Micki and Ben

Nichola Dupree stormed out of the grocery store. Reddish brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail, bounced furiously behind her. Frustrated and disgusted, she headed toward her new, emerald green dodge. Forcing herself to relax, she pulled her keys from a pocket and unlocked the door. Sinking into the cars new interior, she closed her eyes to the world. A small smile began to spread over her face. It would be all right. Suddenly her eyes flew open. A loud bump had pulled her from her reverie. Looking to her left she found an elderly woman making apologetic motions at the place her cart had hit Nichola's door. Nichola smiled excusing the woman's action. But inwardly the tension was rebuilding and her teeth were beginning to grind. Groaning under her breath, she made a quick exit before being forced to making an excuse verbally. Mind set on the chain of events that had taken place that day, Nichola didn't think to pay attention to where she was going and realized too late that she needed to get to make her freeway exit. She missed it. And the turning lane would not allow her to make a U-turn. She was forced along an unfamiliar side road. The road was surrounded on both sides by forest, and the oncoming traffic was coming to close together in the gathering dusk for her to feel comfortable turning around in the middle of the narrow road. Becoming resigned with the day's misfortune, she continued. Eventually, the traffic began to thin and the street gave way to a residential area lined with large beautiful homes set back far off the street. Each was partially concealed behind large stands of evergreen trees, lending a woodsy feel to the area.

Nichola, pulled into one of the less steep drives, then placed her car in reverse and, allowing a final admiring gaze toward the home at the top of the hill, backed out into the road. Just as she shifted into first and was about to pull off......Slam!! The little green car jolted sickeningly as metal met metal. Looking disbelievingly into her rear view mirror she saw the image of a truck filling her view. Turning in her seat to be sure her eyes weren't playing some horrible joke, she discovered that a blue Bronco was indeed attached to the rear of her car. Laying her head on the steering wheel in dismay Nichola silently kicked herself for even bothering to get up that day. Finally, she lifted her head and dutifully got out of the car. The almost non-existent sun was an apt metaphor for the direction she felt her life was heading at the moment. She went to stand beside the tall dark-haired gentleman who stood near her bumper. The visual evidence caused her heart to sink even further. Her rear end was crushed. The man's bumper however, was barely scratched. "It seems that we have a bit of a problem," the man said turning to her. He was dressed in a business suit and overcoat. Nichola glared at him, of all the inane things to say! "Yes, it is" she finally replied, probably even more inanely since she had brought up the inanity thing in the first place. "So what made you decide to drive backwards down the street?" Blinking in disbelief, Nichola could only gape for several moments. Pulling herself together as best she could, she formally introduced herself and requested to know his name. . "Benjamin Kingsley" he answered filling in the blank for her. "Well, Mr. Kingsley," she started " in case you hadn't noticed *you* hit me!" She stared fiercely at him as she continued. "Here I am driving along within the limits and the law of the land and them wham-o! Here you come and hit me and then have the nerve-!" Just as she was warming up a police

cruiser pulled up, which was a good thing for Benjamin Kingsley because Nichola Dupree was about to attempt to chew him up and spit him out. When the officer came over to ask the questions, Nichola told her story first and to her surprise Mr. Kingsley did not contradict her. That gave her pause, and caused her to reevaluate what had happened. He'd had the rightof-way, hadn't he? She was pulled back into the conversation as the police officer asked Mr. Kingsley if he was sure. When Kingsley didn't change his story, the officer shrugged, promised the tow truck was on its way and went back to his patrol car. Nichola looked measuringly at Mr. Kingsley deciding she was no longer angry. But her legs began to feel wobbly, and so deciding that embarrassing herself further would definitely *not* be a good thing, headed for what was left of her car. To busy herself, she gathered what she thought would be important papers, and stuffed them into her purse. Night fell and another cruiser pulled up. The blue lights of the cars reflected up the driveways of the discreetly shadowed homes. As Nichola watched the two officers converse her mind went again to the day she'd had. To began the day off she had woke up late and so had not been able to have breakfast, no lunch because the lady at the bank had either been new or just plain confused. After leaving work, two hours later than usual, she'd want to pick up a few things at the grocery store, but had become frustrated with Friday evening lines. So resigning herself to go home and have a sandwich, she'd left the store. Unfortunately, that had landed her here, in an accident. Her new car was a sitting in ruins. What else could possibly go wrong? "Ms Dupree," a voice said at the window. Turning she found that one of the officers was handing her something. "I hate to do this to you, but your license has expired." Nichola bit her inner lip hard as she took the ticket. To her it was obvious that he thought that the accident had been her fault. She watched him as he walked back to his cruiser and the other officer. Fighting to keep her calm, she looked at herself in her rear view mirror and said aloud, "You're strong. You can do this. You can."

. Moving to get out of the car she found that Mr." he said " it's quite all right." Kingsley urged "it's the least I could do after I wrecked your car. he headed out toward the main street." Starting the bronco. Turning. " Do you mind if I ask WHY you had to do it?" Nichola asked curiosity piqued. then her stomach growled an answer when she didn't. Benjamin Kingsley's jaw dropped and for a second he just stood there then started to walk away but stopped himself. "Come on.Just then the tow truck pulled up. Nichola crammed it into her jacket pocket without looking at it." she said "No. So mollified was she that she simply cried harder. "Are you hungry?" he asked. Taking down information that he felt she might need and tying up what he felt were the loose ends he headed back to his truck. "Are you hungry?" he asked again. and before she could stop herself she found herself bursting into tears. Benjamin simply smiled. After settling her in his bronco he went off to talk to the tow truck driver. smiling at her. The paper with the information was stuffed into her hand. you really didn't have to. he moved determinedly to grab her arm and purse through the still open door. "Thank you for handling that. Is he laughing at me? she thought resentfully. Kingsley was standing by her door. To Nichola's surprise she found that his eyes were neither blue nor gray nor green but some confusing shade in between. Something I had to do." Suddenly as if from nowhere the lump was back in her throat.

but I would really appreciate it if you could give me a ride home.. "We're practically neighbors. and then bed. Nichola woke to the sound of a knock at the door.. The red digitized readout read 9:23A. . I mean." he said and listened as Nichola gave him directions to her house. Peeking through the curtain she saw a blue bronco in the driveway. thanks again." she quickly finished and hurriedly closed the door and headed for the house. Then again he had hit her car so he probably deserved it.. yes. then peeking out further she saw a man's jacketed shoulder and neck. "Who?" she whispered to herself in confusion. "Thanks again Mr. she headed directly for the shower." "Sure. 'Not quite' Nichola said to herself eyeing the house that was of an older style than any on the street they had previously been on. the problem of transportation or even food."Um. The prodding of her conscience reared when she noticed that he'd waited for her to get inside before driving off.no. Too tired to be bothered with him. especially since he'd driven her home.. embarrassed at not being able to remember his name.. She hadn't known Marina very well but she had grown attached to the house. " he said as he pulled into her driveway five minutes later." she yelled as she tried to focus on her bedside clock. The house had previously belonged to Nichola's aunt Marina before she had died 4 years earlier. Rolling out of bed she walked hazily through the house to the front door. "Just a minute. Uh. "Who is it?" she called leaning against the door hoping this person would go away.

I should probably be thanking you. some coffee maybe?" "No thanks." he said expression becoming more unsure in the face of her irritation."Benjamin Kingsley . yes but I've been there way too long anyway. but re-locked the screen. I'm sorry. I didn't get you out of bed did I?" "Well. leaving only bangs which were in need of clipping. "I kind of thought it would be a nice thing to do. I'll just be a minute. "I thought I'd offer my services in helping you get a rental car." Nichola eyed him for a minute and then relaxed." "Have a seat. she reminded herself to call Beverly to cancel. Brushing them quickly out of her eyes." Nichola headed toward her room to get dressed. "Would you like a drink. "Are you always so nice?" Releasing a sigh of relief Benjamin smiled "I'll let you be the judge" Benjamin was rewarded with a brief view of a smile as Nichola pushed the door shut to remove the chain. "Come on in. "Wait a minute. then. It's Saturday and since the insurance companies are closed I thought I'd pay for it so you wouldn't have to be without transportation." She left the door open. She quickly slipped into jeans and a sweater and pulled her hair back into a ponytail." she invited unlocking the screen door for him. When Benjamin caught full view of her dressed in a robe he immediately apologized "Oh. are you for real? You really expect me to believe you want to take me to get a rental car?" "I was hoping you would." "Huh?" Nichola asked then without waiting for an answer continued. "Yes?" she queried. Leaving the chain on Nichola cautiously opened the door a bit. brows raised. She had an appointment that very day in fact. ." a voice returned through the door.

" she said." At her look of suspicion. Shaking her head to clear it. She felt a strange falling sensation that threw her mind into temporary confusion. she sat opposite him." Continuing a measuring look. They don't mind if we use one of them. "Have lunch with me. "My parents own a fleet of cars. "Don't look so confused." he laughed. giving him as firm a handshake as she could manage." he said. Nichola accepted the hand he held out. There are a couple that have been pulled out of service.. "Mr. "Michael?" she questioned "but I thought you said. most people call me Michael." "Yeah. but unable to resist his charm she added a catch of her own "Make it brunch and you've got yourself a deal. but Micki? "Absolutely.. Since she wasn't willing to go further he continued "The offer is still good on the car. "Good I'm starved!" . He looked up directly into her eyes. Kingsley scanning the assortment of magazines on her coffee table. I was born Benjamin Michael Kingsley." she said in understanding "everyone calls me Micki" "Really? I could see Nicky." she stopped at that and thought." "Ah. What's the catch?" Grinning slyly he answered." His smile broadened as he reached out to shake her hand. The insurance is paying. "Michael. he continued." Mickey looked at him with a mischievous gleam in her eyes "I'll bet. "Consider it done. Kingsley-" she began." he corrected her.Stepping back out and going through to the living room she found Mr. Promise. not willing to tell him the story behind it.

" "Reserve away. But he had a way about him. her job and a number of other things that fairly surprised her. at which point he chuckled. she turned to see Michael getting out of the bronco. It was early afternoon by the time she pulled out of the restaurant parking lot driving the borrowed car with Michael following in the bronco. There was a boy. After picking up the car. She hadn't long ago met him and not exactly under normal circumstances. Would you like to come in?" .next-door-ness to him. Picking up her purse and keys next to the door." Standing himself Benjamin raised his arm in a gesture leading her to the door. But." "Good. If I may reserve the same right. They ended up laughing over the meal as if they were old friends." she said finishing off the subject and moving on. I can't take this Michael stuff. He felt like someone who would be gentle. thoughtful. Smiling warmly into her eyes he said "Call me what ever you like. By the time they'd cleaned their plates. But he'd convinced her that it was okay. She waited and they walked up to her porch together. the went to the International House of Pancakes for 'brunch'. I hereby dub thee 'Ben'.His hand had been very warm but not very firm until she'd gripped his. Turning to him she said " you know Michael. Nichola stepped from the late model Lexus. "I know this is going to sound strange. I had a great time doing 'brunch' with you. They'd talked about her family. "So noted.) As she locked the doors. Was it an act? She would have to be on her guard to find the flaws in his act if it were so. Standing she headed for the closet and got her jacket "Ready when you are. (She'd balked when she'd first seen it. Michael is my evil brother. Nichola was amazed at how comfortable she immediately felt with this man." she laughed. he was calling her Micki and she was calling him Michael without the slightest bit of discomfort.

smile frozen. call me if you have any problems. All the while an inner voice fairly yelled at her." Ben just stood there looking at her smiling broadly. Angelina.. Well at least she'd found the flaw. "Hello . the maid smiled and almost curtsied at his greeting then pointed up the stairs then placed her hands together and laid her head against them to indicate that someone was upstairs sleeping." he smiled down at her. "Listen " he said earnestly "you have my number. ." "Sure."Good. Then sighed. now confused. resignedly. hoping it didn't look forced. Angelina. She smiled her thanks and hurried into the house. though. "Yeah." Micki's eyes widened for a second. I have to get home." he said as he entered the house. I have some things I need to do too" she motioned vaguely towards the house. "Thanks again. "I'll have to take a rain check. Unfortunately they were also not home. Benjamin Kingsley pulled into the driveway of his home. Smiling back. locking the door behind herself. What did this man want? A kiss? Fumbling in her pocket for her keys she turned back to find him still watching. Holding back the urge to ask who Gennifer was she mentally kicked herself for not even remembering that other people lived on the planet and that one of those other people just might be this man's wife. Gennifer's probably wondering where I am by now. "Mistake! Mistake! Mistake!" After Kingsley left Nichola called her parents to break the news to them." she said smiling brightly. and followed it around to the back of the house which lead to a four car garage. They were six hours away to the north. she mumbled "I'll just be going" under her breath and turned hesitantly toward the door.

Her box stuffed with mail was the first thing she noticed as she walked up the to the door. "Your cousin. Nichola would have to go directly from work. Unfortunately. It would be delayed for an hour." he said giving her his coat and heading up the long curving stair and down the hall to a door bearing a pink stuffed Ms. softly closing the door behind him. On arriving. Nichola's last week of freedom. by the time she picked up the receiver the caller had hung up. Moving towards the small white bed he smiled lovingly down at the little dark-haired girl who slept there. Nichola reached her parents later on that night. "She'll probably not be there until the end of next week. but the phone was ringing so she hurried inside." The next week practically flew by. She hoped her mother chalked it up to the accident. The news her parents gave her was enough to make her forget all about the accident." her mother was saying "you're gonna have to pick her up from the bus station. she's gotten in some sort of trouble here and it just seems best all around."Thank you . she found that the bus was a little off schedule. Determined not to be irritated. Carey. When she stirred he hurriedly tip-toed from the room. . Nichola returned to her car and headed home. is going to be transferring down there to go to school. I think I'm the luckiest man in the whole world. He carefully turned the knob and slipped in. twenty minutes early. They had been very concerned about her safety and whether or not the man would really pay to get her car fixed. Nichola wasn't exactly enthusiastic. Nichola didn't tell them how she'd gotten the rental car or where she'd been that morning or who with. Carey had called to tell her that she would be arriving Thursday night at 6 PM." he whispered happily." Those were the words her mother had used. "Gennifer Ann Kingsley. Piggy dressed in a ballerina costume.

come and get me. Her blond hair was cut into a boyish style that suited her small frame.Glancing at the clock she saw that It was 6:15. "Whoa. allowing it to get in a full ring she picked it up. Helping Carey with her luggage Micki lead her out towards the car. "Yeah." "OK OK point taken. "Hey girl!" Nichola responded. especially putting Michael through law school." Micki cut in "This is a rental car. that answered it. Your parents can't afford this. Carey had hung up. silly. and thought that she would have been better off staying at the bus station." Click. "Carey?" Nichola asked almost blankly.to be an FBI agent?" . "What do you mean on what I make?" "You know what I mean" Carey shot back in a sing song voice "You can't afford this. "Micki what are you doing home?" an irritated voice asked. "Micki! " The blond highlighted Carey exclaimed when Nichola walked in the door." "Oh really. The phone rang again. Shaking her head she turned and walked back out the door." was her sarcastic reply "Who hit you? The king of England? And who is his insurance company?" Micki drew in her breath and let out a laugh. returning the hug and then standing back to get a look at her cousin. check this buggy out!" Carey exclaimed on seeing the car "How did you get this on what you make? Nichola laughed. "What are you going to school for . My car was in an accident and won't be ready until tomorrow.

his expression becoming unreadable. " I just needed to get away." He simply nodded. A blue bronco. In an effort to turn the conversation around." Micki greeted him with a small reserved smile. I'm sorry-Carey this is Benjamin Kingsley. Kingsley this is Carey Brighton. As Micki neared her driveway. "Oh. leaving out any extra data. "I was a little worried. Kingsley. Carey cleared her throat from the other side of the car." "Fine. how'd you figure it out?" Carey shot back. His anxious smile faded to confusion. then pulled in behind her." Micki said softly respecting her privacy. Micki was not ready to meet his eyes. "So what's the story?" Micki finally asked when they were on the main road." Micki got the introductions out of the way. "Mr. "I was just checking on you. Micki took a step back. Looking on interestedly she motioned silently with her eyes for Micki to introduce the handsome fellow looking quite splendid in a very expensive-looking business suit. That falling sensation again. Micki could see questions waiting to be answered. When she was ready to tell her she would and not before. I hadn't been able to get in touch with you. Leaving the bronco running." Ben said smiling towards her. He looked back at her this time catching her gaze. Mr. another vehicle was pulling out. Carey sobered." she added uncomfortably. "Tthanks again for all your help. . The confusion on his face growing. "My car will be ready tomorrow."You're so smart Micki. Ben got out and approached the car. that's all. They both laughed together." he finished softly when she didn't responded." he said by way of explanation. bumping into the door. His eyes focused intently on her as if he were trying to look beneath the surface for the answers to his questions. Its driver waited until she pulled in. "Pleased to meet you Carey.

"Really Micki!" Carey tried again "and from the way you are acting I would say you like him too. "That. "No seriously. "OK chicken little " she said out loud." He murmured. "Really." Micki looked at her as if she had just said the sky is falling. ." she said. In fact he also took me to get the rental car. "Well don't leave me hanging" Carey was saying after they had gotten all of the luggage inside the house." Carey laughed out loud at that and fell onto the sofa. "Oh..."Sure." Micki retorted cutting off Carey's tirade instantly. before turning and heading back for his bronco. "What is he supposed to be Prince Charming or something?" "Or something I guess." Carey blinked in disbelief." "Too bad he's married. He drove off without a second glance." Micki answered "he's the guy who hit my car." Carey frowned bending to pick up her luggage and take it to her new room. he's gorgeous." Nichola said "was the 'king of England'. "Micki. no problem.. Think about it " Carey's voice became dramatic "It's kismet You meet by accident LITERALLY two ships passing in the night." Carey exclaimed impatiently " and I think he likes you." Micki answered half to herself.

a weirdo. When he knocked at the door. they discovered a note attached to the door. DINNER TOMORROW IF YOU ARE NOT TOO BUSY? PLEASE CALL? BEN "That'll be the day. she allowed Carey to talk her into going out to dinner." Micki said crumbling the note. "The nerve to tell you he's married and then ask you out.." Micki said wrinkling her nose " he never actually said he was married. Carey was the one who let him in since Micki was in the back . Afterward. When they returned home." She headed into the house. or so she tried to convince herself. They brought out some extra blankets from the attic for Carey's room. Carey shook her head in disbelief. how about a date?" "Well.CHAPTER TWO The next day Micki and Carey returned the borrowed car. Micki and Carey spent Saturday rearranging things in the house. and did some furniture reorganizing. Ben Kingsley pulled into the driveway at about 6 o clock. Benjamin Kingsley was no where in sight." Micki agreed." "Oh never mind. What a heel? And think of his poor wife!" "Yeah. "So how'd he say it?" Carey asked laughing "I'm married." Carey said " I don't think I want to know.. to Micki's relief.

He met her cool gaze head on. When she regained her senses she attempted an escape. "Of course not." Who's side is she on anyway? Micki thought to herself as the younger woman walked by with a Mona Lisa smile. When she walked back out it was to find Ben standing in her livingroom talking to Carey." he said. giving her now typical greeting. if I may still call you that. Had he no shame? "Why?" she asked him "What does it matter?" He blinked "What do you mean . "Mr. "Micki. what does it matter?" "Are we even speaking the same language. "Come on and meet Gennifer." "You are disgusting!" she said pulling away "NO I think you have me beat in that department. Kingsley. Micki waited. I have since I first met you." she nodded towards him. "Come on where?" Micki protested. "Won't Gennifer mind?" Ben looked at her for a second and then threw back his head and laughed. Mr. Then turning to Carey he said " Carey. . So shocked was she that she forgot to fight him and the next thing she knew he'd shoved her into the bronco. the feeling is mutual. Are they?" His expression was so earnest that Micki began to feel physically ill. would you mind excusing us for a minute?" Carey smiled." he answered evenly. "Hello. Turning cool eyes on Ben. I thought last Saturday that those feelings were returned. Kingsley?" Micki snapped making his name sound like an insult. And from the looks of things. I really like you.of the house. Micki gasped at the gall of the man. Grabbing her hand he pulled her towards the door "Come on. She can't wait to meet you." he grabbed her again.

Her head began to spin. I look awful."Micki." She was looking in disgust down at her old jeans and sweatshirt and tennis shoes. When he released her mouth. may we go?" Micki simply nodded." Ben said after a few seconds of silence. "I hope you didn't mind. Her eyes met his again." he said turning back towards her. Her heart was pounding in her ears." he threatened. she seemed to have lost the ability to string two words together. "Where are we going anyway?" Micki asked . "No I didn't mind" Micki said in a low confused voice. Micki felt herself becoming caught in those eyes and felt herself falling again. "On second thought . unable to look at him. "Good. "Neither am I " Micki responded just as softly. Ben closed the passenger door and crossed to the drivers side. Ben chuckled then turned serious again. which were becoming harder to see in the fading light." Micki finally stated "Look at me.. Micki " he whispered. "You know a guy could fall in love with you. Suddenly becoming interested in her hands.. Ben raised a hand to tilt her face up towards his. ." he said with amusement in his voice "Then. "I'm not dressed. Her arms went around his neck and shoulders. "You look wonderful to me" Ben replied. started the truck and continued on down the street." Her heart jumped and she lowered her eyes shyly. I suggest you sit still or I'll have to kiss you. then drifted shut as their lips met. "I'm not married.

you sure do have a short memory. you know." Micki's silent "oh" hung in the air for a second and then. tell me where we are going?" "Well.K." "O. but who is she? Is she your sister? your aunt? your mother? your roommate?" Ben's smile grew with each relation Micki named." Micki said sympathetically. When they were out of the Bronco and on the steps leading to the door." Ben mocked her "tell me what day it is? Do you know?" "Very funny. They soon pulled onto a paved drive which continued on to a house partially hidden by trees." and left it at that. .. she really can't wait to meet you."Boy. I'm sorry. Micki wondered if he were thinking of his late wife." Micki said softly. her mother died when she was just a baby. "How old is she?" Micki heard the smile in his voice "She's four years old. "Accident. Ben turned to her and whispered "once more" very softly. it's like I told you we're going to see Gennifer." he answered. "Was she ill?" "No. Ben. "Gennifer is my daughter." "Oh. Micki had to physically restrain herself to keep her jaw from dropping. "I think I'm going to have to surprise you" he finally said. "Enough surprises for one day. Ben was silent for a minute then he spoke. and then continued to the back and to a garage." Micki laughed "Now seriously. Not much was said after that for the rest of the ride.

albeit. Ben. Working up her best smile she gave the little girl a wink. hurriedly spoke to the woman." . who had been watching her strangely. Micki couldn't be sure whether it had issued from her on lips. Ben tried to catch her but as she was behind him his hold was awkward at best and she simply slipped from his grasp and hit the cement below. She remained down for an additional stunned second. "Angelina. she stepped behind Ben in embarrassment. I'm fine. are you all right?" she heard Ben asking near her ear. A little voice promptly began giggling. His voice was full of concern. before her brained seemed to kick back in. A sharp screamed echoed through the garage as if from a distance. her head brushing a clay flower pot. Micki started to say something but the muscles in the vicinity of her mouth were no longer working." she said softly. They jumped apart." With Ben's help she got to her feet. "Micki. and his arms went about her. a bit stiffly. So lost were they in the kiss that the did not notice the sound of the door opening. carry Gennifer in to bed. Gazing up she saw a beautiful curly haired little girl at the top of the steps looking so worried. Micki was mortified. Micki swayed toward him. please. Involuntarily. eyes closed "Only broke my pride. gently encircling her slim form. This was not a good idea since it caused her to fall down the three steps to the cement floor of the garage. "Sure. or elsewhere. a small featured Hispanic woman stood behind her.When their lips met there was the same head-whirling excitement. The little one smiled back in relief.

. if anything.. so you don't need to worry about anything.panic?. Ben simply braked in the parking lot and pulled her out of the vehicle and ran through the doors. He cleared his throat and spoke up. Looking at the red stained fingers she drew back from her head merely confused her. "Hey. "are you a bad luck charm or what? Hmmm. Ben broke countless laws on the 10 minute ride to the hospital. There was a tingling somewhere in the back of her head then. *** Micki opened her eyes and looked directly into those of Benjamin Kingsley.. "Micki? are you okay?" Ben was asked for the third time.. Did she blame him? Maybe she was right.. she whispered again on a heavy sigh. "Micki. I've called Carey. Reaching the emergency entrance.. Looking up at Ben she saw a slight. "Benjammin'".Micki looked at him in confusion. the doctor's want to hold you over night for observation. But she didn't appear to understand what he was saying. but he needed to get her back to the truck. He caught her up into his arms and ran for the bronco.. all the while frantic over the woman whose head leaned against his shoulder.. She merely look at him.. twice and then on the third blink her eyes remained closed and she swayed. laughing at her own humor. Now why had he done that? But. The blood on her hands was frightening him. then blinked once..nothing. raising a hand to the side of her head she felt wetness. in his eyes.." . not sure what he should say. goodness her head itched.what do you have in store for me next weekend?" Ben frowned down at her. He was speaking but she couldn't make out what he was saying as a loud rushing sound drowned out his words. Ben-jammin'" Micki smiled..

" he responded." Micki was unable to hold back the smile that pulled across her lips. What was it about this girl that turned his heart inside out? He couldn't figure. I did." Carey exclaimed when she saw her cousin seated on the hospital bed. you really didn't have to do this. "Yes. Micki." she said. What happened? Really?" "Why. "You're not getting off so easily.. isn't that enough?" .. He looked back her almost shyly." "Thanks Ben. Then he was gone."You always take care of everything." Ben followed the younger woman. "Hello. "Hiya Crip!. so he went out to call Angelina to see how Gennifer was doing. Carey? You know the basics. I love you. fuzzy wuzzy. no you don't. a large white bandage plastered to her head. "What in the world happened to you. "Oh Carey. "You know a girl could fall in love with you been jammin" With that Micki fell asleep. Oh. Ben stood there grinning sillily down at her sleeping form." Carey said suspiciously. fizzy. "I'll leave you two while I pull the truck around. "Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear. and left it there. No sooner had he stepped out of the door than Carey began to barrage her with questions. Ben-jammin' how come. Micki?! Did this Gennifer person whack ya with a brick?" Micki looked at her cousin and just laughed. The next morning Micki was released from the hospital with stern warnings about taking it easy.how come you're so fuzzy?" giggle. " another giggle. Ben and Carey both arrived to pick her up.

I forgot that there wasn't a railing. "I fell because --" she paused. It scared me. I hid behind him. I'm sure your mom would love to know who you were with when it happened. you're supposed to throw yourself at the guy. she burst into unrestrained laughter. a smug smile on her lips." Carey drew in a sharp breath. He didn't have to work very hard. "What? What?" Carey was practically bouncing. what's the deal between you two?" Carey asked. then sighed. I could black mail you. giving up entirely. "If I'm not miscounting." Ben said. burying her face in her hands. and she threw Carey an evil look before attempting to change the subject. Gasping for breath. if you have to know. "You worry me half out of my mind. Okay Carey? Happy now?" Carey stood. But really."You were hospitalized for a blow to the head!" Carey exclaimed. Micki raised both hands. you've known one another not even two weeks and he looks at . I fell down the steps because Ben. Ben dropped Carey and Micki off. He tried to catch me but I must have been out of his reach and so I fell and crushed one of his flower pots with my head. "I'm glad you're okay Mick. Hell! She'd probably like to know it happened it all!" Carey crossed her arms. Micki's face flushed hot with embarrassment.. stepping back into the room. attempting to control herself. fending off the younger woman's questions. not off his porch!" "My sentiments exactly. Then continued. refusing to leave until he secured a promise that Micki would try dinner again the next weekend. "He was --" sigh "Kissing me and someone opened the door. she got out a few words. once inside. Then.. "All right. Micki glared at her. "So. Besides. "What did he do? Did he push you?!" "No!" Micki exclaimed.

"I just don't know.. and taking both her hands. causing a small sigh to escape her. before stepping back to allow him to enter. Bill?" "I don't know Carey. kissed them." she groaned. comfortable. "Wow. He took the several steps to reach her. Micki studied herself in the mirror. The man makes me feel so." Carey said. good. She was watching when his eyes settled on Micki. Taking her face between his palms as if she were delicate porcelain." Micki sighed.you as if he's totally in love and you. he brought his lips softly to hers. we won't even talk about you. Ben didn't need a verbal reply." Friday arrived at long last. Oh. just stared back.. losing herself in his eyes. What's the deal. Mick. Her door popped open.. you look great! I have wonderful taste!" A knock came at the door before Micki could reply. Micki didn't move. dear cousin." "I know you are. Micki barely noticed when Carey made herself scarce as her eyes were locked with Ben's transfixed ones." "I'd say you're losing something. like I've known him forever. "I'm losing it.. are nuts! I barely know the guy. "You are beautiful. "I'm not the one whose madly in love after two weeks.. I mean. You know. Yet so. . I get to be maid of honor. She exchanged a few greetings with Ben. Carey dashed for it. Her eyes were loathe to open when he pulled away. "Both of you have all the signs of a very serious case. and Carey's head appeared. Her hands shook uncertainly.. taking in the clingy lines of the black dressed Carey'd talked her in to buying." Micki threw a pillow. The kiss was very sweet and gentle. but what am I?" Carey shot back sticking out her tongue. "You." he said.

his place. When they pulled away this time. Clearing his throat. He said." Taking one of her hands. both were breathing a bit more heavily." When the Bronco pulled into his garage. taking her breathe. "Yes. "Milady. you will. Ben asked Micki if she were ready. Closing the door behind himself. "Don't you trust me?" Micki smiled ruefully." "Yes. "I don't trust myself. he merely unlocked the door and gestured her in with an exaggerated bow. he told her he'd return shortly and left the room. "Someone else will be there. Micki shot a nervous look at the door before glancing back at Ben. Micki noticed that there was a rail on the little porch. fireplace and a large window which opened to the large wooded area behind the house. In his absence. She asked where they were going. "What for?" he asked. . their lips again met. "I'll have to remember to take Carey's advice. she wandered the well-decorated space." Micki giggled at him and entered to find herself in a short hallway. But Ben did not kiss her." he nodded. Ben gestured her to the left along a corridor that led through several rooms and ended in a sunken room containing a bar. her mind. as if through some unspoken need." he squeezed a little. She asked if there would be any one else there. Making her requested glass of water. demanding. "Feel free to throw oneself when ready. Had his late wife decorated it? Atop a shelf she found a statue of a black cat with jeweled blue eyes and a mysterious smile. "Would you like a drink?" Ben asked from the bar.Then. His were firm. Ben agreed." This time when they went up the steps.

"Thank you. Piggy. "You know you really look wonderful in that dress." Angelina smiled more broadly." "Well. "Fine. Micki returned the smile." he said. Turning she was surprised to find Ben watching her. at least the ones that involved the cat." she said. immediately liking the petite woman. She hoped he hadn't heard what she'd said about his cat. settling her fears. "I'd like you to meet Nichola Dupree. "For the one who swallowed the canary." Angelina looked at him oddly. "My name is Nichola Dupree. "Mickey? Like Mickey Mouse?" . "And this. "Is my little lady. Turning it. "Angelina. she picked it up." Gennifer stated simply. at long last." The eyes widened with excitement." she replied and followed him up a stairway and into a room decorated in a muppets motif. meet the mysterious Gennifer?" "I'd love to. but sometimes people call me Micki. "Would you like to. "It's very nice to meet you. with heavy emphasis on Ms. The Hispanic woman that Micki remembered from before made ready to leave as they entered the room. but nodded in Micki's direction before smiling warmly." she murmured to herself. Ben stopped her." "How are you Gennifer?" Micki asked the child. she was surprised to find gold script across the back. carefully replacing the object." Ben placed a hand on the curly head that was now looking on with interest. then proceeded out of the room. no figuring that one out. It was heavier than she'd expected.Fascinated. and very cool to the touch." he said. Gennifer Ann Kingsley.

"Nope. sure." she smiled back. "You probably could. "It's bedtime for you." "Still not ready to tell." Then changing the subject. Micki looked at him and laughed. honey.Micki was forced to press her lips together to contain her laughter. Perhaps you and Micki could talk another time. "Hello?" . she is. He left her alone to make the call. Ben interrupted. As the phone continued to ring. "Of course. "I'll bet I could convince you. "Yes. "Exactly. helping her get the book." Ben responded. little one. "She's beautiful. Micki felt worry growing." "Will you read me a story?" Gennifer asked. Carey finally picked up on the sixth sounding a little breathless. wrapping her arm around his.." she said." Micki nodded." "Ahh." he got up and gestured her along another hall and into what appeared to be his office. "Right. refusing to go down that path. already yawning." Micki was saying as they left the room. he led her to the dining room." he offered. huh?" he grinned challengingly at her. "Yes. "Do you mind if I use your phone.. Micki remained in a chair by the door as father and daughter read "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie". Try again. Just as Gennifer was gearing up for another round of questions. "So where exactly did you get the name Micki?" Ben asked over desert. I really need to check on Carey." he agreed.

Micki wasn't ready to apologize for snapping at him. now. too?" "Look!" she spun on him. okay? I'm fine. on the other hand." "She's a big girl. "Carey?" Worry was drifting into suspicion. she moved purposely out of the office. "I have to get back home. but she sounded strange. okay?" "Okay. so just drop it. there was a strange car in the driveway.. yeah. Or do you make her call you mom." he tried to tease." "Is something wrong?" he asked. and drove her home. "Um." "Couldn't you get through?" he asked. . "Well. When her pulled up to hr house. "I just really need to check in on Carey. "Ben. "Want me to wait?" he asked." Click. So he dutifully did his part." Ben said after a moment of stunned silence. "You don't know what you're talking about." she answered."Hi. just enjoy your date." Carey responded." she found him back in the dining room. before placing the device back into its cradle. "I'm sure she can take care of herself. a trace of a frown marring her expression. as if coming to a decision.. "I'm ready when you are. sounding vague. "What's going on?" "Micki." The drive home was silent. Then. gathering their coats. Carey? Everything okay?" "Yeah. Micki stared at the receiver for a moment. and she was far too worried about what she'd heard in Carey's voice to wonder if she'd overreacted. didn't want to set her off. I'm not sure. Something doesn't feel right. Ben.

?" she asked him. I was just worried. what of it?" Frank demanded. Carey was no where in sight. please?" she asked." she spat. "Mind introducing us?" she asked stiffly. "Are you from Va. They rounded the corner to find Carey engaged in an intense but angry conversation with a young man with long wavy brown hair. and was about to let Frank know just what she thought of he and his friends when Ben grabbed her hand. Frank simply stared at them. "Come with me. Ben followed as she crossed the living room to reach the kitchen where a light burned. On entering. Micki's brows went up. "Ben. motioning for her to follow him. Micki gaped in outrage. Both boys ignored she and Ben as they entered into the smoky atmosphere." Frank said dismissively. Two young men were seated on the sofa watching music videos and drinking bear. touching her hand in acknowledgment. Micki was surprised by the scene before her. They heard the music almost as soon as they were out of the Bronco." "I ain't going anywhere till I talk to Care.When she looked at him. I know. Ben Frank. "Micki Frank." he replied. Micki left the door open to allow the smoke to dissipate. "You aren't wanted here. "Why don't you just go back." Carey said with a halfheartedly wave of her hand. I'm sorry I snapped at you. suspiciously. "Yeah. Frank Micki. he asked if there were someplace they could go. . Finding the livingroom unsatisfactory. The young man's name clicked in Micki's mind. The sound of Micki's heels on the tile seemed to arrest their attention." 'Yeah. an apology just seemed to slip out of her on its own volition. vice versa.

" she added uncertainly. touching her arm. "She's only 17!" "How old do you think I am?" Ben asked. "Why?" Shaking his head.. "Maybe 26. "It must have been pretty important for him to drive this far to see her. "Am I?" he asked again. He didn't look older than that." Then she stopped." "No!" Micki responded." he said. you're probably right. then. "I'll be 34 my next birthday. suspicious as to where he was going. And Gennifer was four.Micki nodded shortly. "I don't know." she sighed. "Am I too old for you?" Ben asked. ." he suggested. and led him to the spare bedroom. She sat on the bed while he leaned against the door. Micki refused to meet his eyes." Micki tried to explain. her anger completely deflated. before continuing tentatively. "Can you believe the nerve of that kid?!" she fumed. forcing herself to be calm. "Micki. "Why not let them talk for a bit. Ben's brows furrowed. "I think. Ben watched her for a moment. "Really?" she asked softly. "Micki. This was a surprise she hadn't quite expected. how old are you?" "Twenty-two. jumping up and heading for the door. "It's just that that *kid* is so arrogant!" Ben smiled to himself. "He's too old for her. Ben laughed. "That young man you call a kid is probably about your age. 27." "Yeah." Micki shrugged." Ben stopped her.." she said in confusion.

Micki broke away and moved to sit on the bed again. I admit. now furious. too?" He took a deep breath at the irritation that was welling up in him." Micki." "Keep going!" Micki cut him off." Ben countered. I did think you were a little older. "We don't have to fight about this. "Micki don't --" "Don't treat me like a child. Ben!" "Hey! You're the one who started this age thing! Why are you yelling at me?" Ben demanded." Ben said. "Look Micki. grudgingly." then on thinking. You're an adult." Ben stalled. slightly sarcastic. maybe. "*I* don't have a problem with it. her eyes blazing. "Am I too young for that." she said." "Liar!" Micki countered. maybe our first kiss. I'm not some dirty old man. watching closely as he formed an answer. "Yes. "A compliment. Then continued." "Why?" she demanded. And exactly what part would you have changed?" She fixed him with a hard stare." he asked. "You don't seem 33. you wouldn't have done anything differently?" Micki questioned. "Maybe -. "You just stood there and said you did! How can you say you didn't?" "Taking things slower does not constitute a problem. "Maybe you wouldn't have at all?" "Micki. "Okay. placing his hands up to fend off what he felt sure was coming.Confusion marring her face." "So had you known. "Right. but that difference in our ages doesn't matter. But I still would have asked you out. . in obvious disbelief. "Well.

"What? Am I in danger of you spanking my.hands?" she taunted. Ben didn't resist. Micki." Groaning deep in his throat. Almost before she realized that he'd moved. "Oh. He place soft kiss on her lips. cheeks. she continued." Ben ground out as she neared. releasing the pins that held the rich waves in place. it was to be met with her wide frightened eyes." Ben apologized. "But you make me crazy when you look at me like that. Ben's hands found their way into her hair. He brushed it aside to kiss her neck." he whispered. her fingers clinching in the cloth of his shirt. he continued. releasing the sweat aroma of her shampoo." Micki simply nodded. I'm sorry. then rising on tip-toe kissed him full on the lips. Micki felt a pain course through her at the action. They were both shocked apart by a yell from Carey and the slamming of the front door. Ben dragged his mouth from hers. "I'm sorry. His grip was like steel and Micki found that she couldn't move. She'd barely gotten out a muttered "NO!" When Ben pulled away. "Micki. "Hmm?" Feigning an innocent gaze. eyelids."What would you call it then?" Micki asked sweetly. Ben grabbed her and pulled her roughly to himself for a crushing kiss. taking her stunned face gently in his hands. you're playing with fire. His arms went around her. The mass fell about her shoulders. Her arms went around his shoulders.. she rose from the bed and approached seductively. Micki drew in a shuddering breath. let's not allow it to come between us. Please. gazing up into his eyes. and put her gently away from himself. so sorry. And then their lips were united again. drawing her off of her feet. Ben was drawn in. I can't stop how I feel about you any more than I can change my age. .. "Micki. Stepping into his personal space. again feeling hypnotized.. The idea of dying of pleasure crossed Micki's mind.

Carey turned to look at her. "The truth comes out. hugging a stuffed doll to her chest. She found the young woman standing alone in the living room starring at the door." "Hmmm. You've been talking to mom and dad. "How long have you been going out? How'd you meet? What does he do? How old is he? That type of thing." Micki said. Then. can I come in?" "It's not locked." Carey said almost gleefully. Micki was surpassed to find that indeed it wasn't. Then Micki flew into action and was out the door and down the hallway toward the living room. how she'd hugged it to herself just the way she was just then. running toward her room." Carey started "Frank was upset that I moved down here in the first place. That's what we were arguing about. But now. when he could out that he couldn't stay here he got really angry. Micki smiled remember how much Carey had loved that doll when they were growing up. "How close are you and Frank?" Carey thought for a it. "Carey.For a moment neither Micki nor Ben moved. Carey was sitting on the bed." ." was all Micki said for a while. "What do you mean?" "I mean. Then looked to her cousin. Micki knocked softly at Carey's door "Carey. placing a hand on her arm." the young woman responded. and then quietly slipped out of the door. "It was just a silly argument. then she was going." she called worriedly." "Ah. "Would you like to talk?" Micki asked. making sure it was locked behind him. Micki ran after her. Ben at her heels. eyes full of unshed tears. Ben stood for a moment. "Carey?" Micki asked again.

" "He's 25. Her mind swiftly changed gears. no. I just want to know. Mom and Dad sure are. how'd you meet?" she asked instead. let's get back to you." Micki started. old lady that I am." "We met at the mall. Jose." Carey giggled. Which for the moment called for ignoring the fact. "I love romance . I am. and we've been going out for ten months. you spy. What do you want to know now?" "Ooh. "No way." "Trust me. I said if he was he was too old for you." Micki admitted. Turns out."No. "Now. But remembering her earlier argument with Ben. forced herself to be calm. "But." "Really?" Carey's face brightened with interest. He asked how old I was." Micki insisted. I'm younger than he thought and he's older than I thought. "We are talking about you. "I called your Frank a kid. and he's a musician. "I'm stunned you're not freaked about the age thing. Ben saw fit to tell me that he thought Frank was about my age." "No. "Tell me about it. . Ben. found it necessary to enlighten me. Carey. turning to leave the room." Carey said slyly. He --" Twenty five!! Micki's mind latched onto the numbers. now. no." "And was this a problem for him?" Carey frowned. "So." Carey said quickly." "To me?" Micki exclaimed. Micki turned back. "Okay. "Should I assume that you are *well* enlightened? What kind of example could that be?" Sighing.tell me everything!" "Well. I haven't." "I see the hair's down. "Whoa!!" Carey exclaimed.

After bailing bucket upon bucket of water. Putting all her strength in to a final pull." "Yeah. Moments later she heard frantic banging against the front door." "He can't be more than what? 29? That's not too old is it?" Carey said. -. Micki was fairly certain that Carey's help would be out of the question .-The next day found Micki doing battle with her aged washing machine. Why is it a problem?" "Oh. the floor was no longer under her feet and she landed hip first in a growing puddle from an overturned bucket. before she'd realized the dilemma. Carey had left earlier. decide soon before someone gets hurt. The next thing she knew. Twelve years!!" "Really?" Carey's brows went up. she was a sopping mess and still the machine was too heavy for her to pull away from the wall. "Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! OUCH!!" She finished furiously as her angry pounding against the machine only left her with a sore hand. "Well. moving agitatedly away from the bed. so what. . Micki just shook her head and shrugged again. Determined not to be defeated. "He's 34.Micki shrugged. very seriously. wondering who she was kidding. The young woman had gone to the mail with new friends. I don't know.the girl truly did live to shop. "No. It was already too late for her. she tried once more. "Well." Micki said. "Well. scaring her nearly out of hr wits. "Arrgh!" she cried in frustration. what are you going to do?" Carey asked. not for him. she thought she felt something give." Micki said softly.

"You know a person could conceivably figure you for a nut case. Angelina had joined them for one of the movies. Gennifer had fallen asleep soon after. The banging continued. Snatching the door open to stop his racket." he called. Hoisting a fire-engine red toolbox in his direction." "I heard you screaming. He did. What did you do to it to make it do that to you?" Micki shot him a withering look. surprised by the change. My neighbors are already worried about *me*. she turned at the sound of Ben descending the steps after carrying his daughter up to bed. and then had retired to her rooms. Micki and Ben had spent the three hours fixing the washing machine. had even had a popcorn fight. "Are you all right?" "Fine." she led him in. He grasped her two hands in his. "I'd like to talk to you. he pulled her down so that they were both settled on the steps. his eyes were suddenly very serious. and placed it into the rewinder. One Sunday afternoon Micki was at Ben's home to watch movies. along with Ben's voice yelling her name. Gennifer had predictable chosen 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast'. They'd joked most of the evening. "Poor machine. Micki looked up him. . and the next three months learning one another's habits." Ben tried to explain. Micki pressed the button to eject the movie. and walked up the two steps to meet him. and continued on toward the kitchen. wiping wet hands on denim-clad legs. "I just lost a battle with the washing machine.Scrambling out of the wet mess." Ben took a good look at her then a grin broke out over his face." she said. "Sure. she challenged him to fix it. she made for the door. banging like that.

" Micki began slowly." He allowed a moment for his words to sink in before continuing. Although. Grabbing her. he pulled her into his arms crushing her to him. . "Even if I'd wanted to. I break. "I want -. she pressed on hurried." she laughed softly. Carey and Micki were having a quick lunch when the phone rang. "I'm not ready for what my parents will say. Micki was happy for that. They have a car for me. Most of the calls seemed to be for her lately. She'd made quite a few new friends and had quite a busy social life. the time we've spent together has shown me that I'm in far too deep to let go. watching his expression carefully. "Hey." *~*~* A month later." Micki said." For a moment Ben just stared at her. woman. there were moments when she wondered. speaking in between bites of her sandwich." When his eyes dropped. "I don't know what I would have done if you'd have said no.no." "No. as the subject of Frank hadn't come up in a while." "Really? What kind?" Micki was pretty used to loaning her own to the girl. Micki laughed when Carey dashed off to answer it. I've tried not to push you because I want whatever happens between us to be your decision." "I couldn't say no. "How do you feel about whatever your parents may think? Are you ready to face that? My family is already curious about you. "I've really got it bad for you. then a beautiful smile spread over his lips. need to know if our age difference is a problem still. Carey settled back to the table." he began."This is our third anniversary. "But. "Mom and Dad want me to come up next weekend." he whispered. Ben relaxed his grip. but leaned in for an equally crushing kiss. Micki.

Ben was more than happy to travel with Micki to Virginia. They'd said their good-byes hurriedly through the window. How's that?" Carey squealed with delight and threw her arms around Micki's neck. She nearly came out of her seat when the phone rang. I figure you and Ben could drive up next weekend. She caught it on the second ring. His mother would watch Gennifer while he was away. The next afternoon came far too fast for Micki. Or maybe you guys could rent a car or something. . she had a plan. "Care. listen to me --" "Wha-? Who is this?" She demanded. then conceded. But if she knew Carey. maybe.introduce him to your parents.." Micki didn't want to commit.. Thinking it was Ben. say. tomorrow and I could spend a week with the folks . Micki was accustomed to having someone else around..it is spring break after all. By the time she and Carey had reached the bus station. she increased the volume hoping to dispel some of the unusual stillness. The silence descended almost immediately. Probably Uncle Bob's old Honda." She ducked the cup Micki tossed at her.." Micki eyed her for a few seconds. "Didn't think to ask. "And how would you suggest we do that?" "We-e-ll. The house seemed unnatural without the young woman's presence. I'll talk to Ben. Then.. I was thinking you could take me to the bus station. it was time to load. That part's up to you. oh."I don't know. But the condition is that you drive back with me. After four months. "The bus leaves tomorrow at 7:00." "Okay. "I guess I'm gonna have to face the music sooner or later. And you could. don't hang up." Carey said. Turning on the television.. she was surprised at the jumble of words that tumbled out of the receiver. Then on Sunday afternoon you and he drive out to my parents and pick me up and we could caravan back.

There were several seconds of silence, then, "Put Carey on the phone." "Excuse me," Micki said with forced politeness. "I asked who is this." "Look, why don't you just put Carey on the phone?" the voice of a young man demanded. Having determined that this was Frank, Micki simply hung up the phone. When it rang again a minute later, she picked up immediately and hung up. A minute after that, she repeated the same routine, only this time she left the receiver sitting on the side table. Settling down in front of the television, she tried to put the incident out of her mind. A suspense thriller series was on, and was beginning to make her a little nervous. Ben had promised to stop by after work, she hoped he'd arrive soon. A knock at the door, brought her to her feet in relief. Throwing the door open in excitement, Ben's name died on her lips. Frank and his two buddies from her previous encounter stood in the doorway. She tried to slam the door shut, but Frank simply shouldered his way in. His two buddies followed. "Get out of my house!" Micki yelled at his stunned at his audacity. Frank ignored her as he tore through her small house yelling Carey's name. His two friends had settled into their previous seats on her sofa. Micki stormed behind the Frank as he began to enter her bedroom. "Who do you think you are, coming in here like this?" Micki fumed. "I want you out and I want you out now!!" She grabbed one of Frank's arms in an attempt to force him out. She let out a small scream when he grabbed both her arms and pushed her away from himself. Off balanced, she tumbled to the floor. She lay stunned for half a second before fear overcame her. Scrambling to her feet, she ran for the off-hook phone. She'd gotten as far as 9-1 when Frank realized what she was up to. He dashed to the kitchen, knocking her away from the phone with his body.

Micki was knocked into a counter which caught her in the side. The unexpected pain took her breath and her knees went out from under her. She leaned dazedly against the cabinets as Frank slammed the receiver back into its cradle. Then he turned his attention to her. "Where is she?" he asked. Micki's heart pounded in her ears, but she was determined that he wouldn't intimidate her. Struggling to her feet, she stared him down. "None of your business," she managed to sound only slightly breathless. "Tell me what I want to know, or else..." Frank stepped closer, invading her personal space. Micki decided that she definitely didn't like him in close proximity. She made an attempt to move around him. Frank grabbed her upper arms and pushed her back against the wall, none too gently. This time she couldn't hide the pain. She cried out, and hot tears flowed from beneath her lashes. His grip was so tight she thought she'd lose her circulation. She didn't really care any more about not giving in to intimidation. She just wanted him to leave her alone. She pleaded with him. "Frank, please.... please, let me go. You're hurting..." "Not --" he was cut off by the intrusion of another voice. "Your best bet is to listen to the lady." Frank tensed, then released her arms. Micki's legs forgot to support her and she wilted to the floor. She didn't hear Frank's running footsteps or the closing of the front door or even Ben running back to her. She lay balled on the floor, silently crying. "Micki," Ben called, reaching for her. She cried harder, fighting his hands away from her. "Micki," Ben called louder. "It's me...Ben. Let me --" Her arms immediately went limp, no longer fighting him. He pulled her into his arms holding her tightly, gently rocking.

She gradually stopped crying. When she was calmer, he drew back slightly. "Are you all right?" Looking up into his pale features, she nodded silently. "Come on," he said, helping her to her feet. She stood weakly, but her first step reminded her forcefully of the contact her ribs had made with the counter. She stumbled against him, grunting in pain. "Micki," Ben cried alarmed. "What is it?" "My side," she explained breathlessly as he lowered her to the floor. Ben lifted her shirt slowly, unsure of what he might find. Waves of anger and guilt washed over him at the angry dark bruises that stretched along her already swelling side. He ran for the phone and dialed the police and an ambulance. When the police arrived, he gave them as much information as he could, which wasn't much. Micki had been unable to give a statement as she'd gone into shock and was far from coherent. Ben was left to watch helplessly as she was loaded unto a stretcher and put into the back of an ambulance. After following the vehicle to the hospital, he'd been told that she had a cracked rib and would be better in a week or two. But she would have to remain in the hospital for two days for testing. She was released on Wednesday. On Friday they rented a van and headed toward Virginia to meet her parents. "Ben," Micki had called to him from her reclined position on the passenger side of the van. "Can I ask you a favor?" "Sure, anything," he said, smiling. The smile faded, however, when he heard her request. "Don't tell my parents about what happened with Frank."

" he answered reluctantly. carefully holding her side." Ben simply nodded. then?" she challenged him. "I'll keep it simple. ah yes." "Ah. More than acquaintances. "I know. "Tough question." "You flatter me." Micki said. "What are we. clearing his throat he murmured. "Hmm?" "Hmmm. "Well. We're friends. "I'm falling fast. "I told them that you are a male friend." Louder. They'd crossed into the city limits minutes earlier and they would be reaching her parent's home soon." she replied after a few seconds of deliberation. because we're attracted to one another."Okay. we're. "Less than lovers." Ben returned." Then." Ben replied." "Falling?" Micki couldn't prevent the word from spilling from her lips. Micki laughed.." he replied dryly. .." Ben laughed. that's it exactly." Micki feigned enlightenment. "Can't help it. "Who do your parents think you're bringing?" he asked. "Yeah. "And what are we doing this for?" she asked. but not 'just friends'.. so we can get to know one another better." "And what makes you say that?" "Can you tell?" Ben's voice had lost its light-hearted tone. "But how do you plan to explain the bandages?" "I'll just tell them I fell against the counter.. We're seeing one another. Because we're a match. "And why is this necessary?" "Oh. smiling slightly.

Forcing her mind into action. Tears leaked from her eyes and she threw him a sidelong look of disgust. Micki.. Her body was stiff from having lain in the same position for so long. she closed her mouth and opened it just in time to tell him where to turn to get to her parents street. When they'd pulled into the drive. "Ready?" She nodded once." Mel returned in her own defense. "Just.my breath.. and he led her slowly up the drive. "Remind me to take the medication again .me catch. "I've fallen in love with you. Ben came around to help her. "How was I supposed to know she'd hit the pavement?" .let. she was fairly certain he knew that already. Ben saw Micki's look of dismay just before the girl flung herself into her arms. Oh!!--" she groaned as Ben hoisted her to her feet by one arm. There was nothing he could do as they both went down in a heap. All thoughts fled her mind. "Micki!" The long-haired young woman exclaimed as she dashed along the side walk. She hoped the action covered her confusion. Micki's parents rushed out of the house as Ben leaned over to help Micki to her feet. she whispered quickly to him. She'd chosen not to tell Ben that the doctor had told her not to take any long drives for the next three weeks.. Micki's mother immediately began to fuss over her. They were half-way when the door slammed open and a slim body launched itself outside.." Ben answered her softly. whatever possessed you to run into your sister like that?" "I just wanted to hug her."In love." he said.." That shocked her. Although.. Groaning softly as Ben pulled her to a sitting position.soon. "Are you all right Mick? Mel. taking her hand." "Yeah.

She felt as if she were fading fast. this is my mom and dad and my sister. tossing a quick glance in Micki's direction. Lorraine eyed her strangely. Ben slipped it into his pocket. She then reached for Ben's hand. "It's really good to see all of you. Ben and Micki fell to the back of the line hoping no one noticed how much she was leaning on him. Then. he saw that she wouldn't be able to take much more." he whispered into her ear. She had to bite her lip at her father's bear hug. "Mrs." Micki paused for only the briefest second before saying okay. "No!" Micki whispered back." She gestured toward the house." "It's really a pleasure to meet all of you." Lorraine Dupree laughed delightedly. really. Dupree. "Oh. "Dinner'll be ready soon so Ben you can just go to the family room and talk to Joe. . turning toward Micki's mother. "Everyone this is Ben Kingsley. "Come on." Ben said politely shaking hands all around. Nick can help me in the kitchen so we can have a little girl to girl. but for support. but continued on into the house. Come on in and have some. Ben followed Joe Dupree into the family room. Melanie." Joe said. She slipped the bottle of medicine from her purse into his hands." she continued. hugging each family member in turn. Ben was about to say more. Ben. Briefly tightening his grip on Micki's hand before releasing her." Micki spoke up in what she hoped was a sincere voice."I'm fine Mom. "We can go in here. Benjamin. I see Micki has been running off at the mouth again. not only to introduce him." he began. "I think you should tell them. when Lorraine turned around to speak with them." Ben nodded that he would. "I hear you make the most wonderful lemonade.

"What's this fella to you?" "We've been trying to figure that out ourselves. You've avoided by last questions. for starters. finally.." Lorraine began bluntly. I'm okay." Micki said wryly. "Mom!" Micki exclaimed." After a few seconds Micki admitted that she was in pain." Micki answered guardedly." "Oh Goodness!" Lorraine was in action." "No. "So. "Fine." My was trying to keep her shirt. "Well. "Still shy.in pain or something. but her mother seemed intent on getting a look." Dismissing the matter. .. This isn't necessary. now separated from her medicine stood stiffly leaning against the counter. Honey?" "What makes you think that Mom?" Micki stalled. my dear. "Is thee something bothering you. "Micki. she pointed her daughter in the direction of the family room. I'll just go lie down. Lorraine gave her a look. "Do you want to lie down? You know you can lie on the sofa. "We only minutes ago came to the conclusion that we're seeing one another." Lorraine gave up." "Could this be serious?" Lorraine asked. Mom. "I hit my side a few days ago and when Mel hugged me like that and I fell it sort of starting aching again. And you talking like you're..Micki. down. "Let me see is it bad?" she reached for Micki's shirt. "Could be. why won't you let me see?" Lorraine asked. You're standing there against that counter like you're hiding something..I don't know. I guess.

hoping her chalked her grimace up to pain. But she supposed Melanie wasn't the same little girl she'd been 2 years earlier. anyway?" she asked. Micki held her breath when Ben and her father both reached for it. now. but refused to look in his direction. but also mild embarrassment at misleading her mother. don't worry about that.fell into her very own counter. men. Ben stood and reached into his pocket. Wants to go to school to be an auto-mechanic. an odd expression on his face. "Speaking of autos." Ben piped up. "It wasn't too bad was it?" "Uh. "I should probably go out to the van and get our things."Okay." Joe said." Micki said. reaching a hand for the keys." Micki settled into the sofa cushions with profound relief at being off her feet. . move over." Micki was wise enough to allow that statement to lie. "Just give me the keys and I'll get 'em." "Sure I'm sure. a small brown bottled spilled out and fell to the floor. "Joe." "Oh." "Where is Mel. She felt Ben's eyes on her. "I really don't mind. She was sixteen. and falling on the pavement brought back some of the aches. Would you believe it? . You're a guest here. your daughter is still clumsy." "You're sure?" Ben asked. in the automotive department..no. "Are you okay?" he father asked. breaking the brief tension. "She's gone to work. When he pulled out the keys." Lorraine answered.. "Where is she working?" "Up at Wards." Joe insisted." she ordered. "Really?" Micki really was surprised. "Its just that hugging Mel... She closed her eyes when she saw her father handing it to Ben. Some aspirin or something will probably take care of it. hoping to get the attention off of herself.

Then. "Micki. They deserve to know." Micki's mother said with a wave of her hand. "Here you are. would you move that recliner over into the dining room?" "Sure. murmured something about aspirin and left the room.Ben flushed. She'd never seen Ben blush." "Ah. "I think you are underestimating them. or Mike." Ben laughed." Lorraine laughed in understanding. Sir. "Ben." Lorraine said in a confused voice. call me Lorraine." Ben handed Joe the keys. Mrs. in the present situation. Unfortunately. I'm a parent. Joe took them without a work and headed toward the door. Micki's the only person who calls me Ben. having witnessed the entire incident. it only served to make him look guilty. If the situation weren't so serious. "Oh. and I'd want to know --" At that moment Lorraine came back into the room. But." She handed the items to her daughter. "I thought Nick introduced you as Benjamin. "What do people call you? Ben. dear. aspirin and juice in her hand. She popped them into her mouth with a heavy sigh and slipped the bottle into her purse." "Ben --" she started." Ben answered. Ben quickly slipped two pills from the bottle and passed them to Micki. jumping to his feet. Micki might have laughed." "That's different. Lorraine. I'm called Michael. Dupree. Micki." Ben whispered. "Yeah. is it?" "Actually. "I can't lie to your parents. "Did Micki ever tell you how she ended up with the name Micki instead of Nicky?" . "Here you are.

" "Come on." Ben looked mischievously at Micki. returning on the tail end of the laughter. please. "You married young?" Joe asked." Ben explained." "Mom. and the next thing we knew. happy because now she can be Mickey Mouse!" By the time Lorraine finished her story. utterly derailed her thoughts.. Gennifer was born a couple years after that. "Definitely. "Who's Gennifer?" Joe asked. and Micki's face was buried in her hands. she and Ben were collapsing with laughter. "We shouldn't have any secrets." Lorraine was saying. "She didn't. now? How many children do you have?" "Just one. Giving her mother just enough time to launch into her story. So. But she was determined she was gonna be Micki. eyes gleaming. "She wanted to be Mickey Mouse." Ben answered the question. no. she'd cut off her pigtails so she could be Mickey." Lorraine stopped to laugh.." Ben answered. "Really. laughing. She got into my sewing." Ben urged. "Joe!" Lorraine admonished her husband. "Gennifer's my daughter. a pony tail in each hand yelling and jumping around." Joe shot back "Actually. "Please don't. "She was invited to a costume party. then she comes into the kitchen." Ben said. and we told her Mickey was a boy Mouse. "I was married at 26. "Gennifer's just turned four. "When Micki was six. Lo. My wife died while she was still a baby. Love. She was dressed up as Minnie Mouse. She had that beautiful long hair. Gennifer can NOT hear this story." He reached across the sofa."No. a few months ago. easily. but no." Micki begged. covering her hand with his. "I'm just asking a question." . Something in the tone of his voice.

" "I'd take that challenge. it's not always a good thing. "Well."I'm sorry to hear about your wife. Where these really her parents. and Lorraine made sympathetic noises." Ben answered. surprised." Micki's mouth gaped. "All I need is some nice strong fella to transfer our invalid to the recliner in the dining room." Ben laughed. "Are you feeling any better sweetheart?" her mother asked. "Believe me. actually the location and date is under wraps. "Maybe you should go to the Doctor ." Joe said. "I wouldn't have figured you to be in your thirties." Joe continued." Joe said. "What sort of work do you do there?" Joe asked. "I wish I'd looked that young when I was your age. Joe looked at her surprised. she gestured in the direction of her daughter. "I'm currently designing their new high rise. "There's 7 years between your mother and I what difference is three more years going to make?" Ben grinned triumphantly down at her. laughing. "Right now I'm working for NBS banking. "Perhaps you could design a counter Micki couldn't fall into. though. At Ben's nod.you might have broken something." The meal went comfortably until Joe asked Ben what he did for a living. "Dad you don't think Ben's too old for me?" she couldn't resist asking." "I didn't know they were building." Ben laughed with him." . "Dinner's ready!" Lorraine announced." "So you're an architect?" Lorraine asked.

" Micki began hesitantly. "I think he wanted to scare me more than anything." Micki assured them both.and I know it was stupid . Monday. "Well." Joe insisted."Form the looks of the medicine in Ben's pocket. Ben gave Micki a look which spoke volumes." Silence followed her admission. she shouldn't be in a cramped vehicle for so long after that. she'd try to do it herself. "Well. "Did they catch him? What else happened? Did he do anything else to you?" "He didn't do anything else. "Speak child. I hit my back on the corner and cracked a couple ribs. I thought it was Ben." She paused a moment. I figured if I didn't drive her. Then both her parents began speaking at the same time.without checking. It was all I could do to rent the van so she could at least lie down. so I opened it . gathering her courage. The counter thing was an accident. "I have something to tell you guys." Joe urged." Joe said. He pushed his way in. Sir.well. Ben's eyes dropped to the level of his plate. " "You still should have told us. say?" "He kept me for two days and then we came here." "Surely. "I didn't want to tell you because I didn't want you to worry. "You know how Aunt Marina's counters were . ." Joe spoke up. I'd say she went. When I tried to call the police. his disappointment evident." "What did the Dr. he pushed me away from the phone. directing his gaze at Ben. It as Frank and he'd come looking to talk to Carey. I had a knock at my door after I took Carey to the station.

"Do the police have those boys?" Joe asked. and then they ran off. It's not as if they broke in."He wanted to..them there. "Since you opened the door. I'm an adult. "She stayed at my house. so we were chaperoned. trying to sound reasonable." Your house?" Both parents spoke in unison. "I asked him not to." Micki said.." "You must be some architect." "Mom." Joe spoke up. I'll be fine." Ben answered. "I came in just in time to see. But the expressions on her parent's faces didn't budge." Lorraine insisted. it was perfectly respectable." Micki spoke up. I haven't talked to the police since that night. "Actually." "Where did she stay when she got out of the hospital?" Lorraine'd asked before Micki could answer.. how do you know that they wouldn't have broken in?" "Carey has school as soon as break is over and I have work. The maid lives there. "My family owns several apartments which are well guarded.two young girls . I opened to door for them." Ben smiled reassuringly into her eyes." "All the more reason. we don't know.until they're caught. 'I assure you Mom and Dad. You and Carey are more than welcome to stay there. but he talked me into it anyway. Ben spoke up." "Surely you can't go back to that house . . And the house is big enough tat it is possible not to run into each other all day.

" Micki looked stunned from one to the other. your family's business is doing very. actually. he reached out and touched her arm. "They belong to the family. while both Lorraine and Joe glanced his way. Her gaping mouth snapped into a thin angry line before she stiffly excused herself and disappeared out the back door. Kingsley's would you?" "Well." he softly called her name.-. "My grandfather started the business. "Excuse me." she murmured.. however." Ben said. Her arms were wrapped about her shoulders. "Wait a minute.-Ben stared after her in silence." Ben inserted. Yes." "Do you know that your grandfather built this house?" Joe asked. "Are you okay?" "Just fine!!" She snapped. turning. interrupting the flow of the conversation. "Told you what?" Ben asked. His words were lost on Micki. "I was reading the journal. and my father's been running it since Granpy died. Ben blinked at her vehemence. "What's wrong?" When she didn't reply. "They're into real estate and construction." "What exactly does your family do?" Joe had to ask. very well. "What are you saying?" "Old Ben here is a millionaire!" "Uh." Joe sat and thought for a minute. He found Micki on a small patio deck at the rear of the house. "Micki." he murmured and walked out of the door. and she gazed up at the stars."Honestly. -. "You might have told me!" she said. "You wouldn't happen to be one of the Kingston Corp." Ben said. that would be my father. excitedly. actually. .

"You don't have to answer right now. but your deadline is before we leave here Sunday. "I'll talk to Ben." Micki's eyes filled with tears and she turned her back to him again. It won't be mine for a long. long. she pushed passed him and ran into the house and up the steps leaving one very stunned Ben standing on the patio. Ben sighed. that's not the point. listen."That you're filthy stinkin' rich!" she said." Joe said. close your mouth. I wouldn't expect you to tell me what your father does for a living unless I asked. Now. "Oh Micki. "Am I going to have to wait 4 more months for you to get over this before I can ask you to marry me?" Micki's eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped. head thrown back as if she meant to declare it to the universe at large. again turning her back on him. "Micki?" he called uncertainly. "Micki." she persisted. rising from the table. When Micki ran through the den and up the stairs." "Ben. Ignoring the pain of her ribs. Lorraine and Joe shared at look born of years of understanding. long time to come I hope. . Ben's smile faltered. A bug might fly in. "Is this going to be a problem? If it's any consolation. You could have told me." He reached out and spun her to face him. Ben's smiled confidently." Ben closed his eyes. Lorraine nodded and headed upstairs. it's my father's company.

sitting. "I guess asking her to marry me was exactly the wrong thing to do. then continued." Meanwhile. Wordlessly he settled beside the young man. "Unless you keep calling me Sir. staring up at the night sky. Micki was lying across the bed . right now." Joe stepped through the door and out onto the patio where he found Ben. "What did you say to her?" "Actually. "Nice night out. Call me Joe." Joe chuckled. "Just about. Take the time to really learn one another. "She's trying to get used to that. Joe. Joe considered this thoughtfully. Without waiting for an answer. patting him on the back. "Well then. You have to go slow with her. "I'm sorry about this. I guess in a round about way." Joe said. I asked her to marry me. isn't it?" Joe broke the silence this time." Ben smiled."I'll talk to Mick." "Just about." Ben answered." "Okay." Joe agreed. Lorraine discreetly knocked on Micki's room door. patiently waiting." Joe continued. Sir. "What am I doing wrong?" "Well that depends. "Yes it is." Ben said softly. "No reason to be sorry." Joe started. "She's a lot like her mother. embarrassed." Ben answered." Ben smiled slightly. she pushed it open. "I take it she didn't know about your family?" Ben shook his head.

but. "You'll always be my baby. Lorraine couldn't restrain a smile." Micki tried to clarify.. Then grew serious." Micki looked sheepish. then her face crumbled in frustration. I'm always here to talk if you want. he obviously cares for you. "Micki?" she called softly into the room. honey. He just makes me so mad sometimes!" "What did he do to make you so mad?" Lorraine asked. I do. "Too bad there isn't some pill we can give them to make them act reasonable. "I couldn't think of anyone else I'd want to be with forever. this was the same thing she'd done as a child when she was upset. and I think we really. sniffing. it's not that I don't care for him. and scooted further on the bed. honey." Lorraine was silently cheering her daughter's good sense. so I don't know what it is. or how far away you move. I know." Micki nodded." Micki rolled over and looked up at her mother.connect. "You don't know for sure if he's the one yet?" "No. "Micki. "It's in their nature. "Want to talk about it?" Micki looked at her mother for a long moment. ." She was trying to sound reasonable." she responded. No matter how old you grow. "Mom.." "Oh. "Why do men have to be so frustrating?" Lorraine laughed. We have lots of fun together.. A lot." Lorraine laughed with her. "OK. Funny thing is that they don't even realize it. "He asked me to marry him. "Whoa." she settled onto the bed." Lorraine's brows raised.. "Well. resting her hand lightly against her daughter's back. even though she thought his question had been a bit sudden. But I've only known him a few months. "Is it that you don't feel that way about him?" "No. Well. That's just not long enough to establish a good foundation for a marriage. exactly.with a pillow pulled over her head. you know that. I see.

"I don't want to rush you into anything. there are things that you have to talk about." ." "Thanks Mom. honey. and nodded to herself." Micki said. "I'll send him up. Ben stopped in the doorway and looked across at her. But Mel will be home soon and I don't want to give her any ideas. maybe not even the same priorities.. "Why does it make you uncomfortable when I tell you how I feel about you?" Micki did not look up." Micki looked down at her hands. "I'm sorry I acted the way I did earlier. Ben reached out and placed his on top of hers. hoping it didn't show too much. She felt a twinge of nervousness as he approached. I guess." Lorraine smiled." she said. "Micki." he began hesitantly. She smiled and patted the edge of the bed." Lorraine frowned at that. "It's not that I don't trust you. seemingly unsure of where to begin. "This door stays open. "I guess I should. "Want to talk to Ben?" Lorraine asked softly. I just automatically assumed that my feelings were yours. You are not going to have the same personalities.. Then turning back. Ben settled beside her." A minute later Micki heard Ben's footsteps coming along the hallway. She swallowed. putting her arms around her mother.But." Micki gave a self deprecating laugh. Do what's right for you. But when you find the man you want to marry remember compromise. I've never met his family and I didn't even know about his father being a millionaire. "I don't know. "Yes. okay?" Lorraine stood and walked toward the door." she said firmly. "He probably thinks I've snapped.

she didn't stand a chance. And that frightened her because it left her feeling exposed and vulnerable. innocently. "Perhaps we shouldn't. "I am." Ben answered at a longing look at her lips. uncertainty. The kiss seemed to go on forever." she whispered back.Ben waited. What had they been talking about anyway? He couldn't remember. but with her parents and Ben arguing against her." he said. while Ben and Carey drove back. Micki found herself lost in his gaze.. "Shouldn't what?" she asked. "I know. Taking the conversation in this direction was something she could handle. "I just have to convince you of it. "I'm not that kind of girl. but she didn't move away." Then the distance between them was gone. "This. When he was centimeters away he stopped and looked at her with a mischievous light in his eyes. barely touching her lips. helpless. Ben moved toward the door and sat on the floor." he whispered. It had been Joe's suggestion that Micki fly back home and remain at Ben's home. "Maybe it's because I'm not sure how I feel about you?" she asked. she couldn't pull away." Ben agreed. "I know. slowly leaning in closer as if to kiss her." "And how can you be so sure?" she asked slyly. Micki's half-closed eyes flew open. His hand dropped away from her chin." he said. "Yes. forcing her to meet his eyes.. At first Micki had objected. "Tempt fate. so they began making plans for the next day." "You sound very sure of yourself. . trying to clear his head. When they pulled away. "I already know how you feel about me." Micki taunted him." he answered. Ben touched a hand to her chin.

Ben had promised to call and let her know that Micki would be arriving back early. and she wondered where Angelina had gotten to. silently thanking him for his understanding. Perhaps he was learning. he turned in the direction of the row of rental agencies lining one wall. She'd said her good-byes to her mother and to Melanie at home. "What say we go see if I can give this van back without a fight. A kiss was exactly the last thing she'd wanted. "I'll see you later on tonight. But there has simply been no other flights." he said. or when you wake up tomorrow. "Don't worry. And to her father at the gate. I know she wanted you to. "You could have given her a real kiss." She smiled at him. considering her father was standing right there beside them. . The house was quiet. After giving her a quick hug.Carey hadn't been told of the incident with Frank. Perhaps she'd found it necessary to go out. Ben and Joe drove Micki to the airport. She'd been unsure of how to say good-bye to Ben. Micki had been even less happy about that. and the next day Micki's plane was due to leave before Ben and her parents were due to visit Carey's family." Micki's flight had lasted just over 40 minutes. He turned when he heard Joe laughing near his shoulder. he watched her walk through the doorway leading to the plane." Ben simply grinned. Dismissing the strangeness of being alone in Ben's home. This time Joe was wrong. Since she had no luggage. she went in search of a phone. she'd been able to get a cab and arrive at Ben's home almost exactly one hour after she'd originally left Va. Changing the subject.

"Stephanie Cartright. But when she glanced through the window. he's out for a while.. despite the fact that she wouldn't be riding back with she and Ben. "Yes?" she called. and saccharine sweetness leaked into her words. "Do you know when he'll be back?" she asked condescendingly. but promised that she'd explain everything when she got home. "I'll be sure to tell him you came by." She spoke as if Micki should have recognized the name.?" The woman ignored Micki's proffered hand. looking the woman over consideringly. Then. she plaster a smile on her face. and you are. Micki was beginning to worry. Then deciding that insulting someone who just might be one of Ben's clients was not a good idea. the woman couldn't hide her look of surprise at seeing Micki. Stephanie. "Excuse my manners." .Her first call was to Carey. But Micki didn't want to tell her over the phone. An hour later. So after a second's hesitation she answered. Micki wasn't able to put up must resistance. Angelina still hadn't returned. My name is Nichola Dupree. When the knock came at the door. "Where's Michael?" The woman asked. an obviously came from a cultured back ground.. "Oh. opening the door only a crack. she breathed a sigh of relief. The woman was breathtakingly beautiful. she saw a strange woman and a strange car on the other side. Carey'd been full of questions. Would you like to leave a mess --" The woman cut her off. Micki paused. It took Micki a moment to realize that Michael and Benjamin were the same person. "Well. She let her know that she was okay. I can call you Stephanie?" Remaining polite was a difficult battle. gazing around the still house. Despite her perfect appearance. the woman dismissed her and pushed the door fully open. just as quickly as her surprise had appeared.

I think it would be best if *you* leave.Stephanie cleared her throat delicately. amusement in her voice. Stephanie quickly got the upper hand. straddling Micki's mid section." Stephanie's face hardened in fury and quick as a flash. and turned her back on Micki. Beneath the elegant exterior. but on the other hand." Micki answered." Micki stated clearly. she returned like for like and slapped the woman back. "Surely you don't mean Michael?" she asked. "So. Humph! Stephanie made a sound in her nose. Micki's ribs cried out in protest. she couldn't let a strange woman simply wander through his home. "As a matter of fact I do." Micki's tone bordered on outright sarcasm. Stephanie. no doubt it would leave bruises. If this woman was a client. but she refused to be beat up by some slob. "If memory serves. But then she felt into her. When he returns *maybe* I'll tell him you came by. "Are you in some way related to Ben?" Stephanie stopped and turned to look at her. "I'm not a relative. she'd surely . knocking the both of them to the floor. lay the spirit of an alley cat. Her purse first came down about Micki's head and shoulders. you said Stephanie Cartright." Micki began to worry. she continued to swing her purse. "Angelina!" she called and set off through the house. I don't think you should be wandering around in his house like this. gave Micki a sharp slap across the cheek. "No." "Then. I am not. She'd had enough of this arrogant woman. *Ben* isn't here. "Do you know who I am?" the woman fumed. Micki gasped in surprise. But not to be outdone. the woman attacked. "Pardon me." Micki decided to let the chips fall where they might. almost stomping a foot. no longer amused. She really hoped this wasn't one of Ben's relatives. "Are you a relation of *Ben's*?" "You're not the maid are you?" Stephanie asked. Growling in fury.

Stephanie took advantage of the fact that Micki was. Micki tumbled off of the woman and landed flat on her back. Heaving sobs wracked her body as she cried out the pain and frustration. her eyes settled on the spot where Ben had kissed her and the tears began to fall.-. I allow him that.lost the account for Ben by now. "He's my fiancé and *you*. Stephanie reached out a hand to offer her assistance. She was numb. Even the awful pain in her side was a dull ache against the shock of what Stephanie had told her. "Oh?" the woman replied." Micki eyed the woman a moment longer." Micki whispered through gasping breaths.-Micki said nothing. It took every once of her self control. "Who do you think decorated this place? I did it for us. She gave the driver her address automatically. for the most part." -. and when she got home her mind couldn't extend further than simply getting inside the house." "That's not possible. but she accepted the help. Rolling over on the woman. Micki punched her in the eye. Right now. I want you to go. "You were just a distraction until I returned. "Let me call you a cab. then painfully tried to sit up. she gathering the few things she'd brought with her. "Michael Kingsley and I go way back. but she'd be darned if she were going to get beat up to boot." The woman's expression became more sympathetic. but watched the woman go. Gazing across the room." Stephanie said. . incapacitated. She had no idea how he might react to that. Now. whatever you are fired!! He'll have no more need of your services since I'm back home now. Moving wasn't exactly an option for the next few minutes. Moving through the house. "You know." she said. She never saw the woman's leg come up. we have an understanding. you put up one heck of a fight. the wind knocked out of her. closing the door and slumping against it. dazed.

She fumbled around in her purse for her medication. Henderson's. only to find that it wasn't there. she turned back out and faced the graying skies. Micki opened the door. Perhaps Mrs. But how could she get there? Coming up on unsteady feet and only half double over. Stephanie Cartright was waiting for them. "One of your little friends and I had a disagreement. another sort of pain took over. "What are you doing here?" Then noticing her black eye. Her mind refused to remember where it was.When there were no more tears. I kicked her out. "What happened to you? Where's Micki?" Stephanie looked at him sweetly. next door would have something. The temperature had dropped significantly. and then headed off in that direction. she decided to go back into the house. I told her about us. Glancing toward the large hedge that separated her yard from Mrs. She was surprised at how dark it was outside." Ben and Carey looked at each other. She steadied herself for a moment. and the sky held the promise of a storm. "Where's Micki?" Ben asked again. Grabbing onto a pole to steady herself. it was locked and the keys were inside. If she could just make that final few yards. "If you're talking about your little tramp. she focused her mind on getting to that point. When she tried the door." . The pain in her ribs was so sharp that she literally felt nauseous. A few more yards. "Stephanie?" Ben asked in surprised confusion. Kicking herself for her stupidity. Henderson. Ben and Carey arrived back shortly after dark. When she went towards the steps her head began to swim.

Her own worry combined to form a tight knot of fear in her chest. "What's going on?" "Since when did you change your name?!" Stephanie exclaimed. he bent over Micki's purse and began to carefully replace the items. No lights were on inside or out." he murmured. "If anything has happened to her I will never forgive you. There was no movement. Carey could practically feel Ben's tension in the air. She returned with reluctant steps to the front of the house. Reading the answer in her face. "Ben?" Carey asked cautiously. I might add. "Aren't you even glad to see me? Your old friend? The one whom. took them from her hands and unlocked the door himself. Ben unable to while Carey fumbled with the keys. becoming irritated. Carey tried not to notice that his hands shook.Ben jumped into action. He ran up the stairs. two at a time." "Shut up. She insisted that she hadn't seen Micki all day. yelling for Angelina. The content were scattered all over the entryway. just did you a great big favor. her keys were among them. Carey ran toward the back of the house. He set new speed records to reach her house. Carey was hot on his heels." Carey said. Ben then tried to call her. . No answer. not very hopefully. "She may have gone next door. only Stephanie. To Carey it appeared that at this point Ben positively panicked. "Something's wrong. Stephanie!" Ben said with a fury that made Carey jump." Grabbing his keys. searching each bedroom carefully. he ran out the front door. Carey stepped around him to turn on the light and promptly tripped over Micki's purse. and Ben. and the wind was really beginning to pick up. "Any ideas?" he croaked. The front door was locked.

Even though she really hadn't known him very long. Before she could speak however. When they reached the hedge she spotted Micki's shoes. the silence got the better of Carey. and so had Micki. Carey directed them off the porch and across the yard. After twenty minutes. There was a reason for his odd behavior. As she took off. She gave Ben a strange look." he said. Neither spoke. placing Micki's purse on the sofa and following the young woman out of the door." Ben nodded. but breathing. Quickly. Carey sat mutely. his voice snapping the young woman out of her stupor. partially visible near the large bush. Ben was still holding her. the rain began to fall in large cold droplets. she trusted him. taking inventory. "N-no. He hugged Micki more closely to him. but answered. She was very cold. . She gasped in shock. The ambulance arrived minutes later." Ben followed the ambulance to the hospital. rushing to her cousin's side. trying to infuse his own warmth into her body. Ben was there right with her. merely worriedly paced around one another. "You're here for Nichola Dupree?" she questioned. cradling Micki's unconscious form in his arms. Ben looked nervously away from the EMT. "Can you tell us what happened?" Ben was asked. ran a hand through his damp hair. promising him that he was just going to check her out. "No. Ben checked her vital signs." he ordered huskily."Okay. a darkhaired woman with a stethoscope wrapped around her neck approached. and there was nothing to do but ask. "Get an ambulance. "Carey! Call 911!!" He yelled. and badly bruised. The EMT watched him carefully as he slipped her from his arms. "I can't" The EMT turned to Carey then. and she turned to Ben as if to speak. Micki was taken directly in the be examined. The sky was completely black. leaving Carey and Ben in the waiting area.

"Mr. She was prepared to acquiesce. And he'd never. She shook her head. And she was fairly certain Micki would rather see him. She gave them a quick rundown on Micki's injuries." ." the doctor hedged slightly.. "She seems to have suffered from some kind of shock and shouldn't be upset. Carey could almost feel how much Ben wanted to see her. I'll only allow one person at a time. "Have you ever known him to hit her?" Carey was so stunned. "Our records show that almost four months ago she was in for a blow to the head and *he* brought her in." The doctor nodded. if you know what I mean. Are you saying she's been . "Ms." "Ben's the only man she's been seeing since I've lived here. perhaps you should go first." "They've been together a while?" "No not really. Carey nodded with a smile. glancing at her chart. leaving Ben standing in the waiting room. but the doctor spoke first. too. she thought she'd misunderstood. I'd wanted him to let him see first because of that. They just kind of hit it off right away. and might be in and out. "Can I see her?" Ben asked as soon as the doctor finished speaking. beat up?" "Mmmm. Kingsley and Ms Dupree. Brighton.. "She's been given a pretty heavy sedative. "Yes. They're pretty inseparable. they're seeing one another?" the doctor asked conversationally. I'll show you the way." Ben and Carey looked at one another. alerting them that she'd been admitted. "No." the doctor was pensive." Carey gave been a small shrug and set off down the hall after the doctor.Both Carey and Ben moved toward her...

"All right. She reached for one of her hands." Carey could hold in a startled gasp. and she was forced to draw back. That's what she told me. Slowly." the doctor flipped a page on her chart.." Carey thanked her worriedly and went on in.. "I wasn't *there* there. Carey began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Thanks for your help. "What of last week. but there was an IV there. "Oh Micki. I was at home. with obvious effort. Ms. "Ben.Carey smiled in relief. "I'm so sorry. 6 days ago she spent 3 days here in this very hospital for fractured ribs and bruises coincidental with being attached physically.." Micki's eyes filled then. .. He brought her in then. The dark bruises and scratches on one side of her face brought tears to Carey's eyes. not exactly. If you know anything at all.in Virginia. Brighton. so he couldn't have. The doctor entered discreetly behind her.. her hand flying to her mouth.. I was at home visiting my family." "Okay." she spoke hoarsely. she just feel down the steps at his house." Carey said. Ms. "I wasn't here. tears spilled over. too." Carey cried. Micki opened her eyes. You can go on in. Carey tried to ignore her presence and focus on Micki." "So you were present for the first incident. only dull misery. but not the second?" the doctor pressed." "I don't know anything. "Well." The doctor didn't look convinced.. There was no sparkle there. And Carey had to admit the excuse sounded lame to her own ears. now. "Oh. She's just a little clumsy. together.no. I know Ben wouldn't do anything besides we had both just drove in from Va." she answered. "What is it. Brighton.

. and immediately her mouth shut. She looked to Carey in confusion. Micki's eyes were closed. The doctor came over and placed a hand on Micki's shoulder. . he needed to see Micki.hurts. He only wanted to sit and watch over her. but something was out of sorts. When he pushed into the room. and directed her down the hall toward her office." she asked in a strained voice. "Ben." Micki shook her head. He was surprised to see them leave Micki's room and head further down the hall and around a corner. He couldn't place it. His fear and worry won out. looking over her shoulder at the doctor. *** Ben's head was buried in his hands. tears spilling more quickly."He'll be in a little bit. Brushing his hands through his hair.. The doctor nodded a silent yes.. He had a nagging worry in the pit of his stomach that something was wrong. he gazed down the hall toward the door he'd seen the doctor and Carey disappear into after what had appeared to be a long conversation in the hall. He debated with himself a moment that the doctor would tell him when it was okay to go in." she said again. ". and turned to the doctor. Micki turned frightened eyes on the doctor. Carey patted Micki's arm. "Is there someplace we can go to talk. needed to see for himself that she would be all right.. He entered further. and the room was darkened. "Did Ben hurt you?" the doctor asked. He's just outside in the waiting room. moving cautiously so as not to awaken her." "Do you need some more medicine?" Cared asked her. He decided he didn't care what the doctor thought.

Ben glanced at the alarm in half irritation. "It's Ben." the doctor was saying." "Micki. The pain caused her breaths to come in painful gasps.let. He turned to see Carey standing by the door. "You. crying openly now. "Micki?" Ben was confused.. sending sharp spots of pain through her ribs. He's upsetting her... "Would you please wait outside. Saw that the doctor had entered as well.. the doctor's words not completely reaching him. "No.. "Could you please get him out of here.. "Won't.hurt. "Micki." Micki shook her head from side to side. At his touch. continuing the cycle.hurt. his worry over her physical condition vying with his devastation at her words.. "Please go away.you.." she managed to rasp out.." Micki shook her head vigorously.. he needed to tell them. He turned back to Carey. "Mr.. She closed hers.." he said..I--" Ben was at a loss..." He breathing was becoming raspy. "It's me." ." she whispered. he removed a lock of curly hair from where it fell over a bandage. "Micki what's happened to you? Why won't you talk to me? Is it Stephanie? I can explain that.me." he said in a dazed voice as he vaguely sensed another presence in the room. but her eyes continued to focus on Ben.. The doctor turned to Carey.. He was shaking his head in confusion. tormented eyes. A nurse moved quickly by her." Ben continued to stare at Micki. Her chest heaved under the weight of her anguish. and was placing an oxygen mask over Micki's face and ordering something injected into her IV. Micki opened her eyes and looked directly into his eyes. Kingsley.. One of the monitors began to beep an alarm.I .. There are some things I'd like to discuss with you.I want you to just go away. This wasn't right. a hand over her mouth..Reaching out.. The mask effectively stifled Micki's frantic words. half worry.I-I love you.

"Ben. Ben. "I'm sorry. "I promised. stilled stunned over what had happened." "No. I suggest you tell me. what's going on between the two of you.Carey snapped out of her own sort of stupor and approached Ben.." Carey looked at him in disbelief. "What? Are you sure Carey? Micki wouldn't accuse me of that? I won't believe it.." he said. And I don't think she's willing to take my word on faith that you're not that you're relationship isn't like that. And that little scene we just witnessed. Have it your way." That got his attention. "Look. Who is this woman?" . "You're about to be in big trouble. I can be interpreted a whole lot of ways." "Yeah." Ben was stunned. Why wasn't I told?" Ben looked down at his hands." "All right." Ben said. for example: Micki was here for 3 days last week. "You need to tell me what's going on. gently leading him to the waiting room. "This morning. my next question. "I promised Micki I'd let her explain it. You see that doctor in there is trying to have you brought up on charges. Like. Stephanie must have really outdone herself. "Charges? What for?" "She seems to think that you've been beating on Micki. Tell me this though." "Things *were* great." Carey was saying. Whatever. softly." Micki rolled her eyes. Their records tell a different story." Ben said. I thought things were great judging by the way you talked on the way back here. and I mean now. He allowed her to settle him into the chair.

but Ellen usually saw through it. She won't know how to deal with Stephanie. I know. "Mr.. if you would join me in my office?" she requested. I'm going to have a talk with Stephanie. She didn't feel the same way. I think she actually enjoyed bating Stephanie to some degree. We were still just friends ." Carey sat quietly as he finished his story. "Then please.. tell her to back off.. Her job couldn't possibly be over. She helped a lot back then.. We had some great adventures together. she settled around here. Scary. She must have dropped in for a surprise visit. "Seems you know Micki pretty well. "Yes. she thought we could just pick up where we'd left off. Well. I arranged a job for her in Europe." Ben continued. Kingsley. Gennifer was till a baby. "Stephanie. it is. Ellen and I got married. Steph and I had. She's been gone for nearly six months. back in high school. helped me find a new house. "I'd much rather discuss it out here.. "Is it about Micki's condition?" he asked. shaking his head.very difficult for me. gathering his thoughts. "Eventually. you know. but I knew that she needed to move on. When Ellen died. even decorated it for me. it was..lost touch. but she takes everything to heart.. But our relationship didn't change.Ben looked at her for a long moment. We ended up at separate colleges. She tried a lot of little tricks to break us up. I guess Stephanie never realized that we'd both changed. my sister and I were good friends growing up. I'd hoped that she'd meet someone over there and get on with her own life. So. His smile faded as the doctor approached." . Micki puts up a tough front. Stephanie actually backed off and she and Ellen became friends. What a surprise. one she wouldn't be able to say no to.grew apart .a thing." she answered.I couldn't go back to high school. Then." Ben sighed. "Micki isn't like Ellen was. I met my first wife in college. We kept dating after graduation.. not moving from his seat. "I owed her a lot." Ben simply smiled. She didn't want it to be over. Stephanie was there. When that happened.

She will need someone to look after her for at least a week. suggestively. "That's what she told me after we got her calmed down." Ben's expression hardened. "Familiar with our procedure. Brighton to handle her care until she is on her feet again. but in this instance it is misplaced. I will recommend that she be released tomorrow. and please make sure she doesn't get into any more 'fights'. The doctor continued. are we?" the doctor said. she wouldn't say. "No." The doctor stared hard at him a moment. She said she'd gotten into a fight. Dupree's fractured rib received additional damage. then stood and left without another word.The doctor's expression turned mildly uncomfortable. "Fights?" Ben questioned. but she pressed onward." "Did she say who with?" Ben questioned. Kingsley. "It's a credit to you. "If you can be sure to meet these guidelines. Ms. "All right. There is some internal bruising and multiple contusions on her face and some on her arms. The doctor looked at him as if the answer was obvious. or will she be spending the night here?" Ben asked coolly." There was a brief moment of silence when the doctor looked as if she had a few choice things to add. No road trips Mr. "Will she be moved to another room. but I think it would be a wise idea if you'd allow Ms. "We can do that. ." Ben said. but was restraining herself. she will be transferred." "Thank you so much for your concern.' Carey spoke up. "Yes.

"I'll be waiting at the patient pick-up. And it wouldn't do to give Micki a heads up that he would be the one to take her home.Sighing. When they arrived at the hospital. and he'd no doubt need his strength for the next." He gestured his head toward the area. It wouldn't do if the good doctor were in and saw him today. "Need any more paperwork taken care of?" Carey asked her gently. Despite the threat of Frank still being around. "Everything is done." Carey sighed. he got no questions when he asked if she wouldn't mind staying at his place. he didn't want to be there alone if Stephanie were still there. She looked awful. but it couldn't alleviate the fears he had over his relationship with Micki." Carey winked at him and walked through the sliding doors. he climbed into the car beside Carey and headed for the hospital. Ben offered Carey a ride back to his place. It had been one heck of a day. He just had to talk to her when she was calmer. He didn't fall asleep until the very small hours of the night. he couldn't go back on that promise because of problems in their relationship. When they arrived to him home. Carey turned to him in askance. The next morning. however. and a witness was probably a good idea. and headed for bed. she found that an orderly was helping her into a wheel chair. she was gone and hadn't left any messages with Angelina. Would she even accept a ride home with him? He'd promised her parents that he'd look out for her and Carey." "All right. he knew that in the tension induced ache of his muscles." Micki shook her head. We can just leave." he answered hesitantly. Ben resigned himself. but his brain refused to cooperate. he pulled up near the front of the building and stopped the car. Carey joked and teased him in an obvious effort to release some of his tension. He had a few choice things to say to her. exhausted. When she reached Micki's room. Of course. "You want me to bring her out?" "Yes. Amazingly. "I'll pull up when I see you. smiling slightly at the orderly." "All right. "Can I drive?" . "No. It helped a little.

"Please talk to me. "No. After all we've been through. hoping to get her to at least look at him." Ben settled on the edge of the bed. "Just tell me that. Please. "Micki. "You're behaving like a child. and behind her were two taxis. tenderly. The silence during the drive to Ben's home was deafening. dropping his hands dejectedly to his sides. She closed her eyes defiantly. and she averted her eyes from Carey as well. She didn't meet Ben's gaze. "No. struggling to keep the frustration out of his voice. drawing her chin toward himself. Quietly. Ben quickly hopped out of the car and opened the passenger door. she never lost her icy demeanor.The orderly gestured her toward the back of the chair and walked alongside. and flinched only slightly when he settled the blanket on her shoulders. careful not to hurt her. "Micki." he said." She squeezed her eyes tighter." Micki shook her head. Carey steered out the doors and into the waiting area. I won't. Micki allowed Ben to lead her into one of the downstairs bedrooms and settle her on the bed. just leave me alone. Through his ministrations. She can come on strong sometimes. Carey spotted Ben's car sliding into place behind the mother's car." "I can't do that. "Ben. the least you owe me is an explanation." His words were greeted with silence. She went obediently under the covers. Ben sighed. Carey looked on helplessly as her cousin's mouth settled into a hard line and she climbed into the car. "Won't you at least look at me? Tell me what I've done wrong." he said. We need to talk. just leave me alone." Ben said very softly. I can't listen to you any more. tears creeping from beneath her lashes. The look Micki sent Carey was furious. after all I've been through. And Micki continued to avoid his gaze. A new mother was being loaded into the loading area in front of them." she whispered. "If this is about Stephanie. I'm sorry. Because if I do I won't be able to do what I know I have to do "Why?" Ben shot back. I wasn't expecting her back in the country for a while yet and--" .

Did you ask Ben about any of this?" "Why would she lie?" Micki asked. woman?" she asked. "She told me everything. "Why?" Carey asked.Micki drew her hands up and covered her ears. "All right. she repeated: "Did you ask him. "All right." he managed after several moments." Micki said. speaking as if she were talking to the mentally challenged. Can you just do as I ask. If that's what you want. Did you know she decorated this place? She even gave him that stupid cat that swallowed the canary!" "Micki. he walked out of the room and out of the house." Micki said as if with a single word she could explain everything." Carey warned. just this once? I don't want to talk to you." Micki replied. "What do you think you're doing. "Leave me alone. she continued between gasps as she tried to get herself out of the dressing gown she'd worn from the hospital. Mick?" ." Carey said sarcastically. "I don't know. *** Carey poked her head around the door frame of Micki's room. please. At Carey's gesture of askance. Without another word." 'It is. "You're not making any sense. struggling to sit up. Turns out I'm just a bit of side action while she's out of the country. "Why?" Then after watching Micki struggle for several moments. "Stephanie. I don't want to see you. She's his fiancé. I don't want to hear you!" The silence weighed heavily in the room as Ben simply sat there stunned. "Are you crazy?" "I have to get out of here.

But he didn't deny it! Now. the door bell rang. Then. you've got to listen to me. rubbing a hand over her forehead. she must have heard the bell because she appeared at the doorway. "May I come in?" Carey wasn't at all sure that was a good idea. or am I going to have to do this by myself?!" "Why should I help you do what is maybe the silliest thing you've done in your life? No. "Listen. "But Nichola. Unfortunately. but the woman was nowhere to be found." . "I'm sorry about how I came on yesterday. gazing pleadingly toward her cousin. "I'm here to see Nichola." Pausing. Thirty minutes later.Micki hesitated slightly. Turning back to Micki she opened her mouth to continue. She and Micki were alone. quickly took in her bedraggled appearance and started toward her. surprised to find Stephanie standing on the opposite side." Micki shook her head." she said. If you have one shred of sense you'll lay back in that bed and get some rest like the Dr." Moving around the taller woman. Carey answered it. Micki wouldn't be going anywhere. ordered. "Carey please." Carey left the room in search of Angelina." Stephanie said politely." she spoke hesitantly. if she had anything to do with it. "Don't be so sad. When she'd last checked on Micki. "Ben sent me. she headed toward the door as fast as she could. she told Stephanie that Ben wasn't in. she'd been angrily battling with her overnight bag. Glancing anxiously over her shoulder toward Micki's open bedroom door. Ben will never forgive me unless -" "No. but stopped. help me get out of here. I didn't know you were injured. Well." she sighed. this is really hard for me to you. I'm not helping. she glanced between the two women. reaching for her. are you going to help me. which wasn't very quickly. "I don't want your sympathy. "Not in so many words. "No!" Micki cried. Stephanie spotted her.

"Well. Micki. he's still keeping his promises. I can find out where he is if you want to press charges. Carey had no doubt that her cousin would have tried to walk home. But you won't have to worry about him anymore. smiling. In her present state of mind. The medication she'd taken was obviously making her drowsy. Ben said you made him promise! Imagine that.Carey stared thoughtfully at Stephanie. her words slurring slightly. "Now release me from this suspense. she was stunned when Carey pulled her into a gentle hug and asked for her forgiveness. Half expecting Carey to be devastated by her accusation." Carey couldn't resist the dig." "All right." Carey was silent. did he?" Micki asked the question that had been bothering her since her last meeting with the volatile young man. And there's nothing to forgive." "You mean you don't know yet?" Micki's voice rose a bit in surprise. Ben wouldn't tell me. obviously not ready to relieve herself of a bit of the guilt. then helped Micki to the car. You couldn't have known that he would try to come back here looking for you. I sorta figured that. I mean before. I've been in the dark long enough." "No. Remember: fractured ribs. When they arrived." she said. ." Micki said." Micki told the story as clearly and quickly as she could. "Okay. Carey settled in a chair near the bed. and she was in her own bed. "He's gone. "Yeah. Let him go. He got some record deal and is gone to LA. He should pay for what he did to you. Micki seemed calmer. Mind telling me what's been going on around here?" "Stephanie and I kinda got into a fight. "He never hit you. "I'm sorry I ever brought him into your life.

and tends toward jealousy. "Carey?" she called out." Then taking a deep breath. I sent her to tell you the truth from her lips. and I'm not naming names. about Stephanie: She and I grew up together and have known one another forever. But. and frankly I'm offended by your lack of trust in me. "Nichola Dupree. "Well. when the room had darkened. I love you more than I can bear. I have one. I would never. Micki woke to the sound of voices speaking softly. starring hard into her eyes. But. surprising her by using her given name. you are the only woman in my life. the only one I want there. "Now. ever accuse you of the things you thought me guilty of. Moments later she heard footsteps coming down the hallway. you wouldn't listen to her either." Their eyes met in understanding smiles as Carey gently squeezed her hand. and you will not interrupt me until I'm done. and I am not letting you walk out of your life like this. stunned speechless. needs to get some rest. The voices stopped. suggesting that it was late evening. "Secondly. "But I saw the potential."No. He's so full of anger. I'm going to leave you be. she is like a sister. That's why I had to get away from him." Much later.' Ben said. Her vision cleared to reveal the image of Ben Kingsley standing over her bed. . causing her to blink in the sudden glare. Any questions?" Micki shook her head. you know. you hear it from me." Carey said. "I'll be in the living room if you need me. since you seemed to believe everything else she said. She told me what she said. But the figure that filled the doorway was much too tall to be the petite Carey. she cleared her throat and redirected the conversation. First of all. "Since a certain person. Not without a fight. So. The overhead light came on. determined to believe the worse in me. "I have something to say to you. Their eyes locked for the briefest moment before she dropped her gaze." Ben said. She is overprotective of me.

"I know you do. she didn't blink. Opening it to reveal the most beautiful diamond Micki had ever seen. she was crying. "I know.She nodded. still assimilating all that he'd said. Ben." "Yes!" she said emphatically. and we'll work out the deserving part later. I don't deserve you. didn't move. Ben got down on his knees and took her face in his hands. if that were possible. "No. you have to mean it or no deal. I love you so much." "Yes?" Micki said. . "Oh. "Will you marry me?" Micki's jaw dropped even further. more a question than a statement. Ben reached into his jacked pocket and pulled out a small black velvet box." she breathed." The End." he said moving closer to kiss her." "Just make me happy and say 'yes'. mouth agape. And then suddenly. For long moments. "Oh Ben.

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