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***Part One***
Word Count: 1,833

He hated his job. He hated that he couldn't find anything worthwhile to do other than what he'd always been used for by his father. The muscle. He supposed there was some consolation in that he wasn't working the door, but was instead the one on the inside that oversaw everything.

It hadn't bothered him so much, working as head bouncer of a club, until he'd gone to LA this last time to see Matty. His friend was doing it. He'd gotten out. He left New York, gone to LA, gotten his dream job as a sports agent, and was married to someone who seemed decent despite Taylor's initial misgivings about her. Matty had gotten the life away from Benny Chains and his childhood he'd wanted for years.

Taylor wanted that, too. Seeing Matty able to not only pull it off but get a girl on top of it made him want it more. Not that Taylor had any desire to settle down just yet, being afraid of having too much of his old man in him wasn't even the reason. This was New York, there were far too many women he'd yet to lay eyes on. Seeing that it was possible, though, was inspiring.

They'd talked heavily about Taylor boxing on this last trip, something Taylor had given thought to before. He certainly had the experience even if his fights weren't in a ring. Matty would represent his life-long friend if it ever got to that point. So far, all Taylor had gotten was into the ring for sparring. It paid diddly squat, but he was getting some attention. It would take time, but he hoped that someone would see him and think he was worth the effort.

Until then, he continued working at the stupid nightclub. Fortunately, he didn't have to count pennies or worry about starving. Benny DeMaret made sure that he was taken care of, taking it somewhat personally that Taylor's father and Benny's trusted man, Teddy Deserve, had not been the man he thought. Most of the money had gone to Taylor's mom, but he kept some of it for himself. And Teddy's house. He had to keep a roof over his head, food on his table and keep up on his workouts if he was actually going to make a go at boxing.

Taylor imagined it was a payoff, too, for the fact that Matty was the one who took his father out. No charges had ever been filed or anything, but there wasn't anyone connected to Benny Chains who didn't know that his son had finally shown he had the cajones to maybe be a boss.

Taylor had been there when it went down, knew Matty had no choice. Only one of them was going to walk away alive that night. While Teddy had been his father, theirs had not been a loving relationship. So, if Taylor had to choose between his long-time friend he knew he could count on no matter what or the father who paid attention to him only when a job required him to. Well, Taylor would choose Matty every time. No doubts, no second thoughts, no thinking back wishing things had turned out differently.

Teddy had underestimated Matty. He always had. And it was that underestimation that had cost him his life. Matty had more of his father in him than most people realized. He just knew how to control it. And wanted to control it. Taylor was the only one who knew that it was not difficult for Matty to walk away from his father's offer. Oh, he didn't doubt that it wasn't tempting for a minute there. Finally, Matty had not just his father's attention. He had earned his father's respect. Everyone's respect.

It had taken Matty a while to get his act together after Montana. Their friend Chris getting back in probably didn't help matters. He'd floundered in New York for longer than he probably should have, finally getting the idea to head west to sunnier pastures. One where the strong arm of his father's name, and the business associated with that name, weren't so commonly known.

"Oops, sorry," said one of the women in a group near the entrance. She bumped into him deliberately as far as he could tell. That happened to him a fair amount. Sometimes it was on the hope he would be distracted enough by some T&A not to card them. Not the case here as she and her group were clearly over the club's eighteen age limit for tonight. Other times, like this one, it was an invitation. Tonight, though, he wasn't really in the mood to take her up on her unspoken offer.

"No problem," he said with a nod, not hiding the fact that checking her out was the furthest thing from his mind. He pointed at the doorman who would check their IDs and let them get on with their night.

"He's so big," she said to the friend next to her. Apparently, she didn't realize he was right in front of her, and therefore heard her. She and her friend broke into a giggling frenzy and he merely rolled his eyes, stepping out of their way.

Judging by the looks of her party, it was a bachelorette party. Good for them. He knew there were a few guys in the club who would ensure they didn't spend a dime on drinks that evening.

Back inside the club now that it was closing in on capacity, he crossed his arms in front of his chest, watching as the crowd pulsed in and out of the club. It was early in the evening, so not much call for him to run interference yet. As the night wore on and the customers who could got drunker and stupider, that was when what the club paid him for would come into play. It was rare one of the underage customers got drunk, but it happened. A legal friend sharing their drinks when they knew better.

It was the only thing he hated about a club that allowed people in who were younger than the drinking age. Thankfully, it wasn't every night they were allowed in, just certain nights with live music by bands the club's owners knew would draw the college aged crowd.

He felt his phone vibrate, indicating a call. He slid it out of his pocket just enough to see who was calling.

'Speak of the devil,' he said with as close to a smile as Taylor ever got.

"I'm going to go do a quick check outside," he said to the doorman who gave a quick nod of his head in response. These all ages nights weren't a pain in the ass to just him. If someone underage got in and got a hold of alcohol the club could be shut down. So everyone had to be extra careful to do their job.

He didn't always do this, as the management wasn't as concerned with what happened outside the club. However, there was an alley that ran alongside it that attracted all sorts of people that had no business being back there. Drug dealers looking to unload some product. Whores looking to score with someone who hadn't gotten lucky inside. And morons who thought it was a good idea to take the chick they'd picked up in the club out to the alley and have a go against a brick wall where a homeless person had pissed not ten minutes previous.

Taylor had seen it all, and more. He'd done some of it himself. He didn't always say no or feign cluelessness as to their intent to girls that came onto him.

"Hey," he said into the phone once he knew he could hear.

'You working?'

"If you want to call it that. Yes. Nothing going on, but the night's still young so who knows what it might bring. There's a bachelorette party, so I'm sure someone will see just how far the bride-to-be is willing to go."

Matty laughed.

'See, that's why eloping is the way to go, you don't have to worry about things like that.'

"Yeah, well, I'm not sure too many people would agree that the way you went is the right one."

'It's worked out.'

"For you."

'Yes, well, no one else matters as far as I'm concerned.'

"So, what's up?"

'Do me a favor, will you?'

"I can try," he said, not knowing what kind of favor Matty would need him to do this time of night. And with the distance between them.

'I was talking to Pop earlier.'

"You need me to go check on him?" Taylor frowned. The old man wasn't that old.

'No, just give Pop a call tomorrow.'

"Matty. Why would I do that?"

'Listen, man, I think you want to hear him out on this. I'm calling you about it, aren't I?'

"I'm not going there, Matty."

Taylor kept waiting for Benny Demaret to ask him to do the things he'd done for his father. So far, he hadn't, but Taylor didn't have faith the man would leave him alone forever. Especially if he knew that Taylor was stuck working dead-end jobs as he was now.

'I'm asking you. As your friend. Call him and just hear him out. All right? I wouldn't call, wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was worth your while.'

"All right, but I make no promises I'm going to do what he asks."

'I know. And he knows. Just call him. What do you have to lose? You know?'

"Yeah, I hear ya."

'Okay, good. Call me after.'

"Later," Taylor said, ending the call and ducking back into the club, hoping he wasn't missed.

He was curious enough to contemplate calling Benny tonight, but it was too late. Waking the old man would piss him off, and that was the last thing Taylor needed. Matty had piqued his curiosity, though. Matty was right. He wouldn't approach him about calling his dad unless it was something he thought Taylor would do.

Did Benny have something legitimate for Taylor to do?

Nah. He would have offered it to him before now if that were the case.

At least Taylor thought he would have. Who knew how Matty's dad thought. There were times Taylor thought he wasn't altogether there in the head. Matty had said so himself in not so many words. That had been his first thought when Matty told him to call his father, that he'd done something or was behaving somehow oddly even for him.

He pushed Benny out of his head for the rest of the night. There was nothing he could do about it now, and being distracted could get him in trouble. Or hurt. The club was more upscale than most, but that didn't mean that the customers were all upscale.

And with a bachelorette party thrown into the mix, things could get out of hand pretty quickly.

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***Part Two***
Word Count: 2,413

Taylor wasn't sure how it happened. He'd gone to Benny's house intent on saying no to whatever Matty's father had up his sleeve to reel Taylor into the game. The man was difficult to say no to, he'd gotten Chris to come back after what happened in Montana. Taylor was determined to stay out he'd worked too hard to do anything else.

That wasn't what Benny had wanted, though. Or at least as far as Taylor could tell it wasn't. He supposed there was a taint to the silver lining that was the job Benny helped him get, but he couldn't see it. He'd looked pretty damned hard before picking up the phone to call the senator Benny referred him to.

He'd given notice to the club with the senator's assurance that they could work around his schedule until the two weeks were up. Taylor wasn't in a position to walk away from jobs with bad references. He didn't have a whole lot to spare. His resume was ready for a little boost, and this gig would give him one. Big time. However, should something fall through, the relationship not work out, he wanted to be able to slide back into his old position if need be. A whiff of the senator being corrupt would send Taylor packing immediately.

He hoped that wouldn't be necessary.

He was bodyguard to a senator now. One that wasn't on the take. He'd been suspicious of that at first. That Nathan Petrelli was one of Benny's greased palms. Benny assured him that even though Daniel Linderman was dead, the Petrelli's were off-limits to any other families. He wasn't sure if that meant the Petrelli's had at one time been on the take. It really didn't matter, so long as the senator was clean.

So, here he was, starting his first day - night actually - as the man paid to take a bullet for someone he barely knew. He'd agreed to stay at the Petrelli's house. The apartment in the house was smaller than what Taylor was used to now that he'd been living in his father's house. The senator didn't know that and Taylor would never say anything. Of course, compared to the apartment he'd had up until Teddy's death this place was luxurious.

He'd had his own apartment, which he ended his lease after Teddy died since it was a month-to-month deal anyway. The house provided more than adequate amounts of space for anything he could possibly want or need to do. Even better, he had no payments on the house. He didn't actually like living there. It wasn't his house, always as a child he'd felt like he was on the wrong side of things. A visitor to his father's house, catching glimpses of what he should have had but Teddy never saw fit to give him because his mother was a Jew. Eventually, he'd change things, make it his house. He was in no hurry, though.

He'd sent a car over earlier with the stuff he'd need. He hadn't sent everything, but the stuff he used every day was here. He'd see what else he needed as he went along because he wasn't sure how well suited he was going to be for this type of work. He liked being able to come home after work, have a beer, watch some TV, maybe entertain a woman.

Judging by this place, though, having his own space wasn't going to be an issue. It wasn't as impressive as Matty's dad's house or Teddy's house. But it was nothing to sneeze at either. And he doubted he'd be bothered, tucked in a portion of the house he was sure no one who mattered walked around in.


Claire was on her way upstairs to change for her night out when she heard the doorbell.

"Got it," she called out, saving someone else the effort since she was already by the door.

She opened it, staring for a moment certain that she was seeing a ghost. Perhaps she should have let someone else get it after all. This was so not good. How had he found her? And why now? Here? He couldn't have confronted her at school or something?

"Oh God," she whispered. Suddenly, she felt ill, violently so. As if everything she'd eaten for lunch was going to come back up.

"Uh, not quite. I'm looking for Senator Petrelli."

He didn't hide the fact that he was checking her out. She did the same in return, as he hadn't been in such nice clothes the last time she'd seen him. He'd liked what he'd seen once before. So had she for that matter. She wondered briefly if he did today, too, because she once again thought he was pretty hot. Then she chastised herself for thinking like that. He'd asked for Nathan, which made no sense at all. What was he going to do? Tell on her to Nathan months after the fact?

"You're here to see Nathan?" she asked, confused.

She noticed his arched eyebrow at her question. He probably wondered why he had her so flustered.

"Yes, he in? Or did I get the time wrong? He's expecting me."

"No, no, he's here," she said. "Come in."

What she wanted to do was slam the door in his face. Why was he here to see Nathan? It couldn't be a coincidence. Could it? Was he going to try to blackmail Nathan or something? She didn't think Nathan would take this guy's word over hers, but she imagined if it meant a scandal he just might.

"You all right?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah, sorry. I'll get him. Who are you?"

He chuckled. "Obviously, you're not part of his staff."

"No," she said. "Not hardly. And you are?" she asked again.

"Just tell him it's Taylor."

"All right," she said. "Have a seat," she added, pointing to the living room. "I'll get him."


She turned quickly, unable to get out of the foyer fast enough. She paused at the door to Nathan's office, collecting herself. He'd be full of questions if he saw how flustered she was. Their relationship wasn't the closest, but he was intuitive at times when she wished he wasn't. Like just seeing the last guy on earth she ever thought she'd run into again. And her house of all places.

"Nathan," she said, knocking on the door. She opened it when she heard him tell her to come in. "Taylor is here."

"Oh right. I'll be out in a minute."

"Okay," she said, pausing at the door before leaving again. "Who is he?"

"I hired him."

"You did what?" she asked.

"He comes highly recommended."

"What did you hire him for?"

"Protection, Claire. I have to take the threats seriously even if there aren't many. And, unlike you, I'm not invulnerable."

"Oh," she said. "Okay, that makes sense I guess."

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, fine, it's just been a long day. You know?"

"All right. You could stay home and get some rest. Or maybe you need something to eat? I'm sure Carla would make you a plate."

"No, I'm fine. I'll be in my room."

"Okay," he said. "So, you are going out tonight?"

"Yeah, I was on my way up to get changed when he rang the bell."

"Oh, well, it wouldn't kill you to stay home and rest if you aren't feeling well."

As if. She wished she could feel sick. Obviously, Nathan was distracted for him not to realize that Claire didn't have the luxury of not feeling well. No sick days from school for her! One of her friends just last week made the suggestion they all feign being sick and spend the day shopping while their parents were off doing whatever. Claire couldn't join in because she had no way of faking Nathan out.

"Yeah, thanks, I don't think I'll change my plans, though."

"All right. I'll be right out, just finishing something up here."

She made her way back to the living room, barely stepping into the room.

"Nathan will be with you in a minute."

"Thanks," he said.

He'd stood when she opened the doors. Not for her benefit, surely. He was trying to impress Senator Petrelli. Nathan had hired him! That meant she'd see him, and while he didn't seem to recognize her today she imagined that could change. She fled up the stairs to her room as fast as her legs would carry her. She so didn't want to be around him when - if - he remembered her.


Three Months Ago

Adam dropped the bombshell on her that her ability encompassed so much more than just being able to heal.

She wouldn't age.

She wouldn't die.

She could heal others with her blood.

She'd been on a bit of a self-destructive binge since the news. She experimented with all sorts of things like drinking excessively (only to discover she couldn't get drunk for more than a few minutes), trying to see if anything she did to herself would alter her somehow (it never did). She'd gone to a hospital's burn unit - with Peter's help - to see just what her blood would do.

Tonight, she experimented with casual sex. Oh, she'd made him wear a condom just because that's what you did when you picked up a guy in a bar. He didn't know she couldn't catch or carry any diseases.

Her legs were wrapped around the waist of a guy she didn't know. He was cute and receptive. Others had been, too, but they were drunk. He was not. Plus, well, he was hot.

Him thrusting deeply into her again and again caused the wall to mark up her back terribly. Of course, there'd be no evidence of that when they were done. The bar's storeroom was fairly dark. Not perhaps the usual place someone would choose for their first time. Claire wasn't out for romance or flowers. She wanted something real, something to prove she was as human as the next girl. She wanted to feel what any other girl would just once.

And he was giving her that. She felt everything. Things he was doing to her. The way his body felt under her hands and around her legs as he squeezed them around his waist. Maybe she was feeling too much.

She felt amazing. It was the most she'd felt since coming to grips with the fact that Adam might just know what he was talking about. She didn't want to believe him, but he was like her so had to know. And she'd hold onto this feeling for tomorrow morning when she woke up wondering what she'd done.

His hands at her hips were gripping her hard enough to leave bruises. Still she cried out, begged him for more. Harder. Deeper. Whatever he could give her she wanted. That's why she'd chosen him. She knew he would push her limits and not try to make this into something it wasn't.

A knock made him pause and she whimpered, biting onto his shoulder to muffle any sound. She was disappointed that the pleasantly painful assault on her body stopped. Even if it was only for a minute, and that was all he stopped for.

Another knock, followed by, 'Reese,' a voice on the other side of the door said.

"Shit man, I'm kinda busy in here, what?" he said, not bothering to stop thrusting into her. He was a big guy, strong and seemed to get off on the fact that she could take him not just all the way inside of her but as hard as he was able to give.

'You're needed out here, man.'

"No one else can handle it?"

'Uh, no. Not anymore.'

"You can't give me a few more minutes?"

"I waited as long as I could."

"Fuck me," he said, sliding his hands from her hips to her waist. Steadying her, he eased himself out of her. She felt an emptiness after that. She wasn't sure if that was normal or just because he was - from what she could tell anyway- a large guy in all respects.

"I'll be back as soon as I can to finish this. No one will bother you in here."

"Okay," she'd said, having no intentions of waiting for him. Picking him up, inviting him to take her here had been spontaneous. Waiting for him, being here when he got back would take that away from her.

She'd left, going out a backdoor not caring if she set off a fire alarm and hadn't looked back.

That had been her first - and last - experiment with not just casual sex but sex in general. She'd woken up the next morning feeling all sorts of things. Dirty and excited were among those feelings, yet her body felt no different than it had the night before. She suspected were she to go out that night it would be her first time all over again.

Adam must have suspected what she'd been doing. Not the sex necessarily, but in a general sense. He'd taken her aside not too long after that night and talked to her. He made her realize she couldn't draw any more attention to herself than she would naturally. He'd told her The Company would be more than interested in keeping her locked up since he'd escaped. And he didn't want her locked up anymore than she or her fathers did.

She'd stopped experimenting - or being wild as Nathan called it - from that point forward and had been living a pretty straight and narrow life since. School, friends, movies, the occasional club (avoiding the one where she'd seen him), and talking on the phone. She didn't want to get caught. She didn't want to stand out if she could avoid it.

And now he was here, in her house, and would be from the way it appeared every day. Thank God he didn't seem to recognize her. There was that. The last thing she needed was him telling Nathan what she'd done.

She let her head fall into her hands, walking to her bed and dropping onto it bonelessly.

What if he did remember? What if he was just being cool about it to see if she remembered? To see if she'd say something first?

"Oh God," she said for the second time that day.

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***Part Three***
Word Count: 2,584

Needless to say, she avoided the house as much as she could. She went to friends houses after school instead of coming home. She did her homework at the school's library, a coffee shop, or on a park bench if the weather was decent enough to allow it. She took advantage of living in New York and all the opportunities that gave her.

If Nathan was home and she happened to be as well, she made herself scarce. It was cowardly, she knew that, but she couldn't help it. She'd done a lot of crazy things during the couple of weeks from when Adam told her the truth about her ability and when she'd had random sex with her biological father's bodyguard in a storage room.

She'd never come face to face with anybody she'd encountered during that time. This was New York City. What were the odds? She should have known better.

She got a text message from Adam saying he was pulling onto the driveway. She threw her leather coat on and grabbed her purse. She shut the light off before heading downstairs. She had no idea what exactly they were doing, but she didn't care. So long as it got her out of the house until after Nathan went to sleep that was all she cared about.

"Not so fast," Nathan said.

Damn. What was the point in living in a house this size if she couldn't get out the door without being seen?

"Yes," she said, turning to face him.

"Where are you off to?"

"Just out with Adam."

"You've been seeing a lot of him lately."

There was a reason for that. He knew her secrets. All of them, including exactly who Nathan's bodyguard was. She hadn't meant to tell him about that night and certainly hadn't right away. He had a way, though, of getting her to talk. To say things she wouldn't say to anyone else. A partner in crime. He'd even gotten her a fake ID so that they could go anywhere. She hadn't wanted it at first, but as he reasoned she was going to look this age for the rest of her life so may as well get into the places now that will always card her. She'd call him a best friend except he would be extremely insulted to rate such a moniker from her.

"It's nothing."

"Are you sure?"


"Just making sure I don't have to talk to him."

"About?" He gave her a knowing glance to which she rolled her eyes. "No. He's just a friend. Someone who gets me."

"I don't get you? Peter doesn't get you?"

"It's not the same!"

She glanced behind him, noticing Taylor in the doorway leading to Nathan's office. He had a suit on, one that looked very nice on him. She'd never really taken the time to look at guys in suits before, but she was making a habit of it the few times she saw Taylor and he was dressed that way. Had they just gotten home? If Adam had gotten here ten minutes ago, could she have avoided this conversation entirely?

"No, I suppose it isn't."

"Thank you," she said, glad to hear he was giving in. He didn't usually give her a hard time. Not since that period of time anyway. She'd toned it down and was behaving herself. She was getting A's and B's in her classes. So, he had nothing to fear. From her behavior anyway.

"Where is he taking you?"

"To a movie I think. Something to eat. You know, the usual."

The usual could include a bar, but Nathan didn't know about the ID. Claire hadn't used it without Adam along since that night. She glanced at Taylor, blushing at thinking about it. She hated that he could do that to her. She may have healed the results of that night within a matter of minutes but her mind remembered every last detail.

"He should come to the door," he said, just as a knock came at the door. She smiled, gloating a little and they both knew it.

"It's not a date, but you were saying," she said, opening the door.

"Hi," she said, going up on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss. She was probably giving Taylor a nice view of a lot of leg with the movement but she didn't care.

"You are ready," Adam said, kissing her back and sliding an arm around her waist in the process. He did that a lot. He'd take whatever contact she'd give him and prolong it even if it was only for a second or two. "You didn't answer my message and I didn't see you so wasn't sure."

"I'm ready. Nathan was talking to me."

"Oh," Adam said, taking his eyes off Claire for a moment then. "Senator," Adam said, sounding somewhat respectful. Nathan didn't like Adam hanging around Claire at first. To say the least. She'd had Peter on her side, though, and Nathan had given in.

"Adam," Nathan responded in kind. Looking at them, an outsider like Taylor would never realize that Adam was so much older and experienced than Nathan. Claire wondered sometimes how people missed it, he carried himself in such a way that betrayed the fact he wasn't of this time and place. At least she thought he did. Maybe it was only because she knew his secret.

"So are you ready then?" he asked Claire.

"Yeah, sorry, Nathan was asking me what we were doing."

"Oh, right. You filled him in? Gave him our itinerary?"

"Yup," she said. "Now I'm ready to go have some fun."

"All right," Adam said, moving his hand out from around her waist and sliding it into hers. She took it without hesitation. She liked touching him, though she'd never admit that to him. He'd get all bigheaded about it.

Claire had been told more than once that she and Adam looked good together. She wasn't with him like that for right now. That certainly wasn't his idea. She'd insisted on time and after the threat of sending him away for good he gave in. She probably wouldn't have sent him away for good, as she'd come to realize that he was most likely going to be the one - and only - constant in her life for a very, very long time.

"You take care of my girl."

"I always do," Adam said. In more ways than Nathan probably realized, Claire thought. "Good night, Senator," he added with a slight nod of his head, turning to the door impatiently. He hated having to play nice with Nathan, but he did it understanding it was the way it had to be for now.

"Good night, Nathan," Claire said, drawing the door closed behind them.

Adam opened her door for her, but didn't wait for her to get in before walking to his side. She didn't expect him to so it was fine.

"What was that about?"

"I'm not sure. He doesn't usually get that pushy. That bodyguard was there, lurking in the background. I'm not sure if that had something to do with it."

"He was watching you," Adam said, starting the car.


"No, the bodyguard. What's his name?"

"Taylor," she whispered.

"Why are you afraid to use it?"


"His name, Claire. Don't pretend to be dense."

"I don't know," she said, shrugging as he pulled onto the street. "I just don't want to get used to saying his name."

"You mean you didn't cry it out in a fit of passion that night?"

"No," she said. "I didn't ask." She thought back to the night. "And the guy that came to get him didn't call him Taylor."

"Hmm," Adam said. "Did you cry out anything? Or are you the silent type? Just curious."

"Oh God, can we not talk about it."

"How long has he been working for your father?"

"He's not my father and a week."

"Technicalities, you're here as a result of his sperm so let's not quibble over the details. Especially considering the legality of your adoption may not hold water in court. How often has he seen you?"

"Not very. I try to be elsewhere when they're around. And he's in his apartment when he's at the house a lot of the time."

"I give it a month."

"Give what a month?"

"Before he realizes that he at least knows you."

"Come on. One of the reasons I chose him was because he had a different honey every night."

"So you were told."

"What does that mean?"

"Oh, sweetheart, you shouldn't believe everything you hear. Especially when it comes to a man's sexual prowess."

"Hmm, so all those things you told me about you?"

"That you can believe," he said with a chuckle.

"Just checking."

She let her head fall back against the rest, sighing. "I don't know what I'll do if he remembers."



"He'll remember. You're a hard one to forget."

"You're just saying that because to you, literally, I'm one in a million."

"That may be, but if you described the night to me accurately."

"I did!"

"Claire," he said, setting his hand on her knee. He did that a lot. Touched her. It was almost as if he wanted to reassure himself that she was real. It was probably the reason Nathan was suspicious of Adam, thinking their relationship was more than it was.

Not to say they hadn't kissed, but for now that was all Claire would allow. Well, not quite, they'd done some touching, exploring but always with clothes in the way. She wanted to have a chance at a life before she thought of Adam in a more permanent way. Eventually, she guessed she'd end up with him like that, but she wanted at least one lifetime of being just Claire.

"Yes?" She glanced at him then out of the corner of her eye.

"A guideline. He didn't finish the deal, right?"

"No, we were interrupted."

"He's going to remember."

"Why does that make a difference?"

"A girl who looks like you? And probably felt like you did? If that wasn't incentive in its own right. Not making the necessary deposit when he was primed and ready to do so is bound to leave a lasting memory."

"More than if I'd stuck around and waited for him to come back?"

"I hate to say it, but yes."

"Oh God," she said, closing her eyes.

"Cheer up. You said you enjoyed it."


"When he remembers maybe he'll want to finish what he started months ago."

"You're sick."

"That may be, but I speak the truth."

"It's not going to happen."

"Why not? You picked him for a reason."

"I did not."

"You didn't? Claire. Come now."

"I knew I shouldn't have told you about it."

"That's probably true, but you did and there are no takebacks in the conversations we have. So, you were in a club filled with hundreds of possibilities but you chose him."



She shrugged. "He wasn't drunk."

"That was the only reason?"

"He was nice to look at."

Adam chuckled softly. "You say I'm nice to look at, but you don't fuck me."

"That's different."


"I know you!"

"Pity. I could have Rene come take your memories of me."

"No! And he wouldn't do that anyway."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because he'd be suspicious as to your reasons. Anyone who knows anything about you knows that you wouldn't want me to forget you."

"That may be true. Either way. A month and you'll be calling me asking me what to do because he's figured it out."

"So, tell me what to do now?"


"You're absolutely no help to me at all. Why do I hang around with you?"

"Because I'm so charmingly irresistible you can't tell me to scram."

"That must be it." She laughed. "Can we not talk about him anymore tonight?"

"As thy lady commands."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said, taking hold of her hand. She gave him hers willingly, enjoying the contact knowing there was no expectation of more.


"Who is he?" Taylor asked Nathan once Claire and Adam had left.

"A friend of the family the same as she is."

"Looks like they're cozier than friends."

Nathan shot him a look, telling him plainly to butt out. Only thing, Taylor didn't want to butt out. He wasn't sure why it bothered him to see that guy putting his hand on Claire. And it wasn't as if they were out of control with the touchy feely stuff. She'd kissed him, the guy kissed her, and held her hand as they walked to the door. Nothing bad. He'd certainly seen worse.

All he knew was that it bothered him.

A lot.

He didn't miss the way she'd checked him out just before her friend rang the bell. He'd caught her doing that more than once. She had a way of looking at him, too, that made it seem as if she knew him better than he realized. And that made him wonder about her all the more.

"She's new here, doesn't have a lot of friends. I know she's safe with him."

"Safe with him? He doesn't look like much."

"You'd be surprised," Nathan said.

"Why isn't he where I am then?"

"Because he's not for hire. And you are."

"How new?" Taylor asked.

"Five, six months. Since the election. Why?"

"Just wondering," Taylor said with a shrug. "Are we done for the night?"

"Yes, I think so."

"All right. If you need me just give a call," Taylor said, already making his retreat from Nathan's office. He knew it was unlikely the senator would need him again tonight. Despite the fact his wife and kids weren't staying here he didn't do things that other people in politics engaged in. At least not so far he hadn't. Taylor imagined that could change once he got comfortable having Taylor around to take him places.

"Thank you, Taylor."

"Good night, Senator."

Taylor popped open a beer and sat on his couch, turning on the TV as he loosened the tie from around his neck. He played back his messages as he flipped through the channels, discovering there was nothing on as he slid the tie through his collar and off, draping it over the arm of the couch.

The messages netted him some extra income. A sparring match for the day after tomorrow. He had to clear it with the senator, but didn't see why he couldn't do it since it was in the evening and Taylor didn't think there was anything on the senator's schedule. It'd be good to get in the ring, he hadn't been in a while.

He tried to figure out why Claire Bennet looked so familiar to him. It had been bugging him for a week now. His first day here when she'd opened the door, looking as if she'd seen a ghost. He just took that as fear. He got that reaction sometimes. Not usually when he hadn't done a thing to be scary, but he chalked it up to that.

She'd only been here for six months, so that narrowed it down somewhat. The thing was, she could be anyone. And, really, he had no clue that he actually knew her. She hadn't said anything, but then he hadn't seen her much in the past week either.

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**Part Four**
Word Count: 2,929

It was late and he was tired, but couldn't sleep. The rest of the house evidently had no problems, because all was quiet as he walked through it. Anyone looking at him would probably get the impression he was casing the place. He just didn't look as though he belonged. He was used to that, had felt that way most of his life. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Not that the senator didn't have nice things, but Taylor didn't really pay much attention. He'd grown up surrounded by people who had plenty of nice things.

All quiet inside, doors and windows secured just as they were when he checked them earlier he decided to take a walk outside. He liked being outside, it gave him a sense of freedom that while false he needed. He wasn't really a stay indoors all day long kind of guy. Of course, he supposed, it went with the job he'd agreed to do. And there had so far been lots of staying indoors. Oh, there'd been the occasional press conference, lunch, dinner, and meetings. Still, though, not much with the activity and other than the press conference, all had been indoors. It made him go a little stir crazy.

Always as a kid he, Matty, Chris, and Johnny could be found doing something outdoors. Football, street hockey, getting into trouble, or just walking around. It didn't matter if it was winter or summer, one hundred degrees or twenty below. He and the kids he'd run around with were always outside.

He slid his keys into the front pocket of his jeans as he left through the private entrance to his apartment. There was another entrance that came through the main house, which was the one Taylor used while working. He wasn't working at the moment. He could claim to be doing a check if spotted and asked by anyone, but he was just feeling a little restless.


He wasn't used to having his comings and goings limited. He was someone's hired guy now and this gig was pretty much twenty-four seven. Taylor wasn't sure what he'd do if the job got real involved, but so far he had his nights free to a point and the senator's days didn't begin too early in the morning. The senator believed he was being threatened, and from the letters and messages he'd seen and heard Taylor believed he was right. None of the threats seemed above the usual type of thing someone in his position got, but he understood why the man would take precautions.

He slid his cell phone out of his pocket when he heard the tone that identified Matty as the caller. They hadn't talked for a couple of days. Not that they talked a lot or anything. They checked in with one another to see how the other was doing. Confirmation that they were still doing it, staying out. Both knew how easy it would be to fall back in, they'd seen it firsthand with Chris.

"Hey," he said.

'How's it going?'

"Not too bad. You?"

'Pretty good.'


'I know you just started the job, but if you can get a couple of days off we'd like you to come out here.'


'Yes, we.'

"Hmm, I'm pretty sure it's you wanting me there and the wife going along with the deal."

'No, she's in on the idea, too. Just keep it in mind. We have some things I want to talk to you about.'

"It may be easier for you to fly out here. It may be a while if you're going to wait for me to get time off. It's not like I can put in for time off really."

'Well, we'll come out there if we have to.'

"All right," he said. He paused, seeing headlights approach. He stepped into the shadows a bit, recognizing the car. "Is there something going on?"

'Nothing bad.'

"Okay," he said, though he wasn't sure what to make of that.

Matty wasn't usually secretive. He was, until marrying his wife anyway, about as predictable as they came. He knew it wasn't just the regular sex that changed his friend. There was something about finding it. The one. At least for his friend. Taylor admittedly wondered what that might be like, though for him the way they grew up he had nothing to offer a girl. He carried the stigma of not fully belonging, not being full-blooded Italian. As if that mattered, made him any more or less tough. He was sure that there were some who wondered just how tough he'd be if he was full-blooded, but they were crazy.

He heard the sound of a car door opening and closing. Only one. Interesting.

"Gotta go. I'll let you know what I can swing."

'Okay, man, take it easy.'

"You, too."

Very interesting. Claire's guy didn't strike him as the type to make her walk to the door by herself. If they kissed in front of the senator chances were they did more than that when he wasn't looking. At least in Taylor's experience that was the case.

It was followed not too long after a second car door opening and closing.

Ah, the type to open doors for her. Of course, he should have known.

"You know, you really don't have to walk me to the door," Claire said. "It's not as if I'm going to get mugged between here and the door."

"Well, of course I do, or your father," her father? "would have something to hold against me and could prevent us from seeing one another."

"Not forever," she said softly, her tone not really flirtatious but there was something there. Teasing? Taylor wasn't sure.

"Well, no, not forever, but longer than I'd like."

"Adam," she said.

"Too intense?"

"Yes, I told you. Friends. Friends is the most I can give you."

"For now, and I am willing to live with that," he said and if Taylor knew anything about the way guys worked, he was moving in for a good night kiss.

"Well, yeah. I need to have a life."

"And I've tried explaining to you it's way overrated."

"I understand. I've heard your warnings. But you've had your life, a few of them, and I have to try it. I deserve that much. If you can't give me that, give me space, then go."

"See, and I can't do that."

"Then you have to let me do this."

"Claire," he said, his voice getting softer. "I can't help that I want you. And now that he's around."

"Like it's going to happen again. It's not! You can put off wanting me for a while. I can't do it. I have so much stuff I want to do. Finishing school. A job. A husband. Kids maybe."

"Who will all die! And will hate you while doing so. Do you understand that? The last thing a husband says will be your name, only it won't be as a form of endearment but instead a curse."

"And I want to experience those things. All of them. No matter how much it hurts. I have to. Can't you understand that? You got to."

"No, I don't understand when you can avoid all of it. All of the pain, all of the torment. And children, really, are way overrated."

"Why are you getting so pushy all of the sudden? You agreed, and now you're all in my face, trying to get me to change my mind about things I won't feel differently about anytime soon."

"Because I just want."

"Is there a problem," Taylor said, stepping out of the shadows.

It was a rather odd conversation, but his wasn't the place to judge. He just recognized her voice as not being happy where the conversation was going. He wasn't the type to turn tail and run, leaving a woman in a potentially bad situation.

Both were surprised evidently, judging by the looks on their faces anyway. She looked rather dumbfounded and none too happy. Adam had a different look on his face, though.


Yeah, Taylor got the impression not too many got the jump on this guy. Nathan seemed to think highly of him, and he carried himself in a way that spoke to someone streetwise. Someone Taylor might have a good time having a go at.

"I, uh, no," Claire said.

Adam was standing mighty close to Claire, a hand resting at her hip.

"We're fine, Mr.," he glanced at Claire. "What was his name, sweetheart?"

"Stop calling me that, and you know it's Taylor."

"Ah, yes, of course," he said accompanied by what Taylor thought was a rather mischievous smile. "Mister Taylor. We're fine. Thank you. Run along back to whatever you were doing."

"Adam," Claire said.


"Listen," Taylor said, stepping closer. He didn't appreciate being talked down to as if he was a kid or didn't belong here. "I think it's time for you to go, leave Claire alone. Sounds to me like she's ready to call it a night."

"Taylor, really," Claire said, glancing between the two men.

"Oh, this is priceless," Adam said with a low chuckle. "If only he knew."

"Shut up," Claire hissed.

"I think you've forgotten your assignment, your job, is to protect the senator not Claire."

"Adam," she said again, this time very much sounding like a warning he should heed. He'd heard that tone coming from women before. Never directed at him, but his friends and it was never good.

"Yes, yes, all right," he said, grazing her cheek with a kiss. Ballsy of him, Taylor thought, considering it sounded like they were arguing until he stepped in. "I know when to yield."

"I had fun."

"You always do with me, Claire. Remember that."

"I know," she said, sounding put out by the admission.

"Good night then," he said, walking to his car.

"You okay?" Taylor asked, once Adam had driven away.

"Yeah, fine, sorry if we woke you."

"Nah, I was just walking around and heard you."

"Oh," she said, worrying her lower lip as if she didn't like that idea.

"No big deal. Does he always get like that?"

"No," she said with a frown, glancing in the direction Adam's car had gone. "He's usually fine with the friends thing."

He snorted. "Yeah right."

"I'm sorry?"

"Who'd want to be just friends with you?"

"Uh, is that supposed to be a compliment?"

"I suppose probably not, but speaking as a living, breathing man I can sort of understand why he might be put off by the 'just friends' line. You got someone else you're hooking up with?"

"What? Hooking up? No! I just don't want a relationship with him."

"Something wrong with him? He seems decent enough. Nathan certainly doesn't seem to question you two going out every night."

"We don't go out every night. I have other friends. He just gets me the way not too many other people can."

"So, what's wrong with him?"

"Nothing! He just wants more than I do right now. I still have stuff to deal with. He's done things and I want to do things, too."

"That's the price you pay for getting involved with someone older, but I get it."

She tilted her head a bit. "You do?"

"Well, yeah. I didn't go to college, never will, but we all have things we want to do in life. And if you don't want to do those things attached well then you shouldn't."

"It's not that I don't want to be attached."

"Just not to him?"

"Right," she said.

"I'll pretend to understand."

"Why didn't you go to college?"

"Not smart enough."

"I doubt that. You don't strike me as being dumb."

He shrugged. "Look at what I'm doing for a living. Muscle. I've always been the muscle. Never had much use for my brain. No one else has really either."

"Well, whoever said that is just…stupid."

He chuckled. "Yeah, well. You get told so many times you'll never amount to anything you tend to believe it after a while."

"Who told you that?"

"Never mind, it's not important. You should get inside."

"Are you expecting someone?"


"You're holding your cell phone," she said, gesturing to his hand. "You were out here late, so I'm just wondering if you had someone coming over."

"No, I never asked about having company, but I don't think I'd bring random girls here my first week."

"Someone might sleep with you to get to the senator?"

"You never know, blondie, you never know."

"They'd have to know you work for him."

"You don't think we're visible? This past week, I've been everywhere he has, always around. He doesn't like me hovering he says, which kind of defeats the purpose of having me, but I try and give him space. Still no question I am what I am."

"He really doesn't like having to hire you."

"Why is that?"

"I don't know. Mr. Linderman died and it seems that's when he felt like he was in danger."

"Not too many people in this town will mess with the likes of Linderman, he had good muscle behind him just with that dude's name being spoken in the same paragraph as his."

"You knew him?"

"Sure," he said with a shrug.




He sighed, rolling his eyes a little. He pocketed his cell phone. "I just did. Shouldn't you be going to bed? Don't you have class or a hair appointment to wake up for?"

"Wow. What did I do to deserve that?"

"Nothing. Sorry. I'm just not much of a talker. You know? And I really don't like to talk about my past."

"And Mr. Linderman is somehow connected to your past?" She squinted a little, looking at him. "You worked for the mob?"

He snorted. "I was son of a mobster, had no choice."

"No way."

"Yeah," he said simply. "Way."


"I doubt you'd have heard of the old man, he wasn't very well known, but he worked for Benny Chains."

"Oh wow," she said, not sounding impressed but neither was she disinterested or put off by that admission.

"No big. I'm clean and everything now. That's why I'm here, though Benny hooked me up with the lead."


"Yeah, not sure how he heard the senator was looking, but he gave me quite a glowing recommendation from my understanding."

"Did you deserve it?"

"Yeah, I mean, I'm still alive, standing here to talk to you, so I've done my job right every time."


"Worried about the senator?"

"I worry, yes."

"I think he's okay. I haven't perceived any real threats. No one shows up all of the time to his things or anything."

"Well, he's different."

"Aren't we all?"

She smiled a little. "Yeah, I guess we are."

"Well, I'm going to head in. You should think about doing the same."

"I know. And, Taylor?"



"For what?"

"He wasn't doing anything I couldn't have gotten around and he doesn't worry me, he just gets pushy sometimes and I have to remind him of what we are. He could have been, though, and you stepped in to stop him. You're not paid to protect me."

"Don't have to be paid for that. I'm no saint, but a girl talks the way you were she's pretty serious about the no aspect of things."

"No saint, huh?"

There she went eyeing him again as if she was not just interested but familiar with things she had no business being familiar with when it came to him.

He stepped in closer then, wondering if she liked that idea. Judging by the hint of a smile there, yeah she liked it. Maybe a lot. Interesting. She was a pretty tiny thing, if someone wasn't careful they could hurt her without even meaning to.

"Not at all."

She blushed then, all kinds of color on her cheeks and face with her eyes darkening a little as she focused her attention on his mouth. Anticipating? She was looking very much as if she could picture just how unsaintly he could be. Well, well.

"You'd better get inside," he said, instead of doing what was very much on his mind just then. And that was finding out just how well she kissed. He imagined she did it pretty well, and he had no business wondering that or being interested in that. She was living with his boss, so not the way to keep a job that didn't result in him coming home smelling like liquor every night.

"Right," she said, working the alarm code that would unlock the door for her. He watched as she slipped through the opening, closing it tightly behind her almost too quickly as if she was trying to escape from him. Fat chance that if he really wanted to.

If he hadn't stepped in, stopped some guy from making moves on her maybe he would have gone ahead and done it. It seemed a little classless, even to someone like him who had never been too concerned about things like class in his lifetime.

He made his way back to his apartment, letting himself in. He tossed his key on the kitchen counter, taking out another beer. He hoped there'd be something worth watching on TV. Glancing at his phone, he debated about calling Matty back. He didn't run across women like Claire very often and wasn't sure if he was misreading her signals entirely or what.

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***Part Five***
Word Count: 5,761

He bumped into her two nights later. He was coming back from a night at the gym; she was coming back from being out with the non-boyfriend. He had gotten the night off from the senator who said he had some things to do from his home office anyway. Evidently, the senator wasn't going to begrudge Taylor doing these sparring side jobs from time to time as this was the second one now Taylor had been able to do since working for him.

It wasn't about needing extra money, but ever since Matty had planted the seed in his mind he'd tasted it. Something Taylor Reese could do on his own without the help of Benny Chains, his father or anyone else. If he made it to an actual bout somewhere down the road, it would be through his own effort. His own blood, sweat, and tears will have gotten him there. And that's what Taylor wanted more than anything. He didn't care if he wasn't the next Ali or Tyson, he just wanted to know that whatever he achieved he did it on his own.

Tonight's sparring session had gone well, better than the last one for sure. He'd left that one thinking that he wouldn't be asked back. He hadn't performed awful but he just hadn't delivered his A game, worried in the back of his head that the senator would get offended if he showed up for work the next day battered and bruised.

Tonight he had delivered and then some. He'd exposed some weaknesses of his opponent and with a bout coming up in ten days time he needed those pointed out to him. Taylor hoped that sometime in the next week, he'd be called again to spar. He doubted it would happen, the same dude being asked twice was unlikely. It could happen, though because the fighter's manager seemed to think Taylor had given them some things to work on. Perhaps they'd like to see Taylor again to see if they'd worked those kinks out.

He grimaced when he realized Claire had spotted him as he was going around the house to his apartment. As fitting for someone who spent the night punching and being punched his face was a mess. He held his own well enough, knocking his opponent down (but not out) twice. However, he still looked like he'd been hit in the face a few times.

He hadn't talked to her since that night outside the house when he'd broken up her conversation with Monroe, so he hadn't counted on her following him. She certainly hadn't before now and she'd seen him come and go from his place more than once. He guessed her coming this way meant she'd seen the condition he was in. Other than that night, she hadn't said more than five words to him any other time. He hadn't tried to initiate conversation either because kissing the boss' daughter was far from the way he wanted to lose this job. She certainly hadn't come to see him.

"Are you all right?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, unlocking the door that led to his apartment. He had to admit, he'd purposely been slow about finding his keys. Wondering what she wanted. He was curious about her, this feeling he had that he knew her. And, well, he kind of liked knowing he'd been the reason her date was cut short.

He didn't care what she or the senator said, you go out three or four nights in a row with the same guy, you're on the path to being more than friends. He pushed the door open, pocketing his keys.

"You're not, you're hurt," she said after he flipped the light switch.

"You go to college to learn to be that observant?"

She frowned, worrying her lower lip. "You don't have to be nasty to me. I came to see if you were all right."

"And I said I am."

"Well, you didn't really say that and you don't like fine."

"It's what I do."

"You get beat up?" She glanced behind him then, toward the other door of the apartment that led to the main part of the house. "Is Nathan okay? Did something happen to him?"

"He's fine. I had the night off. He was staying in and I had the opportunity to make some cash and get in some ring time."

"Ring time?"

"Yeah, boxing."

"You're a boxer."

"Trying to be one, yeah."

She tilted her head a little regarding him.

"Did you win?"

He walked toward the kitchen, tossing his keys on the counter there. He needed some ice, and imagined she was going to follow him in. It was in a roundabout way her house so he couldn't really stop her.

"It was just sparring."

"With another fighter?"

As he expected she followed, closing the door behind her.

"Yes, that's usually what sparring is. You and another guy in the ring, beating on one another so you or the other guy can get ready for the upcoming bout scheduled."

"So, did you win?"

"It's not really like that, but no I wouldn't say I won. I got some licks in for sure."

"Does the other guy look worse than you?"

He tried to smile at that, but the split on his lip wouldn't let him do it too easily. And, of course, that led to the cut bleeding again. He wore headgear for most of the night, but it didn't cover every inch of his face and blows still landed even with it on all night.

"Yeah, I guess he did. I knocked him off his feet a couple of times."

"You're supposed to do that, right?"

"Yes," he said. "People think sparring's a breeze, but it's not, you really do have to fight as the opponent they're going to be facing would fight them. I mean, you don't go all out to try and beat the shit out of them or anything, but it's nothing to sneeze at either."

She laid a towel out on the counter and put some ice on it before folding it up and making it into a makeshift ice pack. He tried to ignore the good feeling it gave him to have someone do something for him. He'd never had that. Well, beside his mom, but when he was a kid making his name out in the streets getting his boo boos kissed by his mommy wasn't at all appealing to him. So, he'd foregone such niceties. And had a good number of scars and blemishes to prove it.

"So, bouncer, bodyguard, boxer. You stick with the B jobs, I guess."

He was quiet for a minute, regarding her. He wondered if she had any idea what she'd just said. That he finally had the answer to the question that had been plaguing him for a while now.

"Yeah, I guess," he said, taking the towel from her. He let his hand rest over hers just a little longer than was necessary. In part because he just wanted to and also to see what her reaction would be. She didn't pull it away as if burnt so that was good. She didn't seem to really react, though, so that could potentially be bad. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," she said simply before walking to his bathroom.

"Make yourself at home," he called out with a shake of his head as he set the ice pack over the worst of the bruising.

She came back with some ointment, which he supposed a few of his cuts would probably require. He hated the headgear so tended to take it off after a while so there were some outright cuts aside from his lip.

"You know your way around my place."

"I helped stock it when Nathan said someone would be living here."

"You did? You mean he didn't have servants go out and do it?"

"Well, he would have, but I wanted to do it. I had nothing better to do and I didn't mind. I figured I'd probably stock it from a real person's standpoint better than they would."

"Yeah, you did all right."

"So, are you going to let me put this on you or are you going to be all tough guy?"

"Baby, I am a tough guy. That's what your old man's counting on anyway."

She smiled. "Yeah, yeah. Sit," she said, gesturing to his couch. She dragged the coffee table over so she could sit on it and apply the ointment to the worst of the cuts. There weren't many, most of it was superficial scrapes and bruising.

He was piecing things together now. She was a puzzle because if it weren't for that slip she made a minute ago he really wasn't sure he'd remember. Not that she wasn't memorable, but she didn't really seem like the same girl. One thing had him curious, though. At least something he could ask her about.

"Why do you call him by his name?"


"Yeah. He's your dad, right?"

"How did you know that?"

"I've been putting the pieces together. Hadn't gotten confirmation of that bit of information until now, but things I've overheard. So, why don't you call him dad?"

"Because I'm adopted and he's not my dad."

"But you're living here."

"It's a long story, but yes. I am for now anyway."

"Since the election?"

"Yeah. Why?"

He stared at her then, watching her intently as she focused on his face. He wondered what other clubs she'd gone to after the night at his. Maybe it was a game to her. Some women got into that. She didn't seem like that type, though. She seemed, for lack of a better word, like a pretty good girl. The type he'd be tempted to bring home to meet his mother if he was involved with her in such a way.

"You haven't always been going out with this guy I've seen you with the last few days?"

"Adam? No. I go out with friends sometimes."

"To clubs?"

"Uh, yeah," she said, as if that was a ridiculous question. He imagined it probably was. That's what girls like her did with their time and their cash that seemingly had no end.

He grabbed her wrist then, drawing it away from his face and causing her to drop the tube of ointment.

"I'm not done yet."

"I think you are. With that anyway," he said, tossing the towel full of ice onto the coffee table before drawing her to him. She gave a sound as she stumbled, landing on his lap as he'd intended. His mouth captured hers. He blocked out the pain that pierced through him with the pressure to his lip. He was not giving her room to escape.

This time.

He felt when the wrist he held captive went limp, indication she was no longer fighting him. He deepened the kiss then, parting his lips so his tongue could join in on the fun. He hadn't kissed her that night. Not like this. She hadn't been looking for that. This wasn't about what she was looking for tonight, though.

She hesitated for longer than he expected, but her arms were around his neck now drawing herself deeper into the kiss. Into him, definitely working at settling his curiosity as to how well she kissed. He slid his hands to her ass, squeezing as she shifted on his lap. Now that he had his hands on her, on the parts and in the way he'd touched before he knew for sure she was the girl from that night.

She was wearing a skirt tonight, too. His hands slid to her hips, fisting the silky material as he tugged it up so just her panties stood as a barrier to having her bare to him. She stilled a little and he thought maybe he'd gone too far. How he could go too far with someone he'd already had sex with he wasn't sure.

She dropped a hand from around his neck to his chest, whimpering softly into the kiss because she couldn't get the T-shirt he wore up. Very far anyway. High enough she could touch his abs, which while not as bad as his face were a little sore, too.

He took her hand, sliding it lower to the front of his jeans. She cupped him and he did the same, resting his fingertips at her clit. Silently, he implored her to work his jeans open, wanting her hand on his shaft skin to skin. She hadn't touched him much that night either, he remembered, as he worked them open himself now.

"We shouldn't be doing this," she whispered. She wasn't pulling away or stopping herself from sliding her hand lower along his body.

"Why?" There was no doubt in his mind they should be doing exactly this.

She gave a haggard laugh. "I don't know, but there's a reason."

"Just go with what your body's telling you."

He worked a hand into her panties, brushing over her clit on his way to her labia. He slid a fingertip inside of her just enough to know she was wet. "It likes what we're doing."

"Well, yeah," she said, putting her lips over his again. She pressed into his finger, against his hand, which only served to coat more than his fingertip with her wetness. Not that he was complaining.

"Finally," he murmured as she reached into his jeans. He shifted a little so she could take hold of him better. And so he could reach for his wallet in his back pocket. He opened it, finding the foil packet he was very glad he had in there just then. He had some in his room, but wasn't sure he wanted to wait that long to be inside of her again.

Now that he knew where he recognized her from, he remembered that night pretty clearly. She'd fit around him so tight and while he'd been quick about entering her (she certainly hadn't complained at the time) he couldn't help but think she'd been a virgin until that night. Why she'd chosen him he had no idea. He'd asked around the club when he got back to the storeroom to find her gone, but no one knew anything about her. He hadn't exactly flaunted taking her back there with him, so it stood to reason not many saw them together to know who he was even talking about.

He tore open the packet, breaking their kiss. "Slide them down," he said gruffly. She didn't ask what he meant and did exactly what he wanted. He sprang free from the confines of his jeans and boxers. He rolled the condom over the tip and glanced at her.

"You want to help?"

"I don't know…"

He took her hand then, showing her how to leave a little space between the tip and the condom before rolling it down.

"Gentle," he murmured. He'd never had one tear, but knew that it could happen.

The condom in place he started thrusting against her through her panties. Teasing. Prolonging. Because if she felt the way he remembered, he wasn't sure how long he'd last even with a condom. One thing he did know, he wasn't going to walk away from her this time for anything. If the apartment caught on fire it could burn down around them, he had to see this to completion this time.

He reached for her panties then, realizing it would take her removing herself from his lap to get them off. He didn't like that idea at all.

"Fuck it, I'll buy you a new pair," he said, using his strength to tear each side so they were easily removed without her moving an inch.

Hands at his shoulders she positioned herself over him. And then with a little help she was sliding his length into her. Slowly. And, holy shit, she was watching him slide into her, watching her body take him into her where it belonged.

She bounced a little, sliding the head in a little deeper and then out to the point he thought he was going to fall out. He didn't want that to happen at all. He took control then, hands at her hips he pushed up and into her. They both cried out at the same time, probably for the same reason, as he broke through that barrier. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that wasn't possible. He had no doubt he'd been as deep as he could that night. He knew he didn't have the wrong girl.

Her mouth fusing over his not taking the cut there into account at all brought him out of his thoughts. The kiss and the fact that she was moving with him, pushing with him when he thrust up, taking him in deeper, harder. And that was just the way he liked it. Not that he minded being gentle with a woman, but he liked knowing a woman could take him this way because there were times no holds barred, down and dirty, and maybe a little rough sex was totally called for.

And, man, did he expect she could take whatever she could give him. And enjoy it. He slid a hand between their bodies, lower to her clit, touching her there knowing he wasn't going to last too long. She was too tight, too enthusiastic despite the fact he had to be hurting her to some degree.

Her nails biting into the nape of his neck told him so. He didn't care if she drew blood as long as she kept riding him as she was just now. He didn't need to be without a condom to know how wet she was. He could hear it as he pistoned into her, could see the one time he slid all of the way out of her how slick the condom was, and the way his body slid back into hers after that like a knife cutting through warm butter.

She wasn't someone who came quietly or tamely he discovered. It was more than her body shuddering as she let go, more than her clenching around him as she rode the orgasm. He suspected it was only their mouths being busy kissing that her groans didn't get any louder.

He grew almost frantic in his thrusts, knowing he had gone beyond the point of holding back his own climax. He captured her tongue with his teeth, releasing it to do the same to her lower lip, worrying it with his teeth and soothing it with his tongue as he came. It hadn't been that long, but he felt like a geyser exploded.


Yeah, he was definitely spent. Judging by the way she was resting against him, he didn't think she was ready to run a marathon either.

"How did you figure it out?" she whispered when they'd finally gotten their wits back.

"You mentioned my being a bouncer."

"Maybe Nathan…"

"Did he? You telling me I got it wrong?"

"No," she said, ducking her head a little.

"What's with the shyness? We may not have had clothes off, but I've been inside you. Twice now."

"I was going through a bit of a rebellious streak. I never thought I'd see you again."

"Rebellious streak?"

"Yes, I got some news," she shrugged. "You know. I didn't like what I heard so I went off to try and make believe it wasn't true."

"And tonight?"

"I'm not sure. Not a rebellious streak."

"I guess that's something."

She kissed his chin, his jaw. "You worried I'm going to disappear again?"

"Ha! I know how to find you now."

"You do at that," she drew away a little then. "And you're all right with that?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

She shrugged. "You don't strike me as the type to see a girl on an every day basis."

He gave a low chuckle. He wasn't, but not because he was completely averse to the idea. No one worth seeing every day had come into his life. And, he had to admit, he hadn't much thought about it until Matty settled down. It wasn't just the job that made Matty look as though he had his shit together. He had a wife, the potential for a family, a home. Something none of them had really had as kids.

"What make you say that?"

"I don't know, just the way it seems."

"I suppose you're right. I haven't had a steady honey since high school I suppose. That's not to say you can't come on down whenever you want to."

"So I have to come to you?"

"Can't very well go to you. I don't think the senator would take too well to my prowling through his house with your bedroom as my destination."

"Hmm, you might be right."

"Might be, yes."

"Doesn't mean you couldn't let me know you want me."

"Honey," he said, "I don't think that would be a problem. Looking like I do tonight should tell you that."

"Oh God, you're hurt, your mouth," she said, grazing the split in his lip with her thumb. She even took the time to kiss it and even though he hadn't looked at it since leaving the gym he knew it was no small cut either.

"It's okay, I wasn't complaining. Just saying."

"I'm sorry, though, I should have…"

"Seems to me I initiated so the fault lays with me not you." He ran his hands along her thighs, up to her hips. "I've got to hit the bathroom for a minute."

"Okay," she said as he settled her on the couch next to him. He glanced over his shoulder once he stood and headed towards his bedroom, not at all surprised - or unhappy - to see she was watching him.

He came back, having removed his T-shirt while he was up. He was somewhat disappointed she'd fixed her skirt. The panties were a lost cause.

"You all right," he asked.

"Yeah, fine," she said. "Not sure what I'll think in the morning, but I'm fine."

"No, I meant," he gestured to her skirt. "Did I hurt you?"

"Oh, no. I mean, a little, but I liked it. I could have stopped you somewhat if I'd wanted to."

"If you think so."

She smiled a little. "I meant I could have not been so adamant in taking you in me so deeply."

"How is it you feel like that again?"

"Like what?"

"You can't lose your virginity twice."

"Mm," she said, biting her lower lip. "Yeah, I can I guess, and probably a third time. And fourth."


"Hard to explain, not sure I even can. It's just how my body works."

"So, was I really your first?"

"Yes," she said with a nod. "I meant what I said earlier. I'd gotten some news I wasn't willing to digest, so I went out and did some crazy things. That night was one of them, but I'd never had sex before that night or since."

"Not even with your boyfriend?"

"He's not my boyfriend! Do you think I'd have sex with you if he was?"

"He's into you."

"I realize that, but we're not dating."

"No friends with benefits?"

"No! Why don't you believe me?"

"Just making sure. He doesn't strike me as the type to sit idly by while someone else taps his honey pot."

"I'm not his honey pot," she said through gritted teeth.

"That's fine. Just wondering if I have to worry about him coming after me."

She laughed a little. "No. He knows who you are."

"He does?"

"Yes, he told me you'd remember within a month."

"Guess I proved him wrong."

"My own fault, I guess. I wasn't thinking I shouldn't know you were a bouncer."

"I'm glad you let that slip. It was killing me. I knew I knew you, but couldn't piece together where from."

"Now you know."

"Small world."

"I guess so. I wasn't at all happy to see you that first day here at the house. I thought somehow you'd tracked me down."

"I won't deny I asked around about you, but no one at the club knew you. Or if they did, no one copped to it anyway."

"No, they wouldn't have. I think I'd gone there one or two nights before that one and never since then. It's why I chose you."

"I'm sorry?"

She shrugged. "I saw the way you were with girls, so I didn't think you'd mind giving me what I had in mind."

He picked the towel off the coffee table, glad it had a glass covering over the wood or it'd be ruined now with the melted ice all over the place. He set it back down, not feeling like going into the kitchen just now. He wasn't sure how he felt about what she'd just said. He had a reputation, a persona he presented to people. She'd fallen for it evidently. Not to say he lived like a monk or anything, but he'd outgrown living like Chris a few years ago. Sure, casual sex was good for fulfilling the basic need everyone experienced. He just didn't need to do that every night.

"So, if I hadn't had to leave in the middle I still would never have seen you again?"

"Mm, probably not. I don't know. What would the odds be?"

"I don’t know," he murmured, picking at the residue from the tape he'd had on over his gloves earlier.

"You really look a mess," she said.

"I know, I got a look at myself in the bathroom mirror," he took a seat next to her. He was glad she moved closer to him. He wasn't going to initiate the contact, not knowing what she wanted from him. She was right, he supposed, the odds their paths crossing again were pretty slim. And yet who just casually gave away their virginity as she had? With no desire for anything? Man, he'd taken one girl's virginity in high school and he thought she was going to have the china patterns picked out the next week.

"And you want to do this?"

"Hell, yeah. I'd like to do more than sparring. Make a career of it, you know? I've got lots of fights under my belt, not many in an actual ring. A friend of mine is a sports agent out in LA, so I've already got that lined up for when I actually enter a real ring and not just a sparring one."



She shrugged. "I don't know. Can't say I've known anyone who wanted to be a boxer let alone boxed."

"Honey," he said, draping an arm around her. "I suspect you grew up quite a bit differently than I did. My neighborhood you enhanced your strengths and hid your weaknesses as best you could. My strength was, well, my fists, my strength. That's all I did for years, pump iron, make myself bigger and badder so that I would be useful to my old man."

"And it didn't work?"

"Nah, he used me when he needed to and ignored me the rest of the time. He never forgave my mom for being Jewish."

"I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "It's all right. My mom deserved better, but I guess you can't control who you fall in love with."

"I've heard that's true."

"You've never been?"

"In love?"


"Not that I can say, no."

"Why not?"

She shrugged. "It's hard to explain. I was a cheerleader so hung with the popular crowd, but I was just never into dating. And then my life sort of got intense and now here I am. School takes up so much of my time. I can't screw up. I know my dad and Nathan would be disappointed if I blew the opportunity of going to school here."

"And you've stayed popular?"

"Well, back home I blamed it on my parents," she said with a light laugh. "Told anyone who asked me that they had to get past my parents."

"Are your parents tough?"

"My dad is. I mean, he's not really. If the guy met him and said the right things I think Dad would have been fine. You know? But the problem was with me. I just really wasn't interested. I was changing."


"Yeah, kind of hard to explain, but goes along with what you asked me about being a virgin twice."

"Oh." As if he understood what in the hell she was talking about, but he imagined he really wasn't supposed to.

"I went out with this one guy and he got all in my face, like I owed him sex for him taking me out."

"I hope someone clobbered him good."

"I did. Well, sort of. I ran his car into a wall."

"You walked out unhurt?"

"Pretty much."

"And him?"

"Not so much."

He gave a low laugh. He could dig a chick who wouldn't just roll over and die, someone who'd fight back if they were wronged. "That's all right."

"So, no not much experience with love. You?"

"Sure, I mean, the high school type of love. I'm not married, never have been or anything, so I guess I haven't found the real thing yet."

"Hmm. I sometimes wonder if it even exists."

"I thought that, too. But my friend, the sports agent I mentioned, Matty. Well, he seems to have found it."

"Good for him."

"Yeah, I think so, too. Now anyway. I didn't at first and I wasn't too nice to her either because of it. They met one weekend in Vegas and eloped."

"The same weekend?"

"The same night!"

"No way."

"That's exactly how I felt. And Matty, he's Benny's son, which you would think makes him street smart and wise to those types of things by default. He's not like that, though. All his life he just wanted to be legit. Since we were kids, that's all he talked about. And don't get me started on his experience with women. Hell, our friend Chris and I were shocked this chick even talked to him let alone went back to his room with him. Things like that just didn't happen to Matty."

"And is he?"



"Oh, yeah, it wasn't easy. He tried like hell around here and was pretty much blacklisted because of who his old man was. Companies thought it was Benny's less obvious way of trying to muscle in. Some things went down and it finally made him get out of here. He moved out to LA, got a job, and is doing all right."

"And the marriage?"

"Going on two years now and unless he's lying to me, things seem to be going well."

"That's nice to hear," she said. "My parents aren't doing so well. Either of them. My mom and dad and Nathan and Heidi."

"I wondered why she wasn't here."

"I don't know where she is. I don't know if the Petrelli's have another house she's using somewhere or if she's out from under Nathan's thumb."

"His thumb?"

"Well, you know what I mean. Maybe she's making a go of it without him."

"I don't think so. I hear things you know, standing around as I do. She's getting money from him for sure."

"Oh, I'm sure she is. She's got the heirs to the Petrelli name with her."

"And you aren't a Petrelli?"

"By blood I am, but not in name or any other way. He's my father and he's helping my family out, so I try to show him respect and everything, but I'm not a Petrelli."

"Makes sense. At least he's helping you out."

"Yeah, he didn't even know about me until a few months ago. Thought I'd died in a fire when I was baby."

"Wow. I imagine he was shocked."

"To say the least. Funny, I was all about meeting my mom and yet I have nothing to do with her and here I am living with my father."

"Life is funny at times."

He grew silent, running his fingers through her hair. Now that he was sitting here doing basically nothing he was getting sore. And tired.

"Listen. I need to crash."

"Oh, sure, I wasn't even thinking. Of course you're tired."

"Well, no, it's more I need to take some Ibuprofen for the swelling and pain and this close to bedtime I take the nighttime stuff."

"Okay," she said, standing.

"You don't have to go. You could stay. I'm not kicking you out, I just don't want to pass out on you and I have to get up in the morning."

"I can't. He'd know."

"How? He doesn't go looking in your room first thing in the morning, does he?"

"No, I suppose not. I'd know, and this," she pointed at him. "As far as I can tell is sex, which is fine, but I don't want to get it confused with something else."

"Point taken," he said with a nod, standing too.

She picked up the towel and brought it to the kitchen, which he would have done in the morning. He walked to the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet and found the pills he needed for sleeping. He took three, two was never enough, and put the bottle away.

He walked to where she stood by the door that led from here into the house. He took a detour to the kitchen, pawing through his drawer of miscellaneous stuff he hadn't found homes for yet.

"Here," he said, dropping the spare key into her hand. "You change your mind, never let it be said I didn't make it so you couldn't get back in here."

"Thanks," she said, closing her hand around it.

He leaned in, sliding his hands to her hips and drawing her to him for a good night kiss.

"Good night, Claire."

"Good night, Taylor. I hope you're all right in the morning."

"I'll be fine, nothing I haven't experienced before."

And he got his rocks off in there, too, not a bad night if he didn't say so himself. He closed the door then, locking it before making his way to his bed. Would have been a lot nicer having her in it with him, but he wasn't counting out that possibility entirely just yet. Maybe not tonight, but he'd have plenty of time to work on her living in the same house as they were.

Return to Top

***Part Six***
Word Count: 4,352

She'd managed to avoid him for the most part for almost a full week. She couldn't avoid him entirely, of course. Always, though, he was with Nathan so any conversation between them had been limited to generic things that anyone living under the same roof would say. She really didn't go out of her way to avoid him, though she certainly hadn't gone to his apartment again. She wasn't at all sure what to think about that night. The first time at the club was a whim. She was in a self-destructive phase as Nathan and her father liked to call it.

There was no excuse for the second time. She'd sought him out, followed him to the entrance to his apartment and had offered to help him. She knew that spending any amount of time with him increased the chances he'd recognize her.

What was more. God she'd enjoyed it. She'd gone to sleep more than once with vivid pictures of what they looked like together, him sliding into her. And she'd relieved herself of the desire that came with those pictures. She was afraid if she didn't that she'd go to see him just for that and that could be dangerous. He already knew too much about her. About what she could do. Unfortunately, the orgasms she gave herself didn't compare to the two she'd gotten with him. And that thought left her frustrated, which defeated the purpose of going about relieving herself to begin with.

She hadn't planned on saying something so stupid as mentioning she'd known he was a bouncer. She still couldn't believe she'd done it. And a part of her wondered if it wasn't intentional. The sex had been amazing, but she realized the next day she'd told him too much about herself. Her secret. And she wasn't sure what to say now, which led to her avoiding him as much as she could.

Tonight, though, there'd be no avoiding him. Nathan was holding a dinner party to which she was required to attend. She'd known about it for weeks and had invited Adam a while ago. He'd agreed to come under the condition that as soon as humanly possible they get away from the stuffy politicians and those hob knobbing with them. Likely, he knew they wouldn't be leaving before everyone else he just had to be difficult about accepting.

As if she enjoyed these things either, but she had to be there. Even though no one knew who she was, she was a guest in Nathan's home and it wouldn't look right if his own long-term houseguest wasn't in attendance. In addition to Adam, Angela and Peter would be there so the night wouldn't be too unbearable. And she had an incredible dress to wear, nothing too revealing but she felt kind of sexy wearing it. Perhaps the wrong mood to go for having to endure a political dinner, but she'd seen it and had to have it.

Now, though, knowing that both Adam and Taylor would see her, she was questioning the dress. It wasn't revealing and it looked fabulous on her. It was clingy and silky, though. And knowing that Adam wanted to know what was under the dress and that Taylor now knew without a doubt what was under the dress. Well, she was nervous.

And a little excited for him to see her like this. He'd seen her in skirts before, but they were just every day clothes to her. This was special. Fancy. One of those dresses she would put away after tonight and wonder if she'd have a reason to wear it again.

It was times like this that she wished she was a little girl again, no one to look nice for but her daddy. A glance at the clock told her that she was running late. She had no formal duties as hostess or anything, but it wouldn't look right if she was fashionably late in her own house. So, she slipped her heels on after going over her hair one last time with a brush.

She found Taylor in the room immediately. He was hard to miss. Though he still had some bruising, the cuts she'd seen last week were healed for the most part. Except the one on his lip. She imagined it was hard to heal something like that. Right along the edge there, whether he smiled (not that he did a lot of that) or talked it got stretched and irritated.

She smiled a little, averting her gaze almost immediately. As much as she'd rather stand and talk to him, simply because she had nothing in common with any of these people, she couldn't do that. So, she smiled and nodded, talking as little as she could get away with. No one there seemed to mind. In fact, they seemed to relish the undivided attention she apparently gave. She was listening to a judge whose support meant a great deal to Nathan when Adam came in.

How did she know it was Adam? She hadn't seen him yet, so that wasn't it. It was just a feeling she got whenever he was near. Not that she'd ever confessed that to him, or he'd never give up.

She caught sight of him across the room and watched as the guests sort of got out of his way without realizing they were doing it. He had that effect on people. He carried himself in a way that suggested he was exactly what he was.

A centuries old warrior.

A man who'd seen and experienced far too much to be bothered with things like this. And everyone here should be prepared to do his bidding. He didn't talk like that, of course, but there were times with her that he got this odd cadence to his voice that suggested he wasn't entirely accustomed to modern day English.

American English.

The judge she was listening to was the only one who seemed unaffected by him. Until he stood next to Claire. That was when he noticed Adam and stopped talking.

"Judge Pollick," Adam said into the silence.

"Mr. Monroe."

"How are you tonight?"

"Doing well. I didn't realize you were going to be here."

"I'm guest of Miss Bennet's."

"I see," he said, glancing at her as if she'd withheld a big secret or something. "Well, enjoy the rest of your night."

"Thank you," Adam said, sliding an arm around Claire's waist. "I'm sure we will. You do the same."

The judge moved on. They didn't stay alone for very long or often. Adam knew a lot of people in the room and it seemed they all had something to talk about. She found Taylor more than once who always seemed to look at her at the same time. He never looked overly happy and as if Adam had radar she didn't know about or understand he always seemed to touch her whenever Taylor was looking.

Eventually, the cocktail hour was over and they were seated for dinner. Adam was far more attentive to her at the table than he'd been in the other room as far as talking to her. She'd expected that. He knew how to schmooze with the best of them. It was one of the reasons Nathan let him hang around knowing that his interest in Claire wasn't completely innocent.

The night went on forever. Okay, maybe it just felt that way because Claire couldn't leave. What was she going to do? Get up from the table and say she had to go home? Had somewhere else to be? She talked when someone talked to or asked her something, but otherwise she just listened. Nathan told her several times that she'd learn things if she did that, and as much as she hated to admit it he was right. They were things she couldn't sit and talk to her friends about, but with every thing that she went with him to or sat with him at, she learned more so she wouldn't get fleeced by a reporter one day.

And she was so very afraid of that happening. Of her saying or doing something to embarrass Nathan. So, she listened to everyone. She didn't understand everything, but she asked Adam or Nathan later. Or looked it up on the Internet if it was something she thought she maybe should know and didn't want to admit to either of them she didn't know.

And found herself staring at Taylor more than once. She couldn't decide if he spent more of his time looking at her in return or at her hand being held by Adam's throughout the evening. Oh, he didn't always hold her hand. Sometimes, he slid an arm around her, drawing her to him for a private comment. Claire was used to it by now. It was just the way Adam was with her. He liked to touch her, almost as if to assure himself he was really so close to someone like him.

Not just special, because they were around special people all of the time anymore.

Someone who was special in the same way he was.

She knew what it probably looked like to everyone in the room, including the one she'd had sex with twice now. It was the perception that Adam wanted everyone to have. That she was his, belonged to and with him.

She knew this, it had never really bothered her because he knew what her rules were, and he was willing to play by them. He pushed and would probably continue to push, but he was willing to let her live the life she wanted. He just wasn't going to go away quietly or sit back and do nothing to tempt her in an effort to get her to change her mind. And really, could she blame him for pushing? She'd probably push too if she'd been essentially alone for almost four hundreds years.

Adam's presence helped Nathan in a way, and Claire knew that wasn't lost on either man. Heidi wasn't here, as she was missing from most of his things these days. These absences led to gossip about the reason his marriage might be failing. Claire's presence seemingly out of nowhere with no formal explanation that she was his daughter led to even more gossip along the lines of her being the cause of any marital strife there was.

As if.

Adam silenced the gossip that Claire was something more to Nathan than she was. To a degree anyway. There was always someone who would think it, but as long as it was someone not Nathan holding her hand, sitting next to her at a dinner table, or dancing with her the gossip was kept to a minimum. It would never go away completely she imagined.

Even if Claire up and disappeared it wouldn't. People would then wonder where she went and gossip about whether Nathan had a problem keeping his women. She wished she could help him, talk to Heidi, plead his case for him. She wasn't exactly sure what their issues were, though, and finding out she was his daughter more than likely would compound the issues rather than improve anything.

She noticed that it had been longer than usual since she'd seen Taylor. He didn't hover in the room all night. He wandered in and out, presumably ensuring the house was secure, and no one was trying to get in or anything. He hadn't gone longer than fifteen or twenty minutes without coming back in here, though.

She excused herself, Adam probably presumed she had to go to the bathroom. Let him think that. While she wasn't concerned about Taylor necessarily she was curious. He didn't give much of a reaction whenever she looked at him, but then he wouldn't given the fact he was working.

She found him in the kitchen, being fawned over by one of the staff. Not Carla, she was old enough to be his grandmother. Or pretty close anyway. She imagined that happened a lot. She'd chosen him above everyone else in the club that night after all so she couldn't be the only woman who found him attractive.

"Decided to come slumming?" he said just before taking a bite. For some reason, his food looked more appetizing than hers had. It was the same food so she wasn't sure why that was.

"No, just wanted something to drink."

"Did they run out of water in there?"

She smirked a little, heading to the refrigerator and grabbing a bottle of the wine she liked. She couldn't get drunk she'd discovered, but there were a few things she actually enjoyed the taste of. This wine was one of them. She poured herself a little in a glass and then as an afterthought poured him some, too.

"How's it going?" he asked. The tilt of his head in the direction from which she'd just come seemed to mean he was asking about the dinner.

"Fine, I guess. Ask me tomorrow who any of them were or what they said and I won't remember."

"Hmm," he said, watching as the other girl watched Claire. Claire noticed it, too. She didn't look too happy. Why? Taylor was allowed to eat and it wasn't as if she was here to report back to Nathan anything she saw.

"Just boring political stuff. If you were in there you'd know."

"That's the great part about him having these things here. I can walk around some."

"Is that what you're doing now?"

"Miss me?"

"Just curious."

He shook his head a little as if her answer the one he'd wanted. What did he want her to do? Tell him she loved him? Went to bed every night this week thinking of him? That he was the first guy she'd had those types of thoughts about. To that extent anyway.

"I got hungry, headed to my apartment, and Iona offered me something I didn't have to cook."

Claire glanced at the woman in question, smiling a little. "How nice for you that you were spared having to cook."

"I know it, right?" he asked, stabbing one of the green beans on his plate with a fork. "It's pretty much tastier than anything I'd make, too," he said, giving Iona a wink. And he had to know she'd see it.

"Not a cook?"

"Not much of one, no."

"Me neither."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"I don't know. As if you know anything about me. I didn't always live here."

And she did not want to hear what he had to say about that, because he knew far too much about her. Things he had no business knowing about. She finished her wine and got up to rinse the glass out. There were staff to see to those sort of things, but Claire tried not to rely on them for every little thing.

"There's more wine in the fridge if you want more of it. See ya," she said simply before leaving to return to her spot at the table.

Okay, that hadn't gone at all as she'd expected it to. She wasn't sure what she was hoping for, but something tense and in front of someone else wasn't it.

She must have taken longer than she thought because people started to leave almost as soon as she returned. Not that she was complaining, the night seemed like it had gone on forever. She and Adam were the last to leave the room, letting Nathan get his goodbyes in.

"That went fairly well," Adam said, setting his napkin on his now empty place. He draped an arm over the back of her chair.

"If you say so."

"You know, if you actually paid attention instead of daydreaming you might not have a bad time at these things."

"I wasn't daydreaming. I just don't like to be surrounded by old people who have nothing better to do with their time but talk about laws and business. And how the young people of today are out to destroy everything they've fought for."

"Ouch," he said.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, as if I wounded you."

"You do, deeply. If you think they're old. What, pray tell, do you think of me?"

"That's different."

"How so?"

"You don't act old and stuffy. You act more like someone my age."

He snorted.

"And that's complimentary?"

She threw her hands up in the air. "I can't win. What do you want me to say?"

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," he said, standing and pulling her chair out for her. "Where to now?"

"I don't know. It's late and I'm kind of tired."

"Playing nice all evening takes its toll, eh?"

"Yeah," she said, walking with him to the foyer. There were a few stragglers, but most everyone that Nathan didn't think of as a friend was gone. She spotted Peter who waved, but looked as if he was leaving with everyone else. He probably had to work early the next day.

"Walk me to my car?"

"Sure," she said.

They were quiet on the way out. She waved to Peter again as he drove past them. Adam leaned against the side of his car, drawing her to him.

"You look nice tonight."

"Thanks. I'm getting used to having to dress up all of the time."

"The clothes are becoming," he said, running the back of his hand along her hip to emphasize his appreciation of the dress she guessed.

"I think that's the point."

"When did you sleep with him?"

"I'm sorry?"

He rolled his eyes, sliding a hand into hers. "Don't play dumb. You heard me."

"I, what makes you think?"

"I'm a man, Claire, I know these things."

"Oh come on, you can't tell me that every guy there tonight thinks that?"

"Well, no probably not. They think you're sleeping with me so wouldn't look for the signs with someone else in the very same room."


"I saw the way you two were looking at one another. He couldn't stop undressing you and I'm well aware of the difference in someone who knows what the other person looks like out of their clothes. He does."

"Oh God."

"So, I ask again, when did you sleep with him?"

"Last week," she murmured.

"Did he remember who you were?"

"Yes," she said.

"Before or after?"

"Before. I said something stupid and it made him realize who I was."

"You? I cannot imagine that."

"Very funny. It came out that I knew he worked as a bouncer."


"The rest just happened. He was hurt."

"Hurt? Did something happen to Nathan? To you?"

She laughed a little, remembering that was her first response to seeing him beat up as he had been.

"No, he boxes."

"Oh," Adam said, sounding as if the concept held some appeal to him. "A legitimate hobby. Or is it a career for him?"

"He'd like it to be. He has a friend who's a sports agent who he thinks could help him if he gets to that point."

"So sex and talking about future plans. Sounds serious."

"It was sex!"

"So, anyway, continue on. He was hurt."

"Yes, I couldn't see how badly but I knew he was hurt."

"And of course you couldn't resist offering to take care of him."

"Something like that."

"Has it happened again?"

"No, I don't know that it will."

"Why not?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. He hasn't really said anything to me since then."

"Sweetheart, he doesn't have to. He's waiting for you."

"How do you know that?"

"Oh, I can pretty well guess what he's thinking. For starters, he's not sure who I am to you. No matter what you've told him, it's clear I have an interest in you. Tack on, he's just started this rather cushy job. One that I'm sure he doesn't want to jeopardize by doing something stupid like getting caught in a compromising position with the boss' daughter. You left that first night and that doesn't happen to a guy very often, so he's going to wonder if the second time wasn't any better for you if you haven't come back for more by now. So, he's going to take his queues from you."

"Come on, Adam. He can get any girl he wants. And I'm sure he doesn't think it's because I didn't enjoy myself."

"Just as you can get any guy you want. And yet somehow the two of you have found one another twice. I watched him tonight, Claire. He was like a caged tiger, itching to be set free. He couldn't stop me from touching you, but he couldn't stand there and watch me do it either."

"Is that why you did that?"

"Well, no, not completely anyway. I was testing my theory in part, admittedly. I like touching you, you know this."


"And I will continue doing so until you tell me I no longer can."

"You mean it was something that simple to get you to stop?"

"As if you mind. There've been times you've seemed to quite like the way I touch you. As to whether he knows he pleased you, a male ego is a fragile thing. Who did the leaving this time?"

"Well, me. He said he was tired, but offered to let me stay."

"To which you said?"

"No, I knew what happened was sex, I didn't want him to feel obligated or to think I expected him to declare his undying love."

"What if he wanted to?"

She smiled, ducking her head a little so he wouldn't see.

"Ah, playing coy then. All right. So, the question becomes, do you want it to happen again."

"I don't know. That'd be a little weird. He lives here. In Nathan's house and works for Nathan. When would I ever be able to see him?"

"That's a rather odd argument as since he lives here you could see him whenever you wished to. And as he works for Nathan doubly so, anywhere you go with Nathan he'll be there, too."

"Yeah, as an employee."

"Does that bother you?"

"No, but it might get old for him after a while."

"Let him be the judge of that."

"Why are you sticking up for him?"

"Well, living as long as I have, there's something to fate. At least I believe there to be. My path crossed with Peter's for a reason. It led me to you, too early perhaps to suit my needs but that's the way of it. And I'd say the fact your paths have crossed twice under unlikely circumstances says something."


"Plus, the sooner you get this living your life out of the way, the better it is for me."

"I'm not going to marry the first guy who comes along just to please you."

"Oh, believe me when I say your marrying anyone won't please me in the least, Claire. I, however, know when a woman has made up her mind. Yours is, so be it. What's another lifetime when I've lived hundreds already?"

"You make me feel guilty when you say stuff like that."

"And yet, you don't change your mind, so apparently not too guilty."

"No, it's not that. I have to do this. You've gotten to."

"Not by choice! If I had found you three hundred years ago…"

"Don't," she said, holding up her hand to push on his chest. "Don't even go there. You've had a bunch of lifetimes to live, to lead the life you wanted to with. I'm asking for one."

"And I've stated I understand. So, get on with it, Miss Bennet, go live your life. You have at least the possibility in the making right in front of you."

"And what? You're just going to go away? Disappear? For fifty or sixty years?"

He snorted with a shake of his head. "Highly unlikely. I'll be here from time to time, it's not as if I don't have other things to occupy my time."


"Would that bother you?"

She shrugged. "I guess a little, even though I know it's wrong of me to feel that way since that's what I'm asking from you."

"There is a difference. I've had my share, long ago sowed my wild oats. You have not. I have no plans on bedding vast amounts of women, Claire, no."

"I don't expect you to."

"Stay celibate for you? No, I know you don't, but I can get the outlets I need without the ties you currently seek. Sex does not have to be a part of love and love does not have to result from sex."

He released her hand and raised his to her cheek, touching her with the back of his hand before leaning in to kiss her. She sensed somehow it was the last one she'd get from him for a while.

"You're leaving, aren't you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"I don't know, just guessing. You're not going to want to see me with him."

"I'm not going to want to see you with anyone. At least you've chosen someone I know can protect you."

"As if I need that."

"You will always need that. Believe me when I say I wouldn't be encouraging you into his life or bed if I thought he would rollover and die in a conflict in which you were involved. He won't. I don't need to know him to be certain of the fact he'd protect you for all he was worth, love or not."

"I won't let anything happen to me."

"Neither will he. And on that note, good night," he said, kissing her on the forehead this time.

"Good night," she said, not asking the obvious question.

When would she see him again? She knew she would. He said he wasn't leaving, but they could view time a little differently than everyone else. So, he could go years without seeing her and it would be no big deal to him. In the grand scheme of things anyway.

Return to Top

***Part Seven***
Word Count: 4,242

Peter was gone. The only person still here that she knew was Angela, who was no doubt talking to Nathan about how the night went. So, there was nothing preventing Claire from going around to the other side of the house once Adam left. She was pretty sure Nathan was in for the rest of the night, which meant Taylor was, too.

She still had his key, but it was upstairs. And she wasn't sure he'd really intended for her to use it. It was something he'd done after they'd just had sex and while not experienced, Claire knew that guys tended to say and do stupid things after sex.

She had no idea how guys thought. Had just assumed that he didn't want more from her than sex. Of course, Adam could be dead wrong, but he'd been around for a while so she tended to believe he knew what he was talking about.

Either that or he was setting her up to look like an idiot, hoping it would push her to him sooner rather than later. She didn't think so, because she'd be mad if he did that and he wouldn’t want her mad. Not now anyway because she could disappear, ask Nathan or her dad to send her somewhere Adam could never find her.

(Not that he'd stop looking.)

He opened the door, if he was surprised to see her she couldn't tell. He'd changed out of the suit he'd had on earlier. She'd yet to see him wear a suit that didn't look very good on him and she wondered if they were his, if he'd had them before taking this job. He'd worked as a bouncer so she didn't suppose that called for many suits.

"You're healing," she said, taking an inventory of his face for the first time in about a week. Oh she had in the kitchen, but with Iona there she couldn't look as closely as she'd have liked.

"Yeah, coming along," he said.

"Good." Only then did she notice he was on his phone. At least he had it cradled in between his ear and shoulder so she presumed he was.

"You want you should come in?"

"You're not busy?"

He chuckled, opening the door wider and stepping aside. "Nah," he said, taking hold of the phone.

"I'll talk to you more later."

"Nah, just got company, let me know if it works out you can get here. We'll work around my schedule," he said as Claire came in, closing the door behind her. He eyed her curiously, taking in the fact she hadn't changed clothes more than likely. She wasn't even really sure why she was here. She had to admit, Adam had a point. What were the odds of her running into Taylor twice? It wasn't very likely.

"Yeah, tell her I say hello," he said, disconnecting the call then. He closed the phone, running the edge of it along his lip as he took her in. He was very thorough about it, too, taking his sweet time about checking her out.

"Nice dress," he said finally.


"Turn around," he said softly.


"Just do it," he said not so softly this time.

Confused, she did as he asked, jumping a little when she felt him right behind her once she had. He touched her then. Starting with each of her hands, he worked his way up each arm, over her shoulders, and to her back.

His mouth found the back of her neck and she shivered as he kissed her there. His hands slid down along the length of her spine, cupping her ass and then palming her hips. He pressed his body fully against hers then. His breath was warm against her neck as he brought her firmly against him. He kissed her ear then, licking the earlobe, causing her to groan.

"Is this some sort of game to you?"

"What?" she asked as his hands pulled her skirt up. Inch by inch he drew it up over her knees, along her thighs, and to the point it covered nothing below her waist.

"You leaving him, coming to me as if I don't know you were with him."

"I didn't."

"You did," he said. He slid a hand over her abdomen, lower to her panties, sliding inside of them before finding her clit.

"I'd invited him weeks ago."

"Invited him includes letting him have his hands all over you all night long?"

"It wasn't like that. He holds my hand, it's what he does."

He slid his finger lower, entering her with the tip and she gasped, letting her head fall back a little. He was mad, scaring her a little but holy cow was her body totally betraying her just then. She knew at first she wasn't ready for him, but the way he was touching her fixed that.

"What he does?" He nipped at her neck then, sucking to the point she knew if she was a normal girl she'd have a hickey. Yet another thing she'd have to explain to him when he looked and saw nothing there.

"Yeah," she said, not finding it in her to stop him from trying to leave one. The sensation was oddly arousing as was the fact he wanted to mark her.

She heard the sound of a belt and then a zipper, knew what he was going to do. Ready for it mentally was a little different than physically, though. She was wet but not as much as she could have been and he thrust into her without holding back. They both cried out at feeling the different perspectives of her body tearing to allow him entry.

"I think I get the better end of the deal."


"He gets to hold your hand, I get to fuck you."

"He doesn't. It's not like that," she murmured. "It helps settle curiosities about who I am to Nathan."

"Reporters and other politicians or contributors aren't around every time he touches you," he said, one hand going to her neck. He touched her there, not hard or violent but she was very aware of how strong he was and what he could probably do to her with his bare hands.

"He's just a toucher, Taylor. I swear."

"You don't stop him, though," he said, pulling out and thrusting into her again.

"Oh God." She was supposed to hold a coherent conversation like this? "No, I'm just used to it."

"I had to stand there all fucking night long, looking at you. Knowing I'd been with you, inside of you, and he's fawning all over you as if he has the right."

She closed her eyes. That described Adam very accurately. He thought he was entitled, had thought that from the moment she first met him. They'd come a long way from that day.

"I give you a key and I don't hear from you for a damned week. And then when I finally do, he's here and one of your father's staff is hovering around. What am I supposed to think about that?"

"I don't know," she said, not knowing the answer at all.

"And then you show up here. He kissed you good night, too, I bet."

She whimpered softly.

"Am I a last resort? He won't fuck you so you come to me?"


"Then what?"

"I told you, I'd invited him weeks ago and it wasn't as if you could sit next to me. You were working. Nathan's wife isn't around, rumors get started and spread like wildfires. Adam helps stop people from thinking I'm Nathan's mistress or something."

"Why not just tell them the truth?"

"He's afraid of the fallout, that it'll make him look bad."

His hand drifted away from her neck, lower to her breasts, cupping each one in turn. Lower still, over her stomach, between her legs to her clit. He stroked her there as his thrusts inside of her grew faster, deeper, and less controlled.

He pulled out suddenly, real suddenly. She gave a loud groan in protest until she figured out why. Figured it out by feeling the lower portion of her back suddenly get damp. He stood behind her like that, his cock resting against her. He took hold of one of her hands, lacing his fingers through it. He kissed her shoulder as he brought their joined hands down to her waist.

He went back to her neck with his mouth as he touched her. Her hand in his, under his, he used her own fingers to touch and stroke her body. She couldn't help but like it, though she supposed she maybe shouldn't. He slid a finger inside of her, taking one of hers along with, just as she came.

"Are you okay?" he whispered against her ear.

"Uh huh," she said in response.

"I didn't hurt you?"

"Seems we went through this before last time."

"You were in more control last time and I was not in such good control this time."

"I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes, Taylor. I won't break, believe me."

"All right," he said, placing her hand at the hem of her dress, which was currently midway up her back.


"Hold it like this," he said. "I'll get a cloth so you don't ruin your dress."

"You know," she added.

"What?" he asked already a few steps away from her.

"I could just take it off."


She turned to face him then. "I said I could just take it off."

"You want to?"

"Why not?"

"I was just not so nice with you, getting naked with me may not be foremost in your mind."

"Well, unzip it," she said. "And find out."

He did, helping her out of the dress. He stepped back as she turned to face him.

He was staring. Totally and completely staring and she didn't know what to do or say. She'd never been in this position before. Was she supposed to let him look? Try to cover up?

"What?" she asked.

"Is he gay?"

"I'm sorry? Is who what?"

"That Monroe guy."

"Uh no. I mean, I don't know that for a fact, but I'm pretty sure he's not. Why?"

"Can't imagine why anyone would be so close to you and not want to do more than hold your hand."

"I don't want to do anything more than let him hold my hand."

"Why not?"

"Do we really have to have this conversation while I'm standing here practically naked?"

He tossed her dress over a nearby chair and then reached down to slide his shirt up and off, handing it to her.


"I didn't think guys were so much on the talking," she said, drawing the shirt over her head. As she imagined before putting it on, she could swim in it.

"Yeah, normally I probably wouldn't be, but we live under the same roof, and I'd like not to be fired from this job for something stupid. Like pissing off an important friend of your father's by doing his girlfriend."

"I'm not his girlfriend. And I'm not doing anybody else."

"Do they know that?"

"Yes! In fact, if you must know, he's the one who encouraged me to come to you."

"How's that?"

"He said for exactly those reasons you just said, living under the same roof, working for Nathan, you were probably waiting for me to come to you again."


"Was he right?"

"About what?"

"Is that why you didn't talk to me or anything?"

"What am I supposed to do? I'm in the house, I'm there for Nathan, not much chance to make small talk with you."

"So, he was right?"

"I figured you were interested, yeah, you'd come find me. I really wasn't sure if I was just a distraction, revenge sex, or what?"

"Revenge sex? Do people really do that?"

He chuckled then. "Uh, yeah, if you're on the receiving end it can be pretty intensely good."

"And if you're the one it's being done because of?"

He shrugged. "Wouldn't know, never had it happen to me."


"No, no steady sweetheart since high school, remember?"

"Huh, but you've participated in it?"


"And you don't care that the girl probably hates herself in the morning? That she did something the guy may never forgive her for?"

"Not my concern, no. Not that I see them the next morning or ever again."


"Not those types of chicks, no. Like you, they never come back to where they found me."

"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "I'm used to it."

He stepped toward her then, taking her into his arms. She gave a little screech at first until she realized he wanted to carry her.

"What are you doing?"

"Making up for being too rough on you."

"I told you…"

"I know what you said, doesn't mean I don't feel bad."

He set her on his bed and left for a minute, coming back with a cloth as he'd mentioned doing earlier. She'd expected it to be cold or cool, but it wasn't at all. The water he'd soaked it with was hot. Not scalding, but warm enough.

"I don't usually pull out like that, but I didn't have a rubber, you know?"

"Thank you," she whispered, turning onto her back when he'd finished.

He smirked. "I think it's me who should be thanking you, but you're welcome."

"So, that was because of the hand holding?"

"I guess I have more of my father in me than I like to admit."

"I don't get the impression you like that idea."

He shrugged, sitting on the bed by her legs. "It is what it is. You don't grow up like I did, seeing and doing the things I did and not have some of it rub off on you."

"I'm sorry."

He settled one of his hands on her thigh, pushing the T-shirt up. "Don't worry about it. I just don't want you to think I'd ever actually hurt you."

"Yet both times you've asked me if you did."

He moved then, turning onto his stomach and positioning himself between her legs.

"That was sex and you've caught me at a disadvantage both times. Last week I wasn't expecting you to be a virgin again and this week. I don't like the idea of being played in some sort of game you might have with Monroe. But I meant like hit you hurt you. And I'm going to make it up to you."

"Make what up to me?"

"Being too rough," he said.

"But you don't have," she said, stopping when she felt his tongue slide between her labia.

He chuckled a little, but didn't stop and she was certainly not of the mind to complain. She gripped the bedding with one hand, arching into him. She could totally get used to this if sex he thought was too rough for her resulted in this. She was pretty certain she had a couple of out of body experiences before he was done.

He worked his way up her body slowly, kissing her everywhere as he went. She cried out, grabbing onto his forearms when he took a nipple into his mouth.

"Hurt?" he asked, drawing away. He'd bitten her, but not that hard.

"No, just sensitive. It's okay."


"Yeah," she murmured as he went back to what he'd been doing.

And then he was on top of her completely, body pressed firmly over hers, and obviously very pleased to be there. He drew away for a minute, getting a condom she realized when she saw his hands tearing the packet open.

He didn't ask her to help with it like he did the other time. He probably didn't take as long as she would have still not knowing what exactly she was doing she'd be too careful. His mouth closed over hers as he slid inside of her.

He was slow and gentle and totally holding back. She liked it. No, loved it. Not to say the other way was bad, but this… as he moved his hips, pushing in and out of her in a manner that suggested he thought they might have all night.

Yeah, she could understand how people could say stupid things after this kind of sex, because she felt loved, protected, cherished, and wanted. Everything. He touched her everywhere with his hands, his mouth never strayed far from hers though. And she totally understood what Adam meant by his being willing to protect her because treating her so tenderly just now told her he'd never let someone hurt her on his watch.

"Why is it gone," he asked, a fingertip grazing the area on her neck he'd marked earlier.

"I heal," she whispered against his ear. "Remember?"


"Yeah," she said as he thrust a little harder into her, causing her to nip at his shoulder. "You on the other hand," she said, setting about doing the same to him.

He was evidently in no hurry to finish this time because they stayed like that for close to an hour, him inside of her, moving enough she knew he was there, experimenting with the fact that he couldn't reciprocate the damned fine hickey she'd given him.

She slid her legs around his calves when he pulled out and started to get up.

"You didn't finish."

"Wasn't about that."

"I don't mind."

"Yeah, I get that," he said, running a fingertip around one of her nipples. And then the other. "Just wanted to be in you."

"So, you can really just stop?"

"When I'm not having people leave me hard as a rock you mean?"

She blushed then and he gave a low chuckle.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "Why not? It's not like I didn't already come before. And, speaking of, I'm safe."

"Huh?" she asked.

"Earlier," he said, gesturing to the other room. "I didn't have a condom on me. I shouldn't have done that, but I'm safe."

"You are, huh? And I'm supposed to take your word for it?"

"Yeah, I always wear one."

"Except when you're jealous?"

"I guess so."

She ran a fingertip along his jaw, letting it fall to his neck and the mark there. She liked it. Never having reason to give one before tonight she wasn't sure how she'd feel about them, but she liked knowing he'd wake up tomorrow and see a reminder of being with her.

"He's like me."

"I'm sorry?"

"Adam. He's pushy because he's like me, heals. There's more to it then just that, but he's not my boyfriend. I'm not having sex with him. He kisses me goodnight, yes, but they're just kisses. He holds my hand because in addition to easing Nathan's mind about his reputation possibly getting ruined. Well, Adam's lived a long time never knowing there was someone else like him. He just likes touching me, to know I'm actually real."

"Can't be that long. He's not that old."

"That night at the club?"

"Yeah, I remember it quite vividly. Always have, even if I didn't recognize you at first."

"He'd just gotten done telling me about myself. Well, not that night but I had a wild couple of weeks there." She leaned up then, dislodging him from on top of her. She rested a hand against his chest now that he was lying on the bed. "I can't die. Or age. It goes with the healing thing. Someone drives a knife through my heart, as soon as the knife is pulled out of me I'll come back. Thirty years from now I'm going to look the same as I do right now."


"That means exactly what I'm saying it means, Taylor. Adam's much older than he looks, than he seems. He fought in the Civil War. The War of Independence. There are probably other wars and causes I just don't know about them."

"Get out of here."

"That's why I had sex with you that night. I was in the process of experimenting. Drugs, alcohol, and finally sex. I didn't want to believe him, that I'd live forever. That nothing can hurt me. I can't get sick, can't get diseases, so you're pretty safe with me."

He draped an arm over his face and she thought maybe she'd lost him. She'd said too much, but she didn't want him getting jealous of Adam every time they were around one another.

"So, why aren't you with him then? You're like him. He can't die, you can't die. I'd think you'd want that."

"Maybe one day, but he's had hundreds of years to live a life. He's been married, has had kids, and has lived lifetimes. I'm asking for at least one."

"So a guy marries you, knowing you're going to outlive him, and knowing who you're going to end up with eventually."

"I guess so," she said softly. "I said maybe, not definitely. I may not, you know? He claims my husband's going to die cursing my name because I'll look the same as I do now and he'll be old or dying of some terrible disease."

"And you're all right with that?"

"I have to be. I want to experience it. I want a life. I want to be Claire Bennet for a while, see who I am, find out what that means. I'm too young to settle into eternity."

"He going to stick around?"

"How do you mean?"

"You and me," he said. "Not saying we're going to get married, never really thought about doing that, but this isn't just sex to me. Figured that out when I wanted to beat the crap out of him for touching you tonight. So, is he always going to be around, flaunting that he has the rest of forever with you?"

"No, I don't think so. I doubt he'll go away forever, but he's not insensitive. And he wouldn't want me mad at him either, that wouldn't do him any good."

"And the kissing?"

"I think I can hold off kissing him anymore. Under one condition."

"What's that?"

"Well, I need to get them from somewhere."

He slid an arm around her waist, dragging her to him. He kissed her then, long and hard, lips parting, tongues meeting almost violently.

"I think I can handle that."

"You're not going to freak out. And you realize you can't go telling anyone about what I've told you."

"No really? Like anyone would believe me."

"Why do you believe me so easily?"


"Yes, please."

"My friend Matty. His wife is different, too."

"Different? As in how?"

"I, uh, well, see now it's me thinking you're not going to buy my story."

"Try me."

"She's a vampire slayer. You lived in California, right?"

"My parents do, yeah."

"Remember that town disappeared from the map a few years back. Sunnydale."

"Yeah, vaguely," she said. They weren't living in California when that happened, but she remembered hearing about it. It wasn't every day towns just disappeared.

"Yeah, she had something to do with that. Not sure what, I don't know the whole story, but she's like super strong and stuff. Works as a bodyguard. I gave her shit about that when I first met her because she's so little."


"You'll meet her probably here in a few days."

"I will?"

"That is if you want to. They're flying into town. Matty has something to talk to me about, wanted me to fly out there but I told him it wasn't feasible for me to do it this early in the job. That's why we were on the phone before."

"They're going to stay here?"

"Nah, with his pop I imagine, but they'll come here. He said something about Yankees tickets or something, figured I'd see if you wanted to go along."

"Like as in your date?"

"Yeah, like as in that."

"Hmm, I'm not sure."

"Why not?" he asked, sounding as if he was taking her seriously.

"I'm just teasing, sure I'd go. You going to tell him about me?"

"Not unless it comes up, which I can't imagine it would. Why?"

"You told me his wife's secret."

"Only to show you why I believed you. It's not like I run around telling everyone and Matty has no reason to know your secret unless someone tries to hurt you."

"Let's hope that doesn't happen."

"Exactly." He stood then, went into the bathroom, opening the door after a minute. "So, was thinking."


"You going to stay here tonight?"

"I hadn't thought about it, it's not like I have a long way to get back to my place in the morning. Why?"

"Want to get wet with me?"

"I thought I've already done that."

He shook his head with a laugh. "I meant in here. A shower. I'll wash your back."

"You already did that."

"I was thinking I'd have to again for the same reason as before."

"Oh," she said, standing from the bed and walking to him. "So, once isn't enough?"

"It would seem not."

"Hmm, liar."

"Not about the important stuff. And this isn't a bad thing to be caught in a lie about."

"Ah, yes, something about proving your virility or something."

"Yeah, that," he said, drawing his shirt off of her and tossing it to the floor. He was naked at the moment, which was just fine with her.

Return to Top

***Part Eight***
Word Count: 4,467

His days were starting to become a blur, redundant, and repetitive. Taylor wasn't sure how he felt about that. He woke up, worked out, worked, came back, and crashed. Sometimes he'd watch TV or a movie, surf the net, or just sit back and chill, listening to music. Claire usually ended up at his apartment at some point during the night, but they were obviously trying to be discreet. It was one thing for her to be in his apartment for a couple of hours to watch a movie and another to be seen entering but not coming back out again.

He didn't care, but she did and so he was getting used to falling asleep with her in the bed and waking up with her not in the bed. He had no idea what time she woke up to move up to her room, but he knew it was well before anyone in the house was up and about.

He had some free time on occasion during the day. Nathan had security people assigned to his office, so if he was there for the day Taylor could come and go. There wasn't much to do, though. Play pool. Drink, but he couldn't do that knowing he'd be working later.


Didn't really interest him.

Not in the way it should anyway. He wasn't to the point where he threw a number away he was on the receiving end of, but he was definitely into someone for the first time in a long time.

And that someone? She laid a lot on him, which was he realized the reason he wasn't quick to throw away the numbers he got since being with her. It was not in the usual sense of how women typically laid heavy shit on a man. Usually it was expectation of marriage, kids, spouting words of love and expecting him to say them back two seconds into things, or something like that.

Not with Claire. No, he had to go and get interested in someone who was … what was she? Immortal? Invincible? Whatever the term was she'd outlive him and then some. It'd be tempting not to believe her except he felt proof of what she was telling him every time he slid inside of her. Saw proof of it every time he left a love bite on her skin and it disappeared more quickly than how long it took him to leave it to begin with.

Hundreds of years. That's how long she said Adam had been around. Alone until finding her. Taylor found it hard to believe the man was really going to leave her alone to live a life without him. So far, though, he hadn't come after Taylor so he had to hope that maybe she was right in thinking he'd abide by her wishes.

How did a guy like him compete with one like Monroe? The dude had seen, Christ, everything. He hadn't paid great attention in school, but he knew the advancements that had been made just in the last one hundred years never mind the last three or four hundred. He'd fought wars when they were hand-to-hand combat. Something Taylor admittedly would get into talking over with the guy. And he no doubt would sit back, waiting for Taylor to screw up. A chance to tell Claire she was wrong in wasting her time on anyone but him.

And if that didn't make him all kinds of jealous. The idea that he couldn't be the man she wanted or needed. She hadn't put a lot of expectations on him to this point. Hell, she hadn't put any expectations on him. He wasn't even sure she wanted to go to the ballgame with him coming up this weekend. They hadn't done anything but sit in his apartment and she had never once complained or acted as if she expected him to take her places.

Probably he should wonder about that. Was she embarrassed? Clearly she was from a different type of life than he was. College and loving families who sent her somewhere to be safe. As if his father would have even thought of his safety.

He didn't come across it often, but there were women who just wanted sex and nothing else from a guy. Maybe she was that type of woman. Maybe she just wanted to get sex out of her system before settling down with Monroe.

Only thing was, he didn't think that was the case. She didn't profess her undying love the first night she'd spent the night or anything, but he sensed that she liked him with more than just casual interest. And he wanted her to. He wanted to be everything she needed in a man. He found himself oddly wanting to be the reason her time with Monroe was put off.

Nathan was going somewhere for the weekend, to see his wife and sons, and Taylor's presence with him was not required. It timed perfectly with Matty coming into town. He'd been hesitant to ask for a night off, so had been surprised when Nathan gave him the weekend off. He was looking forward to some time with his friend not having to worry about leaving too soon. Or drinking too much.

He stopped at his fridge, grabbing a beer and popping it open before picking up the phone to see if there were any messages on this or the phone at his house. None. There rarely were as only a few had this number to begin with and anyone who knew him had his cell and information about his current living arrangements. He didn't consider this a permanent move.

One day he'd move on to a different job, and with as restless as he'd been feeling even only a couple of months into it he wasn't sure he'd last as long as he'd hoped. It was a good job, had the potential to be lucrative and pave the way to other things, but it wasn't going to get him anywhere. The other things would be the same type of work just for someone more important than Senator Petrelli. He'd bide his time, though, until his sparring gigs started becoming more frequent or turned into more than just sparring.

As much as the repetitiveness bothered him, it beat the hell out of working at nightclubs. He was glad to get out of that line of work. Unfortunately, there just weren't a lot of options open to someone like him. He knew this, was content with working with what he'd been given. His brawn. Not that he lacked for brains, but no one really sought him out for that sort of thing.

He undid his tie, sliding it through his collar as he took a sip of the beer and walked toward his room. He flipped the light switch and stilled at the sight of the person making him think twice about accepting phone numbers lying in his bed asleep.

He sat on the edge of the bed, brushing some hair away from her face before running a finger along her cheek, her mouth. She stirred then, waking as his fingertips found her neck, her collarbone, lower to the top of a breast he couldn't see because of the shirt she wore.

"Hi," she whispered.

"You waiting up for me?"

"Obviously not."

He chuckled. "Sorry, night ran late. I didn't know you were going to be here or I'd a called."

"It's okay. I was trying to surprise you."

"You did."

"A nice one?"

"One of the better ones I've gotten, yeah."

"So, you're off for the weekend," she said, sitting up a little.

"Yeah, starting now, off til he gets back. Sunday night, Monday morning, not sure."

"Hmm, well, what are you going to do with all of that free time?"

"I was going to go home."

"Oh," she said softly and he could tell he'd said the wrong thing. Not really, though, because he hadn't admitted what had come to mind when he realized Claire wasn't accompanying Nathan on his weekend away.

"You could come with me."

"Really? You're not just saying that because I'm here."

"No. It's in Brooklyn. You think you can deal with that, you're welcome to come. Besides, it'll make it easier for going to the game with Matty and his wife."

"Oh, yeah, I wasn't sure you still wanted me to go."

"Why not?" He shifted a little, shrugging out of his suit coat. "I invited you. Said it was a date."

"Before you knew Nathan was going anywhere."

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"Maybe you want to see your friend by yourself."

"What does that have to do with Nathan?"

"Well, like you just said, you're going home."

"And I'm inviting you to come along."

"You sure?"

"Positive. Go pack a bag for the weekend."

She sat up then, brushing her hair away from her face.

"Okay. What else will we be doing besides the game?"

"I don't know. Nothing fancy, though. So, you don't need a dress or anything, unless you want to wear a dress."

"You like me in dresses."

"You know I do. And skirts and anything that shows off your legs and gives me easy access to touching you."

"You did more than touch me last night."

Had he ever. She'd been so receptive to him he'd been a little too enthusiastic. He felt bad about that as he usually did after the fact and wished she hadn't brought that up right now. He was a fighter, grew up using his fists, his toughness to help him advance. Last night wasn't the first time either not that he'd ever hit her or get rough with her like that.

He hadn't thought of himself as the jealous type. He'd had women he'd spent time with more than a week or two, he'd see them with other guys and it stung a little but nothing like seeing that Monroe guy hold her hand the other night. All night. Talk to her, whisper in her ear. All night. Usually, it rolled off his back, he just didn't bother calling the girl again.

He might have done the same thing here, except she'd shown up at his door looking very much like she wanted to be there. And he'd had to have her. He wasn't sure how he felt about everything she'd told him, about her or Monroe, but he understood that there were things in the world that couldn't be explained or didn't fall under the category of normal. But seeing her standing there in that dress, knowing that no one had been with her but him did something to him.

And she'd been here every night since. They didn't have sex all of the time, but she'd yet to say no to him. Or to complain if he got carried away with his enthusiasm for wanting her. Last night he'd been particularly attentive because he'd overheard Nathan asking her why Adam hadn't been around. She hadn't responded in a specific way and that had sort of bothered him. Not that he expected her to rush out and tell the world they were together or anything. He wasn’t even sure they were together.

"Listen, I said I was sorry if I hurt you."

"That's not what I meant," she said with a light laugh, moving to her knees. She kissed him lightly, letting her arms rest on either side of his neck. "And I don't recall the word no or stop coming from my lips once. Ever. I do recall my requesting more a time or two, though."

"Well, no," he said. Put like that, yeah. He wasn't a rapist. If she'd told him stop he'd a stopped. Simple as that.

"So then don't worry about it."

She unbuttoned the shirt she was wearing, revealing the fact that it was all she was wearing.

"And see, not a mark on me," she said, sliding her hand lower along her body, between her legs. His eyes followed its path, which was no doubt her intention. He licked his lips at the idea of trying once again to leave a mark on her somewhere. She certainly didn't seem to mind him trying. Repeatedly. "Anywhere."

"Go pack your bag or we'll never leave."

"Hmm, you sure?"

"Yes, I want you in my bed, under my roof tonight."

"Okay. I'll be back in a while," she said. She redid the buttons, pulling on a pair of jeans she must have been wearing when she came here. And then she was gone.

It didn't take him long to pack a bag. He had most everything he needed at his house with the exception of clothes, and he wouldn't be needing any of his suits. So, that made choosing easy. Last thing he grabbed was his leather jacket, sliding into it just as she knocked on the door that led to the house.

"That didn't take long," he said, surprised it hadn't. Chicks always took forever.

She shrugged. "I figured I'd hurry while Nathan was distracted so he doesn't ask too many questions."

"All right, let's go then," he said, locking that door before they walked to the other one.

"What are you looking at?" he asked when she'd been quietly looking at him for a few miles now. In fact, they hadn't said more than a handful of words to one another since they left her house. Maybe this was too much for her, leaving the house with him.

"Nothing, I've just never seen you dressed like this."

"This is how I normally dress. Problem?"

"No. Are the suits yours?"

"What do you mean, mine? Who else's would they be?"

"I mean, were they yours before you took this job?"

"A couple were. Didn't have much need for more than two or three. Can't exactly go in and buy a suit and walk out with it at the time of purchase."

"I suppose not."

"So, yeah, I got some more. I needed to. Nathan offered to reimburse me, but that wasn't an issue. And I didn't want to feel like I had to leave them behind or something when I leave."

"Ah," she said, turning to look out her window.

She was quiet then, watching the streets as they drove. They went through some crappy neighborhoods. Ones even he wouldn't get out of the car after dark if the car broke down. The crappy area paved way to nicer ones, and finally his neighborhood.

"Wow," she said.

He had to admit, even at night it was impressive. Teddy Deserve didn't do anything half assed or understated. Teddy liked to impress, let anyone see that he was more than successful in his life.

"Wouldn't know it to look at me, would ya?"

"No, not that I really thought about it. Or care. The house I live in now, not at all what I'm used to."

"I get that."

He pulled into the garage, closing the door behind them. The driveway was a long one, so they couldn't see the street from the house. It was one thing Taylor liked about it, the privacy it offered. Teddy always said that it was a strategic nightmare having the house so far back. Having to defend the house not knowing when anyone was coming no matter the direction.

"You want anything before we go upstairs?"


"You sure? There'll be more to choose from tomorrow morning when my people have time to get to the store, I told them not to worry about tonight, but I have stuff."

"I'm fine, really."

"So, did you say goodbye to him?"



"I said goodnight, didn't want to say goodbye."

"So, he has no idea you're with me?"


"Why is that?"

"Because I may not call him dad, but he is my father and I'm not sure how much he'd like me sleeping with you."

"Cuz I'm hired muscle?"

"No, because I'm his daughter, silly. If my dad were here," she rolled her eyes. "Doesn't matter, he's not."

"You wouldn't be here in other words."

"No," she said simply.

"Thank heaven then for being away from your father."

"Oh, I'm sure we could come up with our own ways to skirt around his authoritative thumb if we had to."

"Had to do it before?"

She shrugged. "What teenaged girl hasn't?"

He chuckled. "I suppose that's true."

"I imagine you were involved in more than a few teenaged girls lying to their dads."

He smirked with a shake of his head as he led her through the house to his room. "Nah. I was too busy beating people up to take much notice of girls back then."

"Much notice, but you noticed some."

"Sure, told you I had a steady girlfriend back in high school. She went to college. I didn't and couldn't. Enough said."

"There you go again with that couldn't stuff. You could. You can."

"Too late now."

"But Taylor."

"Listen," he said, dropping his bag on his bed.

He walked to the sliding door that looked out onto a private balcony and opened it. He stared outside for a minute, not sure how to say what he felt the need to say. He wasn't even sure he should. She'd confessed a secret to him, but hers wasn't really the type to make someone run away screaming or wanting to call the cops.

Oh, sure, he maybe should a been intimidated by the fact that she was in a roundabout way saying one day, eventually, she'd end up with that Monroe guy. That she was going to live forever. Look as young and nice as she did now fifty years from now when he'd look more than likely old. He wasn't, though. Not really because he'd wanted to bring her here. To his home.

"This is who I am. I'm all right with that. I figure before any of my friends who could go to college and did graduated I'd gotten in over 500 fights. On the street. Not in a boxing ring where there are rules or a referee to call the fight if someone's knocked out or near death."

He turned to face her then.

"That's what I did. Who I am. This house was my old man's, it ain't mine. He died, I inherited it, so I'm here. Would a given it to my mother but she didn't want to live here and it seemed stupid to pay rent on a crappy apartment when I had this place."


"No, just listen, because I'm telling you who I am, Claire. What kind of man you're getting yourself involved with. I'm a thug. That's what my old man used me for. All my life, never paid a lick of attention to me until he realized I could be useful as muscle. Someone he could send out to help ensure money or whatever was owed Matty's dad was collected promptly. Someone he knew would fight to the death if it meant getting an inch of respect from my old man. It never happened. When he didn't need me, he treated me like something lower than pond scum."


"Don't tell me how sorry you are. I'm fine with it, but you need to know. You have secrets, so do I. Mine could send people to prison for a very long time. I've seen men killed. Murdered, Claire. You get that? That was a common occurrence with the people I ran with. I've beat people to within an inch of their lives and I did it willingly, happily, because it felt good."

"But you don't do that now, right?"

"No, I got out. It wasn't long before my old man died. I had my own business going, nothing lucrative, video games in stores and stuff, but I was trying to get out from under it. Go legit. I didn't want to be like my old man or any of the old man's of my friends. I wanted to be my own man. I've walked a straight line for a while now."

"You're not doing the video game thing now?"

"Nah, paid shit, and I realized bouncing I could use my muscles without doing anything criminal."


"You just need to know, because I like you. Don't know what's going on between us, but I'm not college material. I don't even have my high school diploma. I flunked too many classes because by the time my senior year hit I was big man on the street, the man my old man came to for any deed that required a ruthless fist. And I breathed life into that reputation, made sure everyone feared me. I'm not bring home to Mom and Dad to impress them material. I may not talk like a Brooklyn thug so much anymore, but believe me he's still in here. In me. Always will be."

"All right."

"You say all right, but are you really all right with it? I'm not going to be the type of guy you bring to one of your father's parties to impress people like Monroe can."

"But I don't want…"

"I don't know pretty words or how to quote poetry and I'm probably not so good with regular words, but I'm faithful as a dog."

She blinked. "You're comparing yourself to a dog?"

"Well, no, not really, suppose that came out wrong. I'm just saying. I'm not like my old man. I don't cheat. One of the reasons I've avoided relationships, no one interested me enough."

"And I do?"

"You're here," he said, spreading his arms to indicate the house. "No one but Matty has ever been here with me."

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "Because I don't want a woman who likes me because I have this. I didn't earn it, it was given to me."

"Sounds like you did help earn it."

He shrugged, willing to concede that point to a degree. "All right. Either way. This isn't really me. I didn't live here growing up. And contrary to appearances I'm not rolling in money. I was Teddy's only son so I got a chunk of change, but I can't help but think of it as blood money. A payoff from him in death to try and make up for how crappy he treated me in life."

"So, why bring me here?"

"Because I don't think you'll look at this place and think I can keep you outfitted in a different diamond necklace every day. I see you at Nathan's, but I know you're not from there just like I'm not from here."

"No, I'm not. I mean, that's not important to me."

"I just gotta make you understand, though. I'm out, but that doesn't mean the cops believe I'm legit. You know? That doesn't mean one day someone ends up dead beat to shit and they don't come looking to talk to me. Or they see you with me and harass you, try to make me look guilty for something in your eyes just to fuck with me."

"Does that happen a lot?"

"Not so much anymore. Most worth anything know I'm out, but there are a few old school cops who have a hard-on for bringing down a mafia guy who think I'm bullshitting. Or putting on an act."

He walked toward her then, leaving the sliding door open. It was a nice night for it. He hadn't wanted to take this room as his, but the balcony was a definite perk. There were nights he sat out there, drinking a beer or two and just stared at nothing. It was nice to do that.

"And you understand while things like what happened last night and the night of the dinner may happen again, I'd never hit you? I'd never hurt you under any other circumstance and if you ever said you'd had enough I'd stop."

"I know that, and you didn't hurt me. Not in a way I minded. Don't you get that? I liked it!"

"Yeah, well, you may not always and you're certainly entitled to more variety than just me taking you like I have no clue where a bed is. Or that I get off on hurting you."

"I know you don't. You've made up for it when you've been like that."

"You say that now."

She shrugged, but she was smiling.

"I'm not going to pretend I'm the most thoughtful lover. I have a lot to learn probably from the standpoint of how to actually treat someone I'm going to see more than once or twice."

"Well, I have a lot to learn altogether."

She eyed him for a minute, serious stuff going through her mind from what he could tell.

"This isn't because I was a virgin, is it? I mean, you don't think you owe me something?"

"Nah, figured if my reaction to seeing Monroe touching you was that intense from only being with you a couple of times I should look into us a bit."

"Speaking of Adam, you realize he's not going to go away completely? He will avoid kissing me and stuff."

"I don't think I want to hear about the and stuff, but that's good to know."

"I just meant, touching me, whatever, but he'll be around from time to time and he may not always be nice to you."

"I get that and I'm okay with it. I actually wouldn't mind talking to him if he knows that I know his secret."


"Really," he said simply.

"All right," she said. "Anything more you need to tell me?"

"Uh, no," he said with a soft chuckle. "I should admit I'm not really sure how long I can keep doing this job."


"I'm not used to being so locked in, locked down. I mean, I can't do anything without asking him first. I hate bouncing, but at least I had time to myself, had a night off here and there."

"I understand. Does that mean we'll be done?"

"Don't see why it has to mean that. I'd be able to see more of you and you wouldn't have to have Monroe take you to all those things."

She smiled a little at that. Yeah, he was probably acting like a jealous idiot, but it didn't seem to bother her.

"All right then, show me around your house."

"I, uh, what?"

"I want to see your house."

"Oh, well, I haven't done a lot to make it my house yet."

"Well, show me and tell me as we go what you plan on doing to make it yours."

"All right," he said, sliding out of his leather jacket then and tossing it on the bed.

Return to Top

***Part Nine***
Word Count: 6,001

"We've got to finish getting ready," Claire said as he kissed the back of her neck. She was doing her hair in his bathroom and he was doing his best to distract her. She wore pants, which he'd expressed his opinion on already more than once.

"I am finished."

"I'm not and we have to leave like any minute."

"Not for a while."

"Soon enough."

"Long enough."

She turned then to face him, settling her hairbrush against his chest. "We stayed in bed all morning!"

"Well, now it's noon and the bed's going to get cold."

"The breakfast was to die for," she said, glancing at the lone bowl left over from that delicious meal. He had a staff. Not like Nathan's, but that was because he didn't live here right now. Perhaps that was why the cook seemed to go overboard with breakfast.

French toast, waffles, eggs, toast, fruit, cereal, orange juice, apple juice, and milk that tasted better than anything she'd had before for some reason. It had been brought to the room on a cart. The cart had long ago been taken away, except for the fruit, which they'd kept to snack on. Neither could have anticipated they'd stay holed up in his room for hours.

"It was pretty good," he admitted.

"Anyway, I have to finish getting ready so I don't embarrass you in front of your friend."

"As if you could, but I really wish you'd reconsider the pants."

"No! We're going to a baseball game. Nowhere in there should there be time for you to do anything that requires me wearing a skirt."

He slid a hand along her lower back to her ass. "You'd be surprised what I could do with a few minutes, especially if we go to a club after the game."

"I would not be surprised, I have first hand experience with what you can do in the storeroom of a club. You will have to wait until later to show me again."

"Yeah, yeah," he said with a chuckle.

Once he left her alone it didn't take her much longer and they were ready to go pick up his friend from the airport. She was nervous. Beyond nervous. He didn't talk about too many friends and Matty was always the first one he mentioned if he started to talk about his childhood. Matty was the one he talked about most often.

She wasn't sure Matty even knew Taylor was bringing anyone to the game, though she supposed if tickets were involved he had to know. They didn't say much. She wasn't sure if that was good or bad that they sat in silence a lot. It didn't feel uncomfortable or anything, so she hoped it was a good thing that they didn't feel as though they had to fill every waking minute with conversation.

He'd said some pretty intense things the night before. Stuff she was pretty sure should have sent her running in the other direction. Except she didn't think he was a bad guy. Not to say he hadn't done bad things, but hadn't her dad? Hadn't Nathan? Hadn't Angela? Good God, the woman lied to her own son about the fact Claire had survived. Surely that was more hurtful than anything Taylor had done.

She wasn't stupid enough to think he'd never picked a fight himself. She just didn't think he'd done it for a long time. And growing up exposed to things he'd seen and done. Who could blame him for thinking that problems got solved with violence?


He said he'd seen people who'd been killed. Had he killed anyone? She hadn't asked, not wanting to know the answer. Loving her dad who she knew had done some questionable things and having sex with someone who she thought she could love knowing he did questionable things was very different.

His phone rang when they weren't too far from the airport. He let go of her hand for the first time since leaving his house.

She still couldn’t get over that house. Oh my God. She could totally understand his not wanting to bring anyone there. It was like a museum. Art and sculptures and antiques and furniture that cost a fortune. She didn't claim to know Taylor well, but she could tell which rooms he'd changed without him having to tell her. First, they actually looked lived in. And second, they didn't look like a security guard needed to be posted outside the door.

She wondered what kind of man his father was, but knew asking wouldn't be right. They clearly didn't have a good relationship and she wouldn't do that to him, but she was curious. There was one portrait of him in what had been his office. He looked cold. No matter what she might think about her dad, the things he did for The Company, she knew without a doubt that he loved her. One need only look into his eyes to know that. She didn't see that in Taylor's dad's eyes.

"Hey," he said into the phone.

"Yeah, almost there."

"No, my usual ride."

"All right, see ya in a bit."

He disconnected, putting the phone down and then he did something that made her more nervous. He didn't give her his hand back, instead putting it on the steering wheel. She wasn't sure what, if anything, that meant.

He'd told her, of course, that his friend was flying in on a private plane so she knew better than to expect LaGuardia or anything. She'd never been to a private airport before. It was somewhat weird pulling up alongside the curb and not having security guards standing there to hurry you on your way. Or taxi cabs or buses or anything.

Taylor turned the car off and took the keys before getting out. He had an older car so no automatic trunk release. He hadn't said anything, but she felt silly just sitting in the car so she got out, too. Just in time to see Taylor and Matty (or so she presumed) give one another one of those guy-like hugs she'd seen before. A handshake that was more than that but not a full-fledged hug. Why it was such a big deal for two men to hug she didn't understand.

He didn't hug the woman, though. Buffy. Someone different like she was. She couldn't help but stare, because she'd heard what Taylor had said about her being small but she hadn't thought she was going to be this small. She wasn't much bigger than Claire. She forced herself to look away, not wanting to be caught staring.

Of course, the fact that she was obviously pregnant would have been a legitimate reason for Claire to stare. Especially since Taylor hadn't mentioned it and judging by his reaction, he hadn't known. He'd been out there not too long ago, though, she knew because he'd mentioned it. She probably hadn't been showing yet.

Claire had vague memories of her mom being pregnant with Lyle, but otherwise she had very limited knowledge about pregnancy.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Taylor made his way to her side, sliding an arm around her as he made introductions. Bags in the trunk, they made their way to Yankee Stadium. Claire had opted to sit on the backseat with Buffy so that Taylor and Matty could talk all they wanted.

"When were you going to tell me?"

"Well, that's why we're here. We wanted to wait until we knew we were pretty free and clear. Pop and her sister know, but that's it."

"You're feeling all right?" He glanced over his shoulder at Buffy as he asked the question.

"Yeah, fine, actually. Starting to feel like I've swallowed a basketball, but I guess that's pretty common."

Taylor chuckled lightly.

"Do you know what it is," Claire asked.

"No, Matty said it was up to me and I really didn't want to know. It's kind of like unwrapping a present early. And I don't think it matters to either of us if it's a boy or girl as long as it's healthy."

The talk continued from there. Taylor filled Matty in about his job and the sparring he'd done recently. She'd never seen Taylor in this type of situation. Social. His world. His people, so she enjoyed sitting back and watching him in an environment more comfortable for him.

Soon they were at Yankee Stadium, parking on a prime parking lot that looked as though not just anyone could park there. And when they ended up in a very nice suite, Claire understood why they'd had such a good area to park in.

"You didn't tell me we weren't sitting down there," she said, gesturing to the regular seats of the ballpark.

"Does it matter?" Taylor asked.

"Well, no," she said.

"It's Matty's dad's. He's had it for years."

"Oh," she said.

"That a problem?"

"No," she said.

"You sure? Because Matty and me we may be out but we're only two of many who never got out. You're with me, people you meet will be connected. And neither of us snub our noses at things like this when his dad offers them up."

"I get it, I just wasn't expecting…"

"Oh wait, I get it, you wanted to sit out there."

"Well, yeah, it's Yankee Stadium. I mean, my dad'll flip when he finds out I was here."

"Trust me when I say your dad will flip no matter where you sat to see the game."

"I know," she murmured.

"It was hard for me to get used to, too," Buffy said.

"Huh?" Claire asked.

"The first time Matty and I went to a ball game. I'm not used to being one of those elite people that get to sit in box seats or suites like this."

"Oh, yeah, I'm not complaining. I just wasn't expecting it."

"It is different. Not that I'd gone to many games before meeting Matty or anything, but I always felt like being up here made you less a part of it, but it's not really. And, plus, the pregnant woman really likes not having to stand in line for twenty minutes for a bathroom."

Claire ducked her head a little, though she laughed.

"So, Matty avoided the question he wanted to ask you," Buffy said to Taylor, glancing at Matty clearly telling him to get on with it.

"What's that?" Taylor asked.

"We want you to be godfather," Matty said.


"Yes, you," Buffy said, smiling a little, as if she knew the request unsettled him somehow. "Maybe he was waiting for the right time, but if I know you two you're going to spend the weekend talking about sports and your boxing and whatever else and avoid talking about the reason we're here." She turned her attention to Claire. "You'd think they were a couple of women. They talk altogether too much."

"Hey, men talk."

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"And it's not like we're exchanging cooking recipes or anything," Matty said.

"Right, you're talking about important guy stuff."

"I take it you're not working?" Taylor asked.

"Nope, haven't for the past couple of months. I don't know if I'll go back. Matty doesn't want me to, and I don't really need to. I'm just not sure what I'll do with myself if I don't do something. I've been doing something for so long it's all I know."

"Aren't you going to college?"

"Yes, still have two years left. I had one year at UC Sunnydale completed, but my grades weren't that great and with Sunnydale gone. Well, I had some problems transferring credits."

"A baby and college?" Claire said. "I'd say you'll be busy enough without a job."

"That's what everyone tells me. I'm just used to being busy, but we'll figure it out."

"You know I'll do it, you sure you both want me?"

"Yeah, man," Matty said, handing Buffy a bottle of water before he opened a beer. "It'll be you and Willow. Pop may not be too keen on our choices since you're both Jewish, but he'll get over it."

"Do I have to fly out there? Cuz you're talking only two or three months from now and I'm not sure I could get away any easier then than now."

"Buffy's not a big church person and I don't have a church out there and you know Pop. He's been going to the same one since he was a kid. Plus, he'll want to have a huge party and everything for the baptism, his first grandchild. So we'll come here."

"I still can't believe you waited this long to tell me."

"Well, if something happened, you know, it was just easier not to have to worry about telling a million people. I'm surprised Dad's kept it quiet so long."

"I am, too," Taylor said.

"Listen, I'm going to take Buffy around for a bit. There are a few people I want her to meet and a couple of players are mine so I should say hello to them since I'm here."

"Right," Taylor said with a nod. He knew how it worked. He'd sort of expected as much when Matty suggested a ballgame, which was fine with him. He was just glad to spend some time with his friend away from the senator's house. So, he'd take what he could get.

"They're nice," she said, wondering if she'd ever have a friendship like the one Taylor and Matty so obviously had. Zach was the closest she had but he was thousands of miles away and they weren't close all of their lives. So, it was different.

"Yeah, they are."

"They're happy."

"They are that, too. Never thought I'd see him become a dad."


"No, I mean, I guess I assumed he'd get married one day, but I just never pictured it beyond that."

"And you?"

"What about me?"

"Do you picture yourself with kids?"

"Not really," he said, moving to stand in front of her. He slid a hand to her neck, brushing her hair away from her shoulders as he touched her. "Why?"

"Just curious. Not sure I can have them."

"Well, I'm not going to start down the path of trying to find out," he said, hands going to her hips to bring her against him. "Though we could probably perfect the act of trying a little more if you were of the mind."

She gave a soft giggle, brushing her body against the front of his. "I wasn't asking you to. Was just curious. If you were picturing yourself with a houseful of kids and I can't give you that. Well, that could be a problem."

"Nah. I didn't have much of a role model so I don't know that I'd be equipped to do the job right. And I refuse to put kids out in the world who aren't raised right."

"Mm, good," she whispered. She gave him a kiss, lingering a little and then moved to sit on one of the seats to watch the game. He stared at her for a minute, wondering what he'd done wrong. Or did she think he was just teasing her?

"You really going to sit and watch the game on me?"

"Planned on it. Isn't that why we're here?"

"I guess. I just don't know when the next time I'm going to get you alone is. Especially if I have to get you back tomorrow."

"We're not really alone now."

"There's no one here but us!"

"There's a whole stadium of people, Taylor."

"Who are out there and can't see or hear anything."

"Matty and Buffy."

"Aren't going to be back for a while. I wasn't envisioning a marathon session or anything. Besides, Matty wouldn't blame me. He says Buffy's hormones are all over the map and there have been times he's contemplated calling in sick to work so he could stay in bed with her."

"Oh my God, see, you shouldn't know that!" She scrunched her nose, eyeing him as if she might be contemplating the idea. "And even still, no matter I'd feel weird."

"We had sex at a nightclub. Why is that okay?"

"It was just different."

"Hmm," he said, grabbing his cigarettes.

"Was that your plan for the weekend?"

"Seducing you as often as I could, knowing your old man isn't a floor above us? Maybe."

She sighed softly.

"Why is that all right?"

"I don't know. It's just different. He doesn't know I'm with you. They know."

"And they probably suspect we've already had sex."

"Suspect? Or know?"

"Well, Matty knows because of how we first met, I assume he probably told Buffy the story, too," he said, searching his pockets for his lighter.

"Great. So they think I'm a slut."

"Absolutely not! Why would you say that?"

"I had sex with a stranger in the store room of a nightclub. Doesn't sound too good."

"Well, yeah, but I told him you were a virgin. And, honestly, it's not as if a million girls in New York City and around the world haven't done the same thing."

"Even better."

"Why are you getting mad about this?"

"I don't know. Why do you feel the need to discuss our sex life?"

"I haven't discussed any of it with that exception. I would just think they'd assume since we had sex that night and you're at my house for the weekend that we are currently. Besides, they eloped in Vegas while drunk, I don't think it's their place to judge what we've done."

"It's just weird."

"And your friends aren't going to think that?"

"I don't think my friends are going to be at Yankee Stadium with us."

"Or maybe you have no plans on my meeting your friends."

"That's not it, though I can't imagine why you'd want to."

"What? Why not?"

"Because they're all my age! I mean, a few are older, but not much."

"Okay, so I wouldn't have a whole lot to talk to them about, but I'd manage."


"Listen, you don't want to have sex, that's fine."

"Well, that's good because I'd hate to think that's all I'm good for."

"We had a nice morning, didn't we? Having a good time here? I know Matty's going to get a scorecard for you and have it autographed by as many of the players as he can."


"Yes, that's why I know he's going to be a while. He likes to do shit like that for people."

"He likes to do it?"

"And, all right, I asked him to; I thought you might like to have something from the game. The weekend. Our first date and all."


"Well, then, that should be proof enough that's not all you're good for. I could have taken my weekend furlough and done my thing. I invited you here. Jesus."

"I know. I'm sorry. It's just weird. You know? Maybe you're used to it, but I'm not."

"It's not that I'm used to it. I guess I just don't see the problem when we've done it with people around at your place."

"I know. It's just different. I can't explain it. We'll have breakfast with them tomorrow and they'd know."

"I guess I can see that, but they'd only know if they catch us."

"Please don't be mad."

"I'm not mad, I guess I just don't completely understand."

"Maybe if we were, you know, more together."

"How much more together can we be?"

"Tonight was our first date!"

"Doesn't feel like it."

"Sitting in your apartment doesn't count."

"I know. Not a very good boyfriend I guess."

"That's not what I meant." She sat up, turning to face him in the chair. "You're also more used to this stuff than I am."

"Yeah, I get that," he said, standing from the seat. He went to the fridge stocked with drinks, grabbing them each a beer. She wasn't a big beer drinker but she had one with him once in a while.

"Here," he said. "Come on," gesturing her out of the seat.

"What? Where?" she asked.

He took her hand, bringing her to the glass so they were right there at the edge of the box.

"You don't want to sit next to me now?"

"No, that's not it," he said. He set his beer down on the floor by his feet. He pulled his lighter out of his pocket and lit a cigarette. He'd never been to a game with a woman before. Usually it was something he did with Matty, Chris and Johnny when they hadn't done something the four of them in a while.

"What then?"

"Just be quiet."


He tugged on her, drawing her against him as he took the lit cigarette from between his lips. He regarded her for a moment before turning his attention to the game on the field below them.

"Never really had a relationship before now. Even in high school, it was more hanging out with benefits. Most of the chicks I've been with, that's what they're with me for. Not for conversation or for me to wow them with my cooking skills. So, I have a good looking woman who has yet to say no to anything I suggest we try nearby, yeah, my dick's going to do the thinking for me. Doesn't mean that's all I want you for. Tonight or any night. Hell, you've slept with me without having sex."

"I know."

"And I forget sometimes you're younger, that this isn't normal for you. I shouldn't, but I don't really ever see you in your life. It's at Nathan's house or at his functions and you always act older than you are there. And Monroe doesn't seem to think you're too young. You know?"

"I do."

"I'd be fine with meeting your friends."

"Don't know when you could."

"Yeah, there is that. I'll get nights off once in a while."

"I know."

"We're okay?"


"You're not mad?"

"No, if you'd pushed it more."

"Just didn't think it'd be a big deal."

She took a sip of her beer while he flicked the ash off his cigarette, neither saying anything for a while.

"So, godfather."

"Yeah, I figured one of her friends that lives out there, closer. There's one guy, Xander, I just sort of assumed."

"Well, it's obviously important to him you do it."

"Yeah, I get the importance a little more than most people would. Italian's take that role more seriously than most. I mean, it's just a name, really, doesn't mean a whole lot to most people. But we sign up to be responsible for their spiritual education. Ironic that I'm not a practicing anything."

"Your mom?"

"Oh, she is. I did the whole Bar Mitzvah thing when I was thirteen, but I haven't gone to Temple in years and I'm not really sure what I believe in anymore."

"Matty knows that?"

"He knows I'd never let my own beliefs interfere with his kid's upbringing. Not that I'll be living with it or anything."

"You could. Isn't that what that means?"

"Yeah, assuming they both die and they don't have someone else for a kid to go stay with. I don't see Matty wanting his kid raised here. Not to mention I know Buffy wouldn't. His pop," he shook his head. "If it was a boy, he'd be exposed to too much shit. It's too hard not to get sucked in. You just take for granted that's how life is."

"And you wouldn't move out there?"

"What am I going to do there I can't do here? Matty moved there because it was a chance at a fresh start, away from his pop. I don't have that." He glanced at her while he put his cigarette out. "You trying to get rid of me?"

She laughed a little.

"No, just curious. I guess if my best friend lived clear across the country I'd be tempted."

"You don't talk about any friends from back home."

"I guess it's different. I didn't have anyone I was lifelong friends with like you do. Well, one, Zach. I still talk to him occasionally in email and stuff, but my last year there. Well, it was sort of chaotic. Another cheerleader died instead of me and I was busy adjusting to my ability. Or whatever you want to call it."

"Wait, you were supposed to die? I thought you couldn't."

"Well, someone cuts off my head, I'll die. And there was a serial killer, Sylar."

"Vaguely remember reading about him, yeah."

"Well, he would have, yeah. But, Nathan's brother helped save me."

"So, Peter and Nathan?"

"Hmm," she said, sipping her beer. "Both have abilities."

"Should I ask what they are?"

"You could, but I wouldn't tell you. Bad enough you know. I should give you this book, it might help you understand it all a little better. I'm still reading through it. It's genetics and stuff."

"Sounds like it'd be over my head."

"I don't think so."

"So, no friends back home."

"No, and especially with Mom and Dad out in California now I wouldn't see anyone anyway."

"So, no best friend?"

"Zach was the closest. He knew my secret. We were buds in grade school and kind of grew apart during junior high, but he helped me out when this all started happening to me."


"Boy friend," she said. "Listen to you. I'd probably have to sleep with a lot of guys to catch up to you and you're jealous of someone I might have dated in Texas when I was like fifteen."

"No one ever said guys are logical, sweetheart."

"No, I don't suppose they are."


"So, Matty says that you lived out in California for a while?" Buffy asked Claire once they were done with dinner. Matty was waiting for the check, but as crowded as the restaurant was she figured it could be a while. Claire had thought they'd never sit down as apparently the restaurant they'd come to was frequented by many people Matty and Taylor knew. So, they'd spent forever talking to people.

"Well, no, my parents and brother live there, but I never did. I grew up in Texas."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah, it's kind of confusing, but I came out here last November and just sort of never left. My parents think I'm better off here for now, so this is where I'm at."

"And you're okay with that?"

Claire shrugged. "It's all right. I mean, I miss them, but I had some things going on and I'm just safer here. My dad didn't think he could protect me and do his job at the same time."

"Is Taylor working for you then? Matty said he's working as a bodyguard."

"No. He works for a senator who I happen to be staying with, friend of the family."

"He's not so bad."


"Taylor," Buffy said, looking as though Claire shouldn't have had to ask.

"Oh, yeah, I get that. I never saw him inviting me to come with him for this weekend. Once Nathan told me he was going away for the weekend I sort of figured mine had opened up."

"He was kind of suspicious of me at first because of the way Matty and I met, but I've come to realize over the last couple of years that he probably would have been that way with whoever Matty married."

"And you two like eloped right?"

"Yes," Buffy said. "It wasn't the most conventional way to end up married, but we've made it work for whatever reason."

"That's good. I mean, that you even tried."

"And now here I am," she said, rubbing her stomach. "I never thought I'd be a wife let alone a mother, my life just wasn't cut out for those things but somehow I'm managing to do it."

"He talks about Matty all of the time."

"Likewise. They're the only ones who got out. I don't know any of his other friends well. There's one who died so I never met him, Johnny. I've met Chris a couple of times, but I get the impression he hasn't stayed out like Matty and Taylor have. They had something happen to them. One of those life altering events, you know? Even at the time you know it's decision-making time. And I get the impression Matty and Taylor made different decisions than Chris did. He never says anything, he wouldn't because Chris is his friend, but I can hear the disappointment when he hears what Chris is up to."

"Taylor's never really mentioned Chris," Claire said, biting her lip a little.

"But you two haven't been together that long or anything."

"No, and I see him all of the time at my house so that doesn't really give him much of a chance to show me his stuff."

"I think it's sweet," Buffy said. "He scared the crap out of me the first time I met him. Not literally, but he was totally sizing me up. He thought I was after Matty's money, house, or something like that, which I'm sure would be tempting to some but so wasn't my thing."

"And I get the impression Taylor's worried for similar reasons."

'What do you mean?"

"Well, he says Matty's the only one who's seen the house he lives in. His dad's house?"


"So, I guess it's the same thing. I don't know. He said he brought me there because he knew that even though I was living with Nathan and had access to nice things he knew that's not how I am. I mean, not that I don't like nice things just as much as the next girl."

"Right," Buffy said, taking a sip of her water. Claire couldn't help but notice the ring on her finger. It was definitely a nice thing.

"I just get the impression he doesn't want people to think he has money."

"No, he wouldn't, not his dad's anyway. I don't know the whole situation, but just the little Matty has told me I know his dad was a major jerk. And mine is a jerk, so if I can say that Taylor's is more of one that's saying something."


"And you're going to school? What are you majoring in"

"Nothing yet. I'm just taking some AP classes this year, but I've already applied to colleges for the fall," she shrugged. "Probably somewhere in New York, but I don't know."

"Nothing wrong with that. I dated someone way older than me when I was your age so don't think I'm going to judge you. You like one another that's all that matters. And Matty wouldn't like him so much if he was a bad guy."

She was about to respond when she caught Taylor looking at her, staring actually. And he didn't look too pleased. In fact, he looked downright pissed off. Didn't he want her to get along with his friend's wife?

"Did you just say applying to colleges for the fall?"

"Yeah," she said with a frown.

He didn't say anything at first and while she'd never seen him mad before she didn't need to to know that he was absolutely pissed off now.

"I thought you were in college."


"But you go to school. I see you leave the house with a backpack and everything. And Nathan talks about you being in school."


"I guess I'm confused. Where do you go every day then?"

"To school."

"But not to college."


"But you were at my club."


"You had to be eighteen to get in."

"Not if you have an ID saying you are."

"You're not even eighteen?"

The scary thing about it was that he wasn't yelling. In fact, his voice was so low and smooth that it shouldn't have been frightening, but it was and she could understand why someone meeting up with him on the street might pee their pants at the thought of going up against him.

"I will be in a couple of months."

He stood then, taking hold of her arm and thereby her with him as he walked from the table without giving her a chance to decide if she wanted to or not. He propelled them out the door and onto the sidewalk outside the restaurant. He kept going, down half of the block where no one else was nearby.

"A couple of months does not keep me out of jail today."

"I thought you knew. I mean, I live with Nathan."

"Yeah, I just assumed you were going to NYU or something."


"You're in high school?"


"And it didn't occur to you to tell me that you were only seventeen?"

"No. Would it have mattered?"

"I certainly wouldn't have been fucking you."

She winced at that. She'd never really thought of what to categorize what they did when they had sex. Making love seemed too adult to her, but fucking. Fucking was something random people did. Or people who had no feelings for one another. And she thought he had feelings for her. Had she totally misread him? Was he just saying the things he thought she'd want to hear so he'd have someone to have sex with while working for Nathan?

"Because of a couple of months?"

"Christ, Claire, do you have any idea how hard I've worked to get out? Stay out? To keep my nose clean? If a cop got a whiff that I was screwing around with jailbait even if my dick didn't come within ten feet of you they'd still be all over me."

"How are they going to find out?"

"It can be difficult to keep secrets, Claire."

"I'm sorry, really, I thought you knew."

"And it never occurred to you once to mention it?"

"Why would I if I thought you knew?"

No response. It had to be because he knew she was right. Or at least telling the truth if being right was the wrong way to think about it.


"Don't. Just don't. I can't believe you've been lying to me."

"I have not! It's not a lie if I thought you knew the truth. You mean to say that Nathan never once mentioned my still being in high school."

"No. I guess I assumed him letting you hang around with Monroe meant you were old enough."

"Adam and I weren't having sex."

He spun around then, jaw clenched. "And you think that helps me feel better? That it somehow makes the situation okay?"

"No, Taylor."

He clamped his mouth shut, eyes looking behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, saw Matty and Buffy on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. Obviously waiting for them.

"Let's go."


"Let's go I said."

She was surprised when they went straight back to Taylor's house, assuming they'd be dropping Matty and Buffy off at his dad's. More surprised when Buffy and Matty got out but she and Taylor didn't. He put the car in reverse and left the compound that was his house once again.

"Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you home."

"What? Taylor. Don't be ridiculous. It's after midnight."

"I'm aware of the time. I'm taking you home and trying to figure out how to forget the last couple of months happened."

She didn't know what to say to that. He wanted to forget even knowing her? She tried to fight the tears, but she couldn't. She'd never had her heart broken before. It was bad enough to hear him call their relationship fucking, but to hear him suggest he wished it'd never even happened.

She went over the last couple of months in her mind. Was there a time that she didn't think he knew her age? No, not really. She supposed the issue of her ID was a major thing, but she honestly hadn't given it any thought.

Return to Top

***Part Ten***
Word Count: 1,699

Neither said a word the rest of the way to Nathan's house. He knew she was crying and felt like shit for being the reason. He just didn't know what to say because whatever he said would come out as him yelling. Or he'd say more things he might regret.

Surely she had to realize. Had to know he'd be pissed beyond all belief when he found out. All the times he'd told her how important it was that he stay out, keep his nose clean, the efforts he and Matty had gone through to achieve what so few he'd known growing up could manage. She didn't know about Montana specifically, and for that he was very glad of right now. The last thing he needed was someone having dirt like that on not just him but Matty.

Men like Chris were the more common occurrence. Make an attempt and at the first whiff of trouble, turn high tail and return to where you feel safest. The mob had an uncanny way of making you feel that way despite enlisting you to break laws every which way you could.

In the blink of an eye that could have been gone. He'd laugh at the idea of getting busted for something stupid when the cops hadn't been able to touch him for anything else ever if it wasn't so scary to him.

And that was one of the reasons he was pissed. He, Matty, and Chris had gotten out of Montana alive, had gotten away with the crime scene being attributed to a corrupt local cop. They'd been lucky. Too lucky. Johnny not so lucky. And neither Matty nor Taylor believed that luck would continue to shine on them quite to that extent. Certainly, they never imagined one of the four of them would go down the way Johnny Marbles had.

He decided to walk her to the front door. Probably more than he should have done, but it had become engrained in him over the past few months to ensure the house was secure. And so he got out of the car with her to do just that.

She used the alarm code to gain access to the house and he followed her, surprised she hadn't said anything now that they were here. He wasn't going to stay in his apartment here tonight and he hoped that he didn't get the call tomorrow saying he had to be back tomorrow night. He was really looking forward to having until Monday morning off.

Maybe she took him walking to the door as a sign he had calmed down. Wasn't mad. Hurt. Because she chose to speak then.


"I'll bring your things back with me tomorrow or Monday."

"So that's it?"

"What else is there?"

"I don't know. Don't I mean anything?"

He shrugged a little. "I don't do liars, Claire. I laid everything on the table for you. Told you who I was, where I'm from. Fuck, I shared my dreams with you."

"And I'm so glad," she said, moving to touch him. If she did it, if he felt her hands on him he might not be strong enough to walk away now and end this like he should. He knew what she could do with those hands. Hell, he'd long ago stopped being able to come from a hand job. She'd taken that as a challenge, wanting to prove that he still could. And she had succeeded in that challenge.

"Save it," he said, pushing those thoughts from his mind. "You lied to me!"

"I did not! I didn't lie."

"You didn't tell me the truth. It's the same thing. I lived my life surrounded by people who thought it was slick to get away with that. I don't think it is. The first night at the club I can forgive, but after that. Every time here. Christ, my house where a cop could be watching. Knowing what you know about me. Where I've come from. How my father treated me like shit."

"What does that have to do with my not being eighteen?"

"Because you did the same thing."

"What? Oh my God, I did not."

"You did. You led me to believe something that wasn't true. You used me."

"I used you? I'm not the one who wanted to have sex at a Yankees game today."

"You've got this perverse little thing with Monroe going on. You don't want him now, but he wouldn't leave you alone unless you had someone for the now. I was here in your house. Can't get much handier than that."

"That's what you think?"

"I think at some point before taking me in you that you could have said something."

"And I thought you knew!"

"I don't do jailbait. Never have."

"So, what? Two months from now I'm suddenly old enough?"

"I imagine so, but not for me."

"You can't mean that."

"I can. I do."

"So, you can do that? You can come back here tomorrow or Monday and act like nothing's happened?"

"I have to."

"I don't get it. I didn't mean to lie to you. I didn't even mean for anything to happen between us again. I don't get why you can't forgive me."

"Maybe I will one day, but I'm not banking on it."


"Claire stop," a very familiar voice from behind her said. She closed her eyes with a shake of her head. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't be here of all days. He could tell by the scowl on Taylor's face that she wasn't imagining it and he seemed to know exactly who the man was.


"Christ," Taylor murmured.

"What are you doing here?" She finally turned to look at him. She hadn't seen him in months and normally he'd have been a sight for sore eyes. He wasn't right now, though, because she had no idea how much of their conversation he'd actually heard. Taylor would have seen the door open. Wouldn't he have?

"I was in town on business. I came by earlier to see my daughter but the staff indicated they hadn't seen you all day. That your room didn't appear to have been slept in last night. They had no idea where you were off to, but I came back tonight not sure I should call the police looking for you or not."

"I'm fine."

"Clearly not," he said, taking a spot next to her where he offered her the comfort she really wanted from Taylor. This was one time she didn't want her dad's arms around her. "You can leave, thank you. I will be talking to you when Nathan gets back," he said and Claire winced at the tone in his voice. There was no question he was talking to Taylor and not her.


"I said I'll talk to him when Nathan returns."

"You going to be all right, Claire?" Taylor asked her. She knew what he was asking, wondering if her father would hurt her or spend the rest of the night yelling at her.

"It would seem you weren't too concerned for her well being just a minute ago so no need to start worrying on it now. She'll be fine."

Oh God. It was the stuff nightmares were made of. Taylor left without waiting for Claire to answer his question. She wouldn't have given a different answer anyway. Her dad would never hurt her. Taylor she wasn't so sure about.

"What were you thinking?"

"Dad, please, I can't talk about this now."

"I sent you here to."

"I know! Just stop, please. I really don't want to talk about it."

"All right," he said, hugging her finally. And that was exactly what she needed. She didn't want to talk about it. She didn't want to get any lectures. She wanted to cry and she wanted her daddy to hold her and make it better. Only this was something she doubted her dad could kiss and make better. "I won't make you."

She cried so hard she thought she'd never be able to stop. Her ability didn't prevent her from feeling pain, but this was nothing she'd ever felt before.

Her dad was true to his word, he didn't say anything. He didn't scold her. He didn't yell. He just led her down the hall toward the kitchen.

"I already ate," she said with a sniffle.

"I was going to see if I could rustle us up some cookies or ice cream."


"Too old for ice cream?"

She laughed softly, taking his offered handkerchief. "No," she said softly.

"That's good, because I remember more than once that it was an ideal solution."

"That was when I was a kid and needed a band-aid because I fell and scraped my knee or something."

"I don't think I have any band-aids for this, sweetheart."

They sat in the kitchen, managing to find not just ice cream but chocolate syrup to drizzle on top of it. He spooned enough for both of them out of the container, letting her do the honors with the drizzle.

"Dad?" she said, licking her spoon after taking the first bite of the chocolate covered ice cream.


"Can you stay tonight?"

"As if I have anywhere else to be."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Claire Bear."

She gave a slight smile, though it wasn't a very real one and he knew that. The most important thing to her, though, was that she felt like her heart had just been broken into a million pieces and her father was here, sitting by her side eating ice cream with her, and doing his best to fight the urge to lecture her. She had no idea what she'd be doing right now if she'd come home to Nathan. Try as he might, he wasn't her dad. He wouldn't have thought of ice cream she was pretty sure.

And that made her start crying all over again.

And still her dad sat quietly, noticing her distress for sure but not forcing her to do anything just yet. She imagined tomorrow would be a different story, but for tonight she could feel safe.

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***Part Eleven***
Word Count: 1,908

June 2007

He'd been fired.

Well, no, he'd been given a choice. Resign with a good reference from Senator Nathan Petrelli. Stay, be fired, and risk criminal charges being pressed for statutory rape. (That was her father's idea.)

She couldn't exactly blame him for making the choice he had. She liked to think they could have gotten through it if he could have gotten past the age thing. She wasn't sure that would ever happen though, and she knew being fired and charges being brought against him would ruin any possibility for a legitimate future for him. And she knew how badly he wanted that.

So, she'd encouraged him to resign, knowing she'd probably never see him again. It had hurt, though probably not as badly as having him there every day with her heart still broken. She discovered that night, with the door open and Nathan not too far away (out of sight, but definitely not out of earshot) that there were just some things her ability couldn't stop from hurting. Couldn't heal in the blink of an eye.

She'd been tempted to tell him she loved him, but didn't not knowing what purpose it would serve. The only thing she could see it doing was making it more difficult for him to move on. Her, too, for that matter, because it would be out there and she'd hold onto hope that maybe he loved her, too, and would wait for her to one day find him again. Or that those words would make him stop being mad at her, forgive her, and when she was eighteen.

And that thought process was hurtful, too.

That was sadly pathetic so she'd said goodbye. Nathan had given them enough privacy she hugged him, kissed him so intensely she thought they'd combust right there and then from the ferociousness of it. And he had kissed her back. So, no matter what he said he felt, she had to believe he at least cared for her more than just sex.

And then he was gone. Car packed, apartment empty of anything that had made it distinctly Taylor's.

"I'm sorry," Nathan had said softly as she stared at the apartment bereft.

She didn't respond, because at that moment nothing good would have come from her mouth. She still had to live with Nathan so she didn't want to alienate him. Oddly, he wasn't as upset about her relationship with Taylor as her dad had been. He'd hated being duped and Claire thought that might have hurt him more, the fact she'd hidden it from him so blatantly, than finding out she'd been carrying on with his bodyguard.

She'd made sure the reference letter was written, that Nathan wouldn't go back on his part of the deal. There were things Taylor could do now; positions open to him with this job as a reference. Though she suspected he'd put all of his newfound free time into the boxing ring.

And life had gone on. It didn't shatter. It didn't stop rotating on its axis. It only felt that way to Claire. She immersed herself in her schoolwork, raising her decent B average into a low A average through sheer hard work the last couple of months.

Her school year was done and she, too, now was packing to see her family in California. Her father at first had insisted she move to California right there and then, not trusting Claire to disregard the rules imposed and seeing Taylor anyway. She hadn't, not wanting to risk it. For his sake. Not that he'd called or indicated he wanted to see her again. Nathan had convinced Noah that there was no sense removing her so deep into the school year, especially since the school she was attending was one of the best in the country. Any school she'd transfer to would be behind Claire and she'd just be bored.

She'd finished out the year and now she was getting shipped off. Nathan would be alone now, and that bothered her to some degree. No matter how hard he tried with Heidi she seemed intent on making him work even harder. She hoped that one day her half-brothers would be back in this house because Nathan so clearly needed the company of people who were around him because they could be not because they had to be.


She wondered what it was like where her parents and Lyle lived. Was there a beach nearby? And how far were they from Matty and Buffy? And that made her wonder if Buffy had had the baby yet.

She shook her head. She couldn't think like that. That would get her in trouble, because opening that can of worms was totally bringing on trouble. As much as it hurt, and it still did, she was doing what was best for him. His life. Seeking out Matty and Buffy would only hurt him, his chances for a life.

"You going to be all right?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

Oddly absent through all of this craziness had been Adam. Whether he'd done it intentionally or just truly didn't have a clue what was going on in Claire's life she didn't know. She just knew from time to time she'd wanted to talk to him.

"I mean, it's not like I was going to marry him or anything."

"You never know."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" she spat back in response.

"I meant, you're going to go to college in the fall, you're an adult now, so your father and I really don't have much say so in what you do from this point forward."

"Then why make him leave?"

"Because your father wanted him gone and I wasn't going to argue with him, no matter how close to eighteen you were he wasn't going to budge."

"So, if you'd found out."

"I wouldn't have been happy, but I wouldn't have forbidden it. And I certainly would have told you to level with him about your age."

"Oh God, it was stupid. I just didn't think. I mean, I honestly assumed he knew. You know? I don't think I look old enough to be in college."

"Well, obviously you do because this is how you're going to look from now on if Adam's telling the truth."


"So, I guess my point is. Who knows, maybe your paths will cross again."

"If I was going to college in New York maybe, but Dad's seen to it that won't happen."

"Yeah, he seems to think I don't have enough time to keep an eye on you properly. And maybe he's right, but I somehow suspect my having twenty-four hours a day to give you undivided attention wouldn't have mattered."

"No, not really."

"Well, just don't think it's the end of the line. You never know what life is going to bring. I certainly never thought I'd be sitting here with you."

"I know."

"But don't close yourself to other possibilities either. There are other guys out there, good ones."

"He was a good guy."

"He may have been, but he's from a shifty family with shifty ties."

"I'm sorry, you're standing here passing judgment on him?"

"Not my place perhaps, but I'm just saying. Don't close your heart off because of one experience that ended badly. They won't all end that way."

"I know."

"I'll be honest, though, some may end worse."

"Wow, that's so not very helpful."

"Just being honest. Because if I said you'd never hurt like this again I'd be lying, and whatever we have I won't have lies between us."

"I know," she said. "I appreciate that. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I just didn't know how. I mean, I didn't even know it had started, you know?"

"I have some recollection of being your age and you coming about because of it."

"Probably more than I need to know."

"Well, at least your father doesn't have that to deal with."


"A baby," he said, eyes taking her in then. "He doesn't, does he?"


"Because you'd know by now if you were."

"Yes, and I'm not."

"All right. That's good because I don't think either one of us are ready to become grandfathers just yet. Just know you can visit. If you want to get away for a weekend or something, I'll arrange it."

"Thank you."

"Seems the least I can do."

She had the allotted two bags to take on the plane with her. The rest would be shipped from New York to California. All of her belongings were here. She had nothing in California. She liked to think that her mom and dad had bought some things for her, but as mad as her dad was the last time he saw her she wasn't taking anything for granted. Of course, they'd moved her furniture with them so she would at least have a bed to sleep on and stuff.

She knew it wasn't easy for Nathan to take the day off to get her to the airport. Not to mention the nightmare for airport security to accomodate a senator. However, it enabled her to get through security in a flash so she wasn't going to complain. He even waited at her gate with her until they started boarding her row.

"I'm sorry, Nathan, I really didn't mean for anything like this to happen."

"You have nothing to apologize for. You've got hormones, you were acting on those. Your dad will see that one day, too."

"Hopefully soon or it's going to be a long summer."

"Just be easy on him. I haven't known you all of your life, but I can imagine it's not too easy on him realizing his little girl is grown up enough to make those kinds of decisions."

"You've got Simon and Monty."

"Not the same. Boys are supposed to do that, you know? Girls," he shrugged. "We, fathers I guess, are supposed to protect them from those types of boys."

"But he's not that type of boy."

"I know, well, I don't know, but I believe you when you say he's not. Just understand what he may be thinking, that's all I meant. Your relationship may be different."

"I know," she said, drawing her lower lip in between her teeth. She threw her arms around him as the next series of boarding calls were made.

"Oh, and I have not told him about your fake ID."

"How did you…"

"I may not have known about Taylor, but I knew what you were up to for a while there. I guess because you'd calmed down and stopped going out to places you shouldn't have been I stopped looking for things I should be seeing."

"Thanks," she said.

"Don't make me regret not telling him."

"I won't."

"In other words, no getting in trouble out in California in places you shouldn't be."

"I understand."

"Just so we're clear."

"We are."

"I'll see you soon."

"I hope so. Give a kiss to Simon and Monty for me."

"I sure will. And Peter, too."

She blushed a little at that. "Yeah, thanks."

She walked to the gate, handing over her boarding pass and continuing onto the tarmac. She wasn't surprised when she glanced over her shoulder to see he was still standing there. She waved, he did the same and then she continued on.

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***Part Twelve***
Word Count: 2,233

He supposed he was lucky on a couple of counts.

One, he had something to keep him not just distracted but busy. Real busy.

Two, Claire's father, the real one who'd raised her, hadn't really seemed to want to press charges. If he had, he doubted he would have gone for the resign with a good reference part of the solution to the problem.

Three, he'd been legitimately out and worked too hard to get there to go back.

If it wasn't for those things, he probably would have called up Matty's old man by now and done whatever violent job needed done. Benny would have known Taylor could do the job and that he had a bad reason for wanting to do that type of job. One thing Benny Chains wasn't was stupid. He'd have sent him out anyway. It was just the type of man Benny was.

He didn't, though. He focused all of his attention on his body. His fighting. Getting himself in the best possible shape he could. That was all he did these days. A copy of Senator Petrelli's letter of reference sat on the bulletin board in his private weight room. A visible reminder of why he was putting himself through this rigorous a regiment every day. He didn't want to have to use that letter. Even having it in his possession left a bad taste in his mouth.

He discovered he could get hurt. He hadn't really believed it until now. Always he'd escaped relationships (if what he had until now could be considered such) unscathed. His heart intact and his mind clear of any indecision or second-guessing. He wasn't sure if that was a fourth lucky thing or not, but he liked to think it was in a way. It meant that maybe he could have someone in his life.

He'd come home after taking her home that night and he and Matty had stayed up all night talking. Buffy offered up her story about her first boyfriend, which as much as it helped didn't because she was in a roundabout way saying if it was okay for a two hundred year old vampire it was okay for him. And that was just crazy thinking there. She had made the point that you can't help who you love.

He didn't admit it to either of them that night or even to himself for a while, but yeah, he guess he'd fallen in love with her. Or was on the way there anyway. He couldn't be sure never having felt it before. He just knew he liked her a lot and had missed her. He'd gotten used to her being around his apartment, making it seem less impersonal and more like the home he craved.

He was pretty sure with a week or so to think things through he would have come around. Told her he was sorry for the things he'd said and while he still wouldn't have slept with her again until she was eighteen he would have seen her.

He realized now he hadn't asked her age either and, really, shouldn't that have been up to him to make sure someone he was sleeping with was legal? Knowing there were fake IDs out there aside, it was just the responsible thing to do. Especially when the person you were sleeping with could cost you not just a job but your freedom.

Now, though, he was furious at her. She'd kissed him goodbye as if she meant it. That it hurt her to see him leave. As if maybe she loved him. She didn't say it, though. He wasn't sure he could blame her there. He said some shitty things to her that night, but he guessed he resorted to fighting with words instead of his fists.

She'd let him go, though. She hadn't said she loved him. Hadn't asked him to keep her number until she turned eighteen and went to college in the fall. She hadn't said one damned thing that made him think she wanted to see him again.

She hadn't told her old man that she was close enough to eighteen to make a decision. That she'd saved the world, perhaps she could be allowed to have a boyfriend of her choosing. Taylor was a fighter because if the situation was reversed and someone outside the two of them had been trying to keep him away from her he would have fought them tooth and nail. He might have killed someone if it meant being able to see her again. Claire obviously was not the same way.

He was a shmoe, no doubt about it. There was a reason he was single and didn't get tangled up with women. He'd thought of spilling his guts to Chris, knowing he'd be on Taylor's side and go all out to help Taylor cure what ailed him. He could just imagine the lengths Chris would go to, none of them were what Taylor wanted.

Matty wouldn't do that. He'd know, as tempting as it would be for Taylor to do, that jumping into bed with the next available body just wouldn't cut it. Drinking until he couldn't stand or think straight wouldn't either. Not that he hadn't had his fair share of beers since leaving that job.

Leaving Claire.

There was a difference between his two lifelong friends. Matty was familiar with love. The real kind. Chris didn't know about it at all. Love to him was whatever needed to be said or done to get the girl he was focused on out of her pants.

And as much as he didn't want to think it, especially now, he brought her back to his house for a reason. Introduced her to Matty for a reason. Things he didn't do with the women he dated.

Because they didn't matter.

Another reason he'd avoided Chris, he knew his friend would twist it somehow to being Claire's fault. And in a drunken stupor, Taylor could probably start to see it that way, too. And it wasn't entirely her fault. He knew better than getting involved with someone through work. There was always the chance the senator could have returned early from his weekend and discovered Claire wasn't home and neither was Taylor. Cops being sent to his house would not have been good.

He wondered if not thinking clearly was a sign of love, because he certainly hadn't been. He took for granted having her in bed with him, even before the weekend she spent at his house she'd spent nights with him. She always left earlier than she needed to, but was there with him the bulk of the night more than once. What was more, he'd come to like it, and even though it was only one night here at his house he could still smell her perfume in his bed.

He wondered what she was doing. School was out. So, he imagined she was having a good time. The senator had a house in the Hamptons. Was she there? He could picture her soaking up the rays around those parts easily enough. She'd fit in just fine, too. And more than likely Taylor's presence in her life would drift away to a distant memory. And if it wasn't Adam to fill the void there'd be someone else easily enough, someone more suited to the life she had living with the Petrelli's.

He had her phone number, thought about texting her more than once. He assumed it still worked, that her dad hadn't insisted she get a new number, but he didn't give into the temptation. Nothing good would come of it.

She'd told him to go. She apparently hadn't wanted him badly enough to fight for him. He didn't care about the job or the reference. He just wanted her. Hell, he would have taken her with him if she'd asked. Somewhere, anywhere.

And done what with her?

He'd laughed at that more than once since. He'd been sorely tempted to make the offer. He was glad he hadn't, because he had nothing to offer her. Not that wasn't Teddy Deserve's anyway. And it wasn't like he could whisk her away to Teddy's house without being found.

So, that left the money he made on his own, which wasn't a lot. And even if she wasn't used to the lifestyle she had access to living with Nathan, she deserved much better than not a lot. Not to mention she probably would have laughed at him for suggesting it.

He forgot sometimes that she was a good deal younger than he was. He'd kicked more than his fair share of life's tires and knew that sticking with Claire would be far, far from settling. She hadn't yet. She'd been dealt a lot, for sure, but it wasn't the same as living, experiencing things. Hell, at eighteen he'd still been considered a baby to some in the neighborhood despite the number of fights he'd won.

And so he didn't text. Her number was still in his phone, though, and he wondered if the same was true for her. He doubted it, because her dad struck him as the type who would make sure all ties were severed. And that meant phone contact. He imagined she had e-mail, but he'd never had reason to get it and so didn't know it.

He sighed, blotting his face with his towel. It was good for him to think like this. He worked harder, pushed himself to the point of exhaustion and kept going just a touch further. Matty was working hard now to get Taylor a shot at something that wasn't sparring. That had a shot at a payout no matter how small. Taylor knew Matty had his hands full with his new son, so he worked so hard as not to disappoint his friend.

Taylor wasn't really jealous of Matty. He'd worked hard and suffered a lot to get where he was. Few knew that better than Taylor. He was envious, though. They were set to come here in a couple of weeks for the christening and then Taylor would be godfather to Matthew Benjamin Demarat. A junior.

Taylor had talked to Benny a couple of times since Matty's son had been born and it was hard for Taylor to tell who was more excited, Matty or his old man. Obviously, Matty was, but Benny was definitely giving his son a run for the money when it came to being excited at having a grandson.

He stood, taking a swig from his water bottle as he walked to the bulletin board. The letter from the senator wasn't the only thing tacked up on it, but it was the most prominent. Oddly, Taylor felt as though Nathan Petrelli was an okay guy. His letter of recommendation went above and beyond the generic referral, talking about Taylor's outstanding performance and his interest in other pursuits as being his reason for leaving.

That left it wide open for Taylor to do many things and say almost anything as to why he left with a pretty glowing referral to boot.

He ran a hand over his head, hoping Matty was able to schedule him something soon. The big name fighters people saw on TV had months to prepare for a fight, but the little guys. The ones like Taylor sometimes had to be ready to step into the ring on only a couple of days notice. Taylor was willing, felt he was ready and Matty was trying.

He glanced at the clock. It was closing in on nine o'clock. He wondered if Claire was out at some club with her friends. He'd thought about going back to the club he worked at before getting this job, but didn't want to run the risk of running into her. Not that he'd mind exactly, but he wasn't ready to see her and pretend they were friends. Or worse meant nothing to one another.

And if he could make money boxing? Enough he thought he could support someone comfortably? Well, he imagined he'd seek her out in the blink of an eye and see if she'd come with him. He loved the way she touched him after his nights at the gym. She didn't like seeing him beat up, and she'd like it even less when there was no protective headgear in place to keep the injuries he did sustain to a minimum. But she didn't shrink away from him either.

His cell rang and he picked it up, frowning slightly at the number. He really wasn't in the mood to go out with Chris tonight but had nothing better to do really.

"Hey man, what's going on?"

'Not much. Heading to Atlantic City for a night or two, figured maybe you'd want to come along for the ride.'

He should say no, but he had nothing to stay home for either. "Yeah, I can be ready in about twenty minutes, just got done working out."

'All right, be there to pick you up.'

"See ya then," he said, disconnecting the call.

He didn't think Atlantic City had the cure for him, but as he'd yet to find it in Brooklyn he figured it couldn't hurt trying a change of scenery for a little while. Even if it was only a couple of days.

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***Part Thirteen***
Word Count: 2,277

She'd made it through the summer. She'd made a couple of friends in California but none she had gotten close to or anything. She was going to college in the fall so she didn't see much point in trying too hard. There was a guy who lived down the street from her parents house who was her age and he'd been nice to her from almost the first day she showed up at her parents house. She wondered if her mom or dad had put him up to it, but he'd seemed genuinely nice and so they'd hung out a lot. She'd been surprised that he hadn't tried to hit on her or anything. Not once. She was glad, though, because as much as she knew she probably should, she wasn't ready to move on.

California wasn't too bad. Growing up in Texas, she was used to hot summers so that was nothing new. Being able to go to beaches and Disneyland was definitely cool. James had taken her there once when she said she'd never been. He was a nice guy, but was in Oregon now for school. She imagined she'd see him over breaks, but he had other friends he'd known all of his life so she wasn't counting on seeing much of him.

And Claire?

She was in Iowa. It was one of the schools she'd been accepted to that her dad approved of. She wished she could tell him it was none of his business, that she was an adult and able to go wherever she wanted to. But he was footing the bill.

And she loved him.

She knew he still loved her, but their relationship had been strained all summer. That night in Nathan's kitchen was the last time she'd seen her dad not someone hell bent on keeping her safe. She missed it, that dad. He hadn't mentioned Taylor or the reason she was suddenly living in California once all summer. It was funny, really. She'd spent most of her time while in New York wishing to be able to see her parents again, especially her dad. She got her wish and then spent all of her time with them wishing she was anywhere but there. She saw the disappointment in his eyes, but also saw concern there and so she didn't push or instigate arguments as tempting as it was some days.

She had no idea what her mom knew. Her mom never mentioned it either and Claire didn't ask. She didn't want to have THAT talk with her mother. Her father had, though, when he'd watched over her unpacking her stuff at her college dorm.

"You know that just because you've had sex with one boy doesn't mean you have to with the next one."

"I know, Dad."

"I'm just saying. Don't let someone pressure you. And don't think it's no big deal, because it should be every time. No matter who you're with."

"You don't think I know that? You think I was being casual?"

"I don't know what you were doing and I really don't want to know. I just don't want you to think because you have means you have to again."

"Well, I hope I will again some day."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know," she whispered, tearing up a little. She tried to stop them, but she knew her dad saw them. She hated letting him see her cry, letting him know that it still hurt so bad.

"What about that James?"

"What about him?"

"You'll see him over breaks, you can keep in touch while at school."

"I guess."

James just didn't interest her. He hadn't hit on her, so she assumed the feeling was mutual but maybe not.

Her roommate had gotten there earlier that day. Not wanting the tension between her and her dad to get Tina down Claire suggested she and her father get something to eat before he left.

"It's not a bad town," he'd said as they drove through the college town.

"No, it's not," she agreed. It wasn't New York, though.

He dropped her back at her room after an uncomfortable dinner. Obviously, the sex talk was done and so he didn't know what else to say to her. He had an early morning flight tomorrow so she wouldn’t see him again until Thanksgiving. She couldn't help but think that maybe that was for the best right now. The summer hadn't been terrible between them, but things were definitely not normal.

He felt betrayed and she felt as if he was treating her like a child. Yeah, Taylor was older and she wasn't eighteen, but just barely. And it wasn't as if he'd taken advantage of her, but her dad had seen it as her taking advantage of living somewhere with more leniency in the rules. And he was right, she supposed, the opportunity to be with Taylor would never have come up if she'd been living with her parents even if they'd met.

It was after dark when Adam showed up her second night in Iowa. She hadn't seen him over the summer, he'd been traveling (whatever that meant), but through emails he knew when she was scheduled to arrive here. And when her father was scheduled to leave. So she wasn't too surprised to see him at her door.

"Iowa, huh? You couldn't have waited to get into trouble until after you were in a more exciting place than this?"

"What are you complaining for? You don't have to live here."

He chuckled. "Oh, but I will have to spend a good amount of time here over the next four years, so I may as well."

"You don't have to."

"Of course I do," he said, taking her into his arms. He kissed the top of her head. Tina was out doing something so they were alone and Claire lifted her head to meet his mouth with hers. She kissed him as she'd never kissed him before. Always she'd held back, not wanting to give in too much afraid she'd go back on her desire to have a life that didn't involve being a part of the Adam and Claire eternity show.

Tonight, though, she held nothing back. Her arms went around his neck and she drew her body against his, pressing into him as she parted her lips. He groaned in response, surprised evidently. Her tongue found his, needy for the intimate contact she craved so badly just then.

He kissed differently. She hadn't kissed anyone but Taylor like this and she was expecting it to be the same. Not an exact duplicate, but the same in a way. She slid a hand out from around his neck and lower, over his chest, which she skimmed lightly with her fingertips before reaching the front of his jeans.

He bit her tongue a little and moaned, pulling away.



"Look at me."

She did, eyes meeting his.

"I know where your mind is and it's not on me. I won't do it, won't have deception between us when it comes to any aspect of our relationship but particularly that."

"I thought you wanted to have sex with me."

"That may be true, but if you think I can have sex with you knowing in the morning you'll wake up to regret it you're sorely mistaken."

"But I won't."

"Of course you will. It's not me you want, it's him. He's not here, I am, and you know I'm attracted to you. Want you."

"You make me sound so cold and calculating."

"No, just confused. I won't be the way you work your feelings for him out. You have to do that on your own."


"I do not know the answer to that. Meet people."

"I did that this summer. No one appealed to me at all."

"So, I'm the first person you've thrown yourself at then?"


"When I'm not and if you decide you want me not him then feel free, but until then."

"Why'd you come here then?"

"I'm sorry, since when would sex with you be the reason I came to visit you?"

"Well, you know it didn't work with Taylor."

"So, you figured I'd assume you were ready to give up on your dream? You're more persistent than that, Claire, and I'd be disappointed if you let one mishap interfere with your desires."

"I don't know what I want."

"That, I think is the point I was trying to make. You're still hurting, raw. I do know how it feels. Centuries experience or not, losing someone you love for whatever reason is not easy. And in your case," he shrugged.


"Well, he seemed all right with your ability."

She knew he'd encountered more than one woman who hadn't been all right with what they could do.

"Yeah, he did."

"I'm here if you need me, Claire, for anything."

"Except comfort sex apparently."

"If it wasn't so obvious you hadn't been with anyone since him I might have reacted differently."

"How could you tell?"

He shrugged. "It's hard to explain, just a neediness to you that wouldn't have been there if you'd bedded someone else."

"I can't do that."

"Do what?"

"Casual sex."

"I think your history says very different."

"That was one time and was so not the same as what we're talking about now."

"Still, you can do it if you put your mind to it."

"Okay, I don't want to do that. Is that better?"

"You could always call him."

"No, I can't."

"Why not? You have his number I presume."

"Yes, but I don't want to risk it."

"You're over eighteen now. You're no longer under the roof of either of your fathers. They can't stop you now."

"You don't know my father."

"I do know him, Claire, but what's he going to do now? He can't threaten him with charges being pressed against him any longer."

"He knew when I turned eighteen."

"And you think he'd pursue you knowing you were the reason he'd lost a job?"

"Well, if he wanted me."

"I can't make up your mind for you, Claire."

"So, you're not here for me."

"I am, but I cannot make decisions for you! That's for you to do. You wanted at least one lifetime of independence from me so you have it. That means, however, you have to take the steps I have, make the mistakes I have, and right the wrongs you've made along the way."

"You think I wronged him?"

"I think if I was in his shoes I'd have wanted my woman to fight for me. He's a fighter as I am, he would expect you to show the same persistence he does when he's in the ring."

"So, I was supposed to let him get arrested? How would that help him?"

"And they would have been able to prove you'd had sex?"

"Well," she stammered. "I guess not technically, no."

"No DNA either, I presume?" She blushed deeply and he laughed. "Oh come on, what's to be embarrassed about."

"I don't know, it's just weird talking to you about this, but no. He always used protection."

"Well, I'm sure these very thoughts crossed his mind as being a way around any legal issues and last I checked there's nothing illegal about just sleeping with an underage woman. It's the act of sex that crosses those legal lines."

"My dad would have known I was lying."

"Well, it seems you've made your choice then. You'd rather please your father than be with the man you want."

"He was my first real boyfriend."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"The chance I would actually end up with him."

"Well, you've certainly seen to it they are impossible now."

"I didn't do anything! I told him to take the job reference. He'd worked so hard at getting out of his dad's business I refused to be the reason he got sucked back into it."

"And that would have been his only alternative? Get the reference from Nathan or return to the fold of the mobsters he despises?"

"You're not helping."

"Life isn't easy, Claire. Even for people like us."

"I'm not going to call him."

"All right then."

"It's too late."

"Clearly, it's settled. So, move on. You're in college, even if it's in Nowheresville, enjoy it."

"I'm going to try."

He kissed her, barely brushing his lips over hers just as Tina walked through the door. "The next time you kiss me like you did earlier, Miss Bennet, you better be darned ready to see it to completion."

"And if I'm not? If I get cold feet?"

"I can forgive and accept cold feet. Know this, once I have you that way I will not give you up for any reason. Good night," he said, nodding briefly in Tina's direction and was gone.

"Boyfriend?" Tina asked.

"No, just a friend."

"I wish I had friends who looked like that."

"He is pretty nice to look at," Claire admitted. "Did you find any parties?"

"A couple on Greek Row."

"Up for it?"

"Sure," Tina said.

"Great, let's go," Claire said.

She really had no huge desire to party her first real night here, but she didn't want to sit in her room and think about all of the stuff Adam had said either. They'd made their choice, both of them, he could have spoken up, said something if he wanted to do something differently. He hadn't, so that meant to Claire he'd accepted the way things had to be. It didn't make it any easier.

It hadn’t helped she was a glutton for punishment, searching a couple of times for hits on Benny Chains’ name on the Internet. One day, she’d finally hit pay dirt. At least the kind she was looking for in the form of photographs from the baptism of Benny Demarat’s first grandson. There was one photograph in particular she’d printed a copy of. It was of Matty surrounded by Taylor and who she presumed was Chris on either side of him. Matty was proudly holding his son up in such a way that all three of the men were able to look at him. It was a priceless picture, the smiles on all three men so genuine and real there was just no way it was fake.

There was another she liked of Matty, Buffy, and Matthew Junior with Taylor and Willow, who she presumed was Buffy’s friend and the godmother.

There were plenty of other pictures. It seemed Benny Demarat gave the media pretty generous access for the day. It was hard for her to remember seeing these pictures that the man made a living at the expense of others. She saw the guy she presumed was Chris in a few pictures with a girl. Always, though, the pictures of Taylor she saw he was alone. She’d felt elated at seeing that for some reason.

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***Part Fourteen***
Word Count: 2,649

Angela knew how to be discreet. She'd had years of practice and it was something she excelled at. A shopping trip was nothing out of the ordinary for her so the cover was a sound one. She could be gone for hours and no one, not even her driver, would think to come looking for her.

Arranging for the hired car to pick her up was easy enough. Some might wonder if she was out of her mind coming here, setting these wheels in motion. Angela had each and every one of her wits about her, but she also knew that her son would need some help if his political aspirations were to come true. A bid for the presidency didn't come cheap. Or without help.

With Daniel gone, Angela had to look to others with deep pockets. She'd been amazed when someone associated with Benny Demarat had practically fallen into her lap. Not only had he fallen into her lap, but he'd gotten close to Claire. There'd been potential there.

And then he'd, disappointingly, been cut loose.

She still couldn't believe the bad luck there. No one had consulted her, of course. They weren't thinking of the big picture, acting rashly as if her age was really a big deal compared to other things. No matter what Noah believed, there was too much to be gained from the bodyguard's association with Claire. She would never stoop to arrange a marriage, but as a relationship had already happened. Emotions had already become involved.

Well, now all she needed to do was push it along until it blossomed into something more.

Something to help Nathan.

Certainly, Claire could do far worse. He was rough around the edges but had grown up accustomed to many similar things that Nathan and Peter had. Those things just happened to be obtained differently.

She'd been away at college for a year now, having split the summer after her freshman year between New York and California. The bulk of the time was spent in California unfortunately. Angela had hoped for more time to provide a logical reason for the two to run into one another. It hadn't happened, but Angela was confident enough time had passed to prevent Noah from interfering should the couple resume their relationship.

She stepped out of the car, looking at the building with distaste. She was here to do what needed doing. One of them needed a push and Angela believed she was choosing the right one to do the pushing.

She entered the gym, removing her sunglasses as the sounds of boxers using various exercise equipment bombarded her ears. Punching bags, free weights, sparring in the ring. She was familiar enough with what she saw to know that this place could use a little financial boost to buy some better equipment.

Something Angela Petrelli could provide. Discreetly of course. If Taylor Reese went along with her plan.

She found her target and walked determinedly toward him. If he'd been in the ring sparring she'd have been forced to wait. Fortunate for her, it appeared he'd gotten done not too long ago so was free to talk.

"Mr. Reese," she said simply. He'd noticed her not long after she'd come in and she couldn't help but think he would have done well protecting Nathan. And would do very well doing so for Claire. And when all was said and done, she wanted Claire safe even if some might question her methods.

"Ma'am," he said, taking a sip from his bottle of water.

"I was wondering if you had a few moments. Perhaps I can give you a lift somewhere."

"I've got my own ride."

"Of course you do, I didn't mean to imply."

"Yeah, right," he said simply, eyeing her cautiously. He wasn't stupid, she'd give him that.

"Very well, join me then for a few moments."

"All right. Give me a few minutes to get my things."

"I'll be outside."

It took him about fifteen minutes, judging by the smell of soap he'd taken the time to shower before coming out here.

"So, what's on your mind, Mrs. Petrelli?"

"I want you to go to Iowa."

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding confused.

"Iowa, you do know where that is."

"Yeah, I do, but why would I want to do that?"

"Because that's where Claire is."


"Oh, come now, Taylor, we both know you'd still be with her if her father hadn't interfered."

"We'd gotten into a fight the night he found out. So, I'm not so sure."

"So, I'm wrong? You wouldn't have moved heaven and earth to be with her? The argument was that insurmountable as to have you end it."

"I didn't say that either," he said. "Just saying our future wasn't cast in stone or anything."

"So, you would have let her get away otherwise?"

"Not to the best of my abilities, no."

"She's going to need protection."

"You're trying to hire me to protect her? What about her eternity guy?"

"Mr. Monroe? Yes, well, I'm coming to you."

"Not interested."

"Taylor. You are aware that my son is going to be running for president."

"Yeah, I heard talk of that."

"Before he announces his candidacy, it's going to be leaked that Claire is his daughter."

"If you know that, why not just stop it from coming out?"

They were both silent, streetwise eyes assessing strategizing ones. She saw when the pieces fell into place for him.

"I see," he said simply. "And you want me to what?"

"I want you to be with her, of course. Help her through the difficult time. And be someone who knew her before her name gets splattered all over newspapers and websites. And protect her. Only a select few know what she's capable of, you're one of them, and I feel confident that you'd die before allowing someone the opportunity to get close enough to do what they need to in order to kill her."

"I have a home. My mother's here. I'm working at boxing."

"The home will still be here. She's in college, not in Iowa forever. The job," she shrugged, removing an envelope from her pocket. "You do this and you might be surprised the equipment this facility is outfitted with upon your return."

"You could hire someone who doesn't have something personal at stake."

"And I think the personal stake will drive you, that's why I chose you over Adam. He doesn't love her, not yet. One day I'm sure that will be there when she allows it. There's a very good gym in the town where she's going to college. I know you have an agent, so I can't tempt you with that. I can, however, tempt you with a manager and topnotch trainer who will be transferring to that gym as soon as I know you've agreed. With him will also come a corner team better equipped than the one you have currently." She paused, regarding him for a moment. The year hadn't exactly been horrible to him, but there were scars where there were none before. A drawback of the job, she imagined. "A team who will see to it that you get what you so deeply crave."

"What's that?"

"Legitimate fights. Isn't that what you're aiming for here?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Any financial backing you need will be taken care of."

"Matty would."

"Has other clients and you'd be more of a charity case to him. I want my granddaughter safe and away from people who would go after her for who she is. A Petrelli."

"Why out her then?"

"It's a necessary thing. Better now than when Nathan's campaign is really underway."

"So, you're outing her but arranging for me to be there at the same time so she's not without protection."

"Something like that."

"I don't get it. Again, you're not asking me to do anything Monroe can't do. Not to mention, I know how you Italians work, you wouldn't want a Jew sullying your good name or pedigree bloodline."

"Well, I guess I was wrong about you."

"How's that?"

"Why, I thought you loved her."

"One sided I think."

"Why do you say that?"

"If she loved me she would have fought."

"Rebelled against her father you mean? The man who took her in as an infant, raised her as his own, protected her at all costs even going so far as risking his wife's health, his marriage to ensure she remained safe. A man who risked his life for her? Chosen you over him when I'm sure you made it blatantly obvious that you wanted her for the long-term."

She'd scored a point with that one. She didn't have to know the specifics of the conversation to know he'd said probably more than a few unkind things to her. It was what men like him did when they found themselves with their back against the ropes. He'd lash out, fight back to prevent getting ensnared in a potentially life threatening trap. Prison time to someone like him would be life threatening.

"Looked alive enough to me."

"That isn't to say he didn't risk everything for her. As far as your religion, that matters not to me. Arthur, perhaps, but he's gone. She's a female child, wouldn't carry on the name regardless, and trust me when I say her mother in no way added anything to the Petrelli bloodline you speak of."

"From what I gather, Claire was an accident. What you're doing here, intervening, sending me there, you're plotting, pushing for a future. No accident if kids come out of that type of arrangement."

"A woman who puts your wellbeing above her own is difficult to find these days. Girls aren't taught to do that anymore. How many other girlfriends have you had who've bandaged you up after your fights? For that matter who even wanted to touch you when you're in that condition?"

He scoffed, probably wondering how she knew Claire had done that. Then again, maybe he realized Angela knew a lot. "As if that was why she did anything she did."

"That is very much the reason she did the things she did, Taylor. Not that it matters. The desire to protect and nurture is very strong in her. She learned from her father, you see, and would do anything to ensure those she loved are safe."

"So you could find anyone else to do this."

"She's dating someone," she continued as if he hadn't said anything. "Has been since last spring. Before that she went through a bit of an adjustment period, perhaps trying to get over you or just testing her wings without her father or Nathan nearby. I'm not sure, but she's found someone and seems to be settling into a routine with him."

"So, why not just let him be the guy you want me to be. He doesn't know she's a Petrelli either, so she'll already be protected from what you're afraid of."

"Not all of it. And you know that. You know full well what I want her protected against."

"I do," he said and she knew it wasn't easy for him to admit that.

"It would sit well with you once Claire is outed and she becomes fodder for gossip rags seeing her picture splattered all over on someone else's arm? Perhaps I can arrange for a wedding invitation to be provided you."

"No thanks."

"Because you can't tell me that you don't realize once this young man finds out just who she is, he's going to hang on for dear life. Probably move very quickly, in fact, propose before she has time to realize just what having that name attached to her could mean to her."

"So, you think she's going to what? Just welcome me back and dump him? Just like that. I don't buy it if she's been with him for a few months now."

"Certainly not if you don't try."

He opened the envelope and looked over the information she'd compiled. He'd no doubt heard of the manager, though would wonder what he was doing in Iowa. And the trainer? He was someone who'd worked in Boom Boom's camp, nobody to snub his nose at the possibility of working under. Angela saw when he'd processed it all.

"So, I move to Iowa. That's it? That's all you want from me? What happens if I try and it doesn't work? Maybe she loves this new guy."

"Mm, one only has to look at her to know that's not the case, not to say she's not going through the motions. Go check it out before you decide if you want to. There's a plane ticket in there for tomorrow, roundtrip, but should you decide to stay that'd be fine."

"What do you get out of this exactly?"


"Yeah, because I know I'm not damage control. If anything I'd be fuel to the fire as far as causing problems with Nathan's campaign. I'm not exactly parade in front of the paparazzi material. I'm a thug with mob ties."

"Let me be the judge of that and concerned with what benefit I will get out of this arrangement. You go get the girl."

"And if it doesn't work out? She doesn't want me or I discover I don't want her anymore?"

"Well then, I can at least say I tried. No stone unturned."

"Still going to expose her?"

"Of course, dear. The sympathy card and the family man card is a heavy hitting combination."

He chuckled a little.

"I make no promises."

"That's why there's a return flight booked."

"What makes you think I won't tell her you're planning on using her as some pawn in a game to get your son elected president? Even if I don't have your whole plan that is what you're doing."

"Does it really matter what my motives are for getting you there?"

"It might matter to her."

"If she refuses to know what her heart tells her to do because of me there's nothing I can do."

"And you think her father - both of them - are going to stand by and let a thug like me legitimately go after her?"

"Well, now, she's in Iowa by herself. Nathan nor Noah are anywhere near her. If you work hard and fast they won't find out until it's too late. And there's nothing they can say or do to drive you apart. And as formidable an opponent as I can be when I set my mind to opposing something, Taylor. I can also be the exact opposite and a cause's biggest champion."

"Didn't see her burning up my telephone when she turned eighteen."

"And you called her, of course."

He was quiet, assessing the information again.

"Well, I guess I better go pack a bag then."

"Good luck, Mr. Reese."

"Yeah, thanks, you too. How quickly do I need to work anyway?"

"By Thanksgiving. Christmas at the latest, it will make a good holiday story, I think. Man reunited with the daughter he thought was dead."

Taylor reached for the door handle, shaking his head a little but he took the envelope, including the plane ticket, with him.

Her driver pulled away from the curb as soon as Taylor was out of the car. No goodbyes were said by either of them and she didn't look back to see what he was doing. He wouldn't fail and Angela knew. She'd seen it. It was unfortunate they'd been caught and Angela had to let some time pass, let Claire do some maturing before sending him after her. It was time, though, she wouldn't be able to wait if Nathan was going to make a go at it in the next election. And with Taylor Reese on her granddaughter's arm, the support of Benny Demarat couldn't be too far behind.

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***Part Fifteen***
Word Count: 2,024

The first thing he did when he got to his house was to call and change the return flight. A few days wasn’t going to give him any sort of real information about any of the setup. A good trainer and corner crew was great, but if the gym was shit it might give him pause. And just how much of a chance of getting actual fights did he have in Iowa?

Taylor wasn’t dumb; he knew Angela Petrelli had more up her sleeve than just getting him in the same city as Claire. She wanted her granddaughter safe, which would mean Taylor would be out there for a couple of years at least. Assuming Claire was willing to take him back. He wasn’t going to put it past her to get him there with promises that she had no real desire of seeing through. Not that she’d go back on her word exactly, but she’d probably turn it around and say she’d done him a favor or something.

As if he had any desire to leave New York.

Iowa? He wondered how she’d ended up there of all places. Her parents lived in California, but he imagined she got good enough grades that she got accepted to every college she’d applied to. Not knowing she wasn’t already in college until their last weekend together he’d never had the opportunity to find out where she’d applied. Or even what she wanted to major in.

The guy she was dating now probably knew those things and a lot of other things about her that Taylor didn’t know. And that led him to think about the things Taylor knew about her that few others did and wondered if the boyfriend knew them, too.

If he did, Taylor realized he might just have a fight on his hands. Not wanting to think about her letting anyone else know those things about her he focused on packing. What did one wear to a town in Iowa that was primarily a college town? He wasn’t fooling himself into thinking it was otherwise.

In his closet to get together things he’d need for the trip, his eyes caught sight of a box he’d put out of his mind long ago. He took it down and brought it over to his bed. He knew his mother would be sad to know he’d boxed these things away. Out of sight, out of mind. He’d embraced the lifestyle of his father and friends, there hadn’t been much room – or need – for the things in this box living as he had.

In it were the yarmulke he’d had as a small child, the one he’d worn to his Bar Mitzvah when he was thirteen, and the one his mother had given him when he turned twenty-one. His tallit was in here, too. He ran a finger along the strings of the prayer shawl, knowing he didn’t come close to remembering how to tie the strings into the tzitzit any longer. It’d been too many years; too much had happened.

Oh, he’d continued going to Synagogue after his Bar Mitzvah with his mother, but he got out of it as often as he could and as soon as he hit his eighteenth birthday he’d stopped going entirely. He knew the gift of a new, a grown man’s, yarmulke on his twenty-first birthday was his mother’s way of telling him it was time to return to the faith he was raised with.

There were other things in the box, other than the more recent kippah which he slipped out of the box without thinking about it, everything was from his childhood. He remembered the year of preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. While Matty and Chris and Johnny got to do things, there were many times Taylor was stuck. He’d hated his mother for that, because it was her fault that he was so very different than his friends. None of his Italian friends were stuck at Synagogue; they’d done their first communions and confirmations as kids. Now, of course, he knew it was no more her fault than the color of his eyes or how tall he was.

He arranged for a car to take him to the airport rather than leave his ride in long-term parking. There was no telling how long he’d be. A phone call to Matty and Chris to let them both know he’d be out of town for a while and to reach him on his cell if they needed to was next. He didn’t tell either of them where he was going or why. No sense stirring things up just by making a trip.

He knew what both of his friends would say, both would have drastically opposing views on his flying out to Iowa for a woman. Matty would wish him well and ask him why it’d taken so long. Matty and Taylor had fewer secrets between them than Taylor and Chris did, and Matty knew – even if Taylor never spoke the words outright – that Taylor loved her.

Chris would tell him it was a long way to go for a piece of ass that’d already bailed on him once. Both friends were at very different places in their lives. There were times since leaving his job with the senator that Taylor felt caught in the middle in a way.

He’d gotten a glimpse of the way Matty’s life was now and had liked it, which scared the hell out of him. Her age aside, she was going to live for fucking ever. Looking as hot as she did now from what he could gather.

He knew the year hadn’t been overly kind to him. He’d had a few fights in a ring, but it was the ones outside the ring that had really done the damage. His fuse was quick to blow these days, put him with Chris and get some alcohol into him and it didn’t take much for him to start something. Or to finish something someone else had started.

That gave him pause. Not that he was hideously scarred, but there were things there now that hadn’t been last she saw him. Would that bother her? Monroe was a perfect looking guy. How could Taylor compete with that?

And these thoughts weren’t getting him anywhere. All he knew was Mrs. Petrelli had a point, whatever her purpose was. If the guy Claire was seeing didn’t know her secrets then she could potentially be at risk with the spotlight focused on her. He couldn’t quite understand why her grandmother would put her at risk, but he imagined she thought it was worth it. And the idea of someone using her for access to a name or the money that went with that name didn’t sit well with Taylor.

And he knew why he was an appealing choice to the Petrelli matriarch. He had his own money, his own stuff, and his own family name that carried a certain amount of power with it (even if he chose not to go by that name). So, she knew that Taylor wasn’t going to use her granddaughter to make his life better.

He headed out for something to eat and to grab a few things he’d need for the trip. On his way home, he stopped at a Synagogue not far from his house. He wasn’t sure what had led him there, though he must have had it in the back of his mind for a while because he knew it was a Reform temple. Maybe he hadn’t strayed so far from his upbringing as he liked to think because there was no way he’d try to set foot in an Orthodox temple.

So, why was he here tonight?

Finding the box? Maybe.

Too many ghosts in his house that he hadn’t quite yet put to rest? Possibly that, too.

All he knew was that he needed some place quiet to think for a while. No distractions. No thoughts of his father and what he might say to this situation. Teddy Deserve would never have flown to Iowa, or anywhere, for a woman, and he in no uncertain terms would have railed at his illegitimate son until he’d gotten it through his thick skull that a woman wasn’t worth that much trouble.

For the first time since he’d received it from his mother, he slid the yarmulke over his head as he entered and found a place to sit. He wasn’t really a praying man, he’d long since given up hope on anything he prayed for being answered. So, he wasn’t here for that really, but found himself praying just the same. The Hebrew was stilted even in his mind, rusty from lack of use, but he imagined God would know what he meant even stammering and stumbling through it as he was.

He didn’t believe he was thinking with his dick, but somewhere in his mind were doubts about the wisdom in doing this. She was eighteen, nineteen now he guessed, and should have lots of dating to do yet before settling down. And that made him see red because he remembered vividly everything about her. In and out of bed, and he knew that no guy in his right mind would let her go, especially once they found out who she was or rather who she was related to. The type of money and access to jobs that having those relatives brought with it.

And really his decision was made for him he guessed. No matter if she’d hear him out and talk to him or take him back; he’d at least do what Mrs. Petrelli wanted him to do. Protect her from hangers on once the news of who she was became common knowledge.

And then the question became how much did he tell her as to why he was there? The odds of their paths crossing in Iowa were pretty slim so she’d know he was there for a reason. He imagined he’d deal with that when the time came, see how much she was willing to talk to and see him.

He stayed for a while longer, taking in the inside of the temple for a while. He’d never understood his mom coming here when he was growing up. She’d been praying for him more than likely, not wanting to bury her son before he graduated from high school.

He didn’t feel as though he had the answers now any more than he had coming in here, but he could sort of feel a difference. He’d shared his thoughts with someone without having to actually say a word. Was he more at peace because of it? No, he wouldn’t say that he felt that, but he did feel a little better about taking this step than he had before walking in here. There was some clarity in his mind now.

He left, sliding the yarmulke from his head as he got to his car. It wasn’t far to his house from there where he locked himself in for the night. The finishing touches were placed on his packing before he walked out onto the balcony from his bedroom with a beer and a cigarette.

He was trying to cut down on both, but he was in no hurry to stop completely. The occasional beer wasn’t going to hurt him, though he could tell the difference in his stamina in the ring now that he was down to less than a pack of cigs a day.

This time tomorrow he’d be in the same town as her again. And as much as that in a way excited him he was a bit wary. She could react in all sorts of ways. He was hoping for the more positive ones being her choice but he knew it could go badly, too.

There was nothing more for him to do here tonight. The thought of calling or texting her occurred to him, but he wouldn’t even know what to say. So, he called it good for the moment, deciding it was time to hit the hay.

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***Part Sixteen***
Word Count: 3,467

He felt a little like a stalker and imagined if anyone noticed that the same guy was hanging around the neighborhood three days in a row now they’d call the police. That hadn’t happened yet and he wasn’t purposely wasting time, but he wanted to get a feel for the lay of the land before approaching her.

He already visited the gym and Mrs. Petrelli had been right, it was decent. Certainly better than he’d expected because after all she couldn’t really know that much about boxing and what he’d require from a gym. So he’d already gotten a few workouts in. It was the only thing he could do to pass time really. He was staying at one of those extended stay places, an apartment but not really. The matriarch of the Petrelli clan was picking up the tab for one month. So, to this point he had nothing to do anything with. He wasn’t going to sign a lease and move into an apartment immediately to find out things didn’t work out. If nothing else he could foot the bill himself for the extended stay place while looking for an apartment. With housekeeping done weekly by the hotel that left him with a lot of time on his hands, not that he was a slob. He knew how to clean a bathroom very capably. His mother would have it no other way while he was growing up.

He found a job to help pass the time. He’d need to earn cash while he was here, however long that would turn out to be. One thing about college towns, bars and clubs were always looking for a good bouncer. One who wasn’t college aged and going to let his friends in the door just because he was in the position to do so.

It wasn’t Taylor’s first choice in jobs. At least at the club in New York he’d been a cooler so didn’t have to stand at the door carding people all night long. Not knowing how long he’d be here it was a safe bet as far as temporary employment went. Once he knew what was going on he’d rethink things, but he also didn’t know when he’d get any actual fights in. With a trainer like he had now behind him he shouldn’t be hurting for work, but he didn’t know how things worked here to say for sure.

He could have used that time to approach her, but he didn’t think that was the best way to go about it. He wanted to see her in her element for a little bit before he intruded, and that is what he would be doing. So far he’d determined that she lived in a house with three, maybe four, other women. The fourth woman could have just been a frequent visitor. He’d seen who he presumed was the guy she was with. From what he gathered he didn’t spend the night with her and that made Taylor breathe a little easier. If she’d gotten to the point of sleeping with the guy it may have been trickier getting her to talk to him.

He hadn’t forgotten how pretty she was, but he’d sort of put it out of his mind. There was no sense sitting there dwelling and pining over something out of his reach. So, seeing her the past few days knocked him off kilter a bit, which answered a lot of the misgivings he had about coming here. If she still affected him this way he had to see it through. If he’d seen her and felt nothing he might have turned around and gone back home.

He’d stopped at a florist last night and paid for some flowers to be delivered to her today. He hadn’t signed the card and as far as he could remember she’d never seen his handwriting, so he doubted she’d guess they were from him.

He waited and watched until the delivery van showed up. She was still in the house, so she’d get them right away. Not that he expected flowers to be the cure all, but he hoped it’d soften her to him a little when he did get to the point of approaching her.

Thanksgiving or Christmas.

That deadline didn’t leave him with very much time to work, so he would have to approach her soon.

Why was he procrastinating? He wasn’t sure beyond the fact he didn’t know exactly what to say. It would be painfully obvious he wasn’t just passing through, so he’d come here for her. He slid his sunglasses off, peering at himself in the rearview mirror and knew part of why he was procrastinating. The guy she was with now didn’t look as though he’d lifted anything heavier than a beer can in his life. He’d never been self-conscious or not at home in his body, who he was. It’d served him well for the most part, gotten him most of what he wanted from life to this point. For some reason he wondered if skin and bones was what she wanted because Monroe wasn’t an overly big guy either.

She’d gotten the flowers, seemed excited at getting them. Probably thought they were from her guy, but he enjoyed the smile just the same before heading out of the area. He had to work on a plan to actually see her up close and personal.

He should have known that things wouldn’t go according to his plan. He was here on someone else’s dime, more or less.

Not knowing anyone in town yet beyond the few he’d met while at work, he went there after his workout to have a beer before heading home for the night. He wasn’t really friends with the bartender, but it made it seem a little less like drinking alone knowing the guy by name who was serving him his beer.

He was sitting at the end of the bar, a stool closest to the back area when she walked in with a group of friends. He spotted her right away. He wasn’t sure how because she was the shortest in her group by far. He balled his hand into a fist instinctively when he saw the guy he presumed to be the boyfriend put his arm around her as they walked in the other direction. They didn’t seem like the sit at the bar types and he was right as they found a table not far from the edge of the dance floor.

It would be easy to go over there and pound the shit out of the guy. He was pretty scrawny, but he didn’t think that would be the way to win her back.

“Hey, Dave,” he called to the bartender. He hadn’t come back for a while because Taylor’s beer wasn’t quite half empty.


“I want you to have a drink made special for me.”

“Okay,” he said, listening as Taylor told him exactly how to prepare the amaretto sour. They hadn’t gotten to know very many little things about one another, but he’d made enough of her favorite drink during their time together to have it memorized. She liked hers with a bit of grenadine syrup in it.

Taylor watched as Dave made the drink exactly to his specifications, topping it off with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. She wouldn’t eat the orange slice, he knew, but she would let it sit in the drink and then suck on it when she’d finished.

“Now,” he said, “have it brought to the blonde in the yellow dress.” Taylor pointed out her table, easy enough to find because it was sort of a slow night.

“I was beginning to wonder about you drinking such a sissy drink,” Dave said.

“Not for me,” Taylor said with a low chuckle.

“Didn’t seem like your type of drink, but I’ve seen most everything here.”

“I bet you have,” Taylor said with an acknowledging nod.

Bartenders did indeed see a lot. Heard a lot, too. Taylor was always surprised more divorce attorneys or private investigators hired by divorce attorneys didn’t show up at clubs to catch one or the other spouse doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing until the ink was dry on the papers.

It was potentially a careless move sending her a drink like this. She’d know that it was from him, because she’d told him he was one of two people that knew she liked that particular drink. The other was Adam Monroe, and Taylor doubted he had to resort to this type of thing in order to see her. It wasn’t the first time he’d wondered why Mrs. Petrelli had sent Taylor on this mission and not Monroe. She seemed adamant that Monroe wasn’t the guy for Claire. At least right now.

“So, what do you do now?” Dave asked. “She’s with somebody.”

“Wait and see I guess,” he said, watching as the waitress delivered the drink.

It wasn’t Claire that looked around, though. The boyfriend did. Taylor was good at watching without being obvious that’s what he was doing so the guy would see a lone man sitting at the bar talking to the bartender, sipping on his now replenished beer.

It wasn’t until Claire sniffed and then took a sip of the drink that he allowed his attention to focus entirely on the table. On her. He doubted Monroe knew about the grenadine because it was something he’d added once and she liked it enough he kept doing it after that. He had no idea how many drinks Monroe made for her over the past year so it was possible he knew, but Taylor doubted it.

It was only when she finished the sip, taking a second one almost immediately after that her eyes shot up to look around. Maybe initially she’d thought it was Monroe sending her the drink, but the taste clued her in to the sender’s real identity. The boyfriend looked his way again and judging by Claire’s hand gripping his forearm he wanted to confront Taylor.

Points for him. Taylor would beat the hell out of anyone who sent a drink to his woman.

A short conversation between the two followed. The guy did not look happy at all as Claire stood from the table.

“Wow, I get front row seats to a slap.”

“Maybe,” Taylor said, taking a pull from his beer as she walked toward him.

“Aren’t on the receiving end of too many of those, I imagine.”

Taylor chuckled a little.

“A few in my time.”

Not from her, though. He probably deserved one tonight. Not for sending her the drink, but for some of the last things he’d said to her. They’d been heat of the moment. Hopefully she’d come to understand why he’d been so upset that night, even without the opportunity to talk it out.

She had his undivided attention from the moment she stepped onto the platform leading to the area of the bar he was sitting at. It’d been too long since he’d seen her this close and he thought for a moment he might be drooling. She wasn’t wearing anything especially glamorous, not like the gowns he’d seen her parading around in at Nathan’s house or at functions she’d attended with him.

Still, there was something about the color. Yellow. It reflected so much about her personality. He wondered if she knew that. Most of all, it was such a contrast to him. There was very little light and airy or sunshiny about his life.

“Make another drink, Dave,” he said when he noticed she’d left the other one at the table. “Same way,” he finished just as she got up to him.

He looked over her shoulder, glancing at her table of friends. They were watching as he expected they would be. She just stood there, not saying anything. Her surprise at seeing him after all this time seemed incredibly sincere, so he had to believe Mrs. Petrelli hadn’t warned her he was coming.

Dave set the new drink on the edge of the bar, not even bothering to hide the fact he was paying attention to them. Dave was one of two people here at the club Taylor had initiated a personal relationship with. Due mostly to the fact he was always working when Taylor came in here after his workouts or sparring, but also he seemed like a standup guy. He was from Boston, so they had the East Coast as their stomping grounds in common. And both were the oldest employees at the club.

So, she was waiting for him to say or do something it seemed. A final glance past her at her entourage told him they were still watching. The boyfriend more intently than the others, but they were all curious enough.

So, he did what he’d wanted to do since the day he’d left Nathan’s house and she’d kissed him goodbye as if she meant something more than goodbye. Like maybe I love you. He touched her. Hand at her hip. Possessive in his intent. He wondered if Lover Boy over there had yet to touch her like this. He seemed kind of shy, but Taylor knew looks could be deceiving. Johnny Marbles was the one everyone pegged for least likely to get in trouble outside of the Family Business.

“It’s been a while. Join me for a drink,” he said, putting a bit of his strength behind his touch and tugging her ever so slightly toward him.

“Reese, man,” Dave said with a shake of his head, draping his bar towel over his shoulder. “You didn’t say you knew her.”

“You think I just randomly ask you to mix drinks a certain way?”

“Well, yeah,” he said with a shrug. “Some guys do that.”

“Not this guy,” he said, returning his focus to Claire. “This guy just happens to know what this woman likes.”

“I could have changed my mind.”

Dave walked away then, toward the other end of the bar.

“Oh, I’m sure you haven’t had one in a while made that way, but the taste for it wouldn’t go away completely.”

She reached up to touch a bruise on his temple. It was a bad one. Not from sparring, but from someone falling into the punching bag he’d been working over.

“You’re hurt.”

“I’ll heal,” he said and then smirked. “Not as quickly as you, but you know. It comes with the territory.”

“Still fighting?”

“Does a fish swim?”

“I guess so. At least tell me it’s in a ring.”

“Oh yeah, baby, no more street brawls for me.”

“That’s good,” she said, eyeing him closely now.

He knew what she saw. The time away had not been overly kind to him. No more street brawls did not count the many bar fights he’d started or joined in on shortly after he’d been terminated. Those weren’t in controlled environments with protective headgear or managers looking out for their prospects. Bar fights weren’t called because someone drew a broken bottle or a switchblade. So, he’d paid a pretty hefty price. Scars that weren’t there last she saw him were now.

As she touched him, her hand soothing his face like a medicated balm of some sort, he grew more confident and slid his hand to the small of her back. She wouldn’t be touching him like this if she at least didn’t feel something for him still.

At least he didn’t think so. What he knew about women could fit in a thimble. Women like Claire anyway. The type men wanted to bring home to their mother, grow old with, and make babies with. The women Chris hung out with. Those Taylor knew something about.

“You look good,” he said when silence hung in the air between them.

She smiled, blushing a little at the compliment. “Thanks.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight.”


“No. I wasn’t following you if that’s what you think. I came here after my workout to get a drink before I went home.”

“Lucky you then.”

“Yeah,” he said and meaning it.

“You’re who the flowers were from.”


“Justin didn’t seem to know what I was talking about when I mentioned them.”

“He wouldn’t.”

“I didn’t know who else would be sending me flowers. Assumed it was a mistake, but the florist insisted it was not.”

“You like them?”

“Like them? They’re beautiful. I’ve never gotten flowers before.”


“Listen. I should get back.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I kind of do. They’re my friends. I came with them. Him.” She squinted at him, glancing at the drink on the bar. “What did you think I’d go home with you?”

“I wasn’t thinking much further than talking to you some.”

She scrunched her nose. “Why don’t I believe that?”

“Believe what you want. It seems to me the first time we started we had sex quickly.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“I didn’t pick you up at a club, honey.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You’re missing my point. I should have taken the time to find out things like where you were, or were not, going to school.”

“So you came here to talk to me?”


“Yes, honesty would be nice.”

“I can’t get into this here. Not if you have going back to your group of friends in two seconds on your mind.”

He was surprised her boyfriend, Justin, hadn’t come over here yet.

“What did you say to him anyway?”

“Who him?”

He tilted his chin toward her table of friends. “Your boyfriend. I saw someone touching you like I am currently I’d be in his face in a heartbeat telling him to get his hands off.”

“I didn’t tell him anything other than I’d handle it.”

“And are you?”

“I can’t just bail on them. Can I call you when I get home?”

“I guess that’d work.”

“I need your number.”

“You don’t have it?” he asked. He’d never deleted hers from his phone, so he wasn’t sure what that’d say if she had gotten rid of his.

“It hasn’t changed?”

“No,” he said.

“Neither has mine.”

“Yeah, well,” he said, letting the rest go unsaid.

“Yeah,” she said.

“You can call. Or you can come by,” he said, giving her the name of the extended stay place he was crashing at.

She stared at him for a minute.

“What? I want to see you. Is that a crime?”

“No, I guess not. I just wasn’t expecting.”

“Call or come by. Whatever works for you.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I should be questioning my sanity,” he muttered.


“Oh, doing stupid things.”

“How is this stupid?”

“Not about asking you to call me. No, that’s not the stupid part.”

“What is?”

He slid his other hand to her hip, tugging her closer to him. Him seated as he was they were closer in height than if he’d been standing. And so that made kissing her real easy. Too easy. She gave a soft whimper, but didn’t pull away immediately. Eventually she did, though, hands at his shoulders.

“Yeah, he didn’t like that at all,” he said. “Not that I care, because I liked it a lot.”

She turned then without a word and started to walk away.

“You going to call?”

She stopped for a moment. “I shouldn’t,” she said without turning to look at him.

“That’s not a no at least,” he said as she continued on her path back to her table.

He stood then, setting enough money on the bar to cover both of her drinks and what he’d had plus a tip for Dave.

“She went back to him,” Dave said as he cleared the drink and Taylor’s empties away.

“For now. They come in here a lot?” he asked.

“I see them a fair amount, yeah. The women she comes with, they’re all dancers.”

“Yeah, she likes to dance.”

“You were a smart man; you’d wait around and cut in.”

“I’m a man who’s going to go home and let her make the next move.”

“Be careful of him.”

“Him?” Taylor said, assessing eyes going to the boyfriend. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Not him personally, no, but he’s got a few friends I’ve seen him with a few times. Rough looking bunch. He’s a local.”

“Ah,” Taylor said with a low chuckle as he thought of getting jumped by a group of Iowa boys who thought they were tough. “I think I can handle myself.”

“Just warning you, he’s not alone.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Taylor said, making his way toward the door with one final glance in Claire’s direction. She was watching him leave. Good. That meant he hadn’t irritated her too badly kissing her.

Return to Top

***Part Seventeen***
Word Count: 5,895

Dave tried to warn him and after being as brazen as he’d been, he probably should have been prepared. He just couldn’t take some farm boy from Iowa too seriously as far as threats went.

Five of them jumped him a couple of nights after seeing her in the club when he stepped outside of the club for a smoke break. He hadn’t been too concerned because it’d been years since someone had gotten a good jump on him in a street fight. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time it’d happened. He assumed incorrectly that the boyfriend would be with the group so he’d have a clue as to what he wanted.

Of course it helped that there were five of him and two of them were smart enough to disengage his arms while the other three went to work on his face and ribs. At least one had a lead pipe or a crowbar or something. Taylor didn’t get a real good look at the weapon, just knew what it felt like busting up his insides and striking him over the head with it a couple of times.

He didn’t fall to his knees as they expected, though. If they were expecting him to roll over, give up, and die, they had come after the wrong guy. He’d gone the distance in too many fights over the years. There was no way, no matter how tough these guys thought they were they could beat him when it came to stamina. Eventually, the hitters would get tired, pipes or crowbars got heavy after you swung them more than a few times. The two holding him down would think he was spent and no longer a threat.

One of the three throwing the punches stepped just a little too close. Close enough for Taylor to get in a good head butt. It hurt him like a son of a bitch and he’d planned on doing it at the first opportunity. As Taylor assumed since the other guy hadn’t been expecting the sudden blow or the splitting pain to his head, he went down. He dropped his weapon in the process. Taylor picked it up. No intention of using it unless he had to, but no sense leaving the weapon there on the ground for one of the others to pick up and use against him.

That left four of them, and like the boyfriend none of them were very big. He had to act fast before the two holding onto him had completely processed what happened to their buddy and realized Taylor wasn’t down and out at all.

He apparently was the only one of the group smart enough to have a real weapon. Either that or they hadn’t expected much of a fight out of him to require weapons. He drew the butterfly knife out of his pocket that he’d had since grade school. It’d seen better days, but it’d never let him down and he knew it. Knew how it worked under his control, so he’d never risked getting a new one afraid bringing a new knife into a fight would put him at a disadvantage.

“Get out of here,” he called to four. His foot on the fifth, he pressed on his groin with the pipe, preventing him from moving just yet.

“I’m not repeating myself. If I’d wanted to kill any of you you’d be dead by now, so don’t worry about your friend here. I just want to have a talk with him for a bit.”

They hesitated and Taylor was impressed in a way. Someone waving a knife at him who obviously knew how to use it who he’d just gotten done trying to beat the crap out of he probably would have hauled ass.

Nah, who was he kidding, he wouldn’t. Taylor knew that not everyone was like him, though. They fled the scene, though, leaving Taylor and the one who’d hit him the most alone. Taylor noticed a couple of droplets of blood fall onto the kid’s shirt and realized he must have been bleeding harder than he realized. Time to worry about that later, there were more important things for him to take care of at the moment. Like if Claire was in any danger because of him and his cockiness. He hadn’t really thought on the possibility that the boyfriend might retaliate against her. Or him, for that matter, but the idea of her getting hurt because of him made him want to kick the shit out of this guy until he got a clear answer on the subject.

“Did he send you?”

“He who, man?”

“I don’t know his name, don’t play dumb with me. You jumped me here for a reason.”

“We didn’t know where else to find you, man.”

“So it was him.”

No response.

“Does Claire know?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

He added a little more pressure from his foot to his chest and the pipe at his groin.

“Does it seem like I’m kidding?”

“No, man, of course not. She thinks he’s a great guy.”

“Does he love her?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer, but he had to ask and it seemed unlikely he’d get the opportunity to do so directly.

“How the hell should I know? He asked us to take care of you while he took her to a movie. I didn’t ask him why.”

“So he’d be in the clear.”

“Probably. Yeah.”

“What time does the movie let out?”

“Twenty minutes, maybe thirty. Man, we thought you’d never take a break.”

Taylor chuckled a little at that, the thought of the goons waiting for him for two hours. He let up the pressure on his chest, demonstrating one last time that he was very proficient at using the knife he had. Carefully, he reached into the guy’s leather jacket. He found what he sought, pulling out a wallet and flipping it open.

He made a production of pulling his license out of the little slot it was tucked into and stared at it. The guy probably thought he would just memorize the info and give it back, at least until he saw Taylor slide it into his back jeans pocket.

“You tell him we talked. Warn him I know,” he said, pointing to the scar on his own cheek. He’d gotten it from a beer bottle and hadn’t bothered to see a doctor for it so the scar was pretty wide when it didn’t need to be. “And I will make this look like a grain of sand by the time I’m done with you. I know your name, I will find you. Feel me, man?”

He tossed the wallet onto his chest.

“Now get out of here.”

Assured they were all gone, he went to the back entrance and reported sick for the rest of his shift. He’d been beaten badly enough that his request was granted without much preamble.

He didn’t head home, though, or to a hospital. Instead, he headed to her place. Parking not down the block as he had on previous visits but right in front of the house. There were a few things the boyfriend didn’t know about Taylor. He didn’t back down from a fight. And most importantly, someone called war on him; Taylor came out all guns a blazing. He wasn’t his old man’s son, best friend to Benny Demaret’s son, for nothing. Never mind he had to know she was okay. A phone call wouldn’t do it; she could fake being okay over the phone.

He took a chance they weren’t at her house yet. The car he’d come to realize was hers was on the driveway, but the boyfriend’s car was not. He didn’t strike Taylor as the type to make her drive herself to a date, especially if he was using that date as an alibi against any wrongdoing.

Fortunately, he had a gym towel in his car. He used it to clean himself up a little bit. The ribs. Well, there wasn’t anything he could do for them. Sparring would be out of the question for a while, and that pissed Taylor off something fierce.

Sure enough, about thirty minutes later the boyfriend’s sissy muscle car wannabe pulled up. He waited until they were on their way up the sidewalk that led to her house before getting out. It took every ounce of strength and perseverance he had to move like that. His body rebelled at the movement, wanting nothing more than to remain seated so he could heal. He’d have time to do that later.

Neither seemed to notice him, they were talking about the movie they’d seen it sounded like while she pulled her keys out of her purse. He certainly wasn’t trying to be discreet or subtle about being there. She lived on a street full of rental houses, though, so strange cars and people getting out of them probably wasn’t anything new.

“Claire,” he said finally, stopping in his tracks on the patch of grass street side of the sidewalk.

She turned, obviously irritated by his presence there. Until she actually took the time to look at him. He must have looked worse than he pictured because she dropped her purse and keys and was by his side in a matter of seconds. She no longer looked irritated but concerned instead.

“What happened? And why are you here and not at a hospital?”

“Had to be sure you were all right. Not going to the hospital.”


“I’ll be fine in a day or two.”

“Okay, if you want to be stubborn. Why come here?”

“I told you, I had to be sure you were all right. And, all right, you know how to take care of me when I’m hurt like this,” he said honestly.

“Taylor. I don’t have anything to clean you up with. I’m not stocked for bodyguards or fighters.”

“I do at my place.”

“I can’t go with you. Justin’s here.”

“Yeah, Justin. Prince Charming, right? At least I didn’t pretend to be something I’m not with you. Why don’t you ask him about his friend,” he said, stopping to remember the kid’s name.

“His friend?”

“Yeah, reach into my pocket,” he said.

“Taylor,” she protested.

“I’d do it, but I can’t at the moment. I’m sure you’ll recognize him.”

She did as he asked, finding the license and squinting at it in the darkness. There was a streetlight nearby, but it wasn’t that bright. She was able to see the picture well enough, though, because her eyes went from the license to Justin.

“There were four others,” he said. “I didn’t catch their names.”

“Justin?” she said.

“Oh come on, Claire, I didn’t do anything. I may have mentioned to my friends that some guy who clearly thought he is all that was putting moves on you right in front of me.”

“I am all that,” Taylor said.

“That’s not going to help,” she hissed, but Taylor noticed she was touching him. A hand at his abdomen, gentle pressure to keep him from going after Justin. If she thought he could go another round or two looking as he did she must have thought he was all that, too.

“So your friends decided to fight him?”

“Jumped me was more like it. Back behind the club. They knew exactly where to find me, too.”

“Why?” she asked Justin.

“Some guy kisses you right in front of me and you think I’m just going to sit back and let that happen?”

“And you think beating him up is going to do anything for you?”

“How the hell was I supposed to know he’d come here? Why does he know where you live anyway?” Justin started sizing him up now, as if until now he hadn’t really given Taylor much thought beyond a guy honing in on his woman. “You seeing him behind my back?”

Taylor scoffed. As if.

“As if I have time. I barely have time to see one of you let alone two. I told you he’s someone I know from New York.”

“Seems like he’s more than that. Sending you flowers. Kissing you. Saw the way he touched you, too. And the way you’re touching him now. You never touch me like that. How do you know my friends picked the fight and he didn’t?”

“Because I know him, and he wouldn’t do that.”

“Doesn’t look like he’s walked away from too many fights.”

“I never said he did, I just know that he wouldn’t pick a fight here.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not important,” she said after an obvious moment of consideration. It would seem she understood why he was there then. To get her back. “I just know.”

“Claire,” he risked interrupting.

“What?” she snapped.

“Hey, I’m the injured one here. I need to get somewhere where I can be horizontal for a while.”

“Fine,” she said and he thought for a minute she was going to make him go home alone. Not that he’d blame her. “Keys?” she asked, holding her hand out in front of him.

“In the car,” he said with a low hiss as he took too deep of a breath.

“You’re going with him?”

“Well, someone has to look after the damage and I presume you’re not even though you caused it.”

“I didn’t do anything. I was with you all night.”

“Right. Funny how that worked, too. You’ve never asked me to go out twice in the same week before. We both have classes tomorrow.”

“Claire,” he said.

“Just go home, Justin. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She helped Taylor to his car, opening the passenger side door for him. His body wasn’t too keen on going back to the seated position now that he’d been upright for a while now, but he made it.

“I swear to God, if you planned this somehow to get me to come back to your room.”

“You think I’d plan getting my ass kicked and want you to see me like this?”

She regarded him as she put the car in gear.

“Good point,” she said.

He’d never want her to see him look like this after a fight, because that would indicate he was human, beatable, and he wouldn’t want her to have that impression of him. Ever. In the ring was one thing, but a street fight. No way in hell.

Evidently, she remembered where he said he was staying because she drove there without him having to say anything until they got there and he had to lead the way to his room.

“Wow,” she said, checking it out as he collapsed on the couch. “This is pretty nice.”

“Yeah, it’s all right,” he said, eyes closing despite whatever effort he made to keep them open. He wanted to watch her, memorize her being here not knowing if he would get the chance to see her here again. “Not as nice as an actual apartment, but at least I can cook my own food and stuff.”

She went to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with a makeshift icepack. It was a little late for one, but he took it and applied it over his head.

“Where’s your stuff?” she asked.

“Bathroom,” he said, pointing to the only real door in the place besides the one leading to the hallway anyway.

“Why didn’t you hurt them?” she asked from the bathroom.

“How do you know I didn’t?”

“Taylor, come on, I’ve seen you fight. Granted it was sparring and controlled, but I also know what you look like when you’ve gotten done. I’ve never seen you this bad.”

“Maybe there was too many of them.”

She returned to the main area, hands full. It seemed she remembered how to doctor him well enough. At least what she’d need to do it.

“I don’t buy that.”

“Because I wasn’t going to have you hold that against me, turn what should have been against him into something I somehow did wrong.”

“He has a name.”

“Yeah. Asshole.”

“He’s not really.”

“Could have fooled me,” he said as she sat on the coffee table much the way she had the night at Nathan’s house.

“He’s just jealous.”

“Just jealous people don’t get their friends to do their dirty work for them, Claire.”

“You would know.”

He slid the ice pack from his head and looked at her evenly. “Yeah, I would know. He wanted me out of the picture.”

“Well, it’s a dumb way to go about it. Is that what you’d do for friends?”

He chuckled slightly. “My friends usually had more important things to worry about than their chick hooking up with other guys. And not very many needed me to do their dirty work, they had their own way of handling situations.”

“I suppose they did,” she said.

Both grew quiet as she worked on his face. He didn’t need a mirror to know there was a lot of blood. He was lucky she had the stomach for this.

“Thank you,” he said, realizing he probably should say that.

“Why are you here, Taylor?”

“To see you,” he said. He’d had plenty of time to ponder over the explanation he’d give to that question. He knew it would be one of the first she asked. He’d decided to go with honesty.


“Your grandmother paid me a visit.”


“Yeah,” he said, sensing the surprise in her voice was sincere. So, Claire didn’t know about her plan. “Seems she wanted me to find you again.”


“Maybe she believes we deserve a real chance.”

“Angela wouldn’t do anything like that without some sort of return for her.”

“Does it matter? I mean, really? I came.”

“Because she sent you here.”

“How the hell was I supposed to find you otherwise,” he said with a wince when she brushed over a particular spot on his head.

“You still had my number.”

“And you had mine.”

Their gazes met, neither willing to back down on that point. The communication lines had been open to both of them.

“I made the first move. I know I hurt you, so it had to be me no matter what the proud part of me said. So, does it matter how I got here?”

“Do you know what she wants?”

“I do. Well, sort of,” he said with a shrug.


“She wants me to protect you.”

“What? She hired you?”

“No, nothing like that. She was hoping that I’d do it out of the goodness of my heart.”

“Is that why you came here?”

“Claire,” he said, taking hold of her hand to stop her from tending to him for a minute. “We never got a chance to talk after that night. Your father, both of them, made sure of that. I said things.”

“Yeah, you did.”

“Can you at all see why I was upset?”

“Yes,” she admitted after a moment’s hesitation.

“And then your old man was there, looking as if he thought hanging me by my toenails was too kind of a punishment. What the fuck was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“And I didn’t exactly see you fighting for me.”

“What was I supposed to say? I went away with you for the weekend.”

“I don’t mean then. You were close enough to being eighteen.”

“You said that it wouldn’t matter!”

“That night, no.”

“How was I to know you’d change your mind? You were pretty clear that you wanted to forget.”

“Sweetheart, if you think I could forget about you, you have no idea how hard I’d fallen for you.”

“Fallen for me?”

“You think I introduce just anyone to Matty? I could have met him and Buffy for dinner or something, didn’t have to include you.”

“I know,” she said. She went back to tending to his face.

Her reaction wasn’t what he’d expected. It was the closest he’d ever gotten to telling anyone but his mother he loved them. What the hell more else could he say? He quietly contemplated his options while she capably doctored him up.

“I should have told you how old I was.”

“I should have asked. I’m not dumb, I’ve been around the block more than once; know there are fake IDs out there.”

“Would it have mattered that first night?”

“At the club?”

She blushed. “No, obviously I wasn’t going to tell you that night!”

“Ah. Well, yeah, you’d have had to be pretty quick about telling me you weren’t legal, but yeah, I would have stopped.”

“I missed this,” he said softly.

“Getting beat up?”

“No, having you to help me after.”

“You have other people to do it for you, I’m sure.”

“They’re not you.”

“You’ll need to take your shirt off for the rest.”

“I can manage.”

“You asked me to help you; I’m going to do that. You can’t tape your ribs yourself.”

“You going to stay here to unwrap and rewrap them?”


“I’m sorry,” he said softly.

“For being a baby?”

“No, for the other stuff. Everything I said to you that night.”


“If I could take it back, I would. I was mad. When I get mad, feel like I’m backed into a corner I fight my way out. That’s what I have always done.”

“I know.”

“That’s what I will always do.”

“I know,” she said.

“Do you?”

“Yes,” she said. “Except it seems when my boyfriend sends people to beat you up.”

“I couldn’t hurt them. They had no idea what they were getting into picking a fight with me.”

“You’re a big guy, Taylor, I’m pretty sure they had a clue when they saw you.”

“Being a big guy and knowing how to kill someone with my bare hands do not always go together.”

“Why does Angela want you here?”

“Back to that.”

“She has to have a reason.”

“I told you.”

“To protect me from what?”

“Gold diggers, latchers-on, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how her mind works. She told me where you were, gave me the means to find you. Granted, there were a couple of incentives she threw in I couldn’t resist.”

“Such as?”

“My own trainer. A top-notch trainer that used to work for Boom Boom Bartucci.”

“So, she wants me back in New York?”


“Well, you’re not going to wait three years for a trainer.”

“No, here. The trainer is here.”

“Oh,” she said. “Shirt off.”

“Okay, okay, though you never answered my question,” he said, standing slowly. He was even slower about getting the shirt off. She helped the last little bit because he couldn’t lift his arms as high as removing it required.

“What question?”

“You going to stay here to unwrap and wrap?”

“I can stay for a while.”

“You have class tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I don’t want you to be too tired.”

She regarded him for a moment before focusing her attention back on his ribs. She must have known they were bad because she had a couple rolls of his boxing glove tape. He exhaled deeply as she began wrapping.

“I’m a big girl, Taylor.”

“You didn’t ask to be my nurse tonight.”

“I kind of owe it to you.”

He grabbed her hand, stopping her from taping any further.

“Is that why you’re here? Because you think you owe me?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, but it is my boyfriend who caused this.”

“Is he still?”

“How are Buffy and Matty?”

“What?” he asked.

“They had a boy, right?”

“Yes. How did you?”

She gave a soft laugh. “Like it wasn’t plastered all over every New York and LA newspaper.”

“I didn’t realize you followed gossip about gangsters.”

“Ex-gangsters who are friends with you I guess I do. I was there, in California, when he was born. I thought about calling to congratulate them, but decided it was best not to.”

“I wish you would have, but they’re all right.”


“Because I would have known you still cared.”

“And the baby?”

“Fine. Healthy. Getting big. They’re talking about trying for another.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“About what?” he asked, noticing she had very successfully changed the topic.

“Babies. I assume you see them.”

“Well, sure I’m his godfather. I see them whenever I get the chance.”

“It doesn’t make you want them?”



“Hell, no,” he said, confused. “I told you before I don’t know what kind of father I’d make, so I’d rather not find out I’m a bad one.”

He grabbed her by the forearms and drew her to him when she was done taping him up.

“Are you trying to tell me something? Is that why Angela sent me here?”


“Did I? Did you? Shit. Are you trying to tell me I’m a dad?”

“No. What gave you that idea?”

“I don’t know. You start asking me how I feel about babies. That’s kind of an odd topic to bring up right now.”

“I think I told you I don’t know if I can have them.”


“Well, you’re here for me. I remember what you said about your own kids, but I thought maybe after seeing Matty’s son that you may have changed your mind.”

“Then I’d what? Bail on you because you may not be able to have them?”

“Well, you are Italian.”

“What the hell has that got to do with anything?”

“I know it’s kind of important to you. Babies. Boy babies. I sometimes wonder and I know I shouldn’t, but if I was a boy would Angela still have done what she did?”

“I’m sure she would have. I mean, I have no way of knowing, but it sounded like a baby didn’t fit into her plans for Nathan at that point, boy or girl. And, don’t compare me to her. Like I even have a name to give a son.”

“I just don’t know, you know? Adam’s had kids, but he’s a man. That’s sperm not an egg implanting itself in him. I’m not sure how this whole healing thing works. I mean, one would think pregnancy is normal, but it’d be something foreign in my body. How would it be any different than anything else foreign that my body pushes out?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

“And you’re sure.”

“Are you concerned about it with Justin?”


“Why not? Why would it make a difference who you end up with? And don’t tell me it’s because I’m Italian. My mother would welcome and love a grandchild if it came from me or some other means.”

“And yet you don’t know if you want them.”

“Nuh uh, no changing the subject this time. I let you do it earlier, but not now. Why doesn’t this concern you with him but it does with me?”

“Because I don’t love him,” she said softly.

“So you’d contemplate marriage to someone you don’t love?”

“I wasn’t contemplating anything with him.”

“Does he know that?”

“Of course not!”

“So, does that mean you do love me?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You left.”

“You let me leave! The way you kissed me, I thought maybe you’d say something. Do something to fight for me. Us. But you didn’t.”

“You said mean things to me.”

He let go of her arms, reaching for her face. He winced, not at all comfortable reaching with his arms like he was but he’d do it for her.

“I told you I’m sorry, Claire. I am. You have to understand the idea of going to prison is a scary concept for a guy like me. I’m out and I know a lot of things. Not saying Benny would arrange my demise, but someone could without telling or asking his permission.”

“I know. I mean, I didn’t think about it at the time, no.”

“I can’t promise I won’t say mean things again. I told you back when we started I’d never hurt you. Physically. I can’t do that, but I’m a fighter, that’s what I do. Feels like someone’s out to threaten me somehow, I’m going to fight back.”

“I didn’t mean to, Taylor. I honestly had no idea it was such a big deal. How would I know cops might still be watching you?”

“You couldn’t, I didn’t tell you. It’s not something I like to talk about much less think about, but it’s the way of my life. You’re never completely out, not without looking over your shoulder. My pop’s gone, so the only thing keeping me honest – in their opinion – is that I’m still friends with Matty.”

“You can let go of me,” she said.


She smiled a little, reaching for his face. “I know it hurts, you’re trying not to show it but I still know your eyes. And they’re telling me you’re in pain.”


“Then let go of me. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Not back to him?”

“No. We aren’t as serious as you – or he – may like to think.”

“I don’t want to think about you being serious with anybody.”

“Yeah, well, I’d place a wager on the fact you’ve had sex since me.”

“Well,” he stammered. “Not that meant anything.”

“I haven’t. When I started dating Justin it was right before summer break. I was going to spend my summer split between California and New York, I didn’t want that hanging over my head.”

“And since you’ve been back?”

“Still getting to know him, not entirely sure I like what I’m learning.”

“Even before tonight?”

She smiled. “Yeah, even before tonight.”

“Yet you claim he’s a nice guy.”

“He is! To me, but I’ve come to realize he’s not to everyone.”

“I’ll say.”

“You should talk.”

“Hey, I’m nice to everyone who deserves my kindness.”

“You’ve never started a fight in your life, right?”

“Sure I have, but only against someone who deserved to get his ass kicked.”

“Good to know.”

“How did you know I didn’t start it tonight?”

“Beating up my boyfriend’s friends would not be a good way to get me to talk to you let alone get me back. You came here, to Iowa, I know what that means.”

“I’m glad you do.”

“You don’t?”

“I’m not entirely sure your grandmother does.”

“What is her deal anyway?”

“Honey, I haven’t a clue. I don’t know her to know how she thinks, but she seems to want me in your life.”

“And if she hadn’t sent you here?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I had no idea where you were going to school. I probably would have waited until you should have been done with college and then talked to some of Nathan’s staff.”

“You were going to wait longer than I was.”


“I didn’t go to your house this past summer because I didn’t want to use you as an excuse somehow to sabotage things with Justin.”


“I probably would have ended up going to see you next summer, though.”

“You thought about it this summer?”

“Yes. More than once I got on the subway. I had it all mapped out, which lines to take and everything, but every time I changed my mind.”

“I’m sorry you did.”

“Me, too, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to,” she shrugged. She wrapped her arm around him gently, mindful of his ribs and led him to his bed. It was a king sized bed, certainly big enough for both of them if she was of the mind. He’d already asked if she was going to stay and help him with his ribs, he wasn’t going to ask again.

“What are you doing?”

“Putting you to bed,” she said, turning down the bed and helping him sit down. “Wait a sec,” she said, walking toward his bathroom.

“Ah, you are a saint,” he said when he saw her come back with his bottle of nighttime painkillers and a glass of water.

“Only for you would I do this.”

“I should hope so.”


“Because I catch you doing this for someone else anytime soon I will kick their ass.”

“Like you could right now.”

He chuckled, taking the pills followed by a long drink of water.

“If it meant losing you again, I’d do anything.”

“Thanks,” she said, returning to the bathroom with the empty glass.

“Thank you.” He let her help him lay down. He could do it himself, but she’d taped up his ribs well enough the help was appreciated.

She sat on the edge of the bed then, reaching for his alarm clock.

“What are you doing?”

“Setting the alarm.”


“To wake you up in a couple of hours so I can unwrap you.”


“You want me to leave.”


“Then shut up.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, more than a little surprised when she moved to the other side of the bed and got in next to him. He’d hoped, wanted, but he hadn’t expected her to get into bed with him tonight.

“You do know I am really pretty hurt, right?”

“Yes,” she said as she slid closer to him. Close enough she was touching him, but mindful of the fact he was basically one big cut and bruise at the moment.

“Just making sure I wasn’t signing myself up for something I can’t quite deliver tonight.”

“Not tonight, no.”


“Get some rest, Taylor. You’re going to need it.”

“You are the one with class tomorrow. All I was going to do was head to the gym and that’s out now.”

“You still need it to heal. The sooner you heal the sooner you can get back to the gym.”

“How’d you get so smart about such things?”

“Fall in love with a boxer, you learn all sorts of things.”

“Yeah, about that.”


“I wasn’t entirely honest earlier when I said I’d fallen for you.”

She froze. Until then she’d been tracing along his thigh with a fingertip. Nothing suggestive or sexual, just a touch. She didn’t say anything, though, waiting perhaps to see just what he was going to say.

“Fallen is entirely too simple a word to describe it. I knew the second I saw you again here, you’re no passing fancy.”

“Good to know.”

He rolled onto his side with a wince, eyeing her as she looked at him just as intensely.

“You get what I’m saying, right? Matty’s the only friend I felt comfortable with you meeting because he’s out. But my mother, your friends, your family, and eventually the rest of my friends when we get to that point. I want the whole deal.”

“Okay,” she said, and he knew she wasn’t too sure about the part about her family.

“Your dad can’t say too much now. He’s not going to pull you out of college, so I think his threats are going to be pretty idle.”

“I suppose. I just.”

“I don’t mean tomorrow. We have time to figure things out before we get to that. I just want you to know where I’m at.”

“Thanks. Get some rest now,” she said.

“I will,” he said, turning back to lie on his back. Her fingers at his thigh went back to their gentle touch.

Return to Top

***Part Eighteen***
Word Count: 2,453

Ten days it took him to where his chest and torso didn’t feel like they were going to explode anytime he moved. The club had been oddly accommodating when he said he’d need time off. He hadn’t gone to a hospital, so he had no doctor’s note citing treatment. Not that his being hurt wasn’t blatantly obvious. They were probably worried about getting sued because the attack had occurred on their property while he was on break. Security lights that were supposed to be working hadn’t been that night. He imagined they were now, though.

Not that security lights would have stopped Justin’s friends that night. Claire knew that.

She saw him every day. She was in the play on campus so had rehearsal most evenings, so sometimes she didn’t get to his place until late but he never seemed to mind what time it was.

She should have been wary about things happening too fast, except other than touching her he hadn’t tried a thing. She spent the night with him every night under the pretense of wrapping his ribs, but by about day three they both knew he no longer required his ribs being wrapped. He went along with it, though, and so did she.

Hurt as he was, she was always surprised when she woke up in the morning to find him holding her somehow. She felt incredibly cherished, and that frightened her a little.

Shouldn’t she stay mad at him longer? And what exactly was Angela’s deal sending him here? She suspected he knew more than he was letting on about that, but she figured he’d tell her once they got comfortable with one another again.

She knew on day eleven when she let herself into his room and he was sitting at the desk with his laptop that he was definitely on the mend. She was a little scared the first few days. She’d never seen him this bad off before now, but he’d assured her he’d be okay with time.

Doubting him, or just wanting to be certain he wasn’t dismissing things she’d called Adam who’d agreed with Taylor’s assessment of a few weeks recuperation time. Adam had experience so she had to believe that both men wouldn’t set out to lie to her.

Adam didn’t seem too surprised to hear Taylor was in Iowa, and that made her wonder what he knew about whatever Angela was doing. She didn’t ask, because she’d rather hear it from Taylor than Adam.

“Feeling better, I see?”

“Yeah,” he said without really looking at her. It took her a minute to realize why, what had his attention. He was video chatting with Matty.

“That is so cool that you can do that,” she said once he was done and the laptop closed.

“Yeah. I can keep up with little Matty, too.”

“You didn’t tell me. I mean, has he been worried.”

“Nah, I called him a couple of weeks ago and told him I’d be out of commission for a while.”

“Good. I’m glad. I didn’t even think.”

“It’s all right. Why would you have?”

“Well, you would have called my dad if something happened to me.”

“That’s a little different, your dad cares for you.”

“So does your mother and I didn’t even think to call her.”

He chuckled a little, standing from the chair to walk toward the couch where she was sitting. “Claire, if you’d called her she would have chalked it up to another bar fight. Now if I’d been in the hospital, hooked up to life support or something,” he shrugged. “Probably she deserves a call for that.”

“Oh, God, don’t joke about that.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, sitting next to her. He did it a lot easier than even just the night before she noticed.

“What did you do today then?”

“Not a lot. I finally told housekeeping they could come tomorrow and clean up.”

“You saying I haven’t done it well enough.”

“You’ve done great, but they’re paid to do it. That’s part of the perk of staying at a place like this. Besides, I’m thinking it’s about time I got my own place.”


“Yeah. You know, you haven’t told me to go to hell or anything.”

“And if I had?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have given up right away, but I wouldn’t have gone signing any leases either.”

“A lease?”

“Yeah, figure it’s better than buying something for only a couple of years. Unless you’re planning on staying here longer than that, but still it’s just not worth the headache of worrying about the housing market in a few years.”

“I suppose.”

“You want to help me?”

“Help you with what?”

“Find a place.”

“Oh. Sure. I can. I mean, not that I’m an expert or anything. I just answered an ad in the paper.”

“I was thinking maybe you’d have a reason to help me pick it out.”


“Well, you could stay there once in a while.”

“I could, huh?”

“Yeah, or just get out of your place entirely.”


“Too fast?”

“A little.”

“Just throwing the idea out there.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“When does your play open?”


“The play. What? You think I was delirious or something when you told me all that stuff?”

“Well, no, but why?”

“So I can go,” he said.


He frowned. “Really. Is that so surprising?”

“You don’t seem like the play type.”

“Well, you’re not the boxing type.”

“Yeah, but that’s like your job. What you want to do, so of course I’m going to watch you do it.”

“Well, you like acting.”

“Yes, but I don’t plan on going to Hollywood and trying to be the next Meryl Streep.”

“Not a bad goal, but regardless of your intentions I’d like to go. Isn’t that what a guy is supposed to do for his girl?”

“Well, yeah, I guess, I just,” she frowned. “I’m sorry, I reacted all wrong. We’ve a couple of weeks yet, I’ll let you know, and I’d love to have you come. Let me know what night you want to be there and I’ll make sure a ticket is held for you.”

“I can arrange for my own ticket, Claire.”

“I know. I just.”

“I’m coming. End of discussion.”

“Okay,” she said, unable to hide the giddy tone in her voice. Justin wouldn’t have gone. He thought her auditioning to begin with was dumb.

“Now about that apartment.”

“I’m not moving in with you.”



They grew quiet as she let her head rest against his chest. Another sign he was better, he didn’t flinch or shift when she did this.

“Your grandmother is going to let your identity be revealed.”


“That’s why she sent me here to protect you. She didn’t want someone taking advantage of you being a Petrelli without your grasping what all it means.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Nathan’s running for president.”


“She seems to think it’ll help his chances of getting elected.”

“Oh God. So I’m a pawn.”

“I think you’re a tool she has at her disposal and she’s going to use whatever she can to get her son elected president of the United States.”

“And what she thought I’d instantly be a gold digger magnet?”

“Something like that.”

“And since you come with your own stuff.”

“You got it, sweetheart.”


“Would serve her right if we made her think we’re not together.”

“It would, but I’m not sure it’d stop her.”

“No, she’s on a mission and won’t stop at anything to see it’s done.”

“She is worried about you. She didn’t like him.”

“She likes you?”

“I don’t get the why of that either. Believe me. I pointed that out to her, but I must be bringing something to the table that appeals to her because she wasn’t concerned that the Petrelli name would get sullied by ties to a mobster.”

“You’re not.”

“But my old man is, my best friend’s old man is.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“So. When?”

“I don’t know. She said Thanksgiving or Christmas.”

“I’m supposed to go there for Christmas break.”

“I’d imagine that’s when she’ll do it then.”

“You’ll come with, right?”


“God, yes! I don’t want to be used, but I’ll help Nathan whatever he needs. I’m just afraid of getting thrown to the wolves with no one to watch my back.”

He tugged her to him. Another sure fire way to tell he was better; he brought her onto his lap as if it was nothing.

“I’ll watch whatever part of you that needs watching.”

“Is that so?”


“I’ll remember that, Mr. Reese.”

“You’d better,” he said.

She leaned in and kissed him then. They’d kissed a couple of times, but she was always hesitant to kiss him too deeply. More afraid of being a tease when he couldn’t see things to an end yet. Tonight, though while she wasn’t concerned about whether there was an end beyond a kiss, she didn’t stop herself from letting go with him either.

He drew away, nipping at her neck before finding her ear. She gave a soft whimper as he closed his lips around it.

“I want to; you have to know I do.”

“I, yes,” she whispered.

“I want to be completely healthy when we do.”



“There’s an and?”

He chuckled. “Yes. I want to keep getting to know you. I want you to keep bringing your homework here, or my apartment when I find one. I want you to keep talking to me about your day.”

“I will,” she said with a frown.

“The last time we started out having sex right away. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not all I want from you.”

“I know.”

“I want to be sure you know that. You’ve gone a while without, that means you’ve wanted to abstain.”

“They weren’t you.”

“Flattering, and thank you, but still no need to rush. Right? I mean, we know we work that way.”

“Uh yeah,” she said and he laughed.

“Well, if I’m going to go back to New York with you and watch your back I want us to be solid.”

“I get that.”

“Okay. I just don’t want you to think it’s lack of want on my part.”

“I like waking up to you.”

“Me, too, that doesn’t have to end. Ever.”

“I have a lease.”

“What about that girl that’s always there?”


“I saw a girl there a few times, didn’t appear to live there, though.”

“Mindy. Yeah, she’s a friend of one of my housemates.”

“Maybe she’d take your place on the lease.”


“If you decide you want out.”

“You’re going to get a place close to campus then?”

“If I have to.”

“I don’t have a parking permit on my car.”

He chuckled. “Well, then I guess I have to.”

“I suppose I could ask Mindy.”

“You’ll never know if you don’t ask.”

“Right. You could do that?”

“Do what?”

“Live with me. I mean, not just have me stay the night but live there and not have sex?”

“I didn’t say I plan on abstaining for years, Claire. I’m not a monk. I just want us settled, square, and solid so your dad can’t say something when we show up in New York together.”

“My dad won’t be there, I’m sure.”

“The other dad.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t. In fact, he told me we might run into each other again one day.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah, he’s not so bad. I think he was more upset that I didn’t tell him than the fact something happened.”

“I can understand that, but then if I had a daughter I don’t think I’d want a fucking clue who they were dating.”


“Because, honey, I know how guys think and I wouldn’t want to be able to put a face to the name of the guy trying to get into her pants.”

“You’d be one of those fathers who stood there cleaning their gun while a date picks her up, wouldn’t you?”

“Maybe,” he chuckled. “Yeah, probably. Maybe not a gun, but I certainly would let it be known I’m not afraid to get my hands bloodied.”

“You know you can’t hit minors.”

“Oh well. That’s easy enough. They just can’t leave the house until they’re eighteen.”

“Right. And that would have somehow stopped us?”

He picked her up then, hands supporting her relatively easily as he carried her to the bed.

“I don’t think anything would have stopped us, but that’s us.”

She smiled then as he set her down before joining her. She unbuttoned his shirt, letting it fall open before snuggling against him.

“I like to think I’d be a better dad than I had.”

“So you have thought of it.”

“Well, sure. With you here, turning me on every second. There’s a part of me that would love to find out if we could, but there’s another part of me that is scared shitless of that possibility. You at least had a dad and a mom who cared for you. Mom did, but she didn’t really set a great example either being my old man’s kept lady. You know? Good enough to fuck, to get pregnant, but couldn’t actually marry the Jew.”

“Do you follow it?”


“Your religion?”

“Not really. I did as a kid, but no. Mom would probably keel over if I started going to Temple as an adult. Why?”

“Just curious. I really wasn’t raised with anything. I mean, we went to church, but I didn’t get confirmed or anything my friends went through.”

“So, you wouldn’t have any problem marrying the Jew?”

She laughed softly, running her hand along his abdomen. He still flinched once in a while so she was always careful where he was most tender.

“Is he asking a serious question?”

“As serious as he can be at the moment.”

“Hmm, well, regardless, no I wouldn’t.”

“That’s good. No disowning threat looming over your head. And a kid would be raised whatever you are anyway.”

“Well, I have no intention of trying to find out if that’s possible until I’m done with school at least.”

“That’s more than fine with me. You have homework?”

“No. I did it at rehearsal.”


“Accusing me of slacking?”

“Just making sure I wasn’t taking you away from your responsibilities.”

“No, I like getting it done there if I can because then I don’t have to do it here.”

“Doing it here is a problem?”

“It is when I have to sit at your desk, watching you sleep and I can’t join you.”

“Oh. Well then, get it done at rehearsal.”

“Ha! See.”

Return to Top

***Part Nineteen***
Word Count: 7,000

“I’m glad we got one night together here before we have to deal with my family,” she said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the last time I was here,” she shrugged.

“Yeah, I remember. I see what you’re saying, so yeah, me, too. Don’t think it was easy for me, you know. I had more than just a few sleepless nights because I remembered you being in my bed.”

“Well, now you don’t have to just remember.”

“Damn straight,” he said, letting his hand graze along her hip before cupping her ass. She gave a soft groan at his touch even though they’d had sex an hour ago. “You look very good here, too.”

“Good enough to keep?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Tempt you how?”

“I don’t know. Kidnapping you and keeping you here instead of going back to Iowa with you.”

“Can’t kidnap the willing.”

“And I repeat don’t tempt me. One of us has to finish college. Your family would crucify me if you dropped out.”

“I could transfer. NYU is a great college.”

“No,” he said. “It’s only a couple of years. I can handle Iowa for that long. You’ve got a good thing going there, and honestly so do I.”

“I know,” she said, pressing against him as his hand skimmed along her thigh. He wasn’t looking for sex, she could tell, more of an assurance that she was really here with him. She had somewhat of a hard time believing it herself. A part of her thought she made it far too easy on him, but she’d known from the moment she saw him at the bar that she missed him too much to play hard to get.

Both were quiet, touching one another as they put off getting up for their day. A day that would put her and Taylor under close scrutiny by the Petrelli’s. As well as others, she imagined.

“She’s going to do it while I’m here this weekend, isn’t she?”

“I would assume so,” he said. “She told me Thanksgiving or Christmas. You’re here for Thanksgiving, so it stands to reason.”

“I’d feel a lot better if you could stay with me there. I don’t get why you can’t. Why we have to hide out here like we’re doing something wrong.”

“Baby, it’s one thing to know you’re living with me out in Iowa where no one actually sees us cohabitating. Another to have me share your bed while you’re here for a visit. Besides, it’s not like we’re at a hotel. This is my house, where you’ll live one day so may as well get used to it.”

“It’s just like it matters. How is it any better we’re here at your house then there at Nathan’s? What would they do if I never want to get married? I could be sixty and what not be allowed to sleep with you.”

“It matters to people like Nathan and your grandmother. Image is everything. That includes getting married.”

“I know,” she said, sitting up on the bed. “It’s not that I don’t want to. I was just saying.”

“At least if it’s too much we can hide out here.”

She rolled her eyes. “I think you and Angela are putting way too much thought on what effect this is going to have on me. No one’s going to really care who I am.”

“Maybe,” he said, running his hand along her arm. “It’d be nice if she’s wrong, but things like this always seem to attract attention.”

“That’s because all those guys cheated on their wives or something. Nathan didn’t do that.”

“I know that and so will everyone else, which is why I think Angela thinks it will work to his advantage.”

“I wish I knew what she got out of this.”

“It got us here. Does it really matter?”

“I don’t know. No, it shouldn’t, but there’s a part of me that wonders.”

“Me, too, but I haven’t wondered too hard on it. Notice even your father hasn’t said much about you living with me.”

“I know. Shocked the hell out of me.”

“I think that was Angela’s influence.”

“My father is not her son.”

“No, but I’m sure she could make him see reason just like anyone else. She didn’t have to convince me too hard, but she didn’t hold back anything either. You know? She dangled the carrot on a stick in front of me, just in case I wasn’t sure.”

“I don’t think my dad has a carrot.”

“I’m sure she’s got something to use for or against him. People like her, they collect information, every morsel they can find and save it until they need it.”

“You make her sound so diabolical.”

“Her son’s running for president. She has to be that and more.”

“I’m just not ready to be anything but Claire Bennet.”

“Hmm,” he said.

“What’s with the hmm?”

He sat up and kissed her shoulder. “Nothing. Just thinking you’ll have to be someone other than Claire Bennet one day.”

“Yes, but that’s different. That’s voluntary. This is…involuntary. And I’m not going to reap any of the benefits.”


“Yeah, I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be anything but Nathan’s long-lost illegitimate daughter. I’m not going to be in the White House like Simon and Monty.”

“You’d be too old to live there anyway, sweetheart, but you can visit him. Have dinner there. Probably sleep there. Hell, you probably could live there if you wanted to.”

“God, could you imagine?”

He smirked a little, brushing his cheek along her shoulder.

“No, not really, but her doing this means she’s opening up stuff to you that was closed before.”

“I guess.”

“Stop worrying so much. I’ll be by your side. I won’t let anyone hurt you. Her included. I’d die first.”

“I know,” she said, turning to face him and in the process settling herself on his lap. “I wish you wouldn’t say that, though, because I believe you mean it.”

“I do and I thought you wanted to get ready.”

“In a few minutes.”

“I need longer than that.”

She smiled a little. “Not this time you don’t.”

“Is that right?” he chuckled. “I don’t know I want my stamina called into question.”

“I give you permission to be fast and thorough.”

“That is something I can fulfill.”


For this, he hired a car service. It bothered her he went to the expense, but she knew it was the way people in New York did things. She just didn’t like that he felt he had to.

“I think I want to go back to Iowa,” she said when they pulled up in front of Nathan’s house.

“It’s Thanksgiving dinner. There’s no one here but your family.”

“What better time to do it, though. Don’t you think? When everyone’s gathered here for dinner like a family.”

“I suppose you have a point. Maybe I should worry about you becoming diabolical, too.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t come close to being in Angela’s league.”

“Wait until you have a son who is on the fast track to being president and tell me that again. Something tells me a mama bear would pale in comparison to you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll pretend I don’t think there’s an insult in there somewhere where you’re comparing me to a bear. Let’s go eat turkey and watch football like we don’t have a clue anything’s going on. And then I have to meet your mother.”

“She won’t bite. She leaves that to me. I promise.”


They were both dressed as nicely as the occasion called for. It’d been a while since she wore clothes like this. She had a few of her nicer things in Iowa with her, but there hadn’t been much reason to wear them really. No fundraising galas or press conferences. Her father hadn’t said a word when he listened in on the conversation that Claire had with her mother telling her which dresses she wanted sent to New York. And to which house in New York they were being sent to.

She couldn’t believe how big Simon and Monty had gotten since she’d seen them last. They were in the Hampton’s with Heidi last summer when she’d been here so it’d been well over a year. Heidi knew the truth by now, and with that disclosure she’d come back to Nathan.

Claire wasn’t sure why that was the case, but she imagined she realized if Nathan was admitting a secret like that to her he had few secrets left to reveal. They were still working on things, but just like her parents no marriage was perfect all of the time. Claire was just glad they were together, that the possibility of working it out was there.

Taylor didn’t stray from her side very often or for very long. A couple of times he left her in Peter’s capable hands to use the bathroom or let Simon or Monty show him something with the videogames they were playing.

“He’s good with them,” Peter said.

“Yeah, I never realized they knew him that well.”

“I don’t think they do. Not in any real sort of way. He was kind of a makeshift babysitter the times Nathan and Heidi met.”

“Oh,” Claire said, realizing she hadn’t even thought about those visits. Nathan would want to see his sons, of course, but his priority ultimately was getting Heidi back.

“You’re doing well out there?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s not great. I mean, the college is. I enjoy my classes and stuff, but oh my God, Peter there’s nothing but corn there.”

“It can’t be that bad. I mean, come on, it’s not like Odessa was a metropolis.”

“Well, no, but we weren’t real far from Dallas or San Antonio. Houston either, really.”

“Not much farther from where you are to Chicago or Minneapolis.”

“As if I have time.”

“I imagine when he starts fighting you’ll find time to travel.”


“His fights won’t all be in Iowa.”

“I know that,” she said with a frown. She did know that, but she hadn’t really thought of it like that.

“So, classes and everything.”


“Nathan said you were in a play.”

“Just a small part. An extra. You know, someone to stand there on the set to make it look like there was something going on.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yeah,” she said with a nod. “I did. It was real fun. I’ll go out for the next one, too. They’re always looking for help offstage, too, which I thought about. It looked kind of fun.”

“Well, good. You need something to do besides just study.”

“I know.”

“Have you seen Adam lately?”

“No, I haven’t since the summer. Why?”

“Just wondered. I haven’t either. No one has, but Mom says he does that sometimes. Drops off the grid.”

“He’s probably drinking and fighting his way through Mexico or something.”

“The fighting part I can see, not sure about the drinking part.”

“Well, see, we can’t get drunk, but other people don’t know that.”

“Ah, I see. So, he lets his opponent think he’s impaired.”


“You speak from experience?”

“I’ve watched him initiate a fight or two.”

“Huh. I didn’t know.”

“There was usually a reason. Some guy being a jerk to his girlfriend or a waitress or something. Enough about Adam when he’s not here and we don’t know anything about what he’s doing. How are you?”

“Good. The same.”

“Who’s the woman?” she asked.

“Just a friend.”


“What? She is. She’s alone for the holiday, so I invited her.”

“That was nice of you. She’s pretty,” Claire said. “I think she’s starting to panic that you’ve left her alone for too long.”

“Yeah, probably so. If I’m not careful Mom will start talking china patterns with her.”

“Better you than me.”

“I bet it’ll happen to you before it does me.”

She shook her head, but couldn’t deny it outright.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He kissed her on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me, too,” she said before he returned to his friend’s side. She did look mighty uncomfortable. Claire couldn’t blame her. The Petrelli’s could be overwhelming on a normal day let alone a holiday.

Eventually, they had dinner and dessert. Angela knew that Claire and Taylor were planning on going to his mother’s and she actually seemed pleased by the news. So pleased, in fact, that dinner was conveniently done a little earlier than planned.

It was while on the way to Taylor’s mother’s they heard the news break. Claire understood now why Angela was in favor of them leaving. The information was leaked, but she was giving Claire a bit of a reprieve by allowing her to get away from the Petrelli house before the news broke.

“I thought for sure she was going to have you there when it broke.”

“I’m sure she’s saving that for the press conference.”

Claire let her head rest against the seat’s headrest as they were driven to his mother’s. She was a ball of nerves over meeting her. Taylor clearly looked up to her, loved her as she’d been the only parent he’d been able to count on growing up.

She didn’t know the whole story with his father, but didn’t need to know it all. The man was a jerk. Normally, she’d tell people she was sorry to hear a parent was dead, but she never once said that to Taylor because she thought he was better off without him.

His mother was beautiful. Elegant. In a way Angela wasn’t. Angela always seemed to be about appearances, what other people would think of her and her family. Dressing for a part she was supposed to be playing. Mrs. Reese was just one of those women who exuded class and elegance naturally. Claire imagined she’d come across the same way in jeans and a sweatshirt.

From the teasingly spoken “So you’re the woman that has my son living in Iowa of all places.” To her offered hand, clearly meant for Claire to take and shake daintily not the way her father had raised her to shake hands. Claire just knew she was a sincere and good woman.

Claire had to admit, it was a great distraction from what was going on elsewhere in New York because if his mother had a clue who Claire was she didn’t let on that it was a big deal to her.

Since they’d all already eaten, they just had (more) dessert and something to drink. Her house wasn’t as big as Taylor’s, but it was done nicer. Homier, though she knew Taylor had made some changes to his house since the first time she’d been there.

Another handshake as they left for Claire, a kiss to both cheeks for Taylor. She seemed to understand this was all of the time she’d get with Taylor this trip. Claire felt a little bad for that, but she didn’t seem to be at home pining away for visits from him either.

The part of the trip Claire was looking most forward to, and probably Taylor too, was seeing Matty and Buffy for breakfast Friday morning. They’d gotten home from Taylor’s mother’s house and watched the news. Other than Peter and his friend leaving, the media got no footage at the Petrelli household.

Nathan had called Claire on her cell shortly after they’d gotten back to Taylor’s house.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve heard the news,’ he said.

“Uh, yeah,” she replied.

‘Well, I’ve planned a press conference for tomorrow afternoon outside the house. It would be nice if you could be there.’

“I figured as much,” she said.

‘I’m sorry.’

“It’s okay, Nathan, it’s not your fault someone dug too deep and got information they shouldn’t have gotten.”

‘Yeah, I’m not sure how it happened, but it’s out so we may as well deal with it.’

“Sure. We’ll be there.”

‘Okay. Have a good night.’

“You, too, Nathan. Good night.”

‘And Claire?’


‘Happy Thanksgiving. I don’t know if I actually said that to you earlier.’

“No you didn’t, and thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you.”

‘Did you call your parents?’

“Yeah, just a few minutes ago.”

‘Good. I bet you wish you were with them now instead of Christmas.’

She smiled a little at that, at his seeming concern for her feelings. Maybe it wasn’t seeming, perhaps he was sincere. It was hard to tell with Nathan.

“It’s okay, Nathan. Honestly.”

They hung up then and Claire had spent a better portion of a half an hour deciding what outfit to wear the next day. Taylor laughed at her. He couldn’t understand. Well, maybe he could in a way since his parents were never married and he grew up under the scrutiny of a lot of people. They were the mob and not the media but still.

Friday morning, though, she could relax. Matty and Buffy got there early. Early for a college student, for parents of a toddler probably not. Claire was looking forward to this part of their trip the most because she’d genuinely liked Buffy – and Matty, too – when she’d met them before.

And their son was adorable. Buffy let Claire hold him and he was just one big smile. She’d never held a baby before, other than Lyle maybe when he was a baby. None of her friends had kids and she hadn’t known Simon or Monty as babies.

“Be careful,” Matty told Taylor.

“About what?”

“That look,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen it on every woman we know who is in a position to possibly have kids when they get around Matty Junior.”

Taylor regarded Claire and Matty Junior then. Claire tried to pay attention but Matty Junior was entranced by the necklace and earrings she had on and she had to work at keeping him from putting the charm in his mouth.

“It’s like it flips a switch in them. Normally sane, rational women go nuts and get this look in their eye that says they want one, too.”

“Has it caused anyone else to actually have one?”

“A couple women in Matty’s office are expecting now.”

“Well, that’s not unusual for a large company.”

“My sister and Xander are trying.”

“Oh,” Taylor said.

He came to sit next to Claire, taking Matty Junior from her. He was old enough now his head didn’t need supporting, but she noticed that he still instinctively put his hand there. She imagined he’d had plenty of experience with babies growing up with so many people in his life.

“And well, it apparently wore off on us, too,” Buffy said.

“You said you were thinking about having another one.”

“Apparently we don’t have to think too hard on the subject,” Matty said.

“Wow. Congratulations,” Taylor said, offering Matty Junior a smile. “Listen to that, you’re going to have a brother or sister.”

“That’s great,” Claire said. “How far along are you?”

“About twelve weeks. Just saw the doctor for the first time last week.”

Matty Junior started to get fussy so Claire took him from Taylor and stood with him, bouncing him gently as she brought him to Buffy. He quieted down before she got him back to his mother so Claire sat back down with him.

“You probably scared him,” she said with a laugh as Taylor draped an arm around her.

“Yeah, that’s me. Big and scary.”

“No, he loves you. He’s just cranky. It’s still early for him. He’d usually just be waking up now at home,” Buffy said.

“Oh, yeah, I suppose, time change,” Taylor said.

“Yeah. It was better when he was a baby. Now it seems to affect him more,” Matty said.

Claire was playing Peek-A-Boo with him when Taylor leaned toward her.

“So, is Matty right?”

“About what?”

“This giving you ideas?”

“I don’t think I’d be human if it didn’t.”

“So, that’s a yes.”

“It’s a ‘he’s an adorable baby and incredibly well-behaved one at that so it’s tempting to picture’.”

“I see,” he said.

“Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that it’d be real fun to try.”

“Taylor,” she whispered, knowing she was blushing.

“What? It would.”

“I thought you weren’t sure.”

“I’m not, but I’ll never know if I don’t try.”

“Well, you have a while to think about it yet.”

“Why a while?”

“I have to finish school.”

“Buffy’s going to school.”

“We’re not married,” she pointed out.

“You’re right. No kids without being married. I wouldn’t do that to a kid, even if we got married later.”

Her cell phone ringing interrupted the conversation. She shifted little Matty carefully so she could slide her phone out of her pocket.

“Hello,” she said.

‘If it isn’t the lady of the hour,’ Adam said.

“Ha ha,” she said, handing Matty Junior to Taylor as she stood.

‘How are you?’

“Considering? I’m fine.”

‘You do sound remarkably composed. You’re there, I assume?’

“At Nathan’s?”

‘I meant New York in general.’


‘At Mr. Reese’s?’


‘Is he there now?’

She frowned, glancing at Taylor wondering why Adam was wondering if Taylor was here. “Yes.”

‘Can I speak to him?’


‘I know you heard me, but perhaps the use of the word can confused you. So, I’ll rephrase. May I speak with him?’


He made a tsking sound. ‘Don’t you trust me?’

“I’m not sure.”

‘Just put him on the phone, please.’

“Yeah, okay,” she said, handing the phone to Taylor. Buffy had taken Matty Junior by now anyway so his hands were free. “It’s Adam,” she said.

“And you’re giving it to me?”

“He asked to talk to you.” She shrugged again, answering the question she knew he was asking. Why was Adam asking to talk to Taylor? She honestly had no idea.

“Okay,” he said, taking the phone from her. “Hello.”

He glanced at Buffy and Matty, then at Claire. “Yeah, just a second,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Are you feeling all right this time?” Claire asked.

“Yeah, thankfully, I seem to do well being pregnant.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m not sure I would have wanted to try again so soon if I’d been miserable the first time around,” Buffy said.

“I think I might have been able to convince her,” Matty said.

“You know it’s so weird coming out here. Our house is totally baby proofed,” Buffy said. “Matty’s dad says he doesn’t care, but there are things in his house that I know are valuable and I wonder sometimes what he’s thinking not worrying about a toddler roaming around. So, I always have my eyes on him.”

“He does fine,” Matty said.

“I know, but I still worry. That’s all we need is him breaking something that meant something to your dad. Or here to Taylor.”

“It’s just stuff, Buffy. My dad’s just happy we bring him out here as often as we do. I think he was afraid he’d never see us.”

“I know.”

Taylor came back into the room then, handing her phone back to her.

“Come with me a minute,” he said.

“All right,” she said with a frown. What in the world had Adam said to him?

“We’ll be right back.”

“So, what did he want?” she asked.

“So suspicious,” he said with a low chuckle. He took her into his arms, though, so apparently whatever he’d said hadn’t been bad or upset him.

“Well, yeah, he’s never spoken to you that I know of.”

“No, not beyond the few times he did when I was working for Nathan.”


“He wanted me to make sure to keep you away from photographers as much as possible.”


“He doesn’t think you should go to the press conference.”

“Why not?”

“He said that it’s not good for people like the two of you to be photographed. Permanent records of you being somewhere at a fixed place in time or something like that.”

“Oh,” she said, not having thought of anything like that. “So, I can’t ever get my picture taken?”

“No, honey, that’s not what he’s saying. Something like this, though, obviously your picture would be plastered all over the New York media and probably some other papers, too. This day and age, with everything being digital, well, there’s no way we could destroy negatives or confiscate film. You know?”

“So, why did he have to tell you this and not me?”

“Because he wants me to be the one to tell Nathan you shouldn’t do it.”

“That’s not going to go over well.”

“Maybe not, but there is a way it would.”


“If I objected as your husband not your boyfriend.”


“I’m serious and I promise I’ll make it up to you in the summer. We’ll have the biggest party you can dream up.”

“It’s not about parties.”

“What then?”

“The press conference is this afternoon.”


“We can’t get married between now and then.”

“Sure we can. Matty’s dad knows a judge or two who’d do it for us, I’m sure.”

“And my dad?”

“What can he say? You’re an adult and I’m trying to look after your best interests not to mention keep you safe. Not just from the people Angela had in mind, but people who might come after you for your ability. You never told me that part of it.”

“What part of it?”

“That there are people who know about people like you that would like to get their hands on you. Use your blood.”

“It’s just part of who I am. It’s why I was in New York to begin with. My dad didn’t think he could keep me safe any longer; he thought The Company would get suspicious that I had an ability. I’m sure it’s why he chose Iowa as one of my choices for school.”

“Makes sense.”

“Taylor. You can’t be serious.”

“I am deadly serious. I can’t think of a better way of protecting you, being able to look after you then if I have the legal right to.”

“I don’t want you to marry me out of some obligation.”

“That’s not it at all. If you think I’d ask someone to marry me just for that, you don’t know me as well as I thought you did.”

“No, I know you wouldn’t.”

“Now, if you don’t want to marry a guy like me I can understand that.”

“I never said that. I just never pictured eloping when I thought of getting married.”

“I swear that I will make it up to you this summer. A party. A proper honeymoon. The whole works.”

“Better make sure Matty’s dad’s judge friends are around today.”

“That a yes?”

“I’m still going to finish school before we try to have kids.”

“That’s a yes,” he said, capturing her mouth with a kiss.

She broke the kiss, looking at him intensely. “What about what you want? Are you sure this is it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You have a shot at getting some bigger drawing fights.”

“Why would this stop me from doing that?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “You get famous you may not find it so fun to be married to me.”

“Fun? Honey, I know enough about marriage from observing to know that marriage isn’t all about fun. And, yeah, all right, there’s a chance I could make a name for myself outside of local gyms. If anything, I’d want you there more.”


“Because all of my life, all of my fights I’ve never had anyone who hasn’t shied away from looking at me after like you do.”

“How could I not?”

He shrugged. “Some would ask how you could stand it? Blood and sweat, tears and spit. I know I don’t look pretty when I’m done.”

“That doesn’t bother me.”

“I know, and that’s one of the many things I love about you.”

“My mom’s going to kill me.”

“She can’t,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“She’ll get over it.”

“Go find out if it can even get done. Did Adam suggest this?”

“No, he just wanted me to understand why it was dangerous for you to be thrust in the limelight. I assume Angela’s plan can be carried off without your presence. At least at the press conference.”

“I hope so. I hadn’t even thought of that. I wonder how he does it.”



“I don’t know. I can imagine it wasn’t real tough until recently. Digital cameras and phones with cameras in them make it difficult not to know who’s doing what.”


“He didn’t say never, just something like this, linked with someone running for president.”

“I get it.”

“I think he wanted me to know so that I could actually keep you safe from that. I realize there are some things I may not be able to protect you from, but a camera I can do.”

“I get that, too. I honestly didn’t think about that.”

“Obviously you wouldn’t have had a reason to until now.”


Just like that in a matter of a couple of hours, she was married. No longer single. It was a frightening thought in a way that Taylor knew people who could just do that. Nathan was powerful, but she wasn’t sure he could have arranged for Claire to get married the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then, perhaps she was underestimating how powerful he was. She hadn’t asked.

Matty and Buffy had no problem standing as their witnesses so everything was all legal. As legal as a judge just signing off on a marriage certificate could be. She always thought there was more to it. Blood tests. Religious classes.

She noted that Taylor had worn a yarmulke. He’d called it something she didn’t understand and she realized there was a whole side to him she knew next to nothing about. Her parents were Christian and had raised her that way, but they hadn’t force fed it to her or anything. She went to Sunday School as a girl and continued going to church as she got older, but it wasn’t an every Sunday thing.

She’d gone to Mass with the Petrelli’s a couple of times and had been completely lost with so many things. Her parents had not gone to Catholic church. It was a lot to learn, though she discovered through observation that there were others at Mass like her, who clearly weren’t Catholic and didn’t know what to do.

He claimed his religion wasn’t a big deal to him and yet he’d taken the extra few minutes to find it before they’d left for the judge’s house.

The phone call with Nathan hadn’t gone well at all. She’d talked to him first, specifically asking him not to say anything to her parents before she had the chance. He wasn’t happy to keep the secret, but said he’d give her until she got back to Iowa.

His conversation with Taylor had gotten more heated, at least the side of the conversation she was privy to did. In the end, Nathan seemed to understand the dangers of her being photographed in such a situation.

“You can’t avoid the vultures forever,” he said as they sat in the family room of Benny Demarat’s house watching the press conference there. They’d had a nice lunch; Taylor seemed to think it was important to give into Mr. Demarat’s request for them to join him for a while.

“I know, but hopefully by New Year’s they’ll have better things to worry about than me.”

“I hope they do, too, because that will give me the opportunity to worry about you plenty.”

“You don’t already?”

“Now I have the legal right to. And I don’t want them watching me.”

“I see,” she said, leaning close to give him a kiss.

“Not quite a festive wedding day.”

“It’s fine. Matty called in a favor, it would stand to reason his dad would want to see you and meet me.”

“I’ll make it up to you later.”


“A thousand times yes.”

“Okay then.”

“If Matty’s dad wasn’t around I wouldn’t feel the need to wait til later.”

At the moment, Benny Demarat was dozing on a chair that was clearly exclusively his, though little Matty was crawling around his grandpa’s chair.

“I don’t think I’d do that anyway.”


“Not in someone else’s house.”


“You say that like this is a bad thing.”

“No, just interesting. I plan on seeing if I can get you to stray from that thought, though.”

“Not now.”

“No, but one day.”


“So, he carried that off pretty well,” Matty said. “I thought so anyway. I mean, considering he didn’t know this was coming.”

“I imagine that’s why Angela said nothing about it, she wanted his reaction to be sincere,” Claire said. “Honestly, it’s probably good I wasn’t there. I’ve been told I don’t have a great poker face.”

“Me neither,” Buffy said with a shrug as she scooped little Matty up and carried him back over near them. He wasn’t really bothering Mr. Demarat, but Buffy was probably just being careful. “Must be something about us special blondes.”

“Right,” Claire said.

Claire ended up explaining to Matty and Buffy why it was so important she not be at the press conference today. They’d believed without her having to maim herself as proof, they were better people than some. So, they knew her secret. She was pretty sure she could trust them with it since she knew their secret and had even during the time she and Taylor weren’t together.

“Thanks for letting me do this for you guys. Pop enjoys doing stuff like this, even if he has an odd way of showing it in front of guests.”

“It’s fine,” Claire said with a soft laugh. “It’s neat that he likes to be involved.”

“And that’s why we live in California,” Matty said softly.

“I understand,” Claire said, which she did.

“When are you going to tell Chris?” Matty asked.

“Next time I talk to him. Now that I’m not living here he doesn’t call so much anymore.”

“He’s going to flip.”

“Yeah, probably, but that’s all right. She’s flip worthy.”

“Glad to know that.”

“You know when I married Matty’s mother I didn’t hang around with my friends all day talking. I had better, more carnal things on my mind.”

“Pop,” Matty said, though the smile gave away he wasn’t mad.

“I took my wife to bed and made sure that no one could challenge the marriage license the next day.”

“Pop,” Matty said louder, though this time the smile was replaced with a laugh. “You shouldn’t talk like that in front of Claire.”

“What? She doesn’t know how it works? Well, if she doesn’t, she should. Little Matty and another one in a few months. Your mother would be proud.”

“Thanks, Pop,” Matty said.

“On that note,” Taylor said and everyone in the room laughed. “I should be getting the wife home. Not that sitting here with you isn’t great.”

“You sure you don’t want to take little Matty for the night,” Mr. Demarat said. He still hadn’t opened his eyes or moved much, which was kind of spooky to Claire.

“Maybe another time,” Taylor said.

“Good boy,” Matty’s father said. He stood then and walked to them. He gave Taylor a hug and then took Claire’s hand.

“Welcome to the family,” he said kissing both of her cheeks.

“Thank you, Mr. Demarat.” It was hard for her to picture him as the man Taylor and Matty painted him out to be. A mobster. A killer. He seemed like a kind old grandfather, enjoying time with his family. The bodyguards outside the house, though, and the bulletproof glass told a different story.

“Come back again when Matty Junior has a playmate.”

“Pop, they can come back before then.”

“Sure they can. Anytime, Taylor, anytime.”

“Thanks, Benny,” he said, shaking the other man’s hand.

Taylor and Matty hugged before they left the house, knowing they wouldn’t see one another again for a while. Probably their next baby’s baptism.

“So what do you want to do?”

“What?” she asked.

“We don’t have to go straight home. You want to go out for dinner?”

“We just ate a huge lunch.”

“Yeah, right. All right,” he said, opening her door for her. “I just don’t want you to think I have nothing on my mind but getting you home and into bed.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Oh, I do, I’m trying to be a gentleman about it since you didn’t wake up this morning knowing you were going to be a married woman before the end of the day.”

“Let’s stop at a store, buy some wine and stuff.”


She shrugged. “Strawberries. Chocolate. Chocolate covered strawberries. Champagne.”

He chuckled. “All right.”

“And we can celebrate in your room.”

“Our room.”

“Yeah, that, too.”

“He seems nice,” she said once he’d started the car.


“Matty’s dad.”

“He can be, just don’t ever forget what he is. You know? Not that you’ll have many occasions to be alone with him, but that’s a pretty good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Don’t be surprised if Matty and Buffy’s next baby is named Benjamin.”

“I know. I do, and I will remember.”


“Why would they name him Benjamin?”

“After Matty’s dad. For doing this favor today.”

“Oh my God. You’re not serious.”

“Probably not, only because Matty and I have been friends since we were babies. I’m sure, though, he’ll angle for something if he can.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Matty and I know how it works. Buffy’s probably figuring it out, too, by now.”

“You should have told me.”

“This is one of the few times I’ve ever asked him for anything, it won’t happen again for a real long time. I would assume he figures he owes me.”


“That’s a story for a night that’s not tonight.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously.

“Ask me again any other time and I’ll tell you, not this weekend.”

“All right,” she said.

They stopped on the way back to his house and picked up a few things. Claire had a hard time getting her mind wrapped around the fact she was married. The judge had given her information on where to find forms on completing name changes. So much to think about. She didn’t feel any different than she did this morning. The only difference between now and then was the ring on her finger. A plain gold band was there now. He’d promised her something nicer, not that she really cared. The plain gold band seemed important to him because of his religion, something about the marriage being one of simple beauty. She’d been confused when he put it on her right finger to begin with, only to find out later that was how he was raised to do it. His mother clearly had more influence over him than he realized.

He caught her playing with the ring when he came to bed with the champagne.

“It won’t be the only one you get.”

“Huh?” she asked.

“The ring. I told you I’ll get you something bigger.”

“It’s fine, Taylor.”

“You’re fiddling with it.”

“Yeah, because it’s just now dawning on me I’m going to wear this for a very long time. I’ve worn rings before just never this type of ring.”

“That’s all it is?”

She sat up then and wrapped her arms around him. “That’s all. I just hadn’t really had a chance to sit and think about it all.”

“I promise I will make it up to you this summer. Party, honeymoon, a cruise, or whatever you want.”

“Whatever I want?”


“I like the sound of all three of those options, but the cruise I may take a rain check on for next Christmas so I can laugh at everyone stuck in winter.”

“All right.”


“Yes,” he said simply. “Whatever you want. I’m not the most romantic guy, so you may have to beat me over the head sometimes but I’ll try and do right by you.”

“You already do just fine.”

“Do I?”

“You know you do,” she said, working his tie out of its knot and off from around his collar.

“It would seem you have something other than drinking champagne on your mind.”

“You brought a bucket for it.”

“I did,” he said.

“Then come make love to your wife.”

“I never thought hearing those words would make me hard.”

“They do?”

“You do. Everything about you.”

“That’s good to know,” she said, working on the buttons of his shirt.

“I have one favor to ask.”

“What’s that?”

“Just for tonight.”


“No condoms.”



“Yeah. I mean, it’s fine, but why?”

“Because I want to be in you the way I’m supposed to be.”

“You were once.”

“Didn’t finish, though.”

“Oh, right,” she said, remembering.

“You okay with that?”




“And if?”

“Well, then we’ll deal with it. I wouldn’t be the only one going to school pregnant or with a baby, I just don’t want to purposely do it that way.”

“You sure?”

“For one night I’ll take the risk.”

“I swear I won’t ask again until you’ve graduated.”

She laughed tugging his shirt out of his pants. “Now I think you’re lying.”

“Maybe a little fib, yeah,” he said, leaning in to kiss her. “God you’re beautiful.”

“Stop it.”

“I won’t stop it. You’d have made a perfect kallah.”

“What’s that?”


“What are you?”


“I’m not perfect, Taylor.”

“You are, and now you have to listen to what I have to say.”

“I can learn to tune you out.”

“Yeah, women are good at that I’ve heard.”

She gave a soft laugh as they both fell to the bed.

“There’s an easy fix for that.”

“What’s that?” he asked, nipping her neck.

“Don’t talk.”

“I’ll try not to again for a very long time.”


Return to Top

***Part Twenty***
Word Count: 4,255

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather spend Christmas at Matty’s house?” Taylor asked.

“Rather? I don’t know the answer to that, but we can’t avoid my parents forever, and I was supposed to spend Christmas with them. New Year’s in New York.”

“At least there’s that.”


“We’ll be able to ring in the New Year newlywed style.”

“What would stop us from doing that here?”

“You’re going to have sex in your parents’ house?”

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah, oh,” he said with a light laugh. He kissed her before finding their way to the rental car kiosk. Her dad offered to pick them up, but she knew that Taylor wanted a car of his own just in case things exploded. The damage was already done, though.

He’d rented a convertible so the ride to her parents’ house was fun since it was an ideal California day. As nervous as she was to see her parents, she couldn’t wait to see Lyle. She felt bad for him with her getting so much of her dad’s attention because of her ability. He never said anything, but she’d mentioned taking him to Disneyland for a day and Taylor had been all for it. That was assuming her parents would let him out of the house with her.

“I’m a little surprised they’re still having me for Christmas.”

“What? Why wouldn’t they?”

“My dad was pretty mad.”

“Sure he was, but you’re still his daughter. He’s not going to disinvite you to Christmas, Claire. I don’t even think my dad would do something like that.”

“I don’t know.”

“Babe, everything’s going to be okay. I know I’m not going to wow him with my charming personality and good looks, but I’ll do the best I can.”

“You’ve got good looks.”

“Yeah, if you like the type of looks that go with someone who’s seen the wrong end of knives and bottles.”

“You look fine to me,” she said.

“I believe you when you say it, but I don’t understand it. Especially when I saw that Justin guy.”

“What about him,” she said with a frown.

“He looks nothing like me. Neither does Adam.”

“And every one of your previous girlfriends looked like me?”

“Well, no, but what I’m talking about, body type, they’ve all been pretty similar if you know what I mean.”

“Well, I’m with you not Justin.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And I’ll be there for every fight I can be. I’m not ashamed of you or what you do, Taylor.”

“I know that, too. In fact, I thought of something.”


“I want you to start working out with me.”


“Not like fighting working out, not that boxing isn’t a good workout. It is and there are some women at the gym who box. No, I mean, just working out, being able to defend yourself. I can’t be with you every second of every day, and you may not be able to die but that doesn’t mean I want you to get your ass kicked by some moron. I don’t think I could take seeing you bloodied up even knowing you’ll be fine in a little while.”

“That’s sweet.”

“Nothing sweet about it. People are weird when they see people’s names in the news. Who knows what whackos this type of information will bring out. Some nut job that envies you for being Nathan’s daughter might stalk you. Some adoptee jealous that your reunion has gone as well might threaten you. We just don’t know. Justin pissed that he was close to the gravy train.”

“I know.”

“Think about it, but it couldn’t hurt you.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Silence for a while as they both seemed content with watching the scenery as they drove.

“What do you do when you’re going to your parents’ house for the first time after eloping?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, this isn’t the house I grew up in. I lived here for a few months before college. Do I just walk in? Do I ring the bell?”

“You’re thinking too much on this, really. You’re still their daughter, it doesn’t matter if you grew up here or not.”

“You rang your mom’s bell.”

“Well, yeah, sure, but I haven’t lived with her in years. You were, until a month ago anyway, going to come back here next summer to stay.”

“I know.”

“Ring the bell if it makes you feel better,” he said as he parked at the end of the driveway. “I’ll get our stuff.”

“No, it can wait.”

“No, I have a feeling I’ll need something to keep me occupied.”


He shook his head. “Nothing, I’ll get our stuff.”

“Okay,” she said, grabbing her purse and her carry-on before walking to the door. She felt crazily nervous. She had no idea what to do or say to make things right. Her father was mad, probably beyond mad, but she wasn’t going to undo it. It may not have been conventional or the way people usually did things, but she did love Taylor.

Her mother answered the door before Claire even had the chance to decide whether she’d ring the bell or just walk in.

“There you are. We thought you’d gotten lost.”

“No, our flight was a little delayed out of Minneapolis because of weather is all.”

“Well, good, I was worried you wouldn’t find it driving by yourself.”

“The car has GPS, so it was pretty simple.”

“Well, good,” she said, giving her a hug. Mr. Muggles was by her feet, barking impatiently for Claire to show him some attention.

“Hi Lyle,” she said, reaching down to pick up Mr. Muggles as she stepped inside.

“Hey,” her brother said, as if she came home with a husband every day.

Her dad wasn’t in the living room, but Claire imagined he wasn’t too far away.

“Claire’s father didn’t describe you nearly as accurately as he could have,” she heard her mom say.

“I hope that’s a good thing, Mrs. Bennet,” Taylor said from the doorway.

“Oh, Sandra, please.”

“All right, Sandra.”

“Claire tells me you’re Jewish.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“She didn’t mention anything about your diet, so assume anything but pork is all right.”


“Okay, good, she wasn’t sure what I was asking when I asked if your diet was stricter.”

“Don’t go through any trouble on my account, really.”

“It was no trouble at all, I just wanted to be sure I planned meals right.”

“Whatever you make will be fine.”

“Where’s Dad?” Claire asked.

“Lyle,” her father said from the kitchen, answering Claire’s question. “Show Mr. Reese where to bring his things upstairs.”

“Yeah, okay,” Lyle said, not sounding at all unhappy about getting out of the living room.

“It was nice to meet you, Sandra,” Taylor said. “Mr. Bennet,” he said with a nod in her father’s direction before heading upstairs with her brother.

“Hi Dad,” Claire said, feeling a little uncomfortable under his close scrutiny. He’d never looked at her like this, as if he was analyzing her, deciding what to do with her. She wasn’t sure she liked this look. She hadn’t done anything wrong. Not really. Hurtful perhaps, but that hadn’t been her intention.

“I’m surprised you came.”

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re still my parents and it’s Christmas.”

“It would seem you’ve decided you don’t need us anymore.”

“Dad, that’s not true.”

“Sure seems that way.”

“I’ll always need you.”

“You seem capable enough of making decisions without consulting us.”

“There wasn’t a lot of time, Dad.”

“And getting married was the only option?”

“That made sense, yes. In a way, it has helped. Since the lease on our house in Iowa is in Taylor’s name and I didn’t tell my roommates where I was moving, no one’s been able to find me yet. Next semester I’m going to register under Taylor’s last name, so I should fall off the grid pretty well until they find the marriage certificate. They’ve been kicked off campus the few times they’ve managed to sneak on since it’s not really news.”

“A phone call wasn’t warranted?”

“To say what, Dad? I’d been outed so Taylor and I are getting married?”

“Something, yes.”

“I knew you’d object.”

“Only because you’re too young.”

“I’m not much younger than Mom was.”

“That was different.”

“How? Mom didn’t have to deal with the stuff I’ve had to deal with.”

“No, she didn’t. I know in some ways you’ve grown up faster than most, but you’re still my little girl.”

She put Mr. Muggles down and walked to her dad.

“Dad, nothing’s ever going to change that. Ever. Not marriage or kids or careers. Not even when I look like your great granddaughter instead of your daughter. Can we please not argue? I know you’re upset. Hurt even. It is what it is. I’m not undoing it. Taylor’s promised me that we’ll have a party in the summer, a reception and everything so I’ll still get to dance with you and stuff. He just wants me safe, and I can’t argue with him. We really have no idea what’s going to happen.”

“I wish I knew how the information was leaked.”

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? The damage is done, and I’m glad I have Taylor with me. Come on, you can’t tell me that you don’t feel somewhat better knowing he’s looking out for me.”

“He could have done it without marrying you.”

“Not and put his foot down about attending the press conference convincingly. Nathan’s an old-fashioned guy, Dad, you know that. He wasn’t going to listen to my boyfriend object. Adam either.”

“You might be right, but you didn’t even try.”

“I had to act immediately. The press conference was that afternoon. We had someone there who could do us a tremendous favor.”

“Yeah, about that. You’re all right with that?”

“With what?”

“Who his friends are?”

“You should talk.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know what it means,” she said. His friends and associates weren’t exactly squeaky clean either. “If you want us to leave.”

“I never said that. We’re your parents, I just wasn’t sure you remembered that.”

“Of course I do. People elope, Dad, it doesn’t mean they don’t love their parents.”

“The most important thing is that you’re safe and happy.”

“I am both of those things.”

“You’re not pregnant, are you?”

“No,” she said.


“Wow, thanks. Lack of confidence in me much.”

“No, I just meant, that’s not a reason to start a life with someone.”

“We didn’t. We aren’t.”

“You can tell him he can come down now and meet your mother and me properly.”

“Yeah, okay,” she said. “Where is he?”


“I know that,” she said.

“Your room.”

“You made it sound like you’d put him in the guest room.”

“I wanted to, but your mother insisted that was going too far.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Don’t thank me just yet.”


“I haven’t talked to you; don’t think you’re done just because your father’s had his words. There’s plenty of time for that while you’re here, but just know I have some things to say on this subject, too.”

“I assumed you would,” she said. She went upstairs to get Taylor then; kind of disappointed her dad hadn’t hugged her or anything. It was the first time in a long time she could remember he hadn’t after they’d been apart.

“Doesn’t sound like anything got broken,” Taylor said.

“I think Mom hid everything Dad could throw while he was sleeping last night,” Lyle said and Claire laughed, because it was something her mother would do.

“They’re mad. Hurt, too, but they’ll get over it eventually,” Claire said. “Thank you for keeping Taylor company.”

“It’s cool,” Lyle said. “He said I could come see him fight sometime.”

“Sure you can,” Claire said. “You can come visit us any time. You know that. If you don’t or have thought you couldn’t, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. I just wasn’t sure.”

“You’re my brother, Lyle. Brothers and sisters visit one another all of the time. So, pick a weekend or spring break or whatever and come visit.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll warn you, Iowa in the winter isn’t that exciting.”

“I already mentioned to your sister the three of us hitting Disneyland or something while we’re here. You think you’d like that?”

“Yeah, that’d be cool.”

“Good, think about what you’d like to do. Both of you. And we’ll make it happen. If you follow basketball, my friend is a sports agent and could probably hook us up with some Lakers or Clippers tickets if either is in town.”

“Disney sounds cool.”

“So, Mom and Dad want to meet you now. Officially,” Claire said.

“Yeah, all right,” Taylor said, running a hand along his head. “I’m not good at this part.”

“We’ll make it work,” Claire said, kissing him. “You coming down, Lyle?”

“Nah, I’m meeting up with a friend in a few to play a game.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll see you when you get home then.”

“I’ll be here. We’re meeting online.”

“Oh, right, okay.”

“Nice meeting you, Lyle.”

“Yeah, you, too,” Lyle said, though Claire could tell he wasn’t entirely sure. He was a teenaged guy, so he didn’t really care in a manner of speaking. He just knew Claire had done something to throw their family off kilter. Again.

“So, this is what your room really looks like.”

“The room I grew up in, yeah. It’s a little different. A lot of my stuff is still in boxes in my closet or the attic. I didn’t put the boy band posters on the wall here that I had in Texas.”

“Yeah, I bet you didn’t,” he said with a chuckle.

He hugged her; still sitting on the bed as he was he rested his head against her abdomen holding onto her tight.

“You okay,” he asked.

“Yeah. I hate fighting with them. Disappointing them in any way.”

“I know. They love you, clearly. You’re lucky you’ve been surrounded by that your whole life.”

“I guess I am, I never knew any different.”

“Until me.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Okay, let’s go make nice before they think I’m being lecherous with you up here or something.”

“Save that for later.”

“Yeah?” he said, glancing up at her, his eyes glimmering with what she recognized as teasing.


“How much later?”

“At least until everyone else is in bed.”

“I can hold out that long.”

“Good to know,” she said, leaning down to kiss him.


She laughed. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

“I am.”

“I’m making no promises, but you know I always want to.”

“Yeah, I’m coming to find that out. It makes me wonder.”


“You’re going to look this way forever, right? Cells constantly regenerating you to this age.”

“Presumably. Why?”

“So does that mean you’re going to have the appetites you do now forever? You might kill me when I’m in my fifties if that’s the case.”

She gave a soft laugh. “I don’t know, I really don’t. I could ask Adam.”

“No, that’s all right, I don’t need him thinking about your sex drive. I’ll figure it out as times goes by.”

“Would you mind?”

“No. Baby. If I have to die I’d rather it be that way than most any other way I can come up with.”

He stood from the bed not letting go of his hold on her so she had no choice but to wrap her legs around him. He winced a little at the sound her bed made at the movement.

“Yeah, I’m guessing that rules out my getting lucky later,” he murmured before kissing her.

She nipped at his ear. “Last I checked floors are quiet.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”


He released her then, watching as she fixed her shirt.

“Maybe you could take me out later.”

“Where’d you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. There are a few places not too far and if it’s nice enough we could leave the top down on the car and just drive.”

“I’m game. Alone time would be welcome this week any time I can get it.”


Her dad wasn’t too bad once they got downstairs. Her mother asked all sorts of questions, which Claire expected. Her father seemed to listen rather intently to his answers, but didn’t ask too many of his own. That made Claire wonder what he already knew about Taylor.

The week went by fast. They took her brother to Disneyland, staying out way too late when they decided to catch a movie at the last minute. Taylor had been right, time just the two of them wasn’t easy to come by except in her room at bedtime and in the morning before they went downstairs to join her family for the day.

At the house they lived in in Iowa Claire used their second bedroom for her closet so until this week it wasn’t a habit to get dressed and undressed in front of him. He seemed to like watching her do both, though the undressing was by far his favorite.

Had he won her parents’ over? She wasn’t sure yet, but felt confident that they saw they were legitimately happy together. And that Taylor really did love and care for her. She suspected that was probably where her father’s concern really rested, his daughter getting hurt.

Before they left, Lyle made arrangements to visit her over his Easter break. Her parents’ seemed okay with the idea. She wondered when the last time they’d been completely alone together on a holiday had been. She invited them to come along, but they said no. Her dad’s job and Mr. Muggles were convenient excuses, but she suspected they weren’t quite ready to have their daughter cook a holiday dinner for them.

They hadn’t been able to work a visit to Matty and Buffy into their trip because Taylor’s best friend and his family were already in New York. They spent Christmas with his dad and were staying until after New Year’s.

So, that meant their New Year’s Eve plans changed a little, not that Claire minded. Instead of staying at Taylor’s house, the two couples got rooms in Times Square. Another example of the Demarat name and money getting things done that normal people couldn’t. She knew there was no way two hotel rooms just happened to be available in the same hotel.

Claire was getting dressed for the night, nervous as all get out because she was meeting not just the infamous Chris she’d heard so much about but a whole bunch of people Taylor knew. His friends had a private party at a bar not too far from their hotel that one of them owned; evidently it was something they did every year. First was Nathan’s dinner party. She had to go, but they’d bow out early and come back here to Taylor’s party well before midnight.

“You look gorgeous,” Taylor said from behind her. Hands at her hips, he slid them forward as he watched in the mirror.

“Thank you. I feel a little weird. This is way different than any of the dresses I wore to Nathan’s dinner parties.”

“Yeah. Well, we only have one first New Year’s Eve together. I wanted it to be special and memorable.”

“It already is.”

“Looking like that it will be even more. You forgot something, though.”

“What? Everything from the store was in the bag.”

He smirked, reaching into his pocket. “I’ve been told every bride deserves pearls. I’m not much of a traditionalist, and don’t know any woman who’s ever turned down a diamond so I hope this will do.”

“Taylor,” she said as she opened the box. “Oh my God. It’s too much.”

“It’s a gift from my mother actually. Her dressmaker at the store where you shopped told her about the dress you were wearing and she wanted you to have these.”



“That’s. Taylor.”

“Yeah, I told her you’d object. She said to tell you to wear them tonight and put them away safely for our daughter one day and you’d know how much pleasure she got in passing this down to you.”

“That’s so sweet.”


“Put it on me.”

“Would love to,” he said, reaching around her to do just that. The earrings she did on her own. It was a simple chain with a drop pendant on it. The drop pendant, though, had to have the hugest diamond Claire had ever seen. It was beautiful.

“Now I know how Buffy feels wearing that ring.”

“How’s that?”

“Like she needs insurance just to go outside.”

He chuckled.

“Where we’re going tonight no one’s going to steal your necklace. I promise.”

He slid his hand into hers; bringing it to his lips so he could kiss it.

“You saying Buffy’s ring is nicer than yours?”

“No,” she said adamantly. He’d given her a bridal set for Christmas. The plain gold band she wore on her right hand. “You have very good taste.”

“Obviously, I chose you.”

“Ha ha.”

“I don’t think I was joking.”

“Well, anyway. I just meant, I remember seeing her ring the first time I met her and thinking how weird it would be wearing that out every day.”

“I get it. You ready then?”

“Yes. I’m glad Buffy and Matty are coming with us to Nathan’s party.”

“I figured that’d ease you into things a bit.”

“Thank you. It’s a good thing they knew someone who could babysit.”

“Sweetheart, there’s no shortage of teenaged girls around the Demarat’s who are willing to babysit.”

“Good to know.”

“That your way of telling me something?”

“What? No.”

“You sure?”


“Oh,” he said, sounding a little disappointed. His one night of no condoms had turned into the entire weekend without them. After that she felt kind of bad making him use them again. They were married now and everything.

“I don’t think I’d know this soon anyway. It’s only been a month.”

“You’re probably right. Don’t overdo the champagne just in case.”

“Like I would anyway.”

“Right.” He said, glancing at his watch. “The car should be downstairs so let’s go,” he said, helping her into her coat.

“You look incredibly hot,” she said, taking him in as she adjusted the collar of her coat.



“Then we’re a matched set.”

“I’d say so.”

Somehow while here she’d managed to spend time with Nathan and remain out of the direct line of fire of cameras. Understanding the reason for her camera shyness, Nathan assisted in making sure someone was always in the way of a direct picture. Glimpses were caught, but none were dead on close up headshots that would come back and haunt her fifty years from now when she looked the same. Angela probably wasn’t too pleased, but there wasn’t anything Claire could do about that. Not and endanger herself later in life anyway.

They split a bottle of champagne in the car on the way to the bar. Buffy had only a sip of Matty’s and Claire didn’t drink too much more than that either just in case. They get to the area about two hours before midnight with the car having to drop them off down the street from their destination because of all of the people in the area.

Taylor let Matty and Buffy walk ahead of them a bit, tugging Claire to his side. He turned to her, adjusting the collar on her coat. A thumb grazed one of her earrings. His mom’s earrings.

“Is something the matter?”

He chuckled.

“No, just wanted to thank you for a great time tonight,” he said.


“Yeah,” he said with a shrug. “If someone had told me last New Year’s Eve I’d be spending this one with you and married to you not just out with you I would have laughed at them.”

“Me, too.”

“I just have to warn you, though, Chris can be a little rough.”

“Rougher than you?”

He laughed then. “Not in the same way, no. I mean, he thinks he’s God’s gift you know, and to most of the women in New York he is. He’s not too happy that it’s no longer just Matty settled down and neither of us in the area.”

“We’ll be back.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. After you finish college you may get a job somewhere that’s not here. I may have a boxing career that is better served with me being somewhere else. We don’t know. Eventually I hope we’ll get back here, but I moved to Iowa to be with you. Not Chris.”

“So he resents me?”

“And Buffy. Yeah. He wouldn’t say so, but he’s liable to lash out, say things that aren’t so nice. Remember, he’s the one I talked to in person for a while after we broke up.”


“He doesn’t know anything about you. I assure you. Your secret, I mean. Or Buffy’s. It’s just, he’ll probably have had a good amount to drink already and he may run his mouth.”

“Wow. Is Buffy getting this warning, too?”

“She’s met him before. You haven’t. She already knows how he is, and I wasn’t exactly the poster child for kindness when I met her the first time.”

“She told me about that,” Claire said with a laugh, leaning into him. “I promise I won’t hold anything he says against you.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, let’s go have a Happy New Year.”

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***Part Twenty-One***
Word Count: 1,383

Having the right manager and trainer worked. Not that Taylor didn’t work hard because he did, but the right people on his side made paving the way into the ring for legitimate fights much easier. Being that Claire was in school, there were times she couldn’t make a fight at all if scheduled on a weeknight or flew in separately for the ones on weekend. He liked the way she supported him and while he knew it bothered her to see him get beat on in a ring she never balked at touching him afterward. Oddly, he found he needed her to do just that, it’d never been a problem before her but now he needed that contact with her win or lose. She also didn’t complain about sitting through footage from previous fights of not just his but upcoming opponents so he’d know what to watch for.

Mrs. Petrelli was even keener than Taylor gave her credit for. He hadn’t stopped to consider she was being so pushy when she was for the simple fact that Claire being in school would limit access to her to some degree while Nathan made a run for the White House. Sure, she was the focus of attention here and there, but most of it was on the man trying to run. So, her being thousands of miles away from the thick of things in Iowa was perfect in a way. Nathan got the jump in his numbers from the story coming out; people caught glimpses of them together after all of these years. There were even some shots of both Noah and Nathan together, speaking volumes of no hard feelings by either side. Overall, Claire was for the most part left alone as she should be.

She had also been right about hangers on. Claire was fairly wise to it all, so while she wasn’t rude to people she knew how it worked. Some just wanted to be friends with her legitimately even if their reasoning was off kilter a bit. Some, though. Well, tabloids would love to get dirt on the president’s daughter doing something crazy at college. Fortunately, she never engaged in anything too outlandish, so there was little dirt to be gotten on her. She’d stopped acting in plays, which he knew bummed her out. She was still involved with the shows, but it was behind the scenes now so there wouldn’t be the chance a picture of her would get snapped.

Eventually, Nathan won his bid, and with that came a whole set of new problems. Claire now had assigned and paid protection wherever she went. Taylor had been good enough before he won, but once he set foot in the White House it was a different story. Like it or not, a Bennet or not, she was now viewed as someone who’s life could be endangered. Even though she couldn’t get hurt (not that any but a select few knew that) she could still be used against Nathan to hurt him.

It didn’t change her, though. None of it did, and for that Taylor fell in love with her even more. If that was possible. It was weird for him to think about being in love so deeply, an emotion he’d never fully experienced until Claire. Not in this form of it anyway. She didn’t try to change him. Mrs. Petrelli was right, too, in that his wife would put him above anything else. She always did, but he didn’t call on that quality in her too often until she was done with college.

Their efforts to have kids hadn’t worked. Taylor wasn’t too shook up about it, but he knew it made Claire feel defective. Especially since Buffy and Matty seemed to get pregnant so easily. Their second child was another boy, Benjamin Alexander. Benjamin was a no-brainer, Matty’s dad. He assured Claire it really didn’t have anything to do with the favor he did for them. Taylor had to be told that Alexander was Xander’s full name. He’d never thought about it being short for anything. They were already trying for a girl, both maintaining three was all they were having all boys or not.

So, once Claire graduated they put into motion adoption proceedings. They’d still try, but it wasn’t as if they could go to a fertility expert and ask questions or get tests. They both suspected what the problem was. If only The Company didn’t have an interest in her, he’d love to be able to ask them questions. Monroe was no help as like Claire had said at one point, sperm coming out wasn’t the same as an egg being released and attaching itself to her body. That seemed to be where the problem was, because there’d been a couple of times she thought she was pregnant.

He hated those moments and the look of hope in her eyes when she was late only to be followed a few days or weeks, one time a full month, later by the look of disappointment. And disgust. Assuring her that people without her special situation couldn’t get pregnant didn’t seem to help, so he’d quickly learned to shut up on the issue and just be supportive.

After her graduation, they’d returned to New York. He would have gone wherever she needed to go, but he was glad to be back home near his mother and friends. Claire wasn’t too comfortable around any of them except Matty. He understood why. He’d grown up with them, so it was no big deal to him what they all did for livings. Claire, on the other hand, didn’t have the exposure to that type of life so he knew it was instinct for her to want to stay away from criminals.

She hadn’t started a job yet when the call came from their lawyer. Taylor knew she felt as though she was letting him down somehow not being able to have a baby, but he didn’t feel that way. Once the baby they were adopting was born and he laid eyes on it he knew without a doubt that he’d love him and take care of him just the same as Matty did his boys. Hell, she only had to look at her own father to know the lengths someone will go to for their family, biological or otherwise.

He was certainly up for continuing to try and she knew that, but he was more than satisfied with where his life was now. All of it. His home. And it was his home now, no longer Teddy Deserve’s. While in Iowa, they’d taken advantage of being away so extensively to remodel from the ground up. Some things stayed, a lot of it went. It was theirs, though, no shadow of his father remained. His family’s home.

His mom certainly didn’t seem to care how her grandson came to be a member of their family, neither did the Bennet’s. The Petrelli’s he wasn’t so sure about how Mrs. Petrelli felt, but he knew it made no difference to Nathan. Odd to think how differently he would grow up from the way Taylor had. Instead of having people like Benny The Chains around, he was going to have presidents around him, though he imagined Matty’s dad wouldn’t stay out of his life completely. Especially since he and Mrs. Petrelli seemed to be spending time together. He didn’t think it was romantic in nature, but weirder things had happened and she clearly wasn’t averse to toeing the line of the law.

A reversal of roles completed the change in his life. Today, at this moment, it was Matty and Buffy standing as godparents to Thomas Noah Reese. He understood now why it was so important to Matty that Taylor be godfather to little Matty, knowing that someone besides him who’d gotten out would look out for his son eased his mind so much. He was bound and determined that Thomas would not have anywhere near the life he had. It’d paid off in the end for him. He’d met Claire out of the years of fighting but Matty was proof one didn’t need to be a fighter to get the girl.

And that was a lesson Taylor planned to hand down.

~The End~

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