Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 64 - 2/21/16

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 62 - 5/23/15

Post by keepsmiling7 » Mon May 25, 2015 2:59 pm

Couldn't believe my eyes......we've been waiting a long, long time!
But it was worth the wait........especially when Max gave them the cashier's check.
Max is still surprised to see Ava with a baby girl.

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 62 - 5/23/15

Post by sarammlover » Tue May 26, 2015 10:03 am

Another great update. I was worried about Shakes there for a minute but I feel good about what happened with his team. I like that they want to do good in the world and I like that he has Dmitri. I know whose face I have on Shakes.....Alex's. I think he is who I always imagined Shakes was. But that can't be since he is already married to Isabel.

It really made me feel so good that Max went and apologized to his old foster family. I think that shows how far he has come and it really made my heart swell.

You have done such an amazing job with these characters. I love how tangled this web is and sorting it all out was sort of amusing to read.

Hugs. Sara

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 62 - 5/23/15

Post by dreamon » Tue May 26, 2015 1:08 pm

Welcome back! Happy to see another terrific part!!!
I have a few dreamer challenges in mind if you are looking for ideas so pm me!

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 62 - 5/23/15

Post by Eva » Wed May 27, 2015 7:51 am

Max is tying the loose ends of his life together. It does him honour that despite everything that happened, he takes time to finish the circle of his life. It will help to start a new chapter of his life.

Man, he really made the day of that couple! I was proud in his place. Funny, huh!

It was also funny to see how the group of friends unravelled the whole puzzle of the past weeks. It all worked out great. I'm just hoping everything will go the same way for Shakes. But I don't know...
Take a look at Eva's world[/center]

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 62 - 5/23/15

Post by Alien_Friend » Fri Jun 12, 2015 10:03 pm

I am so bad at keeping up these days but what a pleasant surprise. I'm not sure how I missed it though.That was such a good part. It made me smile the whole way through as I was reading. It's something special to be able to pay it forward like that. That money couldn't have went to more deserving people. It seems like Max really did his homework about then before he wrote that check.

It was great to read them all finally together and putting the pieces together. You could tell that it would be first of many more meetings of the like to come. They are all definitely bonded as family now.

I love that Cadence is inspiring baby fever. :lol: It would be great to M/M have another child. But poor Hunter he's really gotta work on sharing his family.

I love how cute Kyle and Ava are being with leaving Cadence for the first time.

I wonder if Max and Liz would ever adopt or foster kids. Max seemed so interested in it after hearing the Jackson's story. In any case it would be great if they get baby fever at some point. They have a big enough house to have a lot of kids.

It was great to get a peak into what Shakes and his band of merry men are up to. I love how well Dimitri knows him. I am glad Shakes has decided to go a long with their idea to help more people. He is so good at it. I hope in time it gives him some kind peace with everything running through him right now. I think it makes him human to not be able to shake off killing his biological father. It makes him better than him. We all know Knight wouldn't have batted an eye after if it was the other way around. Shakes inability to shake it off is testimony to his good nature. He's not at all like his father. I sure hope he isn't doubting some where inside of him that he might be.

Picturing Max and Diablo was so cute!! :D That whole scene with the girls reaching for phones to take their picture was hilarious. Especially all the Manny and Michael moments. I love Manny.

Fantastic stuff. Thanks for keep on keeping on with story. It puts a smile on my face every time I read each part. I love the way you tell a story.

Eagerly awaiting more.

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Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 63 - 7/12/15

Post by ArchAngel1973 » Sun Jul 12, 2015 10:01 pm

Roswelllostcause: Thanks! Yeah, whatever the amount was you can be sure it was substantial.

begonia9508: Thanks!

Yep, it was important for Max to go back to his last foster home and to give back what he took that night – with some interest, lol. At the time he was too lost to see that they wanted to help him, but finally finding Ava, learning about Isabel, it’s given him what he needed to really see the truth. And he’s just made a big difference for that family.

Natalie36: Thank you! Here’s another chapter for you!

keepsmiling7: I made it back sooner than the last couple of times!

It was important to Max to repay that couple for what they tried to do for him.

Yep, it’s gonna take time, but I have a feeling it won’t be a long time.

sarammlover: Thanks! Shakes is surrounded by people who will do their best to help him, at least as much as he’ll allow. It looks like they’ve found their calling and they’re good at what they do. Alex would’ve made a very interesting Shakes.

Max did what he did to survive, but he’s never felt right about taking that money from that family. Going back to visit with them was something he knew he needed to do for him to really be able to move forward.

dreamon: Thanks! Stopping by to drop off another part today!

Eva: Yes, he is, and taking that money from that family is something that’s bothered him for years. He knew he needed to go back and make that right so he could keep moving forward.

He sure did and I know exactly what you mean.

It’s hard to know how things will go for Shakes. He’s spent most of his life being treated as if he doesn’t matter, like a piece of property to be used at will. Finding a way to live a ‘normal’ life is going to be a struggle for him.

Alien_Friend: Lol, well, I’m bad at keeping up timely updates! I’m glad you enjoyed the part. Having the ability to pay it forward, and in that manner, what a gift! Max has always been bothered by taking that money in spite of his reasoning, and to move forward he had to go back and make that right.

I think you’re right about this group. They’ve become a family and that’s going to see them through and hold them together.

Hunter isn’t used to sharing Mommy and Daddy, but he just might have to get used to that idea.

Lol, Kyle and Ava are going to eventually get used to letting Cadence stay with grandparents or friends, but it’s probably going to take some time for them. They’re so used to it just being the three of them.

I think there’s a very good chance Max and Liz might take that path, but I have a feeling they’ll mix it up because they’re gonna get hit with that baby fever too at some point.

Shakes is very good at helping people. If only he was as good as helping himself. Luckily he’s surrounded by a group of people who will help him as much as he’ll allow. He deserves to find peace and hopefully in time he’ll achieve that goal. He’s definitely nothing like his father and I also hope he doesn’t harbor those doubts.

Lol, Max and Diablo have become quite the dynamic duo and they’ve come so far since their first meeting. Manny’s a trip and he plays off of Michael so well!

Thank you for the compliment. I keep saying I’m getting close to the end and then Max goes and does something that draws it out. I could say I’m just having a hard time letting this story go but I’m sticking to my story and blaming it on Max, lol.

Part 63

Brent Owens pushed the doorbell and ran a hand over the lapels of his overcoat to brush away the droplets of rain that were speckling the material. He was tall with long black hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. Jade green eyes dropped to check the face of the Rolex that adorned his right wrist and he controlled the urge to shake his head at the leather band and face. His wife thought it was a lovely birthday gift, and as far as watches went, there wasn’t a classier or more reliable brand, but buying one because it matched his eyes?

But Helene had been so pleased with her selection and he didn’t have the heart to let the gift go unused. Besides, he thought, had he once told her ‘no’ in their twenty-seven years together? The door opened before he could contemplate the gift any longer and he smiled at Elena when she greeted him and ushered him inside. She took his coat and put it away before turning back to face him. They conversed briefly as she led the way through the house to the music room and she left him to wait in the hall while she stepped inside to announce him.

A moment later the door opened and she motioned for him to enter. He nodded when she excused herself and said she’d be back shortly with coffee. His eyes moved around, nodding to himself when he saw Alex turning to place the bass guitar in its stand. “I don’t recognize that piece. Are you working on something new?”

“Yeah.” Alex motioned to the sheet music on the stand in front of him. He nodded when Brent paused before picking it up. “I started playing around with it a few months ago to distract Jenny when she’d have a bad day after her surgery. But she started getting into it and as time passed I started developing it into more than I originally intended to.”

Brent wandered around the room as he studied the notes and before long he’d settled at the piano, his graceful fingers flying over the ivory keys. “I like it. It speaks of hope and the desire to believe in something bigger than us. It’s fitting for the season.” He looked up at Alex. “How well does your daughter play?”

He laughed and shook his head. “She plays pretty well but her interest is purely recreational.”

“So she enjoys playing with dad.”

“Um-hmm. What’ve you got up your sleeve, Brent?”

“You know we’re playing the Radio City venue on December 29th.”

“Yeah,” he laughed quietly and tapped his temple, “you know I keep the schedule up here.”

“I know you’re not ready for the rigors of touring, but I’m hoping I can talk you into joining us for the night.”

Alex looked at his legs as he worried his bottom lip with his teeth. He wanted to jump at the chance to be out there again; to be onstage with his friends and coworkers, to feel the roar of the crowd, to be surrounded by that electric energy. “I want that more than anything, but I don’t know if I can keep up,” he admitted finally.

“You don’t have to be mobile to keep up, Alex.” He shook his head. “You might be slower getting around than you used to be, and you won’t be all over the stage like you used to be, but that accident didn’t take your God-given gift for music from you. We’ve got the Detroit show the weekend after Thanksgiving and then the Seattle show the following weekend. After that we’re home until after the first of the year, so if nothing else agree to sit in on practice with us and see how you feel. It might do you good to join us for the night even if it’s just for a few sets.” He grinned mischievously. He was certain Alex wouldn’t be able to resist returning to the stage for the night if he could talk him into joining them for their practice sessions.

“Do you know what you’re asking?”

Brent nodded. “I’m asking an old friend for a favor and hoping he gives himself a chance to step back into the spotlight.”

“I’ll think about it and let you know.”

He accepted the compromise with a graceful nod. “Helene’s been working on something for the show. She had an idea for a little something that’d involve our kids. Just a short set, but it’d give us a chance to share what we do with them. So if you decide to say yes and Jenny’s interested we’d love to have her too.”

Alex chuckled. “You haven’t lost your ability to work it, have you?”

He just grinned. “I like to think that’s one skill I’ll never lose.” He nodded at the bass guitar resting in its stand as his fingertips ghosted over the keys on the piano. “Let’s see how the composition sounds if we play it together.”


The rain fell steadily as Max walked, arms stretched out at his sides and his face turned up to the sky. His behavior garnered more than one curious stare but he was mindless of the looks and the occasional comments. Thanksgiving was just two days away and the temperatures had risen more than a dozen degrees so while it was cold it wasn’t too uncomfortable being outdoors. He dropped his arms as he closed in on his destination and he reached down to pat Diablo as they ducked into the building.

“C’mon, buddy.” He unsnapped the leash from one of his belt loops and they walked through the doors and waited at the elevator in the lobby. When the doors opened they stepped inside and he punched one of the buttons then leaned back to watch as the numbers on the panel to the right of the doors changed. They stepped out on their floor and walked down the hall, stopping at one of the doors and knocking quietly.

He shrugged out of his backpack as Diablo shook his body, ridding himself of the worst of the rain that was covering his coat. He unzipped the pack just as the door opened and Ava ushered them inside. He gave her a quick hug to avoid soaking her and he pulled a towel out of the pack, shaking it out as he unsnapped the leash from the dog’s collar.

“Here, give me that so you can change shirts,” Ava said as she took his jacket and hung it up before reaching for the towel in his hand. “Diablo, c’mere, baby,” she crooned and knelt down so she could rub his coat dry.

“My shirt’s fine,” Max said as he watched the dog eating up the attention.

“Um-hmm, Liz said to make sure you changed shirts when you got here because you’d probably be soaked to the bone.” She let her gaze move over him. “And she wasn’t far off. She warned me that you’d be out there walking around too long in this weather. Besides, you can’t hold your niece with the front of your shirt all wet.”

“It’s just a little water.” He shook his head when his complaining garnered no sympathy from her and he dug the dry shirt out of his pack while pulling the wet one over his head. The back of the shirt he’d been wearing was mostly dry so he used it to rub most of the water out of his hair before pulling the fresh one on.

“Yeah, and she’s right to worry because you’re gonna make yourself sick walking around like that. I get why you do it, but you’ve gotta think about how what you do affects Liz and everyone else who cares about you.” She smacked him with the towel she’d been drying Diablo off with. “You worry about the dog, which is great, but apparently you still need a keeper.”

“I don’t need a keeper,” he grumbled. “When did you talk to Liz?”

“Tell that lie to someone else.” She gave Diablo a pat and went to get the bowl she’d set aside for his visits, filling it with water and putting it down for him. She took the wet shirt from Max and tossed it in the dryer before going to get something for him to drink. “She called maybe half an hour ago, probably not long after she got off the phone with you.”

“She worries too much.”

“She has reason to.” She shook her head and curled up in a corner of the couch to watch him as he prowled around the apartment. It didn’t take long before Diablo was pacing right next to him. “You guys haven’t really been apart since you got together, have you?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Is it obvious?”

She snorted softly. “You’re a little bit cagey, Max.”

“I’m not used to her being gone so long.” Nancy was in San Diego as a guest speaker at a conference for rehabilitation and Liz had gone with her to keep her company. “It’s funny how easily you get used to someone just being there.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I never thought I’d see the day when the two of us had that. On the streets we got so used to just surviving and not depending on anyone but ourselves and each other. We did okay, we survived, but there was so much about life that we just didn’t know.”

“We’ve done good though.”

“Better than we ever could’ve imagined.”

Diablo sat down when his human finally came to rest and he felt an easing in the man. He was lowering himself to the floor to lie down when a sound reached his ears and they snapped forward to locate the source. He straightened back up, his expression alert and curious when the woman stood.

“He’s so in tune with his surroundings,” Ava commented. She slapped her thigh and motioned for the dog to follow her.

Max nodded in agreement and pointed after her when Diablo looked at him and together they followed her into the bedroom. The Doberman moved to the crib she was leaning over and he pressed his nose to the opening between the slats, snuffling as he tried to identify the new scent. After a moment he was able to pinpoint it and his stubby tail started to wag.

Her movements were sure and steady as she picked the baby up and deftly changed and redressed her. “Being a mom suits you,” Max said as he watched her.

“It’s amazing, Max. She changed my life.”

He shook his head. “Getting pregnant with her might have been the catalyst, but you’re the one who turned your life around.”

“With a lot of help. I knew it was a gamble going to the DA, but raising her in that other life just wasn’t an option. When I got pregnant I felt like I’d been given a second chance and I wasn’t gonna waste it.” She looked down when a paw landed on her thigh and she laughed at Diablo when he shook his head and barked quietly. “You just love babysitting duty, don’t you?” While she adored the Doberman she had been nervous about letting her daughter get too close to him at first, but he had slowly showed her that he could be trusted with Cadence.

Diablo dropped down on his haunches and watched intently when his small charge was put on the floor in front of him. His observant gaze never wavered as he waited patiently for her to begin to move. It was more fun now that she was becoming mobile, but it didn’t lesson his watchfulness.

“He’s so gentle with her,” she mused quietly as she and Max followed the duo’s slow progress down the hall. “We had a repairman come out last week to fix the cable when it went out and the guy saw one of the pictures of Cadence and Diablo and he said he’d never trust a Doberman around one of his kids. Like he was questioning my choices as a mother.”

He chuckled. “I’m sure you set him straight.”

“You can bet on that.”

“I get the occasional shortsighted comment like that when we’re out for a run in the park. I had one woman rushing all of her kids away from the path like she thought he was just gonna attack. It’s a shame the breed’s gotten such a bad rep because they’re intensely loyal, protective, and gentle if trained properly. I guess like anything though, humans have the ability to turn those traits into something dangerous and deadly.”

Ava reached over and rubbed his arm. “Given the right set of circumstances even the most gentle nature can be turned, Max. That’s true of any animal or human, you know that.”

“Yeah, I just hate that people are so quick to judge based on nothing more than hearsay. I get that humanity is riddled with imperfection, but does it have to be so judgmental too? People spend so much time tearing each other down, making snap judgments, and essentially doing nothing to change the world but they expect it and everyone in it to bend over backwards for them to make their lives easier.”

“You’ll get no argument outta me.”

“I mean, okay, it’s not true of every single person, but it is for the majority of the people on this rock.”

She laughed as she went into the kitchen to fix a bottle for Cadence. “I don’t know about the majority, but a lot of people are like that.”

Max sat down and watched Diablo as he followed the baby around the room. He reached for his backpack and unzipped it to pull out the simply wrapped gift that he sat in Ava’s spot. She came in from the kitchen as her daughter’s burst of energy seemed to wane and she leaned over to pat Diablo before scooping her up.

“Here, I can take her,” he offered.

“Trying to get some practice in?” Ava teased as she handed Cadence off to her uncle.

“Couldn’t hurt. I’m gonna have a houseful of kids one of these days.”

She laughed and shook her head when her daughter settled into his arms and greedily latched onto the bottle. “Is Liz aware of that?” She picked up the rectangle-shaped item wrapped in brown paper. “What’s this?”

“Why would I bother wrapping it if I was gonna tell you what it is?” He rolled his eyes at her and settled more comfortably back against the cushions. He watched as Cadence reached up and rested one of her tiny hands over his, her fingers curling around his thumb.

“Um-hmm,” she murmured when he didn’t answer her first question. She slid one finger under the seam and pulled the tape free. She peeled the paper back and she turned the picture frame over to look at the photo encased beneath the glass. “Max, where’d you get this?”

He grinned at her. “I went to see my last foster family and they still had it. Mrs. Jackson gave it to me, just asked if I’d let them have a copy of it. Do you mind?”

“No, of course not,” she denied as she gently brushed her fingertips over their younger images. “Look at us, Max.” She laughed quietly and shook her head. “So young and defiant. So ready to take on the world.”

“We gave it our best shot, didn’t we?”

She chuckled. “I’d say we came out pretty good.” She watched him for a few minutes in silence. “You miss him, don’t you? Shakes,” she clarified when he shot a questioning glance in her direction.

He nodded with a slight shrug. “Yeah, I do. I had a feeling he wouldn’t stick around after that whole thing went down. I just hope after everything he did for all of us that he was able to find some peace.”

“I’d bet every penny in that obscenely large check his lawyer gave me that he’s still watching out for you from wherever he is.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine after everything he did that he’d just walk away without knowing how you’re doing.”

He smiled and nodded. “I kinda like that thought.”

“Me too.” She was certain if anything ever happened and Max needed the kind of help Shakes could provide he’d be there no matter what. She reached down to stroke Diablo’s head when he rested his muzzle on her thigh. “How’re your classes going?”

“Great,” he enthused. “Next year I’m gonna take more than one at a time and I’m taking it all the way.”

“You made your decision.”

He nodded. “Doctorate in psychology. It’s gonna take some time, but – “

Diablo’s head shot to the side and he stared at the front door, his nose twitching as he sought out a scent. A moment later a key was inserted into the lock and as the doorknob turned and the door was pushed open he relaxed back into his former position. He nudged the hand that was supposed to be rubbing him when it remained unmoving.

“Honey, I’m home,” Kyle called out as he stepped inside, pulling off the coat he wasn’t wearing so much as using as a shield against the rain. He relinquished his hold on it when Ava joined him, letting her take it and shake it out before hanging it up so it could dry off.

“You’re supposed to wear that, not use it as a hat,” she chastised affectionately.

He laughed and grabbed her around the waist, swinging her around and pressing her back against the door as he lowered his mouth to hers. “We got company?” he murmured against her lips a minute or so later.

“Um-hmm.” She reached up to wipe a bit of lip gloss from his mouth as she met his gaze. “Can you control yourself until after dinner?”

He groaned quietly. “Seriously?”

“It’s just a simple meal. Roast, potatoes, corn on the cob, salad and rolls.”

His stomach rumbled at that. For someone who was self-taught she was amazing in the kitchen. “Just until after dinner?”

She stretched up to kiss him again. “Trust me,” she whispered and nipped his bottom lip.

He heaved a long-suffering sigh and then ruined it with a grin when she just rolled her eyes at him. “Alright, lemme go wash up and then I’ll be sociable for a bit before dinner.” He released her and took her hand, pulling her with him as he walked through the small foyer and into the living room. “Evans, how’s it goin’?” he asked as he leaned over to run his fingers over his daughter’s head.

“Decent,” Max said with a nod. “You?”

“Better and better.”

Cadence pushed the bottle back and grinned at him, mindless of the formula dribbling over her chin as she reached out to him. She made happy sounds when Daddy reached for her and she laughed when he made silly faces at her. She tried her best to dodge him when he moved to wipe the formula from her face but he quickly distracted her by making sounds that she tried very hard to imitate.

Ava watched as the two most important men in her life fell into an easy conversation. She went to put the finishing touches on dinner, listening as the topics quickly turned to their views on how best to make a difference with the kids that nobody wanted. Max and Kyle were both animated as the discussion covered so many areas over the next couple of hours. She chimed in on occasion, enjoying the debate as they would disagree on points from time to time before finding common ground on the next point.

The guys took care of the dishes and she put the leftovers away after setting some aside for Max to take with him. Diablo had made himself comfortable in the bedroom doorway where he could divide his attention equally between Max and Cadence and she wondered what the chances were they could find a dog of their own that would bond so effortlessly with their daughter.

“Well,” Max said as he dried his hands and tossed the dishtowel to Kyle, “we should get outta here and let you guys enjoy your evening.”

“Maybe you should just stay here. You can sleep on the couch,” Ava offered, doing her best to ignore the disbelieving look Kyle was shooting at her.

“I appreciate the offer, but I promised Diablo we’d make a stop at Gourmet Paws for a treat on the way home.” He checked his watch. “We’ve got about forty-five minutes before they close and he’d never forgive me if he didn’t get his cookie. Besides I’ve gotta make sure the order Liz put in for his…” he cleared his throat, “for him for next week will be ready on schedule.”

Kyle’s eyebrows lifted in interest. “For his what, Evans?”

He loved Liz and he’d do anything for her, but this was one of those things that was just beyond his understanding. “His birthday’s next Friday, okay?”

“Wait, so you’re gonna go pick out his birthday cake?”

Diablo’s head jerked up just as Max hissed out a low, “Don’t say it so loud!”

Kyle held his hands up as he glanced over at the dog, wondering if he really understood what they were talking about.

“And no, I’m not picking it out. I’m just supposed to make sure they’ve got the order down the way she called it in.” The longer this conversation dragged out the more embarrassing it was getting. He grabbed his backpack and carried it over to the front door. “Okay, we’re outta here. Let’s go before they close, Diablo.”

The dog was on his feet and at his side in seconds.

“You won’t stay out in the rain too long, right?” Ava asked.

“No, we won’t, Mom,” he teased, shrugging into the coat she held out to him before leaning in to hug her. “Thanks for dinner and the company.” He turned to shake Kyle’s hand. “Feel free to forget all about that last bit of conversation.”

He nodded and shook the man’s hand, waiting until the door closed behind their guests before he snorted. “A birthday cake for the dog?”

“I think it’s sweet and if any dog ever deserved to be spoiled it’s Diablo.” Ava turned around and wrapped her hands around his collar, pulling him close as she leaned back against the door.

Whatever, he thought. Parker had the guy by the short ones. “I talked to Captain Stone today,” he whispered against her lips. “I’m officially out of narcotics.”

“Really? No more undercover?”

He shook his head. “No more undercover work,” he promised.

“Desk sergeant?” she teased as her hands roamed over his shoulders and back.

“Huh-uh, police academy instructor.” He reversed their positions and maneuvered them down the hall, hitting the light switches as they passed them and bouncing off the walls a time or two before they managed to make it into the bedroom. Their laughter mingled, hushed and breathless as they tried to avoid waking their daughter when they managed to trip over the shoes he’d left in the middle of the floor and landed on the bed in a tangle of arms and legs.


Liz set the alarm after stepping inside the house and setting her bags down in the foyer. Some of the lights had been left on low and she kicked her shoes off after hanging her coat up in the closet. She heard the quiet clicking of Diablo’s nails against the steps as he made his way down from the second floor. He welcomed her home with enthusiasm and she patted his side once more before reaching for one of her bags.

“Let’s go see Max.”

He practically bounced over to the staircase and then ran up the stairs. He stopped and turned his head every few steps to check and make sure she was there. On the second level he led the way down the hall to the master bedroom with the double doors standing open wide and bounded across the room to jump up on the bed. He turned in a circle three times before settling down in his spot behind Max.

Liz leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed over her chest as she watched them for a few moments. He had become so accustomed to Diablo sleeping in the bed that it didn’t even bother him when the dog jumped up on the bed and moved all over the place. Her boyfriend was asleep on his side, his right arm outstretched to her side of the bed. Sometimes when she woke up and he wasn’t in bed she caught herself doing the same thing, reaching for him, seeking that connection, needing the contact even in sleep.

Back when she had first met him she couldn’t have imagined needing him on such an intimate level, wouldn’t have wanted to, but now the thought of him not being there was something she didn’t want to think about. He had become as necessary to her as breathing and what was even more amazing than that was the fact that he felt the same way about her. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe they had come so far since their first meeting. She smiled when Diablo shifted and stretched before resting his muzzle on Max’s side.

She could’ve never imagined this outcome in her wildest dreams. His capacity for forgiveness, for caring, his innate sense of kindness, his ability to love without reservation, and the decency that was so much a part of him, she didn’t know how he could have such depth to his soul after all he had been through. His past was a snarled mess of abandonment, abuse, and pain, and sometimes she wondered if that allowed him to have deeper feelings and more empathy than anyone she had ever known.

For the past week she had listened to guest speakers as they shared their successes and failures in the different programs for parolees and for the first time she’d found herself really paying attention to what they were saying. It wasn’t an easy task and it wasn’t one enough people understood or cared about. There was a lot of opposition to the rehabilitation programs and so many of the people at the conference had been quick to speak out against them, to question the need for them, and to express their doubts that the programs really worked.

Several of the people in attendance had asked her opinion, some of them familiar with her previous opinions regarding the program, and she’d declined to comment at the time. She had listened to the negative commentary, some of it by past proponents of different rehabilitative programs, and she had suddenly found herself wanting to speak up in defense of something she had despised less than a year ago.

She had called Max first and after a long conversation with him she had gone to talk to her mother. Diane had been pleasantly surprised by her request and she had known exactly who to go to, which was how she had found herself standing on the stage as the final speaker that afternoon.

“I attended this conference to keep my mom company. It was never my intention to stand up here and say anything. I can’t give you statistics because the truth is, I don’t know what they are beyond what I’ve heard stated this past week. I know they could be better, but I also know they could be a lot worse. My parents have put a lot of time and years into the program they’re affiliated with and I’ve probably been one of their harshest critics over the past few years.”

She took a deep breath and her hand tightened around the phone she held in her right hand. “Several years ago I had a bad encounter with an ex-con and after that I judged every parolee by what one man would’ve done if not for a friend’s willingness to put himself in harm’s way. It’s easy to judge parolees, to write them off because they made the choices that put them in prison in the first place. I know how easy it is because for the longest time it’s what I did.”

She cleared her throat lightly. “I don’t believe that every single parolee in these programs can be rehabilitated. Not because they’re a lost cause or not worth the effort, but because not all of them want to be rehabilitated. You’re in the business of rehabilitation and that’s something that’s desperately needed in this country.”

She paused when someone about a dozen rows back stood and she nodded when he asked if she would take a question.

“Charlie Watson for the Crestwood Rehab Program in San Diego,” he introduced himself with a nod at the people around him. “For someone who was against the program you seem to be an advocate for it now. What changed your mind?”

“I was given the opportunity to get to know a very special parolee. No, I didn’t realize it at the time, but he blew my belief that all criminals are created equal right out of the water. They all have something in common, and that’s the fact that they were engaged in some sort of illegal activity that landed them in prison. And yes, they made the choices that put them there; I’m not excusing that or saying it should simply be swept under the rug. I do believe in punishment for the crime, I believe in restitution, but I also believe in rehabilitation.”

She motioned to a woman in the third row when she stood up.

“Gail Davidson, correctional officer for the Pinewood Facility for Juveniles in Dallas. We see recidivism rates through the roof and it only gets worse the older inmates get. You said it took a special parolee to turn your opinion around, but how did that change your point of view and do you see a way to lower recidivism rates?”

“He showed me that people don’t end up in prison because they’re predisposed to criminal behavior. He taught me that the circumstances surrounding an inmate’s incarceration vary and that for many of them there is a desire to go straight after release, but without guidance, without help, it’s unlikely the parole will be successful. Even when everything falls into place there’s no guarantee the parolee will successfully complete the program and integrate back into society.” She paused and drew in a deep breath. “You asked how I think the recidivism rates can be lowered and I think the best way to do that is to reach these offenders while they’re still young. That’s not to say that older offenders can’t be rehabilitated, but if you want to see an increase in statistics to show that rehabilitation works, we have to get to them when they have the greatest chance of making a change and eventually becoming productive members of society.” She nodded when yet another person stood up and motioned in a request to be heard.

“Nathan Barnes, retired Parole Officer out of Seattle. You’ve said this change of heart is directly related to a parolee and my guess is some sort of relationship has developed between you.”

“You’re wondering if this change of heart is simply a matter of seeing things through rose colored glasses, right?”

He shrugged one shoulder unapologetically. “It’s a fair question.”

“No, you’re right about that and I feel that I can answer that by saying I’m doing my best to approach this thing from an honest standpoint. No, I don’t believe that’s what’s going on. My viewpoint was too jaded for it to be changed overnight and I can assure you it took a lot longer than that. If it was just the man I’m involved with then yes, I’d say it was probably a matter of seeing things that way, but my view’s expanded to encompass so much more than just our situation.”

Gail Davidson stood up again. “Do you have plans to participate in your parent’s program now that your views have changed?”

“No, we’ve actually been bouncing ideas around for a program that’ll allow us to target a younger demographic.” She smiled. “Give us a few years and maybe we’ll have the opportunity to come back here and let you know how it’s working.”

She was pulled out of her musings when Max stirred, shifting onto his back as his eyes slowly opened. “Hey,” she said softly and took his hand when he held it out to her.

“Hey yourself,” he rasped as he gave her hand a firm but gentle tug and pulled her down into his arms for a kiss. “I meant to be awake when you got home.” He leaned back and rubbed his hand over his face to wake himself up. “How was the trip?”

“Very educational but we can talk about that later.” She reached up to run her fingertips over his shadowed jaw. “I missed you.”

Max chuckled when she nudged him over onto his back again and shifted to lie on top of him. “We should rethink it next time we’re looking at a weeklong separation.” His hands settled on her hips and trailed up over her sides as he glanced over at Diablo. “Hey, go check the house.”

Diablo rolled over and dropped his head back against the mattress to look up at him.

“I’d do it for you.”

The Doberman wiggled closer and pressed his nose against warm flesh, snuffling loudly and then getting up when that caused his humans to jump. He bounced back out of reach before twisting his body and landing gracefully on the floor.

“Just for that, make two checks around the house, Diablo,” Max called after the dog. He nodded when Diablo paused in the doorway to turn and look at him and he held two fingers up for emphasis. “Two trips before bed. He does that on purpose,” he grumbled and grabbed the blanket to wipe his side off.

Liz giggled and resituated herself against him. He could grumble all he wanted but she knew he and Diablo would continue to play their games. Most of the time the Doberman managed to sneak into bed at some point but when Max sent him out to check the house so they could be alone he’d make his rounds and then curl up on his pillow and go to sleep.

And after a week apart they definitely needed some time alone.


Max knocked on the door and then slid his hands in his pockets as he took a step back to wait. It was only a matter of seconds before the door was pulled open and he shook his head and whistled under his breath. “I’m gonna be the envy of every man there tonight,” he said with a teasing grin.

Dottie blushed lightly at his compliment and waved him inside. “Max, I’m old enough to be your mother.”

“If you were my mother I’d be the luckiest guy on the planet and I’d still be proud to be seen with you.”

Her eyes glistened with tears as she threw her arms around him. “Whoever let you go was a fool.” She motioned to the living room. “I’m almost ready. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be right out. There’s plenty to drink in the fridge if you’re thirsty.”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“You don’t have to wait for me if you need to get back down to Liz.”

“She said not to rush. We have plenty of time.” They had dinner reservations for six o’clock and tickets for Phantom of the Opera at eight. “And a gentleman never waits in the car and makes his date come down without an escort.”

Dottie chuckled and hurried back to finish getting ready. She paused in the bedroom doorway when the doorbell rang. “Max, would you mind getting that for me?”

“Sure, no problem.” He opened the door just as the doorbell chimed again.

“Mom, I’m – “ The man standing there frowned at him. “Who’re you?”

“A friend of Dottie’s,” Max answered and held his hand out. He wasn’t offended by the man’s suspicious gaze as he shook his hand. He’d be concerned too if she was his mother and a stranger answered her door. “Max Evans. You must be Paul. Your mom talks about you all the time.”

“Yeah.” He stepped inside and closed the door. “Why did you say you were here?”

“Paul, don’t be so rude,” Dottie chastised when she joined them. “Max and I have plans this evening. I didn’t know you were in town.”

Her son shook his head and waved a hand dismissively. “I had some business in the city. I didn’t know if I’d have time for a visit, but my meeting ended early so I came by to take you to dinner.”

Max stared at the man in disbelief. He treated his mother like a chore to be done. The guy was an ass and he’d like to see Dottie tell him off. But he was also her child and he could only imagine how difficult that would be for her because she lived for the rare moments her children decided to remember she existed.

“Well, I’m sorry, Paul,” his mother said with a shake of her head, “but I didn’t know you were going to be in town and I’ve made other plans.”

“I’m sure you can entertain Mr. Evans some other time.”

Max clenched his hands in his pockets before he could do something to the ungrateful man. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Dottie and he knew if he laid a hand on the guy that’s what it would do. “Dottie, we can reschedule,” he offered instead. “I know you don’t get the chance to see your kids very often.”

She smiled appreciatively and shook her head. She had grown to love Max over the last few months. He was a wonderful friend, kind and caring. He was honest with his opinions and they’d had many conversations over coffee, discussing anything and everything. As much as it hurt to know her children cancelled plans and couldn’t seem to find time for her, this wasn’t any better. “We could,” she agreed, “but we’re not going to.”

“If you’re sure.” But inside he was shouting triumphantly. She needed this, needed to be the one in control for a change.

“Does Dad know you’ve taken up with this guy?” Paul asked.

“Don’t disrespect her like that,” Max said before she could respond.

Dottie laid a hand on Max’s arm, feeling the tension there. “It’s alright, Max.” She shifted her attention to her son. “Your dad gave up the right to know who I’m seeing or why when he served me with divorce papers. Now, I’m sure you have an early flight and I appreciate that you came by to squeeze me into your busy schedule, but I have other plans. If you’d called earlier this week I could’ve rescheduled, but I’m not going to cancel at the last minute.”

“Mom, I’ve already missed my flight – “

She smiled sadly and nodded when the truth came out. “And that’s why you stopped by. If you’d had any intention of coming to see me you would’ve called. But that’s alright, Paul, you have your own life and you’re very busy. I just need you to understand that I have a life too. I’m not sitting at home waiting for you and Lori to call anymore.”

He stared at her in shock. “We do call!”

“You call when you can fit me in.” She raised a hand before he could protest. “Now, we’re having dinner and then taking in a show.” She looked at Max. “Do you think our reservation for dinner could be changed from three to four?”

“Sure, that won’t be a problem.”

“You’re welcome to join us for dinner if you’d like, Paul. But we need to be going because Max has made reservations and our tickets are for the eight o’clock show.”

Paul studied the young man standing close to his mother, his eyes guarded and his posture protective. “Well, I suppose if that’s what you want.”

Max glanced at Dottie when she sighed quietly and he nodded when she excused herself to get her purse and wrap. He waited until her bedroom door closed behind her before he shifted his stance and let his hands dangle loosely at his sides. “Don’t make her feel guilty for having a life.”

“This is none of your business, Mr. Evans.”

“If it hurts her it’s my business. You think you can just drop in and act like she oughta be grateful you could find the time to squeeze her in.”

“I’m a very busy man, but I don’t expect you to understand that. What is it you do again? Wash dishes at that restaurant where she works?”

“Sometimes,” he answered with a shrug. He wasn’t embarrassed by his job and he had no problem admitting his vocation to the man.

“Then you have time to go on these little outings with her. I hope you don’t think you can get your hands on her money or worm your way into her will.” Paul straightened to his full height and stared down his nose at the other man. “That little job she has doesn’t pay that well.”

Max didn’t rise to the bait. No, he didn’t know what Dottie’s paycheck looked like, nor was it any of his business, but he knew that Jeff paid his employees well. He was glad she hadn’t shared the news of her windfall with her children. If she had chances were they’d have been by already to pay her a visit and get their greedy hands on her money. He could be completely off the mark with that thought, but he’d hate for that to be the reality. He knew Shakes had sent his lawyer to see her, leaving her with a hefty check that guaranteed she’d have no financial worries for the rest of her life.

It still amazed him that Shakes had known everyone who had somehow touched his life and he’d made certain they were all taken care of. She’d shared the news recently while he’d hung out with her, cleaning up as she finished making pastries that had been specially requested by one of Jeff’s more affluent clients. She’d been confused about why she had been selected to receive the money, certain it was some sort of practical joke. He’d assured her it wasn’t and then agreed to accompany her to the bank the next morning.

It had put a smile the size of Texas on his face as he’d watched the range of emotions chase across her features when the teller at the bank assured her the check was indeed authentic. They had sat there for more than half an hour as she tried to process that information and she’d finally decided to deposit the check into her account until she could figure out what in the world to do with it. He’d expected her to share the news with her children but he’d understood when she’d told him why she hadn’t breathed a word of it to them.

“If I tell them about this money and they suddenly started visiting and having time for me it would take away what little illusion I have left about my importance in their lives.” She’d smiled and patted his arm as they began walking again. “I remember my grandmother telling me something when I was a child and I didn’t really understand it at the time, but now it makes all the sense in the world to me.”

“What’s that?” he’d asked curiously.

“She said, ‘If you can’t be bothered to visit me when I’m alive, don’t bother when I’m dead.’ She was very straight-forward and blunt, but she was right. I’d go with her to visit my grandfather’s grave and on the holidays sometimes we’d run into one of my aunts or uncles and she would just shake her head. They didn’t seem to be able to find the time to visit when he was alive so what was the point of visiting his grave once he was gone?” She’d inhaled deeply and looked up at the sky. “I thought my relationship with my children was better than that, that they’d find time for me after they were grown and married. I know sometimes life gets in the way, that you lose focus of what’s important, but if you can’t find your way back to that, one day you look up and it’s gone.”

“If you have something to say, say it,” Paul snapped when the guy just continued to stare at him.

“You’re wasting the time you have with her and one day down the road that’ll probably haunt you, which it should, but she’s the one who’s paying for it. I know you have a career and a family and you don’t live nearby, but you take several vacations a year. All she wants is a couple days of your time once in a while, maybe a phone call she doesn’t have to initiate, just some sign that you give a damn about her.”

“She knows that.”

“Does she?”

“Of course she does,” he insisted, his tone defensive. “We send flowers on the appropriate holidays, cards and a gift for others.”

“Show up once in a while, Paul. Bring her those flowers in person and take her out to dinner. It would mean everything to her.” He glanced to the side when he heard a door opening. “She’s off the week between Christmas and New Years’ this year. I don’t know if you remember her telling you about that or not, but you told her you already had plans and your sister told her they were gonna be spending the holidays with her in-laws. At least give Dottie a call. That’d mean a hell of a lot more to her than any gift ever will.”

Paul found himself taking everything about his mother in as he accompanied her and the young couple to dinner. She had clearly found a true companion in Max and for the first time in a very long time he saw life in her brown eyes. She was animated as she talked; her expressions and gestures in constant motion. His mother had always been a physically affectionate person but somewhere along the way he’d begun brushing those gestures off and she’d eventually stopped trying out of respect for his wishes.

After his parents had divorced, it had been easier to just let the distance give him an excuse to not have to deal with the situation. He was ashamed to admit that he’d maintained better contact with his father than he had with his mother. His father had moved on easily enough, selling the family home and taking a position with the company that had come with a transfer across the country. It was just easier, he reasoned. His company was based out of Sacramento, his sister’s firm was in San Francisco, and their father’s transfer had taken him to Napa. His mother still lived in New York. It was just the logistics of the thing, that’s all.

He watched her as she laughed at something and he realized that what Evans had said was true. He and his sister were wasting the time they had with their mother. He had his own child now and he knew how precious that time was as a parent, so how had he let his relationship with his own mother slip away? He didn’t believe a parent’s love was finite; the love a parent had for a child was boundless. He hadn’t understood that until the day he’d held his newborn daughter in his hands and realized his life had been forever changed.

He’d canceled plans with his mother more than once the past few years, he’d taken vacations with his family and only included her once, he’d spent time improving his golf game rather than flying back to visit or inviting her out to stay with them for a while. He knew Lori had done the same thing, only her preferred hobby was Magnus, the thoroughbred she owned and trained with for show jumping competitions.

He joined in the conversation from time to time but mostly he just watched his mother, observing her interaction with the young couple. There was a time their relationship had been just as open and easy, but he’d allowed his time to be consumed by work, his family and hobbies. He’d let his relationship with his mother fall by the wayside and while she didn’t love him any less and she wasn’t using Max to replace him, he knew he needed to take steps to repair things between them.

He was pulled out of his musings when Max reached for the leather folder that had been placed next to him on the table. He realized he’d completely missed it when his mother and Liz excused themselves, leaving him alone at the table with the other man. “I’d like to get that if it’s alright,” he offered.

Max shook his head. “That’s not necessary.”

“Maybe not, but you’ve reminded me about something that’s very important in life, something that I’ve taken for granted, and because of that I have an opportunity to rectify the situation. So, that being said, I’d appreciate it if you’d allow me to pay for dinner. Call it my way of saying thanks or maybe my way of apologizing for my earlier behavior.”

Paul pulled his credit card out and slipped it into the holder when Max finally handed it over. “You and my mother have a close relationship.”

“Dottie’s a great lady and she’s fun to hang out with.”

He nodded. “Would you happen to know if she’s made any plans for her time off over the holidays?”

“We’re having a dinner party at our place on Christmas Eve and she’ll be there but other than that she doesn’t have anything locked down.”

“Maybe that’ll change.” He would talk to his wife and discuss the situation and then he would call his sister. Christmas was just a couple of weeks away. It wasn’t too late to change their plans.

Max smiled. “She’d like that.” He’d used the last couple of months to settle into his new life and to mentally gear up for the next step. He was finally ready to take it and he’d made up his mind to make that call before leaving the house to pick Dottie up for dinner.


Alex glanced up from the composition he was working on when he heard the sound of footsteps in the hallway. He leaned back from the keyboard to stretch just as the door to the studio burst open and Jenny rushed inside. She was off of the crutches and out of the walking casts with less than a week to go before Christmas.

“Dad, I’m here, I’m here!”

He chuckled and shifted to catch her in his arms when she barreled into him with enthusiasm. “How was school?”

“It was fun.” She wrinkled her nose. “Walter said I told a lie about being in a concert.”

“Well, you’ll just prove him wrong when you go back to school after the first of the year, won’t you?”

Jenny grinned and nodded. “You didn’t practice without me, did you?”

“Nope.” He motioned to the sheet music he’d been working on. “Just going over the composition and making sure it’s perfect.”

“It is.” She reached out to run her fingers over the notes she still didn’t understand. “Where’s Mom?”

“She had a lunch date.”

“Oh. Did she go to meet Uncle Max?” Her eyes widened. “Do I get to meet him now?”

He smiled as her questions were fired off. She was so excited about the fact that her family was growing and she was flourishing under all of the attention. They’d spent Thanksgiving upstate with his family and she’d quickly wrapped her new grandparents around her little finger. “She did go to meet Uncle Max and we’ll see what Mom thinks when she comes home. And in the meantime,” he nodded at one of the guitar cases leaning against the wall, “why don’t you bring that over here so I can pack the bass up.”

Jenny ran over to grab it, carefully closing it and slapping the latches into place before wrapping her arms around it and bringing it to him. “Are we goin’ somewhere?”

“We’re gonna head over to the studio for practice with the band.”

“Are Grandma and Grandpa coming to the concert to see us?”

He chuckled as he carefully placed the bass inside the case and let her snap the latches into place and set it down. “Wild horses couldn’t keep them away, sweetheart.”

“They’re real proud of you, an’ not just ‘cause you’re gonna be in the concert like you used to be. You know how sometimes Mom gets that look like she’s maybe gonna cry,” she shook her head, “but she doesn’t, she just kinda looks like it? Grandma looked like that when she was talkin’ to Mom about you. Grandpa did too, but he said there was some dust in his eye.” She made a face. “It wasn’t dust ‘cause there wasn’t any wind or anything but Grandma just held his hand and told him it was okay.”

He was sure Dad would appreciate just how observant Jenny was.

“Mom said it was better if we just let Grandpa believe it was dust.” She wrinkled her nose. “Do you think he really believed that?”

“What do you think?” he asked as he reached for his crutches and slid his arms into the forearm cuffs.

Jenny picked the guitar case up with both hands wrapped around the handle and she looked up at him as they left the room and made their way to the foyer. “I think boys don’t like it when they cry so they make up stories so no one knows they do it sometimes.” She shrugged and set the case down so she could open the coat closet. “It’s like when Shawn Winters in Preston’s class hit him in the face with the football. It made him cry but then he got mad when the teacher asked if he was okay.” She made a face. “Sometimes boys are just really weird, Dad.” She tipped her head back to look up at him as she shrugged into her coat. “Did Mom ever think you were weird?”

He laughed out loud at her question, shifting his weight to one side and releasing one of the crutches for her to hold while he slid his arm into the sleeve of the coat Elena was holding for him. He’d never figured out how the woman knew to just show up but she always did. It was like some sort of sixth sense or something. “Thanks, Elena.”

“You two have fun and I’ll see you back here for dinner.” She had opened the door and motioned for the chauffer to come inside for the guitar case and saw them safely into the car before closing the door again.

“Dad? You didn’t answer my question,” Jenny reminded him as they settled into their seats.

“I think by the time your mom and I met we were beyond that stage where we thought that about each other. Sometimes, especially when we were younger, there were things that maybe made us look at each other funny once in a while.”

“Really? Like what?”

Alex reached over to make sure she was securely belted into her seat before nodding at the chauffer. “Well, she thought I was a little goofy because I think aliens are fascinating and there are times I thought she was kinda goofy because it took her hours to get ready whether we were going to the library or to a movie.”

“She still takes a long time to get ready, huh?”

“Yeah, but it’s always worth it,” he said with a wink.

“Preston thinks she’s most prettiest girl he’s ever seen.”

“I’d have to say he’s got great taste.”

“Ooh, looky!” She craned her neck to see out the window as they drove along Fifth Avenue.

Alex watched her with a fond smile on his face. They had attended the tree lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center earlier that month and Josh and Teresa had joined them with their four girls. Afterwards Isabel and Teresa had gone window shopping along Fifth Avenue with Jenny and the two oldest girls while Alex and Josh set up camp at a nearby coffee shop with his two youngest.

He hadn’t become a wallflower after the accident but having Jenny in his life had drawn him out. He was getting out more and her childish enthusiasm for absolutely everything was reminding him of how much he enjoyed getting out and experiencing life. It was because of her that he had decided to accept Brent’s invitation to join the band for their local concert and while he had been hesitant at first, when he’d asked her if she’d like to be there, to participate, her joyous response had been exactly what he needed to know his decision was the right one.

No, he hadn’t stopped living after the accident, but making Jenny a part of their family had made such a difference. She had filled a hole they hadn’t even known was there and he couldn’t imagine their lives without her now.


Max glanced up, taking in the familiar surroundings for a few moments before dropping his gaze back down to his cell phone. He dragged his fingertip across the screen, holding his position briefly before releasing it. His bird went flying across the screen and he huffed an annoyed breath when it fell short of its goal. He looked around and then went back to the game, repeating the process and thumping his fist against the table when his bird achieved its goal.

“My fiancé is addicted to that game.”

He lifted his head to look at the woman who had spoken and he smiled when he saw his sister standing there. “It’s easy to get addicted to it.” He shrugged as he motioned to the seat across from him. “It’s ridiculous but there’s just something…”

“About getting to that next level,” she laughed and finished his sentence. She placed her purse on the seat between her body and the wall after sliding into the booth. The restaurant was very upper class and required reservations that weren’t easy to get hold of. She’d been surprised when he suggested it but then he’d told her he’d be getting off early and she’d realized it was where he worked. “I’d like to apologize for the way I approached you last time. I didn’t know how to tell you without just telling you but I didn’t mean to hit you with it.”

He chuckled and waved her apology off. “There’s really no other way to say it and you have nothing to apologize for. I’m sorry I came back at you like I did. There’s no excuse for what I said to you. There was a reason but that’s not an excuse. I’m no saint but as a rule I don’t talk to people like that, especially women.”

“Apology accepted.” It wasn’t necessary because he’d apologized that same day but since it seemed important to him she accepted it with an understanding smile.

They ordered drinks when Gus stopped by their table and after they were delivered he turned his glass between his hands for a few moments. “I’m not exactly sure what you expect from me.”

Isabel shook her head. “There are no expectations, just the hope that we can get to know each other and build a relationship.”

He considered what she had said for several minutes before nodding. “I’d like that. But maybe I should tell you about my past so you know what you’re getting into.” He spun his phone around on the table to keep his hands occupied. “You deserve to know the truth before – “

“Max, before you go any further with that I’d like to say something.” She waited until he nodded. “If you feel it’s necessary that’s fine, but it’s not to me. I knew everything I needed to know about you the day we met.”

He frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Alex got in your face after what you said and you could’ve hurt him but you didn’t.”

He shook his head with a quiet laugh. “Is he always like that?”

“Alex has a very laid back personality but he also has a very strong sense of right and wrong. It’s something that’s deeply ingrained in the men in his family. Dad was like that too. Who knows, maybe that’s where you get it from.” She dragged a finger around the rim of her glass. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading from the psychological standpoint since we adopted our daughter.” She glanced at him to gauge his reaction.

“I recently took a psyche course and there’s a good chance that you’re right. I wish I had more recall of that time but,” he shrugged, “I don’t remember him. Honestly, I don’t really remember you either. Sometimes I have dreams and there’s a little blonde girl but when I wake up whatever the dream was, it’s gone. It makes sense the girl would be you though.”

“Do you remember much about our mother?”

“I remember enough to know I don’t wanna know more.”

“Yeah. We hired a private investigator this past spring to look for you and he found her. She’s something else. It’s funny because I remember you but very little about her.”

“Selective memory can be a good thing.” Max chuckled. “She’s not worth the effort it takes to recall the memories.”

“What she did to you is unforgivable.”

“A friend told me a while back that there’s a special place in hell for people like that.” He reached up to rub the back of his neck. “That P.I. you hired…”

Isabel reached over to cover his hand with hers. “What happened to him isn’t your fault, Max. I questioned myself after we learned about his death but the police officer we spoke to said he wasn’t just looking for you. They said he’d started his own investigation into the Knight organization and he was caught.”

He was silent for a few minutes, taking in everything she had said. “I’m surprised your fiancé didn’t come with you.”

“Alex is in studio today.”

“He’s a musician?”

She nodded proudly. “They have a concert at Radio City Music Hall on the twenty-ninth. It’ll be the first time he’s performed since the accident.”

His eyebrows lifted. “That orchestra thing? Wow,” he went on when she confirmed with a nod. “My girlfriend’s going with a friend.”

“Not your kind of music?”

“No, it’s not that,” he said with a laugh. “Maria won the tickets on some radio contest and her fiancé wasn’t interested in going so she called and asked Liz to go. Really, I think they’re just going because they want to try and meet one of the guys in the band. The drummer, I think.” He rolled his eyes as he remembered the conversation he’d overheard between the two of them as they went on about all of the guy’s attributes. He was pretty sure they’d regressed about ten years in that short amount of time.

“That would be Dean and there won’t be a shortage of women trying to get past security to meet him.” She knew extra security had been put in place to ensure Alex’s safety. He was popular but he’d been out of the spotlight for quite a while and it was easy for well-meaning fans to become overwhelming, especially since his ability to walk was limited.

“Well, they’ll have their work cut out for them because Liz and Maria seem to be looking forward to the challenge.” He took a drink of his tea. “What made you decide to look for me?”

“Dad told me about you the night of the accident.” She swallowed with difficulty and shook her head when he started to speak. “It’s okay.” She cleared her throat quietly. “Up until that night I thought you just existed in my mind. But when he told me about you I realized what I had thought was just childish memories of a companion I’d made up were actual memories and suddenly they became so much clearer.”

She smiled. “I found some of Dad’s files and got other bits of information from his lawyer. I have them in the car if you’d like to take a look at them.”

“You want me to look at your dad’s files?”

“They’re files he kept on you. I don’t think there’s anything that would jog your memory about either of us, but I thought you might wanna know that he never forgot about you.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Besides,” she said with a grin, “if I loan you the files you have to agree to see me again so you can give them back.”

Max laughed and shook his head. “I don’t think you have to worry about that as long as that’s what you want.”

“I hope it’s what we both want.”

He met her gaze evenly. “I’d like to really tell you about myself, Isabel. Just lay my cards out on the table so you know what you’re getting into with me.”

“As long as you understand it’s not something you have to do.”

“You deserve to know the truth.”

“Then let’s order lunch and get to the truth.”

Something in him eased when she agreed and after he flagged Gus down they placed their order and he launched into his story. He started at the beginning, opening up and sharing his story with her. He told her about his childhood, the foster homes, his decision to run away, his friendship with Ava, his time on the streets, his association with Knight, the arrest that had landed him in prison, and then explained the situation since his release.

He talked all through lunch, answering her questions when they arose, and leaving out graphic details. He was able to tell the story without sharing those images and no one needed to have them stuck in their head if they could avoid it. They barely noticed when one of the busboys came by to clear the table, so deeply involved in their conversation.

“I’m no longer involved in that life but I can’t promise there won’t be repercussions down the road,” he said as he started to wind down. “I wasn’t anybody important in the organization but the people we took down have a long memory and there’s always gonna be a risk that one or more of them could want revenge at some point.”

“Alex and I have talked about that. Several times in fact. We spent a lot of time discussing it when we adopted Jenny because we knew our decisions would affect her and when it was all said and done we arrived back at our original decision.” She rummaged around in her purse when her cell phone started to chime, checking the message and sending one back to Alex. “There are no guarantees in life either way so all we can really do is to make the best of our situation. You can’t really live if you try to balance on the edge of ‘what if?’ because it’s just a matter of time before you fall on one side or the other. There’s enough negativity in life so we try to focus on the positive and when bad things crop up we’re a little better prepared to deal with them.” She paused a moment. “I appreciate your concern and I want you to know we took your past into consideration before we made our decision. Your past made you into the man you are and from everything I’ve learned about you I’ve come to the conclusion that my initial thought was the right one: I knew everything I needed to know about you the day we met.”

He nodded. “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you never regret the trust you’re putting in me.”

“I believe you.” Isabel smiled. “Your niece is very excited about meeting you.”

“I never saw myself with family and friends and suddenly they’re everywhere.” He glanced up and nodded when Gus came by to let him know he was leaving for the day and to ask if he needed anything before he left. He glanced at her before turning his attention back to the older man. “We’re good, thanks, Gus. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Is it too much too soon?”

“No, no,” he denied with a wave of his hand. “I’m looking forward to all the chaos and I can’t wait to meet Jenny. Can I ask why you made the decision to adopt?”

“Alex and I have always known we wanted to be involved in fostering children and we had been cleared before the accident. After it happened we had to put those plans on hold. Jenny was a resident at MacArthur House when we met her and her handicap allowed her to bond with Alex.”

“So you decided to adopt rather than foster?”

“She’d already been through the foster system and she wasn’t adjusting very well. She was an easy target for bullies, her ability to trust was just about shot, and she needed the stability of a home she knew was permanent. We knew from the moment we met her that we wanted to give her a home.”

“I think that’s great.” Max reached for his phone when it started to vibrate, checking the message and thumbing one back to Liz before setting it down again. “I’ll bet she’s pretty excited about Christmas.”

“That would be an understatement,” she agreed with a laugh. “Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning this year.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Sorry,” she apologized when her phone went off again.

He just laughed when his went off before she’d even picked hers up. “I guess they’re getting a little impatient to know how things are going.” He checked the message and glanced at his sister as he held his phone up. “Dinner reminder, what about you?”

“Same here.” She checked the time and her eyes widened in surprise. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so late.” She punched in a message and sent it. “I really should get going. We try to stay on a schedule with Jenny and she spent the day in studio with Alex so she’s gonna have a lot to talk about at dinner.”

He motioned to Maryann and she nodded, holding two fingers up to let him know she’d bring the check soon. “Do you have plans for Christmas Eve?” he asked as he sent a response to Liz to let her know he’d be home in half an hour, give or take a few minutes.

“We have something planned for early that afternoon but our evening is free.”

“We’re having some friends over around five for dinner and to just spend some time together. It’d be nice if you and your family could make it.”

“It sounds like fun. I’ll check with Alex and give you a call.”

He smiled when Maryann came by with the check, thanking her as he accepted the leather folder. While he was signing the receipt and filling in the tip they talked about the things they had left to do before Christmas arrived. Afterwards they collected their coats and walked outside and they waited while the valet brought her car around.

“Do you need a ride home?” Isabel asked when she realized he hadn’t handed the valet a stub.

“No, I’ve got it covered, thanks.”

“Oh, they probably know your car since you work here.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I don’t have a car.” He shrugged. “Actually, I don’t even know how to drive but around here I don’t see that as a bad thing.” He held his phone up. “My girlfriend sent the family chauffer for me. I think she’s worried I might walk home and catch pneumonia.”

Isabel glanced around. “Well, if you go for a long walk in this weather that’s definitely a potential risk.” Her eyes automatically scanned over her car when the valet pulled up in front of them and she slipped him a tip when he handed her the keys. She moved to the rear of the car and opened the trunk, reaching for the accordion file folder and holding it out to her brother. “If you have any questions or you just wanna talk or anything you have my number.”

Max accepted the folder and tucked it under his jacket, carefully shielding it from the light snowy mist that was falling. “Thanks, Isabel.” He grinned with a shrug. “And that goes for me too. I work until two Monday through Friday but after that I’m free. If you get my voicemail I promise I’ll call back as soon as I can.”

“Would a hug make you uncomfortable?”

“No, not at all.” He pulled her into a one-armed hug, making sure he didn’t lose his grip on the folder. “I’m glad you came today.”

“I’m glad you called.” She stepped back and smiled as she walked around the car and opened her door. “I’ll talk to you soon, Max.”

“Count on it, Isabel.”

He stood there for a few minutes after she pulled away, watching her car until it disappeared from sight. Their meeting had gone even better than he’d dared to hope and he inhaled deeply as a feeling of peace enveloped him.

“Mr. Evans?”

He turned when a male voice called his name and he nodded when he recognized the driver that worked for the Parker family. The man opened the door and waited while he stepped inside before closing it again and hurrying around to climb in behind the steering wheel. He settled back into the comfortable leather seat and dropped his head back to rest against it as they pulled out into the evening traffic. He opened his coat and pulled the folder out, sitting it on the seat beside him and resting his hand on it. He didn’t know what all was contained in the folder but he was looking forward to learning more about his past as well as Philip Evans. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Liz how the meeting with his sister had gone.

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 63 - 7/12/15

Post by L-J-L 76 » Sun Jul 12, 2015 10:41 pm

Another great chapter!!!! Everyone seems very happy. I hope Max and Liz will have a happy ending like all the other couples.

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 63 - 7/12/15

Post by sarammlover » Mon Jul 13, 2015 2:23 pm

Oh love love love this! The meeting with Isabel could not have gone any better. I am so happy they got to have that reunion finally and be with just each other. Amazing. I am so grateful Max has gotten this opportunity to rehabilitate and integrate back into society with a strong network of family and friends. Jenny's story continues to amaze me. How lucky Alex and Isabel are to have adopted such an amazing little girl into their world....and in turn Jenny is just as lucky. A wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!!

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 63 - 7/12/15

Post by keepsmiling7 » Mon Jul 13, 2015 3:28 pm

Wonderful, and amazing.
My favorite in the story is Diablo........sleeping in Max and Liz's bed.......
Loved Liz's speech about parolees. She's certainly had the opportunity to change her mind.
Everyone is on a happy trail, just hope things will end perfect for Max and Liz.

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Re: Prisoners of the Past (CC, A/U, Adult) Part 63 - 7/12/15

Post by Natalie36 » Mon Jul 13, 2015 8:50 pm

great part :D

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