"It was a good practice."
Sheridan whirled around at the familiar voice, the action toppling orange globes from her arms and sending them bouncing across the Youth Center floor. "Hank," the startled smile on her face transformed into a genuine grin. "You're back." Frowning, she propped one hand upon her hip and looked at him accusingly. "I didn't know you were back."
"Easy there, Princess," Hank relieved her of the remainder of her burden, transferring the basketballs into their rightful cart. "It was a last minute type of thing. You," he looked at her pointedly as he joined her in her efforts to retrieve the rest of the scattered equipment, "are the only person that knows I'm here."
"In that case, I guess I can forgive you," she teased him fondly, juggling the basketballs again in her arms as she rose to her feet.
Shaking his head as he assisted her, Hank was disbelieving. "What's the matter with those kids? Passing up the chance to help a pretty lady like you? Maybe we should have a man to man talk."
"They're ten," Sheridan nudged the cart forward. "Girls still have cooties."
"But not Miss Sheridan."
Laughing, Sheridan answered, "Miss Sheridan too." Placing the cart next to the bleachers against the gymnasium's wall, she gave Hank's appearance another glance. Smirking at the standard uniform of leather jacket, worn jeans, and slightly wrinkled tee-shirt, she couldn't resist comment. "Not your typical James Bond getup."
"You kidding?" Hank bumped shoulders companionably with her as they meandered across the court to what was and always would be Luis's domain—the office. "I'm way cooler than James Bond." He raised a brow at the sleek new computer resting atop the desk and the comfy-looking leather chair which Sheridan promptly took a seat in. Only the ratty-looking sofa in the corner retained any sense of familiarity for him. "Doesn't really go with the new décor of the place, does it?"
"Luis had the new one delivered to the cottage," Sheridan replied, frustration evident in her voice. "Sam finally convinced him the computer could be useful."
"Ah," Hank nodded, perching himself on the desk's edge and looking down at her as she ran tired hands through her short blond hair. "Still being a regular old pain in the ass, is he?"
"Pain in the ass doesn't even begin to describe it," Sheridan muttered, her words muffled by the hands covering her face. "When he can stand to spend more than ten minutes in a room with me. If you hadn't have told me differently, I'd swear…" When Hank said nothing, only waited for her to continue, she picked up a pen tucked beside the keyboard and twirled it nervously in her fingers. "Sometimes, Hank, I'd swear he wished..."
Alarmed that she would even hint at such a thing, Hank jumped in to defend the obstinate man he'd called his friend for almost his entire life. "Luis would never wish that. Do I have to tell you again how frantic he was to get to you in time? He was a man possessed trying to rescue you. If you don't believe me, ask anybody in this town and they'll tell you the same thing."
"He sure has a funny way of showing it," Sheridan answered him, voice tight. Tapping the pen in her hand against the desktop, she glared at Hank when he snatched it out of her hand. "It's been over four years, Hank. Whatever Luis felt for me then doesn't exist anymore. It ended when I lied to him and kept him in the dark about the plan."
"Feelings like that don't just die, Princess," Hank lay a comforting hand over hers.
Pulling her hand free, Sheridan refused to meet Hank's sympathetic brown eyes, the set of her jaw stubborn. Molding her palm over the wireless mouse in front of her, she brought the computer screen in front of her alive with one click of a button, studiously ignoring him. "You say that, but he hasn't forgiven you either."
"He just needs more time," Hank said, knowing he didn't sound the least bit convincing. "He'll come around. He always has. This time…this time's just taken a little bit longer than the others." He looked up when he felt the gentle weight of her hand in his once more and smiled just a little bit when he saw compassion reflected back to him in the blue of her eyes. Finally, he ventured a question when the silence stretched on uncomfortably and the emotions their conversation had dredged back up were too much, even for him. "What?"
"Have I ever told you how much I hate the nickname 'Princess'?"
The letter was dated three months ago, and her daughter's flowery handwriting filled the pages with snippets of a life Pilar could only pretend to imagine. She trailed her fingertips again over the passage that detailed Anna's fascination with shoes of all kinds and smiled when she glanced again at the photograph that had accompanied the letter: her granddaughter in a diaper, a floppy-billed hat, pink feather boa, and Audrey Hepburn sunglasses perched on the tip of her button nose, her tiny feet adorned with appropriately pink high heels.
"Is that her?"
Pilar startled at the childish voice, folding the pages of the letter back up and stuffing them quickly into the pocket of her apron. She blinked to find the owner of the voice mere inches away, elbows resting on the same counter the picture now rested on.
"Hope," Grace chided from the other room. "I thought I told you not to bother Pilar."
"I'm not bothering Pilar," Hope answered, propping her chin in her hands. Blue eyes curiously peering at the picture, she wrinkled her freckled nose as she considered something. "Kay says I'm only a half aunt. How's that different from a whole aunt?"
Grace appeared at her young daughter's side before Pilar had time to formulate an answer, and Pilar found herself inordinately thankful for the timely interruption.
"I'm sorry, Pilar," Grace apologized. Smoothing a motherly hand over Hope's chin-length ginger hair, she quietly admonished the child once again. "I thought I told you to put flowers in all of the rooms."
Unruffled, Hope replied, "I did."
"Did you make sure all the guests had mints?"
After a brief pause, Hope nodded. "Uh huh."
"Hope," Grace eyed the little girl suspiciously, grasping her chin and searching her blue eyes. "Say 'ah'."
Groaning, Hope blurted a premature confession, "I didn't eat all of them. I promise."
Lips twitching, Grace's attempt to be stern fell a little flat, but only Pilar seemed to notice. The women shared a knowing smile, and Grace sent Hope on her way to deliver the mints, for real this time. "Sorry," she apologized once more. "She's so much like Kay sometimes," she mused. "Always asks the hard questions." Grace's fingers hovered above the photograph. "May I?"
Pilar watched the play of emotions across her friend's face as she studied the picture.
"She has Ethan's eyes," Grace finally whispered. "Bennett eyes." Offering the worn photograph back to Pilar, her smile was more genuine. "She's adorable."
"Thank you," Pilar murmured, regarding the picture for a moment longer. She looked up questioningly when she felt Grace's light touch on her arm.
"It won't be forever. Harmony's still her home."
Glass of brandy in hand, Julian hovered in the doorway, reluctant to cross the threshold into the room he'd come to think of as his wife's 'Ethan Memorial.' Watching her smooth imaginary wrinkles out of a garment laden with more lace and bows than he deemed savory, he felt pity well up inside of him even as the mean-spirited remark spewed from his mouth almost against his will. "I don't know why you bother buying things for a child you've never met, a child you would have never seen a picture of if Sheridan hadn't been such a softhearted fool."
Ivy remained silent, but her blue green eyes were fiery as they acknowledged him then quickly turned elsewhere.
Daring to take a step into the room, Julian's own eyes were drawn to a photo displayed on the mantelpiece several feet in front of him. The quality of the copy was grainy, and the cropping was crudely done, but it was still a fine rendition of the boy he'd raised into a man holding his infant daughter in his arms. Glancing away uncomfortably when it became evident that he'd been caught staring, Julian cleared his throat and gazed toward one of the open windows on the other side of the room, letting his attention focus on the draperies fluttering in the warm evening breeze.
Sighing, Ivy folded her arms across her chest and demanded, "Was there something you wanted, Julian?"
"The mayor and his wife are joining us for dinner tonight," Julian raised his glass to his lips, the corners of his mouth twisting in a parody of a smile. "Just wanted to make sure you remembered to act your part and not further embarrass the Crane name. And for God's sake," he indicated the silk robe wrapped around her shoulders in disgust, "change out of that damn thing. Pick something more appropriate. You have a closet full of absurdly expensive clothes bought with my money. At least put them to good use."
"Anything else?" Ivy questioned, her tone icy.
"As a matter of fact," Julian answered back, just as icily. "Move on. This," he indicated the room with a sweeping gesture of his arm, "is pathetic."
"You wanted to see me, Sam?" Luis eased the door to Sam's office shut behind him then crossed the small room to Sam's desk, standing at attention.
"Take a seat, Luis," Sam suggested, leaning back in his own chair.
Luis followed Sam's instruction, sitting down and resting his palms against his thighs. When Sam made no further attempt at conversation, Luis's gaze drifted over the various personal effects that littered Sam's desk, including a picture of Charity and Miguel taken on their wedding day a little over a year ago. The young couple had been traveling ever since, making their way from small town to small town. Eventually, the silence grew to be too much, and Luis cleared his throat. "Did you see the new postcard?"
"Connecticut," Sam nodded. "The Bed and Breakfast there reminded them of home."
"How's Grace doing, by the way? And Hope? Man, she's growing up," Luis tipped his head toward the little girl's likeness proudly displayed in numerous instances all over Sam's desk.
"Grace is doing fine," Sam answered, "and there's never a dull moment with Hope in the house. But you know that. I'm sure Pilar's told you."
"I want to thank you again, Sam, for letting Mama help out at the Bed and Breakfast. It was good for her to get out of that house. Away from the Cranes," Luis spoke vehemently of his mother's former employers.
"Thank Grace," Sam said, leaning forward in his chair and letting his elbows rest on his desk while he folded his hands together in contemplation. "Luis, I didn't call you into my office to make small talk about our families. There's something more serious I want to address."
Luis's brows rose expectantly.
"There've been some complaints."
"Complaints?" Luis frowned in confusion. "I'm not sure I understand."
"You're one of my best detectives, Luis," Sam began, stalling until he could figure out the best way to phrase what he wanted to say. "But lately…"
"Sam, does this have anything to do the argument I had with Sheridan?"
"Which one?" Sam quipped, continuing when Luis looked sufficiently chagrined. "Sheridan was trying to do a nice thing for the kids, Luis. Raking her over the coals in front of half a dozen children and a couple of parents wasn't the most sensible thing you've ever done. This isn't about the argument with Sheridan. At least not *just* that argument. It's about all the arguments with Sheridan. All your very public tirades and airing of prejudices against the Cranes and people like them, Luis. Your handling of Gwen Hotchkiss's arrest for one."
"Her blood alcohol level was over the legal limit," Luis protested. "She resisted all of my attempts to subdue her."
"From where I was standing it looked like she was having a very public, painful breakdown," Sam stated. "Your approach only added to her humiliation. I'm sure your personal feelings about her involvement in the whole mess with Ethan and Theresa had nothing to do with anything, did they?"
Luis felt his irritation and defenses grow. "Are you accusing me of being unprofessional, Sam?"
Sighing, Sam repeated his earlier statement. "You're one of my best detectives, Luis. I'm not saying you're unprofessional. I'm just saying…"
Frustrated, Luis cut him off. "What are you saying, Sam?"
"You've changed, Luis. You're so full of anger and bitterness that you're not even seeing the world straight anymore. I'm saying wake up before you reach a point of no return."
Indignant, Luis opened his mouth to dispute Sam's charges against him, but Sam wouldn't allow it.
"I'm not just saying this as your police chief, Luis," Sam's expression was serious. "I'm saying this as your friend. As of this moment, you're on indefinite leave. Show me that you've undergone a serious attitude adjustment or that you're at least beginning to, and I'll let you come back. Until then, you're not to step foot in this building. Understood?"
"Perfectly," Luis said blackly, jaw set in stone as he laid his gun and his badge down on Sam's desk. "Anything else?"
"That's all," Sam shook his head. Watching Luis's retreating back disappear, he whispered, "I'm doing this for your own good, Luis."
Still don't own Passions, lol, but Hope and Anna are all mine.
Thanks for reading!