Background info ...

This story begins in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, January 2008. Pam Douglas had called Stephanie Forrester to tell her older sister that their mother, Ann Douglas, was sick and Pam needed Stephanie's help. But when Stephanie arrived, Ann was healthy and impatient to leave on another one of her cruises - which left Pam and Stephanie alone in their Lake Forest apartment - with Tiny, Pam's Doberman "puppy" ... and Stephanie is beginning to wonder who really needs to take care of who in the Douglas household ...

Chapter One

A cold and snowy Tuesday evening, two days after Stephanie arrived ... Stephanie and Pam have just returned from taking Tiny for his final walk for the day. While waiting for the elevator, they're joined by the man staying in the apartment across the hall. He and Pam exchanged polite greetings and Pam begrudgingly introduced him to Stephanie ... his name is Matthew Brannigan ... when Stephanie automatically called him DOCTOR Brannigan, it became obvious that she recognized him. While that seemed to upset Pam, Matt was intrigued ... he more or less invited himself to join them for some of Pam's famous hot cocoa and cookies ...

The Douglas Kitchen ... a few minutes later ... Stephanie and Matt are sitting at the kitchen counter in an awkward silence while Pam is on the other side cleaning up after making the hot cocoa ...

"I'm surprised you didn't recognize Stephanie. She's been all over the news lately." Pam announced abruptly, taking them both by surprise.

"Oh really? So you're a celebrity?" Matt asked curiously, seeing the face that Stephanie made.

"Really ... someone tried to kill her. Gunshot wound. Just barely missed her heart. Though there are those who claim she doesn't even have a heart. The police have a long list of suspects. And there's an even longer list of people who wish the shooter would've succeeded." Pam told him in an animated, gossipy manner.

Stephanie just looked at her expressionlessly for a long moment then smiled sadly.

"Pam is the president of my fan club." She pointed out the obvious quietly.

"Well - you know what they say - if the truth hurts ..."

"And with friends - or relatives - like you - " Matt added his own retort, taking them both by surprise by not only his words but his protective tone as well then he turned and leaned closer to Stephanie. "I hope you're doing alright." He told her in a compassionate manner, placing his hand over hers and giving it a tender squeeze.

"I am ... thank you." Stephanie assured him uncomfortably, giving his hand a pat then pulling hers away and taking another sip of the cocoa.

"Here we go again!" Pam blurted out as she watched the two of them. "It's always the same. Every man we meet falls in love with Stephanie." She pointed out resentfully. "When we were growing up, my friends and I would always get to the dinners or the dances early so we could watch Princess Stephanie make her grand entrance. We would make bets on which of the boys would be the first to throw themselves at her and turn into drooling idiots. Sometimes it was so bad, the boys were actually tripping over each other just to get close to her. So there the two of you sit. It's QUEEN Stephanie now - with her latest conquest. Tell me, DOCTOR Brannigan - just how long did it take for you to fall in love with my sister?" Pam demanded.

The two of them just sat there silently for a moment - stunned by her loud outburst.

"Pam - that's enough." Stephanie finally told her as gently as possible.

Matt decided it was time for a change in subject and mood. "So tell me ... how DID you know that I'm a doctor?"

Stephanie looked away from her sister with a deep breath then let it out slowly and turned towards him.

"I recognized you." She shrugged.

"From what?"

"I'm familiar with your work ... I've read your publications and I've attended some of your lectures."

"Seriously?" He asked amazed. "Well - this has to be a first." He chuckled quietly.

"You could even say that I'm the president of YOUR fan club?" Stephanie teased, trying to lighten the mood as well.

"Huh ... why didn't you ever introduce yourself?"

"How do you know that I didn't?"

"Because YOU - my lovely lady - are not someone I would forget." Matt pointed out the obvious with an easy smile. "What is it about my work that interests you?" He asked confused.

"Everything." She shrugged again. "I'm on the Board of Directors of a private children's clinic in LA."

Matt just stared at her for a long silent moment.

"My God ... you're S. Douglas ..." It finally dawned on him. "You're the Douglas Pediatric Foundation."

Stephanie hesitated. "Yes - I am." She nodded reluctantly.

"I'm giving a lecture at your clinic in February."

"Yes - you are." She smiled easily this time.

"And you're hosting a dinner in my honor afterwards."

"Yes - we are ... it's not everyday that we have a three-time Nobel Prize Winner in our midst so we're going all out to make this a very special occasion. We're very grateful and honored that you accepted out invitation." She took another sip then warmed her hands on the mug.

"Huh ... well, I'll be damned." He mumbled incredulously. "Small world." He eyed her carefully. "Guess now I have to believe in fate. Or is it destiny?"

"Could just be a coincidence." Stephanie raised an eyebrow.

"A coincidence." He repeated, raising an eyebrow back at her then his eyes narrowed as his mood became increasingly pensive. "The reality of this is just ..." He tried to search for the right words to describe it. "After all these years, I am finally meeting the one person who is directly responsible for everything that I have accomplished in my career as a research scientist and she's calling this a coincidence."

Stephanie shook her head.

"You're responsible for your own accomplishments. I was just ..." She let her words hang as she shrugged it off.

"Just what? My benefactor ... my sponsor ... my inspiration ... I always figured you were a woman. A mother ... " He noticed the uncomfortable glance she made in Pam's direction and decided he should stop. "Hell ... I need a drink." He let out a heavy sigh.

"Well - you're not going to get it here. There isn't a drop of alcohol in this household." Stephanie informed him dryly, trying to lighten the mood then let out her own heavy sigh. "I would die for a martini."

"We both know why Mother doesn't allow alcohol ... don't we, Stevie ... " Pam finally spoke up in a bitter tone as she continued to eye the two of them suspiciously. "Why don't you tell your new conquest all about that."

Matt watched the way that Stephanie's eyes clouded over and her posture stiffened.

"I thought you wanted to watch that television show at 9:00." Stephanie quietly reminded her.

Pam quickly looked at the clock on the wall.

"Oh ... yeah ... I forgot all about that." She quickly finished putting away the dishes in the cupboard then took off her apron. "I'll be in my room ... as if the two of you care." She hurried out.

Stephanie just sat there silently, watching her sister disappear through the doorway. Matt waited a few moments then reached over and took hold of her hand and gave it a tender squeeze.

"There's a well-stocked bar right across the hall." Without waiting for a response, he stood and pulled her up with him.

"If you had any sense, you would run as fast as you can, as far away from me as you can -" Stephanie started to tell him matter-of-factly.

"I've lived my whole life being sensible ... now it's time to act on my instincts ..." He moved closer, giving her an intense look. "And as you said, Stephanie Douglas Forrester - you really do need a martini."