“What you feel?” Whitney stared at him dumbfounded. “Hayden, I don’t know where this conversation is heading. . .”
Hayden glanced up after her voice started to fade and noticed the mistletoe for the first time. Standing, he placed his cup on the table and then took hers. “Maybe it’s time I stopped trying to hide behind the fact that I thought that you were completely off limits.”
Whitney started to turn around before he pulled her towards him. “I don’t like this conversation, Hayden. As a matter of fact, I’d appreciate it if you took me home now.”
Hayden pointed above her head and grinned.
Her lips sat in a straight line; Whitney backed away from the mistletoe and shook her head. “No.”
“It’s tradition, Whit.”
“Yeah, well, I’m starting a new one. No man will ever touch me again.” Whitney hissed before trying to wriggle out of his hold. “Hayden, please, just get me out of here.”
Ronnie and Gray watched them from the other side of the table, and Sandra joined them with a small smile planted on her face.
“What in the world are you two waiting on? Traditions are held to highest esteem here.” Gray stated, trying not to sound like the man in charge that he was during the nine to five hours. “Kiss.”
Whitney narrowed her eyes and started working her fingers on Holden’s grasp. “You won’t like the result, Hayden.”
“It’s a chance that I have to take for your job.” Hayden managed to pull her closer to him and waited until Whitney was staring up at him. “We’ve done this before, Whit. Remember?”
Oh, I remember; Whitney thought before closing her eyes. “Fine, get it over with, and then we’re leaving.”
“Promise not to fight it this time?”
“Do I have a choice?” Whitney whispered. “Just do it.”
Hayden moved a hand to just behind her head and lowered his mouth to hers. At first, it was just a slight touch of lips, and then he deepened it wishing that Whitney would let go, sighing when she did and not wanting to stop even after hearing the cheers and calls that were muffled by the sound of his own heartbeat.
Whitney was the one that pulled away and pushed off his chest with the flats of her hands. “Happy?” She didn’t want to admit that wild erotic thoughts had taken over her mind the same way it had done the first time they had kissed. She could only hope that she wouldn’t dream after she closed her eyes.
Hayden studied Whitney’s eyes after he straightened and was amused at how Whitney was trying to combat the chemistry that had always been between them. The chemistry that Hayden had kept at bay because he thought that she was happy with Danny. “I guess that we can go now.”
Whitney only nodded and headed towards the office doors without her jacket or purse which Hayden took after Sandra handed them to him.
“Way to go, slick,” Sandra smiled. “She’s clearly not thinking at the moment.”
“No, I guess she isn’t.” He held the jacket and purse loosely while he continued to watch her. “Fun party. Thank you for inviting me, Ronnie.” He added after noticing that Ronnie had been standing at the table.
“She’s a good woman, Hayden.” Ronnie stated after Gray draped his arm around her shoulder. “After Danny, the next man who hurts her will have to answer to me. I hope that we have an understanding.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Hayden shook Gray’s free hand and then followed Whitney, who was standing outside the door waiting for him. “Well, that was some party.”
“It’s not going to happen, Hayden.” Whitney mumbled while impatiently waiting on the elevator.
“You and I aren’t going to happen. I was very serious when I said that no man was ever going to touch me again.”
“And then you kissed me,” Hayden watched the elevator doors open and stepped inside. “Are you coming?”
Whitney nodded, stepped into the elevator and grabbed the purse that he was holding. “I should thank you for making me come here.”
“You already have.” Hayden stared at the dress she was wearing and tried to calm down his thoughts of taking her to his house. “And just so you know; I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting.”
Whitney closed her eyes for a brief second when the elevator lurched on its decent. “It would probably be best if you try to avoid me then.”
“Really?” Hayden glared and then angrily pushed the stop button on the elevator. “Get it through your pretty head that my staying away isn’t going to happen.” He watched her open her eyes and stepped closer, placing his arms by her sides and trapping her against the wall.
Her immediate reaction was shock, followed by anger, and then anticipation. “Are you trying to prove something?”
Hayden lowered his mouth and tasted her lips, tugging at them with his teeth before placing a hand behind her head and pulling her mouth closer to his. Tasting again before she started to respond to his need, which soon became hers.
Whitney started to push him away when his mouth traveled down to her neck. “No!”
Straightening, Hayden stared at her, and he frowned at the anger that was in her eyes. “Whitney?”
“Now you can apologize.” Whitney snapped while yanking up her coat from where it had been tossed on the floor.
Hayden restarted the elevator and closed his eyes. “I’m not going to apologize.”
“It’s up to you.” Whitney narrowed her eyes and waited for the elevator to come to a stop. Sighing, she shrugged into her coat before Hayden opened his eyes and stared at her again. “I appreciate the fact that you accompanied me, Hayden, but all I’m looking for are friends. I hope that you can understand that.”
“I said that I would wait.”
Whitney stepped towards the door and waited for them to slide open. She couldn’t wait for the evening to be over and to forget about the kisses shared between herself and Hayden. It wouldn’t be easy, but she had no intention of letting him in her secret world.
“A whole week?” George twisted his lips after following them out on the porch where it seemed to him that all the people had turned to stare after Cody yelled Kali’s name. “Well, I guess it’s time to meet your neighbors.”
“So it would seem,” Kali scowled before Cody ran up to her and pulled on the slacks that she was wearing. Bending, she stared at the little boy who was smiling. “I was wondering if you could help me here. It seems that you know everybody.”
Cody nodded eagerly before Kali straightened and took his hand. “Everybody,” he mumbled the word and looked very pleased with himself. “I take you to the good people.”
“Are there some bad ones, Cody?” Kali tried not to laugh at how serious Cody had become.
“I don’t like Lily.” He stated flatly pointing the where Scott was standing. “She’s awful.”
“I see, and which one is she?”
“The one that’s flirting with Scott,” Brandi answered for her grandson. “She’s always had a crush on my son, but Scott doesn’t return the favor. He might flirt with her while she’s with one of his friends.”
“A crush? Are you sure that’s all it is?” George had watched with amusement while Scott kept stepping away from Lily. “I don’t know about that. It seems serious on her part.”
“She’s not my friend.” Cody stated before he stepped up to his aunt. “Shannie tell you.”
“Shannie tell who what?” Shannon asked before bending to pick him up. “Tell me, Cody, or the tickle monster will come out to play.”
Kali watched Shannon’s face freeze while she placed Cody back on the ground in front of her.
“Maybe later, Cody.” Shannon felt her boyfriend wrap his arms around her while they stood there. “Where are my manners? Kali, this is Craig, the town’s district attorney and the love of my life. Craig, this is Kali, the long-lost granddaughter of Kaylinda’s.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kali. I’ve heard a few rumors floating around that you were a hermit.”
“That would be the best way to describe me.”
“Knock it off, Kali. That was just the way you were raised. Only you can define the person that you’re meant to be in the future.” George waved at Scott and walked away in hopes of rescuing the man from Cody’s sworn enemy.
Kali watched him, trying to swallow the panic while Brandi and Dee stood with her.
Shannon glanced at her and shook her head thinking that taking Kali’s mind from the people milling around would be a great idea. “I told Scott that Lily would never take him seriously if he kept flirting back with her. He’s afraid that he’ll hurt her feelings if he tells her to get lost.”
“I think we’ve all told him.” Brandi added glancing towards Scott, who was staring in their direction. “I don’t understand why Cody would despise her so much at his age.”
Craig studied Kali, smirking before adding to the conversation. “Cody seems to like you just fine, Kali. Maybe Scott should hook up with you.”
“Hook up?” Kali turned to him puzzled. “Excuse me, but I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Kali was very sheltered, Craig.” Dee chuckled. “I’m sure that she’ll learn a lot now that she’s home.”
“Just how sheltered?” Craig asked with amusement.
“Oh, let’s just say that Cody might be above her with the social lingo.” Brandi answered remembering Kali’s reaction when she had informed her that somebody was crushing on her.
“I think, Kali,” Shannon patted Craig’s hands which were resting on her abdomen, “that Craig thinks that you and Scott would make a cute couple.”
Kali frowned and then remembered that she was still holding Cody’s hand. “It’s not an option,” she mumbled before meeting Scott’s stare. “I’m not even sure that I’m going to stay here.”
“You hafta stay,” Cody almost shouted. “Please!”
“I wouldn’t dare argue with him now,” Dee noticed that Cody was becoming agitated and had withdrawn his hand from Kali’s. “He’ll make a scene and have Scott over here in a New York minute.”
Kali’s panic grew while strangers started emerging on the area where she was standing with Scott’s family. “Maybe he should make a scene.” She mumbled the statement while feeling very uncomfortable.
“You would want Scott to come over here?” Craig asked feeling a shove from behind him. “Why?”
Scott had already emerged from the crowd and stared at Kali. “That’s a good question. I’d love to know the answer to that and for the reason why Cody looks like he’s about to cry. Do you have one, Kali?”
He narrowed his eyes and grabbed her hand pulling her away from the crowd. “Okay, I’ve pulled you from the hornet’s nest, now I want an answer. What did you do to my son?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t believe you.” Scott kept his back to the crowd of well-wishers and focused on her. “I’m waiting.”
“I’m telling you that I didn’t do anything.” Kali repeated herself and inhaled sharply. “It was something I said, but I had no idea that he would get upset about me leaving.”
“And why wouldn’t he?” Scott tilted his head before smiling. “Cody likes you. Anybody with two eyes in their head can see that. I get it, Kali.” He informed her before motioning to the people that were walking up to them to stand back. “You’re uncomfortable; heck, you might even be downright scared with all of these people trying to talk to you. However, this is real life, and there’s no escaping every time you feel. . .”
“Like I’m going to go crazy if I’m not left alone? I already do, but thanks for letting me know that I can’t escape that. Where is George?”
“He is entertaining Lily.” Scott chuckled. “He’s a good guy, Kali. I was ready to hate him.”
“Yes, George is a good guy.” Kali agreed. “And he would understand that I need to get out of this crowd.”
“What? Has Cody influenced you already about whom to like and not to like?”
“I was just wondering.”
“Why? Kali, why were you wondering?”
“I just thought that if you knew Cody didn’t like her that you wouldn’t hang around her when he was around. That’s all.”
“He has influenced you. Cody has a great instinct about people.”
“But you don’t.”
“I like you alright.”
“You shouldn’t.” Kali retorted. “I’ll probably end up selling this farm.”
“Now that would be a shame,” Scott placed his hands on her shoulder. “I want you to look as far you can see in any direction. What do you see?”
“Right, and not a soul that lives anywhere close to you except for me. Honey, if you want seclusion, this is the place to be.” Scott didn’t remove his hands thinking that Kali didn’t mind the contact. “I can keep farming the land for you if you want, and Cody wouldn’t mind it a bit.”
Kali finally shrugged her shoulders and let him know that she wanted him to remove his hands. “Is this about you and Cody? What scares you about me selling?”
“That they might rezone Kaylinda’s home into a housing development or businesses. That you might not discover how happy that you could be here. There’re a lot of things that worry me about you placing the farm on the market. The main reason is that Kaylinda wanted for you to live here and to know that. . .”
Cody ran over to them and hugged Kali’s legs. “You can be my mommy.”
Kali raised her eyes and stared at Scott. “I think that your son has jumped the gun, Scott. You should probably straighten that out instead of trying to sell me on staying. I really must go in now.”
“Wait a ding dang minute, Kali.” Scott grabbed her hand and stared at her hard. “I haven’t once said it was about me or Cody, and what he said, caught me off guard as much as it did you, but this is your farm now. I guess you can do whatever you want, but I should tell you that moving on is going to be the worst mistake you ever made.”
“I’m allowed a lifetime of mistakes, Scott. I won’t have any regrets.”
“You will.” Scott informed her while watching Cody run off to Brandi again. “You have no idea what’s in the next town or the closest city. George pointed out the guy who had manhandled you to me earlier. There are going to be more of those people. People that will take advantage of you just as soon as be your friend. What Samantha did to you was wrong; book learning won’t prepare you for what you’re about to see or experience.”
“Don’t you think that I should allow myself the luxury of learning that on my own?”
“You should; I agree.” Scott answered. “But I think that you’d be better off learning it at a slow pace. A pace that you can obtain here.”
“Why are you acting like you care?”
“Because I do. Because from the minute I saw you, you grabbed a little piece of me.” Scott admitted. “And after I found out who you really were, I became fascinated. Kaylinda had talked so much about you. The way she imagined that you would’ve turned out. We’d sit for hours and listen to what she wanted for you.”
“Kaylinda didn’t know me.”
“Oh, but she wanted to; I want to know you.” Scott stepped closer to her. “Friends?”
“If I stay, you have to teach me about farming.”
“Darling, I’ll teach you anything that you want to learn. Anything.” Scott couldn’t understand why he was focusing on her mouth while he answered her. “All you have to do is say the word, and I’m there.”
She kept walking not wanting to take the time to offer greetings or salutations.
“You are Melissa Southern- right?”
Melissa turned at the mention of her maiden name. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not, but then you don’t remember me.”
“Look,” Melissa held her purse tighter not wanting to admit that she actually did remember him. “I have an interview and. . .It’s not Southern anymore.”
Melissa stared at the man that was talking to her, slowly nodding and shaking her head at the same time. “I hafta to go; it was nice running into you, umm. I’m sorry; I don’t recollect your name.”
“That’s a shocker,” The smile brightened his face while he stood just a few paces away from her. “It’s Paul. I was working on my internship when you started school.”
“Umm,” Melissa glanced at her watch. “Yeah, I have to go, Paul.”
Paul glanced over Melissa’s shoulder and smiled. “You’re in good hands, Melissa.” Smiling he waved at the woman that was standing behind Melissa.
“Well, stranger. I was wondering about you this past week.” Claire Hopkins motioned for Melissa to join her and waited until Melissa was in the office before closing the door. “You know good nurses are really hard to find; especially with your ethics.”
“Doctor Hopkins, what are my chances here?” Melissa sat down in one of the chairs across from her but never made eye contact.
“Melissa, we used to be friends before,” she paused, shaking her head slowly, “call me, Claire. You know the drill, you have three interviews and hopefully we can place you. Now I expect I remember your work from before when you worked here. Now that is over, I want to know what’s been happening with you. It has been about two months since I’ve talked to you last. How are Richard and the girls?”
Melissa stared at her without saying a word. Thoughts about the girls saddened her, and she knew that she wouldn’t be able to hide that from Claire.
“Melissa, did something happen?” Claire pushed away from where she had been writing notes and stood. “I know that Richie’s disappearance was bound to put some stress on the marriage.”
Melissa squirmed in her seat under the older woman’s scrutinizing stare. “I don’t think that I would want to talk about that.”
Claire continued to study Melissa before she sat down beside her. Her gray eyes showed a storm of stress, and the black circle under her eyes told the tale of sleepless nights. She had lost weight, not to the point to where she looked sick. Claire actually thought it was flattering. “Something happened and I thought that I was a friend. Are you going to tell me or what? He left. Hey, I think that’s great news.”
“You deserved better than Mr. Know it All. He didn’t listen to anybody and always treated you like the dirt he walked on. Don’t you try to tell me any different, Melissa. I’ve watched you for the past ten years. I saw the change.” She smirked at the startled stare before she continued. “You can’t hide everything, girlie, especially from an old battle ax like myself.”
“I never told you about how he treated me.”
Claire reached out and took Melissa’s hand. “You didn’t have to, Melissa. Even your mother was worried.”
Melissa stood quickly and pulled her hand away. “You’ve been talking to my mother? About me?”
“Your father was a patient here, so, yes, I talked to her out of respect for you.” Claire pointed towards the chair. “We still have about fifteen minutes left for this interview.”
“He took the girls.” It was spoken in a barely audible whisper.
Claire raised her eyes. “Like he hasn’t put you through a lot of crap before now.”
“I can handle it as long as I can get a job.”
“You need money? Your husband is a CEO bringing in the big bucks.”
“I know that.”
“Dear, if you need help, you come to me.” Claire stood and shook her head. “I’ll have to mention this to Paul. Maybe if. . .”
“You seem to have made an impression on him. Not many people that walk in this office grab his attention. Always in a rush, but he stopped to talk to you. How do you know him?”
“He knew you.”
“So he said, but I can assure that I’ve never talked to him before today.” It wasn’t a lie, Melissa thought.
“He’s a great guy; one that I would want in my corner. Actually, he is in my corner.” Claire smirked while walking to the other side of her desk. “Not that bad to look at either.”
“I guess not.” Melissa asked relieved that the conversation was away from her.
“Thought about setting him up with my daughter, but after seeing the way he. . .” Claire twisted her lips without completing the sentence. “I’ll arrange for your next interview in a couple of days.”
Melissa narrowed her eyes before straightening. “I’d like that, Claire.”
Claire watched Melissa walk to the door. “Melissa, hon, do yourself a favor and try to get some rest. Maybe, it would help if you would see your doctor so that he can prescribe a sleeping pill.”
“That won’t be necessary. Really.” Melissa opened the door and stepped out to see that Paul was standing at a desk talking to several of the nurses. She nodded and walked out of the office without speaking and certainly not letting on that she remembered him.
Reese woke up the next morning; moaning from the headache that had exploded the minute she opened her eyes. She glanced around her, frowning as she thought she had been in a hotel room. She sat up in the tent and heard whistling just outside the nylon walls.
Lowering the zipper, she crawled out of the tent in enough time to see Bo walking away. She grabbed her tennis shoes and zipped the tent back up. She looked towards where she had seen Bo, and took off in the opposite direction. Hopefully, Bo wouldn’t realize that she had left.
She saw the hotel that they had stayed at the day before and ran into the building. “I need to make a phone call.” She managed to say in between the deep breaths that she was consuming, “Please.”
“Reese Carter?” The attendant asked looking at her puzzled. “Crap. Follow me now.” He urged her into a room that had Manager engraved on the door. “I’m leaving you in good hands. I’m going back out to tend to the desk. Hopefully, nobody else noticed you.”
“Miss Carter, would you care for something to drink?” The manager asked before he picked up a paper and called the number. “Anything you want.”
“A cup of coffee would be nice.” She finally spoke calmly. Reese looked down in her hands and noticed that she was still carrying her shoes. She closed her eyes tightly. “Sir, I don’t want him to find me.”
“We are high in keeping confidences.” Glen Gardens smiled before he handed her the cup of coffee. “You’re brothers are on the way as we speak.”
She smiled with relieve as she listened. “Thank God!”
“And there is somebody else.” The manager studied her face. “I believe the young man that you painted last night.”
“Somebody found it.” She murmured.
“They did.” He noticed that Reese was starting to relax. “They wanted to give it to you, but not until they fix it up. It seems to have sustained a little damage on the way down.”
“They can have it.” Reese smiled happily for the first time since Bo had held the pistol to her at Janice’s birthday party.
“Not until I see it,” Tyler said as he walked in the door. He was surprised when Reese jumped up and ran into his arms. “I. . .”
Reese hugged him before she saw her brothers standing behind him. The sigh could be heard by all of them. Tyler released her so that she could hug both of her brothers. “I want to go home now.” She whispered stepping away from Reed. She looked over at Anakin puzzled. “Have we met?”
“I’m Trisha’s fiancé.” Anakin answered as he walked completely into the office. “I’ll put a call into the pilot, and we can all go home.”
“I think he has more diamonds hidden here.” Reese sat down and placed the tennis shoes on her feet. “The dulcimer?”
“Diamonds and money,” Ridge answered. “We turned them in when we found them.”
“We want to thank you for leaving clues, Reese.” Anakin walked over to the chair where she was sitting and knelt in front of her. “It would’ve been a lot harder if it weren’t for those notes.”
“You’re just not Trisha’s fiancé. Are you?” Reese studied him after Ridge stepped up beside her.
“I’m also a FBI agent.” Anakin answered her honestly. “The director was surprised when I told him about what was going on after I was released from the restaurant.”
“We never went into the office.” Reese mumbled as she stood.
“We can talk about this later.” Tyler had been studying her the whole time wondering if Bo had laid a hand on her. “Married?” He lifted her hand upwards and frowned at the ring. “For somebody that made his life stealing diamonds, he went a little skimpy there.”
Reese pulled the ring off and handed it to Anakin. “I don’t think I want this.” She had tears in her eyes as she glanced back at Tyler. “When we get home, I need to talk to you.” She walked off to the private restroom in the manager’s office.