I apologize for the five month span between updates but life, a finicky muse, and the worst writer's funk I've ever fallen into held me back from getting this done sooner. Thank you to everyone who has sent me messages and offered words of encouragement, and a massive, massive thank you to my ever wonderful beta, ive-always-been-a-pirate, for giving this a look over and, ya know, not killing me when I did nothing but whine about this chapter for months on end. :)

This chapter is dedicated to an amazing woman and lovely friend, phiralovesloki, on the occasion of her birthday!

As always, enjoy, and reviews help writers who fall into horrible writing funks!

Chapter 13: Every Saint Has a Past

Sitting back on his haunches, Killian yanked the pristine white hand towel from his shoulder and wiped at the sweat gathering along his brow as he surveyed the recently soiled patch of land at the back corner of Regina and Robin's yard.

He had been more than little surprised when his best friend rang him the previous day and asked if Killian could fashion a handful of gardens for the mayor's residence. While his gardening habit was no secret to Robin—he was well aware that Killian had inherited his mother's love for the past time and had continued on with it after the woman's untimely death—the former locksmith had never called upon his expertise in that particular area before. The request was completely out of left field, and it had taken a quick chat with Regina to assure the priest that his best friend had in fact not been hitting his own liquor too hard.

Apparently Moe French, the owner of the local florist shop, had been in the process of installing the ten mini gardens for them when he suffered a heart attack a few weeks ago. He'd thankfully survived the medical scare, but it was clear Mr. French's side business of being Storybrooke's only gardener had ended with the tip of a doctor's pen restricting him to selling flowers. Regina and Robin had hired an out of town landscaper to finish the job and the man had never shown up, giving them one excuse after another until Regina had had enough and fired him. Robin had mentioned Killian's hobby of gardening in passing one night over dinner, and Regina had encouraged her husband to give the priest a call - which is how Killian found himself covered in soil and sweat on a Saturday afternoon beneath a blazing sun.

Killian slung the towel back over his shoulder and reached for the small gardening hoe he had set to the side a few moments before, muttered curses towards Storybrooke's weather falling from his lips while he began making holes for the flowers once again.

There seemed to be no relief in sight for the intolerable heat. Even the daily afternoon showers they had been graced with all week had done nothing to penetrate the humidity, sweat and clothes alike still sticking to skin despite the torrential downpours. Working in the non-air conditioned church had become impossible, and the man Robin had recommended to install the AC unit—the only person in a fifty mile radius who could do it—wasn't able to start until next week at the earliest. It had become so unbearable that he had started ditching the dress shirts and wearing his running tanks when not taking confession or giving sermons. Not that Emma seemed to mind the wardrobe change, of course.

He had been in the chapel almost two weeks going over the logistics of adding air conditioning to a 177 year old church with Little John, the AC technician, when Emma arrived for her evening shift. His intention when getting ready that morning had been for practical purposes when it came to the weather, but he hadn't been able to deny the swell of masculine pride that overtook him at Emma's slack jawed expression when she saw him dressed in jeans and a white running tank. She'd been relatively discreet in her gawking as she joined the conversation the two men were having, engaging with Little John in idle chit chat yet looking at Killian with hungry eyes whenever the other man's back was turned. He'd barely closed the doors behind the six-foot technician before she boldly dragged him to one of the back pews and straddled him, leaving both of them gasping and soaked in sweat as his seed coated her inner thighs.

Smirking at the memory and the fact he'd never look at that pew the same way again, Killian let his mind wander as he worked the small garden.

It was surreal at times the speed with which their relationship had changed. A few weeks ago he had been unable to be in the same room with her for fear of being tempted and now he willingly lingered in her presence, openly caressing her body with his eyes and stealing whatever physical moments he could throughout the day. Emma no longer looked or touched him under the guise of innocent intentions either—not that she had done that since before her parent's barbecue. The boldness she had shown during the game of lawn twister and on their front porch had been amplified now that she was unhindered by his spiritual resistance.

It was more than a physical change, however. The friendship they had started to build before their drunken text fiasco had reemerged with him giving into his desires. Dinners on the nights she worked at the church were filled with laughter and stories. They talked about a range of topics from philosophy to the latest news circling around Storybrooke, both within the confines of their shared office and when apart through texting. Not a day went by now where they didn't send each other at least a handful of texts—a random joke they had heard, an online meme they thought the other would find funny, recapping their days—and more than one night he had fallen asleep with his phone in his hand after they bantered back and forth for hours on end.

Even last night they had been up til almost one in the morning, talking about their day and flirting until it had lead to an enjoyable round of phone sex…

"Father Jones?"

Pulled abruptly from his thoughts, Killian turned his head to the side to see Robin standing a few feet away dressed casually in a pair of jeans and forest green t-shirt that had his bar's logo stenciled onto it. His right hand was shoved into the pocket of his pants and a beer, one of the English ones he had imported to Storybrooke fairly often, was held loosely in his other hand.

"Haven't we had this discussion a million times about you calling me Killian?" he asked, sitting back on his legs and squinting his eyes at his best friend, internally cursing the fact he had left his sunglasses at the church that morning.

"Old habits die hard," Robin replied with a shrug of his shoulders. "Though I must admit your new attire does make it a little easier to see you as simply Killian and not a priest."

Glancing down at the jeans and black tank he wore, Killian chuckled. "Well, slacks and dress shirts don't make the most comfortable clothes to garden in, mate. Particularly in this heat."

"Point taken." Tilting his head towards the house, Robin asked, "How about a drink? It's been awhile since you took a break, and the last thing I need is for Storybrooke's priest to keel over in my yard from heat exhaustion."

"That I wouldn't say no to," Killian replied, tossing the hand held hoe to the grass and rising to follow his best friend across the yard.

Unlike the Nolans' back porch which wrapped around one corner of their house, Regina and Robin's simply extended outward into their yard. The square structure was framed by a waist high railing and six pillars that supported the mini storage area directly above it. Black wicker furniture with blood red cushions were placed strategically around the porch, the dark colors a perfect complement to the three gray marble table tops that joined each grouping of chairs. A small storage box filled to the brim with Henry's outside toys sat next to the french doors that lead into the house, and simple arrangements of white hydrangeas decorated the table tops in clear vases.

Taking a seat in one of the far corner chairs, Killian nodded in thanks as Robin handed him a cold bottle of water from the small cooler that had been set out for him shortly after his arrival that morning.

"How's it looking?" Robin asked as he sat in the chair directly across from him.

"Not as bad as I thought it would be." Downing half the bottle, Killian continued, "Mr. French had most of the hard work finished, except for the two circular plots Regina wants around the fountains in the front yard. I finished putting the soil in those and now it's just a matter of planting the flowers in all ten gardens."

"You're a lifesaver, Killian. Are you sure we can't pay you directly?"

He waved away the remark with the hand not holding his water bottle. "You're my best friend. Of course I was going to help you in any way I could, and I'm positive on the payment arrangement. Making a donation to the church that will go toward its upkeep helps me a lot more than having the money sit in my bank account."

Robin shook his head. "Still, you're saving me and Regina from having to bring in another landscaper from out of town that is going to charge us an outrageous amount, and then not be as talented as you are."

Killian felt the tips of his ears burn under the praise. "It's just planting flowers, Loxley. There's not much too it."

"On the contrary, there is. Even with my limited knowledge on the subject I know you can't just throw soil on to grass and call it a garden. On top of that, you've managed to pick flowers that are not only aesthetic to our property, but that Regina approves of, and that's not an easy feat to accomplish where my wife is concerned. Her and Moe have been going back and forth for a month now on what to plant and they still hadn't reached a decision when the poor man had his heart attack. You have a talent for it, mate, and remember I know firsthand where it comes from."

Smiling at the mention of his mother, Killian turned his gaze towards the backyard, not really taking in the large apple trees Regina's grandfather had planted or the inground pool in the right corner of the property. It was the kind of space he wished his mother had had to fully nurture her own talent instead of the tiny strip of land that had been their yard back in England. He could only imagine the magnificent floral jungle she would have created, each garden carefully crafted and every flower lovingly tended to. Killian found himself swallowing against the unexpected lump in his throat at the memory of the raven haired woman gently caressing the petals of a daisy, her favorite flower, with a content and ethereal smile on her lips.

"Mum would have been far better at it than me," he murmured, looking back to his friend.

"She definitely had an unmatched talent," Robin conceded, a fond smile pulling at his lips. "Do you remember what she would do to us for punishment when we got into trouble?"

Killian laughed as he leaned back in the wicker chair. "She'd make you work the garden with her and forced me to stand on the side and watch."

"You hated that. For most teenagers, toiling away in soil would have been punishment but not you. She knew forbidding you to work in the garden was pure torture."

The sudden sound of something crashing from within the house had both men looking towards the french doors. Sighing heavily, Robin sat his beer on the table and stood.

"Speaking of boys who get into trouble, I've got to go see what my son is doing."

Killian chuckled as Robin disappeared into the house. He could still remember all the shenanigans him and Robin had pulled when they were that age, and he could only imagine what nefarious deeds a bright lad like Henry had gotten himself into.

He was just about to take another sip of water when the familiar chime of an incoming text message sounded. Wondering who would be texting him at this time on a Saturday, he dug his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. The furrow between his brows instantly disappeared when he saw that the text was from Emma. She had sent him a picture of herself, her toned body clad in an emerald green bikini and stretched out on one of the lounge chairs by her parent's pool, the caption reading: 'Enjoying my day off after the week I've had!'

His eyes took in the miles and miles of skin on display, and he forced his body not to react to the sight. Having an erection on his best friend's back porch in the middle of the day was not something he could easily explain away.

Killian: Minx. You know exactly what you're doing by sending me a picture like that.

Emma: What? I just wanted to show you how I was spending my afternoon, Father. ;p If anything 'pops up' because of it, you can just handle it as you once oh so subtly told me.

Killian chuckled.

Killian: You could always spend the night and handle it yourself, love.

He knew with absolute certainty what her message would be before the three dots appeared on his phone, but it still did nothing to stem the flash of hurt that shot through him as he read her response.

Emma: Unfortunately none of the girls are available to cover for me—next time, I promise. :)

Killian forced a smile despite the fact she couldn't see it.

Killian: Next time. :)

Silencing his phone, he returned it to the front pocket of his jeans and sighed heavily. Having Emma in his bed was everything he had dreamed it would be, except she hadn't stayed in his bed overnight since the first time they slept together.

He hadn't thought much of it the first few times she had given him an excuse—she had an early shift at the station, plans with her friends, some family obligation early the next day—but by the fourth time it had been clear she was actively avoiding overnight stays. He wasn't surprised, however. She had told him herself, albeit in a moment of anger on her parent's back porch, that she was a casual sex kind of girl. It was a way of life he could understand. Before Liam's death and the donning of the white collar at his throat, Killian had been the same way—a different girl every night, always up and gone before the afterglow of sex had worn off. It was a defense mechanism, born out of a need to not let yourself get attached, a means to keep from getting hurt again.

He had fallen into that way of life after his relationship with Milah had ended, and he had a suspicion Emma's reasoning was very similar. Although she had eventually told him about her reason for returning home, she never mentioned any of her other past relationships, and Killian knew her break up with Walsh hadn't brought on the need to protect herself emotionally. She said she hadn't been in love with him, and the kind of response Emma had of avoiding an intimate setting like spending the night was indicative of a wound caused by someone you had loved. No, there was at least one other relationship in her past, and he'd bet every cent donated to the church that person was responsible.

So then why did it bother him that she refused to spend the night? Killian's jaw clenched at the thought. He could understand why she wouldn't, and yet every time Emma came up with an excuse not to stay the night, a part of him was hurt by her decision not to. He shouldn't be, though. It wasn't like they were in a relationship...

"Everything okay, mate?"

Startling at the sound of Robin's voice, Killian looked up from where he had been staring at the marble table top to see his best friend standing in the doorway.

"Yeah, everything's fine. Why do you ask?"

"Because you look like you want to punch my table for offending your sister."

Clearing his throat, Killian nodded. "Sorry, I was just thinking about a problem a parishioner is having. Is Henry okay?"

"Oh, yeah. He was playing with a wooden sword Sheriff Nolan gave him and knocked over a bowl of apples in his attempt to slay the dragon—or the lamp as we unimaginative folks call it," Robin replied with a light chuckle. "I'm going to take him to the library so he can read about sword fighting instead of attempting to do it himself. Do you need anything before I go?"

"No, I'm good. I'll probably just sit here for a few more minutes before I head back to the garden."

"Okay. Take however long you need and remember to rest often in this heat!" Robin called out as he disappeared back into the house with a good-bye wave.

Killian remained on the back porch for a good ten minutes after the sounds of Robin and Henry leaving had faded, his mind instantly returning to the situation he had been pondering seconds before.

The fact he was bothered that Emma refused to spend the night had been a source of personal irritation for him over the last few weeks. He couldn't figure out why he felt the way he did, and for a man who always knew the motivation behind other people's feelings it was maddening. Why did he care so much if she stayed the night or not? It wasn't like her decision to be with him was affected by them not waking up together. She still wanted him—that much was evident in the amount of times they had slept together. Was it because her refusal to do so went against his code as a gentleman? He shook the thought away before he had even finished it. Although he had the manners of someone born in another century he was a modern man, and he'd certainly never felt like he was practicing bad form himself when he didn't stay the entire night in a woman's bed after Milah.

Sighing in frustration, Killian grabbed a fresh bottle of water from the small cooler and made his way off the porch and across Regina and Robin's back yard.

There was logic to some of her excuses as well, like the one she had given today. Emma didn't live on her own and couldn't come and go as she pleased—her absence at home would most certainly be noted by her parents, and there were only four places she could stay overnight that wouldn't raise questions. Emma needed one of the girl's to cover for her, but that also meant she had to come up with a reason for why she wasn't at either home or one of her friend's houses. She couldn't exactly tell them she was spending the night in a priest's bed, after all.

What he did know about the situation was that needing an alibi wasn't the only thing keeping Emma from staying overnight—there was that deeper, more emotional reason to her avoiding the intimate setting, the one that spoke to the pain she tried to hide from everyone. Perhaps it wasn't her refusal that was responsible for his own feelings but the cause behind why she did it. The need to discover what had lead to her walls certainly hadn't abated with the development of their physical relationship, though he'd truly done nothing to suss out and mend her wound so far. What if the sadness he felt was a reminder from his perceptive nature that he needed to concentrate on helping her now that he wasn't fighting temptation with every breath he took?

Well, I can certainly do that now, Killian thought as he reached the small garden he had been working on before Robin pulled him away for a break. It wouldn't be easy, of course. Emma had obviously been holding onto the pain for some time now, and he knew from personal experience that a person who did that wasn't the type to readily open up about it just because someone started prodding at the unhealed emotional scar. They were more likely to lash out and try to protect themselves—just as he had done to Liam and Robin after Milah broke his heart. He was a patient man, though.

Satisfied that he had finally worked out why her actions bothered him, Killian knelt in the freshly trimmed grass and went back to work, all the while ignoring the mocking voice of his older brother.

For such a perceptive man you sure are clueless, little brother.

This was by far one of her more brilliant ideas, Emma thought as she adjusted herself on the mesh pool float, a sigh of contentment escaping her when the back of her sun warmed body dipped even further beneath the cool surface of the water.

Late-July in the south wasn't the most comfortable weather to spend a day outside in, yet she was willing to suffer through it for a little peace after the week she had. A tyrannical bride who Emma had envisioned pushing off a cliff multiple times had postponed her pre-marital counseling sessions, and then became physically hostile when the date and time she wanted hadn't been available. It wasn't anything Emma couldn't handle, but she hadn't expected to start her week off by putting a former head cheerleader in a headlock and then arresting said woman for attempted assault over a time slot.

On top of the right hook swinging bride, someone had decided to break into a few of the local shops over the course of a few nights. Regina had even approved her having over time so they could catch the culprit or culprits, and she knew the only reason that had happened was because Gold's shop had been one of the ones hit. Between that and the drunken escapades of one Will Scarlet—who, surprisingly enough, was not the miscreant of said break-ins—she had also had to take the bug in to have the radiator repaired and, not a day later replaced a flat tire she had acquired thanks to some high school student's prank.

All in all it had been a fairly chaotic week, and she was determined when she clocked out from her evening shift at the station yesterday to have a relaxing day off—a feat she had so far accomplished with the utmost laziness. Sleeping in until nearly ten o'clock, she had then spent the rest of the morning doing nothing but catching up on new episodes of Forensic Files while painting her toes. It had been a little odd to have the entire house to herself, what with her parents visiting her ailing grandmother on the more rural side of town, but after the way her mother had been acting all week she had welcomed the silence.

After finishing her toenails and reading a chapter from her well loved copy of The Princess Bride,she had decided to take advantage of the first full sunny day since last Saturday and made her way out to the pool. She had spent the last three hours alternating between the cool water and one of the covered lounge chairs, the chaos of the week melting away the longer the sun's rays warmed her body. There was no better way to have spent her Saturday, honestly. She was relaxed and pliant as she floated in the pool, basking in the serene and quiet surroundings of her back yard with only the distant sound of a neighbor cutting their grass to interrupt the peaceful afternoon...

"Mind if I join you?"

Startling so much that she almost rolled completely off the float, Emma's head whipped towards the front of the pool area to find her mother standing by one of the red cushioned lounge chairs, looking for all the world like she hadn't just given her only child a miniature heart attack.

"Jesus Christ, mom!"

The school teacher, who was dressed in a light blue one-piece with a pair of aviator sunglasses covering her eyes, huffed in displeasure. "Emma, don't take the Lord's name in vain."

"Well, don't sneak up on someone like that!" Emma admonished as she righted herself in the mesh float. "I thought you and dad were spending the day with grandma Ruth?"

"We did, at least until your Uncle James stopped by unexpectedly. You know your father can't stand to be in the same county as him, let alone the same room."

"Oh. Was he trying to get more money from grandma?"

It was the only time her uncle ever visited his mother. James Nolan had been a habitual drug user since him and her father were teenagers, and he constantly used the fact that Emma's grandfather died when they were young to guilt her grandma Ruth into giving him money to fund that addiction.

"Probably, which is why your father and I came home. Ruth has never been able to say no to your uncle, especially since her health has taken a turn for the worse." Setting the beach towel and iPad she had been holding onto the covered table, her mother turned towards Emma fully. "So, can I join you?"

Emma narrowed her eyes despite the fact the other woman couldn't see the action through her sunglasses.

"I don't know, are we going to talk about the subject you've been harping on me about?"

"Harping is a rather strong verb," her mother replied, her stance instantly shifting from relaxed to the 'teacher about to correct you' one Emma had been the recipient of for most of her life. "I'm just a mother concerned for her daughter's future."


Mary Margaret sighed heavily. "No, we won't talk about your rash decision, Emma. I just want to spend some quality with you on your day off."

Her mother wasn't necessarily lying—at least about wanting to spend time with her—but Emma could detect the ulterior motive in the southern belle's tone a mile away. Still, she couldn't keep her out of her own pool, and Emma knew even if she attempted to her mother would just find another opportunity to broach the subject that had brought her out here.

Gesturing to the water around her she quipped, "By all means."

Her mother smiled in triumphant and Emma groaned internally, watching wearily as the other woman grabbed one of the spare mesh floats from the large storage cabinet and made her way towards the pool's built in steps. Emma closed her eyes once her mother was situated on the float, intent on recapturing her relaxed state for however long her mother allowed her to.

When twenty minutes went by and neither woman had spoken, she began to wonder if she had been wrong about her mother's intentions. Emma was always on guard when it came to her mother, the turbulent relationship that developed between them at some point in Emma's childhood forcing her to always expect the worst when it came to interactions with her mother. It was justified to some degree. Her mother never agreed with any decision Emma made—the clothes she had worn as a teenager, her career path, the state of her love life—and she was always the first to point out Emma's mistakes, and she certainly was never afraid to share how she really felt about whatever her daughter had done.

But there was also the other side of the coin. Her mother loved her, that had been one aspect of their relationship she never questioned, and she was always there when Emma really needed her. She was the one who had dealt with Emma being bullied in the fourth grade, the one who had sent her money when she was just getting her footing in those early years of living in New York, and it had been her mother who suggested Emma come live with them after her breakup with Walsh. There were always strings attached or opinions given, even when she didn't ask for them, but Mary Margaret Nolan had never left her daughter in an hour of need.

Except for the instance involving Neal, not that Emma could really hold that against her mother. The other woman had never been given the full story on what happened that night, and she was a mature enough adult to recognize someone couldn't be held accountable for their actions when they weren't given the entire picture.

Deciding to give her mother the benefit of the doubt for once, Emma let herself fully embrace the quiet moment.

It was a beautiful albeit scorching day, and she couldn't help but wonder what Killian was up to. Normally he texted her throughout Saturdays as he worked on the final edits for his sermon and while doing odd chores around the church ahead of Sunday Mass, but she'd barely heard from him all day. He'd sent her a good morning text when he'd woken up—at 5:30 AM, no less—and they'd exchanged a few briefs sentences a few hours ago after she had sent him the provocative pic of her sunbathing next to the pool. They had been up rather late the night before talking, however, and due to the shift in their relationship he had spent a good portion of his free time pleasuring her, so she knew he was further behind on his sermon than he normally would be.

Emma bit her lip at the memory of how they had spent one of those pleasurable free moments in his office just that week, and once again marveled at how much the priest's behavior had changed since they started sleeping together.

The way he flirted with her was the most obvious change. Whereas before he had done it subtly and behind the guise of friendly banter, he now took to it with no reservations, dropping innuendo laced remarks as if they were mundane parts of a conversation and doing nothing to hide the intention beneath his words. It was like the shackles that had hindered him were completely gone and the man she had only glimpsed fleetingly before had come out in full force. Not that she minded. It thrilled her that he no longer hid his desire for her, boldly sending her suggestive texts and reaching for her when no one else was around. He did it most of the time without her prompting him, and since he had left her in that alley during the storm, he hadn't once turned down any of her own advances.

Which was a good thing considering she had made a lot of them since he began wearing his new attire.

"Did Graham do something you weren't comfortable with?"

The image of Father Jones taking her on the kitchen island with his biceps on full display in one of his tanks evaporated quickly at the school teacher's question. Of course her mother had simply been waiting for Emma's guard to go down to attack, a fact she both admired and loathed at the same time. So much for quality time.

"Of course he didn't," she instantly replied, sighing in annoyance at the clear meaning behind her mother's inquiry. "Why would you ask such a question?"

"Because you're my daughter and I want to know if I need to get my archery bow out of retirement."

Emma shifted her float around in the pool just in time to see the casual shrug her mother gave. She wasn't falling in that trap again and she snorted, letting her mother know she was on to her little game.

"You mean you're trying to find a reason for the decision I made."

There was a pause and then—"Perhaps, but even if I wasn't, the sentiment still stands."

Emma sighed. "I've already told you my reasoning, mom."

She swore interacting with her mother was like experiencing whiplash sometimes. Emma knew that if Graham—or any man, for that matter—did something against Emma's will, her mother would be a force to be reckoned with more so than even Emma's father. However, that wasn't what this was about. It wasn't about her mother's fear that something had happened because she knew damn well it hadn't. It was just her mother's way of trying to figure out why she'd made the decision she did. This was the ulterior motive she had sensed, and any minute now her mother was going to bring up the subject that had been a bone of contention between them since her date with Graham, the very thing her mother had sworn they wouldn't talk about before getting into the pool.

"I know you have, I just… Emma, are you sure you want to permanently close the door on a relationship with Graham?"

And there it was.

Her mother had been questioning her decision not to see Graham romantically for two weeks now. She had been confused when Emma dropped that piece of news after Elsa brought her home, and had immediately launched into an Oscar worthy speech about why Graham was perfect for her.

Emma, he works, he's independent, he has ambition, and he's driven. The last man you dated only had one of those qualities, and we both know he spent more time with that red headed witch than actually working. Graham is a good man and would treat you the way you deserve, even give you a stable and secure life. Men like him don't grow on trees, dear.

She hadn't denied any of it, of course, because everything her mother said was true. Graham was a good guy, and far more emotionally mature and professionally driven than any man Emma had dated previously. Her mother just couldn't understand that she felt no romantic feelings for him and why that meant a relationship could never happen. She had set her mind to the fact that Emma should be falling head over heels in love with Graham simply because he was the first decent guy to show interest in her, and refused to accept anything else, even her own daughter's feelings. It had been a constant and ongoing cycle between mother and daughter. Mary Margaret would ask why she couldn't see a future with Graham, Emma would state her feelings on the matter, and her mother would ignore them in favor of promoting Graham as the answer to Emma's dismal love life.

And it was clearly going to happen again.

"Mom, we've been over this a million times," she replied, doing nothing to keep the annoyance from her tone.

"It just doesn't make sense, Emma. You said you had a good time on your date."

"Having a good date doth not maketh a relationship," Emma mocked. "You're acting like I ended a five year relationship—there was no relationship."

Her mother made a sound of agreement. "And that's my point! You've made a decision based on one interaction. He could be your true love and you're just… throwing that chance away."

Emma's hands fisted where they lay beneath the water. "I'm not throwing anything away. I've told you, repeatedly, that I didn't have any romantic feelings for Graham prior to our date and that the only reason I went on it was because you insisted. Going out with him didn't change that. If anything, it solidified the fact that we could never be more than friends."

"Well, why not?" her mother asked and Emma rolled her eyes, thankful the large sunglasses she wore hid the disrespectful movement. "You're both ambitious and work in law enforcement. Neither of you have conformed to small town life and you both loath American football."

Emma gaped at her mother. "Are you serious? None of that represents a good foundation to build a relationship on! You have to have more and it wasn't there, mom. We fundamentally do not want the same things in life. Did you and dad build a relationship solely on the fact that both of you can throw a mean right hook?"

"Of course not," Mary Margaret scoffed. "We developed one on mutual attraction and the instant spark between us."

"That's my point. There was no spark between me and Graham, even when we kissed."

She watched her mother's eyebrows raise nearly to her hairline and Emma internally slapped herself.

"You didn't tell me y'all kissed!"

Where was a glass of hard liquor when she needed it?

"I like how that is what you took away from that sentence, mom. Yes, we kissed and I felt nothing when it happened. No fireworks erupted in the sky, or butterflies fluttering in my stomach—it was like kissing a friend. I swear you don't even care about my feelings on the matter. You'd rather I just pretend to like him, marry him, have a few kids, and be miserable for the rest of my life."

"Don't be absurd. Your happiness is the only thing that matters to me." When Emma huffed in disbelief her mother frowned and added, "It's true. I just… I worry that you've chosen the wrong men for so long that you don't know when you have a good one and that you'll regret letting him slip through your fingers one day."

"Then let that be my regret. Constantly harping—and no, that is not a harsh verb with what you've been doing all week—is not going to suddenly make me change my mind. I don't like Graham like that."

Her mother contemplated her words for a long moment before sighing heavily. "I just want you to have what your father and I do, Emma."

It wasn't a lie, and a fraction of Emma's anger subsided at her mother's honest declaration even as that feeling of emotional whiplash returned. Because once, long ago before Neal had broken her heart and left its remnants on the floor of Gold's shop, she had wanted that too. The unconditional, all encompassing love that she had witnessed every day of her life. It wasn't in the cards for her though. It hadn't been since she was seventeen, and she swallowed against the familiar bile of failure for not living up to yet another of her mother's standards.

"We all can't be as lucky as you and dad," she mumbled, not caring if the other woman heard her. Needing some space, Emma slid off the mesh float and made her way towards the pool's steps.


Without turning around she pleaded, "Mom, I—I don't want to talk about it anymore."

She was just stepping out of the water and onto the concrete when her father appeared at the entrance to the pool area, dressed in a white shirt and his favorite pair of Hawaiian print swimming trunks.

"Emma, have you seen your—oh, there you are, Mary Margaret. I didn't realise you had already come down here."

"I wanted to get a head start on sunbathing," her mother replied from the pool, and Emma huffed at the lie. Ignoring the rather domestic exchange between her parents, she stood on her tiptoes and placed a kiss on her father's cheek as he passed her.

"Hi, dad."

"Hello, princess. Everything okay?"

"Just peachy," she drawled, doing nothing to hide her annoyance as she made her way around the side of the pool to the covered lounge chair she had been using all afternoon. Once seated, Emma grabbed her phone and quickly typed a message into the top conversation thread of her texting app.

Emma: Busy?

"Are you sure you're okay?"

Looking up from her phone, she saw her father standing on the first step of the pool with his shirt discarded and blue eyes studying her in concern.

Setting her phone back onto the table next to her, Emma flashed him a faux smile. "Yup. Just having a discussion—once again— with mom about my decision not to date Graham."

Her father's gaze instantly swung to her mother, and an exasperated look crossed his face.

"Mary Margaret—"

"I'm her mother and I have every right to make sure she's making the right decision," her mother interrupted, and Emma could instantly tell by the other woman's tone that it was something her parents had discussed at length before now. It wasn't surprising, really. Her father knew how her mother could be when it came to situations like this, and he had undoubtedly had private talks with the school teacher about backing off.

"You do," David agreed with a nod of his head. "Same as I do, but she's not a child anymore, Mary Margaret. She's a responsible adult who is more than capable of determining if she's making the wrong decision or not, and at some point you're going to have to let it go. You can't make her like someone if the feelings aren't there, no matter how high your hopes for them were."

Both of Emma's eyebrows rose at her father's rather passionate speech. In all the years he had played mediator between her and her mother, David Nolan had never once blatantly taken a side. He always remained neutral—listening to both of them complain before subtly altering her mother's stance on the matter or advising Emma to pick her battles—but not this time. Her father was firmly standing in Emma's corner and out right telling his wife she needed to stop.

One glance in her mother's direction told Emma that this new development hadn't gone unnoticed by the school teacher either.

"So you're okay with her making this decision after only one date?" her mother asked in a clipped tone. The school teacher's crossed arms and raised chin screamed that she was not happy about this turn of events in the slightest.

"Absolutely," her father replied as he made his way deeper into the pool. "Honestly, I'm kind of glad Emma decided not to pursue a relationship with Graham."

That had Emma pausing in her movement to lay back on the lounge chair. "Really?"

Climbing onto the mesh float Emma had abandoned, her father shrugged. "If you had continued to see him I would have supported you, of course, but truthfully… I never liked the idea."

Mary Margaret gaped at her husband before splashing water in his direction with her left hand. "You said you were okay with it!"

"Just because I was okay with it didn't mean I particularly liked the idea, Mary Margaret. Graham's a great guy, but if him and Emma…." Here her father stumbled a bit over his words, twin spots of redness appearing on his cheeks that weren't caused by the sun. "If they had, uh, taken their relationship to a... physical level it would have been awkward for me, both as their boss and her father."

Emma bit her lower lip to keep from laughing at how uncomfortable her father looked mentioning the topics of her and sex—even in an indirect way—in the same sentence. She'd normally tease him about it but considering he was currently standing in her corner against the onslaught of her mother's harping, she decided to take pity on the man.

"Likewise, dad. Not having any romantic feelings for him aside, that was another factor that brought me to the decision not to see him again."

That, and the insanely hot sex I had with the priest later that night.

Her father nodded in understanding while ignoring his wife's pointed glare. "How did Graham take the news?"

"He was fine with it," Emma replied as she laid back on the lounge chair.

She wasn't lying—he had been. They had met at Storybrooke Cafe on Graham's lunch break the morning after her interrogation by the girls, Emma steadfastly refusing to essentially dump her friend in the crowded and gossip central location of Granny's diner. God knew between people's big mouths and Granny's insanely good hearing, the news would have spread before either of them made it out the door. Over sandwiches and coffee she had broken the news to him as gently as she could, and had done her level best to let him know it had nothing to do with him personally. He had been disappointed, of course, but unlike her mother Graham had accepted her reasoning and had even agreed that they had vastly different goals for the future with the most understanding smile. Promises were made that it wouldn't change their friendship or professional relationship, and Emma had walked away from the conversation thankful that Graham was the kind of man he was, which only cemented her initial realization that he would be perfect for Ruby.

"I suppose that's one saving grace," her father said with a noticeable sigh of relief. "At least things won't be awkward between the two of you at work."

"Well, it might be a little considering they kissed."

Anger flared sharply within Emma at her mother's words, and the only thing that kept her from unleashing that anger towards the woman who had given birth to her was the manners she had been instilled with. Instead, she ignored the remark and reached for her phone and headphones, pointedly putting an end to the conversation she hadn't wanted to have in the first place.

She couldn't hear what her parents were discussing through James Blunt's upbeat Stay the Night, but from the facial expressions they wore she could tell they were discussing her father's displeasure over her mother's persistent tactics. Good, she thought. Her mother deserved to be lectured over her actions, and God knew the only person who could do it and make any headway, however small, was Emma's father.

The sudden alert of a new text message had Emma turning her attention from her parents to the phone in her hand.

Killian: Sorry, turned my phone off earlier. I've just returned to the church. :)

A smile pulled at Emma's lips when she saw the response to the message she had sent a few minutes before.

Emma: Did you take advantage of the air conditioned library to finish your sermon?

Killian: hahaha no, but that is an idea worth exploring in the future, though. Robin and Regina needed some last minute help with gardening, so I was at their house all day.

Emma blinked in surprise. She knew Mr. French, Storybrooke's part time gardener, had suffered a heart attack around the time her and Killian started sleeping together, and word had spread fairly quickly that the out of town landscaper Regina had hired to finish her private renovations had been a bust. The Mayor had mentioned in passing when she dropped by the station yesterday afternoon that she had found a last minute savior, but Emma had never expected it to be Father Jones. Though it made sense, of course. Robin was his best friend, and she had seen his gardening work on a number of occasions when she found him tending to the little patch of dirt next to the church.

The man really had a multitude of talents.

Emma: A priest and a part time gardener. Don't let my mother find that out or you'll never have a moment's rest, Father.

Killian: Noted. Though it would give me an excuse to survey the goddess soaking up the sun. ;p How was your day off?

The familiar twinge of unease shot through her at his use of the term 'goddess'. She wasn't creeped out by Killian's description—she was fairly certain the man could never give a skeevy remark, what with the 17th century poetic way he talked—it was just something she wasn't use to. Emma had never been one to easily take a compliment about her looks that didn't include the words sexy or hot, especially from members of the male sex. After all, the last man besides her father that had called her beautiful and meant it was…

Emma shook the thought away before she could finish it.

Emma: It was going well until my mother decided to ambush me.

Killian: How so?

Emma: Long story—just my mother being her normal, persistent self. Thankfully dad took my side, but it's ruined what was shaping up to be a very relaxing day.

Killian: I'm sorry, lass. Anyway I can help?

Emma started to type that there wasn't when she glanced up from her phone. At some point her parents had moved from their floats to the uncovered lounge chairs on the other side of the pool area, and looked to still be in a heated discussion though Emma couldn't hear them over her music. She had hoped her father would be able to talk her mother into dropping the Graham thing, but judging by the set of her mother's shoulders and the way her dimpled chin rose while Emma's father continued to speak, that wasn't happening. At least not for the next few hours.

Perhaps a change in scenery to give her mother time to cool down was in order. She ran the risk of Killian asking her to stay the night again, but it was one she was willing to take over continuing the discussion with her mother. Besides, she still had the excuse from earlier she could use if need be.

Deleting what she had typed, she quickly wrote a new message and hit send.

Emma: Actually, there is. I'll explain in 15 minutes.

Not waiting for his response, she took out her headphones as she stood and began to gather the few things she had brought to the pool earlier that day.

"Mom, dad—I've got to go to the church for a few hours."

"Emma, it's your day off!"

"I know, but something happened with the schedule and I need the hard copy to figure out what's going on," she lied, feeling only the smallest twinge of guilt for out right lying to her father. She could tell by her mother's thinned lips that the other woman was well aware of why Emma seemed enthusiastic to be called in on her day off.

"Will you be home in time for dinner?" Mary Margaret asked, clearly trying to gauge how long she'd have to work on her argument before her daughter's return.

Emma shook her head at her mother's question. "Probably not. I'm sure Father Jones will make something if it takes awhile. I'll see you later!"

With that she was practically running from the pool area and up the stepping stone pathway that lead to the house. Once inside, she made her way up to her bedroom and tossed what items she wouldn't be taking with her onto her bed before rummaging in her dresser for a cover up. Slipping into the strapless piece of clothing, she quickly grabbed her car keys from her nightstand and raced downstairs, barely remembering to slip into a pair of flip flops in her hurry to put distance between her and her mother.

"How are you feeling, lass?"

"Exceedingly better than I was when I first texted you."

"A perfectly grilled steak and Granny's recipe for homemade fries will do that, I suppose," Killian mused playfully with his hands in the soapy dish water. "I'll have to remember to thank the Widow Lucas."

A feminine snort sounded from behind him in the vicinity of the kitchen island. "Pretty sure the mind blowing sex and the delicious food did it."

Killian chuckled as he set a dinner plate into the drying rack next to the sink. "Duly noted for future reference."

"Are you sure I can't help with the dishes since you did all the cooking?" Emma asked yet again, the third time since they had finished dinner and he had begun cleaning up.

"I'm sure. It's your day off and I would have cooked and cleaned even without you here."

"Yeah, but I made you do extra work after busting in and having my way with you."

Pausing in his efforts to scrub the sheet pan he had used to make the fries on, Killian looked over his right shoulder and winked at her. "Do you see me complaining about that in any way?"

Emma's answering smile pulled one from his own lips as he turned back to his task.

He hadn't expected her to show up at the church after she had sent that last text, though the last thing Killian was going to do was complain when she appeared in the doorway of their shared office. All she had said was that she needed to get away from her house for a little awhile, and he had gladly accepted the company as he went over the final edits for tomorrow's sermon. They had talked as he worked—him asking her what she had done with her day off, and Emma inquiring about the job at Robin and Regina's house—and once he was satisfied that the sermon was as polished as it could be, he had asked her to join him in a much needed shower. She had obliged, and after washing away the day's sweat from his skin he had taken her against the tiled wall, the slightly cool water beating down on them and muffling their sounds of pleasure.

Biting his lip at the memory of what had happened only a few hours before, Killian placed the last dish in the drying rack and dried his hands before moving to make their after dinner beverages.

"You sure do seem to have an affinity for Queen above all other rock bands, Father."

Killian frowned at the rather random remark until he realised Queen's Radio Ga Ga was playing from his phone. He'd left his playlist running while they ate, the volume turned down low to give the room a melodic background as they conversed over dinner. Chuckling, he retrieved the milk from the refrigerator and poured just enough in her coffee to turn the liquid blonde.

"Queen is the best band of all time," he replied while putting the milk back. "Surely even you as an American can agree."

"I'm fairly certain every human on the planet agrees with that statement. If they don't, they're wrong."

Killian laughed in agreement at her assessment, and picking up their mugs, turned towards her. Emma was still sitting on the opposite side of the kitchen island in what had quickly become her seat whenever they ventured into the kitchen, a half empty water bottle and her phone pushed to the side in anticipation of her coffee. Instead of donning her cover up after their wet activities she had pilfered one of his black dress shirts from his wardrobe, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and the first few buttons left undone. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, the few tendrils that escaped to frame her face dancing from the two box fans he had set up to keep the kitchen cool under the oppressive summer heat, and his stomach flipped at just how breathtakingly gorgeous she was.

Noticing his stare, Emma raised a delicate eyebrow. "What? Do I have steak sauce on my chin or something?"

"No, just admiring your beauty," he confessed before setting their mugs down and taking his seat at the island.

She scoffed in self deprecation at his words. She had done that a few times when he made a remark about her looks that wasn't sexual in nature, and not for the first time he wondered who it was that had caused her to doubt such an undeniable truth.

"So, why such a strong connection to Queen?" she asked, clearly not wanting to comment or draw attention to his remark. Allowing her to change the subject because he knew now wasn't the time to try and prod that particular wall, he tapped the side of his mug thoughtfully as he mentally wandered back through his childhood for the source of her question.

"I suppose it's because of my mother," he answered with a wistful smile. "She was a teenager during the band's early years of success and she never fell out of love with them."

Emma took a tentative sip of her coffee and smiled. "Bit of a rocker babe, was she?"

"I suppose so," he said with a laugh. "Perhaps not in practice, but at heart she was. Their music was always playing in our house, even in her final days."

"Your mother's gone?"

"Aye, she died when I was fourteen."

He could still vividly recall the lack of music when he had returned home from spending the night with Robin, the small two bedroom apartment draped in a thick silence that spoke of an unchangeable event. Liam had been sitting in the kitchen, a cup of tea and their mother's engagement ring with the ruby stone on the table before him while Belle slept on the couch, her twelve-year-old body curled in on itself and tears drying on her cheeks. His mother had quietly passed away in the middle of the night from the disease that had ravaged her mortal body for nearly two years.

"Killian, I—I'm so sorry."

Shaking himself from the memory of his older brother wrapping him in the tightest of hugs, Killian smiled softly at the woman sitting across from him. "It's alright, lass."

Emma shook her head, her ponytail swaying with the movement. "Yeah, but here I am being an ass and reminding you—"

"Emma, it's fine, truly. In all honesty, I had never made the connection before and it… I feel a little bit closer to her having realised it, so thank you."

She seemed to contemplate the truthfulness of his assurance for a long moment before nodding. "What was she like, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Not at all. She was a very thoughtful and tender woman. Loving, too. Mum never shied away from showing affection and I don't think a day ever went by without her telling us how much she loved us. Her favorite thing to do besides listening to Queen during housework was to garden, a passion I somehow managed to inherit." At the sight of Emma's smirk, he chuckled. "I was the only one, though. The green thumb completely skipped Liam—he once killed an aloe vera plant, which is virtually impossible to do—and Belle always preferred to bury herself in books rather than spend time in a garden."

Emma smiled as he paused to take a sip of his tea. "Sounds like she was an amazing woman."

Killian nodded. "She was, which says a lot considering the cards life dealt her. She had Liam when she was sixteen and from what I gathered when I was a child, my grandparents disowned her for it. On top of that, my father - who had a penchant for getting drunk and gambling his paycheck away - jumped ship before Belle was even born. Mum worked two jobs to make sure we were taken care of."

"Amazing and resilient."

"Aye, very much so. Belle's like her in that regard—physically, too. She's the spitting image of mum."

The sudden sound of a woman humming startled both of them, and it took Killian a long second to realize the familiar sound was coming from Emma's phone.

"Shit, sorry. That's my mom," Emma explained, quickly answering the call with an annoyed roll of her eyes. "Yes, mom?."

Not wanting to be intrusive, Killian did his best to tune out the one sided conversation by reflecting on what he and Emma had been discussing. He should have been unnerved with the amount he had just opened up to her yet Killian found himself strangely devoid of any such feeling. It wasn't like he had never talked about his mother's passing before—he had, many times, and with quite a few people. Morgan Jones's death was one one of the most pivotal turning points in his life - second only to losing Liam - and anyone of importance in his life knew about it, but Killian could count on one hand the number of people with whom he had discussed what she was like as a person.

In fact, there were only three—Liam, Belle, and Robin—all of whom had known his mother themselves. He'd never even mentioned more than the fact that she had died to Milah and they had had a three year relationship. It came naturally with Emma though, and Killian chalked it up to the friendship that had developed between them before they became intimate. Besides Robin, she really was the only person other than his siblings he had let himself get close to, so it wasn't terribly surprising that he had opened up to her like he had.

Hearing Emma say goodbye to her mother, he pulled himself from his internal musing and looked up just as she ended the call to see her set her phone back on the kitchen island with an exasperated sigh.

"Sorry about that."

"It's fine," he assured her before tilting his head in curiosity. "Am I correct in deducing that your ringtone for her came from the 1938 Snow White movie?"

"Oh, yeah." Taking a sip of her coffee, Emma laughed. "It's a bit of an inside joke. Well, not so much an inside joke as a joke on my mom. Snow White is her favorite Disney character and a few years back on one of my rare trips home, I walked in on her humming the opening song while she cleaned the kitchen. I've never let her forget it and she absolutely hates that I made it her ringtone."

"Well, I can certainly understand loving a Disney character," he remarked, holding up his Captain Hook mug with a cheeky grin.

Emma rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you can."

"Everything okay with Mrs. Nolan?"

"Yeah, just mom being mom. She wanted to discuss what happened at the pool earlier despite my desire to close the subject indefinitely."

"Ah, yes, when she ambushed you," he noted carefully, feeling the air around them immediately shift. "You never did say what that was about."

"It's… complicated," she replied, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her left ear. Killian could see one of her numerous walls rising at his question, and his realization from earlier in the day rose to the forefront of his mind. Keeping his posture relaxed and face devoid of just how eager he was to learn more about her, he shrugged.

"Well, I am a priest, as you well know. Listening to people's problems is kind of a part of my job description, and I'd be honored to lend my ear - if you want to," he added, knowing from experience with his sister that people opened up easier if they were given a choice to. He wanted to help her, not force her walls higher.

She seemed to mull over his offer, her eyes resolutely trained on the remaining liquid in her mug. There was a silent war being waged between the tense set of her shoulders and the way her upper body leaned forward, like she subconsciously couldn't stop herself from wanting to reveal this piece of herself. He waited patiently to see what choice she would make, and when she began speaking without preamble, her voice soft yet unwavering, he listened intently.

Killian had suspected for some time that the relationship between Emma and her mother was overtly strained. It had been apparent in the tense conversation he overheard nearly a month ago when Mrs. Nolan first brought up the idea of Emma dating Humbert, but he had assumed it was just a daughter not wanting her mother to get involved with her love life. It clearly went deeper than that though—much deeper. Her tone reminded the priest of all the broken souls he had heard on the other side of the confessional; accepting how things were yet also having the desire to change them, even if they never admitted it to anyone but themselves.

When she fell silent, he finished his tea in one large gulp and took a few seconds to collect his thoughts before speaking.

"You feel like you've always let your mother down," he stated, cutting to the heart of the matter.

"Because I have."

Sliding his empty mug to the side, Killian rested both forearms on the kitchen island. "Playing devil's advocate, and certainly not discrediting your feelings on the matter, but every time I've heard your mother speak about you it's clear she's proud of you."

"She has to pretend like she is. Image is everything to my mom—she'll publicly sing my praise to keep her own standing intact. Like I said, everything from my career choice to mundane decisions about how I dress have been failures to her."

"Including your love life."

Emma blinked in surprise. "What makes you say that?"

"I'm a fairly perceptive man," he stated with a disarming smile. "It doesn't take much to put what you've just told me about your mother and the conversation I overheard together and come to that conclusion."

"Well, you aren't wrong." Taking a sip of her coffee, Emma laughed bitterly. "You see, my parents' romance is one of those small town fairytales—boy meets girl, they instantly fall in love, and end up with the white picket fence. It's cavity inducing perfect in a way that would make even Cinderella cry, and mom always expected me to follow in their footsteps like some progeny of true love."

He had known about the Nolan's epic love story, of course. One of his parishioners had given him an unprompted crash course on Storybrooke's residents shortly after his arrival in the small town. What surprised him, however, was Emma's view on her parents' romance. The parishioner had crafted it as this magical tale that every young girl in Storybrooke hoped to have for herself yet Emma, the product of that great love story, didn't want it. If anything, she seemed completely against the idea.

"Why didn't you?" he asked, genuinely curiously.

"Why didn't I what?"

"Follow in their footsteps. You're a beautiful woman, and I can't imagine you were lacking for suitors while growing up, even in a town as small as Storybrooke."

"I just… didn't," she replied evasively, picking up her half empty mug and making her way towards the sink.

Although she had attempted to hide it by standing, Killian hadn't missed the way her body stiffened or the guarded look that returned to her eyes at the clarification to his question. He'd obviously hit too closely to the wound that was responsible for this particular wall, and it confirmed his suspicions on why she refused to stay overnight. She'd been in love at some point in her life, maybe even believed she had the same type of love her parents had, and for whatever reason it had ended badly.

An exasperated sigh sounded from behind him. "When are they putting the AC in?"

She was changing the subject, just as she said earlier when he called her beautiful, but once again Killian let her. Pushing Emma to open up when she was digging in her heels would only cause her to retreat further behind the walls he was trying to break down.

"They should be here by noon on Tuesday," he replied, standing and placing his own mug in the sink.

"Does that mean I won't get those lovely views of you in a running tank once it's installed?" she teased with a tilt of her head.

Killian chuckled. "Not very priest-like, are they?"

"No, but it is rather appealing," she admitted, her eyes unashamedly trailing up and down his body.

He knew she was using sex to further distract him from the conversation they had been having, but like a moth to a flame, he was unable to resist her. Invading her personal space, he backed her into the counter and took advantage of the easy access his borrowed shirt offered. Both hands slid beneath the hem of the cotton fabric until they rested low on her hips, the tips of his fingers playing with the strings of her bikini bottom that she had slid back on after their shared shower.

"Is it now?" he murmured, lips barely brushing her own as he spoke.

Emma hummed in agreement, her right hand coming up to play with the smattering of chest hair that was exposed by one of the tanks in question. He was taken by surprise when she suddenly ran her nails lightly through it and over his covered nipple, the sensation causing him to rut his hips into her and curse quietly. Grinning, she stood on her toes and brought her mouth level to his ear, pressing against him even more with the action until he could feel her own hardened nipples through both of their clothing.

"How about we go to your room and I show you just how appealing I find them."

"Lead the way," he breathed, watching with hooded eyes as she slid from between him and the counter and walked towards the door. Images of having her spread beneath him in his bed were already flashing through his mind while he followed her, his body hardening even further when the shirt and bikini bottoms she was wearing fell to the hallway floor.

He'd let her distract him this time, but he was determined to break down those walls she guarded herself with, no matter if it took weeks or months to accomplish.

He was a patient man, after all.