This is Theresa's fault. Totally. She offered to come and clean and unpack my house if I'd write Lansing stories. Well, she's not really going to, but I started brooding over The Grissom Gang. Read a review of it on IMDB and it said that 'Fenner is the one untarnished hero in the whole film'. Wonderful, a hero. A good guy. I love good guys. Even mortal ones...particularly mortal ones. Stubborn, honest, determined. Yep, sounds like my kind of man. Okay, on with the story.

Every now and again, I do this weird 'stream of consciousness' thing. That's what this has turned into. I sure hope I got his voice right...Both Dave's and Robert's...because while both are similar, one is a character, and the other is the real thing.

And, as always, I'm playing in someone else's sandbox, using characters created and owned by others and brought to life by some outstanding people. I'm grateful for their genius and thankful for their forbearance in not suing me over the unauthorized use of their characters.



They call it the Stockholm Syndrome. I'd never heard of it before, of course. It wasn't exactly my area, psychology, that is. All I know is that I'd like to kick that smug son of a bitch from here to Albany, and that's a hell of a long way from here. I tried to explain it to him, but he wasn't paying attention. I thought he should be grateful that his daughter was still alive...he felt that she'd been soiled. What a hell of a term. Soiled, like it was her fault? Poor kid. He took one look at her and knew what had happened to her and wished she were dead. That is such a load of crap, that 'death before dishonor' thing. Particularly for a kid, a teen-aged girl like her. A year ago, she'd been a debutante, now, she's something to be shamefully hidden. Me, I think she's a heroic figure. I take a look at her, sitting beside me in the car. She looks like she's been through hell, but she's alive. But maybe she wishes she weren't, now. Not with the way daddy acted. Poor kid.

"It'll get better," I tell her. Her eyes slide over to take a look at me. Then they go back to examining her hands. They're nice hands, despite the filth on them. Yeah, I'll drive the rest of the afternoon, get into St. Louis and get us a hotel. Damn. I'm not quite old enough to be her father, but I'm also not exactly young enough to share a room with her. Kid sister, maybe? Last thing I need is to get arrested for violating the Mann Act...Except...I fumble for that envelope and sure enough, there's a letter of guardianship in it, too. How very civilized of her father. Bastard. She looks curiously at the envelope and recognizes his handwriting on it.

"What's that?" she asks, but there is no real curiosity in her voice. She sounds like she's dead inside, poor kid. I hesitate a second, trying to figure out what to say, but then decide the truth might be a good idea.

"It's some money and guardianship papers."

"Guardianship papers?" Her voice says she doesn't understand and I wish there was something I could do for her.

"So I can legally take care of you, Miss Blandish."

"Barbara. My name is Barbara."

"Barbara, then. Would you like to stop for something to eat or anything? I think we've outrun the reporters."

"Could I have a drink of water, please?" Her voice reminds me of a little girl, my kid sister, maybe.

"Sure. We can get you a drink of water," I promise her. It's another hour before we come to anything big enough to call a town. I park in front of the general store and tell her I'll be right back. I go inside and order some sandwiches and pick up a few chocolate bars and a couple of apples. They've got some soft drinks on ice and I buy several bottles of YooHoo and some Coca Cola. Then, I look out the window at her; sitting there looking all lost, and get a quart of milk, as well. I pay for it out of the envelope and thank the clerk, who's too bored to care.

I get back out to the car and set my purchases on the seat between us. I hand her the bottle of milk and she looks at it in confusion. "Go on, Barbara. It's cold and it'll help." I'm talking through my hat, but what the hell. She hesitantly takes the bottle and shakes it to mix the cream back in, and then she takes off the paper cap and takes a tentative sip. The look on her face makes me want to hug her, but I'm afraid that she won't want anyone near her...least of all some strange man her father sent her away with. I watch her drink the milk and I open the bag and take out the two nice, thick sandwiches I'd bought. I open the wrappers and set one in front of her.

"I hope you like ham," I say, she nods and reaches uncertainly for the food, as though afraid I might snatch it back. If the Grissoms weren't already dead, I'd like to kill them again, myself...with my bare hands, except that then I'd never get their stink off of me. She puts the bottle of milk between her knees and holds the sandwich in both hands, taking a tentative nibble. She closes her eyes as she chews and then swallows. It must be all right, because she quickly takes another bite, bigger than the last one. I reach over and carefully push her hair out of her eyes. She looks at me like a rabbit cornered in the garden and I try a smile that I hope is reassuring, but am not certain. She blinks several times and sort of smiles back at me. She swallows again and sets the sandwich down to take another sip of milk.

"Thank you," she says and I wonder that she's still got such good manners...much better than her father's, at any rate.

"You're quite welcome," I tell her. With the way her dress is torn, I can see some livid bruises on her shoulders and bosom, but there isn't much I can do about it until we get to a big enough city to avoid any reporters. I kind of wonder what her father's telling the press. From the looks on some of the reporters' faces, I'm kind of glad I'm not her father; of course, if I had been, she wouldn't be sitting with some stranger in a car headed who knows where. She puts the milk back between her knees and picks up the sandwich again. She eats slowly and fastidiously, which I find amusing. Despite all that's happened to her, she's still a lady. She finishes the sandwich and washes it down with the last of the milk. She frowns, wondering what to do with the bottle.

"Just drop it on the floor and I'll clean it out later," I tell her, she nods and does so. Then she goes back to looking at her hands in her lap. I finish my own sandwich and dig my churchkey out of the glovebox and open a bottle of YooHoo. "You want one of these?" I ask, then add, "I've got some Coca Cola, too." She glances at me again and I can see her thinking about it.

"No, thank you. Maybe later?" There was a certain tentativeness in her voice, like she's hoping I won't deny her later when she's thirsty again.

"Okay," I tell her and practically chug down my drink. I drop the bottle on the floorboards and start the car. I back out and pull back onto the highway, still heading east.

I can feel her glancing at me again and glance back, only to see her eyes dart back to her hands. I focus back on the road, figuring if she's got something to say or ask, she'll eventually get up her nerve to say or ask it. After half an hour, she looks at me directly for a moment, and then speaks.

"What's your name?"

"Dave Fenner," I reply. "Your father hired me to find you. I'm sorry it took so long."

"So am I," she says in that lost little girl voice of hers. I reach out to touch her without thinking, stroking the hair back out of her face again and she looks at me in surprise, like she wonders why I'd risk touching something as unclean as she is.

"It will get better, Barbara. I promise." Like I really know? After what she's been through? I can't imagine the horror she's survived, going from her nice, sheltered life as a wealthy young lady to a slattern who lived at the whim of a family of filthy criminals. People whom she knew wanted to kill her, only to be protected by a man whose lusts had made her his slave. Hell of a choice for a girl to have to make. I decided that it would be my job to make sure she didn't regret her survival, and damn her father for his actions.

After another hour of driving, I needed to get some gas in the car and relieve myself. I was sure she did, too. The next turnoff had a gas station and I pulled off. I told the attendant to fill it up and opened her door for her. She looked up at me in confusion and I held my hand out to her. She hesitantly took it and I gently pulled her from the car. I led her around to the restroom and smiled when she looked at me in surprise. "Go on," I said. "I'll meet you back at the car." I went into the men's room and when I was finished, returned to the car.

The windows had been washed, the oil and water checked, and the gas was paid for before she came back. She'd tried to clean herself up, but there wasn't much she could do about her torn dress, and without a brush, there was nothing she could do about her hair. There was another little general store next to the gas station, and I went in and bought her a comb, a brush, a mirror, and some bob pins, in case she wanted to put her hair up. More would have to wait until we got to St. Louis.

She stared at the stuff I handed her like she wasn't sure what to do with it. When she finally looked at me, there were tears in her eyes, which overflowed and ran down her cheeks. She didn't make a sound. I picked up the hairbrush and, as gently as I knew how, started to brush her hair. After about a minute, her hand came up and took it from me, continuing the brushing. I started the car and got back on the road.

It took her an hour before she was satisfied she'd gotten out all the tangles. With an ease which showed a lot of practice, she pulled her hair up and quickly twisted it into a bun, held in place with some of the bob pins. Her expression didn't seem quite as bleak as before, and I was glad.

It was a long trip. After a while, she started dozing, jerking awake every few minutes. "If you want, you can get in the back seat and lie down," I offered. She glanced over her shoulder at the seat and shivered.

"I'm all right," she insisted.

"I just thought you might be a bit more comfortable there." She's silent for a long time again, until finally she shakes her head.

"I'm all right," she says again.

She was exhausted, poor kid, and she was still in shock, not having quite registered that she was free, yet. "Do you want to lie down here?" I asked, wondering what I'd do if she said yes.

She shook her head. "I'm all right, thank you."

"Yes, you are," I tell her, knowing neither of us believes it.

Eventually, her exhaustion takes over and she slowly slips down. I reach across the seat and carefully guide her down to pillow her head against my thigh. I hope she doesn't think I'm trying anything, I just want her to be as comfortable as I can make her. It seems to be okay, though, and soon she's deeply asleep. With any luck at all, she'll stay that way until we reached St. Louis.

By the time we got to St. Louis, I was feeling pretty tired, myself. It had been a long day following a long couple of months. As we reached the outskirts of the city, I spotted a hotel and pulled into their parking lot. It wasn't anything fancy, but it looked clean. I parked and shut off the motor. I eased out from under Barbara's head and went inside to register us. I listed her as my sister and asked for a suite. Luckily, they had one available. Of course, they looked at me funny when I only had one piece of luggage, but I didn't much care. I let the bellhop take it up and gave him a good-sized tip for his trouble; it always pays to be nice to the help, something Mr. Blandish needed to learn, but probably never would. Once he was gone, I went down the stairs and gently woke Barbara. She was frightened and disoriented for a minute, until she remembered and flinched away from my touch. I held out my hand and again she stared at me in confusion.

"We're spending the night, here. Come on, we've even got a bathroom to ourselves, and there's a tub and everything," I told her. She perked up a bit at that and got out of the car and followed me back into the hotel, up the stairs and to our room. She looked around, as though surprised that it was so normal looking. I pointed out the amenities, two bedrooms with a sitting room and bathroom. I directed her to the bathroom and suggested she take as long as she wanted. I heard the water start running and when I heard it shut off and the sound of her stepping in and sitting down, I headed out, locking the door behind me.

I went out and asked directions. Following them, I found a department store and entered the ladies' wear department. The clerk approached me, giving me the eye. I smiled at her and she smiled back. I told her that I'd just rescued my kid sister from her abusive husband and that she needed some clothes. The clerk was immediately sympathetic and asked me what size she wore. I had no idea, but was able to give her a fairly accurate description of Barbara's measurements. She nodded and showed me several dresses. I considered the girl and went for what I thought would be soft and comfortable, instead of the too-revealing dress she had on.

The clerk commended my choices and then asked about foundations. I must have given her a blank look because she blushed and leaned close to whisper 'brassieres and girdles'. I think I blushed. I told her I wasn't sure, but that she was very slender and I didn't think she needed a girdle. Then she asked how big she was. I thought about it and said she was small. The clerk smiled and brought out several items that I'd helped remove from a lady or twelve, but which now made me uncertain about my motives. Maybe I should just get her one dress and let her come and buy everything else she'd need. Then I thought about the bruises and decided my momentary embarrassment was nothing compared to her humiliation, should anyone see her condition. Finally, I had picked out enough clothes to last her a while and paid the bill. Then I headed over to the luggage section and bought her a suitcase to hold her new clothes. I let a clerk carry my purchases out to the car. On the way out, we passed the ladies' toiletries. I paused and decided she might like something nice. Of course, I don't really know what women like, so I picked out some bath salts that I liked the scent of, as well as some shampoo and soap. The costs didn't make much of a dent in the envelope of money.

When I got back to the hotel, I could hear the water running again and set the bags down on the sofa. I tapped on the door and said I had something for her. I could feel her fear of me, and promised her I wouldn't look. She finally told me to come in and I did, eyes tightly closed and feeling my way along the wall with my free hand, the bag of toiletries in the other. I knew I was close enough when I felt the water on the floor and set the bag hopefully within her reach. Then I felt my way back out and closed the door behind me. I listened as she opened the bag and took out the items. Then I wanted to kick myself when I heard her start to cry. I went into my bedroom and fought the urge to put my fist through the wall. I'd upset her and that had been the last thing I'd wanted to do.

I couldn't help myself. He was being so nice to me. From the way he put his arm around me and protected me from those reporters to the sandwich and the milk when I asked for a glass of water. Then the hairbrush; I couldn't believe how kind he was being. But this...this was too much. Bath salts. Something I had once taken for granted was now a luxury I couldn't fathom. After so long, the degradation, having to do what I'd done just to stay alive, and now daddy hating me. Why did this Mr. Fenner treat me so nicely? Surely there wasn't enough money in the world to make me clean again. But the way he kept almost touching me, like he was afraid he might hurt any man could ever hurt me again. Not after this. Not after them. I knew Slim was dead and I was sorry. Sorry for him, sorry for me. I was even sorry for daddy; at least, I thought I was. He didn't want me any more. He hated me because I let Slim do those things to me. It didn't matter that I hadn't wanted to, that they would have killed me if I hadn't.

When daddy said that I should have let them kill me, something inside died. Yet this man, this Mr. Fenner seemed to think I was worth something. Maybe Daddy had given him a million dollars, too. I suppose for enough money someone would be willing to take care of me.

Bath salts. Lilac scented bath salts. I couldn't help it, it made me cry. I hadn't thought I could, not after what daddy said. Why was he being so nice to me? I let some of the water out of the tub and started the hot water again. I'd drained and refilled the tub twice, already, needing at least two baths just to feel clean again, only I'd never really be clean again. Not on the inside, anyway. Now, I poured some of the bath salts into the water as the tub filled for a third time. As the bubbles filled the tub and the scent of lilacs the room, I relaxed into the warm water and let the smell remind me of home; and I wondered if I could ever go home again, if I even had a home.

When the water grew cold again, I pulled the plug on the drain and got out. There were big, thick towels waiting for me. They felt wonderful. I looked at my filthy dress and couldn't bear to touch it, let alone put it back on. I wrapped a towel around me and kicked the old dress behind the toilet. I wasn't sure what Mr. Fenner might do, but I went out anyway. He must have been waiting because he told me that my room was to my right. I went through the door and saw what was waiting for me. Clothes. Brand new clothes. And not the kind I'd gotten used to wearing for Slim. These were modest. They were soft, too. There was a silk chemise that was this gorgeous shade of blue, and underwear. Real panties, some of silk, some of cotton. And, oh, he'd gotten everything, even stockings. No shoes, but that was all right. I'd gotten used to being barefoot. Still....

I couldn't help it, I cried again. I cried as I set my towel down and pulled on a pair of cotton panties. And I cried as I put on the new brassiere and wondered how he knew what size to get? And I was still crying when I pulled on the beige dress. It was soft cotton, too. Nicely tailored and not at all revealing. I loved it. There was even a flannel nightgown! Dressed again, I picked up the hairbrush he'd gotten for me and brushed out my hair. For the first time since this nightmare began, I felt almost human.

There was a soft knock at my door and I gasped, then remembered that it wasn't one of the Grissoms. I bit my lip, though, suddenly shy and wondered what his intentions were. Not that it really mattered, any more. Daddy was right; I was spoiled goods. No decent man would ever even look at me again. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door. At first, I was afraid to look at him, fully expecting to see the same look in his eyes that I'd seen in daddy's. But when I finally did look, all I saw was concern. I chewed on my lower lip and waited for him to say something.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his voice soft and low.

"Yes, Mr. Fenner."

He nodded at me and smiled a little. I kind of smiled back. "I didn't get you any shoes, because I had no idea what size you wear. Perhaps tomorrow we can go and get you some?"

Of course. How silly of me. You can guess about clothing sizes, but feet were different. I nodded and his smile got bigger and I realized what a nice smile he had.

"I ordered us supper from room service, I hope you don't mind," he said, turning away. I followed him.

"Thank you. I hope my father is paying you well for this," I told him. It must be hard, having to take care of someone else's ruined goods. He shrugged.

"He gave me some money to take care of you. We'll see how far it goes. I thought we'd go to Chicago, take you to a doctor there, where nobody's likely to recognize you."

"Doctor?" I asked. "I'm not sick," I said.

He looked at me again, and there was such sadness in his eyes that I wanted to apologize, but he spoke before I had the chance.

"You need to be seen by a doctor, to make sure you're all right, that they didn't hurt you." I stared at him, confused. Of course they'd hurt me. Then I realized what he meant and I know I got pale. You can feel when the blood drains from your face.

"You mean, to see if I'm pregnant, don't you," I meant to sound normal, but only a whisper came out. He looked sad again, and a little uncomfortable. Then he nodded, his eyes meeting mine. I started crying and was shocked when he took me into his arms and held me. It wasn't like how Slim had held me, nor was it like daddy used to hold me, but it was nice. I put my arms around him and cried, scared, heart-broken, and lost. He murmured soft reassurances and promises that he'd take care of me and that I'd be all right. I wondered if he had any idea of how horrible a person I'd become and that made me cry even harder. There was a knock at the door and I pulled away, trying to compose myself. He looked at me for a second, then went and answered the door. He let the waiter push the cart in, tipped him and then closed and locked the door behind him.

He was a perfect gentleman, holding my chair for me at the little table, serving me like I was important. He didn't talk a lot, but he was kind and attentive and made me feel safe and like I still mattered. After supper, he offered to go and get a newspaper, if I wanted, but I said no, and decided to just go to bed. I changed into the new flannel nightgown and couldn't help but smile. It was soft and warm, the sheets were cool and crisp and the bed the most comfortable I could remember in a very long time. And, he left me alone. I snuggled under the covers and went to sleep.

If only I didn't dream....

She was holding up admirably. Despite the crying earlier. She seemed to like the clothes, from the way her hands kept stroking the fabric. I'd been careful to pick out things that were fairly long, not wanting her to think I was ogling her legs or anything. She ate with good appetite, although she didn't have much to say. Not that there was anything to really talk about. Not after she figured out why she needed to see a doctor, at any rate. She went straight to bed after supper and I went down to get a paper. Sure enough, there was her picture spread across the front page. Heiress found. This particular version painted the grim story of the shootouts that killed the entire Grissom family, and how she'd been spared by the retarded son. The picture couldn't be used to identify her, though, as I'd managed to cover her pretty well. The statement by her father, however, showed him to be just as odious as I thought he was. I tossed the paper in the trash and thought about going out and getting a drink, but decided against it. Instead, I made an early night of it myself; taking a bath and putting on clean skivvies and crawling into bed. I was asleep almost immediately.

I'm not really sure what woke me up. I picked up my pocket watch from the bedside table and took a look; it was just after three in the morning. I wondered what had wakened me and slid out of bed, grabbing my robe and putting it on. I went into the sitting room, trying to listen carefully to hear what might have caused me to awaken so abruptly and so thoroughly. Then I heard it. A stifled sob, coming from Barbara's bedroom. I wasn't sure what I should do. Leave her alone to deal with her nightmares? I shook my head, knowing I couldn't do that to her. I went over and knocked on her door. She tried to stifle the sobs, but I could hear the tears in her voice when she gave me permission to come in. I opened the door, a bit surprised that she hadn't locked it, and went in.

"Are you all right?" I asked. Stupid question. Of course she wasn't all right. She might never be 'all right' again.

"Yes," came the tiny, little-girl voice. I could see her sitting up in bed, the pale green of her nightgown dark against the pillow, her face only a shade or two darker than the sheets. I moved a bit closer. I didn't want to scare her, or make her think I was like the Grissoms, but I thought she might need a hug or something. I'd talked to some doctors while I was searching for her, and they all said that she would need to be reassured that she hadn't done anything wrong, that she was a good girl; that she was going to be all right. Unfortunately, they had also said she would need the support of her family, and her father had disowned her.

She was looking up at me with those big, brown eyes. There were tear tracks down her cheeks and even in the dark I could see how swollen and red her eyes were. "Can I help?" I asked, not quite sure what to do or say, just knowing that I wanted to help her, to wipe away her tears and comfort her. I was a little hesitant, but I sat on the edge of her bed, facing her. She looked into my face for a long time, then, very tentatively, she moved towards me and into my arms. She cried like the broken-hearted child she was and I held her, my arms around her shaking body and I pressed my cheek to the top of her head, wishing I could take all the pain and fear away, but knowing that there was nothing I could do except be here for her. After the longest time, she finally ran out of tears, but she didn't let go of me. She shifted against me and one of her hands reached under my robe, groping. I shifted abruptly and caught the wandering hand and brought it to my chest.

"No," I whispered. She tilted her head up at me, puzzled. Then her eyes blinked fresh tears away and she looked away.

"I'm too dirty, aren't I," she said.

"That's not it," I told her, not real sure what I was feeling. "You're still just a child and it would be very wrong of me to take advantage of you like this."

She looked up at me, frowning, and asked, "But what if it's what I want?"

My breath caught for a moment and I had to think fast for a decent response. "It isn't that I'm not flattered, but I'm a lot older than you are, and I've a responsibility for your welfare," I said.

She shook her head, not understanding. "Don't you like me?" she asked.

"I like you just fine, but what you're asking of me is wrong, Barbara. It would make me no better than they were. I won't hurt you. I promise you. I'll hold you as long as you want; as long as you need, but I won't sleep with you."

She giggled, a little hysterically, I thought. "We didn't sleep a lot, Slim and me. H-he liked other things, better. Don't you like those things?"

Damn. "Yes, but not with children," I replied, trying to convince myself more than her, I'm afraid.

"I'm n-n-not a child any more. I-I'm a woman, now."

I tightened my arms around this lost, injured child and held her close. "No, baby, you're still a little girl." I could feel her start to shake again and held her tightly as the tears returned with great gulping sobs. I started rocking her and held on for all I was worth. Her arms went back around me and she clung like the frightened, injured child she was.

"W-w-w-why c-couldn't daddy l-l-l-love me any more?" she gasped after the longest time.

I probably should have said nothing, or defended him, but I didn't. "Because he's a conceited idiot."

Her breath caught and she pulled away just far enough to look up at me. Her eyes were swollen to the point that she looked like someone'd blacked her eyes. She stared at me for a few seconds, thinking about what I'd said about her father and considering my feelings on his treatment of her. Then she giggled. I frowned, worried for a moment that she was getting hysterical again, but then she sniffed and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her nightgown. I smiled at her and she returned the grin.

"You don't like him, very much, do you?" she asked. I shook my head.

"Not at all. I've been telling him all along that you wouldn't be the same; that you'd have changed, grown up. That you'd have had to deal with things no little girl should have to deal with ever. He didn't believe me. He didn't want to believe me. I'm sorry he's such an idiot, but there it is. He handed me this envelope full of money and a paper giving me guardianship of you, like he's giving me a dog that's no longer useful to him. I'm so angry at him that I'd like to use him for a punching bag."

She giggled again. "You're a nice man, Dave Fenner." Then she finally let me go and sat up. It was like she'd made a decision; that she was going to go on with her life and make the best of it. I smiled at her and hoped that the coming days and weeks wouldn't have anything to knock her back down.

"Thank you, Barbara Blandish." She frowned and shook her head.

"I'm not Barbara Blandish any more. Daddy made that very clear." She looked at me with that lost expression again. "So, who am I now?" she asked plaintively.

I shook my head. "You can be just about anyone you want to be, Barbara. That's up to you, now."

There was still a very frightened little girl inside her; one who wanted to be protected and loved, but there was also the adult who had been forced out early to survive, and that one nodded and looked at me, thinking. "Can I be Barbara Fenner?"

My heart lurched and started beating faster. "I'm not sure if that's such a good idea," I replied, wondering what to do if she insisted...or started crying again.

She tilted her head to the side, looking a bit coquettish. I realized what she was doing and stood up. "We've already had this discussion, Miss Blandish and the answer hasn't changed." I could see the confusion in her eyes. She'd learned that sex equaled love, or at least like. She was badly damaged and terribly confused. Her arms were still reaching for me as I backed away. "No, Barbara. I'm not like them. I refuse to abuse my authority with you. You don't really want me, anyway. I'm much too old for you, after all." I almost said old enough to be her father, but I wasn't. Not quite. Not unless I'd become a father at her age of eighteen.

She gave me a confused look and I continued backing away, leaving her there. "Go to sleep, Miss Blandish and we'll talk in the morning." Or not, if I had any say in the matter. I made my escape and closed the door firmly behind me and practically ran back to my own bed, and locked my door to make sure she didn't come after me. Coward? Damned right. I was just as tempted as she wanted me to be and it was only by sheer willpower that I'd turned her down. This was going to be harder than I'd bargained for.

He ran away from me. Am I so repulsive that I scared him? I shivered and thought about it. Then realized that no, he wasn't repulsed, but he wasn't going to sleep with me. Even if he wanted to. It hurt, I admit, but then it made me smile. He was being a gentleman. And I knew he was interested in me, I could tell, when my hand went under his robe...oh, yes, he was interested. He said he was too old for me, though, and I wondered just how old he was? He didn't seem all that old, in his thirties, maybe. That's not so old. I'm almost nineteen, after all. I know lots of girls who are married and have babies by the time they're my age. Then I remembered. He was going to take me to a doctor to find out if I was pregnant. Of course. No man wants to be involved with a pregnant girl, especially if it's someone else's bastard.

I sank back against the pillows and just lay there. I'd already cried enough, more than enough. I didn't think I could ever cry again. So I lay there, staring at the ceiling and wishing that someone, anyone, could love me.

I'm not sure what time it was when I woke up again, but there was a knock at my door. I sat up and looked around, forgetting for a moment what had happened. As the memories came back, the knock was repeated. I rose and went to the door and opened it.

He just looked at me for a moment. I couldn't read his expression, but his eyes were sad. "Yes?" I asked, and realized that I sounded like the prissy little bitch I'd been when I was first kidnapped. I saw a flash of hurt in his beautiful blue eyes and looked down. "I'm sorry," I said.

"It's all right, Miss Blandish. Breakfast is here. Do you drink coffee?" I looked into his eyes again, but he wouldn't look back. It hurt that he had gotten so formal, calling me Miss Blandish, instead of Barbara. I bit my lower lip and nodded.

"Yes, please." I watched him as he moved away. He was graceful, I was surprised to note. He was dressed in another dark suit and his hair was neatly combed, at least until he ran a hand through his hair and messed it all up. I couldn't help the little smile I got as I realized that he was nervous. He was afraid of me. I couldn't stop the giggle that escaped and he turned to look at me, a concerned expression on his face.

"Do I frighten you that much, Mr. Fenner?" I asked, and saw him stiffen, then I realized that I sounded like my father and wished I could snatch back the words and, more importantly, the tone of voice.

"Frighten? No. You don't frighten me, Miss Blandish." But I saw the sadness in his eyes. I was surprised. I think I expected pity, and realized that he was hurting because I was hurting, and here I was lashing out to hurt him even more. I looked away.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't know what I'm doing, Mr. Fenner. I'm kind of lost at the moment." There, I admitted it. Although I wasn't just lost, I was afraid, angry, hurting. And my father hated me. And I had no one to talk to about it, except for this man, this stranger. Why should he care about me? He was just in it for what my father was paying him, wasn't he? I looked at him and saw that he was as confused as I felt. "Why are you here?" I asked, wanting to understand.

"Someone needs to be. Your father refuses. I've been looking for you for months, Miss Blandish. I tried to tell your father, but he refused to listen. I saw him turn his back on you. He turned you over to me to 'take care of'. I have no idea what's going to happen, but it's my responsibility to take care of you until you're able to take care of yourself or your father comes to his senses and wants you back." His mouth was pinched into a straight line. He was angry and upset, and I realized that I wasn't the cause, well, indirectly, perhaps. He was mad at daddy...he cared. Tears I thought I'd run out of started trickling down my cheeks. He looked distressed, but then he stepped up to me and took me in his arms and held me and spoke softly and promised that things would get better and that he'd stay with me until I was ready to go out on my own. My heart melted and I wanted to stay like that forever, with his arms around me and his voice soft and low in my ear. I held him tightly and he held me back and he didn't want anything but to help me and make me feel better and I wanted him to never leave me again.

After a while, he let go and lifted my chin and smiled at me. His eyes were so sad. He kissed me on the forehead and guided me over to the table where he served breakfast and we ate in silence. When we had finished and were drinking coffee, he smiled at me and my heart fluttered.

"When you're ready, we'll check out and head on to Chicago." I nodded, swallowed the last of my coffee and stood up.

"Thank you for taking care of me."

"You're welcome, Barbara." I couldn't help the big smile. He called me Barbara again. He wasn't mad at me any more. I turned and went into my room to get dressed and pack my lovely new clothes.

She had a beautiful smile. I couldn't believe how mercurial her moods were, though. I think I expected her to be this lost, hurt little girl, but there was a lot more to her than that. And her smile could light up the darkest night. Dave old man, you are in very deep trouble here. I lagged over my coffee, giving her all the time she wanted to get dressed and packed. When she came out a few minutes later, again wearing the beige dress and with her suitcase, I couldn't help but smile. Then I noticed her bare feet and realized that we needed to make one more stop on our way out of town.

My own bag had already been packed, so I dropped a dollar for a tip on the table and picked up both our bags, letting her get the door. We went downstairs and checked out. No one recognized her, which was a good thing, and we headed out to the car with no one even noticing her lack of shoes. I put the bags in the trunk and opened her door for her. She smiled at me like the lady she is and slid into the front seat. I shut the door and circled around to the driver's side. I got in, fired it up and headed back to the department store I'd gone to the night before. She was easy to please, picking out a pair of strapped sandals and a second pair of low heels. She was choosing for comfort, more than style and I was impressed. Wearing her new sandals, we headed back to the car and turned north. We were at least another day from Chicago, at the rate we were driving, but neither of us seemed to care, much. We didn't talk a lot, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence.

About noon, I pulled off to get gas and we went to the little roadside diner that was a part of the gas station, for lunch. She was a bit more animated than she had been. Apparently, my silence didn't seem to be bothering her much. I couldn't help but smile as she looked at the menu and asked the waitress what she recommended. We both opted for the French Dip and salads. I drank coffee, she had milk, as was befitting a girl her age.

She smiled at me and sipped her milk. I smiled back and took a bite of my sandwich. We were both hungry and again there wasn't much talking. I paid at the counter and we left to continue our journey. It was a long trip and it wasn't long before she was falling asleep.

"Why don't you stretch out in the back seat for a nap," I suggested. She blinked at me and shook her head, and then she lay across the front seat and rested her head on my thigh. Since we were on the highway and there wasn't much traffic, I took my right hand off the wheel and rested it on her shoulder. She sighed contentedly and snuggled a bit closer. It was hard to keep my hand on her shoulder, as it seemed to want to stroke up and down her arm, so I took it away and put it back on the steering wheel in order to resist temptation. I kept driving.

Towards evening, we were in another town and found a small hotel for the night. It wasn't nearly as nice as the one in St. Louis, but it was clean enough and we had adjoining rooms. It was late and I was tired. As soon as we'd finished dinner in the hotel dining room, we went to our rooms and I went straight to bed. I was exhausted. Driving all day wasn't something I particularly enjoyed, but if we were going to get somewhere where she could be a bit more anonymous, it was necessary. The bed wasn't nearly as nice as the hotel the night before, either, but I was really too tired to care.

I awoke to a warm weight across my body. I startled awake and looked at the young woman who had crawled into my bed. I pushed her away and backed out the other side of the bed. She scrambled after me, whimpering.

"Barbara, no," I said softly, not wanting to wake the entire hotel. She froze and looked at me, puzzled. Then she looked around and I could see that she blushed.

"What?" Realization of where she was and what it looked like she was doing made her blush. She looked at me in shock and backed away, one hand going to her mouth in horror. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't...I'm sorry!" With that she ran back to her own room and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I realized I needed to make sure she was all right.

I tapped on the connecting door and then entered. She was huddled on her bed, shaking. "Are you all right?" I asked, wondering if I really wanted to know.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't...I don't...." Her voice trailed off to a whisper. I stepped close to her and sat on the edge of her bed. She looked up at me; her eyes were huge and frightened.

"I'm not angry, Barbara. It's all right, sweetheart." I'm not sure what made me call her that, but her eyes widened a bit more and then she was in my arms, hanging on for dear life. I held her close and pulled her into my lap to cuddle her up to me. She wasn't crying, but she was definitely holding on. After a while, I could feel as she relaxed and I eased her back into bed and tucked her in. I pushed her hair out of her eyes with my fingers and then gently stroked her cheek and wondered what on earth I'd gotten myself into? She was half my age and damaged and fragile and I was thinking very impure thoughts about her at the same time I wanted to protect her and heal her...I took a deep, shaky breath and wondered how much longer I could possibly survive at this rate. She was getting under my skin and I didn't have any idea of what to do about it. Damn her father for putting me in this position!

I watched her sleep for a while, fighting the urge to crawl in beside her and hold her close. I kept reminding myself that I was twice her age and had no business thinking of her like that. She was hurt and needed to be cared for; if I was honest with myself, and I do try to be honest with myself, I wanted to do more than take care of her...I wanted ...more. God help me, I wanted more. I practically ran back to my room and barely avoided slamming the connecting door and seriously thought about locking it, but didn't. If she woke with a nightmare, I'd need to get to her quickly, although she hadn't had one, yet. I was shaking, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. She was my charge, under my protection. I had no business thinking of her like I was thinking of her. Yes, she was a beautiful young woman, but she was still legally a minor and such an entanglement was morally wrong as well as legally. Too bad my stupid body didn't understand that. I groaned in frustration and tried to think of something to help, but nothing came to mind. Damn. Damn it all to hell.

I went back to bed, burying my face in my pillow and wished I'd told her father no.

I awoke to the touch of her hand on my shoulder. I turned my head and looked at her. "Is something wrong?" I asked. She's frowning at me. I roll over onto my back and sit up. "What is it?"

"Do you like me?" Her face is serious, as is her tone of voice.

"Yes," I reply without thinking.


"Why what?"

"Why do you like me? My father doesn't like me, why should you?"

"Because you're a nice girl," I start, but she frowns and shakes her head.

"I'm a piece of garbage. Because of what I let Slim do to me, I'm nothing but garbage," she insisted.

I couldn't help myself and reached for her, pulling her close. "No you are not garbage. You were hurt, through no fault of your own. I want you to stop talking like this, Barbara. Your father's wrong. You stayed alive, and that's all that matters, sweetheart; don't ever let anyone tell you any different, you understand me?"

She looks at me, a confused expression on her face. "You called me 'sweetheart'," she says wonderingly. Oh, God. I can feel her warm young body against mine and I can't believe what I want to do. I use self-loathing and anger to counter her affects on me and manage to keep control.

"I'm sorry, I won't do it again," I tried to promise. She shakes her head.

"No, please don't do that. It makes me feel like you really care about me. I don't know if I can do this if you don't care about me, Dave. Can't I please stay here with you? I'm lonely and scared all by myself. Slim would never leave me alone and I don't want to be alone, now. Daddy hates me." She started to softly cry and I couldn't help it, I pulled her down with me, although she was on top of the blankets, while I was beneath them. It wasn't much, but it was something. I held her until she fell asleep, and then I fell asleep, still holding her in my arms. I am in so much trouble....

In the morning, I awoke first and found her curled up on her side, with me spooned up behind her. She was still on top of the covers, thankfully. She was so thin and small in my arms, and I again thought of her as a child, not a woman. I'd have to focus on that to keep myself from only making things worse for her. I tried to ease away from her, but she whimpered and clung to my arm, where she was using it as a pillow. Then she wiggled her behind against me and I shuddered. None of that, now, Davy. She's just a little girl, remember. Yeah, a little girl who's been used and thrown away. No. I do not need this. It took all my willpower, but I slid away from her, replacing my arm with a pillow, which she quickly snuggled into. Breathing a sigh of relief, I went down the hall to the shared bathroom. Luckily, it was still early enough and no one else was up.

When I came back she was awake. I stood in the doorway and we stared at each other. She looked like a lost child and my heart went out to her.

"Why don't you like me?"

"I do like you." I was annoyed because I was having trouble with my voice.

She tilted her head at me, frowning. "Then why won't you lie with me?"

Oh, Lord. "I told you why, Barbara. It would be wrong of me to do that."

"Is it because I'm dirty?"

"You aren't dirty, Barbara." I almost called her sweetheart again.

"Then lie with me."

"No," I was nearly choking on the word.

She pouted. "Then you don't really like me. I'm tarnished goods, just like daddy says." She looked so miserable I almost gave in and went to her, wanting to hold her and tell her that I'd take care of her. What a laugh. I can't even make an honest living; how am I going to take care of her?

"I like you a lot, Barbara," I tell her, and I mean it.

"Then lie with me." Her chin comes up in challenge.

"I mustn't," I reply. I know a whole lot of people who would be laughing right now if they could see me in this predicament.

"Why not? If I'm not dirty, why not?"

"Because I'm supposed to take care of you, Sweetheart, not add to what's happened."

Damn. I didn't mean to say that...and she's picked right up on it and is smiling, slithering out from under the covers and I realize she's naked. I close my eyes for a moment, then open them fast as I feel her sliding her body along mine, trying to arouse me...and God help me, it's working. I grab her by her upper arms as gently as I can and push her back on the bed, snatching up the blankets and covering her. I go down on my knees, and give her a shake, and now she's looking at me, afraid.

"No, Barbara. I will not be a part of this. I told you I'd take care of you, and I will. But I will not, and must not take further advantage of you."

Her eyes were huge and overflowing with tears. What is it about women and tears, anyway? Is it some kind of weapon they can use at will, or something?

"Aren't I good enough for you?" she whispers, desolate.

"You're too good for the likes of me, Sweetheart," I say very softly. She looks at me, not understanding.

"Then lie with me," she insists again. I shake my head.

"No. I'd go to jail if I did, Barbara, and I don't want to do that."

Her eyes got big and I think she maybe understood, at least a little. "Oh," she said, her voice louder than before. "Why would you go to jail?"

I can't help it and I laugh. "Because you're under age, sweetheart. There are a lot of laws against that, and we're crossing through several states in order to get you somewhere where you'll be safe from the reporters and we can get you taken care of."

The coquettish look is back, "And then you'll lie with me?"

She's positively wanton and I don't know if I can survive this. "We'll have to wait and see, Barbara. Meanwhile, I'd like you to go into your own room and get dressed so we can go. We'll stop for breakfast along the way, okay?"

"All right." And with that, she rose, snagging her nightgown from the bed and sauntering back to her own room, giving me a much bigger eyeful than I ever wanted to see. Hell yes, my body reacted. Even bruised like she was, she was a lovely young girl. And I had to keep reminding myself that 'girl' is the operative word, here.

I groaned and buried my head in my hands. Then, I got up and got dressed. I was ready to go when she came out of her room and I pointed to the communal bathroom down at the end of the hall. She smiled at me and, leaving her bag at my feet, went down the hall.

I know I was in a bad mood all day. She realized it and kept quiet; but every once in a while, I'd catch her looking at me, curious; and interested. It was rather disconcerting, to tell the truth. I wished I knew some way to get her to understand that I didn't want to replace Slim Grissom in her life. I didn't want to be like him, taking advantage of a young, innocent girl, for despite what she'd been through, she was still innocent. She'd known pain and depravity, and I couldn't be like that. I simply wasn't in me to be that cruel to a woman, let along a slip of a girl like her. Besides, what would her father think?

I wished I hadn't thought of that. He'd probably pay handsomely to have her quietly taken off his hands like that. But I refuse to take advantage of her. I just can't, no matter how much I'd like to, to feel her warm and willing against my body... "NO, Damn it!"

I didn't realize I'd said that out loud until she gasped and cringed against the door. I looked over at her and saw her lick her lips and realized that she equated angry outbursts with a man's desire. But the fear in her eyes was like a bucket of ice water.

"I'm sorry, I was thinking."

She nodded and licked her lips again, half-enticingly, half in fear. It was exactly what I needed. I could never force myself on any woman who was afraid of me. I relaxed, the tension gone and I smiled at her. She frowned in confusion and I turned my attention back to the road. I knew how to handle her, now. And until she learned not to fear me, I'd be all right.

When he yelled, I was sure he was going to pull over and have his way with me, the way Slim did sometimes. But then he just smiled at me and it was like he wasn't ever angry. He's a big man, not as tall as Slim, maybe, but heavier, stronger. I swallowed hard, wondering how much he would hurt me, and at the same time, wanting him to do that to me. When he looked away and ignored me, I wasn't sure whether to be afraid or angry with him.

When we stopped for lunch, he bought a mess of fried chicken and all the things needed for a picnic, even a basket with a tablecloth and plates and cutlery. Then he drove a while longer and pulled off alongside the road where there was a pond, and we got out and he took my hand and led me into the meadow, where he laid out the tablecloth and the food. We sat there, eating, not saying anything, and I kept looking at him, wondering when he'd finally give in and take me. But he didn't. He talked about how good the chicken was, but not as good as his mama's, and after he was finished; he laid back in the grass and looked at the clouds. Then he started pointing out how the clouds made shapes, like animals, and sometimes, people. It was hard for me to see them, at first, but when that big old steamship floated by in fluffy white cloud-form, it was like coming out of a dark tunnel into the daylight. After that, I could see lots of shapes in the clouds. It was fun, and I think he liked it, too. Finally, the clouds started building up and he suddenly got to his feet and began packing up the picnic basket. I asked him why, and he said it was going to rain. I believed him and helped gather up the tablecloth and then we ran for the car. We barely made it, for as he opened my door and threw the basket in the back seat, the first big, fat drops began to fall. He slammed my door shut, almost catching the tablecloth, and ran around to get in behind the wheel; he was laughing and I thought he was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

When we got to Chicago, it was pretty late. It was dark and I'd never been to such a big city, before. He seemed to know where he was going, though, even through the driving rain. When we got to the hotel, he told me to wait while he got us rooms. He came back with a bellboy and opened the trunk so he could get our bags. Then, he came and got my door for me and we ran for the lobby, trying to stay dry, not that it did a lot of good, of course. We followed the bellboy to an elevator and rode it up to the twentieth floor! I'd never seen such a tall building, before. When we got to our rooms, the first thing I did was run over to look out the window. The city lights were amazing. I just stood there as he tipped the boy and ordered us some room service for supper. I completely forgot we were all wet, when he put his hand on my back between my shoulder blades and leaned down to tell me to go take a bath and change out of my wet things. I smiled up at him and he smiled back. I did as I was told and remembered the bath salts he'd gotten me and used plenty in my bath. I was almost asleep in the lovely warm water when he tapped on the door and said that supper had arrived. The water was almost cold, so I didn't feel too bad about getting out, but it sure felt good.

I came out and saw he'd changed into a pair of dungarees and a ratty old flannel shirt. His hair was still wet from the rain and I felt bad because he looked cold, and I'd been hogging that nice, warm bath.

"You should have told me to hurry. You didn't need to stay cold."

"I'm all right, I'll take a bath after supper. Now eat up."

I watched him eat. He seemed real tired and I wondered just how far we'd come in three days, so I asked. He looked at me like he didn't understand and I realized he must be really tired. I could see him thinking, his eyes moving to one side as he concentrated, then he looked at me and shrugged.

"Maybe a thousand, twelve hundred miles."

I gasped. I'd never been so far from home before. It was an awful long way. Then I realized that no one here would know anything about me. Probably not even my name. I could maybe pretend than none of it had happened; only I knew that it had, and nothing would ever take that away, and it made me want to cry.

I could see her thinking, wondering if she could stay here and pretend it never happened, but then I saw her realize that she'd know. She'd always know and it made me wonder what kind of woman she was, if she was strong enough to go on. If I was strong enough to help her and not make things worse. I went back to my supper and tried to ignore the look on her face, but it was hard. So very hard. I wanted to hold her and protect her from the world, and I had no business wanting that. But it hurt. It hurt a hell of a lot.

We finished eating and I pushed the cart out into the hallway for the bellboy to pick up later. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than a good night's sleep, but decided that a bath would be a good idea, first. I said good night to Barbara and went into the bathroom. It smelled of the bath salts I'd gotten her and it made me feel good that she liked them. I ran the tub and settled in. The water felt great, especially on my aching back. I had a good car, but driving so far in such a short time was wearing on me. Thankfully, we were now far enough away that she should be safe.

I felt myself nodding off and quickly got out of the tub, pulling the plug as I did so. I wanted nothing more than that nice, comfortable bed, and about fifteen hours of uninterrupted sleep. I wish.

I was pleased to see that she'd gone to bed. Her bed, not mine. I turned out the lights and went into my room and slid between the sheets. It felt wonderful. I settled down and didn't even have time to worry about what Barbara would try tonight before I was sound asleep.

Much to my surprise, it was full daylight when I awoke. I stretched, then frowned. From the preceding two nights, I should have had a visitor, but it didn't seem that I had. Oddly enough, it worried me more than interrupted sleep would have. I got out of bed, pulled on my robe and went into the sitting room. There she sat already dressed, sipping coffee and reading a newspaper.

She looks up at me and smiles. She's different this morning. Maybe she's feeling better? Maybe the original 'her' is coming back? It's funny, but I missed having to fend her off last night. What am I saying? I should be grateful, not sad!

"Hey," she says. "I hope you don't mind, but I ordered some coffee." She poured me a cup and I sat down opposite her and nodded.

"Not a problem." I tell her and take a sip of my coffee. It's hot, black, and strong. I add cream and sugar and then it's perfect. She watches me, frowning. I look at her and realize that I've been drinking my coffee black. I can't help it and grin.

"I'll take it any way I can get it, but when I have a choice, I like it light and sweet." She smiles and nods and I can see her cup has more cream than coffee in it.

"What now?" she asks, pouring more coffee.

"Now, we find a doctor for you and get you checked out. Then, we'll go from there."

"How long before we know? And if I am, what then?" I could hear a little tremor in her voice and was almost glad. It meant that she still needed me. Then I wondered why that was so important to me?

"We'll deal with it when it happens, not before. I told you, it's my job to take care of you, all right? Let me do my job?" She looks at me for a long time, searching for something, and finally, she nods.

Somehow, she's become the sophisticate, like her father. I miss the little girl that I wanted to hold in my arms and protect from the world.

It was hard, not going to him. I wanted him to hold me in his arms and tell me he'd take care of me. But he didn't want me, not the way I wanted him. I guess his saying he could go to jail for lying with me made me think. He was the only person who cared about me, and I didn't want to hurt him or get him in trouble, so I stayed in my own bed. I didn't sleep very well, though, and when I woke up and it was almost light outside, I got up and took another nice, hot, bath. I washed my hair; I loved washing my hair. Somehow, it made me feel cleaner than just a bath could. I suppose that it's kind of silly, but that's how I felt. I got out and went back to my room, wrapped up in a towel and carrying my nightgown. I looked through the dresses he'd gotten me. We'd need to do laundry, soon, but I still had enough for several more days. It was nice, having clean underthings and modest dresses to wear. It made me feel less dirty than those trashy dresses that Slim liked. I decided to wear the green dress. It was a cheerful color and when I put it on and looked in the mirror, I looked real good in it. I was surprised, that a man like Mr. Fenner should be able to pick my clothes out for me so well. It had a fairly full skirt, but it hung beautifully. I couldn't resist and twirled; the skirt billowed out and I almost laughed out loud. I'm not sure why, but I was feeling good.

I went out and called down for a pot of coffee. I was a little surprised that Mr. Fenner wasn't awake yet, but then I remembered how tired he'd looked the night before, and after all, he was doing all the work; besides, I'd had naps in the afternoon. I thought about that, using his leg for a pillow. Not wanting to get in the back seat. Slim liked doing things in the back seat, and I could never get away and it scared me. Now, I don't want to be in a back seat even by myself. I giggle, wondering what daddy would have thought about that? Riding up front with the chauffeur, instead of in the back with him. The bellboy knocks on the door and I start to open it. I realize I don't have any money and run real quick to Mr. Fenner's room and take some change from the table by the bed. I pause for a moment to watch him sleep and even sound asleep, he looks tired and worried. I bit my lip and vowed to myself to stop making this so hard for him. It was going to be hard, though, because I loved the way he'd hold and hug me. I heaved a sigh and went to let the bellboy in.

The coffee was great, although I still put in more cream than coffee. But it is hot and it tastes good. I'm on my second cup when he comes shuffling out of his bedroom. He looks a little lost and he won't look at me. I wonder what I've done now, and then think that maybe he was more interested in me than I thought he was. I offer him coffee and he accepts, sitting down opposite me. My heart starts pounding as we discuss the doctor. I wonder what will become of me if I am pregnant?

She's holding up rather well. The doctor examined her and has come to the conclusion that she is indeed pregnant. Probably three months along. She sits there, horrified and helpless. I want to comfort her, but she's got that rich bitch thing going, now. I liked her better when she was the childish wanton, rather than this cool sophisticate. The other girl was easier to like and I wanted to protect her. This one doesn't need anything but money.

"What do we do now?" she asks, her voice trembling.

"Well," the doctor says, "There is a surgical procedure which can terminate your pregnancy, but it will most likely leave you unable to have children in the future."

"What are the other possibilities?" I ask. Sterilizing the girl is not an option, I decide. No way am I going to allow that, she'll just have to suffer through this and go on from there.

"There is the possibility of adoption, if you prefer," the doctor says. I'm beginning to think that this guy isn't the best man for this particular job.

"What if I want to keep it?" Barbara asks. I look at her in surprise; that hadn't been a reasonable possibility, I'd thought. Obviously, I was wrong. I look at the doctor, who has this disapproving look on his face.

"You don't want to do that, Miss Blandish."

I stiffen. Then I stand up. "Thank you for your time, Dr. Callus. We'll discuss the options and let you know." I grab Barbara's hand and she frowns at me, but comes along without a struggle. When we're finally safe out in the car, she turns to me and I know I'll have to explain what that was all about.

Before she can say a word, I tell her. "I never gave him your last name."

She goes pale and she starts breathing raggedly. "My father?" she asks. I nod.

"Has to have been. You're not safe here. We're going to have to go farther, unless you want to give up either the baby or the possibility of ever having children."

She looks at me, her eyes are huge and she nods. "It's my baby. I won't give it up," she says.

"In that case, we need to get out of town, and fast." I fire up the car, knowing that Callus is probably on the phone right now with old man Blandish to give him the good news. We should have gone to New York. I head back to the hotel and we check out. I don't want to give up my car, but it's not fast enough to get us far enough, soon enough to escape her father. For now, however, I head east.

We cross into Michigan and stop in Lansing for the night. I'm exhausted. I don't know how much longer I can do this. Blandish wants his 'perfect' little girl back, only that little girl is dead and gone, and has been for a very long time. She's determined to keep her baby, and I honestly can't say as I blame her. Her father doesn't want her any more, maybe this baby will help fill the void.

I wish I could fill it for her.

We go back on the road. I'm driving in circles, I think. We stop for a week in some small, out-of-the-way town in upstate New York; then we head south. At least we're seeing the country, and it's probably very pretty country, if I wasn't so concerned about Barbara and how I was going to take care of her, it might have been a nice trip. As it was, I was constantly looking over my shoulder, half-expecting something horrible to happen. Thankfully, it didn't.
I'm too tired to even think. We've driven over fifteen hundred miles in four days. I need to do something so I can keep going. I'm afraid. I hate to admit it, but I'm afraid. Afraid for her, afraid for her unborn child, afraid of what her father intends. I decide to sell my car and fly away somewhere, anywhere; away from her father's reach, then I realize that there is no such safe haven.

I've still got an awful lot of her father's money in my pocket, but it's not nearly enough to take care of her forever. I gnaw on the inside of my cheek and finally decide to call her father and ask what he wants me to do with her. She is still his daughter, after all.

I wait until she's asleep before I call. A servant answers the phone and I identify myself. Almost immediately, he's got the phone and is shouting, accusing me of kidnapping his daughter. I wait him out and then use my coldest tone of voice. "Look, you're the one who wanted her taken to Chicago for treatment. How many doctors did you call and talk to, anyway? She wants to keep the baby, by the way." He interrupted me and started making threats. I cut him off. "If we have to, I'll take her to the newspapers myself and she can tell the world about how you've treated her, how in her hour of need you sent her off with a stranger and told him to 'take care of everything'. Well, I'm doing the best I can, under the circumstances, and if you don't like it, you're more than welcome to take over." There was a long silence on the other end and I was starting to wonder if he'd hung up on me. Finally, he asked me how much it would take for me to continue to take care of her and her bastard. "For how long?" I asked. He was quiet again. Then, he made the offer and I took it. God help me, I took it and agreed to do whatever necessary to take care of his daughter and her bastard. He would wire the money to me in the morning.

One million dollars.

I don't know which of us is the bigger son of a bitch, him or me.

In the morning, he says he has some things to take care of and that he'll be back later. He seems sad, like he's done something bad and is afraid to tell me. I wonder what it could be, but don't ask him. He comes back several hours later with a new suitcase. He sets it down and glares at it, like it's something ugly.

"What's that?" I ask, touching his arm. He flinches and won't look at me. It hurts and I look away, wondering what I've done, now? I've been trying to be strong, be the lady he seems to think I am, but it's not working. He doesn't seem to like me any more, and I'm trying to figure out why? What is so different, now? I think hard and then I think maybe I know what it might be. I know he wanted me, when I kept going to him, but I haven't done that since those first two nights, and I think that maybe he misses it. Is that possible? I'm so confused. I'm having a lot of trouble understanding things, lately. It was a lot easier with Slim. He was simple in more ways than just his head. He liked to kill, and he liked lying with me. Mr. Fenner is very different. I think he'd like to lie with me, but he said it was against the law, and I can tell that that is important to him. I'm chewing my lower lip off and wondering what to do?

I look at him. He's sitting on the davenport, elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He looks so sad and lost that I can't help myself and go sit beside him and put my arm around his shoulders. He stiffens and I think he's going to pull away, but instead, he sits up straighter and takes me in his arms and holds me.

Oh, how I've missed that. Being held, feeling like someone cares, even if it's just for sex. But he doesn't hold me that way. He's different, more gentle; and I wonder what it would be like to lie with him. I think that I must be sick, hating it and wanting it so bad, but he's being such a gentleman and I don't want to upset him. Still, his arms around me feel wonderful and I could stay this way forever.

I run my fingers through his hair. I'm a little surprised; his hair is harder than Slim's was, stiffer. But it's silky, too. And he leans into my fingers and I can't help but smile. I realize I haven't touched him like this, before, and wonder what he's thinking. But he's holding me, and that's enough, for now.

"What's wrong?" I ask. He pulls away and I want to hold on, but the look in his eyes... there's a bleakness and a sadness that I don't understand. He stares at me for several minutes.

How can I tell her? That I've sold her out and taken her father's money, like this? But she's asked, and I already decided that I would be honest with her. "Your father sent more money. He doesn't want to see you again, if you keep the baby. If you give it up for adoption or lose it, somehow, he's willing to let you go home." Home, what a crock of shit that is.

"And if I keep the baby?" she asks calmly, looking me in the eyes.

"He doesn't want to know about it and you aren't welcome." There. It's out. I raise my eyes to hers and am surprised that she doesn't look too upset.

"So? Now what?" she asks, glancing again at the suitcase. She seems a little lost, like she doesn't know what to do, and she's wringing her hands, which somehow, for some peculiar reason, reassures me. I look more closely and realize that she's putting on a good front, but the faade is starting to crack a little.

"Well, that depends. Where do you want to go?" I ask.

She shrugs and shakes her head. "I can't go there, so what does it matter?" She looks at me and I can see the hurt and confusion in her eyes and I want to hold her again, tell her I'll take care of her for as long as she needs me to. I hold out an arm and she comes to me and lays her cheek against my shoulder. I rest my chin atop her head and just hold her. She feels so good, like this.

"Don't worry. I'll take care of you," I say softly. Her arms tighten around me and I hold her tighter, as well.

"But you'll go away," she whispers.

The words are out before I can stop them. "I promise, I'll stay with you for as long as you need me to."

"Then you'll have to stay with me forever," she says, pulling back and looking into my eyes. There's an uncertainty and fear, there, but also a determination that I hadn't seen before. I know this is foolish, I'm much too old for her, and she's been hurt, badly. I don't know if I can do anything to make it up to her, but I can hold her, and take care of her, and maybe some day, she'll be able to love again. I just pray that it's me and not some handsome young man her own age.

"For as long as you want," I say.

She nods and snuggles back into my arms. We stay like that for the longest time, and it's enough. For me, it is enough.

He's holding me. His arms around me feel so good, strong, but gentle, and I could stay like this forever. I wonder how long it will be before he decides to take me, but I push that thought aside. For now, he's warm and gentle, holding me protectively and he's promised to stay with me forever. I feel so safe here, in his arms, and I'd like never to leave.

Some infinite time later, he finally moves and lets me go. I'm bereft when he moves away, but he's just going to the bathroom and I almost giggle. He comes back in a few minutes and holds me again. He hasn't said a word since he promised to stay with me, but I don't care. His hands start to gently rub up and down my arms and back and I try to snuggle even closer and am pleased when his arms tighten around me even more. We sit like that for a long time, but eventually, I have to pull away, because I need the bathroom, too.

When I come back, he's taken the suitcase and put it on the table. I look at his face and he looks upset. "What's wrong?" I ask. He glances at me and opens the case. It's full of money. Lots and lots of money, twenties and fifties and hundreds, it looks like. "There must be a million dollars, there," I say. He's looking me in the eye and nods. I gasp as the realization hits. My father has given him a million dollars to take care of me and make sure I don't embarrass him further. I feel my face first pale, then flush. I want to look away, but his eyes hold mine and I see anger in his eyes and I wonder if he angry with me, or my father?

I show her the money and can tell when she figures it out. I figure it's the final blow for her and I hate myself for it. They say money can't buy happiness, and they're probably right, but it can certainly ease the pain of betrayal...I hope.

"Where would you like to go, Barbara?" I wave a hand at the money. "You can afford to go anywhere and do anything you want." I say her, not we.

She notices.

She stares at the money, reaching out to touch it. Then she turns to me and lifts her chin and stares me in the eyes. "Are you angry with me, or my father?" she asks, much to my surprise.

"Myself," I answer, wondering where she's going. She looks surprised.

"Why?" she asks, and I can see she's puzzled.

I sigh. "Because I let myself be bought."

She looks at me again, right in the eyes, and I have to fight not to look away. She's searching for something, and I don't know what.

"You have the money, so why are you still here?" she asks, not quite understanding.

"The money is to take care of you," I reply. Isn't it obvious, I wonder? Obviously not, her next words inform me.

"You could have just taken it and left. Why did you come back if you just wanted the money?"

"I promised to take care of you for as long as you needed, remember?"

"A million dollars goes a long way towards 'taking care' of someone, don't you think?"

Is she that obtuse? Or am I missing something, here? "I gave my word that I'd take care of you. Your father has provided the means. Depending on what you want, we'll go somewhere, I'll get you set up in a house or apartment and if you want, I'll then leave, once I'm sure you'll be all right."

She's frowning, now. Then that lost little girl comes back and I'm sunk. "You promised to stay with me forever," she says.

"Why would you want me to?"

"Because you hold me. Daddy couldn't bear to have me touch his coat, let alone him. You put your arms around me and let me cry on your shoulder. You let me put my arms around you and hang on to you when I'm afraid or lonely. Do you care for me?"

"Very much," I admit.

"How much?" she asks.

"Enough that I refuse to take advantage of you," I say.

"And if I want to take advantage of you?" She asks; the coquette is back and I feel the same longings I've been feeling even before I finally found her.

"You can't."


"You can't take advantage of me."

"Why not?"

"Because," I pause. Why can't she take advantage of me? "Because you can't."

"Because you won't let me?" she asks. Suddenly, she's a lot closer than she had been and I wonder when I lost control.

"Barbara, please. We've been over this several times, already."

She nods. "All right. You don't want to 'take advantage' of me. How about marrying me?"

Now there's a novel concept. "I'm too old for you, Barbara," I say, but I'm losing, and I think she knows that. "Besides, your father would never approve."

"Sure, he will. He gave you a million dollars to 'take care' of me. I'm pregnant; what better way to take care of me than to make sure my baby has a father?"

Could I accept Slim's bastard as my own? I looked at her and admitted to myself that the child was the most innocent one of all in this mess. And if we were married, that would give me the right to...

"I don't want to hurt you any more than you've already been, Barbara."

"I don't think you could hurt me any more than I have been, Dave," she says softly. "I admit that I don't much like it, but I can put up with it. What I want is to know that someone will take care of me and my baby and won't hurt it because of Slim." She looks me in the eyes and I can see the tears threatening. "Could you accept Slim's baby as your own?"

I don't have to think about that. "Yes."

She seems surprised that I answered so easily. "Are you sure?"

I shrug. "It's not the baby's fault, even less than it's your fault. You were the victim in all of this, and your child is the result of that. You did what you had to do to stay alive, and I've said it before, that I admire you for it. I can lay the blame on the people who hurt you, but never on a baby who had nothing to do with it," I say, and hope I'm telling the truth; to both of us.

"Then marry me."

I shake my head, and I'm grinning. I'm a fool. A bigger idiot than Slim was. But we have a million dollars in cash...more, considering that I still have most of the hundred thousand I started with. "I have to make a phone call, first," I tell her, and this time, I have her right there beside me when I talk to her father. And I've got her head on my shoulder and my arm around her and it feels great.

"Yes, Mr. Blandish. I got the money. Yes, she understands she's not to contact you for any reason. I do need one more thing, however, sir." He thinks I want more money and is blustering. "No, sir, not more money; what I need is a notarized document from you granting your permission for Barbara to marry."

There was a rather long, silent, pause. Then he wanted the particulars. I said to leave the name blank, as I had yet to find anyone willing to marry an already pregnant former debutante, much to Barbara's amusement. She admirably stifled her laughter, but I could feel her shaking by my side. I agreed to wait until he could get such a document and we concluded the call.

We sat there staring at each other. Finally, I asked, "Where do you want to go, sweetheart?" I felt the term was appropriate, now.

"Where would you like to go, Dave?"

"Anywhere at all. But if it's Europe, we'll need passports, and I'm not real sure it's such a good idea, what with that weird little Nazi in charge over there in Germany." She nods and snuggles close to me.

"South America?" She suggests. "Australia, perhaps?" She has one arm around my back and the other one is rubbing my chest and it's making me breathe funny...and knowing that we're going to get married, I let her continue, curious about how much she knows.

"Either is a good suggestion. We could stay in the US, too, or go to Hawaii or the Far East. There's still the other side of the country, you know. Arizona, California, Washington. Lots of places we've not been yet."

She nods and rubs her cheek against my shoulder and I'm tempted, very tempted, but I try to be strong. "Stop that, Barbara," I say, probably a little harsher than I planned, but she's so completely under my skin that I'm having trouble.

She looks up at me in surprise. "Why?" She frowns, "I thought that we... well, aren't we?"

"Getting married?" I ask and she nods. "Yes, but we're not married, yet."


"Barbara," how do I explain this to her? "I've never been married before, although I've been with other women through the years," there, I've admitted to my past, she doesn't react, still giving me that confused look. "But I've always believed in the... the sanctity of marriage, and I'd like to have a real wedding night." I look in her eyes and see tears and wonder if I've screwed up?

He wants to have a wedding night. To wait until we're married to lie with me. I can't help it and I cry. I put my arms around his neck and I hold on tight and cry. Then, he's kissing my temple, my cheek, and he lifts up my chin and kisses my mouth. I hadn't had much experience with kissing before Slim, and he practically drooled on me whenever he kissed me. Dave's mouth is warm and his lips are soft, and it's not like he's trying to eat me alive. Just a gentle pressure and movement. It's nice, and I realize that I like this. He pulls away and looks to see if I'm all right and I smile and lean closer and put my lips on his, and we're kissing again. His arms around me are strong, holding me gently and when we break for air, he continues kissing me, my cheek, my chin, down my throat as I tip my head back for him. Then his hands are moving, touching gently, not mauling and groping like Slim...and my breathing gets rough and harsh and I realize his is the same...then he stops...just stops and I make a sound of protest and he shakes his head.

"Wedding night," he says.

I wonder how soon we can get everything we need to do that?

It's even worse, now. Having agreed to this, she wants me in her bed, now. I'd love to, but I'm afraid. If I hurt her, she won't marry me, and that would be bad for the baby, as well as her. If she doesn't want me in her bed after the wedding night, I'll survive, just as long as she'll let me hold her, sometimes. She likes to be held, and she likes to kiss. We're doing a lot of kissing and a little petting, but I'm taking everything slowly because I don't want to hurt her.

I wish that damned notarized permission from her old man would get here.

It takes two weeks for the papers to arrive. We've discussed it, and she's thinking she'd like to go to California. I agree and put the car in the shop for a tune-up and new belts and hoses. I also purchase extras, just in case. It's not like the east, where there's a town every hundred miles or less. She's started getting sick in the mornings, but it doesn't seem too bad. When I ask her where she wants to get married, she decides on California. I agree, of course, but that means separate beds for at least two more weeks, I tell her. She pouts, but then grins at me, the little imp. We talk a lot more. I get her to tell me about Slim and the things he did to her and realized that I might have a chance to change her mind about men. I certainly hoped so. I'm no Valentino, or even Fairbanks, but I do know how to treat a lady. And she's so fragile that I'm sometimes afraid a harsh word will break her. God, I'm in love with a teen-ager half my age!

And it's wonderful, despite all the problems. Sometimes, I startle her and she turns to me, afraid, or she cringes. I pretend not to notice, but it hurts me when that happens; but it's getting better. She's found out that I'm ticklish and sometimes sneaks up on me. We go for long walks and short shopping trips and we eat out every night - which reminds me...

"Barbara, can you cook?" I ask.

She stares at me blankly. "Cook?" she repeats and I know I'm doomed.

"Yes, cook. As in preparing food?"

She bites her lower lip and her eyes get big. Then she shakes her head, just a bit and looks apologetic. Then she gets this determined look on her face. "I can learn, though." I smile at her and I know my doubt showed, but on our next excursion, she purchased a cookbook. Something by someone named Fannie Farmer. I hope it helped, because I get tired of eating out all the time, and my own cooking skills are lacking, to say the least; although, I can whip up a pretty mean omelet of a morning.

Finally, the morning comes for us to check out of our hotel and head west. It's a long journey and it will take us at least a week, maybe longer if we stop to see the sights along the way. We head back to Chicago and decide to take Route 66 from there to Los Angeles.

It was a hell of a long trip. We stopped to see the sights along the way, however, and the Grand Canyon certainly was. Checking the maps, I realized that we'd have to camp, at least some of the time, or else we'd either have too long, or too short of a day on the road. We bought a cabin tent and sleeping bags. Barbara was disappointed that even though we were sharing a 'room', I still wouldn't share her bed, but every time we camped, I'd wake up with her in my arms. And usually, I was on her side of the tent.

Thank God she didn't laugh at me about it.

It took us three weeks to get there. We pulled into Los Angeles in the early afternoon. It was a slightly overcast day, and the haze was an unappetizing brownish color, like I'd never seen before. I wasn't sure I was going to like it there, until we found ourselves at the end of the highway in a place called Santa Monica; and we both had our first look at the Pacific Ocean. It's as blue as they say it is, and there were waves as high as a house rolling in and across the strand. There was a pier, complete with amusement park. Although I was aching in every joint from our trip, I couldn't help but laugh as I followed Barbara onto the pier, where she insisted on riding the carousel. When I caught the brass ring, she chortled with glee and afterwards couldn't wait to ride the roller coaster.

I do not like roller coasters, I decided. I almost threw up, much to her amusement. At least she didn't tease me about it.

We ate fresh fish at a little stand on the pier and then went back to the car and back into town a ways to a hotel. I stretched out on my bed and wanted nothing more than to get as much sleep as I could and hoped that the tremors and muscle spasms in my legs and back would go away, or at least stop hurting so much.

Unfortunately, Barbara had a different idea. She wanted to go out and see the sights. I managed to stifle a groan and got up and put my shoes back on. I hoped that she'd eventually tire of making like a tourist, but wasn't about to hold my breath waiting for it. We ended up going to a movie at Grauman's, most of which I slept through, much to my chagrin, but Barbara didn't seem to mind my lapse. Maybe she was noticing that I was an awful lot older than she was, finally, and wondered if she was going to change her mind about wanting to stay with me.

I keep forgetting. He's doing all the work and I get to take naps with my head in his lap, while he drives. I know his back is hurting him, and I've noticed that his legs jerk in his sleep. I wonder if there's anything I can do to help, but he's trying so hard to be tough, for me, that I let him. I shouldn't have asked to go back out, tonight. He drove six hundred miles today, and then took me on the rides at the pier. The ocean was amazing. I've never seen that much water in one place, before. He said he'd seen the Atlantic Ocean, but it was gray-green, not blue, like this.

He wanted to stay in the hotel once we checked in, but I made him take me back out and to that silly movie. He fell asleep during it and his legs kept twitching and he moaned a few times, real soft, like he was in pain. I felt awful and decided that the least I could do when we got back to the hotel was rub his legs and back. Maybe it would help, some.

He didn't apologize for falling asleep, thankfully. I'd have felt even worse if he had. He drove us back to the hotel and said good night, then went straight to bed. I took a bath and got into my nightgown. As soon as everything was settled, I was going to get some more clothes. Not a lot, maybe, but a few more nightgowns, at least. Maybe a nice silk one for the wedding night. That prospect had me terrified and excited at once. I can't imagine why I'm looking forward to doing that again, but he's giving me a father to my baby, so it's the least I can do in return. Tomorrow, we needed to see about a marriage license and maybe find a nice little house to live in.

I may have grown up in a mansion, but I knew better than to want to take care of one without a staff, and I don't think Dave would be happy with lots of strangers around taking care of things. After I was undressed, I went into his room to find him lying face down on the bed, still on top of the covers, sound asleep. He'd at least gotten out of his suit and I wondered if he wore pajamas, or if he preferred sleeping in his underwear?

His legs were already twitching, so I started there, rubbing first one and then the other calf, and realized how knotted up his muscles were. I rubbed a long time on each calf, then moved up to his thighs. The muscles there were just as hard, but were easier to work the kinks out of. I bypassed his backside and then went to work on his back. I found myself having a hard time reaching, so I straddled his hips and used both hands to knead and rub the long, tight muscles all the way from his waist to the base of his skull. He was so knotted up that I wondered how he managed to remain upright.

Oh, that felt good. Warm weight sitting on my buttocks and soft, gentle hands rubbing my back. I lay still and let her work on the tight, aching muscles. When she tired, she slowly stretched out atop my back, curious, I figured. She put her arms and legs over mine and rested her head between my shoulder blades. She kissed my neck, just above the collar of my tee shirt and then carefully got off. I had to stop myself from reaching for her, but I managed. When she'd gone, closing the door behind her, I waited a few minutes and got up just long enough to get under the covers. I slept better than I had the entire trip.
When I awoke in the morning, it was still mostly dark. I got up and stretched, and felt great. My back and legs still ached, but the muscle spasms were gone. I took a bath and got dressed. I was about out of clothes, by this time, so I knew that Barbara must be, as well. We'd have the hotel laundry do them for us and maybe go out and buy some clothes a bit more suited to the climate. Somehow, I didn't think they got snow, here.

I called down to room service and ordered up a pot of coffee. When it arrived, I asked about laundry service and the boy offered to take it right then. I gathered my dirty clothes and then slipped into Barbara's room and got hers. I knew which clothes she'd worn since the last time we had the laundry done, so it was easy to gather it all together. I took it out and gave it to the boy along with a good tip. He smiled broadly and promised to have them back in a few hours.

When I sat down at the table holding the tray of coffee, I realized he'd even brought me the newspaper. I poured and doctored my first cup of the day and eagerly began perusing the classifieds.

There were a number of houses for sale, I was surprised to note. I circled several promising looking ones and then turned to read the news. When Barbara woke up, she came out looking confused. When she asked where all her clothes were, I said, "I sent them to be laundered. I hope that's all right?"

She shook her head and smiled wryly at me. "Sure, except you sent both of my brassieres."

Oops. "I'm sorry. If you want, I'll go buy you another one." I hated buying her clothes without her there to help choose what she wanted. She didn't seem to have minded my choices, but I was never certain if they were what she'd have picked for herself.

She laughed. "Dave, I hardly need one, except to make me look bigger than I am. I think I can go without one day, don't you?" She came over and stole my cup and took a sip, then gave me a quick kiss and sashayed back into her room. Oh, Lord, how much longer was I going to have to put up with her like this? I closed my eyes and shook my head, visualizing the way her body moved....

She was back ten minutes later, dressed, with her hair styled. She was barelegged and wearing her sandals. She was beautiful. She smiled at me and I smiled back. Then she came over and sat on my lap, wrapping her arms around my neck and kissing me. I wonder if she knows what her kisses do to me?

"So, fiance of mine, when do we get married?"

My heart nearly stopped. I'd half expected her to change her mind, but from the glint in her eyes, she was still serious. "There are some houses I'd like to look at today, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all. Are you sure you want to live here, though?"

I shrugged. "I can get work anywhere, sweetheart. Providing I can get a license."

She nodded. "Where did you want to look?"

I reached around her, which pressed her bosom against my cheek and I thought for a moment that I'd like it just fine if she never wore another brassiere, and got the paper. I turned to the classifieds and showed her what I'd found. She read the descriptions and frowned.

"Most of these are really big houses, Dave," she said cautiously.

"You grew up in a big house," I replied.

"Yes, but I didn't have to clean it. Daddy has servants." She looked at me, thoughtfully. "I know that a million dollars is a lot, but I'd rather have a smaller house, and maybe a little land, instead? So I could have a garden, maybe?"

I hadn't thought about that. Servants. I frowned a little. "You don't want servants?" I asked, feeling stupid.

She shook her head. "Not really. I want it to be just us, at least for a while. Maybe after the baby comes, have someone come in two or three times a week to help, but I want to be like normal people." She looked at me earnestly and I got it. She had been thrown away by her wealthy father, degraded to the bottom by the Grissoms, and now she wanted to be somewhere in the middle...and she wanted it to be with me.

"I love you," I tell her, for the first time, I think. I've felt it for a long time, but have never said it before. I feel her breath catch and she looks at me in surprise. I press my cheek to her bosom and close my eyes, holding her close. Her arms tighten around me and I feel her start to shake. I look up real fast and see the first tear fall.

"Barbara?" I ask, wondering what was wrong. Then she smiles at me and kisses me, hard. I still don't get it, and she shakes her head.

"Dave, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," she tells me. She doesn't return the sentiment, but I understand. I don't really expect her to love me, at least, not how I love her. I wish she could, but that would be asking too much. I smile, though, even though the knowledge hurts me.

"Well, let's go through the paper again and see what you like, all right?" I successfully change the subject and she's on her way to happiness again.

I just wonder if she'll ever be happy again. Really happy, not just the little pleasures of clean clothes and a safe place to sleep. I'd give my right arm to make her happy...and I'm terrified that it's beyond my capability.

We call up a realtor and spend most of the day looking at houses. The biggest problem for me, and for her, as it turned out, was the lack of trees. The poor real estate man was getting frustrated and finally suggested we look further south, maybe buy an orange grove, if we wanted trees. I shook my head and suggested that maybe he had something up in the mountains, perhaps?

He looked at us in surprise. He frowned thoughtfully and then slowly nodded. He might have something, after all. He took us up this narrow, winding road up this narrow canyon. There, back in what passed for forest around here, was a house. It wasn't a little house, but it wasn't a huge mansion, either. It was in what he called Craftsman style, and it had huge rooms. The living room alone was thirty feet, square. The kitchen... I'd be willing to learn to cook just to be able to use that kitchen. It was nearly as large as the living room, with a restaurant-sized stove and oven, along with one of those new refrigerators. It was perfect, and had four bedrooms, as well as a mud room, a big front porch, and an even bigger back porch, and a porte-cochere with a garage, so you could come in out of the rain, park the car and get to the house without getting wet.

It was a bit larger than Barbara had wanted, but she looked at me and I could see that, like me, she loved it. She clung to my hand and pressed her head to my arm.

"How's the road in the winter time?" I asked.

He said it wasn't bad at all, since they didn't get any snow, here, just a bit of rain. "How much rain?"

"Generally between twelve and thirty inches a year."

"How's the water?"

"There are two wells, and there's a perpetual spring out back."

Barbara was squeezing my arm. She didn't show it, but she was excited. "How big is the property?"

"Thirty acres, but only partially fenced, I'm afraid."

"What kind of fencing?"

"Barbed wire around the basic acreage, but there's post and rails down by the barn and pond. There's a fenced-in garden in the back and a small walled-in kitchen garden, as well."

Gardens, and a barn? I didn't think we'd be interested in much livestock, except maybe a few chickens. "What kind of wildlife?"

We followed the realtor out the back door and he showed us the rest of the property. As we approached the pond, Barbara gasped and pointed. There, taking a drink, was a deer. I thought about the winding road and debated with myself. It wasn't a bad road, a bit narrow in places, but drivable even in poor weather. At least it was paved! And thirty acres was a bit large, but it was mostly wilderness, not plowed fields. The garden was about a hundred feet square, and the pond took up nearly an acre. Plus, there were trees. I squeezed Barbara's hand and she squeezed back.

"What are they asking for it?" The country was still in the depths of the depression, with a lot of people still out of work and trouble everywhere.

"Twenty thousand," the realtor said. I looked around again, frowning. It seemed a bit steep, to me. Barbara, however, was squeezing my hand until it hurt. I knew she wanted this. And I wanted it for her.

"How close is it to town?" I asked.

"From downtown, it's about thirty minutes in good weather. From Pasadena, it's about ten minutes."

Pasadena, I'd heard of that. They had the big New Year's Day parade, there. "Offer the owner fifteen thousand," I said, hopeful that he'd take it. The realtor looked surprised.

"Do you have financing?" he asked. I shook my head.

"I have cash." The realtor's eyes lit up and I suspected that we might have just bought ourselves a house, and more land than we could ever use. Barbara squeezed my hand, hard. We looked around a while longer and then the realtor drove us back to the hotel and promised to let me know as soon as he heard from the seller.

Once we were back in our suite, I took Barbara in my arms and hugged her, hard. She hugged me back just as hard. "You liked the house?" I asked, "It's bigger than you wanted."

"I don't care. I loved it. It's a little like home, but prettier. And there are wild animals around."

"Nothing too wild, I hope," I tease her. My only real concern is how fast a doctor will be able to get there when it's time for her to deliver. I've noticed over the past couple of weeks that she's just beginning to show. Thinking about that, I said, "So, when do you want to get married?"

She looked up at me, eyes shining. "As soon as possible. As soon as we hear about the house."

I nodded and we leave again to go down to city hall and get the license. I'm glad we have that notarized permission from her father for her to get married. The clerk looks at me kind of oddly, but I'm perfectly aware of how much older I am than she is. Finally, we have the license and all we need is either a justice of the peace, or a minister. We stop off for a late lunch and as we're eating, I ask.

"So, church or civil wedding?"

She looks at me and blinks. Obviously she hasn't thought about this. "I don't care. Whatever you want is fine with me." She goes back to eating. I'm glad her morning sickness has passed. I'm even more glad that she didn't have it very bad or for very long. All her bruises had long-since healed and she looked beautiful.

"I think we can just go down to the courthouse and have a Justice do it, if you like. It's faster." I haven't set foot in a church since my parents died, and I don't much feel like starting, now. She nods in agreement.

"Do you think we'll get the house?" she asks. I nod.

"We may haggle a bit on the price, but cash often talks." That reminds me, we need to find a good, honest bookkeeper to help us figure out the taxes we need to pay to the IRS. I'm kind of glad that the state doesn't charge income tax, yet. They're sure to do so, soon, though. But that million dollars and change won't be affected by the state. But the Federal taxes...I don't want to go the way of Capone, thanks all the same. I figure we'll pay our taxes and invest some of the money in various places. With any luck, we won't have to do a lot of work unless we want to, although I'd like to check into the P.I. possibilities here. Or maybe the police department, providing it's not as crooked as most of them are.

We finish eating and go back to the hotel. There's a message waiting for us. The seller countered with nineteen thousand. I called the realtor back and offered fifteen-five. It's not that I want something for nothing, but I don't know anywhere where land goes for nearly seven hundred dollars an acre. Five hundred an acre is high enough. If they didn't take this offer, I'd tell them it was too much and thank you anyway...see what that did. It all depended on how much they wanted to sell.

Two hours later, the realtor called again. The seller had dropped to seventeen thousand and I said, no. The realtor panicked and asked me to wait while he spoke to the seller. I waited, realizing that he had the other party right there with him. I heard silence and wondered if the realtor wasn't also the seller. I waited a bit longer and finally, he came back on and offered sixteen thousand. I accepted. Barbara was sitting next to me, practically vibrating with excitement. I grinned at her and she clapped her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming in joy, I think. As soon as we made arrangements to meet to transfer title and money, she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me wildly.

My hands, seemingly with a will of their own, stroked down her body and I remembered that we were supposed to have gone out shopping for some more clothes for her. As my hands caressed her breasts, she sucked in a sudden breath and I felt her nipples peak. I pulled away, a bit reluctantly, wishing we were already married, but concerned that she would never be more than dutiful in bed.

She shivered and looked into my eyes. I saw confusion there, but I saw something else, too. I wasn't sure, but I thought it was desire. I cleared my throat and reminded her, "We still need to go get you some new clothes, sweetheart."

I'm not sure what happened. I was all excited about getting the house and threw my arms around his neck and kissed him. I'd learned that I liked kissing him. He was always gentle and never pawed at me. His hands ran down my front and I felt something strange. A tightening, not just my breasts, but other places, too. I looked at him, scared, confused, but wanting something else, too. I had no idea what, though. He let me go and reminded me we were supposed to get some new clothes for the climate here. I nodded and he stood up, took me by the hand and we went back out.

Los Angeles has a garment district, right downtown. On Los Angeles Street. We stroll down the street, looking into the windows. I see something I like and pause. He stops beside me and looks at the dress in the window. He smiles down at me and we go in. Daddy never, ever went shopping with me; he always sent one of the servants, instead. I realized that Dave was interested in my clothes because of me. He wanted me to be comfortable and if I liked something, then he'd like it just because I did. There were some styles he didn't care for, and considering how long I'd had to wear them for Slim, I found it a nice change that he didn't want me to look like that.

There was this one dress, more a suit, actually, with shoulder pads and a cinch-waist. I loved how it looked, but realized that I wouldn't be able to wear it much longer, since I could see my middle thickening. I looked at it, but didn't even try it on, because it wasn't practical. He saw me look at it, though, and spoke to the clerk, who nodded and went away and came back in just a few minutes with the same dress, at least in style, but instead of being made of linen, it was made from some soft, knit cotton kind of fabric. And instead of being beige, it was a rich, dark burgundy. I gasped when I saw it, thinking it was one of the most beautiful dresses I'd ever seen. I looked at Dave, and he was smiling and nodding at the clerk. She helped me with it, as I tried it on. I came out and twirled for Dave, who was grinning like a schoolboy. I ran over and kissed him, then ran back and changed back into my clothes. We got that dress, and a knit skirt and some blouses. They were cut a bit oddly, but Dave leaned down to whisper that they were maternity clothes, designed to 'expand to the occasion'. His choice of words made me giggle and I hugged him, hard.

We stopped at a lingerie store and he let me go in by myself and I realized he was embarrassed. I suggested he go look at the men's store next door and that I'd come get him when I was done. He slipped some money into my hand and I put it in my pocket as I kissed him. It was funny, but when he walked away, I felt a little lost and realized that we'd hardly been separated since we met, and that I missed him, even though he was right next door. That made me laugh.

I turned to the clerk, glad to be on my own, despite missing Dave. I explained that I was expecting and that I'd be needing some more underwear. I got four new brassieres, and a dozen pair of panties that were specially designed to fit around a swollen belly. With my bags in hand, I took my change and headed next door to see what Dave had found.

I don't know what was worse, the prospect of going into a ladies' undergarment shop, or leaving Barbara on her own. I felt a lurch in my gut as I kissed her goodbye, even though I was going to be less than a hundred feet away from her. Unbelievable. Dave, old man, you have got it bad. I steeled myself and entered the men's wear shop. They had a tailor on the premises and some beautiful fabrics. I debated. I certainly didn't need a hundred dollar suit, but looking at the tailor, I thought maybe he needed to make one. I looked at the various fabrics, trying to decide on weight and color, when Barbara came in. From the way she was looking around, she'd never been to a men's wear shop before. She spotted me immediately and came over. She was so beautiful, and her smile lit a fire in my heart.

"Find something?" she asked.

I nodded and indicated the bolts of fabric. She glanced at me, at my brown hair and blue eyes, and I could see her comparing the colors. I watched her as she nibbled at her lower lip and discarded the black material, then the light gray. She finally narrowed it down to a rich brown and a navy-blue with a blue-green pinstripe. She held each bolt up to me and frowned. Finally she shrugged.

"Either of these," she said.

"Which one do you like?" I asked. If she was going to dress for me, the least I could do was dress for her.

"I like them both." She was looking at the suit samples and frowning. "Wide or narrow lapels?" she asked.

"Which do you prefer?" I countered.

"I think you should go with kind of medium lapels. Not so wide as to be mistaken for a gangster, but not so narrow as to be mistaken for anything else."

I liked her answer and looked at the tailor, who was hanging on her every word. It was pretty obvious that they didn't have a lot of business, but that was true everywhere.

Then, I asked her, "Which material?"

She looked at me in surprise and then looked at the fabric again. "This one is a heavier wool, but I really like them both," she replied, looking at me.

"So, should I get two new suits, then?" She beamed at me and nodded. I looked at the tailor and saw him gaping at me. He was almost trembling in excitement and I wondered how long it had been since he'd last made a sale.

"You heard the lady," I told him, grinning. Then she got to watch as they took the measurements. I could see that she found the whole thing highly amusing. Me, I'd always bought my suits off the rack, before. It was a first experience for me, too. While we discussed things like cuffs and buttons, Barbara headed over and started looking at shirts. I decided to pay in advance, simply because I wanted them to know that the sale wasn't going to fall through.

As they wrote up the sales slip, she came over with several shirts, which she proceeded to hold up first to the fabric, then to me. I looked at them and picked out a pale golden colored one, a pale blue one, and then pointed at the white ones. She nodded and put the others back. I was surprised that she knew that I took a sixteen-thirty-four, but then again, she'd seen my shirts often enough.

We left with a promise that the suits would be ready in about a week. I gave them the telephone number at the hotel and they promised to call as soon as they were finished. I couldn't help but feel good about how excited they were at the sale. It was nice to have so much money that you could afford to be nice to people; and then I wondered about people like John Blandish, who used their money like a weapon to beat and intimidate folks.

Barbara and I finished walking through the shops, making a few more purchases, but nothing big. Finally, she started to get tired and we headed back to the car, which I'd parked at Union Station. I wasn't used to a city like this, but was a little disconcerted that there wasn't much parking available. We passed the old plaza and Barbara stopped, sniffing the air. I stopped and watched her.

"What is that? It smells delicious," she said. I shrugged and we followed our noses to this old building off the plaza. It couldn't really be called a street, because there was no way any traffic could go down it, but there were several really old buildings, although maybe not by eastern standards. One of them was a restaurant, from which those enticing odors were emanating. I looked at the sign, 'La Golondrina Caf' and a smaller sign saying 'authentic Mexican food'. I'd never had Mexican food, and I looked at Barbara and saw she was just as interested as I was. We went in.

It was fairly early for supper, but there were already a number of people enjoying their meals. A girl greeted us and led us to a table. Her softly accented English was interesting to a couple of mid-westerners like us. The menus were totally foreign to both Barbara and me. We looked at each other and when the girl came back to take our order, I simply asked what she recommended; and to describe just exactly what the various dishes were.

Thank God she was used to touristas, as she called us. She was pretty sure that we would like the food and promised that it wouldn't be too spicy. It certainly sounded interesting! We looked around at the way the restaurant was decorated and chatted about the vibrant colors (Barbara's words) and interesting designs. When our food came, it certainly looked interesting.

Instead of sitting opposite one another, we sat side-by-side and shared the various dishes. The tamales were interesting. I think I could really get to like them. And the Chili Colorado, which was a whole lot of beef in this tomato-based sauce was wonderful. I could definitely see Mexican food becoming popular all over the country. The tortillas (and why two l's together are pronounced like a y, I don't know) were different, but good, too. Barbara was a little tentative about all the new flavors, but it didn't take her long to decide she liked Mole and avocados.

We spent the entire meal talking about it, and when we were finished, and walked across the street to Union Station to get the car, we continued talking about the food. I think we're probably going to be going back there a lot.

It was getting late by the time we got back to the hotel. There was a message from the realtor with a time and place to conclude the transfer and sale of the house and property. I was starting to feel kind of excited. This was a totally new world for me as well as for Barbara. No one here knew or cared about John P. Blandish or his daughter or anything that happened so far away. With any luck, Barbara would be able to put the past behind least until the baby came.

I keep coming back to the fact that I'm almost eighteen years older than she is. She doesn't seem to mind, but maybe she's only grateful that I agreed to marry her and 'make an honest woman of her'. She's possibly the most honest woman I've ever known. I just wish I could be sure that she could learn to care for me as much as I care for her. But I promised to take care of her, and I will. Her father's million plus dollars should keep her well taken care of for the rest of her life and with careful handling and investment, her child's, as well.

Our clean laundry had been put in our rooms and after we put our new purchases away, we went to bed. It was going to be another busy day on the morrow.

I've decided that I love Mexican food. It tastes just like it smells, wonderful. Dave really liked it, too. I could tell. We'll be going back to La Golondrina a lot, I hope. After supper, Dave seemed rather pensive. Particularly after we got back to the hotel and he got the message about the house. I wondered, yet again, about his agreeing to marry me, and how he still wouldn't lie with me. I hope I don't disappoint him too much. He's really a very nice man, and he's taken very good care of me, so far. He even made daddy give him enough money to make sure. He seemed upset that he did, and I don't know why. There is so much I don't know or understand. I was raised to be pretty and vivacious, but have no skills at all, really. What need do we have of my being able to recite poetry or play the piano? I wish...well, it's no good wishing, is it? I've got a lot of wishes that didn't come true, and there's no going back. Ever.

I shiver and wish I dared go into Dave's room and ask him to hold me. I'm scared. Scared of all this newness, all this change. But I'm scared of him, too. Of course, he hasn't hurt me, yet. But that's just a matter of time, now. On the one hand, I want to be married, to have someone take care of me and my baby. But I don't want to be a burden to him. He wants me to learn to cook. I can do that. Maybe one of those ladies at the restaurant would teach me how to make those tamales, like we had.

What scares me most is after we're married. I know what my 'duties' are. Slim showed me and mama was right when she said it was something to be endured. I wish mama were still alive. I wish I had her here with me, to talk with. Shoot. I'm shaking, now. It's the thinking about lying with Dave. But he holds me so nice, so gently. He doesn't paw me, or hurt me. I'm crying again and I can't seem to stop. Oh, mama, what am I going to do?

I hear her crying in her room and wonder what's wrong. I debate for a couple of minutes, trying to decide whether to go and check on her, or leave her alone. I can't help it, though. I promised to take care of her. Besides, I'm in love with the girl. God help me. I think I know what I'm letting myself in for, but I hope that maybe, some day, she'll be able to look at me and touch me without fear. It's tearing me apart inside to know that she's terrified of me, of my ever touching her. Maybe I'm wrong in waiting until after we're married, but then again.... I get up and pull on my robe. I go into the sitting room and tap on her door. I hear the bedsprings creak as she comes to the door and look at her closely when she opens the door.

"Are you all right?" I ask, foolishly, I think.

She stares up at me and I can see the fear, but I think I see something else, too. Longing. Not the way she did at first, when she thought she had to sleep with me in order to be taken care of, this was something else. Biting my lip, I hold my hand out to her. She never takes her eyes from mine as she reaches out and takes it. I pull her through the doorway and lead her to the sofa. I sit down and gently tug her down beside me. Our eyes never blink. Once we're sitting, I release her hand and put it around her shoulders. Her eyes close as she exhales the breath she'd been holding and sags against me, her arms going around my waist. I almost smile, realizing that she wanted to be held...that she wanted me to hold her. I hugged her tight and let one hand lightly rub her back. We sat like that for several minutes, her head pressed against my chest, my cheek on the top of her head. I could have stayed that way forever, I think. But we don't.

She finally pulls away and looks up at me, frowning slightly. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

I despair that she'll never understand, that she'll never be able to feel for me what I feel for her. I'm a fool. A fool in love with a beautiful, sweet, warm, child. A child who will never be able to grow up, now. Who will never know what love between a man and woman can be. Who will always believe that men hurt women...that I'll hurt her. My heart aches with this knowledge and I know that she only wants a husband to remove the stigma of her pregnancy; to take care of her and her child. I pray that it will be enough. I fear it will not be.

"I love you," I tell her, knowing that she doesn't understand.


I shrug. "I don't know. I just do."

She's not looking at me and I don't think she could at this moment if she had to. "Are you angry about the baby?"

"No. It's hardly your fault." I let my hands rub her back and shoulders. She's shaking again. Obviously, she's afraid. Afraid of me, but at the same time, needing me to hold her, to keep the bigger demons of her memory away. What a hell of a way to have to live. Embrace what you fear in order to banish the memories you fear more. "I think you'll be a good mother," I tell her, and it's true. She's a gentle soul, at least she is now. I've seen the way she can be, and hope that the sophisticated Barbara stays hidden most of the time. I like the innocent Barbara, the one who's been hurt and needs me. Hell of a reason to get married, isn't it? To take care of a moronic criminal's bastard and the girl he abased and abused?

I love her, though. And I pray that it will be enough.

He's so warm, like cuddling up to a giant hot water bottle. I almost giggle at that, but don't. His hands are gently rubbing my back and arms. It feels so good. I wish we could stay like this always. His hands are so big, but he's gentle, too. He hasn't hurt me, yet. I'm hoping he'll be as gentle when we lie together. He's so much bigger than Slim, though. Not as tall, Slim was over six feet, and Dave's just at. But Dave's a big man. Bigger than daddy, and mama told me that it was bad for her. Probably just as bad as it's been for me. I know that Slim liked lying with me, liked to touch me and do those other things, but he hurt me all the time. His hands were hard, rough, but Dave...his hands are gentle. Not soft, but gentle and I like the way he touches me. I remember how his hands felt on my bosom earlier and feel that same shiver as when it happened. He notices it, but all he does is hold me closer and rub his cheek on my hair.

Most of all, he smells good. When I realize that, I know that no matter what else, I'll never wake up with him thinking of Slim. Slim was always dirty, and he made me dirty. How can a nice man like Dave want someone as soiled as me? I'm confused, scared and tired. I want to be loved and taken care of. Dave's said he loves me. Twice, now, and without being asked. He seemed a little surprised the first time he said it, was that just today? My mind's in a turmoil and I'm still thinking when I fall asleep.

She's asleep. I debate moving her to her own bed, but decide against it. I like the feel of her against me; the way her breath warms that spot over my heart. The sofa is comfortable, and I lean my head back against the cushion and close my eyes, imagining us in bed together like this. Just comfortable with one another and I hope that some day she'll be able to stop being afraid - afraid of me, at any rate.
I awaken confused. I'm sitting up, for one thing, and there's this warm weight pressed against me. I open my eyes and remember. I look down at Barbara, snuggled up next to me. Her head's still against my chest and her arms are wrapped around me. She looks so precious like this. I don't even fight the temptation and tilt my head down to lightly kiss her brow. She stirs a bit and her hold on me tightens. I bring my hand up to stroke her hair. She's so beautiful and I love her so much. Again the doubts assail me and I wonder just how big a fool I'm being. I know a lot of men who'd be more than willing to marry her in order to get that million dollars, but she deserves a hell of a lot more than just someone who'll take care of her.

I just wish I was sure that I was the right someone. I keep thinking of how much older I am than she is. I wonder, even if this works, that in ten or twelve years if she won't tire of me, of the fact that I'm so much older. Oh, God. What am I going to do? I'm a fool, that's for certain sure.

I jump when she starts to wake up, rubbing her cheek against my chest. Everything tightens and I have to fight for control. I want her so much that I ache. I seem to remember something from the Bible when I was a teenager, something about it being better to marry than to burn; and Lord, am I burning.

I wake up slowly. I'm warm and comfortable and I feel Dave's arms still around me. I'm a little surprised that I don't immediately think of Slim, but my first thought is of Dave. He smells good; he's clean and smells just a bit of Old Spice. Daddy uses Bay Rum, and I'm so glad Dave doesn't. I start thinking again, and wonder how he'll touch me once we're married? Somehow, I can't see him pawing me, even then. Maybe his hands will stay gentle? I sure hope so. I shift a little and he jumps. I guess he knows I'm waking up. I tighten my arms around him and his arms do the same around me. I feel his fingers in my hair and turn to kiss his wrist. He stops moving and I open my eyes, lift my head, and look up at him. He looks so sad all the time, now.

"Why are you so sad, Dave?" I ask, finally brave enough to find out.

"I don't want to hurt you, but I want you so badly," he says.

"You could never hurt me, Dave," I tell him. I'm experienced and I know what to expect, so he can't hurt me.

"But you're still afraid of me, Barbara. I don't want you to be afraid of me, either."

I'm a bit surprised at that. I think about it for a moment and shake my head. "I'm not afraid of you. You haven't hurt me and I don't think you ever would...would you?"

"Not for anything." It's a vow and a promise. I nod, satisfied. "Then I've nothing to be afraid of, have I?"

"Not from me, sweetheart."

I smile up at him and stretch. He gets a funny look in his eyes and I sort of recognize it. It's kind of like the look Slim would get when he wanted me, only Dave's not doing anything but looking. I realize that he wants me, just like Slim did, only he's waiting until we're married - just like the gentleman he is.

I sit up and kiss him on the lips. I love how soft his mouth is, gentle, like him. I run the fingers of my hand through his hair and down his cheek, his eyes close and he turns into my touch, kissing my palm. I get another one of those shivers that I don't understand, and move away from him, to the bathroom; I'm tempted to look back, but don't. Still, I can feel his eyes watching me, wanting me, and it makes me feel kind of good about myself, that this nice man wants me - loves me. I falter a second, wishing I was worthy of his love.

She is so beautiful. I can see the swell of her belly against her nightgown, now. The baby growing in her womb, the child I will love even though it isn't mine. I realize the truth of that and am even more determined to do my best to be worthy of them.
We decide to go out for breakfast. She wears one of her new maternity dresses. If you didn't know, you probably wouldn't notice, but I do. She holds my arm as we walk into the restaurant and I see people looking at us, curious as to the relationship. I decide we need to get married as soon as possible, but I want the house, first. I want to get it furnished and I want to get married and spend our first night together in our new house.

I'm determined to do whatever I have to in order to make her feel safe and cherished.

By noon, the papers are signed. Because I paid cash, there will be no escrow. We file the papers and I get the keys. First off, is to change all the locks, just because. Then, we go out and look at the house again. We decide what kind of furniture to buy and go shopping again. After we go back to La Golondrina for lunch, that is. When she asks the waitress if she could learn to cook the Mexican dishes, she was told, in heavily accented English, that it would be up to her mother if she wanted to teach. She took our order and went back to talk to her mother.

A woman about the age of Barbara's father came out with our food and chatted with us, wanting to know why we wanted to learn how to cook their recipes. Barbara put on her sophisticate persona and charmed the woman's socks off. When she learned that we were about to get married, she became excited and offered to put on the reception for us. I could see her disappointment when she learned that we were just going to the justice of the peace for a civil ceremony and that neither of us had any family coming. The woman smiled and insisted that at least we should come there afterwards for a celebratory dinner. We agreed. Then she said something that really warmed my heart, she called us a beautiful young couple.

Maybe I'm not too old, after all.

When the lady at La Golondrina called us a beautiful young couple, I suddenly realized what had been bothering Dave. He had said he was too old for me; but when she called us a 'young' couple, he smiled, and I understood some of his fears. I took his hand and squeezed it and when he looked at me, I smiled and he smiled back. We ate our lunch and agreed to come have dinner here after our wedding.

Dave was looking around the restaurant as we ate. "What is it?" I asked.

"What do you think of the furniture here?"

I looked around. It was heavy, made of dark wood, mostly, with sturdy upholstery and vibrant colors. "I like it," I said.

"What would you think of this kind of furniture for the house, instead of French?"

I looked around again and imagined furniture like this in our house. My breath caught as I pictured it and I nodded excitedly. "I think it would be wonderful!"

"When Maria comes back, let's ask her where's a good place to get some, then." Leave it to Dave to have learned people's names. I had no idea of the waitress's name. I was lucky to remember the name of the restaurant!

We had ordered different things from the menu this time. Chili Verde was made with pork and was a bit different than the Chili Colorado we'd had before, but just as good. The enchiladas were divine and I absolutely love guacamole.

When Maria came back with these little candies, Dave asked her about the furniture. Maria was very happy to tell us where we could find such furniture and he thanked her. He also left a very generous tip, far more than my father would ever consider for even the finest meal in the best restaurant. After we left, I asked him about it.

"Why do you tip so generously?"

I stared at her in surprise. "Because I can. I've worked hard all my life, and I know how hard it can get. I was about to wind up on the street when your father hired me to find you. That girl probably makes ten dollars a week, if she's lucky. Sure, she lives at home, but ten dollars isn't a lot. Not enough to live on, at any rate. Waiters and bellboys have to depend on their tips to make it. I've always rewarded good service, even when I was broke. Now that we're not, I'm not going to stop and if I can, why not be generous? It's not going to hurt us, any."

She picks up on the 'we' and 'us'. She nods and smiles. I had wondered when she was going to notice that I'm not like the people she's used to, at either end of the spectrum. Hopefully, I'll fall in the middle somewhere. Not a spendthrift, nor a miser. Not overly proud, or overly cruel.

Mostly, though, I want her to trust me, and maybe, some day, be able to love me.

The address Maria gave us was just a couple of blocks away. We walked over and talked to the owner, who had several pieces already completed. I wasn't sure about the leather, but he reassured me that it would wear well and not be too hot in the summertime. We explained our needs and he was more than happy to fulfill all our wishes. I wasn't sure how to bring up the subject of a bed, but Mr. Alvear was ahead of me. Since we'd already picked out sofas and chairs and even a dining room table, he then took us into his small showroom, where I saw what had to be the biggest four-poster bed I'd ever seen. It was heavy mahogany and even in our new house, it would not dwarf the ten-foot ceilings. It had something like a canopy over it, but the sides were made of wood, and there were actual curtains hung around it. I heard Barbara gasp when she saw it. The drapes and bedspread were a dark emerald green and it went so well with the color of the rich red mahogany that I had to agree with her.

We looked at each other and didn't look further, much to Mr. Alvear's amusement. When he learned that we were to be married, he said that he could easily hurry production along and that our house could be fully furnished within a week. I had a suspicion that his showroom would soon be empty, but that was certainly not a problem for me.

It seemed that everything was charging along at breakneck speed. I was almost too busy to panic, except at night, when the fears and uncertainties would come back like an avalanche and I was afraid I would be buried in them.

Except that Barbara would come and sit beside me after supper every night and we'd hold hands and kiss and hug each other. She'd let me hold her, and she'd hold me back. I don't know what I'd have done without that. I think my fears of not being able to be what she needed would have overwhelmed me. Thankfully, I think that our quiet evenings were good for us as a couple. She told me some of the things she'd been through and I could tell how hard it was for her to tell me, how the first time she'd let Slim take her, how much it had hurt and how filthy she felt afterwards. I was glad she was able to talk even a little about her ordeal. She hadn't, before. I know that Slim abused her, but I also know it was from ignorance, not malice. I silently vowed to be as gentle as I could and hoped that just maybe, I could replace her bad memories with better ones. I didn't expect her to enjoy it, perhaps, but I hoped she might learn to tolerate it - tolerate me; touching her, sleeping with her, holding her.

Mr. Alvear called me and said the furniture was ready. After I dropped Barbara off at the beauty salon to get her hair done for the big day...oh, Lord, tomorrow I was getting married and I was scared out of my wits, I met Mr. Alvear at the house. He had a huge moving van that I was a little surprised fit in the driveway. He had four big, burly men to help him and they unloaded the new furniture.

I hadn't told Barbara, but I'd had other workmen in as well. The living room was now a pale green with just a hint of blue. The dining room was a light but warm beige and I had had the wallpaper removed. The kitchen was white, it was a bit stark, but it looked clean. Our bedroom was the same color as the living room, as I'd liked the color. In retrospect, I was wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds, but it was too late, now. There was a large Persian area rug in the living room, it was a steel gray, with a blue geometric pattern around it, and a somewhat floral pattern in the middle in greens, blues, reds, and cream. Again, I hoped she'd like it. It looked great with the walls and furniture, though. At least I thought so.

The bedroom also had a carpet. It was almost as big as the room and was a dark emerald green that matched the bedding. The bed looked magnificent, as did the dressers and vanity. The room was enormous, and the big, heavy furniture fit perfectly. My breath caught as Mr. Alvear brought out the bedding and helped me make the bed, hospital corners and all. The sheets were heavy damask, which had been dyed green, as were the wool blankets, and the velvet drapes and bedspread. When it was finished, we stood in the doorway and looked. It was absolutely perfect.

"Your lady, senor, will love this, no?"

I nodded, unable, for a moment to even speak. "I certainly hope so, Senor Alvear." I was learning a bit of Spanish, simply because the people we liked spoke it. It wasn't much, but it was obvious every time I said 'senor' or pronounced a name correctly that my feeble efforts were appreciated.

We walked through the house and I was amazed at the transformation. It had been a beautiful house to begin with, but now it was perfect, and it was a home, even though we weren't moving in until tomorrow.

I thanked Mr. Alvear and his helpers and invited them to join us after the ceremony at City Hall tomorrow at La Golondrina for a celebratory dinner. He asked what time and I told him that we were getting married at two, and were planning on being at the restaurant at four.

At least, that's what I thought.

It was my wedding day. My hair had been done the day before while Dave oversaw the furniture's arrival and picked up his new suits. He was wearing the pin stripe, with the pale blue silk shirt and a dark turquoise tie. He looked wonderful. I had planned on just wearing an ordinary dress, until he came in that morning with a package addressed to me. Neither of us knew what it could be because we didn't know many people, but when I opened the package, there was this magnificent white dress, with a ton of lace and a veil thing that I later learned was called a Mantilla. Maria's mother, Ramona, had sent it. I looked up at Dave and he had a funny look on his face.


"Hmmm?" He was still staring at the dress.

"Is it all right if I wear this?"

His eyes went from the dress to me and I could see he had tears in his eyes. "David?" I asked, concerned. He finally looked at me and took a deep, ragged breath.

"It's beautiful," he said and I smiled. I knew just what he was thinking, because I was thinking it, too. I stood up and went to him and kissed him on the cheek. He smiled and turned to go into the sitting room. Our luggage was already packed and down in the car. We would check out as we left, because tonight we would be sleeping in our new house - together, for the first time. I shivered a moment in fear, but I knew what to expect, now, and was ready for it, this time. Besides, Dave was gentle when he touched me, knowing how much I'd been hurt. He'd said it a few times, how afraid he was of hurting me. It helped a lot to know that.

There was a knock at the door, and a moment later, Maria from the restaurant came in. She was smiling.

"I'll help you dress, if you like?" she offered. I was grateful and immediately accepted. "My father, he will drive us to the city hall."

"Oh, that's not necessary," I say, "Dave has a car."

She shakes her head. "It's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before they are to be married. He will go now, and my father will drive us in a bit."

I almost cried at their kindness. She helped me with the dress, but I saw her momentary pause when she saw my stomach. She cast a curious glance at me and I know I blushed.

"Does he know?"

"Yes." I look away. "It isn't his. I was..." I hesitate, because I've never used the word, before. "Raped. My father disowned me and Dave decided to take care of me, although I still wonder why."

Maria, who was just a few years older than I, nodded sagely. "He loves you very much."

I frowned at her. "How can you tell?"

She laughed. "The way he looks at you. The way he listens when you speak. Surely you've seen him? The way he puts his elbow on the table and leans his chin in his hand and watches you with his shining eyes? Oh, you are a very lucky woman to have such a man to love you. He will give you much pleasure and hopefully many more babies."

I stared at her and wondered. "He loves me." Of course he did. He said so. But now, I realized, he'd shown me, as well. His careful movements, his gentle touch, his forbearance in waiting.... It was all there for me to see, if I'd had my eyes even half open. I shivered. "Yes, I suppose he does," I added.

Maria frowned at me. "Do you not love him as well?" She was placing the mantilla on my head and arranging the lace veils.

"I suppose so." That didn't sound right. Did I love him? Did I even know what love is? Could I ever love anybody after what had happened? I thought about the past two months with him, seldom apart, but he never pawed at me or forced himself on me, even though I knew he wanted me. So very different from Slim. So much a gentleman all the time.

"You should be sure, Barbara. It is a sin to not love your husband. It's in the ceremony." She looked worried.

I smiled. "Yes, I do love him, maybe not as much as he loves me, but I hope to, some day." I knew how unsure he was of this whole thing. He was 'making an honest woman of me', true, but he also cared for me, and had from even before we met. He cared a whole lot more than my father had, that was certain.

My answer seemed to satisfy Maria and she stepped back looking critically at me in the dress. "Bueno. You look like a proper bride." She went into the sitting room and I heard her tell Dave to be on his way as her father was waiting downstairs to drive me to the city hall. He thanked her profusely and left, carrying the last of our luggage down to the car.

For a moment, I was hurt that he hadn't said goodbye, but then realized that he was probably at least as nervous as I was.

Maria came back in and smiled. "Come. We go now. Papa is waiting." I followed her down to the lobby, where I met her father and realized that Ramona was her mother. We went out to their car and got in. It wasn't even a mile to City Hall, and we were there within minutes.

I couldn't wait to see Dave again.

On the one hand, I was grateful to Maria, as well as her parents, but it didn't help my fear. I checked us out of the hotel, spoke for a moment to Ramona and met her husband, who spoke almost no English, but seemed pleased to meet me. I paid the bill and said that Barbara would be right out. I carried the last of our luggage out and put it in the trunk. I'd taken most of our things to the house earlier that morning, while Barbara was still sleeping.

I parked in the small lot behind the city hall and went in. I had the papers needed and met with the justice, who tried to reassure me. We were talking when he looked behind me and his eyes widened in surprise. I turned and there she was, along with Maria and her parents, and Mr. Alvear and his crew and their families, as well. Then I saw Barbara and stopped breathing.

She was the most beautiful sight I've ever seen in my life. The dress was low-cut, showing just a hint of cleavage, and I wondered for a moment if her bosom was getting bigger. There was a tall headdress with a long veil that covered her head and the skirt of the dress almost dragged the floor. It was all lace and ribbons and made me think of angels.

Someone had given her a bouquet of blue flowers, which I later learned were called forget-me-nots. As though I could ever forget.

With her entourage behind her, she slowly approached and I didn't realize I had reached out my hand until she took it and I gazed through the lacy veil into her big brown eyes. She smiled and I turned to the Justice of the Peace.

He was smiling and began the ceremony.

"Dearly beloved...."

It was done. We were officially man and wife. I followed the instructions and lifted the veil and kissed my bride. It was a gentle kiss, befitting the occasion, not that I didn't always kiss her gently, but this one was longer than most and I didn't think of anything but her until I heard the cheers of our new friends. I stepped back and saw her eyes shining up at me and a smile on her face. We turned to our unexpected guests and were formally announced by the judge. Thankfully, they didn't throw rice or anything at us as they followed us out to our car and then to La Golondrina.

They'd gone all out. When I tried to pay them, they waved me away, saying that between our purchases from Mr. Alvear, who was Ramona's brother, to our frequenting their restaurant, it was their pleasure. I slipped a hundred dollar bill under the centerpiece of the table anyway.

I was exhausted. They had even had a band. I'd never heard Mariachis before, but we liked it. We danced and ate and visited with the families of our new friends. Finally, however, about eight o'clock, we left for home. Barbara, my wife, was humming one of the mariachi tunes as we drove home. Sure enough, it took about half an hour. I pulled in and parked beneath the porte-cochere. I got out and came around to open the door for my bride. Taking her hand, I led her to the door; then, after unlocking and opening the portal, I turned to her and lifted her into my arms and carried her over the threshold and up the stairs to our bedroom.

Our bedroom. She saw it for the first time and gasped as I gently lay her on the bed. It was nearly dark, out, and the last of the sunlight came through the windows. She looked so wonderful in her white lace dress on the dark green background. She was looking at me and smiling. I smiled back. I sat down beside her on the bed and took her hands in mine and kissed them.

"Welcome home, Mrs. Fenner."

I was married. I was Mrs. Fenner. I can't help but smile. His hands are so gentle as he removes my veil. He kisses me and I feel the first tiny thread of fear go through me as I realize that it's finally time for me to do my duty as his wife and I feel sick.

He's so gentle, as he helps me out of my dress. His eyes stay on mine, not looking at the rest of me, even after I'm naked. He slowly undresses and I see his body for the first time. He's much more solid than Slim was. Just a little thick in the waist, but I can see that he's got muscles, too. Seeing him coming closer, I close my eyes and lay quietly, waiting for him, my legs spread.

She looks like a sacrifice as she lies there, spread out for my use. I can't help but shudder at that thought. I gently lift her and pull the covers back and reposition her beneath them. Her eyes open in confusion as I slide onto the bed beside her. I realized the moment her eyes closed what she expected of me; but I am not some sadistic beast in rut. I'm going to be as gentle as I know how to be, and with the grace of a beneficent God, I hope to show her that this is not just something to be endured; and I thank Mrs. Bellamy for having taught me things every man should know.

I lay on my side, facing her, my head on one hand, while the other gently caresses her. Her eyes are open now, and she's confused. I smile and continue my slow, gentle touch. I run my fingers through her hair and then caress her cheek. After several minutes of this, I finally shift closer to her and lean down to kiss her lightly on the lips. Her hand comes up to hold my head, as she kisses me a little harder. I slowly pull away and go back to lightly stroking her face, then I slide my hand down her neck to her shoulder and then down her arm. Her eyes close as she concentrates on the feel of my hand, gentle and light as it slides along her skin.

I again shift a bit closer and kiss her again. Now my hand slides down her side to her hip and over it and down her thigh, then back up. Her body is beginning to respond and I again bless Mrs. Bellamy. To distract myself and to keep from moving too fast, I think about how I learned about women.

I was sixteen and it was summer. I'd gotten a job as a Fuller Brush salesman, working door-to-door. Mrs. Bellamy was my best customer. She not only bought most of my stock, but took me into her home and showed me things that very few sixteen-year-old boys ever learn. I also learned about how lonely women could get when their husbands either traveled or worked long hours. She asked me to help her and, of course, I said yes. After all, she'd just bought something. She asked me to have a drink with her. Well, I'd never had anything stronger than a beer before and she poured me a whiskey. I wasn't real impressed with it at the time, but later learned to appreciate it. After I'd had a couple of shots, she had me sit down beside her. I'll admit that I felt a little odd, but didn't understand. Yet. She took my hand in hers and placed it where it didn't belong. Her fingers flexed over mine as she demonstrated what she wanted. I was using those lessons now, with Barbara.

That first time was just a little gentle petting. The later lessons were more detailed. I just hoped I had the patience and self-control to take as much time as necessary to do this. Remembering those lessons, and the past couple of months restraining myself and my baser desires, I thought I could manage this.

He's touching me. His hand is moving slowly, not grabbing or pinching, just open handed, stroking up and down my skin. He shifts a little closer and kisses me, then continues, his hand going down my arm, and back up, slow. So slow. It feels nice, but I shiver a little. He shifts a little closer and kisses me again. Still, only his hand touches me, although I can feel the warmth radiating from his body next to mine. Now his hand slides down my side and over my hip, but still nothing more. I feel the tension easing out of my body as the repetitive motion soothes and relaxes me. I can't believe he hasn't lain on me already. By now, Slim would have been finished and his sleeping weight would have been crushing me to the mattress.

He shifts again, and he pulls me towards him, onto my side. I'm confused, but don't resist. His hand goes back to the slow, gentle stroking. I'm almost asleep when he shifts again and presses his body against mine. I can't help it and tighten up and try to lie back on my back, but he whispers 'no' and holds me close. I can feel him, feel that hardness, but he's not doing anything more than holding me and his hand is still moving slowly up and down my side, now my back.

I shiver again at the way this feels. I'm confused, but not at all unhappy about it. In fact, I'm starting to like the feeling.

"Touch me," he whispers, and my hand comes up and rubs across his chest. He sucks in a breath sharply and lets it out in a soft sigh. I can feel his warmth as I touch him back. My hand goes to his shoulder and then down his arm to his side and my movements mirror his. He leans close and kisses me again, and this time, I'm kissing him back even harder. His hand slides down and cups my bottom and I expect him to push me onto my back, but he doesn't. Instead, his hand slides down the back of my thigh to my knee and lifts it, I open my eyes, wondering what he wants, when he kind of gets up, but not, and moves my other leg so he can lie on it, and my top leg is across his. I'm still not sure what he's doing, but I stiffen up anyway; but he comes back down and goes back to running his hand up and down my skin.

It's hard, keeping this slow, but I want her to learn that this doesn't have to hurt. That it can be pleasant, too. I tell her to touch me and her hand comes up to my chest and soon, she's mirroring what my hand is doing. I run my hand down to her knee and lift her leg. I have to almost get up in order to position her properly. Her right leg is under my waist, now, and her left is over my legs, still on our sides, facing one another. I go back to stroking my hand up and down her body.

Now that we're both touching, I take my left arm and slide it under her ribs, allowing me to hold her more closely. I know she can feel how much I want her, but I'm trying desperately to ignore it. I curl so that I can press my mouth against her breast, kissing gently. Her nipples respond and I lick one, which makes her flinch, but from surprise, not fear. Her hands come up and she stretches her head back as her fingers hold my head to her breast. Again I thank Mrs. Bellamy for being such a good teacher. As I suckle at her breasts, my left hand strokes her back as my right hand slides between us and strokes down her abdomen to between her legs. Her arms tighten around me and I search for and find what I'd been aiming for all along. I caress her gently and begin to slowly manipulate that little spot Mrs. Bellamy had taught me was a woman's most important secret. As I feel her body respond, I lift my head and kiss her, gentle and soft.

His hand has moved between us and he's touching me near my opening. I'm not sure why, until my body starts to react to the touch. My hips, to my surprise, push against his fingers and I shiver. I'm not sure what's happening, but my body really likes it. His fingers slide inside me and I expect pain, but there isn't any. We're on our sides facing each other, so there's no great crushing weight, either. I realize that I've whimpered and want something, but I don't know what. He kisses me and I know that whatever he's doing, I don't want him to ever stop. I get brave and reach between us to touch him. I can feel his heartbeat through it. I never touched Slim there, but Dave is both hard and soft at once. His whole body shudders as I slide my fingers over him there. His hand between us stops what it's doing and comes and takes my hand. He puts my hand to his lips and kisses my fingers. My eyes open again and I look into his. I recognize the expression as desire, but see the question in his eyes, as well. I make another funny noise that I realize is my own desire. I can feel a throbbing in my loins that I've never experienced before and suddenly, I want him inside me, even as I'm afraid, I'm excited, as well. His eyes ask the question and I say, "Yes."
When she touches me, I tighten, but I don't think she notices. I'm having a hard time maintaining control, I want to join with her so very badly, but I'm holding back until I'm sure she's ready. I take her hand in mine and bring it up and kiss her fingers. She opens her eyes and looks at me. She makes a little sound as her hips thrust at me and she whispers, "Yes."

I let go of her hand and slide mine down her body to her bottom and then along her thigh. I lift her slightly, so I can fit myself into her. I have to fight the urge to thrust hard into her, easing slowly into her warmth. I'm watching her face. She's tensed a little and is biting her lower lip, expecting the pain she's used to, but I'm being as careful as I can and press gently, taking an eternity to enter her, and then I lay still, our bodies finally joined. She frowns at me and whispers, "It doesn't hurt." And I smile.

"It's not supposed to," I whisper back. I shift my hand again, and slowly thrust and withdraw, trying to maintain some contact with that most important spot just above where we're connected. Her hips start to work in counterpoint to mine and I bring my face to hers and kiss her. She's distracted, now, and her hands are starting to dig into my back and shoulders as she urges me faster. I make myself maintain a slow, steady pace, however, until she whines and grabs my butt and pulls me hard against her. I finally take the hint and let my body take the control I've denied it for so long.

He pushes into me slowly. There's none of the pain I've come to associate with this and I whisper in surprise, "It doesn't hurt." He smiles at me.

"It's not supposed to," he whispers back. He lifts my leg again and shifts my bottom so that he's rubbing against that amazing spot that feels so strange and wonderful. I can't help it, but my hips start moving without any will of mine and he leans close and kisses me. I find myself concentrating on these amazing feelings and I hold him tightly against me and I want him to move faster. He ignores me and I positively whine and reach down to pull his hips tightly against me. Finally, he's moving faster, harder, but again, there is no pain. He's still rubbing that spot and suddenly my whole body contracts and I'm so surprised that I cry out and I can't control myself as it seems like every muscle tightens and releases like I've gotten a big electrical shock, only there is no pain, only an intense, terrifying pleasure. He's still thrusting in and out of me and then I feel him stiffen in my arms and this I'm used to, but instead of him just collapsing, he keeps moving, although he's a bit rougher in his movement, then he's gasping and finally, he's still, while my body is still going through smaller and smaller spasms.

We lay together, both of us breathing hard and drenched in sweat, our bodies still joined. Finally, he shifts away and lifts his hips so I can have my leg back. His hands are shaking as he strokes the hair out of my eyes and he's looking at me with this worried expression and then, finally, he gently kisses me.

"Are you all right?" he asks. I can't even think to talk, yet, but I put my arms around him and pull him tight against me, and he sighs as his arms hold me close to him; then he presses his cheek against mine and turns his face to kiss me.

I feel like I never want to move again, but it's a good not want to move. For the first time ever, I wonder why mama didn't tell me how good this could be.

I feel her begin to tighten around me as her body reaches the climax I'd hoped to give her. I continue thrusting into her and finally stiffen with my own release and am breathing raggedly as I continue thrusting, wanting to prolong her pleasure as long as possible. Finally, I can't move any more and I collapse, still inside her. Even so, I can feel her continued contractions.

We lay there panting and sweating for a bit, until I pull from her and she moves her leg from under me. I'm trembling as I stroke the hair out of her eyes and hold her close and kiss her.

"Are you all right?" I ask, worried that I've hurt her. She doesn't answer, but holds me tightly. I rub my cheek against hers and then kiss her again. We lay like that for a bit, but then I reluctantly pull away and go into the bathroom and clean myself and bring back a warm, wet washcloth to clean her, as well.

Fortunately, I'd been prepared and had put a towel down, first, so I only had to remove it before climbing back into bed with my wife.

My wife. We're married. And we've just consummated our commitment.

I lie on my back and get her to use my shoulder as a pillow. Our breathing has steadied, finally, and we both slowly doze off.

When I awake, he's lying beside me and I'm cradled against his side. He's my pillow, not me, his. My hand that's on his chest begins a slow, gentle rotation. He doesn't stir, so I get bolder and slide my hand down, exploring. I find what I'm looking for and am surprised that it's considerably smaller and quite limp. I feel the rest of the area and am a little surprised when I feel it begin to grow and harden. He shifts against me and opens his eyes. I smile at him and continue with what I was doing. He chuckles and his voice is rough from sleep.

"Good morning, Mrs. Fenner," he murmurs, sending shivers up my spine.

"Good morning, Mr. Fenner," I reply, gently squeezing him, surprised by the rather dramatic reaction.

I smile at him and he chuckles.

I awaken to her hand caressing me into arousal. I realize that there is no fear in her actions and can't help the chuckle that escapes me. My voice, always a bit gravely, is a bit more so in the morning as I say, "Good morning, Mrs. Fenner."

She responds in kind, "Good morning, Mr. Fenner," and then she squeezes me and my body reacts in pleasure and shock. She smiles at me and I chuckle again. I move slowly and guide her onto her back. She's watching me as I touch her, as I kiss her and there is no tension as I ease into her, only her eyes closing and her arms reaching around me to pull me closer.

I kiss her and begin to move as she shifts and thrusts against me.

Bless you, Mrs. Bellamy.

We settle easily into our lives together. I'm a little surprised at how easy it is. All I can think is that taking it slowly and making sure Barbara was well prepared was what she needed. She'd expected pain and I managed to give her pleasure.

I love waking up with her in my arms. Sometimes, she has to sleep on her back because of the baby and I use her bosom as my pillow. I was startled awake one morning as I felt her belly jerk against my cheek and then I realized it was the baby kicking. I was fascinated.

As she got bigger and bigger, she started feeling fat and ugly. Luckily I was very attentive. I love her. And I think it shows. Whenever she starts feeling miserable, and summer is a bad time to be pregnant, I've learned, she tells me to look at her. I guess my love for her shows on my face.

We found a doctor she likes and when the time comes, I'll take her to the big hospital downtown for our baby to be born. I can honestly say that I don't care that it's not my child, because as far as anyone is ever going to know, it will be. I just worry that it will be retarded like its real father.

I've been given to understand that babies like to come in the middle of the night. Like Slim, however, this one was different. We awoke as usual one morning and I fixed breakfast for us. Barbara's back was bothering her and her feet were swollen again. Thankfully, Ramona's husband taught me how to massage her feet. I find that I enjoy doing it, although I do sometimes tickle them, as well.

We finished eating and I was washing the dishes when she suddenly cried out. I turn to see what's wrong and I find her doubled over and blood dripping down her legs. Much to my surprise, I don't panic, but grab the phone and dial the doctor. He says to bring her right in and to hurry. We do. Once at the hospital, Barbara is taken from me and I'm forced to sit and wait. Well, wait, anyway. I'm up and down, unable to relax or be patient. The blood bothers me.

I'm not a religious man, but I'm praying that she'll be all right, because I'm crazy in love with her and don't even want to contemplate living without her.

Sixteen hours of hard labor later, a nurse comes out and congratulates me on my new daughter. As much as I've been looking forward to the baby, I'm more concerned about my wife.

"Barbara?" I ask, terrified that something had gone wrong. I was told that I'd be allowed to see her in a bit, but that if I came with the nurse, they'd show me my baby girl.

She was beautiful. All pink and wrinkled and crying, she was the most beautiful baby in the world. I had a grin on my face that simply wouldn't quit. I couldn't wait to see Barbara.

She looked a bit like she did the first time I actually saw her, hot, sweaty, disheveled, and exhausted. She never looked better. I smiled at her and she looked up at me with those big brown eyes and I saw the uncertainty and fear in them.

"Hello, beautiful," I say and she gives me a tentative smile. "Have you seen our perfect little girl, yet?" I ask. I see the tension ease out of her shoulders and hear her sigh of relief. Then her arms come up and I sit down on the bed beside her and take her into my arms and tell her just how much I love her.

I never hurt so much in my life. Not even Slim hurt me like this. Finally, after an eternity of agony, it stops and I hear the cry of my daughter. I'm too tired to care, at the moment, though. After they finish taking care of me and my baby, which they take away to the nursery so I can rest, they let Dave in. He's smiling, but I'm not sure, though I try and smile back. When he calls her 'our' little girl, I can relax. I hold my arms up, wanting him to hold me and he sits beside me on the bed and hugs me and tells me he loves me.

For the very first time, I say, "I love you, too, Davy." I hear his heart thump once, real hard, and his breath catches and his arms tighten around me. I've never called him Davy, before, either and I'm not sure if he'll like it. His arms tighten around me and he kisses my forehead, my eyes, my mouth and I realize he's crying and he's laughing and he can't talk, he's so happy. I hold him tightly to me and my own tears mingle with his as the past finally vanishes in the brilliant light of the love from this man.


I'm watching my oldest daughter get her college degree, today. We've never told her everything, but she knows that her real father is dead, but she also knows just how much I love her. I've tried my best to be a good father, and it looks like I may have succeeded. I don't know any other girls who've managed to skip not one, but two grades. She started college at sixteen and today she's got a degree and wants to go on and become a doctor. Not a nurse, a doctor. I'm so proud of her. Barbara is sitting beside me and our other children are around us. They're all good kids, well behaved and smart. But not as smart as Sylvie. She's special. I learned that Slim had been born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and that he nearly died, and that it had cut the blood off to his brain, causing damage. I wonder, once in a while, what he'd have been if that hadn't happened, then I remember the rest of the family and realize even retarded, that he was the best of a bad lot. Barbara is leaning against my arm, squeezing tightly and I wonder about her old man. He's never seen any of his grandchildren; he never wanted to. Too bad, it's his loss. The Alvears and the Avilas have been surrogate grandparents, as well as cousins, and all our children speak Spanish as well as any native of Mexico, which quickly makes them friends around here.

Sylvie's name is called and her brothers and sisters stand up and cheer and whistle as she's given her diploma, summa cum laude. Afterwards, we're going to our second home for a real fiesta. I love this city. I love the people who took in a pair of lost souls and adopted them at a time when there were more troubles than good times. My Spanish is adequate, but will never come easily, as I learned it much too late in life. Barbara's is much better, but the children's is perfect. I spot Ramona and Maria a few rows over, cheering just as loudly, and from behind me, I hear Raul Alvear's booming voice as well. A few other guests turn and look at us strangely, puzzled by the two groups of Mexicans and the group of Anglos all cheering for the beautiful blond girl on the stage. As she accepts her diploma and award, she turns to us and raises the hand holding them high and stalks off the stage, to the even louder cheers of our extended family. No one can ever say that Sylvie is shy or retiring. Barbara is crying, I can tell from the way she's shaking and clinging to my arm. I lean down to kiss her and then rest my cheek against the top of her head. She smiles up at me and whispers the words I've come to depend on for my own well-being.

"I love you, Davy."

And I respond with the words she's come to depend on just as much, "I love you, sweetheart."


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