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    Happy New Love

    When a stranger comes to town to find the guilty party behind disappearing funds, Leia Tanner finds herself torn between emotions. But when her family is torn apart by a devastating tragedy, he is the one that comes to her rescue. Will they be able to make a life together, or will the overwhelming greed of one man keep them apart?
    When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
    When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

    #2
    “Mr. Caldwell, I suspect that one of the employees has been tampering with the files. Unfortunately, I have no proof, which renders me unable to take any action. Although I can say that I have reason to believe that the bank president is involved in some way,” the tall, elderly gentleman stated, folding his hands upon his mahogany desk.

    Luke Caldwell had taken notice of the office as soon as he had entered it. And while he was impressed by its lavishness, he knew the true function behind its appearance. The desk was large and solid dark wood; the chairs were all the finest leather, and even the thick steel gray carpeting were all meant to do one thing. And that thing was to make whoever came into a private meeting with Cassandar Vulcan feel as uncomfortably inadequate as possible. Luckily, Luke wasn’t affected by his surroundings, except to have all of his senses put on high alert.

    Luke sat back in the plush leather chair and studied him. His white hair was immaculately groomed, cut short and styled very simply. His skin was unblemished and only showed a very few wrinkles. For a man who had to be at least in his early to mid sixties, he could easily pass for a thirty or forty-year-old at first glance. He was in superb physical condition, and Luke could tell from his expensively cut suit that he was also very successful. Never the less, there was something about him that didn’t set right with Luke.

    Maybe it was the man that was standing just off to the side in the shadows of the office. His age was indeterminable, perhaps mid twenties, but he had the bearing of a seasoned professional. His longish raven black hair was pulled back and held at the base of his skull, giving him the look of a pirate. He watched every move that Luke made with unreadable deep brown eyes. And while he stood, dressed in a custom cut dark suit, unmoving, and seemingly disinterested, his posture was enough to let Luke know that he wasn’t missing a single detail of their exchange.

    “Mr. Vulcan, what makes you think that the president would be embezzling money out of his own bank?” Luke asked, his soft baritone voice giving away none of his suspicions.

    “Perhaps he isn’t. Perhaps the guilty party is only making it appear that he is involved. As I said, if I had proof against anyone I could put an end to it.”

    Luke considered his answer. He answered smoothly, almost as if he had practiced his answers in case someone looked too closely at his motives. What Luke couldn’t figure out was why a successful multi-billionaire like Cassandar Vulcan would be interested in the inner workings of a small locally owned bank in the mid-west. With all of his holdings all over the world a person would think he had better things to worry about. After all, he felt it necessary to keep a bodyguard present at all times. At least that’s what Luke was categorizing him as.

    “All right, Mr. Vulcan. I’ll start my investigation immediately,” Luke said, standing. He could tell that whatever his investigation uncovered, it wasn’t going to be what he was expecting. Mr. Vulcan was all ready looking smug, perhaps too smug.

    Luke shook Vulcan’s hand and walked out of the prestigious offices of Vulcan Industries in downtown Chicago, glad to be out from under the silent, watchful eye of Vulcan’s bodyguard. Winter was taking a bite out of the city on a particularly bleak looking New Years Eve. The wind cut through to the bone and the traffic was crawling its way through the icy streets.

    He pulled his collar up against the wind and started down the sidewalk. He had hoped that he could fly down to the small city where his investigation would be taking place, but the weather was getting progressively worse so he would be forced to drive down. That meant that he wouldn’t get to Rocky Falls, Missouri until sometime the next day or two depending on the weather and the roads. Not a good way to start off an investigation.
    When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
    When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

    Comment


      #3
      New Years Eve in Rocky Falls was a booming event and Joe’s Bar was packed with locals celebrating the coming of the New Year. Leia looked around for her sister, having lost her once again in the throng that pulsed inside the club. She kept a tight hold of her drink, trying not to spill any, as she carefully made her way to the table that she, her sister, and her cousins had reserved.

      She was a little disappointed that the holiday fell on a Friday this year. Leia could have used a day off of work with pay. A much needed day of rest. Not that she didn’t love her job at the bank, she did; it was her slimy boss that grated on her nerves. And while, for the most part, Leia kept her opinions to herself, the day would come when he would make one snide comment too many and her Tanner blood would come out full force.

      Finally reaching the table, after seeing her cousin Josh waving her in the right direction, she gratefully collapsed in her chair. Josh winked at her as he resumed his seat on the other side of his sister, Brittany. Brittany smiled sadly as she turned the small diamond engagement ring on her left hand.

      “Did either of you see where Sallee went?” Leia shouted to be heard over the music and voices.

      Josh pointed toward the restrooms and smiled. Leia rolled her eyes and laughed. Her sister would be lucky to find her way back alive, she thought, just about the time she saw Sallee bully her way through the crowd toward their table. She had almost made it when a guy patted her on her derrière. Before she could react, however, Josh was standing next to the guy, with a menacing look on his face. The guy shook his head and quickly backed away. When they got to the table they were both laughing.

      “You know,” Sallee shouted, “this would be a lot more fun if Jansen was here.”

      “Yea. Too bad he’s in Arizona,” Josh answered. “Let’s get out of here so we can have a normal conversation. We don’t get to talk enough and we shouldn’t spend the whole evening having to shout at one another.”

      They all nodded their agreement, got up, and headed for the door. Once they retrieved their coats and stepped outside, they stood and breathed in the refreshing cold air. The sky was surprisingly clear and every star seemed close enough to touch. And while the noise was still as loud as ever inside the bar, the rest of the city was peaceful and serene.

      “So where are we gonna go?” Sallee asked, staring up at the stars.

      “Let’s go back to my place,” Brittany suggested. “It’s closer than any of the others, and I have a good bottle of wine that Sylver sent me from Ireland. It would be just like she was with us.”

      “Without all of her annoying habits,” Josh said, winking.

      “That’s not very nice,” Leia said, laughing.

      “But, oh, so very true,” Sallee rebuked.

      Since the women had ridden to the club together they headed to Brittany’s beat up Jeep. Josh got on his slick black motorcycle and sped off out of the parking lot. They all shook their heads at his recklessness, as they followed at a more sedate speed. It didn’t take them long to reach the small cottage on the edge of Falls Park, but Josh’s motorcycle was already parked in the drive and he was sitting on the porch swing watching them pull up.

      “You are gonna get yourself killed one of these days,” Leia admonished him as she walked up on the porch.

      “Nah. I’m more careful than I look,” he answered, giving her a wink.

      “Nevertheless, Joshua, you should not drive like that when the streets are as bad as they are right now. Someone else might think they can do it also,” Brittany said, joining them on the porch and unlocking the front door.

      “Oh my God! It IS like Sylver is here,” he said, with a groan.

      Sallee was laughing as she followed them into the house. “Oh come on, Josh, it could be worse. Our parents could be here.”

      Josh snorted, “You’re right. That would be worse.”
      When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
      When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

      Comment


        #4
        “Leia, would you take Jocelyn to School on your way to work?” Rachel Tanner asked, finishing up the sandwiches she was preparing.

        “Sure thing, Mom, but only if she’s ready when I start to leave. I can’t wait around on her,” Leia said, checking her watch.

        Just then a small gray, black, and white puppy came running into the kitchen, followed closely by a very frustrated teenage girl. It ran a few circles around Rachel’s feet before sliding beneath the table and coming to a stop against the wall on the far side, well out of her reach.

        “Thor, you come back here right now!” the teenager yelled, getting down and looking under the table. “You know you’re not allowed in the house!”

        “Jocelyn, get that puppy out of this house right now,” Rachel said sternly, yet affectionately.

        “I’m trying, Mom,” she said, looking up at her mother briefly. “But this mutt won’t listen to me. Leia, help me get him.”

        Leia sighed, “All right, Thor,” she called softly, “come here boy.”

        Thor’s ears perked up and he slowly made his way to Leia’s outstretched hand. He sniffed her hand the placed his paw in her palm. Leia carefully scooped him up into her arms and stood.

        “Go get ready to go, Jocelyn. I’ll take him back out to the barn,” she said, carrying the puppy out the back door.

        “That mutt hates me, Mom. I told you we should have gotten a real dog,” Jocelyn said, running up the stairs.

        Rachel laughed and shook her head. She loved to see her children so happy, even if it meant that they were happy away from Rocky Falls. She had just turned back to clean the counter when a pair of strong, sinewy arms wrapped around her waist. She instinctively leaned into the warmth behind her and closed her eyes a small sigh escaping her lips. Even after twenty-five years those arms still had the power to make her tingle all over.

        “I love you, Rachel Savage. Will you leave all you have and run away with me?” a deep male voice whispered into her ear.

        She shivered. “Well, I’m not sure. My husband might notice me missing when he comes in from the barn, but I’m sure we’ll have a big head start by then,” she whispered, turning in his arms to face him, and wrapping her arms around his neck. “I love you Garret Tanner, and as I recall, I did leave everything I had to be with you.”

        He placed a quick kiss on her small mouth and released her. He pulled off his hat and sat down at the table. Garret smiled at his wife as she poured him a cup of coffee then finished cleaning off the counter. He found her even more beautiful now than when they had eloped twenty-five years ago. Her family had eventually forgiven them, but only after the birth of their twin daughters. As he took a sip of the steaming brew he couldn’t help but thank his lucky stars that he had been blessed with Rachel’s love.

        “Jo helped me out a bunch this morning. Rising Star started to foal while we were feeding,” he said, watching Rachel’s every graceful move. “She’s a natural.”

        “Jocelyn’s really good with the horses. Because of you, she knows more than most of those hot shot breeders that you talk with all the time,” she said, placing Jocelyn’s lunch box by the back door, just as Leia walked back in.

        “Hi, Princess. When did you slip out?” he asked, accepting his eldest daughter’s kiss on the cheek.

        “I had to take Thor back to the barn,” she said, going over to the sink and washing her hands. “Jocelyn, I’m leaving in five minutes,” she called, up the stairs.

        “I’m ready,” Jo said, running down the stairs with her backpack flung over her shoulder. She quickly kissed their father on the cheek and hugged their mother. “Take Mom out to see Rising Star’s foal, Daddy. I’ll see you after practice this afternoon,” she said, grabbing her lunch box and following Leia out the door.

        “Be good,” Rachel called after them.

        “So, do you want to see the foal?” Garret asked, standing up and stretching.

        Rachel cocked an elegant blonde eyebrow. “Maybe later, cowboy. Right now, why don’t you and I run away together?” she asked, blowing him a kiss as she raced for the stairs, Garret hot on her heels.
        When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
        When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

        Comment


          #5
          “So, Leia, which house have you been looking at?” Jo asked, as they drove away from the house.

          “Do you remember the old McAllister place?” Leia asked.

          Jo made a face. “That place is a dump. It’s falling to pieces,” Jo said, shocked that her prim upright sister would even consider such a place.

          “It is now, but only because no one has been interested in fixing it up. I’m going to talk to Jefferson today about getting a loan to buy and renovate it. When I get done with it, Old Lady McAllister would be proud,” she said with a smile.

          “Watch yourself,” Jocelyn said, giving her sister a wink as they pulled up in front of the school. “He’s lower than a snake. I can’t believe you ever dated that rat.”

          Leia just shrugged. After dropping Jocelyn off at school, Leia drove on to the bank. She parked her jeep in the employee parking lot and locked it up. Leia carefully made her way across the icy parking lot toward the employee’s entrance of the bank. Eight more inches of snow had fell on New Years Day and although it hadn’t taken long for the streets and parking lots to be cleared off, they were still icy and dangerous in spots.

          “Good morning, Leia,” a tall, blonde man said in a thin shallow voice, smiling as he held open the door for her.

          “Good morning, Jefferson,” she replied politely, although being in close quarters with him made her skin crawl. “Do you have a minute to talk to me this morning?” she asked, as they hung up their coats.

          “Certainly, come on into my office.” He motioned to a chair. “Are we discussing business or something else?” Jefferson asked, barely disguising his leer at her as he perched on the coring of his desk. Their break-up had not been consensual and he was always trying to get her back.

          “Actually, it’s business,” she said, glad to see that he was instantly serious. He moved around to take his seat behind the desk, which made Leia feel more at ease. “I’m interested in purchasing the old McAllister place. I wanted to know if it would be possible to borrow the money from the bank. Of course, it would have to be enough to completely renovate the place as well.”

          He thought for a moment, and then said, “That’s a very big project to take on. I’ll tell you what. Get some bids on how much it will cost to do the work that’s going to have to be done and then we can talk about a loan. I can’t just agree without knowing the amount you’re asking for.”

          “I understand,” she said, standing. “I’ll do that and get back to you. Thank you for your time.”

          “Anytime,” he said, with a grin. “And if you ever want to discuss something other than business you know I’m here for you,” he added as she opened his door.

          Leia just smiled and quickly left his office. Well, he didn’t say no, she thought as she walked to her desk. She was also glad that he didn’t blatantly proposition her like she’s heard he’s done to other women who have came to him asking for a loan. She had a feeling that the only thing keeping him from doing that was the fact that her father did all of his business with this bank, as well as her uncle. If they found out that Jefferson had made a move on her they would not only pull all their money out of the bank, but she had a feeling that Jefferson wouldn’t walk away unscathed, if he walked away at all.

          She picked up the phone and dialed quickly. While she waited for an answer, she booted up her computer, and stashed her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk. After three rings it was finally picked up.

          “Good morning, KJAG, how may I direct your call?” the girl asked.

          “I’d like to speak with Sallee, if she’s still there,” Leia said, looking over some paperwork she was working on.

          “Just a moment,” the girl said, putting her on hold.

          She had barely gotten to listen to a few choruses of a new song by a new foreign band when she heard, “Sallee speaking, what can I do you for?”

          “Hi, Sis. I need you to make some calls for me today, if possible. Call all the contractors in town and get some estimates for renovating the old McAllister place. I’ve got to have them before I can find out whether or not I can get a loan,” Leia said, not giving Sallee a chance to interrupt.

          “Have you lost your mind? That place is a dump,” Sallee said, after a short pause.

          “Just do it for me, please,” Leia said, smiling.

          “Sure thing, but you’ll owe me,” Sallee said, with a laugh. “But if you want my advice I’d take my business to a different bank.”

          “Always,” Leia said, and hung up, not bothering to comment on her sister’s advice.

          Now I’ll have to wait, she thought. She just hoped that Jefferson wouldn’t change his mind, or get any funny ideas. She knew that she could count on Sallee to get some decent quotes. Sallee was the haggler of the family; she could get the best prices for just about anything. She also considered what Sallee had said about going to a different bank for the loan. If it came down to it she would, but she would hold off until she felt it was necessary.
          When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
          When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

          Comment


            #6
            At twelve-thirty that afternoon, Sallee walked into the bank. She looked around, and when she spotted Leia walked over to her. Leia looked up as Sallee approached and smiled. Even though Sallee was wearing dark sunglasses, and had obviously not had any sleep in forty-eight hours, she was bursting with energy.

            “You free for lunch, Sis?” Sallee asked.

            “Sure. I was just getting ready to leave. Where do you want to eat?” Leia asked, getting her purse.

            “I don’t care. How about the Brew? I love their food,” Sallee said, covering a yawn.

            “That sounds good to me. My jeep or your pony?”

            “Hey, my mustang is a classic, but it’s also stuck at the station. So that means your jeep, and you’re paying for lunch,” Sallee said with a grin.

            “I planned on it.” Leia said with a laugh, grabbing her purse out of her desk.

            As they walked out to Leia’s jeep, they didn’t notice the man that was standing across the street watching the bank. He checked his watch then carefully made his way across the street and entered the bank. Once inside, he savored the warmth before approaching one of the tellers.

            “May I help you, sir?” the young Native American woman asked.

            “Yes, I’d like to open an account,” Luke said, smiling at her and taking note of her name plaque.

            “Well, the person in charge of new accounts just left for lunch. You can go ahead and fill out these forms while you wait for her to return,” she said, handing him some papers on a clipboard with a pen.

            “Thank you,” he said, glad for the opportunity to observe the employees without drawing attention to him.

            Luke walked over to the designated waiting area, and chose a seat that would allow him to observe the goings on behind the tellers. He didn’t have any of the employee’s backgrounds yet, but he had to start his investigation somewhere. He figured that opening an account would be the best way for him to be able to come and go from the bank without being suspicious.

            “Hi, Sallee, Leia. How’re you doin’ today?” Susannah asked in a soft drawl, as she led them to a table.

            “Just fine. How have you been?” Leia asked.

            “Well, we’ve been busy this mornin’, but it’s startin’ to slow down now,” she answered, pouring their water.

            “I called in our orders,” Sallee said, picking up her glass. “Have you heard from Jordan lately?”

            Susannah frowned. “No I haven’t. I’m beginnin’ to worry about him. He’s been gone for so long without a word. I can only hope that he’s all right,” she said, wringing her hands. “I’ll go see if your orders are ready.”

            As she walked away Leia kicked Sallee under the table. “Why did you ask her about Jordan? You know that upsets her.”

            “Ah, Leia, I forgot. Lack of sleep you know. Besides, you never know when he is going to come back, or call or something,” she said, rubbing her shin.

            “Well, I’m sure when he does come back, Brittany will be his first stop.”

            “That’s the truth. And hopefully Josh won’t know about it until it’s too late,” Sallee said, taking a drink of her water.

            “Well, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. Although I think Sylver will be the bigger problem. I just hope he comes back while she’s still gone.”

            An hour later Leia walked back into the bank with several bids to go over. Sallee hadn’t wasted any time. She sat at her desk, returned her purse to the bottom drawer, and had barely begun to look through the bids when Shadorra Raining-Moon walked over.

            “There’s a man that wants to open a new account,” she said, motioning to the man still sitting in the waiting area. “He came in right after you left for lunch. Do you want me to send him over?”

            “Yes. I’m not busy,” Leia said, returning the bids to the big manila envelope that Sallee had put them in.

            He saw the teller motion to him and he got up and walked over to Leia’s desk. Leia stood and extended her hand, “Hello, I’m Leia Tanner.”

            When he took her small delicate hand in his large callused one, her heart felt as if it had jumped up into her throat. His dark blue eyes took in every detail of her appearance and she felt extremely self-conscious under his scrutiny. Relief washed over her when he released her hand.

            “Please have a seat,” Leia said, sitting back in her chair and unconsciously rubbing her hand on her slacks.

            He immediately noticed her reaction to him. Luke had felt as if someone had just touched an electric wire to his palm. And although she appeared the cool businesswoman in her smart blue pantsuit that just happened to hug all of her curves, the subtle change in her eyes betrayed her temporary discomfort.

            “My name is Luke Caldwell,” he said, handing her the papers he had spent the past hour carefully filling out.

            Leia took the papers from him and looked them over carefully. As soon as she got to occupation she looked up at him. “You’re retired? You look a little young to be retired.”

            “Nevertheless, I am,” he said, hoping she didn’t want any information about his real previous job, although he had a suitable cover story already lined up.

            Leia looked him over carefully. His dark blonde hair was cut short and had no loose lock out of place. His eyes were very intense, as if seeing every secret within her while giving away none of his. She was again glad that he was sitting down, she guessed that he had to be an inch or two over six feet tall. A very overpowering trait coupled with his broad shoulders, especially next to her petite five foot three.

            She turned to face her computer and began entering the information about him. “How much are you wanting to open your account with, Mr. Caldwell?” she asked.

            “I’m going to be opening the account with fifty thousand dollars,” he said, pulling a bank draft out of the inner pocket of his jacket.

            Leia almost choked as she stopped typing and took the bank draft from him. “Are you sure you want to put all of this into a personal account?” She looked it over; noticing the bank’s name and address in Chicago then entered the information into the computer

            “Yes, I’m sure. And I won’t need any checks. I plan on using strictly a debit card,” he said, noticing her discomfort.

            “Very well, then. If you’ll wait here for just a moment I will go and get your card made,” Leia said, getting up and walking into the back of the bank. She couldn’t believe that he was opening a personal account with fifty thousand dollars. He must have had one heck of a job to retire at his age with that amount of money.

            Leia returned a few minutes later and handed him a little plastic card with his name and a long string of numbers on it. “You should receive your personal identification number in the mail in a day or two,” she said.

            “That’s fine,” he said, sliding the card into his wallet. He had noticed the suspicious look she had given him.

            “You won’t be able to use the card until you receive your PIN,” she said, watching his reaction. “It will take a day or two to credit your account. Are you sure you don’t want to take some of this as cash?”

            “I understand, and no, I won’t be needing any cash.” Luke stood, extending his hand, giving her no choice but to stand and take his hand. “Thank you, Miss Tanner.”

            “You’re welcome, Mr. Caldwell. Have a good day,” she said, placing her hand in his. “And if you have any questions about your new account please feel free to call the bank.”

            He nodded then released her hand, turned, and casually left the bank. So now, all he had to do was wait. He still didn’t understand why Vulcan had insisted on so much money. He knew that it would make him seem suspicious to anyone who happened to see that amount. But Vulcan had said that the cash was his to keep, as payment and for expenses. It just didn’t feel right to Luke. And he had lived a very long time by trusting his instincts.
            When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
            When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

            Comment


              #7
              Leia was sitting at the table going over the estimates that Sallee had gotten for her when Jocelyn walked in, mumbling under her breath. Looking up, Leia watched her drop her backpack by the door. Jocelyn didn’t even seem to notice her as she got a glass out of the cabinet and poured herself some milk.

              “What’s the problem, Sis?” Leia asked.

              Jocelyn looked startled as she looked up at Leia. “Where’d you come from?”

              “I was sitting here when you came in,” Leia looked at Jocelyn closely. “Who’d you get in a fight with this time?”

              “What makes you think I was in a fight?” Jocelyn asked, looking into her glass of milk.

              “Well, it could have something to do with the black eye you’ve got,” Leia said, leaning back in her chair. “So I sure hope that the other guy doesn’t look too good, because you’re going to be in a whole lot of hot water when Mom sees you.”

              “Yea, I know,” Jocelyn said, sitting at the table after grabbing her backpack. “I might as well just do my homework here so I’ll get chewed out before dinner.”

              “What are you getting chewed out about?” Garret asked, coming in the back door.

              “I think I’ll take these to my room,” Leia stood, gathered up her papers and quickly left the kitchen.

              Garret watched the hasty departure of his eldest twin daughter and immediately knew that something was amiss. He walked over to the sink and washed his hands, watching his youngest daughter carefully out of the corner of his eye. By the way she was sitting at the table he’d wager that she had probably been in another fight. He sighed as he dried his hands, then went and sat beside Jocelyn.

              “Well, Jo. Let’s hear it,” he said, immediately noticing the bruising around her left eye.

              “Shouldn’t we wait for Mom? I mean, that would save me from having to explain the whole thing twice,” Jocelyn said into her glass of milk.

              “Rachel is visiting your Uncle Joshua. So why don’t you just tell me what happened and then I’ll tell your mother when she gets home,” Garret said, knowing how badly Rachel overreacted any time that Jocelyn came home with news of being in a fight. He also knew that was probably the only time that Rachel became truly upset with one of their daughters.

              Jocelyn looked up, “Well, believe it or not, I was not in a fight. Some stupid jock sucker punched me. If you don’t believe me then call Principle Barkov.” Jocelyn took a breath then looked back down at her glass of milk.

              “Honey, if you say that you weren’t in a fight then I believe you. Why don’t you go up to your room and do your homework so I can talk to your mom before dinner?” Garret suggested. When Jocelyn used Principle Barkov as an alibi, then she was telling the truth, but he would give the principle a call just to be on the safe side.

              Jocelyn gathered her things and, finishing her milk, quickly went upstairs, glad to be out of the line of fire. She felt immediately relieved that she didn’t have to be the one to explain to her mother about her black eye. While it was true that she hadn’t been in a fight today, tomorrow might be a different story. Paybacks, as they say, are hell.

              Garret was still sitting at the table when Rachel walked in carrying a couple bags of groceries. He immediately stood and took them from her, sitting them on the counter as she went back out to get more bags. As he helped her carry in the rest of the groceries, he thought about how he would explain Jo’s black eye.

              “We’re supposed to get some more snow,” Rachel said, unpacking the bags.

              “So I heard. How is Joshua?” Garret asked, putting things away as she unpacked them.

              “Well, he still wants to beat you to a pulp for stealing me away from the family fold,” she said with a grin. “But other than that, he’s fine. He’s been worried sick about Brittany since Jordan disappeared, he hasn’t heard from Sylver since she went to Ireland, and Josh is following in his footsteps like a true and loyal son,” Rachel couldn’t hide the agitation in her voice, but she smiled sadly and continued. “Dorothy is having a blast in college and Phillip is failing half of his classes. Typical parent stuff.”

              “Speaking of typical parent stuff,” Garret started, pulling a chair away from the table and motioning for Rachel to sit down. “We need to talk about Jo.”

              Rachel sighed as she sat in the chair. “She’s been in another fight hasn’t she?” she asked, wondering if her daughter would ever outgrow her tomboyishness.

              “She claims that one of the jocks sucker punched her. She also claims that Principle Barkov can vouch that she wasn’t in a fight. I believe her,” Garret said, sitting beside Rachel and taking her hand.

              “Principle Barkov? She said that he would back up her story? But you realize that tomorrow she is probably going to try to get revenge?” Rachel said, chewing on her bottom lip.

              “Yes, she probably will. But she’s got to be able to stand up for herself. We’re not going to be around forever,” Garret said, leaning forward to kiss Rachel softly. “And I already called Barkov and confirmed her story.”

              “Still, I wish there were another way for her to do it,” she said, standing. “I guess I’d better start dinner. Where’s Leia anyway?”

              “She went upstairs when I came in and started talking to Jo. She had a bunch of papers, I wonder if she’s going to make a move toward buying the old McAllister place,” Garret said, walking toward the back door. “Well, I’m sure she’ll tell us at dinner. I’m going to go check on Rising Star and her foal. If we’re going to get some more snow I want to make sure that they are comfortable.”

              Rachel watched him walk out towards the barn and chewed on her bottom lip. What were they going to do with Jocelyn? She was constantly getting into trouble of one kind or another. She turned to start dinner, knowing that even though she hadn’t started the trouble today, tomorrow was another story. She knew her daughter too well.
              When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
              When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

              Comment


                #8
                By the time they had gathered for dinner, Jocelyn’s eye looked far worse. Leia had tried to help her cover it with a little make up, but since Jo hardly ever wore make up, it stood out like a sore thumb. Their father tried not to laugh at his daughters’ efforts, but after several minutes of seeing Rachel stare at her in disbelief he gave up.

                “Jo, I think you’d better go wash up,” Garret said, grinning.

                “But, Dad, I did wash up,” Jo said, looking completely unaware of what he meant.

                “Jocelyn Rae Tanner, go and wash your face this instant,” Rachel said, sternly, clearly not amused at all by Jocelyn’s attempt to conceal the black eye.

                “Yes, Mother,” she mumbled, rising from the table and quickly leaving the room.

                “Mom, she only tried to cover it up because it looks worse now than it did when dad saw it,” Leia said, wondering why their mom always got bent out of shape when one of them got into a fight. “Besides, she didn’t do anything to get punched in the eye over.”

                Jocelyn reentered the dining room and retook her place beside Leia. She stared down into her plate, knowing how bad the eye looked, and wishing that her mother wasn’t about to let loose on her. She had known that it wouldn’t do any good for her father to talk to their mother. A black eye was considered a fight in her eyes, and she highly disapproved of her girls fighting, especially Jo.

                “Jocelyn, how many times have we talked about fighting?”

                A million, Jo thought to herself, not bothering to answer.

                “This is the absolute last straw. One more altercation and you WILL go to a private school,” Rachel said, frowning.

                Jo’s head came up. “But, Mom, I didn’t do anything!”

                “If you hadn’t done anything then why did that boy hit you? To show his affection? If dating has changed that much since I was a teenager then I don’t see many boys and girls getting together. Whatever you done to warrant a boy punching you in the eye was probably something that you managed to get away with and it was probably past time you were punished for it. So from now on—ABSOLUTELY NO FIGHTING. Do I make myself clear?”

                Jo hung her head, “Yes, Mother.”

                The rest of the dinner went by without a word out of Jocelyn. Leia told their parents about her plans to submit her loan application and what she planned on doing to the McAllister place when she got it. Jo half listened while she picked at her food. She was relieved when dinner was over and the dishes done. She quickly excused herself from the rest of the evening and returned to her room. Leia waited until Garret went back out to the barn to make sure that everything was secure before speaking to her mother about Jocelyn.

                “Mom, I think you’re overreacting,” Leia said quietly.

                Rachel looked at her eldest daughter, used to Leia coming to the defense of her younger siblings. “How should I react? Jocelyn has been suspended twice already for fighting this year. With five more months of school left there is no telling how many more fights she could get into. What should I do? Wait for them to expel her? She has to have her education.”

                “I agree. And Jo is an honor roll student, despite being suspended. That should count for something,” Leia said, walking over to the window to watch the snow slowly fall.

                “It does count for something. That’s the only thing keeping me from sending her to a private school immediately. She’s making good grades here, so here she will stay. As long as she stays out of trouble,” Rachel said, getting up from her chair. “I’m going to bed. You’ll realize, someday, that as a parent, you have to make some decisions that might not make you feel good, in order to protect your children.”

                Leia watched her mother walk from the room. She was probably right. If Leia was in her position, she might feel compelled to make the same decisions. But she couldn’t help but wonder if the threat of a private school hanging over Jo’s head would compel her to do better, or push her farther into rebellion.

                “Penny for your thoughts, Princess,” Garret said, walking quietly into the room.

                “I was just thinking about Jo.” Leia turned away from the window to face her father. “Why didn’t you say anything when Mom mentioned sending Jo to a private school?”

                Garret sighed. “Because we’ve talked about it before. And in this instance I agree with her. Your mother is right. Even if Jo didn’t start the fight, she must have done something at some time to warrant getting hit like that.”

                “You’re right. She does manage to get by with some pretty sneaky stuff,” Leia said, grinning, but she was quickly serious again. “But I couldn’t help wondering if the threat of a private school would make Jo better, or worse.”

                Garret nodded. “You may be right. We can only hope that she chooses the former and not the latter.” Garret hugged Leia. “We’ll I’m going up to bed. Goodnight, Princess. Don’t let it bother you too much. You’ve got enough on your mind.”

                Leia stood in the family room looking at the pictures on the wall. Pictures of the family taken throughout the years. Birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, anniversaries, graduations, and pictures taken for no other reason that to capture a beautiful moment adorned the walls. Pictures of her and Sallee going to prom with their respective dates, their brother Jansen going to his prom, her and Sallee as small children holding an infant Jansen between them, Leia, Sallee, and Jansen with an infant Jocelyn and others showed the deep love that their parents had for each of the girls and their only son. But Leia still couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that their mother’s ultimatum may cost them their youngest daughter.

                Releasing a sigh, Leia made her way up to her room. She hoped that Jo would be smart enough to realize that their mother was only looking out for her best interests. Unfortunately, Jo would probably only see it as a means to keep her confined. And if there was one thing that Jo fought against the most it was confinement. In that regard, Jo was a lot like Jansen, wanting to get out, get away from here. Leia worried that if push came to shove, Jo would be gone faster than a wispy summer breeze.
                When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                  #9
                  Luke moved through the dark house, walking carefully over rotten boards and supports. The house was old; probably over a hundred years, but it had surely been a sight to see when it was in its prime, and even Luke could tell that it had been well maintained up until a few years ago. If Luke had his way the old house would shine again. He would see about buying it first thing in the morning. One of his passions was restoring old things and he would enjoy the challenge of bringing the house back to its former glory.

                  Luke carefully made his way out of the house and back to the rented car. The snow had started again and he had to drive cautiously along the icy road on his way back to town. He smiled as he mapped out plans for the house in his mind. If nothing else it would give him something to do while waiting for the embezzler to make a move.

                  The next morning, breakfast was a surprisingly quiet affair. Jocelyn hardly said two words and Leia was too busy going over her papers to make much conversation. She knew that Jo was probably trying to figure a way out from under their mother’s ultimatum but there was little chance of her finding one.

                  Just as they were getting ready to leave Jo said, “I’m going over to Renai’s after school to practice. May I spend the night?”

                  Rachel thought about it for a moment then said, “All right, but I want you to call me as soon as you get there.”

                  “Ok,” Jocelyn said, pulling on her coat and heading for the door.

                  Leia didn’t say anything as she gathered her papers and followed. If she was going over to Renai Spurgeon’s after school it was to do a lot more than just practice their roping. Leia was sure that their mother knew it too. She would probably call Renai’s parents and tell them of Jo’s plan to come over after school and if she didn’t show up they would call back and tell her so.

                  Jo was silent on the way to school, and Leia didn’t ask her any questions. She had learned a long time ago that it was better to just let Jo figure things out on her own. Advice, especially unsolicited, was never looked upon kindly by Jocelyn, so Leia just kept her mouth shut.

                  Leia dropped Jo off at school and watched as she went over to Renai and started talking to the other girl. Those two could find more trouble than anyone else Leia knew. But Renai was also one of the few friends that Jo had of the female persuasion.

                  Leia arrived at the bank before anyone else and set about getting everything set up before Jefferson arrived. She was just finishing up tallying the opening balances when Jefferson walked in.

                  “You’re here early,” he said, sounding annoyed to see her.

                  “I figured I would get an early start on things,” Leia said, writing down the balances and putting them in their files.

                  Jefferson was quiet for a minute then simply shrugged and went into his office. Leia thought that it was strange that he didn’t make any kind of comment. Especially since they were the only ones there at the moment. She also couldn’t help but notice how he seemed to be annoyed at her presence so early, even though she was only about a half-hour early.

                  It wasn’t long before the other employees arrived and business as usual started. Leia became so busy, however, that she was unable to finish working on her loan application, and before she knew it, it was time for her to take her lunch break. She was just pulling on her coat when her cousin, and old school mate, Brittany Savage, walked in.

                  “Are you free for lunch, Leia?” she asked, paying no attention to the looks she drew from the few men who were currently in the bank.

                  Leia smiled. “Yes, I was just getting ready to take my lunch break.”

                  “Great. Let’s go,” Brittany said, waiting for Leia to grab her purse before leading the way out of the bank, into the biting cold air.

                  Leia couldn’t believe that Brittany ignored all the men who admired her. She was sometimes envious of Brittany’s long copper tresses and sharp green eyes. Leia was especially jealous of Brittany’s svelte five foot nine inch body. She smiled to herself, wondering why she and her sisters hadn’t gotten some of the Savage good looks, or at least some of their height.

                  They walked quickly down the sidewalk to a small corner café, and took a corner booth away from the few customers who were inside. The waitress took their orders and moved away while Brittany and Leia caught up on current affairs. They didn’t get to see each other nearly enough to suit either of them, despite being related, and they took every opportunity to catch up.

                  It wasn’t until after the waitress brought their drinks to their table and left them alone again the Brittany finally got up the nerve to tell Leia about the real reason for her visit.

                  “Leia, I’ve got some bad news,” she started, stirring the ice in her glass.

                  “What? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Leia asked, instantly worried.

                  “Oh, no! It’s nothing to do with me,” Brittany rushed to reassure her. “Actually it’s about your house.”

                  “Oh. If I ever get a spare moment to finish up my application I’m going to submit it this afternoon,” Leia said, relieved that it wasn’t anything serious. “What’s the problem?”

                  “It was sold this morning.”

                  Leia’s jaw dropped. No one had shown the least bit of interest in that house for at least five years that Leia knew of. Ever since Mrs. McAllister had died. Leia had coveted that house for years. It was her dream to fix it up and start back the tradition of holding the annual Graduation Tea there like Mrs. McAllister had always done.

                  “You have got to be kidding me,” she said, stunned. “Who?”

                  “I don’t know who he is. What I do know is that he’s from Chicago. At least he’s going through a bank out of Chicago. I’m really sorry, Leia. If I had dealt with him I would have told him that the place was already under contract or something,” Brittany said, clearly dismayed.

                  “It isn’t your fault. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” Leia said, stirring her drink.

                  Just as the waitress arrived, delivering two big, steaming bowls of soup, the door of the café opened and Luke walked in, brushing snow off of his wide shoulders. He quickly glanced around the café then moved to a table that would allow him a clear view of Leia and Brittany without drawing too much attention to him. Or so he hoped.

                  “That’s him,” Brittany whispered, glancing toward him to be sure. “Yes, that is definitely the guy.”

                  “You’re kidding? He came into the bank yesterday and opened a new account,” Leia said, immediately on guard. “And I think I’ve seen him lurking around in front of the bank.”

                  “That’s strange. If he opened an account at the bank why didn’t he go through you instead of the Chicago bank?” Brittany asked, puzzled.

                  “I don’t know, but he gives me the creeps. Do you think that Uncle Joshua could check him out? I’ve got his name and social security number at the bank,” Leia said, stirring her soup nervously.

                  Brittany looked down into her soup. “I haven’t talked to Dad in awhile,” she said, quietly. She looked up, pain and regret showing in her eyes. “At least not since Thanksgiving.”

                  “Oh, Brittany. Why?” Leia asked, taking Brittany’s hand comfortingly.

                  “Well, you know that Sylver didn’t come home for Thanksgiving dinner.”

                  Leia nodded.

                  “Well, he was upset about that and then he got started on Jordan….” Brittany became quiet, carefully wiping a tear from her eye.

                  Leia, knowing how upset Brittany became when discussing Jordan, quickly changed the direction of the conversation back to Luke Caldwell. “How about sending Josh over to talk to me? I’ll bet he’d do it for me. That is if he isn’t swamped with work all ready.”

                  Brittany met Leia’s gaze and smiled, gratitude shining in her tear-filled eyes. “Yes, I think Josh could help you. I just talked to him yesterday and he said he had a few days off.”

                  “Great! Just send him over or have him call me and we’ll get the ball rolling,” Leia said, starting in on her soup.

                  Luke didn’t know why the tall red-head had suddenly looked so upset but he had to admire the way that Leia seemed to know how to draw her away from whatever thoughts had brought it on. He watched them as they got up, the redhead paid for their meals, and they walked back out into the biting wind. They hugged quickly then walked off in separate directions, Leia back toward the bank and the redhead down the street to a beat up Jeep.
                  When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                  When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                    #10
                    Leia had barely gotten back to her desk when Jefferson came stalking over to her. “Where have you been?” he demanded.

                    Leia looked at her watch. “I’ve been eating lunch and technically I’m still on my lunch break. Is there something you need Jefferson?” she asked sweetly.

                    Jefferson checked his watch, and instantly became more civil. “Oh. Well, we have someone who has a complaint about their account and I want you to handle it.”

                    Leia sighed. “All right. Who is it?”

                    “It’s Mr. Wing,” Jefferson said, turning away from her. “I’ll tell him that you can speak to him now.”

                    Leia had to bite her lip to keep from saying something that she’d regret. It always annoyed her that Jefferson showed such little respect for their patrons that he couldn’t even address them by their proper name. She stood as the tall, dark Native American man walked toward her, clearly annoyed.

                    “Please have a seat, Mr. Shadow-Wing, and tell me what the problem is,” Leia said, after shaking his hand.

                    “Leia, I’ve done business with this bank for several years and nothing like this has ever happened before. And for that moron to accuse me of ‘misplacing’ the funds is enough to make me want to resort to the most basic form of violence,” he said quietly, sitting very straight in the chair.

                    “Misplacing of what funds?” Leia asked, swallowing.

                    “The two thousand dollar deposit I made on Monday morning,” he said, his gaze not wavering.

                    “Two thousand dollars? Let me check and see what the computer says,” Leia said, turning to her computer.

                    “According to that moron, it shows that I didn’t make the deposit, but I have my receipt right here,” he said, pulling the slip out of his pocket and handing it to Leia.

                    Leia looked over the receipt, taking note of the initials scrawled on it. She then punched in his account number and looked it over carefully before frowning. Leia picked up her phone and dialed one of the tellers’ extensions, asking her to come over as soon as she could.

                    “We WILL get to the bottom of this, Joe. And I apologize for the way that Jefferson treats you when you come in here,” Leia said, motioning the young teller over.

                    Leia didn’t notice the way that the younger woman blushed when Joe looked at her, and she didn’t notice the hot look that Joe gave her that had nothing to do with anger. “Did you take Mr. Shadow-Wing’s deposit Monday morning? These are your initials aren’t they?”

                    The girl looked at the receipt. “Yes, Leia. I did everything just the way you showed me,” she said, biting her lip. “Did I do something wrong?”

                    Leia immediately felt bad for the girl, she hadn’t worked at the bank for very long, but she had seemed to pick up everything quickly. “I don’t think so, Shadorra, but it seems that the deposit has gotten lost somewhere in the bank and we need to find it. So I’ll need you to help me go through all of the transactions you did to make sure that it didn’t accidentally end up in the wrong account.” Leia turned to Joe and said, “That’s about all we can do right now. I’ll call you as soon as we find it or if we don’t find it.”

                    Joe stood slowly, easily towering over both of them. “That will be fine. I’ll be at the bar,” he said, casting another steaming glance at Shadorra.

                    Leia couldn’t help but notice the parting look he gave Shadorra before he walked away and out of the bank. She looked at Shadorra and noticed that she was trembling, although slightly, and there was a definite hint of a blush beneath her dark skin.

                    “Are you all right, Shadorra?” Leia asked, not sure what she had missed.

                    “Oh, w-what? I-I’m fine. I just got a little chill is all,” she stammered, quickly lowering her eyes.

                    “Ok. We’d better get started on this. It will probably take a couple of days to track it down,” Leia said, wondering just what was going on between Shadorra and Joe. She didn’t know much about Shadorra’s background but she did know that the girl was only nineteen and Joe had to be in his mid to late forties. After all, he had owned the bar ever since she could remember and he had a son her age.
                    When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                    When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                      #11
                      Luke watched the tall Native American leave the bank and climb into the 4x4 waiting by the curb. This job was going nowhere fast and he was anxious to get to work on the house. If something didn’t happen soon he would think that Vulcan didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and he’d tell him so too.

                      Just then Luke’s cell phone rang. “Hello?”

                      “Mr. Caldwell, I believe that more funds have been misappropriated at the bank,” Vulcan’s clear clipped voice said.

                      “And just how would you know that?” Luke asked, annoyed that Vulcan obviously had someone else working this case.

                      “I have my sources. I suggest you check into it.”

                      Luke listened to the sound of being disconnected before placing his phone back in his pocket. Look into it. It looked like he was going to have to do some ‘looking into it’ after business hours. Maybe while he was searching for some answers he would find out why Vulcan was so interested in this particular bank.

                      Leia was rubbing her eyes as she left the bank and walked toward her Jeep. She had almost reached it when a husky male voice said, “How do you expect to see where you’re going if you don’t get your hands out of eyes?”

                      Leia looked up, startled. “Josh! You scared the life out of me!”

                      Josh grinned, leaning against his motorcycle, decked from head to toe in black leather, which did nothing but accent his crew cut copper hair. “Brittany said you wanted to see me. So, now you see me.”

                      Leia smiled. “You’ve cut your hair,” she said, walking over and hugging him.

                      He returned her hug with a tight squeeze then set her back away from him, rubbing a hand over his hair, as he looked her over closely. “Jefferson been giving you fits? You want, I should hang him from a flagpole?” he asked, cleverly dodging the comment about his hair.

                      Leia laughed, even though she could tell that Josh was deadly serious. “No, no. Jefferson isn’t the problem. This time. I’m just tired because we’ve lost a deposit. But that’s not what I wanted to see you about either.”

                      “All right then, Sis. Let’s have it,” he said all business.

                      “There is this man who I think is pretty suspicious. He came into the bank yesterday and opened an account with a very large amount of money, and then today he buys the old McAllister place. But he doesn’t go through us he goes through, I’m assuming, the bank he does business with out of Chicago. What makes me think he’s suspicious is that I’d swear he’s following me, or at least staking out the bank for some reason,” Leia said, watching Josh carefully for any sign of a reaction.

                      Josh seemed to ponder what she at told him while looking over her head toward the street. “He doesn’t happen to drive a dark blue rental sedan does he?” he asked.

                      Leia turned around just in time to see the car slowly drive by. She was shocked and just a little shaken to see him behind the wheel. He didn’t seem to see Josh, but then Josh had a way of hiding in plain sight, despite his height, and manner of dressing. Leia watched the car disappear down the street before turning back to Josh.

                      “That was him,” she said, noticing the trembling in her voice but not being able to do anything about it.

                      Josh was still looking in the direction that the car disappeared. Then he looked back at Leia and said; “I’ve been watching him watching the bank all afternoon. He has the definite look of a man who would rather be anywhere but where he was. You got the necessary info for me to do my check?”

                      Leia pulled out the piece of paper she had wrote his name, social security number, and previous address on. “Another thing I though was suspicious was that he put down that he was retired. Well, unless I’m mistaken, he doesn’t look anywhere near old enough to retire.”

                      Josh slipped the paper into his jacket pocket. “I’ll check it out Leia, don’t worry.”

                      He slid his helmet on the fired up his motorcycle and recklessly sped out of the icy parking lot. Leia rolled her eyes. How he kept from killing himself was anyone’s guess, but he could handle anything with wheels. She was just surprised that he had actually owned a helmet. And he would find out Mr. Caldwell’s secrets and reasons for being in Rocky Falls.
                      When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                      When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                        #12
                        On her way home, Leia drove past the McAllister place. She stopped her Jeep in front and got out. She had had such high hopes for what she could have done to the old place. Sighing she made her way up to the front porch of the old sprawling house, those hopes and dreams had been shattered in an instant by some stranger who couldn’t know for a minute what this house meant to her and the history of Rocky Falls.

                        Leia had just stepped up on the porch when she heard the distinctive sound of a chain saw coming from behind the house. Quickly leaving the front porch, Leia carefully made her way around to the back of the house not knowing what to expect and definitely not expecting what she found. There, dressed more like a logger than a city boy, was Luke Caldwell, trimming away dead branches from the old oak that had once thrived in the back yard.

                        As she watched he finished cutting the dead branch and carefully lowered it to the ground with a rope, to where several other branches lay. It was then that he noticed her. As soon as the branch touched the ground he shimmied down the tree to stand before her. He looked at her expectantly as he removed the goggles and earplugs that he had been wearing.

                        Leia suddenly didn’t know what to say. She looked around to avoid his gaze and to try to think of something to say to him. When she finally met his gaze again he was smiling. For some reason that only seemed to make Leia angry and she suddenly knew exactly what to say to him to wipe that grin off of his face.

                        “What do you think you are doing?” she demanded, growing more furious by the second.

                        His smiled disappeared. “I’m trimming off the dead branches so they don’t do any more damage to the house,” he said, eyeing her warily as he motioned to the back of the house.

                        That was when Leia noticed that sometime during all the recent snow a large branch had broken away from the tree and smashed through the backside of the house. She couldn’t stop the tears from coming as she saw the damage the limb had done. Before she knew what was happening, Luke had put his arm around her, offering her comfort.

                        “Why are you crying?” he asked, totally unprepared for her tears.

                        “I love this house,” she whispered, brushing the tears away. “Mrs. McAllister always took such great pride in it.”

                        Leia pushed him away. “How dare you! What do you plan on doing to this house? You’ll probably just clear off the land and build some more useless condos or something else equally degrading. This house is a historic landmark here in Rocky Falls. It has been here for one hundred and thirty years. Mrs. McAllister’s grandfather built this house with his own two hands and she would be rolling over in her grave if she knew some outsider had bought the place.”

                        Leia was breathless, and just a little shocked at her outburst. She couldn’t believe she had just ranted on to him about the house. He probably thought she was crazy or something. Forcing herself to look up at him she wasn’t prepared for the amused look on his face.

                        “Well now that we have that out of the way,” he said, walking over to a black thermos and offering her some of the steaming coffee. She shook her head, and he just shrugged and poured himself some in the lid that doubled as a cup and took a deep swig of the steaming brew.

                        “First of all, Miss Tanner, I have no intentions of tearing this house down,” he said, smiling as she looked stunned. “I plan on completely restoring it. That’s one of my hobbies, you see. Actually, it’s more of a passion.”

                        She was stunned. Leia hadn’t expected him to actually want to restore the old house. She shivered as the wind picked up, and pulled her coat tighter around her. It was then that she noticed that it was starting to grow darker. She hadn’t realized that she had been there for that long.

                        “Leia,” he said, stopping her as she turned to leave. The husky way he said her name made her feel a little weak in the knees. She turned and looked back at him expectantly.

                        God, what was he thinking? He had almost told her why he was here. That longing look in her eyes when she had told him how much the house meant to her had disarmed him. If she was embezzling money why hadn’t she already bought the house and restored it? Maybe he should tell her. Maybe she would help him find out who was responsible for milking money out of the bank.

                        “Goodbye, Mr. Caldwell,” she said coolly, turning and walking quickly back around to the road where her Jeep was parked.

                        Luke just watched her go. It would have been disastrous if he had told her. Not only would it have put his whole investigation in jeopardy, but possibly even their lives. No, he decided, she was better off staying on the suspect list. No matter how attracted to her he suddenly found himself.

                        Leia sat in her jeep for a few minutes waiting for the heater to warm her, wondering what was wrong with her that she would go off and ramble like that to a complete stranger. Putting the Jeep in gear, Leia carefully drove away from the McAllister place, but she could still feel his eyes watching her. In a few minutes she was pulling up in front of her parents’ home.

                        As soon as she walked in the house she knew something was wrong. Garret was on the phone talking quietly, and looked upset. Rachel was sitting at the kitchen table staring down at her clasped hands, and looked up expectantly as Leia walked in. Her father hung up the phone and turned to face her.

                        “Jo is missing,” he said quietly.

                        “I thought she was going over to Renai’s after school,” Leia said, sitting down beside her mother.

                        “She was,” Rachel said. “But Renai’s mother called and told me that she didn’t come home with Renai.”

                        “Oh brother,” Leia said, standing. “I’ll go and see if I can find her then.”

                        “I just got off the phone with Joshua. He said that he would send Josh out to look for her. You don’t need to worry about it, Leia,” Garret said, standing behind Rachel, rubbing her shoulders gently.

                        Leia shrugged. “Ok, if you’re sure. I’m going to go change and go out for a ride then,” she said, heading up the stairs.

                        Rachel leaned back against Garret and sighed. “Where could she be?”

                        “Josh will find her,” he said, leaning down to kiss the top of her head.

                        Leia pulled off her suit and tossed it carelessly across the bed. She needed to clear her head and a ride across the pasture would help her a lot. She pulled on jeans, an old Missouri State University sweatshirt, and her old boots before heading back down stairs and out the back door. But when she stepped outside she didn’t head for the barn, instead, she got back in her Jeep and took off down the road.

                        Before she could change her mind she was pulling up in front of the McAllister place, and climbing out into the cold. Pulling her coat tighter around her, she walked back around to the back, where Luke had piled all the dead branches a good distance from the house and had set fire to them.

                        He glanced at her questioningly as she walked up to stand beside him, but didn’t say anything. She watched the flames from the branches dance in the wind as she wondered what she was doing. She must be completely out of her mind, she thought. She knew there was something about him that didn’t sit well, yet here she was.

                        Finally, she glanced at him and asked, “So what brings you to Rocky Falls?”

                        Luke had been wondering what she was doing back at the house, but he wasn’t prepared for her question. He wasn’t sure how much he should tell her or how much he could tell her and not reveal his real reasons for being here. He sighed, realizing that there was no way he couldn’t tell her the truth. Because somewhere inside him he knew that she wasn’t involved, and he could use her help.

                        “I’m a private investigator,” he said, deciding it would be best to give her a little bit of information at a time.

                        She looked at him then. “Oh really? And why are you in Rocky Falls?” she asked again, having a feeling that she wouldn’t like the answer.

                        “Working,” he said, suppressing a grin as she glared at him.

                        “You’re being obtuse,” she said, looking back toward the fire. “That’s all right, don’t tell me. I’ll just wait until my cousin digs up your background.”

                        “Oh really? Well, your cousin won’t find much,” he said, immediately becoming defensive, and turning to face her.

                        That did it. Leia turned toward him. “Who are you investigating? Me? Well, I’ll have you know that I’ve done nothing wrong. I pay my taxes and I don’t owe anyone any money. So you can just go back to Chicago and quit following me around.”

                        Leia turned and headed back toward the driveway, but she’d barely gone a few steps when he grabbed her and swung her around to face him. The electric sensation was instant. She stared up into his blazing blue eyes, and shivered. The intense fire that burned in his eyes had nothing to do with anger and everything to do with desire. Desire for her? Leia shivered again at the thought.

                        What was he doing? As he looked down into her icy blue eyes, he felt her shiver beneath his hands. Every nerve ending was sizzling, as if he had just been struck by lightning. It seemed that every time he touched her he had the same reaction. He slowly released her and took a cautious step back. This wasn’t the time or the place for a confrontation with her. He would just let her think what she wanted for now and hope that when it was all said and done he might have a chance with her.

                        As soon as he released her she stopped shivering. What was it about him that made her feel so weak? Finally breaking eye contact with him, Leia turned and quickly made her way back to her Jeep. Once inside, she turned the heat up on high and sat there gripping the wheel. Whatever he was up to he wasn’t concerned with his past. That only made Leia more nervous. She turned the Jeep around and, as quickly as the icy roads would allow; she drove back to her parents’ home.

                        Luke watched as the taillights disappeared. He hadn’t had a chance to ask her why she had come out here. She had been troubled about something and he was sure that only part of it was his presence. As for her cousin, he could only hope that he wasn’t a very good investigator.
                        When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                        When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                          #13
                          Jo sat in the dark and shivered. She hadn’t planned very well for this little excursion and she was beginning to regret her impulsive behavior. But then, freezing to death was better than being sent away to a private school. At least it was in her mind. She listened to the water rush by the old mill, as the wind moaned through the holes in the walls.

                          She had shown Rusty McClellan that he couldn’t mess with her. She had caught the senior after football practice and paid him back in spades for sucker punching her. Unfortunately, when her mother found out it was going to be goodbye Rocky Falls, hello boarding school. No—thank—you—very—much. She would rather sit out in the old mill and freeze than be locked in some place where she couldn’t be with her horses.

                          “I thought I’d find you out here,” a deep voice said from outside.

                          Jo jumped up. “Josh? Is that you?” she said, approaching the barely hanging door.

                          Josh carefully entered the mill and shook the snow from his hair. He grinned at her and gave her a wink as he tossed the blanket he was carrying towards her.

                          “How did you find me?” she asked, wrapping the warm wool blanket around her.

                          “Well, I AM the one who showed you this place,” he said, carefully leaning against the wall. “I hear that Rusty McClellan has a broken nose. And he didn’t get it from football practice.”

                          Jo grinned. “Well, I have a black eye, and I didn’t get it from walking into a door.”

                          Josh laughed. “Good point.”

                          They stood in silence for a few minutes before Josh said, “Aunt Rachel is worried sick about you.”

                          Jo looked at the floor as if it held all the answers. “Does she know about Rusty yet?”

                          “I really don’t think that she does. But I also don’t think that this is a very good way of dealing with the problem,” he said, looking around. “If it was I’d be living out here.”

                          Jo glanced up at him. “I’ll run away if she tries to send me to a private school.”

                          “From what I hear, Aunt Rachel never stayed at a private school very long herself, so I’m surprised that she is threatening you with one,” Josh said, raising an eyebrow. “But that still isn’t the point. The weather is starting to get worse and she’s worried about you. I’m here to take you home. Kicking and screaming if necessary.”

                          “Can’t I stay with you?” Jo asked, hopefully. “You could call Mom and tell her that I’m ok.”

                          “Absolutely not,” Josh said, shaking his head. “But maybe you could stay with Brit for a day or two. After you let your mom know that you’re all right.”

                          Jo took the cell phone that Josh handed to her and dialed her parent’s number. She didn’t have to wait long for it to be answered and she immediately felt bad when she heard the strain in her father’s voice. She really loved her mom and dad but she was scared to death that they would send her away. She would never survive in a private school.

                          “Hello, Daddy,” she said, quietly.

                          “Jocelyn? Where are you, sweety?” Garret said, immediate relief filling his voice.

                          “I’m with Josh,” she answered, not wanting to tell him about the mill.

                          “Oh, thank God he found you,” his relief was audible and Jo immediately felt bad for making her father worry.

                          “I’ll have Josh bring me home, Dad. I’m sorry for making you worry.”

                          “It’s going to all right, honey. We’re just glad that you’re okay. We’ll see you soon,” he said, hanging up.

                          Jo disconnected and handed the cell phone back to Josh. He didn’t say anything about her decision to go home as he helped her gather her things together then led the way up to his motorcycle. She took the helmet he offered her then climbed on behind him. Jo held on tight and closed her eyes as Josh turned his bike toward her parents. While she loved the freedom and power of a horse beneath her, being on a motorcycle always scared her to death.
                          When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                          When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                            #14
                            When Leia had returned home her father had been on the phone with Jo. Their mother’s relief was apparent. Leia hugged her mother and father before climbing the stairs. While she was glad that her sister was okay, she needed some time alone to analyze her reactions to Luke Caldwell.

                            She had never been one to lose her temper. Leia had always been the quite, level-headed one in the family. What was it about Luke that made her lose her cool? Could it be the same thing that made her feel weak in the knees? Whatever it was she had to get a grip on it and not let it overwhelm her. The last thing she needed in her life was someone like him turning everything upside down.

                            Luke knew the instant that he wasn’t alone. He hadn’t heard any vehicle, or even a footstep, but he could feel the presence of someone else. As he turned from the fire his hand went to the .38 he always kept close. When he saw the tall dark man standing at the back of the house he relaxed, slightly. He didn’t let his guard down, but he moved his hand away from his pistol.

                            “What are you doing here?” he asked in a neutral tone.

                            “Mr. Vulcan wanted me to check on your progress,” he answered in a very controlled, cultured voice.

                            Luke’s brow rose. “Oh really? And why would he want you to do that?”

                            “Perhaps he thinks you have lost sight of your original objective,” he said, not moving from his position next to the house.

                            Luke almost laughed out loud at that. “You must be joking. I can assure you,” Luke stopped and gave him a hard look, “Just what is your name anyway? I hate not being able to properly address who I’m talking to.”

                            He narrowed his eyes as he quietly replied, “You may call me Eric.”

                            “Well, all right, Eric. Let me tell you something. I never lose sight of my objectives. And you can go and tell Mr. Vulcan that I will handle this investigation however I see fit, which is what I was hired to do.”

                            Eric nodded, turned, and disappeared around the house. Luke was steamed. In a way he had lost sight of the objective, but he’d be damned if he let Mr. Vulcan or his shady bodyguard tell him how he should conduct his investigation. In spite of his growing attraction for Ms. Tanner he had to get into the bank and get some details. He only hoped that she was as innocent as she pretended to be, otherwise, he would have to take her down.

                            Staring into the fire, he worked out the details of the plan in his head. He’d get into the bank, get the personnel files, and do some checking into recent account anomalies. Then he’d go back to his hotel room and contact an old friend to help him do the background checks. Smiling grimly he checked that the fire had burnt low enough to leave, before gathering his things and heading to the car. He’d have to hurry if he hoped to get all that done tonight. And he’d have to watch his back.

                            Watching Luke drive back toward town, Eric stood silently in the softly falling snow. Mr. Vulcan wouldn’t like that attitude. He also wouldn’t like the idea of Luke becoming involved with one of the people that he hoped to take out of the picture. While he didn’t think that Luke acknowledged it yet, Eric could tell the chemistry was there. He’d have to keep an eye on them.
                            When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                            When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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                              #15
                              Leia was up before sunrise the next morning. Not that she had gotten much sleep anyway, but she had to at least make some effort. After Jo had gotten home and she had listened to the lecture that her mother and father had given Jo they had all retired to their rooms. Leia had spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, trying to forget the way she responded when she was around Luke.

                              She made her way downstairs to the kitchen where Rachel and Garret were discussing Jo. By the tones of their voices, she could tell that they were trying to decide the best way to handle this latest altercation that Jo had gotten into. Leia sighed and walked to the refrigerator and pulled out the orange juice.

                              “How do you think she will react to that?” Rachel asked, as she stirred the gravy she was preparing on the stove.

                              “Well, she may be a bit embarrassed to begin with, but until we can trust her not to pull another of these stunts I believe it is the best way to handle it,” Garret said, leaning against the counter.

                              “What have you decided to do?” Leia asked.

                              “Your mother and I are going to drive Jo to school and back every day. At least until she’s proven that she’s not going to get into any more trouble. The alternative is to send her to a private school, and I want to withhold that option,” he said, frowning at the thought of sending his daughter away.

                              “Oh.”

                              “You’re up awfully early, Leia. Didn’t you sleep well?” Rachel asked, pouring the gravy into a bowl.

                              “Not really. I guess I’m more upset about losing the McAllister place than I thought,” she lied, blushing as she thought of the way Luke had looked at her and how she had tingled at the barest touch.

                              She shifted nervously when her father looked her over closely, but he was quickly distracted when Jo entered the kitchen. Leia sighed with relief, took a biscuit off of the still hot pan, and covered it with gravy. As she took a seat at the table she noticed how Jo kept her head down and kept quiet.

                              After a silent and tense breakfast, Leia watched as her parents took her younger sister to school. She truly felt sorry for Jo, but at least she wasn’t being sent away. That would do more damage to her self-esteem than having to ride to school with Mom and Dad.

                              Leia had grabbed her briefcase and was headed for the door when the phone rang. She checked her watch as she picked up the receiver. As soon as she heard the voice on the other end she wished she had just kept walking out the door, but now it was too late.

                              “Can you stop by on your way to work?” Luke asked, his husky voice causing shivers to run down her spine.

                              “Why?” she asked, hoping her own voice didn’t give away her unease.

                              “I’d rather not say over the phone, but it is important that I speak to you before you go to the bank,” he paused for a moment before adding, “Please.”

                              She sighed. “Ok, but I won’t be able to stay long or I’ll be late.”

                              “Good,” he said.

                              She hung up and quickly walked out of the house. She didn’t want to stop and talk to him but her curiosity wouldn’t let her just drive by. The Tanners were cursed with their unquenchable curiosity. Leia pulled her coat tighter around her against the icy wind as she quickly climbed into her jeep. As she drove carefully down the snow covered drive she thought again about how frustrating Luke Caldwell was turning out to be.

                              Luke was standing on the dilapidated porch of the house watching tiny flakes of snow, drifting down from the pewter sky when Leia pulled up. He watched her carefully make her way towards him through the soft drifts of snow. She carefully stepped up onto the most solid looking part of the porch and looked at him expectantly.

                              “Well?”

                              “In a hurry?” he asked, one brow raised slightly.

                              “I told you to make it quick or I’ll be late for work,” she sighed, exasperated, at his obvious uncaring attitude.

                              “Ok,” he said, straightening. “There is someone at the bank embezzling money.”

                              “You expect me to believe that? Are we done?” Leia interrupted, looking at her watch.

                              “No, that’s not all, if you’d let me finish,” he said, causing her to blush. “I believe that your boss is responsible for the missing money.”

                              She was shocked. She would be the first to admit that Jefferson was a sleaze, but stealing money? Luke had to be wrong. She looked at him, standing there, waiting for her response, and looking as if he expected her to do something for him.

                              “That’s crazy,” she said finally. “I’ve got to go.”

                              He grabbed her arm before she could step off of the porch. His grip was strong but gentle as he turned her back to face him. In his eyes she could see the frustration that he was feeling, but she didn’t know if it was frustration about his job or about the electricity that was arcing between them.

                              She trembled slightly, but he noticed and his eyes immediately shifted. He released her and stuffed his hands in his pockets. It looked as if there were more he wanted to say, but he couldn’t seem to find the words to voice his feelings. Instead he stepped away from her and watched as she quickly but carefully made her way back to her jeep.

                              That didn’t go the way he had hoped. Now he would have to just hope that she didn’t say anything to her boss about him. That would end his investigation before he had actually begun. And then there was the other problems he was having to deal with now. The first being the visit from Vulcan’s right hand man. If he was here that meant that Vulcan was also. He had been unnerved that the man had seemed to come and go without a trace, truly disturbing. The second was Leia’s cousin. When she had told him that she had asked her cousin to check his background, he hadn’t been worried. Then he had found out just who her cousin was and whom he worked for. He knew just how powerful the Savages were, and he knew that they could get access to information that normally was highly classified.

                              So now he was playing the waiting game. Waiting for Josh Savage to pay him a visit to find out just what he was doing watching Leia. In the meantime, however, he could get a lot of work done on this house. He already had plans on what he was going to do with it once it was fully restored. Smiling to himself he went around to the back of the house to start work.
                              When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                              When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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