CHAPTER 13

Ben had been tracing and retracing the steps of just how Dara's bottle of iron pills could have been switched with a bottle of penicillin. He became even more determined to learn who the culprit was as the idea of an intentional switch of the medication had been confirmed after the head pharmacist had finished a complete inventory and discovered that a bottle of penicillin was unaccounted for. That factor, combined with the large amount of capsules that a member of the housekeeping department had found in a trashcan near the pharmacy, which were tested and confirmed to be iron supplements, confirmed Ben's belief that Dara had been the victim of an intentional poisoning.

Once Ben had received the information from the pharmacist as well as from the head of housekeeping, he realized that in order to formulate such a plan, access to Dara's medical records had to be a necessity. Bearing that thought in mind, Ben had paid a visit to Wendy Austin in the records department. Ben had known Wendy for sometime so he wasn't surprised when he opened the door to the record's room and she glanced up from the stack of files that she was going over, that she offered him a sincere smile as she greeted;

"Hi, Deputy Healy, how are you doing?"

Returning the smile, Ben nodded;

"I'm fine, Wendy, how about yourself?"

Shrugging nonchalantly, she offered;

"I can't really complain, is there something that I can do for you?"

Coming to the point of his visit, Ben explained;

"Well yes, Wendy, as a matter of fact there is. You heard about what happened to Dara Buck, didn't you?"

A look of genuine sympathy crossing her features, Wendy nodded as she confirmed;

"Sheriff Buck's wife? Yes, sir, I really hated to hear about it too, she's such a sweet lady. Is she doing any better?"

Ben searched the girl's face for any signs of her complicity in what had taken place as he offered;

"Yeah, she's awake now and they're supposed to take the tracheotomy tube from her throat today. But anyhow, I need to know who could have access to her medical file, Wendy."

Any doubts that Ben might have had in the girl's willing involvement in what had happened to Dara were quickly squelched when she stared at Ben in genuine puzzlement as she demanded;

"I don't get it, what has that got to do with what happened to Mrs. Buck?"

Although Ben had no doubt that any part she might have played in the events that led to Dara's current condition were purely innocent and without knowledge, the fact was that he had known her since she was a little girl and he was aware of her weakness for men as well. Grant it, she wasn't exactly what someone could term as 'loose' when it came to men, she did, however, tend to to be a very trusting and giving girl who was eager to please in the hopes that she had found a Prince Charming and that her attention and affection would be returned in kind. Unfortunately, such a trusting nature made her perfect target and victim for somebody like Garrett Darvin, especially given her position at the hospital. Seeing the she wasn't fully aware of just how Dara Buck had come to be in the hospital, Ben explained;

"Well, she went into anaphylactic shock and almost died. It seems that someone switched her iron pills, which she gets filled at the pharmacy here, with penicillin. She's highly allergic to penicillin, so whoever did it knew that it could possibly kill her and the only way that could have been possible is if they had gotten a hold of her medical file since the only people who knew besides her were Dr. Crower and Sheriff Buck."

Biting at her bottom lip as she considered his query, Wendy tilted her head to the side as she offered;

"Well, lets see; there are the doctors, of course. Aside from the doctors the administration and nurses would have access and me, of course, but that's about it. But I can't see anyone wanting to do something intentionally mean to her though, Deputy Healy, I mean she's such a sweet lady and everyone thinks the world of her."

Unable to shake his suspicions, Ben studied her carefully as he asked;

"If there a possibility that someone else could have come in here and seen those files; you know, someone who was 'just visiting'?"

Denying her gut feeling, Wendy shook her head in denial;

"Not that I can think of, but if I think of anything I'll be sure to let you know."

Ben couldn't help but sigh in frustration at the apparent dead end as he thanked her and left. Once the door closed, Wendy made her way to the patient files and pulled Dara Buck's folder, opening the cover she scanned the information for herself and saw just exactly what Ben had explained to her. There, in black and white, under allergies was stamped: PENICILLIN (HIGHLY DANGEROUS, POSSIBLY LETHAL). Closing the cover of the folder as her thoughts began racing she heard a noise behind her and whirled around to find Garrett smiling at her as her as he greeted;

"Hey, darlin."

Noticing the folder in her hand, he asked innocently;

"What's the matter, honey?"

Wendy's eyes widened with a combination of shock, agony and sorrow as she glared at him accusingly as she held the file up to state without preamble;

"You did it, didn't you? The other night when you had me unlock the door to the pharmacy with the excuse of just getting some aspirin for your headache and I got called away; you switched Dara Buck's prescription with penicillin. You looked at her file when I left you down here the other day and you saw that it could kill her, I know that you did it. Mrs. Buck hasn't ever done anyone any harm, and definitely not you; why on earth would you want her dead?"

Lifting his shoulders in a careless shrug, not even bothering to offer some plausible excuse, Garrett confessed without reservation;

"She's standing between me and what rightfully belongs to me. And no, I don't want her dead, at least not yet, but I do need her incapacitated for a while. You see, she keeps my brother grounded, calm and rational and that's not what I need to accomplish my goal."

Feeling as if her head was swimming in confusion with trying to understand his explanation, she couldn't help but stare at him in disbelief as she demanded;

"Your brother? Do you mean Sheriff Buck?"

Nodding, he confirmed her assumption;

"The one and only."

Shaking her head as she stared at him, horror dawning in her eyes, Wendy realized just how twisted and off balance he must be as she walked past him towards her desk, stating firmly;

"You used me, Garrett, you used me so that you could get access to Mrs. Buck's medical file and then you used me to switch those pills. I won't be a party to this and I'm not just going to go along with it either."

Garrett had no doubt that she would figure everything out sooner or later, however, he still needed time to accomplish his goal and that being the case he realized that he was going to have to resort to his alternate plans for Wendy, especially given her determination that she wouldn't play any part, willing or not in his scheme. Offering her a look of contrition, Garrett approached Wendy as he pleaded in a cajoling tone;

"Wendy, come on, put the phone down, honey. I admit that I used you but I really do care about you."

Wendy couldn't help but feel sorrow at the situation as she held the receiver in indecision as her eyes reflected her skepticism;

"Garrett, what you've done, it's wrong. Mrs. Buck could have just as easily died."

Realizing that he was gaining an advantage as he played on her sympathy and her feelings for him, Garrett pressed the issue as he nodded his agreement;

"I know, honey and I'll go along with whatever you decide needs to be done. But can we at least talk about it first?"

He could see by the sadness in her eyes as well as the tears that were brimming in there as she looked up at him that she was teetering on the brink of a cliff, especially when she replaced the receiver to stand there, her sadness an almost palpable thing. Offering her the shelter of his embrace, he wasn't surprised when she walked into his arms to be enfolded in his embrace. Seeking to ease her mind, Garrett soothed;

"It's alright, Wendy, it's all going to be just fine."

Lowering his arm, he reached into his pocket and carefully uncapped the hypodermic needle, having secured it's contents the night before as well as preparing it in the event he might need it in just such a situation. Realizing that the occasion definitely warranted his foresight, Garrett slowly pulled the needle from his pocket before wrapping his arms around her tighter before quickly jabbing the needle into her arm and depressing the plunger, sending the contents into her bloodstream. He couldn't help but smirk as she pulled away from him to rub her arm before staring at him in horror as she demanded;

"What did you just do to me?"

Chuckling, Garrett offered;

"That was just a little 'thank you' for helping me, Wendy. I thought that you might like a little 'boost', I've always heard that heroin has one hell of a kick to it. What do you think?"

Her face reflecting her horror at the situation, Wendy reached for the phone, but found her hand stayed as Garrett took the phone from her grasp before admonishing lightly;

"Oh I don't think that we need to call anyone, do you? Besides, we wouldn't want to interfere with you enjoying my little present, now would we?"

Although a part of her mind registered that she should be panicked, Wendy began to experience a feeling of euphoria along the lines of floating. Seeing that the drug was beginning to take hold of her mind and senses, Garrett led her to a chair and watched as her face took on the look of being in another world. After a few minutes or so, she looked at him innocently as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Her voice reminding him of that of a young child, she ventured;

"You know something? I know that I'm supposed to be mad at you for something, but I can't remember what it is. Oh well, I guess that it wasn't important, was it?"

Shaking his head, Garrett offered;

"No, darlin, I guess that it really wasn't."

Glancing around at her surroundings, Wendy began pouting as she complained;

"I don't like this place, it's depressing. Do I have to stay here? I want to do something fun."

Offering her a look of indulgence, as if she were a small child, Garrett asked;

"We'll do anything that you want to do, Wendy, where do you want to go?"

Her face breaking into a wide, silly grin, she stood and began spinning around before falling into his arms, her own opened wide as she giggled;

"I want to fly."

Finding himself amused by her behavior as well as the fact that he had been able to squelch any possible threat that she might pose as the result of her earlier discovery, Garrett offered;

"Really, Wendy, would you like me to give you a little something to help you take off?"

Despite the fact that she was already in the height of the haze that the earlier injection had created, her mind wasn't able to comprehend the danger a second dose would cause, something that Garrett was more than aware of as her eyes widened in glee as she eagerly nodded before asking;

"Yes, but will it hurt?"

Reaching into his pocket, Garrett withdrew a second needle to uncap it before offering;

"No, honey, not really, it might just still for a second but you'll feel so amazing afterwards and then we can go flying. Now, be a good girl for me and roll up your sleeve so I can give it to you."

Garrett waited patiently as she obeyed him by falling into her chair, giggling, as she rolled up the sleeve of her blouse before extending her arm in anticipation. Taking her arm in his hand, he jabbed the needle into her arm and depressed the plunger to send more of the toxic substance into the girl's bloodstream. Once he had emptied the needle he recapped it and placed it back into his pocket before offering;

"That's a good girl, Wendy. And just for that, you deserve a little reward."

With that he pulled her up from her chair to hold her as he lowered his head and, savagely, took possession of her mouth. He couldn't help from fantasizing about having such mastery over his sister in law, something he vowed would happen before he was through with she and his brother. Bringing his thoughts back to the task at hand, he broke the kiss and noticed how Wendy was no giggling uncontrollably. Rubbing his hands up and down her arms he asked encouragingly;

"Are you ready to fly now, honey?"

Garrett found his lips curling in maliciousness as she nodded eagerly, unable to speak due to her continued giggling. Leading from to the stairs, he opened the door and took her hand as he led her up the flights as he explained;

"Well, we have to go up high enough so that you have a really good take off."

Leading her up to the roof, he opened the door for her and let her precede him out onto the open rooftop. Noticing a deck chair, Garrett settled her in the chair as he ordered;

"Now, Wendy, you be a good little girl and sit her for me for just a second while I find you just the right place for you to take off. Can you do that for me?"

He wasn't surprised when all she could manage was to giggle uncontrollably as her head bobbed up and down, acknowledging her understanding. Garrett glanced around the area, careful to remain as unobtrusive as possible from those on the ground below. Approaching the edge near the garden area just outside of the hospital's cafeteria area, he couldn't help but notice his brother and sister in law, walking in the garden below. Glancing over his shoulder he couldn't help but consider the fact that, even from this distance and despite her illness, it wasn't hard to see just how pale a comparison to Dara that Wendy proved to be, at least in his eyes.

Feeling as if the perfect opportunity had been presented to him, Garrett returned to where he had left Wendy, who was still giggling as if amused by some inner joke of her mind. Despite the realization of just how heinous his plans for the girl were, he couldn't stop the malicious smirk that found its way to his lips as he reached into his pocket for the final hypodermic that he had prepared as he lowered himself to sit on his heels as he informed her;

"Wendy, you've been such a good girl, what with all the help you've given me, that I want to make sure you really enjoy flying. Would you like that, darlin?"

Seeing the look in her eyes as well as just how giggly she was, he knew that she was completely disconnected from reality as she held her arm out eagerly while giggling before muttering;

"Uh huh."

Slowly, as if drawing out the moment, Garrett uncapped the needle before inserting it into her arm, making certain that he found a vein. Once he finished with the needle, he withdrew the ones that he had used earlier and began wiping them clean of his finger prints before ordering;

"Now, Wendy, why don't you hold your hand out for me and hold these."

When she complied, he dropped the hypodermics into her open hand and made sure that he closed her fingers around them, ensuring that her fingers left clear prints before using the cloth that he had used to wipe his prints clean from syringes to pull the caps from the needles as he instructed;

"Thank you, honey, that's a good girl. Now, why don't you just drop those old things on the ground and you can go flying."

Happily, she did as told as he took her arm to lead her towards the edge of the rooftop.

Matt had returned early and, as promised, had removed the tube from Dara's throat. Having had to anesthetize her so that he could suture the opening, everyone waited on pins and needles for her to wake from the anesthesia. When she woke she found, not only, Lucas but Caleb, Trina and Ben all waiting with Matt to see if she would be able to speak again. Bringing her hand to her throat, Matt nodded as he explained;

"We removed it with no problems and it only required a max of two sutures, so if you do have a scar it's going to be a hairline one if that, so now it's time for the big test. I know that it's going to be a little painful for you, but let's see if you can speak; so go ahead and say something."

Turning to her husband, her eyes full of concern, Dara grabbed Lucas' hand in uncertainty, her fear and worry overwhelming her. Seeing her thoughts mirrored in her eyes, Lucas gripped her hand fiercely as he offered;

"Darlin, even if you can't talk, it's not going to change anything, do you understand me? No matter what, the kids and I will still love you and that's never going to change, whether you can speak or not. So just relax and give it a try; okay?"

Dara knew that, with everything she had been through, her emotions were more than likely in an upheaval, but she also knew that part of her emotional state had to do with the overwhelming love she felt from, not only, her husband and family, but their friends as well. Blinking back the tears that she felt at that realization, she cleared her throat and, despite the scratchy pain she felt at the action, she offered, although softly, clearly;

"I love you too."

Lucas' eyes widened as he breathed a sigh of relief before pulling her to him to embrace her fiercely as he vowed;

"You know something, I think the only thing that I've ever heard sound more beautiful was you reciting our wedding vows and telling me that you were pregnant."

Trina, noticing how Caleb exhaled his own breath of deep relief, grasped his hand to smile up into his eyes, relieved herself that Dara had pulled through her ordeal. Matt couldn't help but grin broadly as Ben slapped his back in congratulations. Matt couldn't help but notice, as Lucas released her from his embrace, the imploring look in her eyes. Taking the direct approach, Matt asked;

"Is there something that you want?"

Nodding her head eagerly, as she brought her hand to her throat and despite the scratchy pain, Dara looked at him pleadingly;

"Outside."

Glancing out the window, Matt nodded as he relented;

"Okay, you've earned it, but just for a little while okay?"

Dara offered him an appreciative smile as Lucas helped her put her robe on while Ben, Caleb and Trina excused themselves to attend to various errands. Although she was still weak and somewhat wobbly, Dara leaned against Lucas for support, having declined the use of a wheelchair. Leading her out to the garden area, Lucas couldn't help but feel gratified to see just how much she was enjoying the breeze and sunshine. Finding a bench under a shade tree near the door of the cafeteria, Lucas settled her there as he asked;

"Sweetheart, would you like something cool to drink?"

At her eager nod, he glanced around as he furrowed his brow in consideration;

"Will you be alright while I go inside and get us something?"

Glancing around her, she offered a slight smile as she nodded. After he had left for the cafeteria, Dara closed her eyes to savor the feel of the breeze and the sunshine on her face before opening her eyes to take in her surroundings. She couldn't help but notice that everyone was pointing towards the roof and exclaiming in shock. Curious as to why everyone seemed to be acting so strangely, Dara rose from the bench and walked a few steps to allow her a better view of the roof, she glanced up in time to see, what appeared to be, a young woman dancing around the edge just before suddenly performing a swan dive off the edge. Dara watched in horror as the girl hit the ground and blood began seeping from the various injuries caused by the impact. Seeking to turn away from the grizzly sight, she lifted her eyes towards the rooftop and caught sight of someone wearing a black cowboy hat and black coat, even had she not recognized that it was Garrett Darvin, despite the distance that separated them, Dara couldn't miss the look of intense hatred in his dark eyes. Seeking to escape Garrett's hate filled gaze, Dara's eyes turned back to the sight of the unfortunate girl, something that found her utterly shocked as well as unable to comprehend what she had just witnessed.

Having heard the commotion, Lucas hurried outside and, seeing the look of horror on his wife's face, rushed to her to pull her to him, burying her face against his chest, trying to shield her from the grizzly sight. Given all the excitement and stress from the earlier procedure as well as her illness combined with the shock of what she had just witnessed, Lucas wasn't surprised to feel her going limp in his arms. Lucas knew that Ben was in another part of the hospital, running down leads into Dara's case, so he wasn't shocked when his deputy came running towards him as he offered;

"I've already radioed this in, Lucas, but there's something funny here. That was Wendy Austin and I talked to her just a couple of hours ago and she was perfectly fine. They found some hypo needles on the roof and we're checking into it, but I'm telling you, I've known that girl since she was little and she wasn't into drugs. I'm betting that this has something to do with what happened to Dara somehow."

His own anger pushing its limits, Lucas couldn't help but glare at his deputy as he hissed;

"Benji, you know damned good and well whose responsible for every bit of this. And, one way or the other, I'm going to get rid of that bastard once and for all."

With that, he swung his wife's slight frame up into his arms as he added;

"Now, if you'll excuse me, tend to this and do the report and I'll sign it. But, right now, my wife has top priority."

With that, he stalked back into the hospital, leaving Ben pondering just how hard it was going to be to clean up whatever mess Lucas left behind after he dealt with Garrett Darvin.

Despite his apprehension, Matt agreed to release Dara from the hospital. He really wanted to keep her longer, but after having witnessed Wendy Austin's supposed suicide, he also knew that being anywhere near the hospital could prove counterproductive for her recovery. Despite confirmation that the needles on the roof had contained heroin and considering Dara's revelation of seeing Garrett Darvin on the roof, Lucas wasn't inclined to call the girl's death a suicide, knowing that his half brother had instigated the girl's death. He and Ben both felt that, after what had happened to Dara, that Wendy had realized Garrett's manipulation of her and had confronted him with it, something that had obviously found the man instrumenting the girl's death in an effort to cover his tracks, to a degree. Lucas had no doubts that Garrett wanted him to realize that he was the mastermind behind the schemes.

Two weeks after Dara's release from the hospital, Caleb approached his parents' for permission to go on a weekend camping trip with Trina's family. At first, Lucas had adamantly refused and, although the boy didn't offer any complaint, Dara could see how frustrated and devastated her son was. She knew that a large part of her husband's refusal was due to his reluctance to leave her unprotected, however, she also knew that Caleb had been through the ordeal with Garrett Darvin just as much as they had, that being the case, he more than deserved a break. Deciding to address the issue, she waited until they were getting ready for bed to bring up the subject.

Studying her husband as he emerged from the bathroom after his shower before they settled down for the night, Dara tried to figure out the best way to bring up the subject when Lucas solved the issue for her. He couldn't help but notice her watching him intently as he towel dried his hair, glancing at her from under the towel he offered her an opening;

"Something on your mind, darlin?"

Nodding, she ventured;

"Lucas, sweetheart, don't you think that it's more than a little unfair NOT to let Caleb go camping with Trina and her family? I mean, considering that Trina has been such a big help to us with the kids, especially after Ria was born. Not to mention everything that he's been through as well, don't you think he deserves a break from all of this? And, realistically, we both know that if Garrett Darvin was to make a move, I don't want Caleb caught in the middle and possibly getting hurt. Just because he's our oldest, doesn't mean that he's any less our child and I don't want him in danger any more than what I do our other children."

Remaining silent for a few minutes, Lucas finished drying his hair as he prepared for bed. Finally, he slid into bed next to his wife before turning towards her to demand in a neutral tone of voice;

"Is there anything else that you'd like to say about the subject?"

Biting at her bottom lip, Dara offered in uncertainty;

"Just that I'd really rather not have to argue about this because it hurts my throat."

Despite himself, Lucas couldn't help but chuckle as he pulled her into an embrace before shaking his head in amusement;

"Alright, you have a point, honey. I guess that I've gotten use to Caleb stepping up since all of this has happened that I forgot he needs a life of his own."

The next morning found Caleb ecstatic at the news that his father had changed his mind about allowing him to go camping. Sitting in the porch swing, watching as he left, Lucas couldn't help but turn to his wife in concern as he questioned;

"Darlin, are you sure this is a good idea, I mean with Mama Lucy going away for a couple of days, maybe we should have asked either her or Caleb to put this off."

Sighing, Dara shook her head;

"No, we shouldn't have. Honey, I'm fine, really, I promise. We need to try and get things as back to normal as we can, especially since the kids will be back in a couple of weeks or so. I know that we still have to be careful because of Garrett Darvin, but I'm more than ready for us to take our lives back from that man's control."

Understanding his wife's need to a return to normalcy, Lucas nodded;

"Alright, love, we'll do it your way."

Lifting her from her place, Lucas settled her in his lap as he questioned;

"So, since it will be just you and Ria since I have to go to work, what are you planning on doing today."

Placing her arms around his neck, she smiled as she shook her head and corrected;

"Actually, it's going to be just me. Loris and Matt asked if they could take Ria for a day or so. I thought that, since it's been a while since you and I really had any type of alone time, I would take them up on their offer."

Holding her close, Lucas theorized;

"So let me get this straight; no kids, no Mama Lucy, just you and me tonight? I think I can appreciate that."

Glancing at his watch, Lucas sighed;

"As much as I would like to stay just like this, I have to get to work, darlin."

Lifting her from his lap, Lucas kissed her deeply before placing his hand on her cheek;

"No over exerting yourself, darlin, I mean it. I'll call you later on and we'll figure out dinner for tonight then."

With that he left as Dara made her way inside the house to get Ria's things together in anticipation of Loris' arrival. Once Loris had come and gone, Dara decided that she was in the mood for a long soak in a hot bath as well as getting to bed early. Making certain that the doors were secured, she hurried upstairs to fill her tub and allowed the hot water to relax her. Once she finished bathing and washing her hair, she towel dried her hair before brushing out the curling mass and putting on a loose gown as she got into bed. Dara realized that she must have been asleep for a couple of hours when she woke to find her husband's mouth on her neck and shoulder. A smile curling her lips she turned towards him invitingly as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Lucas walked in the front door cautiously as he realized that the house was dark. However, recalling the earlier phone conversation that he had with his wife, who admitted to being tired, he simply shrugged it off as he headed up the staircase to their bedroom. Opening the door, he flipped on the bedside lamp and froze, the dawning horror of what he was seeing evident on his face as his rage began rising at the sight of his wife wrapped in the arms of another man in their bed. However, when the man turned, he looked exactly like Lucas.

Dara couldn't help but feel as if there was something slightly off about her husband as he held her in his arms. However, she also knew that, given the stress of their ordeal with his half brother, it was unfair of her to think that he would remain unaffected by everything that they had been through. Yet, despite her attempt to push the thought to the back of her mind, she simply couldn't get past the feeling that something wasn't quite right. Dara opened her eyes when she heard the bedroom door open and found herself shocked as she turned back to the man kneeling over her in confusion, then to her horror the face of the man holding her changed to reveal Garrett Darvin. Fear taking the place of confusion, she began pushing at him and screaming as Lucas snatched him by his coat to fling him backwards onto the floor, away from Dara, who sprang from the bed into Lucas' arms as he pulled her behind him. The fury evident in his face, Lucas turned to Garrett to growl;

"This time, I am going to kill you, you bastard."

Rising to his feet, Garrett turned to smirk at his brother as he taunted;

"You know she knew who I was, big brother."

Shaking her head in furious denial, tears of fear streaming down her face, Dara swore emphatically;

"Lucas, I swear to you that I didn't know, I thought that it was you."

Glancing over his shoulder, Lucas assured her;

"I know you did, darlin, it's alright, it's not your fault."

Shaking his head, Garrett sneered;

"She knew it was me, face it, your wife isn't anything more than just a little slut."

Lucas could no longer restrain the fury that he felt at the man, especially after how he had attempted, what Lucas considered, raping his wife and then insulting her into the bargain. Closing the space between them, Lucas grabbed the man by his throat to smash his fist into his face, knocking him back to the floor before he snatched him up to hit him again. This time, he knocked him flat on his back into the hallway past a shocked Dara.

Seeing the look of satisfaction on the other man's battered face, Dara's suspicions arose, more so as she noticed the smug smile that came over Garrett's face as Lucas grabbed him by the throat and began tightening his grip. Dara's eyes widened with the realization that this was what the man's intentions had been all along as she ran into the hallway to try and stop her husband. Glancing to Garrett she noticed that he seemed to focus the last amount of energy that he possessed in her direction just before she felt herself being thrown backwards against the wall, dazing her momentarily.

Trying to orient herself, Dara shook her head in an effort to clear it as she realized that Lucas had stopped throttling Garrett when he released the other man to let him slide to the floor. After he had released Garrett, Lucas approached her with his hand extended to help her up from the floor where she had fallen when she had hit the wall. Grasping his hand, she pulled herself up, thankful that he was still alive, especially as she glanced to the other man's body. Just as Dara buried her face against Lucas's chest in an attempt to find comfort, he took her in his arms to lower his head before kissing her deeply. Shocked, Dara pulled back as horror dawned in her eyes as she broke free of his hold to utter in certainty;

"Oh dear God, you're not Lucas!"

The corners of his mouth lifting in a heinous smile, he nodded before bragging;

"You're absolutely right, I'm not your loving husband. But, if it brings you any comfort to know it, he is still here, I simply have the control now. And as much as I would love to keep you around my lovely, Dara, if for no other reason to at least find out just what it is about your 'charms' that seems to keep my brother so enthralled, I'm afraid that's simply impossible."

Considering her options, Dara tried to buy herself some time as she shook her head;

"There's no way that you can just kill me, there's not anyone who would even begin to believe that Lucas would do anything to harm either me or our children; everyone knows how much he loves us."

Smirking as he nodded his agreement, he pointed out;

"Oh believe me, dear Dara, I'm more than aware of that fact. However, Garrett Darvin isn't nearly as infatuated with you AND everyone does know just how vicious he has been towards you, so that being the case, no one will questions that he broke in and attempted to rape you and then murdered you. And of course being the dutiful and loving husband that Lucas is, no one will question that he killed Garrett. Sadly, however, I didn't arrive in time to save your life, so no one will question his death in exchange for yours."

Dara couldn't help but panic at the thought of just what implications his plan had where her children were concerned as she tried inching her way away from him. However, sensing her intentions, he jerked her to him as his hands closed around her throat. Given how small her neck was she wasn't shocked that his hands were able to completely encircle her throat, effectively cutting off her oxygen supply as he squeezed them together. Looking into his face, Dara saw a trace of something and realized that her husband was indeed still inside the shell, attempting to battle for control once more. Frantically, she grabbed at his hands and succeeded in loosening them enough to allow her to speak. Seizing her opportunity she pleaded;

"Lucas, I know that you're still in there, honey. Don't let him do this, PLEASE!"

Just as she realized that she was on the verge of blacking out from the lack of oxygen, she felt his hands loosen considerably before letting go altogether as he collapsed to the floor. Rubbing her now bruised throat, she glanced over to Garrett's body and noticed movement. Realizing that he had returned to his own body, Dara knelt down to help her husband as he regained his own strength before turning to her to order;

"DARA, RUN, GET OUT OF HER! DO YOU HEAR ME; GO!"

She was about to refuse to leave his side when he pushed her towards the staircase as he yelled;

"I SAID RUN DAMMIT!"

Finding herself spurred to action by his order, she was about to flee when Garrett, having recovered somewhat, reached out to snatch a handful of her gown in his grip, halting her escape. Finding herself jerked backwards to land on her rear just inside her bedroom doorway, as well as the seam of her gown ripped enough to expose her leg up to her upper thigh, Dara pulled her leg back and, with all of her strength, kicked Garrett, forcing him to release his grip on the handful of of silk that he had been clutching so relentlessly before she quickly rolled to her knees to gain her footing as she bolted for the closet.

Having gained his own feet before Lucas, Garrett approached his brother to snatch his by his shirt and jerk him to his feet before slamming him against the wall table that was just under the huge stained glass window at the end of the hallway. Wrapping his hands around Lucas' throat he sneered;

"Let's just see how you like it, big brother."

Despite Lucas' attempts to struggle and break his brother's hold, Garrett's hands closed around his throat, refusing to let go or lessen his grip until he found himself surprised, to say the least, as he felt the painful crash of a vase across the back of his skull. Shocked by the blow, Garrett released Lucas, who sank to his knees trying to gasp air into his lungs, before turning in shocked fury to find Dara standing behind him, holding a gun aimed straight at him. As shocked fear replaced his fury, Garrett made one last attempt to save himself, all to aware that his sister in law was more than prepared to end his life, as he tried focusing his energy into throwing her backwards towards the upstairs railing.

Although she was caught off guard by the wave of force cast in her direction, Dara still managed to squeeze the trigger three times which took Garrett completely off guard as it sent him backwards through the huge stained glass window and onto the ground below. Unfortunately, the force of his fury has been enough to knock her backwards against the railing, which in turn knocked the gun from her hand as well as knocking her off balance over the railing. Desperation and fear found her reaching out and managing to grasp the rail in an effort not to crash to the marble floor below.

Staring in horror as his wife fell backwards over the railing, Lucas reached the railing in the blink of an eyes as he bellowed at the top of his lungs;

"DARA!"

Reaching over the railing, he quickly grasped her hands just as they were beginning to lose their grip on the railing and, finding strength that he didn't think he had left, he pulled her over the railing and to safety. Kneeling on the floor where she had sank to collect herself, he demanded;

"Are you alright?"

The skepticism reflected in her eyes, Dara swallowed hard as she ventured;

"That would depend on just who you are."

Seeking to ease her worry, Lucas cupped her face in his hands as he descended to take full possession of her mouth, lifting his head, he demanded;

"Does that answer your question, darlin?"

Closing her eyes momentarily as she sighed in relief, Dara nodded before turning towards the now shattered window as she asked softly;

"Is he really dead?"

Rising from the floor, Lucas made his way to the window and, scanning the ground below, found Garrett's body lying with his head smashed on one of the cement benches below with the rest of his body impaled on the spiked iron fence. Turning towards Dara he shook his head;

"Darlin, remind me to never, EVER really piss you off."

Standing, she approached the window when Lucas intercepted her to place his hands on her shoulders, gently restraining her as he shook his head emphatically;

"No, you don't need to see it. Believe me, he is most definitely dead, just take my word for it, he won't be bothering us again."

Accepting his assurances, she found herself exhaling a sigh of relief before the reality of what had taken place made a full impact in her mind. Unable to contain her stress, she buried her face against her husband's chest as her tears began falling. Lucas heard the front door open and knew, even before he heard the rapid succession of footsteps on the staircase, that Ben had gotten a call of concern. When he got to the top of the stairs and took in the scene before him, Ben explained;

"Lucas, we got a call that someone heard shots."

Holding his wife tightly, Lucas silently motioned towards the broken window. Approaching the portal, Ben glanced outside to take in the grizzly scene below before shaking his head in shocked amazement before turning towards Lucas and Dara. Noticing, not only the torn gown that Dara was wearing, but also the bruises that were visible on both she and Lucas' throats as well as the clear bruising across Dara's arms, Ben cleared his throat as he asked softly;

"Lucas, how do you want me to report this?"

Lowering his eyes towards Dara as he rubbed his hands up and down her arms in an attempt to comfort her, Lucas offered;

"You report the truth, Ben. He broke in and tried to rape Dara and when she fought back he tried to strangle her but I walked in and stopped him. He and I fought and he tried choking me but Dara was able to get the gun from our closet and shot him and he fell through the window and landed below."

At Ben's nod of agreement, he suggested;

"Alright, Lucas. I'll have the body removed and whatever else should be."

Watching as his deputy hurried down the staircase and out the door as the sound of sirens became louder with their approach, Lucas pulled back a little to place his finger under Dara's chin to lift her eyes up to meet his as he studied her tear streaked face to ask;

"Better now?"

The strain of their ordeal evident in her eyes, she nodded;

"I'm just grateful that it's finally over with and that he'll never bother us or the kids again."

His mind flashing on more practical concerns, he tilted her head to the side to examine the bruising on her neck and chest as he demanded;

"Darlin, are you alright, does anything hurt you?"

Nodding she confessed;

"My back and my throat hurt, but other than that I'm fine. And, no, I don't want to go to the hospital, I just want to lay down and forget that this ever happened."

Seeing the toll that their ordeal had taken on her, Lucas bent down and swung her up into his arms as he made his way back to their bedroom to settle her in their bed. Drawing the covers over her, he sat with her, holding her until she drifted off to sleep, still clinging to his hand for security and safety. Once he was certain that she was sleeping soundly he set about the task of clearing the debris in the hallway from the earlier battle as well as calling a glazier to repair the window. After everything, including removing Garrett Darvin's body, had been dealt with, Lucas sought his own rest for the night.

Although it seemed to Dara and Lucas something of an eternity, but was in fact a little more than a week, they had managed to put their lives back in order. When Mama Lucy had returned from Charleston and learned that the threat to her grandson's family no longer existed, as well as the realization that, with the three younger children beginning preschool within a couple of weeks, she decided that it was time for her to return to her own home. They found a similar reaction of relief when Caleb returned home from his camping trip to learn that the threat to their family was no longer an issue and that his parents were fine. Finally, much to their parent's delight, Kara and Jack made a weekend visit to return Alex, Riesa and Rinie to their parents' care, restoring their lives to as it had been and as they felt is should be.

A few days after Kara and Jack's departure, Lucas was lying in bed, waiting for his wife to join him as she finished preparing for bed as he contemplated the turn of events in their lives. Emerging from the bathroom, smoothing lotion onto her hands and arms, Dara couldn't help but smile as she noticed the look of contentment on her husband's face before flinging herself down on the bed to rest her arms across his chest as she propositioned;

"Penny for your thoughts."

Placing one arm across her back as he brought his free hand up to push the loose curls of her hair back from her face, Lucas couldn't help but smile as he admitted;

"I was just thinking about how much I love you and our kids."

Her eyes brightening as her lips curled in a seductive smile, she replied;

"Oh, my favorite subject! Would you care to demonstrate just exactly how much you do love me?"

Chuckling slightly as he reached over to shut off the bedside lamp, he admitted;

"You know something, darlin? That's the best offer that I've had all day and, yes, I would very much like to demonstrate just how much love I have for you."

Dousing the room in darkness Lucas took her in his arms and did indeed show her how much love he had for her.