TITLE: Nick at Nite

AUTHOR: Simone44

RATING:  PG-13

CREATED:  May 25, 2002

CONTEXT: This storyline follows "The Beginning" episode and pre-supposes that Nick and several associates from the now defunct Fallin & Associates have formed their own law firm, Nick Fallin & Associates.  Burton stepped down from his Federal appointment to work as a part-time consultant for Nick's law firm.  This story assumes that Nick was cleared of any wrong doing in the murders of his Probation Officer, Dale Petrovic and the strip-club owner, Lenny Getkin.  The death of Mandy Gressler has been ruled accidental. 

DISCLAIMER:  The characters and events portrayed herein are fictional, some of which have been borrowed from or inspired by "The Guardian"-- a CBS TV Series. 

Nick stood with his hands on his hips peering out of the large window of his new office located on the 6th floor of the Goldman Building.  The building had been an old warehouse before the City began their restoration campaign about a year ago.  Nick had been able to negotiate a pretty good deal for the largest space they still had available about 3 months ago when he and 6 other associates left Fallin & Associates –or what had been Fallin & Associates.  That was still a bitter pill to swallow.  A Firm his father had spent his life building was now history.  Nick clinched his teeth at the thought.  After Mandy had died so suddenly and everything came out about the murder of his Probation Officer his father had opted to reject the Federal appointment in order to help Nick get back on his feet.  Nick blinked back the emotion which always threatened to overwhelm him whenever he thought about the sacrifice his father had made for him.  Burton's health had worried him, too.  He seemed a lot older lately. 

Nick turned to survey his office.  It wasn't huge but nicely appointed.  He had stayed with the sleek modern look of chrome and glass with ebony black furniture and light gray walls.  Since they had started with six partners they had been able to recruit six new lawyers, all with huge promise.  They were already building a reputation.  Burton had called a lot of his old clients and encouraged them to follow Nick to the new firm.  When others had gotten wind of the changes at Fallin & Associates they too followed.  If the client load got much heavier they would need to hire at least 5 more lawyers. 

Summer was coming to an end and Nick actually felt like he could take a little break.  He hadn't seen Hunter for several weeks now; their relationship a little strained because of Mr. Sample's obvious dislike of him.  He had managed to keep in touch with Hunter by phone since Mr. Sample had gained permanent custody.  Even over the phone he could tell the kid was really not happy about living with his grandparents.  It did beat living in foster care, though, even if Hunter refused to believe that. 

Nick reached for the phone and dialed the number from memory.  "Hello, Mrs. Sample.  It's Nick Fallin.  Oh, I've been good, thanks for asking.  Would Hunter be around?" 

Mrs. Sample paused before answering, "He went to the store with his grandfather."

"Oh, I see.  Will he be back soon?"  Nick could feel the animosity through the phone lines.  Neither one of the Samples wanted Nick to have anything to do with Hunter.  "Mrs. Sample?" Nick asked when she didn't immediately reply.

"They should be back within the hour." 

"Can you have Mr. Sample call me?"  Nick thought it best to talk directly to Mr. Sample.  He left his office phone number and hung up the phone. 

He flopped down at his desk and flipped open a file.  About thirty minutes later the phone rang and it was Mr. Sample.

"Mr. Fallin… Mr. Sample here.  What can I do for you?"  His words were clipped and short. 

"You know, Mr. Sample, I know you don't like me.  I don't know what else I can do.  I've apologized."

He was going to go on but Mr. Sample interrupted him.

"You can just stay away from Hunter." 

"Well, you see, I can't do that.  I care about Hunter and I don't like seeing him locked away in a mausoleum, no offense.  I know you truly have Hunter's best interest at heart, but can't you remember when you were a boy?  Do you remember how you loved your grandparents but you didn't want to "hang out" with them?"  Mr. Sample was silent on the other end of the phone.  "I thought I would call to see if Hunter would like to go to Kennywood Park on Friday.  I remember, as a kid, I really loved…."

Mr. Sample answered.  "Mr. Fallin, I wouldn't agree except Hunter has seemed really sad lately.  I think he's bored with the long summer, ready to get back to school."  He had a worried sound in his voice.  "I'll let you talk to him.  If he wants to go, I won't stand in the way." 

"Mr. Sample, I really appreciate that."  Nick was relieved.  Hunter was on the phone.

"Hi." 

"Hi, Hunter.  This is Nick Fallin."

"Yeah, my grampa told me."

"How would you like to go to Kennywood Park with me Friday night?"  Nick tried to sound upbeat.

"I guess so."  Hunter seemed lifeless on the phone. 

"Okay, how 'bout I pick you up at 6:00 tomorrow evening?"

"Sure."

"Okay, see ya, buddy."  Nick replaced the receiver.  He looked at the phone for a long moment.  It didn't sound like things were going very well for Hunter.  Well, he would just have to try and spend more time with him. 

There was a knock at Nick's office door and Jake entered.  "Hey, Nick.  Those guys are here from Votech.  I have them set up in the conference room."

"Right.  I'll be right there, Jake.  Thanks."  He grabbed a file from his credenza and headed for the conference room.  Nick had naturally assumed the managing partner status when they opened the new office.  After all he had made the largest cash investment to get the place going.  The firm was growing faster than he had ever imagined.  The Fallin name obviously still carried some clout in this town. 

~~~//~~~

Finally, it was Friday night.  Nick had knocked off work early to go home and change.  He had jumped in the shower to freshen up.  He squeezed out a bead of hair gel into his hands then ran his hands through his damp hair a few times to tame and separate his unruly curls.  He then donned a pair of charcoal black wool-blend trousers, a mock turtleneck pull-over in black and his black leather Italian loafers.  He put on his watch and grabbed his wallet.  The evenings had been unseasonably cool for late August.  From the hall coat closet he selected a tailored black leather jacket which should suffice to keep out the chill. 

He knocked on the door and before long it was opened by Hunter.  "Hi," he said and opened the door wider for Nick to enter.  Nick stepped inside and greeted Mr. Sample with a hand shake. "How are you, Mr. Sample?"  Mr. Sample nodded a greeting.   "It could be after 11:00 before I get him home tonight, if that's okay." 

"We'll wait up.  Have a good time, Hunter."  Mrs. Sample handed Hunter his coat. 

The Park was about 10 miles outside of the City and traffic was a mess, especially on a Friday night.  It seemed everyone was going someplace on Friday night. 

"Well, Hunter, what ya been doing over the summer?"  Nick glanced over at Hunter who had been silent since getting into the car. 

"Oh, nothin'." 

"I see.  Is that nothin' good or nothin' bad?"  Nick asked trying to get a conversation going.  Hunter looked at him like he was crazy.  Nick grinned back at him.  Hunter finally smiled back.  "Hunter, let's just try and have fun tonight, okay?" 

"Okay."

Hunter finally did begin to talk a little about his summer.  He had gone on a couple of trips to see family.  But, Nick could tell that it had been pretty rough for the boy. 

"You know, Hunter, I've been busy these last several months opening my own law practice so I haven't had much free time.  But, I think the worst is over so I should have more time to spend with you.  Would you like that?"

"Yeah, sure."  Hunter looked over at him expectantly. 

"Good." 

By the time they arrived at the Park the sun was setting and the crowds were building.  It was a beautiful, starry night, even though it was a little crisp.  Hunter wanted to ride the roller coaster first so they found the line and only had to wait about 20 minutes.  He next wanted to ride the Tilt-a-whirl which was Nick's least favorite ride.  He remembered, as a kid, it used to make him throw-up.  He was standing in line dreading the experience when someone tapped him on the shoulder.  He turned to see a stunningly beautiful woman smiling at him.  She said, "Do you mind if my nephew rides with you and your son on this ride?  This is one ride that doesn't like me."  She laughed softly.  Nick opened his mouth to tell her that Hunter was not his son, but decided it really didn't matter if he corrected her or not.  "Well, actually, I was trying to figure a way out of going on this ride myself."  He grinned.  "I'm afraid it doesn't like me either."  While they were talking, the boys struck up a conversation. 

"Oh, this is my nephew, Jared."  Jared stuck out his hand and Nick shook it.  He turned to Hunter.  "This is Hunter.  Hunter meet Jared." 

"Yeah, we've met."  They had apparently hit it off pretty well.  They began talking again about some of the other rides in the park. 

Nick suddenly got an idea.  "How would you boys like to ride this without us?" 

"Yeah, that would be cool," they both piped up. 

"Great."  Nick eyed a bench outside the fence surrounding the ride.  "We'll be right over there," pointing at the bench.  He pointed the way and followed the woman to the bench.  "Would you like a cup of coffee or something?"  He asked. 

"Coffee would be good.  It's a little chilly tonight."  She sat on the bench. 

"I'll be right back."  The coffee stand was about 50 yards away.  As he waited in line he kept glancing back at the bench.  The woman appeared to be maybe a few years younger them he was.  She had her beautiful dark hair pulled back in a ponytail which probably made her look younger than she really was.  She had a great figure and was dressed casually in a pair of black jeans, a white sweater and a black suede jacket. 

Nick returned with the coffees and sat beside the woman.  "By the way, I'm Nick."  He took a sip of his coffee. 

"Sam."  Nick looked quizzically at her.  "Short for Samantha."  She smiled.  She had a very winsome smile.  You could tell that she smiled a lot. 

"Oh.  Well, nice to meet you Sam."  He gave her a big grin.  "So do you spend much time with your nephew?" 

"Not really that much.  My sister, his mother, just had a new baby.  She had some complications so my brother-in-law has been spending a lot of time at the hospital.  Poor Jared has been pushed to the side during all this hoopla so I thought he could use a break." 

"Is your sister doing okay now?"  It was just idle talk to break the ice. 

"Oh, yeah, I believe she'll be fine."  Silence then, "Do you live around here?" 

Hum, Nick thought.  That was a pretty forward question.  "I live in Shadyside.  How 'bout you?" 

"I've lived all my life in Sewickley Heights.  I did go away to college but came running right back after I graduated.  I really don't know what keeps me here except family." 

The boys came running to the bench.  "We wanna go on the roller coaster again. Can we?"  Hunter pleaded. 

"It's okay by me."  He glanced at Sam.  She nodded her approval.  The boys charged off to get in line.  "We'll catch up," Nick yelled after them.  They strolled along talking and sipping their coffee. 

"You know your son looks just like you.  Where's his mother?"  She looked at Nick. 

"Well, I have a confession to make.  Hunter is not my son."  He glanced at her for her reaction. 

"Oh, well, it is amazing the resemblance."

"I'm a lawyer and he's a client of mine, or was," he corrected himself.  He's living with his grandparents and that can get a little stuffy, if you know what I mean, so I try to spend some time with him. 

"So I take it, then, that you're single."  She smiled his way and took a sip of her coffee.

"Does that mean you're interested?"  He asked, raising his eyebrows with a twinkle in his eyes. 

"Could be," she said coyly.  The boys had made it to the beginning of the line. They turned to wave to them as they got in the front seat of the coaster. 

"The boys seem to be getting along great.  I promised Jared we would go for ice cream afterwards.  Would you and Hunter like to join us?"  She asked hopefully. 

"Sure, if Hunter wants to."  Sam was definitely showing an interest in him.  It had been weeks since he had been on a date.  The work at the firm had been all-consuming.  He hated to think about it, but Lulu had apparently settled into her marriage.  He saw her occasionally when he had to go by Legal Services but he was trying to keep his distance as she had requested.  He could use a night out – with an adult of the female persuasion. 

The boys ran over to them flushed and exhilarated from the coaster ride.  "Hunter, would you like to go for an ice cream with Jared and Sam?" 

Jared grabbed Hunter by the arm and squealed, "Say yes." 

Hunter was laughing and said, "That'd be great." 

"Okay, you ready to go?" Nick asked.  They both yelled "Yes," at the same time.  "Where're you parked?"  Nick looked at Sam.  "In the East Parking Lot, Section E, I think," she said, checking a slip of paper she had in her pocket.  "Yeah, Section E.  How 'bout you?" 

"Well, it just so happens I'm in East Parking Lot also, Section G.  I'll walk you to your car and then we'll meet you at the ice cream parlor." 

The boys bounded ahead.  "Nick, it was great meeting you tonight." 

"Same here.  Would it be all right if I called you?" 

"I would like that."  She opened her purse and pulled out a business card.  The card read "DESIGNS by Sam".  She penciled in her home phone number and handed the card to him. 

He looked at the card and asked, "Designs?"  He noticed her last name was Holland

"I'm an Interior Designer.  That's the name of my shop.  "Here we are."  Jared had found the car and was standing nearby.  The boys were talking non-stop.  Sam used her remote key to open the door.  Nick thought, 'nice car'.  It was a Mercedes CL55 convertible costing around $100,000 if memory served.  She must be pretty good at what she does. "Nick, are you familiar with the Blue Cottage Ice Cream Parlor on Shady Lane?  It's probably about 10 minutes from here." 

"Yeah, I think I know the place you're talking about.  We'll see ya there." 

Sam and Jared had just gotten seated inside when Nick pulled up to the curb.  It was late so there weren't many customers in the place.  Hunter slid into the booth across from Jared and Nick across from Sam.  The waitress appeared and they ordered.  Nick noticed that Sam kept glancing his way.  A couple of times, their gazes met.  Nick insisted on picking up the tab.  They said their goodbyes at the door.   As Hunter got into the car Nick watched Sam drive away. 

On the way home, Hunter said, "I think she likes you."  Nick glanced over at him.  "Ya think so?" Nick asked seriously with a sly grin on his face. 

"Yeah, man, you oughta ask her out."  Sam hadn't been very subtle if Hunter had picked up on the vibes. 

"Did you have a good time tonight?" 

"It was fun.  I really like Jared.  He goes to a private school but he's not mean like most rich kids."  Hunter had apparently forgotten that he was worth $5 million.  Nick was beginning to put two and two together.  HOLLAND.  He thought he had recognized that name.  Holland International was a huge international construction company.  They had several major projects under construction in and around Pittsburgh as well as many projects overseas.  He bet that his father knew Sam's family since he was acquainted with most of the well-heeled families in the Pittsburgh area.  He remembered he hadn't given his last name to Sam.  She might also recognize the Fallin name.  Though the Fallin name wasn't associated with great wealth it still had a lot of cachet.

The lights were still on in the front area of the house when Nick pulled up to the Sample home.  He watched Hunter walk to the door and waited until he went inside.  Mr. Sample stuck his head out the door and waved to Nick.  When the front porch light was turned off, Nick pulled away from the curb and headed home. 

~~~//~~~

It was Tuesday, and Alvin had called Nick to his office to talk about one of Nick's cases.  The matter was resolved quickly and Nick gathered his briefcase up to leave.  For the last several months Alvin had been very cordial to him.  Alvin had realized that he had come down a little hard on Nick about Hunter Reed when Dr. Reed tried to kill himself.  And then when all that trouble came out about the murder of his PO and that stripper ending up dead at Nick's place, well Alvin figured Nick could use a break.  Alvin had tried to smooth things over but it had been pretty rocky between them for a long time afterwards.  Nick was finally starting to warm up to him.   

"Nick, how are things at the new Firm?"  Alvin was trying to get Nick to talk about something other than a case file. 

"Goin' pretty good.  Thanks for asking." 

"Is your Dad doing okay?" 

"Yeah.  You know he's working for me now as a consultant.  He comes in when he wants and has been working with some of the new lawyers – indoctrinating them so to speak."  Nick backed out of Alvin's office and raised a hand in goodbye.  As he was headed to the elevator Lulu approached. 

"Hi, Nick.  How have you been?" She asked a little breathless. 

He didn't answer, but nodded his head.  "How's married life?"  It still pained him to think about it…Lulu with that whoring asshole.  But, if things were working out, then that was fine.  Maybe Brian had been honest when he said that was the only time he "slipped".  He shook his head realizing he had gone off on this thought and Lulu was talking.  "….I guess."  She looked at him with those big brown eyes.  God he couldn't take it.  It had been months now and he still had much the same feelings for her. 

"What?"  He said to get her to repeat her response. 

"I said fine, I guess." 

"Oh.  You making progress on the house?"  He didn't care, didn't really want to know, he just wanted to get away. 

"Brian succeeded in gutting the entire place.  It's not going to look anything like it was when you saw it last."  She bowed her head, thinking to herself about what Nick had said about the beauty of the old place.  Brian never considered anything she wanted.  They would talk about things but it always ended up the way HE wanted it. 

"Listen, Lulu, I really gotta go.  Maybe we can have coffee sometime and you can tell me all about it."  Nick was sure that day would never come. 

"Yeah, sure.  I need to get back to work myself."  She watched Nick walk to the elevator.  As he stepped into the elevator, she turned to go back to her office.  She closed the door behind her and leaned up against it, squeezing her eyes shut.  When she opened them tears were running down her cheeks.  She angrily reached for a Kleenex and wiped away the tears.  She found herself crying a lot these days.

~~~//~~~

Nick returned to his office to find the place hopping with jubilance.  One of the new lawyers had landed a really big account and they were celebrating.  Nick headed for the conference room where all the festivities were going on.  He congratulated the new guy and said he wanted to host a celebration tonight and thought a fitting place would be The Incline.  Back to the old haunt to show their old friends and colleagues that they had MADE IT. 

"What do ya say about 7:00, tonight at The Incline, my treat."   They all yelled their approval.  "Now let's get back to work.  Maybe we can land another big fish before the day is over?"  Everyone laughed.

"Jane, would you like to call The Incline and give them some kind of head count and make sure they have enough finger foods and … alcohol… on hand for tonight.  A Tuesday night, shouldn't be that busy."   Jane was an exceptional Administrative Assistant.  She easily handled the needs of 12 lawyers and 4 paralegals and ran the office like a well-oiled machine.  So far, Nick had found nothing she couldn't do, and do well. 

He went into his office and shut the door.  He pulled his wallet out and retrieved Sam's business card then reached for the phone.  After a brief hesitation he picked it up and dialed her work number. 

"Miss Holland, please, Nick Fallin calling."  The courteous voice on the other end of the phone told him to wait a moment and then connected him. 

"Nick, hi.  I was beginning to think you weren't going to call." 

"I didn't want to seem too eager," he said cautiously. 

"Well," she laughed.  "I think you've been successful at that.  I was beginning to think I'd lost my touch." 

"I know it's a little late notice, but I'm giving a celebration party tonight at The Incline and wondered if you might like to join me.  Are you familiar with that place?"

"That's right downtown, isn't it?  Near the courthouse?  That's not too far from my office.  Would you want me to meet you there?" 

"The least I can do is pick you up at your office since I gave you such short notice.  I know that area.  How 'bout I pick you up about a quarter of 7:00?" 

"That would be perfect."  She seemed eager.  Well, that went well, he thought as he replaced the phone. 

The remainder of the day was routine. 

~~~//~~~

He pulled up in front of DESIGNS by Sam.  The building was one of the old classic structures with all kinds of architectural detail which had been lovingly restored.  Nick really loved these old buildings.  The front door entered right off the sidewalk and the large windows had two large cloth awnings which served to shade them from the harsh mid-day sun.  It was almost 7:00 and the sun was setting, casting long shadows.  Many of the shops had already closed for the evening so foot traffic was light.  Nick parked at the curb and entered the building.  Immediately ahead of him was the reception desk.  An attractive young woman, who appeared to be maybe 19 years old, was sitting behind the desk. 

"May I help you, sir?"  Nick looked around as he said, "Nick Fallin to see Miss Holland."  He noticed the reception area was tastefully decorated with what appeared to be valuable works of art.  "One moment, please, and I will call her for you."  She punched a button on her console and said, "Sam, a Mr. Fallin is here to see you.  Sure.  Sir, she'll be right with you."  Nick walked over to a nearby chair and sat down.  He noticed the receptionist was gathering her things getting ready to go home for the day.  He picked up a design magazine and started thumbing through it.  About this time Sam came walking down the hallway. 

"Hi, Nick."  He nodded her way.  She stopped at the receptionist counter.  "Amy, do you mind locking up for me tonight?" 

"No, not at all, Sam.  Go.  Enjoy."  She glanced at Nick and back at Sam with a knowing look.  Nick had missed the exchange of looks between the two.  As Nick and Sam walked out the door, Amy thought, 'Boy, would I like to have a piece of that.'  But, then Sam was always going out with great looking men.  And why not.  She was rich and gorgeous.  Some people had all the luck.  Amy watched them get into Nick's BMW and drive away. 

"Nice place," Nick commented when they settled into the car.  "Been in business very long?" 

"I guess it's been about 4 years now." 

"Well, maybe someday you wouldn't mind giving me some suggestions for my place?"  He was thinking his place could use some help.  He had the essentials but it looked 'unfinished'. 

"I'd love to.  You said you live in Shadyside?"

"Yeah.  I've been there about 5 years."

"There are some lovely homes in that area.  I love working with older homes." 

"Well, I'm not sure mine would qualify but it's comfortable." 

They pulled up outside The Incline.  Nick recognized several cars.  Looks like a few had beaten him here.  "I hope you won't be uncomfortable around strangers .. and I do mean strange."  He laughed. 

"I think I'll manage. In college they used to call me Miss Congeniality.  They said I could converse with a rock.  I don't know if they were just being nice or really saying I talked too much."  She laughed.  Her laugh was infectious.  He smiled back at her. 

Jake had already arrived and managed to score a number of tables at the back of the bar.  He was talking with the waitress ordering trays of assorted hors d'oeuvres.  He noticed Nick at the door and waved.  He finished up with the waitress and walked towards Nick with a big smile on his face. 

"Hey, Nick.  I've got us set up in the back and I've ordered some appetizer trays."

"Great, Jake."  He turned to Sam and nodded to Jake.  "Sam this is Jake, one of the founding partners," he said with emphasis.  Jake grinned back.  "Jake this is Sam." 

"Well, nice to meet you.  Have you known Nick long?"  Nick scowled at Jake signaling to "cut out" those kind of questions.  Jake got the message and nodded to the rear of the bar.  We're set up back there. He turned back to the front and noticed others coming in the door.  "Oh, there's Jane and Henry.  Better go and greet them.  Nice to meet you, Sam," he repeated. 

Nick took Sam's elbow and was steering her to the rear of the bar when he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, Lulu, sitting with Kate and a couple other women Nick didn't know.  She was watching him.  He gave her a slight nod of his head and continued to walk by.  He introduced Sam to other members of the Firm who had already started getting into the alcohol.  He walked over to the waitress who was handling their tables and handed her his credit card. Will you put all this on my tab please."  "Sure, Nick," she said as she proceeded to run the card.  "Haven't seen you around here lately." 

"Nope."  Nick wasn't quite sure what her name was … was it Jenny…yeah, that was it.  "Jenny, is it?"  He looked at the waitress to get a confirmation. 

"Yeah, that's right."  She smiled at him.  He had noticed her after all. 

"Well, Jenny, I'm working on Southside now so it's a little bit of a hike to get here.  But, our firm is celebrating tonight so we thought we'd come back to our old hangout.  You gonna treat us right?"  He took his card and returned it to his wallet.  He then turned and started back to the tables.  He glanced back to the booth where Lulu was sitting and saw her still watching him.  Brian must be working late.  He returned his attention to his group and noted that Sam had already struck up an animated conversation with one of the new lawyers.  He took a seat next to her.  "Okay, Andy, you better watch it."  He said jokingly to the lawyer talking with Sam. 

Sam leaned over and whispered into his ear, "Thanks for inviting me." 

He whispered back, "You're welcome."  He gazed into her sparkling blue eyes.  The other members of the firm were beginning to arrive.  Before long they were all sharing jokes and laughing raucously.  Nick reflected that it had been an awfully long time since he enjoyed himself so much.  Someone put a coin in the jukebox and a few of the group got up to dance.  Someone played "Un-break My Heart" by Toni Braxton.  Sam turned to him and said, "Nick, would you dance with me?  This is one of my favorite songs."  Reluctantly he agreed.  He took her in his arms.  She put her arms around his neck and snuggled close.  He wrapped his arms around her and held her close.  Her perfume was intoxicating.  They swayed to the music.  Sam kissed his neck and moved to kiss him on the mouth.  When their lips met Nick felt a shockwave go through his body.  Sam looked longingly into his eyes.  The song ended and they remained on the dance floor, gazing into each other's eyes.  It was Nick who finally said, "Hey, did you notice?  The song's over."  He laughed.  They returned to the table. 

Before long Nick had Jake over to the side.  "Jake, are you gonna be here long?" 

"Probably.  I didn't have any place else to go, why?" 

"Would you mind keeping up with the tab?  I already had Jenny run my card.  Just see to it that I don't get charged with somebody else's bill." 

"Sure. You leaving?"  Jake glanced over at Sam and grinned.  "Any more where that came from?"  He nodded in her direction. Nick glared at Jake. 

"I'll see you in the morning."  Nick walked back to Sam and whispered, "You ready to go?"  She nodded and stood, grabbing his arm.  They walked out together, Sam clutching his arm.  Nick gave one last glance at Lulu. 

After they settled into the car, Nick turned to Sam.  "Would you like to come over to my place for a bit? It would give you a chance to see what you could do with the place." 

"So would this be a business appointment?"  She asked coquettishly.    

"Not unless you want it to be."  Nick winked and started the car.  She smiled back.  "Is that a yes?" he asked, eyebrows raised.   

She nodded and settled back in the seat with her eyes closed, imagining how it would be to make love to this man.  The first time she saw him she had been taken by his quiet strength.  She felt really good in his presence.  The fact that he was good looking didn't hurt either. 

Nick glanced over at Sam.  She was sitting there with her eyes closed.  "What are you thinking about?" he asked quietly. 

"You.  Me.  Tonight."  She reached out to touch his hand, which rested loosely on the gear shift.  He took her hand in his and raised it to his lips.  One more turn and they were at his house.  He went around to help her out of the car.  They walked up several steps to the front door.  As Nick fumbled with the key, Sam was checking out the neighboring houses. 

"I love this neighborhood." 

They walked into the foyer.  Nick tossed his keys in a tray on the foyer table and led her down one step into his living room.  "Make yourself comfortable.  Can I get you something to drink?" 

"Well, I was drinking white wine tonight.  I guess I should stay with that." 

"White wine it is."  Nick headed to the fridge.  He poured himself a soda water and Sam a white wine.  When he returned to the living room he found Sam going through his CDs.  "Find anything to your liking?" he asked as he set the drinks on the coffee table.  He fired up the gas fireplace and crossed to the entertainment center. 

She turned to face him with a CD in her hand.  He surprised her by taking hold of her shoulders and pulling her to him, kissing her on the mouth.  Her arms dropped to her side and she let the CD fall to the floor.  He put his arms around her and nuzzled her neck.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close.  He kissed her again, drinking in her passion.  The reverie was broken by the shrill sound of the phone ringing.  At first Nick thought it was in his head.  When he realized it was the phone he said, "Damn."  He backed away and looked at his watch.  It was 11:30. Who could it be?  He hated to let it just ring especially this time of night in case something might have happened to his Dad. 

He grabbed up the cordless handset and said harshly, "Hello."  He was suddenly sobered by the voice on the other end.  It was Lulu.  He looked quickly at Sam then sat down on the sofa and indicated to Sam he had to take the call. 

"Nick, it's Lulu."  It sounded like she had been crying. 

"What is it?"  He said impatiently.  Why did she always come back into his life when he was just about to get over her?  Or was he? 

Recognizing the impatience in his voice she said, "Oh, are you busy?  I'm sorry." 

He shook his head and said, "No.  No."  He looked again at Sam and shrugged his shoulders. 

Lulu broke down crying into the phone.  "Nick, Brian walked out earlier tonight.  I just needed someone to talk to," she sobbed. 

"Where are you now?" 

"My old house.  You know we haven't moved into the new house yet." 

Nick knew he should just tell her that he couldn't help her; that she had made her choice and that was that.  But, he couldn't bring himself to do that.  As much as he hated to admit it, Lulu still caused his heart to beat double-time.  "I'll be there in a little while."  He set the phone on the table and rubbed his hands together then brought one hand to his mouth, tugging absently on his lip while he decided what to say to Sam. 

"Sam, I'm sorry. I have an emergency I need to attend to. I'll give you a ride to your car."   He walked over to her and kissed her gently on the lips.  "I would like a rain check though." 

Sam smiled but she was outwardly disappointed. 

Nick retrieved his keys from the foyer.  "Well, what do you think," he asked waving his hand around the foyer and living room area.  "Is there any hope?" 

Sam looked directly into his eyes and answered, "I see great potential."  There was obviously a double meaning in what she said.  She touched his face with her right hand then started out the front door.  Nick pulled the door shut behind them. 

Sam was quiet in the car.  Nick had chosen not to tell her the details of his emergency.  That probably meant only one thing…an old girlfriend.  Nick pulled up in the parking lot of Sam's building.  Her Mercedes was the only vehicle still parked in the lot.  He waited while she started the car then waved as she pulled away.  All he could think of was what a wonderful evening he had missed.  Well, he'd better check on Lulu.  She sounded pretty upset.

Nick looked around for Brian's car before he parked.  He sure didn't want to get into a fight with him.  There was a light on in the living room and he thought he noticed the curtains flutter as though someone was watching from inside. 

He rang the bell and the door opened almost instantly.  Lulu was standing there; her face stained with tears.  Nick walked in and shut the door quietly behind him.  He stood motionless and speechless for what seemed like several minutes.  Finally Lulu spoke.  "Brian and I had a big fight.  He went to a motel."  Nick continued to stand without saying a thing. 

Finally he said, "Lulu what can I do?"  That wasn't a rhetorical question.  He really did wonder what he could do. 

Lulu started for the living room.  "Can I get you anything to drink, Nick?" 

"No, just tell me what I can do."  He was getting a little exasperated.  He followed her to the living room.  Lulu sat on the sofa and Nick settled into an easy chair next to it.  He rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head. 

"Nick, I think I've made a big mistake." 

"What would that be?"  Nick looked at Lulu through the top of his eyes. 

"Marrying Brian."  Nick wanted so much to tell her he 'told her so', but decided that wouldn't be a good idea in her state of mind.

"Have you thought about seeing a marriage counselor?"  Nick asked.  Let's approach this practically, he thought. 

"I don't think that would help, Nick, when I'm in love with another man."  Nick looked up.  He didn't want to hear this – too little too late. 

"Does Brian know?" 

"He suspects." 

"And who would this other man be?"  Nick asked, looking straight at her. 

"I think you know that it's you, Nick." 

Nick was angry.  "How would I know it was me when you thwarted my every advance?  Now you want a do-over?"   He clenched his jaw.  He wanted to say so much more, about how she had toyed with him, tortured him.

"Nick, that's cruel."  Lulu was crying again. 

"And how do you think I felt, knowing you were making a big mistake?"  He put his head in his hands.  He had to struggle to keep from crying out in anguish.  He felt Lulu's hand on his head.  She was on her knees beside him.  She took his hand in hers and moved it from his face.  He looked sadly at her.  She touched his lips gently with her fingers and then reached to kiss him lightly on the mouth.  Nick took her head in his hands and gently kissed her back.  He looked into those dark brown eyes and melted.  He noticed she seemed so very sad. 

Lulu finally managed to stop her crying and calmly said, "Nick, you know I tried to tell myself I didn't have feelings for you; that I was only curious about you.  I thought Brian was the more practical choice.  We had known each other for so long it just seemed like the right thing to do but the closer the wedding got the more I began to question that decision.  When Brian suggested we elope I should have just said no.  By that time I had convinced myself that my indecision was just because the wedding ceremony had become this huge monster, so I said yes.  It is a decision I have come to regret every day since the moment I said, 'I do'."

Nick sat quietly while she told him she loved him.  Months ago that would have made him very happy.  Right now, he was feeling numb. 

"Nick, say something."  Lulu had sat back on the sofa. 

"I really don't know what to say."  He looked at her with pained eyes.  "There was a time not long ago that I wanted to hear those words from you, but…"  He didn't know how to continue.  He had mixed feelings about this whole thing.  He'd met this wonderful girl, Sam.  And she seemed like a really level-headed girl.  "Lulu, I've met someone."  He looked back at Lulu for her reaction. 

She was sitting quietly on the sofa now, her crying had stopped.  "That girl in the bar tonight?" 

Nick bowed his head again and nodded yes. 

"Well, I guess I have only myself to blame."  She chewed her bottom lip. 

"What are you gonna do?"  Nick finally asked after moments of silence. 

"I don't know right now.  I may not have to do anything.  Brian may do it.  He was really angry when he stormed out of here tonight."  Lulu had calmed down considerably from the time he first arrived. 

"Will you be okay tonight?"

"I would be better if you stayed the night."  She looked at Nick knowing full well that he wouldn't stay.

Nick reached out to touch Lulu's face and push back her hair.  This always made her weak in the knees.  "Lulu, I guess I still have serious feelings for you, but you have to admit that we have not been that compatible.  And, right now, with the pressures of starting a new firm and worries about my Dad's health, I just don't have time to worry about a relationship."  He reached over and brushed her cheek with his lips.  "I really should be going, if you think you'll be okay." 

"I'll be fine Nick."  She followed Nick to the door.  He turned and gave her a final kiss on the lips.  She watched him leave.  Tonight would be another night she would cry herself to sleep.    

THE END