Coincidence, Fate, and Murder

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Chapter 3: A Test of Sanity

Four in the morning, and I can't believe I'm awake, Kantor thought. He glanced briefly at his new wife, who was sleeping soundly beside him. They had married only two days ago. It had certainly taken long enough to get here, he thought as he lay back in bed and began to stare at the ceiling. His eyelids grew heavy as he mulled over the major events of the last several months.

It had taken nearly four and a half months of constant pushing to convince Ty Lanigan to consent to the divorce his estranged wife demanded. Even from his prison cell, he hung onto her, refusing to let go. By that time, Rylie was more than seven months pregnant. Together, they decided to wait to be married until after the birth of their baby.

In what Kantor felt was typical for major events in his life, the birth of his and Rylie's child was nothing less than tense. Rylie's labor pains began at dawn. The ride to the hospital was uneventful, as was the admissions process. Once Rylie was taken back to a birthing room, however, things went totally awry. Her blood pressure shot up and the baby's heart rate slowed down. Kantor was certain he would lose them both. He found himself praying harder than he had ever prayed. Please, please, not again, he remembered begging.

He recalled staying at Rylie's side, not budging an inch. Heavily medicated, she really didn't know what was going on. But he did. He held onto her hand and continued to beg for her life, to pray that he would not be forced to say goodbye to another love. After an agonizingly long wait, Rylie's blood pressure stabilized, and an emergency C-section was performed. Both Rylie and Kantor were rewarded with a healthy squalling baby boy. It had been awhile since he had held an infant in his arms. He remembered finding himself once again emotionally overwhelmed as he held his son for the first time. As with his daughter, he shed a few tears as he gazed into the face of a child he would love and cherish his entire life. He had never thought he would have another opportunity to feel this happy.

Rylie and Kantor named their son Levi Nicolas. After a week's stay in the hospital, both mother and child were released to go home. There were plans to be made. At eight weeks of age, Levi attended the wedding of his parents, along with his older sister and grandmother.

Neither Rylie nor Kantor wanted a traditional wedding. They were intimately, but elegantly, married in the backyard of their home. Kantor's former colleague, Zach Briscoe, gave away the bride. There were very few guests in attendance. They invited the people they cared for the most. However, one unexpected guest attended without an invitation. Kantor, whose attention was focused solely on Rylie, hadn't noticed until after the ceremony ended.

The guest had tried to stay hidden from Kantor, and when she noticed his eyes on her, she had tried to escape. However, Nasya's eyes were sharper than her father's.

"KT," Nasya squealed as she ran to her.

"Hiya, Abby," KT said meekly as she scooped the child into her arms.

Kantor gazed down at Rylie. "Give me a few minutes," he asked.

She nodded, understanding. He had told her about KT, and she knew that Nasya was still very attached to her. "Of course. Go ahead."

Kantor left the side of his new wife and approached KT and his daughter. For a very long moment, they said nothing. She couldn't even look at him. She gave Nasya one last big hug before setting her down on her feet.

"Can I have a few minutes with your dad," KT asked her.

Nasya's beautiful face held a bright ear-to-ear smile. "Sure. Do you wanna see my little brother?"

"Maybe later, kiddo."

Both Kantor and KT watched as Nasya flounced away toward her grandmother and Rylie. KT noticed how Kantor's eyes followed his daughter before settling on his new wife, who was holding their infant son. KT saw the overwhelming love for her in his eyes. It hurt to see that, but she was genuinely happy he had found someone who wanted the same things in life as he.

"I'm sorry I crashed your wedding," KT said suddenly.

Kantor tore his eyes away from Rylie and focused them on KT's face. "You didn't crash it. Regardless of what happened to us, Nas loves you, and it makes her day when she sees you."

He wanted to express his gratitude, to tell her that she had been responsible for breaking him out of a self-pitying depressed funk that had consumed him for six years. She had basically taught him how to love again, had given him the courage to want to marry a second time. He hesitated. It might not have come out right. He didn't want to hurt her again.

"You look good," she said, and meant it.

She had heard through the grapevine that he had left his position at the police department several months after an injury nearly crippled him for life. However, if she hadn't known that information in advance, she wouldn't have even suspected it. He stood tall and lean, with only the slightest hint of a limp. Yet, he was different. He seemed more relaxed and happy. His hair had grown out a lot, and his chiseled features had softened. His resignation from the police department had actually taken about five years off his age.

"So do you."

"I want to congratulate you and wish you the best. I can see that you're very happy, and you deserve it," she said.

"Thanks, KT. I'm glad you came," he told her.

"So am I," she said. "I think I'll go and say goodbye to Abby. I have a plane to catch."

"You can come see her any time you wish," he said.

She smiled a little and nodded. "That sounds great."

However, she wouldn't do that. It was time to let go of Nasya and Kantor. It was time to allow them both to move on. She had goofed when she pushed him away. She knew that now, had known it since he broke the news about his new love so long ago. Although she had a few regrets, if she had her life to live over again, she was sure she would have made the same decision.

They shared a brief and awkward hug. When she pulled away, he stood back and watched as she left him for the last time.

Kantor's eyes snapped open again. He looked over at Rylie, and she was still asleep. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. Behind him, Rylie stirred. She rose up and wrapped her arms around him. She placed a gentle kiss on his shoulder blade.

"Are you okay, Falk," she asked.

"Yes, I'm wonderful. Just a bit of insomnia."

"I have a cure for that," she said as she drew back a few inches and brought herself to her knees. Her hands fell upon his shoulders, and moved up the base of his throat, and then back down again. "Better?"

"No," he said.

She stopped and moved away. "No?"

He turned toward her with a smile. "No." He leaned toward her and kissed her. "Now it's better," he said against her lips.

"Have I told you today that I love you," she asked.

"Not yet," he said, smiling against her lips. He lowered her back down to the bed.

"We're newlyweds, we're not supposed to worry about insomnia. Insomnia is a good thing."

He moved his hand down to cup one of her breasts. His thumb caressed the nipple until it was hard and swollen. His lips captured it, drawing it into his mouth. Her fingers went into his hair.

"Oh, Falk," she sighed. "I love you so much."

His lips moved up to claim hers. During the kiss, they switched positions. Rylie broke the kiss and allowed her lips to move over his chest. Her teeth nipped each of his nipples before moving downward. He didn't move; he didn't touch her. He simply allowed her to have her way with him. As her soft mouth and wet tongue began to move lower, he closed his eyes tightly and sighed. He plunged his hand momentarily into her hair, caressing it, as her tongue made lazy circles in the course black hair that began just below his navel and made a straight line to his increasingly stiffening member. She almost smiled as she recalled how she and her high school friends had called that line of hair the 'treasure trail.'

She moved and allowed her lips to slide down his leg, the one he had nearly lost so many months ago. It was scarred a bit, and her tongue traced along the scar tissue slowly and lovingly. The scars were fresh and sometimes sensitive to the touch. It tickled more than hurt, and Kantor felt gooseflesh forming where her lips had settled. It was not an altogether unpleasant sensation. She had a habit of making a beeline to his sensitive areas, and he was virtually reduced to a begging little boy before all was said and done.

"You're trying to kill me, aren't you," he asked, his voice deepened by lust.

She smiled and slid her body upward. "No," she said, meaning 'yes.' Her lips met his briefly, teasingly. Her teeth nipped his bottom lip gently.

Rylie straddled his waist and ran her hands along his chest and up to his face. She leaned down and kissed him again. She broke the kiss after a few moments, pulling back, as his thumbs teased her nipples, hardening them. He slipped his hands down to the side swell of her breasts and he gently guided her body over him. His lips encircled one nipple, his tongue flicking it. After a few torturous moments, he moved to the other. His mouth then moved to the soft valley between her breasts, and Rylie propped her hand against the wall to avoid toppling on top of him.

Soon, their lips joined again, and he felt the moistness of her against him. After the kiss was broken, she slid her body partially off his. Her hand fell upon him, stroking maddeningly slow. With every other stroke, her thumb and forefinger squeezed the tip of him gently. He drew in a hissed breath each time.

With tremendous effort, Kantor took hold of Rylie's wrist. Innocently, she blinked her eyes at him. "My dear, sweet wife," he said. "You don't know how much it pains me to stop what you're doing."

She smiled and moved to straddle him again. "Okay," she said teasingly. "I'll stop playing around."

He kept his eyes locked with hers as she lifted her body slightly. His hands went to each side of her waist. She grasped him, firmly but gently, between two fingers. With his guidance, she slid him into her slowly, deeply. As she began to thrust her body against his, his hands fell upon her buttocks and gripped them firmly. Every so often, Rylie thrust her body upward, nearly releasing her grip on him, only to wait a few seconds before sliding him back inside her. Kantor would grunt in protest at each release only to moan lustily as she continued.

His hands slid up to her breasts and he cupped them into his hands possessively. "I thought you were going to stop playing around," he asked with a moan.

She smiled as she did her release/grip trick again. "I lied."

A wicked grin touched his lips as he took the opportunity to switch positions. Having the upper hand now, he slipped into her, filling her, completing her. She wrapped her legs around him, digging her heels into his buttocks to drive him even deeper. She matched his frenzied thrusts and dug her nails into his back. Crazily, she recalled that he once joked that if she didn't trim her fingernails, she would give him a bad infection. At that moment, she wasn't thinking about that. She needed all of him.

A small cry escaped her lips as she came. She told her new husband that she loved him as a second orgasm shook her seconds after her first. He groaned softly as his own release surged forth. Strong bursts of fluid exited him, entering her, and her body drank it in as if it were some kind of magic elixir.

"I love you, Rylie," he said breathlessly, "but some day, you're going to be the death of me."

She laughed and wrapped her arms around his shuddering body. "Well, we could always have a celibate marriage. Would you like that," she asked.

"Um, let me think about that for a few minutes…NO."

She laughed again, and he lay his body atop hers, burying his face into her soft hair. "I thought that's what you would say," she told him. She ran her hand up his neck and through his hair. "Falk?"

"Mmm," he grunted lazily without moving a muscle.

"Would you mind terribly if I asked you to move? I have to pee," she whispered.

He rose up and looked at her, his mouth gaped wide open. For a moment, he wasn't sure he had heard her correctly.

She laughed out loud. His expression was priceless. "I'm not kidding, Falk, I really have to go."

Laughing himself now, he moved off her, and covered his face with his hands for a moment. "Rylie, you're not the shy type, are you? We make love and you need to pee. It's almost like you're still pregnant."

Stark naked, she jumped up from the bed and ran into the bathroom. "Well, lover, when you gotta go, you gotta go," she called.

He lay back and propped his head on his arm. He had little time to get comfortable. The phone located on Rylie's side of the bed began to ring. Wondering who would be calling them at this hour, during their honeymoon, he reached over and snagged the ringing telephone. Rylie, who had donned a silk robe, came to stand in the doorway. She watched him cautiously. Every bit a new mother, she was sure something had happened to the baby.

"Hello," he said into the phone.

"Falk? I don't mean to disturb you, but I need to speak to you."

It was his mother's voice, and for a moment, he became alarmed. "Mom? Are you okay? Is something wrong with the kids?"

Rylie approached the bed and sat on the bedside facing Kantor. "Falk? Is something wrong?"

He shook his head as he listened to his mother's voice on the other line. Quietly, and with concern, Rylie watched Kantor's expression change from one of worry to shock. Not looking at her, he reached for her hand, and she took it. She wanted to speak, but wasn't sure if he'd talk to her.

Finally, after a seeming eon, he spoke. "Okay, Mom. I'll talk this over with Rylie and see what we need to do." He hung up the phone and didn't immediately make eye contact with his wife.

"Falk? What is it? The kids are okay, aren't they?"

He looked up at her and nodded. "S-sure," he stammered. "They're fine."

She tightened her grasp on his hand. "What is it," she asked again.

"Mom received a bizarre phone call tonight," he said. "She said a woman called claiming to be Selarah's adoptive mother. She came to Florida on vacation, and said that someone at Radner told her that Selarah had married and had a child. She apparently didn't know about Nas, and she wants to see her."

"Falk, I don't understand. Why would she surface after so much time has passed? How could she not know about her granddaughter?"

"That was Selarah's way, Rylie. She never talked about her family. Never even mentioned anyone when we were married or when Nas was born. I can't believe how much I never knew about her, how much I will never know."

Rylie said nothing. Kantor rarely spoke about his first wife. She had never pried, as she knew Selarah's death had scarred him more than anything ever had or would again.

"I met her when she was a recruit at a police academy affiliated with the Radner Police Department," he said, continuing. "I was a different person back then, hard and bitter. She was just like me, and I was immediately drawn to her. We fought a lot, but I loved her so damn much. We parted, badly, after she lost our child, and when I was nearly killed by a perp's bullet." He moved her hand briefly to his chest and rested it on his scar. "We remained separated for five years, but we eventually reunited and were married five months before Nas was born. I never pried. I never pushed to know about her past or her family. It didn't matter to me. We had each other, and then we had Nas. It was all the family we needed. After she was murdered, it bothered me not knowing who to call, who to contact on her behalf. And now, this woman appears, claiming to be Nasya's grandmother."

At a loss of words for a moment, he stopped speaking. Rylie gave his hand another squeeze. "Go on," she prodded gently. "Let it out."

He sighed and nodded. "What am I supposed to do now? How am I supposed to allow this visit to happen? I've said very little to Nasya about her mother. She knows what her mother looked like, and she knows Selarah is dead, but nothing else. She's been out of Nasya's life since she was only three months old. I haven't effectively dealt with her death, and I've never tried to explain it to Nas, not even in the most basic terms. For God's sake, Rylie, she's never even been to the cemetery. I've tried to protect her, to shield her, but I've done the wrong thing for so long. I wasn't protecting her; I was protecting me. I'm so fucking selfish, Rylie. It's all going to come back and bite me in the ass. I think I deserve it."

She pulled him toward her and drew him into her embrace. "You're a wonderful father, Falk. Nas absolutely adores you," she said, her voice falling in his ear. "Being a single parent is difficult, and you've done such a wonderful job with her. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself."

"I love you," he whispered.

"I love you, too. And I love you more for sharing that with me. I know it wasn't easy."

He pulled back a bit and kissed the side of her throat. "I can see the advantages of marrying a counselor," he said, grinning against her throat.

She moved away so that she could kiss him. "Hey, I am charging by the hour, you know."

"I get a special discount, don't I," he asked against her lips. "I mean, I am your husband, you know."

She flicked her tongue in and out of his mouth, touching his tongue, teasing him. "We might be able to work something out in trade."

His thumb began to caress a nipple that was desperately straining against her robe. "You think," he asked, his voice low and husky.

Rylie shivered as a delicious tingle began to consume her body. When his voice was low and sexy like that, she literally melted. "Maybe," she said softly.

Kantor moved back a bit and untied her robe. "You shouldn't have bothered with this at all," he said, with the same low/sexy voice.

Her hand caressed his scruffy cheek as he opened the robe and moved his hands over her breasts. "You can't be ready to go again," she asked with a teasing smile.

"I'm pretty sure I can be," he said.

She took a quick peek below his waist. She then focused her eyes on his face. With a smile, she said, "I guess you can."

When Rylie awoke the next morning, Kantor's side of the bed was empty. The bathroom door was open, so she knew he wasn't in the shower. She glanced at the bedside clock and the neon red numbers told her it was almost ten o'clock. She sat up and began searching for her robe. Of all places, she found it rolled into a tight ball at the foot of the bed. Smiling a little, she thought: My husband, the amorous one. She smiled a little as she thought of him. Although they had lived together several months before marrying, she still wasn't accustomed to the idea of being someone's wife again.

She put on her robe and pulled back the curtain from the hotel window. The sky was overcast, but the dim light still hurt her sensitive eyes. She could just make out the figure of her husband. He sat out on their room's spot of private beach, his back facing her, his knees drawn up, and his arms propped on them. He was clad only in a pair of faded blue jeans. She stepped back from the window and pulled on a pair of cut-offs and a tee shirt.

Kantor looked up for a moment as Rylie joined him. Despite the heat of the day, he put his arm around her and drew her close. Her arm went around his waist.

"How long have you been out here?" She noticed that his body was covered with a light sheen of sweat. She didn't mind. His natural smell was strong and musky, overwhelmingly manly. She loved it.

"I don't know," he said with a shrug, "Probably a couple of hours."

"Are you okay," she asked.

He leaned down to place a brief kiss on her temple. "I'm a little down, but I'm fine."

"Do you want to be alone?"

"No," he said.

Rylie shifted her body a bit and wrapped both her arms around one of his. She leaned her head against him. "Have you decided whether or not Nas will see her other grandmother?"

"I don't know yet, but I want your input as well. This isn't just my decision, Rylie. It's ours. If we allow this to happen, I'm going to have to come clean about her mother. She has been dead for a long time, and I've not really healed. I know it's ridiculous. Here I am, years later, remarried with a new child, but I still can't let go enough to help my daughter, our daughter."

"It's not ridiculous, Falk. Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful events in any person's life. I didn't know you back then, but I'll bet you were closed off, weren't you? You didn't let people in very easily, right?" He said nothing, only nodded and continued to stare straight ahead. "I think I can understand why you would still have issues, Falk. Honestly, I think this visit might be a good thing. Maybe you'll finally let go of all this guilt. You think it was your fault she died, don't you?"

He again nodded. For a moment, Rylie wasn't sure Kantor was going to say anything. "I do," he said suddenly, startling her. "I could have prevented it, I could have saved her, but I didn't. I was a good detective, but I couldn't see. She knew, but I didn't. I was blind, ignorant, and helpless. How can I tell Nas that I couldn't save her mother, that it was basically my fault? How can I tell her that it might as well have been me who sliced open her throat?"

Kantor wasn't crying yet, but Rylie was. She squeezed his arm tightly, shaking him a little. "Stop it," she spat through her tears. "Regardless of what you think, Falk, you're not some kind of super hero. You're human. I know what you're capable of, so I know that you did everything humanly possible to prevent this. None of this, none, was your fault."

He lowered his head for a moment. From the corner of her eye, she could see tears shining in his eyes.

"Falk, the time has come for you to forgive yourself," she said. "You've carried this burden far too long."

He didn't say anything. At the moment, he couldn't. He was afraid he'd choke on the words due to the lump in his throat. He simply nodded his head and fought his tears. Kantor didn't like to cry. It wasn't that he felt it was a weakness, but when he shed tears, it exhausted him, drained him. He had based his whole life, his whole existence, on control. Crying only showed how little control he actually had.

She pressed her lips briefly against his arm, tasting the salty tang of his light morning sweat. He turned his head toward her, leaning it against hers, as he brought one of his hands up to cover hers.

"Be prepared, my love," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "With me, there is never a dull moment."

"I know, baby," she said gently. "That's what I love about you the most."

Kantor and Rylie returned home [and back to reality] a few days later. When they arrived home, Kantor went to his den. He had had it converted into a home office. He was a consultant contracted by several different police departments and, at times, the FBI. He smiled to himself when he realized it wasn't necessarily private investigations, but it was just as good and paid even better. He played back his phone messages and jotted down a note here and there. Rylie came up behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders.

"Is the baby sleeping," he asked.

"Yes," she answered as she gently kneaded his shoulders. "We woke him up when we came in, and it took awhile to get him back to sleep. I know it's only been a week, but it looks like he's grown."

He smiled a little. "Children have a way of doing that, don't they? It seems like yesterday that Nas was a baby."

She leaned down and nibbled delicately on his ear. "Don't stay up too late, okay," she said.

"I'll be along in a few minutes," he told her.

An hour later, Kantor slid in bed beside Rylie. Only a thin silken gown covered her body, and her undaunted beauty struck him as it always did. He pressed his body against her back and slipped an arm around her waist. She sighed in her sleep and scooted her body closer to his. He shifted position and allowed his hand to make small circles from her ribcage down to her stomach and back up again. He then settled his hand on the side of her hip.

"Why did you stop," she asked, amused.

"I was trying not to wake you," he said innocently.

"The hell you weren't."

He chucked warmly. "You caught me."

He shifted position a bit to allow her to turn to her back. He leaned down to kiss her, and his hand cupped one of her breasts through the flimsy material of her nightgown. His thumb began to tease the nipple. She placed her hand over his and broke the kiss.

"The honeymoon is over," she said with a teasing smile. "Unlike you, I have to leave the house to go to work."

"Ah, poor baby," he said, smiling against her lips. "I'm sorry. Call in."

"Very tempting," she admitted, "but the good doctor would probably kill me."

He kissed her softly before allowing his lips to move lower. His teeth nipped and nuzzled the arch of her throat. She wiggled and squirmed beneath him. His beard tickled her sensitive flesh.

"I'll protect you," he said against her skin, using his low/sexy voice.

She was literally shaking all over. For the hundredth time, she found herself amazed again at the power he held over her. He had the ability to reduce her to nothing more than a quivering mass with the simple touch of his hand.

His mouth moved back up to hers and his tongue slipped between her lips, touching hers, exploring and tasting the depths of her sweet mouth. Oh, how she loved kissing him. She could go all night without making love to him as long as he kissed her. The average person might have thought his lips imperfect, but she didn't feel that way at all. They were flawless mates to hers. His wonderful, full, gentle lips drank her in and sent her spiraling up and up to the wildest of ecstasies.

During the all-consuming kiss, his hand slipped from her breast down to the very bottom edge of her nightgown. Slowly and meticulously, he pushed it up her leg to her thigh, then onward toward her waist, progressing to her ribcage. A low moan issued from her as gooseflesh formed all over her body. Her nipples stood hard and erect as if she had suddenly immersed them in ice-cold water. A fluttering sensation began to build in the pit of her stomach, as she grew hot and moist between her thighs.

The kiss ended only after he had pushed the nightgown up past her breasts. She knew what was coming next, and of course, she enjoyed that as much as she enjoyed his intense kisses. However, he had other ideas. His soft, warm lips didn't immediately seek out her 'begging for attention' nipples. His lips and teeth made little nibbling bites down her throat and in between her breasts.

"Falk, baby," she sighed, "you're driving me nuts."

He said nothing. He continued nibbling her flesh and moved lower to her ribcage. She was very ticklish in that area. Her husband, the turd, knew this. Her body began to quake and she bit down hard on her lower lip to keep from breaking out in giggles. If she did that, she'd not only awaken the baby, but Nas as well. She didn't want that, because she needed to discover the delicious secrets he had in store for her tonight.

His lips moved even lower and his tongue dipped into her navel. She cried out a little and ran her tongue over her lips. His tongue traced a gentle line down below her navel to the small scar on her lower abdomen. It was her battle scar. She had fought valiantly, risking her life, to bring his son into the world, and he loved her even more for that. He ran his tongue along the scar very gently and felt her body shudder a bit. Like his, it was still sensitive to the touch.

Kantor wanted to venture lower, but he never had with Rylie. Although her brutal attack had taken place quite some time ago, there were still a few things she could not bring herself to do or have done to her in bed. He had always respected that and didn't push. He had begun to make a trail back up her body, but her voice stopped him.

"Yes," she cried softly. "Don't stop."

"Are you sure," he asked.

"Oh yes," she sighed.

He settled his body between her thighs and he placed several small kisses along the inside of them. She plunged her hand into his hair as his tongue made small swirls in the dark curls that partially hid the sensual treasure inside her. He slid his tongue along her moist slit, and she cried out sharply. Oh, the taste of her, inside and out. It was bewitchingly sweet and tangy. His tongue entered her, and he immediately sought and found the swelled little jewel, the utmost sensitive trigger of her entire body. His lips suckled it, and his tongue teased it. Rylie found her body coming off the bed, seemingly with a mind all its own. Her back curved upward in a severe arch.

Kantor broke away for one split second to say: "Steady, my love."

Is he crazy, she thought. Is he out of his freaking mind? What does he mean steady? He resumed flicking and suckling, and a tremendous orgasm ripped through her, shaking her entire being, her essence. No other feeling could ever compare. She opened her mouth, intending to scream like a banshee, but nothing more than a strangled cry issued from her throat. Strangely enough, she felt tears just behind her eyes. What in the world is happening to me, she thought wonderingly.

He withdrew from her slowly. She was still shuddering uncontrollably while strong contractions fluttered inside her repeatedly. He was not finished, and she was sure that she would lose her mind entirely by morning. He slid his body upward and over her. She could feel the hardness of him against her. She wanted him inside her, but he wasn't quite ready. Finally, after ignoring them for so long, his lips drew one of her hardened nipples into his mouth as his hand cupped the other. After a few torturous moments, his lips and hand switched sides. If he kept up for much longer, she wasn't sure how long she could resist demanding that he come inside her.

His lips made a trail back up to hers. The kiss was brief and soft. Like her, he had lost what little control he had to wait. Slowly, tenderly, he entered her. She closed her eyes and allowed him to take her over the edge of sanity once again.

After, Rylie whispered, "Falk?"

His body was atop hers, and they were still joined by flesh. He groaned a little. "You have to pee," he asked, amused.

She laughed. "No baby, not this time. I just wanted to say I love you."

"What a nice change."

Temptation nearly forced Rylie to call in sick at work the next day, but she had to shrug the urge aside. Not only had their intense lovemaking wiped her out, but the baby had also been quite active last night. They had taken turns with him, but she hadn't really been able to rest at all. After dragging herself out of bed, she climbed into a near scalding hot shower. With a pang, she realized that neither she nor Kantor had mentioned Nasya's other grandmother once since returning home. Each of them was clearly avoiding the issue. She wasn't sure if that was such a good idea.

When Rylie came out of the bathroom, Kantor was still asleep. It was highly unusual for him to sleep past the crack of dawn. She didn't want to wake him. He was likely as tired as she was. As she dug around inside the closet for an outfit, she could hear Nasya and Adira down in the kitchen. Their muffled voices carried all the way up into the bedroom. Her cheeks pinked considerably as she wondered what else could be heard around the house.

She turned around with her clothes for the day and took another look at Kantor. He was in his normal sleep position, flat on his stomach. He hadn't moved an inch since she crawled out of bed over half an hour ago. Rylie went about getting dressed and allowed her husband to sleep. It didn't take a psychology degree to know that sleeping was a form of escapism. She didn't feel comfortable labeling her husband in such a way, but apparently, he had begun to feel the need to escape in some way. Since he had told her about the other grandmother, he had been sleeping more and longer.

Once fully dressed, Rylie stood and stepped into her shoes. At that point, Kantor lifted his head and goggled owlishly around the room. He glanced at the clock before shifting his body and sitting up.

"Rylie? Jesus. Did I oversleep?"

She approached the bed and sat near him. "Just a little. No big deal. But I realized something this morning. You know we're avoiding it, don't you?"

He propped himself up on his elbow. "Yes, I know," he said.

"Tonight, we talk about it and make a decision. We can't keep avoiding it," she said.

"Okay," he said. "I agree."

She kissed his lips briefly. "I have to go. Traffic to Tampa is going to be a bitch this morning."

Kantor said nothing as his wife drew away from him and left the room. For a few minutes, he didn't move. He couldn't move. Rylie was right. They had both been avoiding the issue, perhaps even hiding from it. However, Kantor felt he was probably hiding more than Rylie.

Around noon, Simone stuck her head into the doorway of Rylie's office. "You have a visitor."

Rylie looked up at Simone before she walked away. A pleased little smile broke out on her lips as Kantor entered her office. He apparently decided not to work today. He was casually dressed in a black button down shirt and blue jeans. He sat down on the couch in her office and crossed his long legs.

"You bum," she teased. "You took the day off?"

He smiled a little and shrugged. "Sure did. I got out of bed after you left and spent the morning giving Mom a break. But by eleven, she chased me out of the house, said I was getting in her way."

Rylie laughed. Although a dear, Adira Kantor was feisty, fiery, and more stubborn than her son and her granddaughter combined. "I can imagine."

"So," he said with a sigh, "I thought I would come down and pester you for awhile. Can you go to lunch?"

She glanced down at her appointment book and saw that she didn't have to be back until three. "Yes," she said, "I think I can swing it."

Both of them stood at the same time and walked out of Rylie's office together hand-in-hand. They passed Simone behind the receptionist's cubicle.

"Ew yuck, newlyweds," she teased as they stopped for a moment.

Rylie smiled. "Knock it off, Simone. I'll be back in an hour."

The two of them left the building and walked a block and a half down the street to a small seafood restaurant. Kantor led Rylie to a table in the back. They placed their orders and didn't speak much at first. Rylie watched her husband curiously. It was obvious he was preoccupied.

"Falk, are you okay," she finally asked.

He took a long sip from his water glass. He set down the glass and nodded. "I'm fine. I chose this table way in the back, because I wanted to talk to you about Nas. I didn't want to wait until you came home tonight. Is that okay?"

"Of course it's okay."

He leaned forward in his chair, close to her, and he took her hand. "I want us to meet with this woman before we tell Nas. I want to make sure she's legitimate. I have a lot of enemies, and I want to make sure it's safe."

Stunned by his words, she asked: "Are you afraid someone may be trying to abduct her?"

He shook his head. "I don't know, Rylie. But I worry about that a lot, especially since I left the PD. One of my greatest fears is that a ghost from my past will resurface and harm the ones I love."

It was a legitimate fear. She could not argue that. However, she didn't think about it very often. "Okay," she said, "So we meet her and have her present some kind of proof that she is who she says she is?"

"I was thinking along the same lines. When Mom called, she said this woman is supposed to get back in touch with us soon."

"And Nas?"

He took another drink of water. "If this woman is legit, there will be a great story to tell."

She gently squeezed his hand. "I know you're worried about that, Falk. It's going to be okay."

"I only hope she'll forgive me for keeping this hidden from her. She's only a little girl, but she has the resolve of a much older person. She has asked very few questions."

"She's a sensitive child, Falk," Rylie said. "She probably knew that it upset you."

"You're probably right about that, too. Regardless if this woman calls back or not, I want to tell her, but I want to wait for at least a few days."

After a long and leisurely lunch, Kantor walked Rylie back to her office. The receptionist was seemingly awaiting them impatiently.

"I'm glad the two of you are back. Someone is holding the line for Falk," the receptionist said.

Rylie and Kantor exchanged confused glances before she looked at the other woman. "Falk? Why would anyone try to contact him here, Leah?"

She shrugged. "I don't know."

"Just transfer the call back to my office," she told her. Then to Kantor: "You don't mind taking it in there, do you?"

He shook his head. "Not at all."

The two of them went back to Rylie's office and she closed the door behind them. She punched the flashing button and handed the phone over to Kantor. He took it without hesitation, figuring it was one of his contacts trying to get him to do some work today.

"Hello," he said. "This is Kantor."

"Good afternoon," a voice said. It was a female with a soft southern tinged accent. "Your mother said I could call you here. I'm Arlene Marx, I was Sel's mother," she said softly.

Sel, he thought. How long has it been since I heard that? No one other than Trevor had ever called her that. After Selarah had gained her freedom from Trevor, she had detested the nickname. Kantor had never uttered it inside or outside of her presence. He was also struck by the painful irony of the call. Not fifteen minutes ago, he and Rylie had been discussing this very thing.

"Yes, Mrs. Marx, we've been expecting your call," he said slowly, carefully.

If the truth were known, he was a bit flabbergasted. He hadn't actually thought the woman would ever call back. He glanced over at Rylie. She was just as stunned as he. With her usual patient curiosity, she watched him.

"My wife is here with me right now. Could I please put you on speaker phone?"

"Okay," she said.

Her voice indicated to him that she would rather not speak around Rylie at all, but Kantor didn't care. Rylie was his wife and he absolutely refused to make any decisions concerning Nas without her input. Without another word, Kantor handed the phone back to Rylie. She punched another button before placing the receiver onto his cradle.

"Okay, Mrs. Marx, we're set up over here," he said. "My mother has already told us about your first call a few days ago. I know that you want to see Nasya."

"Oh, yes, I do. I'm still in Florida, but I live in Texas, and I don't want to go home until I see my little granddaughter. I'm assumin' that she don't know about me?"

Kantor sat back in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Rylie had seen the move dozens of times. It was a pure defense mechanism, much like his sleeping. She sat on the edge of her chair, feeling upset and tense. She didn't like it when Kantor was hurting.

"No, she doesn't. Selarah never mentioned you before, and I-"

She interrupted him. "I'm not surprised about that. Sel was a special case, and she never warmed up to me. I got her when she was pretty young, and she was angry all the time. She pushed everyone away because she was so afraid of gettin' hurt, of bein' left behind."

He couldn't speak right away, but Rylie could. In fact, she was getting angrier and angrier by the second. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Marx," Rylie spat. "If you are who you say you are, how do you explain not trying to find your daughter? It wouldn't have been that difficult, would it?"

"How do you know I didn't try," she snapped. "Sel was stubborn and closed off most of the time. I tried, but she never contacted me. I don't have to explain myself to either of you. I loved her, I really did, and it hurts to know I'll never see her again. But she has a daughter, and I'd like to see her. Is that so much to ask?"

It was a lot to ask, a hell of a lot to ask. Rylie was tempted to tell her so. What stopped her was the look on Kantor's face. He was staring straight ahead at an object only he could see. His wounds were reopening now, bleeding. The visit would not only introduce Nas to her other grandmother, but it would also finally allow Kantor to exorcise his ghosts, to allow his first wife to rest. She couldn't let her feelings get in the way of his healing process. She loved him too much.

She sighed. "Mrs. Marx, I'm sorry. Nas isn't my biological daughter, but I love her very much, and this is probably going to upset her. That is why I am so defensive."

She did not immediately reply to Rylie. Both thought she might have hung up. "Mrs. Marx, are you still there," Kantor asked.

"Yes," she said. "Like I said, I'm still in Florida, and I want to see my granddaughter."

Kantor caressed the bridge of his nose. He hadn't had a blackout headache in several months, and he wondered vaguely if another was brewing. "I don't think we have a problem with your visiting Nas," he said. "But both my wife and I would like to meet you first. If you can agree with that, then we can possibly set up a visit before you go back home."

It took Kantor a long time to spit out his words. It was hard for him to relent, and Rylie could feel the pain literally rolling off his body. His stress swiftly became her stress. She hoped that the woman would take his offer and get off the phone. She couldn't stand watching him suffer any longer.

"Very well," she said with a sigh. "When do you want to do this?"

"Tomorrow night? Maybe we could meet at your hotel? We want to meet you before we talk to our daughter," he said.

"Okay, fine," she said, her voice a bit stiff. "I'm at the Benedetto Inn on Fruman Street, room 212."

Rylie scribbled down the information furiously. "We'll see you at seven," she said.

"That's fine, too."

Without another word, she hung up. Rylie punched the speaker phone button again to disconnect the phone. She studied her husband for a few minutes. His eyes were closed and he had begun to caress the bridge of his nose again.

"So, baby, what do you think," she asked softly.

He opened his eyes and crossed his arms back over his chest. "I think she's legit, Rylie. I won't know for sure until tomorrow, but she knew Selarah's nickname, and it seemed that she knew her personality."

She moved out from behind her desk and came around to the front of it. She moved to sit on top of the desk, facing Kantor. "Are you okay?"

He stood and approached her. "Not really," he said.

His arms went around her waist and she placed her hands onto his chest. "It's going to be fine, Falk. You can't get so worked up. I hate seeing you like this."

"As long as I have you, Rylie, I'll be okay."

"Me too, Falk," she whispered.

He kissed her softly. "I need to go," he said after he pulled away. "I'm going to pick up Nas and take her on a short trip."

She knew the destination without having to ask. "I think it's a good start."

He turned away from her and exited her office. Once in the hallway, he glanced back at her. "I love you," he said and left before she could return the sentiment.

Kantor couldn't help but smile a little as Nasya chattered incessantly about her day at school. He gazed down at her long dark curls tied back with a dark blue ribbon. Her brown eyes twinkled with the vitality only a child possessed. Physically, she was becoming more and more like him, but everything else was pure Selarah. He had thought that about her before, but today, it really showed. Of course, it had been a long time since he had brought thoughts of Selarah out in the open, and he was noticing more here and there.

"Where we going, Dad," Nasya suddenly asked as she watched the scenery whip past her.

"I'm taking you to a place you've never been," he said. "You asked me once about your mother. Remember that?"

She nodded. All of a sudden, she didn't feel like talking anymore. Kantor noticed immediately. She was good at closing herself off. Just like me, he thought, just like her mother.

"You remember how sad I was," he asked. She said nothing, just nodded. "After that, you didn't say much, and I think you should have, even if it made me sad. You could have asked anything you wanted, Nas."

Without looking at him, she began to pick at a loose thread on her slacks. "I don't like making you sad. If it makes you sad, it's okay not to say anything."

"No, Nas, it isn't okay," he said. "You should know about your mother. You should ask questions. Whatever you want to know, you can ask. I may get sad, but that's okay, I'll tell you anything. All you have to do is ask. Don't ever be afraid to do that. Okay?"

She finally looked up at him. "Okay, Dad."

"Today, I'm taking you to the cemetery, to the place where you can visit your mother's grave. I've never taken you out here before, but again, I should have long ago. I think you're old enough now to understand a little."

She knew what a cemetery was. She had heard her friends talking about going out to see their grandparents or uncles or aunts. She knew her mother was at one, but she had never mentioned it. She liked to pretend Rylie was her mother, then she didn't have to talk about her real mother, and the fact that she really didn't know anything about her. She didn't know if she had uncles or aunts or grandparents other than the ones she already knew. Just about every kid at school had two sets of relatives.

"Do you want to do this, Nas?"

She looked up at her father again and nodded. "Yes, I do. Do you?"

Although his heart ached fiercely right at the moment, he felt a sad grin touching his lips. She was still trying to put her feelings aside for him. "Yes, my love, I do."

Kantor hadn't been out to the cemetery since he attended the gravesite service of Heath Larson. He was amazed how people could forget their addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, etc., but could never forget the location of a grave. He had managed to drive right out to it as if he were a daily visitor instead of a yearly one. He and Nasya exited the car and he took out a spray of spring flowers from the backseat that he had gotten earlier in the day.

He took Nasya's hand and led her over to the headstone. Curiously, Nasya stood before the cold granite and stared down at it. Kantor kneeled down beside her and put a comforting arm around her. He watched as she silently mouthed out the spelling of Selarah's name. He laid the flowers on the edge of the headstone and silently apologized for neglecting to come out with Nasya sooner. She looked at the dates of Selarah's birth and death, counting out her age on her fingers. Then without warning, she burst into tears. Anticipating this, he took her into his embrace and stood up with her in his arms. As he did when she was an infant, he cradled her close to his body and she rested her head on his shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed him tightly.

"Hey," he said softly, caressing her hair. "It's okay."

"Why did she have to die, Dad," she wailed through her tears. "Why did she have to die?"

He felt the bitter sting of tears pooling into his eyes. He had no answer for her. He had asked the same question over and over again. "I don't know, Nas," he said. "But you know what? She loved you so much, and if she could see you today, she would be so proud of her brave little girl."

She pulled away for a moment and looked at him. Her sweet, angelic face was tear streaked and her lips were trembling. Through her hitching sobs, she managed to ask, "She would?"

He kissed her forehead and nodded. "She would."

"Can we go now," she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "If you ever want to come out again, Nas, all you have to do is ask. Okay?"

She nodded. "Okay. I love you, Dad."

He kissed her forehead again. "Me too, love."

Kantor came in with Nasya in his arms. She had passed out on the way back home. Rylie was sitting in the living room with the baby. She noticed that Nasya's face was puffy and red from crying. She exchanged a brief and knowing glance with Kantor before he went upstairs with Nasya. He came back down about thirty minutes later.

"Is she okay," Rylie asked.

He nodded. "She was upset, but she'll be fine. She's really strong."

"Are you okay?"

"I actually feel good. It got a little intense for a moment, but we got through the rough spots. I don't think she totally understands, but of course, I didn't expect her to. I don't understand it myself." He gently caressed the top of the baby's head. "So how is our beautiful little one?"

"He's been fussy. I think he knew you were gone today. Since he heard your voice, he's calmed down a little, and finally went to sleep."

He smiled a little. "I tend to spoil babies."

She returned his smile. "No shit. So what did you do? Drag him into your office today?"

He nodded. "That's what I did. I was the same way with Nas. When she was tiny like Levi, I spent as much time with her as I could. If you don't do that, before you know it, they're off to kindergarten, calling you 'Dad' instead of 'Daddy.'"

She leaned over and kissed Kantor's cheek. "I'm taking him up before he starts again."

Kantor remained in the living room as Rylie took the baby up to the nursery. On her way back downstairs, she stopped at Nasya's bedroom door and peeked inside her room. Nasya had awakened from her brief nap, but she was still lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Rylie opened the door a little wider and stuck her head into the room.

"You okay," she asked.

Nasya focused her eyes on Rylie for a moment before fixing them on the ceiling again. "Yeah, I'm okay. Could you come in for a second?"

"Sure," Rylie said. She entered the room and sat down on the bed. She knew from experience not to ask Nasya what the matter was, so she sat and waited patiently.

Nasya sat up and folded her arms across her chest. If the expression on her face hadn't been so serious, Rylie would have smiled. She was so much like her father it was scary. "You're always going to be with Dad, aren't you?"

'Always' was a tricky word. Anything could happen to a couple: divorce, death, separation, etc. However, she honestly couldn't see any of that happening with her and Kantor. "Yes, Nas, for as long as I can."

"Good," she said firmly. "I didn't know if I'd ever love anybody as much as KT. But I love you just as much, Rylie, and I'm glad Dad married you."

Rylie caressed Nasya's hair. She was genuinely touched. "You're a sweetie, Nas, and I love you, too."

She unfolded her arms and gave Rylie a warm hug.

When Rylie left Nasya's bedroom and reentered the hallway, she saw Kantor leaned over the stairway railing. Once he saw her, he smiled.

"Were you eavesdropping," she asked with a smile.

"I didn't intend to. I came up to check on Nas while you were with the baby, and I kind of heard what you were talking about. Sorry," he said smiling sheepishly.

She approached him, placed her hand on the nape his neck, and played with his hair. "You're forgiven this time," she said.

"I wanted you to come today, but I thought it might be best if it was just Nas and me," he said.

"Falk, you don't have to explain. I understand. The two of you needed to do this alone."

He straightened his body to face her, and her hand drifted from the back of his neck to his chest. "I can't imagine how I would have gotten through these last few days without you."

She kissed him gently. "You couldn't have beaten me away with a club."

The next night, Rylie and Kantor sat out in the parking lot of the Benedetto Inn. Neither of them had even attempted to get out of the car. Although he wouldn't say so, Rylie knew her husband was scared. If this woman was the real deal, he would have to face his demons, and she was sure that the prospect terrified him.

"Falk," she said gently, "Are we getting out of the car?"

He sighed and shook his head incredulously. "Yes, love, we are. I suppose I'm trying to muster my courage. It kills me to think that something like this has the power to turn me into a sniveling wimp."

"Why are you so hard on yourself, Falk? This is really a big deal. I'd be worried if you weren't scared."

He reached across the seat and drew her close. He kissed her deeply. After a long moment, he pulled back and leaned his forehead against hers. "I'm glad you're steadfast enough to put up with me."

"I'm going to stop putting up with you if we don't get out of this car right now," she teased.

He laughed a little and drew away from her. "Okay, I can take a hint."

Together, they got out of the car and walked hand-in-hand up to room 212. For an undetermined amount of time, Kantor stared at the door. He wasn't sure if he wanted to take the next step, but he really had no choice. For once, he was allowing his stubbornness to drift away, and he had decided to listen for a change. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and knocked on the door.

After a heart-stopping span of time, the door came open and a very petite woman of about fifty appeared in the doorway. Her dark hair was streaked with lodes of pure white, and it was pulled into a loose ponytail. Nothing about her reminded Kantor of Selarah, but then he remembered that she was an adoptive mother, and wouldn't look like her at all. At one time, she had probably been a pretty, serene woman. But now, she was hardened and tense. Her life had likely not been easy.

Arlene stood back and gazed at her former son in-law. She could see what Sel had seen in him. He was a dark and intimidating figure, probably more brooding than Sel had ever been. She wasn't necessarily interested in his wife, and would have preferred she not have come at all. She felt that the woman had no stake in this.

"Come in," she said stiffly as she eyed Kantor and his wife.

She moved out of the doorway and allowed the two of them to enter. Right away, they noticed a few photo albums laid out on the bed. Apparently, she had come prepared. Kantor and Rylie stood still as Arlene closed the door behind them. Without a word to either of them, she moved past them and over to the bed cluttered with the photo albums.

"I carry these pretty much wherever I go. I'm glad I do because I see you're not just goin' to take my word for it. Please, sit down," she told them.

Kantor didn't release his grip on Rylie's hand and he led her over the vacant bed opposite the one Arlene occupied. Kantor wasn't sure he wanted to look through the photo albums, but his curiosity was overwhelming. Arlene picked up the largest of the albums and offered it to Kantor. Battling himself internally, he took it from her.

"That's the first one I put together. Most of those are older pictures of Sel before the adoption became final," she explained.

Kantor set the thick album on his lap and cracked it open. When he laid his eyes on the first page of photographs, he was assaulted by a wave of unexpected grief so raw, so biting, that he thought he would lose his mind. The smiling face of this young, vibrant Selarah was so much like Nas it was painful. He held onto Rylie's hand tightly, and hoped he wasn't grinding her finger bones together. She was looking at the photos curiously. He heard her whisper 'Nas' just under her breath. He hadn't realized how much his daughter resembled Selarah. He pored over each page, his eyes nearly burning into them. It took nearly thirty minutes for him to reach the last page.

Arlene handed a second album to Kantor. "This one kind of followed her up through college."

One handed, he took it from her and opened it. One of the first photos he saw was a Polaroid labeled FINALLY! College grad. This image showed the woman he had met and with whom he fell in love. The memories came flooding back like a torrent of rain. In that moment, he realized that he had actually forgotten what she looked like.

"Oh God," he whispered.

Suddenly, Kantor and Rylie were the only two people in the room. Arlene had been momentarily forgotten. "Falk? Are you okay," Rylie asked.

"I can't look at this anymore," he said, shutting the photo album. He glanced over at Arlene. "Okay, Mrs. Marx," he said, "I believe you. Only one so close to Selarah would have all these photos."

"So is this enough for you to let me see my granddaughter," she asked pointedly, again, ignoring Rylie.

He glanced at Rylie for a brief moment before focusing his eyes back on Arlene's face. "This decision isn't mine alone. My wife has as much input as I."

Rylie couldn't speak for a moment. Kantor was upset; it was obvious. She had only seen him cry a few times, and it seemed as if he was on the verge of tears right at that moment. She was fiercely protective of him, of her entire little family.

"I think it'll be okay," she said after debating the issue in her mind a dozen times.

"I'll talk to Nas. She has to agree to do it as well," he said.

"I ain't going anywhere," she said. "Give me a call."

Kantor nodded. "Of course."

Without another word or another glance at the photo albums, he brought himself to his feet, and Rylie followed his lead. Quietly, they walked out to the car together and climbed inside. Kantor inserted the key into the ignition, but he didn't start the engine right away. He sat behind the wheel in a daze. He didn't realize how much of an effect this visit and those photos would have on him. He hadn't said thirty words to Rylie the entire night, and he wouldn't have blamed her if she were as pissed as he thought she was.

However, he didn't realize that she wasn't necessarily angry, but she was worried. "Falk?"

He had been clenching the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles turning white. He hadn't even realized it. Kantor slowly released the wheel and focused his eyes on her face. "I'm sorry," he said with a sigh.

"Baby, why are you apologizing? I know you're hurting. I see it all over you."

He looked away from her. "Those photos, Rylie, they were like knives plunging into my heart over and over again. I had all but forgotten what she looked like, and I didn't even realize it until I saw those albums. And now, I face one of the most difficult moments in my life. I have to come clean, unearth all the secrets I have had buried for years."

"So talk to me," she said, "Tell me."

"Rylie, I don't know if I can."

Kantor said nothing else. He had definitely given her the wrong answer. He closed himself off and didn't even attempt to venture further into his feelings. He knew it was wrong, but at that moment, he couldn't help it. He turned on the ignition and gunned the engine to life. During the trip home, he didn't speak to her. His mind was still whirring. Once at the house, Rylie went inside without waiting for Kantor. He had hurt her, and for a moment, he hated himself for that.

He went into the house and noticed that his mother and Nasya were in the living room watching television. He glanced at his daughter and said, "Five more minutes, Nas, and you go to bed."

His voice was more stern than usual, and she didn't test it. "Dad? Is something wrong with Rylie?"

His mother cut her eyes at him. He shook his head. He didn't want to go into it with her right now.

"She's a little upset, Nas. It's okay," he said.

He hesitated half a second before he climbed the stairs to help repair some of the damage. She was in the baby's room. She sat in the antique rocker with Levi in her arms. He was crying a little, but it appeared the rocking was calming him. She wasn't looking at him; her eyes were focused on their tiny son.

"Rylie, I didn't mean to shut you out. I want to come clean, with you first, and then with Nas. I was so closed off and it's hard for me, Rylie. Please understand that I don't want to hurt you."

"Do you know what it's like to love someone so much that you feel exactly what the other person feels, that you cry when they cry, you ache when they ache? Do you? That's how I feel about you, Falk. Do you realize how much it hurts when you shut me out like you did tonight? I thought you were trying to open up to me, but you weren't. You only let me inside a small part of your heart. I'm greedy, Falk, I want it all."

Slowly, he approached her. He took the baby from her arms, and he let out a little cry of protest that Kantor soothed with a touch and a whisper. He kissed his son's forehead and carried him to his bed, laying him down gently. He lingered for a brief moment by the crib before he approached his wife again.

He held out his hand. "Come."

She took his hand after a moment of hesitation and she allowed him to bring her to her feet. He led her out of the nursery and to their bedroom. Before he closed the door behind them, he leaned over the stair railing.

"Mom," he called down. "Rylie and I need some serious alone time. Would you put Nas to bed and listen for the baby," he asked.

"Okay, son."

He went back into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. Rylie was sitting cross-legged on the bed. He slowly approached the bed and sat down to face her. "Rylie, first and foremost, I'm sorry. I'd rather cut off my right arm than hurt you. You know that, don't you?" She nodded, but didn't say anything. He continued, "I thought Selarah was my soul mate, Rylie. When we married after such a long separation, I thought we were destined to stay together forever, but we weren't. She was brutally murdered by a vicious, insane killer. It took six years for me to even take off her wedding ring. I held onto her, refusing to let go, shutting everyone out. I couldn't bring myself to love anyone other than Nas. I took full responsibility for Selarah's death, and for years, I didn't think I deserved to be happy. I thought I needed to dwell on her, to keep her alive in some fashion, because I was certain my stupidity led to her death."

"Falk," she began.

He placed his fingers briefly over her lips. "Please?"

She nodded. "Okay, go on."

"Tonight, I looked at those pictures, and all this came crashing back. Despite it all, I still carry tremendous guilt surrounding her death. She knew who the killer was, she probably knew weeks before I even got a clue. She went after him on her own, without backup, and she paid for that mistake with her life. She left me, she left Nas, and I've had a lot of anger flowing through me because of that, and I never knew where to put it. You caught a glimpse of who I was. I hope you never have to see that side of me ever again." He took her hand in his and brought it up to the middle of his chest. "Never doubt that I love you with every inch of my heart. I loved Selarah very much, but she wasn't my soul mate. I know this. She wasn't, Rylie, because it's you."

Forgetting her hurt, forgetting her anger, she went willingly into his embrace.

It has often been said that when people live together for a long period of time, they have the ability to read each other's minds. As he watched his little girl, Kantor began to wonder if she had been eavesdropping on his conversations with Rylie, or if she had simply read his mind. She sat at his desk in the den flipping through the only photo album he owned with Selarah's pictures in it. Today was the day to tell Nas about her other grandmother, but Kantor wanted to wait for Rylie. She wouldn't be home from work for another hour.

She glanced over her shoulder. "Hi Dad," she said. "Is it okay for me to be in here?"

He nodded. "Sure, love, it's fine."

"How come you don't have that many pictures of my mother?"

He approached her and leaned against the desk beside her. "She really didn't like being photographed, Nas. I had to catch her off guard a lot."

"Is that me," she asked, placing her finger on a picture of Selarah holding an infant.

Kantor glanced down at the photo. "Yes, that's you. You were only a couple of days old."

"That doesn't look like me," she said doubtfully.

He smiled a little. "You were a baby, Nas, you've just grown up a little. Not many people look the same when they're older."

"Are you in here anywhere?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sure. Flip the page."

She did as he instructed. "Hey, there you are. Dad, you had really long hair in this picture," she said.

She had found the Polaroid of his and Selarah's JOP wedding. He felt a little tug at his heart. "Yes, I did," he said. "That's from our wedding. You were there."

Nasya looked up at Kantor in confusion. "I was? I don't remember."

Kantor laughed a little. "You wouldn't, baby. You weren't born yet. You were still inside her tummy at the time."

"I thought I'd find you guys in here," a voice said from behind them.

Kantor turned and smiled at Rylie. "What are you doing here so early?"

She approached him and bumped her hip into his. "I'm happy to see you, too," she said with a laugh. She moved away from him, approached Nasya, and then kissed her on the cheek.

He kept his eyes on her. When she straightened up, her eyes locked with his for an intense moment. They had had a rough night, but there was a new understanding between them. It was almost comparable to a new love. Rylie broke the intense gaze with her husband. If she kept it up for much longer, she would have dragged him off into the bedroom for the rest of the night. Right now, she had to push her desire aside. Nas came first.

"Nasya, we need to talk to you," Kantor began.

She looked from her father to Rylie then back to her father. She wondered what she had done to deserve a 'talking to' not only from Dad, but also from Rylie as well. "Okay," she said, closing the photo album, and swinging around to face them.

Kantor dragged a couple of bar stools over and gave one to Rylie and took the other for himself. "Nas, we want to talk to you about your mother, and your other grandmother," he began.

"My other grandma," she asked, almost fascinated.

He nodded. "Yes. She was your mother's mom."

Nasya didn't say anything at first. She simply allowed the words to sink into her mind. "So I have another grandmother? What's her name?"

"Her name is Arlene, Nas, Arlene Marx," he told her. "She didn't know about you until she came to Florida for a visit. And now she wants to see you."

"Why didn't she know? Didn't you tell her? Dad, I don't understand."

He sighed. "Baby, I didn't know about her, either. Your mother didn't talk about her family at all. If had known, you would have visited her before now."

Her little brow furrowed as her confusion grew. "Dad, you told me I could ask any questions I wanted. Can I?"

Kantor took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Oh, here it goes. "Sure, love, you can ask anything."

"How did my mother die?"

He had hoped she would not have asked that particular question. It was the hardest one for him to tackle. He wasn't sure how much he could tell her right away. Sighing, he said, "She was a cop, Nas, like I used to be. A very bad person killed her. You were just a baby when it happened." He felt Rylie's hand reaching for his, and he clutched at it, taking it into his. "You're a lot like her."

For a moment, she turned away from her father and Rylie. She cracked open the photo album and carefully examined one of the pictures. "I look like you, Dad," she insisted, and then turned to look at Kantor curiously.

He smiled a little. "No baby, I don't mean you look like her, although you do a little. What I mean is that you act like her. She had a cute way of crinkling her nose when she laughed, and you do that sometimes. You smile like she did, it lights up your whole face. She was stubborn and pushy. But she was also very loving and giving. You have all that in you, Nas, and it came from your mother. Do you understand?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I think so. My other grandma, Dad, is she nice?"

"I think she is," he said. "Do you want to see her?" She didn't say anything, but she nodded. "Nas, I should have told you this sooner, and I'm sorry I didn't. Forgive me?"

Without a word, she climbed onto Kantor's lap and threw her arms around his neck. She hugged him furiously. "Yeah, Dad, I can never stay mad at you."

He closed his eyes, thanking the higher powers for giving him this miracle in his arms. He opened his eyes and focused them on Rylie's face. "I love you," he mouthed.

Much later that night, Kantor came into the bedroom. "Both kids are completely passed out," he said, his back to Rylie.

"Good," she said.

When Kantor turned toward her, a smile touched his lips. She was reclining on the bed with not one stitch of clothing on her body. Overwhelming warmth began to spread from his lower belly down into his groin. Without a word, he began to strip out of his clothes. Since their argument last night, he had wanted her, had ached for her. Both of them had been too worked up, too upset, but not tonight.

Once he was undressed, he approached the bedside and stood in front of her. She brought her body closer to his. He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed as her lips began to move delicately across his stomach. They traveled upward, lingering on his chest for a few seconds before settling on his luscious mouth. He kissed her with passion, plunging his tongue between her lips. She moaned a little as his insistent tongue explored the depths of her mouth. His hands went into her hair and he tilted her head back to deepen the kiss.

He broke the kiss and climbed onto the bed, lowering her with him at the same time. He leaned over her and caressed her hair. He loved her so deeply, and for a moment, all he could do was gaze down into her eyes. After several long moments, Rylie leaned up a little and kissed him. As usual, she could not get enough of his lips.

His large hands moved down her body, seemingly leaving a trail of heat where they touched. His gentle hands stopped momentarily at her waist as he pulled her body against him so they could lie face to face. Her hands went to his buttocks and she crushed her lower body into his. Heat began to radiate throughout her entire body and quickly settled between her thighs. He had done nothing more than touch her, kiss her, and she was already aching for him, aching for that part of him that would fulfill her, meet her every need, every desire. He was hard and erect against her. The slow, erotic gyrations of her pelvis against his groin had sent him beyond the scope of control.

She kissed him again and pulled him over on top of her, allowing him to position his body between her legs. He broke the kiss, and a moment later, she felt him tease her with the broad tip of his hardness.

"Oh," she moaned, "You cruel, cruel man," she said, not unkindly.

He chuckled. "Thank you," he said, and then he entered her all the way, slowly, deeply.

Rylie crept back into the bedroom. She was trying hard not to awaken Kantor.

"It's okay, I'm awake," he said. "I heard the baby when he started crying."

She slipped out of her robe and climbed back into bed and into the arms of her husband. "He needed a food fix."

Kantor tightened his hold on her body. He was tired and needed sleep, but there was something he wanted to say. "Rylie, I love you with all that I have in me. I had a past without you. But I can't see a present or future unless you're in it."

"Neither do I," she whispered, and then she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.

"Everything about me, about my past, is laid out before you," he said. "I never want to hold anything back from you again."

"It's okay, Falk. Talk to me, tell me anything, everything. It's what I want, and I think it's what you need."

Kantor didn't want to hover over Nasya and Arlene, but he also didn't want to leave them unsupervised. He recalled that he and Rylie had decided to hold the visit on Saturday at their home. Kantor was concerned about his daughter because she was so standoffish. However, sometimes, Nas surprised him. Today was no exception to that rule. Nasya had been tentative with Arlene at first, but she soon warmed up to her. All it took was the photo albums. Her curiosity outweighed her aloofness.

Neither Rylie nor Adira interfered with the visit. Adira busied herself with her self-imposed household chores, and Rylie stayed upstairs with the baby. He knew that both of them were concerned, and quite leery of Arlene Marx. Kantor tried to interfere as less as possible. He sat and casually pretended to read. However, he was ever alert, ever cautious. Arlene spoke endlessly about her 'Sel,' and told Nasya stories about her. He listened to every word and felt a bittersweet pain nagging at his heart. He was surprised and almost relieved to note that Arlene's stories didn't necessarily hurt him as much as comforted him. Was it finally getting easier? Getting better?

Kantor looked up when Rylie came downstairs. His eyes followed her into the kitchen. He glanced at his daughter and Arlene. Both of them were engrossed in the photo albums. He was sure everything was on the up and up. Without excusing himself, he stood and approached the kitchen, propping open the door just a bit before going inside.

Rylie was leaned up against the sink, silently drinking a glass of water. "It seems to be going well, doesn't it," she asked.

He nodded. "It does."

She finished off her water and set the glass aside. "Good."

He approached her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Are you okay?"

"I'm all right, Falk, just worried about Nas. I support you and Nas. I support the idea of allowing you to heal, but I'm worried. Her sudden reappearance makes me nervous. Maybe I'm paranoid. Maybe it's not my place to say anything."

He shook his head. "You're wrong, Rylie. It is your place. You're my wife, I love you, and Nas loves you. You're part of this family now, you have been since before you agreed to marry me." He kissed her very gently. "If you're paranoid," he said after breaking the kiss, "It probably came about because of my paranoia before we even met Arlene Marx."

"Baby, I don't know," she admitted. "It doesn't feel right."

He was about to respond to her, but a tentative knock on the door stopped him. He released his hold on Rylie's body and turned to face the door. It was Arlene. "Come in," he said.

She entered the kitchen and stood close to the door, seemingly waiting to bolt from the room if she had to. "I'm leavin' one of my photo albums here for the baby. I'm leavin' town soon, but there's somethin' I want to ask you."

Resisting the urge to cross his arms in front of him, Kantor stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Sure," he said. "What is it?"

"I was wantin' to have her come out to Texas on her next school break. I'm not meanin' no offense to you or your wife, but I want her to come alone."

Her eyes seemed to bore right through him. Her request was ridiculous, of course. "Absolutely not," he said. "Nas is not old enough to make a trip like that by herself."

She sighed angrily. "What more do I have to say to you people before you trust me?"

"Mrs. Marx," Rylie began. "No one has said anything about trust. Falk made it very clear. Nasya is too young."

Arlene fixed her stony gaze on Rylie. "And how does this involve you? That's what I want to know. You have no tie to that child."

"I will not allow you to disrespect my wife in our home," Kantor said. "You're more than welcome to visit Nas any time you wish. If she comes to your home, we will be there. But there is no way we can allow our daughter to travel without us."

"Very well," she said stiffly. "I'll say goodbye to my granddaughter, and I'll be on my way."

Without another word or glance back at them, Arlene exited the kitchen.

"I can't believe the nerve of her," Kantor said incredulously.

He quickly followed Arlene's lead out of the kitchen. Kantor came into the living room just in time to see Arlene giving Nasya a final hug goodbye. Before walking out the door, Arlene cut her eyes at Kantor, making it clear that she did not care for him. It was of no consequence to him, because the feeling was mutual.

After Arlene left, Nasya went back over to the couch and sat down. Kantor watched her carefully, with concern. "Are you okay, Nas?"

She nodded. "Sure, Dad. All the talking just made me sad," she said.

Kantor joined her on the couch. "It's okay to feel sad, my love." He took his daughter into his embrace and held onto her protectively.

Later, Rylie found Kantor in his office. She placed her hands on his tense shoulders. "Do you think she'll give us any trouble with Nas," she asked.

He shook his head. "I don't know, Rylie. I don't think so. If I wanted to point fingers and get down and dirty as she did, I could say she has absolutely no tie, either. But then, that would be stooping to her level. I don't think hurting people purposely will do any good. I don't have any issues with her seeing Nas, but her request was completely unreasonable."

Her hands steadily kneaded his shoulders and the nape of his neck. "I agree with you. You heard my input. I don't trust her, Falk, I really don't."

He closed his eyes and gave up on the report he had been attempting to write. Her hands were insistent, loving, and magic. "I have no trust issues with her, Rylie. I just don't appreciate her coming in here and trying to run the show. Regardless of her status in Nas' life, we are her parents."

"I simply don't want her causing you or Nas any unnecessary grief. You both have enough going on as it is," she stated stubbornly.

He smiled a little. "I never thought I'd marry someone with such big balls. Rylie, you're a lioness, you know that?"

She stopped the massage and wrapped her arms around him. She leaned her head close to his ear. She ran her tongue along it and allowed her teeth to nip it gently. "Nothing gets my dander up more than to see the ones I love hurt," she whispered.

The next morning, Kantor awoke, surprised to note that Rylie's half of the bed was vacant. It wasn't quite seven o'clock, and she never got out of bed before him, especially during the weekend. He crawled out of bed and went in search of his robe. He found his wife sitting out on the sun porch at a small table they had set up just a few weeks ago. She was still in her robe and had all her hair tied back in a loose ponytail. She looked innocent, almost child-like. Only one thing broke that image. Her robe had come open slightly, revealing her legs; one was crossed over the other. Once again, he found an incredible surge of love for her rushing through him. Her eyes were focused on the newspaper in front of her. A steaming cup of tea sat untouched near her left arm.

Without speaking, he approached the other chair and sat down across from her. "It's early for you," he said, "I haven't heard the baby in awhile."

She looked up at him and rubbed the nape of her neck. "I had a bad night, very little sleep. Levi hasn't made a peep in a few hours. It was Nas."

Concerned, he asked, "Is she all right? I didn't hear her."

"She's fine. I was already up, pacing around, and I heard her crying in her room. She had a bad dream. Her visit with her grandmother upset her a little, Falk. But she's strong. She went back to sleep and hasn't had any more nightmares."

"I knew this would happen. I'll go check on her," he said, starting to rise.

She placed her hand over his. "Let her sleep. She's okay."

He relaxed and sat back. "Why don't you go back to bed? You're seriously wiped out, Rylie, I can tell. I'm up and I can handle the kids."

"I'm not even sure if I could go to sleep," she said.

He stood and approached her. He held out his hand. "Come on."

She smiled tiredly and closed the paper. She took his hand. "You're so damn stubborn, you know that?"

He brought her up to her feet. "Uh uh," he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "That's someone else, not me."

Kantor led her back into the house and up the stairs to their bedroom. He untied the belt of her robe and slipped it off her. He tossed it haphazardly across the back of a nearby chair.

"Go," he said, jerking his head toward the bed.

"Falk, I'm telling you, I can't sleep," she insisted.

"Who's being stubborn now, Mrs. Kantor," he asked.

"Falk," she began.

Without another word, he lifted her body into his arms and carried her to the bed. He laid her down and climbed in beside her.

Leaning over her, he said, "Now lay here. Don't move a muscle. If either of our children cry, leave it to me."

"Okay," she whispered, "I'll try."

He kissed her forehead gently and left her. When he checked on her half an hour later, she was asleep. He smiled a little and closed the door behind him.

When Rylie awoke a few hours later, she saw that Kantor was propped in bed beside her with one ankle casually crossed over the other. He was still wrapped in his robe and hadn't bothered getting dressed. His nose was stuck in a book, and she wasn't sure that he could even see she was awake. She ran her hand slowly up his thigh until it was under his robe.

Amused, he said, "I thought you said you wouldn't be able to sleep." He didn't look away from the book once.

"I lied," she said with a grin.

Kantor closed the book and gazed down at her with a smile. "No shit."

She leaned up and kissed his scruffy cheek. "So, what made you decide to loll around in bed? It's not like you."

He tossed the book aside and shifted his body so he could face her. "Mom took Nas and Levi with her. I'm not sure of their destination, but I think she wanted to show off her new grandson some more. I considered doing some work, but thought better of it. I'd rather stay in here with you, just us, all alone in this big ol' house."

Her hand traveled further up his thigh. "You horny bastard," she said with a devilish grin.

He kissed her gently. "That's me. What do you say? You want to fool around? We may never get another chance in the day time again."

"Since you put it that way," she said as her hand found him, "Let's get it on."

Kantor ordered in Chinese food for the two of them a couple of hours later. They sat out on the sun porch and ate a long and leisurely lunch. It was quiet, with only the two of them, and they didn't speak much. They didn't need to. He sat before his wife and had to force his gaze off her face. He loved her deeply, felt more connected to her than any other woman in his life, but something was not right. He felt a tiny bloom of dread in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want to acknowledge or recognize it, because he remembered feeling this way before, and the events had been disastrous.

Rylie watched as Kantor expertly manipulated his chopsticks and picked up a mound of noodles. She had never gotten the hang of using chopsticks and always had to get a fork to even put one bite into her mouth. He seemed a little preoccupied and distant.

"Falk? Are you okay?"

He tucked the noodles into his mouth, chewed, and then swallowed. "I'm fine."

She dropped her fork and studied him for a moment. "I don't believe that. What's wrong?"

He began picking at the remaining food on his plate. He had almost broken his promise to his wife about not shutting her out again. How could he tell her? "I just feel like something is amiss," he finally said, "as if something is going to happen. I've had these feelings before, and it usually isn't good."

"Maybe it's leftover stress from that woman's visit with Nas," she said.

"Maybe," he said, but he didn't trust that, either. He gazed intensely into her eyes. "When this happened before, Rylie, Selarah was murdered."

"This is an entirely different situation, Falk. This visit had more of an affect on you than you're admitting. You're confused, scared, and hurt. Of course, you're thinking something is going to happen."

He dropped the chopsticks, giving up on his food for a few moments. "I can never stop worrying, Rylie. I don't know what's going on inside me."

She approached him and he slid his chair back from the table. He took her hand and pulled her onto his lap. "It's okay, Falk. There's nothing more for you to worry about. It's all out in the open, and nothing will happen to any of us," she told him.

He kissed her and gently caressed her hair. He wanted to believe her, wanted to allow his worry to slide away. However, he wasn't convinced. No amount of talking would help, no words would comfort. It would simply have to run its course.

Shoving it aside for a moment, he kissed her again. "I love you."

It had been a long time since Kantor had slept alone. Although he enjoyed an occasional break here and there, he had to admit that he missed his wife and children. He had been stuck in a hotel room for three days on a business related trip. He had been paranoid about leaving home, but he really had no choice. He had a job to do, of course, and Rylie had basically pushed him out the door. She took his feelings seriously, but she was certain that nothing was going to happen. And now he lay flat on his back, alone, and staring at the ceiling. He longed to have the warm body of his wife beside him. It was late, and he was only two hours away from home, but he was tempted to call Rylie.

He gave up on the temptation to call and on trying to go to sleep. He hated hotel beds; they were hard as rocks, empty, and cold. He sat up, grabbed the remote control, and flicked on the television. Even the cable stations sucked. There might have been six or seven channels, and none of them had anything that was either eye catching or remotely interesting. He was restless and ill at ease. He wanted to go home, but likely couldn't until the end of the week.

Kantor settled himself as best as he could and finally found an interesting show. He was dozing in and out and didn't realize it until he heard a loud and insistent ringing noise. He first thought it was the television, but then he opened his eyes and realized it was the phone. With his heart pounding audibly in his chest, he reached over and snagged the phone on its fifth ring.

Immediately sensing disaster, he whispered a muted 'hello' into the phone. His gut feeling had never steered him wrong. It seemed as if the world stood still in that moment while he waited for the person on the other line to speak.


It was his mother's voice. His heartbeat went up an octave. "Mom? What is it? What's wrong?"

"The kids, Falk," she said thickly, her voice tinged with stress and pain. "They're gone. Rylie is in the hospital."

Kantor's world went gray. What was she saying? Were they dead? Alive? Missing? "What…what do you mean by gone?"

"Come home. Come home now," she demanded.

He didn't spend any time wondering further what happened. He was solely focused on leaving the hotel and getting back to his wife. He shut out all the horrible possibilities regarding his children and kept his mind focused. If he didn't, there was no way he would make it back home in one piece.

The hospital was crowded and bustling when Kantor arrived. He had been running on pure adrenaline and had driven in excess of one hundred miles per hour to get to the hospital. He noticed a crowd of police officers, and in the middle of that crowd was his mother. He shoved his way through.

"Mom, what," he spat in shock. "What?"

Before Adira could speak one word to her son, a hand took hold of his arm. Painfully, he recalled the last time a hand had held onto him so tightly. It was when he saw the morgue blanket. No, he thought, I must not think of that. Quickly, he shoved the thought aside. He came quite close to decking the person holding onto him, but he resisted. He turned to face Zach Briscoe. His mind screamed: Homicide! Homicide! No, dear sweet God, no!

"Would someone please tell me what the fuck is going on," Kantor demanded. He felt as if he was on the verge of some horrendous mental breakdown.

"Someone took your children," Briscoe explained carefully. "Rylie tried to stop it, and she was beaten up a little, but she's going to be fine."

Nasya. Levi. Kidnapped. For a moment, nothing made sense. As if from some horrid fairytale, his children, his beautiful children, had been stolen in the night. Once gray, Kantor's world began to blacken. He lost his balance and would have fallen to the floor if it hadn't been for Briscoe's solid grip.

Rylie had been sedated. There was no other choice for hospital personnel. She had fought tooth and nail against treatment. The hospital had tried to give Kantor an injection, but he refused. He needed to be lucid and alert, not only for Rylie, but for himself. When he found the people responsible for taking his children and harming his wife, he would tear them limb from limb if left to his own devices. Briscoe assured Kantor that the FBI had been notified and was in the process of sending in a team of agents to find Nasya and Levi. The abductors had not been in contact with the police.

Kantor went to Rylie's room. He was not satisfied with the police department's answers. He had been tempted to throw himself right into the mix, and he would, but first, he had to think of Rylie. She needed him, and he couldn't deny her.

He was not surprised to see her half-alert. She had fought the sedative with everything in her, but it appeared to be winning. The instant she saw her husband, she struggled to get out of bed. Kantor went to her and sat on the bedside. He took her by the shoulders and held her down.

"No, Rylie. Don't move," he said gently.

It hurt him immensely to see her black eye, her sprained wrist. He didn't understand how anyone would want to attack her. He couldn't understand why it had to be his children and his wife, but not him.

"The kids, Falk, he took the kids," she cried. "I couldn't…couldn't stop him."

He took her into his arms and held her against him. He couldn't say anything, not one word. He couldn't comfort her at all. An incredible numbness began to enter him, and he fought against it, fought against the fog that threatened to consume him and drive him further away from the woman he loved. He didn't want to allow his grief, his anger, to isolate him. A tremendous sob ripped out of his throat.

"Oh God, oh dear God," he moaned, unable to control his tears.

Suddenly, the comforter became the comforted. They each tightened their hold on the other's body, and Rylie leaned back, drawing Kantor's head to her chest, cradling him against her.

Toward morning, the reality of the situation began to sink in. Kantor was no longer angry; he was enraged. He swiftly gained control of himself and took charge of his emotions. Although no longer an official member of law enforcement, it was no consequence to him. He would do whatever was necessary to find his children and the unlucky fuck who took them.

Throughout the remainder of last night, he stayed with Rylie. The sedative finally won the battle it had fought against her. He would stay only until the sun rose, then he would go home and begin the waiting game. Whoever had taken Nasya and Levi would have to have some type of demand, and he would be there when it was made.

He had gotten only the sketchiest of details surrounding the abduction. From what Rylie had been able to tell him, she was with the baby and Nas was in bed asleep. Rylie had been struck from behind, her body landing protectively over the baby. She told Kantor that the man had then lifted her off Levi by the hair of her head and took the baby from her. Rylie couldn't remember much else because the blow to her eye had knocked her flat. She had only seen one person, but Adira had reported seeing three. Whatever the case, one masked abductor had taken after Rylie and Levi. Another had gone for Nasya, and a third had likely waited outside on guard.

As he had feared, it was an obvious attack against him. The orchestrators of this abduction definitely knew how to hurt him. Like the old days, he began compiling a mental list of possible suspects. He thought immediately of Arlene Marx, but wasn't sure she was sophisticated enough for such an elaborate kidnapping. Besides, he didn't think she would bother taking Levi; her interest was centered on Nas.

Groggily, a voice from behind him said, "Falk? Tell me I was dreaming."

He turned his attention toward Rylie. He approached the bedside and gently smoothed her hair from her face. "No, my love, you were not. I wish I could say that and it be true."

Her eyes searched his face. It was filled with pain and rage. She could see that he was holding onto his sanity by a bare thread. Any little thing would instantly break it. "We've got to find them, Falk."

She tried to sit up, but he took hold of her shoulders and held her down. "You have to stay here and heal."

This man today was not the same man who had been with her in the night. That man had cried with her, showing his vulnerable side. But now, he had reverted to someone altogether different, and she didn't like this side of the man she loved so dearly.

"How can you be so cold, Falk? How? You turn your emotions on and off like a radio, and I just don't understand. You can't keep me from getting out of here. You can't stop me," she cried.

Her hurt was doing the talking for her; it was obvious, and he could not allow her words to penetrate his heart like the venomous daggers they were intended to be. Hurt and grief were evil monsters. She didn't realize that his heart was aching just as much as hers. He couldn't hold her words against her. It was all about control, and if he lost it, he wouldn't be able to function. Nothing he could say would make her understand this.

Kantor placed his hand onto her neck and caressed the side of her cheek with his thumb. "I'm not about to allow another member of my family to get hurt. Let me handle this, Rylie. Let me do this in my own way."

She pushed his hand aside. "Let you handle it? Let you do it your way? What are you saying? They're my children, too," she spat hurtfully. "Stop trying to protect me. I'm a grown woman, and I can handle it. You can't shut me out of this, I won't let you."

Feeling hurt and a bit rebuffed, he said, "I'm not giving you the choice, Rylie. You must stay here until the hospital says you can come home. Until then, I'm handling this, and I'm asking that you let me do what I need to do. This is someone trying to settle an old grudge. This isn't about you or the kids. It's about me. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"You're not a cop anymore," she said through clenched teeth. "You're not talking like a husband or a father. You're stuck in that 'cop mode' again, and you can't even let me in to help you. Go then," she spat hurtfully. "If this is the way you want it, Falk, go do it. Don't waste any more of your time placating me. Find them."

He wanted to stay with her, to try and calm her down. He couldn't watch her falling apart, because he was on the very edge of losing his mind as well. Her fear had blinded her, and she could see nothing. There were no words to comfort her.

"Rylie," he began.

"Leave me."

With a heavy heart, he realized that he had no choice but to honor her request.

Rylie remained at the hospital only a few more hours. Against the advice of the hospital, she checked herself out. Her husband had sealed off his heart in a lead case, and nothing she could do or say would penetrate it. But she would be damned before she allowed him to push her away. Not this time. Not ever again.

She had taken a taxi back home, and was immediately stunned by the cars parked in the driveway. There were even a few reporters lurking about. Of course, she knew that they had yet to forget Kantor's past, and now he was news again. Although hurt by her husband's behavior, she was still fiercely protective of him, and she didn't appreciate how they were using him to make a story.

The inside of the house was more crowded than the outside. She bypassed all the people and made her way through the house. She avoided upstairs, because if she had to look at the empty crib and Nas' empty bed, she thought she might scream her way into an asylum. Her intuition led her to Kantor's office. Several FBI agents had set themselves up in the room. The office was cluttered with computer equipment. Tracking devices were attached to the phone. Her husband was in the middle of the activity, pacing like a caged animal.

She didn't know it yet, but no one had heard a peep from the kidnapping sons of bitches, which worried Kantor immensely. Every moment they heard nothing meant that their chances of recovering the children unharmed were growing slimmer. If more than forty-eight hours passed, Kantor knew from experience that he would likely never see them again. He could not think of that now.

The agents noticed Rylie right away, but Kantor did not. He was in his own private hell. He had wanted to do so much, but no one was allowing him to do anything more than pace and curse. He wanted the fuckers to call, to tell him what they wanted. He would give anything, including his life, to have his children back home and safe.

Kantor stopped pacing. He wasn't sure what made him look toward Rylie. Perhaps it was the glint of her hair, or her perfume, or the simple ESP married couples often share. But somehow, someway, he finally saw her. The sight of her made him so angry for a moment that he couldn't think. What is she doing here? What the fuck is she thinking? Another part of him was glad she was there. He needed her, wanted her near.

"What are you doing," he asked as she approached him. "Goddamn it, Rylie. You should have stayed in the hospital."

She dug her forefinger into his chest. "I'm not allowing you to do this alone, to face this alone. Forget it; get it out of your mind. I don't care what you say, what you do, this is not just for you to handle. Nothing is going to stop me, including you," she said angrily, keeping her voice low.

He took hold of her hand and drew her sharp finger away from his chest. The last few hours had been sheer and utter hell. He had never felt so insignificant, so defenseless. The feeling had increased tenfold after leaving Rylie earlier that day. Would he have preferred that she stay in the hospital, out of his way? Would he? No. Hell no.

"Goddamn," he moaned.

A few seconds later, Kantor took her in his arms and held her close. His vulnerable side came out again, and instead of holding back, he let it out. They walked toward the worn leather couch with their arms slung around each other like wartime survivors. The only thing that brought them out of it was the ringing telephone. For a moment, Kantor stopped breathing.

Kantor was on his feet instantly. His hand was on the phone within nanoseconds, but he couldn't answer it. One of the FBI agents held him at bay. He had to wait for three painful rings before he was given the 'all clear' from the agent tracing the call. Tense, Rylie sat on the edge of the couch and chewed nervously on the ball of her thumb.

He picked up the phone and brought it to his ear. "Hello," he said stiffly.

"Good day, Falk, did you miss me? You have quite the cute little tartie, don't you?"

Kantor closed his eyes and clenched his jaws together tightly. Behind him, Rylie was watching cautiously, almost curiously. Her heart thumped sickly in her chest. He seemed to recognize the voice, but she had no idea who this person could be.

"You sick fuck," Kantor growled. "What have you done with my children, Trevor?"

Trevor? Who was this Trevor? Rylie had never heard the name before. She was tempted to speak, but she couldn't. Her throat had closed around her words, and she couldn't force them out.

"Your children? Perhaps one of them is yours and the tartie's, but I think the girl is mine," he said amused.

"You're insane. What do you want, Trevor? I want my children returned to me. What do you want? Tell me goddamn it," he shouted. "If you harm them in any way, I will kill you. Do you understand?"

"Oops," he said with a laugh. "Must hang up before the trace is complete. I'll be in touch."

The line went dead. Kantor was clutching the phone so tightly that his hand had begun to ache. It had to be wrenched from his grasp.

"You know this man," an agent asked.

Kantor nodded his head slowly. He was miles away. "His name is Trevor Steeler. He was married to my first wife. He went to prison for battery. He obviously got out, and he fucking has my daughter and son."

Rylie's voice came from behind him: "Falk? Who is this? Why does he have them?"

He momentarily forgot about the agents, the phone call, everything. All he could think about was his dear, sweet, steadfast wife. Even more of his past was coming back to haunt him, and it was surfacing not only to hurt him, but also to hurt her as well.

Kantor went back over to where she sat. "Trevor was once a good friend. We were roommates when I met Selarah. He fell in love with her, but he didn't move in on her until after I left. She married him, partly due to what I had done to her. He exploited her, and was very abusive both physically and emotionally. They were still married when I came back into Selarah's life, and when she became pregnant with Nasya. He said Nas was his, but I only think he did that to drive me insane."

"What does he want," she whispered. She didn't seem to have the strength to speak any louder.

He shook his head. "I don't know, Rylie, but if I had to guess, I would say he wants me dead."

She covered her face with her hands and began to sob uncontrollably. He took her into his arms and tried to comfort her. His tears fell freely as he clung to her. Throughout the night, they remained huddled together. No other calls came.

Very early the next morning, Kantor awoke from his light, fitful doze on the leather couch. His office was a hub of activity around him, but for the first time in his life, he was oblivious to it all. Rylie wasn't in the room. He needed to find her. It didn't take long. She sat out on the sun porch, staring out into the yard.

She knew he was there, but she didn't look at him. "I went upstairs to their rooms, and I actually expected them to be there," she said through tears. "How crazy is that?"

He slowly approached her and kneeled before her. "It's not crazy. I've done the same thing, Rylie."

"Why can't they find them? They're the goddamn FBI, and they're doing nothing," she spat.

He wanted to say something in their defense. After all, he had been in law enforcement and knew the limitations. Of course, their children had never been victims during his tenure. She didn't need to hear any excuses, neither of them was thinking rationally, and making excuses would only cause more pain and confusion.

Kantor was taken back to a Florida courtroom. He recalled kneeling before Rylie in much the same fashion not long after her attacker had been granted bail after nearly killing her. She had been Rylie Storm-Lanigan back then. She was simply another victim, another case, someone he had tried to help. He often wondered why fate had stepped in the night he had taken the distress call, why it had purposely drawn him into her life. He also wondered if she would have been better off without him. She did not deserve such grief, and it was all due to his past. All of it could have been avoided if he had simply walked away from her when he had the chance. Yet, despite the hell they had gone through, despite everything, he knew he would rather be in her life than not. He could sense that she knew what he was thinking, and through her tear filled eyes, he could see that she would always want him in her life, would need him in it. Without a word or a sound, he stood up and took her hand. He drew her into his arms and held her close.

It was dark where Nasya was. She was blindfolded, but she could tell when it was dark. Every now and then, a little sliver of light came in under the cloth covering her eyes, and she would hear the creak of a door as it opened and closed. She had never been so scared in her whole life. She hated the man who took her from her house, from her parents. She now thought of Rylie as her mother, although she knew the truth. It didn't matter. She had to have something to hold onto. Even at her tender age, she knew this.

A woman with stinky breath brought her food three times a day, but she barely touched it. She didn't care what they did to her; they weren't forcing her to eat anything she didn't want. When the door came open, she could hear her baby brother crying, sometimes screaming. Realistically, she knew she was too young to do anything to them, but she hoped these bad people weren't hurting Levi.

The man with the funny accent came to her. She wasn't sure what time it was, what day it was or anything. Darkness had a way of screwing up everything. He touched her hair and she fought him, desperately trying to shrug him off.

He laughed a little. "So spirited. You're just like your mum."

"Don't you dare touch me," she spat, baring her teeth. "Don't you dare hurt my little brother."

Trevor leaned closer to the little girl, and he continued to caress her hair. She tried to shrug him away again, but it was no use. He was holding onto her head a little. "You'll see your dad again, I promise. I certainly want to see him, and that little tartie wife of his." He kissed her forehead, and her face contorted with disgust. "Rest little girl. You want to be awake when you say goodbye to your father."

For the next several hours, there was no rest for Rylie or Kantor. They waited on pins and needles for the phone to ring. Kantor discovered that one of the agents had dug up some information on Trevor Steeler. Apparently, Trevor had only served four out of a twenty-year sentence. He had been released on good behavior [that news had nearly sent Kantor off in hysterics]. Only his hatred and anger kept his mind focused. Too much time had passed, and Kantor had never been so afraid in his life. He didn't want to think that anything could happen to the children, but his training had taught him differently.

No, he thought, I must not think of that right now. If he allowed those thoughts to surface, Rylie was sure to pick up on it. At that moment, she wouldn't be able to deal with the thought. He knew he couldn't. Kantor suddenly stood, he was on edge and restless. He could no longer sit still. Crazily, he began pacing back and forth in front of Rylie's prone body. He wanted the sick fuck to call.

The only thing that drew his attention away from his lunatic pacing was when Rylie suddenly stood and fled the room. He went after her, not sure what had happened to her. He found her in the downstairs bathroom. The cold water from the sink was on full blast, and she was holding her hand beneath it.

"Rylie? Are you okay," he asked, concerned.

When she didn't answer him immediately, he stood beside her and watched as a thin stream of blood swirled into the sink and down the drain. She had been biting her thumb obsessively, and had finally managed to make it bleed.

"Jesus, Rylie, you're bleeding," he spat.

"Oh God," she moaned.

She pushed him aside and went down on her knees in front of the toilet. A moment later, the bitter taste of bile rose up in her throat. She gagged violently for a few seconds, but nothing came up. Kantor went down on his knees beside her. He wrapped one arm around her waist to steady her.

Rylie straightened herself up and went into Kantor's arms. Lately, she had clung to him a lot. She didn't know what else she could do. The waiting was killing her, and she wasn't as strong as her husband liked to believe.

"I can't take this anymore," she moaned into his chest. "I'm losing my mind."

"I know," he said.

"We can't do anything, Falk. Our hands are tied, and I hate it," she cried. "Are we ever going to see them alive again?"

He pushed her away gently. "We can't give up, Rylie. Not now. Not ever. He doesn't want the kids. He wants me, and he'll get what he wants."

"Do you realize what you're saying," she asked in tears. "I won't let you sacrifice yourself to this bastard."

"It's the only way, Rylie."

"Wrong answer," she spat stubbornly. "Find another way."

He drew her to him and placed a brief kiss on her sweaty brow. "I'm not sure if there is one."

She buried her face in his chest and wrapped her arms around him tightly. "No, Falk, no. I can't lose you, I can't."

He closed his eyes and tightened his grip on her body. There was nothing he could say to her. This was his battle, and he intended to fight it. Once and for all, he was going to finish Trevor Steeler, even if it meant losing his life.

Later, they returned to the den and resumed their vigil on the couch. When the phone finally rang, Kantor thought he might have been hallucinating. Rylie began chewing on her injured thumb again. The FBI agents jumped to the ready as Kantor slowly approached the phone. After the fourth ring, he picked it up.

"It's time for you to cut a deal with me, Trevor," he spat into the phone.

Amused, he asked, "How did you know it would be me?"

"Cut the shit. You have no interest in my children. We both know this," he said slowly, carefully.

"Put me on speaker phone, Falk. I know you have a speaker phone. Do it now. I want your tartie to hear this as well," Trevor said.

Kantor stabbed at the speaker phone button and he replaced the phone on its receiver. "Okay, you have what you want."

"Not yet, Falk," he said, his voice seemingly booming in the room. "But we'll get to what I want in a moment." There was a rustling noise in the background. "Say hi to your dad," he demanded.

"Daddy," Nasya said. Her voice was tentative, disbelieving.

Kantor closed his eyes against the pain. Suddenly, Rylie was behind him. "Nas, are you okay," he asked gently, struggling to keep from sobbing.

"Yeah, Daddy," she said shakily. "I'm okay, just a little scared. Is Rylie there?"

"Yes, baby, I'm here," Rylie said. She was fighting back her tears as hard as Kantor.

"Is it okay if I call you Mom?"

"Yes, Nas, it's more than okay," she said as silent tears poured down her cheeks.

"I love you, Daddy. I love you Mom."

"That's enough of the touching family shit," Trevor spat.

"What about my son, Trevor. Tell me about my son," Kantor demanded. From behind, he vaguely felt Rylie digging her fingers into his arm.

"The squalling brat is fine, Falk, but he's sleeping right now. By now, I'm sure that your FBI friends have traced the call, and that's fine by me. It's time for the final payback, Falk. Come to the old University library. You know the one I'm talking about. Your children and I will be waiting for you. Bring the tartie along with you. Someone will need to take the kids. Even exchange, Falk, you for the kids. Don't try to fool me with any cop decoys, not if you know what's best for you. Do you understand?"

"Yes," he said simply.

"I'll be expecting you within two hours. If you're one second late, you and the tartie will simply have to start your family all over again."

Without another word, he hung up. Kantor's mind went numb. He knew what he had to do. Rylie saw the look on his face, and she understood.

"No," she cried.

He broke away from Rylie's grasp and turned to face her. "I have to do this, Rylie. You're not to come along, I don't care what he says."

Her face grew white. "What? You can't."

He took hold of her forearms and gazed down at her intensely. "I'm not about to put you in danger, Rylie. I don't have time to argue with you right now. We're running out of time."

Shocked, she stepped away from him. She couldn't move a muscle. Her world had suddenly turned upside down, and she felt dizzy. "Falk, no one has to die. Do you hear me?"

Suddenly feeling as if he had never left law enforcement, he glanced at one of the agents. "Take her out of here. Put her in the bedroom and stand guard. She does not leave the room under any circumstance."

Kantor turned away as one of the agents approached his wife. Although he really had no authority over the FBI agents, they knew his reputation. He was not one whose orders could readily be ignored.

He couldn't see Rylie's face, and didn't want to. Kantor knew that he had hurt her, had likely destroyed something inside her. She didn't make a sound, nor did she protest as she was led from the room. He was sure that he would never see Rylie again, and it killed him to know that her last glance at him had been filled with such unadulterated pain.

Rylie sat on Kantor's side of the bed. She wrapped her arms around her body and rocked back and forth. It was the only comfort she had. Her husband had set himself up to die tonight, and she already felt empty inside. She had no doubt in her mind that she would not see him alive again unless there was an intervention. After an eternity, she fixed her eyes on the wall clock. An hour or more had passed, and she hadn't even been aware of it. She wasn't thinking about it, she was making a plan.

Hers and Kantor's bedroom was on the second floor, at the very back of the house. If she managed to climb out the window, she thought she might get past the FBI goons. She didn't care who had ordered what, she had no intention of allowing her husband to die.

Slowly, Rylie stood and approached the window. She unlocked it and slid it up easily. There was an old trellis right outside the window that led all the way to the ground. She wasn't sure if it would hold her weight, but she was hell bent to try. She was tempted to climb out the window right that second, but she hesitated. If Kantor caught her, she wouldn't doubt that he would have her locked up somewhere. She closed the window and forced herself to wait. Once she saw Kantor's car pulling out of the driveway, she would make her own move.

It had taken more than thirty minutes to call down a female agent with similar coloring and dark hair like Rylie's. Kantor simply hoped that the woman would be good enough to fool Trevor.

"Are you sure you want to do this," one of the agent's asked.

Kantor fixed his steely gaze on the man. Ironically enough, he had worked with this same agent on a contractual job. He had never thought then that this man would now be working to bring his children back home.

He nodded. "I'm positive. This is the only way."

"Look, we can get a sniper to pick this guy off easily. You're a civilian, now, you shouldn't even be involved with this at all."

Stubbornly, Kantor spat, "No. I'm not risking my son or my daughter. I don't know how he's armed, and I'm not sure he'll even have the kids there at all. But I can't risk it. He had help taking them, and he could have help harming them."

Kantor's eyes followed the staircase up to the bedroom door where another agent stood watch over Rylie. He was tempted to go upstairs to be with her a few minutes, but he quickly trashed the idea. It would only prolong the inevitable. I love you, Rylie, I love you so much, he thought as his eyes nearly bore a hole through the door.

Rylie ran back to the window as she heard the bustle of activity toward the front of the house. It was time for Kantor to leave. She stood against the window and watched solemnly as the car began backing out of the driveway. It was too dark for her to see anything other than a couple of silhouettes in the front seat. Of course, she knew her husband would be behind the wheel.

Her heart skipped a beat as the car came to a halt. He had apparently seen her standing in the window. The car only stayed still for a few moments. It continued backing away until it was out of her line of vision. Although she fought viciously against her tears, she lost the war. She loved him for his strength and courage, for what he had brought into her life, for the gift of her son, and the added treasure of Nas. But she also found herself more than angry with him for his bullheaded stubbornness, and his need for never being wrong. His smugness would be his undoing.

Without another thought, without the slightest hesitation, Rylie pushed up the window. She climbed out of it and grabbed hold of the trellis. It made an audible protest at her added weight, but it didn't break. She made her way down slowly and meticulously. To her dismay, she noticed that the trellis ended about two feet short of the ground. Steeling herself, she took a deep breath, held it, and let go. Her body landed with a hard THUMP. She brought her body up slowly, hoping she hadn't hurt herself.

Rylie stood up and was relieved to note that she hadn't twisted her ankle or anything. There was a crowd huddled close to the front of the house, but her car was in the clear. She wasn't sure if she had left it unlocked, but if she hadn't, then her plan would be shit in the dirt. She tried the door and it came open. She felt the need to cry triumphantly, but quickly stifled it. She didn't want to draw any unnecessary attention to herself. Rylie climbed into the car and dug around under the seat until she found a spare key.

After he pulled into the library parking lot, Kantor sat behind the wheel of the car for a few moments in an attempt to collect himself. The abandoned building was dark and menacing. He could only imagine what his children were going through, and he prayed that they would come to him uninjured.

The female agent, whose name had eluded him, said, "You can back out of this at any time."

"I'm not backing out of anything. Once you have my kids, I want them out of here. Don't waste any time waiting for me. Take them home to Rylie. Do you understand?"

"Sure, I understand. I just want you to go back to your wife, too."

Absently, he shook his head. "That's probably not going to happen. Let's do this."

Rylie pulled up to the building. She parked her vehicle in a different lot than where Kantor had parked his. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest. She could almost feel Kantor's presence. She hoped he would understand why she could not stay away.

Kantor instructed the female agent to stay in the shadows behind him as he made his way through the cluttered interior of the library. It was very dark inside, and he didn't like it. Darkness gave the enemy the advantage. He would proceed no further into the depths of the building. If Trevor wanted him, he would have to come get him.

He stopped and looked back at the agent. "We go no further," he said. "Come out, Trevor," he shouted. "Bring my children to me." Kantor was answered by silence. "Don't play any fucking games with me, Trevor!"

Kantor's eyes made out a moving silhouette. He immediately tensed up and put his body into a defensive stance. He caught himself reaching for his gun when he realized he no longer carried one.

"I can take him out," the agent whispered harshly.

"No," he hissed. "Do not move until my children are safe."

The silhouette came closer and Kantor could just make out the small figure of his daughter. His son was cradled against the person's chest. When a few feet separated them, Kantor saw that the silhouette was an older woman. The instant Nasya caught sight of her father, she began pulling and tugging at the woman's hand. Levi began to cry.

"Daddy," she screamed.

"Nas, calm down. Don't scream," he said sternly, but gently. "Let go of her hand, baby," he told her, "and walk over to me slowly."

She did as her father instructed. Never had a few feet seemed like a few miles. He didn't take time to embrace his daughter when she finally made it to him. He shuttled her to the agent.

"Stay with Rylie, Nas," he told his daughter.

She looked over at the agent, and then at her father. "But Dad," she protested through tears.

"Do it, Nas. It's okay."

Nasya glanced at her father, confused. She knew this woman was not Rylie. She had never seen her dad so stiff, so cold, even when he was angry with her. She didn't question him further; she simply went to the woman as she was told to do.

"Give my son to my wife," he demanded of the woman.

Keeping her eyes fixed on Kantor, she stepped up toward the agent and handed the wailing infant over to her. Once the baby was secured in her arms, he glared at the agent.

"Get out of here," he demanded through clenched teeth.

Kantor's heart began to ache furiously as he listened to his screaming children being dragged away from him. He hadn't yet had the chance to kiss them or hug them, to make sure that they were okay. He was certain he would never get a chance to love them again.

The woman who had brought the children stepped away from Kantor's glaring eyes. There was murder in them, and she didn't want to be his victim. She dug a flashlight out of her pocket, flicked it on, and made a swift exit.

Sweat began to trickle down his back and over his chest. He could feel his pulse booming at his temples. His son and daughter were safe, and that was all that mattered to him. However, rage coursed through his veins, poisoning his bloodstream. He wanted Trevor's head, and he would wait until the Apocalypse to settle the score once and for all.

"So we meet again," Trevor said. His voice came from Kantor's right side.

Kantor whirled around. Looming in the shadows was a man he hated almost as much as he hated Aaron Holmes. His eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, but he couldn't see if Trevor had a weapon. He was not armed and would make an easy target. Trevor had the advantage. He had apparently memorized the entire floor plan of the abandoned library and knew every hiding place.

"I'm here, Trevor. Face me," Kantor demanded.

"In due time, Falk. You could outgun me with your physical training, but you're no match against a gun, are you? Been shot lately? I heard you got it pretty bad again. Can't you ever die?"

"I'm tired of playing games, Trevor," he said calmly. "Do what you must to me. All I care about is the safety of my children."

"I'd rather play for a bit longer if you don't mind. You like mind games, don't you? You were really good at them back in the day. You took a lot away from me, don't you know? First it was Sel, and then it was my freedom. I took your brats, and I nearly killed them, but I wasn't interested in that. They were little insurance policies. I took them to draw you here. I want to kill you, but I want to go about it slowly. I want to play a little hunting game. Are you up for that?"

Kantor took a deep breath in anticipation of rushing Trevor. However, before he could react, a noise to his left distracted him. Soft, crunching footsteps began to move toward him. He was sure it was Trevor's helper returning to assist him. However, he was so wrong. A clearly audible gasp caught him by surprise. He recognized the sound right away.

"The tartie returns," Trevor said happily.

"RYLIE, NO," Kantor roared.

It was too late. A sharp crack reverberated around the room, seemingly filling it, swelling in it. Kantor did the only thing he could. He went into a flying tackle and grabbed his wife, shielding her body with his. He didn't know what the bullet had hit, but thankfully, it hadn't hit her. In the distance, he heard Trevor knocking things over as he made his escape.

"Don't move," Kantor told her.

He took off after Trevor. It was not easy, because he couldn't see where he was going. The floor was weakened in spots, and Kantor was trying his best not to fall through. He caught Trevor's silhouette ducking behind a stone pillar. Unarmed, Kantor began to search the immediate area around him for some type of weapon. The only thing he could find was a two by four slab of wood.

"Remember, old friend," Trevor said with a laugh. "I know my way around. Perhaps I'll go hunting for your tartie. She would make nice game."

"You won't fucking touch her, Trevor. Not after I find you," he spat viciously.

"We'll see, won't we?"

Trevor started moving again. Kantor saw his silhouette darting around the ruined library as if he were playing hide and go seek. "I spy your tartie, Falk," he called from somewhere ahead.

Kantor wasn't sure if Trevor was serious. He didn't think about it. He simply pursued Trevor the best he could considering the shitty circumstances. Suddenly, Kantor heard Trevor cry out in surprise and anger. Rylie. Oh my God. Seconds later, he hard a loud smacking sound and Rylie's strangled cry.

His rage, his fear, drove him forward through the ruins, through the darkness. Trevor's body loomed over Rylie. She was crumpled at his feet. Kantor didn't know if she were dead or alive. He swung the two by four like a baseball bat and it connected squarely in the middle of Trevor's back. Trevor roared in anger and surprise, whipping his body toward Kantor. He swung the piece of wood again. It connected solidly with Trevor's stomach.

Trevor doubled over in pain and drove his body forward. Kantor easily sidestepped the blow and smacked Trevor again. Breathing heavily, but never quite losing control, Kantor held onto the two by four, and made ready to hit him again. He swung out, but Trevor moved back, averting another hit. Kantor stepped back and took aim again. Trevor wasn't done; he wouldn't let the other man hit him again. He aimed the gun blindly and pulled the trigger. The bullet caught Kantor in his lower chest. As his body fell to the floor, Rylie screamed his name.

Moments later, a voice yelled, "FBI! Drop your weapon!"

Trevor did not heed the advice of the agents. He aimed the gun at Kantor again. He wanted to be sure he finished the job nicely. His actions were met with a rain of bullets.

The cemetery was quiet and cold. Of course, cemeteries are always cold, always full of sorrow. Rylie held on tightly to Nasya's hand. She held a huge bouquet of flowers in her little fist. She wanted to cry, but she was such a brave little girl. She was so much like her father in that regard. Levi rested peacefully in the crook of Rylie's free arm. Normally fussy, he hadn't made a peep all morning.

The little family stood together silently. Nasya let go of Rylie's hand long enough to place her flowers on the headstone. At that point, Levi began to fuss a little. Rylie tried to soothe the boy, but he needed his father's touch.

A pair of gentle hands took Levi from his mother's arms. Levi settled down almost immediately. Rylie looked up at her husband and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. She had come very close to losing him.

As chaos broke loose around her, Rylie couldn't see, feel, or hear a thing. She cradled her husband's head into her lap. He had been shot in the chest, and she was more than certain he was dead.

"No, Falk, don't. Please, baby, don't," she cried.

Kantor slowly regained consciousness. There was a great pain in his chest. "Rylie?"

Rylie cried out. She thought she would never hear his voice again. "Oh God, Falk, I thought you were dead! How…How can you be alive?"

He struggled to pull his body up to a sitting position. Without hesitation, he ripped open his shirt. Rylie's eyes clearly identified a bulletproof vest. The bullet had likely lodged just below his heart. He was sure he had sustained a cracked rib. He barely had time to breathe. Rylie's lips were all over his face.

"Shall we go," Kantor asked Rylie.

She glanced down at Nasya. "You ready, Nas?"

She nodded. "Yes. I hope she likes the flowers."

Rylie's arm went around Kantor's waist. "Thank God for bulletproof vests," she whispered.

He glanced down at her. "You were right, Rylie. No one should be sacrificed."

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