I don't own any of the characters of Houston Knights. They belong to their creators. I promise to return them in their original condition.

This story comes after "Returns"

CHANGES

Six Months Later...

Life in the HPD Major Crimes division had returned to as close to normal as it ever had been. Except that two detectives were exceptionally more happy than usual. It was Monday morning and Joe LaFiamma arrived early for work. His partner and friend, LeVon Lundy, was late. Again. But he arrived with a grin on his face and LaFiamma knew what had kept him at home. Again.
"You dog, you," LaFiamma laughed as his partner arrived at his desk. "What?" Lundy asked with a grin, innocently.
"Do you ever get any sleep in bed anymore?"
Lundy, still grinning, answered "No. But I don't need it. Livin' on Love, my brother. Livin' on Love."
LaFiamma laughed. "Well, on that note, I guess I might as well tell you my news." He smiled sheepishly. "I asked Cassidy to marry me."
Lundy's jaw dropped. "LaFiamma? Married?"
He nodded. "She said yes."
Lundy laughed now. "Well I'll be damned! Congratulations partner! I mean it man, I wish you two all the happiness."
Beaumont came over to see what all the commotion was about. "Why are you two so happy this morning?"
"My partner here has somethin' to say," Lundy put LaFiamma on the spot and now most of the cops in the office were looking expectantly at him.
"Well," he said, standing up, blushing. "I'm getting married!"
There was a rush of well wishers, patting him on the back. Carol came up and gave him a big hug and a kiss. Not to be outdone, Lundy stood up too.
"I can't have him getting' all the attention. I've got an announcement too." Everyone turned to look at Lundy. He grinned. "Me an' Caroline's gonna have a baby!"
Now there was double the excitement and congratulatory hugs and handshakes.
"Well, you two sure know how to start out a Monday!" Joe Bill McCandless told them, while taking turns shaking their hands.

For Caroline Lundy, life had become what she had dreamt about for years while confined to an institution. She enjoyed the daily mundane tasks, like doing laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning her home. She reveled in taking care of her husband. She cooked for him and made everything as perfect as she could. She waited for him like a new bride as he got home from work each day. And LeVon loved every moment as well. It's not everyone who actually experiences loss to the degree that he had so now he could truly appreciate having his wife home. He wished he could express that better, not to take the one you loved for granted, for some day they might be gone and all that was left was regret. LeVon was getting a second chance to make up for those regrets he'd had years to dwell on. He'd re-arranged his schedule at work. He made sure Caroline was the first priority. He now worked four ten-hour days so as to have three days off. And he bucked at any mention of overtime if his life didn't depend on it. Now, when they made plans, he kept them. When he made promises, he kept them.
Caroline had talked about the possibility of getting a job, but after they'd talked about it a bit, they decided to wait awhile. She was still in physical therapy twice a week and seeing her counselor, Dr Bell, once a week. LeVon told her not to give herself any more stress than he was sure she was already under. That was also the same night, many months ago now, which they had talked about having a child. Caroline was sure she was physically fit enough, if not just, she felt, a little old. LeVon struggled with the idea as well. He didn't want anything to change between him and his newly found wife, but he too had longed for children for many years. So they decided, with approval from Caroline's doctor, to go for it. They'd been practicing a lot. And over the weekend, Caroline had told LeVon the news. He couldn't have been more excited.
She'd told him last week that she was late, but didn't want to get their hopes up yet. When the weekend finally arrived, she'd gotten the courage to buy a home test. While LeVon slept in late Saturday morning, she'd learned the positive result, repeating it twice to be sure. She was thrilled and excited and a bit nervous as she thought of how to tell LeVon. She came across the answer in the closet. LeVon's box of childhood memorabilia. Inside it, amongst his football jersey, photos and comic books, was his old stuffed teddy bear. She took it out, put two bright bows on it, one pink and one blue, and then wrapped it up like a birthday gift. She woke LeVon up and presented it to him in bed.
"What's this?" he'd asked. "It ain't my birthday? Or our anniversary."
"Just open it," she said, grinning.
He did, and took out the bear, frowning a bit. "It's my old Coco bear," he'd said, using the name he'd given it as a child. "But the bows.?" He looked at Caroline, grinning like a lunatic, and deduced the meaning. He let out a whoop any Texan would be proud of and leapt out of bed. He picked Caroline up like a doll and danced around the room with her.
"I guess this means you're happy?" she asked, giggling herself like a child.
"Happiest man on earth!"

Cassidy Taylor, whom after renewing her love affair with Joey had quit the Boston Dance Company, had taken a position teaching dance at the Houston Fine Arts School. She'd kept an apartment for all of a month before LaFiamma convinced her to move in with him. Their relationship was not taxed by competitive drive now that she was no longer in law enforcement. That broke most of the barriers they'd dealt with before. Now, there was only love. And lust. And it was wonderful. Their work schedules coincided fairly well, Cassidy working all day Mondays and Tuesdays, then having only three classes on Wednesday and Thursday. Due to Lundy wanting to change his schedule, LaFiamma decided to give the four ten hour days a try as well. He had to admit, having three days to play with Cassidy made up for the long workdays. And they did play. They went to the ballet, the symphony, the opera; they went roller blading, ice-skating, hiking, dancing and running together. Cassidy was a very physical and athletic woman and though the first few months Joe was sore, he enjoyed sharing these activities with her. It wasn't long before he realized he wanted to make her a permanent feature in his life. It was a month ago he'd bought the ring, a two-carat marquis diamond in a platinum band surrounded by smaller baguette diamonds. Then it had taken him three weeks to figure out how to give it to her and propose. Over the weekend, he'd accomplished it. He'd taken her out to dinner in one of Houston's most exclusive restaurants. At the end of dinner, he'd given her a book. It was a children's story about a ballerina and a cop. He'd had it made just for her. The pictures were illustrated to look like her, in a pink tutu, and him, in a blue uniform. The last page said "and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her and live happily ever after" and at the bottom, in a cut out box lined with velvet, lay the ring.
Joey had then gotten on one knee there in the restaurant, and asked "will you live happily ever after with me?" while the string quartet playing behind him played "their" song "Faithfully" by Journey. Cassidy had been laughing and crying and of course she said yes.

And so, that's how they got to this particular Monday morning, filled with happy announcements from the partners. Things were changing in the HPD. Joanne Beaumont, the longtime Lieutenant of Major crimes, was starting her last week in the unit. She had received a long deserved and fought for promotion: Captain. But it was at a cost. She was leaving her well-tuned unit to work overseeing the entire Houston Homicide Division. Of course everyone in her long time crew was happy to see her rise in the ranks, but they were also sorry to see her go. There was talk that her 'replacement' was going to be Don "Hatchet" Jenson. They called him that for two reasons: his personality was so sharp and harsh and it was said he had received the long scar on his cheek from a blow by a small axe when he was a beat cop. Those who'd worked with the 23- year vet knew him to be an honest and strong leader and they just called him "Hatch", which he didn't mind.
Other members of the once tight knit group at Major Crimes had drifted away as well. Annie Hartung, the crime lab specialist and long time friend to LeVon had finally retired due to problems related to her paraplegia. She was living with her niece, Jennifer. But LeVon and Caroline got to see her as much as they could.
Esteban Gutierrez had transferred also. He was now a Sergeant in Vice, feeling that his talents working undercover with the Mexican-Americans smuggling drugs into the US could be better put to use. He stayed under for weeks at a time before giving the HPD some very large and successful drug busts.
The largest part of the picture that was missing usually hit Lundy and LaFiamma about lunchtime, when they felt like heading over to Chicken's. The place was still there, for sure, but the heart of it was gone. The big- hearted Clarence "Chicken" Cosman was no longer behind the counter cooking up his famous barbeque. No more could his deep baritone laugh be heard or his well-intentioned advice be solicited. It had been two months now since he'd been gone. Dead of a massive heart attack. No one could have saved him the doctors told Lundy and LaFiamma that awful night at the ER. But it didn't stop them from blaming themselves. They'd eaten lunch at the restaurant that day. He'd complained of not feeling well, said he'd leave early if it didn't improve. They'd been concerned, but not overly. If only. Chicken's daughter Charlene had taken over running the place. She didn't want to dishonor her father's memory by closing its doors. She knew that's not what he would have wanted. The single mother of two had left her job in South Carolina to move back to Houston and "take care of business", as he father would have said. But it would never be the same, especially for LeVon, who'd known Chicken longer than his own father. He let himself wonder if loosing this man he respected and loved was payment for regaining Caroline.
And the death of his long time friend was not LeVon's only problem the last few months. Jaime Kincaid, his on and off girlfriend, had taken Caroline's return very hard. Harder than he'd expected, for they hadn't been an "item" for some months before. But when he'd gone to tell her, she'd come apart. She was angry and then devastated. It had taken LeVon by surprise the utter despair he'd heard in her voice. He was more sorry than he could say that he'd hurt her so much. He'd not been there when she needed him most, for he could no longer be. He still cared for her, but that was all it could ever be. He had no idea that she was truly in love with him, but waiting for the time to heal from the loss of her husband before moving on.
Her son, and LeVon's "best pal", now a teenager struggling with life in general, too had been shocked and upset. LeVon supposed Erik too had entertained thoughts of his mother and LeVon in a more permanent relationship. He turned all his anger inward and felt like he'd lost a father all over again. Although LeVon assured him he was still welcome anytime, Erik had not shown any interest in meeting Caroline. He'd not even returned any of LeVon's calls asking him to go fishing or riding. It was a harsh severing of that cord for all involved. LeVon tried to keep most of it from Caroline, but he was sure she knew more than she let on. She always did.

It had been raining more than usual for the fall season in Houston. All weekend it had rained and Monday was no different. After morning briefing, and after enough fuss had been made over Lundy and LaFiamma and their news, it was time to hit the streets. The partners were working on two cases: a car theft ring operating primarily out of several upscale restaurants and a home invasion team that had been getting more and more violent in their robberies. They were on their way to interview a possible new suspect in the robberies. Riding in Lundy's Ford 350, windshield wipers swishing, LaFiamma mulled over some of the crime scene photos.
"So what'da you think about think about this 'Hatch' coming into the MCU?" he asked Lundy, using the new "politically correct" term for their Major Crimes Unit.
Lundy shrugged. "Hatch is okay. He's real hardcore, ex-Marine, rough. But he's fair and honest. You won't find anyone more on the job."
"What's his story? You ever work with him?"
"Yeah, a little. His wife's been gone about ten years. Made him even harder I guess. Had a son too, grown now. Was in a lot of trouble all through high school, rebelling I guess. Hatch got him outta a lot of scrapes. Finally the kind got in with some real bad guys. Some kinda deal went bad and he got shot. Didn't kill him but paralyzed him from the waist down. Hatch has been taking care of him ever since. I think the kid's about 28 or so now."
"Tough break. For both of them," La Fiamma said.
"Yeah, but don't try and give him any sympathy. It sets him off. He don't like to think people are feelin' sorry for him."
"I can't wait to meet this guy. He sounds like a real life John Wayne," La Fiamma wisecracked.
Lundy gave half a smile. "He's just an old timer. Texan, through and through."
LaFiamma groaned. "Great. Like I need another one of those around."
Lundy, who was determined not to let anyone ruin his good mood, just laughed.
"You're in a pretty good mood Lundy. I guess you must be really happy about the baby?"
Lundy nodded, breaking for a red light. "Yeah. I never thought I could be this excited."
LaFiamma couldn't help but smile. "A little LeVon running around. Go figure."
"Aw, we'd never hang that on a kid. Maybe James or Billy, but not that."
LaFiamma laughed.
"You ought to be pretty excited yourself. When's the big day?"

LaFiamma shrugged. "Well, Cassidy's thinking she'd like to do it around Christmas."
"Wow, that's in like two and a half months."
"Well, neither one of us has much family that would be coming down here. It's probably just gonna be a small JP kind of thing."
Lundy glanced at his partner for a moment before proceeding as the light changed to green. He thought he caught a hint of sadness in LaFiamma's words. He knew what a traditional family the Italian Catholic came from and knew how it probably hurt him to have to have a "small JP kind of thing." Lundy had been to large Catholic Church weddings, and though he dreaded all that kneeling, he figured that's what his partner would have liked to have, if his family would have been there to see it.
"You don't think some of your family will come down? Even after all this time?"

LaFiamma mused, "After the falling out I had with Uncle Mikey, I doubt it. I mean, my parents are gone, most of my cousins are in the 'family business', if you know what I mean. It'd be kind of hard."
"But, they're still your family, man."
"I just don't know Lundy. "
"You never will unless you try either."

They arrived at the downtown car body shop where they were going to 'interview' one of their suspects, an ex-con who had been involved in home invasion like robberies before, getting out of prison on 'good time'. Some of their sources said he was up to his old tricks again.
The 'interview' went as well as any of theirs ever did, ending in a bout of fisticuffs between the suspect and the police sergeants when he swung a tire iron at LaFiamma. It ended with the suspect in a heap on the floor and back up sirens arriving outside.
After the arrest, LaFiamma nursed his bruised knuckles back in Lundy's truck. Lundy was cleaning his gray Stetson with a soft rag.
"Man, I'm getting to old for this," he complained. "And I'm running out of clean hats."
"You? What about me? I'm gonna have arthritis in my knuckles so bad I probably won't even be able to hold my cane by myself," La Fiamma shot back.
"Central to 9214." crackled over the radio.
Lundy picked up the mike. "9214, go."
"Request to respond to a 32 at Houston Memorial."
LaFiamma frowned. A 32 was an accident with a fatality.
"10-9 Central? Whose request?" Lundy asked dispatch to repeat.
"Affirmative 9214. Respond to 32 at Houston Memorial, per the watch commander."
Lundy was already starting the truck.
LaFiamma got on his cell phone and dialed the Conservatory.
"Cassidy Taylor please.Oh, she's in class? Okay, no no message. Thanks."
Before Lundy said anything, LaFiamma was already keying in his home number.
"Hello, Caroline? Hey, it's LaFiamma.No, everything's fine... He's right here.Hey I heard congratulations are in order.yeah, he told everyone.yeah, sure we'd love to.okay, well I better go. I just wanted to tell you.Okay, I'll tell him. You too. Bye."
Lundy was relieved.
"Okay, Cat's in class and Caroline's at home," LaFiamma confirmed outloud.
"Thanks, man," Lundy told his partner.
They arrived at Houston Memorial Hospital. Walking in through the ER, Lundy saw Lt Beaumont. They met her.
"What's going on LT?" LaFiamma asked.
"There was a bad wreck on the freeway," she said, her raspy voice quavering a little. She looked directly at LeVon. "One of the victims was Jaime Kincaid. She was DOA."
LaFiamma cussed softly. Lundy's face became a mask of pain and anger.
"Erik?" he asked, fearing the worst.
Joanne shook her head. "He wasn't with her. He's still at school. He doesn't know. She.well, the only contact information in her purse was yours.she, uh.didn't have anyone else. Not, close anyway."
Lundy knew from his relationship with Jaime that she'd lost her parents, had no siblings and very few relatives scattered all over the country. She's been closer to her deceased husband's relatives. But after his death, his parents had moved to Florida and his siblings had drifted apart from Jaime and Erik.
"I.I uh, want to see her."
"LeVon, don't." Joanne begged, but she knew he could not be dissuaded. He followed her through the ER, LaFiamma further behind. In a far cubicle, shielded by hospital green curtains, Joanne let LeVon inside. A white sheet covered the body on the gurney. LeVon felt nauseated as he approached. He silently prayed he'd be able to do this.
He slowly pulled back the sheet. There, pale and silent, eyes closed forever in sleep, was Jaime. He'd loved her, still did he supposed. Her softly curling red hair fanned down under her shoulders. He was glad her beautiful face was not marred. He didn't know the extent of injuries that had killed her and did not want to look at the rest of her body to find out.
"Oh Jaime." he sighed, tears welling up in his eyes. "I'm so sorry." the tears flowed freely. He reached to her face, her skin slightly waxy under his touch, and pushed a strand of hair away from her brow. "I'm so damn sorry." He didn't wish he'd never found his wife, but he did wish things had been different with Jaime, had at least ended different with them. "God he loved you." LeVon told her, referring to Erik. "I did too. I wish." he trailed off, not finishing. He knew he had other things to take care of now, Erik, in particular. He bent and gently kissed her cheek. He sighed again, wiped his tears away, and softly replaced the sheet, covering her for the last time.
He turned on his heel and walked out of the cubicle and then out of the ER, leaving Joanne and Joe to stand together and watch him go. "Should I go with him?" LaFiamma asked her.
She shook her head. "No. He needs some time. He's going to tell Erik." She knew LeVon too well. She knew he kept his pain silent and solitary. "I'll give you a ride back to Reasner. Let me finish up here."

Lundy drove in the pouring rain to Kennedy Middle School. Erik was an eighth grader there. It hadn't been that many years since he'd lost his father. Now it had happened all over again. LeVon thought it was pitifully unfair. He parked, but knew he had to call Caroline before going inside.
"Hello?" her beautiful voice answered on the second ring. "Hey darlin'," he said softly.
"LeVon, what is it?" Her concern was peaked. She knew, in her intuitive way, that there was something wrong.
"Jaime Kincaid was killed in a car accident." He didn't know any other way to tell her than directly.
Caroline gasped. She had only seen Jaime once, but knew of LeVon's relationship with her as well as his deep friendship and mentorship of her son Erik.
"Oh no," she said, her voice full of genuine sorrow. "Oh, that poor kid."
"I'm at his school now. I've got to tell him. There's no one else. I'm not sure what's going to happen. I don't think he has any family much, not close anyway. It's gonna be awhile before-" Caroline cut him off, already anticipating what he was going to tell her. "I'll make up the guest room. "
LeVon loved her so much. "Thank you," he said, of her willingness to accept a child she barely knew from a woman she should have been jealous of.
"You just go take care of him. He's gonna need you."
"I love you Caroline."
"I love you too."
LeVon went into the school and began the difficult process of telling the principal why he was there. Erik was paged to the office.
The principal, and very kind looking older black woman left LeVon alone in her office so he and Erik would have some privacy.
Erik arrived in a few minutes. He was a good-looking 14 year old, with sandy brown hair and green eyes. He was getting some muscle on his once lean boy's body. LeVon knew he played football and was on the high school rodeo team roping. He wore Wranglers and a blue tee shirt on this day; LeVon noticed when he came into the office, no doubt expecting the principal.
Erik looked around and saw LeVon, standing by the window.
"LeVon?" he asked, having been expecting a butt chewing by Principal Lewis.
"Hi Erik," LeVon said quietly. He motioned to the couch. "Lets sit down a spell."
Erik was getting a bad feeling like acid way down in the pit of his stomach.
"I don't know what Principal Lewis told you, but I swear that pot they found on the bus wasn't mine," he spewed a mile a minute. "I know I usually sit in number eight, but I told her I didn't that day-"
"I'm not here cause of that, son," LeVon said, taking off his hat, turning it in circles by the brim.
Erik sat on the couch. "Then why are you here LeVon?"
LeVon licked his lips. "It's about your mom. There's been an accident. "
Erik frowned. He somehow knew he didn't want to hear what LeVon had to say next. He began to shake his head.
"She was in a car accident. She didn't make it."
"No. No. No! No!" Erik began to say, then scream, leaping off the couch, trying to run. Lundy caught him. Erik fought him, trying to break away, his mind refusing to believe and his body hating the man who said it.
Lundy held him fast as the stages of grieving reeled through the boy. His anger and denial he fought out on Lundy, punching and kicking at him to no avail. Then his pain and grieving began and he wore himself out and began to cry and collapse right there on the floor, balling himself up and rocking back and forth like a baby might. LeVon too went with him to the floor, keeping Erik encircled in his strong arms. He knew that he was at the same time hated and needed by the boy.
They sat there a long while, Erik dealing with his grief, LeVon silently lending his support.
It was a long time later that the boy finally looked up into LeVon's face, his own red and wet. "What' do I do now LeVon?" he croaked, his voice not yet a man's, now that of a scared little boy. "I ain't got no one!" he wailed. "I ain't got no one!"
LeVon held open his arms and Erik cried again on his shoulder.
"You've got me," Lundy reassured. "You've got me right here."

It was a long week of stress and pain. Erik stayed with LeVon and Caroline, although he didn't say much or eat much. Jaime was laid to rest on Wednesday in a small service attended mostly friends. Some of Dave Kincaid's family was there. The same day, Jaime's lawyer informed LeVon that she had left him as executor of her will, a change she'd made several months after her husband's death while she had LeVon had been involved, and not something she had wanted to change later. She stated clearly that she wanted him to look after Erik as long as he was agreeable and as long as no one in her or Dave's family had any objections. Apparently by the lack of mourners at her funeral, it didn't appear that there would be any. The lawyer put into the legal process to have LeVon appointed his legal guardian.
Joanne Beaumont moved out of her office on Friday. LaFiamma, who was finishing a report, watched her with a heavy heart as she packed. He finally made his way over to the office as she prepared to take a box down to her car. She wore jeans and a sweater, LaFiamma didn't remember ever seeing her in jeans before.
"Need some help LT?" he asked. "I mean, Captain?"
Joanne smiled. "Sure. Grab a box." There were only two. They walked together toward the elevator.
"Two boxes sure isn't a lot for ten years worth of memories," she said with some regret in her voice.
"Yeah. Sure won't fill up that big fancy office, eh?" La Fiamma joked, trying to lighten the mood. They waited for the elevator.
"I'm gonna miss you guys," she told him. "The fighting, the bickering."
"Oh, yeah. I'll bet you'll miss it every day with all those stuck up homicide boys."
Joanne smiled. "You're a good cop Joe. If you ever want a transfer, make sure you call me."
He nodded. They got on the elevator.
"Aw, you know, I've kinda gotten used to Lundy. He'd probably miss me."
"He would," she agreed. "He needs you to keep him balanced, on top of his game. He's a good person too, Joe." LaFiamma nodded. "I know."
"You guys take care of each other, okay?"
He nodded again.
They loaded the boxes into her car. "Well, I guess that's it," Beaumont said finally. She stuck out her hand. "Take care Joe." He took her hand and pulled her into a hug. "You too Joanne."
She almost broke down as he held her but restrained her tears for later. She got into her car. "See you around."
LaFiamma came to attention, clicking his heels together and saluted her with nothing but respect. "Aye, aye Captain!"
He made her smile as she drove away. And as she looked in her rearview mirror, LaFiamma shoved his hands in his pockets and hung his head. And then she cried.

Joey LaFiamma went home that Friday evening with a stack of paperwork; witness statements, crime scene photos, deposition from several informants, all relating to the home invasion case that had yet to be cracked. The team, consisting of four or five men had hit nine homes in the last three weeks and had been getting more aggressive. The difference between home invasion teams and plain robbers was that these guys enjoyed the thrill of robbing a home while the occupants were at home, usually late at night, while they were sleeping. This team's M.O. was to hit between three and four a.m., surprise the homeowners in bed and tie them up, cover their eyes and mouths with duct tape, and then proceed to ransack and rob the home. If they needed a homeowner to open a safe, they dragged him from bed and made him do it at gunpoint. Their last two invasions, both older well off couples, had gotten out of hand. The first, the homeowner hadn't wanted to open the safe for which one of the team members bashed him in the head with a gun butt. He hadn't been seriously injured, but had a severe concussion. The last robbery, the homeowner had been awake and had drawn a gun on the robbers. He fought with them and was shot. He had not been killed, but was seriously wounded and still in the hospital. They also beat his wife, as she was awakened by the noise and tried to help her husband.
This kind of 'thrill' crime made Joe sick. He and Lundy had been working hard on getting a lead on suspects, but this week with Lundy's personal situation, LaFiamma had been carrying the load and was not able to make as much progress as he would have liked. It was too much progress for the home invasion team, led by Rick Deets. The HPD had picked up one of his former cellmates and team members from the old days. Rick had a long history of home invasion, and prison time, but after getting out, he moved from state to state and formed new teams. This way it was harder for the cops to track him. But they had Bruce in custody and he knew it probably wasn't going to be long before his 'buddy' fingered him as the possible leader of the new team. But Rick had a plan. If the cops were getting closer, he'd hit them where it hurt. He found out the two main cops working the case with little trouble: Joe LaFiamma and LeVon Lundy. Not being a native of Houston, the names meant little to him. All they were to him were targets. He proposed his plan to his 'team mates' Friday evening. Things were a "go" for Saturday night.

Joey and Cassidy had a night out planned for Saturday. They were attending the Houston Symphony. Cassidy, while working at the Conservatory, had made some friends who'd given her the tickets. She was thrilled. Joey, who would do almost anything to make his new fiancé happy, donned a tux for their evening. Cassidy had bought a stunning red and black beaded formal gown with thin straps and body hugging curves. She looked fabulous.
"You look great," Joey told her as she descended the stair from the bedroom.
She smiled. "You look pretty good yourself."
He helped her into her wrap, a black velvet cape.
"I feel like a princess going to the ball," she admitted.
"Well nothing's too good for my princess," he told her, taking her arm as they left the apartment.

Things were not quite so glamorous at the Lundy's. Caroline was fixing dinner in the kitchen in old jeans and a sweatshirt, her hair tied back. LeVon had taken Erik fishing earlier and they were out at the corrals feeding Fooler. LeVon had been talking about getting another horse.
Erik was still trying to adjust to living with them. He had most of his things from his former home and Caroline had helped him move into one of the guest rooms, now to be his. He was just getting to know her as well and things between them were a little tense. Caroline knew he must feel some resentment towards her, feeling that perhaps if it had not been for her his mother and LeVon might have stayed together. Caroline knew from LeVon that this was not the case, or she to might have had feelings of unnecessary guilt. He'd told her that it was months before she ever came into the picture that Jaime had wanted to cool the relationship, not being fully recovered from her husbands' death. But Caroline was not sure Erik understood that. But he'd been fair with her and polite. She was walking on eggshells a bit she feared, for she did feel sorry for him. It was a difficult situation for all of them. LeVon had taken some days off to help out, but come Monday it was back to work. Erik had told them he wanted to return to school Monday as well. Caroline hoped he was ready. She hoped she was ready to become a mother figure to the teen before she'd even had time to adjust to becoming a mother for the first time. When she'd finished dinner preparations, she went out to the corrals. Erik was riding Fooler in the pasture bareback while LeVon cleaned the water trough.
"You guys getting' hungry?" she asked her husband, leaning on a fence post. "Starving," LeVon answered, looking up. He gave her a smile. "We'll be in directly."
"I'll wait. I like watching you work."
He finished up and then joined her at the fence, watching Erik.
"He's good," she commented.
LeVon nodded. "He really likes it too. I wanna try and get another horse as soon as we can afford it."
"Well, we probably oughta do it now, before the baby comes. Don't know where our money'll go after that," she said with a smile.
"I haven't told Erik yet, about the baby," he told her.
Caroline nodded. "Let him get used to things first. We can wait awhile yet."
LeVon put his arms around her from behind and placed his hands over her still flat tummy. "Well I can't hardly wait."
She smiled. "You never did have much patience."
"Still don't," he agreed.
When Erik returned and put Fooler up, they all went in to dinner together.

Rick Deets and his team were ready. They planned on hitting the cops' home just like any other; only they knew they'd have to be smarter this time. The cops had more guns and training than the average citizens. But Rick's partner Mike had done a preliminary B & E into the cops' home and knew where they kept their weapons when not on duty. And they knew that once they had the wife, the husband would not put up much of a fight.
They knew that LaFiamma and his wife or girlfriend were out for the night. It would be even easier that way. They'd be in the apartment when the couple returned. Surprise would be to their advantage.
Once inside the LaFiamma apartment, Mike went to the cherry wood case the cop kept his twin pistols stored in the upstairs bedroom. They were there. He took them out and stuck them both into his waistband. Now they waited for the happy couple.

Joey and Cassidy ate a late dinner after the symphony and had several glasses of champagne to celebrate their engagement. They talked about wedding plans, which, like Joey had told his partner, was going to be small and presided over by a Justice of the Peace.
"I know you want to get married in the Church," Cassidy told him on their drive home, sometime after midnight.
"It's not that big of a deal," Joey told her, exaggerating a bit.
"Yeah, it is. We can do it someday, you know? Go to Chicago, have the whole church thing."
He shrugged. Maybe in another ten years the mafia would be gone and he'd be safe to go home. Or twenty. Or thirty.
"I'm not gonna worry about it now," he told her. "I just want you to be my wife. I don't really care how we get it done."
She smiled and took his hand as they drove. "Is it possible to be this happy?" she asked.
Joey had to smile. He'd been thinking the same thing. "Why not? Seems like other people do it."
"But you? And me? After everything? To end up like this?"
Joey knew what she meant. But he also knew how good her hand felt in his, how perfectly her body fit with his, how he loved to lay in bed late at night and just smell her hair, caress her shoulder. He knew that somehow, it was meant to be. And he told her that.
"I just want it to last Joey. Forever."
He pulled into the parking garage. "Me too babe. Me too."

Joey opened the apartment door and he and Cassidy went inside. They'd left the lamp on in the kitchen, so Joey didn't turn on the lights when they went inside and closed the door behind him.
It happened in a split second. LaFiamma was tackled by what felt like two linebackers. Cassidy was grabbed by two more and quickly subdued and handcuffed. Joe put up a fight, getting in several good blows to his attackers as they rolled around on the floor. They shoved him into the wall and that was when he saw his own guns being held on him and saw a terrified Cassidy being held at gunpoint by two men. He slowly raised his hands.
"Take what you want," he told the two who'd gotten him down. "Don't hurt her."
Rick Deets, dressed all in black and wearing a soft Halloween mask made too look like a skeleton face like all his mates, laughed at La Fiamma. "You ain't so tough now," he growled. "You need to back off me and my boys. As easy as we got in here and got you and your lady sacked up, we can kill you while you sleep just as easy. This is just a 'friendly' warning, Mr. LaFiamma. Next time it ain't gonna be so friendly. Next time we're gonna slit you girl's throat while you watch."
Then the two thugs took hold of LaFiamma's arms and forced him to look at Cassidy and the two holding her. One of them reached out and slapped her hard enough to snap her head sideways and knock her from a sitting position, with her hands cuffed behind her. She fell sideways on the couch and lay there, crying silently, her mouth covered with duct tape.
LaFiamma was angrier than he had ever been, but kept his cool. He knew if he fought now, they could simply put a bullet in her head. His face contorted with anger.
"Back off!" the leader repeated again, close to LaFiamma's face. LaFiamma's wrists were then bound with duct tape, as well as his ankles. They dropped him roughly to the floor on his stomach and before leaving; the leader kicked him severely in the ribs. LaFiamma had the wind knocked out of him. Then they were gone, as quickly as they'd come. As soon as the door closed, Cassidy, whose ankles had not been bound, ran over to Joey. She managed to free his hands.
He quickly undid his feet and then used the cuff key on his key chain to unlock the handcuffs on Cassidy's wrists. Then he peeled the duct tape off her mouth. She burst into tears and he took her in his arms.
As soon as he could, LaFiamma called the HPD and then Lundy.
Caroline awoke when the phone rang. Lundy took the phone to the kitchen. It was after one a.m. She got up and put on a robe and then followed her husband into the kitchen.
".Are you both okay?" he was asking. ".Dammit all. Are they dusting for prints? Yeah.yeah.we'll be okay. No.take care of Cassidy.Yeah, I'm sure. Okay. Thanks partner."
"What was that?" Caroline asked with concern after LeVon had hung up.
"LaFiamma got hit by the damn home invaders we're trying to bust. They gave him a warning, back off or else."
"Oh my God!" Caroline's hand flew to her mouth. "Are they okay?"
"LaFiamma got roughed up a little and Cassidy got hit, but they're both gonna be okay. HPD's sending out a car to watch the house tonight and probably keep a detail out here for the rest of the weekend."
"You think they could come here?"
Lundy shook his head. "I doubt it. They know LaFiamma's already reported it. They're not gonna press their luck that much. Hitting one cop was pushing it way too much. They don't have the element of surprise anymore." Caroline was still terrified. LeVon took her in his arms. "It's gonna be okay. No one's gonna hurt you ever. I'll call a security company on Monday morning; get them to come put in an alarm system, some locks for all the windows. And we're gonna get these guys. Probably sooner now. There's probably a lot of trace evidence at LaFiamma's."
Caroline felt a little better, but not much. She didn't sleep much for the rest of the night, even after the black and white police car pulled up in front of the house. Neither did Lundy. He kept his Colt revolver close to his reach.