This is going to be a late one, Eddie thought, as he sat behind his desk at Best Friend Windows. He had just sold an account, not a huge one, but one that would bring them good "word of mouth" advertisement if it went as well as he expected it to go. But now he was tied up with his least favorite part of the job, the paperwork and system tracking/input. He looked over a Nick's desk, a little aggravated that Nick had blown off work today. Okay, Nick did seem to have something important going on, but if he was going to be stuck here, suffering, doing paperwork it would only be fair for Nick to be stuck there too.

Then Eddie looked out the front window and noticed how dark it had gotten outside. He frowned and clenched his jaw as it hit him like a ton of bricks; he hadn't been outside all day, not once since coming to work at about 7am. Not even for lunch that he had brown-bagged that morning. The desk part of this job was the most difficult adjustment to make for a guy that did landscaping full time for a decade. And, truth be told, he wasn't making the adjustment very well at all.

Just then, his cell phone rang and he looked down to see that it was Janet calling. He leaned back in his chair, smiled and picked up the phone. "Hey" he said to Janet in his scratchy sexy voice, "What goes on beautiful?" Janet was still surprised and happy when she heard that term of endearment come from Eddie. No doubt he could hear her smile, blush and perhaps her slight awkward embarrassment, as she replied, "Not much, babe, what goes on with you?"

Eddie's smile faded as he told her, "I'm stuck here at work. Nicky couldn't make it in today and we got a new account. It's all a big rush, so I have to get it all set up and ordered tonight." Eddie paused, before admitting, "This is the part of the job that Nicky does so much better than me. God I hate paperwork. Come to think about it, I hate this desk. I really hate this desk."

Janet could hear his frustration through the phone, "It's still great that you landed a new client, right?" She knew it wasn't going to be that easy to improve his move, "I have an idea. How about I bring you some dinner? I'm about to take my break and I have some time. I'll just get something for you from the kitchen. And," she said with the slightest hint on seduction in her voice, "there's a neck rub in it for you."

Eddie breathed in deeply for the first time in what seemed like hours as he said, "If you could manage it, that'd be great."

"I'll see you in a few, Eddie," Janet couldn't help but smile at the prospect of seeing him in a few moments, knowing that he needed her. She had to admit to herself that her motives were almost entirely selfish. She had the strongest desire to see him, kiss him, and hold him.

Janet immediately made her way to the kitchen at Sully's and had them put together a 'to go' container with Eddie's taste buds in mind.

Only about five minutes had passed when Janet came walking through the door with a Sully's take out bag in hand. She paused for a moment after walking through the door, smiled at Eddie, and turned to put the 'closed' sign up. She made a point of slowly locking the door behind her.

Eddie smiled as he watched her every move and he stood up to greet her halfway across the room. "Thanks," he said as he approached her, took the bag from her with one hand and reached the other hand behind her back to pull her towards him for a kiss. A long, slow, passionate kiss that she felt from her nose to her toes as she silently willed him to never stop. Eddie found himself lost in the pure enjoyment of kissing this woman, and for a moment, forgot the work he had in front of him, enjoying the closeness, comfort and passion he felt with her.

When he finally pulled back she simply took his hand, walked him back to his desk, and made him sit down. She took her jacket off throwing it on the file cabinet. Then she stood behind him with her hands sitting on his shoulders as he started to take the food out of the bag. "I promised you a neck rub," Janet said as she started to rub the back of his neck and shoulders and lowered her head to kiss the side of his face.

Eddie stopped opening the food container and with one smooth move, swung the chair around and pulled Janet down onto his lap. Janet couldn't help but laugh. A few months ago, she would have been intimidated by the idea of sitting on his lap but that was then, this was now. They had become very comfortable with each other, so completely at ease.

She put her hands on his chest and slowly moved them up and around his neck, and then into his hair, before flirtatiously saying, "You know, I only have a few more minutes of this break left, how do you think we should spend it?" With that Eddie began kissing her again and she melted into his arms.

Neither of them paid any attention to the man who had stopped in front of the storefront window and silently watched them before continuing on past Best Friend Windows.

"Eddie, I have to go back to work," Janet laughed a few minutes later as she unsuccessfully tried to pry her way out of his strong and playful arms.

"Okay, fine, I'll let you go." He said as he released her from his arms. She stood up and began putting her jacket on. Eddie continued, "But as tired as I am, I'd like nothing more that to be with you tonight. How about you come on over after work? I'll return the favor, and give you a neck rub?" Eddie smiled at her.

"I didn't actually get to give you that neck rub, did I?" she said as she raised her eyebrows at him. "But, actually, I have another idea," Janet quietly said as she debated saying what was on her mind, "We have a little more privacy at my house. What if... you go to my place tonight and I meet you there after work." Janet smiled at him and pleaded right back at him.

Eddie thought about it for a moment before agreeing, "Okay, your place it is. I just need to borrow your key." That's when Janet went for it, "Or... your key? I have a spare I could give you. Don't freak out, it's not like a commitment of any kind, just something to make our lives a little easier." Janet smiled hopefully at Eddie as she held up an extra copy of her house key. She just really hoped that he wouldn't be spooked by the offer.

Instead of being spooked, Eddie reached up and grabbed the key, holding her hand for a moment as he took it from her, and simply stated, "Okay." Janet felt a rush of satisfaction realizing that had gone a lot better than she had thought it would.

"I'll see you later Eddie," Janet said as she leaned down to give him a light peck on his lips before reluctantly walking away from her man. She turned before unlocking the door to leave, "Back to work, Latekka, I'll see you in a few hours."

Janet paused for a moment outside the door thinking about the key and the fact that it didn't seem to scare him off. Now, would he be scared off by the fact that she was positive that she was completely and totally head over heels in love with him? Probably. That message could wait.

Inside, Eddie looked at the key, and was clearly surprised himself by the ease with which he took the key. He'd gotten hotel/motel room keys from women before, but nothing like this – an open invitation to let himself into his girlfriend's home any time he wanted to. And, he was impressed that this didn't seem to freak Janet out at all either. He wondered if he should just go head and tell her what he'd been sure of for some time, that he was completely and totally in love with her. And, then he remembered the promise he had made to himself. Janet hadn't been in a relationship before and he needed to take this slow. He was sure if he told her he loved her now it would scare her off. He wouldn't risk it. He'd know when she was ready to hear him tell her he loved her. He looked at the key, took his other keys out of his pocket, and simply added the key to his key-clip. Then he dug into the take out Janet had brought him before reluctantly starting back to work

Again, Eddie was so focused on his efforts and looking forward to spending the night in Janet's bed, that he didn't sense that someone was not fifteen feet away from him, watching his every move, waiting for him to leave the safety and comfort of Best Friend Windows.

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Eddie finished the paperwork and, finally, got up from his desk. He took a quick look around the shop. Everything was the way it should be, so he decided to head on out. He closed the door behind him and took his keys out to lock up. That's when he heard the footsteps rushing towards him, and as quick as Eddie's reflexes were, there was nothing he could do. Before he could even comprehend what was happening, several sets of hands had grabbed him from behind and he felt a sharp crack on the back of his head. His keys fell to the ground, his knees buckled and Eddie realized that he was in trouble.

They pulled Eddie from the front of Best Friend Windows into the side alley. Stunned by the surprise attack, and completely unsure of what was happening, Eddie's fight or flight reflexes took over. For Eddie; it was never flight, it was always fight. He found his footing and although he was being held from behind he was able to free one of his powerful fists and with a quick motion he sent his fist flying into the jaw of one of his attackers. As he pulled his fist back, his elbow found the nose of another attacker, who was desperately trying to get Eddie's free arm back under control.

Unfortunately, the odds were stacked up against Eddie as he realized there had to be three or four guys seemingly intent on doing him harm.

Eddie lost the battle and found himself unable to move. It was then that one of the cowards came out from behind and into Eddie's line of sight. Matt Lausch. No big surprise.

"What's this all about Lausch?" Eddie almost spit in rage, "Can't fight your own battles? You need to bring a small army to take me down?"

Lausch was quick to respond, with great delight, and clearly unaware of the complete and total cowardice of fighting in this manner.

"Hey, Latekka, it's not a sucker punch if you know it's coming, right? Well, it's coming." With that, he started treating Eddie like his own personal punching bag. Hitting him in the stomach, then across the jaw. But he didn't stop there. The hitting continued, grossly unfair to the disadvantaged Eddie. Eddie got free at one point, and got a few shots in at Lausch, but he was no match for the sheer number of guys holding him back.

Eddie, now in significant pain, fell to the ground, but that only made it worse as Lausch began kicking him. Eddie started to lose consciousness – but before fading he could have sworn he heard a familiar voice screaming his name, trying to get to him, trying to stop the attack. His attackers ran away, surely worried that a witness would be able to identify them. Eddie looked up and saw the very concerned face of his old pal, Ikey. The lights went out for Eddie before Ikey could dial 911.

Eddie never saw what Ikey saw. After assessing Eddie's injuries and calling 911, Ikey looked up in time to see a truck drive by slowly, window down, and the sly, satisfied face of Ray "Big Cat" Cataldo taking in the scene. Ikey looked down at Eddie again and when he looked back up Big Cat was gone.

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Janet drove towards home, thrilled at the prospect of what was ahead of her this evening. She had actually gotten out of work early and was looking forward to seeing Eddie at her house, in her bed. First a hot shower and then climbing into bed with him. Paradise, she thought as she pulled up to her house.

It was only then that she noticed that Eddie's truck was nowhere in sight and there were no lights on in her house. "Are you kidding me Latekka? You can't still be at work," she said before hitting re-dial on her phone to call Eddie's cell. She wasn't prepared to hear a familiar voice that wasn't Eddie's answer her call, "Hey Janet, its Ikey."

The blood disappeared from Janet's face and she felt the world start to turn bitter cold for her as Ikey told her, "Look, I'm not so good at this type of thing. Eddie was beat up pretty bad tonight. Lausch and a bunch of his cronies attacked Eddie; beat him unconscious. We're at the emergency room."

Janet didn't say a word, she just closed her phone and began racing towards the hospital. She couldn't recall exactly which route she took, or where she parked, all she could think of was getting to Eddie, getting to the man she loved.

Janet ran into the Emergency Room at the hospital and was immediately greeted by Ikey. "I haven't called anyone. I just got Eddie's phone from the nurse when you called." Janet just looked around, noticed the police officer standing a few feet behind Ikey, and said rather emphatically to him, "I need to see Eddie. Now." Ikey walked over to the nurse sitting at the admissions desk, "This is Eddie Latekka's girlfriend. She really needs to see him." The nurse waived Janet over, and said in a very kind voice, "I need to prepare you that Mr. Latekka was hurt pretty badly tonight." Janet's eyes welled up, she nodded at the nurse to tell her that she understood, and the nurse signaled for her to follow. "One moment, please." Janet said as she got Ikey's attention.

Janet turned to Ikey and softly said with determination, "Call everyone – Nick, Owen, Hannah and Phil. You tell them this is about Eddie, and they need to be here for him. And, Ikey, you better tell the police what they need to know. I don't want that idiot Lausch getting away with this. Do you hear me?" Ikey didn't say a word; he just nodded in agreement. With that, Janet followed the nurse to Eddie's room.

Janet breathed in sharply as she first laid eyes on Eddie in the beat up state he was in. There he was, the man she loved, hooked up to IV's and attached to several beeping monitors. She looked at his face, his ruggedly handsome face, now swollen and purple. She hoped the bleak whiteness of the room was making it look worse than it was, but her gut told her differently. She could only imagine how deeply bruised he was over the rest of his body that was now covered by a hospital gown and bed sheets.

The nurse, still with her, gave her more information, "Mr. Latekka lost consciousness at the scene and he hasn't regained consciousness yet. The doctor will be in to let you know more about the extent of his injuries." Janet, taking it all in, tears streaming down her face simply asked, "Is he going to be okay?" The nurse said, "I don't know, honey, we need to wait for the doctor."

Janet realized she needed to keep it together so she wiped the tears from her face, took a deep breath and walked over to his bed. She took Eddie's hand in hers, afraid that even doing that would somehow hurt him. "I'm here Eddie. I'm so sorry this happened to you. Why don't you open those gorgeous brown eyes of yours and talk to me. Please?" Janet was still talking to him when the doctor came in. "Hi, I'm Dr. Lee," said the young female emergency room doctor as she walked into the room and began talking to Janet.

"I understand that you are Mr. Latekka's girlfriend and that he has no close relatives in town. Will you be taking responsibility for his medical care and decisions?" Janet paused for a moment letting the weight of that question sit with her for a moment before saying, "Um, yes." Janet thought quickly through any other options and finding nothing that made more sense went on, "Tell me what I need to know. Is Eddie going to be okay?" Janet took in all the medical details and summed them up in her head. The list read like this: Probable concussion; possible internal bleeding; no broken bones; concern over bruising near his kidneys and concern that if he didn't wake up soon his head injury could be more problematic. Tests, they needed to run tests: they would start with a head CT. They needed her to sign paperwork, they needed questions answered, and they needed to take him away from her to run the tests. Her head was swimming, but she was determined to be strong and keep it together.

Janet watched them wheel Eddie away and wandered towards the waiting area and the sea of paperwork she would need to sign. Was she the right person to take responsibility for Eddie's medical decisions? She needed to talk to his friends. She needed her best friend too.

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As Janet walked into the waiting room, she saw that Ikey was still there talking to the police officer. Just then, Owen and Nick came rushing through the door. Nick walked towards Janet and gave her a hug. Owen was right behind him, and when he hugged Janet he squeezed her so tightly she could barely breath. Nick spoke first, 'Have you seen him? Is he okay?" Owen started a speech about how no one would get away with hurting Eddie, but Janet was too preoccupied to go there yet.

She responded to Nick's questions, "He's not awake and he's beat up pretty badly. They are taking him for a head CT." Janet trailed off before looking directly at Nick and pulling him away from Owen for a private discussion.

"Nick, they asked me if I was taking responsibility for Eddie's medical decisions... And, I said yes. But, maybe I shouldn't have? Maybe he'd rather one of you guys make those decisions? Maybe I should..." Before she could continue, because Nick could see where this was going he cut her off, "Janet, I can't imagine anyone else Eddie would want making important decisions for him. I mean, you guys were barely dating when Eddie had to decide whether to go into business with me, and who did he go to for advice? You. I don't think he'd choose between fried rice and Lo Mein without checking with you first. You're the one he'd want in the drivers seat. Trust me." Janet just looked at him and Nick felt the greatest desire to give her a hug. He liked this girl and liked how good she was for his friend and business partner.

"Okay," Janet felt a new wave of strength, "I've got to go fill out a bunch of paperwork, will you help me with it Nick?" Nick just smiled at her and nodded.

After about a half an hour of paper work, the nurse let Janet know that she could see Eddie. She asked if she could bring anyone in with her, and was told there was a maximum of two visitors at a time. She turned, planning on asking Nick to go with her, when she saw him. Phil. Holding Hannah's hand. Walking into the emergency room. He looked more pale than usual, but seemed to be holding his own. Janet looked around the waiting room, as the rest of the guys seemed frozen in place. Then she walked up to Phil, hugged him and held out her hand. She gave Hannah a smile as Phil took her hand and the two of them walked towards Eddie's room in the ER.

As they walked down the hall, Janet began, "I'm glad you were able to make it, Phil. Eddie will be so proud of you for doing this for him." Phil just quietly responded, "Eddie would do anything for me. And, Hannah was pretty persuasive. She told me that I wouldn't be safe in the confines of my own home if I didn't come through for Eddie tonight." They both laughed, everyone knew that Hannah Daniels could be very convincing. Janet decided she'd have to thank her for that later.

Janet and Phil walked into Eddie's room, Phil never letting go of Janet's hand.

Phil and Janet sat with Eddie for a while, Eddie still not waking up. Then Phil returned to the waiting room while each friend, including Ikey, took a turn trying to coax Eddie out of his sleep. When Janet was finally alone with him, she got a chance to say what had been on her mind from well before she heard Eddie had been hurt. "Okay, Eddie, I really need you to wake up." Janet paused, and said more softly, "I love you Eddie Latekka. More than I knew I could love another person. And, I know that's not your thing, and you may not feel the same way. Here's the thing... I need you." Janet put her head down and rested it on the side of the bed, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Only a moment had passed when she felt it, she felt Eddie's hand reach over and grab a piece of her hair, like he had the first time he kissed her. She raised her head and saw him looking at her, smiling as much as he could through the pain. He didn't speak right away, just taking in the fear and concern on Janet's face. He didn't fight her as she took his hand and brought it to her lips. When he finally spoke, it was very quietly, and she could tell every breath, every word took effort.

"Hi, beautiful." Eddie began, "I heard you. Do you want to take it back?" Janet just looked at him, trying to determine if he had enough strength to tease her. Regardless, she stuck by her guns, albeit quietly at first, "Nope. Like it or not, I love you." And then, raising her eyebrows, smiling at him with saying wiht more confidence, "I love you. Deal with it. " She shrugged her shoulders, and decided she was so happy he was awake, she could deal with being alone in this love.

Eddie didn't have much strength, and he didn't expand on the words, he just looked at her, and with a tear rolling down his cheek, said, "I love you, too, Janet Meadows. Never felt anything like it before."

Neither of them saw Hannah Daniels and Nick Garrett, who had both entered the room, but were not yet in sight due to a well-placed curtain. They were thrilled to know that Eddie had woken up – and were exceedingly happy to secretly share in the moment that their best friends finally admitted to loving one another. As Hannah and Nick smiled at each other, and stood ever so close to one another, they couldn't deny the spark of passion that re-lit for the two of them. Their eyes connected and, for that moment, the glimmer of Nick and Hannah seemed possible again.