Disclaimer: I don't own anything Roswell, GH, M/L, J/B, etc.
Category: M/L with the rest of the gang
Rating: PG-13
Summary: This is an AU fic. Kendall Blake is really Liz Parker. If you want to know why she has a different name, you'll just have to read and find out.

Author's notes: Hey all!!! On this chpt I'm taking a setp back to show you some different things that Liz had been up to those 2 weeks between the time Max left her in New Haven and she shows up at his office. Next chapter is the final chapter adn it will be chocked full of Max/Liz. As always...I'd love to get your feedback. You all are appreciated more than I can ever say!!! *happy* Thanks!!

p.s. thanks to Phae and K.C. for putting up with my groaning about this chpt and esp K.C. for the Jerry Jumbo bit! *happy*
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kiss the Flame
(excerpts by Jewel)

Kiss the flame
Let's run with the hunted, the untamed
Kiss the flame
Embrace the faceless, the unnamed
Kiss the flame

Please, love, let's make
No impartial vow
Let all fall away that's not crucial now
I want a brave love
One that makes me weak in the knees
I want a crazy, crazy love
One that makes me come undone at the seams

Kiss the flame
Let's run with the hunted, the untamed
Kiss the flame
Embrace the faceless, the unnamed
Kiss the flame

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~ chpt 30 ~

Two weeks earlier

"Is it true?" Liz stopped her pacing long enough to turn toward him and lean over his desk. Her eyes met his as she pointed to the documents spread out before him. The papers Alex Whitman had handed over to her keeping only hours before. "Is it true?"

Michael's jaw tightened. "Where did you get this information, Liz?"

Liz shook her head. "No way."

"Liz…"

"I trust the person who gave it to me, ok? So don't even try to divert my attention on this. Just answer my question, Michael." Putting her hands on the desk, she leaned in closer her eyes meeting his with determination. "Is it true?"

Michael let out a sigh as his head dropped back against the back of his chair. "I don't know, ok? I mean, it's…it's possible. Grandfather has done things in the past that makes even my skin crawl."

Deflated, Liz slowly sank into the chair behind her as Michael's confession hit her full force. "Oh my God. He…he has ties to organized crime. I mean…he's…he's actually contracted jobs with them. We've been this close all this time and…and we didn't even know it."

"He would never hurt you, Liz. He would never hurt Jaedan." Michael's tone was definitive, leaving no room for doubt. "I simply won't let him."

"Michael…I know you love your grandfather, but…" Shaking her head, Liz bit her lower lip. "…maybe we should run. Maybe Jaedan, Angel and I should just pack our bags and…"

"No." Michael was instantly alert. "Liz, listen to me. The best place for you is here. Close to your family…where we can keep an eye on you."

"What if it's not enough?"

"I'm telling you, Liz, Grandfather would not hurt you." Pointing to the papers in front of him Michael continued his argument. "Besides, according to this, it was a one time deal that happened eight years ago."

"If he did it once, he could do it again, Michael." Covering her face with her hands, Liz leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees. "God, Michael, what am I going to do? How am I supposed to help Max now?"

"Max?" Michael's tone sharpened abruptly. "Help Max Evans? You…you've got to be kidding me."

Liz looked up at Michael sharply. "The man allowed himself to be blackmailed because of me, Michael. There is no way I'm not helping him out of it."

"Liz, the man was blackmailed because he deserved it." Michael shook his head with a harsh chuckle. "God, if you think Max Evans wouldn't take the first opportunity within his grasp to do to someone else what Grandfather did to him, you are worse off than I thought."

Liz's voice tightened as she stood quickly from her chair heading directly for the Michael's desk. "That's enough. I didn't come here for another lecture on the evils of Max Evans or how I've fallen under his wicked spell."

Agitatedly, Liz gathered up the papers spread across Michael's desk till Michael's hands abruptly stopped her task when he grasped them in his own. "Stop it, Liz. Just…" Michael let out a sigh and searched her expression. He didn't have to look far to see the situation for exactly what it was. "My God. You really care about him."

Gaze lowered, Liz refused to meet Michael's eyes. She knew if she did, the truth of his words would be confirmed the moment he saw hers shimmering with unshed tears. As vulnerable as she was feeling, she simply didn't have the strength to deny it. That didn't mean she didn't try. "He was willing to fight for me, Michael. To protect me. It's only fair that I do the same."

"And after you do?" Michael's tone had softened, his eyes warming with sympathy. "What will happen after you do, Liz? This thing with Max…" He squeezed her hand in gentle understanding. "…Liz, you're in over your head. He's only going to end up breaking your heart."

Liz's gaze snapped up to meet Michael's, hardened resolve etched in their midnight depths. "Not unless I break his first."

Michael swallowed hard at the instant change in Liz. He knew that look. He understood that resolve. He both admired her for it…and feared for her. Because only an overwhelming, powerful emotion could bring that kind of look to her eyes. The look of fierce resistance. The look that whispered the presence of feelings so deep she was desperately trying to fight them just to keep them in check. The look that screamed she'd do whatever it took to protect the people she loved.

Well, she wouldn't fight alone. Michael nodded. "Tell me what you want me to do."

Without missing a beat, Liz gave a simple command. "Tell me where Edwin keeps his private papers. The ones he doesn't want anyone knowing about."

"Oh, no." Michael shook his head and threw up his hands in protest. "No way. I tell you that and the next thing I know I'll be called down to the police station to bail you out for breaking and entering."

"Only if I get caught." Liz's already dark eyes darkened to fathomless pits of unmovable will. "I'm going to find the information Edwin has on Max with or without your help, Michael. I'd rather it be with."

A moment of hesitation. An instant of indecision. Then Michael made his choice. He let out a deep sigh and rolled his eyes. "Oh, alright. But if you get caught, I won't even remember we had this conversation…"

A wide grin spread over Liz's face as her eyes began to dance with gratitude. "Tell me everything I need to know to rip your gramps off, Michael, and you won't have to worry about me getting caught."

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Michael began to chuckle. "You sure are a piece of work, Liz Parker."

"You know you love me for it."

Michael's expression lost all humor as his eyes raised to meet hers. Questioning. Searching. "Does Max? Love you, I mean."

Liz blinked at the abrupt question. A myriad of emotions flitted over her face…hope that he might. Joy if he did. Despair that he probably didn't. She bit her lower lip as her gaze lowered shielding the pain Michael had caught in her eyes only seconds before. Resignation edged her voice. "I guess that’s something we'll just never know…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The mayor of New Haven was having a late night. Pouring over plans for projects and the latest polling data for his upcoming election. Wearied, Nate Carter glanced up from the file he was reading as the door to his office suddenly opened. Unfazed by the unexpected figure standing in his doorway, Nate shook his head slightly and let out a chuckle as he leaned back in his chair carefully eyeing his visitor. "What a coincidence. Our former fearless leader shows up in town one month…"

"And your hidden 'brother' shows up the next." The man closed the door behind him and walked toward Nate's desk. Foregoing any greetings, he got straight to business. "Not as much of a coincidence as you might like, I'm afraid."

"So, I figured. Guess I don't have to ask how undercover work is treating you. You look good, though I'm sure that's not what this impromptu meeting is about." Nate nodded and pursed his lips before indicating the seat on the other side of his desk. Once his visitor had settled in, Nate took a deep breath and leaned forward. "So, Duke, spill it. What trouble is brewing now?"

Duke Sanders tilted his sandy blonde head to the side and raised a slender eyebrow. "Know a lady named Kendall Blake?"

Nate's brows furrowed. "Yeah, I know Kendall. She works at the local children's center and dates a pretty connected guy in town, Sean Graham. She's a nice girl. Stays to herself and out of trouble." With a shrug, Nate's mind was obviously searching for a connection between an innocent in town and the man of intrigue sitting before him. "What does she have to do with…"

"Kendall Blake…not her real name." Duke interrupted then paused a moment to scratch his chin and gauge his friend's reaction before continuing. It was as he has suspected. "She's actually Mrs. Liz Santoro. Her ex is one Chris Santoro. In the federal pen for racketeering and a few other less social crimes. Like kidnapping. Murder. All the fun stuff. She's in witness protection."

Nate let out a low whistle of surprise as Duke's sarcasm pervaded the air. "O. K. Certainly didn't see that one coming." Nate shook his head in disbelief. "Guess you never can tell about people…"

"No. You really can't." Duke agreed with added seriousness.

An icy glare snapped up to meet Duke's. "What's really going on here, Duke? Our jurisdiction is international and this is clearly in state." Again, Nate shrugged obviously missing any and all connections Kendall may have to his secret line of business. "So what does this thing with Kendall have to do with us?"

"Well, it wouldn't normally." His visitor readily agreed before lowering his bombshell. "Except there's been a contract put out on her life. Which, again, wouldn't really concern us…except the connections involved.""

"The connections."

Duke glanced down at his hands folded casually in his lap, obviously not relishing the information he was getting ready to pass on. "Thing is, Nate…" Duke cleared his throat, his gaze raising to meet Nate's once more. "…it looks like our former fearless leader, as you put it, happens to be in love with her."

A harsh chuckle escaped Nate as he rolled his eyes heavenward. "What's new? Sounds like Max falls in love with every skirt he passes."

"Nate." Duke's voice hardened and instantly gained Nate's attention. "This is serious. McKenna kind of serious."

Nate's face drained of all color. "Don’t even go there." He jabbed an emphatic finger in the air. "If he had truly loved my sister, she would still be alive today."

Duke's gaze dropped uncomfortably and he shifted in his chair, the knowledge he held of McKenna's un-dead state rippling guiltily through his mind. Not to mention all he knew about the real McKenna. "Right. Well, you know we all have different opinions about that, Nate. The point is…" Nate's gaze shifted back to Nate. "…Max hasn't acted this way in a very, very long time about a woman and..."

"Then someone needs to warn Kendall or Liz or whatever the hell her name is. Because the second Max Evans loves someone…" Nate's eyes flashed with angry fire. "…he seals their death warrant." As instantly as it was ignited, the fire in Nate's eyes died, his voice ghosted with memories of the past as his head lowered wearily. "God, Duke…that girl's as good as dead…"

"You're right, Nate. She is. In fact, if it hadn't been for Max saving her life a few nights ago, she already would be."

Nate's head snapped up. "What are you talking about?"

"There was a random shooting on the docks. Only…it wasn't all that random. The hit was intended for Liz." Duke shook his head. "I found out about it just in time to switch shooters. The man who met up with the contractor was actually one of our guys."

"So, he would have missed Liz even if Max hadn't been there, right?"

"Yes." Duke nodded. "But the point is…Max was. And for people watching his every move, seeing him with her…" Duke paused a moment before continuing. "Someone is out to get her now and frankly, the line is getting blurred as to who and why. We might not be so lucky next time they decide to pull the trigger. And the bottom line if that happens…it might be our fault." Duke leaned forward earnestly in his chair. "We need your help, Nate. It's as simple as that. Now are you in with us…or not?"

"Who is us?"

"Alex. Kyle. Me. We each have bits of the puzzle and I’m getting ready to put it all together."

"Max?"

"We're keeping him out of this unless absolutely necessary." Duke answered. "There's even more going on than I've told you, Nate. We really just need you to help us out with Liz. Keep her safe for us."

"Keep her safe for Max, you mean." Nate snarled back.

Duke shrugged. "Does it really matter? An innocent woman is in trouble. A woman that you know and respect. The only thing she ever did was marry the wrong man. That's hardly a reason to let her die just because you want to punish Max."

Nate's gaze lowered and Duke recognized defeat. "So, what do you say? Help us save Liz?"

Nate cleared his throat and nodded his head. "What do you want me to do?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Two nights later…

A black-clad Liz Parker slipped through the back door into the kitchen of the B&B to be greeted by an anxious, pacing Angel. Whirling to face the door as it opened, Angel let out a loud sigh. "Thank God. I swear five more minutes and I was heading over to the Graham mansion to find you."

Breathing heavily, Liz grinned in triumph. "No need. Michael did his part. Everything went perfectly." Slipping out of her tight leather jacket, she tossed it to the side and pulled out an envelope from an inside pocket. "God, what a rush. You never told me how exciting this cloak and dagger stuff can be."

"Adrenaline." Angel stated her eyes shining with amusement thinking once again just how perfect Liz and Max would have been together had circumstances been different. Max being super-spy and Liz falling right in step with him. "Makes you feel like you can take on the world."

"Most definitely." Nodding her head upward, Liz's thoughts quickly switched to her daughter. "Is she asleep?"

"Yes, she is." Angel nodded as her eyes narrowed warily when they moved to the envelope Liz was now eyeing with interest. "Really think you're ready to see what's inside that thing?"

Liz's eyes snapped to Angel's face. "Of course I am. That's what this whole thing was all about. Finding out what Edwin had hanging over Max's head so I can find a way to get him back for it. Which, by the way, I think I did." Removing another item from her coat, Liz waved it in the air in front of Angel. "Check this out." She wiggled her eyebrows and grinned with victory. "Edwin's…diary. A very very old one from his troubled youth."

"Get out!" Angel exclaimed as she reached for the black book.

"Swear to God. Pretty steamy stuff in there for an old geezer." Liz answered with a full blown smile. "I’m telling you, Angel, he had so much junk in that safe…I was tempted to just swipe it all and return what wasn't incriminating. Or disgusting. Which, from the looks of it, probably wouldn't be much."

"Wow." Angel shook her head in amazement. "Looks like you really cleaned up. I guess the only thing you have to decide now is what to do with it all."

Liz swallowed hard at the look of uncertainty on Angel's face and the sudden shift in the tone of her voice. "Yeah…ok. What?

"What…what?"

Tilting her head to the side, Liz's shoulders slumped as her excitement started to dwindle. "I know that look, Angel. Something's going on in that brain of yours. So…spill. What are you thinking?"

Angel shrugged her shoulders and leaned against the counter. "Nothing. It's just…I've been thinking about this info on Max. If Edwin was actually able to get away with blackmailing Max with this information, then it must be pretty big. You're literally getting ready to open the man's secrets. That can be pretty risky. Especially if you're already inclined to care about him. I just wanted to be sure you're aware of that."

Liz's gaze dropped back to the envelope in her hand as her mind began to grasp the monumental decision before her. Letting out a sigh, she turned and placed it on the counter behind her then walked toward the refrigerator. Angel followed her with her eyes, curious to see what Liz was up to. It only took a moment before Angel's face broke into a big smile when Liz pulled out a gallon of ice cream from the freezer.

Liz wiggled her eyebrows at Angel. "Nothing like Rocky Road when weighing the pros and cons of a situation."

Angel chuckled and grabbed a few spoons before joining Liz at the island counter. They both dug in to the ice cream with abandon before both gazes shifted to the envelope sitting by Liz's elbow. "Ok. Cons. You know…it really is none of my business at all what's in there."

"You're right. And its obviously sensitive if Max's brother caved so easily. And if Max got so upset about it." Angel agreed as she eyed her young companion. "Then again, not knowing will still give Edwin the advantage over you when you confront him."

"Right. So, knowing would be a pro." Liz nodded before plopping another spoonful in her mouth. "And you know, its not like I'm going to go tell anyone. Or that it's really going to make any difference to me, you know. I mean…this is leverage against Edwin. That's all. After I carry out my plans, Max will be out of my life forever. Which is yet another pro."

Angel remained silent. Liz glanced at her before rolling her eyes and letting out an exaggerated sigh. "He is, Angel. I'm not going to all of this trouble just to crumble the second I see him again."

"Oh, now…I didn't say you'd crumble the *exact* second you see him. I know how determined you are to see this through." Angel tried to keep the amusement out of her eyes, but failed to keep the smirk off her face. "So…I'm betting you'll crumble after the kiss."

Liz nearly choked on a mouthful of ice cream. "Kiss? Who says I'm going to kiss him?"

"Oh, come on, Liz." Angel jabbed her spoon in the air. "You can't tell me you've not considered it."

"I…haven't." Eyes lowered and lies evident in her expression, Liz shook her head. "No. Not at all."

"Riiight." Angel chuckled in obvious disbelief. "You mean to tell me that even though this is last time you say you're ever going to see this man, you're not going to take the opportunity to do the one thing you've wanted to do since the day you laid eyes on him? Liz…honey…no one is that strong."

"I am." She flipped her hair behind her shoulders with a nonchalant air. "Besides, even if I did by some cosmically ill-fated mishap kiss Max, I will certainly not crumble from just that one kiss, Angel. I mean…please." Liz rolled her large doe eyes. "*No one* is that good. Not even Max Evans." Liz commented with more confidence than she actually felt.

Her eyes shifted once more to the envelope. Her eyes sparked with instant life. "Oh, forget pros and cons. I have to know what's in there." She quickly grabbed up the envelope and ripped the top open pulling out the contents inside. Eyes quickly scanning the documents, Liz's mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. "Oh my God."

Angel leaned forward trying to see what Liz was reading. "What? What is it? What was Edwin using against Max?"

Liz jumped up from her seat and quickly grabbed the phone. Oblivious to Angel's rising anxiety, Liz punched in a familiar number and waited for the phone to be answered. "Michael. It's me. I need another favor. Two actually. First, I need to know if I can borrow the jet. Yeah…no, I'm not ready to see Max yet. This is a bit further north. Great. Ok. The second favor…I need you to get me a phone number. Diane Evans. Alaska…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The next day…

"Moooom."

"Oh, hush and eat your chicken noodle soup." Diane Evans forcibly placed a spoon in her son's hand before ruffling his hair.

"Again? This is like the tenth bowl of chicken noodle and I've only been here two days. It's not like I'm fighting the flu here, Mom, I just got knocked around a bit." His whine was accompanied by a glance of mock disdain. "Can't you give me something…I don't know…more manly. You know…to fit what ails me."

"When you prove to me you are a man instead of a little boy pretending to be a man evidenced by the bar brawls you constantly get yourself into…then I'll consider it." Diane answered with a playful wink.

Kyle scowled. "You know this could be considered a form of abuse."

"Not a court in the land would find me guilty. In fact, they'd probably find your current torture quite justifiable. After all, I *have* put up with you all these years…" Diane laughed as Kyle playfully stuck his tongue out and attempted to dig in to his overly healthy meal.

The phone rang and Diane grabbed it up. "Diane Evans. Yes? And you are? I see. Well, that's quite an unusual request…"

Kyle half-heartedly stuck another forkful of food in his mouth, oblivious to his mother's conversation. Until her heard a name.

"Alright, Ms. Blake. After a pitch like that, how can I refuse? Friday afternoon? That will be fine. I'll have someone pick you up at the airport. You too. Good bye."
Diane was surprised to find Kyle's wide blue eyes fixed on her face when she hung up the phone and turned back to him. "Kyle…are you alright?"

"Did you…just say Ms. Blake?"

"Yees…"

Kyle blinked. Twice. "As in Ms. Kendall Blake?"

An amused smile touched Diane's lips. "I take it you know this girl?"

Kyle swallowed hard. "Uh…yeah, yeah, I know her. Kinda. Sorta…but not really. I mean…just a little."

"Kyle, honey, are you ok?" Surprise edged Diane's smile. It had been a long time since she'd seen Kyle stutter over a person of the opposite sex.

Ignoring her question, Kyle shifted on the couch in agitation. "What uh…what's going on with her. I mean…what did she want?"

"She didn't really say. Just that she wanted to meet with me. Something really important…" Light began to dance in her eyes. "…about my son. Kyle…is there something you want to tell me about this Ms. Blake?"

Kyle's mind began to whirl. Was it possible Liz found out who he was? That he was actually Max's brother. The one that attempted and would succeed at taking a precious center away from her. Or was it all coincidence. No, it couldn't be. She specifically stated she wanted to talk to Diane about her son. A ripple of anxiety washed through Kyle. So, she could be talking about Max. But what would be so important for her to come all this way…

Placing his soup carelessly on the table in front of him, Kyle tossed the blanket his mother had given him to the side and eased himself off the couch. He headed straight to the phone, grabbed it up and began to dial, oblivious to Diane watching his every move with growing interest

"Well. That was…interesting." A smile curled Diane's lips as Kyle disappeared up the stairs heading straight to his room. "Alright, Ms. Blake. Let's see what you've got that got my son so riled…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Friday…

A nervous Liz Parker glanced around the cozy, warm interior of the massive Alaskan retreat. Not exactly what she'd expected the Evans homestead to look like. Bright. Homey. Rustic. Somehow she'd expected every inch to scream wealth. Stiff. Cold. Cultured. Then again, she wasn't all that familiar with what was the popular architectural choice of the Alaskan wilderness should be. Especially not among the trillionaires of the world.

Her gaze fell on the mantle of the large wood and stone fireplace in the center of the wall opposite where she had been seated by the family maid. Picture frames graced the solid ledge and Liz couldn't help but search for the familiar face that had prompted this unlikely trip.

Max.

He was in so many photos. Smiling. Laughing. Arms around family and friends. At home. A home filled with obvious love with a hint of protectiveness thrown in. She felt that much emanating from the photos as she gravitated toward them. Picking them up each in their turn. Smiling to herself at the happiness she held in her hands. Dreading the task she'd come to do.

"I'm so sorry you had to wait, dear." The motherly voice startled Liz, who quickly returned the frame to its honored position on the mantel and turned to face the family matriarch. Diane Evans came forward with a bright smile and an extended hand.

Liz shook her hand with a firm grip and smiled back. "Not at all. I'm just so very grateful you've been willing to speak with me at all, Mrs. Evans…”

"Please. Call me Diane. We certainly don't stand on ceremony here. Especially not with friends of my boys." Diane indicated the cushioned couch for Liz to be seated. "Is there anything I can get for you? Tea? Coffee?"

"No, no, I’m fine." Liz cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably under Diane's frank, scrutinizing gaze.

She felt every roam of Diane's eyes as she searched Liz from head to toe, sizing her up. Deciding she liked the picture painted before her, Diane nodded her approval and after a moment of silence, she finally spoke as if having finally come to a profound conclusion. "So, you're the one."

Liz blinked. "The…the one? The one what?"

A smile spread over Diane's face. "The one that's turned my son's world upside down." Waving away Liz's protest with a quick gesture, Diane continued. "Oh, don't worry. We've not been talking about you behind your back. In fact, every time I've brought you up, he just changes subjects. I'm dying to return the favor, so whatever is said here today between us will stay just between us." Diane winked at Liz knowingly.

And an uncomfortable feeling settled in the pit of Liz's stomach. That Max even knew she was speaking with his mom wasn't the best news she'd heard. Neither was the obvious assumption Diane was hinting at…that there was something going on between Max and Liz. That would make what she'd come so much harder to do.

Liz nervously tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear as her gaze shifted from Diane's clear blue eyes. Certainly not where Max got his deep amber eyes. In fact, it was evident where Max got his looks from since the only difference between a photo of Max and his father was the style of clothes both men wore. Still, there was something familiar about Diane. If only Liz could place what…

"So, Kendall." Diane was speaking again, settled in her chair, ready to get down to business. "Why don't you tell me how you met my son and what is so important to bring you all the way to Alaska."

Good. This is a conversation she could handle. It was the one she'd practiced all the way on her flight from New Haven. The one that cut to the chase and didn’t pull any punches. "Well, Mrs…" Liz took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she corrected herself. "… Diane. I'm here, to put it quite frankly, because I need to break all ties with Max, and I need your help to do it…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Twenty minutes of rushed explanation and Diane Evans sat staring at the girl before her with awe. The story she'd just heard about her son's most recent exploits left her head spinning. But that wasn't what was causing such admiration to dance in her blue eyes.

Long disappeared was the idea that there might be something of a romantic interest developing between Kendall and her son, Kyle. It was obvious by the way Kendall just said Max's name, she'd never even met Kyle or it simply didn't matter. There was only one Evans boy in Kendall Blake's sights…even if she was fighting with all her might not to show it.

Diane leaned forward, her steady clear gaze resting on the face of the girl who was clearly everything her son needed in his life…and more. Apparently, Max knew it too. "So, let me get this straight. This Edwin Graham blackmailed my son with something from his past and Max just…gave in. Without a fight. He just…let Graham win."

Liz nodded her head in affirmation. "I…I know this sounds crazy…"

Diane smiled a secret smile as the new realization that had been growing since the moment Liz said Max's name was confirmed with each passing detail of Liz's story. "Actually, it doesn't. In fact, this is very much like Max." When he loves someone… Diane let out a sigh and leaned back in her chair. "I guess what I'm not quite clear about, Kendall, is why you feel the need to cut all ties with my son."

Gaze wavering, Liz cleared her throat and pushed her hair back over her shoulders nervously. "Maximinus is a Linus."

Diane's started, her eyes wide with shock. "Max told you about that?"

Liz nodded, her gaze meeting Diane's. "Yeah, he did. He was twelve when Rachel drowned in the boating accident. The one Max blames himself for." Liz's dark eyes echoed the pain of a twelve year old boy as she retold the story told to her in an intimate moment of shared secrets and hidden dreams…

"Hey! That is soooo not fair!"

Liz's giggle filled the room to combat Max's protest. "Is it my fault that you can't tell a good fairy tale?"

"Good?" Mock irritation at full throttle, Max threw up his hands in disgust. "I've not even gotten past 'once upon a time'. You've been interrupting with every imaginable question or protest…"

"Well, I can't help it." Liz turned to Max and pouted adorably. "I don't like the prince's name."

Fixing a disbelieving gaze on Liz, Max's eyebrow shot up. "The prince's name. You don't like…the prince's name." He rolled his eyes and fought the smile tugging the corners of his mouth upward. "And what, pray tell, kind of name do you think the prince should have?"

Liz tapped her chin with her finger as if that action alone would produce a world-class prince's name. Max made a ticking sound as if clicking off the seconds on a timer until time had obviously run out. "Ding. I'm sorry, but time has run out. The prince's name stands as given. And…I continue…"

Max took a deep breath. "Once upon a time…"

Liz rolled her eyes. "Gee. How original."

Holding back a grin, Max cleared his throat and gave her a pointed look. "In a land far, far away…"

"Oh, but of course." Liz let out an exaggerated sigh as sarcasm filtered through every word. "Always have to have that land far away so it'll be as unreachable as a star…"

Max bopped Liz on the top of the head with a throw pillow then continued, undaunted. "There lived a handsome prince…"

"With a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad reputation." Tilting her head to the side, Liz scrunched up her nose. "And an even worse name."

"Hey. Just whose story is this anyway?"

"Sorry. I'll just…" Liz put her index finger and thumb to her lips and made a twisting gesture as if she were turning a key, signaling her intent to remain silent. It lasted all of two seconds. Excitedly propping herself up on her elbow, Liz gaze up at Max with dancing eyes. "Wait. I've got it! I've got the peeeerfect name!"

"Oh, this should be good." Letting out groan of defeat, Max rolled his eyes as he tried to hold back a chuckle of amusement. "Oh, alright. Go ahead."

"Maximus."

"Maximus? Oh, God. I've always hated that name." Eyes squeezed shut, Max shook his head emphatically. "No, no, seriously. Loathed it, in fact. Even though Maxwell is my real name, kids in grammar school….called me Maximinus all the time. In fact, they had a rhyme they used to say. Maximinus is a Linus."

Liz's nose scrunched up adorably. "A Linus?"

Max stared at Liz a moment in shock as his mind raced to find out just exactly how she had weaseled that bit of embarrassing childhood information out of him without uttering a single word of inquiry. As his gaze faltered, Max cleared his throat. "There was at ime that I uh…I carried a blanket to school. You know, like Linus from the Peanuts did."

As silence hung over them, all of Max's boyhood insecurities came rushing back in a torrent. He shifted uncomfortably on the bed and nervously licked suddenly parched lips. Mental foot raised to kick himself for making such a sensitive and embarrassing confession to a practical stranger, Max released an unconscious sigh of relief when he felt Liz's warm hand cover his. Her head tilted gracefully to rest gently against his shoulder and her quiet whisper sent shivers of acceptance through his body. "Linus was always my favorite."

Max squeezed his eyes shut and the words began to tumble forward like a thousand droplets of water escaping from a hole in a sturdy wall of an ancient dam. "There is a little known fact about Maxwell Evans of Evans Inc, you see…he once had a sister. Her name was Rachel. She died when I was twelve."

"Oh, Max." Liz's soft voice stilled the heart in his chest as she raised her head from his shoulder to turn and gaze up at him. "Max, I’m so sorry."

Max flashed her a pained smile as his hand rested gently against her back, fingers playing lingeringly with the ends of her hair. "My family won't admit this, but…it was all my fault. Boating accident. We had taken the boat out for just a little while. Dad had told me not to take it beyond a certain point and…to watch my sister." Pulling in a ragged breath, Max's gaze drifted upward as if he were reliving that moment. "I'm not…not quite sure exactly what happened next. The current was strong. We hit a rock. Rachel hadn't been completely in her seat."

Max squeezed his eyes shut, the memory obviously difficult even after all those years. "She…she lost her balance and fell out of the boat." The pain of those moments flooded Max's heart and etched itself on his face. "I…I tried. I tried so hard to reach her. To…to grab hold of her hand. I even dove in after her, but…"

"Max." Liz was sitting by his side now. Hands reaching out to take his face in a gentle caress prompting him to open his eyes. "Max, you don't have to…"

Max's haunted eyes met hers. A quiver ran through his lower lip. "I…I loved my sister. I would give anything…even now…if it had been me that day…"

"Shh, Max. Don't…don't say that." Liz shook her head slightly as tears puddled in her eyes. A gentle smile touched her lips as a hand came up to lightly trace the contours of Max's face. Fingers ran over smooth skin and warmed Max's eyes with a light that had been extinguished only moments before with unbearable pain. "Max, I know it's selfish of me, but I am so glad it wasn't. Do you realize…if it had been you that day…" Liz's eyes met his and a tear slipped unbidden down her cheek. "…we wouldn't have right now. We wouldn't have this moment together. You wouldn't have saved my life tonight…"

Gaze dropping, Max blinked rapidly and nodded. "That is the only thing that makes losing Rachel ok for me." His gaze met hers again. "Please believe me…it's the **only** thing."

Liz pulled Max into a tight embrace and hung on for as long as she could...


Her soft voice filled the silence. "After that, Max began to carry Rachel's blanket with him everywhere he went in his backpack. Even to school. The kids happened to see it one day and teased him by calling him…"

"Maximinus is a Linus." Diane finished for Liz, her voice soft with haunted memories. "He'd always been such a sick little boy. They were always picking on him because he was so small for his age. He was just beginning to blossom. Then Rachel died. Things only got worse after that…" Diane's voice broke and she fought to control her emotions. "Max took his sister's death so hard. He blamed himself. It was as if holding on to that blanket, he was somehow holding onto Rachel."

Compassion filled eyes met hers when Liz slipped closer to Diane's chair and covered her hand. "He felt responsible for it, Diane. Just like he feels responsible for…so many things." Diane nodded in understanding and Liz continued with a slight shake of her head and a voice that began to waver. "I…I can't be one more thing he feels responsible for. There are…things in my life that…well, they'll only bring him more pain. And he's already had enough in his life. I need him to be free of me, Diane. The last thing I ever want is to remind him of all he's lost. Of where he's been…"

Diane nodded. "You mean the institution."

"Yes."

"That's what Edwin has on him, isn't it?" Diane asked, realization dawning in her eyes. "Edwin was blackmailing him with that time in his life."

"Yes." Liz nodded again. "But you don't have to worry about Edwin anymore. I've neutralized him. Max is safe."

"How did you do that?"

A wicked gleam danced in Liz's eyes as her exploits a few days earlier filtered swiftly through her mind…

"Kendall, dear. I was so surprised when Michael told me you wanted a meeting. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Edwin Graham's smile was wide and inviting.

Liz shivered as she took his hand. Aware now, more than ever, just how devious this grandfatherly figure could be, Liz's smile was tight with determination. "Actually, Edwin, I'm not sure it will be all that pleasurable. For you."

"Oh?" Edwin indicated a seat across from him in his overstuffed chair. "And why would that be?"

Cutting to the chase, Liz squared her shoulders and looked Edwin straight in the eye. "I know you blackmailed Max Evans into taking the Center. I know what you blackmailed him with. And I’m here to tell you that it's going to stop."

There was a moment of silence as Edwin sized Liz up. Then…a burst of laughter. Edwin's chuckles filled the room as Liz remained stiff and unmovable. A slight smirk touched her lips. "I'm sure reminding a man of his failures can be entertaining. For some people it's what they live for…"

"Live for?" Edwin smiled the smile of a tiger. "Kendall, my dear…you're way too serious for your own good. What happened with Max was nothing more than a friendly little transaction between two businessmen. A transaction, I must say, that brought about mutual satisfaction. He gave me property I wanted, I gave him the peace he's looking for. It was as simple as that."

"Don't you mean, you forced him to do what you wanted or else he would pay a price?"

"Oh, my dear." Edwin's patronizingly smooth voice held a hint of a smile. "It wasn't like that at all. Honestly, I think you're taking all of this a bit too personally. And it's not. It's only business. Max understands that. I would hope you'd be smart enough to realize the beauty of such cooperation."

Her smile was catlike. Her eyes bright with caged amusement and hidden schemes. She leaned forward her voice soft and low. "Oh, Edwin. I do so understand the beauty of such cooperation. Which is precisely why I'm sure you'll understand what I’m about to say to you." Her voice hardened and her eyes with edged with danger. "If you ever so much as think about blackmailing Max Evans or anyone connected to him again, I will personally make sure that the FBI will receive all the information they need to prosecute you for racketeering."

Edwin's mouth dropped open. And Liz continued.

"Not only that, I just happen to be aware of a certain…how shall I put it? Youthful indiscretion, I suppose. The name Bunny Stoddard mean anything to you?"

Edwin's face began to redden and he blanched. "How the devil did you…"

As if oblivious to Edwin's oncoming heart attack, Liz's gaze drifted upward in thought. "Let's see if I remember the story right. You had an affair while you were in the Army. There was a child conceived. You paid the mother off to keep him a secret…"

Tapping her finger against her chin lightly, Liz glanced at Edwin to gauge his reaction. It was precisely what she had wanted. "That same little boy has grown up to be…of all things…a well-known porn star. Jerry Jumbo…I believe is his name."

"You…you can't…how did you…" Edwin began to sputter.

And Liz began to smile as she eased a leather bound book from her purse. "An old diary? For a man your age? Honestly, Edwin, you could have made a fortune submitting some of this stuff to Harlequin." Liz pursed her lips and batted her lashes. "Pretty hot for an old geezer like you. Then again, this was in the prime of you’re youth…"

Red-faced, Edwin reached for his stolen journal. Liz held it just out of his grasp. "I think I'll keep this if you don't mind. We wouldn't want Celeste to accidentally stumble across this. Would we?" She stood, a light of triumph in her eyes. A dangerous smirk of a hunter closing in on her prey. "So, do I really have to spell out the details of our 'cooperation' here…or do we have a deal, Edwin?"

Edwin sprang from his seat and pointed a finger in Liz's face. "Young lady, you will regret the day you messed with me! After all the times you've sat at my table and eaten of my food. You're dating my grandson for pete's sake!"

Patronizingly, Liz patted Edwin's arm. "Oh, Edwin. I thought you of all people would understand. This isn't personal." She batted her eyelashes innocently and tilted her head to the side. "It's…how did you put it? Just…business." Her eyes lost all amusement as they hardened to stone. "Don't test me on this, Edwin. Mess with Max Evans again and you'll be seeing your eldest son, the love child of your youth, up close and personal…"


"So, you blackmailed Edwin. For Max. I see." Diane's gaze drifted heavenward before she closed her eyes, an internal war being waged. As if finally making a decision, Diane opened her eyes to look at Liz. She reached out a gentle hand to touch Liz's face tenderly. "You are a dear girl. No wonder Max has gone to such lengths for you. I just can't help but wonder if you really know what you're giving up when you walk away from Max."

Dark eyes were shielded by a veil of thick heavy lashes as Liz's gaze lowered. "Probably not. Which is why I need to walk away now. If I learn any more about your son…" Liz blinked rapidly at the tears beginning to form in her eyes. "…truth is, I can't risk knowing any more."

An understanding smile gentled Diane's expression as she lifted Liz's chin till Liz was looking at her. "Alright. I'll do it. Tell me how much you want me to write the check for…"

"Not so fast, Mom."

"Kyle!" Liz's mouth dropped open in appropriate surprise.

"Hello, Liz."

Diane looked from Kyle to Liz then back again. "Liz? But she said her name is…"

Gaze never wavering from Liz, Kyle stopped his mom's questions cold. "Mom. Please." He addressed Liz again. "Looks like you and I have a lot to discuss." Then with a heart stopping grin, Kyle asked Liz something she hadn't expected. "Ya like horses?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kyle and Liz gazed out over the field where horses were romping and grazing. The Alaskan air was crisp and invigorating. Silence had held them both captive since they left the Evans' homestead in search of a private place to speak.

Kyle had brought her here. To the stables. To the training pen. To the fields. Finally Liz spoke. "How long have you known?"

Dropping all pretense, Kyle shrugged his shoulders, keeping his gaze fixed on one particular horse. "Not long after I left New Haven. I had you investigated. I wanted to know who had saved my life." He cast her a sideways glance. "I'm sorry for all you've gone through. Santoro sounds like a monster."

She took the news more calmly then he'd expected. With a curt nod, Liz pursed her lips and leaned against the fence separating them from the wildness of the Alaskan fields. One thought…one person ruling her mind. "Does he know?"

"You'd have to ask him that." There was a pause. "If you're asking if I've told him, the answer is no. And I have no intention to do so."

"What now, Kyle?" Finally turning to face him, Liz braced herself for his answer.

His gaze never wavered from the field as his jaw tightened. "Are you serious? About cutting all ties?"

"Yes."

"Good." Looking at Liz for the first time, Kyle's expression softened. "That's not a reflection on you. There's just…"

"There's some bad stuff going down, isn't there?"

Kyle nodded. "Yes, there is." Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Kyle took a deep breath before continuing. "Which is why I need you to really listen to me right now. If you'll do what I say, we have a very good chance of getting out of this fairly unscathed."

Liz swallowed hard. "What is it you want me to do?"

"When you see Max again, which I'm sure it part of your plan…" Kyle's lips hinted with a knowing smile before the seriousness in his eyes once more took control of his expression. "You need to hit him hard. Hit him low. And hit him so he'll never get up again. In short, Liz Parker…I need you destroy my brother…"

Tbc…


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 28-Nov-2001 6:58:47 AM ]