posted on 5-Feb-2002 7:57:05 AM
Title: The Song of Soloman
Author: Mikyla
Rating: NC-17, possibly R. I can't figure this wonky system out.
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine. Goddammit. Neither are the songs. No infringement was intended.
Summary: M/L. This is an AU fic. Max is not an alien, just a hottie. Liz Parker lives with her stepfather and mother on a huge estate. Max Evans is the son of their gardener. They become friends...Hey! I'm going to give the whole story away. Read it to find out what happens.

Author's note: Feedback please!!! You can't tell if anyone's reading your story without it. And it makes it harder to write it. The title comes from a song by Kate Bush. I'm including the lyrics, call it setting the mood. Whatever, I love the song.

The Song of Soloman, the song of everyone
Who walks the path of the solitary heart
The soul cries out, hear a woman singing

Don't want your bullshit, yeah, Just want your sexuality
Don't want excuses, yeah, Write me your poetry in motion
Write it just for me, And sign it with a kiss

Mmm, just take any line, "Comfort me with apples
For I am sick of love, His left hand is under my head
And his right hand doth embrace me
This is the Song of Soloman, Here's a woman singing

Don't want your bullshit, yeah, Just want your sexuality
Don't want excuses, yeah, Write me your poetry in motion
Write it just for me, And sign it with a kiss

And I'll do it for you
I'll be the Rose of Sharon for you, I'll do it for you
I'll be the Lily of the Valley for you, I'll do it for you
I'll be Isolde or Marian for you, I'll do it for you
I'll come in a hurricane for you
I'll do it for you


Part One

Liz Parker smiled happily when the huge gates opened, and the car started traveling down the long drive way. She was finally home for the summer. It seemed like she'd been away for years, not just months. She looked up towards the huge house and saw her mother standing on the front steps. The car pulled to a slow stop and Liz jumped out.
"I'm so glad to see you!" her mother cried, running over and enveloping Liz in a warm hug.
Liz returned the hug, tears stinging her eyes. For all her mother's faults, Liz missed her terribly while she was away. They pulled apart and Liz turned her mother towards the house. She turned around to make sure the driver was bringing in her bags, and she saw for the first time the young man chopping hedges in the front garden. Her heart stuttered, and her breath shortened. Max. She gazed longingly at his naked back, and sighed. She tore her gaze away from him before her mother noticed, and looked at the driver. She turned back when she saw he was getting her bags out of the trunk, and she smiled at her mother.
"I want to hear all your news," she said to her.

Later that afternoon, Liz wandered around aimlessly in the garden. She'd caught up with all her mother's gossip, and gone upstairs to unpack her bags before coming out here. She was always more at ease in the wildness of the garden than she was in the house. Everything in there was so....organised, Liz thought sourly. She preferred the freedom of the huge grounds on the estate. A person could get lost in here if they wanted to.
"Welcome home," a quiet voice said behind her.
Liz turned around slowly to face him. She felt her breath catch the same way it always did, and she felt like crying. It was so unfair that he could still make her feel this way after what had happened last summer.
"Thank you," she said without smiling. "It's good to be back. How have you been Max?"
He nodded. "Fine."
"And your father?" Liz said politely.
"He's fine," Max told her. "Looking forward to his retirement."
"I'm glad," she said sincerely.
Silence fell between them and Liz could feel the tension building.
"You look good," Max said finally.
Liz laughed with humor. "You and I both know you don't mean that."
"How long are you going to punish me for what happened?" Max said harshly.
"I've been at boarding school Max," Liz said coldly. "How exactly have I been punishing you?"
"Did you get my letters?" Max asked her. "I wrote to you every week, the way we always have. You never wrote back."
Liz shrugged. "I've been busy."
It was a blatant lie, and they both knew it. But Max said nothing. Liz sighed tiredly.
"I've been out here long enough," she said quietly, hurting. "If there's nothing else you want to say, I'm going to go inside."
She waited, but he remained quiet, and she turned around and left without saying goodbye. If she had of turned around, she would have been shocked at the raw need in Max's eyes just before he closed them.
"I missed you," he whispered into the air around him, wishing he had the courage to say it to her face.

Liz walked back into the house blindly, tears shimmering in her eyes. When she got back into the safety of her room she let them fall. How had they come to this? she wondered desperately to herself. When had everything gone to pieces. But she knew the answer to that. Lying down on her bed, she closed her eyes, and the past crept up and swept her away.

Part Two


Liz wandered around the huge gardens, keeping the big house in sight so she didn't get lost. She didn't want to be inside anymore, where everyone kept looking at her with sympathetic eyes. Everything still felt too wrong, hurt too much. She heard a sound coming from the other side of the hedge right beside her, and she followed it curiously. She rounded the huge bush, and found a boy hacking away at the other side.
"Hello," she said cautiously.
The boy let out a loud yell and turned around, holding his shears in front of him. He spotted her standing at the other end of the hedge and frowned.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack!" he yelled.
Liz tried her best to climb into the hedge. "I'm sorry."
"I could have cut myself in half with my own shears," he told her, snipping them together sharply.
Liz looked at him doubtfully. "You can't cut yourself in half."
He stopped to think about it for a moment, then nodded, relieved. "You're right. Still, don't scare me like that again."
"I won't," Liz promised. "I'm sorry."
"You must be Elizabeth," he said, his mouth curving in a friendly smile. "My Dad told me you would be coming today. I'm Max."
"How do you do." Liz said politely, as she'd been taught.
"How do I do what?" Max said with a confused frown.
Liz frowned too. "I don't know."
They stared at each other for a while, pondering this great mystery, then Max shrugged.
"Do you live here?" Liz asked.
Max nodded. "My Dad's house is behind all those trees there. That's where I live."
Liz's small lip quivered.
"I don't have a Dad," she said with the blunt honesty of youth. "He died."
"I know," Max said, his voice surprisingly gentle for one so young. "I'm sorry. My Mum died too. But you have a new Dad now."
"He's not my Dad!" Liz cried fiercely. "My mother just married him. I don't know why."
"She must like him a lot," Max guessed. "And now you get to live in this nice house, and have all these nice things, and be my friend."
Liz wasn't interested in the house or the things. But she wanted a friend.
"Can I really be your friend?" she said shyly.
Max nodded. "Yes. Because we both live here, and we will be seeing each other all the time, and because your dad died, and so did my Mum. I think that makes us friends."
Liz thought about all this, then smiled.
"I think we will be friends," she agreed. "And now, because you are my friend, I want you to call me Liz. Just Liz."
"What's wrong with Elizabeth?" Max asked her.
Her little nose wrinkled. "I just don't like it. All my friends from before always just called me Liz."
"Then I'll call you Liz," Max said, nodding. "And you can call me Max, 'cause it's pretty short anyway, and you can't take any letters away."
Liz giggled, nodding. She heard her mother calling her, and she turned quickly.
"I have to go," she told him. "I'll come and see you tomorrow."
"Just come back here," Max told her. "I'll wait."
Liz flashed a smile at him over her shoulder and ran for the house, her spirits lifted by the encounter. Over the dinner table that night, Liz excitedly recounted her meeting with Max. Her mother seemed pleased for her, but her new stepfather, Edward, frowned.
"I don't want you spending too much time with the help Elizabeth," he informed her.
Liz frowned in confusion. "What's 'the help'?"
"Those are the people who work for your stepfather," her mother explained.
"But his name is Max," Liz said, still confused. "Not 'the help'."
Her stepfather simply repeated what he'd said, and Liz knew she wasn't to argue. She couldn't have known that everything would fall apart, and there would come a day when she wished she'd never spoken to the little boy by the hedge.


Liz dressed for her birthday party very carefully, aware of a breathless kind of anticipation. Tonight was the night. She was finally going to tell Max how she felt about him. She swept her hair up to sit on top of her head, and pulled pieces of it out to frame her face gently. She ran a critical eye over her dress again. Her mother had presented her with it this morning, and Liz knew it was perfect for her plans. The red silk clung to her nicely, and it made her look older than her actual 16 years. She heard footsteps outside her bedroom door, and then a soft knock.
"Liz?" her mother inquired.
"Your guests are arriving dear."
Liz ran one last quick glance over herself, and nodded. She took a deep breath, sent a quick prayer up to her Dad, and walked out the door.

Liz and Max walked quietly through the gardens, content for the moment to just wander aimlessly around. The party had gone well, but both of them were happier where they were. Coming across one of the many benches on the estate, Max sat down. Liz joined him, and the two of them stared up at the sky.
"I don't think Edward was impressed that you invited me to your party," Max said, finally breaking the easy silence.
"Edward isn't impressed with anything I do lately," Liz said with a weary shrug. "But I don't care. I wanted you there."
"I need to talk to you about something Liz," Max said gravely.
Liz looked at him, at his serious face, and smiled.
"I have to talk to you about something too," she said a little breathlessly.
Max gazed at her intently, then gestured with his hand. "You first."
Liz tried to think of what she so desperately wanted to tell him, had wanted to tell him for years, but the words wouldn't come.
"Liz?" Max said softly.
Liz looked at him again, and finally gave up trying to think of what to say. She leaned over instead, and gently pressed her mouth to his. He stayed perfectly still for a moment, as if in shock, then slowly his arms came up and cradled her. He ran his tongue over her lips, and Liz opened them for him. The kiss went on and on and on, and Liz's head was swimming by the time they came up for air.
"I love you Max," she whispered. "I've always loved you."
He leaned over and kissed her again, and before Liz knew it she was lying on her back, with Max looming above her. She gazed up at him, and the trust glowing in her eyes bought Max to his senses. He sat up abruptly, and Liz frowned in confusion.
"What the hell are you doing?" Max said harshly, still trying to get his teenage body under control.
"I...I thought we were going know," Liz said shyly, gesturing around her.
"Decided it was time to see what it feels like to sleep with the hired help?" Max said harshly.
Liz felt all the blood leave her face, and her mouth opened and closed uselessly for a moment.
"No," she said finally. "I told you..I love you Max."
"Get over it."
Liz's eyes widened, and she scrambled off the bench. "What are you doing?"
"What did you think was going to happen out here Liz?" Max said harshly, the look on her face ripping at him. "We'd have sex, then get married and live happily ever after. Come on, your not that naive."
Liz shook her head in denial. This wasn't happening. This wasn't Max.
"Go back inside," Max said tiredly. "We'll just forget all this."
Liz straightened her spine and stared at him coldly. "No, I won't forget it. I don't know what just happened here, but I know I don't deserve it. Whatever problems you suddenly have with being my friend are yours Max Evans. I don't care about them, and I don't want to hear about them. From now on you stay away from me."
Max felt a panic unlike any he'd ever felt before rush through him. Couldn't she see he was doing this for her own good? When she turned away he grabbed her arm.
"Liz.." he began.
"Get your hand off me," she said icily. "Or I'll have you fired."
Max let her go reluctantly, and she walked away quickly. He watched her go until he couldn't see her anymore, then he turned towards his father's house at the back of the estate. Liz would understand eventually, he thought desperately. They'd be friends again. Then he could go back to loving her without her knowledge, and without ever having to worry about what his love could mean for him, his father, and the life they had built themselves here.
Time would prove him wrong. Liz never understood.

Part Three

Liz heard the phone ringing inside her apartment and she hurriedly unlocked the door and threw it open. She ran down the short hallway and grabbed the phone up off the cradle.
"Hello," she said breathlessly.
There was silence on the other end, and Liz frowned.
"Hello," Liz repeated.
It was a voice she'd tried hard to forget, but she'd still recognize it in her sleep, even though she hadn't heard it in years. Her keys dropped from her suddenly lifeless fingers, and she gripped phone tightly.
"Yeah it's me," he said quietly.
When he said nothing more, Liz chose to fill the silence instead of just standing there waiting.
"What do you want?" she asked him. "How did you get my number?"
"Your mother gave it to me before she and Edward left on their cruise," he told her. "I nedded to call you tell you..."
Liz had never heard him sound this lost before and, despite everything that had happened, her sympathies rose and her voice softened.
"What's wrong Max?"
"My Dad died," he said shakily. "Yesterday and I...I'm not sure what I'm supposed to..I don't know what to do Liz!"
She could hear the helpless tears in his voice and nothing, not what had happened that night, or all the years between when they hadn't spoken, mattered. She did a quick mental review of her options and made a decision.
"I can be home by tonight," she told him in a reassuring voice. "I'll leave right now. I'll be there soon Max. You just hang on until I get there."
"Thank you Liz," Max said gratefully.
Liz gave him more reassurance before she hung up and dialled the biology lab she worked for. Less than an hour later she had a week off work and her bags packed and she was on her way home.

Liz pulled into the gates and drove up to the house. She could see Max waiting for her on the front steps, and she wondered how long he'd been standing there. She hadn't called ahead in case she woke the house, but he was out here anyway. She pulled to a stop and turned off the car. She took a huge breath to prepare herself for the coming meeting, and opened the door. Max held his hand out, and she placed her hand in his sdo he could help her out. He pulled her out of the car and straight into his arms. She held him tightly while he shook.
"We were pulling weeds and he just fell," Max whispered into her hair. "I had to leave him alone to call an ambulance. Maybe I shouldn't have left him alone."
"It sounds like he had a heart attack Max," Liz said softly, stroking his hair. "There is nothing you could have done. Staying with him wouldn't have helped."
Max nodded, turning his head until it rested in her neck. Liz shivered when she felt his warm breath, and pulled away before she did something really stupid. Max looked down at her for a long moment, then let her out of his arms.
"I'll get your bags," he told her.
"No," Liz said quickly. She didn't want him doing anything for her while she was here. "I'll get them later. Come inside and keep me company. I want to know what my mother has been up to since I left."
Without saying a word, it was understood that they would not mention what had happened. Liz made him sit down at the table in the small kitchen, and she made them both coffee. For the rest of the night they talked about things that weren't of any great importance, but that made them both feel a little better. Liz hadn't really had time to think about how she felt about the death of Max's father, but now that she was here she was grieving. She had been closer to Max's father than she had ever been to her step-father, and she had known him longer than her real father.
"Have you made funeral arrangements yet?" Liz asked, resenting the necessity of it.
Max nodded. "The funeral is in two days. We have no family, and all of Dad's friends work on the estate, so there's no reason to wait."
"That's a good idea," Liz told him.
"I just want to get it over with," Max said tiredly. "Start getting everything back to normal."
Liz nodded. The huge clock in the parlour announced the hour, and she yawned. Max got up slowly.
"I should go," he said reluctantly. "You're tired."
"It was a long drive," Liz said. "And I still have to unpack."
Max didn't want to let her go. "I'll help you with your bags."
Liz was too tired to argue. She let him follow her out to the car, and bring her bags into the house. She lead him upstairs and into her bedroom without thinking. They put the bags down, and Liz turned around to smile at him gratefully. The smile faded when she realised where they were, and that Max was staring at the bed.
"I've never actually been up here," Max murmured. "I was allowed into the bedroom you used to have downstairs, but not this one."
Liz almost told him he could have strolled in here anytime he wanted and she'd have been waiting, but she stopped herself.
"It was like I graduated some secret class," Liz said with a reminiscent smile. "My mother came into my room downstairs one night and told me I was now allowed to sleep upstairs. I always wondered why they didn't just give me this room when I first moved in here."
"Edward's a little weird," Max said with a small smile.
"Amen," Liz said with a chuckle.
"I should go," Max said, but he made no move to leave.
Liz stared at him, and a heavy tension filled the room. She said nothing.
"Liz?" Max said quietly, coming towards her slowly. "I said I should go. I'll go if you want me to."
Liz looked up at him. She understood he was offering her everything she'd ever wanted, for as long as she was here.
"Do you want me to stay?" Max asked her.
Liz nodded.
"I want you to stay," she admitted.
Max leaned towards her.
"So you'd better go," she finished.
Max sighed, then nodded. He turned around and left, closing the door behind him softly.

posted on 5-Feb-2002 7:58:00 AM
Part Four

Liz stood next to Max in the rain, her hand clasped in his. He had taken it as they had got out of the car, and he hadn't let it go through the short but lovely ceremony. Everyone else had moved away fron the grave, preferring to return to the house and get out of the weather. Max hadn't moved yet, and Liz wasn't going to leave him alone. Finally he heaved a sad sigh, and turned towards the waiting car, still holding her hand. Liz trailed along behind him, lost in her own thoughts. She was still pondering the strange events of last night. She still didn't know where it had come from. She was more confused about the situation with Max than she had ever been.
"Liz, while we're alone, I just want to thank you for coming home for me," Max said sincerely, looking down at their entwined hands. "I know I had no right to ask..."
"You didn't ask," Liz interrupted him. "I decided. I know you would do the same thing for me."
"That's a little different Liz," Max said with weary humour. "I live in your backyard."
Liz chuckled. "You know what I mean."
Max nodded. He was still staring at their hands, and Liz tugged at her fingers. He looked up at her, stared intently at her for a moment, then let her go. She put her hands in her lap and flexed them to stop them tingling.
"I want to talk to you about what happened," Max said suddenly.
"What happened?" Liz queried, although she knew very well what he was talking about.
"Last night," Max told her. "And the night of your birthday. I want to talk about it."
"I don't," Liz said firmly.
"No Max," she interrupted. "Not today. Maybe not ever."
"But I'd like the chance to explain," he persisted. "There are things you don't understand."
They pulled into the gates of the house, and Liz waited until the car had stopped in front of the house before she spoke.
"Max, I came home because we were friends once, and I wanted to be here for you. But, no matter what happened last night, we're not friends now. I'll be leaving at the end of the week."
She quickly jumped out of the car before he could say anything else, and hurried into the house.

Liz spent the rest of the week helping Max settle all his father's affairs, and before she knew it she was leaving the next day. As she stood in front of her mirror that night, she wondered what would happen to her and Max after this. He had tried numerous times to get her to talk about what had happened, and she had always avoided the subject. She knew he was getting frustrated, but she also knew it wasn't her job to make him feel any better on that score. She looked at her reflection again, and started, a scream catching in her throat. She stared at Max as he came out of the shadows behind her. His eyes caught and held hers, and a certainty stronger than anything she had ever felt in her life swept over Liz with the force of a tidal wave.
Everything was about to change. And she was going to let it.
She couldn't move, couldn't even breathe. She watched him, felt him behind her. His hands touched hers, then glided up her arms slowly until they rested on her shoulders. His fingers curled under the straps of her nightgown and pulled it aside, and he bent his head until his lips touched the skin he had exposed. Liz heard herself make a low sound, sensual beyond belief, and saw her head fall back to allow him more room to explore her neck. His other hand slid across her collarbone and surrounded her throat, tilting her head back a touch farther.
At some point, Liz closed her eyes, the reflection she had been watching less important to her, less real, than the sensations he was arousing in her body. Her nightgown was moved aside, then eventually pushed off her shoulders, and her head rolled against him in helpless response when his hands cupped her breasts. She heard another sound escape her and her hands went back, searching for and finding his hard thighs, gripping them with all her strength.
"Liz...." His voice was low, rough. Max turned her swiftly in his arms, and his mouth came down on hers with bruising force.
She thought she was melting, merging into him somehow, her entire body burning. She fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, blindly desperate. They finally gave way, and she pushed it off his shoulders, stroking the flesh she uncovered. The harsh sound that escaped him when he lifted his head to stare down at her trailed over her nerve endings like a caress. His eyes burned, and his beautiful features were taut in a masklike expression of intense desire, and when he lifted his hands to frame her face they were shaking. "God Liz..."
Her mouth under his was wild, as she grappled with his belt and zipper, somehow getting his pants unfastened and sliding them down over his hips. She wasn't conscious of moving, or being moved, but suddenly she was lying on her back, the bed soft beneath her, and he was there with her. His big hands were on her breasts, his thumbs rubbing across her tight nipples in a touch like fire. One of his knees pushed between her thighs in a rough and primitive caress.
His mouth was on her breasts now, and Liz didn't know how long she could endure the burning pleasure of it. Her fingers slid into his thick hair and she held his head against her, moaning. "Max, please..."
His lips slid over the slope of her breast, up her throat, and slanted over her mouth. He kneed her thighs further apart and then moved between them, and in a single powerful thrust he was deep inside her.
Liz gasped at the quick flash of pain, and for a instant they were both still, almost stunned, their bodies as close as two people's could be. Then Max was moving, driving himself into her in a feirce rhythm, and Liz cried out when the pleasure exploded through her body without warning. Dazed and trembling in the aftermath, she held him with what little strength she had while he groaned and shuddered with his own shattering climax.

Max woke up slowly, aware of a bone-deep feeling of contentment, and knowing immediately the cause. He opened his eyes and smiled at the photo sitting on the bedside table. He and Liz grinned at the camera, their hands and faces covered in dirt. He turned over, hoping to watch her sleep, and sat up quickly. He listened to the sounds of the housecarefully, then looked into the corner of the room where Liz's suitcase had been sitting. He swore softly, lying back down in the bed and throwing his arm over his eyes.
She was gone.

Part Five

"Dear, your step-father and I would really like it if you could come home this summer," her mother said. "You haven't been home in 2 years."
"I know that Mum," Liz said, feeling guilty. "But it's just that I'm so busy right now. I don't think I can get away."
"You can take a few days off Liz," her mother said firmly. "I'll expect to see you before the end of the week."
With that her mother hung up the phone. Liz sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"Your mother?"
Liz looked up and smiled at her roommate Maria.
"How did you know?"
"You always get that tired, harassed look when she calls," Maria said, chuckling. "What did she want?"
"She's ordered me home," Liz said, flopping down onto the couch and laying her head in Maria's lap. "I'm to be there, front and center, before the end of the week."
"Liz you need some time off," Maria told her. "You've been working too hard. Why don't you want to go home?"
"It's a long story," Liz said dryly. "It's the longest story ever written."
"I have time," Maria said easily.
Liz thought about telling her, then shook her head. "Maybe some other time. So, what are you doing for your holidays?"
"You're looking at it," Maria said dryly. "I'm going to sit right here on this couch and watch really boring things on T.V."
"You can't do that!" Liz protested. "I won't let you! If I have to go home, I'd feel a lot better if you come home with me."
Maria started shaking her head, and Liz jumped up off the couch. "There's no point in arguing with me. Pack your bags. I'm taking you home."

Liz opened her drawer to take out a nightgown to wear, and stopped when she saw all the answering machine tapes stashed in there. Maria had gone out for the night and she was alone. She pulled them out and placed the first one in her machine. She sat down on the bed as his voice filled her room.
"Liz, it's me. You didn't have to just leave like that. Call me, we need to talk."
"Liz, it's me again. Why haven't you called? Are you ok? I just want to know that you made it home ok. Call me please. If not me then call your mother. I'll find out from her."
"Dammit Liz, you can't just keep ignoring my calls like this. We need to talk about what happened."
"Miss Parker, this is the doctor's office. We're just calling to confirm your appointment for a pregnancy test tomorrow morning. Please be here at nine o'clock."
"Dammit, aren't you ever home? This is the last time I'm going to call Liz. If I don't get a response this time, I won't be calling again. Everything's changed. I need to talk to you. Please call me."
"Miss Parker, this is Doctor Matthews. I know you told me you wouldn't need any type of counselling, but a miscarriage is a hard thing for a woman to go through. I'd like you to call my office and arrange to speak to someone."
The machine beeped, finished, and Liz lay back and her bed. She lay her hand over her stomach, and cried.

Maria hung out the car window, gaping at the house.
"Holy shit Liz. You never told me it was this big."
Liz looked at the house with a critical eye. "I've never really noticed."
"Hello," Maria said in a voice Liz recognized too well.
She looked out the car window and saw the man working in the garden.
"Who is he?" Maria asked her.
Liz squinted to get a better look at him. "I don't know. He must be new. I haven't seen him before."
She cast a quick glance over the gardens, telling herself the whole time she wasn't looking for Max, but she was disappointed when she didn't see him. She pulled up in front of the house and got out of the car.
"First order of business, a walk around the gardens," Maria said briskly. "I want to get a closer look at that hunk of beef."
Liz shook her head, chuckling. "How about we get our bags inside first?"
"You know your biggest fault Liz. You're too practical."
Her mother came flying down the stairs, and Liz was enveloped in a hug. She looked over at Maria, who was watching the proceedings with a grin.
"I'm so glad you're here," her mother gushed.
"You didn't give me much choice," Liz said dryly.
Her mother ignored her words and turned to Maria.
"And you would be?"
"The roommate," Maria said brightly, unimpressed with the woman's snobbish ways.
"Mum, this is Maria," Liz said, frowning at Maria and shaking her head. "I've invited her to stay for the holidays."
"Oh, well won't that be nice," Liz's mother said rather lamely.
Liz saw Maria turn towrds the house, and her lips purse in a soundless whisper. Goosebumps broke out all over her arms, and she turned, everything seeming to move in slow motion. Max stood on the stairs, staring at her intently. She could tell he was angry, and she quickly dropped her eyes and reached into the trunk to grab her bags.
"Let Max do that Liz," her mother reprimanded. "You come inside."
"No!" Liz said sharply. "Max doesn't work for me. I'll carry the bags in myself. Maria?"
Maria wandered over and picked up her bags. Her mother walked inside and Maria followed, leaving Liz outside. She picked up her bags and hurried up the stairs. Max stood where he was, waiting for her to reach him. When she was alongside of him she looked up.
"Hello Max," she said quietly.
He just continued to stare at her. Liz knew she should probably move away, but she couldn't. She could barely breathe. Finally Max leaned over and Liz waited to hear what he would say. He put his mouth right up to her ear, and she shivered.
"Don't bother trying to avoid me this time Liz," he whispered softly. "And don't bother running again either. I've given you all the time I'm going to. This summer, for better or for worse, we finish it."
Liz almost collapsed when he ran his tongue around the rim of her ear, and then he was gone. She took a long shaky breath, and walked into the house.

"Don't think I didn't notice the little tete-a-tete you had on the steps Liz," Maria said. "Who exactly is Max?"
"He works for my step-father," Liz said evasively.
"Nope, that's not it," Maria said, shaking her head. "I mean, I'm not disputing that he works for your family, but something tells me he's worked on you too."
"That's crude Maria."
"But is it true?"
"Maria, I'm not going to tell you about it," Liz said firmly. "Not tonight. I'm sorry."
Maria got up from where she'd been lying on the bed, and walked to the door. "I will get it out of you. I have ways of making you talk."
Liz made an absent sound.
"Oh, by the way, I wasn't the only witness to your discussion," Maria threw over her shoulder as she walked out the door. "Your Mum saw it too."

Part Six

Liz poked at the meal on her plate, pushing the food around. She could feel her mother's eyes on her, and she had no appetite. Her mother still hadn't spoken, and Liz felt like screaming at her to just say whatever it was she was going to say. The waiting was killing her.
"So, Maria, you work with Liz?"
"I wouldn't call it working exactly," Maria said. "I just make the office look pretty."
Liz looked up at her and grinned. "That's not true. You also serve the very important function of propping up my cubicle when you lean on it."
Maria chuckled, and Liz pushed away from the table. "If you'll excuse me."
"Where are you going?" her mother asked sharply.
"I thought I'd show Maria around the grounds," Liz said politely, not responding to her mother's tone.
"Keep away from the help's quarters," her mother ordered.
Liz sighed and nodded. She hadn't been near the quarters in years, but saying that would only start an argument. She waited for Maria to join her, and they walked out into the gardens.
"This is beautiful," Maria sighed.
"I know. I love it out here," Liz agreed, taking a deep breath and tipping her head back.
"Now if I could just find that guy and shove him behind a convenient bush."
"Maria, I bought you home so we could spend some time together," Liz cried, trying not to laugh. "I did not bring you home to jump our new gardner."
"You bought me home to protect you from whatever is happening between you and Max," Maria said. "And I hate to break it to you girl, but judging by what I saw this afternoon, I'm not going to be much help."
"I didn't bring you home to protect me!" Liz protested.
"Good," a voice said behind them. "Because it won't work."
Maria yelled in surprise and turned around quickly. Liz turned around more slowly.
"Don't sneak up on people like that," Maria said, gasping. She spotted the guy from the garden and smiled. "Hello."
Max gestured towards the other guy. "This is Michael."
"It's nice to meet you," Liz said. "This is Maria. Maria, Max and Michael."
"OK, there are too many M's in that sentence," Maria said with a frown. "Someone needs to change their name."
Liz chuckled, but it slowly died as her eyes met Max's. Maria spotted the look and jerked her head at Michael. He looked at her curiously.
She began gesturing with her hands for them to go.
Rolling her eyes, she walked over and grabbed his arm, dragging him away. Max watched them go.
"I think your friend might be on my side," he said with a laugh.
Liz watched them disappear behind a hedge and shrugged. "Maria's a romantic. But she doesn't know what's gone on here. I haven't told her."
"That makes two of us," Max told her. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on here either."
"What are you talking about? You know full well...."
"How many times did I call you Liz?" Max said harshly. "Do you even remember?"
Liz thought about the tapes she had listened to just last night.
"There was nothing to say," she said.
"That's bullshit!" Max spat.
"Don't yell at me!" Liz cried.
Max ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
"It didn't escape my attention you were a virgin Liz," he told her.
"It doesn't matter now," Liz said desperately. "None of it matters."
Max grabbed her by the arms. "It matters. It's always mattered."
His mouth crashed down on hers. Liz fought him for a moment, but her feelings for him took over and her whole body softened, leaning into his. The kiss gentled, and Max ran his tongue over her bottom lip, asking her to let him in. Liz Opened her mouth, and moaned when his tongue swept in. She had no idea how long they stood there, lost in each other, before Max reluctanly pulled away. He rested his forehead against hers, his breathing unsteady.
"God I've missed you," he whispered.
Liz fought the tears that sprang to her eyes. "Max, there are things you don't know. And your job...We can't do this again."
"Yes we can," Max insisted. "If we're careful."
"My mother already knows," Liz said in a dull voice. "She saw us this afternoon on the steps."
Max swore under his breath, then shook his head. "I don't care. If she knows she knows. It doesn't mean she's going to tell Edward."
"You know better than that."
Liz pulled out of his arms when she heard Maria talking loudly, obviously letting everyone in a 5 mile radius know she was coming back.
"We'll finish this for now," Max said a low voice. "But I'm not done."
Maria came around the corner of a hedge and smiled.
"All done?" she said innocently.
"Not nearly," Max said with a grin. "But you'd better take her inside. It's getting cold."
Maria slipped her arm through Liz's and waved cheerily at the two men. "We'll be seeing you both."
Liz let herself be led out of the garden and back to the house. She knew Maria was talking to her, but it was faint, like she was in the distance. She was still trying to figure out what was going to happen between her and Max, especially when he found out she'd been pregnant, and had never told him.

"So, that's Liz huh?" Michael said, watching the two women as they disappeared.
Michael had gotten the full story out of Max one night when they had both had too much to drink. Michael had been wondering about her ever since.
"She's beautiful," Michael told him.
"Don't bother looking too closely," Max said in a soft tone. "She's mine."
Michael heard the warning in his friend's tone and chuckled. "I won't step on your toes. Besides, her friend should keep me busy."
Max looked at him for a moment, then chuckled.
"There's absolutely no subtlety in you is there Michael?"
Michael looked at him innocently. "And that's a bad thing?"

Part Seven

"I thought the 'take her inside it's getting cold' thing was cute," Maria said absently.
Liz didn't answer her. She hadn't responded to any of the not-so-subtle hints Maria had dropped at her feet.
"And the way he was looking at you," Maria went on. "There's something special there."
Silence again.
"Liz you're killing me!" Maria finally yelled. "Say something."
Liz looked at her bare arms. "I'm getting sun burnt."
Maria screamed and jumped up out of her sun chair. Stalking off, she climbed into the pool again.
"Seems you don't want to talk to anyone about what happened," Max said behind her. "Including me."
Liz quickly looked towards the house. "Max, my mother's home."
"No she's not, she left a few minutes ago."
"Hi Max," Maria called from the pool. "Where's that cute friend of yours?"
"He's working on the other side of the estate," he told her. "All day. By himself."
"I might just have to saunter over and pay him a visit," Maria said with a grin. "Make sure he doesn't get all lonely."
"I'm sure he'll appreciate it," Max told her.
"Well, I'll just let you two chat," Liz said, quickly jumping out of the chair and walking towards the house.
Max watched her go.
"Go after her," Maria said quietly.
He looked at her. "She doesn't want me to. I don't want to rush her. The last thing I need is for her to run away again."
"She wants you to," Maria assured him. "She may not know it, but she wants you to. And Liz isn't going anywhere. Not unless she wants to leave me behind."
Max walked up to the side of the pool and crooked his finger at her. When she reached the side of the pool, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled up at him.
"Liz needs you," she told him softly. "More than she knows."
Max nodded and kissed her again. Then he got up and walked into the house. Maria lounged in the pool for a while, then got out. Without bothering to go inside and change, she made her way to the grounds on the other side of the estate to pay her visit.

Maria found him hacking away at a hedge. She stood where she was for a moment, enjoying the view, before she wandered over. "Good morning."
Michael stopped what he was doing and looked at her.
"Max tell you I was here?"
She nodded. "He said I should come on over and keep you company."
Michael nodded, turning back to his work. Maria looked down at what she was wearing, or almost wearing, and pouted. Did the guy have lead in his veins? Michael saw what she was doing and grinned.
"So, how long have you worked here?," Maria asked him, sitting down on the ground gracefully.
"A couple of months," Michael told her.
Maria nodded. "And you live on the grounds?"
Michael nodded.
"Not a big talker are you," Maria said in a waspish voice.
Michael just laughed.
"Well, I'll just get out of your way then," Maria said, a little hurt.
Michael leant over and kissed her. Maria blinked rapidly, then grabbed his head and pulled it down to hers. "Do it properly."

Max stepped into the kitchen, where Liz was going through the fridge.
"Has your mother said anything to you yet?" he asked her.
Liz shook her head. "I wish she would though. The waiting is getting to me."
"Maybe she just doesn't know what to say," Max suggested. "I mean, when you think about it, what did she really see?"
Liz thought back to yesterday, and shrugged. "Nothing I guess. She won't like the fact that you were so close, but when all is said and done, we were only talking."
Max nodded, walking up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders.
"I've made a decision," Liz said quickly.
"That doesn't sound good," Max said in a weary voice.
Liz smiled. "I'm willing to let this out," she told him. "For as long as I'm here. On the condition we do everything we can to make sure my mother and Edward never find out about it."
"Liz, you're a grown woman," Max told her. "And you're going to have us both sneaking around like teenagers."
Liz turned around to look up at him. "It'll be exciting."
Max just stared at her, then started chuckling. "No, it'll be annoying. It would have been exciting years ago."
Liz wrapped her arms around him, and Max pulled her against him tightly.
"Just do this for me Max, please," Liz asked him softly.
Max sighed. "Alright."
She went up on tiptoes and kissed him softly. "Now go and rescue Maria. She's probably being attacked by your horny friend."
"She won't mind," Max predicted. "Come back here and give me a little more of that."
Liz giggled, but pushed him away from her. "Not here. I'll see you tonight. Leave your porch light on. I'm liable to get lost in the gardens."
Max kissed her one more time before he let her go reluctantly, and walked out of the house.

Part Eight

Liz stood in her room, looking at herself in the mirror critically.
"You look fine," Maria assured her. "Anyway, you could show up in a potato sack and Max would still think you're beautiful."
"See, that's why I don't take fashion tips from you," Liz said, laughing.
Maria chuckled, then sighed when Liz started mucking around with her hair again.
"Don't you heave sighs at me Maria Deluca," Liz snapped. "I'm just a little nervous is all."
"Why?" Maria asked. "I've seen the two of you together. You've had sex with him before Liz."
Liz spun around. "What am I wearing a sign?"
Maria shook her head. "It's the way he is with you."
"Can I expect Michael to be this way with you from now on?" Liz asked sweetly.
"No comment," Maria said quickly. "And don't try and change the subject. We were talking about you and Max. How long were you sleeping together?"
Liz's answer was lost in the depths of the sweater she was pulling over her head.
"I've only spent one night with him," Liz told her.
Maria gaped at her. "You've only had sex with him once?"
Liz grinned. "I didn't say that. I said I only spent one night with him."
Taking one last look at herself, she nodded, satisfied.
"Don't wait up," Liz said, walking out the door.
"What should I tell your mother if she comes back?" Maria yelled at her.
Liz came back into the doorway. "Tell her I'm a grown woman, and where I go at night is my own business."
Maria nodded and watched her friend go. Moving quickly, she went into her own room to get ready. Liz wasn't the only one who was making her way to the other side of the estate tonight.

Liz knocked on the door softly and waited, nervous. Max opened the door. "I can admit now that I wasn't sure you'd actually show up."
She smiled. "Neither was I. But I'm here now."
His gaze traveled swiftly from her shoes to her face and then remained there, intent, his eyes narrowed a little. He stood back, holding the door wider so that she could come in, and when she had, he closed it softly behind her.
Liz barely noticed the changes he had made in the house since his father died. All she noticed was him.
"I can't stay all night," she told him huskily as he led her to his bedroom. "I need to be in my bedroom in the morning."
He reached out and pulled her against him. "Then we'd better take advantage of the time we have," he murmured, his hands curving over her bottom to hold her even closer.
Everything in Liz's mind, all the nervousness and the fear and the questions, stilled in that moment. She didn't think, didn't want to or need to. She only felt. Her body molded itself to his, her mouth came alive and clung to his. She felt herself being lifted or carried, felt the softness of his bed beneath her, but she didn't open her eyes. He was still kissing her, deep kisses that seemed like a drug she craved and couldn't get enough of. She was vaguely aware of shifting obediently to help him rid her of her clothes, and knew her own fingers coped eagerly with the buttons of his shirt and then his belt and his pants.
Her nails dug into the hard, shifting muscles of his back when his lips closed over the tip of her breast, and Liz heard another of those unfamiliar sensual sounds escape her. Then his mouth left her flesh and the ache of not having him there was unbearable.
"Look at me," he ordered, his voice low and rough.
Liz forced her eyes to open. The lamp by the bed lit half his face with a warm golden glow, while leaving the other half in shadow, and she found the sight mesmerizing. "Max," she murmured.
His hands slid underneath her, and instead of lowering his mouth to her, he lifted her to his caress. Liz's back arched, and her breath caught at the stark sexuality of the movement, then a moan escaped her at the satisfaction of having his mouth on her again. He was holding her in place with one hand, while the other explored her body.
Max waited until she was shifting restlessly, until her fingers gripped his shoulders pleadingly, before he moved swiftly to settle between her thighs. Liz felt him push inside her, deep inside, and she bit her lip to keep from crying out wildly, to scream because it felt so good. His body lay heavily over hers, and Max slid his forearms underneath her shoulders and held them with his hands as though he was afraid she would run away again. Liz barely noticed, because he was moving inside her. The tension wound tighter and tighter, making her body move fiercely under his, and allowing her to breathe only in shallow pants. And then, with a shattering suddenness, the tension snapped, and wave of throbbing pleasure washed over her.
She finally went limp, trembling, just as Max reached his climax, and she ran her hand up his back in and unthinking caress as he groaned.
It was a long time before he stirred, and when he lifted his head and raised himself up on his elbows to look at her, Liz smiled at him. "I don't want to leave you," he murmured. "But if I'm too heavy...."
"You're not," Liz assured him.
"Good." Max kissed her gently. "Maybe I should hold you here all night."
"You know I can't stay," Liz told him.
Max sighed, then nodded. Liz closed her eyes when they began stinging, tears threatening.
"I'm so sorry."

Maria was about to knock on the door when it swung open. It scared her so much she just stood there staring at him for a moment before she gathered her wits and grinned.
"I was lost," she lied.
"Right," Michael said agreeably.
"I was just wandering around, lost, as I said, and then I saw the lights. And here I am."
Michael stepped out onto his porch and looked up and down the row of houses pointedly.
"There are a lot of houses with lights on," he told her.
Maria's eyes narrowed. "Are you going to make me spell out exactly why I'm here?"
Michael shook his head.
"Good," Maria said, relieved. "I was beginning to worry you wouldn't know what I was talking about."
Michael took her by the hand, and led her inside.

"Where does your mother think you are?" Max asked her, his hand stroking gently up and down her arm.
"She won't be home until really late," Liz told him.
"Is that why you decided to come tonight?" Max said. "Does that mean I don't get to see you the nights she is home?"
Liz lifted her head from where it had been resting on his chest. "Don't ruin it. I came, let that be enough for now."
She lay back down, and Max slowly resumed his stroking.
"Max, where would you go if you weren't working here?" Liz asked hesitantly. "You could work anywhere."
He thought about it.
"I've spent my whole life here," he reminded her. "I couldn't imagine working anywhere else."
"And if I asked you to go?" Liz asked softly.
Max stared down at the top of her head until she raised her eyes to his.
"What are you getting at?"
"If it meant we could be together..."
"If you're asking me to choose between my job and you there's no contest," Max said simply. "I'd leave."
Liz smiled, but it faded when he spoke again.
"But I'd hate you for asking."
"Why?" Liz cried, frustrated.
"What if I asked you to choose?" Max said bluntly. "What if I asked you to go to your mother tomorrow, knowing it would probably give her a stroke, and tell her everything. And that if you didn't, I would not want to sleep with you again."
"It's not the same..."
"No it's not," Max conceded. "Not to you. But I don't think I can explain to you how much this house and these grounds mean to me. The people who work here are the only ones who knew my father Liz. They're my family."
Liz sighed unhappily. Max rolled over until she was underneath him again, and kissed her fiercely.
"I don't want to talk about it now," he whispered.
Liz wound her arms around his neck, and let him change the subject.

posted on 5-Feb-2002 7:58:45 AM
Part Nine

Liz walked quietly through the garden, on her way back to the main house. She rounded a tree, and almost ran straight into Maria. The two women stared at each other for a moment.
"Early morning walk?" Liz inquired sweetly.
Maria frowned. "That's a stupid question Liz. You know me. I'm never up this early."
"Does it strike you as a little absurd that we're sneaking back to our rooms, after spending the night in someone else's bed, at our age?" Liz pondered, falling into step beside her friend.
"You bet your ass it's absurd," Maria said grumpily. "And even worse for me. I don't even live here."
Liz chuckled as she opened the big French doors that led into the study. She walked over to the door and poked her head out, making sure the hallway was clear before she ventured out. Maria followed her.
"Operation don't-let-the-mother-know is now in affect," Maria whispered dramatically.
Liz put her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.
"You mission, should you choose to except it, is to sneak in and out of the house at all hours, to engage in naughty dealings with the hired help."
Liz swung around and whacked her on the arm, motioning her to be quiet. When they were in the safety of Liz's room, they both flopped down on the bed tiredly. Minutes later they were asleep.

Nancy Parker knocked on her daughter's bedroom door before opening it. She frowned when she saw the two girls still asleep. She walked in and threw the curtains back.
"Come on girls," she said loudly. "It's time to get up."
Liz groaned and rolled over onto her stomach, hiding her face from the light.
"Elizabeth," Nancy said angrily. "Get up."
"Mother, I'm tired," Liz snapped. "I'm sleeping in this morning. Please close the curtains and go away."
"There's someone downstairs your father wants you to meet," Nancy continued on, opening the closet and beginning to peruse the contents. She picked out a dress and came out into the room again.
"He's my step-father Mum, not my father," Liz reminded her. "And as for your guest, invite him to dinner I'll meet him then."
"No dear, you will meet him now."
Liz had lost the battle and she knew it. She sat up and pushed her hair out of her eyes, groaning.
"Can I ask why Maria is in your bed?" her mother said in that sickly sweet tone she could get. "Is there something wrong with her bed.?"
"We're lesbians Mum," Liz joked. "I've been meaning to tell you for some time now."
"Elizabeth!" her mother gasped.
Liz could feel the bed shaking and knew Maria had woken up and heard her, and was now giggling her ass off. Liz decided to leave her in bed. At least one of them could sleep in.
"I'll be downstairs in ten minutes," Liz told her mother, yawning. "I imagine you can entertain whoever it is until then."
Her mother smiled, satisfied, and walked out of the room. Liz pushed herself to her feet and went to have a shower.

She walked into the kitchen almost 20 minutes later, but there was noone there.
"Where is everyone Ruby?" she asked the maid.
"They have all gone into Edward's study, miss," Ruby told her.
"Ruby, you know I hate it when you call me miss," Liz said, throwing her arms around the robust lady and giving her an affectionate hug. "Do it again and I'll have you fired."
They'd been having this same lighthearted conversation since Liz was a girl. She never treated any of the servants like they were servants. They were simply her friends.
"So," Liz said, snatching a cookie from where they were cooling on the bench. "Who is this person I'm supposed to meet?"
"He's a young man your mother and Edward have been entertaining for some time now," Ruby told her, frowning and raising her hand threateningly when Liz reached for another cookie. "Stop stealing those cookies."
Liz giggled. "Why do they want me to meet him?"
Ruby was silent, and Liz felt a chill of foreboding.
"Ruby?" Liz said softly. "Why am I going to meet this guy?"
Ruby cleaned the bench vigorously. "I heard Edward talking to your mother the other night. It seems they have decided it's time for you to settle down, get married and such."
Liz shook her head in disbelief. "And this guy I'm going to meet today, he's the one I'm going to marry?"
Ruby looked up at her with sympathetic eyes. "They have a few young men picked out. Candidates, I guess you could call them. He's the first."
"Go and tell Max," Liz ordered. "Go and tell him now."
"Max?" Ruby said confused. "But why would I tel...."
"Tell him what's going on here," Liz interrupted. "Tell him everything, and that I'll see him tonight. "
Ruby just stood where she was, frowning in confusion.
"Now Ruby," Liz snapped.
The maid hurried off, and Liz took a deep breath before she headed for the study. She had made up her mind. If she had to tell her mother everything about Max and herself, she would. But she was not marrying anybody.

Part Ten

Max watched Ruby hurry across the grounds and frowned. She never ran anywhere. What the hell was going on? She spotted him and waved, and Max walked over to meet her halfway.
"You're going to kill yourself running like that Ruby," he told her, waiting patiently for her to catch her breath.
"I need to talk to you," she panted. "Liz sent me."
"What's wrong?" Max said quickly.
Ruby took his hand. "You'd better sit down."
Max led her to a bench and sat down beside her. When she was finished telling him everything she had told Liz, he just stared at her in disbelief. "You have got to be kidding me."
"I heard them talking about it myself," Ruby insisted. "They want her married Max. And they're going to be picking out her husband."
"This is like something from the 1800's for Christ's sake," Max said angrily.
"This sort of thing happens all the time in families with a lot of money," Ruby said gently. "Now, isn't there something you should be telling me?"
Max frowned.
"Why you?" Ruby asked him. "Why on earth would Liz send me to you? And why is she meeting you tonight?"
"That story will take more time than you have," Max said evasively. He got up and headed towards the house.
"What are you doing?" Ruby asked anxiously. "Where are you going?"
"To stop it," Max said firmly. "There are a few things Edward and Nancy need to hear."
Ruby followed him slowly, her anxiety growing. She liked Max, and she loved Liz, and she had a feeling that what was about to happen could ruin both their lives.

Liz entered the study and stood beside the door.
"Elizabeth," Edward said with a smile. "Come in and sit down."
He gestured to a seat right next to their guest.
"I'd rather stand," Liz said coldly.
Edward frowned and looked at her mother.
"Just sit down Liz," her mother snapped.
Liz sighed and walked across the room. She sat down stiffly, looking for the first time at the young man. She hated him immediately. One look at his face and she knew he was fully aware of what was going on here, and that he liked the fact that she was uncomfortable. He was a younger version of Edward. And he looked nothing like Max.
"Elizabeth, this is a colleague of mine, Matt Bower. Matt this is Elizabeth."
"Do you mind if I call you Liz," he said smoothly.
"Yes I do."
He blinked rapidly in surprise, and Liz smiled for the first time since entering the room. She felt Edward's hand come down heavily on her shoulder in warning.
"We've been telling Matt all about you dear," her mother said excitedly. "He's very keen to hear about your work."
"I'm a biologist," Liz told him. "My work is boring."
She felt Edward's fingers tighten on her shoulder, and she shrugged them off angrily. She jumped up, and heard the door leading from the kitchen to the hallway outside the study slam open.
"Who on earth is that?" Edward growled, stalking to the door. He swung it open and stepped back quickly when he saw Max on the other side.
Liz took one look at Max's face and knew what was about to happen. She shook her head frantically behind Edward's back, but Max couldn't see her.
"Yes Evans, what is it?" Edward said impatiently. "We're in the middle of something here."
"Not anymore you're not," Max said in a low voice.
Liz closed her eyes in despair. There was nothing she could do now.
"I beg your pardon?" Edward said in disbelief.
Max held his hand out to Liz. "Come here."
She knew what this was. She remembered their talk last night, and knew that their hands had been forced. Max was asking her to choose. She looked at her mother, and at Edward.
"Liz?" Edward asked her. "Would you mind explaining what the hell is going on here?"
Max said nothing else, just stood there with his hand out. When she said nothing, Edward swung around and slapped Max's hand away.
"Don't touch him!" Liz screamed.
"Liz, don't talk to him that way," her mother yelled. "I've said nothing until now about what I saw the other day, or where you were last night, but I will not have you playing around with the help."
Liz listened to what her mother was saying with a kind of numb detachment.
"What happened to you?" she whispered.
Suddenly her choice was easy. Watching Edward with careful eyes, she began walking towards the door, and Max. When she was almost there, she looked at Max, and didn't see Edward come up behind her. She heard Max yell, and turned around instinctively. Edward's fist caught her straight across the face, and she fell to the floor as the world went black.

Part Eleven

Liz woke up slowly, frowning as she tried to identify the cause of her anxiety. Something was very wrong, but she couldn't remember what it was. She put her hand up to her head as if to jog her memory, but it was caught in a gentle grasp before it could reach it's destination.
"Don't touch it honey," Maria said softly. "You've got one hell of a bruise there."
Liz suddenly remembered, and her eyes flew open.
"Max," she said frantically, tears welling in her eyes.
"I'm here," a voice said from the doorway.
Liz saw him and held out her hands. He hurried over and put his arms around her gently. She held him tightly and sobbed quietly into his shoulder.
"It's alright," he said soothingly, stroking her hair gently. "I'm okay. Everything's fine."
"What happened?" she asked him. "Where am I?"
"We're at a hotel," Maria told her. "Don't worry, it's on me. You and Max can stay here until you find somewhere else to live."
She stood up, and after kissing Liz carefully on the forehead, she walked out of the room. Liz looked up at Max.
"What happened after....after he hit me?" she whispered.
"Liz, you don't need to be worrying about that now...."
"Max," she interrupted. "I may have had a rather fierce knock on the head, but it hasn't escaped my attention that, according to what Maria just said, we now appear to be living together. I want to know what happened."
Max frowned at her, clearly trying to intimidate her, but she just arched her eyebrows. Then groaned when it hurt. Max sighed and lay down beside her.
"I could be in a lot of trouble Liz," Max admitted.
Liz lay her head on his chest.
"You hit him?"
"I nearly killed him," Max said bluntly. "I saw you go down, and I hit him. Then I kinda hit him a few times."
"A few times," Liz said delicately.
"You were asleep," Max told her. "What you know can't hurt me. Anyway, then when that nancy boy tried to pull me off, I hit him too."
"His name was Mark."
"If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it's a nancy boy."
Liz knew the situation wasn't the least bit funny, but she found herself giggling. Max pushed her face up with his fingers so she would know he was frowning at her. She took one look at his face and broke out in giggles again.
"I'm glad I amuse you," Max said grumpily. "I'm expecting the police to come through the door any minute."
"All I need to tell them is that Edward hit me first," Liz told him confidently. "They can't arrest you for defending me."
"Edward will try," Max said dryly.
Liz stretched up and kissed him on the cheek. "We'll sort it out."
They lay quietly for a moment, then Liz sighed. "Max, I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say you've lost your job. What are you going to do now?"
"I was thinking about this while you were..sleeping," Max said, preferring to think she had been asleep rather than unconscious. "You're only here for the summer. When you go back I'll be going with you."
Liz said nothing, her mind whirling with this new information. Max was coming with her!
"I can tell you're thinking about it," Max murmured. "Don't do that. That's a bad habit you have, that thinking thing. I'm going with you. End of story."
"I seriously doubt it," Liz said dryly.
They both heard a knock on the door of the room. They heard Maria carrying on a quiet conversation with someone, then she came into the bedroom, pale. Liz sat up slowly.
"What is it?" Max asked.
Maria looked up, and Liz felt her stomach clench when she saw the look in her eyes.
"The police are here to see you Max," she said quietly.

Kyle Valenti stood in the room and waited for Max to come out. This whole thing was making him very uncomfortable. He'd known Max forever, and he didn't like what he was about to do. He watched Max come into the room.
"I'm really sorry about this Max," Kyle said sincerely. "But we got a report of a disturbance over at the Ross residence."
"What you got was a phone call from Edward telling you I assaulted him," Max told him.
Kyle smiled at little, then nodded. "What happened?"
"I assaulted him."
Kyle had to remind himself it really wasn't professional to laugh. "I gathered that. Why?"
Max saw Kyle look at something behind his shoulder.
"Hey Liz," Kyle said cheerfully. "I haven't seen you in a long time."
His grin faded when he got a good look at her face. He looked at Max, and pointed at the huge bruise on Liz's cheek.
"I gather that was the cause of the disturbance?"
Max nodded. "He hit her. I hit him back."
Kyle wrote something down in his little notepad. Then he looked up at Max again.
"That puts an end to that complaint," he said bluntly.
"Then you're done?" Liz asked.
Kyle shook his head. "You hit the other guy too Max. That I'm going to have to bring you in for."
Liz shook her head, looking up at Max.
"Am I being arrested?" Max asked.
"I don't want to have to do that Max," Kyle said truthfully. "Just come with me. All I need from you is a statement. I can see quite clearly with my own eyes that you were provoked. If I can work the other guy into that I will. I'll have you back here within the hour."
Maria came out of the bedroom and put her arms around Liz. Max turned to her and smiled reassuringly.
"You heard him," he said lightly. "I'll be right back."
But Liz couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong.

"But I don't understand...."
"Just do it Ruby," Edward shouted.
He watched the woman scurry out of the room with his wife's jewelry in her hand. He picked up the phone, and placed the call.
"This is Edward Ross. I need an officer out here immediately. I've been robbed."

Part Twelve

Ruby entered the house, her heart heavy. She kept telling herself she was just doin what she had to do, but it didn't make her feel any better. She looked around for the right place to put the jewels so they would be found easily, and finally decided to just throw them on the table in the hallway. She didn't imagine it mattered where they were found, as long as they were found. Taking a moment to wipe the tears from her eyes, she closed the door of the house behind her, straightened her spine, and returned to the main house.

"So, you were in the middle of the altercation with Edward, and Mark Bower tried to pull you off him?" Kyle clarified.
Max nodded. "He grabbed me from behind and I swung around and hit him."
Kyle thought about for a minute, and then shook his head.
"No you didn't."
Max looked up at him and frowned. "What are you talking about? Of course I did. I just said I did."
"And I'm saying you didn't," Kyle insisted. "Ok, I'm going to turn the tape recorder on in a few minutes, and here's what you're going to say. You got into an altercation with Edward because he hit Liz. You felt someone pulling you back and you swung around to see who it was. You DID NOT mean to hit him."
"Kyle, I don't want you getting into trouble over this," Max told him. "I'd rather just take my chances."
"Max, I know what Edward can be like," Kyle said. "And I saw that bruise on Liz's cheek. I'd have hit him too. The other guy should have stayed out of it, but he didn't. I'm not going to have you arrested for this. It ends now. You just say what I told you to say, then I'll let you go."
Max looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. "You'd make a great politician Kyle."
Kyle grinned. "Not me. They're all boring. I'm too windswept and exotic. Let's get this on tape, and I'll let you get back to Liz."
He leaned across the table and switched on the recorder.

Edward puffed on a cigar while the officer took details.
"So, the thief took some of your wife's jewelry?" the officer asked.
Edward nodded. "It's worth a fortune. If it's at all possible, I'd like the grounds searched today."
"The grounds sir?" the officer asked, confused. "You have reason to believe he thief hid the jewels on the grounds?"
"I have a large staff," Edward told him. "Some of them are of questionable character. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that one of them had taken the jewelry."
"We need to get search warrants..."
"Officer, I know the law," Edward chided him. "These grounds and everything in them belong to me. You do not need a search warrant to search anything on this property as long as you have my permission. You have that permission. Now, I'd like you to call the station and get a few more officers down here. I want this all taken care of as soon as possible. The phone is in the hallway."
The officer turned around and walked out of the room. Edward smiled cruelly. It wouldn't be long now.

"Kyle, you the one following up that disturbance this morning over at the Ross place?"
Kyle stopped on his way to the door, and so did Max.
"Yeah," Kyle said. "Why?"
"We just got a call from O'Brien. Old man Ross has ordered a bunch of us to go over his grounds to find some missing jewels. Thought you might want to tag along."
Max had a very bad feeling.
"I'm going with you," he told Kyle. He pulled the card of the hotel out of his pocket and gave it to the man behind the desk. "Could you call this number for me and ask for Room 204. Tell whoever answers the phone what's happened, that Kyle and I are on our way, and ask them to meet me at the Ross estate."
The officer looked at Kyle.
"Do it," Kyle ordered. He turned to Max. "Let's go."
As they ran our the door Max heard the other officer begin talking on the phone.

Max, Liz, Maria and Michael stood in a small group and watched while the officers went through all the servants quarters. Edward kept looking over at them and smiling. Max had seen 2 of them go into his house, and he was expecting them to come out at any minute, announcing they'd found the jewels. He gathered Liz against him and brushed his lips across her hair.
He could feel her trembling, and he almost went after Edward again for what he was doing. The officers came out of his house, and Max closed his eyes in preparation.
"Nothing in there," they announced.
Max's eyes flew open, and Edward stalked over to them angrily. "What do you mean there's nothing in there? Check again. I want those jewels found."
"We've looked Mr Ross, they're not in there."
"We've got them!"
Everybody turned at the announcement, and Max saw Edward's face turn red with fury when the officers came out of Ruby's house carrying the jewels.

Part Thirteen

"We have to help Ruby," Liz murmured later that night in bed. "Edward wanted it set up to look like you took those jewels. She did it to protect you."
"I'm going to call a friend tomorrow," Max told her. "He's a lawyer. I'll call Isabel too, in case the police haven't already. Make sure she gets down here."
"Ruby's daughter."
Liz sat up and looked at Max. "I didn't know Ruby had a daughter."
Max nodded. "I didn't know either until Ruby came to live on the estate. By then you were at boarding school and only came home in the summer, when Iabel was visiting her father. Then she moved away. You guys never actually met."
Liz shook her head in amazement. "Ruby never even mentioned her to me. It seems really weird that there was someone living on the grounds that I didn't know about."
Max chuckled. "There was a lot that went on that you didn't know about."
"Clearly," Liz said with a sigh. "I just can't believe this has happened. I can't believe my mother has let it happen. She never used to be like this."
"Being around Edward for any length of time is bound to change somebody," Max said quietly. "He has that kind of personality."
Liz smiled at him. "Thank you for trying to defend my mother, but it won't work. Nobody changes that much unless they want to. I think the hardest thing is that I know my father would have hated the woman she is now."
Max tugged on her hand and pulled her down until her head lay on his chest.
"Is it going to do any good if I ask you not to think about it?" Max asked.
Liz shook her head. Max sighed and fell silent. Nothing he said was going to make her feel better anyway. He just stroked her hair gently and held her.

Maria opened the door and smiled tiredly.
"It's late," she said to Michael with a yawn. "I wasn't expecting to see you tonight."
She stepped out of the way to let him in and closed the door.
"I wanted to make sure you're all okay," Michael said, pulling her into his arms.
"We're fine," Maria assured him. "Max and Liz are in bed. Max is still pretty pissed, but Liz should be able to pull him out of it. How's Ruby?"
Michael had accompanied Ruby to the station because she had noone else.
"She's holding up okay. She told me this was her choice. She's told the police everything, but she admits it'll be hard to prove. It's Edward's word against hers, and the jewels were found in her house."
Maria shook her head. "You know, I thought people were weird where I come from, but they really broke the mold when they made Edward."
"There aren't 2 of him in the world," Michael agreed.
"Thank God," Maria said with feeling. "Have you eaten? I can make you up something."
Michael nodded. "That would be great."
Maria pushed him gently onto the couch. "Stretch out. I'll get you a sandwich or something."
Michael lay down with a tired sigh and closed his eyes. Maria wandered into the kitchen and started preparing his sandwich. She knew there was a stupid grin on her face, but she couldn't help it. She really liked this guy, and he had shown up to check on her. It was a heady feeling. She finished making the sandwich and took it out into the other room. She rounded the edge of the couch...and stopped. He was asleep. She put the sandwich down on the coffee table and went into her room to get a blanket. She covered him with it and stood looking down at him for a while with a gentle smile. Then, turning out the lights as she passed them, she went to bed.

Liz woke up the next morning no closer to an answer about her mother's behavior than she was when she had fallen asleep. She stretched her sore muscles, and smiled when she felt Max prop himself above her.
"Did you make your phone calls?" she asked him.
"Isabel is on her way, and Alex, my lawyer friend, is meeting with Ruby this morning."
He started kissing her neck, and Liz put a hand on his chest.
"Oh no you don't," she said. "Not this morning."
"Any particular reason?" Max asked, although he would stop whether she gave him one or not. She had said no.
"I ran out of the pill yesterday," she told him. "And you only have to miss one."
Max was astonished to realize he hadn't even thought about protection until then. "I'll pick up some condoms today."
Liz nodded and, still more than half asleep, spoke without thinking. "You'd better. There's no way I'm getting pregnant by accident again."
Liz's eyes flew open when she realized what she'd said. Max looked down at her, complete disbelief in his eyes.
"Again?" he whispered.

posted on 5-Feb-2002 7:59:43 AM
Part Fourteen

Ruby looked up when the door opened and saw a smartly dressed man standing in the doorway.
"Ms. Winters? I'm Alex Whitman. Max called me. He said you might need my help."
"I need all the help I can get," Ruby said with a weak smile.
Alex nodded and sat down across the table from her.
"I've read your statement," he told her.
"I know it seems a little far-fetched," Ruby admitted. "But I think when you meet Edward Ross you'll come to believe I'm telling the truth."
"It is far-fetched," Alex agreed. "And I'll admit I find the whole thing very hard to swallow. I'm hoping that if you can answer a few of my questions it might help convince me."
Ruby nodded and Alex opened his briefcase and took out a notepad.
"Ok, firstly, how long have you worked for Mr Ross?"
"Almost ten years," Ruby told him.
"And you've always lived on the grounds?"
"No. I moved there when my husband and I divorced."
Alex nodded and made notes. "Now in your statement you said Mr Ross wanted you to put the jewels in Max Evans' room. Why?"
"There is something going on between Max and Liz. I assume he found out about it."
"And by something going on between her and Max you mean......"
"They're having a relationship."
"Finally," Alex said heavily. "Max has been after her for years. And Mr Ross disapproves of this?"
Ruby gave a bitter laugh.
"Edward would rather see Liz dead," she said bluntly. "I can only assume he was raised in a very old-fashioned family. You don't talk to the servants unless it's necessary, you don't become friends with them, you don't socialize with them, and you certainly don't get into bed with them."
Alex just stared at her for a moment before shaking his head on disbelief. What century was this guy from?
"If Mr Ross intended for Max to be where you are now, why do you think he hasn't dropped the charges?"
"Because if he does that, it's almost the same as admitting I'm telling the truth," Ruby told him. "He was so eager to catch the thief, for him to suddenly drop the charges after his whole performance yesterday...It makes him look bad. He'll let me rot in here before he'll let that happen."
Alex continued writing, then suddenly looked up and pinned her with an intent gaze.
"Why did you do this Ms Winters?" he asked her. "Why take the fall for Max?"
Ruby shrugged. "I've seen the way that boy looks at Liz."
Alex nodded. Liz Parker didn't know who he was, but he'd seen her. And he'd seen that look.
"In all the time I've worked on those grounds, that look has never changed. He loves her. I thought it was all one-sided, but the other day I found out differently. I knew I wouldn't do what Edward asked of me. I couldn't."
"So you gave up your job, your whole life really, for Max and Liz?"
Ruby shook her head. "I haven't given up anything. Not really. I'll find another job, another place to live. But I don't think I'll ever find what Max and Liz have. A person could spend their whole lives searching for it."
Alex sighed and put his notebook back in his briefcase. Ruby looked at him anxiously, and he thought about everything she'd told him for a moment before he spoke.
"I believe you Ruby," he told her. "I don't know why, your story is way out in left field, but I believe you. I'll be speaking to the arresting officer when I leave here, and we'll go from there. Hopefully I can stop this before it goes to court. Is there anyone I can call for you? You shouldn't be alone."
An officer appeared at the door and knocked briefly before poking his head in. "Your daughter is here Ms Winters."
Alex stood up. "Show her in officer, I'm on my way out anyway. Could you tell Officer Valenti I'd like a word?"
The officer nodded and left. Alex smiled reassuringly at Ruby. "We'll sort this out."
"You'd better," a voice said from the doorway.
Alex looked up, and stared. Jesus, she was gorgeous.
"Izzy!" Ruby cried happily, getting up and giving her daughter and warm hug. Alex just stood where he was, still staring.
Ruby gestured to him. "This is Alex Whitman. He's going to help me beat this thing."
Alex smiled rather weakly before gathering up his things. "I'll be in touch very soon Ruby. You just hang in there until then."
He murmured what he hoped were appropriate good-byes, and beat a hasty retreat. It wasn't until he was outside the room, and far enough away so as not to be heard, that he let out the breath he'd been holding in a long sigh. How the hell was he going to concentrate on the case if Ruby's daughter was around? He shook his head and headed for Kyle Valenti's office.

Max paced backwards and forwards across the room while Liz watched helplessly from the bed. She couldn't even begin to imagine what was going through his mind right now. He hadn't said anything since he'd jumped off the bed after whispering that one word.
Suddenly he stopped, and Liz braced herself for the coming confrontation.
"When?" Max asked her.
"Some time ago," Liz said vaguely. All she needed to tell him was exactly how long ago and everything would be out in the open.
"Clearly you don't have a child," Max said sarcastically. "What happened?"
"I fell over at work," Liz said, tears welling in her eyes as she remembered. "I miscarried."
Max felt a sharp stab of sympathy, and it battled with the anger and jealousy raging inside him.
"Was he upset?" he asked her.
Liz frowned in confusion. "Was who upset?"
"The father of the baby," Max said harshly. "Was he there with you at the hospital? Was he upset?"
Liz shook her head. He thought the baby was someone else's. "He wasn't there. I was alone."
"Why? Why wasn't he there?"
"He didn't know," Liz told him. "The father didn't know I was pregnant."
"How could he not know?" Max asked her.
Liz could see the anger in his eyes, but she also saw the hurt and the pain behind it. She owed him the truth.
"I never told you," she said faintly.
Max didn't hear her. "What?"
Liz raised her head.
"The father of the baby never knew because I didn't tell him," she said. "You, Max. I never told you."
She saw his eyes widen as he realized what she was saying, then watched him abruptly turn and leave the room. Liz stared at the door for a moment, vainly hoping he'd come back through. She didn't care if he yelled at her, she didn't care if he never spoke to her at all, as long as he came back. When he didn't she lay down on the bed and stared at the wall. Tears were falling rapidly down her face, but she didn't seem aware of them. All she knew, all she was aware of was the screaming in her head that she'd lost him. After everything that had happened, after all the hope she'd had for their future, she'd lost him. And it was all her own fault.

Part Fifteen

Maria walked into the bar and her nose wrinkled as the acrid smell of smoke hit it. She thought she should have been used to it by now, but she wasn't. This was the seventh bar she'd walked into. If she didn't find Max soon, she was going to call the goddamn police to look for him. And if one more guy pinched her on the ass, or anywhere else, they were going to have to call the police to get her. She looked around the dimly lit room, and was about to walk out when she glanced him out of the corner of her eye. She walked over to the booth he was sitting at tapped him on the shoulder.
"Come on," she said gently. "I'm taking you home."
When he looked up at her she was surprised to see that his eyes were clear. He wasn't drunk.
"I tried to get drunk," he told her as if he had read her thoughts. "But I can't. Why is that?"
"Maybe because you know it won't help," Maria said as she slid into the chair across from him. "Max, Liz was hysterical when I spoke to her. You need to come back. I know you're angry at her..."
"Not just her," Max interrupted. "Maybe not even her."
Maria frowned. "I don't understand."
Max heaved a tired sigh. "There are things I didn't tell her either Maria. Things I should have told her. And I'm scared if I do tell her I'll lose her. Especially now."
"Why especially now?" Maria asked.
He raised haunted eyes to hers and Maria felt her throat clench with sympathetic tears.
"I knew where she was," Max whispered. "I knew where she was the whole time, and she was all alone. She went through that hell all alone."
"Why didn't you ever come and see her?" Maria asked, bewildered. "You love her, I know this. Why didn't you ever come and get her?"
Max shook his head. "Pride. That's all, just stupid pride. I was so pissed that she left like that, that she never returned my calls. I decided I was going to wait for her to come to me. I was done chasing her."
Maria could do nothing but shake her head. Max suddenly grabbed her hand and held it tightly.
"If I had known, if I'd had any idea, I'd have been there," he said wildly. "You have to believe that. I never would have let her go through that by herself."
Maria squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I know that Max."
Max nodded, but he didn't let go of he hand.
"But she's alone now Max," she reminded him. "And she needs you just as much as she did then. She's never talked about what happened, not even to me and I'm her best friend. It was like she simply shut it off, put it into a part of her brain where she never had to think about it again. Bringing it up now is putting herself right in the middle of the whole thing again. And you're still not there."
Max thought about what she was saying, and stood up quickly.
"Thank you," he said softly, kissing her on the cheek. "You're amazing."
"I know," Maria said in a superior tone. "It's a curse. Such hard work making other people look bad."
Max chuckled, shaking his head at her.
"I'm going to leave the two of you alone," she informed him. "That lovely friend of yours is taking me out to lunch. After that we're going to visit Ruby. Can I tell her you'll be by to see her today?"
Max nodded.
"I'll be there as soon as I fix things with Liz."
Maria watched him go and smiled.

Max let himself into the room quietly, straining to hear any sound coming from the bedroom. He couldn't hear anything, and closed the door softly behind him in case Liz was asleep. His stomach muscles clenched in nervousness as he approached the bedroom and he took a huge breath before he walked in. Liz was lying on the bed, and her head turned towards him when he sat down beside her. She sat up quickly and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
"I'm sorry," she sobbed, burying her face in his neck. "Max I'm so sorry."
He stroked her hair and whispered to her in a soothing voice. He had no idea what he was saying, just that he wanted her to stop crying.
"I wanted to tell you," Liz babbled. "I wanted to tell you the minute I found out but I couldn't. I just couldn't."
"Why?" Max asked her.
She pulled away, but kept her arms around him as if she was afraid he was going to leave again.
"I knew how angry you were at me for leaving," she told him. "And I didn't return your calls. I didn't think you'd ever want to hear from me again."
Max shook his head. There were that many misunderstandings between them he was surprised they had ever got as far as they had. Laying her down gently back on the bed, he lay down beside her and pulled her tightly against him.
"We're going to talk," he told her. "And we're not leaving this room until everything is sorted out."
Liz nodded her agreement, and they settled into the bed more comfortably. And they started to talk.

Alex looked up when his office door opened, and stood up quickly. Isabel winters stood in the doorway.
"I need to talk to you about my mother," she told him.
Alex nodded. "Um, su...sure. Have a um...."
He looked at the chair across from him and tried frantically to remember what the damn thing was called.
"A seat!" he suddenly said triumphantly. "Have a seat!"
Isabel watched him with a little smile and sat down. Alex returned to his seat and sat back, trying to look relaxed.
"What is it you'd like to know?" he asked her.
"How long is she going to be in there?" Isabel asked him.
"I'm working on getting her out today," Alex reassured her. "I have a preliminary hearing set for this afternoon. Hopefully she can be out by tonight."
"What do you think her chances are?"
Alex sighed. "I won't lie to you. I honestly don't know how we'll go. The jewels were found in her house. I believe your mother, but if it goes to trial we need a jury to believe her."
Isabel nodded. "Will you have dinner with me tonight?"
Alex was about to answer her question with more legal jargon when he realized what she'd said. He stared at her.
Isabel laughed softly. "I know it seems a little fast, and the timing is atrocious, but I'd really like to have dinner with you."
Alex fiddled with the collar of his shirt, something he did when he was nervous. "Don't get me wrong, I'm the last person to look a gift horse in the mouth, but can I ask you why?"
"I make you nervous," Isabel told him.
"You scare the beejesus out of me," Alex admitted.
Isabel nodded. "And I like that. So when are you going to pick me up?"
Isabel nodded. "I'm staying at the same hotel as Max. I'll meet you out the front."
Alex nodded and watched her as she left. When she was gone he just sat where he was, wondering how on earth that had happened. Then a huge smile came over his face, and he decided he didn't care.

Part Sixteen

"So where do we start?" Liz said softly. "There are so many things, so much time."
"We can start wherever you want," Max told her. "You get to ask a question, then I do."
Liz thought about it for a moment, then decided to start at the beginning. "What happened that summer? When I was 16. Why did you do that?"
"It's not hard to figure out why I did it when you consider what's happened in the last couple of days," Max told her. "I knew what Edward was like, even back then. I could see that he would be horrified at the thought of his stepdaughter playing around with the help. And I knew my Dad would suffer for it. I didn't want my Dad losing his job because I couldn't stay away from you. So I had to make you stay away from me. I never really intended for it to work as well as it did. I never expected you to stop writing to me."
"I kept all your letters," she told him. "There in a box I keep in my closet at home."
Max smiled down at her.
"Your turn," Liz said.
"Why did you leave?" Max asked her.
"I was scared."
"Of me?" Max said, frowning.
"No, no, not of you," Liz assured him. "Never of you. I was afraid of the whole situation. Of Edward's reaction, of my mother's. I was worried you only slept with me out of grief. I was worried that once you slept with me you wouldn't want me anymore. I was worried it was all just curiosity, I was worried....."
"When did you have time to worry about all this stuff?" Max said in disbelief.
"I didn't get much sleep that night," Liz said dryly. "By the time the sun came up I'd worked myself into a full-blown panic attack and I ran."
"See, I told you that thinking thing you do is no good," Max cried. "That worrying thing you do is even worse."
"Why did you sleep with me?" Liz asked.
"I should have thought that would have been glaringly obvious," Max said dryly. "I wanted you so badly I couldn't see straight. I still do. It had nothing to do with my father's death, aside from the fact that I used it to get you back here. I slept with you because I needed to. With my father gone, I didn't have to worry about his job anymore. And if keeping my job meant waiting to have you then I didn't want my job."
Liz couldn't help the pleased smile that broke across her mouth. "I guess I really do need to quit thinking so much."
Max chuckled, but he sobered quickly. Things were going to get hard for her now, but he had to know.
"I need to know about the pregnancy Liz," he said quietly. "I need to know everything."
Liz nodded, and took a huge breath.
"I didn't even really suspect I was pregnant until I must have been about 2 months along," she told him. "I thought that the skipped periods and the barfing every morning was just stress. Then it occurred to me that I'd been under stress before, but I'd never missed a period. So I went to the doctor."
"What did you do when he told you?" Max asked.
"I told him he was wrong and walked out," Liz said, chuckling. "I went to another doctor about 2 blocks away. When she told me the same thing, I gave up and admitted I was pregnant."
"How did you feel when you found out?"
Liz smiled softly. "After the shock wore off, I was so happy. I wanted your baby more than anything Max. On the way home I stopped in at the mall and started picking out everything I was going to buy for the baby, even though I'd only just found out."
"Did you ever think about telling me?"
"All the time," Liz admitted. "I wanted to call you and make you come down and see me. But I....I lost the baby before I ever got the chance."
Max gathered her against him tightly when she started to shiver.
"The floor was slippery at work," Liz said quietly. "I'd been complaining about it for ages. I was always so careful, but one day I just wasn't paying attention to where I was going and I slipped and fell over. I felt something....tear inside me. And then I was bleeding."
Max closed his eyes in pain.
"They rushed me over to the hospital, and everything got a bit confusing. They gave me a shot for the pain, and the next thing I remember the doctor was telling me I'd lost the baby."
She started crying quietly, and Max rolled over and tucked her face tenderly into his neck.
"I wanted you there so badly Max," she sobbed. "I was so scared. I tried to tell the doctor's and nurses about you, but I was out of it and I couldn't remember your phone number. Then when I woke up, I didn't want them calling you just to tell you I'd lost your child. So I just dealt with it on my own."
Max rubbed her back slowly, trying to think of something, anything, to say that could make it better for her. But he knew he wouldn't think of anything. So he just held her tightly while she cried.

Alex fiddled with his tie as he walked into the lobby of the hotel. He looked around, and spotted Isabel sitting in a chair. He felt his breath catch at the sight of her, and he pulled on the tie so tightly he nearly choked himself. He frantically adjusted it while Isabel stood up and came over to him. She noticed what he was doing and chuckled.
"You fiddle with things when you're nervous don't you?" she asked him.
Alex nodded, still trying to get the tie loosened enough to speak. Isabel pushed his hands out of the way and did it herself.
"You know, it's okay to be nervous around me," she told him. "It's quite another to be almost killing yourself when you see me."
She finished fixing his tie, and Alex chuckled, his face turning a rather becoming pink.
"It'll get better," Alex promised her. "First dates are always the worst."
"Relax," Isabel ordered. "We're going to be fine. If it makes you feel more comfortable, remember I'm the one that asked you out."
They turned towards the doors, and Alex nodded.
"I've been wondering about that," he admitted. "Why did you ask me out? I remember our two meetings, I was there, and unless I was speaking without being aware of it, I didn't exactly dazzle with my charm."
He opened the car door for her, and Isabel slid in. He closed it behind her and hurried over to his side of the car. Isabel waited until they were on their way before she answered his question.
"If you had tried to dazzle me with your charm, I probably wouldn't have asked you out," she told him. "Those type of guys just don't appeal to me."
"Well I'm certainly not one of them," Alex said without thinking.
Isabel laughed, and Alex smiled.
"You're different," she told him. "I'm very impressed by the fact that you haven't once looked at my chest since you met me."
"Of course I haven't," Alex said with a frown. "Although I feel I should tell you I am very aware that it's there."
Isabel laughed again.
"I like you," she told him. "And I make up my mind about these things very quickly."
Alex could only glance at her in wonder. She looked over and smiled at him.
"Well, than I guess I should say thank you," he said sincerely. "For making up your mind so quickly."
Isabel reached up and put her hand on his cheek. "You're welcome."

Maria rolled over and smiled his face came into focus.
"Hi," she said softly.
Michael smiled and reached over to pull her against him. "Hi yourself."
"I really need to get going," she said regretfully.
"Maria, Max knows you're here, Liz probably knows you're here. Who are you going back for?"
Maria shook her head and got up. She'd always had a problem with spending the whole night in a guys bed, in fact she'd done it maybe three times in her entire life, and she wasn't about to break tradition for a relationship that would end when she went back home.
"I just have to go," she told him. "I'll see you later on anyway."
She leaned over and kissed him quickly before walking quickly out of the room. Michael watched her go, and then flopped back down into the bed with a sigh. That girl was going to be impossible to pin down, he thought. Then grinned as he pictured the fun he would have trying.

Part Seventeen

"I meant to thank you," Isabel said as they sat down to dinner. "For getting Mum out of there so quickly."
"How's she holding up?" Alex asked.
"She was glad to be home," Isabel told him. "And grateful to you. She's still worried about the court case, but she's trying to stay optimistic."
"Wait, what do you mean home," Alex said, frowning. "I thought she would have been staying with you at the hotel."
Isabel shook her head. "I tried to get her to stay with me but she insisted on staying at the estate."
"And Edward let her?"
"I haven't got a call from her yet saying he's kicked her out."
"Clever girl," Alex murmured with a smile.
"What?" Isabel demanded.
"Believe it or not, your mother going back to the estate is the best thing she could have done," Alex explained. "When this thing does go to court, it's going to be very hard for Edward to explain why he let a woman he believes is a thief still live on the grounds."
Isabel smiled. "I never thought about it that way."
Alex nodded and filed the information away for later, looking down at his menu. Isabel looked around the restaurant.
"This is lovely," she told him. "I haven't been here in years. I'm glad you chose this restaurant."
Alex looked around and smiled. The drinks waiter came over and Alex ordered the wine before turning his attention back to Isabel.
"Did you spend much time on the estate growing up?" he asked.
Isabel nodded. "I lived there with Mum, and I went to school with Max and Michael. I left after I graduated."
"What was it like?"
"I had Max to hang around with on weekends while Mum was working, so I never really spent much time alone. But I never really felt comfortable there."
A waiter came to take their orders, and Isabel waited until he was gone before she replied.
"When Mum lived off the estate, I was just a regular kid. The idea of a upper and lower class never occurred to me. But when I was living there....friends of Edward would bring their children to the house and I was never allowed to play with them. It used to upset me because I couldn't understand why. I grew up feeling very isolated."
Alex wished he could tell her he understood, but he didn't. His parents could afford a house just as big as the estate, and he'd never been told he couldn't play with the other kids. But he knew he wanted to say something.
"I'm not going to pretend I know what you're talking about," he said quietly. "But I will tell you I admire you."
Isabel gave him a brilliant smile. "And that is the perfect thing to say."

Liz had stopped crying a while ago, but Max was still holding her and rubbing her back. She lay still, sensing he needed this as much as she did. Finally he pulled away slightly and looked down at her. She saw the look in his eyes, and she smiled up at him.
"You have nothing to feel guilty for Max," she told him. "You didn't know."
Max shook his head. "I could have found you. I knew where you were."
Liz was surprised at this information, but she hid it from him. "And what could you have done Max? I still would have gone to work that day. I still would have fallen. All of this was beyond anybody's control."
She could see she wasn't convincing him, and she wracked her brain for some way to take his mind off it. She reached up and kissed him softly. He pulled back to look at her, a question in his eyes, and Liz smiled, pulling his mouth down to hers again.
Max tried to keep the kisses soft, gentle, but his hunger for her overrode anything else the way he suspected it always would. Running his hands down her sides, he grasped the hem of the nightgown she had on and quickly drew it over her head.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, running his hands over her skin frantically. "I want to take this slowly but..."
"You don't have to," Liz assured him, reaching between them and attacking the buttons on his jeans.
"It's just for a while there I thought I wouldn't be able to do this again," he said. "I just need to.."
Liz got his jeans undone and pushed them down only as far as they needed to go before she wrapped her legs around him.
"It's ok," she whispered, her breath coming in shallow pants. "I promise it's ok."
Max gave in and pushed himself inside her almost roughly. He heard Liz sigh in relief, and knew that she was as happy to have him inside her as he was to be there. He started moving slowly, smoothly, and Liz clung to him tighter. When his rhythm didn't change, she pulled back and looked into his face.
"Um Max?" she said breathlessly.
Max gave her a superior smile. "Mmmm?"
"Is there any particular reason you're going so slowly?" she said with difficulty. She was amazed she was able to carry on a conversation at all.
"I was mistaken," Max told her. "There's no great hurry. Now that I'm here I might as well take my time."
", no," Liz said, moving her hips in an effort to get him to hurry. "You were right the first time. Speed is the key here."
Max closed his eyes and tried to hang on to his control. He moved suddenly and sat up, bringing Liz with him until they were chest-to-chest. Liz just blinked at him. She'd never done it like this before. When he pushed inside her again, Liz's head fell back and she moaned. "Max please..."
Giving in, Max started moving faster. Liz threw her arms around his shoulders and hung on as her orgasm crashed over her quickly, unexpectedly, and took all her breath. She dimly heard Max groan against her neck, and she ran her hand down to the base of his spine and pushed herself down on him more. They stayed that way for a long time, clinging to each other and trying to find the energy to move. Finally Liz raised her head from his shoulder and looked at him.
"See," she said, still trying to catch her breath. "Fast is better. In future maybe you'll listen to me."
Max just buried his face back in her shoulder and laughed.

Maria stood stiffly at the door, waiting for it to open. When it did she stared coldly at Liz's mother.
"I've come to get some things for Liz," she told her.
"Liz won't be coming to pick her things up herself?"
"She hasn't thought of it yet," Maria said. "and I don't want her anywhere near this house."
Nancy nodded and Maria stepped into the house, heading straight for the stairs.
"Miss Deluca," Nancy said behind her. "I'd like to talk to you for a moment if I may."
"You can do anything you want," Maria said, still walking up the stairs. "It's your house. But we do it while I'm packing."
She didn't turn around to see if the woman was following her. She went into the room she'd been staying in first and picked up her suitcase, her clothes still in it. When she had all her things she went into Liz's room. Her mother was waiting.
"How is Liz?" Nancy said hesitantly.
"She's doing a lot better," Maria told her.
"I'm glad."
Maria quickly packed all the clothes she could fit into Liz's suitcase, and turned to walk out the door.
"Miss Deluca, I don't expect you to understand..."
"Good," Maria said, stopping in the doorway. "Because I don't. He hit your daughter. And you let him."
"He's my husband," Nancy said firmly.
Maria shook her head and laughed. She turned around slowly to glare at the woman.
"I feel sorry for you," she said coldly. "I don't think you even realize what kind of daughter you have. And I have the feeling you're never going to know. Liz won't ever set foot in this house again."
Maria waited for some kind of reaction from her and got nothing. She shook her head again in disbelief and walked out. She could hear Nancy following her, but she didn't say anything else. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, the study door opened and Edward walked out.
"Leaving us already Miss Deluca?" Edward said cordially. "Well it was nice having you."
Maria just looked at him in disbelief. The guy was nuts.
"Oh I assure you, the pleasure was all yours," she snapped.
Gathering up the suitcases she hurried out the door.

Part Eighteen

"All rise."
Ruby looked around quickly as she rose, and had to blink back grateful tears. Sitting right behind her were Max, Liz, Michael and Maria, who had a tight hold on Isabel's hand.
"Be seated."
Ruby sat back down and placed her hands in her lap, twisting them nervously. Alex reached under the table and covered them with his hands, squeezing reassuringly. He then turned to the group and got nods from all of them. He'd called them all as witnesses, and they were ready to testify to Edward's behavior that day.
"Ok, let's get things moving," the judge said. "Council call your first witness."
Alex stood up. "The defense calls Elizabeth Parker to the stand your honor."
The prosecution lawyer jumped to his feet.
"Your honor, we object to this witness. I cannot see how her testimony can be at all relevant."
The Judge looked down at the array of papers on his desk.
"Her name is on the witness list Mr Poole," he said. "And she is the defendant's stepdaughter. As a character witness I don't think you can get any more relevant."
"Still, Your Honor..."
"You had your chance to formally object when you were given the witness list," the judge interrupted. "Let's not waste any more of the court's time. Miss Parker, you may take the chair."
Throughout the afternoon, Alex asked very specific questions of all of them, and by the time the court broke for lunch, Edward's case looked decidedly shaky. The entire group met in the same cafe for lunch.
"What happens next?" Isabel asked.
"The prosecution is depending on the officer that found the jewels and Edward," Alex told them. "That's it. I don't think they have a hope in hell of winning."
"I like your optimism," Michael told him. "Now we want the real story."
Alex nearly spat coffee all over the table. He quickly swallowed it and laughed. "You watch too many movies about lawyers Michael. That was the real story."
Michae looked really disappointed. "Well damn. Can't you make something up?"
Alex thought about it. "Ok, the real truth is I don't like our chances. We can only hope they don't go for the death penalty."
Michael nodded as though it was going exactly as he suspected, and everybody cracked up.

"Mr. Poole, you may call your first witness."
"The Commonwealth calls Officer Daniel Madden your honor."
Alex waited impatiently while the pompous lawyer went through the events of that day step-by-step. By the time the idiot was finished he wanted to stand up and request he be able to go home.
"Your witness council."
Alex stood up and smiled at the young officer, who was clearly nervous. "I know you're busy Officer Madden, I won't take up much more of your time. Now, when you came out of the house and showed Mr Ross the jewels, what was his reaction?"
The officer frowned. "That was real confusing."
"Confusing why?" Alex asked.
"He looked real mad that we found them in her house."
"That's to be expected Officer. Mr Ross had just found out one of his staff had stolen from him."
"No, it wasn't like that. It was like he was expecting them to be in one of the other houses."
Alex nodded. "Thank you officer. I have nothing further your honor."
The officer stepped down and the prosecution stood up. "The Commonwealth calls Edward Ross to the stand."
Alex felt a keen sense of anticipation that lasted all the way through the long-winded and egomaniacal testimony of Edward Ross. When the judge indicated his witness, Alex nearly jumped out of his chair. He wandered over to the stand slowly, giving him a bland smile.
"Good afternoon Mr Ross."
"Good afternoon," he replied with a smirk.
Alex couldn't wait to wipe it off.
"Is it your testimony to the court today that my client robbed you of thousands of dollars in jewelry?"
"It is."
Alex nodded. "You've read, I assume, my client's statement that you intended for the jewels to be found in Max Evans' house, am I correct?"
"I have read it," Edward agreed. "It's ridiculous."
"You dispute the statement?"
"Of course I do."
"Ms Winters' is the thief?"
Alex nodded.
"Just one last question Mr Ross. Can you explain to this court why Ms Winters is still residing on your estate, if you are so sure she's the thief?"
The prosecution erupted with objections, and the judge banged his gavel for quiet.
"Take your seat council," he told Alex. "And Mr Ross you may return to your chair. There will be a ten minute recess."

"Ten minutes?" Maria said when the judge had left. "What, does he need to take a pee?"
Alex laughed. "No. Basically it's all for show. He needs to make it look like he's seriously thought over his decision."
"What do you think he's going to do?" Isabel asked.
"Come back and declare a mistrial." Alex said confidently.
Edward stood up and walked in their direction, and Max stood up, placing himself in front of Liz.
"There's no need for dramatics Evans."
"No, well I don't imagine even you're stupid enough to lay a hand on her in here," Max said. "But I'm not moving."
"Your mother wants to see you Elizabeth," Edward informed her.
"No," Lix said simply. "I'm not going back into that house."
Edward took another step forward, and Max took one as well.
"I wouldn't," he said softly.
Alex and Michael stood up as well, and Edward glared at them all before he stalked back to the desk.
"Well, that was exciting," Alex said before sitting down. "I've never done that before. I have to hang around with you guys more often. Makes me look all manly."
They talked amongst themselves quietly, waiting for the judge to get back. Isabel kept looking at her watch anxiously, and after watching her do it for the tenth time, Alex reached over and covered her hands with his.
"Looking at your watch every five seconds won't make the time go by any faster,"
She smiled at him. "I know. But I thought I'd test the theory."
"All rise."
Alex quickly spun around in his chair and stood up. Isabel resumed her death grip on Maria's hand, and Alex held on to Ruby. The judge sat, and shuffled his papers before lifting his eyes to the room.
"I'm appalled that this case has even come into my courtroom," he said severely. "I would like to start by apologizing to you Ms Winters. I can only imagine how difficult the last two weeks has been for you. Secondly, Mr Ross, I'd like to inform you that if ever bring any kind of lawsuit before this court again, it will be reviewed very closely before any action is taken. I could have you charged with perjury, but I have no proof, other than gut instinct, that you're lying. So I will let it go. And I won't take up any more of your time. This case is dismissed. Ms Winters you are free to go."

posted on 5-Feb-2002 8:00:39 AM
Part Nineteen

Liz kept one eye on Max as he packed, and one eye on the door. Max saw what she was doing.
"Liz, you know Edward isn't here today," he told her. "Quit watching the door."
"I can't help it," she said, still watching the door. "You know if he finds you in here he'll have you charged with breaking and entering or something like that."
"He hasn't officially fired me. He can't kick me off the grounds."
Liz made a skeptical noise. "Max, he tried to have you charged with theft. Getting you kicked off the estate for some trumped up reason will probably be a piece of cake."
"Liz I really don't have time to stop my packing and come over there and hug you," he said. "So if you could just put your worrying on hold, until we get my stuff and get out of here..."
Liz waved her hands at him to continue packing, and forced her eyes away from the door. She looked around the room.
"What are you going to do about all your furniture?" she asked him.
"Some of the other people that work here have promised to get it of the estate and into storage so I can come back and get it," he told her.
"Max," Liz said hesitantly. "I've been thinking about your idea of coming home with me..."
"You're not going to talk me out of it Liz so don't bother trying."
"I just think it's a rather huge step considering how long we've been together..."
"I've waited years for you," Max reminded her. "This is not rushing."
Max walked over and kissed her. After a while he puled back and smiled down at her, his breathing unsteady.
"That's a really nasty trick," Liz said. "And don't think it will work every time."
Max stayed where he was, his arms around Liz, and looked over at the door. "What do you want Nancy?"
"I'd like to speak to both of you for a moment if I could."
Liz looked up and Max.
"If you don't want her here just tell her to go," she told him. "Don't let her in for my sake."
Max smiled down at her. "You can come in Nancy but make it quick."
She stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind her. She stood there wringing her hands for a moment before she spoke.
"I just wanted to come and tell you how sorry I am about what's happened, Max" she said sincerely. "I tried to tell the police that the jewels were never missing, but they wouldn't believe me. It didn't seem to matter to them that the jewels were mine. Edward was telling them they had been stolen, and that seemed to be that."
She looked at Liz's face, at the bruise still coloring her cheek, and she smiled sadly.
"I don't know if sorry is going to be good enough for you," she whispered. "But it's all I have. I never realized Edward was capable of that Liz. I would never had stayed with him if I thought there was even a remote chance he would do what he did to you."
"You said almost exactly the opposite to Maria," Liz snapped.
"Yes well, you have a very loyal friend there," Nancy said dryly. "She said a lot of things while she was here too. I didn't want to hear them but I think I needed to. I have a lot of decisions to make. I just wanted to take this opportunity to apologize."
Liz knew she should say something forgiving, but she didn't have it in her. What she wanted to do was scream at her mother for letting him hit her, for trying to keep her and Max apart, for speaking to Maria the way she had. She knew Max would let her, the same way she knew she would feel horrible for it later. In the end Max saved her having to say anything.
"Nancy, I really need to get going. If you're done?"
She looked at Liz for a moment longer, then nodded and turned and left. Max hugged Liz tighter.
"You ok?" he asked softly.
Liz thought about it, and then nodded. "Yes, I am. I could have said everything I wanted to say, all the hateful stuff I wanted to throw at her, but I didn't."
"Why?" Max asked her.
"I know I'll regret it later," she told him. "Plus....there was something in the way she said things."
Max nodded. "I don't see her staying with Edward much longer."
"Well, maybe we can fix things when she's away from him," Liz said. "But as long as she's living in this house we won't talk again. Hurry up and pack. I want to get away from here."
Max nodded and moved away from her again to throw a few last things in the box he was packing. When he was finished he put the last box in the car and called out to Liz. As she closed the door behind her she tool one last long look at the huge house across the grounds. Then she got in the car and let Max drive her away.

Maria lay in the bed and stared at the ceiling.
"How long is it exactly that you want me to stay here?" she finally asked.
Michael grinned. He'd decided he was going to start getting Maria used to the idea of staying in his bed longer than ten minutes after the act.
"I like having you here," he told her. "You just have to lie there. It's really not that hard."
Maria glared at him. "You know, there's really no good reason for me to stay here unless you're planning to have more sex."
"Beds aren't just for sex you know."
"I know that. They are also very useful for throwing clothes on when you're getting ready for a date that you hope will end in sex," she told him.
Michale chuckled. "Just stay put."
Maria went back to staring at the ceiling, then she started fidgeting. Michael had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. She really hated this. She looked at her watch.
"How much longer now?" she asked him.
Micahel cuddled her up next to him and threw his leg over hers for good measure. She wasn't running.
"Close your eyes," he ordered. "Maybe you'll go to sleep. I've heard it makes the time go faster."
Maria heaved an aggravated sigh but did as she was told. Only because she couldn't move her damn legs. Michael watched her until he was sure she was asleep before closing his own eyes and yawning. The things he was going to have to do to keep this woman, he thought to himself before he too drifted off to sleep.

"So what is your mother going to do now?" Alex asked Isabel over lunch.
"She's going to stay with my Aunt for a while," she told him. "She told me she's been saving for a while and can afford to take an extended holiday without having to worry about money."
"Good," Alex said firmly. "She needs to get away from that house."
"I agree," Isabel said warmly.
"And what about you? I guess you'll be heading back now that all this business is done here."
Isabel looked at him closely as she answered. "Not really. I took a six month leave of absence from work when I found out what had happened to Mum. I had no idea how long it was going to take. I thought I might hang around, see how this thing plays out."
"This thing being you and me?" Alex asked, gesturing to the two of them.
Isabel nodded. "I want to see how you fit."
The mental images that statement brought to mind had Alex reaching for his glass of water with one hand and his tie with the other. Isabel cracked up. Alex took a big gulp of water and put the glass down.
"Don't think I'm not grateful," he told her. "I am. But don't you think that's a bit rash?"
Isabel shrugged. "I told you, I make my mind up about these things quickly."
Alex just shook his head. "I've never met anyone like you."
Isabel smiled. "Well of course you haven't."

Part Twenty

Two weeks later

Maria woke up slowly and stretched, smiling when she felt Michael's arms come around her.
"Morning," he whispered.
She opened her eyes and looked out the window. "Yes it is."
"And you're still here," he pointed out. "Horror."
"Don't gloat Michael, it's very unattractive."
He chuckled and kissed her gently on the shoulder. "So, what are your plans for today?"
Maria looked at the clock, then sat up reluctantly and got out of bed.
"I'm having lunch with Max and Liz."
Michael followed her into the bathroom and watched her turn on the shower. "How do you feel about him moving in?"
Maria shrugged and climbed into the shower. "Actually, I was thinking about moving out anyway," she admitted. "I just hadn't figured out a way to tell Liz yet. This is the perfect opportunity."
She felt him get into the shower behind her, and she swung around.
"Hey! Did I volunteer to share my shower with you?"
"If I waited for an invitation from you for anything, we wouldn't be here," he told her. "I'd still be watching your cute ass as it left my room in a hurry. And besides, I'm a water conservationist."
He grabbed the shampoo, poured some into his hands, then brought them up and started lathering her hair. Maria sighed and closed her eyes. There were definite perks to being around in the morning.
"I'll forgive you this once," she told him. "But only because you told me my ass is cute."
"Of course," Michael said dryly before angling her head and rinsing it off. Then he picked up the soap and began rubbing it on her shoulders.
"So, when do you think you'll all be going back?" he murmured, his attention on her body. Maybe the shower thing wasn't such a great idea. Especially if she expected to make it to lunch on time.
"I think Liz wants to be leaving in the next couple of days," Maria said, sighing as his hands drifted gently over her body. "She wants to get away from everything. I think she's afraid she'll run into Edward."
Michael processed this information for later review, and slid his hands, that had been lingering on her waist, lower. Maria straightened suddenly with a gasp, and she grabbed his hands with hers.
"I'm going to lunch," she told him a little desperately.
Michael turned around and grinned down at her. "You're going to be late."

Alex lay where he was, perfectly still, watching her sleep. He felt like pinching himself, or punching himself, to make sure he wasn't still asleep. Isabel Winters was here. In his bed. She turned over and murmured softly, and Alex held his breath. He didn't want to wake her. If he woke her, she'd probably leave.
"What time is it?" she murmured drowsily.
"," he looked over at the clock. "It's 11.30. You probably have to leave right."
Isabel cracked open one eye to frown at him. "Alex, I'm the world's laziest person. I can, and have, stayed in bed all day. Is there some reason you want me rushing off?"
"No!" Alex said frantically. "That's not what I meant! I just assumed...."
Isabel closed her eye again and shifted over to snuggle up against him. "Is there somewhere you have to be?"
Alex scanned his mental calendar. There were a million places he had to be. And none of them were as important as here. "No."
"Good," Isabel said, kissing his chest sleepily and settling next to him more comfortably. "I'm not done. But I need more sleep. It's been a rough week. If you're not tired, just stay with me until I go to sleep, then you can get up. If you get up now, I have to get up now, and I don't want to get up."
Her babbling was getting less coherent the further she drifted into sleep, and Alex chuckled, wrapping his arms around her tightly. "I'll stay. Just go back to sleep. You sound stupid."
Isabel punched him weakly on the arm, told him she'd get him for that, then sighed and softened against him. All Alex could do was stare up at the ceiling, grinning like an idiot.

"So, we'll leave here either Thursday or Friday," Max suggested as they both got dressed for lunch.
Liz nodded. "That way you and I have plenty of time to start looking for somewhere else to live before I start back at work."
"When's that?" Max called from the bathroom.
Liz checked her personal calendar. "I took six weeks, so somewhere around the 20th of July."
Max came into the room buttoning up his shirt. "That gives me some time to look for work too."
Liz nodded. Max smiled before walking back into the bathroom again to finish getting ready. Liz looked at her calendar again...and froze. She checked it again, turning back the page to last month frantically, searching. When she found what she was looking for she flipped back again. She sat down on the bed suddenly, feeling lightheaded. She'd missed her period.
"What's wrong?" Max asked sharply, kneeling down in front of her. "You've gone all pale."
Liz shook her head.
"I'm..I'm fine," she said faintly. "I guess I'm just...just hungry that's all. I haven't eaten today."
Max frowned at her, not sure whether to believe her or not, and she smiled at him with as much reassurance as she could muster. "I'm fine. I just need to eat."
He looked her over carefully again, then moved away reluctantly. Liz kept the smile plastered on her face until he left the room, then it disappeared. They'd done it again. She thought about it and she wasn't surprised. They were always in such a...hurry. She chuckled softly at the irony of it. After what she'd said, she'd gone ahead and got pregnant by accident again. Only this time she couldn't run away. This time she had to tell him.

Part Twenty One

"So," Maria said definitely. "I was thinking I'd move out."
Liz had been staring down at her plate, wondering how the hell she was going to eat what she'd ordered when her stomach was tied up in knots. But she looked up when Maria made her announcement.
"You don't have to do that. Max and I were going to move out."
Maria shook her head.
"It was your place first Liz," she said logically. "And you need to be close to work. I've been wanting to find a new place anyway. This is the perfect opportunity."
Liz opened her mouth to protest again but Maria put her hand up.
"I'll stay until I find a new place, but then I'm going," she insisted. "I've made up my mind."
Liz shrugged, giving up, and looked down at her plate again. Maria frowned.
"Babe, are you okay?"
Max also stared down at her.
"No, she's not," he stated. "She went all pale on me this morning, claiming it was because she was hungry, and now she won't eat. But she won't tell me what's going on. Maybe you can get it out of her."
Liz looked at both of them and plastered on her sunniest smile.
"I'm fine," she told them firmly. "So quit glaring at me, both of you. And I am eating."
She speared a lettuce leaf with her fork and stuck it in her mouth. "See."
Max arched his eyebrows.
"That was hardly convincing," he told her. "But I'll let it go. For now."
Liz frowned mightily at him. "Don't you threaten me Max Evans, or you'll find yourself in New York sleeping on my doorstep."
"Timeout!" Maria said sharply, laughing. "Geez, I'm glad I'm moving out if you guys fight like this all the time."
Max looked at her. "We're not fighting."
Liz nodded her head in agreement. Maria looked at their identical expressions of confusion and shook her head.
"So, how's it going with Michael?" Liz asked.
Maria continued to shake her head, and Liz chuckled.
"I just don't get him!" Maria exploded.
"Oh, I'd say you've definitely got him," Max said dryly.
"Just stay out of this Max," Liz ordered, leaning toward Maria with interest.
"Fine," Max said loudly, trying to pout. "Don't mind me. I'll just fade into the wall over here. Ignore me."
He was more than a little peeved when they took his advice.
"It's just he's always trying to get me to stay in bed," Maria confided. "I'm beginning to wonder if he has some sort of problem."
Max barely managed to keep his mouth shut.
"Wait, you've stayed with him all night?" Liz said in disbelief. "Maria, you never do that!"
Maria glared. "That point is irrelevant, and we are not going to have this discussion if you're not going to be on my side."
Liz held up both hands. "Fine. No need to get hostile. Has he said anything about you leaving?"
Maria shook her head, surprising Max. The last time he'd spoken to Michael he had every intention of either keeping Maria here or following her to New York.
"I'm going to the bathroom," he told them, getting out of his chair.
Maria waited until he was gone before she turned and pinned Liz with an intense gaze.
"Now that he's gone I want know what's wrong with you," she said firmly. "And don't give me that stupid smile. I know you."
Liz stared down at the table.
"I'm late," she whispered.
"Late for what?"
Liz looked up. "Just late."
Maria's eyes widened with comprehension. "Oh shit."
"That's really eloquent Maria," Liz snapped. "You don't know how much better that makes me feel."
"I'm sorry," Maria said, rubbing her forehead. "I was just surprised that's all. What are you going to do?"
"I'm still at the point where I want it to be a mistake," Liz admitted.
Maria nodded. "But if it's not?"
"Then I tell Max," Liz said heavily. "And I take it from there. But first I need to find out. Can you buy me a pregnancy test? I don't want to run the risk of Max spotting it before I'm ready to tell him."
"Of course," Maria assured her. "I'll pick one up today. Come to my room first thing tomorrow morning and we'll find out."
Liz nodded, at least a little relieved that Maria seemed to be willing to take control of the situation. She couldn't think past finding out, and dealing with it either way when she did. Because there was a part of her, a very big part, that very badly wanted a baby.

Isabel woke up to see Alex waving a cup of hot coffee under her nose. She took a deep breath and moaned, reaching for the cup. Alex held it just out of reach.
"You're playing with something very dangerous here Alex," she warned him. "You will give me that cup of coffee now, or I will take drastic action."
Alex slapped her smartly on the ass. "Get out of bed."
Isabel sat up slowly, rubbing her injured bottom. "I'm going to get you for this."
"I sincerely hope so," Alex said, sighing. "Now get up. I'm starving, and there's nothing to eat here. We have to go out."
Isabel trailed out after him into his little kitchen, and poked her head into the fridge, taking inventory. One egg, beer, and a couple of containers housing what she could only assume were science experiments.
"You're right," she said, pulling her head out and closing the fridge door. "I'll go get dressed."
Alex snagged her as she was walking past and kissed her. When he was done, Isabel pulled back and grinned at him.
"Or we could just go back to bed."
"I am not a machine!" Alex told her sternly. "I need food or I will shrivel up and die."
"Then what did you kiss me for?"
"Because you're beautiful and you're here, and I've been watching your ass the whole time your head was stuck in the fridge."
"Pervert," Isabel said lightly.
Alex watched her as she sauntered out of the room, and grimaced when the phone rung. He picked it up.
There was silence on the other end, then an angry voice came over the line. "Who is this?"
"You first," Alex said coldly.
"I want to speak to Isabel now. Her mother Ruby gave me this number."
"May I ask who's calling?"
"Tell her it's Eric. Her fiancé."

Part Twenty Two

Liz chewed on her fingernails as she stared at the bathroom door. Maria had been in there forever. What was taking her so damn long?
"Maria!" she called out desperately. "What are you doing?"
"I'll be right out?" Maria yelled back. "Just give me a second!"
Liz went back to chewing her fingernails. When the bathroom door did finally open, Liz held her breath. Maria came out slowly, looking at the little stick in her hand. She looked up at Liz slowly...and nodded.
"I just can't believe this!" Liz said, jumping up from the chair and grabbing the stick. "What kind of idiot gets pregnant by accident twice?"
"Liz, calm down," Maria ordered, pushing her back into the chair. "And woman get pregnant by accident all the time."
"Not at my age they don't!"
"Liz, you're hardly Methuselah," Maria said sternly. "And there are bigger things to worry about right now. When are you going to tell Max?"
"I thought I'd wait until I go to the doctor's and get it confirmed. Home tests are wrong all the time."
Maria shook her head. "Liz, he deserves to know...."
"And I have every intention of telling him Maria, but I want to make sure there's something to tell," Liz said. "I'll go to the doctor's as soon as we get back to New York."
"Why not here?" Maria said. "You can get an appointment this afternoon and tell Max tonight."
"Do you really think it's wise to leave it that long?"
"The move is going to be stressful enough without having this on top of it," Liz said defensively. "I'm going to wait.
Maria opened her mouth again but Liz interrupted. "I love you dearly for doing this for me, and I know you're just worried, but please let me handle this."
It was clear she didn't want to, but Maria let it go. Liz got up slowly and put her coat on.
"I'd better go. Max is paranoid about me being away for too long since the whole thing with Edward happened."
"I don't blame him," Maria said. "Did you want to have dinner tonight?"
Liz nodded. "Sounds good. You can bring Michael."
Maria frowned.
"Why don't you just admit you like the guy?" Liz asked her.
"God knows what he'd do then," Maria said darkly.
Liz shook her head, chuckling. "Bring him tonight. You're sleeping with the man, you can at least invite him to dinner."
"Fine, fine. I'll invite him. But don't blame me if he decides this means we're engaged!!"
"Then you can have a nice big wedding, and I'll be your maid of honor."
Maria threw up her hands. "You're not helping!"
Liz walked to the door and opened it. "I'll see the two of you tonight."
Maria nodded.
"The two of you Maria."
"Fine!" Maria yelled. "Now go away. I have a phone call to make."
Liz closed the door behind her, and Maria took a deep breath before picking up the phone. She dialed the number and waited for him to pick up, tapping her foot nervously.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but you're invited to dinner," Maria said, a little hostile. "With me. And Max and Liz."
The was dead silence on the other end, then Michael spoke, his tone dry.
"What a flattering invitation. Where exactly is this dinner, and what time?"
"I'll let you know."
"I'll be there," he promised, then hung up.
Maria stared at the phone, absurdly hurt. He'd hung up on her.

Isabel banged on the door and stepped back. If he didn't answer she was going to knock the damn thing down. She listened carefully, and finally heard footsteps approaching the door. It swung open and she stepped inside.
"He's not my fiancé," she said quickly, before Alex could say anything. "He was never my fiancé. We were sleeping together, yes, but I didn't think it was serious. He did. He asked me one night where I wanted the wedding to be. Apparently he had decided that it was time we got married."
She stopped and looked at Alex, trying to gauge his reaction. She couldn't see anything.
"What happened?" he asked in a too casual tone.
"I ran," Isabel admitted. "I broke up with his answering machine and I ran. He's been hounding me ever since."
"Your mother gave him this number..."
"My mother doesn't know," Isabel said. "I haven't told her. He's my problem and I'll deal with it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Alex asked quietly. "I would have understood."
"I know you would have," Isabel told him gently. "It wasn't a question of that. Alex, my own mother doesn't know. I haven't told anybody. And I wanted things to work out with you, I really did."
Alex looked at her for a long moment, then sighed and pulled her into his arms.
"They are working out," he said reassuringly. "He just threw me for a loop, that's all."
"Threw me too," Isabel admitted. "But I'm kinda glad he called. At least now you know."
She could feel Alex nod, and she looked up at him.
"I only have one more thing to say before you can carry me off to bed in a nice manly fashion."
"What's that?"
"If you ever throw me out again, I'll kill you."
Alex swung her up in his arms with a flourish. "Whatever you say Isabel."
He pressed his mouth to hers, stifling her laughter, and carried her off to bed in the most suitable manly fashion.

Maria opened the door and frowned.
"What are you doing here?"
"I didn't want to wait until tonight," Michael said, dropping the bag he had with him before grabbing her for a long, hard kiss and closing the door with his foot. He kept at it until she moaned, then he let her go.
Maria pressed her hand to her pounding heart and smiled. "Hello to you too."
He smiled back and looked around the room. "Nice."
"It'll do," Maria said, dismissing the subject. "Max is due over any minute and we'll find out where we're going to dinner."
Michael nodded. "I'll just use your bathroom to change."
Maria waved her hand, and he picked up the bag he had with him and wandered in, closing the door behind him. She went and sat back down on the couch, where she'd been contemplating which nail polish to wear. She heard the bathroom door open, but she didn't look up.
"That didn't take long," she said.
"What's this?"
Maria looked up and saw the box. She shook her head. "Whatever you're thinking, don't. That box isn't mine."
Neither of them heard the door open quietly, or see Max walk in.
"It's in your bathroom Maria. Who else could it belong to?"
Max spotted the box and turned around silently, hoping to slip out of the room. Maria's next words stopped him.
"It's Liz's. She asked me to pick it up for her. She thinks she might be pregnant, and she doesn't want Max to know."

Part Twenty Three

"He knows now," Michael said, pointing behind her.
Maria spun around and saw Max. She jumped out of her chair and rushed over to him.
"I'm so sorry," she told him. "I'm so very sorry. You shouldn't have found out like this."
"Why doesn't she want me to know?"
"The move," Maria told him. "She thinks it's going to be stressful enough."
"That's crap, but we'll move on. Has she made an appointment to see a doctor?"
Maria shook her head. "She's planning to wait until you get back to New York."
Max frowned. "I'm not sure I like that. Why doesn't she just make an appointment before we leave?"
Maria wasn't sure whether he was angry at Liz or just concerned about her. "I told her to but she said no."
Max sighed. "Well, then I guess I'll have to wait."
Maria frowned at him. "You're not angry?"
Max shook his head. "Liz's mind works in mysterious ways sometimes, but this time I know how it's working. She's just scared. I'm not going to make it any better by forcing her to tell me. I'll let it go for now, until she's been to the doctors. If she doesn't tell me after that, then we're going to have a problem."
Maria smiled and hugged him. "You're a sweetheart."
"Don't tell Liz that. She already walks all over the top of me. If she knew how nice I was it would get worse."
"Congratulations," Michael said sincerely.
Max smiled. "Thanks."
"What did you come in here for anyway?" Maria asked him.
Max frowned, trying to remember. His brain had taken a complete frying.
"Oh, that's right. Speaking of Liz, she isn't feeling well, but she said you and Michael should go ahead and enjoy dinner. She made reservations for 8 o'clock at the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday."
Maria sighed and nodded. "Tell her I will be going to dinner, but I know what she's up to, it won't work, and we will be having a serious discussion about it later."
Max looked confused, but nodded. "Ok. I'll tell her. You guys have a good time."
"We will," Michael said.
Max nodded again and walked out the door. Maria turned around and looked at Michael.
"I think Liz likes me," he said lightly.
Maria could only glare.

"So, what exactly are we going to do about this fiancé of yours?" Alex asked.
"We aren't going to do anything," Isabel told him. "It's my problem."
"And you're my problem," Alex said simply.
"Well now that's romantic," she said. "This is Isabel. What? No, she's not my girlfriend, she's my problem."
"You know what I meant," Alex told her, chuckling. "What are the chances this guy is going to show up?"
"If mom told him I'm here, there's a pretty good chance he'll turn up here eventually. Why?"
"I'd just like to be prepared."
"Will you bash him up for me?" Isabel said in a sweet voice.
"No, but I'll make sure I have someone here who will. I wouldn't know how to go about bashing someone."
Isabel stopped what she was doing and stared at him. "You've never gotten into a fight with anyone?"
"Of course I've gotten into fights. But not since I was a teenager. And then I had a certain way of doing things."
"And how was that?"
"I yelled," Alex told her.
Isabel waited, but he didn't say anything else. "And then?"
Alex shrugged. "I yelled some more. Then if that didn't work...I ran."
Isabel burst into laughter, and Alex frowned at her.
"Well have you looked at me lately?" he said defensively. "I'm not exactly beefcake. I could get killed in a fight."
Isabel still hadn't stopped laughing when she got up from her chair and went around the table to sit in his lap.
"My hero," she choked out, still giggling.
Alex wrapped his arms around her. "You just sit there and laugh at me. I can take it."
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping her eyes. "I really am."
Alex nodded. "I forgive you."
She kissed him on the cheek, and with a last little giggle, lay her head on his shoulder.
"How big would you say this Eric is?" Alex asked her. "I might consider taking him on for you if he isn't too big."
"How big are you willing to go?" Isabel negotiated.
Alex put his hand up and slowly raised it to about the height of a twelve year old child. Isabel bit her lip hard to stop herself from laughing again. She patted him on the back. "What matters is that you'd try."
Alex sighed. All he could do was hope the guy didn't show up.

Max let himself into the room quietly, and smiled when Liz came out of the bedroom.
"Did you tell Maria we weren't going?"
He nodded and went over to her, sliding his arms around her. "She didn't look happy, and told me she would talk to you about it later."
Liz smiled. "I'm going to get in big trouble."
Max looked at her face, at her smile, and felt his breath catch somewhere in his chest and stay there. He'd been waiting for this woman, in love with this woman, his whole life. She was having his child. He pulled her closer and kissed her, trying to tell her without words how he felt about her. When he pulled away, Liz stood quietly, a concerned look on her face. "What's wrong?"
Max suddenly smiled. "There's nothing wrong. In fact, everything is perfect. Marry me."

posted on 5-Feb-2002 8:01:33 AM
Part Twenty Four

Liz just stared at him.
"Where did this come from?"
Max frowned at her. "From my mouth. Now you can say yes."
She wanted to, so badly, but she couldn't help being suspicious. "Why do you want us to get married all of a sudden?"
"It's not all of a sudden," he told her. "I've wanted you for years, you know that."
"You've got me," Liz said calmly. "We don't need to get married."
That he didn't like. "I'm not going to settle for being in a relationship with you Liz. I want marriage. I want to know you're going to stay with me."
"I am going to stay with you."
"I want to know you're legally required to stay with me."
Liz laughed softly. She looked at him for a long time, and Max stood calmly, hoping she found whatever it was she was looking for.
"Alright," she said finally. "I'll marry you."
Max closed his eyes in relief and held her tightly. Liz clung to him, fear and love warring for control of her insides.
"I guess we should tell someone," Liz murmured.
"Later," Max told her, and lifted her face for a kiss.
The sun streamed through the window, spilling over the bed as he lay her on it and slowly took off her clothes. Liz was surprised when he stopped, leaving her in her underwear. The mattress gave under his weight, and he linked his fingers with hers. And watching her, always watching her, he took her mouth again. The sudden demand stabbed into Liz, shocking her senses and sending heat spreading through her. She arched, a groan escaping her. He dragged her up, hands rough, his grip almost bruising, pulling a gasp from her as her head fell back, her hair tumbled. Then he used his fingertip to nudge the straps of her bra over each shoulder. He danced his fingers lightly over the swell, with his thumb circled her nipples through the cotton. He unhooked her bra, drew it aside. But when she reached for him, he pressed her hands flat on the bed, sliding them back until her elbows locked. His mouth all but savaged hers, ripping down to her gut with one jagged and panicked thrill.
He'd never been like this. Liz wanted to resist, to push him back before he dragged her over a line she wasn't sure she wanted to cross. But then his mouth was on hers again, the scrape of teeth, the flick of his tongue whipping hot points of pleasure into her. He rolled her back on the bed, tugging off his shirt. Her eyes were blurred now, her breathing as ragged as his. This time when she reached for him, he slid into her arms.
His mouth was urgent, his hands impatient as they molded and pressed and stroked. Liz dragged at his jeans, desperate now that nerves had been swallowed by needs. He stripped them aside, then sent her flying when he yanked up her hips and used his mouth on her.
Her hands locked around the rungs of the bed. Her head whipped to the side as sensations swamped her. His taste, his scent flooded her senses, swelled them until there was nothing else. Her breath sobbed out an instant before her long mindless cry of release.
Even as her hands went limp, Max locked his around them. His heart was pounding, his breathing almost nonexistent. The last lights of day, and the dying breeze of evening brushed over her face. Her hair was a wild mass over the pillows, her cheeks flushed.
"Open your eyes Liz. Look at me." When her lids fluttered up, he clung to the last of his control, bent his head and kissed her. "Say my name."
Liz didn't know what he wanted, but the pressure had built again, the terrible, glorious heat of it. "Max."
"Say it again."
She thought wildly about asking him if he forgot his name often, but she couldn't gather her thoughts enough. Her fingers flexed under his. "Max."
"Again." And he plunged into her.
Her mind went blank. She moved with him, matching each slow, smooth stroke. When the rhythm quickened, Liz was ready, eager, and enraptured by the way his eyes, the beautiful brown of them, remained fixed on hers.
"Stay with me." Max was lost in her now, drowning in her. His heart beat brutally against hers as he buried his face in her hair.
With their hands still gripped, they let go.

Maria stared at him suspiciously. Hed hardly said two words all night, but she could tell something was brewing. He kept looking at her then down at his plate. It was driving her crazy.
"Are you trying to figure out how to break it off with me?" she finally asked when he looked at her again.
"No!" he assured her quickly. "It's nothing like that."
"Really?" Micheal said quietly. "I wasn't sure you'd even be bothered."
Maria looked at him carefully, and knew her behavior was at best confusing him, and at worst hurting him. She put down her fork.
"I know," she said, sighing. "And I am sorry. It's just the way I am. Relationships scare me. And this one happened really fast."
"I'm not exactly comfortable either Maria," he told her. "I've had to fight you for everything. Do you have any idea how hard it is to ask you to spend the night with me when I know you don't want to? I might not have much Maria but I have my pride. Or at least I had it, until I handed it to you."
Maria closed her eyes when she felt the sting of guilty tears. Everything he was telling her was true. she'd walked all over the top of him. And he stayed.
"If you really want to know what's going on in my head, I was trying to figure out how to ask you to stay with me."
Her eyes flew open again. "Stay with you?"
Michael nodded. "You're planning to go back to New York in a few days. I'm asking you to stay."
"For the summer?"
"And longer."
Maria shook her head. "My job..."
"I thought you might bring that up," Michael said. "So then I'm asking you to take me with you."
"You want to come with me home to New York?"
"I'd follow you to the bottom of a well if that's where you lived," he said simply.
Maria thought about everything he'd said, everything he'd done since they started out, and she knew that no matter how scared she was, she didn't want to lose him. Not yet.
Michael frowned. "Ok what?"
"Ok I'll take you home."
"Just like that?"
Maria nodded. "Just like that."
He frowned. "That's not right. I was prepared to argue all night. What am I supposed to do now?"
Maria chuckled. "I'll let you figure that out."

Liz lay quietly, watching Max. He had a tight hold on her, even in his sleep, and even though she wasn't uncomfortable, she was restless. And she knew why. She was going to marry this man, she was having his baby, although he didn't know about that yet. They had just spent the most wonderful afternoon in bed. She should be happy. She should be delirious. But in the aftermath she had lay there thinking. And it had hit her.
Max had never said he loved her. Not once.

Part Twenty Five

“Oh yeah,” Max said, flopping down on the couch, exhausted. “This was a great idea.”
They’d just finished packing the moving van with all Max’s things. It had taken all of them, Michael and Maria included, all morning to pack both Max and Michael’s things.
“Yeah, well just remember it was your idea,” Liz said, struggling with her suitcase.
“Put that down!”
Liz dropped it in surprise and stared at the three of them. Maria’s reaction she could understand, she knew about the baby, but Max and Michael had her baffled.
“Fine,” she snapped. “Max, you take the suitcase down to the car, Michael, you need to go and take something for your unwarranted panic attacks, and Maria, you will come with me. I want to talk to you.”
She glared at all of them before stalking back into the bedroom. When Maria joined her she slammed the door.
“Way to not let her know you know Maxwell,” Michael said with a grin.
“You yelled too,” Max muttered, picking up the suitcase. “Jesus what does she have in this thing?”
“The feminine suitcase is a mysterious thing,” Michael said in his best discovery channel voice. “It’s kinda bottomless, like their handbags.”
Max nodded in agreement as he rather unsteadily carried the case out of the room.

“You can’t be yelling at me like that in front of Max!” Liz told Maria. “He’ll know something’s up.”
Maria almost smiled. He already knew everything.
“I’m sorry,” she said instead. “It won’t happen again.”
“I mean, we don’t even know if I’m pregnant yet. The test could have been wrong.”
“Has your period started yet?”
“No,” Liz said crossly. “But that doesn’t mean anything.”
“In this particular case it does,” Maria said impatiently. “When are you going to give up and admit you’re pregnant?”
“When the doctor tells me and not a moment before.”
Maria just shook her head.
“How did Michael end up coming with us?” Liz asked, changing the subject.
“That is all your fault!” Maria cried. “You were the one that cancelled on dinner. So there I was, all by myself, and he turned those eyes of his on me and asked if I’d take him to New York. I was a goner.”
Liz laughed. “You can thank me another time.”
“I have no intention of ever thanking you,” Maria said, but she was talking to empty air. Liz had left the room. “That’s just like her.”

Alex smiled nervously at Ruby. It was one thing to be in front of the woman as her lawyer, it was quite another to be facing her as the man who was sleeping with her daughter.
“Alex, stop looking at me like I’m going to bite your head off,” Ruby finally said with a laugh.
“Are you going to bite my head off?”
“My daughter is a grown woman,” Ruby reminded him. “You are the only reason I’m not in jail. I’d say you picked the perfect time to come and break this to me.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Alex said, relaxing a little.
"Hurt her and I will end up in jail," she said simply. "I'll kill you."
Alex nodded. "Right you are."
Isabel came into the room and smiled at him. “I’m glad to see you haven’t fainted. I was worried. I could see you turning a rather unflattering shade of green.”
“We’ve discussed that,” Ruby said.
Isabel nodded.
“Now,” Ruby said suddenly. “I want to know why you’re really here. I didn’t have to meet Alex, I already know him. So what’s going on?”
Isabel sighed. "You got a phone call for me the other day."
Ruby screwed up her nose as she tried to remember. "That's right. A young man named Eric. Said he was a very good friend of yours and he was concerned about you. I gave him Alex's number."
"Yeah, well he isn't," Isabel told her. "He told Alex he was my fiancé. He's been bothering me since we broke up. Alex is going to change his phone number, and I just wanted to ask you not to give him the new number. And if he does turn up, please don't tell him where I am."
Ruby looked stricken. "I'm so sorry baby. I had no idea. Why didn't you tell me about this before?"
Isabel shrugged. "You had enough going on, and I was handling it. When I left I never told him where I was going. I thought that would be the end of it until I decided to go back. I didn't know he had your number, and I never thought he'd follow me here."
Ruby shook her head. "You see what happens when you hide things from your mother?"
"No lectures please Mom," Isabel begged. "I promise I will tell you every little thing that happens to me from now until the day I die. But no lectures."
"Alright," Ruby conceded. "But just this once. I'm your mother, and it is my right to lecture."
Isabel chuckled and leaned across the table to kiss her mother's cheek. "I'll let you next time, I promise."
Ruby nodded, satisfied. "So you'll be staying for a while then?"
Isabel nodded. "For at least another 3 or 4 months. After that we'll see."
"That sounds wonderful. You've been away too long. I'd like to spend some time with you before I go to your aunt's."
"That's the plan," Isabel said with a smile. "I thought maybe we could go to lunch today. I'll just go back to Alex's to get changed, and then I'll pick you up. We can go shopping before we eat."

He watched them get into the car. He saw her smiling, laughing. He felt his stomach jerk in revulsion. The bitch had no right to be happy. He was going to fix everything. By the time he was finished she was going to be very sorry she'd run from him.

Part Twenty Six

Liz sat nervously in the doctor's office. She glanced at her watch again. Her appointment was in five minutes, and she felt like running into the office and screaming at the doctor to just tell her what the result was. She'd had the blood test yesterday, and she'd been impossible to live with ever since. The doctor stepped out of his office, and Liz kept her butt in her chair through sheer will. He spoke to his secretary for a few minutes, then turned and smiled at Liz.
"Miss Parker?"
Liz stood up on shaky legs and followed him into his office.
"Have a seat Miss Parker."
Liz sank down gratefully into the chair and waited. The doctor perused her medical notes, and then looked up with a smile.
"Congratulations," he said warmly. "You are definitely pregnant."
Liz closed her eyes and took a huge breath. Well, that was it in plain English. She opened her eyes again and smiled weakly at the doctor.
"Thank you," she said.
"I can assume from your reaction this isn't exactly welcome news," the doctor murmured. "I can suggest some options..."
"No," Liz said quickly. "It is welcome news, at least for me. I'm just not sure how my boyfriend..ah, my fiancé is going to take it. We've never discussed children."
"Well, you know where to find me if you need any advice," the doctor said kindly. "In the meantime I'm going to suggest some vitamins you should take, and the names of a good pediatrician and obgyn. We'll make another appointment for you in about a month, and I'll give you some brochures you might enjoy reading as you leave."
He continued talking, but Liz's mind drifted as she tried to come up with the words to tell Max they'd gone and done it again. She smiled as she considered walking into the apartment and just saying that. Honey, we've gone and done it again. The doctor stood up and Liz followed him out, her mind still turning over her options. She collected the brochures, and her appointment card, and walked out of the office.

Maria quickly pulled the curtain back into place when she saw Liz's car pull up in the driveway. "Ok, she's here. Just act natural."
She turned around and humphed when she saw Max and Michael lounging on chairs, arching their eyebrows at her.
"Well, I'm glad the prospect of Liz being pregnant hasn't unduly stressed you Max," she said sarcastically.
He went back to the book he was reading. The truth was he was anxious. His stomach had been tied up in about a million knots since Maria had told him Liz was going to the doctors. He couldn't help wondering what the hell he was going to do if she didn't tell him. He heard the door open and close.
"Max," she said softly behind him. "Can I talk to you?"
He stood up and smiled at her. She turned around and walked slowly into the bedroom. Max followed her in and closed the door behind them.
"What's up?" he said softly.
Liz sighed and sank down on the bed. "I have something I need to tell you."
Max sat down beside her. "Ok."
"I'm not really sure how to tell you this..."
"Just tell me," Max said almost impatiently.
Liz nodded, and finally raised her eyes to his. "I'm pregnant."
Max smiled and leaned over, softly kissing her forehead. "That's great."
When Liz pulled away from him and frowned, it suddenly occurred to Max that his reaction wasn't exactly what she was expecting. It also wasn't the reaction of someone who knew nothing about this.
"Ah, have you been to the doctor's?" Max asked her, wracking his brain to figure out what else he could ask her.
Liz nodded. "I just came from there. I had a blood test yesterday, and I had to go back for the results today. I'm definitely pregnant."
Max nodded. "What else did the doctor say?"
"He gave me a prescription for some vitamins, a bunch of pamphlets to read, and I have to go back to him in about a month."
"I'll go with you," Max said immediately.
Liz sighed again. "I know this is probably a bit of a shock...."
"Ah..." Max said slowly. "Yes, yes it is a shock. But a good one. I'm glad you told me."
"So you're happy?"
Max smiled at her and grabbed her, kissing her tenderly. "Of course I'm happy. I'm ecstatic. We're having a baby."
Liz smiled for the first time since she'd walked into the house, and threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"I love you," she whispered.
He felt him stiffen, and she held her breath as she waited for his response.

He checked himself into a hotel, his anger growing. He had travelled a long way to get to her, and he didn't like it. She should have been coming to him. She should have been down on her knees begging for his forgiveness. He smiled cruelly to himself. He would have her on her knees. And if she wouldn't come back to him, he'd just have to kill her. No-one walked away from him.

Isabel looked up with a frown when she heard the knock on the door. "Are you expecting anyone?"
Alex shook his head, getting up. "No."
He walked to the door slowly, Isabel behind him. He opened the door with a friendly smile that faded when he heard Isabel gasp.

Part Twenty Seven

"What are you doing here?" Isabel said sharply.
"Nice to see you too honey," Eric said sarcastically.
"Go home Eric."
Eric turned his sights on Alex. "Hello."
Alex had planted himself in front of Isabel and was rather proud of the fact that he had stayed there. The guy was huge. "I would suggest you leave now."
"Well now, that's not very hospitable of you. You haven't even met me."
"I'm an excellent judge of character," Alex said in a casual tone. "I took one look at you and knew you were an asshole. Now get off my porch."
Eric just stood there, and Isabel made an impatient sound. "I don't have time for this. You two can fight it out amongst yourselves."
She turned around and walked away quickly. As soon as she got into the kitchen, she picked up the phone and hurriedly dialled the number her mother had given her this afternoon. She tapped her foot while the phone rang, listening out for any signs of trouble from the doorway.
"Hello. Is this Kyle Valenti?"
"This is Isabel Winters. My mother gave me your number," she explained hurriedly. "I'm at Alex Whitman's house. We need help."
"Would this have anything to do with the fiancé that isn't actually a fiancé?"
Isabel pulled the phone away from her ear and frowned at it. How the hell did he know? She put the phone back.
"Has my mother been talking to you?" she demanded.
"She was a little worried."
"Well, he's here and Alex..."
"Rambo he ain't," Kyle said with a chuckle.
"Exactly. So if you could make your way over here, or send some other beefy guy over here, I'm sure Alex would really appreciate it..."
She heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh.
"Now," she said frantically. "Get here now."
She dropped the phone and ran for the door, expecting the worst. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Alex, standing there with a huge grin on his face, rubbing his knuckles.
"I hit him," Alex said triumphantly. "He actually went down."
Isabel looked on in disbelief as Eric groaned and got up slowly. "Honey, I'm so proud of you."
Alex nodded. "Thanks. Now could you take me to the hospital? I think I've broken my hand."

Liz pulled away from him slowly, and looked up with a smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to say that. I'm sorry."
"No," Max said quickly. "No it's fine."
"It's too soon," Liz went on, ignoring him. "I shouldn't have...and you clearly don't feel the same. I've just made you uncomfortable."
"Liz, clam down," Max said, trying not to laugh. If she didn't stop talking she was going to start hyperventilating. "Just shut up and let me talk."
Liz pressed her lips together firmly and nodded her head.
"It was just..a bit of a shock, that's all," Max said slowly. "I've never really let myself think about how you feel about me."
"Why not?" Liz said softly.
"Fear mainly," Max said honestly.
Liz stared at him. "What have you got to be afraid of?"
"Everything," Max said simply. "Liz, I've known how I felt about you since I was 7 years old. And my feelings have never changed. But I've never let myself wonder how you felt about me. I had too much to lose."
Liz shook her head. "I had no idea. I mean, I know you want me..."
"More than air, but it would never be enough for me to ask you to marry me Liz," Max told her. "I love you. I've always loved you."
Liz pulled his head down and kissed him softly. "Tell me again."
"I love you."
Max waited, then pulled back with a frown. "Don't you have something to say to me?"
Liz was attacking the buttons of his shirt. "You have too many clothes on."
"I had something a little less lusty in mind," Max said dryly.
Liz pushed the shirt off and Max sucked his breath in when she started raining kisses on his chest.
"Stop mauling me for a second you hussy," he said desperately. "It's your turn."
"I've already said it," Liz said, working on his pants. "But since you asked so nicely, I love you too. More than I'll ever be able to tell you."
Liz stopped what she was doing to smile up at him, and Max kissed her lavishly before pulling back and gesturing at his pants.
"You may continue."

He sat in the room, staring at the television screen without ever seeing what was on it. His plan had to be meticulous. She had to be alone. He could never do what was necessary if she wasn't alone. He had to get her back. He needed her. He slipped a hand into his suitcase and pulled out his gun, caressing it lovingly. Just a precaution, he told himself sternly. Just in case she wouldn't listen to what he had to say. Just in case she didn't understand.

Part Twenty Eight

"So, do we go baby shopping today, or wedding shopping?"
Liz shrugged. "It seems a little soon for both."
"Don't give me that crap," Maria snapped. "You know as well as I do that Max is going to marry you, and you know you're pregnant. So which is it going to be?"
Liz looked at her, wide-eyed. "That was a little harsh. What crawled up your ass and died?"
"There is nothing up my ass," Maria said. "And don't try to change the subject. I want to go shopping."
"Is it Michael?"
"Up my ass?" Maria said, deliberately misunderstanding. "I don't see how."
"Has he done something to you?" Liz said angrily. "Said something? Because I can get Max to...."
"He hasn't done anything," Maria cried. "Can we please just drop it?"
Liz looked down at the magazine in her lap.
"Alright," she said quietly. "I'm sorry. I'd really like to start looking for my wedding dress if that's alright."
Maria sighed. Liz had never hidden it well when she was hurt.
"Ok. We'll look for your wedding dress," Maria said softly. "And while we're there maybe we can look for one for me."
Liz's head snapped up. "You're getting married?"
"I'm thinking about it," Maria admitted. "Michael mentioned it last night."
"He proposed?"
Maria shook her head. "No, just mentioned it. But I've decided. I want to get married."
"Since when?" Liz asked.
"I don't know," Maria said uncomfortably. "Since I was a little girl, since I met Michael, since I've watched you and Max together. I don't know. But I want to get married."
"Are you going to propose to him?" Liz said with a grin. "Because that would be cool."
"Of course not," Maria told her. "If there is one thing I know about men, it's that if you really want something you have to make them think it was all their idea."
Liz chuckled. "So what's the plan?"
"There has to be a plan?" Maria groaned.
"Yes," Liz said definitely. "We can talk about it while we look at dresses. Come on, I want to go now."
Maria got up from the couch. "I just have to change real quick."
Liz nodded. She picked up the phone and called Max.
"How's it going?"
"I hate job interviews," he bitched. "I was thinking we could go back to the estate, apologize, and Edward could give me my job back."
"And I'll bet he would too," Liz said dryly.
Max chuckled. "I doubt I'll ever get that desperate."
Liz stood up when someone knocked at the door. "Maria and I are going shopping, so I probably won't be here when you get home."
"Ok. Me and Michael can hang around the house doing manly things."
Liz laughed as she opened the door. The sound broke off abruptly.
"Liz? Liz what's wrong?"
She could hear Max continue in her ear, growing frantic, but she couldn't tell him anything. Terror had frozen her voice.
"Elizabeth," Edward said pleasantly. He pointed the gun right at her heart. "Do invite me in dear."

Max knew he should hang up and call 911, but he was terrified something was going to happen to Liz if he let go of the one line he had to her. He'd felt his blood freeze when he'd recognized Edward's voice, and he'd been running ever since.
"Liz? Liz tell me what's going on."
"Is that Max?" Edward said with a smile. "Hand me the phone Elizabeth. I'd like to speak to him."
Liz shook her head, hanging on to the phone tightly.
"Give me the phone Elizabeth!"
"No!" she screamed.
Maria came running out of the bedroom, stopping in her tracks when she saw Edward.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Maria yelled. "Get out."
He pointed the gun at her. Maria stopped moving towards him, but she didn't back away either. She looked at Liz.
"Ok, I didn't see the gun. I really need to learn to reflect a little before I go charging into situations like this."
With Max yelling for a taxi in her ear, and Maria talking complete nonsense beside her, Liz found the calm she so desperately needed.
"You've been in a situation like this before?" she asked.
Maria shook her head. "No, but I watch a lot of NYPD Blue. I should have seen it coming. Helpless beautiful girl comes out of the bathroom. Ugly fat guy has a gun. Who's on the phone?"
"Max," Liz said, handing it over.
Maria put the phone to her ear and turned away, speaking quietly. Liz looked at Edward and shook her head. "What do you want Edward?"
"I've had enough of this foolishness. You're coming home with me."
Liz laughed. "No I'm not. Where's my mother?"
Edward's face darkened with fury, and Liz watched his hand tremble on the gun. "Perhaps you could help me with that. I seem to have misplaced her."
Liz's eyes widened in disbelief, and Maria spun around.
"She left you?" Liz asked.
"She hasn't left me!" Edward yelled. "Noone leaves me."
"Maybe you just lost her in that big ass house of yours," Maria suggested helpfully.
They were both watching the gun very closely, but he hadn't lowered it yet, and he kept swinging it between the two of them. Maria knew Max was on his way, but she wasn't going to tell Liz. The element of surprise was about all Max had going for him. And she knew Liz couldn't afford to fall apart.
"I assume your mother has been in touch with you," Edward said.
"Nope," Liz told him. "I'm just as surprised as you are."
"I'm telling you she's in the house," Maria said insistently. "Have you checked the cupboards?"
"The first time I saw you I knew you were stupid," Edward growled. "I have a gun, and you seem incapable of keeping quiet."
"Really, you thought I was stupid?" Maria asked. "Why? Is it the hair?"
Everyone heard the sound of a car door slamming, and an unholy smile came across Edward's face. "This would be Max I presume."
"No it's the pizza guy," Maria said desperately. "I was hungry."
Max came crashing through the door calling for Liz. Maria stalked over to him and punched him on the arm.
"Stealth. Look it up."
Max frowned down at her, then looked over at Liz. "Did I miss something?"
"I think you were supposed to sneak in," Liz explained. "You know, surprise Edward and maybe get the gun off him."
Maria had explained quietly to him what was going on, and how she and Liz were acting as normal as they could to try and throw off Edward. He desperately needed to go to Liz, but he knew he had to play along at least for now.
Max looked at Edward. "There's a gun? Noone said anything about a gun."
Liz frowned at Maria. "You didn't tell him there was a gun?"
"I wanted him to rescue us," Maria said defensively. "I didn't think he'd try if he knew there was a gun."
Maria jumped about a foot in the air, and Max knew the games were over.
"Elizabeth, you are coming with me now. If you don't, I will just kill your friends. Starting with him."
The gun pointed straight at Max's chest, and Liz felt tears well in her eyes.
"Don't hurt him," she whispered. "I'll go with you. Just don't hurt him."
"Like hell you will," Max told her. He stepped forward and Edward raised the gun.
"If you're going to shoot me just do it you bastard," Max said coldly. He continued walking towards Liz, turning his back on Edward.
Liz saw it happening, and she reacted instinctively. She saw Edward's eyes go blank, saw his finger tighten on the trigger. She rushed forward and pushed Max off-balance just as she heard the gun go off. Max grabbed her and took her down to the floor with him and she fell on top of him heavily. They lay where they were for a moment, and Liz could hear Edward running for the door. Max rolled over and jumped up, chasing him. He ran out onto the street and looked around wildly, but he couldn't see him anywhere.
"Oh my god, what happened to you?"
Max looked at the woman standing next to him and frowned. "What?"
The woman pointed at his shirt front. Max looked down and just stared in confusion, then with dawning horror. He looked up at the woman again.
"It's not my blood," he whispered. "It's not my blood."

posted on 5-Feb-2002 8:02:22 AM
Part Twenty Nine

"Maybe we shouldn't have spoken to him like that," Maria said fretfully. "Maybe we should have just done what he said."
Max stood staring blindly out the window. Everything had happened so quickly, and now all they could do was wait. All he could do was stare out the window and pray that Liz survived.
"Maybe if I'd just stopped saying those things to him...."
"You did what you had to," Michael told her. "And Liz was doing the same thing. Neither of you could have known he'd actually use the gun. Why didn't you call me?"
"I wanted to," Maria told him. "But the only reason Max knew about it was that he was on the phone with Liz when Edward showed, and Liz wouldn't hang up. I spoke to him for a little while, but I couldn't risk making another call."
Michael nodded, but it chilled him to think of her in a room with a gun. He looked up and spoke to Max. "Have they had any luck finding Edward?"
Max turned around, shaking his head. "They're watching the hospital, and they have his description, but he wasn't driving a car so they can't look for that. It's the proverbial needle in a haystack. This is a huge city."
"Do you think he'll go back to the estate?" Maria asked.
"They're watching that too. They'll get him eventually."
He didn't sound very confident, but they all had to cling to some hope, and so Maria nodded firmly. They all turned around expectantly when the door opened, but it wasn't the doctor they were waiting to see. It was Nancy. She walked into the room slowly, her eyes on Max.
"Kyle Valenti called me," she explained. "He was the only person who knew where I was. I came straight away."
"Why didn't you call Liz?" Maria asked. "When you left. She had to find out from Edward."
"I thought if I stayed away from Liz, Edward would too," she told them.
"It didn't occur to you that this was the first place he'd look?"
"I was running Michael," she said just a little dryly. "A lot of things didn't occur to me."
She walked over to the window and stood beside Max, who'd turned back around when she entered the room. "I can't even begin to imagine how you feel about me."
Max didn't look at her. "It helps that you're here, but it doesn't help enough."
Nancy nodded. "I'd still like to say I'm sorry."
"For what Nancy?" Max said bitterly. "For staying? For the way you reacted when you found out about me? For always knowing how I felt about her? Exactly what are you sorry for?"
"I didn't know how you felt...."
"Dogs on the street knew," Max told her. "And so did you. You used to watch us, through the windows, every damn day. What were you looking for?"
Nancy sighed. "I don't know."
She thought about it for a moment. "I guess it scared me, because even when the two of you were young, I could see what you would have. I always wanted so much for Liz. All she ever wanted was you."
Max finally looked at her. "There are some things you should know, but Liz should be the one to tell you. She's going to be alright."
"Of course she is," Nancy told him.
"I don't know what I'm going to do if she's not," Max admitted. "Even when I didn't have her, it was enough that she was out there somewhere. Alive. If she's not...."
"She's going to be fine Max."
The door opened again, and the doctor walked in. "Max Evans?"
Max stepped forward. "Yes."
"I'm Doctor Black. I performed the surgery on your girlfriend."
"How is she?"
"Everything went really well. The bullet caught her in the shoulder, so there was never any danger to any major organs. She suffered a bit of blood loss, but we've replaced the blood and she's doing just fine."
Max sunk down on a chair as his legs went weak. The doctor smiled in understanding and patted him on the back. "She's being moved to the recovery room now, I'll be back in just a little while and you can go in and see her."
Max nodded. "Thank you doctor."
"You're welcome."
The doctor walked out, and Maria went and sat down beside Max, rubbing his back. "See, she's alright."
Max couldn't move, couldn't say or do anything for the relief coursing through his body. He looked up at Maria and tried to smile. It collapsed at the compassion in her face, and he lay his head in her lap and cried.

"Did you want to go to New York?" Isabel asked quietly. "Max is a friend of yours..."
"I thought we could head down in a couple of weeks," Alex told her. "Give Liz some time to recover."
Isabel nodded. "It's seems so unbelievable. I mean, I knew Edward was nasty, but now...I'm thinking he's just plain nuts."
Alex made an absent sound of agreement, and Isabel realised he was preoccupied with the work he was catching up on. She took the opportunity to study him. Sometimes she couldn't help wondering what it was about him. Shd never felt this way about anyone, not this quickly. She tilted her head and continued staring at him. Alex looked up from the papers he was reading and caught her. He frowned.
Isabel gave him a brilliant smile, and he became even more suspicious. "I have work. We are not going back to bed."
Isabel shook her head. "I don't want to go back to bed."
"Ok, now I know something's up," he said. "What is it?"
Isabel shrugged. "I love you."
Alex opened his mouth to say something, then closed it slowly when he realised what she'd said. They stared across the table at each other. Finally Alex gathered his wits enough to answer her.
"Why now?"
"What happened to Liz," Isabel told him. "What almost happened to us. Life's too short Alex, too precious. It seems like the worst kind of extravagance to waste it wondering if it's the right time to someone how you feel about them. While Eric's still in town, while anything could happen, I needed to tell you."
Alex continued staring at her. "You're a kook."
Isabel laughed. "Don't blame me. It's your fault. I just came here to be with my mother. Then you snuck up and ambushed me."
"Snuck up how?" Alex said in disbelief. "I couldn't even speak."
"Exactly. An ambush. How was I supposed to resist you when you were so obviously out of your depth?"
"I don't remember any other women having a problem resisting me."
Isabel just raised her eyebrows. She wasn't like other women. She stood up and gestured to his papers.
"I'm going to go and do some shopping. We're running out of food. Is there anything in particular you'd like?"
Alex closed the folder he'd been looking at and stood up as well. "I'll come. I don't want you going alone."
Isabel nodded. She waited patiently for him beside the door as he collected his keys, wallet and jacket. When he came into the hallway she smiled and held her hand out to him.
"By the way," he said as he linked their hands. "I love you too."
"I know," Isabel said confidently. "Are you ready?"
"I used to think I was," Alex told her. "Noone's ready for you."

Part Thirty

Max walked into the room slowly, his stomach turning when as he got closer to the bed and saw how small and pale Liz looked. He looked over at the nurse who was standing beside the bed.
"Are you sure she's ok?" Max asked.
The nurse looked up at him. "Have you spoken to the doctor?"
Max nodded. "He said she was going to be fine but..."
Max looked down to see Liz smiling at him weakly. He reached out to hold her hand and smiled.
"Hey," he said gently.
"Is the baby ok?" Liz asked him frantically.
"Jesus," Max said. "I can't believe this. I didn't even ask. I was so worried about you and I..." He looked over at the nurse, totally helpless.
The nurse smiled in understanding. "The baby is fine."
"But I've miscarried before..." Liz said fretfully.
"You'd be surprised how much trauma the little one can take once it's made itself comfortable," the nurse said reassuringly. "You just need to take it easy while you're in here, and it should be fine."
Liz nodded. Max leaned over her and kissed her forehead. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been shot," she told him.
"Predictable Liz," he joked. "Very predictable."
"Well I'm not really capable of sparkling wit right now," Liz said with a grimace. "Which surprises me considering I'm pretty sure I've been given enough drugs to kill an elephant."
Max chuckled. "I like you like this."
Liz glared at him. "Well enjoy it while you can because I can promise you that without the right drugs I will never be this way again."
"Then this is the perfect time to tell you your mother is waiting to see you."
Liz closed her eyes. "I was wondering if she was going to show."
Max squeezed her hand. "She just needs to know you're ok. And she left him Liz. She deserves some credit for that."
"I just don't know if I can go back to...."
"I'm not asking you to," Max told her. "I'm not asking you to forgive her. I'm just asking you to talk to her. It can only be this once of that's what you want."
Liz opened one eye. "Of all the people in the world...Are you defending her?"
"No," Max said unconvincingly. "I'm just saying she's here."
"I want us to be close again," Liz admitted. "But it's just that I don't need her anymore. I have you."
Max smiled. "Maybe she needs you. She's alone now Liz."
"I'll try," Liz promised. "Will you stay while she's with me?"
Max nodded and kissed her on the forehead again before walking out of the room. Liz sighed and closed her eyes, waiting for the sound of the door opening again. When she heard it she couldn't help tensing. She opened her eyes and looked at her mother.
"Hello," she said quietly.
Her mother smiled and tentatively walked towards the bed. "Max told me you're doing ok."
"I'm fine," Liz said. "Thank you for coming."
"Of course I came," Nancy said quickly.
Liz smiled a little, then looked at Max as though wondering what to say next.
"Max said there are some things you want to tell me," Nancy said.
Liz looked over at Max again and nearly laughed when he put his hands out in front of her stomach, indicating her pregnancy.
"Yes. I thought you might like to know that Max and I are getting married."
Nancy gasped. "Oh sweetie, congratulations. I'm so happy for you both."
She rushed over and kissed Max on the cheek, then approached the bed and kissed Liz too. Liz gave her a small smile.
"And I'm pregnant."
Nancy looked at Max, then frowned. "Just as well you're marrying her then."
"Mother," Liz said in exasperation.
"You're a grown woman Liz, I know that. But you're still my little girl."
Liz shook her head, while Max stood in the corner looking amused.
"Well, now that I've seen for myself you seem to be alright, I'll leave the two of you alone," Nancy announced. "I'll be back early tomorrow Liz."
Liz nodded. "Is there a number where we can contact you? Just in case?"
"I'll give it to the nurses desk," Nancy assured her. She kissed Liz again and walked out.
Max approached the bed and smiled down at her. "See, that wasn't so bad."
Liz glared at him. "Noone likes hearing I told you so Max."
"I don't recall saying I told you so."
"Yes you did," Liz told him. "You just did it in a sneaky way."
Max chuckled. "Maria and Michael are waiting outside too. Shall I go and get them?"
"Whoops," Liz said. "How's Maria doing?"
"She seems ok," Max told her. "Why?"
"Well, she might seem like G.I Jane in the midst of a crisis, but afterwards she tends towards fits of hysteria."
"Well she seems to be holding up ok," Max said. "I'll just go and get her."
Max thought Liz might have been exaggerating, until Maria walked into the room, took one look at Liz, and burst into tears. Liz held her and whispered soothing nonsense in her ear until she'd stopped crying. Then the yelling began.
"I can't believe you did that!"
"I'm sorry," Liz said dutifully.
"What were you thinking? You don't just throw yourself in front of a bullet. That kind of stuff only happens in the movies."
"He was going to shoot Max," Liz reminded her.
"So?" Maria snapped.
"Thanks," Max said dryly. "Can't help but feel the love."
Maria swung on him. "Just in case you've forgotten, Liz is pregnant. If anyone should have been throwing themselves in front of bullets it should have been you. You're a man!"
"Maria," Liz said soothingly. "You're not making any sense. Just come sit down and talk to me."
"My best friend was shot right in front of me," Maria declared. "I am under no obligation to make sense."
But she sat down and grabbed Liz's hand tightly. They talked for a little while about everything and nothing, but eventually Liz had to ask.
"Did they catch Edward?"
Maria and Michael looked at each other, and Max came over to stand beside the bed. Liz could tell just by looking at their faces.
"Not yet," Max told her. "But they will."
Liz nodded. "I know they will. I need a phone."
Max frowned down at her. "Why?"
Liz smiled. "Because Edward is stupid. And I know exactly where he is."

Isabel looked behind her for the third time and Alex sighed in exasperation. "Honey, I told you. Kyle made sure Eric left town."
Isabel looked at him. "Someone's following us, I know they are."
"You've been looking over your shoulder the whole time we've been shopping. Have you seen anyone?"
"Then chances are there is noone following us," Alex told her. "He's not here Isabel."
She looked back one more time, then turned around with a sigh. "You're probably right. But you can't blame me for being careful."
"No I can't," Alex conceded. "Let's get the last of these bags in the trunk and get home. You'll feel better there."
Isabel nodded, and began packing the bags again. They were soon on their way, and Isabel was feeling a lot better, until she glanced in the side mirror. She watched for a while without saying anything, and when she was sure she turned to Alex.
"Take the next exit," she told him.
"Take the next exit. I wasn't wrong."
"Isabel..." Alex said.
"There's a car following us. It's been behind us since the mall. Just take this exit."
Alex shook his head, but did as she asked. He couldn't see the harm in driving an extra fifteen minutes to his house if it made her feel more secure.
"He's still behind us," Isabel told him.
"It doesn't mean he's...."
Isabel screamed and Alex jammed his foot down on the brake when the car rammed into them from behind.

Part Thirty One

Isabel turned in her seat and watched the car slowly advancing on them again. "He's going to hit us again."
Alex swore under his breath and pushed his foot harder to the floor. The car jumped forward and the pulled away.
"Can you see who it is?" Alex asked her, careening around a corner almost on two wheels.
Isabel frowned as she stared hard into the front seat of the other car. "Slow down. I need him to get closer."
Alex looked over at her in disbelief. "Ah honey, if I let him get closer he's going to run us off the road."
Isabel made an annoyed sound and continued to stare at the other car. It slowly advanced on them, and Isabel finally got a good look at the person in the other car.
"Oh I don't believe this," she cried. "You complete wanker!"
Alex took his eyes off the road for precious seconds. "Is it Eric?"
Isabel shook her head. "It's one of his lackeys. Eric might have left town but he's sent someone else after me."
"This is ridiculous," Alex told her. "We're being chased down the freeway by the friend of a man who thinks he's engaged to you but he's not. It doesn't get any more ridiculous than this."
Isabel turned around to face the front of the car. "Drive to the police station. I'll call ahead. If he follows us there he's even stupider than I always thought he was."
"There's no such word as stupider," Alex told her.
Isabel gave him a withering stare. "Just drive Alex."
Alex drove as fast as the car would go and listened as Isabel made the phone call. She hung up the phone a few minutes later and smiled at him. "All done. They'll meet us half way."
The other car hit them again, and Isabel stared at Alex in amazement when he started swearing loudly.
"I didn't know you knew that many swear words," she murmured when he was finished. "I didn't know there were that many swear words. You were going for almost five minutes and you never repeated yourself."
"Isabel, I'm trying to concentrate here," Alex said sternly. "I don't have time to be analyzing my language. Please be quiet."
"You're much too tense Alex," she told him.
"We're in the middle of a car chase!" Alex yelled. "I think I deserve to be a little tense."
Isabel knew she risked making him very angry, but she had to find some way of keeping his mind at least a little distracted.
"I realise we're in a car chase Alex," she said in her most soothing voice. "I just think you could see this in a different light."
"Different to if-this-guy-catches-up-with-us-we-will-be-road-kill?"
Isabel nodded. "Exactly. For instance, I think this whole thing is kinda exciting. And if you want my opinion..."
"Your opinion is nuts."
"I think you should thank me," Isabel went on.
"Thank you for what?" Alex cried.
"Now you have a really good story to tell your kids," Isabel said with a grin. "Just think how impressed they'll be. My father was never in a car chase, but I can tell you it would have impressed my ass off if he had been."
Unbelieveably, Alex heard himself laugh. Pretty soon her was laughing so hard he almost ran them off the road without any help. He finally got himself under control and wiped his eyes. "Ok, I'll concede this is a little bit exciting. But you have to promise me we will never tell our kids about this."
Isabel's smile faded. "We're having kids?"
"Well, I mean unless you don't want any," Alex said hesitantly. "I mean, I've never really thought about them, but I just assumed you'd want kids."
"I do want kids," Isabel said, dazed at where the conversation had gone.
"Good," Alex said. "And we won't tell them about this?"
"Alex, when did you start thinking about kids," Isabel asked him. "Specifically kids with me."
Alex shrugged. "I'm not sure really. I guess when I picture myself having a family, you're there."
"And are we married in this little fantasy world you have going?"
Alex heard the wail of sirens with relief. "Here comes the cavalry. And of course we're married."
Isabel nodded. "Were you ever going to consult me?"
Alex looked in the rearview and watched the other car pulling back, but he knew it was going to be too late. The guy was a goner. "Consult you about what honey?"
"Marriage Alex," she said impatiently.
When Alex found a place he pulled over to the side of the road and they began the wait for the police. He turned to Isabel with a grin. "Are you proposing?"
"Not on your life," Isabel told him firmly. "That's your job. On one knee and everything Alex."
"Are you going to say yes?"
Isabel nodded. "Yes. But just because you know the answer does not mean you get out of asking the question. Flowers, candles, on one knee, suitably large ring. Got it?"
Alex leaned over and kissed her gently. "Got it. I love you."
Isabel smiled. "I love you too."

"Do you really think Edward will go to the same hotel he always goes to?" Maria asked doubtfully.
Liz had phoned the police and told them the name of the hotel in New York where Edward always stayed when he was here on business. They had promised to check it out. She'd also given them the name of the bar he always drank at. They were waiting to hear something back.
"Yes," Liz told her. "That's where they'll find him."
"Liz, he knows they're after him," Max told her. "He's not going to hang around."
Liz shook her head. "He'll be there. It won't occur to him that I know the name of the hotel he always stays at. He doesn't think I ever really paid that much attention to what he says."
"You don't," Maria told her. "He told you to stay away from Max."
"Like I said," Liz said with a grin. "He's stupid."
Maria chuckled, then stood up. "Well, I'm going to go. Michael and I are going to stay in a hotel until they catch Edward. Call me as soon as you know something."
Liz nodded. "I will. And be careful, just in case I'm wrong."
"I will," Maria promised her.
Michael ambled over and kissed Liz on the forehead. "Get plenty of rest."
"Take care of her," Liz whispered. "I'll be really, really pissed if anything happens to her."
"Now I'm scared," Michael joked.
Liz laughed softly. "Just do as your told."
Michael nodded. When the door has closed behind them, Max heaved a huge sigh and smiled down at her. "I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life."
"It's the adrenaline thing," Liz told him. "You get really, really hyper, then you crash."
Max gestured with his hand for her to move over, and Liz did so slowly. When she was up against the railing she turned onto her side, and she felt Max slide in behind her. He heaved another sigh, and buried his face in her neck. "Wake me when they catch him."
Liz smiled softly and closed her eyes. "I love you."
"Love you too," Max said sleepily.
When the nurse came back into the room, she couldn't help but smile at the picture they made. Visitors weren't supposed to sleep in beds with the patients, but she didn't have the heart to wake him. She checked Liz's vitals silently, then snuck out of the room.

In bed that night, Maria thought about everything that had happened as she watched Michael sleep. She thought about Max and Liz, how much they meant to each other, and she thought about how much Michael had come to mean to her. Liz had told her she needed a plan to get Michael to propose, but everything had changed. Making a decision, she sat up and began shaking Michael vigorously.
"Michael!" she said loudly. "Wake up."
Michael groaned, flailing his arms around to try and get her to stop. "You'd better be waking me up for sex. Otherwise there is no excuse."
Maria shook him some more, bouncing up and down on the bed for good measure. "We can have sex, but first I have to talk to you. Michael!"
He opened his eyes slowly, glaring at her. "What?"
She smiled down at him. "I love you."
The relief that rushed through Michael left him a little light-headed, but he closed his eyes again. "I know."
Maria frowned down at him. "You do not."
Michael didn't say anything else, and she started bouncing again. Michael sighed and threw an arm around her, turning until she was lying on top of him. "Knock it off."
"You have to say something," she told him.
"You know how I feel about you Maria so quit fishing," he told her.
Maria gasped in outrage and pinched his nipple. Hard. Micahel yelled and sat up quickly. "Goddamit Maria!"
Maria raised her eyebrows, still waiting for him to say it. He frowned darkly at her. "Fine. I love you too."
"Marry me," Maria said quickly, before she lost her nerve.
Michael just stared at her for a minute, then shook his head with a little laugh. "Of all the woman in the world, I had to fall in love with you."
"That's not an answer."
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Maria nodded. "I want to marry you. I was going to wait for you to ask, but if today has taught me anything, it's that we don't always have all the time we think we do."
"Then yes," Michael told her. "I'll marry you."
Maria smiled happily, then to his complete bafflement, rolled over, snuggled in, and looked for all the world like she was going to go back to sleep. "Good."
Michael just sat there for a moment, then leaned over her. "You said we could have sex."
Maria burst out laughing and turned over onto her back.

Part Thirty Two

Four months later

Liz sucked her breath in hard and kept it there while Maria zipped up the back of her dress.
"Ok," Maria said. "All done."
Liz let out her breath. "I'm not entirely sure this dress isn't crushing something vital."
"It's your wedding day," Maria reminded her. "You're not supposed to be able to breathe."
"Why not?" Liz asked.
"Nerves," Maria snapped. "You're supposed to be nervous."
"I think you're nervous enough for all of us," Liz said, trying not to laugh. "Maybe you should sit down."
"I don't want to sit down!" Maria yelled. "This was a bad idea. I must have been nuts. I can't do this."
Isabel planted her hands on Maria's shoulders and pushed her into a chair, then kept pushing until her head was between her legs.
"Breathe!" she ordered.
Maria took huge gulps of air, trying to calm her stomach. "I think I should just walk out there and tell everyone I changed my mind. You and Isabel will still be there. Maybe noone will notice."
"They were coming for a triple wedding Maria," Liz reminded her. "That means three brides. Two just doesn't cut it."
"Who's idea was this anyway?" Maria whined.
"Yours," both girls said.
"Oh, wouldn't it be great to have our weddings together," Liz said, imitating Maria's voice.
"We can all get married at the same time, it'll be really romantic," Isabel continued.
Maria raised her head and gave them both a rueful smile. "You could have just told me to shut up."
Isabel laughed. "It was a great idea Maria. I'm really glad we're doing it this way. You've just got cold feet."
"This is not cold feet Isabel," Maria said. "That's too optimistic. I'm walking around on ice blocks."
"You'll be fine," Liz assured her.
All three women turned around when the door opened, and the photographer walked in.
"I'd like to get a few more shots before the ceremony," he told them. "You just keep doing what you were doing, and I'll take the photos."
"Maria was having a nervous breakdown," Isabel told him with a grin. "Make sure you get that on film."
Maria jumped up quickly. "I was not. I'm fine. Getting married. Yep, that's what I'm doing."
The photographer chuckled. He'd thought he'd seen every kind of wedding there was, but he'd never seen anything like this.
"How much longer until showtime?" Maria asked anxiously.
Liz looked at the clock on the wall. "The car should be here any minute. We should leave in the next ten minutes."
Maria's eyes widened, but when the photographer pointed the camera in her direction she gave him a brilliant smile. "I'm fine. Not a care in the world."
Liz looked around the room once more, checking to see she hadn't forgotten anything.
"Does everyone have the something old, something new stuff?" she asked.
Isabel nodded. "Something old, my mom's earrings, something new, my necklace..."
"Where did you get that?" Maria asked her.
"Alex had it delivered this morning," Isabel told them. "What did Max and Michael send you guys?"
Liz showed them the bracelet on her wrist, and Maria held out her hand. Liz and Isabel looked at it, frowning in confusion. "What did Michael get you?"
"My engagement ring," Maria told them.
"You already had an engagement ring," Liz said.
"I like this one," Maria told them. She flicked the tiny switch on the side and they all laughed when the gaudy heart shaped ring lit up and played Here Comes The Bride.
Liz walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain. "The car's here."
Isabel looked at herself one last time in the mirror, fussing with her veil. Maria looked over at the photographer. "Are you done?"
He nodded and started packing away his stuff. As soon as the last camera was loaded, and there was no chance she would be photographed, Maria dropped down into the chair and put her head between her legs again. Isabel sat down beside her, while Liz made for the door.
"I'll tell the driver we're exercising our right to be fashionably late."

Across town in the anteroom of a small but beautiful church, the three grooms stood in front of their own mirrors, making last minute adjustments to their tuxes. They were having their own nerves crisis.
"How long to I have to breathe into this bag before this sick feeling goes away?" Alex asked, his voice muffled.
Michael turned around. "Maybe you should just go and throw up. That'll make it go away."
"Oh yeah that's a good idea," Alex said. "I can just see it now. 'You may kiss the bride,' says the minister. 'I can't' says groom number three. 'I just threw up'."
Max snorted, then chuckled. Michael just shook his head, then looked at his watch. "They're late."
"So which one of them do you think is having the nervous breakdown?" Max asked. "We've got Alex, and I'm sure one of the girls is in exactly the same boat."
"Maria," Michael said definitely. "It'll be Maria."
Max looked at Alex, who was nodding in agreement. "She's the one who's been pushing really hard for this wedding."
"What about Isabel?" Max asked.
Alex shook his head. "I don't think she gets nervous. I'm not really sure she has nerves."
The men looked up when the minister walked through the door. He smiled at Alex in understanding, then turned to the other men. "The ladies are on their way."
Alex stood up quickly, then rushed into the small bathroom just off the anteroom of the church. Max and Michael waited patiently. He came out a few minutes later, sweating profusely and looking a charming shade of green.
"Feel better?" Max asked, going over and sliding his arm around him, propping him up.
"I didn't throw up," Alex assured them. "I just sat in the bathroom pretending I was. And no, I don't feel better."
They all walked slowly out of the room, with Max propping Alex up, and Michael following, laughing softly.

"Maria come on!" Isabel hissed. "You're going first remember?"
Maria moved away from the statue of the Virgin Mary, where she'd been praying for divine intervention. She glared at it.
"Useless," she muttered. "Is it too much to ask for a small fire?"
Maria's father grabbed her hand and pulled her in front of the doors. Isabel turned and smiled at her father, who was waiting patiently. Liz moved into place at the back of the line. Maria tried one more time to get away, but the doors opened and the chance was gone. The organist struck up the wedding march, and Maria's father began more or less dragging his daughter down the aisle.
Michael watched the doors open and grinned. He was right. Maria looked a step away from complete meltdown. And unless he didn't know the woman he loved, she'd been trying to run out of the church as the doors were opening. He watched her eyes dart nervously around the room, before settling on him. He saw her take a deep breath, then begin walking calmly again, her eyes glued to his.
Alex shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for Isabel. His nerves were still screaming, but he wanted to see her. When she finally came into sight, his nerves, along with his breath, disappeared. He felt Max put a supportive arm on his back and he was grateful for it. He was afraid he was going to pitch forward straight into the front row of guests.
Isabel took one look at Alex and almost burst into laughter. His skin still had a green tinge, and she saw Max giving him some much needed support. She caught his eyes from behind her veil and gave him a huge grin. She watched his mouth flicker up in an answering smile, and she knew everything was going to be alright.
Liz came through the doors last, unaccompanied. As she walked down the aisle alone, she couldn't help thinking about the events of the last four months. To everyone's complete disbelief, including hers to an extent, Edward was exactly where she had said he was going to be. The police had gone in, even finding the gun he'd used. With his usual arrogance he had denied everything to anyone who would listen, but when the bullets in the gun matched the bullet they'd taken out of Liz's shoulder, he'd lawyered up and refused to say anymore. None of that had helped, and just two weeks ago he'd been found guilty of attempted murder, and was right now awaiting sentencing. Isabel had had her own set of problems, but when she had returned a week ago to stay until the wedding, she had told them all that Eric had finally gone away. He had denied asking his friend to try and drive Alex and Isabel off the road, and had backed off completely when he realised the police were taking any threats very seriously. Now all he had the courage for was the occasional abusive phone call, which had stopped since Alex changed the number again. Everything had turned out for the best, Liz thought with a smile. She looked up, straight into Max's eyes. Her smile softened, then widened when he winked at her.
When everyone was standing at the altar, the minister cleared his throat and smiled at the three couples in front of him.
"Dearly beloved..."


Liz woke up slowly, aware that something was happening. She lay where she was, trying to figure out what had woken her. When the pain tightened her stomach, she stifled a gasp, and held her breath until it had passed.
"Max," she whispered, shaking him. "Max, wake up."
Max groaned, rolling over. "What is it? Are you okay?"
Liz shook her head fiercely, then realised he couldn't see her in the dark. "No."
"What's wrong?" Max asked, sitting up slowly and turning on the light.
"I think I'm in labour," Liz told him, trying her best to smile.
Max looked at her stomach, then back up at her face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes I'm sure," Liz snapped.
Max looked down at her stomach again and Liz threw back the covers, getting out of bed. "Looking at my stomach won't make it stop Max. I have to get to the hospital. Are you getting up?"
Another pain hit and this time Liz couldn't hold back her gasp. Holding her stomach tightly, she stood still while the pain raged through her. She could sense Max getting out of bed, and felt him come up behind her.
"You're really in labour?" Max asked, panic rising in his voice. "You're actually in labour?"
"What, you thought I was just getting really fat?" Liz said sarcastically. "Yes I'm in labour. I'm pregnant remember? I need you to drive me to the hospital Max!"
"A baby," Max said breathlessly. "We're about to have a baby."
"I'm about to have a baby Max," Liz informed him. "Your work is done."
Max frowned at her. "I resent that. I've given you more foot massages than any woman has the right to expect."
"You made me this way!" Liz yelled.
"You didn't exactly lie there thinking of queen and country Liz," Max yelled back.
Liz waddled out of the room and grabbed the small bag she had packed for her stay in the hospital. "Forget it. I'll drive myself."
"You can't fit behind the wheel," Max reminded her.
Liz spun around and threw the bag at him. Max took the full weight in the chest and went down with a crash. Liz felt a moment of evil triumph before a horrible warmth started running down her leg. She looked down and tears welled in her eyes. "Max, either I just wet myself or my water broke."
Max just lay where he was for a moment, getting his bearings and gathering the remains of his shattered dignity. He'd just been knocked down by his heavily pregnant wife. He hoped this never got out. "How far apart are the pains?"
Liz thought about it. "About five minutes apart I guess."
Max sat up slowly. "That's pretty close. Why didn't you tell me before this you were in labour?"
"I was asleep," Liz snapped. "Can we please go now? The whole home birth thing might be alright for some, but I want to be somewhere where they can give me copious amounts of drugs."
Max stood up and grabbed his keys off the hallway table. He ran out and threw the bag in the car, then came back and hoisted Liz in his arms. Liz lay her head in his shoulder and tried to take her mind off the swelling pain. "I'm sorry I threw the bag at you."
"That's okay," Max told her, settling her gently in the front seat and reaching over her to grab her seatbelt and do it up. "I read that woman in labour can be a little testy."
"How reassuring to know I'm going by the book," Liz muttered to herself while Max ran around to the other side of the car. He jumped in and started the engine. Liz tapped him on the shoulder and when he looked over at her she pointed at the house. Max looked over and swore, jumping out of the car and going over to shut the front door. Liz chuckled, then groaned when the next pain hit. Max got back into the car and reversed out of the driveway quickly. Liz was pretty sure they made it to the hospital in record time. Max parked right in front of the doors and carried her into the hospital, yelling at the top of his lungs to anyone in the vicinity that she was in labour. Liz quickly found herself in a delivery room, and once she was as comfortable as she was going to get in the sterile room, she looked around frantically for Max.
"My husband," she gasped, snaring a nurse that went past. "Where's my husband?"
"He'll be here as soon as he's put a gown on Mrs Evans," the nurse assured her.
Liz watched the door until Max came through it, and she gave him a teary smile. He came over and grabbed her hand in a fierce hold.
"I love you," she told him. "I really do love you."
"I love you too," he told her softly, leaning down and kissing her on the forehead. "What do you say we have this baby?"
Liz nodded, and Max turned to the waiting doctor. "We're ready."

Four hours later, a tired and bedraggled Max walked into the waiting room, where Michael, Maria, Alex and Isabel were waiting. He smiled.
"It's a boy," he announced.
Maria jumped up as quickly as she could, and threw her arms around him. "Congratulations. When can we see him?"
"He and Liz are getting cleaned up now," Max told them, hugging Isabel. "You should be allowed in in a couple of minutes."
"Was it bad?" Isabel asked, running her hand over her own swollen tummy.
Max held up his hand, and they all laughed at the five perfect moon shaped nail marks. "And I think she may have broken my wrist."
Michael put his arms around Maria from behind, cradling their own unborn child. "I'm staying in the waiting room when it's your turn."
The nurse came into the room. "You can all see her now."
Max led them all into the room, and Liz smiled at them from the bed. "Isn't he beautiful?"
Maria and Isabel rushed over to the bed, making the obligatory cooing noises and marvelling with Liz over the perfection of the ten tiny fingers and toes.
"What's his name?" Alex asked quietly, simply staring at the little creature in wonder.
Max looked at Liz.
"Phillip," she said softly. "Phillip Michael Alex Evans."
Max felt a huge lump rise in his throat, and for the first time in a very emotional night, he felt tears well in his eyes. They had decided early on that Max would choose the name for a girl, Liz for a boy. Max had never been sure why Liz wanted it that way, but she had been adamant, and he had given in. She had kept the name she wanted for a boy a secret, and he finally understood why. Phillip. For his Dad. He walked over to the bed and simply lay his head down, burying it in Liz's shoulder. He felt Liz run her fingers through his hair, and smiled when Maria began rubbing his back.
"It's difficult for the fathers too," Isabel said softly, chuckling.
Liz looked around the room, a smile on her lips. She had grown up isolated, but in this room were the people she was going to share everything with, for the rest of her life. She lay her head against Max's and said a quick prayer of thanks. Then a voice broke the silence, and Liz laughed.
"How come Michael's name gets to go first?"