Oh, but it's good to have the musae back talking to me again. Of course, since I told Paige about this idea, I've just got to write it. Otherwise, she'll come hunting me with a big pointy stick to try and prod it out of me.

As Liz is 'all Frank, all the time', but is making forays into Paul Blaisdell, I'm currently mostly stuck on Control. I find the character fascinating and wonder what goes on behind that cool, supposedly uncaring facade. This is just another exploration and is not part of any of my universes, just a 'what if' sort of thing.

Fulfilling Needs


He was still only human, just a man. And a man has needs. Even him. Due to his work, however, it wasn't prudent to marry and settle down. Besides, he didn't think he was up to the commitment required for a full-time relationship, let alone the fact that he wasn't sure he was even capable of loving anyone, not even himself. He'd seen too many failed marriages and broken families to want to add to the statistics. But that didn't lessen his need for companionship; or sex.

Long ago, he'd discovered a discrete and relatively safe means. He'd make a phone call, name a time and a hotel room, and when he'd arrive, someone would be waiting for him.

It had been some months since he'd last felt the need, but after the past couple of months and all the crap he'd had to deal with, it was time. He made the call, and then traveled a circuitous route to his rendezvous. He already had his card-key, and so entered the hotel from an ubiquitous side entrance and took the stairs to the third floor. Using the card-key, he entered the suite he'd rented for the occasion.

The girl stood up when he entered and smiled at him. He blinked, frowning.

"Hi, I'm Sherrie."

"How old are you?" He'd closed the door, but hadn't moved into the room.

"Eighteen, why?"

His frown deepened into a scowl. Eighteen? No way. Sixteen, maybe. No matter, even if she really were eighteen, she was still much too young for him. He preferred mature women, not little girls. "I'm sorry, but there's been a mistake. I like women, not kids."

The girl looked surprised and, perhaps, a little relieved. He couldn't help but notice her reaction; after all, observing people was one of his specialties. "But they said you wanted something special." The girl preened, arching her back and showing off her bosom as she took a deep breath. And was surprised and disappointed when his eyes didn't shift from hers.

"I'm sorry, but you're simply too young." He shook his head and sighed. "Look, if you want to stay for dinner, it's already ordered, but there's no way I'm going to lay a hand on you."

The girl frowned, since a 'hand' wasn't what she was there for. There was a knock at the door, and the man opened it and allowed the bell boy to enter, pushing a trolley with several covered dishes and a bottle of wine in a cooler. The man gave the bell boy a good tip and then turned to the girl.

"Come on, sit down. I'm sure you're hungry." He might not have allowed his eyes to drift down when she tried to entice him, but it didn't mean he hadn't noticed, and what he'd seen more than her figure, were the way her ribs showed when she arched her back. The girl sat hesitantly at the dining table and he served her - everything but the wine.

"Sorry, but you're not old enough to drink." He lay out his own dinner on the table opposite her and sat down, pouring himself a full glass of the excellent wine. As they ate, he carefully questioned the girl, finally getting some of the truth from her. She was from a small, Midwestern town and had run away from home to find fame and fortune in the big city. He sighed. There was no fame or fortune to be found here, but you couldn't tell kids that. He wondered how long she'd been on the streets. Long enough to be hungry, he noticed, but not so long as to have fallen victim to the drugs and predators, although if she thought that being a call girl was a good career choice, she was definitely mistaken.

After they ate, he advised her to go back to her home town, finish school, and find some nice young man to settle down with. This city was no place for her, and prostitution was no way of life.

She bit her lip, having already come to the conclusion that he was right, but at the moment, she didn't have the money for even a bus ticket home; and the only way she'd gotten any money at all was what she was here for.

"Look, if you don't have a place to stay, you can sleep on the couch, here. However, you are not sleeping with me, and we are not having sex. As I said, I do not find children sexually attractive, and you, my dear, are a child." With that, he'd smiled gently to take the sting from his words and retired to the bedroom - locking the door behind him.

Shaking his head, he undressed and went to bed, wondering if she'd stay the night or not. No matter, they were both safe on opposite sides of the locked door.

At three a.m., the door to the suite crashed open and uniformed officers swarmed in. The girl, sleeping on the couch woke up screaming in terror. He woke up and heard someone trying his door. Not knowing what was going on, he took his gun with him when he opened the door.

The girl was, as he'd suspected, only sixteen, but she protested that he'd never touched her, even once. The cops, who had come based on an anonymous tip, went back to their precinct empty-handed. After all, the supposed molester was the one behind the locked door, not the supposed victim. Besides, the girl was fully dressed.

He gave her a hundred dollars and told her to catch the next bus home.

She did.

Idiot. What was I thinking? I KNEW that girl had to be jail bait. He was fuming as he checked out of the hotel the next morning. Worst of all, he still wanted...no, he was honest, with himself at least, he needed.... He shook his head and sighed as he made his way in to the office. The building was nearly empty, it being a Saturday, but there were still a few people working, there always were. He growled as he glanced at his phone. The light was blinking, indicating he had voicemail. Slamming his coat down over the visitor's chair, he stalked to his desk and pressed the play button for his messages. Within minutes, he was on the phone putting out fires, as usual.

His needs were ignorable, for the time being.

It was Friday night, and he ached. He didn't dare make the call, not after the last time. For the first time in more than a decade, he found himself down in the red light district. Such a quaint term, considering that most of the women he saw were drug addicts, as well as prostitutes. That had been why he'd used the agency, but after they'd set him up with jail bait, he didn't dare trust them again. He still didn't know why, but it wasn't really important.

He cruised the streets, searching, but it had been so long, he wasn't sure he remembered how to approach. Then, he spotted someone he recognized, and pulled over by the individual and rolled down his window.


The tall, thin transvestite turned at his name and, recognizing the man in the car, smiled widely. "Why, bless my soul, Johnny, how long's it been, sugah?"

'John' shook his head and smiled. "I think it was at least twelve years ago. You still getting hassled?"

Tyrone giggled. "Naw; well, not much. I've got my own stable, these days. Ain't seen you since that night you came flying to my rescue from those four nasty little boys. What brings you down heah?"

He shrugged and glanced down the street at half a dozen women who were watching them rather closely. "I was hoping to find a little....companionship, for the weekend," he finally said.

Tyrone seemed surprised. "Sugah, I cain't sees you having any trouble finding a girl. What do you like?"

He sighed and looked up. "Nothing unusual, just dinner, some conversation and, of course, sex." If you can't be honest with a pimp, you can't be honest with anyone.

Tyrone frowned. "Anything kinky?"


Tyrone drew his head back and looked skeptically at his one-time rescuer. "Sugah, seems to me you'd like some kink. Bondage, maybe?"

His stomach turned at the very thought. "No. No handcuffs, no tying anyone up."

Tyrone looked surprised. "Back door trips? Spanking?"

He shuddered. "No, and no."

Tyrone had seen 'John' turn pale and was surprised. Obviously, his take on the man had been wrong. Remembering how his attackers had wound up needing a hospital, he'd assumed....

"Just plain, straightforward sex?"

'John' looked up at him and smiled, shrugging. "That's all."

Tyrone pursed his flamboyantly purple lips. He looked down the block, thinking. Finally, his eyes lit on his newest girl. "How'd you like a newbie?"

'John' frowned. "Newbie?"

Tyrone nodded and then looked sharply at him. "She's new. Ain't been broken in, yet. Her ole' man dumped her for a younger girl, kicked her out without a penny and took her kids away from her. She ain't got a lot of marketable skills, but she's pretty enough, though a bit older for the streets, but she's fresh, sugah, and if you's all you says you are, she might be jest right for you. An' you for her."

'John' stared at him. "Drugs?"

Tyrone scowled. "Don't none of my stable use, sugah. It ain't profitable. Her name's Judy Rodgers, and she needs a friend. Mebbe you'd like to be her friend?"

'John' frowned. "What are you suggesting, Tyrone?"

Tyrone huffed in annoyance. "She don't belong out here, Johnny, but she needs someone to take care of her. You gots needs, she's gots needs. Mebbe the two of you can take care of each other's needs, is all. If it don't work out, you'll have at least given her a bit of experience. If it do work out...." Tyrone shrugged. "Two hundred for the weekend, Johnny. Longer, if you wants her."

'John' stared at Tyrone for several long moments. Finally, he glanced down the street at the women waiting for someone, anyone, to pick them up and take them somewhere warm, even if only for a few minutes. He'd never considered anything more than a weekend, before. But Tyrone seemed to be thinking longer term, a mistress; one at his beck and call. It was a novel thought, but still....

"What will she say?"

Tyrone smiled. "She won't say nothin', sugah. She's as cold as the rest of us are. In case you ain't noticed, it's damn cold out heah. What d'you say, Johnny? Take a poor girl out of the cold and give her a nice dinner?"

He considered the proposition. "What's your percentage, Tyrone?"

"Fifty-fifty, sugah. But for little Judy? She don't belong out heah. But her man done her wrong. Done her bad wrong, and she cain't get no kind of work. You take her in and you take good care of her, it'll be between you and her, I don't want nothin'."

A pimp with a heart. "All right."

Tyrone stepped back, his wide smile back in place. He looked down the street and lifted his right hand over his head and then dropped his wrist and pointed. 'John' watched as the woman indicated started and then paled, but made her way towards them.

As she got closer, he could see she was older than most of the girls on the street, in her thirties, at least; but she looked clean, though thin, but from what Tyrone said, that was to be expected. She also looked frightened.

"Now, Judy, honey, this is John, he'd like to take you out to dinnah. He's a nice man, so I wants you to go with him, all right?"

Judy nodded, her gaze flickering only briefly to 'John' and then back to examining the sidewalk. Tyrone placed his fingers with their long nails and the purple enamel that matched his lipstick under her chin and lifted her head to look into her eyes. "It's gonna be okay, honey. He ain't into kink," he promised. John saw her swallow hard and nod. Then, she turned her attention to him and smiled the shyest, most frightened smile he'd ever seen, and got into his car.

Tyrone smiled. "You take good care of each other, now. Heah?" He stepped back and wiggled his fingers at them in farewell and watched them as they drove away.

He glanced at his companion. "I'm John," he introduced himself.

She shot a quick glance at him and softly replied, "Judy Rodgers."

"I have a hotel suite. If you don't mind, I'd like to have dinner there."

She swallowed her fear and replied, "That's fine."

He couldn't help but feel her terror and wonder what on earth had possessed him to agree with Tyrone. But his body was already reacting to the challenge. This wasn't a professional; this was a woman who would require finesse and seduction. And his heart fluttered in anticipation.

They didn't call him Control for nothing.

Her surprise at the very upscale hotel was not lost on her companion. She followed him docilely as they entered from the garage and took the elevator up to the thirtieth floor. She felt woefully underdressed for this place, but realized it didn't really matter, since he only wanted her in his room to have sex.

She was surprised to realize that he really did have a suite. She'd expected to walk into a regular hotel room, with the bed the only prominent feature. She stood and watched as he took off his overcoat and she realized he was wearing a suit. She shivered as she began to thaw out in the warmth of the room.

"Please, have a seat. Would you care for a drink?" He hung his coat up and went to the bar.

"Uh, bourbon, please?"


"Yes, please."



"Do you want water in your drink?"


He realized that she had little experience with alcohol, either. He smiled and half-filled the glass with water and poured a very light drink for her, and his own, much stronger, scotch. "Here." He offered her her drink.

She accepted the drink and took a sip. To her surprise, she liked it. Warmer, now, she watched him as he took his drink and crossed the room to pick up the phone and dial a number. Seeing her watching him, he smiled.

"Yes, room service? This is 3012, I ordered dinner for two, earlier, and would like it delivered, now, please." A moment later, he hung up and walked over to sit across from her. "Dinner will be here in half an hour. I hope you don't mind my ordering for you?"

"Uh, not at all." He was certainly a gentleman!

"So, Judy, tell me about yourself?"

She shrugged somewhat diffidently. "Not a lot to tell. I'm divorced, my husband has custody of our two sons, and I ran out of options. I couldn't get a job, I lost my apartment, and...and...."she shook her head violently, trying to keep herself together. This was just his version of foreplay. And it wasn't bad, really, but she was terrified of what would happen next. She jumped when he sat beside her and his hand gently squeezed her shoulder.

"It's all right. I'm just curious. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to." He was surprised, for a woman who'd had two children, her figure was...very nice. Of course, that would explain her full breasts and wide hips, and not eating well explained her too-thin body. But the bone structure was good and strong looking. "How old are your sons?"

"Six and eight."

Young, then. "What broke up your marriage?"

She laughed, but it wasn't from amusement. "A cute twenty-two-year-old secretary." She shook her head and shrugged. "It's the same old story, I'm afraid. I worked two jobs to put him through business school, it took him six years, and we put off having children until after he was established, and then he found someone younger and prettier than I am, and that was that."

He knew there was a lot more to it than that, but he didn't push her. He watched her as she gulped down her drink and was glad that he'd made it weak.

There was a knock at the door and he stood up to allow room service in to serve dinner. After the server left, he called her over to come eat, and even held her chair for her. She couldn't help but feel special, he was so attentive. She also couldn't help the trepidation she felt, knowing what came next.

The food was excellent, and they chatted of inconsequential things over it, although somehow, it kept coming back to her and her ex. But John was a master, and she never realized quite what he was doing.

He kept plying her with wine over dinner, making sure her glass was never empty, so that by the time they'd finished eating, she was feeling rather mellow. When he stood, her expression went from confusion, to terror, to resignation, as she rose to follow him. But he knew what he was doing, and how he wanted the evening to proceed.

It had been a long time since he'd last seduced a woman, and the prospect sent little shivers along his nerve endings, shivers of anticipation and excitement. "Let's just sit and talk for a while longer, shall we?" His voice was a low, seductive purr, and she'd had enough wine that she responded.

"All right." She sat down beside him on the sofa. His long fingers gently stroked her cheek for a moment before he carefully eased closer to lightly kiss her.

She'd had more than half a bottle of wine with the first decent meal she'd had in months. When he kissed her, she couldn't help but kiss him back. After all, that was why they were here, wasn't it?

"So, what is it that your ex does for a living?"

"Uh," his fingers slid into her hair, gently massaging her scalp and she was finding it difficult to think, let alone speak.

"H-he's a stock broker."

"Is he, now?" He shifted closer, easing his left arm around behind her and gently drawing her closer to him while his right hand continued to play with her hair. Her eyes closed and she sighed. This was nice.

Seeing her reaction, he let his right hand slide down her cheek to her throat and then down her arm to her hand, which he gently squeezed. She shivered.

Easing closer still, he let his left hand slowly draw her nearer, while his right hand slid back up her arm and then shifted over to gently caress her breast. She made a soft sound of pleasure and he smiled. He lowered his head to kiss her again.

They had all night, and he was determined to take his time in his seduction, wanting to give, as well as take, pleasure in their interaction. It was an exercise in control, and that was something he was a true master at.

Two hours of gentle seduction and his body was screaming for release, but she was just barely ready to move from the sofa to the bedroom. She was now accepting of his more intimate caresses, making soft sounds of pleasure. He slid his hand up beneath her blouse and cupped her breast, rubbing his thumb over the nipple and making it peak. He gently eased his hand around her back to unhook her bra and was somewhat surprised to discover that the garment was too small for her and had compressed her breasts at least a full size. His breath caught for just a moment at the realization. He trailed soft kisses down her throat to the deep vee of her thin sweater, pressing her breast up from below; he eased the garment up and licked the peaked nipple and, feeling her shiver, took it into his mouth to suckle.

She moaned with desire, her arms wrapping around his head and running her fingers through his thick, wavy hair. She hardly noticed when he pulled her sweater over her head, only feeling his touch and the arousing ministrations of his lips and tongue.

He slipped his right hand beneath her too-short skirt and was unsurprised to discover she wore no panties, only the garter belt that held up her stockings. Knowing the reason for it didn't give him pause; in fact, his own arousal spasmed in need.

It was time. He lifted her into his lap, so she was straddling him, he raised his head to once more kiss her lips. He wasn't into tonsil diving, and kept his tongue in his mouth when he kissed her, but she still wiggled her hips against him, her own needs beginning to match his. With a soft growl, he stood, carrying her into the bedroom.

He gently placed her on the bed and withdrew. Her eyes opened, searching his face. He loosened his tie and began to unbutton his shirt. Realizing what he was doing, she sat up to help him. When he was undressed, she took a deep, shuddering breath and lay back against the pillows, waiting for him. She felt the bed dip as he crawled in beside her, and she kept her eyes closed, waiting.

He could see the resignation on her face, and started again, slowly touching her, gently exploring her body with fingers, lips, and tongue. He unfastened her miniskirt and garter belt, sliding them down her body and removing them, then he settled down beside her and continued his ministrations, ignoring his own body's screaming for release.

Finally, an eternity later, she was whimpering her need and desire for him to bring her to completion, and he quickly applied his condom and slid smoothly into her, and then didn't move for a few moments, until she squirmed beneath him and softly whispered 'please'.

Even then, he moved slowly, gently, carefully. She was shuddering in violent orgasm when he finally lost his control and moved to his own completion. At last, he reached the pinnacle and over, spiraling back to earth. Exhausted, he eased off the bed and nearly stumbled into the bathroom, leaving her panting and wanting to beg him to come back. When he did, he had a warm, wet washcloth with which he cleaned her, and then got her to roll over so he could remove the towel he'd placed beneath them. Finally, almost too exhausted to move, he crawled in beside her and took her into his arms, dropping almost instantly into sleep.

When he awoke, he was pleased to find her spooned up in front of him. He began to touch her, gently arousing her and fondling her body, teasing and manipulating. She awoke to find herself moving against his touch, wanting more, wanting him. She turned towards him and smiled. He smiled back and kissed her.

"Hold on a second," he whispered and slipped away. She frowned as she watched him go into the bathroom, only to smile again when he returned, sheathed and carrying another towel. She lifted up for him to place it beneath her, and then reached for him, welcoming him into her arms and body. He was still gentle, though a bit more forceful, this time, but his touch inflamed her body and she surged against him, seeking fulfillment. Afterwards, he again brought the warm, wet washcloth to clean her and again removed the soiled towel, and again took her into his arms to sleep.

And she couldn't help but wonder why her ex-husband had never made her feel this way.

Several times in the night, he'd awakened to take pleasure in her body and she in his. Finally, near dawn, he truly slept, satiated and physically exhausted.

It was mid-morning when her bladder awoke her with demands. She stirred slowly, warm and comfortable. She opened her eyes to gaze at the stranger she'd spent the most glorious night of her life with, and sighed. She eased away from him and into the bathroom. Considering how many towels they'd gone through during their night of passion, there were still plenty of clean ones. Debating for only a moment, she decided on a shower. The water was hot and the water pressure was high. She groaned in pleasure as the steaming fluid sluiced down her body. She was a bit surprised by how loose all her joints felt, particularly her hips, but then she thought of how he'd touched her, and shuddered, remembering the glorious pleasures of the night before. Bathing quickly, she dried herself and with her hair wrapped in a towel, she carried an extra one back with her to bed.

She'd never been the aggressor with her husband, but this man had taught her things she'd never even dreamed of, sexually. For the first time in her thirty-eight years, she decided to explore a man's body. She slid back beneath the covers with him and for a time, simply watched him sleep. He lay on his side, facing her, and his breathing was deep and even. His face was calm and she finally took a good look at him. He had good features: a heavy brow, and strong jaw line.

She carefully drew back the covers so she could see the rest of him. After all, he'd been more than simply intimate with hers. She was surprised to find scars on his chest and back. That one looked like it could be from a bullet, and that from a knife, and those....whip marks? She frowned, wondering at the cause. Then her gaze drifted lower, and she bit her lower lip. She knew that her husband had liked oral sex, but it had never been something she liked, but looking at this man, well, for one thing, there was more to hold on to, and for another...well, there was a lot more to hold on to. She bit her lip and glanced at his sleeping face, debating. Then she remembered his lips and tongue and the things they'd done to her. With a shrug, she scooted down and began with gently touching him, lightly stroking and, finally, gathering her courage, licked....

He was having the most wonderful dream. One of his favorite fantasies. The one where the beautiful woman...with a soft grunt of surprise, he awoke to find that it wasn't a dream. He shifted and reached down for her. As his fingers touched her face, she startled and let go, moving back, away from him. Her eyes were wide with fear as she looked into his face.

He winced when she so abruptly moved away, particularly since he was just so very close to the edge. He saw her fear, though, and shook his head. "I prefer to be conscious when you do that, please?" He smiled when she blushed.

"I-I wasn't sure. My ex, he liked it, but I never did, but last night...all the things you did to me, they felt, they were wonderful, so I wanted to do something for you."

Her voice was a low, husky drawl, and did nothing to calm his passion and desire for her. "Come here, please?" He held an arm out to her and she smiled shyly and came into his arms, laying her head on his shoulder. He just held her for a few minutes while he regained control. "We've got all day and tonight, if you're willing to stay."

Willing? It was freezing outside and she knew from the others that a john that didn't hurt you was a rarity, and one that brought you pleasure an impossibility, but he'd brought her more pleasure in one night than seventeen years of marriage had. "More than willing," she whispered.

He sighed, relieved. "Good. I need a condom,"

She held up the one she'd brought back from the bathroom, blushing as he chuckled and accepted it from her. "Thank you." While he applied it, she got the towel she'd brought back, as well. He made no comment, merely moving so she could spread it out beneath them, and then she knelt beside him on the bed and with her eyes locked on his, ran her fingers down his body to gently squeeze his scrotum. He gasped with pleasure and moved towards her, pressing her back against the pillows and kissing her while his hands stroked and fondled and aroused her to the same point he was.

She found herself reveling in his weight on and in her, and blossomed under his tutelage.

Later, he showered and ordered in brunch. After they ate, he took her back to bed.

Her hips were sore, but the rest of her felt wonderful. But the weekend was coming to an end and soon, she'd be right back were she'd started. But it had been two glorious days of good food, good company, and great sex. She wished it didn't have to end, but knew it had to. He had, no doubt, to go back to work. She doubted if she'd ever see him again, but he'd certainly given her something to remember. And compare every other man she ever met against. She strongly suspected that few, if any, could ever compare. She wondered if he was married? Somehow, she doubted that. No woman in her right mind would let a lover like him get away. Then again, he might just as well be like her ex, looking for something new. She sighed and began to dress.

He watched her, reading her emotions on her expressive face. She'd never survive in his world, but she was very well suited to meeting his needs. Because she wasn't a professional, she'd been very easy to manipulate into meeting his wants. Remembering what Tyrone had said, he wondered.

"Where will you go, now?"

She shivered as she thought of the cold, ugly streets. "Back to my corner, I suppose."

"This suite is paid up for the next week."

She looked at him, frowning in confusion. "Huh?"

He looked away from her. "If you wanted to stay. The room is paid for the week, through next Monday." He shrugged. "If you'd like to stay, that is."

"And where would you be?"

He lifted his eyes to meet hers. "I work. Lousy hours, sometimes for days on end. But if you're willing, I'd like to see you again."

She bit her lower lip, unsure. "Who else would know?"

"No one. I keep this part of my life very well protected."

Her expression held concern, sorrow, and desire, all at once. "I'd like to see you again."

"Stay the week? I haven't been in contact with the office all weekend, so no doubt there will be a dozen or more fires to put out."

She frowned. "Fires? Just what is it that you do?"

He tilted his head and his lips twisted sardonically. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you, I'm afraid."

He said it lightly, but something told her that it was the absolute truth. "All right. I'd love to stay." Of course she would! It was warm, the food was good, and his company...well, that was the best part of the whole deal.

He smiled and stood up. "All right. I'll call before I come, though, so as not to surprise you."

"You don't have to worry about that. I'll be here." It was cold out, and all she had were her skimpy street-walker clothes. And the fleabag she'd been living in didn't contain much more.

"All right. I'll come when I can." With that, he leaned over her and kissed her, his lips soft and warm as all the other times, and she shivered, remembering what those lips were capable of. "Use room service all you want, but if you want to go out," he placed six one hundred dollar bills on the table. "You might want to get some more clothes."

And then he was gone, leaving her staring at the money and shaking at the implications.

She looked around the suite and burst into tears.

She was a whore.

Thankfully, the weekend had been relatively quiet, so far as work was concerned. He spent most of the day reading and approving reports, but every time his thoughts wandered from the boredom of that, they'd fly back to the weekend and the pleasures thereof. Finally, at six p.m. he put on his coat and walked out. He drove home, changed into something much more comfortable, and incidentally changed his appearance just enough that most people wouldn't recognize him, went down to the garage, changed cars, and drove to the hotel.

When he arrived, he found her sound asleep, the marks of tears still visible on her face. He frowned, wondering what was wrong. He took off his coat and hat, laying them on the table, knelt by the sofa and watched her sleep for a time. Finally, he gently moved closer and kissed her awake.

Her eyes fluttered open to see him and she reached out to touch his face.

"What's wrong?" he softly asked, kissing her again.

She shook her head. "Nothing."

He frowned. "You've been crying."

She looked away from him and shrank in on herself. "It's nothing. Honest."

"Do not lie to me." His voice went hard and he stood up, moving away from her when all she really wanted was for him to take her in his arms and hold her. She sniffled, unable to help herself and he turned back to her. He crouched back down and gently touched her chin, lifting her head up so she had to look at him. "Tell me."

She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "I simply realized that I'm a whore." Her chin trembled and she turned her face away from him.

He sat back on his heels and stared at her. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "Look, go ahead and stay the week. I-I'll.... I'm sorry." He stood to go. It had never occurred to him that the women he bedded were anything other than ladies. Professional, perhaps, but still ladies. Even the other night when he'd been looking specifically for someone to have sex with, he hadn't considered them whores. His mind reeled at the implication.

"No, it's not your fault. Don't be ridiculous." The thought of his leaving made her stomach lurch and her body ache with desire for him. "Please, it's not you, it's me."

He stopped at the table, his hand on his coat, and turned back to look at her. "I'm sorry, it never occurred to me...." He shook his head again. His body was screaming at him to stay, telling him he'd paid for her for the week, and another part was yelling that that was wrong, and degrading to them both. It left him conflicted.

"It was my choice. It just hit me when you left this morning, that that is what I am, now."

He remembered Tyrone's words, and gave them the proper consideration that he'd skipped, before. She'd not only passively met his needs, she'd showed initiative in giving him pleasure. Would it be such a terrible thing to have her around for whenever those needs overwhelmed him? It would certainly be safer than what he might find on the street, and after his last experience with the service....

"What would you think of becoming my mistress?"

She stared up at him. His expression gave nothing away. "What?"

He turned back to her and sat in the chair opposite the sofa. "My mistress. Exclusivity. No walking the streets, no corners, no unknowns."

She sat up and frowned. "Why?"

He shrugged. "Why not?"

Remembering how he'd made her feel, she shivered. Mistress. That sounded a lot better than whore. "I-I guess so. What would it entail?"

"I provide you a place to live and money to live on, and you...well, you provide for my needs in exchange."

It was still sex for money, but somehow, it didn't seem quite the same. She bit her lip, thinking. Then she sighed. "Sure. Why not? I've got nothing more to lose."

He frowned, remembering her children. "I can get you an apartment large enough that your sons can visit, if you want?"

She swallowed hard and looked away. "I don't have visitation rights."

He stiffened. "Why not?"

"Because the judge said I couldn't. My husband got everything."

He scowled. "What do you mean? Tell me."

She shrugged, lifting her chin so she could look at him. "He filed for divorce, we went to court, the money he'd invested had vanished, he got the house, the kids, the car. Everything. After all, he's got a job, and I didn't. So, I just left with my clothes. I couldn't even have the things my parents and grandparents left me." She couldn't stop the tears that rose in her eyes and overflowed down her cheeks.

Something sounded decidedly hinky about this. But these tears, he could handle. He slid across to her and took her into his arms and held her. "What's your ex's first name?"

"Arthur," she sniffled.

He held her close and kissed her cheek. "Let me see what I can do, all right?"

"You don't have to do that."

He lifted her away from him and looked into her eyes. "Yes, I do." Then he held her close, again, and after a while, her tears stopped and her desire for this gentle man returned.

He ordered them in a light supper, neither of them being particularly hungry, except for one another, and even that was more based on the simple desire for comfort than sex. After they ate, he took her to bed, and held her through the night, gentle and comforting.

He awoke before dawn and slipped away. He left her a note that he'd return when he could, but that for now, to just relax and take it easy. He left her another five hundred dollars with the admonition to go shopping; and to make sure she got herself a nice, warm, coat.

The quiet weekend and Monday were definitely a thing of the past. There was another flare-up in the Middle East, as well as the North Koreans making noises, not to mention Indonesia and South America. For the next three days, he switched gears from one hot spot to another, frantically scrambling to keep his head above water.

On Friday night, however, he finally had the opportunity to go and see her again. He again went to his apartment, showered, changed, switched cars, and made his way to the hotel. It was late when he arrived, and he wasn't surprised to find her sleeping. He could see that she'd been shopping, as there were several bags in the lounge area of the suite. He saw her new coat and smiled. It was wool, heavy, and would be very warm. He hung his coat and hat up and walked into the bedroom.

He stood quietly for a time, watching her sleep. She was curled up around one pillow, her head on the other, in the middle of the bed. He quietly disrobed and eased in beside her, gently pulling her into his arms. With a sigh, she turned to him, snuggling against him with a softly murmured 'John'. His arms tightened around her and he lightly kissed her forehead, then relaxed and went to sleep.

She awoke from a wonderful dream in which John had come back, only to find that he had. She stared at him, lying there beside her, and smiled. It was Saturday, so they had the entire weekend to spend together. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes. When she next awoke, it was to his mouth on her breast and his hands touching and arousing her. She stretched against him, shivering with desire and turned on her back, pulling him with her.

He was just as attentive a lover as he had been the previous times and she welcomed his attention. Later, over brunch, he smiled.

"I have an apartment for you. It's furnished, so I hope you don't mind."

Her heart skipped a beat. He'd been serious. "Whatever you provide will be fine, John."

He sighed. "Well, come with me to look at it, at least. You might hate it, after all. If you do, I've got a line on a couple of other places." He didn't tell her that they were all in buildings he owned. And that this particular one had a secret passageway from his apartment building to the basement of hers, or the secret stairway that led to the apartment proper.

"All right," she agreed.

When they finished eating, he looked at her, his eyes hooded and smoldering with desire. "Care to share a shower with me?" he purred.

She shivered at his tone of voice and smiled. "I'd love to."

She'd never had sex in a bathroom, before, but she discovered that it could definitely be fun. Especially with someone as strong and virile as John so obviously was.

He drove her uptown and pulled into an underground parking lot. He got her door for her and then took her hand to help her out of the car. They took the elevator up to the third floor and then he led her to an ubiquitous door, one of only two visible. He unlocked it and stood back to let her enter first. She got inside and froze. The ceilings were high, at least ten feet, and it looked like the apartment went on forever. She turned to John and frowned.

"This is your idea of an apartment?" she asked.

"Well, it is if you ever hope to have your sons visit."

She swallowed, hard, her shock at his words left her speechless.

He followed her in and closed the door behind him. "Come on and I'll show you around." He led the way through the apartment. It was, as he'd promised, fully furnished. The living room had two couches, two club chairs, and a recliner, all in leather. The dining room had a table that would seat six, eight with the leaves in. The kitchen was rather small, but everything was easily within reach. There were two bathrooms. And four bedrooms.

She stared at him. "It's...it's...."

"Is it all right?"

"It's huge!"

"But will it suit you?" There was just a hint of anxiety in his voice.

"Suit me? It's wonderful!" She threw her arms around him and kissed him. His arms came up to hold her and he kissed her back, with just a bit more passion than excitement.

When she came up for air, he softly, breathlessly, informed her, "It's yours, if you want it."

She stared at him. She hardly knew this man. She was, she'd thought, nothing more than a sex-object to him. But she realized that he'd listened to her and understood. "Want it? Yes." He might still only want her to fulfill his sexual needs, but this was more than she thought she would ever have.

He nodded. "All right. If you'd like, we can go back to the hotel and either check out tonight and come here, or if you prefer, you can move in on Monday."

She turned to look at the bedrooms again and noted that the bath in the master bedroom had a Jacuzzi in it. Not to mention a nice, big, bed. She turned to him. "Here, please?"

He smiled and nodded. "All right. Do you need a suitcase or something to pack?"

She shook her head. "No. I've only got a few bags. They'll be fine, thanks."

"What about where you were before?"

She shuddered. "If it's all right with you, there's nothing there I need."

He nodded, understanding. "All right, we'll need to do some grocery shopping, though. The cupboards are pretty bare."

He was offering to go grocery shopping with her. When he'd said he'd provide for her, he hadn't been kidding!

For some reason, he insisted they go out of state to shop. It turned into quite an excursion. When he'd said the cupboards were bare, he meant of 'anything'. They bought dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, a coffee maker, toaster, microwave oven, can opener, bedding....everything. He'd been most attentive, observing her color preferences, helping to choose sheets, even. And he spared no expense.

Nearly five thousand dollars later, they returned to the apartment. Some of the things were going to be delivered, others, like food, cookware, coffee maker, bedding, towels, and toilet paper, they took with them. It took them half a dozen trips from the car to the apartment to get it all in. Then, she made the bed with the new sheets and blankets, while he called for Chinese delivery.

She was surprised when he used chopsticks, and delighted when he tried to teach her to use them, finding that eating, and being fed by him with chopsticks, was fun, not to mention sensuous - and arousing. He didn't tease, or think her clumsy for not being able to work them very well, only saying that she'd need more practice.

After they ate, she led him into the master bedroom and through into the bathroom, where the Jacuzzi waited for them.

She'd thought sex in the shower was good. It was even better in the Jacuzzi. He was inventive, to say the least. He showed her how to adjust the jets to best effect, and he was careful to position his body so as not to interfere with the pulsating water's contact.

She wished it would never end, but eventually, it had to. Still, the new bedding beckoned them, and his warm embrace was more than sufficient a replacement.

He came nearly every weekend, almost settling into a routine; but then he didn't come for more than a month, and when he did come, it was in the middle of the week.

It had been another one of his 'months from hell', and he was tired, frustrated, and angry. And his libido chose that time to kick in, as well. But thinking of Judy, she was close, and convenient. Although she'd given him a key to her apartment, he always knocked.

This particular evening, she answered the door with a big smile of welcome. He entered and she took his coat and hat to hang up. He was impatient, and took her by the arm, gripping just a bit more tightly than absolutely necessary. Understanding, she quickly undressed and watched as he finished stripping. She pulled the covers back on the bed and sat on the edge. She was surprised when, instead of kissing her and touching her, as he usually did, he pushed her back on the bed and with no foreplay whatsoever, mounted her.

He wasn't particularly rough, certainly not as rough as her ex had been, but still, it was rough enough that it wasn't terribly pleasant for her. Afterwards, as he lay panting beside her, not even holding her, she turned towards him and took him into her arms.

As she curled around him, holding him close, he took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. Relaxing in her comforting embrace, he slept.

When he awoke, it was dark, and she was still holding him. The stresses of the previous month melted away and he gently nuzzled against her breast. She made a soft sound and shifted against him. He stretched and kissed her awake.

She smiled and stretched against him, kissing him in return.

"Hello," he murmured, gently cupping her breast.

"Hello." She couldn't stop smiling, she'd missed him, but understood that whatever it was he did had to take precedence. Besides, his unpredictablness served to remind her that she was really only an employee. His mistress. But not a whore for sale to anyone.

He gently pushed her onto her back and began touching her; but when his fingers slid between her legs, she couldn't help the involuntary hiss of pain his touch brought. Startled, he backed away from her.

"What's wrong?" he anxiously asked.

"I'm a little sore." Seeing his scowl, even in the darkness, she added, "You were a little rough, before."

Shocked, he sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bed. He'd hurt her? Damnation. "I-I'm sorry." He shook his head and flinched away when she sat up and her hand touched his shoulder.

"It's all right. I'm okay, you didn't really hurt me, I'm just a little sore, is all."

He couldn't look at her, remembering how he'd come in and practically forced himself on her. "No, it is not all right." He shook his head and stood. "I'm sorry, I had no right to hurt you."

"Don't go!" She wanted him to stay, to comfort her, to make it all better, but without another word, he gathered his clothes and went into the bathroom. He didn't even shower, simply dressed and then left, with only a last 'I'm sorry.'

She lay back in bed, turned on her side, gathered his pillow close as she curled around it, and sobbed.

He'd set her up with her own checking account, and made sure that she had enough money for anything she needed, and practically anything she wanted; but he didn't come back for several months. Eventually, however, those needs and desires returned, and she was still there, waiting for him. He hadn't forgotten her in the intervening months; had, in fact, done a great deal of research into her ex-husband and their divorce. At least he was bringing her some good news, when he came.

She'd been miserable in his absence. But with money to spend, and a great deal of time on her hands, she put it to good use and started taking classes at the city college. Classes that would, hopefully, allow her to get a job and not have to depend on anyone's charity for her survival.

Still, she missed him terribly. Missed his gentle touches and the way he'd hold her after making love, the way he kissed, without invading her mouth with his tongue, and the way he could use his tongue to.... She sighed, wondering if he'd ever come back, and how long his generosity could possibly last with no return on his investment.

She was sitting at the dining room table doing homework when there was a knock at the door. Surprised, she stood up and answered it. Her breath caught as she saw him. He looked worn and haggard. She immediately backed up, opening the door wider and smiling a welcome. He wouldn't meet her eyes, but he did come in.

She closed the door and turned to him. Uncertain, she wrapped her arms around him in a tentative hug. With a groan, his arms came up and crushed her to his chest; she lifted her face to his and his lips found hers in an equally desperate kiss.

With a gasp, he released her and tried to step back, but she didn't let him go, holding him close. "It's all right, John. It's all right," she whispered. He stopped trying to pull away and when he was still, she released him and helped him off with his coat. He dropped his briefcase to the floor, where it lay, forgotten. She looked at him and thought he might have been ill, he was so gray and haggard. "Are you hungry?" she asked

"Not for food," he replied, carefully controlling himself.

She smiled. "Come to bed with me?" She stared up into his face and he found himself unable to look away.

"Yes, please." She took his hand and led him to the bedroom. He followed quietly and once inside the room, he gently began to undress her, careful to be as gentle as he could, fearful of the possibility of hurting her again.

While he concentrated on the buttons of her blouse, she worked away at his shirt; pulling the tails out of his trousers, she bared his chest. Despite the cold temperatures outside, he still didn't wear an undershirt. Smiling, she leaned forward as he slid her blouse down her arms, then she wrapped her arms around his torso and rested her cheek against his breastbone. She realized that he'd lost weight in the intervening months and it bothered her. Still, he was here, now, and still warm and alive and obviously very aroused.

He shivered as she put her arms around him. But she felt so good against him. He pulled his shirt and jacket off and let them fall to the floor. Then he put his arms around her and held her close, eyes closed, relishing the wonderful feeling of her against him, her soft skin on his, the warm, full mounds of her breasts pressing against his abdomen. He hadn't realized just how much he'd missed this and was amazed that after the last time he'd come that she'd welcome him so warmly. When she let go and pulled away, he reluctantly let her. But she didn't, thank God, go very far, only to turn down the bed and slip out of her pants. She turned her back to him, standing close.

"Unhook me, please?"

Grateful, he unhooked her bra and slid it down her arms so it fell to the floor, then he wrapped his arms around her and cupped her breasts, gently rubbing his thumbs over the nipples and shivering as they peaked. He wanted her so badly, but after the last time, he had to be careful not to hurt her.

His hands were wonderful and she leaned back against him and felt him shiver. With a sigh, she pulled away and he immediately released her. She turned and smiled at him.

"It's all right. Come to bed." She reached out and unfastened his belt for him.

Encouraged, he unhooked and unzipped his pants and skinned out of the rest of his clothing, toeing off his shoes and socks. She took his hand and led him to the bed.

He followed her and was very careful not to move too fast, fearful of hurting her again. He'd never in his life deliberately hurt a woman during sex; the knowledge that he'd hurt her left him worried that he might do it again, so he was even more careful than he usually was.

He was taking forever, preparing her for him. When he finally turned away to get a condom, she sighed, more than ready. When he turned back to her, however, he again began the slow, deliberate movements that she was certain were designed to drive her mad with desire.

"John, please, I want you, now. Please, John," she was panting with excitement and need. He looked at her in surprise and, finally recognizing her need, he gently joined with her. She moved against him, her hands pulling at him, urging him on, almost desperate in her need for him.

He stopped thinking so much and let go.

Afterwards, he gently drew her into his arms and sighed in relief when she held him, as well.

When she awoke to find him still beside her, deeply asleep and holding her close, she smiled. Oh, how she'd missed this; missed him. She eased carefully away from him, stretching and arching her back. He groaned in his sleep and reached for her, murmuring inarticulately in protest. She guided him to lie against her, his head cradled between her breasts and smiled when he sighed and became still again, sleeping heavily.

Content, she ran her fingers through his hair until she fell asleep.

He awoke in that most enviable of positions, cradled against a warm and willing woman. Still half-asleep, he nuzzled at her breast, finding a peaked nipple and gently suckling. She arched against him and he awakened more fully. Releasing her, he eased away slightly and stretched. He watched her with hooded eyes; uncertain as to how she would react to him.

She could see his disquiet and smiled gently; reaching for him to draw him near for a kiss. With a groan of desire, his hand slid down her body, grateful when she responded.

Grateful, he gently brought her again to that place of wonder.

When they next awoke, he sighed, contented.

"I've missed you," she whispered.

"I wasn't sure I'd be welcome."

She shifted back so she could look at him, her expression one of confusion. "Why not?"

He stared at her. "I hurt you."

She looked at him, sadness in her eyes. "You've stayed away for six months because you got a little rough once?"

He frowned, not understanding. "But I hurt you."

"You were just a little rough, you didn't hurt me deliberately," she shrugged. "It certainly wasn't as bad as Art could be."

He turned away from her and sat up, running his hands up and down his face and then back through his hair. "That's not the point."

"What is, then?" She sat up and shifted close behind him, leaning against his back.

He turned and stared at her. "I hurt you."

"You didn't mean to."

He shook his head. "I." His expression showed his pain. "I hurt you," he whispered brokenly. "I've never hurt a woman during sex in my entire life."

She stared at him. "You didn't do it on purpose."


"Look, if something falls to the floor and we both bend down to pick it up and we bang heads, it's an accident."

"That's not the same thing."

"Okay, I'm in the kitchen and you come up behind me and I step back and stomp on your toe and break it. I hurt you, but it wasn't on purpose." He finally looked at her.

"Is that what I did?" He remembered coming in and dragging her to bed and....

"I raped you."

"No, you didn't." Seeing his disquiet, she wrapped her arms around him. "You didn't do it on purpose. And I certainly didn't say 'no', so how can you say that?"

He thought about it, but her arms around his body, and the way she was rubbing her cheek between his shoulder blades made it very difficult to think rationally. Finally, he sighed. "All right." She felt so good against him like this....

He turned to her, his blue eyes still showing his concern. "However, if I ever do something that hurts you or that you don't like, I want you to tell me to stop. And if you don't want to do something, you have to say 'no', understand?"

"All right." He hadn't really done anything that she didn't like, sure, he got a little rough that last time, but it was just a little, and certainly not that bad....

"I mean it. Promise me that you'll tell me!"

His voice had gone rather strident and she stared at him, almost fearful, but seeing the anguish in his expression, she bit her lower lip and simply nodded.

"I promise."

With a soft sigh of relief, he looked away.

"How about I fix us some breakfast?" she offered, a little tentatively.

"That would be nice. But how about a shower, first?" His voice again was that low, seductive rumble that sent shivers throughout her body in anticipation.

"How about the Jacuzzi?"

His eyes lifted to meet hers and he smiled.

Breakfast over, they lingered over coffee. He noticed the books spread out at the other end of the table and smiled.

"Accounting, eh?"

She ducked her head and smiled. "Uh huh. I thought it would be useful."

"It's certainly a marketable skill." On the one hand, he was pleased with her, but it also made his stomach lurch, thinking about her leaving him. He sighed, internally mocking himself. After all, what did he expect? He hadn't even spoken to her in six months. It wasn't like she owed him anything.

"That reminds me, the judge who presided over your divorce, you said his name was Davis?"

"That's right. Why?" She frowned, wondering what had brought that up. She'd done a little checking of her own and found that her sons had been shipped off to a boarding school because her husband and his girlfriend didn't want them around. It made her ache just thinking about it. She'd have been more than happy to take care of her sons, but Art was just being cruel because he could.

"Alan Davis, right?"

She shrugged. "I think so. Why?"

He nodded. "Because I think you can get your boys back. And I think that there's a good chance that when you next go to court that you're going to get a lot more than that."

She stared at him, half in hope, half in skepticism. "Why?"

He smiled. It wasn't a smile she'd seen before; this was predatory, like a cat spotting movement in the grass. He picked up his briefcase and opened it; taking out several files, he opened one and placed it in front of her.

"Because Alan Davis is Arthur Rodgers' first cousin."

She looked at the documents and her heart began to pound. It was all suddenly so very clear, why Art had gotten everything, even those things she'd inherited before she got married. Hands trembling with rage, she lifted her eyes to his. "What do I have to do?"

His predatory smile widened, showing his teeth. "First, I got you an attorney...."

It took another couple of months before she got her court date. John wanted to make sure that there was no chance for Alan Davis to again preside. Judy was prepared for a fight. And so was her attorney. The morning of court, John wasn't there, though, and that upset her. After all, he was the one who had put it all together. She anxiously watched for him, hoping he would appear.

"....petition for joint custody. On the face of it, I see no reason to deny the petition." The judge looked at Art and his lawyer.

"Your honor," Art's attorney began, "The former Mrs. Rodgers has no job, no stable income, and is, in fact, living with some man who supports her in exchange for sex."

The judge frowned and looked at her documents. "Mrs. Rodgers is going to college and studying accounting. She's receiving Government aid. That does not preclude her asking for, or receiving, joint custody." She ignored the allegation that the plaintiff was a prostitute, however delicately it was put.

"If you'll look at the decision of your predecessor...."

Judy glanced at her attorney, worriedly. She jumped when the door to the courtroom opened and looked back, sighing in relief when she saw John enter, carrying his briefcase and looking very professional in his dark gray suit.

"Your honor, forgive me for being late, but I have some information that I think you may require."

"I object, your honor!"

"Sit down, Mr. Myles. Who are you, sir?"

"My name is John Flemming, your honor, and I'm here as amicus curiae. I'm afraid that there's been a rather serious miscarriage of justice in regards to the Rodgers' divorce."

"Objection, your honor!"

"Mr. Myles, control yourself." The judge glared at Art and his lawyer, then turned her attention to John. "You may approach the bench."

"Thank you, your honor." He walked up to the bench and opened his briefcase. He never even glanced at Judy as he passed. "As you can see, your honor, everything's been properly notarized?"

She put on her reading glasses to see the documents. The first one held the provenance that Arthur Rodgers and Alan Davis were first cousins and, as such, the judge should have recused himself from the case, at the very least. She frowned and glanced briefly at the other documents, which included financial statements as well as original source documents.

"Court is recessed until one this afternoon." She looked at Myles. "Sir, were you Mr. Rodgers' attorney for his divorce?"

"I was, your honor."

She glanced down at another document in the file before her. "I see. I'll see everyone back here at one. "Mr. Flemming, would you please join me?"

"Your honor, I protest! Who is this man?"

The judge removed her glasses and glared. "From what I can see, he's amicus curiae." She banged her gavel. "Court is recessed."

"All rise," the bailiff called out as she stood and exited the bench; John followed her with never a glance back.

"You have a lot of documentation, here, Mr. Flemming. Might I ask as to how you came by it?"

"By fair means or foul, your honor. It's all accurate."

She regarded the man. His expression told her nothing whatsoever. "I see." She looked back at the documents, her eyebrows going up when she reached the financial documents. "Are these accurate?"

"Yes, your honor. Mrs. Rodgers worked two menial jobs for six years putting her husband through college and then waited another two years before starting their family. You'll also note that the seed money for his investments came from her inheritance, one she received from her grandparents prior to her marriage to him and therefore not subject to communal property requirements.

He'd even managed to find Arthur's signed statement that it was just a loan. Art had no idea that it was missing from his house safe.

"This...this is monstrous."

"Yes, your honor."

She peered up at him. "Just what is your interest in this case, may I ask?"

"I feel that a great injustice has been done, your honor, and would like to see it righted."

"I have to concur." She lifted her phone and made a call. "Yes, I have to report some serious improprieties committed by Judge Alan Davis...."

She sat back and regarded him. "I take it that you're her... protector?"

He shrugged. "We're lovers, yes."

"And do you plan on marrying her?"


She was a bit surprised. "Why not?"

"It would interfere with my work and put her in danger."

"And if she should meet someone who did want to marry her?"

"I'd kiss her goodbye and wish her well."

The judge regarded him and wondered.

Judy was shaking with worry. Art had sneered at her as he'd walked out with his lawyer. Her own attorney was trying to calm her down, but she was simply too nervous. Being back in court brought back the hideous memories of her divorce and she felt sick. John had told her not to worry, but she couldn't help it. What if this judge agreed with the first one? They'd already brought up that John was 'keeping' her. Would that be sufficient to prevent her from every seeing her sons again? She hadn't realized that she was suing for joint custody, she'd have been satisfied with visitation rights. Were they asking too much? Where was John? What did he have for the judge? Why wasn't he here and holding her? Oh, wait, that would only give Art the ammunition he needed...Would this horrible day never end?

"Court is now in session."

The judge sat down and stared at the co-respondents before her. "Mr. Rodgers, I have some questions for you."

Art glanced at his lawyer, who smiled and nodded.

"Yes, your honor?"

She looked down at the papers before her. "Where are your sons?"

"They're in school, your honor."

"Yes, but where do they attend school?"

"In Connecticut, your honor."

"They commute to Connecticut to attend school?"

"Oh, no, your honor. They go to a boarding school."

The judge frowned. She looked at the documents from the previous case and scowled. "Then why didn't you allow your ex-wife custody? Rather than sending them away? Don't you think six is a little young for boarding school?"

Art blustered and looked at his lawyer for help. His attorney patted his arm and stood.

"My client only wanted what's best for his sons, your honor."

The judge peered over her glasses at them. "And you think that preventing two little boys from seeing their mother and shipping them off to an institution is 'best'?" She pursed her lips and sat back.

"In this instance, it was."


"Because, if you'll look at the previous court case, she was found to be an unfit parent, and her current circumstances only uphold that finding, your honor. The woman is, to be quite blunt, a prostitute."

Judy felt sick. If she'd had anything in her stomach, she'd have thrown up, but as it was, she simply paled and looked down at her hands, devastated.

"May I speak, your honor?"

She sat back and looked at John Flemming. "Please do."

John stood up and went up before the bench. He paced back and forth a few times, marshalling his thoughts, head down, not looking at anyone. "You're saying, Mr. Rodgers, that any woman who allows a man not her husband to support her is a prostitute?" He stopped pacing and, without raising his head, shot a glare at Arthur Rodgers.

Art flinched back from that glare, but then he nodded. "That's right."

"Did you marry the woman you left your wife for, Mr. Rodgers?"


"Do you support her and provide for her?"

"Yes, of course."

"So, then, she's a prostitute?"

"No! Absolutely not!"

The judge, realizing what he was doing, stepped in. "According to your accusations to your ex-wife, and your own statements, that's precisely what she is. Do you plan on marrying this woman?"

"No." Arthur's body language screamed 'of course not!'

"Then the allegation is proven." The judge watched as Art turned to his lawyer, who was shaking his head in dismay. "Thank you for your clarification, Mr. Flemming."

John smiled and practically bowed to the judge. "You're quite welcome, your honor." He finally let his gaze drift over to the very confused Judy, and winked. She smiled tentatively back at him and took a deep breath, waiting to see what would happen next.

The doors opened and four men in dark suits entered. John gave them an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement and the men sat down. He returned to his own seat several rows behind Judy.

The judge glared down at Art. "Mr. Rodgers, I see absolutely no reason not to allow your ex-wife equal custody of her sons. For that matter, I'm inclined to give her full custody and grant you visitation rights."

"But your honor!" Attorney Myles stood up to protest.

"Sit down, Mr. Myles. I understand that there is a second civil suit pending?" She turned to Judy, who looked up at her in surprise, then turned to her own lawyer, who stood.

"That is correct, your honor. Ms Rodgers is attempting to recover assets loaned to Arthur when they were still married, twelve years ago."

"What assets?" Art snarled. "She never had any assets."

"That is beyond the scope of this court. However, it is within the discretion of this court to order you to pay child support on the order of five hundred dollars per month per child, beginning on the first of the month." She looked at the shocked and speechless Judy. "Ms Rodgers, I apologize for the miscarriage of justice against you in your previous encounter with the judicial system." She looked again at Arthur. "Mr. Rodgers, you will retrieve your sons and turn them over to their mother by Saturday."

Art's face turned beet red with anger as he stood to reply. "You have no right! I already won custody..."

"Yes, by going before your own cousin and having him find in your favor. I understand that. Which is why I had no choice but to report him for ethics violations. Not to mention, criminal." She knew Alan Davis, had considered him a friend, but the evidence provided by John Flemming was damming in the extreme, and it was highly probable that his career on the bench was over; and he'd be lucky to stay out of prison. She glared at Myles. "As for you, Mr. Myles, I can't help but wonder how much you're involved in this whole mess. No matter, I'm sure the investigation will turn up all the answers. In the meantime, if there's nothing else to come before the court at this time?"

"A moment, your honor."

She looked up as the four men in the back of the room stood and approached. "Yes?"

"We're from the Internal Revenue Service. I understand that you have some documents that were given to you?"

She looked at John Flemming, who met her gaze with a mild expression and without a smile. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. Why do you ask?"

"We've been given to understand that those documents show that Mr. Rodgers has been transferring funds to an off-shore account, in order to avoid paying taxes on them."

The judge smothered a smile. "That's possible, I'm not an accountant, so I wouldn't be able to tell you whether or not that's the case."

"Yes, your honor. We'd like to take a look at them? And perhaps, make copies?"

She glanced again at John Flemming. She had no idea who on earth he was, but he'd put her in a somewhat awkward position. Except for the documents on the relationship between Arthur Rodgers and Alan Davis, she really had no need for the other information. She met his gaze and caught the almost imperceptible nod, and smiled.

She turned her attention back to the IRS Agent. "To be honest, most of the documents mean nothing to this court and you're welcome to have them, if you wish?"

"That would be very kind of you, your honor."

"Wait! I protest! You're giving them documents that aren't yours to give!" Myles was adamant, trying desperately to salvage something, anything from this fiasco. He knew perfectly well that when they'd finished their investigation into their dealings with Alan, that they'd all be lucky not to wind up in jail. But financial documents? What financial documents? He looked at Art, who was shaking his head in confusion. He had no more idea what they were talking about than Myles did.

The judge scowled. "As they are in my possession and I came by them legally, I can do with them as I will, less those showing misconduct of the court." She turned her gaze back to John Flemming, and realized that he'd gone. She blinked, wondering how he'd managed to sneak out, and then shook her head slightly and smiled at the IRS men. "If you'll join me in chambers?"

"Yes, your honor." The spokesman of the four looked at his companions, glanced at Arthur, and nodded.

The judge stood. "Court is dismissed. Ms Rodgers, if you have any difficulty regaining custody of your sons, please contact the bailiff and he'll se to it that it's taken care of."

Judy just sat and stared, wondering what on earth had just happened.

She had signed all the papers in a daze, hardly believing it was possible. For the first time in over a year, she was going to see her boys. But not just see them! She was getting them back! She saw the calendar hanging on the wall and thought about just how merry a Christmas it was going to be. She thanked her attorney and walked out of the courthouse, still in a daze. There was a black Cadillac at the curb, with John leaning against the front fender, arms folded, bare-headed, and waiting. Trembling, she approached him, shaking her head at the miracle he'd wrought for her. Dropping her purse, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him, hard.

He chuckled and gently pushed her away, bending to pick up her purse for her. "You're welcome. Come on, I have something to show you." He opened the back door of the car and she frowned, wondering why he didn't want her in the front seat with him. But if he wanted her in the back, so be it. She ducked down to get in and immediately saw her sons sitting there, looking worried and concerned, but upon recognizing her, they both screamed, "Mommy!" and lunged for her.

He couldn't help but smile as he gently urged her to finish getting into the car and making sure her coat didn't catch in the door as he closed it. Checking traffic, he circled around to get in behind the wheel, started the car, and drove away.

They'd grown so, in the past year. Arthur Jr. had lost his pudgy baby-fat, and David, well, he refused to let go of her, so she couldn't really tell. She laughed and cried and hugged and kissed them, all talking at once and no one able to understand anyone else.

He drove them home, carried the boy's suitcases upstairs, and then left them to reacquaint themselves and figure out the logistics, whether they'd share a bedroom or each have his own.

He wondered if there'd still be room for him in her life.

He gave them a few weeks to settle in. Then, instead of just showing up, like he usually did, he called.


"Hello, is your mother home?"

"Just a second." There was a rattle as the phone was set down and then the indistinct sound of voices. Moments later, the phone was again picked up.


"Hi. I was wondering if I might see you, sometime."

She closed her eyes and sighed. "Any time you like." Her sons had understood that when Mommy and Daddy had their bedroom door closed, they had to knock. She figured that hadn't changed after Mommy had to leave, and they seemed to understand about what happened. Arthur Jr. was angry with his father, blaming him for making her go away. Davy had been so traumatized that the boarding school had suggested they find another institution (their word) for both boys. They would be starting in their new school after the first of the year.

"Are you sure?"

She smiled. "Yes. No more running through the apartment naked, though," she whispered, then giggled. His throaty laugh joined her, sending shivers through her body. "I've missed you." And she had. Her studies were completed for the semester except for finals in January. She was certain that she'd done well. Still, he did support her, and she really did want him to come over.

"All right. I'll be over in a little while. Can I bring you anything?"

He'd already given her so very much. Her voice dropped down into that low timbre so very like his own seductive rumble. "Just you."

His gut twisted with desire. "On my way."

She giggled as the phone went dead. She hung it up and saw both of her sons were staring at her.

"Was that your boyfriend?" Arthur asked softly, his expression worried.

"You could call him that."

"W-w-was he the man who b-b-brought us home?" Davy asked.

"Yes. He's the man who brought you back to me. Did you talk to him that day?"

"Not really," Arthur replied. "We got called into the office at school and he was there, and the headmaster said we were to go with him and that he was taking us to you." He looked up at his mother with big, wide, eyes. "All he said to us in the car was that we were going to go live with you and if that was okay and would we like it?" Both boys shivered and Davy nodded.

"H-he d-d-didn't yell or anything. H-he was n-n-n-nice."

Before the divorce, Davy hadn't stuttered, but now he did, although he was getting better.

"Well, he's going to come over." She bit her lower lip, then added. "He'll probably spend the night." She saw the look her sons exchanged and her gut twisted.

Arthur frowned at her and asked, "Does he make you cry like daddy did?"

She bit her lip again and shook her head. "No, he doesn't. He doesn't yell, either. He's been very nice to me. In fact, he's the one who got us this apartment, and then he got what was needed so you could come and live with me. That's all right, isn't it?"

"Yes, Mommy," Davy replied hugging her. "Does he like little boys?"

She blinked in surprise, recognizing the double-entendre. "I don't know," she answered honestly. She couldn't help but wonder why he'd helped her. After all, he'd spent a huge sum of money on her this past year, and with very little in exchange. If she looked at it honestly, she'd 'earned' something between two and three thousand dollars every night he spent with her.

Then she remembered what he'd said in court in response to Art's allegation that she was a prostitute. In which case, there were an awful lot of them around.

There was a knock at the door and she quickly checked her appearance in the mirror by the living room closet, making sure she was presentable. Smiling, she opened the door to find him there. She stepped back to let him in. He smiled at her and she helped him off with his coat.

"It's starting to snow, out there. Looks like we're going to have a white Christmas."

"That's nice, as long as you don't have to do a lot of driving in it."

He chuckled. "That's what taxis are for." He glanced around and saw the boys standing by one of the sofas, close together, staring at him. Rather than giving Judy the passionate kiss he wanted to, he instead turned to them.

"Gentlemen. Settling in all right?"

Little Davy giggled at being called a gentleman.

"Yes, sir," Arthur replied softly, suddenly embarrassed and nervous.

John grinned and came over to sit on the couch opposite them. "I'm afraid I don't know your names. Mine's John."

"This is Davy, and I'm Arthur, Jr." Arthur frowned over his name. He'd been old enough at eight to understand what had happened, and at nine, old enough to despise his father's name.

John recognized the boy's trouble and nodded. "Do you have a middle name?"


John winced. "May I call you Al, then?"

Arthur's eyes widened in surprise and then he frowned, thinking about it. Davy tilted his head and looked from John to his brother. "I like Al," he said softly and without a stutter.

The older boy slowly smiled and nodded. "Me, too. Okay." He looked at John, who was smiling, as well.

"Thank you."

"What a wonderful idea. Al." Judy nodded. "That's got a nice sound to it." She ruffled her oldest son's hair and both boys grinned.

"Mommy, c-can w-w-we g-g-g-g-go p-p-play in our room?"

"Of course. Dinner will be in about half an hour."

The adults watched as the boys headed down the hall to their shared room. "I didn't realize David stuttered."

"He didn't use to." Judy sighed. "We've been doing an awful lot of hugging and kissing the past couple of weeks. She couldn't help but smile. They'd been making up for lost time and it was wonderful.

"I'd like a little of that, myself," John murmured softly, his voice low and rumbling.

It was that tone of voice he used to let her know he wanted her, and soon. She shivered in anticipation. "The boys go to bed at eight-thirty."

"I can wait." It would be hard, but he could definitely wait. While they waited for the timer to go off to indicate that dinner was done, she sat on his lap and they necked. She couldn't help but feel his arousal, and she was looking forward to later.

Dinner was surprisingly easy. John commented on what a good cook the boys' mother was, and that sent the boys off into rhapsodizing poetic on their wonderful mother and her abilities to mend a broken heart or cut knee with equal ease. To Judy's surprise, John didn't once interrupt the boys dominating the conversation. Looking at his face, she saw genuine interest and she had to hide her shiver of anticipation.

He even helped with the dishes.

"Okay, boys, time for bed."

"Story, mommy?" Davy asked.

She glanced at John, expecting to see impatience on his part, but he was relaxed and interested. "All right. Which story?"

"Read us one, Mommy?" Al asked.

"How about I read to you," John softly offered. The boys both stared at him. He looked at their mother nervously and shrugged. "If you want, that is." He hadn't meant to interfere, but they were such polite little boys, and he'd never had much interaction with kids, before, not since he was one, at any rate. But watching her with them and them with her, he felt again that old ache for the life that he'd denied himself in exchange for his work. At the moment, he wished, yet again, that he'd made a different decision. But he hadn't. Still, it was an opportunity to see first-hand what he'd been missing.

"Puss in Boots?" Davy asked softly.

John smiled and stood. "Lead me to it."

She stood in the doorway, just as enthralled as her sons were. She was amazed. John did different voices for the characters, and didn't sing-song the rhymes. When he finished, she smiled and came the rest of the way in to tuck her sons in and kiss them good night.

"Thank you, M-mister John," Davy softly called to him as they left the two sleepy boys, turning off the light as they left.

"Yes, thank you," Judy whispered, kissing him passionately. Pulling away from him, she whispered, "Make love to me," and turned to lead him to her bedroom. Heart pounding with desire and anticipation, he followed her.

*'Make love to me'* Her words came back to him as he lay beside her, her soft, warm body cradled against his. He'd always thought of it as simply having sex, or, when he was desperate, relieving the stress. It was a definite reminder that his was not the only point of view.

And that he was, despite his ideas to the contrary, responsible for her and her sons.

And he wasn't sure what to do about it.

She stirred and ran her hand down his side. "You awake?" she softly murmured.


She touched him more intimately. "Good," she purred, kissing him.

And this time, for him, the first time, they made love.

He was still a somewhat infrequent visitor. She asked him once if her sons' presence bothered him, but he convinced her that they didn't. She knew she was just a convenience for him, but that didn't make her love him any less. But it did keep her from saying anything.

She continued with her college classes, and even went out with some of the men she met there. One of them, her astronomy professor, became something of a regular visitor, although they were never intimate. She could see the confusion on her sons' faces, wondering why, but Derek was a nice man, and they had several interests in common. But she didn't love him.

"Marry me."


"Why not? We have fun together, don't we? I get along with your kids, don't I?"

"Yes, we do, and yes you do. But that's not the point."

He sighed, "Then what is?"

"I don't love you."

He shook his head in frustration. "So?"

"So. I don't love you, so I won't marry you." How could she tell him that she was in love with the man who kept her as his mistress? For that matter, why was she still seeing Derek? She sighed. "I'm sorry. Take me home, please."

With an equally frustrated sigh, Derek started the car and drove her back to her apartment.

John saw them pull up in front of the building and watched curiously. She was smiling at the driver, and he got out and walked her to the building's door, where he kissed her. John's stomach lurched and a flash of anger burned for just an instant and went out. He had no right to be jealous. None. But he felt rather like someone had just thrust a battering ram into his gut. Instead of going in to see her, he left. He didn't see that the man with her didn't go in.

He tried to stay away, but he was still only human, just a man, and with all the needs of any man. And they did, after all, have a deal, of sorts. Two weeks after he'd seen her with the younger man, he went to her. He went late, after the boys should have been asleep, and softly knocked at her door. When she saw him, she smiled and went into his arms, kissing him passionately.

"I've missed you," she softly murmured, drawing him in and leading him towards the bedroom.

"Have you?" he asked, not really wanting to know, but needing to.

"Very much."

He watched her undress, slowly taking off his own clothes. He followed her into the bed, where she welcomed him as she always had. His hands were, as always, gentle and arousing and stimulating, bringing her quickly to that rapturous point he so enjoyed seeing her in. She rose to meet him as he settled into the cradle of her body, her legs wrapped around his hips and her heels hooking over the backs of his thighs. The thought of the man he'd seen being here, with her, made him ache with anger and grief, and his movements became unintentionally hard.

"John, please, you're hurting me," she gasped as he thrust into her.

It took a moment for her words to penetrate, and he froze. He looked into her face and saw confusion and pain; with a groan of helplessness, he very carefully withdrew from her. "God, I'm sorry." He moved away from her and sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, furious with himself.

She followed him up and sat behind him, putting her arms around him and resting her head on his back. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry." He started to stand up, but she wouldn't let him go. He shivered.

"John, talk to me."

He turned to her. "Tell me about him."

She frowned in confusion. "Him?"

"Gold VW."


"Is that his name?"

She nodded. "He was my astronomy professor last semester." She stared into his eyes and saw nothing. No emotions, just...emptiness. "He asked me to marry him," she whispered and then wondered why she told him. There was a flash of something in his eyes, but it was gone too quickly for her to know what it was.

"You should have told me," he softly admonished her, pulling away. He gathered his clothing and began to dress. She watched him speechlessly and then he was suddenly gone.

She fell back on the bed, angry with herself for hurting him.

He walked the streets most of the night. It was balmy out, a lovely early summer evening. He was, however, frozen numb inside. He remembered telling the judge that if she found someone, he'd wish her well and let her go. Now, it seemed that she had. Someone willing to marry her; and the thought of losing her hurt. Hurt more than anything he could ever remember.

"Johnny, sugah, what you doin' down heah?"

He looked up, surprised to find himself so far from home. "Just taking a walk, Tyrone."

Tyrone cocked his head and gave him a critical, narrow-eyed look. "You looks like you jes lost your best girl."

John straightened and managed a rather melancholy smile. "As a matter of fact."

Tyrone's eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. "Little Judy an' you?"

"She's getting married."

Tyrone frowned. "Dids you evah tell her how you feels about her, Johnny?"

John frowned up at the much taller man who was dressed in a hot pink miniskirt with matching heels, nails, and lips, with black net stockings that matched his blouse.


Tyrone laughed, a high-pitched giggle. "Oh, sugah, you gots it bad. It is little Judy, ain't it?"

He looked away, into the darkness.

Tyrone shook his head. "Oh, sugah, whats you expect? You don' tells the girl how you feels about her?"

He sighed and shook his head. "Too late, now."

Tyrone drew himself up to his full six-foot-six, plus four-inch spike heels and scowled. "Sugah, you that stupid?" When John looked up at him, he shook a long-nailed hot pink tipped finger at him. "If you don'ts tell her, how's the poor girl to know?" He did a little wiggle to emphasize his point, lips pursed and expression one of exasperation.

John just stared at him. "It's too late."

Tyrone bent down to look him in the eye. "It is if you don't say somethin', sugah. I suggest you go right back there, wherever she is, and you go in and you tells her how you feels about her." He shook his head, and his voice changed, dropping down into his natural bass, "If you don't, any chance you might have had will be lost, and you'll hate yourself forever for not taking the chance. Come on, Johnny, it's the truth and you know it." His voice dropped down almost to a whisper and Control wondered for a moment what chance Tyrone had passed on.

He stared into the dark face and saw a deep painful wound that he recognized.

"Go on, Johnny. Take the chance, sugah." Tyrone straightened up and gave him a gentle shove. "Go on. Before it really is too late."

John went.

By the time he got back to Judy's apartment building, it was almost daylight. He stood outside and stared up at the darkened windows, trying to dredge up the courage to actually go in. The lights came on and he hung his head and walked away. It was time for him to head for the office.

He brooded all day. People spoke softly when near him, but he didn't notice, he was too caught up in his own misery to consciously take notice of those around him.

But Tyrone's words haunted him. His stomach hurt and he had an almost blinding headache. Just after noon, he threw his pen on the report he'd been trying to read for the past five hours and simply stared at the wall. *'If you don'ts tell her, how's the poor girl to know?'*

With a grunt, he shoved back from his desk and stood. Grabbing his jacket, he thrust his arms into the sleeves and shrugged it into place. He stalked out the door with a scowl on his face that made everyone back away as he passed.

"I may not be back today," he growled at the office secretary and continued on his way.

He got home, changed clothes and used his secret passageway to get to her building. Climbing the stairs from the basement, he paused, what if he was there with her? He felt a tightening in his chest and forced in a deep breath. He'd worry about that when he got there.

He took the stairs all the way up to her third floor apartment. Standing at her door, he almost turned around and left, but then the little voice that had goaded him into more than one foolhardy action taunted him and called him coward. Gritting his teeth, he took a deep, steadying breath, and knocked.

He heard her voice and he blanched at her words.

"Derek, stop it. There's someone at the door."

The man's voice was indistinct, but decidedly petulant. If he could have made it, he'd have taken off down the stairs, but the door opened and she was there.

He looked at her. Her hair was a little mussed, and her blouse was untucked. He felt his gut tighten and had to fight the urge to leave. But Tyrone's words came back to him and he lifted his eyes to look at her. "May I talk to you?"

"It's not a good time, buddy," the man said, putting a possessive arm across Judy's shoulders.

"Derek, stop it." She shrugged off the arm and stepped back, treading on Derek's toes and making him yelp.

Control almost smiled, having seen her lips compressed in what might have been anger. He entered quietly, ignoring the younger man. She left the door open behind him.

He turned to face her, but kept Derek within sight, as well. "I was hoping to have a word with you...in private."

She looked into his eyes, wondering about his coming during the day, like this. What a time for Derek to be here, as well.

"Look, you can say what you need to say in front of me, mister." Derek tried to intimidate the older man, sensing, apparently, his alpha status.

"Derek, please go, now." She didn't take her eyes off of John.

"I won't. Who is this guy, anyway?"

She tilted her head, regarding him uncertainly. "He's my landlord. Please, Derek, go."

"No." He pushed her aside and stepped into John's space, trying to intimidate him, which was a bit difficult, since he was shorter. "Make an appointment. My fiancee and I were discussing our wedding." He tried to shove John, but the older man didn't more than shift, slightly.

His eyes were on hers, his expression blank and bland. Softly, he asked, "Is that so?"

Derek tried pushing again, and again to no avail, it was like leaning on a wall for all the good it did. "Yes."

"No." Her eyes were still on John's, but she spoke to Derek. She blinked and turned to look at the younger man. "No, Derek. You were talking about weddings and marriage. I told you before, no."

Derek's face flushed a dark crimson. "Why the hell not?"

She looked at John again, trying to read him, but still couldn't. "Derek, please go."

"I will not." And then he made the worst possible mistake. He grabbed Judy's arm and twisted, making her cry out in pain.

John didn't make a sound. He simply stepped forward and applied a vise-like grip to Derek's wrist, which pinched the nerves and numbed his hand. With his other hand, John gathered the younger man's shirtfront and drew him closer and then lifted him off his feet.

"The lady asked you to leave," John ground out between gritted teeth. He pivoted on one heel and placed the younger, smaller man outside the apartment door and slammed it in his face.

Derek began to pound on the door and shouted to be let in, but was ignored by the room's occupants.

Head hanging down, John turned back and refused to meet her eyes.

"Thank you."

He looked up to see her rubbing her arm, which was already bruising. "I'm sorry."


He glanced around, finally settling for shoving his hands in his pants pockets, rucking up his suit jacket over his wrists. He shook his head, still staring at the floor. "I shouldn't have come."

"What did you want to talk about?"

His gut twisted again and his head started pounding. "I...." He shook his head again. Then, taking a deep breath, he looked up and asked, "Are you going to marry him?"

She bit her lip and looked away. "He keeps asking."

"Do you love him?" He asked anxiously, and then held his breath, waiting for her answer.

"I like him, but no. I don't love him. But he's pretty persistent. And the boys like him well enough."

He closed his eyes and sighed. "I see."

"Do you?" She looked at him sadly, "Is that what you wanted to know? If I was going to marry Derek?"

He shook his head and his hands fisted in his pockets as his shoulders hunched. "No. I. I wanted to tell you something."

"What?" She watched him, biting her lower lip and her muscles tightening, wondering what he would say. Was he going to throw her out on the street?

"Answer a question for me, first?"

"All right."

He took several breaths, "Did you sleep with him?"


He glanced up at her, his gaze pointedly on her mussed clothing.

She glanced down and realized how he might misconstrue her appearance. "He came over and said he wanted to talk. Then he asked me to marry him, again, and I said no. He asked why not, and I told him that I don't love him. He asked how could I know if I love him or not since I never gave him a chance to show me." She looked at him, chewing on her lower lip.

"And then I arrived." He barely looked up at her before his eyes again dropped to the floor.

"Yes, thank you." She fought the tears that threatened, taking a sharp breath to keep them at bay. "What did you want to tell me?"

He stood for the longest time, his posture defeated, his head down, and his hands fisted in his pockets. Finally, he took a breath and lifted his head and looked at her. His face showed all the agony and devastation he was feeling. "I. I wanted to tell you." He swallowed hard and tried again. "I wanted to tell you that I love you." He said it fast, forcing the words out before he lost his nerve.

Her breath caught. She stared at him, not quite believing what she had heard. Finally, when he still wouldn't look at her, she quietly drew nearer to him and softly asked, "Do you, really?"

He lifted his head and she could see all the pain in his eyes. "With all my heart," he replied.

Her breath let out in the softest sigh. "Oh, John. You can't possibly imagine how much I've wanted to hear you say that." She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him hard, shivering with joy.

"Have you?" he whispered, still very unsure.

"Oh, yes." She hugged him as hard as she could, then released him when he didn't return her embrace. She gazed into his face and then gently pressed her lips to his. "Because I've loved you for months and months. Even before you got my boys back for me." She stared into his eyes and she saw the shutters lift and a glimmer of hope appear in the clear blue depths.

"You have?" His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "You have?" he repeated.


His hands came out of his pockets and his arms wrapped around her and he practically crushed her to him, kissing her with a hunger he'd never before experienced. Panting and gasping for breath, they separated and smiled at each other. His was a little shy, but hers was joyful. She glanced away from him for a moment. "They won't be home for another three hours," she informed him nonchalantly.

"Three hours, huh?"

"MmmmHmmmm." She grinned. "What do you say we go take a nice little nap?"

For the first time in what seemed like years, he laughed. "Only if I don't have to actually sleep!"

She took his hand and led him to her bedroom. "No, I don't think there will be much sleeping," she agreed.

They reveled in one another's bodies. Every touch was fire, every kiss inflaming, and every movement brought pleasure. They were both quite enthusiastic and afterwards, sprawled in trembling post-coital exhaustion in one another's arms.

They didn't awaken until the boys got home.

The apartment was quiet, like no one was there, and both boys looked at each other, worried. Seeing their mother's bedroom door closed, they couldn't help but wonder. Al bravely stepped up and knocked at the door.

"Mom?" Al called, beginning to worry. Finally, they heard movement inside and soft murmuring, and finally, the door opened and their mother stood there, dressed in her bathrobe.

"Hi, guys. I'm afraid we lost track of time." She smiled and saw the concern on both her sons' faces. "What's wrong?"

Al, being the oldest, was spokesman. "Who's with you?" he asked, his voice showing his concern.


It was impossible to miss the expressions of relief both boys wore and she wondered. "Why? Who did you think it was?"

The boys again exchanged a look, and then Davy replied. "W-w-we th-th-th-thought th-th-th-that m-m-m-m-maybe...." He blushed and closed his mouth.

"You thought that Derek and I?"

Both boys nodded miserably.

"You don't like him?" She crouched down before her sons and looked into each pair of worried eyes. She didn't react when the bedroom door opened and John came out, fully dressed, and watched and listened.

"H-h-he's c-c-c-c-c-c-creepy."

John crouched beside Judy, one arm going around her back and the other to his knee for balance. "Why is he creepy?" he softly asked.

Al shrugged. "He looks at us funny."

"Funny in what way?" Judy asked, somewhat sharply.

"Just. Well, kind of how Mr. John looks at you when we have dinner, together."

Both adults went very still for a moment, then John asked, "Do you think I give your mom creepy looks?"

"No," Al replied, shaking his head. "You look like, well, like you want to hug her and stuff."

"And Derek looks at you like that?" Judy asked.

"Yeah," Davy agreed. "Or like the way Timmy's cat looks at the birds outside the window."

Judy's breath caught and she straightened up, trembling, and turned to John, who had risen with her. Her eyes searched his face. "What do you think?"

"I think that it's time for you to stop being 'friends' with him." He looked down at the boys, briefly, then raised his gaze to hers. "I tend to be a somewhat jealous lover," he softly added.

She nodded, understanding. "All right." He didn't ask her to marry him, and she suspected he probably never would, but he loved her, and that was enough.

He turned back to the boys. "If you see him hanging around, or if he bothers you or your mother, call me." For the first time, he pulled out his wallet and handed them a pale cream-colored business card. There was nothing on it but a telephone number. "Whoever answers the phone, say to them 'Control' and then you just tell them that you were given this number in case someone hassled you, then you tell them where you are, and you wait. Understand?"

The boys both nodded, looking at the card and softly mouthing the numbers to memorize them. John looked at Judy, "You, too. Especially you." There was gravel and steel in his voice. She gazed into his eyes and nodded.

"All right."

He entered the living room and stood by the windows, looking down and checking the street. There was no distinctive gold colored Volkswagen, which was only a partial relief. There was nothing to say that Derek hadn't taken his car away and then come back on foot to watch them.

Then again, there was nothing to say that he had. Gnawing the inside of his cheek, he glanced at 'his' new family and sighed. He didn't think they were in any danger, what with him there, but it was still somewhat worrisome.

Judy came up behind him and slid her arm around his waist. He turned his head to look at her.

"He'll come back. Maybe not today, but he will. What do you want me to tell him?"

"To get lost." He sighed and turned to put his arms around her. "The doors are steel reinforced, and the deadbolts are stainless and extra long. It would take the SWAT team to break it down. Use the spy hole and if he comes, don't open the door."

The information surprised her, but she made no comment, simply nodding and resting her cheek against his chest. "All right. What about when the boys go to school or come home?"

He turned his head and saw both boys watching them, their expressions showing their concern.

"Gentlemen, if you see Derek or his car, I want you to hurry and get somewhere safe. Depending on which is closer, either school or home. If he tries to take you anywhere or make you get in his car, you start yelling at the top of your lungs, all right?"

"Yes, sir," Al answered, while Davy just nodded.

John sighed and gently hugged Judy, kissed her cheek, and stepped away from her. "Meanwhile, how about I take you all out for dinner?"

The boys' excited reaction distracted them, as it was intended. He tilted his head at Judy and softly murmured, "It might help if you got some clothes on, though." His own preference would have been to go back to bed, but not while the boys were awake.

She blushed and with an embarrassed grin, headed for her room to dress.

Since he'd walked to the apartment, he left to go and get his car. He was, as usual, alert to anything that might cause problems, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. They were watching for him when he pulled up outside the apartment and hurried down to meet him. He was smiling, but his eyes were watchful. The boys got the back seat, and Judy, the front. He held the doors for them.

"Get those seatbelts fastened," Judy gently reminded her sons.

"Yes, Mommy," Davy replied, rolling his eyes as he snapped his belt into place. John grinned at him as he closed the door and then handed Judy into the front seat.

"Don't forget your own seatbelt," he said softly, winking at the two giggling boys in the back seat.

"I won't if you won't," Judy replied, smiling.

He chuckled, circled around the car, checked the traffic, and quickly got in behind the wheel. Making a big show of putting on his seatbelt, to the giggles of his passengers, he then started the car and, again checking the traffic, pulled out and piloted the car down the street.

To the boys delight, he took them to Coney Island, where they feasted on hot dogs and cotton candy, followed by a stroll along the beach. She didn't have to remind him that it was a school night, because after an hour-long stroll, they arrived back at his car. He drove them home and, to his surprise, found a parking space right out front. He'd been vigilant, wondering where Derek had gone. He'd been pretty adamant about his plans and John didn't think he'd give up quite this easily.

Then again, maybe he'd gotten the hint when John had put him out. They took the elevator to her floor and the minute they were inside and the door closed, Judy sighed.

"Okay, boys. Go get your baths and then bed."

Her sons nodded and immediately did as they were told without further prompting.

"Those are two very nice and polite young men you have, there."

Judy smiled proudly. "Thank you. Of course, they're a lot quieter than they used to be." She looked up at him, "That year I wasn't there for them has left its mark."

He put his arms around her and rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. "It'll get better. Once they realize that they don't have to be afraid of being sent away again, they'll be fine."

She sighed and pressed closer to him. "I hope so. I think they like you." Then she pulled away and frowned. "But then, I thought they liked Derek, too."

"I suggest you ask them." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his head down, obviously thinking. "If they don't, then I don't think I should come back." It practically killed him to say that, but they were a package deal. Mother and sons. He liked the boys well enough, and he dearly loved their mother, but with his life and schedule, not to mention the danger, he wouldn't continue their relationship if the boys didn't approve.

She stared at him, but understood. "Let me go ask them." She touched his arm and gave it a squeeze as she passed. He put his hands in his pockets and waited, his weight shifting back and forth from his heels to his toes, rocking slightly in anxious agitation.

"Hey, guys," she knocked on the bathroom door before opening it. Both boys were in the tub, the water still running, bubbles foaming up, and playing with their toy boats. They looked up, curious as to what she might want.

She smiled at them and came in to sit on the closed lid of the commode. "Got a question for you." When they just continued to look at her, she took a deep breath and asked, "Do you like John?"

"He's nice." Davy replied and immediately turned his attention to his sailboat.

Judy smiled and turned her attention to her older son. "Al?"

Arthur Albert Rodgers, Jr. was a more introspective child than his brother, and he gravely considered her question. "He makes you smile. And he doesn't yell at us if we make any noise, and he doesn't pretend we aren't there." He pursed his lips and gazed into his mother's face for some clue as to what she really wanted to know. "He doesn't make you cry, like daddy did. And he doesn't look at us like Derek does." His gaze unfocused as he thought some more. "And he seems to like us, but I think he's kind of afraid of us, too." He saw his mother smile at that, and smiled back. "Yeah, he is nice. Why?"

Davy looked up, "And he calls us 'gentlemen', but not like he's teasing. Like he really means it. He talks like we're grownups, even though I know he knows we're just kids."

"It's called 'respect', Davy," Judy explained. "I agree, Al, he doesn't have a lot of experience with kids, and he may be a little afraid, not of you, but of hurting your feelings."

"Mommy," Davy asked, "Do you love him like you used to love daddy?"

Judy smiled. "Yes. I do love him. He's always been very kind to me. And besides, he's the one who made it possible for you to come and live with me again."

"Will he send us to boarding school?" Al asked, concerned.


"Will he live here with us?" Davy asked, realizing the seriousness of the discussion.

"I don't know. Would that be all right, if he did?"

The boys exchanged a look and both shrugged. "Sure," Al replied. Davy nodded his agreement.

Sighing with relief, Judy stood up and turned off the water. "Thanks, guys. Hurry up and finish your bath, now. Maybe John will read you a story, if you ask him." She couldn't help but grin as both boys threw their toys into the net container and reached for soap and washcloths. She left them to their ablutions and returned to the living room, still smiling.

John was anxiously waiting for her. His breath let out in a sigh at her smile. She went into his arms and hugged him, hard. "They like you." She said it simply, without going into their discussion.

"Thank God," he murmured and then kissed her.

"Will you read us a story?" Davy asked, standing next to John and holding a book in his hands.

"All right. What story do you want me to read to you?"

"Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, please."

John smiled and accepted the book, already marked with a finger for him. He stood up. "Let's get you two into your beds, first, okay?"

He sat on the foot of Davy's bed to read. Judy settled on the floor at his feet, leaning against his legs, and the boys lay quietly in their beds while he read to them. Again, he made up different voices for the various characters, much to the delight of his audience. When he'd finished the story, he closed the book and looked up. Judy stood and tucked the boys in and kissed them goodnight. John stood and placed the book in the bookshelf.

As he turned to leave, Davy softly asked, "Are you going to be our daddy, now?" He was half-asleep, but both boys looked intensely, if sleepily, interested in his answer.

His heart pounding, John looked at the boys, and then their mother. They were all holding their breaths, waiting for his answer.

"Would you want me to?" There was surprise and wonder in his voice and expression.

Al replied, "That'd be cool. Maybe we can go to the zoo this weekend?"

John had a hard time swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat. "That could be possible," he hoarsely agreed, looking at Judy, who had tears in her eyes and a smile on her lips. He cleared his throat. "I'll see if I'm free."

"Cool," Al murmured and turned over, almost instantly asleep. Davy was already sleeping. Judy came over and took his hand, leading him from the bedroom and turning out the light and half-closing the door.

She wrapped her arms around his body and leaned against him, then lifted her face for a kiss. "Very cool, indeed," she softly agreed. She led them to her bedroom, and for a change, she took charge, much to his surprise - and delight.

Later, as she slept in his arms, his mind kept turning over Davy's question. Did he want to be their father? Or was he selfish enough to just want their mother? He considered the ramifications of the question. If it were to become known, they'd be in inordinate danger. Of course, if he really wanted to keep them safe, he'd simply vanish from their lives; but having admitted his feelings for Judy, it didn't make any sense to end their relationship now. And considering the agony he'd just gone through when he'd thought she was going to marry Derek.... No. He did not want their relationship to end. But what about the boys? To be honest, he hadn't interacted with them enough to know them well, but they were well-behaved, and didn't have smart mouths or back-talk their mother. They were obedient and respectful to their elders.

And when Davy asked him to read to them.... He closed his eyes and smiled. If he could figure out some way to keep them safe.... Yes, he just might like to be their father.

He fell asleep still considering the problem.

His internal alarm awoke him at four. He just lay there quietly for a time, basking in the warm embrace of his lover. With a sigh, he gently eased out of her arms and made his way to the bathroom, where he took a shower. He dressed in the clothes he'd worn the day before and then knelt by the bed and kissed Judy awake.

"Hmmm. What time is it," she softly murmured as her arm slid around his neck.

"Almost five. I have to go, now. I'll come by when I can, all right?"


He kissed her again, tenderly, then whispered, "I love you," and was gone. She smiled and, still more asleep than awake, drew his pillow into her arms and curled up around it.

He slipped into one of the spare rooms and used the secret passage that led to the hidden stairwell that took him down to the basement and the tunnel that led to his own building. He'd left the car parked on the street, so he'd have to go and get it and get it back to the garage before he headed in to work. He hurriedly changed for work and went downstairs and out on the street. The streets were practically deserted as he made his way back to get the car.

He arrived at his office at a quarter to six.

Whatever had had Control's tail in a twist the day before was not in evidence. The first agent who had to face him exited the office with a relieved sigh. Word spread quickly, and soon, things were back on an even keel. If Control noticed, he made no comment or acknowledgement of the easing of the tension.

"What have you been up to, Control?"

He'd gone to O'Phelan's for lunch and looked up from his plate at his friend. "Sit down and join me, Robert."

Robert McCall frowned at him, consideringly for a moment, and then pulled out a chair and sat. "What Machiavellian machinations are you up to, Control?"

"Nothing that concerns you, old son." Control took a sip of his wine to hide his smile.

Robert snorted and turned his attention to the waiter that had appeared. "I'll have the lamb."

"Yes, sir."

McCall took the glass the waiter had brought and filled it from Control's bottle of wine, reading the label as he did. "Good vintage. What are you celebrating?"

Control sat back and wiped his lips with his napkin. "What makes you think I'm celebrating?"

He held up the bottle. "You don't normally go for a hundred dollar bottle of wine, my friend."

"Ah. I had a bad day, yesterday, and today is so much better that I'm indulging." He lifted his fork again, "Help yourself," he added mockingly as he took another bite of food.

McCall frowned, but enjoyed the wine as he regarded his friend. "You'd think the Iron Curtain had crumbled to rust from your demeanor. Who died and left you a fortune?"

Control chuckled and shook his head. "Robert, even you can't darken this day." He again used his napkin and smirked at his friend. "What would you say if I told you that I'm in love?"

Robert snorted. "I'd suggest you see a physician for a complete physical. I don't believe you're capable of that particular emotion."

There was the tiniest flash of hurt in his eyes as Control regarded his oldest friend. "Ah, well, then, I guess I won't be inviting you to the wedding." He was careful to say it very lightly and with a tinge of mockery in his tone.

"Oh, please. You? I hardly think so at this late date."

Control just shrugged and took a sip of wine. "Suit yourself."

McCall's meal was delivered and he started eating. The conversation turned to other matters, like Control suggesting he use someone other than Mickey Kostmayer for a while, as he was planning on sending him back to Beirut.

At the end of their meal, McCall was no wiser as to Control's good mood, and frustrated, while Control left, smiling.

Robert watched his friend as he left, shaking his head. The man really did need to find someone. It might help even out his somewhat manic-depressive personality.

He didn't dare come every night, but he did visit more often, and they did go to the zoo. He was always careful and circumspect. Derek only tried to see her once, when he wasn't there. She'd told him that she wasn't interested and that she had no interest in him in any way. Not even as friends.

The boys caught up to their proper grades by going to summer school, which gave him occasional all-day liaisons with their mother, and on the fourth of July, he took them out on a cabin cruiser to watch the fireworks in New York Harbor. Later, as they were moored in a quiet bay well to the north and after the boys had dropped into exhausted slumber, they made love.

His hands, as always, were warm and gentle, touching, rubbing, stroking. He was a master at bringing her pleasure. She was practically shaking as he reached for a condom. Her hand caught his and he looked at her in surprise. She was chewing her lower lip and wouldn't meet his eyes.

"What is it?" he whispered, putting his desires on hold for the moment.

"May I ask something of you?"

The formality of her wording worried him and he withdrew from her and lay beside her. "Anything within my power," he agreed.

She met his eyes. "Give me your child." She saw his eyes widen with shock and rushed on. "I love you, and I know I have two wonderful sons, but I'd like to have your child, too. And I know that by the time it's born I'll be forty, but it's something I really would like." She held her breath, wondering what he would say.

She wanted his child. He shivered. He'd come to love her sons, and except for his concern for their safety, he'd have asked her to marry him. But a child? His heart accelerated as he considered the idea. His own child. He felt his body responding to the idea and had to fight it down to rationally consider it. Al was almost ten, would be ten by the time the child came. And Davy would be eight. That wasn't too awful a gap in ages. His breath caught as he realized that he did want a child of his own. He looked at Judy. He wanted her child. Their child.

He leaned close to her and tenderly kissed her lips. "On one condition."

She opened her eyes to meet his. "Anything."

"That you marry me."

She had never considered that a possibility. "Is that possible?"

He sighed. "It's dangerous. More for you and the children than for me, but yes."

She sucked her lower lip between her teeth and regarded him. "Is John Flemming your real name?"

He chuckled. "No."

"Does anyone know you as that?"

"Just you, and the judge."

"Are you a criminal?" She'd wanted to ask that for so very long....

"No. I work for the government." There was a sardonic twist to his lips at that admission. She thought for a moment and then frowned, considering.

She looked up at him, her expression an odd combination of confusion and amusement. "You anglicized John?"

He grinned widely and chuckled. "Yes." And with that, he hugged her and gave her a kiss. Their brief conversation hadn't damaged the mood, in fact, he was even more ardent with the prospect as his hands and mouth brought her to that fevered place of wonder. And when he joined with her, their passion carried them higher than they'd ever gone, together, and culminated in something that, had it been visual, would have put to shame the finale of the fireworks display they'd watched, earlier.

And afterwards, rocked to sleep by the gentle action of the waves, they slept, dreaming of one another.

They were sitting over coffee when the boys awoke and came shuffling out into the galley, still rubbing their eyes and yawning. John and Judy had been discussing plans for the future. He'd given her to understand that it wouldn't be prudent, let alone safe, for him to openly begin living with her. He then explained about his secret passageways. There was off-street parking in her building, and he would move his extra car there for her use, as well as his when they were together. He'd use the tunnel to go from his apartment to hers. And the only way anyone would ever be able to find his bolt-hole would be to demolish the building.

The boys noticed them holding hands and smiled at each other before coming over and wriggling their way into the adults' laps. Al chose John's lap.

"Good morning, gentlemen," John softly greeted them. Both boys grinned, liking the formality of the greeting. It made them feel much more important than being called 'boys' would.

"Good morning," the boys chorused back.

"What would you like for breakfast?" Judy asked. The boys frowned and looked at each other.

"Food." Al announced, decisively. He grinned as the vibration from John's chuckle tickled him.

"Good answer. How about pancakes?" John asked.

"Yum," Davy replied.

"Blueberries?" John suggested.

"Double yum!" Judy answered.

Grinning, John slid out from the table and then turned to deposit Al in the spot he'd vacated. The boy was surprised by how easily he'd been picked up.

"Coming up," John announced and began opening cupboards and taking out ingredients, including fresh blueberries from the ice box.

"Wow," Judy murmured, "from scratch, yet. Pretty impressive."

John grinned. "Pancakes and cornbread, that's about it."

Judy shook her head as she watched. "Don't you measure anything?"

"No. Every time I even think about trying to measure, it comes out wrong." He shrugged and grinned as he added some baking powder. Soon, he had the batter mixed and the skillet heating.

Half an hour later, they were passing the syrup and eating. When they had finished, the two adults looked at each other, each hoping the other would broach the subject of their decision. Finally, Judy sighed, which immediately got her sons' attention.

"Is something wrong, mommy?" Davy asked.

"No. Not wrong." She glanced at John, who reached across the table and took her hand. She returned the squeeze he gave her and refocused on the boys. "We were talking, and we've decided that we're going to get married."

John held his breath, waiting for a reaction from the boys. Davy and Al exchanged a grin, and Al said, "Cool."

"That's it? Just 'cool'?" Judy asked, surprised. John grinned.

"I take it, then, that you approve?"

Davy looked up at him. "Sure. You don't make Mommy cry."

John looked at Judy, who was smiling, and said, "I hope I never do."

"That's good," Al agreed, taking final drink of his milk. "What are we going to do today?" He set his glass down and looked at them.

John laughed. "Today, we go north."

"Do we stay on the b-boat?" Davy asked.

"Yes. We're going to go up the coast a ways and try some fishing."

Both boys stared at him. "We've never done that, before," Al softly spoke.

"Then it's time you learned," John declared, rising. He gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink, running the water in order to wash them. Judy came up behind him.

"Let me do that, while you take care of whatever we need to do before we can get going."

"Underway," John softly corrected her. "When you're in a boat or ship, you 'get underway'. I have no idea why, but that's how it is."

"Aye-aye, captain," Judy saluted smartly, smiling. "You prepare to get us underway, while I get all this stowed away."

John laughed. "Yes, ma'am." He gave her a quick kiss and headed up on deck to prepare for their trip.

The boys stayed below with their mother. "Do you love him, Mommy?" Al asked.

"Very much, Al. He's taken very good care of me, and of us, don't you think?"

"He makes you smile. And he doesn't yell, and he helped me with my schoolwork so I didn't have to stay back a grade."

"And he reads to us and makes different voices...." Davy looked up at his mother in concern, "The only thing he doesn't do is hug us."

Al nodded, then looked at his mother, frowning. "Maybe he thinks we're too old to hug?"

"Or maybe he doesn't think you'd like him to hug you?" Judy softly replied. Both boys became silent at that, and then Davy stood up.

"I'm gonna go ask him." He started towards the stairs, then paused and turned back, frowning. "What are we supposed to call him?"

"What do you want to call him?"

"Father's too..." Al began and trailed off, his face screwing up in distaste.

"And he's not daddy, either." Davy agreed.

They both looked at their mother. "What else is there?"

"Well, there's dad, papa, and pop."

"I don't think he'd like pop," Al said slowly.

"Dad would be okay, wouldn't it?" Davy asked anxiously.

"I think it would. Why don't you go ask him, while I finish up here?" Both boys nodded and headed up the stairs.

John just happened to be facing towards the ladder from below when the boys came barreling up the steps. His voice, for the first time, was stern. "Hold it right there."

Both boys froze in the process of going out on deck. Their eyes widened in fear as they looked at him.

"Remember what I told you yesterday?" John asked, his voice softening. "You can't come out on deck without your life jackets on."

The boys looked at each other and sighed in relief and then turned to grab their life vests from their hooks and put them on. Once they'd gotten them properly fastened, each boy checking his brother's work, they came the rest of the way out on deck.

John came down from the bridge to prepare to weigh anchor. He'd purged the engine compartment and gotten them running. "What's up, gentlemen?"

"Can we call you dad?"

"Can I have a hug?"

John froze for a moment while he separated their words, since they'd both spoken at once. His face flushed at the implications, and he dropped to one knee by the boys. "Yes," he said to Al, and then turned to Davy. "And yes," He opened his arms and Davy grinned and came into them. The boy put his arms around John's neck and they hugged. Judy came up in time to see the expression on his face and smiled.

"Hey, how about one for me?" she asked as John released her younger son.

He looked up at her and said, "Not until you get your life jacket on," in the same stern tone of voice he'd used on the boys a few minutes earlier.

"Aye-aye, captain!" She got her vest and pulled it on while John gave Al a hug, as well. Then he stood up as she came into his arms, lifting her face for a kiss to go with her hug.

They finally got underway, and spent the afternoon with John teaching them all how to fish. By the end of the day, the boys were exhausted, but still excited about all the fish they'd caught.

"One thing, though. The rule is, if you catch them, you also have to clean them."

Davy frowned. "But they live in water, why do you have to give them a bath?"

John's eyes widened with surprise and then he burst out with a laugh. When he regained control, he shook his head. "That's not the kind of cleaning I'm talking about. We have to take the insides out of the fish, because there are organs inside that don't taste good at all. Come on, and I'll show you."

They all followed him to the cleaning station behind the bridge, where he showed them how to scale and clean the fish. Davy wrinkled up his face in distaste, but made himself watch, anyway. Then John filleted everything, explaining that that way, they didn't have to worry about little sharp bones, even though it wasted some of the meat.

Davy frowned. "Meat? Like hamburger?"

"Well, this is fish, but yes, it's meat, too."

"What does hamburger come from?"

John looked at Judy, who was looking uncomfortable. But he answered anyway. "Hamburger, roasts and steaks come from beef; cattle specially bred for meat. Just like dairy cattle are specially bread to give us milk. Ham and bacon and pork comes from pigs. Chicken is a type of bird, as is turkey."

"Those are animals," Al softly interjected. He looked up and swallowed, hard. "So we kill things to eat them?"

"Yes. Some things are good to eat, others aren't. We don't generally eat predators, for example, only those who eat grass and grain."

"Predators?" Davy asked.

"Dogs and cats, for example. In our culture, we also don't eat horses or donkeys."

"Some places they do?" Al asked, horrified.

"Yes," John admitted. "There are places in Europe where they like to eat dog and horse." He wrinkled up his nose. "But I'll stick to beef and pork, thanks. There are a lot of cultures where they won't eat pork, and at least one where they won't eat beef, but that's how they grow up, so that's what's normal for them. Here in the U.S., we kind of stick to the basics."

"I like hamburgers," Davy said softly, "But I've never met a cattle."

"Cattle is the plural, Davy," his mother softly corrected. "Cow is the singular, although I think that refers to the females. Steer?"

"Mostly," John agreed. Seeing the boys' puzzlement, he explained, "A cow is female, a bull is the male, and a steer is a...fixed male."

"Like they do the dogs and cats so they don't have babies?"

"Yes, and horses, as well. They're called geldings."


It was obvious that both boys were concerned with the realization that some of the things they ate didn't just come in nice clean, plastic packaging in the stores, but from real, live animals. John looked helplessly at Judy, who gave him a commiserating smile and shrugged. With that, he gathered up the fillets and handed them to her, and taking up the leavings in a bucket, threw the offal overboard.

"Look!" Davy cried out, pointing. Where the chum had landed, there was a large, triangular fin cutting through the water's surface.

"What is it?" Judy asked, turning back from taking the fish below.

"Shark. He's snapping up a free meal." Within moments, the fin vanished as it sank below the surface, still chasing the chum.

"Come on, I don't know about you, but I'm hungry," John said, gently urging the two boys to follow their mother below. While Judy battered and fried the fish, John piloted the boat into a sheltered cove.

"Mmmmm, mommy, this is good!" Davy declared as he bit into his third piece of fish.

"I wholeheartedly agree," John added. Al just nodded, because his mouth was full.

"Well, I've heard that the fresher the fish, the better it tastes, and I guess this proves it."

The boys had both been a little hesitant to try their first bite, but they had worked hard at catching the fish, and were hungry enough to finally take their first bite, and after that, they had no trouble at all with it.

After dinner, they settled in the lounge and John told them stories of sailors and pirates, partly history, partly legend, but his audience was enthralled, nonetheless. Finally, the boys were starting to fall asleep and Judy softly announced that it was bedtime. The boys reluctantly got up and went into their cabin to change for bed. When they had, the adults came in to tuck them in, and John, for the first time, kissed his new family good night.

"Good night, Davy."

"G'night, dad."

"Good night, Al,"

"Good night, dad; thanks for teaching us how to fish."

"You're welcome - son." John's stomach flip-flopped as he spoke and he turned to Judy, who was smiling contentedly.

"Come to bed," she whispered as she turned out the light in the boy's room.

"Yes," John agreed.

Later, they quietly discussed their wedding options. He had no one he'd dare invite, and no family, and she didn't have very many friends, either. Finally, he suggested they simply go down to the courthouse for a simple, and quick, civil ceremony.

"We still need two witnesses, don't we?"

"Yes. He thought hard and then chuckled softly. "I could always ask Tyrone to stand up for me. He is, after all, how we met."

Judy giggled. "All right, and I'll ask my friend Sally. She's the only friend I have left from when Art and I were together. We talk at least once a week, and I've had her over to the apartment a couple of times."

"All right. So, we'll need blood tests and the license. Those only take a couple of weeks at most. When would you like to do this?"

"For the Labor Day Weekend? That's about six weeks from now."

John cradled her close and kissed her softly. "Sounds great to me."

They made love, slowly, exquisitely; with all the love and passion they possessed.

When John next saw Tyrone and made his request, the tall, slender transvestite squealed with joyous surprise.

"You's marrying that girl, Johnny? For real?"

John smiled. "Yes. We decided over the Fourth of July holiday. We'll be having a very brief civil ceremony down at the courthouse on the Friday before Labor Day."

"And you wants me to stands up for you?"

John nodded. "It seems fitting, somehow. After all, you did introduce us."

Tyrone was beside himself. He nearly doubled over and ran in place. John was concerned that he might break a heel and hurt himself, but he needn't have worried.

"Oh, sugah, I would be honored to come to your wedding. I'll even wear a suit, if you likes."

John considered the offer; one he was certain was not made lightly. "No. Maybe a little more conservative.... How about letting me buy you a dress?"

Tyrone froze, staring at him. "You'd buy me a dress?"


"What color?"

John looked at Tyrone, somewhat more critically than he normally would. Pursing his lips, he considered the question. "Not red or pink." Then he smiled. "I know just the color." He looked up at Tyrone's face. "Do you have a place you usually go to buy your clothes, or are they all custom made?"

"There's a place down in the Bowery. Michelle's. They know me." He pursed his brightly painted lips and asked, "What color?"

"It's a surprise." He took out a pen and a small spiral-bound notepad and wrote down a telephone number. "This is Judy's number. Do not share it with anyone."

Tyrone looked briefly at the number and then slid it down the front of his dress. "Sugah, ain't nobody takin' nothin' from me."

"All right. I'll take care of the dress and I'll see you at the courthouse."

"With bells on for little Judy, sugah."

John grinned and left him.

Tyrone didn't get to see his dress until the day of the wedding. He'd called up Judy and they'd had some girl-talk, but she didn't know anything about the dress, either. When he finally saw it, he squealed with delight. It was a bright gold, with matching heels and even a shawl. It was floor-length, elegant, and fit perfectly. To John's surprise, Tyrone threw his arms around him and kissed him. On the cheek, thankfully.

"Oh, Johnny, it's the most gorgeous thing I think I've ever seen." Then he looked concerned. "But it's your wedding, Johnny, I don'ts want to upstage the bride, now."

John smiled. "You won't. Come on, Judy's waiting."

The judge performing the ceremony was somewhat taken aback by Tyrone, but he recovered quickly and a few minutes later, was pronouncing John Flemming and Judith Rodgers, husband and wife. Their kiss was chaste, due to the company, but it still held a great deal of promise.

And Tyrone was pleased that he didn't upstage the bride, as her dress, in ivory lace, was simple, but elegant, and very obviously a wedding dress and not just a formal gown. Tyrone gave them each a hug and a kiss on the cheek and admonished them to be happy together, and then, to everyone's surprise, Tyrone and Sally went off together, as well.

"Now that's an interesting couple," John murmured to his bride, who giggled.

"Yes, they are." She looked up at her new husband. "So, now what?"

"Now, we go home and pack up the boys and head out of town for the weekend. School starts on Tuesday, so it's going to be a very short honeymoon."

She smiled and leaned against him. "I don't mind, as long as I'm with you."

Control's pager went off and he sighed, pulling away from his new bride. Looking at the number, he groaned. "Work. I have to call in." He spotted a telephone booth and double-parked by it. Getting out of the car, he was alert to possible danger as he dialed the number and waited.

Thank goodness it turned out to be something minor. "I'm going out of town for the weekend and won't be available. And I don't want to be disturbed for anything less than nuclear war or the Iron Curtain collapsing." A moment later, he disconnected his phone and returned to the car.

"Minor inconvenience. We're all set."

"That's good. I wouldn't have liked it if you had to miss our honeymoon just because duty called."

His right hand reached over to clasp her left. "Have I told you how much I love you, recently?"

"Yes, but you can tell me again. I never get tired of hearing it."

"I love you Mrs. Flemming."

"I love you, Mr. Flemming.... Even if that isn't your real name."

He chuckled softly and shook his head. "It's real enough, not to mention legal."

She was pleased to learn that. "Good. I wouldn't want an illegal marriage."

He chuckled. "I still can't quite believe it's real."

She slid her hand to the inside of his thigh and felt him tense, among other things. She squeezed gently and his breath caught.

"Uh, not just yet, please? I need to be able to concentrate on the traffic and my driving, and if you keep that up, we'll be spending our wedding night in the emergency room of the hospital, instead."

With a final pat to his inner thigh, she sighed and straightened up, withdrawing from him.

"Uh, that didn't mean you can't touch me, only not like that," he softly complained. She laughed and settled in beside him, leaning against his shoulder.

It was strange, having a reason to go 'home' every night. Wonderful, but strange. When Judy informed him that she was expecting, he'd been thrilled. Her sons, however, seemed worried and depressed. Seeing their disquiet over the announcement, he cornered them in their bedroom.

"What's wrong?" He'd never been one to pussyfoot around, especially not where his family was concerned, so he simply asked, straight out.

The boys looked at each other for a moment and then Al asked, "When the new baby comes, will you send us away?"

John's breath caught and he sank to sit on the corner of Davy's bed. "Certainly not. Whatever made you think that?" His gaze shifted back and forth between the two boys.

"But you'll have your own kid, so why would you still want us?"

John was hurt, and then he was angry. He had to swallow hard, forcing down the anger in order to try and understand. "When your mother and I decided to get married, I wasn't just marrying her, I knew coming into this that it was a package deal, a ready-made family. I'll admit that I wasn't very confident as to my qualifications as a husband and father, but like I told you from the start, I will never send you away."

"But the b-baby is yours; you don't need us, n-now." Davy's stutter now only manifested when he was upset.

John stared at the boys, and realized that they didn't feel that they really belonged with him. But there was only one way he could think of that would prove to them that he loved them, but it involved....

"Yes, the baby is mine, and your mother's. And you are both hers, as well. But I've made a commitment to all of you, and I won't go back on my promise. I've never broken a promise in my life, and I'm certainly not about to start now."

"Okay," Al's acceptance was uncertain, at best, and Davy's silence even less sure.

He gave each boy a hug and then stood. "Come on, it's time for dinner."

It was a quiet meal. Judy was a little upset as well, knowing that her sons didn't seem to like the idea of a new sibling.

After dinner, John offered to do the dishes, because Judy wanted to talk to her sons.

"I asked him for this baby. It was my idea, not his."

"W-why? D-d-don't you love us any more?" Davy expressed his fear and dismay.

Tears sprang into her eyes and she bit her lip as she pulled her younger son against her. "Certainly I still love you. I love both of you, but I also love John, and I wanted to give him a child of his very own. He loves you both, and he'd have been content to keep on the way we'd been going. When I asked him if he'd let me have his baby, that's when he decided to marry me. I didn't expect him to, but he did, and I can't imagine what our lives would be like without him. We all owe him so much, can't you share him with a baby?"

"But will he still love us?" Al asked.

"Oh, Al, that's the wonderful thing about love, once you learn to give it, there's always more available to share." She hugged her sons. "Now, get your homework done and you can watch some television." She gave each boy a kiss on the cheek and stood up. "And he's never once made a promise he didn't keep. He told he that he'd see about getting me visitation rights for you, and look what he did. He got you back for me." She shook her head. "Don't worry, this baby will just make us all closer, you'll see."

John was standing quietly in the doorway, watching them. He smiled a little sadly. "We'll have to take your word on that, since none of us have anything that equates with it."

She looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Yes, you'll just have to trust me on this." She stood up and went into his arms, giving him a hug and gentle kiss. Then she turned back to her sons. "Come on, guys, homework."

They watched as the boys got their homework out and started on it before turning away.


Arthur Albert Rodgers, Sr. was in pain. Not only had his sons been returned to their mother, but his off-shore accounts had been discovered and the IRS was threatening to imprison him. Plus, that bitch he'd been married to had somehow gotten a hold of that stupid promissory note for the money he'd used to start his investments. The ones he'd hidden in off-shore accounts in order to keep her from getting any of it. Instead, some lousy woman judge, a different one from the one who returned the kids to her, insisted he give her back the money he'd borrowed from her...with interest. And that interest was based on his investments and how much he'd made.

He was practically broke, and on top of that, he had to pay his ex a thousand dollars a month for the upkeep on the kids.

And the little bitch he dumped his wife for had run off with another, younger man.

The phone rang.


"Mr. Rodgers, this is John Flemming. I have a proposition for you."

"F* off." He started to hang up, but he heard Flemming's next words.

"How would you like to stop paying child support?"

Art put the phone back up to his ear. "How?" he asked suspiciously.

"Meet me and we'll discuss it."

"Where and when?"

He named a quiet, out of the way coffee shop and a time.

It was late afternoon and he'd left the office at lunchtime. He'd gotten the papers he needed, and he was waiting to see if Rodgers actually showed up. He smiled when he spotted his quarry entering the shop. He glanced at his watch and turned to walk away. He took a slow stroll around the block, wanting Rodgers to get antsy and nervous. Twenty minutes later, he returned and, after checking the area, walked into the coffee shop. There, in the back corner, at a table, Arthur Albert Rodgers, Sr. sat. He was obviously nervous, looking around and on his third cup of coffee, to tell by the two empty and one full paper cups in front of him. Hiding his smile, he went up to the counter and ordered himself a coffee. He paid and turned to look around. Rodgers obviously didn't remember him, so didn't make eye contact with him.

"Hello, Artie."

Rodgers jerked in his seat and looked up. Now that he'd spoken, he recognized John Flemming. "You said you had a way so I wouldn't have to pay child support any more?"

"Yes. But first, you've got to give Judy back everything her family left her. The jewelry, the photographs, everything."

Rodgers sneered. "It's worthless crap. Sure, she can have it."

He nodded. "And sign this." He placed a form before Rodgers.

Arthur frowned as he read the document. "What's this mean?"

Control leaned forward and spoke very softly, using the tone of voice that sent chills down the spines of most of the world's elite spies. "Sign that, and you no longer have to pay a cent of child support."

"But it says that I give up all parental rights to my boys."

"That's right."

Rodgers frowned. "Why would I do that?"

"Twelve thousand reasons."

Rodgers' jaws spasmed as his eyes met the pale blue ice chips Control looked on the world with. "Why?" He didn't get it. What was in it for this guy?

Control shrugged. "Your choice. You don't love them, you don't give a damn about any of them. I'm offering you a way out of having to continue paying. Your choice." He reached for the paper, and Rodgers slapped his hand away.

"Give me a pen."

John handed him what he asked for and sat back, casting his gaze around. Rodgers handed him back his pen and he motioned to someone else in the shop. "I trust you have two forms of identification with you?"


"This is Tyrone, he's a notary public." He looked up at the tall black man in the badly fitting suit and smiled.

"Thank you, Mistah. John. Now, then, Mistah Rodgers, your identification?"

Rodgers did have two forms of ID, his driver's license, and his work identification card. Five minutes later, the document was notarized and back in Control's possession.

"Ah thanks you, gentlemen. Y'all take care, now." With that, Tyrone stood and took his book and notary stamp, and left the coffee shop.

Control stood. "Thank you, Mr. Rodgers."

"Why go through all that? For that matter, since you're the one who got the IRS after me, why would you help me, now?"

He folded the signed and notarized form and placed it in his inside jacket breast pocket. He lifted only his eyes to look as he replied, "I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for them." And with that, he walked out, leaving a very confused Arthur Albert Rodgers behind.

He waited until the weekend to make his proposal. They'd gone out into the country. He'd bought a used vehicle for his family and had it gone through and basically rebuilt completely with their safety in mind. And no one who knew Control would ever believe he'd drive a minivan. They'd had their picnic and were sprawled out on a hillside, looking up at the clouds. John pointed up and said, "Doesn't that one look like a lion?"

"And that one's a dog!" Davy said, pointing.

"And there's a sheep," Judy added.

"What do you see in the clouds, Al?" John softly asked.

The older boy squinted, trying to see something different, then he pointed, "I see an airplane." He pointed to a contrail.

John chuckled and sat up, reaching over to ruffle the older boy's hair. "You're too literal, young man."

"I just don't see anything, is all."

"That's all right. Sometimes, there's nothing to see." He gazed out over the countryside and quietly reached into his jacket pocket for a piece of paper. He unfolded it and read it. Judy sat up and leaned against his arm.

"What's that?"

He glanced sidelong at her and then back at the paper. "I have a question for the boys." He spoke softly, but the boys heard and sat up and faced him, curious about his serious tone of voice.

"What's wrong?" Al asked, looking worriedly at the piece of paper.

John took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. "I've done something, and I'm hoping that I was right in doing it."

"What?" Judy asked, softly, rubbing his arm.

He cleared his throat and looked at the boys. "I, uh, went to see your father."

Judy stiffened and withdrew a little to look at him. She glanced at the boys and saw their fear.

"Why?" Al asked softly, thinking the worst.

"I asked him how he'd like to stop paying child support."

Judy gasped in horror and both boys jumped to their feet. "Y-y-y-you're going to send us back to him?" Davy shouted and began to shake.

John looked up in shock. "No! I..."

He'd never contemplated anything like this, before. He didn't know quite how to broach the subject properly, and now it looked like he'd gone about it all wrong. He shook his head. "Please, just hear me out." They became silent, all three of them staring at him. He took several deep breaths and looked again at the piece of paper in his hand. Softly, he began trying to explain.

"I called him a couple of weeks ago and asked him if he'd like to stop paying child support. He agreed to meet me, and I made him an offer." He lifted the piece of paper, "This was the result."

Judy took the paper from him and read it. "I don't understand?"

John took a deep breath and looked at her. "As long as he lays claim to the boys, there's always a chance he'll try and get them back. This paper means that he's given up all parental rights for the boys."

Judy shook her head, "But why?"

He glanced at the boys and saw the confusion on their faces. He licked his lips, nervously, and asked, "Because without that piece of paper, I couldn't adopt them."

There was a sudden stillness, as though even the wind had stopped breathing.

"What's that mean?" Al asked, frowning.

"It means that if you're willing, I can adopt you and you would be my sons. And no one would ever be able to take you away."

The boys exchanged a long, serious look, then Davy asked, "Does that mean you want to be our real dad?"

"Yes. When I married your mother, she took my last name, Flemming. If I adopt you, your name will also be Flemming. If you want, that is. If not, then I apologize for overstepping my bounds." He looked up anxiously at his wife, wondering if he'd done the wrong thing.

Judy smiled and wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against his shoulder. She looked at her sons. "I told you he didn't break his promises."

John closed his eyes, grateful that she understood. "So, what do you say?" He looked up at the boys.

"Can we change my first name, too?" Al asked hopefully.

Both John and Judy burst into laughter. "We can do whatever you want, son."

"Good. I like Al, but can I get something besides Arthur?"

"Yes, you can." He held his arms open and both boys rushed into his embrace. Laughing, they knocked him flat on his back and they began wrestling and tickling.

No one could figure out what was going on with Control He'd been nervous as a cat in a dog kennel all week. His pager went off in the middle of a meeting and he looked at it. Rising, he excused himself and left. And didn't come back.

He held her, coaching her through labor. After ten hours, his son finally emerged, screaming his tiny lungs out. In amazement, John was handed his son, and he held the tiny infant for Judy to see. She smiled, recognizing the look of wonder on his face. Later, when their older boys were allowed to visit, they were allowed to briefly hold their little brother. Then John kissed his wife good night and took his sons home. In the morning, he got them off to school and briefly stopped by the hospital to visit his wife, before going to work.

There were questions, and he smiled and told them that he had to go watch his son be born. He easily hid his amusement at his colleagues' disbelief.

That night, on his way home, he stopped down in the red light district. When he spotted Tyrone, he pulled over.

"Why, Johnny, sugah, what brings you down heah?"

John didn't say a word as he handed the tall, thin, transvestite a card.

Frowning, Tyrone looked at it. It was a baby announcement. He began grinning as he opened it, his smile faded as he saw the name.

"Franklin Tyrone Flemming." He stared at John. "You named your son after me?"

"If it weren't for you, we'd have never met. I hope you don't mind?"

"Mind? Sugah, I am thrilled! Oh, I've just got to call Sally. She'll be thrilled."

Control was a little surprised that Tyrone and Judy's friend Sally were still seeing each other, but was pleased. "Well, Judy's due to leave the hospital in a couple of days. Why don't you come over next Saturday?

"We'll be there. With bells on. You needs anything, sugah?"

John smiled contentedly. "Tyrone, for the first time in my life, I've got everything I've ever needed, or wanted."

Tyrone smiled. "That's good, sugah. That's all anyone can ever ask for."

"More than I ever imagined possible." He glanced at his watch. "Well, I've got to get home. The boys are going to be anxiously waiting for me so we can go see their mom. And go out for dinner. You and Sally come on over about five on Saturday."

"We'll be there, sugah. You go and take care of your family, now. And we'll see you later."

Tyrone backed away from the car and watched as it pulled away.

A month later, he visited O'Phelan's for lunch. He didn't even flinch when his long-time friend sat across from him.

"And what have you been up to, my old friend?" Robert looked at him, puzzled, trying to figure out what was different about him.

"Oh, the usual. Manipulation, intimidation. You? Still trying to save the world?"

"Oh, yes. One miserable person at a time."

"You have my sympathy."

"Oh, I'm sure." Robert shook his head, wondering what was different about his friend.

Control looked at his friend and smothered a grin. "What?"

"You seem....different, somehow."

"Ah, marriage and family will do that to a man."

"Oh, yes, of course." Robert snorted a laugh. "I'll take the hint and stop asking, my friend. I imagine I wouldn't really want to know, anyway."

Control chuckled. "You probably wouldn't believe it." He reached for the wine and refilled his glass. "Care to join me?"

"No, no, that's all right. I just stopped in to chat with Pete. I'll see you another time. Take care, old friend."

"You, too, old son." He watched as his friend walked away. Shaking his head, he softly murmured, "No, even when I do tell you, you don't believe me." Shaking his head, he glanced at his watch. If he left now, there'd be time for a little visit with his wife before he had to be back at the office. Leaving his meal unfinished, he dropped several bills on the table and stood.

There were better things than an excellent steak. And he was going to go and partake of them.

He walked out into the sun and took a deep breath. No one who knew him would believe how much he and his life had changed. And, considering his work, that was a good thing. A very good thing. With a smile on his face, he got into his car and headed home.

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