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ninekaronas

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Okay, I'm kinda picking this up where the show is right now, only I'm not dealing with any tensions between Zach and Kendall. In my version of their world, everything else may be falling apart, but they are as solid as ever.




OBSESSION


Chapter 1

He stood on the hillside, mindless of the wind that tore at his coat. His mind was on other things, namely the woman whose grave he stood over.

He knelt down to brush away the leaves and adjusted the fresh roses he’d just put in the vase. Then he reached out and traced the letters engraved in the cold hard stone. Standing, he swallowed around the lump in his throat and raised his collar against the bitter wind.

It was a beautiful spot. Peaceful and serene. It would have been perfect, except for the cold wind that blew across his face and settled in his bones. He closed his eyes and listened as it danced among the trees, mocking him. Mocking his pain, his unbearable pain. The sadness threatened to overtake him. Until …

He opened his eyes at the faint sound that teased his ears. Was that music? Just as he was beginning to recognize the tune, another sound reached him. It was a voice – her voice – but it sounded so far away.

“Kendall?”

Suddenly the voice moved closer. He could almost feel her breath warming his skin. She was calling his name. “Zach.” Tears filled his eyes at the sound. He turned to find her, but the voice moved. Now it was even closer, and there was an urgency he couldn’t ignore.

“Zach!”

Zach Slater awoke with a start to find his wife, Kendall, leaning over him, a look of concern on her face.

“The dream again?”

“Uh-huh,” he growled, rubbing his face with his hands. The coldness was gone, but he swore he could still feel the wind.

“Did you see the name this time?”

“No.” He turned to look at her. “I ran my fingers over the letters, but I can’t make out the name. How can that be?” He watched as his gentle wife took his hand in both of hers and tried to warm it. It was already warm, they both noticed that. But it was her way of trying to push the demons back into the nightmare where they belonged.

“Maybe you need to talk to somebody about this, Zach,” she said softly. She knew how he felt about spilling his guts to strangers, but she didn’t know what else to suggest. He’d been plagued with the same dream for weeks now and she hated seeing him so helpless.

“I don’t talk to people, Kendall. You know that,” he said, trying to keep his tone light. But Kendall knew he was dead serious. No psychiatrist was gonna go poking around in her husband’s head. So where did that leave them? He couldn’t continue on like this. He hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep all week. The haunted look in his eyes reminded Kendall of the days they were being tormented by the Satin Slayer. She shuddered at the memory.

“Do you think it could be your father?” she asked carefully.

“No!” he said, his voice hard and low. “No,” he repeated, softer this time. “I’m sure it’s a woman’s grave. I don’t know why, but I know it is.” Kendall fought the urge to go over the laundry list of names she always mentioned after the dream. Zach had considered them all and he was sure it wasn’t any of them. It was someone who was very important to him, that much he did know. The pain in his heart was a feeling he could never fully get away from. His mother was the obvious choice. She was one of only two women whose death would cause him that much pain. But in his heart he knew it wasn’t her. The other … well, he didn’t even want to consider it.

Instinctively he looked into her eyes and drew comfort from the love he saw there. No, Kendall’s death was a nightmare he refused to give any thought to. Whoever was in that grave, it wasn’t Kendall. It couldn’t be Kendall.

“Should I be jealous?” Kendall teased. Zach smiled at her. Here he was in bed with his beautiful wife, no babies in sight, and he was worried about some silly dream. He shook his head as he moved closer to her. “Very jealous,” he whispered, just before his lips met hers.

-------------------------

Kendall walked into the kitchen later that same morning and smiled at the sound that filled the room. Zach was humming. She put Ian in his highchair next to Spike and walked up behind her unsuspecting husband, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her cheek against his back. Zach briefly touched her hand before returning to his task. She stood behind him, listening to him hum, until her curiosity got the best of her.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she stood on her tiptoes and tried to see around him. “Making breakfast,” he said matter-of-factly, as if it was something he did every day. Kendall stepped around him just in time to see him flip the first pancake.

“Pancakes!” she said, impressed that he even knew how. She looked around for the recipe book, but there was nothing but a box and a bowl of some soupy-looking mixture. Zach read her expression and fought a laugh. He leaned down to kiss her instead.

“Sure, why not? I worked up quite an appetite this morning,” he added with a smile. He slid the box at her and tapped the side, where the instructions were. “How ‘bout you, you hungry?” Kendall grabbed a plate and waited for him to fill it. He stopped at two, and she stared at him. So he gave her another one. She continued to stare. He raised an eyebrow as he dropped a fourth one on her plate. She laughed unrepentently and grabbed the syrup from the counter. He watched her walk away, then plated up enough for him and his sons and joined his family at the table.

“What’s that song?” Kendall asked as he settled himself across the table from her. Zach cut up Spike’s pancake in small pieces and laughed when he picked up the first bite with his fingers. He knew trying to get the boy to use a spoon was going to end in tears, so he let it go. “What song?” he asked, just as Kendall was about to repeat her question.

“Um, the one you’ve been humming all morning,” she said between bites. “Have I?” he replied, his brow furrowing in concentration as he tried to remember. “I don’t remember.” Kendall frowned. “It sounded familiar, but I can’t place it. Now it’s gonna drive me crazy all day,” she complained.

“Well, how about this one. Spike taught it to me,” Zach said as he launched into It’s A Small World. “I think he’s just trying to trick me into a trip to Disney,” he added in a behind-his-hand whisper. Kendall smiled as her son joined his father in the song. She finished her breakfast without giving the mystery song another thought.

-------------------------

“So, what exactly should I be jealous about?” Kendall asked as she stood over Zach’s shoulder watching his reflection in the mirror as he shaved. “Or should I say who?” she amended. “Whom,” he corrected. “Who. Whom. Just answer the damn question,” Kendall said, folding her arms across her chest. Zach could hear the toe of her shoe tapping on the floor behind him.

“What are you talking about?” He wiped the rest of the shaving cream from his face and turned to face her. “This morning … don’t you remember? You told me I should be very jealous of whoever is filling your dreams.” Zach had originally thought she was teasing, but now he wasn’t so sure. The smile had left her eyes. “You mean my nightmares,” he said.

“Whoever it is must be pretty important,” she began, but she didn’t finish. She couldn’t understand why she was suddenly so upset about it. She was only joking when she asked, but now it was really getting under her skin. She sighed when she felt Zach’s arms go around her waist. “Kendall,” he said, waiting for her to look up at him.

“I don’t know her name yet,” he said. His voice was low and serious, but his eyes were full of mischief. She tried to push him away, but he wouldn’t budge. “I’m sure it’s not anybody you know,” he continued. “Either way, there’s no reason for you to be concerned about her yet. Save the jealousy for later.”

“Don’t be silly. I am not jealous. I have no reason to be jealous of a name on a tombstone … do I?”

“Don’t be silly.”

“Oh please! You’d love to have two women fighting over you.”

“Only two? Lavery gets three.”

“That’s not funny, Zach,” Kendall said. This time the anger was plain to see. Ryan had been a touchy subject between them lately and she resented his insinuation that she wanted him for herself, even if he was only joking.

“No, it’s not. I’m sorry.” He kissed her gently and ran his fingertips along her jawline. “I didn’t mean to upset you. The truth is, I don’t know what the dream means. I’ve told you everything I can remember. But I do know one thing,” he added. “You are the last woman on earth who should ever feel jealous.” He kissed her again, then walked out of the bathroom. She watched from the doorway as he tucked in his shirt and put on his jacket. Now she felt silly for overreacting, but there was still a part of her that worried.

When he held out his hand she took it and followed him out of their bedroom and into their day. Whatever was going on in his dreams would have to wait. Life interrupted.

-------------------------

As soon as Zach stepped into the elevator to head up to his office at the casino a chill ran through him. He suddenly remembered the song he’d been humming earlier that morning, not because he’d had an ephiphany, but because it was surrounding him at that very moment. ”Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby.” He wondered when the casino had started playing that kind of music. The irony was eerie. He made a mental note to get rid of the Muzak and was walking into his office when it hit him.

This isn’t where he’d heard the song. In fact, he hadn’t been to this office in weeks. Although he had heard it recently … but where? Maybe it played in the elevator at Cambias, he decided with a shrug. His attention was turned when he was greeted at the door by his assistant, who had some important papers for him to sign. Then it was on to his first meeting, which ran long. He spent the rest of the morning trying to catch up, so the song was soon forgotten.

Just as he was concluding a long-distance conference call, his secretary told him Kendall was on the line. He glanced at the clock and wondered if he’d missed a lunch date. In an attempt to appease his angry wife, he grabbed the phone and said smoothly, “Hello, beautiful.”

“That’s it!” she screamed into the phone. “What? I’m on my way right now. Just tell me where to meet you and I’ll be right there.” Zach’s outburst was met by silence. After a few seconds, Kendall spoke. “What are you talking about?” she asked. Zach could picture the look of confusion on her face. It probably matched the look of confusion on his.

“I’m late, I know. You wouldn’t believe my morning. Just tell me where you are and I’ll be there in five minutes.” “I’m at Fusion. Where else would I be? I was just calling to tell you that I need to re-schedule our lunch date, which was for tomorrow. What’s going on over there?”

Zach sat back in his chair and loosened his tie. “Nothing. You were screaming, so I just assumed I was in trouble. What’s “it” anyway?” He smiled when he heard Kendall giggle. “I was talking about the song, Zach. The one you were humming this morning. It was playing while I was on hold. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scream,” she added when he remained quiet. “Zach? Are you there?”

“I’m here. It’s just weird about the song, that’s all. It was playing in the elevator when I got here this morning. Suddenly it’s everywhere.” He leaned back and rested his feet on his desk, content just to hear her voice. “Yeah, that is weird. Since when do we play that easy listening stuff at the casino?” He’d wondered the same thing. “I don’t know, but I’m gonna put a stop to it. Bad for our image.”

“Uh-huh. You know what else is bad for your image?” Kendall asked, not waiting for a reply. “Lying to your wife!” Zach groaned, but it was just for effect. After writing down their new date and promising Kendall he would take a break and get some lunch, Zach hung up the phone.

An hour later, Zach was walking through the lobby when the door opened and the wind rushed in. The feel of it on his face reminded him where he’d heard that song. It was in his dream! That was the song that he’d heard while standing over the woman’s grave on that cold, lonely hillside. But why? Why this song? It had no significance to him. And while he wasn’t a musical snob, The Carpenters certainly weren’t his style.

He replayed the dream in his mind, trying to remember every detail. Yes, he was sure that was the song. But he only heard a few strains of it before Kendall’s voice woke him up. Could that be a clue to who was in the grave? Or had hearing the song around the office trapped it in his subconscious?

A week later he was still trying to figure it out. He’d had the dream three more times since then and each time he woke up before he could read the name on the tombstone. But he was able to hear more of the song, and it was definitely the same one. Although it still didn’t mean anything to him, he was glad to at least have one more piece of the puzzle.

He was back at the casino today, which was unusual. He rarely made it into this office, choosing to handle all of his business affairs from Cambias. But since Ryan had become available to him, he was able to give him more Cambias duties and free up his time for the job he loved most … casino mogul. They had quickly changed their game plan and decided that Zach would be the one to find out who had helped Josh embezzle twenty million dollars from him.

It wasn’t that Zach didn’t trust Ryan, but he needed to know that the job was being done right. And nobody could do it better than he could. After all, it was his baby. His blood, sweat and tears had made the casinos a huge success. And nobody was going to help themselves to what he’d fought so hard to earn. The Cambias name was not something he was proud of, but he’d made a name for himself outside of that. A good name. A powerful name. A name he could pass down to his children. Nobody was going to take that from him. Nobody.

He spotted it as soon as he walked into his office. He stepped back outside to ask his assistant about it, but she wasn’t there. He walked over to his desk and stared at the small wrapped package. He glanced at his day planner, trying to see if he’d forgotten an important anniversary. He knew his wife. She commemorated everything. Anniversary of the first time we met … our first kiss … the first time you cooked for me … she had a million of them, and he was usually pretty good at remembering, but nothing registered for today.

He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It was pretty heavy for such a small box. With a sigh of resignation, he pulled on the bow and tore off the paper, leaving a small white box. He pulled the top off and carefully lifted out the antique music box. Now he was really confused. Why would Kendall send him a music box? What anniversary was this?

He raised the lid of the box and listened as the song started to play. His breath caught in his throat when he recognized the tune. “Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby. He picked up the small card that was wedged into the velvet interior and opened it. His heart fell into his stomach when he read the words:

“Don’t you remember, Zach?”


TBC

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zendall44

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Reply with quote  #2 

Whoo-hoo!!  Welcome back Karen!  Great start, can't wait for more!


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"Only two?  Lavery gets three!"  OMG Karen, how do you manage to have your lovely version of Zendall world, while being true to all of the characters? 

Glad to see you back with another story, and anticipating some great reading for the next few weeks   I have always enjoyed your various versions of Zendall world much more than the REAL show, thank you.

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Ann

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OMG Karen! I have been wishing for days that you would start a new Zendall journey for us..........and here it is!
Thank you!!!!

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Wow thanks Karen, another great story for all of us to enjoy... I miss your stories and am so looking forward to reading this one about my favorite couple on AMC..  thanks again and hope to read another great chapter soon....  : )
 
Dana 

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Thank you, Karen!  You are a ray of sunshine on this rainy weekend....So glad you're back

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 SO HAPPY to see another Karen story. Loved the last one and am looking forward to this one. WRITE ON!!!!

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  Welcome back Karen! Looking forward to the next chapter.

ninekaronas

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Chapter 2

Kendall rushed into the foyer when she heard the key in the lock. After a long day at Fusion, she’d looked forward to spending a quiet night at home with her men. Only one of her men had been missing. She’d tried not to pout when he told her he’d be late, but she was sure he could hear her disappointment. She knew her husband was a busy man, and that the reason he worked so hard was to give her, Spike and Ian everything they wanted. But tonight she would have traded all of their material possessions for some quality time with her family.

Zach barely had time to shut the door before he caught his wife. He took a step back to balance his weight before returning her fierce embrace. She suddenly pulled away from him, but only so she could kiss him. Then she returned to his arms and rested her head on his chest. Zach gently pushed her off of him and turned to go outside.

“Where are you going?” Kendall asked.

“I’m gonna do that again!” he answered, stepping back across the threshold with his arms held open expectantly. She laughed and launched herself back into his arms. He smiled when he felt her relax against him.

“What about the kiss?”

Kendall pulled away, but she didn’t kiss him. She shook her head instead. “I kissed you last time. It’s your turn.” She felt a tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach when his eyes darkened and he lowered his head. She braced herself, knowing that the kiss would make her knees weak. That’s the effect he always had on her. She licked her lips just before his mouth reached hers.

“Maybe later.”

It took her a second to realize that he had released her without kissing her. She opened her eyes and saw him walking into the living room.

“Zach!” She ran around the fireplace, ready to give him a piece of her mind. But that thought vanished when she rounded the corner and ran right into him. He pulled her roughly against him and proceeded to kiss the breath right out of her. She felt her knees buckle and Zach’s strong arms lifting her off the ground.

As he settled them both on the couch, she felt something else. There was something in his pocket; she felt it when he moved his coat. She smiled at the idea that he had brought her a gift as a peace offering because he’d been so late. She slyly snaked her hand across his chest, over his shoulder and down his arm, only to feel him tense as soon as she got near his pocket.

“Whoa,” he said. “What’s going on?” Kendall stared at her husband innocently. “Is that a box in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” she asked. Zach sighed heavily and sat back.

“Zach?” Kendall said, surprised by the sudden change in his mood. He looked almost angry now. But why? When he didn’t answer her, she reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. She glanced up at Zach, then lifted the lid to reveal a pair of shiny, gold and diamond cufflinks.

Zach watched as Kendall’s face went from happy to curious to confused. She was clearly not expecting to find cufflinks in the box. He cursed under his breath. How could he have been so stupid? Why didn’t he leave them in his desk drawer with the rest of the gifts? He swore again when Kendall lifted herself off his lap and stood in front of him.

“I thought you had something for me,” she said, her voice softer than he expected. He leaned forward and reached for her. “Oh, I do. Very special … if you’ll just …” He tried to pull her back down to him, but she stepped beyond his reach. “Did you buy these?” she asked.

Zach stared at the box in her hand. He remembered how angry he’d felt when he found it on his desk that morning. It had been almost two weeks since he’d received the music box, and there had been other gifts since then, almost a new “surprise” every day. He’d searched his memory after each one, trying to decide if the gifts themselves were clues, but none of them seemed to have a particular significance. And since they started arriving, the dream had become a nightly ritual. Yet he hadn’t been able to get any farther into it. Still tracing letters he couldn’t read while the cold wind blew against him, listening to the faint sound of the song he barely knew. Listening for something else … but what? Her voice maybe?

“Zach.”

He looked up to find Kendall watching him intently. “Where did you get these?” she asked again, sounding more curious than angry. She took one of them out of the box and held it up to the light. “They’re beautiful,” she said, almost absentmindedly, before returning her attention back to her husband. He reached for her again and this time she let him pull her down beside him.

“They were a gift,” he said at last, choosing his words carefully. “From who?” she immediately asked. Even though she was surprised by his reaction, she had no reason to be suspicious. She was merely curious. But his reluctance to answer was beginning to make her nervous. “From who?” she repeated, this time more firmly. Zach took a deep breath before diving into an explanation that was sure to raise more questions than it answered. He loosened his tie and began.

“I don’t know who sent them. I found them on my desk this morning.” He looked at Kendall to gauge her reaction, but didn’t say any more. Kendall continued to stare at him, frustrated by his brief explanation. “That’s it? That’s all you’re gonna tell me? Why would somebody just send you an expensive pair of cufflinks? And why didn’t you tell me? Did you think I sent them?” she had a million questions, and he was going to answer every one of them.

“How do you know they’re expensive?” he asked. “Because my mother is Erica Kane. It’s in the genes. Now quit stalling and answer me.” She once again inspected the box, turning it over in her hand like she was looking for something.

“There’s no note, Kendall,” Zach said as he took the box from her hand and put it back in his pocket. He was grateful that he hadn’t stuck the card in his pocket too. There was a note, of course. There was always a note. And it always said the same thing:

“Don’t you remember, Zach?”

Kendall stood up and began pacing. She didn’t understand why this bothered her so much. So Zach had a secret admirer? Big deal. Probably some young new cashier who misinterpreted his kindness. Kendall caught her reflection in the mirror and instinctively ran her hands through her hair. Then she touched the dark circles under her eyes and noticed for the first time the baby food stain on her blouse. She suddenly felt old and plain.

“Give them back,” she said as she turned back to Zach. “How can I?” he replied.  “I don’t know where they came from.” Kendall moved to stand directly in front of him. “Go down to the cage and tell the hot little cashier you just hired that you are a happily married man and you can’t accept those,” she said, pointing dramatically at his pocket. “Tell her you have a beautiful wife who can buy you all the cufflinks you need.”

“No,” Zach said calmly.

“No? Did you just say no?” Kendall asked incredulously.

“I did.”

“You won’t tell her to take them back?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I was answering your question.”

“What question?” Kendall’s anger was giving way to confusion, and she much preferred the anger.

“The one where you asked if I thought you’d sent them,” he said calmly. He held up his arm and pulled back the sleeve to reveal the monogrammed cufflinks he was wearing. “My jealous wife knows I prefer platinum.”

Kendall dropped heavily onto the couch beside him, the wind out of her sails. “I said ‘beautiful wife’ not ‘jealous wife,’” she said. She realized she was too tired to be jealous. And even if she didn’t feel sexy at the moment, she knew Zach loved her. She was just being silly. She was ready to let the whole thing go, until he spoke again.

“What’s the big deal about a few gifts? You’re being ridiculous.”

One little word had renewed her energy.

“Gifts? So it’s gifts now?”

Zach groaned. He stood up and pulled Kendall with him. Then he once again lifted her into his arms. “Enough,” he said. “It’s been a long day and all I want to do is take my jealous wife to bed.” He leaned down to kiss her, stopping inches from her face, waiting for what he knew was coming next.

“Beautiful wife,” she said, right on cue. “That too,” he whispered as his lips finally met hers. He carried her upstairs and closed their bedroom door to the world. When Zach tossed his coat onto the chair, the box made a dull thud against the arm. But neither of them noticed it. They were too wrapped up in each other to care about secret admirers or haunted dreams or baby food stains. Nothing mattered except the two of them. They were in their sanctuary and nobody else was allowed.

-------------------------

“I want to see them.”

Zach opened his eyes to find Kendall sitting on the edge of the bed wearing nothing but a towel. “I want to see them, too,” he said sleepily. He glanced at the clock and frowned. When did he become such a heavy sleeper? When he and Kendall were first married, he was always the first one up. Now, more often than not, she was up and dressed before he knew what was happening. Luckily for him, this morning she woke him up before she got dressed. He ran his finger along her collarbone, then lower, until he dipped it underneath the edge of the towel.

Kendall slapped his hand away. “You know what I’m talking about,” she said. “The gifts, Zach. I want to see all these presents some new young hottie has been sending to my husband.” Zach continued to stare at her mostly-naked chest even as he shook his head.

“No,” he said flatly, finally bringing his eyes to hers. “There is no new cashier, Kendall. And there aren’t ‘all these presents’ either. You really are being silly.” Kendall didn’t care for his answer. “Silly? Would it be silly if I were the one getting gifts and refusing to let you see them? Would that bother you at all, Mr. Control Freak?”

Zach sighed and leaned back against the headboard. “It has nothing to do with control, Kendall. I just don’t want you to get all worked up about something that is probably nothing. That’s all. Don’t you have enough to worry about with Adam Chandler sniffing around?” Kendall leaned back on one arm and frowned. “I don’t care for your choice of words, but you are right. What?” she said when his eyebrows shot up. “I can admit it when you’re right. It just doesn’t happen that often.” She laughed when Zach pulled her to him and kissed her.  He released her arm, but kept his hand on her hip.

“Just say the word and I’ll take care of Chandler,” he said. Kendall recognized that tone and she could see the spark of anger in his eyes. She knew she could count on him to bail her out if things got too sticky, but she really wanted to handle Adam on her own. Zach was her backup plan. Her gorgeous, powerful, sexy-as-hell backup plan.

“I know,” she said as she rubbed his arm. “I promise I’ll call you if I need you.” She let her fingers run down his arm and brought his hand to her lap. She opened her own hand and laid it against his, measuring the difference in their size. She loved his hands. They were strong and yet still so gentle. These were the hands that crushed Adam the first time. And they were the same hands that caressed her body the night before. Strong and gentle, just like Zach.

She looked up to find him watching her intently, the look on his face inscrutable. In an effort to hide her embarrassment, she blurted out the first thing that popped into her head.

“You still working at the casino these days?” Zach didn’t answer at first. He enjoyed looking at her and was sorry the moment had passed. He hated that her vulnerability embarrassed her. He never wanted her to feel that way in front of him. But he understood it. Kendall Hart was a strong, independent woman who had survived a lot of lonely years by convincing herself that she didn’t need anybody. A part of her felt like she needed to hang on to that so she wouldn’t lose herself completely. He would never take that from her.

“No, back to Cambias today. I wanted to finish the week at the casino, but I’ve got meetings that can’t be re-scheduled. Which means I better get going.” As much as he didn’t want to, Zach threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. Kendall couldn’t resist the urge to give him one last kiss before disappearing into her closet. She had her own agenda for the day, and she couldn’t accomplish it in a towel.

-------------------------

Two hours later Kendall found herself sneaking into her own hotel. She knew it was reckless, not to mention completely irrational, but she couldn’t help herself. She had to see what Zach was hiding from her. She turned up the collar on her coat and put on her sunglasses before sailing through the front door with a “don’t bother, I know where I’m going” attitude. She kept her head up and her eyes in front of her, walking briskly through the lobby. Anybody who recognized her would just think she was here on business. Anybody who didn’t recognize her would know to keep their distance.

She took a deep breath as the elevator stopped on Zach’s floor. Now all she had to do was get past his assistant and she was home free. She slipped back into her no-nonsense façade and walked into his office like a woman on a mission, greeting the assistant’s protests with a cool nod. She closed the door behind her, ignoring whatever it was the other woman was trying to tell her. The smile of victory froze on her face when she turned around to hang up her coat.

There, watching her from behind the desk, was Zach.

“Zach!” Kendall gasped, but quickly recovered. “I’m so glad you’re here. I was hoping you would be,” she lied easily. She walked over to him and greeted him with a kiss. “No, you thought I would be at Cambias,” he amended. “Remember? We talked about it this morning?” Kendall nodded enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically. “Of course. Now I remember,” she began. “How lucky am I that you had a change of plans?” “Lucky, right,” Zach mumbled.

Kendall watched as his eyes instinctively went to the drawer that she knew held all the things she’d come to see. She knew Zach well enough to know it was locked, which is why she’d “borrowed” his lock-picking kit. He’d never actually shown her how to use it, but she was an industrious woman. She was sure she could figure it out. Getting around the lock was the easy part. Getting around her husband was much more difficult.

She looked up at him, her stubborn glare matching his, when he surprised her. He slid back his chair and walked away from his desk, gesturing for her to take his place. As soon as she sat down, she pulled on the drawer and found it locked, just as she’d expected. Her chin came up in response to the arrogance on Zach’s face. She reached into her purse and pulled out the small tool kit Zach kept in his bedside table. She looked to him for a reaction, but got none. He merely folded his arms across his chest and waited to see what she would do.

Kendall peeled off her gloves and tossed them onto the desk. Then she opened the kit and took out the first tool. She looked it over carefully, trying to figure out exactly what to do. She looked at Zach, who offered nothing, before sticking the device into the lock. She turned it, expecting the drawer to spring open, but it didn’t. She pulled another tool and repeated the process, with the same result. After finding failure with the last tool, she threw up her hands in exasperation. She didn’t dare look at Zach because she knew his smugness would just make her angry.

Without saying a word, she stood up and walked over to the safe. She deftly punched in the combination code and smiled when she heard it unlock. She reached past the cash and the important papers to find what she was looking for nestled in the back. She pulled it out gently and pointed it at the locked drawer. Before she could pull the trigger, Zach was on her.

He pulled the gun from her fingers and put it back in the safe. He didn’t want Kendall to know it, but he was fighting the urge to laugh. He knew he should probably be mad, but he wasn’t. This was Kendall … his wife … the woman he loved more than anything else on earth. And he knew her very well, which meant he’d been expecting her all along.

He picked up one of the tools and handed it to Kendall, showing her exactly how to use it. Within seconds she not only had the drawer open, but she had a new skill to add to her arsenal. Maybe she’d take herself on over to the Chandler mansion and see what she could find of interest in Adam’s desk. Zach didn’t appreciate the joke and made her promise not to do anything so dangerous. After sealing her promise with a kiss, she took a deep breath and opened the drawer.

She was immediately outraged. “A few? Zach, this drawer is full!” She pushed him back into his chair when he tried to look inside the drawer. “Oh, don’t worry, honey. We’re gonna see them all!” She removed each item from his desk, amazed at the expense this person had gone to. There were silk ties, exclusive colognes, an exotic leather wallet and some very expensive jewelry.

She felt less threatened as she worked her way through the stack. Whoever it was, they clearly didn’t know Zach. While there were some very nice gifts, none of them were Zach’s taste. Even the scotch she found near the bottom was not his favorite brand. And the tickets to an upcoming NFL game sealed the deal. Zach was a hockey fan. She’d never even seen him watch football, unless he was trying to avoid her family at Thanksgiving.

Kendall turned to look at Zach, who was reading the label on the bottle of scotch. When he went to open the bottle, Kendall panicked. “Zach Slater, don’t you dare drink that!” she hissed. She was immediately sorry she’d fallen for it when he started laughing. She was pulling the last item from the drawer – a heavy wooden box – when an unwelcome question occurred to her. One she refused to ask.

She opened the lid on the box and listened as the song that Zach had been humming in his sleep for the last two weeks started playing. They had both laughed several times over this particular tune being buried so deeply in his subconscious. It had been nothing more than a silly joke. Until now. Now the song and the dream were tied to the gifts. She read the card and then looked up at her husband.

“What’s going on here?” she asked. “How is this all connected?” Zach shrugged, but didn’t offer much more of an explanation. The unwelcome question resurfaced and this time Kendall asked it before she could stop herself.

“Did you do this, Zach? Are you trying to get my attention?” She wished she could take the question back when she saw the look on his face. He looked stricken. He quickly put the mask of indifference back into place, but not before Kendall saw the hurt she’d caused.

“Did you really just ask me that?” he said, his voice soft and low.

“I mean it. Have I been too busy with Fusion. Am I neglecting you?” She knew it was a long-shot, but she had to ask. If she was the reason for this whole thing, she needed to know. She needed to stop it before things went too far.

When he continued to stare at her, she crumbled. “I’m sorry, honey,” she began. “Now I really am being ridiculous. I know you would never ... I guess I just wanted there to be an easy answer … something we could fix ourselves. God, Zach. I don’t want to be afraid again.”

Zach pulled Kendall into his arms. “Why are you afraid?” he asked as he rubbed her back. “You know I won’t let anything happen to you, don’t you?” Kendall nodded against his shoulder before pulling away from him. She smiled when he immediately reached up to wipe a tear from her face.

“I know you’ll keep me and the boys safe. But we’re not the ones getting all these gifts. And we’re not the ones having nightmares. What if all of this is about you being in danger. Who’s gonna keep you safe, Zach?” He kissed her softly, but didn’t offer an answer to her question. He didn’t really have any answers to give.  He was just as confused as she was by what it all meant.

After a few minutes of silence, Kendall grabbed Zach’s hand and started for the door. “Come on, you can walk me to my car,” she said when he stopped in the middle of the room. “Why would I do that?” he asked. Kendall gifted him with an exaggerated sigh as she dropped his hand and reached for her coat. “Some protector you are,” she mumbled. “Okay,” Zach said as he offered her his arm, “you win. Let’s go.”

As they walked through the crowded casino, Kendall was dumbstruck by what she witnessed. The way women looked at Zach was appalling. She knew how sexy he was. After all, she was a woman, and she certainly wasn’t immune to his charms. And she knew heads turned when he entered a room. She’d seen it many times. But now she was seeing it through different eyes. Now she saw potential threats to her husband and family. Predators. “Shameless whores!”

“What’s that?” Of course Zach was oblivious to it. He only had eyes for his wife. He looked around to see what Kendall was referring to, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“Nothing,” Kendall said as she tightened her grip on his hand. She smiled when she felt his arm settle around her waist. That should show those vultures that this man was off limits. She resisted the urge to make a more shameless demonstration. No, she would maintain her dignity. She owed it to Zach and to their employees. However, she didn’t resist when he pulled her into a kiss just outside the door while they waited for her car to be brought around. She saw in her rearview mirror that Zach stood on the curb and watched her until she was out of sight and it made her feel warm and safe and loved. She vowed to make Zach feel the same way, no matter what. And she would start tonight.

-------------------------

She watched him from the shadows, with his hands all over her like he couldn’t help himself. He found reasons to touch her. Holding her hand, resting his hand on her hip, leading her through a crowded room with his hand on the small of her back. All of it drove her crazy. Zach Slater was obviously a possessive man.  But that was supposed to be reserved for her, not the skinny little trophy wife he was with. There was only one word to describe the way it made her feel: enraged. It was time to move forward with the plan. Before too long, Zach would be hers and his wife would be nothing but a distant memory.

TBC


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Roseann

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Great Chapter, Karen.   Love a good mystery...

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Damn Karen, just damn!  You can pull me in faster than anyone ever has.
Have I told you lately that I love you? LOL

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update !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! that was great

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Sorry the updates are taking so long. I promise to do better.




Chapter 3

Zach moved quietly up the stairs, certain that everybody in the house was asleep. He never intended to be so late, but there was a problem at the casino that just couldn’t wait. And just when he put out that fire, another one sprang up. He’d spent the better part of the evening moving from crisis to crisis, none of which should have required his attention. But he was always asked for by name. When he was finally called down to the bar to meet with a disgruntled patron, only to be met by a shot of whiskey and another gift, he knew it was time to go home.

He peeked in on the boys before easing open the door to his bedroom. The last thing he wanted to do was wake up Kendall. He knew she was probably upset with him for being so late. He’d seen the candlesticks on the table and had a feeling he’d ruined something special. Since he wasn’t up for a fight with his wife, he crept in silently.

As soon as he closed the door behind him, the room lit up. His shoulders slumped in defeat as he turned to see Kendall sitting up in bed, still touching the lamp switch. He dropped his coat on the chair and took off his shoes before moving to the bed to give her a cautious kiss.

“What are you doing up?” he asked as he settled himself on the bed beside her. “I thought you’d be asleep by now.” Kendall leaned back against the headboard and shook her head. “No way. We’ve got a lot to talk about, mister.” She tucked a curl behind her ear and stared at him.

Zach couldn’t tell if she was upset with him or not. She seemed okay, but she did wait up for him. “Like what … how I ruined your plans?” he offered. He watched her closely, waiting for her to yell at him, but she didn’t.

“Oh that. Well, I did have something special planned, but it can wait. I’m not angry with you, Zach. I just wanted to see you.” Zach looked her over, noticing for the first time the way she held the bedspread tightly to her chest. “So what did I miss?” he asked. Kendall slowly slid the cover down to reveal the 2008 Stanley Cup Championship t-shirt that she was wearing, smiling when she heard Zach growl.

“No,” she began, holding out her hand to ward off her approaching husband, “it’s too late. You missed your chance for that. That’s not why I waited up. I had something else in mind.”

Zach groaned. “Talking,” he said flatly. Kendall pulled him closer and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Yes, talking,” she said as she kissed his neck. “First comes talking, then … “

The words died in her throat when she felt Zach’s strong hands push the cover aside and start a slow ascent up her leg. After making him promise to have a long talk with her in the morning, she gave up the fight and helped him rid them both of the clothes that separated them. After all, with his hands moving across her skin and his lips whispering dark promises in her ear, she was completely unable to maintain a coherent thought, much less hold a conversation.

She reached for the light, but Zach stopped her. “Leave it on,” he murmured. “You should see what it does for you.” “You should see what it does for you,” Kendall echoed as she tightened her grip around his shoulders and pulled him closer. God he was beautiful! When he laughed, she realized she’d said it out loud. But the look in his eyes told her how much her opinion mattered to him. He may have been smiling, but he wasn’t taking her praise lightly.

He covered her body with his, bracing his weight on his elbows, as he stared into her eyes. Kendall could feel his heart pounding, the rhythm matching her own. She closed her eyes and waited for him to kiss her, but opened them when she felt his lips on her neck instead. “Beautiful … so beautiful …”

-------------------------

“Women? Oh God, there were so many.”

Kendall choked on her coffee. That was not the answer she’d been expecting. She was sitting across the breakfast table from her husband, holding him to his promise to talk. Of course, when he agreed to it, he had no idea what she wanted to talk about. And now he felt ambushed.

As soon as he’d joined her, she flipped open the notepad that was sitting on the table beside her and began a list of prepared questions. She was determined to find out who was sending her husband expensive gifts, and she was sure the answer was hidden somewhere in his past. And, determined wife that she was, she had every intention of pulling this woman out of the shadows and into the light.

Her first question had been to ask him how many women he’d been with. She didn’t like his answer. “So many?” she repeated weakly. “That’s not what a wife wants to hear!” Zach feigned innocence.

“Oh, did you want a number?” he asked. “I mean, I could try, but …” his voice faded as he started ticking off names under his breath. Kendall grabbed his hands to stop the count and frowned at him. “No,” she said. “I do not want a number. I want you to be serious for five seconds. Do you think that’s possible?”

“It’s possible,” Zach said as he pulled his hands from hers, “but not likely if you keep asking me questions like that.” He refilled their coffee cups and waited as Kendall scanned her list of questions.

“Well, that’s pretty much what all these questions are about. We have to explore your past if we want to figure out who is stalking you.”

“Whoa! Stalking me? Who said anything about stalking?” Zach blustered. “A few gifts and a couple of phone calls and now I’m being stalked? Don’t let your imagination run away with you, Kendall.”

“Phone calls? What phone calls?” Kendall ignored the rebuke and latched on to the new clue. She also ignored Zach’s sigh. “Look, Zach,” she began slowly, as if instructing a child, “somebody is trying to get your attention. And that somebody just might be dangerous. There are a lot of wackos out there who would love to sink their claws into a rich, gorgeous, successful man like you.”

“Only one wacko in here,” he mumbled. “I notice you said rich first,” he said, trying to change the subject. “Is that why you sank your claws into me? For the money?” Kendall didn’t blink. “Of course. You knew that at the time. It was part of the proposal, remember?” She smiled when she knew she’d bested him. But the smile was short-lived.

“Okay. Fair enough. So tell me, Kendall. How many men have you been with?”

“We’re not talking about me!” she cried in exasperation. “I don’t have a stalker, you do. Now quit avoiding me and answer my questions. It’s important.” He didn’t look convinced, but still he relented. A promise was a promise.

“Other women in my life? Okay, yes. Great loves? Only one. You aren’t sending this stuff are you?”

“Of course not! But somebody is. Somebody from your past. Somebody you said you loved. Any more women out there who have borne you children?”

“Of course not!”

“Old lovers who weren’t ready to let you go?”

“I hate to tell you this, Kendall. But most women don’t find me that irresistible.”

“Oh, please! Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? Hello, it’s me, Kendall,” she said, waving at him. “I’m your wife.”

“You are?” he said as he looked her over. “I did pretty well for myself.”

“I’m serious, Zach. I’ve seen the way women look at you.”

“What way is that?”

“Like hungry dogs.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” he said. He carried their plates to the sink before turning back to her. “You really notice how other women look at me?”

“Of course. It’s my job to notice. And it’s your job NOT to notice.”

“Yes, dear.”

“You know, Zach. It just occurred to me. You’re a rich, successful, powerful, handsome man. You can have anything you want.”

“I already do.”

“Do you? Really? I mean, marriage to me hasn’t been easy. I know that.” She shifted in her chair, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. She was beginning to realize that her own insecurities were being dragged into the light by whoever was stalking her husband. He loved this woman once, but now he can’t even remember her. Could that happen to her?

As if reading her thoughts, Zach came to her and pulled her into his arms. “Yes, I do. I have everything I want, Kendall. More than I ever thought possible. I love you. Always, only you.” He kissed her gently before releasing her.

Kendall wanted to feel better, but the thought kept nagging at her. It had to be said out loud, or she knew it would eat at her forever. “Did you love her once too? Did you promise to love her forever, only to forget her?”

She looked so sad that Zach couldn’t get angry at the question, even though he felt insulted. “I’m sure I said it to a lot of women when I was young and foolish. But I never meant it … never knew what it meant … until I said it to you.” He reached down and stroked her cheek. “I found the One my heart loves," he quoted, “and I will never, ever forget her.”

Kendall nodded and blinked back the tears that threatened to escape. That was all she needed to hear. She reached for the notepad and followed Zach to the living room. She’d worked up a list of possibilities and she wanted to run them by Zach.

“Could it be Dixie?” she asked sheepishly, knowing how preposterous it sounded.

“Dixie?” he repeated, clearly shocked. “Dixie is dead, Kendall.” She squirmed under his gaze, but she didn’t back down. “Well she’s come back from the dead once, why not again? And she wanted you, Zach. I know you don’t believe that, but she did. She made sure I knew it, too.”

Zach looked pensive. He didn’t want to talk about Dixie. She had been the source of a lot of tension between him and Kendall and he didn’t want to re-hash that. Kendall never understood their relationship, and he guessed he had himself to blame for that. He hadn’t tried hard enough to make her understand. And he’d completely underestimated Dixie’s ability to hurt his wife.

“I never told Dixie I loved her,” he said at last. He turned to look at Kendall, waiting to see if she believed him. She nodded. “Kendall,” he said when she looked away, “I never told Dixie I loved her. Never. She was a friend, nothing more. I’m sorry you ever thought otherwise.”

Kendall reached out to touch his face in a gesture she hoped would reassure him. She did believe him, but she didn’t want to talk about Dixie. She knew it was a subject they would never see eye to eye on. He just didn’t understand.

“Maria?” she mused aloud.

Zach shook his head vehemently. “No. Not Maria. She’s not in love with me, Kendall. I’m not sure she ever was.” He could see the vulnerability in her eyes and he hated it. He knew that Maria - and his reaction to her - had the ability to hurt Kendall deeply. In Kendall’s mind, Maria was the one that got away. But she was wrong. He wasn’t carrying a torch for Maria Santos, and she wasn’t carrying one for him.

“How can you be so sure?” Kendall asked. He could feel her watching him and he fought the urge to put up a wall. He didn’t want to hide behind a mask of indifference, he wanted her to know the truth.

“Because Maria and I didn’t have some great love affair,” he said with a shrug. “I thought I loved her … maybe I did. I don’t know. But whatever it was, it didn’t feel like this,” he said, gesturing between them. “I never really knew Maria. I knew Maureen. And Maureen never existed. So you see, there was nothing to build on. Nothing that would form a bond strong enough to hang onto after all this time.”

“Okay,” Kendall said quietly. “So it’s not Dixie and it’s not Maria. How about Hannah?”

“Hannah is dead, Kendall. You were there. You saw her die.” He hated the tension he heard in his voice. He knew it was sending Kendall the wrong message, but he couldn’t control it. Hannah was the one name he kept coming back to. But it couldn’t be her. They had watched her die.

“So what? This is Pine Valley! This is where dead people go to be re-animated,” she said. “Do you need me to give you a list, Alex?” she said, emphasizing the name he was born with.

“Touche. So does that mean David Hayward is really Dr. Frankenstein?” They both laughed, only because they knew David Hayward was the last thing they had to worry about. He was far away from Pine Valley, and even if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t waste a single thought on Zach Slater. But his name did give Kendall an idea.

“Maybe it’s a man.”

“Kendall,” Zach warned.

“I mean it. There’s no reason to assume it’s a female. Why couldn’t a man appreciate you?”

“Kendall.”

“It doesn’t even have to be a gay man, Zach. Just somebody who wants to be you.”

“Kendall! Can we talk about something else?”

“Okay, fine. We can talk about the phone calls you’ve been getting. Or did you think I was going to forget?” Zach threw his head back in surrender, but Kendall was unmoved. “How do you know it’s her ... or him?” she asked. Before he could answer, his phone rang.

“Saved by the bell,” he muttered as he pulled it from his pocket. He picked up the phone and saw that it was a text message. He read it, then handed the phone to Kendall. “That’s how,” he said as she read the message: Don’t you remember, Zach?

Kendall was furious. She was in the process of sending back a nasty little message of her own when Zach stopped her. “It won’t help,” he said as he eased the phone from her fingers. “It will only encourage whoever this is to keep doing it. We have to ignore her” he emphasized, “or she’ll never go away.

“But,” Kendall began, only to have him interrupt her. “Just a minute,” he said as he dialed the phone. He gave somebody orders to trace the call, then turned his attention back to his wife. “This is the fourth call and I’ve had them all traced. It’s always the same – a prepaid cell. I’m sure this will be no different.”

Kendall began pacing around the room, clearly agitated. “This isn’t funny anymore, Zach. How did this woman get your private number? Why is she doing this? How do we know she’s not dangerous?” She didn’t really expect him to answer her questions. In fact, she didn’t give him a chance. Something had her radar going off. She was suddenly very afraid of what this woman was capable of. She jumped when she felt Zach’s arms go around her waist.

“I don’t know how she got my number, and I never said she wasn’t dangerous. Maybe she is. But maybe she’s just living out a harmless fantasy. Until we know for sure, we can’t panic. It’s important that we don’t overreact. If she is dangerous, we don’t want to provoke her.”

Kendall nodded against his chest. She was finally beginning to relax. She knew she was probably making too much of it. And she knew Zach would be careful. She just needed some quality time with her husband to make all the bad thoughts go away. Which reminded her of another question she’d meant to ask.

“You didn’t have the dream last night, did you?” She pulled away just in time to see the smile on his face. “No,” he said. “I didn’t. I guess I was too busy dreaming about my beautiful wife.” “Or too tired from making love to her,” she supplied with a coy smile. “That too. I guess that means we’ll have to do that every night. You game?” “Oh, I’m game,” she said as she moved in for a kiss. “I’m totally game.”

They both groaned when the doorbell rang. Kendall volunteered to answer it. “Do you want me to wear the t-shirt every night?” she asked. Zach’s eyes followed her as she walked across the room. “Nope,” he said, but she was too far away to hear him.

“Dammit!”

Zach ran into the foyer and found Kendall staring at a piece of paper. “What the hell is this supposed to mean?” she asked as she handed it to him. Zach quickly scanned the page, not believing what he was seeing. It was a wedding invitation … and Zach was listed as the groom.


TBC



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Ann

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What a wonderful surprise! Thank you Karen for making my morning!


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This is very intriguing, Karen.  Thanks for another chapter in this story, I can't wait to find out who is so obsessed with Zach (besides me, that is, LOL).


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Thanks, Karen...another great chapter..looking forwad to the next one.

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Thanks Karen!  This story is getting good!!! 


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So much for promises. My intention was to get two chapters posted before I head off to SSW, but I only managed to squeak out one. I need one of those Pine Valley jobs where you never have to go to work, but you always have plenty of money.



Chapter 4

Please join me
for a sunset ceremony
as I celebrate my marriage
to Zach Slater
on the thirty-first of December
two thousand and eight
in the gazebo
at the Seasons East Casino


Zach dropped the card and ran out the front door, hoping to find whoever had delivered it, but he was too late. The driveway was empty and there were no cars on the road. It was as if the guy had vanished into thin air. Cursing, Zach turned to go back inside. He found Kendall pacing in the living room, holding the invitation.

“What does it mean?” she asked as soon as she saw her husband. She joined him on the couch when he didn’t answer. “Zach,” she prodded, positioning herself so she could see his face. “What does it mean?” He took a deep breath and met her eyes at last.

“I’m not sure.” He could tell she didn’t like his answer, but he didn’t know what else to say. He was as confused as she was. A wedding invitation? It just didn’t make any sense. He decided to change their approach. If they couldn’t figure out the why, maybe they should concentrate on the how. Hopefully, that would help them answer the biggest question: who?

“What did the guy look like? Was he wearing a uniform? What was he was driving? Did you have to sign anything?” Zach’s questions came so fast he didn’t give Kendall time to answer. She stared at him, waiting for the questions to stop, then she told him everything she remembered.

“It was a young guy. No uniform and no car, at least not one that I could see from the door. He was wearing a PVU jacket and a baseball cap. He didn’t ask me to sign anything … just asked me if I was Kendall Hart and shoved the envelope in my hand. When I looked back up, he was gone. So I opened it and that’s when you came in.”

“Hart? Are you sure he said Kendall Hart and not Kendall Slater?” Kendall nodded immediately. “I’m positive.” “How can you be so certain?” Zach asked. “Because I corrected him,” she said matter-of-factly. Zach smiled at her. Just that quickly his anxiety dissipated. He looked out the window and saw that it was a beautiful day. Too beautiful to waste on worry.

He stood up, pulling Kendall with him. “Why don’t we take the boys to the park? You go up and start getting them ready. I’ll be there in a minute.” “Now?” she asked incredulously. “Sure,” he replied. “Why not? Or did you want to go shopping for a wedding gift?” Kendall folded her arms across her chest. “You’re not funny you know?” She tried to sell the lie, but her smile gave her away. “I know, but you love me anyway?” Zach said as he pulled her into his arms. “Come on, let’s go outside and play. We’ll tackle this later,” he said, holding up the invitation.

Kendall eyed him suspiciously, but did as he asked, stopping to give him a kiss on her way out. Zach reached for his phone as soon as she was out of sight.

“Did you see anything?” he asked as he glanced toward the door. “No? Some stranger came to our door and talked to my wife and you didn’t see him? What am I paying you for? Get out there and find him and find out who hired him. Yeah, baseball cap, PVU jacket … probably a college kid trying to make a fast buck. Get back to me when you know something. And Jimmy, you better know something soon.”

Kendall stood on the landing listening to Zach’s side of the conversation. She’d known he was hiding something and now she knew what is was … bodyguards. But just who were they supposed to be guarding? She went upstairs to get the boys, vowing to take it up with Zach when they were alone.

-------------------------

“That’s it?” Zach growled into the phone. “What about that last phone call?” Kendall watched as the lines in his forehead deepened. He was clearly not happy with the report he was getting. She turned back to Spike, who was squirming beside her on the park bench, and finished wiping the ice cream from his face. When she was done, she kissed him on the cheek and watched him run to where the other kids were playing.

Ian’s cry demanded her attention, and when she turned back to the playground, Spike was gone. She was on the verge of panic when Zach elbowed her and gestured to the water fountain, where Spike was standing on his tiptoes trying to get a drink. With a sigh of relief, she handed Ian to his father and went to help Spike. By the time she returned, Zach was off the phone.

“You don’t look happy,” she said as she lifted Ian onto her lap. Zach immediately put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “What do you mean? Of course I’m happy,” he said breezily. “Hanging out in the park with my pretty little wife and my two boys … what could be better than that?” Kendall laughed. “You are so full of it!” she accused. “You know what I’m talking about. Do you think I’m stupid, Zach?” she asked, turning to look at him.

He fought the smile that threatened as he looked her in the eye. “No. Of course not.” When he didn’t say any more, Kendall frowned. “That’s all I get?” she asked. “You’re really not going to tell me who you were talking to or what they said to upset you?” Zach cleared his throat and pulled on the collar of his shirt. He tried to change the subject, but Kendall was relentless. Finally, he gave in.

“Okay, I was talking to Bruno. Did I tell you I made him head of security at the casino?” Kendall shook her head. “He’s doing a great job,” Zach continued. “I trust him, which is more than I can say for some of the men who work for me. And I know I can always count on him to be discreet.” Discreet! Kendall bit her tongue. She was dying to yell at him for not telling her about the bodyguards he’d hired. You mean he hides in the bushes well and helps you lie to your wife!

“You were going to tell me about the phone call,” she reminded gently. At least she thought it was gentle, but Zach could hear the edge in her voice. So he stopped dodging and told her the truth.

“I had him trace the text I got earlier, assuming it would be the same as the others.” “Another pre-paid cell,” she replied. “Yes. But it wasn’t. This time the call came from the lobby of the casino. One of the pay phones.” Kendall perked up. “That’s great. We’ll have her – or him – on the surveillance video.” Her shoulders fell when Zach started shaking his head.

“He checked. It’s impossible to tell who it is. She was partially hidden behind a pillar. All we caught was her left hand as she dialed the phone, and the back of her head as she leaned down to pick up her purse.” “I wonder what kind of purse it is,” Kendall mused aloud. “Why on earth?” Zach asked, surprised to hear that as her first question. “Well, Zach,” Kendall began, “you can tell a lot about a woman from the kind of handbag she carries. Let me see the tape and I’ll tell you her approximate age, her annual income and where she shops.”

Zach couldn’t decide if he was impressed or annoyed. But before he had a chance to explore it, Spike diverted his attention. The boy was running toward them carrying a balloon. When he was close enough, Kendall asked him where he got it. “She gave it to me,” Spike said innocently. Kendall felt the blood drain from her face. Zach immediately jumped up from the bench and ran to the playground, presumably to find somebody selling balloons. But Kendall knew he was really going to check with the guards who were following them.

“Who, Spikey?” she asked, trying to keep her voice light. “Show mommy who gave you the balloon.” Spike turned back to the crowd, but didn’t see her. He looked at Kendall and shrugged. Kendall noticed several other children holding balloons, but still didn’t see where they came from. She saw Zach questioning some of them and relaxed when she saw him smile.

“Apparently there was a birthday party earlier and there were some balloons left over,” Zach said as soon as he reached his family. “Somebody dressed as a clown was passing them out. See, lots of kids have them.” Kendall was relieved, but she still felt uneasy. “I think it’s time to go,” she said as she started gathering up their things. Zach easily agreed and within minutes they were on their way back home.

Jimmy noticed the lady in the clown costume watching the Slater family as they walked to their car, but he didn’t think anything of it. He’d noticed her earlier, passing out balloons to the kids and assumed she was harmless. Besides, the Slaters were a beautiful family. Nothing unusual about them catching peoples’ attention. As he walked past her, he noticed that she was humming the Wedding March, which he thought was odd. But he figured it was none of his business. Besides, he was getting paid to tail Mr. Slater's wife, not some kook in a clown costume.

Look at them … such a perfect little family. Well, not perfect yet. But they will be. We will be, as soon as we get rid of the old mommy and bring in the new one. You may not remember yet, Zach. But you will. And this time, I promise you will never forget!

-------------------------

“Why did you ask earlier if I was sure the man called me Kendall Hart instead of Kendall Slater? What’s the significance?” Kendall took off her robe and climbed into bed beside her husband. They’d spent the rest of the day with the boys, which had left them very little time to continue their discussion. But Kendall was determined to make Zach open up to her.

Zach pulled Kendall closer until she was resting her head on his shoulder. “I was trying to decide who the message was for … you or me,” he answered, absentmindely running his fingers down her arm. “And what did you decide?” she asked. “I think it was for you,” he answered. “I think they wanted to provoke you by not using your married name. That, along with the invitation to my wedding,” he continued, “was meant to belittle our marriage. Or maybe just your position as my wife. I’m not really sure, but I don’t like it.”

“I don’t like it either,” Kendall said, raising up to look at Zach. “I mean, it’s not that this crazy person’s insinuations make me feel any less married to you. But I resent her acting like I can be so easily replaced. Should I be worried?” she asked.

“No,” Zach answered immediately. “But you should be careful. It bothers me that this last message came here, to our home. I guess I underestimated how far this person is willing to go to disrupt our lives.”

“Does that mean you’ll hire even more security guards to watch the house?” Zach took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “How long have you known?” he asked, not bothering to deny it. “Since this morning. I heard you on the phone after you sent me upstairs. I heard you ripping somebody named Jimmy a new one because he let that delivery boy get to the front door unnoticed.” Zach groaned.

“Don’t you even pretend to be upset with me,” Kendall said as she sat up in bed. “You should have told me, Zach. You are obviously more concerned about all of this than you’re letting on. So quit hiding things from me and tell me what you found out.”

Zach glared at her for a few long seconds, then he folded his arms behind his head and told her what he knew, which wasn’t much. “Jimmy is supposed to be monitoring the front gate. Nobody is supposed to get to the front door without him knowing about it. But our little visitor from this morning managed to get through without being seen.” “How is that possible?” Kendall asked. “Maybe you need to fire him and get somebody who knows what they’re doing. Where’s Otto?”

“On assignment,” Zach said, “but it looks like I’m gonna have to bring him back.” “To babysit?” Kendall dropped her eyes, suddenly feeling guilty. “To help me keep my family safe,” Zach corrected, tilting Kendall’s chin up so she would look him in the eye. “Nothing else is more important than that.” He kissed her and then pulled her back into his arms.

“I did find out one thing about the invitation,” Zach said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. “Jimmy found the kid walking to his car. For some reason, he parked two blocks away. He leaned on him, but he didn’t get much. Apparently some ‘hot chick’ gave him the envelope and paid him fifty bucks to deliver it.”

“So it is a woman. At least we know that much for sure,” Kendall said, ignoring Zach’s exaggerated sigh. “But what about the invitation? Is there any way we can trace that?” “I’ve got my men on it,” he said, but he didn’t sound optimistic.

“Tell them to check with all the high-end printers, wedding planners and bridal boutiques. That invitation was engraved, not printed, and that can be very expensive. Whoever she is, money is no object.” Kendall tried not to be insulted by the look of surprise on Zach’s face. “I’m sure you’ve already checked to see who has the gazebo booked for New Year’s Eve.”

Zach shook his head. “Didn’t need to,” he said when Kendall started to protest. “The gazebo is reserved for a private party … by the owner.” Kendall’s mouth fell open. “You think I’m gonna let somebody else have our spot on such a monumental night?” he asked. The warmth in Kendall’s eyes melted his heart. She leaned down to kiss him, but stopped suddenly.

“Zach! This woman knows about New Year’s Eve. She knows how important it is to us and that’s why she chose that place and that day. But how could she know? It has to be a clue to her identity, don’t you think?”

“I think,” Zach said as he pulled her back to him, “that I don’t want to talk about this anymore tonight. You were just about to kiss me.” Kendall laughed at the disgruntled look on his face. “I was?” she teased, lowering herself on top of him. “Tell me about your first kiss, Zach.”

“You want to hear about that now?” he asked. “Sure I do. I need to know what I’m up against if I want my kiss to be memorable.” Zach once again folded his arms behind his head and tried to ignore the half-naked woman lying on top of him. “Okay, let’s see,” he began. “It was on the beach during summer break. She was a real beauty, French I think. The girl, not the kiss,” he clarified. “Anyway, we were standing in the surf, watching the tide roll in. Very ‘East of Eden.’ She kissed me, actually, but that’s about as far as it went. She had to go because her mom was calling.”

“Her mom was there?” Kendall said, beginning to regret the question. “Of course. So was mine. We were only four, Kendall. We couldn’t be on the beach by ourselves.” Kendall poked him in the chest, laughing. “That doesn’t count, Zach. I mean the first real kiss. The one that really mattered.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” he said. “That happened on Thanksgiving night, almost three years ago. Even though the girl didn’t really like it, it changed my life.” Kendall stroked his face, touched by the emotion she saw there. “Oh, she liked it,” she whispered. “She liked it very much. It changed her life, too.” She reached down to kiss him, and this time she didn’t stop. The kiss was slow, deep and full of love. When she tried to break it, he pulled her back to him.

“What was your best kiss?” Kendall asked as she tried to catch her breath. “The last one,” Zach replied, his voice low and soft. “With you every kiss is the best one. I can’t get enough of you, Kendall.” With those words, he rolled them over until he was on top of her. Then he silenced her questions with a kiss that left her feeling drugged. She wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly against her, relishing in the feel of his warm skin under her fingertips, basking in his strength even as he held her so gently.

Within seconds, there was nothing between them but the shadows that played across their bodies. Their hearts beat in unison as their bodies – and their souls – became one.

-------------------------

Zach was once again on that cold, lonely hillside. The music was playing in the distance as he put the same roses in the same vase on the same headstone. He was tracing the letters, trying desperately to read the name, when a shrill sound caught his attention. This had never happened in the dream before. He turned to find the source of the noise, but he was alone. Except for the voice.

“Zach!”

He jerked up in bed when he heard Kendall’s scream. She was standing by the bed, shaking him. “What is that, Zach? What is that awful noise?” Zach’s mind immediately cleared and he jumped out of bed. “It’s the alarm,” he said as he ran for the door. “Alarm? What alarm?” Kendall asked. She was right on his heels, following him out the door, when he stopped. He took her hand and led her to the boys’ room. “Stay here,” he commanded. “Don’t come out of this room until I come and get you.”

Kendall wanted to argue, but she had two screaming children to comfort. She had no choice but to do as Zach asked. She tried to be brave for Spike and Ian, but she was scared to death. And she was mad as hell, too. When had Zach had an alarm system installed? And why didn’t he tell her?

Zach hurried down the stairs and found the front door standing wide open. He crept slowly toward it, searching the darkness for any sign of an intruder. But there was no one there. He turned off the alarm and sent the guards back to the front gate, frustrated that neither of them had seen anything.

After checking the downstairs area thoroughly, Zach made his way back upstairs. He checked the boys’ room, but it was empty, so he moved to his own bedroom. As he got closer, he could hear Ian chattering.

"It was a false alarm," he said as he swung the door open wide. "But didn't I tell you to ... what are you doing?" Zach stood in the middle of the room, unable to believe what he was seeing. Kendall, fully dressed, was standing at the foot of the bed stuffing clothes into a suitcase.


TBC


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Reply with quote  #19 

Thanks for another chapter Karen.  It was much needed in the drought of Zach-less days we are going through.  Have lots of fun at SSW


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Thanks for anothe great chapter!!!
Really appreciate it!!!
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Thanks for another intriguing chapter, Karen.  Enjoy SSW!

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I had a great time at SSW and even managed a little beard time with the hottie himself (thanks to a generous friend and a framed jersey). So I have a new excuse for the late update ... I've been floating on a cloud and it took me this long to touch ground.



Chapter 5

“Going somewhere?”

Zach watched as Kendall continued to fill the suitcase that sat open on their bed. She didn’t look up at him when he spoke; instead she went to the dresser for another handful.

“Kendall?”

Still nothing. She was angry, he could see that. But she apparently had no intention of telling him why. He moved close enough to pick up Ian and took Spike by the hand. Kendall was oblivious to any of them. She was a woman on a mission.

After putting the boys back to bed, Zach returned to the bedroom to find Kendall still busily packing. She had emptied two drawers and was half-way through the third one when he reached out and touched her. She shrugged him off and continued what she was doing, mindless of what she was picking up.

Zach noticed that she was now packing his clothes and wondered if she was even aware of it. Just who did she think was leaving? He called her name again, but she ignored him, so he stepped forward and grabbed her wrists.

“Kendall!” he said, forcing her to stop and look at him. “Talk to me.” Kendall glared at him. He could see the fury in her eyes. Suddenly she jerked away from him and looked around.

“Where are the boys?” She was across the room and out the door before he could catch her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her roughly against him, lifting her off her feet so he could carry her back to their bedroom.

“They’re in bed, where they belong. Why don’t you tell me what this is all about.” “What’s it about?” she screamed. “It’s about you being a liar, Zach. It’s about you never telling me a damn thing. It’s about you hiring bodyguards and installing alarms, all in secret, as if I have no right to know. How many times, Zach? How many times have I told you how much I hate secrets? Well, I’m through begging you to include me. You want to fly solo? Fine! I’m outta here … and I’m taking the boys with me!”

“Like hell you are!” Zach’s voice was louder than she’d ever heard it. He was not a man prone to yelling. His kind of power didn’t need noise, it demanded quiet. It was one of the things she admired about him. But enough was enough. She wasn’t one of his employees, she was his wife. And she was tired of the surprises.

“Zach, I warned you what would happen if you continued keeping things from me. I’m tired of being the last person to know anything around here. I’ve had enough. Do you hear me? Enough!” She turned away from him so he wouldn’t see the tears that had started to fall. She hated saying those words out loud. And she hated even more the look on her husband’s face. But, dammit, she didn’t want to have this fight anymore. Something had to change, one way or another.

“Kendall,” he said again, this time much softer. She still refused to face him. After a minute, she heard him go into the closet and get another suitcase. She turned to find him piling his clothes into it.

”What are you doing,” she asked wearily. He was tempted to ignore her the same way she’d ignored him, but he knew that would be petty. “I’m packing,” he said matter-of-factly. “Why?” He looked up at her. “Because you are. You don’t honestly think I’m going to let you and the boys leave here without me, do you?” Kendall sighed.

“It doesn’t work that way, Zach. You are the reason I’m leaving. You can’t come with me.” Zach stopped what he was doing and walked over to her. “I see. You can run away, but I can’t. Do you really think you can hide from me, Kendall? Don’t you know I’ll go to the ends of the earth to find you?”

“I’m not trying to hide from you. I just need to get away.” “From me.” “From the lies! I can’t do this anymore, Zach. I can’t have a husband who doesn’t trust me.” Kendall closed the suitcase and dropped heavily onto the bed beside it. She buried her face in her hands in hopes he wouldn’t see her crying, but the room was so quiet, the sound of her sobs was impossible to ignore. She wondered if he was still in the room.

“I do trust you,” he said at last, his voice a hoarse whisper. The pain she heard tore at Kendall’s heart. She looked up to find him standing right in front of her. Her anger was gone, replaced by sadness. She wanted to reach out to him, but this was too important. She’d come too far to cave in now.

“No you don’t. Not really,” she said. “You trust me with the same things you trust everybody else with. But when it really matters, you shut me out. It makes me feel like such a fool, Zach. I wish I could make you understand.”

He sat down beside her, but made no attempt to touch her. “I’ve told you things I’ve never told another living soul. I trusted you with my secrets, my failures … my biggest regrets. I trusted you with my heart, Kendall. Are you telling me that’s not enough?” Kendall’s resolve vanished. She placed her hand over his heart and looked into his eyes.

“Your heart is my most prized possession, Zach. But I also need you to trust me with your mind. Tell me what you’re doing … what you’re thinking. I’m a good listener. And you just may find out that I can be very helpful.” Zach smiled in spite of himself. The image of Kendall trying to pick the lock on his desk flashed through his mind. He nodded his head and placed his hand over hers on his chest.

“Okay,” he whispered. “Okay what?” Kendall prodded, refusing to let this end without a solid resolution. Zach tilted his head and stared at her as he chewed his lip. With a deep breath, he relented. “Okay I won’t keep anything from you.” “You’ll tell me everything?” “Everything. You want to know what I had for lunch today, or is that…?” Kendall covered his mouth with her hand.

“No more keeping secrets under the guise of protecting me?” she said evenly. Zach groaned, but offered her his hand. “It’s a deal,” he said. Kendall shook it, and then brought it to her lips. “Do you want to help me unpack?” she asked, laughing at the disgruntled look on Zach’s face. “Cheer up, honey,” she added. “Talking to your wife won’t be so bad. You might even learn to like it.” Zach mumbled something she couldn’t hear as he unzipped her suitcase.

As he started unloading it, he noticed that most of what she packed was from her lingerie drawer. “Hmmmm … I didn’t know this was what you had in mind, Kendall. Maybe we should go after all.” He dangled a pair of lacy panties from his finger. “I think these would go really well with this,” he said, holding up one of his faded t-shirts. Kendall threw a pillow at him, laughing when he caught it just inches from his face.

When they were lying in bed later, both exhausted from make-up sex, Zach pulled Kendall into his arms and lowered his head so he could whisper in her ear. “Don’t ever threaten to leave me again,” he said, almost angrily. The tone of his voice sent a chill down Kendall’s spine. She looked into his eyes and saw the depth of his emotions … love, desperation, fear. It took her breath away. She thought it was the sexiest thing he’d ever said to her.

Despite the fact that only minutes earlier she’d been too tired to move, now she had energy to spare. She pulled him down on top of her, whispering promises and vowing her love. When they kissed, it was with a renewed understanding … a renewed commitment. And they both felt it to their soul.

-------------------------

“I want to see the surveillance tape.”

Zach looked up from his morning paper to find Kendall standing over him, a look of steely determination on her face. She knew he was going to refuse her, or at least try to talk her out of it, but she was not going to be deterred.

“Sure.”

Zach fought to hide his smile when he saw the look on Kendall’s face. She was clearly not expecting that answer. He almost wished he’d said no, just to see what she would have done.

“Um … okay. That was easy,” Kendall said as she sat next to him on the sofa. “Is this because I threatened to leave you last night, or do you really not mind if I see it?” The shadow that crossed Zach’s face made Kendall regret her words. He was still upset by what she did, and she hated herself for that. But she couldn’t argue with the results.

“Don’t, Kendall,” he said in a voice filled with emotion. She could hear the sadness, but she also heard anger. She knew she had scared him, probably more than she thought possible. She’d found her big, strong husband’s Achilles’ heel, and she vowed never to use it against him. She’d spent the rest of last night promising him she would never go away. Wrapping her arm around his shoulders, she kissed him gently. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Can I fix you some breakfast before we go?” she asked brightly, hoping to change the mood. She didn’t want to relive their argument. She just wanted to move past it. They had talked well into the night and everything was resolved. He understood her need to know and she understood why it was so difficult for him to open up about things. In the end, they were stronger and more in love than ever.

“Are you threatening me?” Zach teased. He also wanted to shake off the bad feelings and start the day off on a happier note. Hearing Kendall laugh made it a lot easier. She pretended to be offended, but he knew better. She was praying he wouldn’t take her up on her offer.

Zach stood up and offered Kendall his hand. “Come on, we’ll grab something on the way.” She couldn’t resist the urge to kiss him one more time before heading to the door.

-------------------------

“She’s obviously wearing a wig. And not a very good one. But those shoes are Manolo Blahniks. Very nice, and very expensive. So is the handbag. You can’t buy that bag in Pine Valley.” Kendall was poring over the grainy surveillance video like a scientist with a microscope. “Whoever our girl is, she’s got deep pockets. And great taste.”

Zach was impressed, but not surprised. He had complete faith in Kendall’s fashion sense. He just didn’t know if any of this information would get them any closer to identifying the woman on the tape. “What else,” he said, leaning closer so he could see over her shoulder.

“Well, see how she keeps looking around? She’s afraid somebody is going to recognize her, don’t you think? Why else would she seem so nervous? That proves that she is somebody you know, but not somebody you would expect to run into at the casino.” Zach nodded. “Good point,” he said. He leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “So she wore a disguise but was still afraid I would know her. But I thought that was the point … getting me to recognize her.”

“Yes, but on her terms,” Kendall said. “Which reminds me,” she added as she moved to sit behind the desk. She pulled open the drawer where he kept the gifts he’d received and inventoried the contents. “Anything new?” she asked as she started putting things on the desk. “Aha! This wasn’t here before.” She held up a new bottle of expensive cologne.

“Oh, really,” Zach said, reaching for it. “Are you sure?” “Zach! If you put on that cologne …” Kendall warned, lunging for the bottle. Zach held it away from her. “What? I’m just looking at it.” He stopped teasing her when he could see that she was becoming upset. “Kendall, you know I wouldn’t. I only keep these things around because they might provide clues. “Don’t you know what my favorite scent is?” he asked, waiting while she put the cologne back into the drawer. When she shook her head, he came around the desk and leaned into her so he could whisper in her ear. “You.”

“You’re a flirt, do you know that?” Kendall said, but only after she’d gifted him with a kiss. “Me? I am not! Well, maybe. But only with my wife.” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “Just keep it that way. No matter how much money or style this woman may have, she’s no match for me!” “Damn right.”

Just as Zach was warming to their new topic, Kendall pulled away from him and hurried over to the couch. “There it is!” she cried. She picked up a teddy bear dressed as a hockey player and waved it at Zach. “We looked all over the house for this! Spike was so upset this morning because he didn’t have his bear. Why did you bring it here?”

Zach took the bear from her, his frown intensifying. “I didn’t,” he said. “What do you mean? Of course you did,” she said. Zach looked up at her and shook his head slowly. “Then who … ?” Kendall gasped when the truth hit her. “Oh my God, Zach! Was that woman in our house?”

Zach thought back to the false alarm from the night before. Apparently it hadn’t been so false after all. The thought made him coldly furious. He immediately called Bruno and demanded that he not only fire Jimmy, but that he replace him personally until Zach could make other arrangements. His mind was going in a thousand different directions, but he stopped short when he saw the look of terror on Kendall’s face.

He pulled her into his arms and held her tight, promising her that everything was going to be okay. After a moment of stunned silence, Kendall jumped into action. While Zach spoke to his assistant about how somebody could have gotten into is office without her seeing them, Kendall called Rachel to be sure the boys were okay.

When she turned back to Zach, she found him sitting behind his desk, opening a large envelope that had just been delivered. She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t happy about what he was seeing. He looked up at her and she felt her knees buckle. She recognized that look in his eyes. She’d seen it just the night before. Fear. Zach Slater was scared to death.

“What is it?” she asked as she ran to him on shaky legs. “Show me, Zach.” Even though his first instinct was to protect her from it, he quickly pushed that thought aside. Instead he spread the pictures out on the desk for her to see. There were four pictures of Spike and Ian, sleeping in their beds. It appeared to be the middle of the night since they were both wearing pajamas. In one of the pictures, Spike could be seen holding the bear that was now lying in a heap on the floor of Zach’s office.

Kendall looked over at the bear, then grabbed the picture and started to rip it into pieces. Zach stopped her before she got too far. “Wait,” he said, gently removing it from her hand. “There’s something on the back.” He flipped it over and put the pieces back together so he could read the message that was written there:

I was thinking of using this photographer for our wedding, Zach. The boys seem okay with it. What do you think?


TBC


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Ann

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Reply with quote  #23 
OMG Karen! I have been patiently waiting (OK....I've been stalking, you know I have no patience. LOL) for an update.
Thank you so much.....I love it!!!

And you only get off my list because you had such a good excuse for the delay. This time. LOL

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Thank you so much for the great udate!!! And yes, you had a really good excuse but please update again real soon. This story is great!!!

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great update. update soon

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Great Chapter, Karen...looking forward to the next chapter.  Can't wait to see who the "mystery" gal is..
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Reply with quote  #27 
Hey, you've never gone this long without an update!!  What gives??

I mean, I know you were probably very busy with the holidays, but hello . . . they are over now!!

Time for an update . . . please??

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Reply with quote  #28 
  Me too!! I'm really into this story and anxiously awaiting more of it. Please, please, please.
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Sooooooo sorry for taking so long to update. I wish I had a good excuse. Um ... let's say it was the holidays. Yes! The holidays. Oh no, wait. Work! It was work. That's why I didn't get here sooner. Busy at work. (Have I used that one already?)




Chapter 6

“Did you hear that?” Kendall picked up the baby monitor that sat on her bedside table. There was nothing but silence, but it didn’t put her mind at ease. Something had caused her to wake from a restless sleep. Her mind tortured her with a dozen horrifying possibilities.

Zach pulled Kendall back down beside him without ever opening his eyes. It had been more than a week since they’d received the pictures of Spike and Ian, but Kendall hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since. Despite all the precautions they’d taken, she still couldn’t relax.

Not that Zach blamed her. He’d spent the first two nights sitting in the living room in a chair facing the door, almost wishing for their unwanted visitor to return. But all was quiet. No gifts and no messages. The waiting was putting them both on edge.

“It’s okay, Kendall. There’s nobody there,” he said sleepily. Actually, he was far from asleep. But he knew Kendall needed to believe he had total confidence in their new security system, so he pretended. Anything to make his family feel safe. Anything to make sure they were safe.

Kendall fought the urge to climb out of bed and go check on her boys. It had become an almost hourly ritual for her, but she’d vowed that tonight would be different. She was determined to take back the peace she had always felt in her own home. Their home. She wouldn’t let anybody steal that from her or her family.

“You want me to go this time?” Zach asked as he finally opened his eyes to look at her. He could tell she was torn. She wanted to refuse the offer. She wanted to be strong enough to trust that they were safe. But she also wanted more than anything to know they were safe … to see it with her own eyes. She bit her lip and looked at him, the fear evident in her eyes.

“Come on, we’ll go together,” Zach said as he threw back the covers and reached for her hand. Kendall sighed with relief and followed him to the door. Before stepping out into the hallway, Zach looked in both directions, squinting into the darkness. Once he was satisfied that everything was normal, he pulled Kendall out behind him.

They paused outside the boys’ room while Zach entered the alarm code, then crept inside. Zach stopped when he felt Kendall grip his arm. “Why is it so dark in here, Zach? What happened to their nightlight?” Zach froze. He immediately turned to be sure the door was closed, then pushed Kendall into the corner where he had strategically placed a baseball bat.

As soon as he felt his fingers close around it he told her to “wait here” and walked silently across the room to where Spike and Ian were sleeping. Both boys were resting peacefully, not even aware their parents were in the room. Spike was still holding the new toy sports car Kendall had bought him (“Just like daddy’s”) and Ian was clutching the stuffed bunny that had once been a gift to Spike from his Grandma Erica. Spike had loaned it to his younger brother once when he was sick, and now the boy refused to give it back.

Zach let out the breath he’d been holding and turned to tell Kendall it was okay when he bumped into her. She looked defiant, daring him to chastise her. Little did she know, that was the last thing on his mind. He wanted to laugh at her and kiss her at the same time. This was the woman he married, and it was so good to see the fire in her eyes again. He didn’t laugh, but he did kiss her. Then he pulled her in front of him and they stood in silence for several minutes and watched their precious sons as they slept.

Kendall suddenly remembered the nightlight and walked over to investigate. The famous winged logo was lying on the floor right in front of the plug. Kendall checked to be sure it wasn’t broken, then plugged it in, blinking against the sudden glare. “Huh,” she grunted, turning to Zach. “Wonder how that happened?” As soon as the words crossed her lips the fear crept back into her eyes. Zach immediately started shaking his head.

“Don’t get carried away, Kendall,” he said, keeping his voice low. “But,” she began, only to be interrupted. “I mean it. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. Look around. The boys are safe. The alarm was still set, remember? Nobody could have gotten in without us hearing it. Nobody.” She didn’t look convinced. “So how did the light get unplugged?” she asked, sounding combative, but really hoping he would have a reasonable explanation.

“Who knows?” he said with a shrug. “Maybe the boys got out of bed after we left them. Maybe the nightlight is defective and it fell from the socket. There are a hundred possible explanations.” Kendall walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain, careful not to set off that alarm. There was no sign that the window or the alarm sensor had been tampered with. Besides, they were on the second floor. Nobody could have come in through the window.

“See,” Zach said behind her. “Nothing. Nobody was in here. It’s not possible.” Kendall stared out the window for a long minute before answering. “Give me one more.” When he didn’t answer, she qualified. “You give me one more logical explanation for how this light came unplugged and we’ll go back to bed. Otherwise, I’m staying right here.”

Zach tilted his head and studied her. After long consideration, he reached down and lifted Spike into his arms. “Let’s go,” he said. Kendall scooped up Ian and hurried after him, smiling at his retreating back.

While Kendall got the boys settled, Zach went through the house checking for any sign of an intruder. He found nothing. After a brief conversation with the security guard outside, he went back upstairs and joined his family. On a hunch, he bypassed the alarm code and jerked open the locked door, breaking the knob off in his hand. The shrieking alarm sent both Kendall and the security guard running. Zach commended the guard and sent him on his way, then turned to face the wrath of an angry wife and two crying children.

“Kendall,” he began, I had to be sure …”

-------------------------

The next day, Kendall found him installing a new doorknob on their bedroom door. “Did you get the extra-strength one?” she joked. Zach smiled, but didn’t turn from what he was doing. Determined to get his undivided attention, she moved closer and nibbled on his earlobe. He still didn’t look at her, but he did tilt his head to give her better access. Undeterred, she moved to the other side, this time tracing his ear with her tongue. He growled, but otherwise ignored her.

Now more determined than ever, Kendall moved behind him, snaking her hands across his back and around to his chest. When she grabbed his shirt and ripped it open, not only did the buttons go flying, but she got what she wanted: Zach gasped. But her joy was short-lived when she saw why he was gasping. He’d cut his hand when the screwdriver he was using slipped.

“Oh, Zach!” she cried, taking his bleeding hand into hers to see how serious the cut was. While he protested, she used her shirt to wipe away the trickle of blood. “Use mine,” he said dryly. “It’s already ruined.” Kendall looked at him and he could see that she was more than just concerned, she was embarrassed. “Honey,” he soothed as he tried to pull his hand from hers, “don’t worry about it. I never really liked this shirt anyway,” he added, hoping to get a smile. He got more than that … he got a laugh. But she still wouldn’t let go of his hand.

“Be serious, Zach,” she said, despite her own laughter. “You’re hurt. You might need stitch-“ Before she could finish, Zach had jerked his hand from hers and was wiping the fresh blood on his own shirt. “I don’t.” After several minutes of arguing, the Slaters reached a compromise. Nurse Kendall would see to his injury. So with all the drama the situation required, Kendall sat beside Zach on the bed and opened the first aid kit. He refused the Spiderman Band-Aids, but he did let her put some Neosporin on it. Then she kissed his “boo boo” and returned the first aid kit to the bathroom.

When she came back into the room, she found him waiting for her. He pulled her into his arms and mumbled something about another “boo boo” she could kiss, but they were interrupted before he even had a chance to kiss her. The sound of an alarm coming from the boys’ room sent them both running.

They rounded the corner and stopped short, relieved to find Rachel standing in front of the window looking mortified. Spike and Ian were nowhere to be seen. “I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Slater. It’s such a beautiful day out, I thought the boys would like the fresh air, but I totally forgot about the alarm.”

The explanation seemed good enough for Zach, but Kendall wasn’t so quick to accept it. She had never had a reason to mistrust Rachel; quite the contrary in fact. She trusted her with the most precious things in her life. So what was bothering her now? She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. There was no reason to be suspicious of Rachel. She would never do anything to hurt the boys. She loved them.

Kendall watched as Zach reset the alarm. She hated those damned alarms. They made her feel like a prisoner in her own home. What was supposed to make her feel safer, just made her feel more trapped. She shivered when a gust of wind came through the window. What was Rachel thinking? It was too cold for an open window.

“Where are they?” she asked. Zach answered. “In the closet.” Kendall walked over and opened the door, surprised to find them huddled together in the corner. Neither of them was crying, but they both looked scared. The sight broke her heart. She didn’t want her babies to have to deal with this and she hated seeing them afraid.

As soon as they saw her, they ran to her. Well, Spike ran. Ian did the best he could. Zach plucked him up mid-crawl and hugged him, whispering something only they could hear. Kendall smiled at the way Ian laughed at his father. Just that quickly, his fears were forgotten. If only she could forget that easily. Before she could ask, Zach explained.

“That’s what Spike does when he’s scared. He hides in the closet. Haven’t you noticed?” Kendall nodded and hugged him tighter. “I’m sorry, Spikey. Mama’s here now and I won’t let anybody hurt you or your brother.” She smiled at the way her oldest son patted her shoulder. Just who was comforting whom?

-------------------------

Zach was standing on the hillside, his face turned into the wind. The song was there, fainter than usual, but he was still able to recognize it. It was darker than usual. He looked up and watched as a heavy storm cloud rolled in and blocked the sun, taking with it any traces of warmth. Zach turned up his collar and got on with the business at hand. He placed the roses in the vase and knelt down to trace the letters that were etched into the stone, still unable to read what it said.

This was usually when he woke up, but this time he didn’t. He continued to trace the letters until his fingers started to bleed, but the words wouldn’t form. Frustrated, he stood up and shoved his hands into his pockets. The loneliness was crushing. He waited to hear her voice, the one that always called to him, but there was no sound except the wind in the trees and the relentless song. Where was she? He needed her to wake him up. He couldn’t take the sadness anymore. He could feel it washing over him, drowning him. Dragging him down to a place he knew he would never escape.

Suddenly, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to find a woman standing in the shadow of a large oak tree. He couldn’t see her face because she had her back to him, watching something beyond the hill. He called out to her and she turned to face him, clearly surprised to see him there. Since she made no effort to move closer, Zach went to her. He called out to her again and this time she started walking away from him. That’s when he saw what she’d been watching: two small children. But where did they come from?

He called again, but she continued to move away from him, walking faster now. Running, Zach caught up to her and spun her around. It was Rachel! The scream died in his throat as he realized who the children were.

“Rachel!” he cried, bounding out of bed.

Kendall beat him to the door. “Zach, what’s wrong?” she asked, standing in front of him so he couldn’t leave the room. “Was it the dream?” Zach shook his head, but didn’t answer her questions. The look on his face terrified her.

“Zach!” she cried. “Tell me what’s wrong. You’re scaring me!” Those words, coupled with the fear he saw in her eyes, broke Zach out of his trance. After rubbing his hands roughly over his face in agitation, he took a deep breath and tried to clear his head. He walked back over to the bed and Kendall followed him.

“It was the same dream, but different,” he said at last. “It’s like I knew I was dreaming and I was waiting for the voice – your voice – to wake me up. But you weren’t there. Someone else was,” he added, his voice foreboding.

“Rachel?” Kendall offered, her face a mask of confusion. “Was Rachel in your dream, Zach? Was that the name on the tombstone?” Zach shook his head. “I still couldn’t read the name.” He glanced down at his fingers, expecting to find them bloodied, but there was no sign of trauma except the remnants of his battle with the screwdriver. “But I saw a woman in the distance and I called out to her. As I got closer, I could see she was watching two children who were playing in the grass. They were too far away for me to recognize, but I did recognize the woman, Kendall. It was Rachel.” Kendall’s heart dropped into her stomach.

“Oh my God, Zach! What does it mean?” She had gone from holding Zach’s hand to pacing around the room like a caged animal in a matter of seconds. “Should we be scared for her, or of her?” She picked up the baby monitor out of habit and listened to the sounds of her boys sleeping. Then she turned back to Zach for answers. Only he didn’t have any.

“I’m not sure.”

“I knew something wasn’t right about her, Zach. I got a bad vibe when she set off the alarm in the boys’ room the other day. It was freezing cold outside! Why on earth would she want to open the window?” Zach nodded, but he didn’t seem convinced.

“Yeah, that is strange. But Rachel would never hurt the boys, Kendall. Why would she? She’s been there from the beginning. We’ve trusted her all this time.” He held out his hand to her, silently beckoning her to come back to bed. She came closer, but she still didn’t sit down.

“Zach, whoever is doing this has never threatened the boys,” she said. “They’re after you … or maybe me … or maybe both of us. But not Spike and Ian. Why couldn’t it be Rachel? Maybe she’s in love with you.”

Zach grunted. “She’s not. And she’s way too young to know that song.” He looked up at her. “Could she afford those gifts on her salary?” Kendall could see that he wasn’t as confident in her innocence as he professed. She sat down beside him with a dramatic sigh.

“No, she couldn’t. Unless she’s been saving up for this.” She laid her head on Zach’s shoulder and accepted the comfort he gave. She always felt safe in his arms, and this time was no exception. She suddenly felt so tired. This was all becoming too much for her. First she has her house wired with alarms. And now she’s trying to decide if the woman she has trusted with her children for their entire lives is the same woman who has been stalking her husband. It was so ridiculous it was almost funny. Almost.

“I don’t know what to think, Zach,” she said. “It couldn’t possibly be Rachel … could it? She’s practically a member of the family. Could a woman who calls you ‘Mr. Slater’ have some secret fantasy about you two being together? I mean, it is kinda textbook, now that I think about it. It’s tv-movie stuff.”

“But this isn’t a movie,” Zach said evenly.

“No, it’s a soap opera!” Kendall laughed, only the laughter never reached her eyes.

“Tell you what,” Zach said as he coaxed her back into bed. “Why don’t we talk about it in the morning.” Only after promising to check on the boys was he able to convince her to go back to bed. Minutes later, he followed her. But neither of them got much sleep.

Across town, someone else was also awake. She switched off the monitor so she could finish up the details on the next gift for her groom-to-be. She’d taken care of the invitations and the venue, and she’d even booked the photographer. And now she had these. Of course she’d had the dress for months now. She ran her hands over the delicate lace, knowing she shouldn’t be wearing it again. She was playing with fire. But she couldn’t resist the urge to try it on again. She pulled her hair up and imagined how she would wear it on their big day. What kind of flowers would she be holding? Flowers! She’d forgotten about the flowers. She jotted herself a quick note before wrapping Zach’s gift. Then, after blowing a kiss to the picture of him she kept in her bedroom, she slipped off the dress and crawled into bed. If everything went according to plan, tomorrow would be an explosive day!

-------------------------

“I want to install a camera in the boys’ room.” Kendall glanced up from her coffee, not sure if she’d heard her husband correctly. He was looking through a catalog the security company had given him. He held it up and pointed to something, but she couldn’t tell what it was. “You mean like a nanny-cam?” she asked. He nodded.

“Are we spying on Rachel?” she continued, setting her coffee aside so she could take the book he was offering. “Uh-huh,” Zach grunted. “But we’ll also be able to check on the boys at night without wearing a groove in the floor.” “So the baby monitor gets an upgrade,” Kendall mused as she browsed through the pages. “Exactly,” Zach agreed. “It’s just a precaution. Just to be safe. We can’t afford to take any chances with the boys.”

“What kind of chances?”

Both Zach and Kendall looked up to find Rachel standing in front of them, holding a box. Kendall was the first to recover. “Oh, Rachel,” she said, “I didn’t hear you come in. Aren’t you a little early?” Rachel nodded. “Yes ma’am. My car’s in the shop so I had to come when I could get a ride. My boyfriend dropped me off on his way to work. What were you saying about taking chances?” she asked sheepishly, looking back and forth between them. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Zach said casually, smiling as he offered her a cup of coffee. “No thank you, Mr. Slater. I had a cup on the way over.” Kendall watched her closely to see how she interacted with Zach. Did she linger? Did she stare a little too long? Did she look for any excuse to touch him or engage him in conversation? Kendall had to admit that Rachel wasn’t doing any of those things. If anything, she seemed nervous around Zach. But was that normal? She honestly couldn’t remember.

“What’s in the box?” Kendall asked. “Something for the boys?” Rachel blushed. “Oh no … I mean, I totally forgot … I found this at the front door when I came in. I meant to give it to you before.” She handed the box to Zach. “It’s addressed to you, Mr. Slater.” Zach took the package and laid it on the table. “What do you mean it was at the front door? Wasn’t there a guard?” The young girl nodded. “Yes sir, the guard was there. He was coming up the driveway when we pulled up. And there was also one at the gate.” Zach cursed. Was he going to have to fire more security guards today?

Kendall diverted his attention when she asked him to open the box. He glanced up at Rachel and then back to Kendall. She picked up on his cue and realized he didn’t want to open it in front of Rachel, so she decided to send the girl on an errand.

“Rachel, honey, can you please go and pick up some milk. I promised the boys chocolate milk with their breakfast and we don’t have a drop in the house.” Rachel immediately agreed. She turned to go, then remembered her car. “Um, I don’t have a way, Mrs. Slater. My car’s in the shop.” Kendall jumped to her feet. “Of course. You can take my car, okay?” When the girl nodded she tossed her the keys and walked her to the kitchen door. “Thanks, Rachel,” she said as she closed the door behind her.

“Okay, she’s gone. Now open it.” Zach pulled the ribbon from the box and lifted the lid to reveal a photo album. He picked it up and ran his fingers over the words inscribed at the top. “Happily Ever After,” they read in unison. Zach looked at Kendall and saw the same dread in her eyes that he knew must be evident in his. “Open it,” Kendall urged.

Zach laid the book on the table and turned the first page. There was a picture of him and Kendall on their wedding day. He remembered the exact moment it had been taken by the steward he had asked to take a few pictures “for the bride.” In this one, he and Kendall were facing each other, holding hands, just after the captain declared them man and wife. It was a moment Zach would never forget. Only in this picture, Kendall’s face was gone, replaced with a gaping black hole.

Kendall gasped. Zach cursed. He flipped through the pages and found more of the same. Dozen’s of photos of his family, all with Kendall cut out of them. It was obvious that most of the pictures had been taken while they were out as a family - in the park or at a restaurant, even some of them in their own front yard. But where would this person have gotten a picture of them on their wedding day?

Zach leapt from the table to see if any pictures were missing from the living room when he heard the tiny ping of something hitting the floor. “What was that?” Kendall asked. She’d been right on his heels when they heard it, so he had to reach out and grab her to keep from knocking her down when he turned around. They both looked on the floor to see what had dropped. Kendall spotted it first.

“What the hell is that!” she said, pointing to the tiny ring Zach now held in his hand. “It appears to be a wedding band,” Zach said flatly. He picked up the note that came with the package and read it aloud.

One step closer to our big day, Zach. Please keep this in a safe place until then. I have yours on a chain around my neck so I can keep it close to my heart.

Kendall snatched the note from his hand and read it again. “How dare she! Who is this crazy bitch, Zach?” Before he could answer, she took the ring from him and started toward the trash can. She froze in the middle of the kitchen, her head down and her shoulders slumped in defeat. Within seconds she was crying. Zach hurried over to her, but she was beyond words. She handed him the ring and pointed out the inscription: Always. Only you.

Before Zach could respond, they heard a loud explosion coming from the front of the house.


TBC

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zendall44

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Thank you Karen for the new chapter.  I'll accept any excuse!  Great update!


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Micki
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Thanks, Karen.

Purdue0612

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Thanks Karen ..I really missed this story.

Roseann

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Karen, you should be writing the s/l for AMC!!  Thanks for another great chapter.
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Chapter 7

Zach handed Kendall a cup of tea and then joined her on the couch, opting for two fingers of scotch for himself. Rachel’s funeral had been a sad affair, made worse by the guilt they both felt. And Jesse Hubbard hadn’t helped. His constant questions added to their frustration and their sense of responsibility. So far they’d managed to put him off, but Zach knew the chief wouldn’t let the matter drop.

Kendall couldn’t get the image of Rachel’s mother from her mind. Her sobs as they lowered her daughter’s casket into the ground broke Kendall’s heart. She knew it was a sound she would never forget. Her own feelings of loss were mixed with guilt and anger. She knew she wasn’t responsible for what happened to their employee and friend. But it was her car, and obviously an explosion that was meant for her, not Rachel. And to make matters worse, hadn’t she spent that very morning trying to decide if Rachel could even be trusted? She took a sip of her tea and leaned back against Zach.

“You okay?” he asked as he carefully pulled her closer to him. Kendall nodded, but remained quiet. “You want to talk about it?” he prodded when the silence lingered. He could tell something was bothering her, something besides sadness. The last few days had been so hectic; they hadn’t had a chance to talk. And there was much to talk about. The ramifications of that explosion were mind-boggling. But the needs of others had come first.

The Slaters insisted on paying for Rachel’s funeral. In fact, Kendall had spent a lot of time with her mother the day of the explosion. Even though they had never met, they could easily share their pain, both as mothers and as women who cared about Rachel.

Zach and Kendall told the boys together. Ian was too young to understand, and maybe Spike was too. When Kendall told him that Rachel had “gone away,” he assumed it meant she was in Paris with Aunt Bianca and Miranda. He was sad because she didn’t say goodbye to him, but he had no concept of what it meant to never see her again. When he asked Zach if he would help him write her a letter, his father agreed. It was so sweet that it made Kendall cry. With her mom’s permission, Kendall slipped the letter into Rachel’s closed casket.

“Kendall?” Zach’s voice brought her back to the present. She put the cup on the coffee table and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m fine. I just need a little quiet time with my husband. Is that okay?” Zach answered her with a soft kiss and a gentle squeeze. “Come here,” he said under his breath as he brought her even closer.

“I’m sorry, Zach,” she said softly. “For what?” She lifted her head to look at him. “I know the explosion had to bring back painful memories for you. For the little part of Alex that still lives inside you. It must have been an awful reminder of the day you had to die so you could live.”

Zach’s mind went back to that fateful day. He could still remember every detail … the sounds, the smells. The fear he’d felt. But also the freedom. “The smell of a burning car is one you never forget,” he said at last. “I’m sorry you had to witness it. But I didn’t die, Kendall. I wasn’t in the car. I chose my fate. Rachel had hers chosen for her.”

Kendall pulled his head down to hers and gave him a kiss. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without you. The boys and I … we’re so lucky to have you. If killing Alex gave birth to Zach, then I’m glad you had the courage to do it.” She rested her head on his chest. “I love you.”

Zach closed his eyes as a single tear slid down his face. “I love you too, Kendall. More than you’ll ever know.”

They sat that way for nearly an hour, enjoying the silence. Both tried to keep the thoughts in their heads at bay. Kendall had been struggling for days to figure out what it all meant, but Zach had a definite idea. The pieces were coming together, and the picture he was getting scared the hell out of him.

“It’s me isn’t it?” Kendall said, interrupting his thoughts. “Whoever is doing this wants to kill me?” Just hearing the words spoken out loud sent a chill down her spine. But the evidence was right in front of them. Some psycho starts sending Zach gifts, then starts planning a wedding. Problem is, Zach is already married. Solution? Get rid of his wife. It didn’t take a genius to see where this was going.

“What I can’t figure out is why?” Zach said, rubbing his face in frustration. “Why would somebody do this? All of a sudden she’s everywhere, but nowhere, all at the same time. What does she want?”

“You,” Kendall stated emphatically. She sat up so she could see his face. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?” For the first time she noticed how tired he looked. Between the stalker and the dream, sleep was almost impossible. How was he supposed to relax when there was somebody out there trying to destroy his family?

“It has to be more than that,” he said. He stood and walked over to the fireplace. His resolve not to think about it was gone. It was time to deal with this threat instead of waiting for it to go away. The rules had changed. The stakes were too high. What if Kendall hadn’t sent Rachel for milk? Or what if Spike or Ian had been in the car? No, the gloves were off. Zach was through playing defense. It was time for them to go on the offense.

“Why?” Kendall’s simple question disarmed him. He stared at her, unsure of how to answer. “It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that, Zach. Some woman out there wants what I’ve got. I can’t exactly blame her. Every woman should want what I’ve got.” Zach didn’t look convinced.

“Look, honey,” Kendall said as she walked over to him. “I’ve been there. I used to be one of those women who would see happy families and want that for myself. I’ve hated women I didn’t even know just because of the way their husband’s looked at them. It’s not pretty, I know. But it’s the truth.”

“But you didn’t try to kill them,” Zach replied dryly. “At least I’m assuming you didn’t.” Kendall smiled. “No, I didn’t. But it made me a lonely, bitter person. I was angry at the world for giving those people something it never gave me. Then I met you. Who knows what I would have become if you hadn’t shown up on my doorstep with a prenuptial agreement.” Zach smiled too. He remembered that day well.

“Okay, so you expect me to believe that some woman saw us together and decided I was such a perfect husband that she had to have me for herself? And all because of the way I looked at you? Come on now, Kendall.”

Kendall walked back to the couch and picked up her cup. “Laugh at me if you want, but I’m telling you that loneliness can drive people to do crazy things. Trust me, Zach. The issue here isn’t why, it’s who?” She took a sip of her tea and wrinkled her nose. “Cold,” she mumbled as she headed to the kitchen.

“Who what?”

They turned to find Greenlee standing in the doorway. She carried Ian in her arms and held Spike’s hand. When Kendall saw the boys she ran to greet them. Her brush with death made her appreciate what she had more than ever. She threw her arms around Ian and lifted him high in the air. When Zach took him from her, she knelt down to give Spike a hug. She smiled up at Greenlee and invited her to stay.

Greenlee had been an amazing help these last few days. Rachel’s absence meant Kendall was without a babysitter, and she felt it was too soon to bring in somebody new. Erica helped out when she could and so did Ryan. But Greenlee had been the one to really step up. She not only helped out with Spike and Ian, but she also covered for Kendall at work.

Kendall knew what a flake her sister could be, but she had really come through for her this time. She’d shown up that morning, just minutes after the explosion, her face ashen. She had come to bring some specs on their new line for spring and when she saw Kendall’s car on fire she’s suspected the worst. By the time the fire trucks arrived, she was calm, but it took a while before she would let Kendall out of her sight.

“So,” Greenlee prodded as she followed Kendall to the couch, “who what?” “Who?” Zach said. “What?” Kendall said at the same time. Greenlee looked back and forth between them. “That’s good. You two should take that on the road. Wanna tell me what I missed?” Zach looked at Kendall and shrugged.

“Let me get some more tea,” Kendall said on her way out of the room. “I’ll clue you in when I get back. Can I get anybody anything while I’m there?” “Ice cream!” Spike squealed. “You heard the man,” Zach added as he pretended to drop the boy. Spike’s giggles were contagious. Kendall found her sister mesmerized by the boys. She was glad to see that they had bonded. She really hoped the ugliness of the past year was behind them.

“How about you, Greenlee?” She laughed at the way her friend jumped. “Um, sure. I’ll take ice cream. Is it low fat?” “No!” they cried in unison. “Okay, okay. Geez, you really should take it on the road.”

Upon her return, Kendall gave Greenlee a breakdown of what she and Zach had been dealing with for the past couple of months. It honestly felt good to get it off her chest. She’d wanted to talk to Erica about it, but she knew it would just cause her to worry. And even worse, she’d try to fix it. Talking about it with somebody she trusted made her feel better.

“Oh my God, Kendall! Why didn’t you tell me this before? You need to go to the cops about this. You need protection … all of you,” she said, turning to include Zach. “I’ll protect her. Keeping this family safe is my job,” Zach said. He tried to keep his voice casual in front of the kids, but it was getting harder and harder to keep his temper in check. Greenlee nodded, but still pushed the issue.

“Maybe you should go away, just for a while,” she added when Kendall started shaking her head. “It’s not safe for you here.” Before Kendall could respond, Zach did. “No! Nobody is going anywhere. We don’t even know for sure if Kendall is the target. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe they thought it was my car. Or Rachel’s.” Greenlee laughed.

“Oh yeah, of course. I’m sure Rachel had a lot of enemies. Be realistic, Zach. Kendall is the target. She needs to get out of Pine Valley.” Zach was adamant. “Do you really think I would let anything happen to her? The safest place for her is with me. I don’t want to discuss it anymore.” “Me either,” Kendall interjected. “I appreciate your concern, Greenlee. But I’m not running away. I’m staying right here with Zach and our boys.”

Greenlee threw up her hands in defeat. “Fine. You win.” She stood up to leave. She hugged Zach and the boys and let Kendall walk her to the door. “You’re so stubborn,” she said as she hugged her best friend goodbye. “Be careful,” she added as she walked out the door.

-------------------------

“Here it is!” Kendall reached into her pocket and pulled out the wedding ring that had been delivered to Zach on the day of the explosion. She’d spent hours looking for it, totally forgetting that she’d stuck it in her pocket in her rush to get to Rachel. This must have been the first time she’d worn these jeans since then.

The feel of the warm metal in her fingers sent a cold chill through her. She wanted to throw it or bury it or grind it into dust. But she knew Zach wanted to keep it. He was determined that there had to be clues in the gifts. Kendall was equally determined to see them all destroyed.

Zach came into the room carrying a pink box. “I found the ring,” Kendall said as she placed it on the bedside table. Zach picked it up and inspected it. He shoved it into his pocket so Kendall wouldn’t have to look at it anymore. His plan was to take it to work and lock it in his desk with the other things, but Kendall had other plans. Before she could mention them, he handed her the box.

“Is it?” she began, but stopped when he nodded and sat down heavily beside her. “It is.” “Did you open it?” “Not yet. I thought we should open it together.” Kendall looked from the box to him. “Did you make sure it wasn’t ticking?” She was joking, but the look on Zach’s face told her he wasn’t in the mood for jokes. “I did,” he said flatly.

“Judging from the box, I think we both know what it is,” she said as she settled it on her lap and tentatively untied the string. “Probably,” Zach muttered. He leaned into her so he could get a better look and waited to see if they were right. They were. Kendall lifted back the lid to reveal a miniature wedding cake. It was three tiers high and fully decorated. There were no names on the cake, just a date: December 31, 2008.

Kendall was furious. She uttered an unladylike expletive and tore out of the room. Before Zach could catch her she’d marched downstairs and dumped the cake into the sink. Then she turned on the garbage disposal and proceeded to shove the cake, one hunk at a time, down the drain. Zach stood by and watched, somewhat stunned but not bothered in the least. He waited until there was no trace of the cake left before speaking.

“Feel better?” he asked. Kendall washed her hands before turning to lean against the counter. “Yes, actually. I do. That was a lot of fun!” Zach grinned at her. “I could tell.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want to taste it?” Kendall asked, returning his gaze. Zach pulled her into his arms. “I want to taste this,” he said as he lowered his head and brushed his lips against her. He was gentle at first, but soon became more demanding as the kiss deepened. Kendall broke the kiss and looked into his eyes. “Good answer,” she said.

She tried to move away from him, but his hand on her hip stopped her. He kissed her again, this one less demanding but still full of longing. “You trying to start something?” she asked when he pulled away from her but still didn’t release his hold. He raised one eyebrow and let his eyes sweep over her. “Uh-huh,” he growled. “You’re sexy when you’re mad. Even sexier when you’re jealous.”

Kendall gasped. “Jealous?” He nodded. “Zach Slater, I am NOT …” she began, but her argument ran out of steam. “Oh hell, maybe I am. But you’re not supposed to throw it in my face.” Zach laughed and let go of her. She walked over to the counter and picked up the box to toss it into the trash. When she turned it over, she found a note taped to the bottom of the box.

“Oh no,” she said with a sigh. She showed the note to Zach and began to read:

”This cake is as sweet as your kisses, Zach. For now, the cake is all I get, but soon that will change. We will be together and you will be all mine. I can’t wait for that day. My life began when you kissed me.”

“Well, she’s right about that,” Kendall said. “I’d take a kiss from you over a piece of cake any day.” “Even chocolate?” Zach teased, knowing her fondness for chocolate cake. Kendall surprised him. “Even chocolate. No contest,” she added as she reached up to kiss him. Zach kissed her again for the compliment and then turned his attention to the note.

“When you kissed me,” he repeated. That should narrow the field, don’t you think?” Kendall grunted. “Does it?” she said. “I’m guessing you’ve kissed a lot of women.” Zach resisted the urge to smile. This jealousy thing was a real turn-on. “Not that many. Since you’ve known me there has only been Maria, obviously,” he began. “Obviously,” Kendall said bitterly.

Zach ignored her as he started counting off names. “There was Julia, but you already know about that. And Dixie. But that didn’t count because it was fake.” “It wasn’t fake for her,” Kendall interjected. Again Zach ignored her. “Your mom, of course. But that’s on the cheek. I kissed Greenlee in the hole just to shut her up, and … who else?” “Isn’t that enough?” Kendall said. “Oh yeah, and Di. Now before I met you there was –“

“Di! When did you kiss Di?”

Zach didn’t dare laugh, although it was getting harder to keep a straight face. “I never told you about that?” Kendall folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of water, offering one to Kendall. She took it, but she didn’t open it. Instead she gripped it like she had plans to use it as a weapon. It didn’t escape Zach’s notice.

“It was a long time ago, the night of the fire,” Zach explained. Kendall waited for him to continue, still gripping the bottle tightly. “I was telling her that I’d fallen madly in love with my wife, and she was telling me how crazy she was about Tad Martin. Next thing I know we’re kissing. Strangest thing …” he said with a shake of his head.

Kendall relaxed her stance and put the bottle on the counter behind her. “Man, I thought I was the one with the sordid love life,” she mused aloud. “You’re a slut, Zach Slater!” Zach did laugh then. Kendall pretended to be serious, but he could see the twinkle in her eye.

“You’re one to talk,” he said. “You used to enjoy kissing Junior right in front of me. I think it was supposed to make me jealous.” He moved closer to Kendall, but not too close. The water bottle was still in reach. “Were you?” she asked. “Insanely.” Now it was Kendall’s turn to school her reaction. “And Ryan,” Zach continued. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to watch you kiss Ryan.”

“Ryan doesn’t count,” Kendall said. “Everybody counts,” Zach corrected. “And what about those two guys you kiss every day? See,” he said when she looked shocked. “You didn’t think I knew about them did you? My people are everywhere, Kendall.” She looked at him sheepishly. “Bruno and Otto promised they wouldn’t tell,” she said.

“Nice,” Zach laughed. “Real nice. I was talking about Spike and Ian, but if you wanna go there.” He threw up his hands and walked away. Kendall ran after him, following him all the way to the living room. She made herself comfortable beside him on the couch and then sent the conversation in a completely different direction.

“You forgot Aidan,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Zach bristled. He turned to her and she could see the pain in his eyes. She rebuked herself for mentioning it. Why did she keep punishing them both? “I didn’t forget,” he said. Kendall watched as the shadow of hurt left as quickly as it came. “But it doesn’t matter,” he said, “because I never kissed Aidan. And I’m the one whose kisses are sweeter than cake, remember.” He smiled at her and it broke her heart.

In that moment Kendall fell in love with him all over again. Even though the hurt was still evident, there was no condemnation. And in the end, here he was, trying to make her feel better.

“Kiss me, Zach.” He took her face in his hands and brought his lips to hers. Kendall closed her eyes against the myriad of emotions that the kiss evoked. Guilt. Anger. Fear. But also warmth and safety and peace … and most of all love. All-consuming, unconditional love. “Yours is the only kiss that will ever matter to me.”

“Can we do something?” Kendall asked suddenly. “Right here? Sure!” Zach replied, pulling off his jacket. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” she said as he buried his face in her neck. He mumbled something incoherent and tried to push her backward. Kendall waited until he had stretched out beside her to make her move. She reached into his pocket and pulled out the blasphemous ring he’d stashed there earlier.

“Wait, Kendall,” he rasped. “That’s not …” He didn’t know how it had happened, but Kendall was no longer with him on the couch. He watched her hurry from the room. “Wow … that’s … um,” he stammered. He stood up and poured himself a drink while he tried to figure out what had just happened. Within seconds Kendall was back, and she was carrying the photo album that had been delivered with the ring.

“What’s that for?” he asked. Kendall stopped in front of the fireplace. She ripped out one of the pages and tossed it onto the fire. Zach moved to stop her, but she held the book away from him.

“There’s no evidence here, Zach. Just more insults. Insults to me and you, and the life we’ve built together. It’s bad enough that she would send things to your office. But I won’t allow her things to litter our home. From now on, anything she sends to this house will be destroyed.” Zach stood silently, so she continued to plead her case. “I’d like to see all of the gifts destroyed, even the ones you have at the casino. But we can start with these.” She ripped out another page and threw it into the fire.

She was disappointed that Zach wasn’t helping, but at least he was no longer trying to stop her. She honestly didn’t understand why he wanted to hang on to all that junk. She knew it wasn’t ego. He wasn’t flattered by the attention. That’s not the kind of man he was. He sincerely believed there was evidence in that drawer. Kendall was skeptical, but she didn’t want to argue about it. She’d let him do what he wanted with that stuff. She would handle this. She started to rip out another page when Zach stopped her.

“Let me,” he said, his voice a gruff whisper. He took the book and tore out all the rest of the pages, one by one, and handed them to her. When the last page was gone, he tossed the book on the fire and held out his hand to Kendall. She knew exactly what he wanted and she didn’t hesitate to give it to him. He immediately dropped the ring into the fire and then turned to his wife.

He smiled and pulled her to him. When he had her safely in his arms, he dropped the façade and let his emotions show. He stared into the fireplace and watched as the last remnants of the book curled up and melted away. His anger felt like that fire. All consuming and ready to rage out of control. Only one thing kept him in control. Kendall. And he would die before he’d let anything happen to her.


TBC




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Purdue0612

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Thanks for updating again Karen!

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Thanks, Karen...for another great chapter.
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Chapter 8

Zach sat in the back of the limo, frustrated. He couldn’t see out the heavily tinted windows and he couldn’t get the driver to answer the phone. Even more disturbing than the fact that he had no idea where he was going, was the crushing sadness he felt. He’d never felt so alone in his life, and that was a significant realization. In the days after he’d faked his own death, loneliness has been his constant companion. Over the years, he’d learned to accept that companionship and not let it affect him. But that was before Kendall. Everything changed when he met her.

After another failed attempt to lower the window so he could see outside, Zach started banging on the tinted glass partition that separated him from the driver. He looked for something to break the glass with, but there was nothing. Even the bar was empty, which only added to his frustration. What he really needed was a drink and even that was denied him.

Suddenly the car eased to a stop and he heard the driver’s door open. Within seconds, his door swung open. Squinting against the glare of daylight, Zach climbed out of the car and looked around. He noticed that he was the first in a long line of limousines. People were milling around, but he couldn’t see their faces. He could hear sobbing, but he couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. He turned to his driver to ask where they were, but the man was gone.

Zach was led to the top of a hillside; a spot that he recognized all too well. He looked over at the large oak tree and pulled his collar up against the wind. Looking down, he saw the fresh dirt and reality hit him. It was a funeral. But whose? He closed his eyes for a moment to ward off the emptiness he felt, and when he opened them again everything had changed.

The crowd of people was gone, but he could still hear the sobbing. The dirt mound was also gone, replaced by grass. He now had roses in his hand and a tombstone at his feet. He began the familiar task of tracing the letters, only this time he was able to read the words:

Kendall Hart-Slater. Devoted wife and mother. We will miss you always.

That’s when he realized that he was the one crying. The noise died in his throat when he looked back at the tree and saw a woman standing there. She was facing him this time, and even from a distance he knew her immediately. It was Kendall. She held out her arms to him and he started to run to her. He ran and ran, but she never got closer. She was still so far away. He called to her, but she didn’t move. She just stood there with her arms outstretched and waited. Her voice reached him, carried by the wind.

“Zach.”

“I’m coming Kendall,” he cried. He stopped to catch his breath, then cursed when he looked down and saw the grave. He was exactly where he’d started. He looked up, and Kendall was gone. But he could still hear her voice calling out to him.

“Zach! Help me!”

Her voice was much closer now. As he fell to his knees, he saw that the grass was gone and the dirt was back. He could hear her begging him to help, but he couldn’t find her. His blood ran cold when he realized the voice was coming from the fresh grave. With his heart pounding, he started clawing through the dirt.

“Kendall!” he screamed as he continued to dig frantically. He dug until his fingers bled, but he wasn’t making any progress. He yelled her name over and over, but her voice had stopped. Now the only sound he heard was the howling wind and his own breathing as he gasped for every breath. He was just about to resume his digging when he heard what sounded like a car horn in the distance.

Zach awoke with a start. He was out of breath and covered in sweat. He laid there for a few seconds, thankful to be awake, before reaching for Kendall. She wasn’t there. With a groan, he sat up and walked over to the window and stared down at the traffic below. He was in New York City on business and the hotel he’d chosen came with a lot of street noise. For once, he didn’t mind.

He glanced at the clock and tried to decide if it was too late to call home. Kendall had wanted to come with him, but he’d talked her out of it because he knew he wouldn’t have any time to spend with her. Now he was regretting his decision. He needed her. Deciding it was too late, he peeled off his damp shirt and climbed back into bed. But he didn’t stay there long. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep without talking to Kendall. He needed to be sure she was okay. He smiled at the lie. He didn’t need to check on her, he needed her to chase the demons away.

“Hello,” she answered sleepily. Zach felt himself relaxing, amazed at the effect she still had on him. Just hearing her voice made everything better. “Zach? Is that you?”

“Yep,” he muttered. “Sorry to call so late. I just wanted to be sure everything was okay there.” He could tell from the noise coming through the line that she was sitting up in bed, positioning herself for a long talk. She’d seen through him that quickly.

“We’re fine,” she said casually. “How are things in the Big Apple? You just stumblin’ in?” He could hear the smile in her voice and it made him homesick. “What? Yeah, after I talked to you earlier I decided to hit a few clubs, have a drink or two. You know, it’s New York.” Kendall laughed.

“You should have waited a little longer to call if you wanted me to believe that, Zach. I can tell you’ve been asleep. I can hear it in your voice. You had the dream again, didn’t you?” Zach sighed and moved the phone to the other ear, clearly stalling.

“Does that grunt mean I’m right?” Kendall asked. “How about this,” she continued when he remained silent, “one grunt for yes, two for no.” Now it was Zach’s turn to laugh. “Yes. I had the dream, but I don’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to hear your sexy voice, that’s all.”

“Oh, well …” Kendall said, lowering her voice. “Why didn’t you say so? Do you want to know what I’m wearing?” she purred. Zach groaned again, but this time for a very different reason. “Don’t do that,” he pled. “Not when you’re so far away.”

“Whose fault is that?” she accused. “I believe I begged to go with you, but you didn’t want me. Remember?” “Oh, I wanted you,” he interjected. “I always want you. That’s why I thought it was a bad idea. I’m supposed to be here on business. Remember?” he added, mocking her tone.

“Yeah, yeah. I remember,” she said. “But you remember this. When you get home, I’m gonna have you begging.” She ruined the dark promise by giggling. Zach was utterly charmed. “Promise?” he teased. She readily agreed. “I promise. You promise to come home soon.” “I do. Two days tops. One more lonely night. Give the boys a kiss for me.” Kendall cradled the phone and tried to keep the sadness from her voice. She could tell that the dream bothered him more than he was letting on. She wished more than anything that she could be with him.

“I will. Hurry home, Zach. I love you.” She wiped at a tear that had started to slide down her face. “I love you, Kendall. Talk to you soon.” With that, he was gone. Kendall settled back into bed and said a silent prayer that the dream wouldn’t return. She hated the idea of him having to face it all alone. If only she’d known. In his hotel room in the heart of the city, Zach Slater was sleeping like a baby. Just like that, the demons were gone.

-------------------------

The next night, after a tedious day of meetings, Zach was treating himself to a long, hot shower. He stood under the pulsating flow and let the water and steam melt his stress away. Luckily, things were going well. He had one more meeting scheduled for the next day, then he should be able to close the deal and go home to his family.

He’d just finished rinsing the shampoo from his hair when he heard something. He stilled, but there was no sound except the noise of the water hitting the marble tiles. But something wasn’t right; he could feel it. There was somebody there. “Who’s there?” he called, feeling a bit foolish when nobody answered. But he couldn’t shake the feeling. Did he just hear a giggle? Suddenly it dawned on him. It must be Kendall. She’d decided to ignore his protests and surprise him. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted more than to spend a night alone with his beautiful wife.

“You’re welcome to join me,” he said. “There’s plenty of hot water.” Nothing. Just silence. It was becoming unnerving. He flung back the curtain, expecting to find Kendall standing in front of him, but there was nobody there. He felt stupid, but the feeling didn’t last long. He still felt like he wasn’t alone. Before he could explore it, the phone rang. Swearing under his breath, he grabbed a towel and went to answer it.

By the time he got to the phone, the ringing had stopped. He picked it up and saw that whoever it was had left him a message. His fears were forgotten and his mood lightened considerably when he heard the message. The man he was to meet with tomorrow had to cancel, but he’d heard enough. He was ready to agree to all of Zach’s terms. The papers would be signed and delivered to his offices in Pine Valley within the week.

That was all Zach needed to hear. Twenty minutes later he was on his way home. In his hurry to pack, he never noticed the chilled bottle of champagne that sat on the small table in the outer room of his suite.

-------------------------

Kendall looked up in surprise when she saw Zach coming through the front door. She had just gotten the boys settled in for the night. It was well past their bedtime, but she needed their company. The evenings were so long when Zach was gone. Besides, Spike and Ian were always happy to stay up late with their mom.

She ran to greet Zach, waiting while he put down the large box he was carrying. As soon as he’d released it she threw herself into his arms and peppered him with kisses. He squeezed her tight and held on for dear life. “You’re home early,” she said, stating the obvious, when he finally pulled away from her. “I am,” he agreed, bringing her back to him for one more kiss. “Just like I promised.”

She eyeballed the box. “What did you bring me?” she asked, sounding very much like a little girl. Zach picked up the box and took Kendall’s hand, leading her to the sofa. “Well, I thought about one of those ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirts, but you’re not really a t-shirt kinda girl. So I hope you’ll like this better.” He ceremoniously placed the box between them and slid it toward her.

Kendall looked at him, then at the box. She could tell by the look on his face that it was more serious than he was implying. When she looked back at him, she found him watching her intently. She gasped when she opened the box and immediately started unpacking its contents. There was a music box, an unopened bottle of scotch. Silk ties and gold cufflinks. Every gift that had been delivered to him at work was packed into this box. And he was giving them all to her.

“Does this mean what I think it means?” she asked, looking disdainfully at the expensive trinkets that littered her coffee table. “I thought you’d want us to destroy this stuff together,” Zach said. He picked up the bottle of scotch and hurled it at the fireplace. Kendall jumped at the noise, then laughed. She picked up one of the ties and put it on the fireplace poker, then dangled it over the fire and watched it burn.

One by one they destroyed all of the gifts. The heavy smoke from the leather wallet made them think twice about burning anything else. So they beat the hell out of the rest of the stuff. The music box ended up in several pieces. It all proved to be very therapeutic. And when it was all done, they both felt more in control than they had in a long time. They were through being victims.

Kendall gave Zach a deep kiss and a knowing look before going upstairs. “You’ve got five minutes,” she warned. “I’ll only need three,” Zach said as he watched her leave the room, then he sprang into action. He swept up all the debris, stuffed it into a trash bag and left it by the back door. Then he turned out all the lights and went upstairs. His wife promised him a night of begging and he was damn well gonna hold her to it. There would be no nightmares tonight!

-------------------------

Zach was wrong. Not about the nightmare. It hadn’t returned. Maybe because he had gotten very little sleep the night before. As it turned out, Kendall had many ways to make him beg, and they proved to be very effective. They were both tired the next morning, but happy. Very happy. At least until the package arrived.

Zach was wrong about them no longer being victims. He was in the kitchen having breakfast with Spike and Ian when he heard Kendall cursing. He grabbed the boys and ran into the other room to see what had her so upset. He tried to cover their ears, but it was difficult.

“Son of a bitch!” Kendall was standing in front of the fireplace staring into the bag she was holding. “That crazy whack job is at it again. Zach!” she screamed. She started pacing around the room. “That delusional mother-“

“Kendall!”

She turned to find Zach staring at her. He had both boys pressed against his side with a hand over each exposed ear. “You want to take it down a notch. The boys are here.” Kendall took a deep breath and nodded. “Sorry,” she mumbled before she resumed her pacing.

Zach called to Cassie, the new nanny, who took Spike and Ian back to the kitchen so they could finish their breakfast. As soon as he and Kendall were alone again, he looked inside the bag.

“Damn,” he said softly. He sat down on the couch and looked up at Kendall. Then he reached inside the bag and pulled out the busted music box that he had thrown away the night before. Somebody had pieced it back together with duct tape. When Zach lifted the splintered lid, the song started playing, but the tune was slow and warped. It was creepy.

Zach reached into the box and pulled out the note. He read it quickly to himself then cleared his throat and read it aloud to his waiting wife.

Now that I see how you treat my gifts, don’t expect another one. It was bad enough when you burned the pictures I sent, but since I admit that was meant to provoke your current wife, I didn’t get mad. But to shatter a bottle of very expensive whiskey … well, you’re just lucky your precious Kendall didn’t get hurt by the flying glass. Maybe next time she won’t be so lucky.

Kendall ripped the box from his hands and tossed in into the fireplace. There was no fire burning at the time, but she intended to remedy that. She stopped what she was doing when she realized that Zach wasn’t helping her. She turned to find him standing in the middle of the room, staring up at the ceiling. She called his name, but he didn’t look at her. “Just keep doing what you were doing,” he said, his voice low and calm. She ignored his command and continued to watch him. When she started walking toward him, he turned to her at last.

“Don’t look, Kendall,” he said softly. “Finish with the fire.” Kendall turned back to the fireplace, but continued to question him. “What am I not looking at?” Zach ignored the question. He started to leave the room, but stopped. “Grab your coat,” he said. “We’re going out. I just need to get something first.”

-------------------------

“So,” Kendall prodded, “what’s this all about?” They were standing on the Fusion rooftop looking down at the city below. Zach had refused to tell Kendall what he was thinking on the drive over, and her patience was wearing thin.

Zach pulled a stack of envelopes from his pocket and dropped them on the table. Kendall sat down and picked one of them up, recognizing immediately what they were. “You kept these?” she asked. “All of them?”

Zach answered with a wry smile. “All of the ones you didn’t get to first.” He held up his hand to keep her from interrupting. “I agreed to destroy the gifts because they didn’t offer up any clues, but the notes are different. There has to be something here that will tell us who we’re dealing with.” He sat down across from Kendall and started rifling through the stack.

“Why did you bring me here?” she asked. “We could have done this at home?” Zach opened one letter after another, reading them carefully, hoping to find something he’d missed. It was useless. There was nothing in the notes to confirm his suspicions. But that didn’t mean he was wrong.

“I think we’re being watched,” he said at last. He shoved the notes away from him and ran his hand roughly through his hair. “At home? You think our house is bugged?” Zach sat back and waited for Kendall to put it all together. It wasn’t a long wait. “Of course,” she said. She was oddly calm, but Zach could see her anger rising.

“That’s how she knew about the Scotch. And the pictures we burned.” She got up and walked over to the rail. “My God, Zach. Has she been watching us all this time? Listening to us? How is that possible? We’ve got all that security. How could she get cameras into our house?” The questions – and possibilities – all hit Kendall at once.

“There’s one in the living room, isn’t there? That’s what you didn’t want me to see.” Zach nodded. Kendall’s eyes grew wider when a new realization struck her. She choked out the question. “Our bedroom?” Zach stared at her, his face unmoving, which told her everything she needed to know. She was horrified.

“What kind of a sick pervert are we dealing with? In our bedroom, Zach?” The idea of having some stranger watching them in their most intimate moments as husband and wife made Kendall gag. She felt Zach’s strong arms wrap around her and she sank into him. He held her while she cried. They held each other.

After the shock wore off, Kendall’s repulsion turned into raw, burning rage. She was tired of being at the mercy of this woman, but at the same time she was at a total loss as to what they could do to stop her. The woman was a phantom. She was everywhere they went, but nobody ever saw her. How could they fight an enemy they couldn’t see?

“Do you think she can hear us too, or is she just watching?” Zach stood behind Kendall and pulled her up against him, wrapping his arms around her to keep her warm. “She can hear us,” he said matter-of-factly. “She knew I was in New York. I think she was there, too.”

Kendall stiffened, but she didn’t say a word. She waited for Zach to explain. He rubbed her arms absentmindedly as he told her about his experience in the shower. “I thought it was you,” he said sheepishly. “But when I pulled back the curtain, there was nobody there. That’s when I got the phone call from Brighton and came rushing home. I’d forgotten all about it,” he added with a shrug.

Kendall turned in his arms and looked into his eyes. “What are we going to do, Zach? We can’t let this woman destroy our lives while we stand by and watch. She could have had a gun or a knife. What if she’d tried to hurt you?” She threaded her arms underneath his coat and rested her head on his chest. “If anything ever happened to you, it would kill me.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Zach said. His voice had taken on a hard edge. It was a tone that Kendall knew well. He had a plan, and he didn’t think she was going to like it. He was preparing for battle. She stepped away from him and waited.

“It was your car that blew up. It was your face that was cut out of the pictures. And it was your name on the gravestone. I know what I have to do, Kendall. I have to leave you … and I have to do it today.



TBC


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Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #38 
Great Story!!!!
Thanks for updating...
Come back soon please!!!
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Reply with quote  #39 

Karen, this is a very intriguing story, and a lot of fun to read!  Please update soon!


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issala71

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Thank you so much for your wonderful story, I am hooked and can't wait to read the next chapter.  With all the Zendall angst, it is nice to read something where they are happy and working together!!!


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Roseann

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Reply with quote  #41 
Another great chapter, Karen.  Looking forward to the next.!
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Karen!!  I should know better than to read one of your stories before it is finished.

I can't take the cliffhangers!!!

Great story though.  Come back soon!!

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great story.  thanks for the update.  can't wait for the next installment.  this is getting better and better.

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Thanks for another great chapter Karen,

I so love this story, more soon please...


Dana  : )

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Reply with quote  #45 

Thanks for the latest chapter Karen!  Great story!  Impatiently waiting for the next one.


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Micki
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Reply with quote  #46 

 

[IMG]http://i163.photobucket.com/albums/t284/lovinzinx/obsessionrev.jpg[/IMG]

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

Kendall put her hand across her forehead. “I must be getting sick … hallucinating or something … I thought I just heard you say –“ she stopped when she saw the look on his face.

 

“I did say it.” She put her hand on his face. “Then you must be the one who is sick, because …” the argument died in her throat. She stared at Zach, disbelieving. He tried to pull her back to him, but she fought him.

 

"No, Zach. No!” she demanded, gesturing wildly. “We're not doing this again." She turned and quickly walked to the door. As far as she was concerned the conversation was over. But Zach couldn't let it go that easily. This was something he'd given a lot of thought to. He caught her a few feet from the door.

 

"I mean it. You're not going to talk me into this, Zach. Or bully me," she added with her chin in the air.

 

"When have I ever bullied you into anything," he said. The strain in his voice got Kendall’s attention. For the first time she saw the sadness on his face. He wasn't happy about the idea either. For some reason, that calmed her down.

 

“Fair enough,” she said with a sigh. She relaxed her stance, but not her position. She was determined to talk him out of leaving. They’d already done the fake separation thing, and it was far more difficult than either of them expected it to be. “But you do have other powers of persuasion,” she said, smiling wryly.

 

Zach stepped closer. “Oh yeah, like what? Maybe this,” he said as he took her face in his hands and kissed her. Just as he was getting into it, Kendall pushed him away.

 

“Oh no you don’t!” she said emphatically. “You’re not gonna kiss me and make my brain turn to mush. I need to think clearly, Zach, or you’ll run right over me.” Zach didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. He gave her what she wanted by releasing her and taking a couple of steps back.

“Better?” he asked, holding his hands up in surrender. When Kendall nodded, he folded them across his chest and waited. He expected her to bombard him with all the reasons his plan wouldn’t work. There were valid arguments and he was waiting for her to throw them all at him. But she didn’t. Instead, she looked at him for a long moment then turned away, hoping he wouldn’t see the tears that were forming.

 

Kendall,” he said, his voice a soft whisper, which told Kendall that he had seen her tears. She wiped at them quickly and placed her hands on the rail, once again staring down at the street below. She had so many arguments swirling in her head, but she knew he’d have an answer for all of them. Maybe he was right, she mused, silently hating herself for giving in so quickly.

 

“Hell,” she muttered. She rubbed her arms to ward off the cold, and within seconds Zach’s warm coat enveloped her. She longed for his arms, but knew it would only make what they had to do harder. She turned to him at last.

 

“So my face was on the tombstone, huh? Tell me about the rest of the dream.” Zach sat down at the table and motioned for Kendall to join him. When she was settled, he told her everything he could remember. Kendall sat quietly and listened. When he was finished, she reached out and covered his hand with hers.

 

“I’m sorry, Zach. I wish I’d been there, I really do. But I don’t see how we get from a bad dream to you moving out of our home. Isn’t that just giving this crazy psycho exactly what she wants?”

 

Zach took a deep breath before answering. “Maybe. Maybe not. But at least it will keep her away from our house, and our boys,” he said. “If we can get her to focus her efforts solely on me, then you, Spike and Ian will be safe. And there is obviously a security breach at home. At the casino I can control things better.”

 

Kendall nodded, but it didn’t mean she was giving in. “Did it ever occur to you that it won’t make a difference? Especially if the bitch wants me dead. She could still try to kill me, even if you’re living across town.” It was something Zach had already considered. Now was as good a time as any to tell Kendall about the rest of his plan.

 

“Divorce!” Kendall gasped as soon as he’d finished his explanation.

 

“Not a legal one,” Zach said quickly. “I know a lawyer who owes me a favor.”

 

Kendall smiled. “His name isn’t Mac-lowd is it?” she said, mimicking the brogue of the lawyer Zach had hired for their first divorce. Zach laughed. “No. I don’t think we made a very good impression on him.”

 

“Too happy?” Kendall offered. Her smile had turned melancholy as she remembered that trip. Oddly enough, it had been one of the happiest times in her life. Falling in love with Zach had been so easy, but admitting it had been hard. Zach’s accusation brought her back to reality.

 

“It was your fault,” he said. “You were clearly in love with me. How could he believe you wanted a divorce? What woman wouldn’t want this?” he asked, with a sweeping gesture. “A trip to the islands isn’t a bad idea, though. How about it, Mrs. Slater? Wanna go on another divorce honeymoon with me?”

 

Kendall considered it for a second, but eventually refused him. “I won’t even pretend to divorce you, Zach. There has to be another way.” Zach studied her. He could see that her happy reminiscing was over. She was planted squarely back in the present.

 

“I’m afraid for you,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion. “What if I can’t protect you?” He rubbed his face in an effort to block out the images that were trapped in his brain. He could still feel the cold emptiness of standing over his wife’s grave. The dream was terrifying enough. He knew he’d never survive the reality. When he felt Kendall squeeze his hand, he looked up into her warm, loving eyes.

 

He suddenly felt uneasy.

 

“Maybe we should have this conversation somewhere else,” he said as he looked around the rooftop. “It’s not safe here.” Kendall was astonished. “Not safe? Fusion? Zach, nobody here would hurt us. And there’s no way anybody could have bugged this roof without me knowing it.” Zach wasn’t convinced. Something had set of his radar and he couldn’t shake the feeling.

 

“We don’t know who we can trust,” he whispered. “We have to be very careful.” Then he raised his voice and shouted at her. “You never listen to a thing I say! Why can’t you just trust me for once?” Kendall slid her hand away from his and sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t understand why he was so nervous, but she decided to play along.

 

“Don’t you dare raise your voice to me!” she said bitterly. “I’ve had enough of this conversation. You do whatever you want. I’m going home!” Zach hid a smile as he watched her march toward the door. Her faith in him had always humbled him, but her trust truly amazed him. He wondered how he ever got so lucky, which only strengthened his resolve. He had to keep her safe, no matter the cost.

 

-------------------------

 

“Trouble in paradise?” Greenlee whispered aloud as she stood in the shadows of the stairwell. She’d been watching Zach and Kendall through a crack in the door. She couldn’t hear what they were saying from so far away, but it was obvious that they were arguing. Then her suspicions were confirmed when she heard their raised voices as they moved closer to the door. She slipped away silently and watched them leave. Zach was his usual stoic self, but she could see the anger on Kendall’s face. The fear. With a slight smile, she headed back down to the office, whistling as she went.

 

-------------------------

 

Zach was miserable. It had only been a few days since he’d moved into his suite at the casino, but it felt like an eternity. He hadn’t spoken to Kendall since their big staged fight. A part of him wondered just how much of her part was fake. She sure seemed to enjoy screaming at him and calling him names. She was a good little actress … he hoped. The memory brought a brief smile.

 

Cassie had brought the boys by to see him that morning, but there was no message from Kendall. He’d been disappointed, but he didn’t let it stop him from sending a message home to her. When she didn’t call, he began to worry. Had Kendall forgotten that this was all a hoax?

 

So there he sat, alone in a crowded room, drinking from the ever-present glass of scotch and thinking about her. As he watched the couples surrounding him in the casino bar, he wondered if she was thinking of him.

 

He loved Kendall and he felt confident that she knew that, but he doubted that she really understood just how much … how deep his feelings ran. How fiercely he would protect her. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make her happy or to keep her safe.

 

Sometimes a love like that was freeing. Empowering. It could make a man feel invincible. But there was another side to it - a darker side. And that side made anything possible. It was like a beast that needed to be fed; a hungry wolf that needed satisfaction. It sought release. After another long sip, he surveyed the crowd again. Only this time it wasn’t a room full of strangers. This time he saw a face he recognized.

 

“Maria?”

 

He walked over to the bar where she was sitting and ordered himself another drink. Maria started to suggest that maybe he’d had enough, but the look on his face told her to mind her own business. So she waited for his glass to be refilled before offering an explanation. When he sat down on the stool beside her, she decided it was time.

 

“Kendall called me,” she said flatly. She could see that Zach was in pain, but she had no idea why. And she wasn’t sure he’d tell her if she asked.

 

Zach groaned. Maria could see that he was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said at last.

 

“Don’t apologize for your wife, Zach. Something tells me she wouldn’t like it. Besides, once she explained the situation, I understood why she would think of me. She wasn’t entirely wrong,” she added, shifting uncomfortably on her chair. “I’m here aren’t I?”

 

Zach stared at her before speaking. Was that suspicion she saw? “Why are you here?” he asked. She continued to squirm under his gaze. “Well, my official answer is that I came to get some of Julia’s things and get Kathy settled with Tad.”

 

“Now? After all this time?” Zach asked. He noticed she couldn’t seem to look him in the eye.

 

“I could say that it took me a while to find the time, but the truth is I needed to work up the courage. And then Kendall called.” She looked up at him then. “I had to know if things were as great as she claimed. I had to see for myself that you are happy, Zach.”

 

“And what do you see?” he asked. Maria couldn’t figure him out. He wasn’t being mean to her, but there wasn’t much warmth either. He seemed so indifferent. Is that what marriage to Kendall had done to him, or was it the alcohol?

 

“I am happy,” he said, when she didn’t answer him. The irony of the situation completely eluded him. Maria arched an eyebrow. “That’s what I thought. I’ve been in town for almost two weeks. I’ve seen you and Kendall together, with your boys. You really did look happy. But now this …” she said, tapping the side of his glass. “I don’t know what to believe.”

 

“You’ve been stalking me for two weeks?” he asked. His voice was cold and clipped. “Maybe Kendall was right.” Maria shook her head as she reached out to touch his hand. He pulled away from her.

 

“No Zach, I’m not stalking you. I’ll be honest though. I really thought you would follow me to California. I wanted you to. I wanted us to have a fresh start away from Pine Valley and all its distractions. I thought you were just using Kendall to make me jealous. Or maybe to pay me back for not believing in you. I waited, but you never came.”

 

“No.” It was only one word, but it carried with it all the things he would never say. He was a decent man and he would never hurt her intentionally. But he wouldn’t lie to her either. That’s one lesson she had learned the hard way.

 

“And you never would have,” she said, silently begging him to deny it. She’d been hanging on to the hope that their relationship was too special to be cast aside. That somewhere, deep inside of him, he still loved her … wanted her. But she could see it wasn’t true.

 

“No,” he repeated. He looked into her eyes, willing her to let the matter drop. He didn’t want to hurt her, but if the conversation continued along this vein, it would be inevitable.

 

Maria’s sigh of resignation told him she understood. “Kendall is a lucky woman,” she said at last. And I guess, in the end, it all worked out okay. I can see that there’s nothing left for me here. You’re not the same man I walked away from.”

 

“No, I’m a better man,” he said quietly. “Kendall and the boys have shown me what life is all about. They’ve given me things I never thought were possible.”

 

“Then what are you doing here?” Maria immediately regretted the question. Not because she thought it was inappropriate, but because she’d wanted to leave with her dignity intact. And continuing to plead her case to him was definitely not dignified. Before he could answer, they were interrupted.

 

“Well I might have known.”

 

Zach and Maria turned to find Erica standing behind them. She was clearly not happy to see Dr. Santos-Grey back in Pine Valley, especially not sitting in a crowded bar having drinks with her daughter’s husband.

 

“Erica,” Zach said evenly.

 

“Why am I even surprised?” she continued. “Nothing says desperate like a loose woman preying on a defenseless man. It’s hasn’t even been a week yet and already the vultures are circling.”

 

“Erica,” Maria said, not bothering to hide her disdain. This was the last person on earth she wanted to see. She took a sip of her drink and braced herself for another round with her old nemesis.

 

“Worked your way through all the men in California already, Maria? Or are they not as impressed with a tight sweater there? It’s a lot of competition for a woman your age.”

 

My age?” Maria said incredulously. She laughed bitterly. “I see some things never change, Erica. Like your hairstyle. You know, that whole sex kitten thing kinda played out in the 60’s.”

 

Zach wisely remained silent. Maria reached for her purse to pay for her drink, but he stopped her with a gesture to the bartender. Maria stood to her feet, pulling on her low-cut sweater as she did. It was an obvious attempt to get Zach’s attention, but he seemed oblivious to her.

 

“Oh Maria, put them away. We’re barely out of the afternoon hours. So tacky,” she added to Zach. Maria looked at Erica like she was gum on her shoe, but she said nothing. She’d embarrassed herself enough for one evening. She just wanted to leave.

 

“Thanks for the drink, Zach. And the talk. It was really nice to see you again. I hope you and Kendall work this out. I’m glad to know that my moving to California didn’t ruin your life,” she said, wincing at how arrogant that sounded.

 

Zach took pity on her. “Like you said, it all worked out in the end, right?” Maria nodded and squeezed his hand. She grabbed her purse and turned to go, but Erica wasn’t through with her yet.

 

“Oh, he’s just being kind,” she spat. “The truth is, leaving him was the nicest thing you could have done for him. He’s happy now, Maria. My daughter, Kendall, makes him very, very happy. So why don’t you just leave them alone?”

 

Maria opened her mouth to speak, but changed her mind and just walked away instead. So Erica turned her wrath on her real target … her errant son-in-law.

 

“Zach, how pathetic are you? Sitting down here in this bar drinking yourself into a stupor. And entertaining predators like Maria Santos. It is not to be borne.” When Zach started to protest, she held up her hand to silence him. “I know you and Kendall had a fight. She told me that it was none of my business, but I beg to differ. Her happiness is my business.”

 

“No, her happiness is my business,” Zach corrected. He wondered why Kendall hadn’t just told her mother the truth. When he’d said that they had to be careful who they trusted, he didn’t mean Erica.

 

“Well I hate to be the one to tell you this, Zach, but you’re doing a pretty lousy job.” Erica ordered herself a ginger ale and took the seat Maria had vacated. She reached out and touched Zach’s arm and tried to soften her tone.

 

“Look, I know you and Kendall will work through this. You love her and she loves you. That really is all that matters in the end. But,” she added, tightening her grip on his arm, “that doesn’t mean you need to sit down here and play the role of the public drunk. It’s beneath you.”

 

Zach wasn’t in the mood to be lectured, even by his well-meaning but clearly in the dark mother-in-law. “Why are you here?” he asked in an attempt to change the subject.

 

“To see you of course,” she said breezily. She flipped her hair and narrowed her gaze. “I told Kendall and now I’m telling you. You need to work this out. Your boys need you. And you may not realize it right now, but you need each other. You just think about that.”

She held out her hand and waited for Zach to help her down from the stool. When he did, she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. “In the meantime, Kendall sent over some of your belongings. I told her I’d be sure you got them. So walk me upstairs. It’s time for you to crawl out of that bottle for awhile. Believe me, the answers aren’t in there. I know that first hand.”

 

Zach dropped the glass heavily on the bar and escorted Erica to the elevators. When she didn’t get in, he paused. “This is far enough. I just wanted to be sure you didn’t spend all night in the bar. I think you can take it from here,” she added with a wink. Zach was confused, but he didn’t question her. Instead he hugged her, thanked her for caring enough to yell at him, and watched her leave. Then he did as she asked and went up to his suite.

 

As soon as he opened the door he knew something was different. The room was dimly lit and there was music playing. And the smell of food wafted in from the kitchen. He followed the smell and nearly dropped to his knees. He glanced over to the side and caught sight of the table set for two, but then he went right back to drinking in the sight that was right in front of him.

 

Standing next to the oven, with her back to him, was Kendall. He laughed when he noticed she was wearing an apron, and the sound caused her to turn around. She smiled devilishly and ran into his open arms.

 

After he’d kissed the breath right out of her, she pulled away from him. “Wait,” she protested. “I brought us dinner. I thought you’d like to eat first.” He growled low in his throat before lifting her into his arms and carrying her into the bedroom. Seconds later the door flew open and the apron she’d been wearing was tossed outside.

 

Within minutes, the sound of Kendall’s giggles became muffled before giving way to very different sounds altogether.

 

 

TBC

 


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michellelynne

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Reply with quote  #47 
Thank yo so much for the update. I read it almost right after  you posted but unfortunately was at work and could not post.  I wish the TV version written as well as your soties are.   Looking forward to the next installment.

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Roseann

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Reply with quote  #48 

Thanks, Karen.  Great chapter..

Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #49 

Thanks for another great update! More please!!

issala71

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Reply with quote  #50 

Thanks for another great chapter, I can't wait for the next one.  You should be writing for AMC. 


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Melissa B. Palma
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