posted on 27-Mar-2002 6:34:58 AM by Ashton
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: Ok. I know it's be FOREVER. Sooo, for the purpose of this new chapter, I reposted the important chapt/parts to remind you of what's going on...hopefully I picked the right parts. *happy* If not...there is another thread on this board with chpts 29-31 in their entirety. ONE more chapter to go, guys, and this story is done!! *happy* Not really sure about this new chapter, but at least it's done, right? As always, I'd love to get your feedback. I'll never be able to thank you enough for the support, patience and feedback you've all given to me! Thanks from the bottom of my Dreamer heart!!

BehrHugs,
Ashton

*******Chapter 33A is on page 3******

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





~~~~~~~~~~~
~ chapter 29 ~


Nothing.

Kissing Liz Parker was absolutely nothing like Max thought it would be.

He'd imagined fire and explosions. Fever. Volcanic desire. Uncontrollable passion that would sweep him into a world of irrestistible danger. Into an untamed fascination that would never fade.

But…nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Nothing had prepared him for the chill that swept over him. For the way the blood in his veins turned instantly solid, like a frozen river. How the shiver down his spine seeped into his bones and left him colder than a corpse. Or how the biting wind of frustration staked his heart like a shard of ice.

Not the fire in her eyes. Not the passion in her voice. Not his dreams.

He hadn't expected this.

Frigid. Calculating. Controlled.

Planned…

It was like holding a statue of stone. Or a lifeless mannequin. Caressing a robot made of steel. Mechanical. Technical. Emotionless. Or pressing his lips against a thick, unbreakable iceberg. Or the unyielding concrete wall of a dam.

Sensing the voluminous torrent behind the thick walls.

But unable to feel it. To touch it. To experience the flood of emotions shimmering and exploding just under the surface. To drown in the waves of passion he instinctively knew cloaked Liz Parker's every nuance. The passion he so desperately wanted to explode between them.

A struggle began. Liz, offering only a frigid wall of emotionless action. Max, banging against that wall searching for the vulnerable minx he'd some to want with such desperate recklessness that it rocked his very world.

One arm crushed her body against his, his other hand slipped through her hair, brushing against her cheeks with repeated urgency. Warming the smooth, cool surface trying in his physical gesture to somehow reach the soul of the girl in his arms. As his tongue slipped along the seam of her lips seeking entrance, he pushed her. Urged her. Silently begged to her open up to him.

He got close.

Liz trembled in his arms. Her skin began to burn. Her lips grew pliable. Fingers clutched at locks of thick, dark hair in desperation as her body ached to climb inside of him and feel his fire. To let him bathe her in every healing touch. To just simply let go of that thin thread of control and allow him to carry her to heights unimagined.

She had been right. If anyone could do it, Max Evans could.

Kissing him was all Liz dreamed it would be. He was melting her. Breaking down her walls. Trickling into her heart and tugging at her soul. She could feel him all around her. His breathing. His heartbeat. The strength of his body pressed hard against hers. He was silently calling to her to give in to him. To this powerful pull between them.

And she was responding.

Panic gripped her. This wasn't supposed to happen. She wasn't supposed to feel. Or want. Or need. That wasn't the plan. It wasn't the way to prove her point. To walk away from Max forever. To face the moment when her will had to be stronger than the desires raging in her heart.

An image flashed in her mind. Chris. Her husband. The monster who always took and never gave. The endless years of pretending to feel. The lonely hours and silent tears that ruled her world. The practiced ability to fool him into feeling pleasure while she remained as solid and cut off as a block of ice from the sun. It had all prepared her for this moment.

The moment she had to release an angel named Max…for both their sakes…

The pretender. The controlled seductress. The Black Widow. Mate then kill. Distract then destroy. Tease then torture.

Her plan was made. Her course was set. Her determination, firm.

Liz pulled away abruptly. Her chest rose and fell with a sharp breath and for a split second, Max saw the unveiled passion in her eyes. Then, like the guillotine ending a life, a sliver of inky blackness sliced through her eyes, cutting off all emotion. All emotion, that is, except emptiness. Distance took up resident and her ebony depths sparked with satisfaction at the sign of Max's shock. His disappointment. His…shattered dreams.

And Max saw it all. Watched each agonizing phase. Understanding ripped through him. His mind began to wheel as his heart stood instantly still. He forced himself to look beyond the walls. Penetratingly deep. Searching to the core of Liz Parker.

And he found her.

Lost and scared and fighting with all her might not to show it. Planning and scheming her way out of anything real or lasting. Pretending he hadn't reached her. Knowing she'd make him want to.

Warmth flooded his heart again. His soul…finally began to breathe. So, **that** as the plan. Resolve poured through him. Maddening arousal fueled his determination. Alright, Liz Parker, if that's how you want to play it…

Practiced boredom managed to tighten Max's lips into a plastic smile of casual indifference to Liz's very presence as he casually leaned back against the conference table and crossed his arms in front of him, an unconscious shield to further attacks. His smirk hid his pain. "Nicely done. You should be pleased with yourself."

"Oh, I am."

"Good." One curt nod of his head and a cursory glance around the room, his dismissive tone of voice was as clear as a hardened bell. "Now as you may or may not have noticed, I am in the middle of a meeting so if you are done with your little performance…"

Liz's harsh chuckle pre-empted Max's suggestion. "Done?" She took a step toward him and reached out to run her fingers down his cheek before sliding over to lightly trace his lips. "Oh, Max…" Her eyes followed every achingly slow move as she leaned in, her breath a whisper against his lips. Her gaze flicked up to meet his in a heated challenge. "I haven't even begun yet…"

Max's smirk deepened as he gazed into her challenging eyes. Neither have I, Liz. Neither have I…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Barbara chuckled into the phone. "Dan, I'm telling you, this woman is perfect for him."

She listened a few moments before leaning back in her chair. "Honey, I mean it. You should have seen her at lunch. Scheming and planning. She has every detail laid out for Max's 'grand demise'. See, Max has backed himself so far into a corner with her and now that she knows it, there's no way for him to escape."

Her eyes began to twinkle as a wide smile spread over her face. "And you know the great thing about it? Neither of them want him to. Even if they don't know it themselves yet. I'm telling you, Dan, I see a wedding in the very near future…"

Gasping lightly, Barbara lowered her voice. "I am not delusional. I'm being completely serious. Honey, I’m telling you…this woman has Max so head over heels he can't see straight. And she's just as bad. My God, it was so funny watching her at lunch talking about how easy it would be for her to do this one last thing then cut all ties from Max. Like **that's** ever going to happen."

On a roll, Barbara continued. "And oh, you should have seen her negotiating with the attorneys. Max couldn't have handled that better if he'd done it himself. But as much as she thinks she's going to storm into that office and get the upper hand, I guarantee you Max will not let her leave until he's won this war."

Excitement flashed over Barbara's expression. "A bet? You, my love, are on. If I'm right and something serious does come of this little confrontation between Max and Kendall, then you have to take me to Monte Carlo. Second honeymoon."

Giggles erupted in the office. "Dan, don't even try to outdo my request. There is no way you're going to win this. This is just like when I predicted that Laura and Tom would get together. And Janice and Steve. And, need I remind you of Connie and Justin? I'm telling you now…from all indications, Max and Kendall are as good as manacled together. Just like the two of us, this one's a lifetime deal…"

Green eyes narrowed in anger as McKenna ducked back behind the wall she'd been lurking near when she overheard Barbara's conversation. Her blood began to boil. Her skin began to crawl. Her mind began to whirl.

It was obvious now. Getting rid of Barbara wouldn't accomplish her goal. Damn. She had so looked forward to that…

So many enemies. Too little time. Oh well…

A devious smile touched McKenna's lips as an idea quickly took form in her mind. That was it. There was only one thing to do. It would be risky. Far more risky than anything she'd planned to this point. But Max was worth it. He was worth all the risk in the world.

She just had a few phone calls to make. And then…then Liz Parker could kiss Max Evans good bye…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Max's smirk deepened as he gazed into her challenging eyes. Neither have I, Liz. Neither have I…

And the battle was on.

Letting out a condescending sigh, Max rolled his eyes and stood to his full height to look down into Liz's ebony eyes. Control. That's what he was fighting for right now. He couldn't let her know she'd gotten to him. That he'd felt anything. Not until it was time. That would defeat his plan.

His plan to watch that icy exposure of hers shatter. Or melt. Whatever it took to unleash that reckless girl she was hiding under layer of fear and pain. Years of silence and tears.

"You are unbelievable, you know it?" A half chuckle and a shake of his head accompanied his smooth exit from her close proximity as he slipped from in front of the table and lowered himself back into his chair. Leaning back, completely unruffled, he folded his hands in front of him and contemplated Liz with a superior air. "Don't they teach you woman in that backwater town of yours to knock before entering a room?"

Liz didn't miss a beat. "Yes, they do. But all rules of decorum fly out the window when dealing with archaic, womanizing Neanderthals like you." Turning to the men seated in random chairs around the conference table, Liz acknowledged their presence for the first time. Flashing them a commanding smile, her voice as smooth as silk and as condescending as a queen's. "Boys, I believe its time for a coffee break. Don't bother to return for a while. Your boss and I have a few things to discuss."

"You'll have to excuse Ms. Blake." Max's cool, smooth tones cut through the thick tension and confusion in the room. "She is obviously unfamiliar with our little deal. I pay your salaries…you do what **I** say."

Cocking an eyebrow at Max's employees, Liz's smile widened as if she hadn't heard a word Max said. "What's wrong, boys? Afraid to upset the boss?" She cast Max a disdainful look. "Believe me, he isn't worth the fuss." Placing her hands on the back of a chair, Liz's dark eyes deepened to midnight as she once again addressed Max's staff. "Look. This is a private conversation. So…out. Now. All of you. Take the rest of the day off for all I care. I guarantee you that Mr. Evans won't be in a working mood once I'm done with him.

Silent indecision hung in the air. Glances were exchanged between staff. Eyes were glued on Max's unexpressive face.

"GO!" Liz practically yelled.

The entire room jumped to life. The sound of notebooks and chairs bumping into each other filled the room as executives and staffers alike scrambled out of their seats.

"Sit. Down." The steady command cut through the noise though Max never once raised his voice. Likewise, his eyes never left Liz's face. Confident. Controlled. Casual. That's how Max appeared. As if this type of interruption happened to him every day. As if facing a raging tigress fighting for survival was a common to him as taking a breath. If only they could see the passion seething inside. The emotions churning and clamoring within him. But he didn't let on. "Move a muscle and every single one of you are fired."

Bodies plopped back into chairs. All eyes turned riveted attention on the battle raging in front of them. A battle of wills. A battle of stamina. A battle with more significance than any of them realized. A collective breath was drawn and held. Waiting with captivated anticipation for the next grenade to be launched, they didn't have to wait long.

"Leave now!" Fire blazing in her eyes, Liz pointed to the door and fired off in an equally commanding voice as she spun to face Max. Angry life sparked in her entire being as she addressed the object of her fury. "So help me God, Max, you do not want these people to know what I have to say to you."

"What in hell makes you think *I* want to hear it?" Max's eyes snapped with irritation for the first time as he stood from his chair and braced himself against the table as he leaned forward.

"Oh, that's right. You probably don't. In fact, I'm sure you're so used to your little love 'em and leave 'em routing working that you've never had to think beyond the moment isn't that right? Is that your modus operndi? Take 'em to bed, put a cute little note on their pillow and ride off into the rising sun so you don't have to deal with anything remotely emotional?"

Max smirked at her insinuation. Amused by her tactic. Braced himself for more of the same. So, using his playboy image to embarrass him was going to be the weapon, huh? Flinging cruel words in an effort to push him away. To hurt him. To make him despise her. Fine. Bring it on, Liz. You and I both know what really happened between us that night. We both know how magical it was. But if you are determined to lie about it and deny what really happened….then Bring. It. On.

He locked eyes with her. Challenging her to continue.

She rose to that challenge.

Taking a threatening step forward, Liz's eyes burned into Max. "Well, I'll tell you something right now, Max Evans. I am not one of your brainless little floozies. I deserved more than you taking advantage of my vulnerability then vanishing from my bed in the middle of the night." Spinning to face their audience, Liz continued with a vengeance. "By the way…any dirty little company secrets you might have hiding in your collective closets…don't let Max know. It's amazing what this man will spill if you give him a free romp in the sack. In fact, I know a certain nickname of his I'm sure he'd love to have me share with all of you…"

Something in Max snapped.

He thought he could do it. He thought he could watch her deny the magic of that night. The intimacy they had shared. The secrets that had bonded them. But he'd been wrong. That night, those moments in her arms, they were much to precious to be tainted in any way. It was in that moment that Max realized just how sacred every second spent with Liz really was to him. How important. How vital to his survival…

"That's enough." Snapping back to reality, Max's quiet command was steely and un-negotiable. His voice tight with barely controlled emotion.

Liz cracked a sly, victorious grin. "Getting a little too close to home?"

"No." The tightness of Max's voice crackled through the tension in the room. "I'm trying to stop you from making a bigger fool of yourself than you already have. You want to rip into me for the way I left you…fine. I was wrong. I was a jerk. And I deserve anything you want to dish out. I even deserve them knowing."

Max slipped from behind the table to stand in front of Liz. Keeping his distance. Close enough to feel the connection between them spark to life. "But if you're going to try to stand here and turn that night into a cheap, meaningless nothing, then I'm sorry but that's as far as this little tantrum of yours is going go. What happened between us was real. I will **not** let you mock it."

Emotion melted Liz's stone visage. A quiver raced through her bottom lip. Tears brightened her eyes. Her hands clenched and unclenched by her side. She was struggling for control. Struggling to hold onto her anger instead of the pain that instantly ripped through her heart. "Real?" She released a shaky breath and swallowed hard. "How could it be real? How could it be real, Max, when you were thinking of someone else the entire time?"

"What?" Confusion whipped through Max's head. Exasperation. Frustration. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Her tone was clipped. Curt. Pained, as she spit out the words. "Not 'what', Max. Who."

Max ran a frustrated hand through his hair and mumbled loud enough for the entire room to hear him. "God, you are the most exasperating…" He took a deep breath and locked eyes with Liz, willing himself to take the bait. "Fine. WHO the hell are you talking about?"

Liz squared her shoulders. Prepared herself for his reaction. Armed herself to watch him bleed.

Then, Liz Parker dealt a mortal blow.

"I'm talking about…Kenna…"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kyle let out a weary sigh as he slipped through the door.

Closing it behind him, he leaned against the solid oak door and closed his eyes. Home. So nice to be home.

A wry chuckle escaped him as he pushed himself away from the door and headed toward his desk. Who ever would have thought Kyle would actually be glad to be back in his office? He was usually the field guy. The brother that avoided board rooms and offices like the plague.

That was before he'd gone home for a little recuperation after his run in with a band of very vicious Irish blokes who wanted his brother's hide. His mother drove him absolutely crazy. Soup. Bandages. Lots of rest. All the mother things that had brought him comfort when he was seven and had the flu. But at the advanced age of 26, Kyle hadn't liked being cooped up for so long.

So, he was glad to be home.

Plopping down in his chair, Kyle's eyes scanned the top of his desk. As usual, it was clear. There were no stacks to be attended to or messages that needed immediate call backs. Those were Max's department. And Kyle was more than happy to let him have it.

He reached for the phone to buzz Max and let him know he was back, when a sudden feeling came over him. A feeling that he was being watched. That there was someone else in the room with him.

Kyle glanced up, his eyes quickly scanning the room. Finding nothing. Nothing, until he spied his couch in the corner. And the attractive woman comfortably lounging on it as if she owned the world.

He could barely make her out. Her features were hidden by shadows. But her body was definitely a sight to behold. The long, shapely legs revealed by the skirt ridding up on her thighs. The soft curves and low neckline caused a sly grin to spread over Kyle's face.

He replaced the phone and stood. "Just between you and me, you could get into a lot of trouble for being in here. We're talking jail time if I choose to call the cops." He walked around his desk and shrugged. "Then again, I'm sure we could work out some kind of arrangement…"

She smiled. A slow, amused smile. "Well, you certainly haven't changed."

Kyle stopped dead in his tracks.

She uncrossed her legs and slowly stood from the couch before continuing. "You always were such a flirt. Oddly enough, you knew not to cross the bounds with me. I guess you knew your life would be worth nothing if you ever really came on to…" She stepped from the shadow into the light streaming through the half closed blinds. "…your brother's fiancee'."

Kyle blinked. He swallowed hard. Shook his head. No, this wasn't possible. It wasn't real. She was dead. He'd watched her fall to the ground. Pulled Max away from her lifeless body. Had even helped bury her himself.

But her voice. And those eyes.

"What's wrong, Kyle?" Amusement played on her lips. "You look as if you just saw a ghost…"

Kyle's knees went weak. "Oh my God. McKenna…"

Tbc…
~~~~~~~~~~~~
parts of chpt 31

"Oh, my God. McKenna…"

A smile spread over her face as she held out her arms. "In the flesh."

Kyle stumbled backward, a look of shock controlling his wide, blue eyes. "But…but…how? When? How?" He blinked as he sank into a chair he'd backed himself into. His voice was raspy with sudden emotion as he repeated himself. "How? I…I saw you…I saw you get shot…"

Arms dropping heavily to her side, McKenna took another step forward. "I can only tell you what I've been able to piece together, Kyle."

"Piece together?" His eyes snapped up to meet hers before roaming her face, searching for the girl he once knew. "What happened to you, McKenna? You don't even…you don't even look the same…"

"You can thank the miracle of modern medicine for that one. It's commonly known as plastic surgery." McKenna shrugged nonchalantly. "Overall I think they did a rather good job, though I do have to admit I miss my old nose..."

"My God. How can you joke about this? How can you be so…glib?"

McKenna blinked in surprise, her expression softening appropriately. "Kyle…I'm sorry. It's just I…I guess I've been this way for so long now." A half smile haunted her lips. "I'm used to the 'new' me. Though if you remember right, humor always was my defense mechanism when things got a bit uncomfortable."

At Kyle's silence, McKenna sighed and moved to slip into the chair next to him. She reached for his hand and when she felt the iciness of it under the warmth of her own, a flash of satisfaction rippled through her.

She had him unnerved. Which meant…

She had him in the palm of her hand.

"Kyle, please. I know this is a shock. And I…I wouldn't have even come if not for a good reason, but…"

Kyle slipped his hand from McKenna's grip as he turned his searching gaze on her face. "How did this happen? Who did this to you?"

Or, maybe not…

The look in Kyle's eyes stopped her heart cold. The probing question rang in her ears. For a terrifying moment, McKenna squirmed. Her mind went blank. The carefully laid out story she'd planned seemed to slip away from her as the sincerity in Kyle's blue eyes searched hers. And it was just that very sincerity that caused her mind to function again. She found worry there. And anger. And protectiveness…

Something she could definitely use to her advantage.

Reaching for his hand once more, McKenna forced a smile and put on her best martyr face. "I…I don't know who did this, Kyle." Her gaze lowered as if painful memories were assaulting her. As if talking about the past was too much to bear. "Look, this is very difficult for me to…"

Kyle's hand covered hers in encouragement. "Please, McKenna. The more I know, the more I can help you get through this."

McKenna glanced back up at Kyle with an appreciative smile. "Kyle. There's nothing to help me get through. What was done is done. Besides, I'm not here for me."

Realization dawned in Kyle's eyes as shock gave way to action. "My God. Max…" Kyle jumped up from his seat and pulled McKenna from her seat taking a step toward the door. "We've got…we've got to tell him."

"No." McKenna pulled back on Kyle's hand and shook her head emphatically. Kyle turned toward her, a perplexed look passing through his eyes. Stepping in front of him with pleading eyes, McKenna's earnest whisper shivered through the room. "No, Kyle. Please. I’m not…not here for Max. Not the way you think."

Not wanting to overplay her hand with Kyle and certainly not wanting to meet Max face to face after having been in his presence for weeks without revealing herself, McKenna continued her plan. "I need your help, Kyle. He's in trouble. Everything we do from this point on is critical if we have the slightest chance of saving him."

Senses immediately on alert, Kyle stiffened. "Saving him from what?"

McKenna took a deep breath and bit back the jealousy seething just under the surface. "The new woman in Max's life."

Kyle blinked and pushed back the hint of truth slipping through McKenna's words. Denied the disturbing knot in his stomach. Shut out the voices screaming that she knew about Liz and somehow that wasn't right… "McKenna…if this is some jealous fiancee thing, Max really isn't involved…"

McKenna forced a smile. Her eyes glinted with martyrdom while a sliver of deceit shimmered just below the surface. "No, Kyle, this isn't because I'm jealous." Glancing away with appropriate pain, McKenna took a deep breath. "I mean, yeah it hurts knowing he's been able to love again, but honestly…what could I expect after all these years? After believing that I was dead…"

"He hasn't." The words popped out of his mouth. The sympathy tugging at Kyle's heart drove him to voice a confidence he didn't quite feel. He'd seen Max, in and out of relationships. He'd watched him charm and seduce, romance and tease. But he'd never seen him love. Not the way he had loved McKenna.

Despite the way he'd been acting lately. About Liz. She was simply a phase Max was going through. A phase that would end once he'd removed Liz from his life. A plan that was at this very moment in progress. After Liz did what he'd told her, Max would see how foolish he'd been to chase after a dream that could never be. Then things would be back to normal. Back to the way they should be. Especially once Max knew McKenna was still alive.

McKenna's eyes snapped back to meet Kyle's, a clear question hanging in the air between them. Kyle shook his head refusing to acknowledge the nagging conviction in the back of his mind that everything he was saying was a lie. To admit the truth would be to negate the plans he and Liz had made. And they were already too far into them to back out now. "He hasn't loved again. There's never been another you, McKenna."

She inclined her dark head in deference as her eyes sparkled with satisfaction that she quickly tried to hide. "Perhaps. I know there certainly hasn't been anyone else for me but Max." Slowly raising her eyes to meet Kyle's again, McKenna gave his hands an urgent squeeze. "Which is precisely why I can't bear to see him destroyed. And believe me, Kyle, he will be…unless we stop this. Unless we stop her."

Strains of fear rumbled through Kyle's stomach. He knew the answer before he asked. "Stop who?"

"The woman that can bring Max more danger than he's ever dreamed…" McKenna's green eyes began to blaze with emotion as she dropped a bombshell that had already exploded into the Evans' life. "Her name is Liz. Liz Parker."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A heavy blanket of tension trapped the room in silent suspension.

The horror in Liz's heart reflected in her eyes as each agonizing second of deafening silence stretched into eternity.

This hadn't been part of the plan. Mentioning McKenna. It just…hadn't.

He'd done it. He'd pushed her buttons. All the buttons she hadn't wanted to acknowledge. And it had all started with his kiss. The kiss meant to show him she was as impervious to him as an iceberg…well, it had done just the opposite. Instead of the desired effect, Liz was the one who felt very much like the Titanic. Hit by a big, beautiful iceberg called Max. Now slowly sinking into an ocean of explosive desires.

And like an indestructible iceberg, he had barely been scratched. He'd been unruffled and untouched by her attempt at embarrassing him. He'd taken each insinuation with a nonchalance that could be both downright sexy and irritating in the same infuriating instant. He even challenged her with that smug smirk of his.

All of which had the effect of being hit by a runaway train. The result: a shattered wall of resistance. A growing hunger to return to the one place that had made her feel whole. The place that made her want him even more than she'd ever dreamed. Especially after finally feeling his lips against hers.

Yes, it was all his own fault. He'd pushed her too far. And when he did, she let all the doubts and insecurities haunting her the past few weeks erupt from her heart and fly out of her mouth with reckless abandon. Like a lethal torpedo, that one weapon she had at her disposal was wielded without thought. And it had only one target…Max Evans' heart.

Apparently, it hit its mark.

As he had his. Hard.

Forget the Titanic. She was actually one big giant snow-girl descending into the pit of a fiery hell. Liz squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed back the insatiable craving to taste him again. Not like that was going to happen after she'd just reached into his heart and yanked it out.

Her heart sank. She'd done the unthinkable. She'd spoken the name that had been flitting around the edges of her mind the past two weeks. The suspected reason for Max's protective behavior. For his haunted eyes. And it put more pain in eyes than she'd ever dreamed. She'd destroyed him. God, she knew that's what she'd done. She could see it, feel it.

Hell, a blind person could see the anguish rolling off of him.

At the mention of Kenna's name, the color drained from Max's face. Pain instantly etched itself in the depths of his amber eyes. His shoulders slumped and he looked as if he'd just been hit in the gut with a hundred mile fast ball. Or he'd been run over by a semi. Hit by a meteor. Struck by lightning. Pick your catastrophe.

Liz wanted to reach out to him. To take it back. She even took an instinctive step forward, but Max retreated a step. He held his hand up to her in a gesture that clearly screamed 'back off'. Liz cringed inwardly.

Eyes squeezed shut in agony, Max swallowed hard. Then his expression went blank. His shoulders squared. Eyes opened and cut to the rest of the occupants in the room for the first time since Liz's arrival, his voice was cold and detached. "Well? What are you still doing here? You heard her. Get the hell out."

Despite the command, Max's tenuous grip on control was evident in his entire demeanor. No one breathed. No one dared move. Sympathetic, curious and impressed gazes shifted to Liz. The one thought racing through everyone's mind: who was this woman who had the power to bring the powerful Max Evans to his figurative knees with one word?

No one found the answer to that question as Max's next command boomed through the room causing the entire room to jump with involuntary shock. "NOW!"

Like a mad dash of a chaotic crowd with one goal, his staff hurriedly stampeded the door. Max's gaze remained firmly fixed on the floor. Boring a searing hole. His hands were tightly clenched by his side and his jaw worked as raw emotions flitted through his expression.

He was a barely controlled volcano of seething emotions and for the first time in her life, Liz Parker actually did see a wolf lurking behind Max's eyes. It unnerved her like very little in her life had ever done. Because she knew she was the one that put it there…

The deep rumble of his voice shattered the tense silence after the door had clicked closed after the last escapee. "Finish it."

Liz's chest hitched and she took a slight step forward. "Max, I…"

Max stepped back, his blazing eyes snapping up to meet hers head on. "I SAID finish it. You obviously came here with a plan, with a goal. Do it. Get it over with."

Liz blinked in shock. Not only from his reaction but his words. The ever-observant Max noticed immediately as a hard smirk edge his lips. "What? You think I don't know what you're doing? That I don't recognize your tactic? Hurt them before they can hurt you. Walk away before they get the chance. It's the exact same thing I did when I walked out on you. So, don't think you can pull anything I haven't either done before or thought of doing. Now just get on with it."

Liz was frozen to her spot. Ice rippled through her. Stopping whatever feelings of regret she had been feeling. Kyle's words came crashing down on her. You'll have to crush his hope, Liz. If you don't…he'll never let you go…

Liz Parker squared her shoulders and prepared herself to do the only thing she could. Let Max Evans go.

Tbc…
~~~~~~~~~~
~ chpt 32 ~

Slowly raising her eyes to meet Kyle's again, McKenna gave his hands an urgent squeeze. "Which is precisely why I can't bear to see him destroyed. And believe me, Kyle, he will be…unless we stop this. Unless we stop her."

Strains of fear rumbled through Kyle's stomach. He knew the answer before he asked. "Stop who?"

"The woman that can bring Max more danger than he's ever dreamed…" McKenna's green eyes began to blaze with emotion as she dropped a bombshell that had already exploded into the Evans' life. "Her name is Liz. Liz Parker."

An unsettling fear ripped through Kyle. It wasn't right that McKenna knew Liz's real name. It wasn't good that she knew danger was attached to the petite woman that had been commanding Max's attention for the past month.

Kyle masked the alarm coursing through him. Determined to not allow an ounce of it to show, Kyle's smile was slow and deliberate as he pretended to be searching the file cabinet of his mind for the name. "Liz Parker? Huh. Doesn't sound familiar. I don't think Max knows anyone named Liz Parker."

“Are you suggesting you know everyone Max knows, Kyle?” McKenna returned coyly.

“Of course not. But Max and I are still very close. And believe me, if Max were actually involved with a woman for longer than a weekend…I would at least know her name.” Crossing his arms in front of him, Kyle’s eyes narrowed warily. “So…this Liz Parker. What exactly do you think you know about her? And how exactly do you know it?”

A game of cat and mouse had begun. Baiting Kyle without giving too much away. Keeping emotions close to the vest so that her hatred and jealousy of Liz didn't give away her real motives, but not so close that Kyle sensed the ice running through her veins.

And Kyle…he was just as determined to deflect McKenna’s attention from the true state of Liz and Max’s relationship. To tread a fine line and balance loyal compassion for his brother’s long lost fiancee while determining what she knew and how far she could be trusted with it. Liz's life, and Max's, could depend on it.

Letting out a light, wistful sigh McKenna sidestepped Kyle and sought a seat once more on the couch. In the shadows. The best place to mask any residual emotions she was unable to push back into the recesses of her heart. "I've been keeping tabs on Max, ok? Through a friend of mine. A detective. The person that helped me find myself again after I was released from the hospital in Paris."

“Paris.”

“Yeah. That’s where I was when I first…” McKenna allowed a shiver to run through her hoping to gain Kyle’s sympathy. It worked.

“I’m sorry, Kenna. I don’t mean to bring up any bad memories.”

McKenna laughed at the comment then shook her head at the look of confusion flashing in Kyle’s eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s just…if you knew what I’ve been through, you would truly appreciate the irony of that statement.”

Kyle crossed his arms in front of him, torn between the unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach and the pull of loyalty to not question his brother’s fiancee’ too intensely. “I’m sure I would. Now, if you’d only tell me what **did** happen to you…”

“Does it really matter right this moment when there are so much more important things to be dealing with?” McKenna’s voice took on a slight edge as her eyes snapped with barely-veiled irritation.

Kyle noted the delay tactic instantly and flashed her an off-handed grin. “I guess not. I’m just…well, I’m just still so very shocked by all of this. I have so many questions…”

“And I’ll answer all of them in time.” McKenna reassured. “It’s just…this thing with Liz…”

“You’re really afraid for Max, aren’t you?” Encouraging the mood McKenna was setting in the room, Kyle’s scrutinizing gaze held hers till she nodded. He let out a deliberately defeated sigh. “Alright. Hit me with it. What’s up with this woman that’s you find so big, bad and scary?”

“Well, like I said I’ve been keeping track of Max. After Paris…” McKenna's eyes filled with appropriately timed tears as she tossed Kyle a hint of her past. "I tried to find him…you. For months after I was released. There was no trace. Then one day a while back I saw his picture on the front of a magazine. Ever since then, I've wanted to know how he was. What he's been doing."

"Who he's been doing it with?" Kyle supplied for her as he came and sat facing her on the coffee table in front of the couch.

She nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess that's part of it too."

“I see.” Kyle stated simply as he continued to play dumb. “And this…Liz. You’ve gotten information that Max is involved with her somehow. Are we talking business here or…”

“No, Kyle. It’s definitely not business.” McKenna stated softly as she allowed her gaze to lower. She let out a pained sigh as she reached into an inside pocket on the purse at her feet and extracted a photo. “I’ve seen pictures of them together and…” she handed the photo to Kyle. “…from what I can tell…he’s falling in love with her. Which is a very bad thing. Especially since she isn't who she claims to be.”

Kyle took the picture and wasn’t the least bit surprised to see his brother and Liz on the New Haven docks together. What did surprise him was how they were wrapped in each other's arms. Even more than that…the look on Max’s face. In his eyes. The complete focus of his attention on one petite ball of determination that Kyle had come to know Liz Parker to be. Given all the recent data Kyle had picked up on his own from both Max and Liz, the picture he held in his hand confirmed his deepest fears.

He didn't let it show.

McKenna continued, satisfied that Kyle was buying her story hook, line and sinker. It was amazing what lies would be believed if there was just enough truth mixed in. “The name she's using now is Kendall Blake. She was married to a mobster named Chris Santoro. Since dumping him in the federal pen and making a deal with the FBI, Liz has been targeting very rich, very powerful men. Or men who come from very powerful families. She plays the vulnerable, scared, damsel in distress until the money falls right into her hands. She stashes it away, breaks the guy's heart then moves on to the next victim. Like the latest before Max. His name is…"

"Sean Graham." Kyle supplied suddenly, not too sure he wanted to hear a picture painted of Liz that was so completely contrary to the woman he'd come to know. With a smirk, Kyle handed the photo back to McKenna. "If that's what you're so concerned about…don’t be."

"You know?" McKenna bristled, feeling slightly betrayed as she took the photo back. "Then why didn't you say something?"

"I wanted to know what you knew." Kyle stated simply with a shrug. "And now that I do, I'm telling you not to worry. She's no big deal."

"But…if you know the kind of woman she is, how can you say that? Can't you see…"

Putting a huge spin on the truth, Kyle's blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "It's been taken care of, Kenna."

McKenna blinked in surprise. "Taken care of. What are you talking about?"

"I know all about Liz Parker, a.k.a. Kendall Blake." Kyle nodded as McKenna's eyes widened in shock. Feeding McKenna one of the oldest scams in the book, Kyle tossed out a few lies of his own. "Simple case of another gold digger targeting my brother's soft heart. It happens all the time. Thanks to me, she now has the money she was looking for and I have her out of Max's life. It's as simple as that." Glancing down at his watch dramatically, Kyle's smirk widened. "In fact, she should be relocating just about now. And as for Max, the connection really wasn't that strong. He'll forget her name by tomorrow."

"She's…gone?"

"Like the irritating little pest she is, Kenna, I squashed her. She's nothing more than a blip in Max's life." Pursing his lips, Kyle leaned back and eyed McKenna carefully, trying to gauge just how much of his story she believed. It seemed she bought it all. Time to go on his instincts and find out what she was really here for. "Unlike you. The woman he's never been able to forget."

Kyle watched with growing interest as McKenna's cheeks colored in an appropriately demure blush. Leaning forward, he gathered her hand in his as he captured and held her gaze. "So, tell me. Now that the Liz Parker problem has been solved…how exactly do you plan on easing your way back into Max's life? And what can I do to help?"
~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz was frozen to her spot. Ice rippled through her. Whatever feelings of regret she had been feeling came to a screeching halt. Kyle's words came crashing down on her. You'll have to crush his hope, Liz. If you don't…he'll never let you go…

Liz Parker squared her shoulders and prepared herself to do the only thing she could. Let Max Evans go. Pulling in a deep, steeling breath, Liz shut her conscience off, locked her heart away in a place so deep Max wouldn't be able to reach it and chose to attack with maximum impact. An attack she had already begun…

Her dark eyes hardened. "So. Kenna…"

"Is not a subject I discuss." Max's cold, sharp interruption sent a shiver through Liz. His hard, penetrating gaze never once shifted from her face. "Although I have to admit I would like to know how you even knew about her."

"That night you saved my life on the docks." Liz paused and tried to control the hurt in her voice. It didn't work. "It was her name you called out. Not mine."

His chest hitched and caught as if she'd hit him yet again with a pain too difficult to bear. Stunned for a moment, Max stared at Liz, his eyes instantly darkening with the ghosts of an illusive past he wanted to forget. As if in a daze, Max shook his head slightly, his words a bare whisper as his gaze lowered. "I…I didn't…realize…"

"Yeah. Neither did I." The words were icy and clipped. Sarcasm dripped from every syllable in an effort to cover her obvious pain. "Believe me, if I had you would have never made it into my apartment let alone to my bed that night." Liz crossed her arms in front of her. "So, who exactly was she, Max? I think I've earned the right to know."

Defensive fire immediately flashed in Max's eyes. "Earned the right?" The decibel level of his voice sharpened perceptibly as he repeated himself. "Earned the right?" Throwing his hands out in an agitated manner, Max took a step forward. "Just how the hell do you come to that conclusion? Because we got close one night? Because in that night you somehow managed to get me to talk about things I've not talked about it years? Is that what makes you think you have the right to ask me about her?"

"Because I'm telling you right now…the only thing I can see that you've earned at this point is a friendly escort out of my building. At the very least. And that's only based on your performance today alone. I seriously doubt you want me to add in all you did during the New Haven escapades."

Though taken back by Max's vehement response, Liz tried not to show it. "And there we have it, folks…how Max Evans really feels right before he kicks me to the curb." Instead, she raised her chin in defiance and pushed him further. "So, you want to tell me again just how real that night was to you?"

"I'm not playing this game with you. No way." Max shook his head slightly as he stuffed his hands in his pockets before turning away and heading back to the conference table. His expression, could Liz see it, was a study of various emotions. Frustration. Anger. Pain. "Not when there's absolutely no chance of either of us winning."

"Oh, there's always a chance someone will win, Max." Liz shot back hotly.

"Really." Max spun on his heels to face her again. "And how exactly do you figure that? You've already appointed yourself my judge and jury. I'm already convicted in your eyes." He gestured widely about the space between them. "This is my sentencing, right? A clean up job. Your last ditch chance at washing your hands of me." A disbelieving smile touched Max's lips. "Don't you know the second you let me go we both lose?"

Trying her best to ignore the truth of his words, Liz pushed her offer out through clenched teeth. "All you have to do is tell me who she was."

"Why is it so damn important to you?"

Liz's eyes flashed with fire. "Because no one makes a fool of me."

"Trust me, babe…you don't need my help for that. You're doing a bang up job all on your own." The words were out of his mouth before he could catch them. The flicker of hurt in Liz's eyes and the way her entire body stiffened as her breath caught in her chest caused Max to take an involuntary step forward. His eyes softened immediately in regret. "Look, I didn't mean that…"

Liz help up a hand to stop Max's apology. Her eyes met his. She leveled him with a question ripped from the very center of her insecurities. The one question she needed answered to really, truly be able to let him go. "Did you really love her that much? So much that…that you can't even talk about her?"

Max hung his head and let out a short, exasperated sigh. As he ran a hand through his hair, he swallowed back a lump that had suddenly risen in his throat. Memories began to assail him. Moments of grief and guilt. Periods of such intense pain, it nearly crippled him emotionally. Through the years, his silence kept him sane.

Maybe it was time to break the silence. Maybe it was time to let someone else in. Maybe Liz was the one person in the world who would understand. He took a deep breath, his gaze flicking upward to meet hers. "She was…"

The words got lodged in his throat. He tried to push them out. If even only in a whisper. He repeated the words in his head. Trying to make them echo out loud. …my fiancee'. Just…say it. Say 'She was my fiancee'. A woman I loved. A woman I killed…'

Silence reigned.

Until Liz spoke.

"You know what, Max? Don't even bother." Hurt was shimmering through every shaky word as she tried to nonchalantly flip her hair behind her shoulders. "I get the picture."

Liz's tears shone with sudden brightness and Max's gaze lowered once more. The moment had slipped by him. The moment to open up was gone. Angry with himself for having put the hurt in Liz's eyes. Angry for not being able to even say 'her' name after all this time. Angry that he couldn't give Liz what she was asking.

Still, he wanted her to know. For some reason…it mattered to him that Liz understood. It wasn't a lost love alone that kept him silent. It was so much more than anything he'd ever felt for McKenna. It was guilt. It was fear. It was…shame. "No. You don't." He practically spat out the words though his voice remained low and tense. "There was more than just…" Max stopped and took a deep breath. "She was part of something I don't discuss. With anyone." He swallowed hard, his eyes raising to meet hers. "Not even you."

Three words. That's all it took to separate Liz Parker from the rest of the world. Three words that revealed more about Liz's place in Max's heart then either of them had expected. Three words that told her Kyle had been right. Liz Parker did have the power to hurt Max.

Because she meant something to him. Because he actually considered sharing his past with her. Even attempted to. Came to the brink of opening a door that had been closed for so long. That Max wouldn't share his former love with the rest of the world was a given. That he had wanted to share it with Liz and failed exposed dreams and barriers neither of them had fully realized.

The implication of Max's statement rained down on him and he immediately responded instinctively. Protectively. Defensively. Not only did he slam that door but he locked it with a thousand dead bolts as well. When he spoke again, his tone was once more cold. Closed off. Business like. "Now, unless you have other business with me, I suggest you leave. You've already wasted enough of my valuable time." Squaring his shoulders, Max's eyes flashed with a resolve that rivaled steel before he turned his back to her and walked away.

The deafening silence between Max and Liz was broken only by a fierce wind suddenly blowing outside the sturdy walls of Max's office building. As if sensing the brewing storm inside, thick black clouds began to gather outside the conference room windows darkening the room perceptibly. Rain sputtered the slammed against the thick glass.

Liz's heart jarred with each drop of rain. Max's mind thundered and crackled with everything he wanted to say…but couldn't.

Liz stared uncomfortably, helplessly at Max's back while he deftly moved toward the conference table and found his seat again, instantly turning his focus to the piles of paperwork in front of him. Quickly busying himself, Max ignored her. Shut her out. Closed off his heart.

Unable to move, she swallowed hard and continued to stare. Too many thoughts and emotions were dancing in the air for her to look away. So much to be explored. So much that had to be denied. She had hurt him. By not believing him when he so desperately wanted her to. By pulling away. By forcing him to face his past. She didn't want to hurt him anymore. She didn't have a choice.

Max was forcing himself to breathe as he stared unseeingly at the proposals in front of him. He could feel her energy in the room. Hell, he'd felt it before she even stepped a foot inside. It was the kind of energy that makes you feel…everything. Good. Bad. Highs. Lows. All at once and so overwhelmingly strong. It was intoxicating. And dangerous.

Shadows shifted across the blurry words in front of him as the outside world took cues from the storm raging inside that very room. Inside of each of their hearts. Hearts that were engaged in a fierce game of tug-of-war. Connected by an invisible rope that anchored them to each other. All it would take was for one of them to give in to one savage yank and the game would be over. Or…one could take out a sharp knife and sever the tie forever.

Max was in hell. If Liz walked out that door, he instinctively knew he'd be out of his seat in a heartbeat. But he couldn't show it. He had to know…had to see just what kind of hold he had on her. Now, that he was painfully aware of the hold she had on him. With each second she stayed in the room breathing the same air he breathed, hope danced across his heart only to be crippled by the agonizing silence.

Given her choices, Liz wanted nothing more than to just slip out the door and leave him with minimal pain. But it wouldn't last. Max would start to think. About her words, her actions. And in thinking he would know. He would know how much she wanted him. How much she did care. How much it was hurting her to hurt him. And once he knew, he wouldn't let go.

Which was why she needed to continue. Disturbed at how quickly and easily he'd shut her out, yet satisfied that she'd made a pretty big dent in his admiration of her, Liz decided now was the time to put the final nail in the coffin by carrying out her and Kyle's plan.

She gathered her courage and took a deep breath. "Too bad you can't get rid of me that easily, Max. Because I definitely have business with you." Liz pulled a manilla envelope from her purse. "Here. Take it." It landed with a thud on the table in front of Max.

Relief washed over him. She was staying. The tug-of-war was still on. The game was still in play. The victor, not yet named.

Leaning back in his seat, he casually folded his hands on his stomach and eyed the envelope on the table a moment before glancing back at Liz. The moment his eyes met hers, her chin raised in defiance and her eyes flashed with determination. Despite the raw tension of obvious impertinence in the room, Max's jaws worked as he tried to control the urge to cross the distance and kiss her. Beating down that savage urge, he instead turned his focus to her sealed revenge lying on the table.

Curiosity drove him forward. Max threw caution to the wind and snatched up the packet, ripping the top open, reaching inside and pulling out four separate envelopes, each with a number on them. An eyebrow raised as his lips pursed. "What is this? A game of 'What's Behind Door Number 4'? Or in this case envelope?"

"Pretty much. Only I won't make you guess. Or choose." Nodding toward the first envelope, Liz continued. “Inside the first is the information you’ll need to keep Edwin from blackmailing you again.”

Max’s eyebrow shot up as shock registered in his perfect features. His question came out in the midst of a loud ‘swoosh’. “What?”

“You heard me.” Liz remarked calmly though a secret thrill raced through her. To have shocked the unshockable Max had been a feat. And she had managed it. She kept her sense of satisfaction in check knowing the next ten minutes were going to be among the toughest of her life. To not crack. To not give anything away. To be cold and calculating. To set Max free. “You know, I have to hand it to you…you are a one hell of an actor. Pretending all this time to be the predator when all the while you were really the prey.”

Mind trying to process Liz’s words, Max blinked in shock. “How…how did you find out?”

“I have my sources.” The enigmatic answer was accompanied by a wry smile. With a reprimanding shake of her head, Liz sounded like she was scolding one of the children. “Max, why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”

Still very wary of Liz's current game, Max shrugged, his jaw tightening defensively. “And when exactly was I supposed to do that? Before or after I was attacked by toner? Oh…wait. Maybe I should have said something after the dish washer did its impression of a rabid dog. Or how about after the kids tried to murder me. No. No, that wouldn’t have been the right time because **you** were pissed with **me** even though you were the one that was three hours late!”

Hostility turned Liz’s eyes to midnight. She crossed her arms ready once again for battle. “Ok. Fine. I get the point. I didn’t give you much of a chance to explain.”

“Nicely understated.” Max shot back grumpily as his gaze shifted from Liz to some point on the floor between them. “Look. I had ever intention of telling you that first day I arrived in New Haven. I wanted to tell you at lunch. Let you know I wasn’t out to get you or the Center or, God forbid, those kids.”

Letting out a deep sigh, Max’s gaze shifted back to Liz. “You sent V in your place and showed up with Sean in tow as a silent challenge and frankly, I'm not one for ignoring challenges. Once we started our war or…whatever you want to call it…I didn’t want to tell you.”

“Why not?”

Max waved an impatient hand in the air. “Because if I told you, my purpose in coming to New Haven would have been served. There wouldn’t have been any reason for me to stay." Max's eyes filled with sincerity as he looked at her with a shy, almost embarrassed expression as he uttered a quiet confession. "I so wanted to stay."

"You have no idea how much…" Eyes drifting closed, Max ran a hand through his hair as he mumbled under his breath. Liz heard every heart wrenching word.

Her heart responded before her mind had a chance to reign in her words. "You could have told me that night you spent with me. I would have understood."

A harsh chuckle escaped Max and his eyes widened in disbelief. "You're kidding, right?" Shoving himself out of his chair, Max took a few steps toward Liz. His voice was earnest and sincere. "God, don't you see? You trusted me that night. You finally let all of those damn walls of yours down and talked to me." Eyes flickering with emotion, Max reached her. "*Really* talked."

Closing the distance between them, his gaze followed the path his fingers made as they gently grazed the softness of her cheek when he reached out and touched her. His voice lowered to a feather-like whisper. "You let me touch you." His other hand drifted upward to completely capture her face. "And hold you." Eyes boring into hers, Max shook his head slightly. "If I had told you that night that I have a past that can be blackmailed, you would have understood…long enough to shove me out the door."

Liz took a shaky breath of protest. "That's not true."

"No?" Max wet his lips with a quick, impatient swipe of his tongue. He let his hands drop heavily to his side. "Let's get real ok? You're a complicated woman who wants a simple life. Mine is anything but simple. You would have seen that the second I told you about the blackmail."

"So, instead of telling you, I left you with nothing more than a note. And that **is** what this is all about, isn't it? Why you're here determined to make me pay. You're here because…" Eyes searching her face, Max uttered a statement so simple, yet so complex in its deeper and not so subtle meaning. "…I've hurt you."

Feeling the immediate impact at the absence of his heated touch, a shiver slipped through Liz's body. She swallowed the tears that stung the back of her throat as she squared her shoulders and denied that meaning in his words that was all too obvious…and all too true. Her eyes met his. Her voice didn't waver. "To hurt me, I would have to care."

Exactly. Max's gaze faltered as his mind began to whirl with what exactly all this meant. Her anger. Her pain. The distaste so evident in the way she spoke McKenna's name. A new understanding washed over Max as a small smile began to play on his lips, a plan beginning to form. Exactly. Now, Liz Parker, let's see just how much you **don't** care…

She saw that look. Liz quickly brushed past Max in an effort to escape his overwhelming presence and the hint of uncertainty that flashed through his eyes. The smirk on his lips. One more second staring into his eyes, that uncertainty would change to doubt. Doubt would become disbelief. And Liz would lose the battle before it had barely begun. He had gotten too close. Close enough to touch her. Close enough to make her believe his words. To want the fire dancing in his eyes when he looked at her. She did what was necessary…put physical distance between them. Then she steeled herself for more to come…

Max stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned to face Liz. Eyeing Liz with scrutiny, gauging every nuance of her expression. With casual ease, he edged his way toward her. "So. You're **not** hurt then."

"No." Liz gave nothing away.

A few more smooth steps. "Because you don't care about me." Max repeated the point he was trying to make.

Liz held her ground with a slight nod of her head. "That's right."

Max pursed his lips as if he were in deep thought. Two more steps brought him toe to toe with the living, breathing puzzle standing in front of him. A puzzle that was becoming more enchanting with each new breath she took. And more clear with each word she spoke. "Then…the slap earlier. It was for…"

"Lying to me." Liz easily supplied as she tilted her chin upward to look into his eyes with defiance.

Max quirked an eyebrow and fought back an unbidden smirk of admiration as his eyes roamed Liz's face with open abandon. He ached to reach out and touch her. To take her back in his arms. To kiss the real Liz Parker to the surface of that tightly wound wall she had wrapped around herself. Knowing it was way too soon in this new battle of theirs to actually act on those desires, Max's hands bunched deep in his pockets. He tried to keep his tone light, and curse himself when it came out laced with more emotion than he was willing to show. "And I lied to you how?"

"You are amazing, you know it?" Liz shook her head in disbelief and crossed her arms in front of her, a reaction to combat the overwhelming desire to inch closer to Max. To take him back in her arms. To kiss him the way the reckless girl she used to know as Liz Parker would have done, instead of the cold impersonal way Kendall Blake had managed. She forced herself to focus on anything but his lips. His eyes. The way he was making her feel standing so close to her.

She pushed the words through clenched teeth Liz forced anger to the surface of her emotions. "How you can come up with the lines you do and make them sound so convincing is beyond me."

"Any particular lines you're thinking of?" Max's fingers were itching with a need he was trying desperately to ignore as he baited her.

"Oh, I could come up with a few but what would be the point?" Liz shrugged. "The fact remains, it was all an act. And you know…I didn't even realize it until after you disappeared. I kept going over that night in my mind trying to figure out why you would leave like that. Then I realized what you said. That's when I knew you hadn't been saving me that night at all…you were saving her. Protecting her." Liz swallowed hard as blinked back a thin sheen of tears as her voice shook with emotion. "Holding…her."

Max shook his head emphatically as his sincere gaze locked with hers, his hands finally losing the battle to stay by his side. He captured her face, the gentleness of his touch urging her to believe his soft, earnest words. "**That** is not true. You've got to believe…"

"Why should I?" An involuntary shiver raced thought Liz at his touch. Instantly on the defensive, Liz pushed his hands away and stepped back. "You woke up and realized it had all been a dream. That I wasn't her. So, you split…"

"No." Max voice was emphatic, a perfect match to the shaking of his head. "That is not what happened. That's not why I left."

"Then why did you?"

"I knew it wouldn’t last, ok? I knew as soon as the sun came up and you opened you're eyes, you'd realize just how much you'd given to me. How much you had revealed. You'd regret it. You'd lie about its importance…just like you're doing now. And I…" Max ran a frustrated hand through this hair as his confession exploded from deep inside. "Dammit. I was too much of a coward to see the distance I am seeing in your eyes right this second."

Liz swallowed hard and her knees wobbled. Her fingernails bit into the flesh of her palms as she felt her toes curl inside her shoes as if trying to root her to her spot. As if trying to keep her from flying across the room and throwing herself into the one place she felt safe…Max's arms. Business. Keep it all business. Don't let him touch your heart.

Max's next words made that feat nearly impossible. "Don't you see? I didn't want anything to take away from how perfect and magical that night was. I…wanted to keep it safe. I wanted…I wanted to keep you with me…for as long as a memory can last."

Liz pulled in a shaky breath and nearly crumbled right then. She wanted so much to tell him it was safe. That the night they'd spent together meant just as much to her as it apparently meant to him. That it was just as perfect…just as magical.

But overwhelming fear rippled through her heart. If she let on…just one hint of emotion…one sliver of truth and Max wouldn't let her walk away. Not with the confessions he was making. No, Kyle had been right. Max wouldn't let her go if he really knew…

Forcing herself to remain in control, Liz quipped sharply as she nodded toward the table, prompting Max with an upraised eyebrow. "Magic doesn't exist, Max. And precious little ever reaches real perfection." Ignoring the pain the flashed like lightning through his eyes, Liz cleared her throat. "Envelope two is next, I believe."

It was strange. To be so physically cold she felt goosebumps rise on her flesh and yet have a fire raging so hot inside. She was being burned alive. That's what this was doing to Liz. Standing in the room with him again. Trading barbs. Hearing sweet confessions of real emotions from a man whose heart was one of the purest she'd ever known. He was reaching out and touching her with his words. Scorching her with his gentle, sincere eyes. And the funny thing was…he wasn't really even trying. He was just…**being**…

She had to finish this and finish this fast. She had to remain detached. Because if…when…he did make a true effort to touch her, she would be unable to resist. Biting her lower lip, Liz nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear glad that Max's attention was focused elsewhere. Otherwise, he would easily pick up that she wasn't fighting a battle with him…she was fighting it with herself.

Max was fighting his own battle as well. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Liz Parker had the power to hurt him. It was equally clear Max was powerless to stop her. Because he was too open. Too eager for her to know him. Too willing to open up some of the most vulnerable parts of his soul...his heart.

Well, it had to stop. It was painfully clear this was no lover's rendezvous they were engaging in. She'd come to say good bye. To rid herself of his memory. To attack with a viciousness that left no room for mercy. To do that, she was going to lie to him. To herself. She would deny the magic that existed between them. Refuse to see the truth in order to cut him out of her life.

There was only one way to survive that kind of attack.

The walls of Max's heart instantly rose. Irritation suddenly flared. All the pent up frustration of the past few weeks raged through his body and exploded into the familiar strain of a loud, savage war cry. His level, predatory gaze held hers. His heart disappeared behind a thick wall of protection. He was ready.

Liz cleared her throat and tried to shake off the sudden feeling that things had changed. It was subtle, but there. A shift in the atmosphere. A hum of raw emotion shimmered in the air around her.

Uneasy, Liz shifted from one foot to the other and forged ahead with a plan that was both loathed and necessary. Her voice was uncertain. "Uh…inside is a…a check. You'll find the amount sufficient to not only cover the purchase of your fifty-one percent of Hardwick Industries, but give you a tidy little profit as well."

"You've got to be kidding me." Max's gaze snapped up to meet hers.

Max's reaction snapped her back into focus. Her eyes met his. She stiffened. "Not one bit. You can open it if you'd like."

Max made no move though his eyes narrowed warily. "Where did you get that kind of money?"

"It doesn't matter."

"My God." Max's eyes widened with disbelief as he let out an angry sigh. "You did it, didn't you? Against my wishes…despite your very own promise to me…you made a deal with Edwin.” Max’s eyes flashed with accusation. “Didn't you?"

"Max…" Liz let out a frustrated sigh that was much closer to a growl. "God, would you just open the damn envelope!"

Max ripped the envelope open and pulled out the check. It shook in his hands when his gaze fell on the signature. He blinked as if that action alone would clear the image he was seeing. It didn’t. His voice registered the shock he was feeling. "My…mother? You…you went to my mother? "

"She was more than willing to purchase the military school from me for the amount you hold in your hands. Very nice woman." Liz smoothed her hair back behind her shoulder and shrugged. Seeing Max so unnerved, Liz felt once more in control as she quipped an insult. "I have no idea how you turned out to be the scum you are."

Max ignored her insult and shaking the check in the air at Liz, he nearly exploded. "What the hell is this?”

"Pretending ignorance isn't your style, Max.” Liz shot back, her eyes holding a hint of triumph. "I'm sure you've seen a check before. Along with your mother's handwriting. And I'm sure you're no stranger to the amount…"

Max cut her off with an impatient wave of his hand. "Quit playing games. What exactly are you trying to do? Ruin yourself?"

"Ruin myself! Why you arrogant, self-righteous…" Liz tossed her purse onto the conference table. Hand on her hips, Liz advanced on Max a few steps. "You know what your problem is? You think you're responsible for the whole damn world. That none of us can do anything without your interference. Well, you are wrong, Max Evans. Because I'll tell you something right now…I'm not some delicate little flower that needs you to protect and watch over me…"

"Yeah? Well, you know what you're problem is?" Drawn by an irresistible force, Max took a few steps forward, his eyes blazing into hers. The check was tossed carelessly onto the table. "You're too damn stubborn to admit when you need help. Or when you're wrong."

Liz smirked. "What's the point of admitting something that clearly isn't true?"

"See? God, that's exactly what I'm talking about." Head shaking slightly in frustration, Max's jaw worked a clear sign he was struggling to control explosive emotions. His hands hung in mid-air clenching and unclenching as if he wanted nothing more than to strangle her in utter, complete frustration. "Dammit, Kendall, don't you see that I am just trying to help you?"

"Yeah? Well, guess what." Leaning forward at the waist, Liz tilted her head to the side. Smugness surrounded her like a cloak. As she declared her independence, Max realized he had never wanted her more. "I don't need your help. And I don't need your advice."

"Like hell you don't." The response was knee-jerk. For the rest, Max had to force himself to concentrate on the contention shifting back and forth between them and not the uncontrollable desire to take her in his arms and kiss away all of her arguments one by one. Each raised finger represented a point for his side. "The Center is going under. You have no money. You have no where to go…"

"We'll. Manage."

Max nearly burst into laughter at the absurdity of her insistence without proof. "How? Give me a plan. Show me how you're going to do it."

"It's none of your concern, Max. Not anymore. In fact, it never was." Liz's sharp retort ended with a nod toward the table where two more envelopes were lying, just waiting for Max's attention. "Envelope number three is the extent of your involvement with the Center from this point out."

Turning sharply on his heel, Max snatched up the envelope with a large number three on the front. He ripped the top open and pulled out the contents. Silence reigned for the few moments it took for Max to skim the document he held in his hands. Then…a burst of laughter.

It died the second he spun back around to face Liz with a declaration she had fully expected. "Absolutely not."

Liz folded her arms in front of herself as a confident eyebrow rose. "You really don't have any choice."

Max smirked. It was that downright sexy, over the top, irritating smirk. The one that shouted he was in control and he knew it. The one that made Liz's knees weak. "Need I remind you what happened last time you attempted to place me in a room full of kids? Mayhem. Chaos. Attempted murder." Max pointed to himself as sarcasm laced his every word. "Mine, in case that part slipped your mind."

Liz batted her lashes as a catlike grin spread over her face. "Sounds like I've come up with the perfect solution then."

"Selling Hardwick Industries to you plus a year's worth of volunteering hell at the Center." Max stated the conditions of the contract he'd barely skimmed. "You consider that a solution?"

"The volunteering is only every other weekend. And like I said earlier, you'll actually be making a bit of profit by selling Hardwick to me." Liz folded her hands in front of her and shrugged. "If you ask me, you're getting off rather easy. Your attorneys agreed, by the way. You should have seen them jump at the chance to negotiate you out of a lawsuit that will cost you millions when all I'm asking for now is a bit of your time. You'd be a fool not to take the deal."

"I'd be a fool not to see what you're doing." Max stated hotly. "Pretending to cut all ties when that's the last thing in the world you want to do."

Liz's stomach tightened with panic. She had to be stronger. She had to be more convincing. She put every ounce of willpower in her denial. "You're wrong."

"Am I?" Max held up the contract in his hands an amused smile touching his lips. "Because it seems to me that if I do take this deal, it will only result in further contact…between you and me." Max's voice lowered suggestively as he continued his bluff. "Every other weekend. For hours on end, you and I…will be working together." A rakish smile touched Max's lips as he emphasized his final words while his eyes roamed her body from head to toe. "Very closely."

Liz didn't blink. "Envelope four."

The smile shifted from Max's face when he watched Liz's eyes dance with triumph. Without taking his eyes off Liz, Max reached over and picked up the fourth envelope. Unsealing the contents, he pulled out another legal document and unfolded it. His eyes quickly scanned the words inside as his head began to shake. "You…you can't do this."

"I already have."

"A restraining order. You and I can't be on the Center premises at the same time." Max swallowed his disbelief as the contents of Liz's package began to line up in his mind. And yet, something was missing. "You've literally cut me off. Paid me back. Put me in your debt. You don't owe me a thing, do you?" Looking back up at Liz in disbelief a quiet question caused her heart to pound fiercely. "Do you really want me out of your life this badly?"

It took everything in Liz to swallow the real answer and nod her silent affirmation.

It took everything in Max to see the truth beyond her lies, her actions.

Max's mind was a whirlwind. If she'd really wanted to cut all ties, his mother would be the last person she'd go to when buying him out of her life. She had plenty of other friends to call on. Friends with money. Friends with ties. Friends with much more to their advantage by removing Max from the picture. Friends like Michael. Sean.

And if she'd really wanted him out of her life, he'd be as far from the Center as possible. She'd make sure of that. She could have easily used the blackmail to paint him as an unworthy element in an atmosphere already full of mistrust. A poor example for kids who desperately needed solid role models to look up to.

The blackmail. She's literally pulled his butt out of the fire on that one. And then, she proceeded to do even more than that. She handed him the means with which she'd done it so that it couldn't happen again. And the restraining order…well, that was just a showy ploy to convince him of something that clearly wasn't true.

Liz Parker did not want to lose Max.

Which was precisely why she was fighting so hard to let him go.

A wave of understanding washed over Max and gripped him so fiercely he had to keep his feet from instantly breaking out into a dance of victory. Instead, Max stiffened, his chin raising defiantly and determination pouring out of his eyes. "Well, tough. It's not going to happen."

"Oh, yeah? Guess what, buster…you can't stop it."

"The hell I can't." Max held the legal document in front of him, his eyes never leaving Liz's, he ripped the paper in two.

Liz's mouth fell open. "That…that was…how can…"

The papers were carelessly discarded on the table. "Nice try. Next time you want to serve a restraining order on me first of all…don't bring it yourself. It kinda defeats the purpose. Secondly, make sure I've actually done something to deserve it. And third, don't use my own legal team to draw it up. Or get a judge to sign it who I happen to play golf with every other Sunday."

Liz was stunned into silence.

Max took advantage.

"So, who set that one up for you? Mom again? Barbara?" Max smirked as he shoved his hands casually into his pockets. "Kyle?"

At the mention of Kyle's name, a flicker of acknowledgment raced through Liz's eyes. Max chuckled. "I should have known. He got to you, didn't he? Kyle swept down on you and started telling you just how horrible you'll make my life, right? How the best thing for you to do would be to break all ties with me." All amusement disappeared as Max's lips tightened into a fine line. "Let's get something straight right now. My brother does not speak for me. Not now. Not ever."

"Kyle has nothing to do with any of this. I'm the one that wanted to break all ties. I'm the one that never wants to see your face again." Liz lied through her teeth. "The simple truth is, I know when I'm being used, Max. That's all this has been about for you. Making your conscience clean." Jabbing a finger in the air at Max, Liz took a step forward. "I'll tell you something right now. I am not your second chance to make things right. And I certainly don't want to be your pathetic attempt at reviving an old love."

Fire flared in Max's eyes causing them to glow golden. "This is not…"

"Isn't it?" Cutting Max off abruptly, Liz continued her campaign. "Tell me you aren't seeing her when you look at me."

"I'm not!" The frustration in Max's voice echoed in the room.

"Then why did you call out her name?" Liz shot back defensively.

Max couldn't answer. Not without revealing every secret he'd ever had to keep. Not without showing her the dark and ugly life he'd had to live. Or the guilt that still kept him up at nights. The pain of lives lost.

Seeing Max immobilized by her words, Liz's resolve wavered. She wanted so much to just go wrap her arms around him and take away all of the pain she saw etched in every feature. But she restrained herself. Because she knew she was reaching the breaking point. That she'd touched on the one subject that could and would turn Max against her.

She pulled in a shaky breath and answered her own question. "I'll tell you why, Max." Liz waited till Max's eyes met hers. She quickly blinked back unwanted tears and silently cursed herself for letting him get close enough to make her cry. "I came here for one reason and one reason only. I came to tell you that I know the real Max Evans. I've seen your heart. I've heard your dreams. And I want nothing to do with you ever again. In fact, walking away from you is going to be the easiest thing I have ever done."

Max swallowed hard, his one word question a bare whisper. "Why?"

"Because you're still in love with a dead woman." Liz's quiet response hit Max harder than if she'd driven a stake through his heart. "And I won't be a substitute for anyone."

Max's gaze faltered and his chest tightened with intense pain. Before his heart had time to process the real reason why, Liz had made it to the door, her hand on the knob. Hearing the squeak of an opening door, Max's reaction was instantaneous. His head snapped up and his feet were instantly in motion as he flew across the room and slammed the door shut with one hand just as she had started to open it. "Oh, no, you don’t." The swiftness of his move, the sudden, low rumble in her ear caused Liz to gasp and jump in shock, instantly whirling to face him.

It was her first and greatest mistake.

Liz made a slight move as if to sidestep him. Max blocked her when he braced his other hand against the wall, effectively cutting off her path of escape. Penetrating gaze locking with hers, he shook his head as he leaned in slightly. "Uh-huh. Not this time. You've had your say with all of the suspicion and cynicism you could muster. Now, it's my turn."

Both of his hands captured her face and firmly tilted it upward till she was looking directly in his eyes. Golden flecks sparked to life in the inky blackness of his eyes. His scent, the touch of fire in his fingers, his hot breath blowing across her skin rendered her breathless as he whispered a fierce statement against her lips. "Magic **does** exist. Every time you and I breathe the same air…"

Transfixed by the intensity of his gaze, the fierce gentleness of his grip, the conviction of his words, Liz's knees instantly weakened and she unconsciously pressed her body against the door for support. As thick layers of anticipation hung in the air between them, Liz held her breath terrified of his intentions and at the same time aching for every ounce of desire she saw raging in his eyes. "And perfection…it's not only attainable…you and I can own it...forever."

Lightning flashed outside and electricity crackled in the air. Thunder shook the floor under their feet and sent tremors through both of them. Or maybe that was the result of their pounding hearts. Their shaky breaths. Their rising temperatures. The overwhelmingly oppressive blanket of passion that was winding itself around them. Binding them together. Making it increasingly hard to breathe.

Max's chest heaved with emotion as his eyes roamed Liz's face, noting the dazed clouds of desire darkening her eyes. His grip tightened. His voice lowered huskily. "Substitutes don't challenge me. They don't dance in the flames of something so explosive it's terrifying. And they don't make me feel the way you make me feel every time I look in your eyes."

Another labored breath and Max's confession came out in a heated, intense whisper. "You are the most original, perfect, magical person I have ever known." His gaze landed with such intensity on her breathless, half-parted lips as a promise tumbled helplessly from his lips. "So help me God, I'm going to prove that to you even if it’s the last thing I ever do…"

One heartbeat.

That's all it took for Max's lips to descend on Liz's with all the force of a raging storm, turning her sharp gasp of surprise into a muffled moan of pleasure. Stopping any protests by a crushing blow of passion. Pulling from deep inside of her the reckless girl he'd recognized all along.

One heartbeat. One kiss. One man.

That's all it took…to change Liz Parker's life forever.

Tbc…


[ edited 3 time(s), last at 3-May-2002 9:39:05 PM ]
posted on 28-Apr-2002 5:01:26 PM by Ashton
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!! Thanks soooo much for your patience. This is only the first part of this chapter. VERY long chapter so I tried to split it up a bit. The second part will be out tonight or tomorrow morning, I promise! For those of you who watch Alias, you'll recognize a couple of charcters from there in this fic. The sequel is not really going to be a crossover, but Sydney/Vaughn will be involved in the story, that's why I'm introducing them now. Also, Liz's 'code name' from the guys is Cinderella, not Sleeping Beauty. Kinda changed that on ya'll. *happy*

I really really really hope you like it. As always, I'd LOVE to hear what you think. Ya'll know how I am writing these kinds of scenes, so please be gentle!!! *happy* Thank you all for your amazing support!! You always blow me away!! *happy*

BehrHugs,
Ashton


p.s. I have started an egroup where all of my fics are located. It's mainly just for them all to be in one central location. Since it is an egroup, you would have to join, but its' not that hard. The link is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AMDreamerFanfiction/
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ chapter 33 a ~

"He doesn’t recognize me."

McKenna's painful confession took a few moments to sink into Kyle's bewildered brain. When it finally did, his eyes widened and his grip on her hands tightened. "What? Are you telling me you've already seen Max?"

Pulling her hands from Kyle's, McKenna nodded and let out a sigh. "I've…been working here for the last two weeks."

"WHAT?"

Kyle's near explosion caused McKenna to look up at him sharply. "That's right. I've been working here." She crossed her arms in front of her defensively. "Do you have a problem with that?"

Kyle took a steadying breath as he eyed her carefully. After a moment's silence, he shook his head and reached for her hand once more. She hesitated before giving it to him. "No, Kenna, I don't. I just…I'm just surprised, that's all. Look, I was under the impression that you didn’t want Max to know you're alive."

Shrugging, McKenna's gaze faltered to her hands enclosed in Kyle's strong grip. If she played her cards right, she instinctively knew she'd have an ally in her quest to claim Max once again. "I never stopped loving him, Kyle. How could I be so close and not want to at least see him? After dreaming about him for so long, I just…I didn't plan on him not knowing who I am."

Jumping to Max's defense, Kyle pointed out the obvious. "You know you don't really look like the McKenna we knew…"

"You recognized me." The accusation was leveled with a flash of something bordering irrational verdict of guilt aimed squarely at a person unavailable to defend himself.

Kyle was taken back. He blinked as the words whirled in his head. His explanation came out slow and deliberate. "I heard your voice first, McKenna. Not to mention what you said. The whole Max's fiancee' comment brought you immediately to mind."

"Why?" McKenna swallowed hard, as if a new thought had suddenly occurred to her. "You mean, I'm the only one?"

"Yeah…you are." Kyle was trying hard to keep his wariness under control. Especially since all of his instincts seemed to be on extra alert. McKenna seemed just a tad too eager to hear that Max had never loved anyone but her. Then again, she had been engaged to Max. Had planned on being with him for the rest of her life. Until the danger of his work world crashed into the bliss of his of love life.

He couldn't blame her. In fact, he's not so sure he wouldn't have the same reaction if the shoe were on the other foot. Kyle let out a sigh and nodded thoughtfully, tossing McKenna the crumb she so desperately was seeking. "Kenna, you are the only woman Max ever loved enough to actually ask to marry him. And if he didn't recognize you its probably because he's spent the last five years trying to erase the memory of loving you. "

"Has it been…hard for him?"

"You have no idea." The confession was whispered, but McKenna heard every word.

"I see." McKenna pulled in a strategically placed breath. "So, what should I do now?"

Swallowing hard, Kyle's jaws worked in an effort to control the panic shooting through him. He opened his mouth to say something when his cell phone rang. Instinctively knowing it could be life or death important, Kyle tossed McKenna an apologetic glance. "Sorry. Have to take this one. Big takeover we've been working on. Max'll kick my ass if I don't land this deal for him."

Phone to his ear, Kyle slipped from the table and walked toward his desk. "Hello."

"Sam. It's me. Look, we've got a situation…"

Kyle breathed into the phone when he heard Alex's anti-climatic statement coupled with his code name. "Tell me about it."

"I take it you know now." Alex let out a shaky breath. "So, how did she contact you?"

Aware that McKenna was listening to his every response, Kyle chose his words as carefully as possible. "Cut the small talk. Give me the scoop on the contract."

Catching on quickly, Alex squeezed his eyes shut. "Damn. She's with you right now, isn't she?"

"Uh-huh." Kyle let his affirmation sound like he was listening intently to details coming through to him on the other line. "Where do we stand on the Lucky Charms proposal?"

Launching into the details of a mission that had been set up days ago, Alex hurried his explanation. "The extraction is complete. Our team entered the safehouse at thirteen hundred hours. Our inside contacts did everything expected. There were no injuries and no real pursuit to speak of. By the six o'clock news you should be hearing about one Paddy Mahoney who escaped mysteriously from the clutches of the CIA. Steve's make-up job and performance, from what I hear from Duke, was stellar. He was so convincing that the IRA truly think Max pulled this one off himself."

Kyle breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. That'll buy us some time to handle this newest glitch."

"Right." Alex paused before issuing a command he wasn't sure Kyle would understand or follow. "Remember the adage 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer'? Nothing is as it seems, Sam."

Kyle's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "You mean…"

"I mean…" Alex interrupted flatly. "…the Stars, minus Coyote, are back in business. And the first order of business is keeping that woman glued to your side and as far from Coyote as possible."

Kyle pulled in a weary breath and closed his eyes, wishing with all his heart that his instincts had been wrong. Alex's warning only confirmed Kyle's deepest fears. Something wasn't right about McKenna. Something was…off. Snapping himself back into focus as a plan began to form, Kyle nodded. "Right. I'll handle those details from my end. Until then, keep me updated. You know how important this is to Max."

"Yes, I do." Alex confirmed. "Lives depend on it, Kyle. Don't forget that for a second." With a sigh of regret, Alex signaled his need to sign off. "Look, I've got a mess to clean up so…"

"Right. Thanks for the call. Let me know when the meeting is set."

"We'll do. And Kyle…question everything. This could blow up in all of our faces if you don't." With that final warning, Alex initiated a dial tone.

Kyle clicked off the phone and absently stared ahead a moment as his mind began to process everything that was happened. The things he did know…and all the things he didn't. McKenna made a slight movement, reminding Kyle of the immediate danger sitting only a few feet away.

"Kyle? Is…everything ok?"

Planting a smile on his face, Kyle turned to face McKenna. "Everything's perfect. Now…where were we?"

Glancing coyly away, McKenna allowed a blush to color her cheeks. "We were talking about Max. And how I can be in his life again."

"Right." Kyle noted with a forced grin. "Well, don't worry. I think I have the perfect way."

"Really? How?"

Kyle's lips spread into a wide grin. "How are you on patience?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz Parker never knew the power of a kiss.

She never knew the force of a heartbeat. The hunger of a soul. Or the meaning of utter loneliness. And instant, overwhelming completeness. All in the same moment.

Until Max Evans.

It was more than a physical act. More then his soft lips fiercely claiming hers. More than his heated fingers brushing against her skin, igniting sparks deep in the pit of her stomach. More than the sensations deliciously zipping across every nerve in her body.

It was the opening of sealed doors. The shattering of stubborn walls. Souls were coming face to face. Hearts, aligning with lightening speed. Dreams of what could be winking at each other as fear gave way to passion. Bodies, colliding with electric energy…

Millions of fantastic colors exploded behind tightly closed eyes the second his lips touched hers. Liz instinctively opened up to the sweep of Max's tongue along the seam of her lips. One plunge into the depths of her mouth and Liz felt her entire body melt into a willing, pliable mass of flesh. Reflexively, her arms encircled Max's neck. Holding on for support. Holding on for dear life.

Scorching touches seared his fingerprints into her skin, marking her. Savage kisses catapulted her into another stratosphere, branding her. Moans and sighs shot straight into her heart, speaking volumes of emotions never heard by human ears. Echoing emotions she'd long been trying to hide.

And Liz couldn't get enough. She returned kiss for kiss. Touch for touch. Abandoning defenses and laying down weapons of pain. Opening up so completely to Max that he literally held her naked soul in his arms. Stripped of pretence. Devoid of deceit. Absent of fear. Reckless and brave. Matching his passion. Equaling his fervor. Surpassing even his wildest imagination.

Max was on sensation overload. Every breath, he breathed in her delicious, tantalizing scent. Sweet, spicy. Delicate, bold. Each nuance made his knees weak. Every helpless moan in response to his caresses shot straight to the center of his being, melting his heart and hardening his body. The taste of her was intoxicating. Overpowering. Irresistible. Making him drunk with desire and dizzy with insatiable hunger.

Breaking their kiss to gulp in much needed air, Max immediately stopped breathing. A vision of Liz's flushed face danced before him as he gazed down at her. Lips swollen and red, eyes clouded with passion and bright with exhilaration, one desire etched in the planes of her beautiful face…

And Max Evans lost control.

The stormy fire of his kiss increased tenfold. While one hand trailed down her neck, across her shoulder, slipping down her back and under the hem of her sweater, his fingers beginning a heated exploration upward, Max's other hand slipped through her hair. He firmly cupped the back of her head, supporting and angling it to take in more of her with an intensity that was almost frightening.

Max was hungry. Starving. A hunter consumed with one goal…to devour his prey.

And Liz devoured him back.

In her entire life, she'd never wanted anyone the way she wanted Max. She'd never felt so much with a simple touch. Needed so much just from a kiss. Reason was a distant memory now. Plans, abandoned in the heat of the rarest passion she'd ever known. Primal urges were in control as Liz left no doubt where she wanted this current assault to carry her. As her fingers tangled into the hair at the base of his neck, her fingernails dug into his flesh and she pressed her body into his, eliciting a moan from deep inside of Max.

Depth and intensity of kisses escalated dramatically. Tongues sparred in a primal battle. Bodies began an ancient dance as Max and Liz brushed against each other intimately. Seducing. Teasing. Taunting. Sending shockwaves of desire pooling through both of them. Making the air around them heavy with electric heat.

Sizzling. Exploding. Erupting. Blood began to simmer. Temperatures spiked to unbearable degrees. Liquid fire rained down all around them as electric heat skipped across their skin.

Ragged breathing, helpless sighs and volcanic kisses were the only sounds in the room. Until Liz unconsciously shifted against Max. His unexpected hardness made an impressive appearance against her inner thigh and Max instinctively pressed into her. Max and Liz broke their kiss with a loud gasp at the friction erupting between them with that one action.

"Oh, God…" The half growl, half whisper in Liz's ear sent a tremor through her entire body. The echo of his strangled sighs shouted one thing loud and clear: for the first time in his life, Max's body finally found its true home.

Liz's fell against Max, her forehead pressed against his shoulder, her chest rising and falling with erratic breathing as she clung to him, trying desperately to control the explosions building inside of her. Trying to savor the sensations threatening to rip her apart.

Max nipped at Liz's ear, nuzzling his face against hers. "Just tell me what you want." Hot, wet kisses scorched her jaw. "I'll do anything." Her face was covered with a mixture of warm breath and feather-light kisses as he gave one delicious tug on her lower lip. "Just tell me…"

Liz's body responded instinctively followed by a ragged, desperate whisper. "More…" Fingers digging into his shoulders, Liz shifted again. This time, on purpose. "I want…more." Hardness pressed against softness. Heat against heat. One helpless cry reverberated through both of them, echoing the one coherent thought racing through their minds…

They both wanted more. So much more…

Liz's hands swiftly, unconsciously followed that train of thought to slip between the material of Max's suit jacket and his shirt. With one fluid motion, she pushed the coat up and over his shoulders. As if reading her mind, in perfect sync, Max 's fingers untangled themselves from Liz's thick hair and dropped to his side with an effortless shake, allowing the coat to fall at his feet with a light thud.

Max's hands instantly resumed their rightful place…on Liz's body. Swiftly pulling her flush against him, Max trailed kisses of fire down the column of her creamy throat as his hands traveled from around her waist, over the smooth curves of her hips to lightly cup her bottom, pressing their lower bodies into an even tighter connection. Liz moaned again, this time breaking away from his heated kisses to fall a half a step back against the door. Her hands were bunched in the folds of his shirt, pulling Max a stumbling foot forward. Chest heaving with ragged, erratic breaths, Liz's bright eyes full of desire focused on his tie loosely knotted at the base of Max's throat.

In one swift move, the tie was undone and the top two buttons below it was released. Liz attacked the hollow at the base of Max's neck with an intensity that caused Max's knees to go weak. His fingers curled into her soft flesh as his eyes squeezed shut against her fevered assault as she covered exposed skin with nibbles and licks and kisses hotter than the fires of hell. While the fingers of one hand deftly continued to unbutton his shirt, her other hand found its way back around Max's neck to hold him tight against her.

Never only a receiver, the urge to give overwhelmed Max. Fingers tangled in her long tresses and firmly pulled Liz's busy lips away from his chest only to be replaced by a kiss so deep Max felt he was literally melting into her. With her back pressed against the door, Max's hands were free to roam. And roam they did. Under her sweater, upward to cover one breast. Applied pressure caused Liz's legs to visibly shake as Max snaked his other hand downward, resuming his earlier position and cupping her bottom before lowering to slip her skirt upward enough so he could wrap his hand around her leg.

Liz read his silent message of his added pressure on her leg and in one swift movement, Max lifted her as she wrapped her legs around his waist. Arching against him, Liz took control of the newest assault. Her hair fell down all around Max, brushing against his skin, sending shivers through his body as her lips descended like a storm. Her hands slipped into his open shirt, feverishly caressing every inch of smooth, bronzed skin. Raising goosebumps on his flesh and setting his skin on fire all with the same action.

Liz's legs tightened around Max's waist as she pressed her body against his while she continued to rain kisses down on him. His cheeks, his forehead, nose, lips. Not an inch of him hadn't felt the warm moistness of Liz's passion. Pulling slightly away from her, Max ran his fingers through her rumpled hair, tangling and twisting the silky strands as he brought her forehead to rest against his. Eyes squeezed shut, Max breathed her into him. Soaked her into his skin. Absorbed the feeling of her body against his. Her heart matching his, beat for ferocious beat.

Opening his eyes, Max's intense gaze locked with Liz's. His heart sped up. His breathing came out in heated pants. His mind reeled with realization. Everything else around them slipped away. She was all he wanted. All he needed.

Lightening struck. Electricity zapped. The earth under his feet shook. Everything around him clicked into place. With one searing thought, Max Evans felt his world turn completely upside down.

Liz Parker was…everything.

And for the first time in his life…his world was right side up.

Max's earth-shattering revelation hung between them in the form of awed silence. Oblivious to the new thoughts assaulting Max's mind…the realizations invading his heart, Liz fingers gently, unconsciously caressed his face as her eyes took in every inch of him. He was beautiful. His skin so smooth and warm. Raw passion danced in the midnight of his eyes simultaneously with emotions yet unnamed. Emotions that caused amber flecks in his eyes to glow golden.

She could feel his heart pounding under hers. A secret thrill raced through her as each beat reverberating through her entire body. Her insides burned with the knowledge she was the one making his heart thunder. She was the one coaxing every inch of him into a heated state of arousal. She was the one making him feel so…alive…

Her eyes met his and her entire world came to a screeching halt. She was awed by the way he was looking at her. Mesmerized. Captivated. It was as if he were seeing something brand new and shiny for the very first time. As if he were looking at something that had long been lost that was suddenly found. As if he were waking from a long, painful nightmare to the reality of dreams made true.

"Tell me what you want." Suddenly breaking the silence, Max repeated his earlier request, his voice low and husky. This time, rational thought drove the question instead of raw passion. This time, there was a deeper meaning. This time, an entire future hung on her answer.

"You." Liz could barely push the words out. Her voice raspy with desire and her breathing was shaky with layers of emotion. Holding his face in her hands, she gazed into Max's eyes. Her panted answer blew across Max's face. "I just want…you…"

"For how long?" Max held his breath, waiting for her answer.

Max's question took Liz completely by surprise. She blinked a couple of times not sure she'd heard him right. The plea in his midnight eyes convinced her she had. Confusion clouded her eyes and the smile slipped from her face. "Max, I…I don't…"

Hope withered instantly. He should have known it wouldn't be so easy. Not with Liz Parker. Chest heaving with a deep sigh of regret, Max reluctantly released his hold on Liz. Untangling her legs from around his waist, he lowered her feet to the floor and took a step back. "Max…what are you…"

Max pulled away shaking his head and whispering with his eyes closed as he released her arms from around his neck. "We can't…we can't do this." He backed further away from her and dropped her hands before turning his back unable to meet whatever emotion was waiting for him in her eyes. As he stood with his head hung to the floor, silence filled the room only broken by the labored breathing and pounding hearts each heard ringing in their own ears.

"Wh…what did you do that for?" Liz finally managed to ask breathlessly, relieved that Max's back was to her. At least then he couldn't see the tears threatening to fill her eyes.

"What? Kiss you…or stop?" Max shot back with a slight shake of his head.

"Both." She answered quietly not quite sure she could say anything more. Her heart was still pounding so loudly in her ears she was sure he could hear it echoing in his own heart.

"Because." Max said as his mounting frustration evident in his voice. He spun around unexpectedly and faced her his eyes blazing with the desire to be understood. "Because just once I wanted to know. I wanted to feel what it was like to reach through that wall you've built up around you and touch your soul."

Liz looked away uncomfortably at the frankness of his reply and the intensity of his gaze. His eyes boring into her sent a flush of pink running through her cheeks. She crossed her arms defensively in front of her. "I see. And having touched it you decided it wasn't worth the energy…"

In two strides Max was standing before her, his hands cupping her face tilting it so that she was looking in his eyes. "If you think that I don't ache to go back there…" His voice broke off suddenly and he looked down embarrassed at his admission yet still feeling an overwhelming desire to explain. "Truth is, if I did…I wouldn't be able to stop. It would just be…wrong."

"Why? Because you don't want me?"

"Not want…" Max broke off as disbelief flashed through his eyes when his gaze snapped back up to meet hers. "Weren't you just here a few moments ago? Didn't you just hear me? I would **not** be able to stop. I have never wanted anyone more in my entire life."

"Neither have I." Liz's confession was a bare whisper. Her eyes full of confusion and pain snapped up to meet his. "Then why? In case you didn't notice no one was asking you to stop, Max."

Max's eyes softened. "You don't understand. I'm not just talking about making love. I'm talking about this." Taking one of Liz's hands in his, he placed it over his racing heart. "I'm talking about us." Max swallowed hard, his voice thick with emotion as his penetrating gaze held hers. "I don't want just your body. And I don't want just an afternoon. I want it all and I want it forever. Can you tell me you want the same?"

Liz's dark eyes instantly filled with understanding…and longing. She opened her mouth to answer but Max stopped her with a gentle finger against her lips. "You came here to say good bye. To cut me out of your life. Is that really what you still want to do?"

"Max…" Liz's helpless whisper filled her eyes with a light film of moistness as her mission came crashing back down on her.

Gently taking her face in his hands, Max brushed his lips lightly against hers. Once. Twice. Three times. Delicately, tenderly, with trembling lips Max pour every ounce of awe and reverence into his lingering kiss. He felt Liz's body shake with an inner sob and pulled away slowly, his eyes opening in time to see a tear slip down the side of her face. He caught it with his thumb as his fingers loving touched her face.

Her ebony eyes slowly opened to meet his and in that instant Max Evans saw in their depths more emotion than he had ever dreamed possible. It gave him courage. It gave him hope. It gave him a future.

Pulling in a ragged breath, Max gambled his heart on two words. Two words that would change his life forever…

"Marry me."
~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Kyle, have you lost your mind?" Barbara's inpatient tone signaled her growing concern.

Which didn't bode well for Kyle's plan.

"No, Barbara, I haven't. Look…I need a secretary that I can trust and Kim seems to be…"

"Hot." Barbara finished for Kyle, reading every last signal he was purposefully putting out there for her to read. "You're unbelievable. I've never seen an executive go through the number of secretaries you do simply because you enjoy 'recreational activities' just a little too much."

"Hey, I'm a growing boy. I need my exercise." Kyle smirked at his own pun.

She let out a sigh and glanced around them with a shake of her head. "Kyle…" Bringing her eyes back to meet his, her disapproving frown caused Kyle to inwardly cringe. "…she's after Max. In a pretty big way."

Kyle swallowed hard. "What uh, what makes you think that?"

A near snort escaped her. "She only been following him around like a puppy dog for the past two weeks. It's rather…disturbing."

Kyle's eyes narrowed. "Disturbing?"

Barbara nodded as she crossed her arms. "Yeah. Max has even commented on it. Which, as you know, is saying quite a bit. That man is used to every kind of overture…romantic, sexual, otherwise…" She let out a sigh. "Anyway, he's not been all that comfortable with her around. In fact, he wanted her transferred to another branch."

Nodding, Kyle quickly processed the newest information and filed it away in his mental filing cabinet. Plastering a smile to his face, Kyle forced cheerfulness into his voice. "Then my plan is the perfect solution, don't you think? Kim travels with me as my personal assistant, which gets her out of Max's hair. And in the meantime, I get the chance to convince her if she wants a real man, she should stick with me."

Barbara shook her head with a chuckle. "You and that ego of yours." Heading around the corner of her desk, Barbara's expression became serious. "Kyle…please be careful. I just don't have a really good feeling about this."

Mirroring her seriousness for perhaps the first time in all his years of knowing her. "Trust me, Barbara. I've got this one completely under control." He leaned down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before whispering an uncharacteristic command. "Take care of Max, ok? I have a strong feeling he's going to be needing it the next few weeks."

Confusion zipped through Barbara's eyes but Kyle just flashed her a grin, sent her a wink and sauntered out of her office down the hall.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The men shook hands. "Steve Gordon. I think you've already met Duke."

The attractive young man dressed in a suit and tie nodded his head at Duke in recognition then introduced himself. "Vaughn. Agent Michael Vaughn." He inclined his head toward his partner and friend standing next to him. "My associate, Agent Eric Weiss." He indicated the couch and chairs in the suite area of the plush Los Angeles hotel room. "Would you like to sit? After the job you just pulled, I would think you're in need of a bit of rest."

"Ah, it was a piece of cake." Duke chuckled and headed to the couch followed by Steve then Vaughn and Weiss. Once seated, Duke locked eyes with Vaughn, gratitude evident in his expression. "Thanks to you guys, that is."

"Thank Alex. He's the one that hooked us all up on this mission. If he hadn't the two of you might be wearing bullets instead of victorious grins." Vaughn commented quietly. His hazel eyes smiled. "I get the feeling this is going to be a very profitable working relationship between the CIA and IFCI. Especially since Duke will be sharing his intel on the IRA which we need for an ongoing investigation…"

"And you'll be helping us keep our Cinderella safe." Duke commented pointedly.

"Right." Michael Vaughn leaned back in his chair, a half grin spreading over his lips suggestively. "So, Alex seems pretty wired about this woman."

Weiss let an involuntary chuckled escape. "You would know all about that wouldn't you, Mike?" Twinkling dark eyes and a quick smile were trademarks of the lead agent's side kick. Leaning forward in his chair slightly, Weiss addressed Duke and Steve as he continued to nettle his friend. "Her name's Sydney, by the way. Sydney Bristow. CIA double. Mike here is her handler and boy wouldn't he love to act out on that title…"

Michael Vaughn shot Weiss a withering look, which only prompted another chuckle from Weiss while Duke and Steve exchanged knowing grins. Trust was quickly forged and the atmosphere shifted from introduction to camaraderie. Steve put his hands behind his head and leaned back, propping his feet up on the coffee table. "Actually, Cinderella's important to a good friend of ours. Used to be in intel with us. He used to be our leader, but some things happened and now he's out in the real world."

Vaughn's eyes registered a bit of surprise. "Cinderella is Max Evans' girlfriend?"

Ignoring the question, Steve's eyes snapped with suspicion. "You know Max?"

Vaughn shook his head. "Only by reputation. A pretty impressive one, I might add."

"Yeah, that's our Max." Duke stated with a proud grin.

"But, he's been out for a while now. At least that's what Alex has told me." Vaughn's dimples deepened as his mind worked puzzle pieces into place. "So, this Cinderella…she not an agent?"

Duke's chuckle held no mirth. "Not that we know of."

Steve seemed to stiffen at Duke's comment. The two men exchanged glances and Duke swallowed hard. Messages were quickly sent and received. Steve nodded his consent almost imperceptibly. Duke wet his lips and turned his attention back to Vaughn and Weiss as he let out a deep sigh. "Look, we can tell Alex trusts you. If he didn't, he wouldn't even let you near Cinderella or tell you about Max. So, I guess it's time we let you in on our real problem."

Vaughn nodded his agreement and folded his hands as if prepared to hear the worse.

"Cinderella's real name is Liz Parker. I honestly don't know the extent of Max and Liz's relationship, but it's been made very clear that she's extremely important to him."

"Which makes her very important to us." Steve interrupted quietly.

"Why?"

"She could very well be a target."

Vaughn's eyes narrowed. "Who's target?"

Duke glanced at Steve once more before turning back to Vaughn and Weiss. "You ever hear of a rouge agent named Delilah?"

"Are you kidding?" Vaughn's eyes grew wide. "She's only been responsible for the death of seven of our agents over the past two years."

"Yeah. Well…she's an even bigger problem for us."

"Why would Delilah be interested in targeting Liz Parker if Liz isn't an agent?" Weiss asked, breaking usual protocol.

Duke shifted in his seat, leaning forward, his eyes serious and borderline dangerous. "Because Deliah's real name is McKenna Donovan. She was Max Evans' fiancee."

"His fiancee?" Weiss and Vaughn choked out the exclamation at the same time.

Steve immediately jumped to Max's defense. "He didn't know who she really was. None of us did." He looked Vaughn pointedly. "The woman is good. First rate actress. I swear if you had known her back then, there'd be no way you could think she was capable of the things we now know she is."

"And you think she's going after Liz because of Max."

"We know she is." Duke confirmed with a nod of his head. "She's already tried once. Max was there to save her. Although I have to admit, he has no idea McKenna was behind it. In fact, he has no idea McKenna's alive."

Vaughn let out a low whistle. "Wow."

Duke folded his hands in front of him and stared for a moment as if trying to choose his words…or get his emotions under control. When he looked back up, Vaughn figured it was the latter. "Look, this is personal for us. Max is one of our best friends. He's one of the good guys. He always has been. What happened to him was…horrific. If there's any chance of giving him a happy ending out of all of this, I'm going to do it."

"So am I." Steve chimed in before adding, "So will Alex. And so will Kyle."

"We just need to make sure you're completely on board before we go any further." Duke concluded as his gaze shifted from Vaughn to Weiss then back again.

Vaughn took a deep breath. "If we're planning a happy ending here…" He glanced at Weiss. "…then I guess we have our work cut out for us." Weiss nodded in agreement and Vaughn turned his attention back to Duke and Steve. His eyes danced with excitement. "So, tell us…what's the plan?"

tbc...

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 28-Apr-2002 5:09:15 PM ]
posted on 3-May-2002 9:34:27 PM by Ashton
Hey all!!!

Wow. We're done. I mean...there's obviously still a lot that needs to be resolved, but the first leg of this journey is complete. I can't thank you enough for supporting me with your patience and feedback on this story. I have truly loved bringing it to you and hope that you've enjoyed it as much as I have. Now....I KNOW the ending looks like 'the end' but it really isn't. So PLEASE don't hate me. And if you guys even KNEW what I was GOING to do to the end, you'd be like...TOTALLY loving me for not putting you through the torture. *happy* (Btw...if anyone REALLY wants to know what I was going to do, just let me know and I'll tlel ya!) Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Would LOVE to hear what you think, as always!!! *happy*

BehrHugs,
Ashton

p.s. decided to go with Ch 34 since it was sooo long. *happy*


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.

*******Chapter 33A is on page 3******

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

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

~ chapter 34 ~

Kyle didn't remember her voice being so whiny.

Letting out a deep sigh, a pout rippled through McKenna's words. "I just don't understand how traveling with you on business as your personal assistant is going to get me closer to Max."

That's because it won't… With his back to her, Kyle smiled deviously, slipping his fingers along the underside of the bar he was standing at. Finding what he was looking for, Kyle cautiously flipped a switch as to make no sound then continued to pour drinks for both of them. "That's because you've not been around Max the past five years, McKenna. I have."

Donning a sympathetic expression, Kyle turned to hand McKenna her drink as he seated himself in the chair opposite hers. "Look, I know this is hard for you, but I know Max. I know how he feels about things. Trust me on this…what we're doing is the best way for you to re-enter his life."

"How?" McKenna's suspicious eyes narrowed as she took a hesitant sip of her drink.

Kyle leaned back in the plush seat on the company jet. "Well, I figure the more I know about what you've gone through, the more I can help when Max starts asking questions. And believe me, McKenna, once he finds out you're alive he's going to fire them so fast you’re going to wish you really had been hit by a bullet all those years ago."

A wry smile touched her lips. "Are we on a fact-finding mission here, Kyle? Are you trying to make sure I am who I really say I am?"

Kyle grinned. "No. I believe you're who you say you are. But you have to admit, this is all pretty out there. I mean, we did watch you get shot and die. That's a helluva thing to reverse."

"It wasn't me." McKenna allowed sadness to creep into her eyes. "It was some poor soul who was made to look like me. To trick Max and the rest of you."

Kyle's eyes narrowed as he shifted in his seat. "By whom?"

McKenna shrugged, then lied. "I honestly don't know."

Kyle smiled a knowing smile. "Well then, maybe that's something we can try to find out. In the meantime…" Kyle sipped on his drink then placed it to the side as clouds slipped by the jet's windows. Thoughts only a few feet away where, under the jet's full service bar, he had just turned on a tape recorder, Kyle grinned. "…why don't you start from the beginning and tell me what you've been up to the past five years?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Liz blinked. Several times. She leaned back against the door for support as her knees felt like giving out. Her mouth had suddenly turned to cotton and she was getting dizzy from the air that seemed to be seriously lacking as her mind tried to grasp the words Max had just uttered.

It was impossible. He hadn't just asked her to… She blinked again. Had he? Her eyes locked with Max's, her voice squeaking out the barest of whispers. "What…what did you…just say?"

Taking a hesitant step forward, Max gathered Liz's shaking hands in his. His voice softened, as if gentling a scared puppy, trying to coax it from a dark cold corner into the brightness of the sun. "I said, marry me. Be my wife. Let me spend the rest of my life making you happier than you've ever dreamed."

One hand reached up and pushed stray strands of hair behind her ear as his thumb began to gently caress her cheek. His eyes bored into hers making promises in the silence. "I could do it, you know. I could do it if you would just give me the chance."

As the sincerity of Max's proposal came crashing down on Liz, her chest hitched in an effort to desperately hold back an inner sob. Blinking back tears and shaking her head she quickly pulled her hands from his and side-stepped him. Instant denial gripping her, she immediately began to pace in agitation. "Max, this is…this is crazy. You can't possibly mean what you're saying."

With his back to her, Max closed his eyes in expected disappointment. "I mean every word." Gathering courage as he turned to face her, he knew the real battle had just begun. This time, he was fighting for his heart. For his future. For his love. There was no way in hell was going to lose. His eyes sparked with determination. "I mean every word, and you know it."

Biting her lower lip, Liz stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face him. The emotions waiting for him in those midnight depths sent Max's heart racing. There was so much uncertainty in her eyes. So much longing. So much pain. And hope. A world of hope.

She was clearing struggling with herself. An inner war was raging and she simply didn't know which side she belonged on. Yes, no. No, yes. Her heart and head were pulling her in two different directions. She was standing in the middle not knowing which way to turn.

So, Max told her.

"Say yes." As if answering the silent questions pouring through her heart, Max's whisper echoed in the air around them. "Don't listen to your head right now, listen to your heart. Listen, and say yes."

"I…I can't. Max, I…" Liz's gaze faltered as she blinked back unwanted tears and pulled in a shaky breath. Her hand drifted to her stomach, trying to quell the butterflies dancing to their own tune deep inside. There were so many reasons not to be together. So many reasons to say no. Her spoken words reflected her inner thoughts. "Max, there are a million reasons we shouldn't even be talking about this."

"Really? Name one."

"Ok. Alright. We'd drive each other insane. Maybe even end up killing each other." Liz countered quickly, her mind racing to grasp anything and everything that would stop this indistinguishable hope springing up in her heart. The hope that whispered it just might be possible to find love and hold on to it for a lifetime. Then again, this was her lifetime she was talking about. Nothing **that** good had ever happened to her.

Nothing except Jaedan. Angel. Nothing, perhaps, except Max…

"Probably will." Max quipped with an agreeing nod. A sexy smirk sent Liz’s heart on a wild gallop. "That's a risk I'm willing to take. The way I see it, as long as I'm with you, I'll end up in heaven."

"You're unbelievable, you know it." Running her fingers through her hair in utter frustration, Liz mumbled in disbelief as she began to pace again. "God, this is…completely…insane. You…" Liz pointed a finger in the air at Max. "…you, Max Evans, are completely insane."

Max fought to keep an amused grin in check as he watched her wear a path in the floor in front of him. Even in the midst of the most serious battle of his life with the highest stakes he'd ever gambled for, Max still found Liz completely fascinating and totally adorable. Her agitated pacing. The nervous fidgeting of her hands. The way she tucked her hair behind her ear a million times. Literally seeing the wheels in her head turning, he could almost anticipate her next argument. It was liberating knowing someone like that. It was also downright terrifying.

A new thought hit Liz and she stopped pacing once more, her eyes snapping back up to meet his when she spun to face him. "What about…what about all the things I said to you? Everything I've done…"

Ready for her next volley of protests, Max waved an immediately dismissive hand in the air. "Forgiven. Forgotten."

"But how can you…"

"I understand why you did it." He shrugged casually as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "You're scared to death of how I make you feel. I get that…because I was scared too." Max stated simply as he took a small, hesitant step forward. "But not any more." Another casual shrug. Another half smile. Eyes dancing with dreams. "Besides, I don’t intend to start our married life with grudges hanging over our heads."

"We can't get married, Max. I mean…my God we don't…we don’t…" Liz was desperately trying to think of more reasons to say no. Desperately trying to keep an emotional distance. She clutched at anything that might make sense. Unfortunately, she started with the most inane. "…we don't even like each other!"

Despite himself, Max cracked a huge grin and chuckled. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel now, aren't you?"

Liz's chin raised defensively and her eyes flashed fiercely. "Well, we don’t. Max, we've been at each other since day one." She held up one finger in the air to emphasize her point.

"Nooo." Max stretched out the word as his gaze drifted rather thoughtfully. "We've **wanted** to be at each other since day one." A pseudo-innocent gaze met hers head on. "It's commonly called sexual tension; and you and I, my dear…" Max allowed a feral grin to spread over his lips as his eyes heatedly raked over Liz from head to toe before snapping back to her face with devilish delight. He released a satisfied sigh. "…just proved we have it in spades."

Liz swallowed hard and quickly averted her gaze, focusing on anything but the fireworks going off in her body. "Fine." Her word was clipped, a sure sign Max was winning the argument war. A sure sign he was making her body temperature rise with just one heated look. A sure sign that a part of Liz Parker's control was slipping. Which was absolutely infuriating to Liz, mainly because he was barely even trying. Liz crossed her arms in front of her to ward off the effects of any more penetratingly heated looks. Or at the very least, hide the effects. "So, maybe that's all this is about then. Maybe we were attracted. Maybe there has been this…this sense of…"

"Yes?" Max prompted with an amused, upraised eyebrow.

"…of…" Liz squared her shoulders and raised an eyebrow of admission. "Ok, so we made out. Pretty heavily…and to our…mutual satisfaction, I will admit." Despite her best intentions to control every inch of her own body's reactions, a pretty blush spread involuntarily over her cheeks and Max felt a responding tremor race through his body. His hands were burning to touch her again. His fingers itching to slip through hair and feel soft skin yield to his leading. And his lips…his lips were aching to taste her and mark her as his in every way imaginable…

Liz continued, trying to ignore the desire sparking in his eyes. It was damn near impossible with the look on his face. Not the first time in Max Evans' presence did Liz find her entire body flushed with sudden fever and the connection between her mind and her mouth just simply wasn't working, as evidenced by her continued stutter. "It…it doesn't really matter why or…or how it happened. It's…you know…totally out of our system now."

Max rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Ok. Now you're just stalling." He gave her a pointed look. "Look, you can deny it all you want, but we **still** want to be at each other. We had ten glorious minutes of being at each other and the second the opportunity presents itself I have no doubt we'll be at each other once again. And frankly, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see you try to dispute that."

"Ok. Alright." Knowing when to give a point to make a point, Liz raised her hands in the face of imminent defeat. "It's there. I admit it. But see, the difference between us is that you…you think that because it's pretty evident we have this, this…amazing…"

"Explosive. Sizzling. Earth-shattering." Max's eyes twinkled as he tossed the adjectives out with a glib shrug of his shoulders and an expression of utter enjoyment. "Please. Stop me when you disagree."

Liz tossed him an annoyed look then continued as if he'd never said a word, emphasizing her repeated word, gaining a deeper knowing grin from Max. "…**amazing**…physical chemistry that we should…." She swallowed hard as her gaze faltered. "But Max…that is no reason to get married."

Astounded by her apparent lack of logic, Max's eyes flashed with disbelief. "You're kidding me, right? You think I want to marry you because it's pretty damn clear we would have mind blowing sex?" Taking the few strides necessary to reach her, Max firmly took her face in his hands and tilted her face upward till she was looking in his frustrated eyes. The pressure of his fingers emphasized his point. "God, what do I have to do to get through to you? This isn't coming from my libido. It's coming from my heart."

There was a momentary flash of something in Liz's eyes. Max took it as suspicion…as disbelief. After years of nettles, digs and rumors of a wild, ruthless reputation, the one person in the world that Max Evans wanted to truly know the real him was standing there apparently unable to see his soul. He instinctively, defensively responded. "And yes, despite what you've heard, I **do** have a heart."

Liz's eyes instantly softened knowingly. "Oh, Max…honey, I know you do." Instinctively, Liz's hands covered his and her quiet whisper of acknowledgement sent a pang of regret through Max's heart. What he'd mistaken as skepticism and mistrust was recognition and conviction. It was longing mixed with fear. Fear that, on second look, he recognized all too well. Fear that if you give just one tiny inch, you'll never get your heart back.

Quickly shifting gears, Max pushed his frustration in a deep heavy sigh and began again, this time his voice losing its previous edge. Gentle and soft, his eyes earnestly pleaded with her to continue to believe him as he repeated himself. "Look, what I meant to say was…I do have a heart. It dreams…and hurts…and feels, just like yours. And as hard as it may be to believe this, it does know how to recognize true love."

"Max…"

Max swallowed hard, his voice low and soft as his glowing eyes filled with love. "It recognized you."

The gentle breeze of his subtle confession seared Liz's soul. Tears gathered unbidden now, wetting Liz's lashes as her lips trembled helplessly. "What…what are you saying, Max? Are you…are you trying to tell me that you…that you're in love with me?"

A slow, self-conscious smile touched Max's lips as his nervous gaze held hers. Searching. Gauging. Hoping he'd not done the unthinkable and pushed her too far away with his confession. When he spoke, it was hesitantly…teasingly serious. "Gotta love a girl who can put two and two together."

Shaking fingers raised to gently touch Max's lips in a silent request. Liz bit her trembling lower lip as her eyes begged him to not make her play word games or make her guess the meaning behind his revelation. She needed him to say the actual words. To engage all of her senses and let her hear verbal proof of the living, breathing miracle she saw standing in front of her.

The air in Max's lung froze and burst into flames all in the same instant the moment her fingertips touched his lips. Unsure of his ability to speak, Max nodded his affirmation then attempted to fulfil her request. Pulling her fingers from his lips, he kissed the palm of her hand then reverently placed it over his heart, engulfing it by the warmth of his hand as it covered hers. "Yes. Yes, I am in love with you. With every beat of my heart."

Liz Parker’s world spun off its axis.

And Max Evans caught her, mid-fall.

Quickly placing a finger against her lips Max’s voice lowered meaningfully as his eyes patiently regarded her amazed expression. “You don’t have to say anything. Not now. Just…just let me love you. That’s all I want…all I need…”

Darkening eyes full of adoration drifted closed just before his head dipped to gently claim her lips. Despite the sirens going off in her head, Liz instinctively responded, wrapping her arm around Max's waist, her fingers splaying across his back as she flushed her body against his. Tilting her face upward, Liz melted further into Max's tender, lingering kiss without hesitation. She shivered as his fingers slipped through her hair to gently rub against the back of her neck and opened to him as he deepened their kiss to deliciously gentle depths. It wasn't like earlier kisses of heated passion and volcanic fire. It was tender and true. Pure and loving. It was filling up her soul and stealing her heart with each passing second.

When Max finally pulled away, a whimper of protest escaped Liz and she instantly buried her head against his chest, letting out a deep sigh of contentment. Max's eyes closed savoring the feel of her in his arms. He hugged her tighter as his chest rose and fell with a satisfying breath. His lips curled into the most beautiful of smiles when he softly whispered in her ear. "It could be like this all the time, you know. We could be so amazing together. All you have to do is give in to what's going on between us."

Liz reluctantly pulled away from him and stared into his eyes long enough to see the truth of his words. Her heart instantly did a somersault in her chest. It was so clear. So evident. The love in his eyes. The adoration in his voice. Everything in Liz screamed to just throw herself back into his arms and lose every fear and every doubt...every reason not to be with him.

Then those very reasons she wanted so easily to dismiss rained down on her in a thundering torrent. Sending a shiver of fear racing through her body. Causing her heart to instantly freeze with panic and terror. Jaedan. Angel. Max. Chris and the danger he presented to all of them. Flashing in her mind was Kyle's plan to save the life of at least one person she cared about. One person who had admitted he loved her and who she instinctively knew wouldn't let go if he only he knew how she really felt.

She could save him. If only she was strong enough…

Liz sniffed back her tears and looked away. Focusing on his chest, she was actually able to get the words out. "No. No, Max, you're wrong. This isn't… you aren’t…" Pushing herself out of Max's arms she backed up and shook her head. "You have no idea what you are asking. You can’t love me, Max. You don't even know who I am."

Liz's weak protest caused a new smile to ghost Max's lips. His confidence was so unnerving. The truth of his words so life-altering. His gathered her hands in his. "I do know who you are." Max watched as sheer panic raced through Liz's eyes and he hesitated.

A monumental decision was required. To tell her he knew the truth about her past…or not.

He could feel her hands shake and could just imagine the terror slipping through her. His heart instantly broke in two. For the pain she'd suffered in the past. For the walls she'd had to build around her heart just to stay safe. For dreams she'd buried long ago. He ached to tell her the truth. To tell her he knew so much more about her than she ever dreamed.

But telling her would be like stealing more of her life from her. Ripping away her options. Taking away from her the chance to choose who to trust and when. The last thing he wanted to do was force her to face a painful past before she was ready. He know all too well just how devastating that could be. And Max was just selfish enough to want her to come to him with her past. Free and willing. On her own time, in her own way.

He knew she would. It was a truth as real to him as his love for her. She just needed time. So, time was exactly what Max Evans was going to give her…

Though it seemed like a lifetime till he continued, in reality his hesitation lasted only a second. The decision was made to remain silent and Max continued countering whatever suspicions she might have had by using her alias. "I've known you from the start, Kendall. Your passion. Your fearlessness. Your strength." Liz's eyes involuntarily drifted closed when he reached out and touched her face. The pressure of his fingers against her skin burned the truth into her soul. "That amazing heart of yours that you try so hard to hide. The recklessness you fight so hard not to give into."

Max continued when Liz's dark, bright eyes opened to meet his intense gaze. "And you know me. You said it yourself…you know the real Max Evans. Only God knows how that happened, but it did. And now that you do, I can't…I can't just let you walk out of my life."

"Why? Afraid I'll tell the world just how amazing you really are?" It was a whisper that shouted volumes of emotions Liz never intended to let him hear.

"No." Max responded with equal openness. "I'm afraid, without you, I won't be so amazing."

"You're not playing fair." Swallowing hard, Liz shut her eyes against his mesmerizing words. Her sharp intake of breath echoed in the air around them when Max stepped so close to her she could feel his heart beating against hers.

His fingers curled under her jaws in a firm but affectionate grip. Max's response was breathed against her lips as he nuzzled her nose with his and connected their foreheads. "I'm playing for keeps. Fair has nothing to do with it."

Lost in his touch, Liz instinctively tilted her face slightly upward as Max lowered his. Her lips brushed his and sent a million sensations soaring through her. A helpless moan escaped her as Max wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her flush against him while his pliable lips seemed to draw every ounce of emotion from the depths of her hidden, battered heart.

A heart that was strong and fearless. Bold and reckless. A heart that was being jolted awake by the amazingly persistent stubbornness of Max Evans. A heart that could love to infinite depths and embrace with a fierceness that would never let go. Unless she had to…

She never wanted to leave the haven of his arms. The satisfaction of his touch. The soul-searching probe of his kisses. But leaving was inevitable. It was necessary. It was essential…for Max to live...

That one thought drove her to action.

Breaking their kiss and pulling back abruptly, Liz gulped back tears that threatening to overwhelm her as she lowered her head. Her fingers curled into his shirt, gripping it so tightly her knuckles turned white as she shook her head. Her words came out strangled, clear evidence of the battle she was fighting with herself. "Please, Max. Please don't do this to me."

"Do what?" Max loving pushed the hair away from her face and gently tilted her chin upward so he look into her eyes, something she was clearly trying to avoid. "Tell you the truth or make you feel?" He shook his head slightly, determination filtering into his eyes as his penetrating gaze held hers. "I have never lied to you, I'm not about to start now. And making you feel is what I was put on this earth to do. It's what makes me feel alive. Now that I know that…there's no way in hell I'm going to stop."

"You **have** to stop, Max. Don’t you see that?" Forcing herself out of his arms, Liz turned her back on him and walked a few steps away. She stopped just short of the window, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her forlorn gaze focused on a point somewhere in the distant past. Or perhaps, the unmentionable future. A future in which she and Max had a life. A glorious life. A life full of joy and love and family. A life ripped away by violence, blood and death. She squeezed her eyes shut against the visions crashing in her head quickly followed by Max's own words…

I'm playing for keeps. Fair has nothing to do with it.

Now more than ever, so was Liz.

You have to crush his hope, Liz. Or he’ll never let you go…

Kyle's loathsome plan slipped back to the forefront of Liz's mind and she had to swallow hard to dislodge the bile that instantly rose in her throat. Despite the way her heart was constricting with excruciating pain in her chest, Liz now remembered what she had to do. The path she had to follow. The cruelty she had to inflict.

That knowledge chilled her to the bone.

Her words came out listless and icy. "This is what's going to happen…I'm going to walk out of here, Max. I'm going to walk out and we're both going to go back to our lives the way they were. We're going to forget any of this ever happened."

"Impossible." Max tensed as he watched Liz through narrowed eyes.

"Necessary." Liz bit out the word.

"Why?" Max held his breath, hoping upon hope that this was the moment. That she'd find the strength to open up her past. That she'd be able to trust him enough to share her secrets.

Hope died the next instant when Liz spun around to face him. Max's heart fell to the pit of his stomach. He knew that look. He recognized the distant walls quickly rebuilding in her hardening eyes. Her shoulders squaring, her chin raising defiantly and her voice tensing, Max read her body language like a well-worn book. He stiffened his back like a steel rod and prepared for the worst.

"I've been here before, ok? Making monumental decisions that would affect the rest of my life. Caught up in the moment, I didn't think. I rushed ahead and didn't count the cost. And believe me, I've paid for it. Over and over and over again."

"I am not him." Max's statement held a note of loathing for the unnamed man that put pain in Liz’s eyes…a hint of injury at her sudden shift in mood.

Dropping any pretense of not knowing what he was talking about Liz lied through her clenched teeth. "You're pretty damn close." Her eyes flashed with determined fire. "Charming, rich, powerful. He knew exactly what to say and exactly when to say it. I fell for it…hook, line and sinker. It was the worst mistake of my life and I’m not about to make the same mistake again. I will not let impulses rule me. And I will not gamble my future on a whim just because you're a spoiled little rich boy who's bored and needs a new game to play."

Liz heard Max's sharp intake of breath as his eyebrow shot up in surprise at the layer of imposed venom in her voice. In the silence, she could feel his pain. In his eyes, she could see it. When he spoke, she could hear it. "That's what you think this is for me? A game? A…whim?"

"I know that's what this is for you." The moment she saw the injury in his eyes, the tightness in her chest increased. She never knew it would hurt so much to hurt him. Intuitively, Liz Parker knew this was only the beginning a lifetime of that ache.

"You're so wrong." Max shook his head and held out his arms in a take-a-good-look gesture. "This is me. This is my heart and my soul. This is a man telling you that he loves you and he wants to spend the rest of his life proving that to you."

Liz crossed her arms in front of her, desperately trying to keep her heart from leaping out of her chest. Her insides trembled with the force of keeping her emotions pushed to the back of her soul. She forced herself to remain aloof…untouched…cold. She forced herself to lie. "What you say doesn't mean a thing, Max, if I can't trust you. As far as I see, nothing has changed in the last twenty minutes. You're still in love with a woman you can't have and I'm just a convenient substitute."

Max's jaws worked with emotion as his gaze lowered and he tried his best to bite back words that would clearly not help his case. He knew what she was doing. He knew her words contradicted the emotion he'd seen in her eyes only moments before. Not to mention her way her body responded to him, the passion of her kisses. He knew this was her way of protecting herself. And he only knew of only one way to stop her from trying…to lay it all on the line and meet her beyond half-way.

Ignoring her allusion to McKenna, Max focused on a more important issue for him…gaining her trust. "Look, I get that you're not in the same place I am. That I've totally thrown you for a loop by asking you to marry me. Given our brief history, I can see why you're hesitant and you don't know if you can trust what I'm saying or not." His honest gaze met hers. "So, I'll give you whatever you need. If it's to prove myself, I'll do it. Just tell me what to do."

"Max, you just can't…"

Interrupting Liz with an upraised hand, Max continued. "If you need time, I'll give it to you. If it's to get to know me, fine. Let's go somewhere. Just you and me. Away from phones and meetings and…and takeovers and blackmail. We’ll take the time to get to know each other. To see if what's going on with us can last longer than a kiss."

Max took a hesitant step forward. "I mean it. Anywhere you want to go…just name it, and I'll take you there. And there'd be no pressure, ok? No strings. No expectations. We'd be in separate rooms or villas or even hotels…whatever you want. If it's not working for you, just let me know and we're out of there. We go our separate ways knowing we at least gave it a shot."

Liz wavered. Astonishment sealed her lips. She simply had never met anyone like Max Evans. He was nothing short of amazing when he put his heart on the line. Heart being ripped in two at the thought of what she had to let go, Liz swallowed back the overwhelming desire to throw herself in Max's arms and agree to every detail. Instead she responded with agitation and frustration and made for a quick getaway. "You're crazy. This is a complete waste of time…" Grabbing her purse from the table, she started to breeze past Max to head for the door.

Max reached out and grabbed her arm just as she passed him, effectively stopping her from taking another step. He looked down at her, his intense gaze penetrated deep into her soul. His voice was full of desperation, frustration and most of all fear. Fear of losing the best thing that had ever happened to him. "Go ahead and walk away. Run for all I care. It's not going to change the truth and you know it."

Liz stiffened. "And just what truth would that be?"

Passion and conviction weaved through every syllable. Intensity and earnestness whispered to Liz's heart through the silence. "You and I have started something that will never be over. Ever. It began the first day we laid eyes on each other and it's only grown by leaps and bounds ever since. And that terrifies you. It terrifies you because it's genuine. And it's deep. And it's lasting. And you know that for the first time in your life, if you give in to it, you might actually have to be real with someone. You might actually have to start living. And breathing. And feeling everything you were put on this earth to feel."

"Max, I…"

"Marry me.” Max turned her to face him, the words coming out in a heated rush. “Feel it all with me. Be…**alive** with me." In a desperate attempt to hold on to the one thing in Max's life that made it worth living, he raised the stakes the only way he knew would reach her. A challenge. "I dare you to take the chance."

Silence held her captive. Her breathing was more difficult to accomplish. Her eyes filmed once more with tears as they flickered with sudden emotion. Hating herself for what she was about to do, she leveled a challenge of her own. "Who exactly are you asking right now? Me…or Kenna?

Max stiffened perceptibly. His jaw tensed, his eyes took on a sheen of distance. He recovered quickly, but it had been enough to give Liz an edge. She took it and pressed her advantage. "Max? Who are you asking?"

With Liz’s question, Max was instantly back on track. Despite past pains and fears, he wasn't going to be derailed in his quest. It was time Liz Parker understood that. “You know, no matter how many times you say her name, she’s not going to magically appear and give you a reason not to deal with this powerful connection you and I have.” Glancing dramatically around the room, Max cocked an eyebrow. “She isn’t here. You are. That should tell you something.”

"Isn't she?" Liz's pleading gaze met his and her voice was barely a whisper. "I'm not her, Max."

"I know that." Max's gaze softened. The words were clipped but sincere.

"Do you? Do you really? Or are we so much alike that you can't help but see her…feel what you felt when you were with her…"

Max paused, thoughtfully, realizing this wasn't just a ploy to shift his attention. It wasn’t an attempt to wound him. Realizing there was, at least in part, a real fear and insecurity embedded deep inside of Liz's heart, Max cautiously queried her. "You really think I see her every time I look in your eyes?"

Jealous uncertainty flashed in her eyes. "Don’t you?

"God, no." Capturing her face gently in his hands, Max shook his head. "There has never been one second that I've spent with you that I thought about her. Or substituted your face for hers. Or wished she was there with me instead of you."

"Who was she, Max? What exactly did she mean to you?"

"It doesn't matter."

"How can it not?" Incredulity registered in her eyes. "God, Max, you practically crumbled when I just said her name earlier. And now, only a short time later you're asking me to marry you…"

Max gently, but swiftly, turned the tables. "Who exactly was he? The man that broke you. This big mistake of your life you’ve talked about. Tell me about him. His name. Where he is. What he looks like. How he made you feel. What he meant to you…"

"No." Liz instantly pulled away from Max, spun on her heels and walked toward the window. "He…he has nothing to do with this."

"My point exactly." Pursuing her across the distance, Max came to stand behind her so close she could feel the heat of his body engulf her. Placing his hands on her shoulders, Max leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "She is my past, ok? She has nothing to do with what's going on between us right here. Right now."

"But Max…" Liz turned to face him.

"Shhh." Placing a gentle finger against Liz's lips, Max's eyes began to glow with golden light. "The past is the past."

"But what if it isn't?" Every fear Liz Parker had ever feared echoed in her question.

"Then we handle it. Hand in hand. Side by side." A slow smile of love lit Max's eyes till they were glowing with confidence. "I don't want to look back. There's no need. Not when there's so much to look forward to. Together. If you'll just say you'll marry me." Amber eyes pleaded with her. Lips formed words her heart couldn’t resist. "Please. Please just say yes."

Impulsively, unpredictably…Liz’s resistance crumbled into just one tiny word. "Yes."

Stunned, Max blinked uncertainly as a brilliant smile began to spread over his lips. "Yes?"

Biting her lower lip, Liz nodded as if in a mystified daze. Reacting to the elation instantly cloaking Max from head to toe, a radiant smile broke out on Liz’s face and her eyes lit up with a million stars. She found herself repeating words that made her heart so light it threatened to soar from her chest. "Yes, Max. Yes, I'll marry you."

Biting back a shout of joy, Max's eyes brightened with unshed tears as his chest heaved with instant relief. Tenderly cupping her face in his hands, he caressed her skin as if she were the most cherished treasure he'd ever laid eyes on as his sincere, heart-filled gaze held hers. "Thank you. Thank you for gambling on me. I promise you won’t regret it. I swear to God I will spend the rest of my life making sure that you don't."

As his lips gently captured his, Liz Parker's heart ached with so much emotion. So many sensations. She opened her soul to him completely. Drank him in. Melted against him. Tucked this perfect moment deep into the recesses of her memory. A moment where she had followed her heart. The moment she had said yes to true love and for one brief, shining moment in time, everything in her world was right.

And then that moment was gone.

Her mind registered the pain to come. Her heart began to break apart piece by tiny piece. She knew what she was going to do once she was outside Max’s office door and it made her cling to him with a desperation and passion that surpassed anything she’d ever felt before.

As heart beat against heart and souls came face to face, Liz Parker felt her entire body filled with the warmth of Max's love. As tears welling up behind her tightly closed eyelids trickled down her cheeks, she savored his lingering kiss as if it were for the very last time.

She savored it…because it **was** for the very last time
~~~~
“So this is Cinderella, huh?” Sydney Bristow thoughtfully stared down at a black and white photo on top of a stack of papers.

Michael Vaughn nodded toward the open folder in Sydney’s hands. “Yeah. Real name is Liz Parker. Of course, if she agrees to the plan we’ll be using an alias of her choosing.”

“She’s very attractive.” Sydney commented off handedly, glancing up slyly at Vaughn to catch his reaction.

Vaughn’s ready agreement was accompanied with a grin. “Yeah, as Weiss said ‘An A-class babe like that…I certainly wouldn’t kick her out of my…” Vaughn’s quiet reply tightened Sydney’s lips into a thin line and her eyes flashed with a hint of jealousy that Vaughn picked up on rather quickly. His sentence drifted as he tried to come up with another word besides ‘bed’. Unfortunately, the only word that came to mind was the place inside which where they were standing. “…cage.”

Sydney’s eyebrow raised instantly in response.

Fumbling to correct himself, Vaughn’s face began to color. “I…I mean…car.” He cleared his throat as his gaze faltered only missing Sydney’s amused expression by a mere second. Trying to cover a suddenly awkward silence, he gestured toward her file. “So…anyway. She’s apparently very talented as well. Musician. Artist. Dancer…”

Sydney rudely cut off Vaughn’s continued list of Liz’s talents. “Hmmm, yes, I can see she’s very accomplished.”

Vaughn took the not so subtle cue, cleared his throat and snapped into silence.

Scanning Liz’s profile, Sydney’s lips pursed as her brow furrowed with a frown. Ever conscious of Sydney’s moods, Vaughn immediately picked up on the change in her expression. “What’s wrong?”

Sydney glanced up and tossed Vaughn her trademark, dimpled smile. “Oh, nothing. Just thinking, that’s all.”

Vaughn’s eyebrow raised inquiringly as his hazel eyes sought hers without saying a word. Sydney rolled her eyes. “Oh, alright…” She leaned back against the single metal table in the fenced cage located in a warehouse she and Vaughn met in regularly for covert operation discussions. Letting out a sigh, her gaze drifted back to Liz’s folder. “I guess…well, I guess I just find it very sad. One mistake and her entire future is screwed up because of it.”

Vaughn’s gaze shifted knowingly. “You know, now that I think about it, maybe having Liz stay with you isn’t the best idea.”

“Why not?”

His sympathetic eyes met hers. “I just don’t want you to relive all the bad memories. You know…of Danny.”

Sydney tossed Vaughn a grateful smile for being sensitive to her feelings then pushed her long chestnut hair behind her shoulders. “It’s ok, really. The memories don’t…hurt.” Her gaze faltered. “I’m just…”

Taking a deep breath, Sydney opened up to Vaughn who, as usual, soaked in her every word with quiet satisfaction that she trusted him so much with her inner thoughts. “You know, I lost Danny because the man I work for at SD-6 had him killed just because I told my fiance I was an agent. All the dreams of our future, the hopes and the plans, they died along with Danny. But I’m doing something about that now by trying to bring SD-6 down. I’ll live with the guilt of Danny’s death forever. But I’ll also have the memory of our love. And once SD-6 is destroyed, I hope I’ll have a future.”

“You know you will.” Vaughn commented quietly, reassuringly.

Sydney’s grateful smile faded as she cast a glance back at Liz’s silent photo. She continued as Vaughn carefully watched her, listening…understanding. “Liz doesn’t even have that. She married a man who, at best, was a monster. Turning him into the feds made her a target for the rest of her life. Every day she wakes up consciously knowing it could be her last. Knowing her plans, her life, can just disappear in a second. All because of one mistake she made years ago. She has no real future to speak of, Vaughn. Nothing to put her faith in…and very few people she can really trust. On the scale of tragic, her life definitely takes the cake.”

Silence filled the warehouse as Vaughn quietly reflected on Sydney’s view of Liz’s complicated life. Closer to her own past than she might like to admit, he felt as if a part of Sydney could understand a part of Liz perhaps like no one else in the world could. He acknowledged that verbally. “So, can I take back what I said earlier?” His eyes met hers as a slow hint of a smile touched his lips. “I can’t think of a better person for Liz Parker to know right now. Your lives are remarkably the same, despite the details. I really think…”

“…we could help each other?” Sydney finished for him as her eyes danced with agreement.

“Yeah.” Vaughn nodded with a smile.

Sydney returned his smile and held his gaze a moment. “Yeah, I think so too.”

“Good.” Snapping back into planning mode, Vaughn stuffed his hands in his pockets. “All we have to do now is wait on a call from Alex. If she says yes, it’s a go. I’ll pick her up at the airport and bring her here to discuss the overall protocol.”

“Ok.” Sydney pushed herself away from the desk and handed Liz’s file back to Vaughn. “Just call when she’s ready for me to pick her up and take her to her new home.”

Vaughn reached for Sydney’s hand to stop her before she turned to go. “Sydney…thank you for doing this.”

Sydney shrugged with a smile. “You know, Vaughn, I can’t shake this feeling that before this is all over, it will be us thanking Liz Parker.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tear tracks staining her cheeks and tears swimming in her eyes, Liz Parker slipped into the back of the limo waiting just outside the building. Just like Kyle said it would be. Slamming the door behind her, she shifted over on the leather seat as darkness surrounded her. Without looking up, Liz swiped her tears away, took a shaky breath then pushed a button on the console and spoke to the driver. "Airport, please."

The limo began to move. Then a voice spoke out of the shadows. "Where to once you get there?"

Liz started at the familiar voice, her head snapping up as she tensed. "Alex!"

“Liz."

A knowing, mirthless half-chuckle escaped her as she shook her head. She leaned back against the leather limo seat and relaxed though tears were still dangerously close to falling. "So you know too."

Alex shrugged his shoulders. "Who do you think told him?"

"And Max? Did you tell him too?" The question was asked before Liz thought of the consequence of Alex's answer. She held up her hand just as he opened his mouth. "Wait. I don't want to know."

Alex shut his mouth and nodded. He eyed Liz carefully, unsure of exactly how to accomplish his self-appointed mission. She looked like she'd just been through a heavy squall and had barely made it out alive. Her eyes were dull and lifeless. Sad lines around her lips pulled them downward into a seemingly permanent frown. She seemed older. Drained of life. Wiser than she ever wanted to be.

At least the plan he’d come to offer gave her a chance to smile again. He hoped…

Liz opened the floor for discussion as hard sarcasm tinged her voice. "So. Kyle send you to make sure I carried through with the grand plan? Didn't have second thoughts? Didn't give Max the hope he was looking for?"

"Actually, Kyle has no idea I'm here." Alex answered quietly. Seeing the confusion he'd expected in Liz's eyes, Alex let out a sigh and shifted his gaze to the world swiftly passing as the limo took them closer to their destination. "Things are happening, Liz..."

"Yeah, I got that one a while back." Liz responded as she crossed her arms in front of her, a sure sign she wasn't sure she was going to like what she was about to hear. "So, these things…the fact Kyle doesn't know you're here…" Liz waited till Alex's eyes met hers. "Are you trying to tell me I can't trust Kyle?"

Alex shook his head. "No, I'm not. You can trust Kyle as far as what Kyle knows."

"But…" Liz prompted.

"Kyle doesn't know everything." Alex finished for her.

"I see." Licking her lips, Liz only took a moment to put two and two together. "And let me guess. Max knows even less than Kyle, doesn't he?"

"Yes." Alex confirmed.

"Why?" Shrugging her shoulders, Liz pursed her lips in thought. "Granted, I have no idea what's going on, but it seems pretty clear to me that you're all bending over backwards to protect each other. Why don't you just come out with it? Tell each other what's going on. It seems you'd have a better chance against whatever this thing is if you were in it together. Full disclosure and all."

A smile haunted Alex's lips and he leaned forward, his eyes trained on Liz's face. "Is that why you've never told Jaedan who her real mother is?"

Liz's gaze shifted and she swallowed hard. Alex continued. "Sometimes to protect the people you love, you need to hide things. Hide…people. Which is pretty much what you're getting ready to do. For Jaedan. For Barbara." Alex paused. "For Max."

Pulling in a deep breath, Liz locked eyes with Alex. "So, Mr. Whitman, what is your idea?"

"Forget the plans Kyle and you made." Alex started. He indicated a laptop lying by side. "I've got everything we need to set you up in a new identity in a new place. Somewhere only you and I will know about." Alex paused the threw Liz a crooked smile. "Well…you, me and the contacts I've already made on your behalf."

Her gaze shifted to the laptop at his side. "What do you have in mind?"

"L.A. I've a friend in the CIA named Michael Vaughn. He's mainly a desk guy, but handles field agents…"

"Handles?" Liz raised an eyebrow at the term.

"Yeah. He gives them their assignments. Makes sure they don't shoot each other on accident, start WWIII or set off any nuclear bombs. You know…all the simple stuff." Alex winked at Liz and received a hesitant smile in reply.

"Anyway, Vaughn has this agent. Her name is Sydney Bristow. Her roommate just recently got married and Syd is looking for a new roomie. Now, since Syd's gone a lot on missions, its not like you'd actually see her a lot. And when you do, well…from what Vaughn says she's totally cool. And you're totally cool. So, you shouldn't have any problems getting along. And you'll have the added benefit of being under CIA protection 24/7."

Liz held up her hand. "Wait. What…you mean, like I'll have a guard?"

Alex chuckled. "God, no. But you'll have instant access to their resources because of Sydney and Vaughn. Mike promised to be real hands on with your case for me."

Liz nodded in understanding. "Ok…so, what would I do for a job?"

Alex took a deep breath, relieved that Liz wasn't completely rejecting his idea. Yet. "Well, another friend of mine owns a record label. She has a young star that's getting ready to go on tour soon. Her name is Dani Reese. Thing is, this girl is only fifteen. Pretty critical time for…well, just about everything in her life. She has problems with her mother who is the ultimate show biz mom. And her manager, who is a perfect buffer for the two, needs to take a leave of absence for health reasons."

Alex handed Liz a folder with the young pop star's profile. "Now, the tour is happening in another month or so. Either she gets a fill in for her manager or the tour is off completely."

"Of course, having been in ‘the biz’ yourself, you can understand how that's not very agreeable to mommy dearest. The revenues lost on this would be devastating. But Dani is not looking forward to spending 24/7 with her mom and no one to back her up so the whole thing is totally up in the air right now."

"In other words, you need a baby sitter for the diva."

Alex chuckled and shrugged. "Name it whatever you like. It'll help Dani get her tour underway and…" Alex's voice lowered seriously. "…as for you…if you choose to go on tour with her, a moving target is…"

"Harder to hit." Liz finished for Alex.

"Right."

Thinking of the length of imposed absence from Jaedan's life, Liz pursed her lips. "And if I choose not to go on tour?"

Alex shrugged. "You don't. This is strictly temporary with the option of staying with the label in another capacity or moving on. The choice will really be up to you." Alex pulled the laptop onto his lap and fingered it thoughtfully. "It's all set, Liz. All I would need is your ok and the name you want to use from here on out."

"And if I don't like this plan of yours?"

"You go on with Kyle's plan. Risk being exposed in a matter of weeks, if you're lucky you might get a month or two. I can't guarantee your safety where Kyle wants to place you." Resolution sifted through Alex's eyes. "And if there is one thing I have to do, Liz…it is keep you safe."

Liz's gaze snapped to Alex's face at the seriousness of his tone. "Why? Why is this so important to you?"

"Because its important to Max."

"He thinks I'm in danger because of him, doesn't he?"

"He has reason to."

Liz swallowed hard. Her gaze faltered to focus on the part of the leather seat she was nervously fingering. "Well, what if I don't believe that? What if I choose to go back to his office right now and tell him the truth…spill the entire plan. Tell him what my intentions are and how I don't want to go through with them. How I don’t want to run or hide anymore…"

"Liz…" Alex's tone of voice stopped Liz's rambling wishes cold. He refused to meet her eyes a clear indication he was struggling with a decision. Apparently, he made it. His gaze met hers. "McKenna's alive."

Liz felt as if a knife had been shoved into her heart. She felt her mouth turn to cotton and her muscles lose all strength. Unconsciously, she slumped further into the seat as her eyes closed in pain. "Does Max…" She stopped her own question as a wry smile touched her lips. "Of course, he doesn't. If he did he would have never asked me to…"

Shifting gears faster than Alex could think, Liz kept her gaze averted. "I take it she wants him back."

"Yes." The one word answer held so much more meaning than Alex could ever share. He wanted so much to tell her the entire truth, but too much was riding on that damned ‘need to know basis’ every agent was bound to. Too much was depending on her ability to let Max go.

"I see." Watching Liz Parker was like watching an already deflated balloon get stuck with a straight pin. Her eyes filled with tears Alex couldn't fully understand and her hands began to shake even though she held them tightly in her lap. When she finally spoke, a million emotions trembled through the question. "Was he…happy…with her?"

"Liz…I don't think this is something I should…" Trying to keep Liz's pain to a minimum and his lies to even less, Alex began to protest.

Impatient, demanding eyes snapped up to meet his. "Dammit, Alex. I'm walking away from the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have the right to know if he's going to be happy."

Alex swallowed hard at the protective gleam in Liz's eyes. And the love hidden deep within, prompting her defensive commanding reaction. So, Alex answered the only way he knew how. "The boy that loved the girl he knew…yes, he was happy. But Liz…Max isn't that boy anymore."

Her gaze shifted to the world speeding by outside the darkened window. "He asked me to marry him."

Alex's eyes widened at Liz's impromptu revelation. "He did what? What did you say?"

Liz swallowed hard, her voice only a whisper. "I said yes."

"Yes?" Alex pulled in a shocked breath. "But…but how could you? Knowing what we're about to do…knowing you're getting ready to disappear on him…"

A wry, humorless smile touched her lips. "Kyle wanted Max's hope to be broken." Squeezing her eyes shut prompted new tears to fall. "This will do it."

Alex sat in stunned silence as he watched Liz Parker show the first signs of falling apart right in front of him. Bowing her head, she covered her face with her hands as pent up tears freely fell. She was trying to desperately not to lose control and the shaking of her shoulders was evident she was quickly losing the battle. Alex blinked back his shock before shaking himself into action. Slipping onto the seat next to Liz, he wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulder and pulled her into him as she released her inner pain against his shoulder.

Once her tears had subsided, Alex handed Liz a tissue. “God, Liz, I am so sorry.” It sounded so inadequate. So…lame. Her entire world was being split apart, turned upside down and shifted every which way. And her tears were obviously just the tip of the iceberg. Alex instinctively knew Liz Parker’s pain was just beginning.

Wiping her eyes in frustration, Liz’s voice came out strangled. “Forget sorry. Just…” Pleading dark eyes full of regret turned on Alex. “…keep him safe. Keep him safe and…and happy. Promise me, Alex. Promise me that all of this won’t be in vain.”

He covered her hand with his and squeezed it reassuringly. Blue eyes met hers as Alex nodded his head solemnly. “I promise you, Liz. He’ll be safe…” Making an unspoken promise to himself to reunite his best friend with the woman currently wrapped in his arms, Alex’s next words held extra meaning. “Safe…and very, very happy. I’ll make sure of it. Even if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

Fighting back sparkling tears swimming in her eyes, Liz nodded. “Ok. Ok, I’ll do it. Just tell me what I have to do.”

Patting her shoulder compassionately, Alex attempted a reassuring smile. “All the hard stuff is done. All you have to do now is pick a name.”

“Ok…” Gaze shifting from Alex’s face, Liz asked an unexpected question. “What was Diane Evans’ maiden name?”

Alex’s brows furrowed wondering where she was going with her questioning. “Uh…I think it was Harris.”

“Harris. And his sister was…” Liz rolled the names over in her mind before she turned to Alex with a wry smile. “Rachel Harris. That’s…beyond perfect…”
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Barbara slipped into Max's office to find him standing at his large picture window staring down at the street. The intensity of his gaze contradicted his pose. One hand stuffed into his pocket, his shoulder leaning casually against the window, his other hand lightly touching the glass. As if he were trying to connect with something…or someone…beyond his glass cage.

She stepped up behind him and waited till he acknowledged her presence by inclining his head in her direction. His eyes remained fixed on the street below.

"She was crying when she left." Barbara stated softly.

Max's hand clenched against the window and he swallowed hard. "I know."

Taking a deep breath and an even deeper risk, Barbara pushed her point. "Max…you’re not really going to let her leave are you? I mean, it’s rather obvious how much the two of you…”

“I asked her to marry me, Barbara.” Max’s announcement stopped Barbara’s speech cold as her mouth dropped open.

After seconds of silence had passed, Max glanced back at Barbara. His expression registered amusement before he turned back to the window with a teasing command. “You can shut your mouth now. She said yes.”

Barbara’s mouth closed as confusion clouded her eyes. “Well, that’s…that’s wonderful, but…” Trying to gauge Max’s unreadable expression, Barbara asked the one question she couldn’t ignore. “….Max, if she said yes why was she cry…”

Max cut her off with a cryptic reply. “Because she loves me.” Shaking his head in disbelief, Max swallowed hard as his eyes lit up with so much love it took Barbara’s breath away. “She loves me enough to do anything for me.”

Still completely lost in Max’s enigmatic answers, Barbara let out a sigh. “Well, you’re not really going to let her leave you like that, are you?”

"Yes. I am." Max stated in a matter of fact voice as his gaze shifted up the street as if he were watching a dream disappear. Barbara almost missed the whispered promise he made not only to himself, but to the woman slipping away from him in the limo miles below. “I am…for now.”

Pulling in a deep breath, Max forced a smile on his face and turned to face Barbara. The smile quickly broadened to genuine depths and his eyes began to twinkle. “Well, what are you standing there for? We’ve got work to do.”

Barbara blinked and glanced around her, slightly unnerved by his sudden shift of mood. Something clearly wasn’t quite…right. And yet Max was looking every bit the part of a man who had just been handed the greatest treasure in the world. “What uh…what exactly are we…”

Max chuckled before he flashed Barbara a boyish grin. “You’re worse than my mom at times, Barbara. Get your notepad and pen. We have a wedding to plan….”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Casually dressed, Michael Vaughn stood in the L.A. airport terminal the next day and searched each face as passengers emerged from the long tube connecting commercial flights to the city of glitter and gold.

He tapped his foot impatiently as the steady stream of people slipped by him and began to disperse. Becoming uneasy when the waiting area began to empty, Vaughn’s started to move toward the corridor, his hazel eyes on a vigilant search. Catching sight of a woman out of the corner of his eye, Vaughn stopped short and turned in her direction.

Even if he hadn’t seen her picture, he would have been able to recognize her from Alex’s description alone. Unforgettable. That’s what Alex had said she was. Vaughn understood why.

Nervously biting her lower lip and tightly clutching a bag in front of her, sad dark eyes roamed the room till they connected with his. A slender hand reached up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. A cautious smile touched her lips.

Vaughn found himself responding with a smile of his own. Before he knew it, his feet had begun to move in her direction. Once reaching her, Vaughn’s hazel eyes danced with admiration. Lowering his voice he used the code word agreed upon when meeting. “Cinderella?”

She released a breath she’d been unconsciously holding as she nodded. “Yeah.” She leaned in close to him and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Though I have to admit, I have no idea how I got that code name.”

Vaughn chuckled. “Didn’t Alex tell you?” Glancing around dramatically, Vaughn lowered his voice too. “You’re a princess in disguise.”

A hint of an embarrassed smile haunted her lips though her eyes took on a sadness so deep even the most oblivious person couldn’t have missed it. “Too bad Prince Charming wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Didn’t you know…every princess has her prince. Yours will find you.” Vaughn commented quietly, instinctively knowing Liz Parker’s Prince Charming had a name. And that name was Max Evans. He flashed her a smile and nodded toward the exit. “In the meantime, I’m Michael Vaughn. You can call me Mike. And what exactly are we supposed to call you?”

Liz fell into step next to Vaughn, her eyes brightening for the first time as she tried out her new name. “Rachel. My name is Rachel Harris and I just have to say, Mike…I’ve always wanted to live in L.A…”

The end


(the sequel will be called "Rope the Wind")

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 3-May-2002 9:41:26 PM ]