He thought about how beautiful it would eventually be, but couldn’t focus on the house without thinking of Lana. In times of quiet and solitude like this, he would reflect on the changes he’d made as a person, because of her influence. Being intertwined with her was sudden and something he never saw coming but he never felt luckier in his entire life. He thought of the words that Aunt Mae told him before: “She was exactly what you needed, when you needed it,” or something to that affect. There was only one thing he didn’t like about that saying—the phrase “needed.” Because he very much still needed her in every way. Kayden stood from the table, his lower back beginning to feel the past three hours of working, and made his way through his sisters darkened living room. He leaned onto the cold glass patio doors and peered over the garden, and the town before him. The snow was still clinging to life, but the view wasn’t as magical as he’d remembered it a few weeks back. As soon as Aunt Mae’s diner release happened later that night, he was boarding a plane to Florida to bring his woman home and he’d be damned if his mother or anyone for that matter got in his way. *** It was already after eight a.m. as Lana sipped her coffee in her hotel room. Looking out the window she could see the farmer’s market couple, the Powell’s, getting ready to set up shop. They would usually do this much earlier but the temperatures had been unusually cold this winter. During the blizzard they

stayed away like everyone else, but the snow had stopped falling now and everyone was taking full advantage of that, even if it was a little later than usual. Looking down at them and seeing how they worked together, carefully and thoughtfully like a well-oiled machine, she knew that came with familiarity. Maybe that could be her and Kayden in the future. Happy, finally. A knock on the door snapped her out of her thoughts and she walked over and peered through the peephole of the hotel room. It was Paula, dressed to kill in an all-black leather ensemble. As she opened the door, Paula sauntered in and sat on the bed while Lana closed and locked the door behind her. “We ready?” Lana asked exhausted. She only got a few hours of sleep and could realistically sleep another ten. “I think you should stay at the hotel until I get back,” Paula replied, removing her sunglasses. “But your mother is here,” Lana affirmed, annoyed. She walked over and sat next to Paula, cradling the coffee mug. “I know, but there's nowhere for me to stash you yet. I just need to assess the situation before we blow the lid off this thing.” “Are you changing your mind?” Lana’s head began to spin. What happened that made her want to leave me here all of a sudden? “No way. I need to go throw Kim out. I don’t want her in my house a second longer and if she sees you, she'll run to my mom and ruin everything. Once she’s gone, I’ll have the chance to talk to Kayden in private,” she replied. Lana nodded her head realizing it made sense—although she did not want to spend all day hiding in the hotel. She could try to get more sleep, but knew it would be impossible. She’d be a mess of anxiety until she heard from Paula again. “After you have your chat with him, what’s next?” Lana muttered. “Then I come and get you and bring you back to the house,” she beamed. “I know this is supposed to fix everything, but I can't shake this awful feeling I have,” Lana admitted, placing the mug down on the bed side table. Paula put her hand over Lana’s and squeezed. “After tonight, you won't have a thing to worry about,” she said, and stood from the bed. She put her sunglasses back on and draped her large Fendi bag over her shoulder. “Tonight after the re-opening, I’m going to throw Kayden a congratulatory dinner. Where on the big screen, I’ll hit play and let my mother’s actions speak for themselves.” “Got it,” Lana replied and stood up from the bed. “Just try to relax. I’ll be back before you know it,” Paula gave her two air kisses on the cheek turned and walked out of the room. Lana locked the door behind her, walked back over to the window where the Powell's were, and gazed out at them. They were sitting and sipping something hot from thermos’s, having a casual conversation. As much as Lana appreciated Paula trying to reassure her, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread—and she said a silent prayer that everything would work itself out. *** Maureen cradled Kim on the couch as she cried uncontrollably. She was starting to tire of her whining, but tried her best to comfort her anyway. Her actions as of late had become erratic and she didn’t want to make matters worse by chastising her right this moment. “I just don’t get it, Mrs. Capshaw. I’ve done everything you said,” Kim sobbed, sitting up to blow her nose. Maureen handed her another tissue and she dried her eyes.

“There, there,” she said exasperated, “I spoke with Kayden and he understands full well, why I chose you to marry him. It’s going to be OK.” Kim looked eagerly at her now, and hope crept into her face. It was like watching someone with a lottery ticket right before they read the numbers aloud. “What you did last night—although ambitious, was all wrong. I asked you to play it safe and be cautious and you did the complete opposite.” “I’m sorry. I thought if I were more assertive, he’d buckle. Nothing else worked before,” she whined. “My son isn’t the same boy you knew three years ago Kim. He isn’t the same man you knew a month ago. He’s changed.” “I know. That bitch must have brainwashed him,” Kim jibed blowing her nose on the napkin. “As I was saying—he’s changed and the advice I gave you was to help facilitate the new Kayden. Not the old one. Listen to me and do exactly what I tell you from now on, and you won’t have these issues again.” Maureen’s face was stone cold and emotionless. Kim picked up on it quick and nodded her head in compliance. “I promise,” she replied. A door closed and the clicking of high heels was growing louder coming from the foyer. Paula breezed into the house, removed her gloves and placed them on the kitchen counter. Maureen stood up and so did Kim. “Paula, what a wonderful surprise!” Maureen exclaimed waking over to her, arms extended. Paula gave her an air kiss, removed her shades, and place them on the counter. “Hello mother,” Paula replied, faking the best smile she could. “How come you’re back so soon? Where’s Garrett?” “He had business in California. How’s everything with the diner?” Paula asked, pretending to be none the wiser. “Hi,” Kim beamed, as she wiped the last of the tears from her face. Her eyes were bloodshot and she looked like Rudolph with her nose the cherry red color it was. “Well everything is going great dear! I’m so happy you’ll be here for the grand reveal tonight!” Maureen exclaimed, clapping her hands together. Paula walked into the living room and sat on the couch. Maureen sat next to her, a huge smile on her face, waiting for Paula to say something. Kim slowly sat back down on the couch keeping her eyes on Maureen. “That’s really good news mom. Where is Kayden?” “Oh, he’s still upstairs I think. He hasn’t come down yet,” Kim interjected. “And why are you still here Kim?” Paula quizzed. Kim tried her best to put on a smile and brighten up her face. “Kayden and I are getting married, remember?” she exclaimed and hopped off the couch, her arms opened for a hug. Paula politely put her hand in the air and stopped her from getting any closer. “Please don’t,” she protested. “Pauline Capshaw—,” Maureen started. “Mother please,” Paula interrupted, as Kim’s face turned the color of beet red. Paula stood up and walked over to the fireplace. “I don’t understand your behavior. This is your brother’s fiancé, your soon to be sister in law, Paula.” Maureen replied, perplexed. Paula started the fireplace and turned slowly around to face them both. She took a slow deep breath

and tried to calm the rage bubbling in her chest. “Mom, this is the same girl who was sleeping with every guy with a trust fund in New York, so excuse me for not feigning happiness for my brother,” Paula replied and placed the fire poker back into its holder as Kim burst into more tears. Paula walked over to her and sat next to her. She picked up her hand and looked her in the face. “I’m sorry, but I’m also going to need you to collect your belongings and leave my house,” Paula cooed. That felt good, she thought. Maureen stood up, her mouth hung open in shock. “Paula!” She managed to squeeze out. “Mother, this is my home and I choose who I want in it. She isn’t someone I’d associate myself with and I don’t want her here.” Maureen looked at her daughter and couldn’t find any words to say. Kim stood, waiting and watching Maureen for a rebuttal. After a few more seconds she ran out of the living room down the hall, the door slamming behind her. “I suppose I should leave too, if that’s how you feel,” Maureen said smoothing her dress down. “I never said you weren’t welcomed here, but if you want to leave mom—I’ll see you later.” Maureen stood frozen, her face now flush, confused. Kim came out from the hallway, dragging her suitcase, crying hysterically. “Wait a minute, sweetheart. I’ll be joining you,” Maureen called out to Kim. She stalked down the foyer and out of the house with Kim slamming the front door behind them. Paula took a breath, stood up from the couch and walked into her kitchen. Two down, one to go, she thought and leaned onto the kitchen counter. Kayden trotted down the stairs, his eyes barely opened and his hair a wreck. “What’s going on?” He grumbled, rubbing his eyes. When he opened them he froze. “Hey baby brother,” Paula chirped smiling. “Paula!” He hurried over and gave her a huge hug. Paula held on a few seconds longer than he did. She had become so proud of her brother, she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time making life harder on him. “I’ve missed you too. So glad you came for the opening,” he replied, and she let him loose. “Me too,” she said, fighting back the tear that sprung in her eye. “You just getting in?” He asked walking to the kitchen and getting coffee grounds out of the cabinet. “I got in last night actually,” she admitted. “Really, where’d you stay?” “Spence Hotel,” she slid into the bar stool as he filled the coffee maker with water. “Spence Hotel? Why?” “I’ll explain over coffee,” she replied. He turned to her and smiled. “You hate my coffee,” he grinned, as he set it to start. “Yeah, well, I need something radioactive for what I have to tell you,” she replied. Kayden furrowed his eyebrows, and Paula took another deep breath. Shit, meet fan, she thought and wondered how she would even begin. *** Maureen and Kim stood in the elevator of Spence Hotel as the doors closed. Kim erupted into more sobbing and Maureen rolled her eyes for maybe the hundredth time that morning, finally having her fill.

“Stop it!” She yelled. Kim instantly stopped wailing but the tears didn't. “Had I known you to be such a whining waste of time I never would have brought you here!” Maureen seethed. “I’m sorry,” Kim whispered. “I’m sorry—I’m sorry is that all you can say?” Maureen turned to her and held her chin looking her in the eyes. “You see the way my daughter handled you? That’s what I’ve been trying to teach you since I took you under my wing.” Kim looked in Maureen’s eyes. They seemed caring but were still as cold as the snow on the ground. “Whenever someone challenges you that way, you stand up for yourself. You do not run away and hide!” She chastised now, letting her face go. “This is hard for me,” Kim challenged, wiping her face. “Well you better get it together soon, or you’ll be the next one to leave town never to be heard from again.” The elevator doors opened and Maureen stalked out. Kim stood in the elevator a moment, taking in the threat she was just given. If she didn’t live up to Maureen’s expectations, she’d be tossed aside. It was bad enough Kayden didn’t like her, but if Maureen turned her back on her too, she would surely lose everything. She stepped off the elevator just as the doors began to close again. *** Lana was lying in bed after taking a nap due to her long and restless night. The room door knob began to jiggle and jolted her out of bed, her heart racing in her chest. Who was that? she thought, as she bolted out of bed and ran to the door. She looked through the peephole to see Kim standing there. She was crying profusely and jiggling the door handle. Lana turned around, her hand over her mouth wondering what had happened. Did Paula spill the beans already? Was Kim there to settle a score with her? She looked back through the peephole. “What are you doing?” she heard through the door and recognized the voice immediately. It was Maureen. Lana turned back to the door and watched them from the peephole. “The door won’t open,” Kim sobbed. Maureen snatched the key from her and held it up to her face. “Wipe the tears from your eyes and you’d be able to see this is room eleven-oh-five and your room is eleven-oh-six!” She scoffed and tossed the key at her. She stomped away down the hall away from Kim, and slammed her door. Kim wiped the tears from her face and walked down the hall, her head hung low. Seeing the way Maureen treated her, Lana almost felt bad for her. Almost. She remembered the joy her pain gave Kim a month ago and wiped away any sympathy that she may have felt. Even though she wasn’t on Maureen’s radar, she did not feel comfortable being on the same floor as her in the hotel. Lana considered grabbing her coat and making the long hike up the hill, but she knew it was a silly idea. There was way too much snow between her and the house. She checked the door lock once again and walked back over to the bed. She wouldn’t fall asleep again, she thought and leaned back on the pillow, eyes more opened than ever before. It was happening. *** Paula sat next to Kayden on the couch in the living room and took a sip of the coffee. She frowned her face and sat it down on the coffee table. How could he call that bile coffee, she thought? He looked at her face and smiled.

“I see you still don’t like my coffee,” he said and took another sip of his, “So what’s up?” “Well, a lot is up. First let me say brother, I’m happy you found Lana,” she replied. Kayden frowned, he hoped she wasn’t about to ask him what happened as he didn’t feel like going through everything all over again. “Thanks,” he replied cautiously. “And also I should have told you my house is wired like Fort Knox.” “What do you mean?” “Cameras, Kayden. They’re everywhere.” “Yeah so—,” He started then stopped. His face bright red. “Yeah baby brother, there are some things the human eyes shouldn’t see, and your best friend and brother having sex is on the top of the list.” “Oh no,” he stood up from the couch, “I’m mortified.” Paula started laughing. “I know, you should be,” she laughed, shaking her head side to side, “My poor throw rug. I’m gonna have to send that to you when you get your own place,” she was beside herself in laughter. He threw a pillow at her and sat on the opposite couch. “I can barely look you in the face dude,” she continued. “Ok. You could’ve warned me,” Kayden replied. “I should have, I’m sorry. I had no idea what was about to transpire,” she giggled. “Have you heard from her?” Kayden asked, more serious now. “Yeah, I was with her yesterday,” Paula replied matter of factly. Kayden jumped up from the couch. “What? You wait until now to tell me this?” Paula got up and put her hands up in the air. “Calm down Kayden let me finish,” she pleaded. “Well how is she?” “She’s fine now.” “So when she got out of the hospital you were there?” He asked perplexed. Paula looked at him surprised. “How did you know she was in the hospital? Have you known where she was this entire time, Kayden?” She commanded. He ran his hands through his messy hair. “Of course not. I had Taylor hire a P.I in his name, because I had a feeling something fishy was happening with the three I hired to find her before. He was successful,” he gushed barely taking a breath and sat back down on the couch. “You never stopped looking for her,” she stated. “No. If I had any idea where she was, I would have been long gone. I was under the impression you had no idea either and if you did, you would’ve called me back!” He spat at her rising from his seat. “Just sit down and listen to me for minute. There’s a reason for all of this.” Paula pulled out her laptop and sat it on the coffee table. She opened it and he sat next to her. “What’s this?” He asked looking at the screen. Then he recognized the room and the people on it. It was his mother, Kim and Lana. “Before I press play, I want you to know, there is something in the works and I need you to promise me, that you won’t move a muscle.” “Press play Paula,” he demanded, his eyes angry. “I need to hear the words,” she protested.

He sighed, “I promise.” Paula pressed play on the computer and turned the volume up. Kayden watched the video in its entirety. As he watched his mother lay out the plan to make Lana leave him, his face distended in pain. When all the video clips had played, Paula closed the laptop down and turned to her brother. He had his elbows on his knees still looking at the computer, barely able to contain his emotions. “Kayden, remember you promised me,” she pleaded. “I need to see her. We need to go to Florida. Now,” he replied. “No we don’t,” Paula stated. He snapped his head at her. “She’s here.” Kayden stood from the couch and Paula could swear his face showed a range of every emotion possible. Excitement, anger, fear, joy. “I’m gonna bring her to you but it needs to be somewhere mom and Kim won’t see her. At least not yet.” “Who cares? We have all the evidence we need!” “Kim, has plans of her own Kayden and I’m sure mom has no idea, what she’s been up to.” “What are you talking about?” “She threatened Lana, that if she made contact with you, or showed up here in town again, she would turn over evidence of mom and her friends who helped to sweep some of your past cases under the rug. It’s a, “If I can’t have him, no one will���, scenario bro”. Kayden sank to the couch and placed his hands on his face. He knew Kim wasn’t exactly an angel, but would she really try to ruin his life that way? “I regret the day I ever met her.” “Don’t worry about her, Taylor and I are working on something.” Kayden wracked his brain, trying to find somewhere in this small town that was still private. They could meet in Shelby but he didn’t want to wait a minute longer than he had to and then it hit him. Smiling at Paula he ran upstairs to get dressed.

20 When Lana heard the knock on the door she jumped up from the bed and walked to the peephole. Paula was standing there and she opened the room quickly before Kim or God forbid Maureen were to walk into the hallway. Grabbing Paula by the hand she yanked her in and shut the door behind her looking out the peephole again just to make sure the coast was clear. “Have you lost your mind?” Paula asked startled. Lana turned around and put her finger up to her mouth. Paula took her shades off and frowned. “You’ve finally snapped haven’t you?” she continued. Lana grabbed her arm and took her into the bathroom. “What is going on?” Paula pleaded. “Did you know your mother was my neighbor?” Lana pointed to the wall behind Paula and her eyes grew three times the normal size. “Oh shit, no. I didn’t know what floor she was on,” she whispered. “And deranged Kim is at the end of the hall!” Lana whispered as loud as she could. “You didn’t leave the room did you?” Paula asked. “Of course not, I’m not an idiot,” Lana assured. “Well, we have to get you out of here. Kayden’s waiting.” Paula turned to leave the room. “He knows?” Lana asked, her heart racing for very different reasons this time, and Paula smiled at her. “Yes honey, he knows everything,” she replied proudly. “Everything?” “Everything.” The smile that erupted made her face hurt. She could barely contain the excitement she felt. She spent the last month wondering if she’d ever see him again and now the moment was finally there. “Let’s go,” Lana said way too loudly walking out of the bathroom. “Wait,” Paula commanded stopping her. “I’m going to take you to him and later tonight we’re gonna bust my mom. But you have to stay hidden until then. We can’t risk her playing defense beforehand.” Lana nodded her head understanding everything Paula said to be true. Even after she met up with Kayden it still wasn’t quite over yet. If Maureen got wind that Kayden was on to her, she could screw with the company merger, KDN, the opening tonight, everything. Not to mention Kim’s own personal vendetta, it could all be for nothing.

“Now, how do we sneak you out of here?” Paula asked looking at her. “I doubt your mother would ever take the stairs,” Lana guessed. “Smart girl, we just make sure the coast is clear and make a bee line for the stairwell.” Lana nodded her head and they headed out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. Paula cracked open the hotel room door and stuck her head out carefully. The hallway was completely silent and empty. She walked down the hall over to her mother’s room and put her ear to the door. She couldn’t hear anything and wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. Waving Lana out of the room, she popped her head out the door then ran as silently as she could to the staircase door, opening it as quiet as she could. When she stepped in, the door slammed behind her unbelievably loud. She stood in the stair well not sure what to do as everyone on the floor definitely heard that. Like a track racer at the starting pistol, she took off down the stairs before anyone left their room in search of the source. Paula on the other hand was still in the hallway when Kim came out of her room to look down the hall. Paula knocked on her mother’s door, pretending to be going to see her. At least this way she had an excuse to invite her to the dinner party later. Kim walked back into her room closing the door behind her. Maureen’s door opened and she stepped outside in her robe, but not before Paula could see Heathcliff in the background with no shirt on. “Really mom, the Captain?” She asked as Maureen put on the best smile she could manage. “Paula, what a lovely surprise,” she stated. “Mom, after the reopening tonight, I’m throwing Kayden a congratulatory dinner and I’d like for you to be there.” “That sounds lovely dear but are you sure you want me there? After this morning I got the impression you weren’t exactly happy with me,” Maureen pointed out. “I’m sorry mother, that was more about Kimberly, I apologize. I also want to apologize to her as well —I could’ve handled it better,” she lied. Maureen looked at her daughter suspiciously. She wasn’t sure how to take such a random act of forgiveness so soon after the earlier altercation. “Are you sure that would be wise, dear?” She asked again, the smile plastered on her face like a marionette doll. “Yes. I spoke to Kayden and he asked me to make nice,” she lied again. “Well in that case, I would be delighted,” she gave Paula a hug. “And invite your new boyfriend,” she replied and winked at her mother as she walked away. Maureen let out a semi-embarrassed laugh and watched her daughter disappear down the hall. This was actually great news, she thought. Kayden insisting on Kim’s appearance showed that perhaps he was ready to move on finally. Maureen turned and re-entered her room, closing the door behind her quietly. ***

Heathcliff lay on his side in the bed his arm propped under his head. “What was that about?” he asked smiling slyly at her. “How would you like to come to dinner with the Capshaws?” She asked and walked over to the bed. He sat up as she grabbed his face and kissed him. Finally, she thought, it was almost over. *** Lana’s heart raced in her chest as Paula lurched the car up the hill. She didn’t know what she would do when she saw him and couldn’t believe how much she could miss a person. Paula passed her house on the top of Deleveaux circle and Lana’s eyebrows furrowed. “Aren’t we going to your house?” she asked. “Nope, we’re going to yours,” Paula replied. About a half a mile later they reached a huge piece of land on the highest peak of the hilltop. They drove further up until a house came into formation. It was unfinished, the wood paneling exposed with no windows in it yet. It was the sketch Kayden drew of the house he planned to build them. He didn’t waste any time getting it started. Her heart started to beat faster and faster, her emotions getting the best of her. What would she say? What would he do? Paula pulled the car up onto the end of the rounded driveway. “You ready?” she asked, her smile bigger and wider than she’d ever seen it. Lana was breathing fast, too fast. She was afraid she may pass out and tried to calm herself. “It’s been a month. I don’t know what to say,” she admitted as tears fell down her face. “I’m sure you’ll find the words,” Paula replied. “He must be inside. I don’t see him,” Lana stated and felt a little relief as she noticed his car wasn’t there either. Maybe he was running late or worse maybe he changed his mind? Paula got out of the car and walked into the massive nine thousand square foot shell that would soon be her brother’s permanent residence. She saw him through the entrance in the back yard through where his double doors would eventually be. It kind of reminded her of her own house except three times the size and way more grandiose. As she walked through the house, her Jimmy Choo’s resounded through the huge space, then stepped through the opening that would soon be the covered lanai and stood next to her brother. “You out did yourself little bro,” Paula said. He turned to her but wasn’t looking for her. “Where is she, what happened?” he asked. “She’s in front. She’s a little emotional,” Paula replied. Kayden understood, he was too but enough time had passed and he needed to see her already. Before he could say a word what felt like a mini freight train hit him. It was Lana. She had thrown herself into him and was holding onto him for dear life. “Never mind,” Paula said as they held onto one another, “She took the scenic route.” Paula smiled as

they clung to one another and walked back through the house to give them privacy. Kayden looked down at Lana, her head buried in his chest. She was weeping and he couldn’t stop his own tears from falling from his face. She pulled back from him and looked at him. She had thought she would never again see those eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, as she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “No love, you don’t have anything to be sorry about,” he assured. “I thought I’d never see you again,” she was bawling so loud, she could hardly speak. “No way. I never stopped looking for you.” He grabbed her face and gave her a kiss so deep and so fierce, her knees buckled. He caught her before she could hit the ground, never breaking the kiss, missing the familiarity of the woman he loved so much. Kiss after kiss, it was as if they were filling in the lost ones during the time they were apart. By the time they pulled back from one another the tears were replaced by pure passion. “I’ve missed you so much,” Kayden said breathlessly, rubbing the side of her check with his thumb. She turned her head and kissed his hand. “I missed you too.” *** Paula had long gone and now Kayden and Lana walked hand in hand as he gave her a tour of the house. As much as he could anyway. Every detail they spoke about, Kayden made sure was done. The trey ceiling and crown moldings. Even down to the type and color of hardwood they discussed. It was a marvel and it wasn’t nearly finished yet. “You didn’t miss a detail,” she stated as she inspected the crown moldings in there soon to be formal dining room. “Of course not. I always intended to bring you home,” he stated. Lana’s smile faded slightly as he held her hand. He stopped in the middle of what would be their kitchen, turned to her and held her close, resting his forehead on hers. “I’m so sorry my mother went to the lengths she did. You didn’t deserve that,” he whispered. She touched his face with her hand feeling the familiar stubble that was growing in. “I know Kayden; I don’t blame you. I hated leaving the way I did,” she dropped her hand and looked down from his eyes. He could tell there was more she wanted to say. “What is it?” he asked so sincerely, she almost melted in his arms. “I was afraid your moms plan worked and that you had moved on with Kim,” she admitted and he scoffed. “Never. There is nothing about that succubus of a girl that I want, or need in my life.” He raised her face to his and searched her eyes with his. “Nothing.” “I believe you,” she replied and he kissed her again soft and slow. The wind was blowing through the

plastic tarps into the house whizzing by them as they kissed. Their body temperatures warmed one another as the brittle wind tried to cut through them. She pulled away from him slowly. “I need to tell you something,” she said. “What is it?” He led her through the house over to a bay window that wasn’t finished yet, but could hold their weight. “A couple days ago, I was at a club—,” she started saying, but he puts his hand up and she stopped. “I know about the attack,” he finished. “I figured as much,” she replied. “There is nothing to explain. What happened in the club wasn’t your fault—don’t do that to yourself.” “I just didn’t want you to think I had moved on—,” she stood up from the bay window keeping her eyes on him. “The thought never crossed my mind,” he replied. Lana sat back down next to him and he grabbed her hand and pulled her closer to him, and she rested her head on his chest. “What happens next?” “I don’t know but for the first time in my life, I’m excited for that. No more will my mother dictate my life for me or use the past to hurt me,” he replied. She looked up at his face and kissed his chin. “It won’t be the same life you’re used to and I don’t want you to wake up one day and resent me,” she replied. He looked down at her and his eyes were stormy and serous. She was afraid she’d insulted him and then he began to speak. “Let me tell you something. I have everything I have ever wanted right here in this room. And I don’t want you for one second to blame yourself because of anything my mother could do. Do you hear me? I love you and all the money in the world or lack there-of will never change that.” She had never heard words so sweet in her entire life and she believed everyone one of them. Then he shifted and she leaned forward so he could stand. Kayden reached in his pocket and dropped to one knee and opened the ring box. She looked down into his face, into those gorgeous eyes rimmed in tears. “I know I’ve asked you before, but I want to ask you again. Lana, will you please do me the honor of being my wife and letting me love you until the day I die?” She burst into tears nodding her head as he placed the ring back on her finger. He stood and they embraced for what felt like forever. “I’m never letting you go again,” he said. “Me either,” she replied.

21 The entire town of Hamby must have been in the town square. If someone needed to get somewhere by car, it would be a lost cause, as people leisurely filled the streets as they walked towards the new diner. Television news crews, photographers and patrons all stood outside of Aunt Mae’s waiting for the celebration and unveiling to happen. Kayden was at Spence Hotel getting dressed in Lana’s hotel room and Maureen didn’t question why he was there, as it made sense for him to be close when it came time for the festivities. Tonight they would unveil the new diner and Aunt Mae’s would be serving the masses. After the photo ops and interviews he could finally handle the other piece of business he had with his mother and Kim— then he could focus on the future. Lana helped him put on his tie which completed the suit he was wearing. Vera Wang for men and boy did he look good in it. He kissed her on the lips once his ensemble was complete. “You look very dashing Mr. Capshaw,” she said smiling brighter than a noon sun. “I wish it were you up there with me tonight,” he replied as he smoothed the tie down his stomach. “I know, but I won’t be far,” Lana replied. “I hate that I have to stand around and pretend that my mom is Mother Teresa.” “I just don’t want Kim all over you,” she said and raised an eyebrow to him. There was a knock at the door and Kayden walked over to the peephole. It was Paula and he opened the door as she slid in quickly. “Mom anywhere in sight?” he asked. “Nope, she’s already outside holding interviews, you know how she is,” Paula replied and closed the door behind her. “Yeah, unfortunately,” he stated. “You ready to do this?” she asked. He looked over at Lana as she walked over to him and held onto his hand. “You got this baby,” Lana said and he kissed her again as Paula rolled her eyes. “Seriously guys with the saliva fest,” she teased. “I’ll be in the crowd, and I’ll make sure I keep an eye on Kim and your mom. I’ll be fine,” Lana said to Kayden. They walked to the door and Kayden spun around once more and kissed her. “Love you,” he said then closed the door behind him. Lana leaned against the door and smiled. She would wait until Kayden made it over to the restaurant then would make her way over there, concealing her presence until it was all over. She walked over to the snow frosted window as fresh snow began to fall once again. Never ending, she thought as she walked into the bathroom. On the sink was a pregnancy test, something she kept from Kayden and Paula and planned to take it before heading over to Aunt Mae’s. She was late and wasn’t sure if it was just stress of the last month or not but needed to know either way. *** The people in the street, gathered in front of the diner, began to turn around and clap as Kayden and

Kim walked towards the crowd. The photographers practically pushed people out of the way to get a photo of him. Kim of course pushed her way through as well and slipped her arm around his to pose for a few photos. They looked like a power couple standing next to one another. The thought of Kim touching him made Lana feel nauseated. She’d better enjoy herself while she can, she thought, because life was about to get even more interesting for them all. Suddenly, in front of all the photographers, Kim slipped her left hand out in to the crowd showing off a huge diamond ring. People started clapping and hooting and the flash from the cameras were going off at a rapid pace. It was an engagement ring. She had to give it to her, she was a clever bitch. Lana pulled the heavy coat around her even tighter as the frigid air was starting to become too much to handle. Kayden finally made his way to the entrance of Aunt Mae’s and Kim was clinging to him like a fabric softener sheet. Aunt Mae and Joseph were already there smiling, waiting and clapping as he arrived. Kirk Taylor from Taylor and Associates outstretched his hand for a shake. Kim let Kayden go reluctantly as he walked towards them, but put on a smile and clapped with the crowd. Maureen stood in the front, flanked by Heathcliff, and Kim slithered next to them asserting herself amongst them. Maureen smiled at her and leaned into her ear. “You’re doing it again,” she said through her teeth as Kayden spoke with Aunt Mae and the local television news station reporter. “Doing what?” she replied. “Overstepping. That stunt you pulled with the ring could have very well been the nail in the coffin.” “I thought it would make it harder for him to deny me later and ruin our plans.” “It’s no matter now. You’ll be heading back to New York with me tonight.” Kim’s face lost its color as it filled with terror. After all she had done she was being cast aside like yesterday’s trash. “You have to give me another chance,” she pleaded as a tear formed in her eye. “Prove to me you can follow my instructions and compose yourself and we will see.” Kim dabbed the near tear from her eye and put a huge smile back on her face, as another photographer approached them. “A picture of the beautiful Capshaw women?” he asked. “Of course,” Maureen said smiling brightly. She linked her arm into Kim’s and they smiled as the flash went off on the camera. Lana was still in the back of the crowd, close to the street watching the entire fiasco unfold. If she hadn’t known them all better, she would think everything was fine and that everyone was as happy as could be. However, she was well accustomed to Maureen and how she could annihilate you with all thirty-two of her teeth showing. Briskly, the city Mayor walked up to Kayden as the news crew ended the interview with him and Aunt Mae, and Lana thought Kayden never looked sexier. The wind was beginning to pick up now and the noise was deafening but he was as calm and collected as ever. “And now for the grand reveal,” Kayden boomed into the microphone. The crowd quieted some as Kirk and Kayden, Maureen and Kim reached up to the canopy and began to pull. It fell away and in bright lights the Aunt Mae’s sign began to flicker on and the crowd erupted in cheers, clapping and whistling. Lana couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It was mixture of a retro diner, but had the home accents of the blueprints he had shown her a while back. The building had chrome accents on the corners, with brick inlay, and the new doubled door entrance was beyond grand. The huge panes of glass showed the entire interior of the diner now. Before it was mostly blocked by

half windows but now it was simply outstanding. The mayor brought over the huge oversized scissors and he, Aunt Mae and Kayden all cut it at the same time. The cheers went on as they shook hands and the camera flashed with what seemed like endless pictures. Kayden and Aunt Mae hugged and she held onto him, tears running down her face. She was elated at the work he’d had done. “And now, let’s eat,” Aunt Mae exclaimed into the mic and everyone began to make their way inside. Maureen, Kim and the Capshaw Realty group moved inside along with a few photographers, KDN’s crew, Taylor, Kayden and the Mayor. Lana made her way out of the crowd as they all surged like waves of the sea to the diner. The car service they ordered from Shelby pulled up at exactly eight fifteen and Lana made her way through a few people to get to it. It wouldn’t be long before everyone would be up at the house and she needed to be ready. As she made her way to the car, she felt a tug on her jacket and turned around. It was the librarian she spent most of her time with at the local library. “Aren’t you coming inside, sugar?’ She asked so sweet, it made Lana a little warmer in the brisk cold. “No, it’s too crowded. I’ll come back tomorrow when things have calmed down,” she replied, then hustled into the warmth of the waiting car before her cover was blown. She looked at the diner and could see them all inside. Everyone was talking and laughing, sitting at the new booths, it looked like a family affair. It’s what she loved most about the town. No matter who you were or where you were from, you became family almost instantly. Her cellphone started to vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and Paula’s name flashed on the screen, with a text message: PAULA: Did you leave already? Lana began to type back. LANA: Headed over there now PAULA: Perfect! LANA: See ya soon J PAULA: J *** The diner was beautiful and Aunt Mae was elated. The smell of food coming out of the kitchen was enough to make anyone hungry and orders were pouring in. Aunt Mae had her apron on as she was back to ordering around the staff and they were happy to do her bidding. Everyone was happy with the way the diner turned out. Kayden watched as Lana’s car pulled down the street and couldn’t wait to see her later. When this night was behind them, life was going to be different and he welcomed the change on the horizon. Kim was clinging to his side although she made no more grandiose gestures of their “engagement.” He couldn’t wait to rid himself of her and hoped she would find some peace and happiness in her life and leave him be. His mother was another obstacle all together. As much as he loved her, what she did sickened him and he wouldn’t forgive it easily. The thought of getting out from under her thumb created a huge grin across his face as he watched her walk around the diner like she actually cared of anyone’s opinion. Heathcliff was sitting at a booth with some of the other town officers drinking hot chocolate, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off Maureen. The thought of those two together made him uneasy as he watched while he lustfully eye balled his mother. He couldn’t wait to stick it to him too. He was fully aware of what his mother was up to, he was sure of it and that made him an accessory to fraud and blackmail. Kirk approached Kayden carrying a plate of food, which broke his train of thought. “This was added to the menu for you. Care of Aunt Mae herself,” he said. Kayden looked at the plate

and it was a pot pie sliced down the middle filled with shrimp. “Our new dish, shrimp gumbo pot pie!” Aunt Mae announced and the diner erupted in applause. Kayden raised the fork from the plate and took a scoop of the food. It was juicy and moist, flaky and perfect in every way. He raised his fork to Aunt Mae still chewing. “Amazing!” he said and it was. He took another bite from the plate as Kirk stood in front of him watching, then he leaned into Kayden. “When are we headed over to the house?” he whispered. Kirk had the injunction papers as well as Paula’s lawsuit papers with him and he couldn’t wait to present it to them. “As soon as everything starts to die down we’ll head over,” Kayden replied in between mouthfuls of shrimp. “Sounds good,” Kirk replied and handed Kayden the plate. Kim approached them now, all smiles not aware of what was to come for the remainder of the evening. “Ooh can I try?” she asked way to loudly in front of everyone. Paula, seated with the Mayor at the table next to them, rolled her eyes. Kayden was put on the spot and looked uncomfortable as the entire diner was now watching their interaction. Maureen also took special notice to her son’s reaction. “Sure,” he replied as he scooped up some of the pie. The entire diner was silent as they watched the “perfect couple” and Kayden knew he had to put on a show. He lightly blew on the forkful of shrimp and pastry and fed it to her. Some of the people were smiling and taking pictures while others were “oohing and aweing.” Kim started laughing as she ate and playfully wiped the sauce from her lips. Kayden was livid inside but he smiled sweetly, took his napkin and wiped the corner of her mouth. Even Kim herself was shocked by his small display of affection and she leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. Some of the patrons clapped and a photographer snapped a quick picture of the two of them. Aunt Mae watched from the kitchen and smirked, then returned to her duties in the kitchen. Maureen clapped and smiled at them too, as she took a seat in the chair next to Paula. “Isn’t that just the sweetest thing?” Maureen asked. Kayden was fighting the urge to regurgitate his meal, but took Kim’s hand reluctantly. He led her over to the table and they both sat down with everyone else. “I have to say, you really outdid yourself Kayden,” Mayor Lindy said as he scooped shrimp pot pie into his mouth. “Thank you Mayor. I plan to do plenty more restorations in town,” Kayden replied. “And we welcome it,” he replied in between chewing and swallowing, like a dog who hadn’t eaten in a week. He continued to gobble down his food as the servers brought over more plates of dinner. Then, Paula raised her glass to Kayden and smiled. Kim raised her glass as well and soon everyone followed suite. “Toast,” Kim said, bringing even more attention to them. Kayden, ready to burst in pure rage, but keeping his composure, stood from the table and the diner fell silent again. He looked around at all the faces of the people he grew up knowing and loving. They were eagerly awaiting his words and he finally felt like he had earned back the trust of his community. “I just want to say Hamby has been my true home, and every one of you I feel is like my extended family. I wish my father and my brother were here to see this day,” he said and Maureen smiled sadly, “But I hope they are looking down on us and celebrating what we did here. I couldn’t have done any of this without all your love and support and forgiveness. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me a second chance.” He finished, almost near tears himself.

“Here, here,” Mayor Lindy boomed and everyone raised their glasses higher. Kirk approached Kayden now and placed a hand on his shoulder. “To many, many more brother,” he replied and they tapped their glasses together. Everyone in the diner followed suit and took a sip where after they erupted into more applause. Maureen took a sip of her drink and set her glass down. There was no way Capshaw would sink their money into more charity restorations, that was for sure, she thought. Kayden seemed to be understanding the role Kim was to play in his life now. A woman other men wanted, and he the man every man wanted to be. She couldn’t be more proud of him if she tried. *** Lana walked around the room she shared with Kayden smelling the familiar scents she had left behind a month ago. She walked over to the huge glass window and peered into the garden. It was absolutely beautiful, she thought as she took the winter coat off and threw it onto the bed. She knew Kayden wouldn’t be too much longer, as it was already a quarter to nine and the after party was to commence at nine fifteen. She would wait until the video of Maureen’s betrayal played out, then reveal herself from the staircase. She just hoped everything went according to plan and that he and his mother’s relationship wouldn’t be totally irreparable. In spite of all the terrible things Maureen did, she was still his mother and that love doesn’t die. They needed to find a way to respect each other and keep their relationship. Not tear it apart. They were going to have a family of their own one day and it would only be right that both sets of grandparents be a part of his or her life. As far as Kim was concerned, Lana would never like her, but she could forgive her and then completely forget her. She wasn’t someone she wanted around in any capacity. She realized when her stomach growled that she hadn’t eaten in about two days and was famished. She looked at her watch and it was nine o’ clock now so she still had a little time before anyone arrived. She started trotting down the stairs hoping the ruffled potato chips she bought were still in the kitchen, but the door of the foyer opened and she heard voices coming down the hall. She ran back upstairs into the room and slowly closed the door. And waited. Everyone poured into Paula’s home laughing and talking about the night’s festivities. Heathcliff escorted Maureen, Kayden and Kim entered next, her arm linked into his. He made a bee line into the kitchen, so Kim joined Maureen and Heathcliff on the couch. Kirk and Paula were the last to enter and also went into the kitchen but no one said a word. Subtle glances revealed everything they needed to and Kayden reached into the cabinet for wine glasses. Paula walked into the living room and started the fireplace, the crackling of the wood was warm and inviting and Maureen cozied up to Heathcliff on the couch. “Not even gonna hide it anymore huh?” Paula asked, a forced smile on her face. “It’s been the hardest secret to keep,” Kim replied laughing and smiling. Paula smiled in her direction and walked back into the kitchen, then rolled her eyes so hard it hurt. “Champagne anyone?” Kayden asked as he began to pour into the glasses. “Yes, please dear,” Maureen replied in between whispered conversation between her and Heathcliff. Kim smiled and stood up. “I’ll help,” she offered, walking into the kitchen. She ran her hands along the smooth granite top as she approached Kayden. Tonight would definitely be the night they rekindled their relationship, she thought. She grabbed two of the glasses and winked at Kayden, then went back into the living room, putting way too much twist in her hips. Paula turned to Kayden as she rolled her eyes and smirked at him. Kirk took

two glasses in the living room and sat them on the coffee table. Kayden carried his glass in, followed by Paula into the living room as well. Kayden and Paula sat on the opposite couch and smiled as everyone talked and sipped on champagne. It was finally time to wipe the stupid smiles off all their faces, he thought. He knew Kirk and Paula were itching to get things started and so was he. He couldn’t wait to lay down next to the beautiful woman waiting for him upstairs. It had already been far too long as it was, and he was getting anxious knowing she was just a floor above waiting on his cue. He nodded slightly to Paula and she stood tapping her finger onto her champagne flute. “If I could have your attention for a moment please,” she said. Everyone turned to her, smiling faces, waiting on her word. “I just want to again say how proud I am of my baby brother. You’ve come so far,” Paula stated, turning to him and raising her glass. “He certainly has,” Maureen replied, her face beaming with admiration. He raised his glass to his mother and Kim scooted closer to him on the couch. “I wanted to give you all a gift,” Paula continued, turning to them all. Maureen Heathcliff and Kim all looked surprised and excited and Kim beamed her smile even brighter. She and Maureen exchanged giddy looks. “What’s the gift for?” Maureen asked, curious with wonder. I’m finally receiving the family, I’ve been fighting for, she thought to herself and took another sip of the crisp bubbly drink. “It’s really for Kayden and all he has been through the last few years. Especially the last month.” Paula picked up the remote and pointed it at the TV. It flickered onto a white screen. “It’s a presentation!” Kim exclaimed. “Oh no, not family photos,” Maureen replied, smiling in anticipation. “Not quite,” Paula replied and hit play. She sat down on the couch next to Kirk as the screen began to count down. Three. Two. One. And there is was. Maureen, Kim and Lana. Her blackmail of Lana and everything it entailed. As the video played, everyone became uncomfortable. The smile on Maureen’s face was wiped away in an instant and Heathcliff couldn’t stop clearing his throat. Kim’s face was already beet red, and it looked like she might pass out from embarrassment. Kayden turned to his mother, her face crimson. Every syllable and awful word she spoke to Lana was blasting back out at her, like shards from a mirror explosion. Paula had edited the video so that there was no mistaking what was said and to whom. Kim was looking around the room her face already full of tears, unsure of what to do. When the video clips were over, Maureen was frozen still, staring at the screen, the vein in her forehead prominent. Kayden stood in front of them all. “Kayden—” Maureen started and he put his hand up stopping her. “Mother, I don’t want to hear another word from you.” He said calmly. Maureen, nodded her head and started to cry. This was it, foiled by her own children. Kayden reached over to Paula and she handed him a stack of papers. “An injunction for your claim on Capshaw Realty and your use of adding the entity as a part of black mail.” He dropped in in her lap. Her head was still, but her eyes looked down at the package. Kayden reached for Kirk and he handed him another stack of papers. “A summons for court for the defamation of character on Lana as well as faking Rachel’s death!” His voice grew louder. Maureen looked up at him, still in perpetual horror. She didn’t know what to say or do. For the first time she couldn’t argue or talk herself out of the things she’d done. It was presented to her full frontal and she didn’t like what she saw at all.

Finally, Kayden grabbed a newspaper off the mantle and threw it at Kim. “A retraction of the engagement and the illicit way you went about chasing a man who didn’t want you. This will be published in tomorrow’s Page Six.” Kim couldn’t believe her eyes. There was a picture of her crying with the caption “Desperate and NOT a housewife.” Kim stood up shaking uncontrollably and Kayden smiled. “And as far as the file, you had on me where you planned to blackmail me and my mother? It’s gone.” Kim looked at Maureen, and flinched. “What is he talking about?” Maureen asked. “Before Lana left, she told her she would put Kayden away if she ever came back. She kept a file on him with private emails between you and the judges who looked the other way in some of his cases,” Paula explained. Maureen’s mouth stood open. It was brilliant and something she would have done herself. “I’m sorry,” Kim squeezed out. Kayden approached her now. “And that little backdoor program you used to hack my twitter? Yeah, I had Frankie from M.I.T, reverse engineer it to wipe the hard drive. Now would you please, get out of my life,” he said to her in a cool calm voice. Heathcliff stood from the couch now, angry. “What does any of this have to do with me,” he barked and Kirk stood. “You knew exactly what was happening the entire time and as a law enforcement officer, you know that makes you an accessory.” Kirk said proudly to the officer who’d been a pain in his own ass, when he lived in Hamby. He slowly sat back down and now Maureen stood. “What do you want from me?” she asked in a whisper. Looking into her sons face, barely able to stand before him. “I want you to cease and desist when it comes to my life from here on out. And I want you to apologize to Lana,” he deadpanned. Maureen looked around the room. “I did all this to protect you Kayden!” She yelled now, getting angry. “You did this to control me! You wanted to teach me a lesson and you did. I learned from the best how to be sneaky, conniving and manipulative. Doesn’t feel so good does it? Game over mom!” He yelled. She trembled, wiping the tears from her face. Looking at Heathcliff, then her daughter. “And what of the lawsuits?” She asked. “I won’t file them as long as I’m able to continue to take over Capshaw Realty, Kim stays out of my life and me and my soon to be wife are allowed to live in peace.” Lana heard the keyword “peace” and started to walk down the stairs. Her heart was beating way too fast but the moment of reckoning was upon them. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, and passed the counter, she grabbed the last flute of champagne and joined them all. Maureen and Heathcliff’s faces were ashen while Kim was seething on the couch. “No!” She shrieked and lunged for Lana, but Kayden grabbed her around the waist and began struggling with her as she flailed uncontrollably. “Stop it!” Paula screamed, “You’re crazy!” Maureen’s mouth fell open as she witnessed Kim claw and fight in her son’s arms. Kim was not well mentally and she was certain to be the cause of some of that as well. Kayden continued to struggle with her as Lana raised her glass to her. Kim wailed uncontrollably as Kayden wrestled her down the foyer towards the front door. He opened the door, and lead her outside, where he released her and she collapsed on the lawn in the snow. “What is wrong with you?” He asked in shock at her reaction. Kim stayed in the snow blubbering and

crying and he actually felt bad for her in that moment. He kneeled on the snow and grabbed her shoulders forcing her to look at him. “Kimberly, you have got to get yourself together. You have to find a life of your own and find your own happiness. I’ve already got mine and she’s inside.” Kim looked at him, her face wet and eyes red. She nodded her head and began to wipe her face. Kayden took his handkerchief from his coat and handed it to her. “I know,” she managed to get out as she wiped her face with the small cloth. “You’re smart and beautiful, and the right man for you will come along,” he stated, then stood and helped her out of the snow. Kayden walked her back inside, as she began to compose herself. Lana looked over at them as they came back in and Kim looked like she’d aged thirty years. Kim was not well in the head, she thought as the troubled girl sat back down in the living room covered in snow. Maureen, her face full of tears turned to Lana. “I’m sorry. I truly am,” she said to her. “I’ll believe it when you start earning your way back into my life again mother,” Kayden replied. Paula stood and looked at her mother. “I’m sorry it had to be this way, but this was the only way to truly get your attention.” Maureen nodded her head in submission because she knew it was true. It was very much something she would have done with a person like herself. “I understand,” she said. “I love you mom, but you have to make some serious life changes.” Paula walked over to her and hugged Maureen. Feeling her child squeeze her the way she did, reduced Maureen to weeping. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated collapsing in her daughter’s arms. Everyone was shocked to see that reaction from Maureen. Lana was sure there would be some sort of confrontation from her, but instead Maureen listened. She didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Paula and Maureen cried on each other a while and Kayden slipped his arm around Lana. He was teary eyed and Lana nodded her head to him to go to his mother. He leaned down and kissed her then walked over to the last three Capshaws on the planet. Kim watched from the couch in disbelief. Maureen gave up that easily, she asked herself. After everything she was coached on, and promised, they all got to forgive each other and ride into the sunset without her. Kim stood from the couch and walked towards the foyer, defeated. No one noticed except for Lana and she slowly followed her to the door. Kim had lost her shoes in the struggle and was carrying them in one hand now. She stood outside in the snow on the lawn and looked up at the sky. How am I gonna face my friends tomorrow, she asked herself trudging through the snow. She was so numb emotionally, she didn’t even feel the cold on her feet. Kim started walking down the hill in the road towards the town center. Lana wanted to say something but didn’t want to risk another outburst so she didn’t. She closed the door and walked back into the living room. “Excuse me guys, but I think someone should seriously check on Kim.” They stopped and turned to face her, then looked around the room. “Where is she?” Maureen asked. “She just started walking down the road bare-feet, someone should give her a ride.” Heathcliff stood up and Maureen walked over to him. “Let’s go,” she said then turned back to Kayden and Paula, and smiled weakly. She had truly almost destroyed her family all in an attempt to maintain control and it was for nothing. They both made their way down the foyer to the front door and Lana and Kayden followed. Maureen turned to Lana. “For what it’s worth, you changed my son for the better and I’ll always thank you for doing what I

couldn’t. For saving him.” she said. “You’re only partly right Maureen. Kayden, he also saved me,” Lana replied. Maureen smiled and at her, nodded her head and got in the car with Heathcliff. Lana and Kayden closed the door and locked it. She took a deep long breath and turned around, where Kayden stood right in front of her. He gathered her in his arms, hugging her, then kissed her passionately and fiercely, then finally pried apart. “Is it over?” she asked, her eyes welling with more tears. “It’s over baby,” he replied. He picked her up and carried her to the living room, and kissed her again. He rested her down and Kirk walked up to them, holding his hand out to Kayden and they shook. “Thanks for that man. I have to get back to the hotel and get ready to head home.” “Oh,” Lana said “I need to run back there as well. I forgot to get my suitcase from the hotel.” “I can take her,” Paula offered from the living room sipping more champagne. “No, it’s ok, I don’t want to spend another minute away from her,” Kayden responded and Paula rolled her eyes. “Gosh you guys make me sick,” and winked at them. They all walked outside where the snow had begun to fall more steadily and piled into Paula’s car. She backed out of the driveway and within minutes they were behind Heathcliff’s squad car where they both pulled into the hotel at the same time. Maureen and Heathcliff got out but Kim remained inside. “Kimberly, aren’t you coming in?” Maureen asked leaning into the car window. Kim looked up at her and then to Heathcliff. “You mind leaving the car on for a few mins so I can compose myself? I just need a couple minutes,” she asked. He looked at Maureen not sure of what to say and Maureen winked at him. “Sure,” he replied after her nonverbal approval. “I’ll be back in about ten minutes,” he continued, then he and Maureen walked towards the entrance of the hotel. Kim took a few labored breaths as she watched them go inside and smiled. It was good to see Maureen find love again, she thought as he put his hand on the small of her back and disappeared inside. A car door slammed breaking her concentration, then another. Kim turned her head and saw it was Kayden and Lana behind her. A scowl crossed her face as they rushed past the car holding hands. The same way he used to hold mine, she thought, always left behind. Just like her dad left her mom, or every guy she ever dated. She started sobbing again, thinking of the ridicule she’d get when she got home. *** In the hallway of Spence Hotel Maureen and Heathcliff had just walked into her room and closed the door when Lana and Kayden got off the elevator. Everything was finally feeling the way it did a month ago now that the worst of everything had passed she could start to enjoy Kayden and Hamby again. When they got to the room, she handed Kayden the key and he opened the door. “Lets’ get you home,” Kayden said as he pulled the suitcase off the bed. “Wait a minute, I have to pee,” she replied and ran into the bathroom. When she closed the door, the pregnancy test was on the counter and she decided now was as good as any to take it and get it over with. She ripped the foil package open and proceeded. As she sat on the porcelain, and wet the stick, she thought about how different her life had become in a few short months. She removed the stick and placed it on the counter to wait the required two minutes. They had a wedding to plan, a new nursing license to apply for since she’d be moving, a new house to build and all with someone who became the love of her life, in the blink of an eye.

She picked up the stick and stared at it for a moment. The plus sign was a deep pink and suddenly her heart raced and she felt dizzy. The usual questions about how this happened was foolish. She knew very well how, but why now? Why now, was all she could repeat in her head for a few moments. She had to tell Kayden but had no idea what his reaction would be. After everything that they just went through, a baby may not be something he wanted to have on his plate too. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a baby at this point in her life either. Lana shook the thoughts from her mind and stood up from the toilet. She’d tell him back at Paula’s, no more secrets between them. It did neither of them any good the last time. Her hands shook as she buttoned her pants, then washed her hands in the sink. She took a deep breath and walked back into the room where Kayden lay sprawled over the bed. “Ready?” He asked popping up. She beamed a smile at him, “Ready.” It would be weird, sleeping at Paula’s with her there, but it was a far cry better than Spence Hotel. They could use a serious upgrade to the twenty first century, she thought as Kayden walked out of the room. “Hey I just had an idea,” Lana said. “Really, what about?” he asked, grinning, “Want to just sleep here instead?” he asked winking at her as they walked down the hallway. “No. But I was thinking, maybe your next project could be the hotel,” she replied, an excited grin on her mouth. “Not a bad idea Mrs. Capshaw,” he said and kissed her on the forehead. *** Maureen was sitting on the chair by the vanity looking out the window onto the street. She couldn’t feel sorry for herself as she had literally brought everything that happened down on herself. She was just glad her eyes were really opened this time and had the opportunity to try to make things right with her children. Heathcliff stood behind her and put his hand on her shoulder. She leaned her face into it. He really was a sweet man even if easily swayed by her. She wouldn’t leave him behind though, there was actually something there between them she had never saw before and she wanted to explore it. He leaned over and kissed her on the lips and she let him. Things were definitely going to change in her life from now on—it was time. *** Kayden and Lana stood outside looking down the street at the diner as people were still trickling out. It was a major success and Kayden had never been happier in his life. The snow had stopped again and left a nice blanket. Perhaps they could go snowmobiling one last time before everything started to melt, he thought. Lana looked up at him. “Hey, I have something to tell you when we get back to the house,” she said. “Really?” He asked, curiously. “Give me a hint.” “Nope,” she teased. They started walking back towards Paula’s car when Kayden lost his footing in the snow and she helped to steady him before he fell on his face. As he stood straight, he frowned. “Who’s that?” He asked pointing to someone behind her. She turned and there stood Sam, holding a bouquet of roses on the sidewalk. “Sam?” She asked perplexed. Before she could get another word out, she was blinded by the headlights of the car careening towards them.

*** As Heathcliff closed the bathroom door behind him, Maureen watched the horror unfold before her eyes. Heathcliff’s squad car was driving straight towards her son and his fiancé. “Kayden!” She shrieked. The next few minutes in Maureen’s mind happened in a fog. Kim in the driver seat, rammed the car into them, sending them sailing into the air. The squad car swerved in the snow and crashed into a light pole, causing the transformer to explode. The lights on Patterson including every building turned off. People were screaming but Maureen didn’t realize right away that they were her own shrieks until Heathcliff ran in from the bathroom into the room and startled her. *** Where was Kayden, Lana asked herself as she lay in the street. She turned her head slightly, a sharp pain causing her to cry out and could see him face down in the snow. He was only a few feet away from her so she began to pull and drag herself as close to him as she could get. She needed to check his pulse, to make sure he was OK. She got as close to him as she could but couldn’t move anymore, and tried to reach for his hand. Someone was screaming and it was getting so dark outside. She kept reaching for his hand. It was so dark, and there was so much blood in the snow. Finally, her hand touched his. So much blood and so cold, was the last thought Lana had before everything went black.

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R.L Jackson writes fiction and enjoys reading Romance, Fantasy, Dystopian, YA, and everything in between. She is also a seasoned screenwriter, an avid movie lover, ruthless supporter of all things creative and a hopeless romantic. She aims to tell new kinds of love stories, coupled with fresh concepts as well as give the reader a realistic jolt to brain. Her hope is to shake up the status quo. Residing in the Sunny state of Florida, R.L was born on the island of The Bahamas and has plans on bringing many more stories to life and hopes you will follow along with her on this new and exciting journey.

Crashing into me by R L jackson