Beyond the Future

By Claudia Leigh Thornton

Marcus O'Malley pulled on his dress shirt and slowly tucked it in before he pulled on his tux jacket. He looked at himself in the full length mirror before putting on his bow tie. He was getting married on this his wedding day. He had never thought he'd get married at least not until the rest of the family was settled. It was true that most of his family was married except for Stephen and he was engaged. He never failed to thank God for Shari Hanford everyday for the last year and it was about to become Shari O'Malley. His fiancée, her mother Beth and all of his sisters had been planning this thing for the last few months. Shari's mother Beth had delighted in planning a wedding for her only daughter, the only pall on the whole celebration being the absence of Shari's father Bill Hanford and Carl Whitmore not to mention his sister Jennifer. But somehow he hoped Bill Hanford would approve of his older child marrying a cop. It was now July and Stephen had just come back from his several months of wandering. He had been here in June when Cole and Rachel had tied the knot and he would be there tomorrow as best man when Jack married Cassie. After this he would be the only O'Malley not married, although he was engaged to Meghan Delhart. Something was different about his brother though he was more relaxed and more at peace then Marcus had ever seen him and he had a suspicion he knew the reason why. Stephen had finally accepted that fact that God not only loved him, but took an active role in there lives. Of course it was only a suspicion not a fact. But in his heart he knew the truth and he thanked God that Stephen was at least at peace.

Marcus's sighed and his thoughts returned to his beloved. He remembered the day he had formerly proposed to her last year. He had even gotten down on one knee and asked Shari to marry him. Shari had immediately flung herself into his waiting arms and had shouted, "Yes, yes, yes." They had been at Marcus's apartment after he had taken her out to dinner. Her response had pleased him immensely. He already knew he loved her and he was sure she loved him, but it was nice to have it confirmed. His sisters had been happy for him, of course technically he had proposed on the plane that was taking her to meet her family after they had killed the, assassin. But he hadn't had time to buy a ring so he had proposed again this time formerly and she had accepted with enthusiasm. He was not amazed to discover she loved him as much as he loved her, which was with every atom of his being and even more then his own life and he knew that Shari felt the same.

His thoughts were interrupted with a knock at his bedroom door, "You about ready in there? You wouldn't want to miss your own wedding would you?" The voice on the other side of the door was filled with laughter.

"Funny Jack," said Marcus opening his bedroom door, "Like I would really miss my own wedding to a woman I love more then anything in the world."

"Even family?" inquired Jack with a grin.

"You know the answer to that so why are you asking such a silly question?" asked Marcus, mildly refusing to be drawn in especially on his wedding day.

"Nervous?" Stephen inquired.

"Why should I be when I know I love her with all my heart and that she loves me?"

Jack nodded; he understood how Marcus felt. He loved his own wife Cassie with all his heart and soul.

"Well let's get going or we'll be late," said Stephen, glancing at his watch.

Marcus did one last visual check in the mirror to make sure his hair and teeth were brushed and that his tie was straight. "Have I forgotten anything?" Marcus asked.

"I don't think so," said Stephen.

Marcus nodded and all three brothers headed out the door and downstairs to Marcus's car. The wedding was taking place at Beth Hanford's place, which was where Shari was living. She had given up her apartment two months ago when the lease had run out. She had seen no point in renewing it since she would be getting married and would soon be living with Marcus anyway. Her furnishings had been put in storage until such time she decided to either use them or sell them.

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An hour later, Marcus arrived at the Hanford house and parked his car where he was sure he would be able to get to it later. He planned to take Shari to Paris for their honeymoon. Dave had even offered to fly them there for free. Marcus admitted it was sometimes nice to have a rich brother-in-law who had his own private jet. So plane tickets, would be one expense they could avoid at least.

He had never been to Paris although he had always wanted to go. He had heard it was the city of romance and mystery, but also his dream was to go with the woman he loved and the time was now at hand. He of course hadn't told Shari where they were going it was supposed to be a surprise.

Marcus walked into the house after Josh opened the door for them. "Josh have you met my brothers Jack and Stephen?"

"No I don't believe I have," said Josh. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last. I'm Shari's brother Joshua. Come on in mom's in the kitchen baking up a storm."

"And my sisters?"

"Upstairs helping Shari get ready. Guest should begin arriving within an hour."

"Beth isn't overdoing it is she?" asked Marcus.

"You mean health wise? She seems okay, but both Shari and I have tried to get her to slow down, but you know my mother…."

"I'll just go say hello then," said Marcus.

"Try to get her to slow down if possible. She's going to tire herself out even before the wedding if she keeps this up," said Josh.

"I'll see what I can do," Marcus promised.

"Anything we can do?" asked Jack as Marcus disappeared into the kitchen.

"Not much actually. Most of it's already taken care of. My only regret is that my father couldn't be here to see Shari get married and to walk her down the aisle Carl as well.

"The same goes for our sister Jennifer," said Stephen with a sad smile.

"Hey this is supposed to be a happy occasion," said Jack. "We've all lost people, but they would want us to be happy."

"That's true," said Josh with a melancholy smile of his own. "And I am happy for Shari. Marcus is a good man."

"He is that," both Jack and Stephen agreed at the same time.

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Upstairs

Rachel, Kate, Lisa, Meghan and Cassie were all surrounding the bride trying to get her dressed and ready.

"Marcus, Jack and Stephen are here," said Rachel with a wink at her sisters where Shari couldn't see it. "I heard Josh talking to them."

"Marcus is here?" asked Shari trying to conceal her true feelings. She really wanted to rush down and give him a kiss, but there was a long-standing tradition that it was bad luck to see the groom before the wedding.

"Of course he's here," said Kate with a knowing grin. "He loves you. I can tell just by the way he looks at you."

"And how does he look at me?" asked Shari curiously.

"Possessively," said Kate.

"Lovingly," Lisa added.

"With such possessive love in his eyes that it eclipses all other emotions," said Rachel.

Shari blushed at their statements. "And I love him with all my heart and soul."

"We know," said all three ladies smugly.

"And how do you know?" asked Shari, not sure she really wanted to know.

"Because it's the same way our husbands look at us," said Kate.

"Or in my case fiancée," said Meghan. She might not be able to see but she could sense the way Stephen felt, just in the way his voice softened when he spoke to her and all the things he did for her without asking a thing in return. Even before she had gone blind they had had a thing for each other, but it had never gone further then friendship because at that time Stephen wasn't a Christian.

All the girls roared with laughter including Shari. It felt good to release the tension and the expectations of what was to come.

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In the kitchen Marcus found Beth Hanford hard at work mixing a batch of cupcakes Shari's favorite.

"Morning Beth," said Marcus giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"Morning Marcus," said Beth without turning from her batter stirring.

"Why don't you stop that for a minute and come meet my brothers?" Marcus suggested.

Finally Beth turned to face him. "Marcus O'Malley, are you trying to get me to slow down?" she asked with laughter in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.

"Now would I do that?" asked Marcus as innocently as possible, but the twinkle in his eyes betrayed him.

"If you thought I was overdoing it you would," Beth retorted with laughter in her voice. "So you can quit playing innocent with me."

"All right I'll admit that Josh thought you might be overdoing it."

Beth shook her head in mock anger, "Both Josh and Shari worry to much." She said it laughingly.

"Only because they care about you and love you. Sometimes I think they are right and you do overdo it. I think you think you must keep constantly busy so you don't think about your husband and Carl."

Beth sighed. "You're right. Just thinking about Bill brings tears to my eyes and poor Carl I'd known him since he was a little boy…"

"I understand these feelings. The O'Malley's have felt the pain of having someone very special stripped from, them before her time. Jennifer was the best of us and she too died."

"How do you handle the grief?"

"By remembering the good times," said Marcus. "All the laughter and fun at family gatherings, but also by remembering that God might not have caused their deaths, but that he always has a purpose and turns everything to the good."

"You are wise beyond your years Marcus," said Beth kissing his cheek affectionately.

Marcus blushed and Beth turned back to stirring her cupcake batter, with a smile. "I'll come and meet your brothers as soon as I get this batch of cupcakes in the oven."

"Okay," Marcus agreed. "Just don't be to long. The wedding is scheduled for 10:00 o'clock sharp and it's already twenty after nine."

"That late?" asked Beth looking at her watch as she spoke. "I better hurry I still need to go pull my dress on.

"Then you'd better hurry."

Beth nodded and began pouring the batter in to the cupcake pan. Then she put them into the stove and set the timer. "I'll see you at the wedding," said Beth kissing his cheek again.

"Yes ma'am," said Marcus giving her a quick affectionate hug.

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At 10:00 o'clock sharp everybody was in place and the music began. The wedding was going to be an outside event and Beth had gone all out. There was a rented baby grand piano in one corner of the garden, which was where the music was coming from. Beth had hired a professional pianist to do the playing. Roses as well as; other flowers were everywhere in profusion and the garden was tastefully decorated. Marcus stood at the makeshift altar nervously trying not to fidget with anticipation as well as nervousness Josh as his best man at his side.

"It's not like you to be so nervous," Josh whispered seeing Marcus fidget.

"I can't help it. I've waited for this day for a long time."

"I know what you mean," whispered Josh. After that there was no more time for whispered conversation because the wedding march had begun, and Shari came down the aisle on the arm of Marcus's brother Stephen. Usually if the father was not available then it was the brother if the bride had one who escorted her down the aisle, but in this case Marcus had requested Josh to be his best man so the duty had been given to Stephen.

Marcus's eyes grew wide as Shari came down the aisle. She was breathtakingly beautiful her long brunette hair hung past her shoulders and blue eyes sparkling behind a see-through veil. Her mouth seemed to be cocked in a half smile that seemed to beckon Marcus to drown in it. The dress itself was simple, yet exquisite at least to Marcus's sight. Her dress was of the purest white and went to her ankles. She only had the merest hint of a veil and no train, which was traditional, but Shari didn't care for that particular tradition. Finally they reached where Marcus was waiting and Stephen gently transferred her arm to Marcus's. He grinned and his brother and him; shared a look then Stephen turned to take his place on the front row with his family and fiancée Meghan and Blackie Meghan's seeing-eye dog.

"Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to unite this man and this woman in holy matrimony..." the priest intoned. He told the bride and groom, about the ways a man, and a wife should abide by each other and they said their vows before everyone.

Finally the priest said, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

"I do," said Beth standing up.

"Should anyone see why these two should not be joined let them speak now or forever hold their peace." No one said anything so the priest finally said, "Then by the power invested in me by God's holy church I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Marcus obeyed and kissed Shari tenderly. Longer kisses would have to wait for privacy. He broke away with difficulty and Shari told him with her eyes that it wasn't enough for her either.

"Ladies and gentlemen may I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Marcus O'Malley." The crowd clapped and cheered and Marcus put his arm possessively around Shari's shoulder. Shari leaned against his side not particularly wanting to move, but finally they were in the back of the limo that had been rented for the evening and Shari leaned against his broad shoulder perfectly content to remain there for the rest of the day. Marcus stroked her cheek with one finger tenderly. Shari sighed and wriggled closer, trying to share his warmth.

"So where are we going on our honeymoon?" asked Shari curiously. She had asked before and Marcus had refused to divulge the information. All he had said was that it was a surprise. She was hoping this time however that he would tell her.

"It's a surprise," said Marcus. Drat no such luck.

Marcus chuckled seeming to read her thoughts. "You wouldn't want me to spoil the surprise would you?"

"I suppose not," said Shari her head on his chest. Marcus kissed the top of her head tenderly then gently ran a hand through its soft strands.

"Don't mess up my hair. It took over an hour to get it like this," Shari told him. "And we still have the reception to get through." Marcus groaned good-naturedly. "I know I would prefer just to go to the hotel with you and be alone."

"My sisters would never forgive us if we didn't at least make an appearance at the reception."

"I know," said Shari with a sigh. "They went to a lot of trouble setting up this reception."

"Well, we'll go, but we'll leave as soon as is feasible," said Marcus.

"The sooner the better," Shari agreed, snuggling into his chest with a contented sigh.

After that there was no more time for conversation for they arrived. Shari didn't really want to move, but as the came to a stop she sighed and lifted her head to look at Marcus only to find him doing the same. They shared a long look; then Marcus opened the door of the limo. The driver was there to help Marcus and Shari alight and they entered the hall where the reception was being held.

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Shari gently laid her head against Marcus's shoulder as they shared the first dance together as was tradition.

"Are you happy minx?" Marcus asked in a whisper.

"Extremely," Shari whispered back, "As if you didn't know."

Marcus laughed softly, but didn't respond. They had entered where the reception was being held and greeted their guests one by one. Now they were sharing the first dance together. Then Marcus would cut the cake and they would feed each other bite by bite. Then finally they would; open presents and they could escape to the hotel for the, night. Dave would fly them to their destination in the morning.

"I love you with all my heart Marcus O'Malley. As if you didn't know that already," Shari laughingly teased him. "I can no longer imagine my life without you in it."

"I did, but it's only because I feel the same. And I feel the same I have no idea what I'd do if something happened to you either. I can no longer imagine my world without you in it." He kissed her forehead, gently just as the dance ended. Then there was no more time to talk for awhile.

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Later at the hotel

They had left the reception in a flurry of rice. Shari had thrown her bouquet of roses and they had been caught by an old unmarried acquaintance of Shari's.

They arrived at the hotel where the manager was on hand to greet them personally. Sara had done them a favor and gotten then the honeymoon suite at the best hotel in town on extremely short notice at her own expense and it included dinner and breakfast in the morning.

"Good evening, Mrs. Black called and said you were on your way. My name is Gregory Simms and I am manager here at the Regency."

"It's a pleasure, I'm Marcus O'Malley and this is my wife Shari," said Marcus shaking the manager's hand politely.

The manger was a fussy, thin man with graying red hair and a bald spot on the back of his head. He was impeccably dressed in a gray three piece suit with matching tie. His hair was brushed back to try to cover the bald spot as much as possible. He had intelligent gray eyes that seemed to observe them with a certain; shrewdness as if wondering how they knew someone as famous as the Blacks or how they were related to them. But all he said was: "Would you like dinner in your room or in the hotel dining room?"

"Shari?" asked Marcus quietly.

"Dining room I think," said Shari.

"And we'll take it right away. Neither of us ate much at the wedding reception or for breakfast either."

"Yes sir, I will have a porter see to your luggage."

The manager turned on his heels and was gone.

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Later

Marcus and Shari entered their room and Marcus shut the door and locked it. At this point both of them were having trouble controlling their mutual desires. They had left word with the manager that they were not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency like the hotel on fire.

They had only gotten through dinner with difficulty each feeling the sooner they finished the sooner they could be alone. Marcus had been dying to get his hands on her for months, but he had controlled himself—barely. And Shari had confided in him that the sooner they were legally wed the better. He took that to mean she couldn't wait either.

Shari who had been the first to enter the room turned and found herself in Marcus's arms in an instant she cuddled closer not caring the she wrinkled her wedding dress.

"Uh Shari you might want to remove that dress, before I can't control myself anymore and I rip it off you. I would really hate to ruin an expensive wedding dress," said Marcus his voice sounding somewhat strained with passion.

Shari nodded understanding the feeling as she was coming close to ripping his tux off him as well. She turned away and didn't see the look of deep love in his eyes as he watched her move gracefully across the room.

At this point Marcus could barely control himself as he watched Shari slowly remove the dress and lay it on the back of a chair. She then had on nothing but a bra and slip. Suddenly Marcus was at her side helping her pull the bra over her head. Then he was kissing her with as much restraint as he could muster which wasn't much at this point. His discipline was in tatters as he slowly carried her to the bed still kissing her and as gently as possible laid her down. "I've waited a long time for this," he whispered passionately in her ear.

Shari moaned softly and brought her hand up to stroke his cheek tenderly. The touch seemed to electrify the currents that were already racing between them. Marcus continued to kiss her starting at her neck and making his way down to her navel where he stopped for a moment and used his tongue to lick a circle around her navel and then to taste the nectar within.

Shari gasped and practically came off the bed as exquisite pleasure shot through her like white-hot lightning. Her fingernails bit into his shoulders hard enough to leave marks.

"Stop teasing me Marcus," Shari gasped, her voice strained with passion. "Get on with it."

Marcus gave a husky chuckle, but otherwise did not reply. Finally he moved down to her most private area and slowly entered her trying his best not to hurt her. Shari groaned again and she gripped his shoulders even tighter. She was on the verge of climax and Marcus was determined to give her pleasure before he gave into his own even if it felt as though the effect was killing him.

Finally he drew back this time thrusting deeper. She whimpered with pleasure.

After very few seconds Shari moved and Marcus groaned trying to control himself just a few more minutes. "Don't move minx I can barely control myself as it is."

Now it was Shari's turn to turn the tables on him and she rolled over until she could look into his handsome face. Then she gently started to kiss him torturing him as he had tortured her and by slowly began to place kisses on his lips and moved her way down to his neck and finally to his chest. Now it was Marcus's turn to groan. Even with his hand still inside her she was able to turn the tables on him, not that he minded. Shari slowly worked her way down to his navel and slowly placed kisses all around it. Marcus gasped in pleasure and swiftly turned the tables on her once more only this time he poured his seed into her. He then collapsed on top of her and didn't have the energy to move for a long time.

He slowly rolled off of her and stared at her beautiful face. Her eyes were still wild with passion and love and her lips were rosy from his kisses. He couldn't help but feel arrogantly pleased with himself. He then smiled softly as Shari immediately rolled over to cuddle against his side her head on his chest. He stroked her hair tenderly and Shari silently looked up at him with a half smile.

"I never knew it could be like that," Shari whispered.

"Neither did, I," said Marcus gently kissing the top of her head. Her hair smelled like apricots and her skin was so soft that he wanted to run hands along it forever. He gave a contented sigh and closed his eyes in bliss. He was soon fast asleep.

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Shari awoke to find Marcus awake and watching her. "What time is it?" Shari mumbled sleepily.

"Around 1:00," said Marcus with a smile.

"A.M.?" groaned Shari wriggling into a more comfortable position against his chest.

"Stop wriggling minx. You're going to make me want you all over again and I know you must be tender." Already Marcus could feel his desire rising even as he tried to control it.

"Why do you think I'm wriggling?" Shari asked with a mischievous grin looking up at him. "But first I think I'll take a bath in that Jacuzzi sized tub. Care to join me?" She raised an eyebrow questioningly at him

She rose and headed towards the tub and Marcus just watched as she turned on the flow of hot water and waited for the tub to fill. The tub was one of the huge ones sunk into the floor big enough to bathe a whole family in. Marcus suspected that Shari had more in mind then a simple bath for he had seen that mischievous glint in her eyes before she had turned away.

He had a feeling that Shari had something planned not that he minded. He was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with her—all the teasing and the laughter. Suddenly the water stopped and Marcus watched as Shari gracefully stepped into the hot water and leaned back with a pleased sigh. The tub was round and had benches all around to sit on and just enjoy the hot water. Marcus rose and approached the tub sliding down beside her. Not a word was spoken for a few minutes as they slowly relaxed. Suddenly Shari moved and tackled him ending up on his lap. She stretched and kissed him. Marcus responded immediately to the kiss and kissed her back his tongue entering her mouth and mating with hers. Shari groaned and they could feel mutual desire rising between them again. They ended up making love right they're in the water and they also splashed and played, then made love again. Marcus felt like a kid again and he also felt drunk on his love for the lady at his side. Finally they got out all wrinkled like prunes and both observed the mess they had made. Not only was there water on the rim of the tub, there was water on the tiled area surrounding the tub.

"What a mess," Shari observed somewhat playfully. Suddenly she yawned and Marcus was instantly at her side leading her back to bed.

"Back to bed minx," said Marcus. "We have a busy day tomorrow."

"Yes sir," said Shari mockingly. Suddenly she yawned again and she plopped down on her side of the bed without complaint. Marcus climbed in beside her and she immediately snuggled up against his side her head pillowed on his chest. She was instantly asleep. Marcus kissed the top of her head and he too went to sleep with a contented smile on his face.

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The next morning they were up by eight and out the door by nine-thirty. They had gotten dressed and had a quick breakfast over much teasing and laughter. They took the limo, which was waiting to the airport to find the plane already ready and waiting. Dave was standing beside it waiting. "It's about time you get here," Dave teased as soon as he saw them. "I've been here for hours already. Well come on board and let's get this plane in the air."

They boarded the plane and took their seats side by side. "This is flight 107 to Paris France. This is Dave Richmon and I'll be your pilot this morning."

Shari missed the rest of the announcement as the word Paris sunk in. "Marcus Paris is where we are going?" asked Shari trying to control her excitement.

"Yes. Are you surprised?" asked Marcus with a smile covertly watching her.

"Surprised?" Shari asked still in shock. "Flabbergasted is more like it." She got up and threw herself into his lap and; put her arms around his neck, and thoroughly kissed him.

Marcus could feel his desire rising within his chest, but he controlled it with difficulty. Now was not the time or the place to make love. It would have to wait until they were on the ground and that would be sixteen or seventeen hours to Paris with at least one stop for gas on the way. Finally Shari leaned against his chest and he put his arms around her.

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"How's everything going?" asked Dave coming out of the cockpit.

"Just fine," said Marcus. They had been in the air for several hours at this point and it was 1:00 in the afternoon.

"Ready for some lunch?" asked Dave.

Shari stirred in Marcus's arms and opened her eyes. "Did somebody mention lunch?"

Marcus and Dave laughed and Shari blushed and wrinkled her nose at them. "I'm ready," said Shari. "I for one am starved.

"I admit I'm hungry to. Breakfast seems hours ago."

"It was hours ago," Shari teased him.

"You know perfectly well what I meant minx," Marcus teased back.

Dave grinned as he observed the interaction. They kind of reminded him of himself and Kate. "Well Sara packed a picnic lunch for you two. It's in the fridge in the back. "I'll just get it for you." Dave turned and headed to the back and returned a few minutes later with a good-sized picnic basket. Shari was back in her seat with her tray already down.

"Sara really didn't have to do all this," Marcus protested already knowing it would do no good. Sara could be very stubborn when she wanted to be.

"It's true she didn't have to, but she wanted to. She can be a very stubborn lady when she want's to be."

"Don't I know it," said Marcus with a sigh.

"I'll tell you what she told me just this morning. She said that you were family and families do things for each other and that they also take care of each other.

"What a nice sentiment," said Shari. "And one I agree with wholeheartedly." Shari looked into the basket and found sandwiches, potato chips, drinks and even cupcakes for dessert. The sandwiches were wrapped in plastic wrap and looked like ham, turkey, roast beef and cheese.

"There's enough for everyone," said Shari, "Hungry Dave?"

"Of course," said Dave. "I'm always hungry."

"Then why don't you sit down and eat with us? After; you take, one of the sandwiches to the copilot. Just because he's flying the plane doesn't mean he has to starve."

Marcus silently agreed and Dave nodded. He returned a few minutes later and grabbed his own sandwich and drink and sat down with them.

"Umm Sara makes good sandwiches," said Dave after he took a couple of bites and swallowing. "Of course I ought to know since she made a lot of meals back when Thomas Krane was chasing her." Dave shuddered as he spoke. Just remembering Krane sent a shiver up his spine.

They ate in silence for awhile and Dave finished his off first. "Well I better get back. I can't let Dean do all the flying."

"Here have a cupcake," said Shari handing him two. "I suspect my mom made them. She knows I love them."

"Thanks," said Dave taking them both. He turned and headed towards the cockpit.

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Later they landed and were taken to the hotel. It was early morning around six a.m. Paris time. Neither one of them was tired for they had slept on the flight a lot of the way. Dave had promised to return for them in two weeks time. He had then found them a cab and they were on their way to the Lexor hotel.

"Welcome, welcome to Paris and to the Lexor hotel," greeted the desk clerk as they entered the hotel. "Do you have reservations?"

"Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Marcus O'Malley," said Marcus.

"Ah yes, you have the honeymoon suite," said the clerk pushing his glasses up on his nose as he looked at the reservations.

"That's right," said Marcus.

"I'll have a porter take your bags to your room. Would you like breakfast sent to your room?"

"That would be fine," said Marcus.

The clerk handed them two electronic card keys and said, "That will be top floor room 810."

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A little later Shari plopped down on the bed with a sigh. "I can sill hardly believe we're in Paris the city of romance."

Marcus came over and kissed her and Shari responded. "Why don't we go explore?" Marcus suggested

"Great idea," said Shari giving him a kiss. "After all we might never get back so we might as well enjoy it while we can."

"That is if we can stay out of bed," Marcus chuckled looking at her with a twinkle in his eyes.

"To true," said Shari and kissed him yet again.

"We keep this up and we won't even get out of the room for two weeks," said Marcus.

"I wouldn't mind," said Shari kissing him again. "Of course we should see at least some of the city. It would seem a waste to be in one of the most romantic cities in the world and not at least tour some of it."

"To true," Marcus agreed copying Shari's earlier phrase.

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They explored the Seine with all of its shops and stands along its shores. Shari bought several trinkets and they laughed and joked as they explored. People who saw them together realized that the two young people were very much in love. They moved as one and even finished each other's sentences. Marcus of course was always on the alert for trouble. Pickpockets, thieves; and such; just in case.

They had lunch at a little French café and then took a carriage ride around the city.

"Isn't Paris beautiful?" Shari mumbled looking out the window.

"You're more beautiful minx," said Marcus with feeling.

Shari blushed at the obvious compliment. Marcus laughed softly at her expression and Shari leaned against his shoulder while still looking out the window of the horse drawn carriage. Marcus put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her gently as they rode around Paris.

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Later

Marcus and Shari sat on a bench close to where they were staying holding hands and gazing at the stars. It was a warm night and the stars seemed unusually bright for within the city. Shari had her head against Marcus's shoulder and was perfectly content to remain right where she was for the rest of the night. Marcus's arm was behind her back and they both remained silent for a few minutes enjoying each others company and of course star gazing. "You know it's funny," Marcus murmured. "I never thought I'd get married at least not until the rest of the family was settled anyway."

"What made you change your mind?" Shari asked, softly more interested in the answer then she let on.

Marcus turned and gazed at her amazed that she was unaware of the reason. "You," he finally said. "You made time for my family without even being aware of what you were doing. That meant a lot and it made me aware I could have someone to love and still be there for my family. I just needed to find the right girl to share my life with."

"I'm glad you picked me," said Shari.

"I could never have picked anyone else. I lost my heart the first time we met I just didn't know it yet. The; more time we spent together the more in love I fell until it got to the point I couldn't imagine life with anyone else but you."

"I admit after I got over my embarrassment of how we met I started to fall for you to just as we stood there talking while they checked me out." Shari was referring to the incident of where she had been at a conference as a guest and Marcus had been there as part of the security. Shari had gotten a phone call and she tended to pace as she talked and had therefore gone in the wrong door much to her embarrassment. "That smile of yours was enough to make me feel all warm and good inside. I remember thinking at the time that I wished I could bottle it because I figured we'd never see each other again after that night."

"Yeah well personally I think it was fated—destiny if you will."

"I didn't think you believed in destiny," Shari teased him. "Or fate for that matter."

Marcus didn't respond for so long that Shari thought he wasn't going to answer when he finally spoke his voice was so soft she had to strain to hear him over all the other night sounds. "I didn't use to," Marcus finally admitted softly. "But how else do you explain that we met at the exact time you needed me the most? Right after that dinner your friend Carl and your dad were shot. I might not have realized at that time, but God made sure I was there in time to help you for only he could have known ahead of time what was going to happen."

"You sound as if you've thought about this a lot," said Shari.

"I have in my free moments and sometimes even in my not so free moments," said Marcus with a laugh. "Sometimes I can't help but think about it and how I found you at the exact time I needed someone. I might not have realized that it was time for me to settle down and think about starting a family of my own, but God did."

"Oh look there's the Eiffel Tower all lit up. Isn't it beautiful?"

"Yes it is that," said Marcus gazing out between the rows of bushes and trees to where Shari was looking.

"We'll have to go there," said Shari. "And have our picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower."

"We will," Marcus promised, leaning over and giving her a kiss. She kissed him back with enthusiasm and soon they were kissing each other under the heavens and the stars seemed to wink at them from high up in the sky.

----------------------

"So what do you want to do today?" Marcus asked, after breakfast the next morning. They had both slept late especially for Marcus who was used to being up early. They had fallen asleep the night before in each others arms after making love and Marcus wondered if with all there love making they hadn't created another life.

"Oh I don't know," said Shari looking incredibly sated after their activities of the night before.

Marcus smiled, "You look like the cat who; has gotten the bowl of cream."

"And you don't?" Shari inquired with a grin.

----------------------

The two weeks went by like the wind and they were soon heading back to the states. Shari was disappointed to leave, but was happy wherever Marcus was. They arrived at his apartment late that night and both were so exhausted they didn't even bother to unpack. They simply collapsed onto the couch, Shari with a sigh. They sat silently for a few minutes until Shari couldn't help but yawn.

"Time for bed minx," said Marcus; helping her to her feet and leading her towards the bedroom. Shari undressed mechanically already half-asleep and pulled a light cotton nightgown over her head. She fell into bed and was instantly asleep.

----------------------

When Shari woke up the next morning Marcus was already gone. Shari stumbled into the kitchen to find a still hot pot of coffee waiting. She sipped the hot brew and tried to wake up. She was well into her third cup of coffee before she was awake enough to notice the note and the single red rose beside it.

She picked up the note and read her husband's words.

Shari

Had to go to work but will meet you for lunch around one at the Tandoor Indian restaurant. Call me about lunch.

Love,

Marcus

Shari sighed and picked up the rose and smelled its subtle scent then smiled. Marcus was so sweet and she loved him dearly, but she also needed to start campaigning for the elections of the congressional house seat.

It was only a few months before elections after all. Shari made herself some breakfast then called Marcus to tell him she would be happy to meet him for lunch then she did some campaigning calls. Before she knew it, it was almost twelve-thirty and time to meet Marcus for lunch. Shari grabbed her purse made sure she had her car keys and headed out the door.

----------------------

It was a stormy Sunday morning and all the O'Malley's wives and husbands included were sitting in a small Chicago church together. Between the thirteen of them they filled up a whole pew. They're should be fourteen Marcus thought sadly trying to concentrate on the service. He couldn't help looking at the empty spot where Jennifer should have sat beside Tom. She had been dead for over a year and the family was still silently suffering and grieving without her happy presence. But he also knew that Tom as her husband; a husband who knew the possibility was great that she would die was suffering the most. He also knew that Jesus had suffered far more then any of them when he had died on that cross over two thousand years ago. Of course it didn't feel that way, but no matter what they all felt he knew it to be true.

It had taken him a long time, but he had finally admitted that Jesus was real and that he loved him even after he had abandoned his faith as a child because of his mother's death. He had prayed for her to be healed and she had still died. It had taken him over twenty years to get over it. He wasn't even sure he was completely over it, but now he trusted someone higher then himself to take care of him and to take care of his family. If he had to die someday to protect someone in the family or even a total stranger so be it. Suddenly he came back to himself as his wife Shari squeezed his arm with a questioning look and a whispered, "Are you okay?"

He nodded his head, letting her know without words that he was fine. The service ended a few minutes later and the O'Malley's stayed put waiting for everybody else to file past they're pew. Lisa had been; wanting the whole family to meet her preacher for the last four or five months—a fellow by the name of Edwin Griswald.

Lisa and Quinn were splitting their time between Chicago and Quinn's ranch in Montana, mainly because of Lisa's job as a forensic pathologist specialist. Finally the church was empty except for their small family. They all filed out of their pew and Lisa led the way to where the pastor had gone into his small office.

"Uh Pastor Griswald?" asked Lisa poking her head in the office door.

"Yes Lisa?" asked Griswald looking up for whatever he was going over.

"Remember I mentioned I wanted you to meet my family?"

"Yes and if I remember I said I'd be delighted."

"Well now is the time. They're waiting in the church." Griswald followed her out of his office and looked at the group waiting for him. He looked kind of shocked to see a dozen people standing there causally relaxed. He had known she came from a large family but he hadn't expected it to be quite this big. As a group the O'Malley's could be a bit overwhelming to people who had never met them.

"May I Introduce Quinn Diamond my husband," said Lisa.

"It's nice to finally meet you Quinn. Lisa mentions you quite frequently."

"I'm glad to hear it," Quinn drawled with a grin.

"My brother Marcus and his wife Shari—my sister Kate and her; husband Dave Richmon—my sister Rachel and her husband Cole Parker—my brother Jack and his wife Cassie—my brother Stephan and his fiancée Meghan, and finally my brother-in-law Tom Peterson.

It's a pleasure to meet you all at last. Lisa has told me quite a bit about each of you."

"It's a pleasure," said Marcus being the spokesperson for the group. "Lisa has told us a lot about you as well."

"All good things I hope," said Griswald.

"Of course," said Marcus. He was beginning to like the pastor of the small church near where Lisa worked. He was polite, cheerful and from the sermon he had heard this morning not easily discouraged by his congregation who wasn't interested in hearing the truth. He knew a lot of people who considered themselves Christians then didn't practice what they preached. Oh they went to church on Sunday. But they figured one day a week was enough and the rest of the week they thought they didn't have to follow through on the principals the bible taught.

A year ago he had considered himself an atheist, but not since he had met Shari. She had challenged him to reevaluate his doubts and the bible from an adult perspective and not the perspective of a child. He had accepted and fallen in love in the process. Now he couldn't be happier. He had married the woman he loved and they had been trying to have a baby for about six months. They both wanted at least three or four children.

They talked for a few minutes then, they all left except for Tom and Quinn.

----------------------

A few moments later Quinn and Tom sat in the pastor's office. The had stayed behind to talk to the pastor about planning Stephen's and Meghan's wedding as well as Rachel's and Cole's. They had been given representative status by both, parties and they were hoping to plan another double wedding.

"What can I help you with?" asked Griswald.

"We were hoping that we could have a wedding here sometime within the next month," said Tom.

"I would of course be happy to, but why here when you've only known me for an hour?"

"Because Lisa recommended you," said Quinn.

"Because Meghan's church in Silverton is too small," said Tom.

"That to," Quinn agreed. "We offered to handle the details."

Griswald raised an eyebrow in surprise. "And they accepted? All the women I know like to plan their own weddings."

Both Quinn and Tom chuckled. "That's usually true, But Rachel and Lisa and all the rest just finished planning Marcus's and Shari's wedding less then a year ago," said Tom.

"And before that Jack's and Cassie's, Dave's and Kate's and mine and Lisa's."

"And before that, mine and Jennifer's," Tom's voice choked on the name. Quinn put a comforting hand on Tom's shoulder. "It's okay Tom."

"Oh God I miss her," said Tom his voice sounding near tears.

"We all do," said Quinn gently. "She was friend and companion to us all."

Tom struggled to control his emotions. I'm okay," he said he voice still sounding slightly choked. "It's just all this talk of weddings is getting me down."

"Maybe I should handle the rest of the details," Quinn offered.

"That's okay I offered, I'll see it through."

Griswald watched all this with interest tempered with sympathy. Apparently Tom had just lost his wife recently and he was still suffering from it. The man seemed to be steeped in grief.

"You know it's weird," said Griswald changing the subject for the moment so Tom could get his emotions under control. "But I noticed none of the family look alike. It's like they're not even related."

Quinn chuckled. "Technically you would be right."

"I don't understand."

"They aren't related by blood, but by choice," Tom explained looking up. "All of them grew up as orphans including my wife Jennifer."

"They all ended up in Trevor House, which is where all the older kids who aren't adopted young go. They eventually decided that as soon as they were old enough they'd change their last names legally and become a family. A family, that that takes care; of each other. They finally chose the name O'Malley and they've been family ever since. I've seen Marcus literally catch a flight from wherever he is at a moment's notice if one of them sends him their emergency code. It doesn't matter if he's in the middle of a case or not. He's there when he's needed. The same goes for any of them."

"They all have relatively dangerous jobs," Tom added.

"Marcus is a U.S Marshal. I used to be his partner before I retired. Jack is a fireman. Stephen used to be a paramedic in Chicago before he moved to Silverton."

"He still is a paramedic all though there aren't as many accidents in such a small town."

"Rachel works for the Red Cross as a trauma psychologist. Kate used to be a police negotiator before she married and got pregnant. Now she works in robbery and fraud and my wife Lisa is a forensics pathologist."

"You're right they all do have relatively dangerous professions," Griswald commented, intrigued in spite of; himself.

"Now back to the wedding plans," Tom said getting a notebook out of his suit jacket pocket and opening it to where he had the details written down. "Let's see…"

----------------------

Several days later Shari awoke early to a feeling of nausea in the pit of her stomach. She tried to get up quietly so as not to disturb Marcus and headed to the bathroom where she promptly threw up into the toilet her dinner of the night before.

Am I coming down with a virus? She wondered, because usually she was as healthy as a horse. It had been happening on and off for the last week. She hadn't wanted to bother Marcus with it. The poor man worried enough as it was and she loved him for it.

Suddenly the objects of her thoughts walked in the bathroom door. "Shari honey; are you okay?" he asked concerned. He'd woken up when he had turned over and not felt her warm body next to his own. For a second his half-conscious brain had panicked until he had heard her in the bathroom retching into the toilet.

"I must be coming down with a virus," said Shari looking up at his handsome face to see his look of concern. "Sorry I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay, but I'm getting you an appointment with the doctor I usually go to as soon as the office opens."

Shari made a face at him. "I hate going to the doctor."

"Shari..." Marcus warned his tone deadly serious. "I want to know if it's something serious or just the flu. I love you to much to lose you to neglect."

"I love you to. Besides I didn't say I wouldn't go only that I hated to."

"And I'll be right beside you," Marcus promised.

"What don't you trust me?" Shari asked making a face at him.

"Sure I do, but I'm still going with you," Marcus replied hiding a grin.

Shari nodded and gave in just as her stomach rebelled and she retched over the toilet again.

----------------------

Later at the doctor's office

"Shari O'Malley the doctor will see you now."

"I'll wait right here for you," Marcus promised. Once; her back was turned and she was walking away he let his worry show. Lord please let her be okay. I don't think I could stand losing Shari after just losing Jennifer.

----------------------

"Well Mrs. O'Malley," said the doctor an older gentleman by the name of Stanley Thorndyke. "I'm told by Nurse Devin that you've been having early morning retching spells."

"Yes," Shari answered, "for at least a week."

"Uhm . . . . any other symptoms?"

"No just the retching. Later in the morning I always feel fine."

"Uhm, how long have you and Marcus been married?"

Shari looked confused for a moment. Why did it matter how long they'd been married? Then a notion began to dawn on her why Doctor Thorndyke was asking. Why hadn't she realized that she might be pregnant? "A little less then a year," she answered finally.

As Thorndyke nodded absently Shari's thoughts spiraled in a totally different direction. "I'll run a few more tests to be sure, but I'm almost positive you are pregnant—probably about two or three months. I'm sure Marcus will be pleased."

"Ecstatic," Shari agreed in a slightly dazed tone.

----------------------

A few minutes later Shari exited to the waiting room to find Marcus waiting. He looked tense, Shari noted, and worried, but also in her opinion extremely handsome. Just looking at his handsome face made her want to kiss his worried frown away

"Well?" asked Marcus as he strode towards her.

"I'll tell you on the way home," Shari promised, taking his arm in her own. Marcus allowed himself to be led from the doctor's office.

----------------------

"You can stop worrying," Shari told him as they reached his car. "I don't have the; flu nor a terminal illness, which I know you were worried about because of Jennifer."

"Shari…" Marcus warned his voice half-teasing. "You're killing me here."

"Don't worry so much I'm just pregnant." She said it so matter-of-factly that it took Marcus a few moments to absorb her words.

"Pregnant? Really?" When Shari nodded his worried look melted into one of pure happiness. "That's great…terrific," said Marcus picking her up and swinging her around in a hug.

"Okay, okay put me down you big lug," said Shari swatting his arm affectionately.

Marcus put her down, but didn't let her go for a long moment. "Let's go home and celebrate." Shari nodded and added as she leaned against his chest. "We need to inform the family—get the family grapevine working."

"That to," Marcus agreed with a chuckle stroking her hair. For years he had been trying to avoid information about him getting on the family grapevine like if he was dating someone or not. Now he didn't mind so much. Jennifer had been the one to originally start that. How he missed her sometimes, but with or without her the grapevine still existed seeming to have taken on a life all its own.

Shari sighed not particularly wanting to move from her comfortable position against Marcus's chest, but finally she stepped back and got into the passenger side while Marcus got behind the wheel and started the engine as soon as he put on his seatbelt. As Marcus drove out onto the street Shari leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed in contentment.

Marcus stroked her cheek tenderly making sure to keep his eyes on the road.

"Doctor Thorndyke wants me to come in every couple of weeks to make sure everything in proceeding normally and he also wants me to get some scans done."

"And I'll make sure you get there and if not me one of the family," Marcus promised. Shari didn't argue she was just glad Marcus was there for her.

"I love you minx with all my heart," said Marcus stroking her soft hair.

"I know," said Shari sleepily sounding like a cat who; had just gotten a bowl of cream. "I love you to."

----------------------

Marcus had left for work, but not before asking her to call Stephen to ask him to do baby furniture or least the crib, chest of draws, rocking chair, toy chest and high chair everything else would have to be bought.

The phone rang on the other end and it was picked up on the third ring. "Hello O'Malley's residence. Stephen O'Malley speaking."

"Stephen this is Shari."

"How are you doing Shari?" asked Stephen.

"Just fine and you?" asked Shari.

"Fine. Everything okay?"

"Sure I just need you to do me a favor," said Shari.

"What's that?" asked Stephen.

"Start making a crib."

"Shari you're pregnant?"

"Yep and Marcus and I immediately thought of you to do the crib, a chest of draws rocking chair, toy chest and high chair. We'll pay you of course."

"You don't have to do that you're family," Stephen protested.

"Stephen…" Shari warned. "Marcus warned me that you would probably do it for free, but that is not fair to you. You have to support yourself and offering to do stuff for free when you could make 1500 or 2500 dollars…. We'll let's just say you would eventually go broke."

"All right, all right," said Stephen laughing. "You can stop lecturing I'll accept payment and I promise to get started right away."

"Thanks Stephen," said Shari.

"You're welcome. Tell Marcus I said hello."

"Will do," Shari promised.

"Bye then," said Stephen.

"Bye," said Shari hanging up with a smile.

----------------------

Shari called her mom the minute she got of the phone with Stephen to inform her about the pregnancy.

"Hello?" came, Beth's voice on the other end of the line.

"Hi mom," said Shari.

"Hi Shari; honey how are you and Marcus doing okay?"

"We're fine. Marcus had to go to work but I do have a surprise for you."

"What?" asked; Beth.

"You're going to be a grandmother," said Shari.

"A grandmother…You're pregnant?"

"Yep Marcus took me to the doctor just this morning, because I was throwing up. He thought it might be something serious."

"That's great. We'll have to go shopping for a crib and other things."

"Actually I asked Stephen to make the crib, a highchair, a rocking chair and maybe a few other things as well."

"Why not just buy it?" asked Beth.

"Because Stephen is family, but he's also good at building things and a perfectionist to boot and at least I'll know its quality workmanship at probably half the price. After all you're not paying for the brand name just the quality."

"All right, All right I get the picture," said Beth with a laugh. "You'll need other things though. Like a stroller and diapers and toys among other things."

"True," said Shari.

"So why don't we go shopping?"

"We can sometime in the next couple of months."

"And you'll want a baby shower as well. "You'll also want to get the nursery started."

"Yes, we'll want to paint the room a bright cheerful color. Buy a mobile for the crib, a changing table, clothes…"

"It's going to be wonderful to have a grandchild and maybe later more. My only regret is that Bill can't be here to see his first grandchild…"

"I know mom I miss dad to, but we'll see him again someday."

"I know I try not to think about him to much, but at times such as this it is hard."

"I know mom, we'll go shopping sometime okay?"

"Okay you call me when you want to go shopping and I'll be there," Beth promised.

"I will mom," Shari also promised. "Bye."

"Bye honey," said Beth hanging up the phone.

----------------------

Meghan came down the aisle with Blackie her seeing-eye dog leading the way. Meghan's father was escorting his daughter down the aisle. It was three weeks to the day that Tom and Quinn had talked to the young minister Edwin Griswald into performing a wedding ceremony.

The young pastor was a likable fellow and really believed in God. He wasn't like some ministers that Marcus had come across who used big words and always talked about God, but who really didn't believe not deep down. Meghan and her father reached the front and transferred her to her soon to be husband arm. All of Meghan's and Stephen's friends and family were there. People they had known for years sometimes and other people they had only just met. The wedding march stopped and the minister started the ceremony without preamble.

"Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to join these two couples in holy matrimony. Marriage is a sacred institution that is not to be undertaken lightly..."

----------------------

Three months later Marcus was talking on the phone with his brother-in-law Adam Black. The two of them not all that surprisingly had became pretty good friends. "Yeah we'll be down in the area for a book convention in a few days. Sara has been asked by her publisher to speak as H. Q Victor and for the first time in her life she was able to accept."

"Why don't you stay with us?" Marcus offered. "We have plenty of room."

"That's nice of you Marcus, but we have reservations at the Roosevelt."

"You see the reason I asked is I may have to be gone for a few days and I want someone here with Shari just in case of an emergency and to take her to doctors appointments. I was just going to call one of the; family and see if one of them could do it when you called."

"You're on a case?" asked Adam, suddenly turning serious.

"Yes and if I had a choice I wouldn't leave Shari," said Marcus. "But this guy we just got a lead on is dangerous. He's already killed five different people at the least the ones we know about anyway. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be a connection between the five people at least not an obvious one."

"Uhm," said Adam. "I see your problem. One point is that you and Shari haven't been separated for any length of time since your marriage and now that you have to be away you're worried something may happen and she won't be able to get to a phone. The second point is you really want to catch this guy to prevent him from harming any more innocents."

"That's about the size of it. I have a job to do, but I hate leaving."

"I'll talk to Sara, but I'm sure she won't mind keeping an eye on Shari for you. The two of them have become good friends even if all they do is; talk over the phone once in awhile."

"Thanks Adam," said Marcus sincerely. "If she wasn't five months pregnant I wouldn't worry so much. Shari is usually perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but right now her condition is more delicate then I like."

"You know what she'd say if she heard you call her delicate don't you?" asked Adam with a laugh.

"I know and I wouldn't dare say it if she was home," said Marcus. "I'd get fussed at no doubt about it. She doesn't like me to think of her as some delicate wallflower. And normally I wouldn't if she wasn't pregnant."

I understand that. It's your protective streak coming out. Not that I blame you. I'm the same way with Sara pregnant or not."

"I can understand why you're protective through. Sara went through a lot with that madman after her all those years as for Shari well let's just say I would feel better having someone here while I'm gone. I'll talk to you in a few days."

"Okay we'll have to have lunch why we're in town. Bye."

"Bye," said Marcus hanging up the phone feeling slightly better about leaving.

----------------------

A few days later

"You; be good while I'm gone minx," Marcus told her, kissing her goodbye. "Sara and Adam will by to take you to the doctor and I want you to call me the minute they finish the scans." It was early morning and Marcus was leaving for a few days.

"Okay," Shari agreed giving him a hug and another kiss. "You just concentrate on catching this guy and don't worry so much. I'll be fine even if I will miss you while you're gone." Marcus nodded and kissed her again then was gone. Shari moped around for the next few hours missing Marcus terribly. This was the first time she and Marcus had been separated for any length of time since their marriage a little over a year ago. It would be good to see Sara and Adam again though. She hadn't seen either of them in quite a while. She didn't even mind that they were both famous in their own ways to her they were simply family. To her that was far more important.

The doorbell rang suddenly and Shari went to answer it. She opened the door after peering through the peephole. "Sara, Adam; do come in," said Shari opening the door wide.

Adam and Sara Black entered the house Marcus and Shari had bought when they had been married.

"It's good to see you again Shari," said Sara giving her friend a careful hug trying to avoid putting undue pressure on her slightly bulging tummy the only sign that she was five months pregnant.

"And you," said Shari. "I heard a rumor that you were asked by your publisher to speak at the book convention as H. Q. Victor," Shari teased.

"And you know perfectly well that it's not a rumor," Sara teased right back with a grin.

"Nervous?"

"Maybe just a tad."

More then a bit," said Adam with a grin as Sara glared at him. "She was so nervous she threw up her dinner of last night this morning."

"I'm more afraid of the questions they'll ask the lecture itself," said Sara.

"Then why did you accept?"

"Because I decided it's time I stop hiding. For years I wasn't free to do a lot of things I wanted to. Now I am and this is something not so much as want to do as feel I have to at least once."

Shari nodded she understood. "Who knows you may want to speak at other conventions after this," Shari teased.

"Probably not," said Sara somewhat pensively.

"What about some lunch?" Adam suggested. "Before; your doctor's appointment; our treat."

"Okay that sounds good," Shari agreed touched at the offer. "I'm getting scanned today. Marcus and I finally decided we wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl. It to bad Marcus had to be away on a case," said Shari somewhat sadly.

"Don't fret," said Adam putting a hand on her arm. "Marcus told me himself that he wanted to be here and that he hated to leave, but that he had no choice."

"I know, but that doesn't mean I don't worry about his safety or wish that he was here. And I'm supposed to tell him the minute I'm through with the scans."

"Are you nervous?" asked Adam.

"Maybe a little," Shari admitted. "If only because I hate going to the doctor."

"What time is the appointment?" asked Sara.

"About 2:00," said Shari.

"Let's see it's just about noon," said Adam looking at his watch. "So why don't we go to lunch?"

"For some reason today I'm starved," said Sara.

"You're always hungry lately," Adam teased.

"So sue me," Sara teased right back. "You'll just have to feed me unless you want me to turn into a hungry monster."

"Oh no not that," said Adam holding out his hands in mock horror and pretending to back away.

Shari watched the byplay and inwardly grinned. Sara and Adam reminded her so much of her and Marcus it was almost uncanny.

"Come here you," said Sara moving a finger beckoningly. Adam came forward slowly as if he was afraid and when he was close enough Sara grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled until he leaned down. Then she kissed him long and thoroughly. "That's how much I love you Adam Black."

"That was some way to show I love you," said Adam a bit dazedly, looking as if he had just been hit by a train.

Shari softly chuckled at Adam's expression. "Let's go to lunch," she suggested.

----------------------

A few minutes later all three of them were sitting in a restaurant looking at menus. "I'll take a salad and a sandwich," said Shari thoughtfully.

"As for me I'll take a steak medium rare and a baked potato," said Adam.

"A steak sounds good," said Sara. "Except rare and a baked potato with sour cream and chives."

"And what about a side of onion rings to share?" Adam suggested.

"Good idea," Sara enthused and Shari nodded that did sound good.

They ordered and when the waitress had left Sara asked, "So how did you and Marcus meet? I don't think I ever heard the story."

"Well," said Shari thoughtfully taking a sip of her drink. "We met under how shall; I say unusual circumstances. I'm surprised Dave hasn't told you about me and how we met. He was there."

"I think he felt that it was yours or Marcus's story to tell if you wanted to," said Adam gently.

Shari sighed and began to speak. "It was during the night the short list for Supreme Court justices came out. Marcus was covering that conference and the banquet that went with it. I of course was there with my family. My father was a lawyer although he followed politics rather closely and had for as long as I can remember."

"When I got interested in politics he encouraged that dream. It turned out I had quite a talent for writing speeches. My family was friends with Carl Whitmore, he and my dad had gone to law school together and as I got older I helped him with his campaigns. I'm the one that wrote his speech for that conference. Then suddenly in half an hour a guy I had known practically my whole life was dead shot in the back. I saw it happen."

"I had met Marcus less then two hours before Carl was killed. I had gotten paged and I left the conference long enough to answer it. It was John my boss telling me Carl was about to make the short list. I turned to go back to the conference and went in the wrong door," Shari said with embarrassment. "I ended up in the security room and at least a dozen men were there. They all immediately went for their guns. My problem is I'm directionally challenged and I tend to pace as I talk which is how I ended up going in the wrong door. Every year I make a New Years resolution to pay more attention and every year I manage to forget it in a matter of days and get myself into embarrassing situations with stunning regularity."

"Including Marcus," said Adam sounding amused. Sara punched his arm lightly in warning.

"Including Marcus," said Shari with a soft smile as she thought of the man she loved. "He was nice to me even as I stood there mortified at my mistake. After; they checked me out Marcus escorted me back to the banquet room door just as my brother stepped out looking for me. He even smiled at me as we were talking," Shari admitted rather shyly. "And it was enough to make my heart beat rather fast and melt all at the same time."

"In other words love at first sight," said Sara with a warm smile looking at Adam.

Shari laughed softly. "Not quite, but it was close. It wasn't until after Carl was dead and my father and Josh both in the hospital with bullets in them that I realized Marcus cared about people, even people he'd just met."

"So what happened to your father and brother?" asked Adam softly, thinking of his own father.

"Josh survived as you know because you've met him, although he had to go into physical therapy for his shoulder, but dad…." Shari stopped for a minute. Thinking about dad was still just too painful. "Let's just say losing Carl was bad enough, but losing dad nearly tore our family apart and it didn't help that Marcus had assigned me a permanent shadow.

"You were a witness," Sara pointed out.

"Yeah the only witness Josh didn't see anything even when he tackled me to the ground to avoid getting myself killed. I was kind of just standing there too stunned to move. If Josh hadn't tackled me I would probably be dead. That's when he got a bullet in his shoulder and nearly died from it. As soon as Josh could be moved Marcus took all three of us to a safe house until they caught the guy. Marcus even got shot in the arm trying to protect me. We were at the church near our house for dad's funeral just before we were taken to the safe house. A bullet came through the thick stained glass and Marcus tackled me, but if it wasn't for the thick glass and a fluke of the churches construction I would probably be dead."

"After that Marcus was determined to catch the killer as soon as possible and he put the weight of the entire O'Malley family towards that goal. You should have seen the fire in his eyes after I was nearly shot. No one messes with an O'Malley or someone they care about without eventually having to face the consequences."

"I know what it's like not to have your freedom," said Sara, solemnly.

"It wasn't so bad not really. I might have been stuck inside but I had plenty to keep me busy—both Carl's and dad's estates. Neither mom nor Josh; were in any shape to do it. Mom was still recovering from dad's death, and her weak heart wasn't helping and Josh couldn't do it because of his shoulder. Besides; Marcus and I talked a lot especially late at night when he wasn't on duty. I found out later that Marcus had just found out that his sister Jennifer had cancer."

Both Adam and Sara winced at that. "Ouch that must have really; shook him up!"

"Literally he called an O'Malley family emergency while my brother was still in the hospital. He told me later that there hadn't been more then a handful of "Family Emergencies" in the last twenty years. They all dropped whatever they were doing whether they were on assignment or not and asked one simple question. Where? When they all arrived and found out Jennifer was dying the shock nearly tore the O'Malley family apart. One of, their own was threatened. They knew they had to be strong for Jennifer's sake so they checked their schedules and decided there would always be at least one of the family there 24/7 at least while she was in the hospital."

----------------------

An hour later plates emptied Adam paid the bill and they all rose to leave. 'Thanks for lunch guys," said Shari. "It was good."

"You're quite welcome," said Adam. They all headed to the door Shari leading the way when suddenly she stopped in her tracks and stared in surprise towards the front of the restaurant. Adam nearly bumped into her she stopped so suddenly. "What's wrong Shari?" asked Adam concerned at how pale she had become. Her hands were clinched together so tight her knuckles were white.

"Sam," said Shari her voice hoarse.

Sara took in the situation in an instant. "I'm guessing old boyfriend and you didn't exactly part as friends."

"Do you think he'll cause a scene?" asked Adam thinking of Shari's reaction if he did.

Before Shari could answer him Sam spotted them. He looked surprised and immediately started to walk towards her. "Shari it's good to see you," said Sam.

"Sam," said Shari politely, formally and stiffly.

Adam noticed how tense she was and tried to think of a way out of the situation without causing a scene. Sara solved that problem in an instant. "Come along Shari you have an appointment and we don't want to be late," Sara took her arm and led her towards the door Adam following close behind.

Unfortunately Sam also followed. "Shari we have to talk," said Sam.

Suddenly Shari wretched; out of Sara's grip and whirled to face him fists balled at her sides. "We don't have to do anything. I for one never want to see, speak or even think about you again. Now if you'll excuse me I don't want to be late for my appointment."

"Shari, haven't you forgiven me yet for what I did?" asked Sam his tone implying he had no idea why she was upset and didn't believe he had anything to apologize for.

"Forgive you for what?" Shari countered calmly. "For being a jerk and putting your own interests above; somebody's you claim to love? That's not love Sam and I forgave you a long time ago. Besides my husband Marcus wouldn't appreciate you pestering me."

"You're married?" said Sam sounding shocked and stunned all at once.

"Yes married," Shari shot back. "And I have the wedding ring to prove it. Now go away." Shari started to walk to where they had parked the car Sara and Adam following.

Sam tried to follow Shari not quite ready to give up the argument when Adam stopped him in his tracks, by grabbing his arm. "I thought Shari made it clear that she didn't want to talk to you. Can't you take a hint?" asked Adam, politely, his grip on Sam's arm staying firm.

Sam paused and sized the guy up. He was big and muscular and not someone you'd want to mess with, but Sam was mad enough that he threw all caution to the winds. "Who are you to interfere?" Sam inquired arrogantly.

"Her brother-in-law," said Adam trying to stay calm. He wanted to punch this guy so bad for upsetting a woman he liked and respected, but he held himself back with difficulty. Besides Shari was family and he always tried to protect family. "Marcus asked my wife and me to look after her while he was out of town for a few days. If he learns you've been bothering his wife he will hunt you down and you will wish you had never seen her again. He's very protective of people he cares about so take the hint and back off." Adam walked around and hurried to the car slipping into the driver's seat and starting the engine.

----------------------

You okay?" Sara inquired of Shari as Adam drove.

Shari sighed and stared out the window at the rapidly passing scenery. "I'm fine," she finally said softly, "Just mad."

"I can understand why you're mad, but do you want to talk about it. It helps sometimes."

Shari sighed again leaning her elbow on the armrest. "He was this guy I dated, just before I met Marcus, a politician. I came this close to marrying him," she said holding her thumb and forefinger less then an inch apart.

"So what made you break?" asked Adam.

"Two things really," said Shari. "One he wanted me to stay behind the scenes while he boosted his own political career. I still might have married him if not for the fact that he wanted to wait to have children."

Adam winced. He knew how that felt. He wanted so badly to have children of his own.

"I finally told him no after a lot of soul searching. We didn't exactly part as friends."

Shari said no more and stared out the window the rest of the way to the hospital.

----------------------

"We'll wait for you here," said Sara giving her a kiss on the cheek and squeezing her shoulder encouragingly.

Shari nodded and followed the nurse who had come for her. "My name is Ruth Tompkins Mrs. O'Malley, but you may call me Ruth."

"Then you must call me Shari."

"Well Shari was that your husband back in the waiting room?"

"No my brother-in-law Adam Black and his wife Sara actually Marcus had to be out of town for a few days."

"So what does your husband do for a living?"

"He's a U.S. Marshal. So of course it requires him to travel a bit."

"A rather dangerous job," Ruth observed.

"Don't I know it," said Shari with feeling while silently praying to God to keep her husband safe. "But I also know he is good at what he does. Besides if he got shot and survived he wouldn't only have me to deal with, but five other O'Malley's as well. And Kate yelling him out for getting himself hurt is not a pretty sight," she said with a laugh and a smile.

"She's that bad uhm?"

"Well let's just say she cares about him, cares about all the O'Malley's. In fact the O'Malley's have a creed. We take care of our own."

"Nice motto," Ruth observed.

"Yes and they follow through with it to. I remember Marcus told me about a time Jack punched out an old boyfriend of Lisa's who wanted another date. Let's just say news got back to the family that he made Lisa cry through the family grapevine. In other words nobody upsets one of the; family and doesn't pay the price. The guy ended up with a broken nose and a black eye. It would probably have been worse if Stephen hadn't stopped him. The guy got off lightly all things considered."

"Oh my they give new meaning to the word chivalry," said Ruth.

"They do that," Shari agreed. After that there was no more time for talking as they arrived at where she was supposed to be scanned.

----------------------

An hour later

"We're done you can get dressed now," said Ruth. "The doctor said everything is normal."

"Marcus will be relieved to hear it. I'm supposed to call him as soon as I get the results. So is it a girl or a boy."

Ruth smiled and her brows wrinkled. "It's a boy actually a good; sized; baby at this stage of its development. I'm sure your husband will be thrilled."

"He will be," Shari predicted. "The rest of the O'Malley's as well." Her brow clouded for a moment as she thought of the one O'Malley who was not going to be there, because she had died. Jennifer would have loved to hold her nieces and nephews and loved to watch them grow.

----------------------

"So how did it go?" asked Sara the minute Shari walked into the waiting room.

"It went just fine," said Shari. "The baby is healthy."

"So is it a girl or a boy?" asked Adam beginning to be excited. It would be neat to have another baby in the family. Kate and Dave had a little girl by the name of Holly and Quinn and Lisa a boy with another on the way. Jack and Cassie didn't have any children yet, but Cassie was pregnant."

"A boy," said Shari with a smile that lighted up her eyes. "I need to call Marcus. He made me swear to call him the minute I got the results. He's as anxious to know as I was."

She took out her cell phone and pushed memory one. "If I don't get him on his cell phone I page him and he calls me back. The only time he turns his cell phone off is when he is in a dangerous situation and any noise like the ringing of a phone could get him killed.

"Hello?" answered Marcus on the second ring. "Talk to me."

Hiya," said Shari walking slightly away out of earshot.

"Hello minx," said Marcus his voice turning instantly tender and made Shari's heart melt in a millisecond. "I'm assuming you got back the results?"

"I did they just finished," said Shari.

"So?" Marcus asked. "What are the results? Don't keep me in suspense."

"It's a boy—a perfectly healthy baby boy."

"That's terrific I always wanted a son and hopefully they're will be plenty of other children after this."

"I hope so I want at least four or five."

"How are you doing minx—otherwise I mean?"

"I'm fine missing you is all," said Shari.

"I miss you to, but I should be home in a couple of days."

"Good," said Shari. "It's kind of lonely without you here."

"You have Sara and Adam to keep you company and I'm only a phone call away," Marcus pointed out.

"I know," said Shari, somewhat sadly.

"What's wrong Shari? It isn't like you to be so down." Now he sounded worried and concerned.

"I'm fine really," Shari assured him trying to sound sincere. She didn't want to talk about Sam and at the same time she didn't want to concern Marcus with it either. He didn't need to be distracted right now.

"Shari…" Marcus warned his voice infinitely gentle, but with a thread of steel. "Tell me what's wrong."

The worry in his voice made her cave. Shari sighed and gave in. "It's just that I ran into Sam today and let's just say it was not a pleasant confrontation."

"Tell me about it," said Marcus his voice tender and loving, but it was obviously a command.

"Adam, Sara and I were just finishing lunch and starting towards the door to go to my appointment when Sam appeared at the door of the restaurant. I suppose he had come for lunch. Then he turned in my direction and starting towards me before I could even move. At first we were stiffly polite to each other then we started to argue. Adam and Sara tried to lead me to the car without causing a scene. Sam of course followed. I'd already made it clear I wasn't interested in talking with him, but he can be very stubborn when he wants to be."

"Adam finally stopped him as we got to the car and tried to politely point out that I didn't want to talk to him. Sam was rather rude, but Adam took it calmly although I'm sure he wanted to break the guy's nose. He pointed out that you wouldn't be pleased when you found out."

"He's right. I'm not; only not pleased, I'm furious. I'll kill the guy if only for causing you grief."

"Now Marcus let's not overreact," said Shari trying to calm him down, but secretly feeling pleased that he loved her enough to defend her.

"Did you tell him you were married and no longer available before Adam mentioned it?"

"Of course I did, but it didn't make him back off. Sam can be very persistent."

Suddenly Marcus calmed down although inside he was still seething, but that was no reason to take it out on Shari. It wasn't her fault the guy was such a jerk. "Sorry I didn't mean to upset you Shari, but guys like him make me so mad," he said sounding contrite.

"I know I understand. I just don't want you to do anything about Sam even if he can sometimes be a jerk. I've handled guys like him all my life. Besides I want you to concentrate on not getting yourself hurt. If you do get hurt you'll not only get a lecture from me, but the other O'Malley's as well.

Shari could almost hear him wince. The O'Malley's tended to lecture whichever of the family was hurt and the so, called "lectures" were quite scathing. Enough anyway too leave your ears ringing for a couple of hours afterward. In other words don't get yourself hurt or else. "Heaven help," was all Marcus said. "I promise to be careful."

"Good," said Shari, with feeling.

"I'd better go. You be good minx."

"Yes sir," Shari answered dutifully with a laugh.

"I'll call you tomorrow," Marcus promised. The line went dead and Shari turned of her phone with a contented sigh. Just talking to him warmed her insides till she felt as if she would melt.

----------------------

As soon as Marcus let Shari go he immediately dialed the number for the flower shop in that area. "Flora's Flowers how may I help you?"

"Yes Chad this is Marcus. I need you to make up an order of two dozen red roses for me."

"Yes Marcus. How are you doing?"

"Just fine," Marcus assured.

"Glad to hear it." Marcus had sent flowers often enough the two men had become friends. "What do you want on the card?"

Shari,

"I love you more then I could ever put into words. You are my light and my life.

Love Marcus

"Sweet," Chad commented finishing writing out the card as he spoke, "Address?" Marcus gave it. "That will be 125 dollars. Will that be store credit or charge card?"

"Credit card," said Marcus taking out his Visa Card. He called off a string of numbers.

"Got it, I'm sure your wife will love these."

"Yes, she will," said Marcus.

"I'll even deliver them for you," said Chad.

"Thanks," said Marcus. "I've got to go. I have a murderer to catch." He hung up. Just as he lay down on the bed for a little shuteye and to dream about Shari there came a knock on his hotel room door. Marcus drew his Glock as a precaution and answered it. He put his gun away when he saw it was his new partner.

"We've found him sir," were the marshal's first words.

"You sure it's our guy?"

"Yes sir," said the young marshal.

Marcus sighed. He sure did miss, Quinn at times like this at least Quinn was relaxed around him and not always calling him sir. His new partner however was so stiff and formal. Not to mention he seemed too young to even be out of college.

"Okay then go to the car I'll meet you down there."

"Yes sir," said the young man saluting and going out the door.

----------------------

"Where are we headed anyway? Give me the details."

"He's apparently been hiding out at his girlfriends place."

"I thought we checked there," said Marcus.

"We did, but apparently she didn't want to give him up until in a fit of rage he beat her black and blue."

Marcus winced imagining the incident. Silently he prayed to catch this guy before he could do anymore damage.

"She called us immediately after he had gone off somewhere. She didn't know the specific time he would be back or even if he would be back."

"Uhm," said Marcus. "The sooner we catch him, the sooner we can all go home."

"Are you married sir?" asked his new partner curiously hoping he wasn't overstepping his bounds.

"Actually yes I am," said Marcus easily. "I hated to leave especially with her pregnant, but a job is a job and Shari understood that."

"Your first child sir?"

"Yes," said Marcus. "I have my brother-in-law Adam Black and his wife Sara keeping an eye on her. They were going to be in town anyway for a book convention. So Ted how many times have I asked you to call me by my first name?" asked Marcus aptly changing the subject.

"I couldn't do that sir," said Ted.

"Sure you can," Marcus persisted. "Calling me sir makes me feel like an old man and I'm only forty. I insist you call me Marcus. Don't make me, make it an order."

"Yes s…Marcus."

"That's better. After all I like to be friends with the guy guarding my back," said Marcus at least partly joking.

Ted blushed at the thinly veiled compliment. "Yes s…Marcus."

----------------------

The next day

Shari awoke feeling only slightly nauseous. If was after nine and she had promised Sara she would attend the book convention if only to give her support. Shari got up, and stepped into a hot shower and stepped out 20 minutes later just as the doorbell rang. Now who can that be?" she wondered silently to herself. It was too early for Adam and Sara to pick her up for the convention. She slipped on a blue silk robe a present from her mother and tied the belt before heading downstairs to answer the door.

"May I help you?"

"Delivery for you ma'am," said Chad. In his hands was a huge vase with two dozen roses; artfully arranged.

Who could be sending me flowers? Shari wondered. She took the vase from the guy's hand and murmured a thank you as she closed the door. Then she set it down on the hall table and just stood there, admiring them. She found the card and read the two simple sentences.

Shari

I love you more then I could ever put into words. You are my light and my life

Love Marcus

"Oh that was so sweet of him," said Shari softly to herself, fingering one of the soft petals with her finger and fighting back happy tears. She placed the roses in a prominent place on the mantle then she rushed upstairs to finish getting ready.

----------------------

Sara and Adam arrived an hour later and Shari was ready to go. "Let's get going," said Shari, grabbing her purse.

"Who sent you the roses?" asked Sara, suspecting she already knew the answer.

"Who do you think?" Shari inquired with a grin. "There is only one man I know who would send me roses while he's working and only one man I would accept red roses from in any case."

"True," said Sara.

"Come on quit stalling," Adam said. "You'll be late for your own speech."

"Stalling? Who says I'm stalling?" asked Sara with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

"You are. Now come on," said Adam practically dragging her towards the door.

"Okay, okay, you can quit dragging me I'll come peaceably."

"You promise?" asked Adam, before letting go of her arm.

"I promise," said Sara with a smile for her husband and a determined look. Adam let her go as soon as the words had left her lips.

----------------------

Later

"Ladies and Gentlemen I have the greatest pleasure of introducing for her first public appearance anywhere Sara Black also known as H.Q Victor!" Sara came out onto the stage to a lot of loud cheers and clapping.

They had arrived to find a large to find a large crowd that had almost sent Sara scurrying, but Adam who hadn't said a word took her arm in his own perhaps sensing her uneasiness. They had wondered through the crowd for a few minutes just looking around. They had kept hearing excited whisperings that H. Q. Victor was going to make her first public appearance ever.

"See honey they love you," Adam had whispered in her ear.

Sara had just nodded not speaking.

"Hello it is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon," said Sara her British accent becoming very pronounced at this moment. "I'll tell you I was extremely apprehensive about making this public appearance, but when both your publisher who is also a long time friend, and your husband think it is a good idea… Well let's just say I really had very little choice in the matter." The crowd laughed thinking it funny which of course it was intended to be.

----------------------

Half an hour later Sara allowed questions. "How'd you come up with the name H. Q. Victor?" asked one lady in the crowd.

"That is a good question and I will answer it. I had a stepfather Frank Victor and he owned a ranch called the H. Q Ranch. When I was six something happened and after it I didn't speak for two and a half years. Mom divorced my father because I think she at least partly blamed him. We moved to Texas from England and mom met Frank Victor totally by accident about a year after. He was the first one to get me to speak again and in honor of that I took on the name H. Q. Victor when I began my writing."

Other question followed and after about an hour the coordinator came upon stage. "That's enough questions. She will now sign autographs of her books after a short break."

Sara came down the stairs of the stage and Adam was by her side in an instant to help her down. Security surrounded them. It had been one of Sara's only requests in order to get her to come. Only Adam, Shari and of course the coordinator were allowed to near. "That was some speech you gave," said Shari in admiration.

"You enjoyed it?" asked Sara.

"Yes," said Shari.

"And see didn't I tell you, you could do it and that your fears were groundless?" asked Adam, putting his arm possessively around her shoulders.

"Yes you did although I was nervous the whole time."

"You did just fine though despite your nervousness," said Adam. "And I'm proud of you," he squeezed her shoulders in affection.

"Now if I can only get through this autograph session," said Sara with a sigh.

"You'll do just fine. I'll be there with you every step of the way and so will Shari."

"And I'm grateful to have people who love me." Adam made no reply to that only gently squeezing her shoulder possessively.

----------------------

The autograph session went; rather well a long line formed the minute Sara appeared. Her H.Q. Victor books were extremely popular as were her Sara Walsh books for five-year olds. One of Sara's conditions was that all children from the local orphanages be invited at her own expense. Especially the five to seven years old. Several orphanages would be present and each child would receive a book of his or her choice.

The manager had agreed but only after Sara had threatened not to come if he didn't do as she asked. Sara had also had to promise that the expense would come out of her own pocket. She could certainly afford it however that wasn't the point. She had almost not come anyway until she realized she would be depriving the children as much as herself if she refused to come because of one selfish and greedy man.

"Good morning," Sara greeted the crowd with Adam and Shari at her side. "I will now sign autographs for both my H.Q. Victor books and my Sara Walsh books. Please be patient and let the children from the orphanage go first so they can get back."

The long line of adult's recently complied some grumbling as they shifted to let the children through. Most of the children especially the younger ones came forward shyly. They were practically in awe of her. Sara had already signed her name, but left room for the kid's name and maybe a personal message. The first kid stepped forward and picked up his favorite book from the stacks siting on the table.

"Who do I make this out to?" Sara asked the boy who looked no more then five or six.

"Eric," said the boy shyly.

"Eric it is," said Sara writing as she spoke. She handed the boy his book, and he scampered back to his guardian and the next child took his place.

----------------------

The next morning Shari the phone rang bright and early around eight. Luckily Shari was already up and on her third cup of coffee at that point so she was significantly awake to talk intelligibly.

"Hello?"

Good morning," came, Adam's slightly worried voice.

"Adam what's wrong?" asked Shari instantly sensitive to his tone of voice.

"I had to take Sara to the hospital. She was throwing up early this morning."

"You want me to come?"

"If you; aren't to busy."

"I'm never to busy for family," said Shari, firmly. "And I wouldn't worry so much it's probably just a virus."

"I hope that's all it is," said Adam his tone still extremely worried.

"Okay where are you?" Adam gave her the name of the hospital and the address. "I'll be there in half an hour," Shari promised.

----------------------

Half an hour later Shari walked into the waiting room to find Adam pacing and looking haggard. Adam didn't look up as she entered and Shari had the feeling he was to deep in his own thoughts and worries to notice much right now. Not that she; didn't understand, she did. She was worried herself.

"Have you heard anything?" Shari asked quietly.

Adam's head jerked up at the sound of her voice, which told Shari her assessment, was right.

"No nothing yet," said Adam. "When did you get here?"

"Just a minute ago," said Shari. "You need to stop worrying before you run yourself into the ground. I'm sure she's fine."

Before he could respond Sara came quietly through the waiting room door and into the room. She looked confused, tired and just a little angry.

"Sara honey are you okay?" asked Adam looking no less worried and hurrying to her side.

Sara looked into his worried face and her heart immediately softened. "You can stop worrying so much I'm only pregnant."

"Pregnant?" Adam asked in a shocked whisper.

"Yes pregnant," said Sara, not sounding as happy about that fact as she knew; she ought to be. On one hand it would be such a joy to have a child of her own on the other she was afraid that the child would be kidnapped and held for ransom like she and her sister had been.

"That's great," said Adam enthusiastically. He had always wanted a family of his own to dote on, like he doted on all his nieces and nephew.

"Congratulations," said Shari giving her sister-in-law a hug.

'Thanks," said Sara, not very happily. Adam noticed her mood and didn't comment. He knew what was bothering her. She was afraid they'd; be kidnapped by a madman.

"Let's celebrate," Shari suggested.

"Okay," Sara agreed. She agreed reluctantly Adam thought, but she had agreed so he hoped it was a step in the right direction. And he also hoped he and Sara didn't fight over this, but right now she was in shock, but eventually the shock would wear off and he had a feeling they would argue and it would be a doozy.

----------------------

Marcus got home from his business trip to find the house empty. "Shari?" he called. "I'm home." When no answer came he called again, "Shari?" Before he could panic however he saw the note resting against the vase of roses that he had sent her. It had his name on the envelope. He picked it up and took out Shari's note.

Marcus,

Went to the hospital because Adam called and said Sara had been throwing up. He asked me to come. I should be home before dinner. Please don't worry.

Love you,

Shari

Marcus smiled. She had dotted her i's with little hearts. The tension drained out of him now that he knew she was okay, but even after twenty-four hours he was still furious at what Shari had told him about Sam upsetting her like that. It was time to give Sam a little lecture on messing with other people's wives. Shari would kill him if she found out, or she would at least try to talk him out of it. So she must not find out at least not until the deed was done. He found Shari's address and found Black. Good Sam was still listed although "jerk" had been written beside his name. She must really be annoyed with this guy Marcus thought with a grin, but she kept his address and phone number probably for political reasons.

He memorized the address and put the book back exactly where he had found it and headed out the door. He knew it wasn't the Christian thing to do to go after Black like this, but he was afraid if he didn't talk to him he would get Shari alone somewhere and do more then upset her. Of course he was imagining the worst case scenario.

----------------------

Sam was in his apartment still thinking of the incident with Shari just over twenty-four hours earlier. What shocked him most was that Shari had gotten married and he'd never heard about it. It also meant she was technically unavailable, but on the other hand… No, no what was he thinking? Shari was married and seemed perfectly content, but the question was, was this Marcus worthy of her?

He was about to find out for there came a knock on the door. He opened it, but didn't recognize the tall fellow standing there. "Can I help you sir?" Sam asked politely.

"You are Sam Black?" asked the man. The way he spoke it wasn't really a question but more of a conformation.

"Yes and you are?" asked Sam.

"Marcus O'Malley." He didn't bother to extend his hand for a shake.

Sam raised an eyebrow as he noticed the slight and also as he recognized the name, but didn't respond.

"Can I come in we need to talk," said Marcus, studying the guy so intently until he felt as though he was under a microscope.

Sam studied the man as well then stepped aside to let Marcus into the apartment. "I'm assuming you're the Marcus that Shari mentioned."

"In that you would be right," said Marcus, his voice calm, while inside he was coiled with tension.

"Look I'm sorry about what happened, but she surprised me," said Sam. He studied the guy again and had to admit if only to himself that he was handsome. He had black hair cropped short although not short enough to give it that military look and warm brown eyes that seemed to twinkle with there own light. As for his body it practically screamed athlete. He pumped iron or maybe worked extremely hard for those set of biceps that bulged under his shirt.

"Sorry doesn't cut it. If Adam hadn't stepped forward you could have hurt her not to mention the baby she was carrying.

Sam looked genuinely shocked at that Marcus noticed. Good that might mean that he would be a least a tad remorseful over the incident. "Is she okay?"

"Lucky for you she is, because I guarantee I wouldn't just be standing here talking to you if she wasn't."

The threat was obvious to a smart man like Sam and he flinched. Marcus wouldn't just bruise his jaw he'd more then likely, break it. "Does Shari know you're; here. I know for a fact that she would have tried to stop you from coming over here at all."

"She wasn't home when I got in, but she did tell me what happened when we talked over the phone yesterday afternoon, which is also why I'm here now.

"Look I already apologized what else do you want from me?"

"You're promise to stay away from her in the future, unless it is some kind of political gathering and you can't avoid at least speaking to her. Even then I would prefer only polite conversation."

"Why should I promise you that?"

"Because if it should get back to Jack, Stephen or even to me that you have been bothering her one of us will hunt you down and teach you a lesson. It will; more then likely be Jack and it also won't be, pretty. We protect our own and information always manages to get around eventually and of course I've known Jack to punch out a guy just for making one of his sisters cry and he nearly broke the guy's jaw."

Sam flinched at that, but didn't respond for a moment, his thoughts whirling furiously over possibilities in less then a second. He could lodge a complaint, but Marcus hadn't actually touched him and technically he hadn't even really threatened him just warned about possibilities. So going to the police would be useless in the extreme. "All right, All right I promise," said Sam seeing no other alternative.

Marcus nodded. "I take you for a man of your word and I will expect you to keep it." Marcus turned to go and left as silently as he had entered the apartment. Sam sat down with a soft plop and considered what had just happened.

----------------------

"You know you really should get Stephen to make the crib," said Shari over lunch. They were celebrating Sara's pregnancy at one of the most expensive restaurants in town.

"Why not just buy one?" asked Sara.

"Because with; Stephen you'll get quality, at half the price. He's making several pieces for me and he made Kate's as well. Stephen's real talented at making things why pay for a name brand if you don't have to?"

"Could he do other things?" asked Adam

"Sure he can," said Shari. "Anything made out of wood he can do. He even buy's old houses fixes them up then re-sales them."

"He has the money to do that?" asked Adam in surprise.

"He gets them cheap and he only does one every few years. He puts what money he gets back into another house. His parent's left him some money, which is how he got started, I think."

"Well if you say he's that good then we'll have him make us a crib and a few other; things."

"Here's Stephen's phone number in Silverton," said Shari handing them a scrap of paper with Stephen's number on it. "You'll have to see the rocking chair and toy chest he just sent us. They're beautiful pieces of work."

"Maybe another time we have a flight to catch," said Adam.

"Okay, it was nice to see you again. We really don't get to see each other enough."

"It would be easier if you lived in Chicago or we lived here," said Sara. "But we don't so the only solution is to visit each other as often as possible."

"Which isn't very often," said Shari, ruefully. "Not with my schedule."

"You work yourself to hard," said Adam. "At least that's what Marcus says."

Shari grimaced. "Marcus is probably right I do work to hard, but it's only because being in the political game and writing speeches isn't easy, but also because dad always taught us to work hard for what we want."

"You miss him a lot?" asked Sara.

"Yes, I might have handled it better if he had died of say a heart attack, but to be shot down and to have a bullet end his life prematurely…It's a little hard to accept."

"I lost my father to just a few years ago and although it was by natural causes I'm still grieving and it will probably never go away entirely. I'll probably grieve until I die, but the only thing that makes it bearable is that I'll see him again someday," said Adam.

"And Kim as well—Kim died young, but I bet she is laughing and playing up there and I bet you're dad is also enjoying himself. You need to remember that."

"I'll try," Shari promised.

----------------------

Shari got home to find Marcus sitting on the couch looking tired. "Marcus you're home," said Shari practically throwing herself into his lap.

"Quite a greeting," said Marcus after kissing Shari hello. "I got your note. So how is Sara doing?"

"She's okay Adam was really worried there for a while. He was pacing when I got there, but it turns out she's just pregnant."

"Pregnant that's great. Adam's been; wanting a family."

"Yeah and the doctor thinks it might be twins."

"That's even better."

"Sara wasn't to enthusiastic still isn't."

"I can understand why. She is afraid any child she has will be kidnapped and held for ransom.

"Hopefully that won't happen. It's not that she doesn't want a family she'd just be afraid for them."

"She'll get over it," Marcus predicted. "Especially when she holds those babies in her arms she'll forget all her worries."

"I hope that's true," said Shari kissing him again with passion.

----------------------

Marcus and Shari entered the building where Lamaze classes were being held. It was their very first class and to say the least they were both just a little nervous. They all sat down and class began.

"Let's begin by introducing ourselves and telling your profession," said the instructor.

"I'm Anthony Stillman and this is my wife Terri. I'm a lawyer and Terri is a doctor. It will be out first child."

"My name is David Angell and this is my wife Leigh. "I'm a building contractor and Leigh is a teacher. It will be our second child."

Finally it came to be Marcus's, and Shari's turn. "I'm Marcus O'Malley and this is my wife Shari. I'm a U.S. Marshal and Shari is a politician. This will be our first child."

Everybody raised an eyebrow to have U.S. Marshal in they're midst.

"Now class since everybody has introduced themselves it's time to get started…"

----------------------

A few days after the first Lamaze class Marcus came home from the office to find Shari sitting on the couch a pad of paper and a pen in her hand. She was stretched out her legs curled under her and looked quite comfortable and also devastatingly beautiful.

"Evening minx," said Marcus.

"Evening Marcus," said Shari looking up from her speech and giving him her heart, melting grin.

"What are you working on?"

"A speech for a political party next week I meant to mention it to you but I was just invited today."

"Is it a formal event?" asked Marcus.

"Yes," said Shari. "I was hoping you would be free to escort me."

"I should be," said Marcus. "If not I'll get somebody else to take you."

"Good," said Shari. "And I don't want an escort unless it's you. It's a fairly important political event. I make a good impression next week and I have a good chance of winning."

----------------------

Marcus pulled at the collar of his tux and tried not to look uncomfortable. Usually he was perfectly comfortable in a tux, but tonight for some reason his collar was to tight.

"Stop pulling on your collar or you you'll stretch it out of shape," Shari scolded him, playfully as Marcus drove to the political party. She was in the race, but making a good impression tonight was important.

"It seems tight tonight for some reason," said Marcus, pulling on his collar with one had and keeping the other on the wheel.

"You're probably just nervous this is your first political party after all."

"Me nervous?" asked Marcus as if the idea astonished him.

"Yes you, just because you can face down a criminal, or protect somebody important without flinching doesn't mean these; kind of gatherings are easy, but once you get there you'll be okay."

"And you're not nervous?"

"Maybe a little, but I've been to these things gatherings before you haven't, but I'm also glad you could make it tonight."

"I am to although I can't promise I won't get paged, but I told them only if it was an emergency."

"I hope you don't get a call," said Shari.

"Me too I want to be there by your side when you give your speech or at least in the crowd. You also need to be careful, tonight you are after all six months pregnant and I don't want you tiring yourself out."

"I know my back is already throbbing. I can't wait for this baby to be born."

"If you start to feel to bad let me know and we'll leave early."

"Okay," Shari agreed just as they pulled up at the hotel where the party was being held.

----------------------

Later Shari was introducing Marcus around to most everybody she knew in the political arena.

"Shari I've been trying to catch up with you all night." Shari tensed at the sound of the voice behind her.

"Good evening Terry," said Shari politely.

"Why don't we dance?" Terry suggested.

Shari grimaced as his breath hit her. The smell nearly made her keel over he was definitely well on his way to being drunk. Where oh where was Marcus? He had left her side only long enough to get them both some food from the refreshment table, but had not yet returned. "I don't think so Terry. Now if you'll excuse me I think I'll go see what happened to my husband." She deliberately stressed the word "husband" hoping Terry would get the message and leave her alone. No such luck. Terry grabbed her arm fast for somebody who was supposed to be drunk before she could even start to move away. "Let me go Terry," Shari said as evenly as possibly even while inside she was scared. "I'm a married woman now and even if I wasn't I wouldn't even consider going out with you. You disgust me. For one thing you drink too much."

"I'm sure your husband won't mind if we dance," said Terry, leaning close to her as if to kiss her. Shari backed as far away as his hold on her arm would allow and tried again to wrench; herself free. "Actually he's a very possessive man," said Shari as calmly as possible while silently she, was praying for intervention. "He protects people he cares about."

Terry's grip tightened until Shari's arm throbbed and the baby also kicked against her stomach—hard as if he could sense his mother's aggravation.

Suddenly Marcus's fist smashed into Terry's face and Terry crumpled like a ton of bricks releasing Shari's arm in the process. Shari hadn't even heard Marcus approach, but he could move extremely silently when he wanted to—almost like a ghost. They had gathered a crowd of spectators at that point, but Shari didn't care about making a good impression and when Marcus slipped an arm around her shoulders she didn't resist and leaned against him thanking God for his presence in her life. "You okay minx?" he whispered.

"I'm fine," said Shari, but her trembling gave lie to that line.

"You're not okay you're trembling and don't try to tell me you aren't I can feel it," Marcus whispered tenderly in her ear.

"All right I'm not all right, but I will be in a minute," She whispered back. Gradually her trembling subsided and Marcus released her, but didn't leave her side for the rest of the evening. Terry had been dragged into another room and left to awaken on his own.

"If I'd had my way I'd kill the guy not just knock him out," Marcus muttered still upset twenty minutes after the incident.

"Now Marcus he really didn't do any; harm. I admit Terry has never been one of my favorite people and he's a lousy politician if only because he's drunk half the time. I'm surprised he was even invited tonight."

All night after the incident with Terry people had been coming up to her to congratulate her on how she had handled herself and also apologizing for not interfering sooner. Marcus was amazed, but Shari accepted each apology gracefully as if nothing had happened. And when people approached him to congratulate him for punching the jerk out all he said was that no one messes with an O'Malley. Then had to explain the O'Malley's were a close family and they took care of each other and those they cared about when people looked confused.

Finally Shari gave her speech and politely took her leave only saying she was tired and needed her sleep. Marcus followed her out his arm protectively around her shoulders

"You handled yourself well tonight," Marcus complimented.

"Not as well as I ought to have," said Shari with a grimace. "I should have realized he would probably be, there tonight."

"Don't be so hard on yourself you did better then most people in that kind of situation. And I don't know how he manages to keep getting himself invited if this is how he acts every time."

"Not every time. Most; of the time he manages to be basically sober although, he's always been a jerk. Of course he probably held it against me because I've refused to date him on numerous occasions."

"He's the kind of guy to hold grudges then?"

"Yes," said Shari, simply.

"You'll have to watch out for him in the future he could be dangerous." Marcus had taken a long look at the man's character and didn't like what her saw.

"I don't think he's usually the violent type," Shari protested, weakly.

"That might be true when's he's sober, but when's he's drunk like he was tonight? Men do violent things and then don't remember it afterwards."

"I guess you're right," said Shari.

"Just be more cautious in the future. I can't bear to think of you hurt by a drunk and violent man."

"Okay," said Shari somewhat subsided

----------------------

Sara looked around at the large waiting room at the therapist's office. It was a month since she had found out she was pregnant and her emotions went between joy and despair. On one hand she wanted a child real bad on the other she was afraid of what could happen. She and Adam had, had some explosive arguments over it. The office was empty except for her and the receptionist manning the desk. Leather couches done in blue, green, and brown where placed in various areas while various paintings by Cassett, Picasso, and Dali hung on white walls. Sara didn't know why she was here. She had seen therapists before and they had always told her all the same things. So why did her doctor recommend this one? She sighed. Maybe she wasn't ready to have this baby even though it was a bit late to do anything about it and she couldn't bring herself to have an abortion. Besides she couldn't do anything without Adam's consent and he definitely didn't want to give it up or kill it whatever it would be.

"Mrs. Sara Black? Is there a Mrs. Sara Black here?" asked a voice, which invaded Sara's somber thoughts.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm here," said Sara, getting up from the blue leather couch.

The receptionist smiled, a tall thin white-haired lady dressed to the nines in some red dress that seemed to Sara to be for church. "That's all right, dear. Dr. Tyner is ready to see you now."

Sara walked to the inner door leading to Dr. Tyner's office and then the receptionist opened the door to let Sara in. Then she led Sara to just outside the doctor's door. Sara hesitated. What if this one tells me nothing like all the others?

The receptionist reached around and opened the door for her. "Oh, go on. The doctor isn't going to bite," she said in a joking tone.

Sara only nodded not even managing a smile, and went inside and saw a mess. Papers were strewn around the place—on the desk, on the two chairs in front of the desk, on several file cabinets, and anywhere else. She tried to find the doctor, but she didn't think could find him in this junk. She turned back to the receptionist who didn't seem so surprised.

The receptionist promptly took care of the problem by saying "Are you in there, Dr. Tyner?"

Suddenly, one of the piles on the desk rose up and a medium sized woman peeked out. "Yes, Mrs. B. I am even though I got a bit carried away."

"Carried away with what? It looks like a hurricane went through here," said Mrs. B, jokingly.

"Oh, I was doing a little cleaning. It didn't work, did it?" asked Dr. Tyner looking exasperated at the mess she had managed to create even while trying to clean up.

"I don't know if it was an improvement or not. Where do you find all that paper?"

"I was clearing out my desk and file cabinets. Why?"

"How much paper do you use in a day?"

"Well, not much, but all this paper is from a decade. I just can't bear to part with all of it."

"You need to. If you don't, then when next time you clean out, I won't be able to find you. Then what your patients do?"

Dr. Tyner laughed. "Oh, all right. I'll clean up my office after my next appointment."

"She's here, a Mrs. Sara Black. She's the lady beside me."

"Ah, good please have a seat, Mrs. Black."

"If she can find a seat under all that paper," quipped Mrs. B.

"That will be all, Mrs. B," said Dr. Tyner with a smile.

Mrs. B went to the door and as she was going out, she said, "Too bad Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. You two would have gotten along famously." Then she shut the door behind her.

Sara was still standing and simply stared at the doctor. The doctor smiled and headed over to stand in front of her. Holding out her hand, the doctor said, "Hi, Mrs. Black. I'm Doctor Bernadette Tyner, your friendly neighborhood shrink. But you can call me Bernie if you would prefer."

Sara took it and shook the doctor's hand. "I'm Sara Black, but you can call me Sara if you want."

"Okay, Sara. Now your regular doctor told me that you have been to therapists before with no success, but I hope that I won't be adding to your running streak. Now, if you would like, today will just be a thirty-minute "getting to know you" session. I'll let you tell me about yourself, but if you don't give me much to go on. Then I'll start asking you questions. And you can do the same with me. I'm not ashamed all right?"

Sara said, "That's fine."

"Okay. If you're ready or should I go first?"

"You go first."

"Okay, my name is Dr. Bernadette Tyner, nee Dawson. Born in the small town of Lafayette, I was the eldest of three and for most parts, the responsible one. My two other delightful siblings' are a boy, Edgar James Dawson, named for my grandfathers, and a girl, Barbie Ann McGoogan, named for the doll that came out at the year of her birth. She's married and childless, but she's a foster mother so she has a soft spot for kids of any age. Dear old Edgar is a doctor an old-fashioned family doctor that makes house calls, which is a rarity nowadays. He's married to a good Christian woman and they have two kids that need to be more in a zoo than out to terrorize the public. I love them, but sometimes—I'm glad that they go with their parents after we have the holiday celebrations. After awhile, they get on my nerves."

Dr. Tyner paused for a moment, grabbed a bottle of water on the left corner, the only clean portion of her desk, opened it and drank a bit. Putting the cap back and placing it back on the desk, she started again.

"In 1979, at my last year at college, I happened to meet a guy that seemed to me like a total jerk. He was a captain on the college debate team and rebel in all other things. He didn't like things that I liked and I didn't like things that he liked. If God was playing a joke on us, he did that year because I married the "jerk", David Tyner. After some more schooling and a whole lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I got my degree in sociology and psychology and was promptly licensed to be a shrink. In 1986, we started a family, having two kids, a boy named Matthew and a girl named Ruth. In 1990, I started my own practice and started to see patients. I even hired an old typist named Naomi Brenkisi or Mrs. B. for short. Well that's my life story. What's yours?"

Sara wet her lips and began her story. "I was born in England the daughter of an ambassador. I was one of three children. I have a brother named Dave and I had a sister, a twin named Kim. After an incident, my parents divorced and I went with my mother back to her homeland, America and my brother went with our father."

"What about your other sister, your twin? What happened to her? Did she die?"

"Yes, she did."

"How? If you; don't mind telling me that is."

Sara wrapped her arms around herself and said in a quavering voice. "My sister and I were kidnapped for ransom by Thomas Crane. He would call our father and ask for money. Of course we didn't know his name at the time and didn't find out for twenty-five years."

"Did he and did your father pay it? He probably did because he loved you two so much--"

"He didn't love me! He wanted Kim more! I wasn't good enough for him! Do you know that Krane wanted $6 million for each of; us. That's $12 million in all. My father didn't want to pay that kind of money to even get his own children back! He didn't want to give up anything for his girls. He was only willing to pay $7 million for both of us and because if that, he let Kim die! We were stuck in a dark root cellar for nine days with one bottle of water between us. We were each tied on opposite ends so we couldn't touch and comfort each other. We had to roll the bottle of water carefully back and forth finally I rolled it too far and Kim couldn't reach it. She died that same day. Then the only one left was me, the one he hated."

"He probably didn't hate you at all."

"You're wrong. He did hate me! I wasn't girly enough. That was Kim and he wanted her more. I was too much of a tomboy for him."

"Did he ever say that to your face?"

Sara didn't look her in the eye. "No, but he didn't treat me any better. Actually, he treated me worse after Kim's death than before." She gave a harsh laugh more like a bark. "You know what is ironic he didn't even think that Kim and I were his. He thought Mom was cheating on him! It wasn't until the FBI did a blood test that he found out that we were both his. My father came to, Kim's funeral. Then he came to the hospital to see me for all of about ten minutes. Then he headed back to England and I haven't seen him since."

"So eventually he and your mom went their separate ways, splitting you and your brother between them. Did Dave ever contact you?"

"He tried, but he waited until he was of age although he did come over for summers and vacations. He became head of my security detail to protect me and it took twenty-five years to catch Thomas Krane. Dave was on that security team for fourteen years."

"What do you do for a living?" asked Dr. Tyner changing the subject.

"I'm a writer."

"What do you write? I mean is it anything that I have heard of?"

"I write two series. As Sara Walsh, I write a set of children's books for five year olds and as H. Q. Victor, I write a series of mysteries."

"You're the famous H.Q. Victor? I love those books and so do my kids." Dr. Tyner's face became quite somber. "And I take it one of the novels in that series I think it was 'Kim', is based on your sister's death."

"Yes."

"Now since I digressed, let's get back to your story. What happened to you and your mom before Dave came back into your life?"

"After coming to Texas, mom met and married Frank Victor less than a year after she divorced dad. Actually, it was a fluke—Frank and her met by accident. Then he died when I was 14 and a year later she met and married Peter Walsh, who adopted me. But Frank was my favorite."

"How so?"

"It wasn't too long after Thomas Krane had taken Kim and me, but I clamed right up for two and a half years because Thomas Krane said he would harm the rest of my family if I told. But Frank was good enough to be patient with me. He got me to talk and even taught me to draw. I think that he sensed that I felt safer in wide-open spaces where you can see for miles. He had a ranch with a lot of land."

"What were your first words when you got back your voice?"

"It was 'Can I see the new foal?' Frank had a mare that had just given birth to a foal on the farm and I wanted to see it. Isn't that a silly thing to say? Of course I was only nine at the time."

"Not really. You haven't had any happiness before your abduction, at least from your father, but if seeing the foal gave you happiness, then why should they begrudge you?"

"I guess so. Then several years past and my mother died in a car crash. My father didn't even come to her funeral even to see me. Then for awhile, it was just Dave and me. Then I met Adam Black."

"Your husband?"

"Yes. It was during the same time that we caught Thomas Krane."

"Then you got married. Are you going to have kids?"

"Why does everyone bring that up after somebody gets married?"

Dr. Tyner chuckled. "It always happens. My mother asked the same thing; of David and me when we were first married."

"Well, I am pregnant."

"Congratulations!"

"Thanks. It is our first, but—"

"But what?"

"I'm scared."

"Why?"

"What if something happens to our child like what happened to me?"

Dr. Tyner stared at her. "Sara, you were the child of an ambassador. Now you're a high profile writer. It could happen—no, let me tell you something. Have you ever heard of Lon Watson?"

"Yes, I read him as a kid. He did several series like mysteries for kids, horror novels, and thrillers."

"Yes, he was my father."

"Your father but your maiden name was Dawson?"

"Well, Ronald Dawson was also known in the publishing world as Lon Watson. He didn't want to put his real name on anything so his old friend Stan King, now deceased decided to come up with a name that my father could use as a pseudonym. The name 'Lon Watson' came to mind. Also on a dare from Stan, he sent his first horror story to a magazine at age 18 and got published. It was downhill from there, as he liked to say. When I was ten, a deranged fan of his kidnapped me and tried to get some ransom money. This fan asked for 500,000 dollars and a visit from my father. My father gave up his hard-earned money and took it to take to the fan when he would come to greet the fan. Fortunately, he didn't know if his fan would do anything dangerous or not so he called the police. They sent officers to follow my father and when he paid the fan the money, he got me back safe and sound and the fan was arrested. Some years later, after my father died, that fan apologized and said that he was sorry to scare me when I was a child. So maybe you can possibly have a family and not worry so much. You'll have some worry when the child is born—am I feeding him or her enough? Why does the baby cry so much? Will they touch a hot stove? Will little Johnny stick his finger or something metal in the electrical socket? Don't worry so much. You'll do as fine as every other parent that's come along."

Dr. Tyner glanced up at the clock. "Oops! We've gone and taken thirty minutes and turned it into nearly two hours. Well, at least we learned some stuff and thankfully I had no other patients on my calendar for today. It's usually my slow day. Now that you know some of my secrets, do you want to come back?"

"Yes."

"Ah, good then when do you want to see me again? You're the one paying, not me. What day is good for you?"

"Any day really is fine maybe a Thursday or a Friday perhaps sometime in the afternoon."

"Okay—how about two weeks from now at 2 p.m.?"

"That's fine."

"Okay. See you then," said Bernie as she let Sara out of her office. "Mrs. B will let you out of the building."

----------------------

One day a few days after the scan all the woman had gotten together to do a baby, shopping trip. The trip included Beth Shari's mother, Rachel who had flown in from New York for the day, Kate without the children in tow, Lisa, Cassie and Meghan. Kate had hired a private plane for the day, because Dave was on a very big case and couldn't take time off right then.

"All right girls are you ready to have some fun?" Lisa asked.

"Yes!" they all shouted at once.

"Then let's all go shopping," said Lisa heading towards the front door of Shari's house in Arlington.

"I'll see you later minx," said Marcus coming from upstairs and giving her a kiss. "You be careful today and don't overdo it. And let's not destroy the store with all; these woman," said Marcus with a smile.

"Very funny Marcus," said Kate at the last comment.

"Yes Marcus," Shari said with a mischievous grin. All the women also smiled then Marcus was out the door and gone.

----------------------

A few minutes later they entered "Everything for Babies" a baby specialty store in the Washington area. It was supposed to carry anything and everything for babies and Toddlers. It was a huge warehouse type place that was also relatively expensive, not that cost mattered when it was going to be used again and again.

"Can I help you ladies?" asked a young man with a mustache.

"Ah yes my daughter Shari needs everything a boy baby. Strollers, baby monitors, etc., etc."

"Ah yes ma'am. Right this way and I will show you where the strollers are first. Your first child ma'am?" the attendant asked Shari.

"Yes," said Shari. "Marcus and I haven't been married all that long."

"Here are the strollers ladies. I'll leave you to look through them." There were strollers of every description on display. Single ones double ones for twins; and even triple ones for triplets or at least for three children.

"I don't think I've ever seen one of those triple strollers," said Beth. They sure didn't make that kind of thing when Shari and Josh were young."

"No they're fairly recent," said Rachel. "But I think even now only one company makes them."

"We'll we only need a single stroller right now so we have to chose from among all these," said Shari pointing out a whole line of single strollers. There must have been ten different brands maybe more.

----------------------

A few minutes later all the woman were happily chatting and laughing over little pants suits with dogs of bears on them or little pajamas with feet and snaps on one side. By the time they headed to the cash register they had two carts loaded down with stuff. Baby monitors, clothes, a car seat, bottles, diapers, a mobile for the crib and dozens of other items.

"I'll buy the stroller," said Beth for the baby shower.

"You don't have to do that mom," Shari protested.

"And I'll pay for the baby monitor," said Kate not giving Shari a chance to protest further.

"I'll pay for the mobile," said Rachel.

"I'll take the car seat," said Lisa.

By the time they were done one cart was almost empty, "Okay, okay I give in," said Shari laughingly. Before they knew it they were through the line and in the car on their way home with two cars full of merchandise. "What a fun day," said Shari.

"But exhausting," said Beth. "Of course I'm not young as I used to be."

"I know I'm tired to," said Shari. Kate and Rachel agreed.

"Its always tiring being on your feet all day," said Rachel. "Of course a good night's sleep should cure that."

"It not very often we get a girls only day out," said Kate.

"Very true," Beth said and Shari, Rachel and Kate agreed all at once.

----------------------

"Hello, Mrs. Black! Welcome back and I see you have company," said Mrs. B with a smile. "You're starting to poke out there. When are you due?"

"According to my doctor, I'm going to give birth in four months. Hopefully, this little one won't be late. I had a test just to make sure everything that is okay."

"I had three kids. With the first one, a boy named Joe Jr. after his dad, he came four days early, the next one, a girl named Millie after my mother, came a month late, and my last, another boy named James, came on time, but 22 hours of labor with that one! Oy vey! They were all a handful, sometimes you want to strangle them, but they are all great kids really and now they have kids of their own! You know what is the best part of it all—having their kids do to my kids what they did themselves to me—they write on the walls, mess up the house, etc. Sometimes it's great to just have them for a little bit and then give them back to their folks," she said with a wink. "But you are probably looking forward to this baby so I won't tell you any more horror stories."

"That's all right. I don't know if I will be a good mother or not. I'll just have to wait and see," said Sara.

Mrs. B patted her hand softly and said, "Don't worry. You have your husband. I don't know how I kept myself sane without my Joe. Your husband will help you with everything unless you have to keep asking him more than once."

Suddenly, the door opened and Dr. Bernie stepped out with a smile. "Oh, Sara you're here! Good, then let's go to my office! See ya later, Mrs. B!"

Mrs. B looked at the doctor sternly. "Did you clean your office this time, young lady?"

Bernie sighed and said, "Yes, mother!"

"Good. Then I'll go make some more coffee for you two."

"See you in a bit then," said Bernie as she let Sara go in first and then followed behind her, closing the door. The two of them walked back to her office and Bernie opened the door. Sara gasped.

"Is it that bad?" asked Bernie.

"It's so—clean!" said Sara.

"So?"

"It's so clean that you could probably eat off it and see yourself at the same time."

"I hate clean! When I was young, my mother always tried to get me to keep my room clean, but no matter what I would do, I couldn't keep it clean. So when I got married and became a mother myself, I tried to keep my house as clean as my mother's. Do you know what she said when she saw my house?"

"No. What did she say?" asked Sara curious.

"She said that I did a good job, but she did ask why I could keep a house clean and not my room as a child."

"What did you say to her?"

"I'm a responsible adult now and besides I told her that I would have to with my brood. If it wasn't my son in the mud or my daughter in the juice, then it was my husband out mowing the yard."

"What did she say to that?" asked Sara.

"She laughed and said, 'That's all too true.' We talked for a while and Mom and Dad went home later that night after having an exhausting afternoon with the kids."

"Where is your mom now?" asked Sara.

"Oh, she and Dad are still alive and still living in their own home, but that don't mean that we don't worry about them. My folks are getting old and I'm trying to do the best I can to take care of them like they did with my siblings and me. Oops, Listen to me. I'm ranting on about my family and this session is supposed to be about you. Sara, what have you been this week?"

"Uhm, I had a test a couple of days ago to make sure the babies; were okay and the doctor said everything was progressing normally. I'm thinking about getting my brother-in-law Stephen to make baby furniture, but he's doing furniture for my sister-in-law Shari too. I'd hate to disturb him."

"Who's Stephen?"

"Dave, my brother, is married to Stephen's sister Kate."

"Ah, so you are related by marriage. Does; Kate and Stephen have a big family?"

"Yes, there were seven, now there are only six—three men and three women."

"What about their parents?"

"Well, all their parents are dead."

"What do you mean by 'all their parents'? Are there more than one—products of several marriages—

Adoptions?"

"Actually, all seven of them met in an orphanage called Trevor House where children who are too old to stay in the regular orphanage. You know most parents want younger kids or babies. They decided that they would be each other's family instead. So they adopted the name O'Malley and became a family when they were old enough. They are all quite close to each other like if they were truly born of the same family. In fact they're closer then a lot of brothers and sisters with the same parents."

"That's quite interesting, but you said that there were seven in the family. What happened to the seventh member?"

"Their sister Jennifer had cancer, a rare form of it, and died. It affected them all deeply. Plus, she had gotten married to her true love Tom and she was a pediatrician helping others. Also she was a Christian and slowly she tried to get the rest of her family to become Christians themselves. Even after her death all of her family except Stephen had become Christians."

"That's good. I've been a Christian my whole life, specifically I'm a Baptist born and raised. Have you always been a Christian?"

"Yes, but I did have some doubts though."

"Who doesn't? But I always believed in the Lord, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Have you read the Bible cover to cover?"

"Yes."

"I didn't until college. What was your favorite story from the bible?"

"I don't really have a favorite bible story."

"I have several. I like the ones where Jesus is healing various people and journeying his way through the world preaching his Father's Word, the story of Queen Esther, Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, and the older tales featuring Elijah, Elisha, Moses, Abraham, and Noah. Did you know that the name Ruth means 'friendship'?"

"I didn't know that. How do you come to know that?" asked Sara.

"My grandmother had an old bible. Got; it as a present from her folks when she got married and has passed it down to my mom and down to me. It told the meanings of every name in the Bible and where they were in the Bible themselves. It's still very interesting though."

"Yes, it sounds good," said Sara.

"Do you have something like that in your family? A Bible or something?" asked Bernie.

"No, I don't."

"Speaking of which, how about your family?" asked Bernie.

"What about it?" asked; Sara.

"Besides Dave and all the O'Malley, have you talked to your father at all?"

"Not really. Dave talks to him more than I do. When I was young, I was just in the way. Now, it's good that he doesn't keep in contact with me."

"Is it really, Sara? You have to be hurt by being abandoned by your father not once but twice. The first time was emotionally and then the second time was physical abandonment. Do you ever think of him at all, Sara?"

Sara began to cry and said, "He was my daddy! Why couldn't he love both of us? I loved Kim and she loved me! It makes me sick to think that he would actually abandon us with that—that man! All because he refused to pay for both of us—to take us from the clutches of Thomas Krane! If something like that happened to my child, I would move heaven and earth to get them back. How could he?"

"Have you or Dave told him that he is going to be a grandfather?"

"No, I don't think we have and he's already a grandfather through Dave."

"Do you think he would like to know?"

"I don't know. Do you think he would care about his grandchild after what he did to me? I don't want him to abandon my child."

"Parents can do funny things sometimes. Take this for instance, one couple I knew as a child were funny. The wife loved cut-glass crystal and her husband bought several pieces of it for her worth hundreds of dollars. She would spank her son for even running through the house, rattling the crystal in its glass shelves. Finally, years later, their first grandchild comes to visit with their son. Their son finished school, went to college, got a job, got married and they had their first kid, a boy."

"While his dad and grandparents are in the kitchen, he goes over to the shelves which hold the crystal. He's starting to pull up on things so he pulls on this shelve. Suddenly, in the kitchen, they hear a BAM. They run to see what it is and they come to see the baby on the floor with the; shelve down with the crystal shattered all around him. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt. The son picked him up and was about to spank him when his mother said, 'You aren't going to spank my grandchild.' Then she cuddled her grandson close and tried to soothe him. Then she said, 'Did Danny get hurt? Grandma's sorry she had all that junk to tip over on him.' This caused both father and son to look at each other with surprised looks on their faces. After; all these years!"

Sara laughed and said, "What; do she do with all the broken pieces?"

"She swept them up and dumped them in the trash. All that crystal and all those hundreds of dollars spent—all for nothing."

"Well, I'm never going to collect crystal or anything of that nature."

"Yes, but maybe you could get in contact with your father."

"What for?"

"Maybe you can finally ask him—why? Why didn't you love me enough? If he can't, then you can wish him off a pier or a cliff if you want to."

"Okay, maybe I'll try. If I can't, then I'll take your other suggestion. Okay?"

"All right maybe take Adam and your brother Dave for backup."

"Heck, maybe I should take my brother, my husband, and the whole O'Malley clan with me! At least it would be interesting to see if Jack could slug my father if he gets angry with me."

"I hope you mean that in a humorous bent," said Bernie.

"No, I didn't. But if you say that this will help, then I'll try it."

"Well, I was going to cut our time today because I've got to get the kids to their various programs and events. See you in a month, okay?"

"Okay," said Sara as they went out the door of Bernie's office and into the waiting room where Mrs. B checked her out. "Bernie, you have a nice day."

"I will and you do the same."

----------------------

Shari awoke and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 4:00 am. The pains in her stomach were what had awakened her and she had a feeling that contractions were starting, but wasn't that impossible considering she was nearly three weeks early? No some mother's delivered perfectly healthy babies a little early and it looked like it was going to be that way this time. Of course it could be false contra…

Suddenly the pain in her stomach increased and she was suddenly wet all over. Her water had just broken. This was no false contraction this was real. She hated to wake Marcus he needed his sleep, but this was quickly becoming an emergency.

"Marcus?" she whispered. "Marcus?" she called again shaking his shoulder gently.

Marcus awoke with a start at Shari's voice calling his name and her hand shaking his shoulder. He was instantly fully awake. "What?" Marcus asked turning in her direction and suddenly noticed the sheets were wet.

"My water just broke," said Shari with a grimace of pain as another contraction hit.

Marcus didn't bother to ask questions and got up from the bed. He tried to appear calm as he quickly dressed, but really inside he was a coiled ball of tension and excitement. He would have to call the rest of the family they would want to be here for this. Finally he was dressed and helped Shari to her feet and into a robe. He grabbed the already prepared suitcase with one hand and put his arm around her waist with the other. He helped her down the stairs and to the car.

----------------------

They arrived at D. C. General half an hour later Shari panting the whole way so they're hadn't been much conversation. Marcus tried to help by reminding her of the Lamaze classes she had taken and its instructions. The doctor had already been called from Marcus's cell phone and should be waiting.

A wheel chair and attendant were waiting at the emergency entrance as Marcus pulled up. Marcus got out of the car, and opened Shari's door for her and helped his wife out and into the wheelchair. "I'll meet you upstairs after I park the car okay minx?"

"Okay," Shari agreed still panting.

----------------------

Marcus parked the car and headed upstairs anxious to be with his wife. He exited the elevator a minute later and approached the receptionist desk.

"May I help you?" asked the matronly woman behind the desk pushing her wire frame glasses up on her nose.

"Yes can you tell me what room Shari O'Malley is in?"

"Are you family sir?"

"Yes actually I'm her husband Marcus."

"Room 510 young man," said the lady.

"Thank you," said Marcus blushing at being called a young man. He wasn't young by any stretch of the imagination, but he supposed, to her he was still young. He hurried down the corridor and found room 510 a minute later. He had called Kate from the car and told her that Shari's was at the hospital having the baby. She had promised to call the others and that they would be there in the next few hours. None of the family would want to miss this. He entered the room after putting on a hospital gown, gloves and surgical mask and hurried to her side. "You okay minx?" asked Marcus running a hand gently along her cheek. Her hair was slicked back with sweat and her face was shiny. The sweat dripped off of her in long streaks and dropped somewhere onto the sheets, which were quickly becoming soaked as well

"Pretty well," said Shari, "Just tired. I hope this baby comes soon or I may not have the strength to push him out."

"I'll be at your side the whole way through helping you," Marcus promised, gently brushing the sweat, slicked hair out of her face. He was also silently praying that everything would turn out well. Shari groaned as another contraction hit and Marcus squeezed her hand encouragingly. Shari lay panting a minute later after the contraction had passed.

----------------------

Eight hours later Marcus heard the cry of a baby and he looked up from where he had sat down in the room's only chair. The doctor and a nurse were on either side of the bed. "It's a boy," the doctor announced holding the baby by its feet, and slapping his behind and then handed him to Marcus. "You have a fine healthy son Mr. O'Malley."

Marcus took the baby and his tiredness seemed to melt away as he held the tiny form tenderly in his arms being careful to support his head. "Do you have a name for your son?" asked the doctor.

"Davey William O'Malley," said Marcus and Shari together.

"You go inform the rest of the family," Shari told him. "They'll want to know."

"Actually I called them already. They should already be waiting out in the waiting room for news."

"But how did they get here so fast? Sorry silly question, Dave right?"

"Of course although I'll admit it's nice to have a brother-in-law who's also a pilot." Marcus left the room after putting Davey tenderly in Shari's arms. He strode down the corridor to the waiting room and glanced in the door. He saw everyone was waiting for news even Tom and Rachel who would have had to take separate flights. Marcus finally walked quietly into the room.

"Well?" Kate wanted to know, because she saw him first.

"Shari has given birth to a boy. Perfectly healthy and both of them are doing fine—tired but fine."

"When can we see them?" all, of them clamored at once.

"My son should be in the nursery as soon as they clean him up. As for Shari I'm sure she wouldn't mind visitors. Although I think one or two at a time is plenty."

"I think Beth and Josh should go first after all they are her mother and brother," said Rachel sitting with her husband Cole.

"And I agree," said Lisa.

"All right then," said Marcus. "It's room 510. Think you can find it?"

"Yes," said Josh, and Beth nodded.

----------------------

"How you doing sis?" asked Josh a few minutes later.

"Tired, but fine, have you been to see my baby yet?"

"Not yet," said Beth. "We'll go up to the nursery next."

"You should see him. His is the most beautiful baby boy."

"So what did you name him?" asked Beth.

"Davey William," said Shari.

A tear came into Beth eye at the mention of the baby's middle name. "You named him after Bill?"

"Yes," said Shari. "I miss dad so I figured; at least one of our sons should bear his name. Why, not the oldest?"

"Why not indeed," said Josh. "I love you sis."

"I love you to Josh," said Shari.

Beth kissed her forehead and said, "We'll we better go so that other's can visit. You have a whole family waiting out there wanting to say hello."

----------------------

Marcus held his son tenderly in his arms and looked down at his small face blue eyes stared back at him. He had heard that most babies were born with blue eyes, but they could change color in the next few months. Davey had weighed in at 7 pound 8 ounces the nurses had told him even considering he was nearly three weeks early.

He was in the nursery now sitting in a rocking chair holding his son. They'd let him in only after he had washed his hands and put on one of those sterile outfits. He had left Shari because she was sleeping after and exhausting eight hours of labor. He had decided to come to the nursery to visit his son before going back to Shari's room. Besides he had the rest of the family to keep her company.

"So have you named your son?" inquired one of the nurse's an older matronly woman with silver hair and green eyes. There were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth that looked like she smiled and laughed a lot Marcus thought. Somebody, who took joy out of living, "Oh I'm sorry I haven't introduced myself. I'm Cathy Smithe,"

"Marcus O'Malley. "I'd shake your hand, but I'd be too afraid I'd drop him."

Cathy laughed softly seeing the humor in Marcus's statement. "So what have you and your wife named him?" Cathy asked again.

"Davey William O'Malley," said Marcus.

"Nice name. I'm guessing Davey is short for David."

"Actually it's long for Dave who also happens to be my brother-in-law."

"Ah," said Cathy. "It's still a nice name. So is this your first child?"

"Yes," said Marcus. "We're hoping to have others sometime in the next few years."

Marcus fell silent and continued feeding Davey his bottle.

----------------------

Shari awoke to the sound of Davey crying. She rose from her bed and sleepily stumbled to answer it. It was a few days after they had brought Davey home from the hospital and in that time they had been extremely busy, changing diapers, feeding him every couple of hours and generally doing what it took to take care of a newborn baby. She entered the room only to find Marcus had already answered the crying and sat in the rocking chair Stephen had made. He held Davey in his arms and was slowly rocking back and forth holding a bottle of milk to his lips. The scene brought a strong feeling of love for this man and her son and a lump of emotion rose in her throat. She stepped to his side and Marcus looked up. "You might as well go back to bed." Marcus looked great, Shari noted. Even with his hair all tousled from sleep.

"I think I'll stay up a while," said Shari. "As long; as I'm already awake."

"Your choice minx," said Marcus, not sounding the least bit sleepy.

"How can you be so awake at 4:00 am?" asked Shari grumpily.

Marcus laughed softly at that. "I just wake up faster is all," said Marcus.

"Obviously," said Shari still sounding grumpy.

Davey finished his bottle just then and Marcus gently put him up against his shoulder, which was covered with a burp cloth and, gently patted his back until he burped. Shari took him gently out of Marcus's arms, cradling him in her own. She gently kissed his brow and placed him back in his crib, which Stephen had also made. It was a beautiful, piece of work the crib. The wood shone and was so smooth there wasn't a chance of getting a splinter.

"Good night Davey," said Shari quietly as she watched Davey close his eyes and fell fast asleep in a second. Both Shari and Marcus quietly left the room closing the door part way behind them. "Isn't he just the sweetest little thing?" asked Shari quietly.

"He is that," Marcus agreed, also quietly. "Well it's back to bed for us minx. We both need our sleep."

Shari yawned and agreed.

----------------------

One year later Sara was just putting the twins down for a nap right after lunch when the phone rang. The twins had been born a little over eight months ago and brought much joy as well as worry to her heart since then. Adam adored them and was always playing with them as well as doing his share of the baby chores. The twins were absolutely identical down to the last freckle. All the family had been there to see them born except her father of course she hadn't bothered to call him, but Mary Beth Adam's younger sister had been there along with Jordan her husband and all three children. All the O'Malley's as well. Now there was a; family that stuck together through, thick and thin and were more brother and sister then most families she had ever seen. She hurried to answer the phone before it woke them up. "Hello?"

"Is this Mrs. Sara Black?" asked a voice that sounded unmistakably British.

"Yes," said Sara hesitantly, wondering if she was doing the right thing answering the guy's question.

"This is Alfred Dunning you fathers Charles Richmon's lawyer."

"What can I do for you Mr. Dunning?" asked Sara.

"I was told to inform you that you father; is dying and that he has requested both you and your brother fly to England with your families of course."

Requested? What do you mean requested?" Sara snorted in disbelief. "My father's never requested anything in his life. Demanded maybe, but never requested. It's been years since I've seen him and as you are probably aware Mr. Dunning my father and I how shall I say have never been close."

"I am aware of it and the cause as well."

"I see," said Sara, her tone totally devoid of emotion.

"He's a changed man and would you really deny him the chance to see his grandchildren and to make up in some small way for his behavior?"

"No I suppose not," said Sara. "Mind you I can't promise anything, but I'll talk to Adam and my brother and get back to you."

"Just don't take to long or it may be too late."

"All right I'll call you in a few days," Sara promised and hung up the phone without saying goodbye. She stood there for a few minutes in shocked silence then went to check on Darien and Darryl.

----------------------

Adam came home to find Sara in the kitchen trying to get the boys fed. "Come on just one more bite for mommy," Sara begged. The boys on the other hand were not cooperating and giving her a hard time.

"I'll take over," Adam offered.

Sara looked up, and smiled in gratitude and pushed a strand of dark hair out of her eyes.

"When you finish that I need to talk to you," said Sara, sounding extremely somber.

Adam raised an eyebrow questioningly at her tone of voice, which was absolutely neutral.

"Sara?" Adam questioned as he came into the den after feeding the boys and putting them in their playpen

"My father's attorney called," said Sara without preamble.

"About what?"

Apparently because my father in dying and he wants to see Dave and me and of course his grandchildren."

"Are you going to go?" asked Adam.

"I don't know I haven't decided yet. Dad and I as you well know were never very close even before we were kidnapped and Kim died."

"But don't you think he deserves the chance to see his grandchildren at least once if nothing else?"

"I don't know—I'm struggling with myself. I have a feeling that I'll feel guilty for the rest of my life if the boys don't at least get a chance to meet him and if I do not make peace with him."

"See there's your answer and just think it could be like a second honeymoon for us."

"Now there's a great idea," said Sara, enthusiastically.

"The only difference being we'll have the twins with us."

"True, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun," Sara said giving him a kiss.

----------------------

Within two days Sara, Adam the twins, Dave, Kate and their two girls were winging over the sea to London England. Sara had called Alfred Dunning with the number he had left with her and told him they were on their way and also when their flight would land. Dunning had offered to send a limo, but Sara and Dave had both nixed that idea for security reasons. They agreed; to have two cars put on reserve in their names. They landed 15 or 16 hours later and all the children were fast asleep and so were Adam and Sara with Kate keeping an eye on all four children.

Holly Kate's, and Dave's oldest girl was a bouncing two and a half year old and Annabelle was barely a year old.

Sara's, and Adam's twins Darryl and Darien were only eight and a half months and just beginning to walk, but they sure could get around and into trouble for all that. They all exited the plane Darryl in Sara's arms and Darien in Adam's.

"Holly," said Kate holding little Annabelle in her arms.

"Yes mommy?" asked Holly

"You take your daddy's hand don't let go understand?"

"Yes mommy," said Holly, grabbing Dave's hand.

"Come on short stuff let's go get our car," said Dave. Holly giggled at being called short stuff and they proceeded to the car rental agency.

----------------------

"Can I help you?" asked the guy behind the counter at the Hertz car rental agency.

"Yes there should be two cars waiting for us. The names Richmon and the other's Black."

"Ah yes you have two vans with two children safety seats apiece."

'That sounds about right," said Dave thinking of the baby necessities with them. There were two strollers the double ones, two suitcases for the adults, two smaller suitcases for the children and two baby bags filled with bottles, formula, baby food, toys as well as diapers, baby wipes and other baby necessities.

"If I; could see some I. D.?" Both Adam and Dave handed over their driver's licenses.

"Here are the keys I'll just have two of our employees bring them to the front for you."

----------------------

A few minutes later they were on their way towards were both Dave and Sara had grown up.

"I can't believe we are actually in London," said Kate in awe looking at all the tall buildings.

"We'll make sure to tour some of the more famous historical places before we head back to the states," said Dave.

"You could even go shopping," Dave suggested with laughter in his voice knowing how Kate hated to shop.

Kate made a face. "Me shop? Please...!"

Dave hid a grin knowing Kate would misunderstand his smile. Then his smile faded and he turned suddenly serious.

"It's too bad your father dying has to put a damper on the trip."

"It won't," Dave assured her. "Dad and I have never been close. It took me a long time to forgive him for what he did to Sara and Kim when she was still alive. He practically hated them and didn't even think they were his and when they were kidnapped he wasn't even willing to pay the twelve million dollars, but decided to bargain. If he had just paid up Kim might still be alive today."

"If it was my kids I'd move heaven and earth to get them back," said Kate.

"I know me to," said Dave. "I'd give up my fortune in an instant it wasn't so with my father," Dave said sounding bitter.

Kate didn't have time to respond because they pulled up at an imposing looking estate just outside the city.

----------------------

The house was huge almost like a castle in design and size—almost but not quite. They parked in the long drive and all four adults stared at the huge estate in awe. There was a manicured lawn and a garden in back with dozens of different kind of flowers and plants. The walk was paved in stone and led to the garden and also to a pond.

"Wow," said Kate, "This sure is a big place."

"Welcome," said the butler as he opened the door to them after Dave rang the bell. The butler looked tired like he hadn't been sleeping very well and who could blame him his master was dying.

"George you look well all things considered," said Dave.

"Thank you Master Dave. If you will all please come in he's waiting for you."

"They didn't need to ask who he was. They knew whom he meant. They all entered the huge imposing house leaving their things in the car for the time being.

"I'll have the nanny take the children to the nursery which has been cleaned."

Sara was shaking her head no rather vigorously. Dave saw it and nodded in understanding.

"We will see to them ourselves," said Dave. "Sara is afraid to let them out of her sight and you can understand why."

"We'll interview this nanny before I will leave my children in her care."

Adam who hadn't said anything thus far said, "I'll go with her. Dave why don't you go see your father while we get the children squared away?"

Dave nodded and Kate handed over Annabelle without comment although understood how Sara felt. It was hard to trust people she had never met.

"Holly," said Dave.

"Yes daddy?"

"You follow your Uncle Adam and Aunt Sara and do what they tell you to do," said Dave. Holly nodded obediently and followed her aunt and uncle up the stairs. Another servant led the way and they came to a brightly lit and colorfully decorated nursery. There were toys and children's books on the shelves most of them ancient.

"It hasn't changed much," Sara observed, "From when I was a child here. Of course this is all from a child's perspective."

"Welcome, welcome," said a voice that Sara recognized even after all these years.

"Gertrude," said Sara in delight.

"Mistress Sara," said Gertrude. "My how you've grown from the little girl I used to know."

"It's so good to you again," said Sara, giving a quick hug.

"And you. When I heard you were coming for a visit I asked to be reinstated as nanny."

"Gertrude; meet my husband Adam Black," said Sara.

"It's a pleasure young man," said Gertrude shaking Adam's hand and then giving him a hug.

"You call me young?" Adam asked with a chuckle. "I'm 39 years old."

"And I am 62 young; man so to me you are quite young."

"I guess you are right," said Adam with a smile liking Gertrude immediately. He could see why Sara was so fond of her. She was loving, genuine and warm and seemed to care about other people.

"I know I am," said Gertrude and Adam chuckled. "And who are these young ones?"

"The two girls are Dave's, and Kate's children. Their names are Holly and Annabelle or Anna for short. And the boys are Adam's and mine. Their names are Darryl and Darien, their twins."

"Aren't you all just the cutest things," said Gertrude taking Darryl out of Sara's arms. "You're as cute as a button," she said tickling Darryl under his chin. Darryl happily gurgled and Sara smiled. "I'll take care of them. Why don't you go see your; father." In her tone was a note of disapproval for how he had treated his own children nearly thirty years ago.

"You don't approve of my father do you?" asked Sara.

Gertrude looked up her expression neutral. "Let's put it this way. It's not the man himself I disapprove of, but his attitude towards his own children. He never treated you great even when Kim was still alive and he treated you worse after her death. Of course I really shouldn't say that with the poor man dying and he has changed quite a bit over the last five or six years."

Sara took all this in without comment. She would have to see for herself, before she would believe it.

----------------------

Half an hour later Sara went in to see her father. Adam had offered to go with her for support, but Sara shook her head. "This is something I need to do myself. I need to face down the memories."

Adam stayed behind reluctantly. Sara was strong, but he was afraid this would break her. "She'll be okay Adam," said Dave also looking worried. "If Thomas; Krane couldn't break her neither will this."

"You think I don't know how strong Sara is? I was with you when you finally caught him you know. I know she can handle her father if I didn't I never would have let her go alone no matter what she said."

----------------------

Sara sat in a chair by her father's bed and looked at the man whose genes made up half her makeup, but who had never really been much of a father.

He looked different, smaller not as arrogant. His eyes were nothing more then sunken orbs in a thin face. His hair was white, when she remembered it as black.

Of course she hadn't seen him in twenty-eight years and those many years changed a man if not emotionally at least physically. He had to be in his late sixties early seventies by now.

"Sara?" came; a feeble voice from the bed.

"I'm here father," said Sara quietly leaning closer.

The sound of her voice seemed to wake him up and his eyes snapped open.

"Sara is that you?" Charles Richmon seemed basically aware and lucid.

"Yes it's me father," said getting up and coming closer.

Charles Richmon gazed at the face of his daughter and asked. "Can you forgive me for what happened all those years ago daughter for the death of Kim?"

"I forgave you years ago father," said Sara, no emotion in her tone it was simply a statement of fact.

"If only I hadn't been so absorbed in my job and if only I had paid the scoundrel his twelve million dollars Kim might still be alive today."

"You don't know that for sure father. I think he left us there to die money or no money. Thomas Krane wasn't just greedy he was evil. If his partner hadn't messed up and gotten sloppy we both probably would have died, not just Kim, but by the Grace of God I survived. If only to do; good and to remember my twin and the happy times we shared."

"You are indeed wise Sara," said her father. "Of course that wisdom comes with strife and hardship."

"It made me strong Father," said Sara. "Would you like to meet Darryl and Darien?"

"Your children?"

"Yes, they're twins just like me and Kim; were. And I'm sure you'd like to meet Dave's children Holly and Annabelle as well."

"I'll just have Adam and Dave; go get them," said Sara. She headed towards the door and opened it.

"Are you okay, Sara?" Adam questioned the second, he saw her.

"Yes, Adam," Sara said with a sad smile. "I need you to go get the children out of the nursery for me. Father wants to see his grandchildren." Her expression was neutral. So Adam couldn't tell what she was feeling at the moment.

Adam turned without comment and headed towards the nursery with Kate following.

----------------------

They returned ten minutes later with Adam holding both boys in his arms. All four adults trailed into the sick room. Adam handed one twin to Sara who took him tenderly running a hand through his dark hair. "Come meet your grandfather." Sara walked towards the bed with Darien in her arms and Adam held Darryl with the others following right behind them. "Father meet, Darien and Darryl."

Charles Richman looked up at the twins who looked identical down to the last hair. Sara handed over Darien and her father took him gently. Adam studied the man who had made Sara so miserable until her mother Michelle had divorced him and moved to America, less than a year after the kidnapping and Kim's death.

He looked different than the one picture Adam had seen of him. He was older for one thing and had lost considerable weight since he had been ill, but there was also something in his eyes that hadn't been in the photograph a light. Adam's observation was interrupted.

When; Darien grabbed his grandfather's nose.

"Darien!" Sara exclaimed shocked, but also trying not to laugh at Darien's behavior.

Charles however was not so restrained and laughed weakly until; he starting coughing. Sara took Darien from his arms and stepped back to let Dave and Kate have some time with him.

"I don't think I've ever heard my father laugh before today. He was always so stiff and serious," Sara said softly.

"Sometimes when you are dying you realize all your priorities are all wrong," said Adam, just as softly.

Sara nodded. "When it's too late to make many amends," said Sara, softly.

"Dave, Sara, a word with you in private, please."

The others turned to leave at Charles' quietly whispered words.

----------------------

Dave and Sara exited minutes later looking stunned.

"So?" Kate questioned holding Anna in her arms.

"Dad wants to start a fund that helps find kidnapped and runaway children and he wants us to help set it up. That is what he is dedicating his fortune to when he dies."

Kate and Adam both looked shocked thinking of all those million going to help find runaway or kidnapped children would help a lot of parents find there kids faster and quite possibly still alive. It might prevent what happened to Kim from happening to other children. The children of course didn't understand the implications.

"That's extremely generous of him," said Adam finally his mind still whirling with possibilities.

"He also wants us to be in control of the fund and choose a council of people we trust to distribute the funds properly."

"My brother Marcus would be a good choice," Kate suggested finally speaking up.

"Good idea Marcus is an excellent judge of character," said Dave. "We'll figure out all the details later. Now as much as I hate to admit it father is dying and we need to get a lawyer in here before he does so the fund can become a reality."

----------------------

"So you contacted me in order to set up this fund, Mrs. Black?" asked a portly man in a black suit.

"Yes, sir I believe our butler George said that you were the best barrister in all of England, Sir Ian," said Sara.

The portly man chuckled. "He said that probably exaggerating, poor fellow. I am a good barrister, but not that good."

"Can you help us, Sir Ian?" asked Adam.

The barrister smiled. "Yes, I think I can. Upon my word, I, Sir Ian Semple, shall do everything in my power to help you set up this fund for kidnapped children."

Everyone in the room smiled and Sara and Dave both said, "Thank you, sir."

"One more thing though," said Sir Ian.

"Yes? What is it?" asked Dave.

"Could—," Sir Ian turned his face away from them and looked outside of his window. Then he started to speak again. "Could all of you do something for me?"

"What?"

"I need you to find someone for me."

"Is it a missing child or missing adult?" asked Adam.

"A missing child."

"Who?"

"My daughter."

----------------------

"I found information on his daughter. Susan Barbara Semple. Born May 1, 1965, She went missing on June 12, 1977 at age 12 from her house in London," said Kate, plopping a stack of files down on the table.

"Were there any witnesses that saw her get taken?" asked Dave.

"One person, but it was a 75 year old lady. She's dead. I called the phone number that was in the police report and found that out from her daughter that she died of cancer in 1985. Her daughter lives in her mother's old house, which was right across from the Semple's house."

"Did the police do anything, Sir Ian?" asked Sara.

"Yes, they took evidence, searched the yard and the complete neighborhood, talked to every neighbor and every family member, and anyone that was suspiciously hanging out in the area," said Sir Ian.

"What about your wife, Susan's mother? Can she tell us anything more?"

Sir Ian shook his head and said, "I don't think so, Mrs. Black. My wife died ten years ago of cancer after nearly fifteen years of waiting for our daughter to come home or be found."

"Speaking of that, did your daughter ever run away?"

"No, she was—is a good child. Always happy and she never felt sad. She loved us and we her."

"Did they have any leads, any suspects?"

"No, but that didn't stop them from giving up hope that she was—is alive."

"Have you thought—"

"Yes, yes, but I don't like to think about it. That she-she's—"

"Dead," said Sara.

"Yes," said Sir Ian in a whisper, his face crestfallen as if his whole world had been destroyed.

"She may not be. You never know."

"But after all this time? Surely she must be—"

"Yes, but that doesn't mean that we have to stop trying. What was the name of the officer in charge of the investigation?" asked Dave.

"Officer Liam Simmons, but he's my age and now he's retired and living in Ireland."

"Any other officers?"

"A couple of them are dead, died in the line of duty you know and three of them are still working at the police department, but one is retiring soon. Are you sure that you can help me?"

"Well, we'll see, all right?"

"Yes, thank you. Now I must tell you kindly that you will have to leave for I have a divorce and custody battle to do in an hour and I must finish preparations for that. How long are you going to be in London?"

"For a few weeks. Why?"

"Maybe in a week or two, you all could come back and give any information on what you have found out. Is that all right?"

"Yes. Take care, Sir Ian," said Sara as he opened the door to his office and let the group out of the room.

"I will and all of you take care as well. Goodbye," he said as he closed the door behind them.

----------------------

With Sir Ian's help they had made the announcement about the Children's Kidnapping and Runaway Fund to the newspaper and had an announcement made over the radio and T. V. or as the British called it telly. They had it announced on BBC in England and the news and American's Most Wanted in the states. They didn't expect an immediate response and didn't get one. Marcus had agreed to act as part of the council over the phone when they had called him a few days ago on the condition that Shari; be able to take his place if he was on assignment. Dave and Sara had agreed seeing the wisdom of having a second choice just in case Marcus was out of town.

Also Adam's Brother-in-law Jordan had agreed to act as part of the council as well as handling the legal matters that came up, investments and the like. And finally Gideon O'Connor an Irishman who had been living in the states and an old friend of both Dave's and Sara's and could be trusted to be honest.

All of them headed back to the states a few weeks later after the Charles Richmon had passed on to the next world, but in his place was a fund that would hopefully help find a lot of missing children before it was to late.

Sara was quiet and pensive on the way home and Adam kept looking over at her with a worried expression.

Finally Sara spoke so quietly that Adam had to strain to hear her. "I never thought I would ever forgive my father for what he did to Kim—at least not completely, but I think that finally after seeing him after all these years that maybe I can finally forgive him totally. I think the reason probably is or at least part of the reason is that I had a six years olds set of memories of him. Children see things differently and I think seeing him as a grown up has changed my perspective and gone a long way to heal those memories." There seemed to be a sad, but quiet peace about her that made Adam; love her all the more.

"It's good that you've finally forgiven him and also good that you are more at peace with yourself then I've ever seen you."

Sara smiled sadly. "Actually I might have a bit of a surprise for you."

"What?" asked Adam; curiously.

"I think we might be having another baby."

"What?" Adam exclaimed in shock and amazement, "Sara so soon?"

"Yes," said Sara. "It must have happened back in the states and I've missed at least my last two periods."

"Sara you are amazing," said Adam leaning over and giving her a kiss.

"It takes two you know," said Sara with a laugh kissing him back.

"I'm hoping for a little girl this time," said Adam, "One that looks just like you."

"I'd rather she look like you," said Sara laughing.

It fell silent for a while each lost in their own thoughts as the plane flew back over the sea on it's way home, but instead of despair all aboard felt hope for the future and for now that was enough.

----------------------

They arrived back in the states after a long flight to cloudy skies that looked like it was about to rain at any minute.

"Let's hurry up and catch a cab before it rains. The children don't need to get wet and catch a chill," said Sara.

"Neither do; we," Dave pointed out as he hailed a cab.

"But adults aren't as susceptible to catching a chill as little children are, especially ones as young as ours."

"Okay here comes; a cab," said Adam as he tried to hail it down from the sidewalk in front of the airport. The cab stopped and all they all got in after putting their luggage in the trunk.

"Where to mates?" asked the driver a fellow with blond hair streaked with; silver. Dave gave him the two addresses and he put the cab in gear.

----------------------

Adam and Sara entered the house they had bought before the twins were born. It was a three-story affair that had to have a few minor repairs before it had been livable. Sara had insisted on an alarm system the best money could buy. Sara was determined to protect her family, not that Adam blamed her, not after what happened to her and Kim.

"Time for bed," she told the twins whom at least, tonight didn't argue for they were tired after the long flight.

Sara pulled their clothes off and buttoned up their pajamas then, she turned to leave with a kiss on their foreheads. Adam watched from the doorway as Sara laid them gently in their crib and covered them with a blanket.

She quietly exited the room to find Adam waiting for her leaning against the wall arms crossed. The look on his face was one of indefinable tenderness. "Come here," he said softly so as not to disturb the twins, his voice sounding extremely husky. Sara came closer and Adam wrapped his arms around her holding her tight. "Let's go to bed I have some plans for us."

"Do you now?" asked Sara sounding amused and sexy all at the same time.

Adam immediately picked her up without a word and carried her to their bedroom while Sara put her arms around his neck and leaned her head into his shoulder with a contented sigh.

----------------------

The next morning Adam awoke early and left Sara to sleep in. God knows she needed it. She had been getting very little sleep with both twins to take care of and would soon get even less with another little one on the way. Adam for his part was never happier then when he was spending time with his wife and sons.

Adam fixed coffee and two ham, bacon and cheese omelets Sara's favorite. He added red peppers to his and left Sara's without. He for one liked the spiciness Sara however didn't. "Is that a ham, cheese and bacon omelet I smell?" asked Sara stumbling into the kitchen trying to wipe the sleep out of her eyes.

"Yes it is. I was going to bring you breakfast in bed," said Adam.

"And I ruined your surprise," said Sara with a smile, kissing him on the lips.

"Yes you did," Adam admitted also with a smile. "Not that I mind."

"If you wanted me to stay in bed then you shouldn't have made it smell so appetizing," Sara teased.

"Breakfast is served madam," said Adam putting the omelet on a plate and handing it to her with a flourish along with a glass of orange juice.

"Why thank you kind sir," Sara teased right back. "You're sure this doesn't have any of those peppers you're so fond of in it?" she added almost like an afterthought.

"Yours doesn't," Adam assured her with a grin. As he took a big bite of his Sara could see the pieces of red peppers as he put the bite in his mouth.

Sara took a bite of hers and closed her eyes in bliss as the food practically melted on her tongue. "I will admit you know how to cook an omelet."

"You're just now figuring that out?" Adam inquired with a grin.

"No I've known, but it is still very unusual to have a man who can cook—much less be a good cook."

"So when are we headed back to England and start the search for Sir Ian's daughter?"

"I don't know a week or so," said Sara not commenting on the change of subject. "Sir Ian was really anxious when we left. I had to keep assuring him we'd be back in a week or a week and a half at most."

"Do you think we'll find his daughter alive?"

"I hope so I really like Sir Ian and it would go a long way to healing old wounds if we found her alive and even better if we can convince her to come to England with us."

"Me too," said Adam agreeing wholeheartedly. He really liked Sir Ian.

Suddenly they both heard noises from the direction of the twins; bedroom through the baby monitor they had in the kitchen.

"Sounds like Daryl and Darien are waking up," Adam observed.

"I better get them dressed and feed them some breakfast then," said Sara finishing her own breakfast quickly. She put her dish in the dishwasher and headed upstairs to release the twins from their crib.

----------------------

All four of them flew back to England within a week and started to work. They talked to several TV station owners who agreed to broadcast a program once the story was of a missing little girl was told. Even if the case was a quarter of a century old it was being reopened and the more people knew about it the more likely they were to get leads.

"Are you sure that this will work?" asked Adam.

"I hope so. I've contacted the BBC and the news as well as America's Most Wanted in America. They each said that they would run Sara's story.

It was a few days after they had returned from the States and they had set the search for Sir Ian's daughter in motion. Sir Ian's influence had helped it get on the air quickly. Sir Ian was willing to do almost anything to find his missing daughter Susan.

----------------------

"Greetings, this is the BBC World News, I am Stuart Templeton. In today's news from England a more than twenty year old cold case is coming back to life."

"She was a local girl, a daughter of a barrister who was coming up in the ranks of the court. Born in London to Mr. Ian Semple and his wife Ellen, Susan Barbara Semple was taken from her home in London at the age of twelve back in 1977. Of her family and friends, she was seen as a kind girl who always tried to help others and had many friends. An all A's student, she excelled in all of her studies and when she was asked on what she wanted to be when she grew up, she remarked that she wished to be a doctor and help anyone and everyone. But on June 12, all that ended when she was kidnapped just outside her home in London. No one except an elderly neighbor saw her get, kidnapped. Now after 25 years, the search begins again for this young lady."

----------------------

In Dublin, Ireland, a man watched his telly with a glass of chocolate milk, an afterthought from his childhood. Toys were on the floor from the kids and their mum had just gone up to put the three little munchkins to bed. He uses the remote control to turn the channel and comes across a newscast. It talked about a girl named Susan Semple who been missing since 1977 from age of 12. Poor girl, he thinks until they say, "Now we will show you a picture of the missing girl and an aged-enhanced photograph of what she would look like now."

The man's eyes go wide. God, no...it couldn't, be!

One word came from his lips.

"Mary."

----------------------

"Got any leads?" asked Sir Ian.

"No sir. I'm afraid not," said Sara, shaking her head.

Sir Ian plopped himself in a nearby chair and placed his head in his hands. After a few minutes, he brought his head back up, his eyes glimmering with tears. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she is dead--"

It was several weeks later and they had had a ton of leads that had eventually petered out. Sir Ian was getting more depressed as days; then weeks passed with one dead end after another.

"Sir Ian, don't think that. We told you to keep a positive attitude."

"Yes, but if they find her bo--her in a grave, what then?"

"Sir Ian, can you think of anyone who would take her from you?"

"No, no. I have no other family."

"Any enemies?"

"Plenty of those," Ian admitted, sadly shaking his head. "I've put a lot of criminals behind bars over the years. I'm sure some of them hated me enough to take my daughter away from me."

"We need to check with that police officer what was; his name?"

"Liam Simmons," Sara supplied.

"That's it," said Dave. "We'll make him our first priority. I have a sneaking suspicion that somebody else besides the man who sent the ransom had to be involved. It would be hard to kidnap a twelve-year old girl alone. We'll; probably need help to sort out all the angles. If we don't get any leads soon I would like to call Marcus and ask him to come and help. As an investigator he's topnotch."

"Marcus?" Ian questioned.

"Marcus O'Malley," Dave replied. "Kate's older brother. He's a U.S Marshal and a good one at that. I'm positive he'd be willing to come down if he can get the time off and he could bring his wife Shari and their son with him."

"Shari would be willing to help as well in any way that she could."

Dave nodded in agreement and said, "That she would."

----------------------

A few weeks later in Virginia America

Shari came home from the doctor late that afternoon. She was in shock for she had not expected to be pregnant again quite so soon. Davey was just over a year and three months old after all. However she knew Marcus would be pleased. He hadn't known he was going to the doctor and she hadn't told him so she could surprise him if she was pregnant like she thought she was. It turned out she was right.

Marcus came home around six o'clock. Marcus was nice enough to call if he was going to be any later or if he had to go out of town for a few days.

"Shari I'm home," Marcus called as he entered the front door.

"I'm in the kitchen," Shari called. Marcus raised an eyebrow at that Shari was cooking. She only cooked on rare occasions or for something special. She had never become very domesticated when she was growing up, but he had to admit the more she practiced the better she got at it.

Marcus entered the kitchen to find an absolute disaster. Flour was everywhere and coating every surface. It looked like there'd been a tornado and it had spread the flour everywhere. He kissed Shari's flour coated cheek and asked, "So what are you cooking?"

"Something special," said Shari. "You'll see." Marcus knew better then to ask again. Not only would he get nothing out of her he would just put pressure on her by asking again. "Dinner should be ready shortly."

"Okay Just call me when it's ready. I'll be in the den reading the paper," said Marcus. He then turned without a word and left her to finish up alone.

----------------------

A half an hour later Shari entered the den to find Marcus asleep in his favorite leather covered recliner the newspaper open and spread out on his stomach. Shari smiled softly and gently kissed him awake.

Marcus awoke with a start to find Shari leaning over him kissing his lips.

"Dinner," she whispered. Marcus yawned and let the footstool of the recliner down "Where's Davey?"

"Upstairs with Rosie," said Shari. "He's already had his dinner."

"I'll have to go spend sometime with him right after I eat. I've been a bit busy lately and haven't spent as much time with him as I would have liked."

"I know you've been on a case, but Davey misses you. He asked me where his daddy was this afternoon. It's hard to explain to a one year old that he had to work."

Marcus sighed and looked guilty for not spending more time with his son. "I really must take the time to spend some time with him. These growing up years are important in any child's development and if he feels like I didn't care… Well that could ruin him or at the very least do him harm. I love him too much to do that to him. I need to spend time with him while he's young."

Shari nodded and agreed and they both headed in to dinner arm-in-arm.

----------------------

"So what's the special occasion minx?" asked Marcus curiously.

"Marcus what are you eating?" Shari asked trying to get him to look down at his food.

Marcus raised an eyebrow and complied. He was sure Shari had a reason for this… "Baby spinach, baby carrots; baby peas. Shari; are you trying to tell me you're pregnant?" Marcus asked his voice slightly husky with emotion.

"Yes I am. I've been to the doctor and the doctor confirmed it."

"That's great, terrific!" Marcus exclaimed jumping up from his chair all his tiredness vanishing in an instant. He came around the table and hugged Shari tight then kissed her. "So that is what this "special dinner" is for," said Marcus. It was a statement not a question.

"Of course," said Shari mysteriously. "I wanted to surprise you and I figured you were smart enough to figure it out given a few clues."

"You managed that," said Marcus ignoring the part about being smart enough to figure it out. He plopped down in his chair with a sigh still looking shocked.

Shari laughed softly as his expression slowly faded from shock to joy.

"What's so funny minx?" asked Marcus half seriously.

"Your expression; it's priceless," said Shari. "I wish I had a camera handy."

"Is it now," said Marcus with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Suddenly moving, like lightning and yet like a silent shadow Marcus was around the table while Shari was pretending to concentrate on her dinner. He snuck up on her and tickled her mercilessly. Shari's; eyes widened in surprise for she hadn't seen or heard him coming. Then she was laughing so hard her sides ached.

Finally she said sounding strangled with laughter. "Enough I can't breathe for laughing so hard."

Marcus complied and it took Shari a few minutes to catch her breath. "I'm hoping for a little girl this time," said Marcus suddenly serious.

"It doesn't matter to me," said Shari. "I'll take either one. I love our son and I wouldn't mind having a boy. Of course I wouldn't mind a girl either."

"I think I'd better go and see Davey and maybe tell him a bedtime story. It's about his bedtime anyway."

"So it is," said Shari looking at her watch. It was nearing eight o'clock and any one-year olds bedtime.

Marcus turned and headed up stairs without another word.

----------------------

"Daddy," said Davey throwing himself into his father's arms expecting to be caught. Marcus picked him up and swung him around. Davey giggled in glee as Marcus made him dizzy. The governess they had hired was a sweet older lady by the name of Rosie whose children had grown up and moved away. Her husband had died about ten years ago and this was her second job as governess.

"Bedtime Davey," said Marcus.

"Don' wan' 't go 't bed," said Davey pouting.

"I'll tell you a story," Marcus promised.

"The one 'ow 'ou and mommy met?" Davey requested.

"Okay," Marcus agreed. "Hop into bed." Unlike most bedtime stories this one was true. Based on Shari and him had met. It was Davey's favorite.

"Yes daddy," said Davey eagerly. He was already dressed in pajamas with teddy bears all over them and it had little padded feet. He eagerly scrambled to his crib and Marcus helped him climb up the side.

"Lay down," said Marcus gently. Davey obeyed somewhat reluctantly.

Marcus chuckled at his son's expression. It was a mixture of eagerness for the story and grumpiness because he wasn't ready for bed.

"Once upon a time…" Marcus began.

----------------------

Marcus answered the phone not expecting Dave. After all Dave was still in England. It was the next day after Shari had told him she was again pregnant and he had just gotten home from work when the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Hi buddy," came; Dave's voice strong and clear over the line.

"Dave I thought you were still in England," said Marcus sounding surprised.

"We are. I called because we need your help."

"With what?" asked Marcus; curiously.

"This investigation, it has too many leads for just one or two people to follow. Gideon and the rest of us need some help and we immediately thought of you and Shari. You both have experience at seeing past the obvious and have a feeling we're missing something here. Besides we could use your insight."

"I'd love to help and I'm sure Shari would to, but I'll have to see if I can get some time off."

"If you can't I can always go through the American embassy…" Dave suggested. "To get you temporarily assigned over here."

"Let's only use that option as a last resort. I'll call you back say tomorrow as soon as I can check into it."

"Okay; talk to you soon."

----------------------

A week later Shari and Marcus along with Davey were winging over the sea. Marcus had gotten the time off without to much difficulty. He didn't take all that much time off anyway unless there was a "family emergency" and his superiors knew it.

"Marcus, Shari I'm glad you could make it," said Adam who was there to meet them, "And Davey to." Adam tickled Davey under the chin and Davey giggled and stretched out his arms saying, "Unca Adam."

Adam took him gently out of Shari's arms and held him. "Well let's get going. It's at least an hour to Sir Ian's estate and he wants to see you right away."

"No time for a shower or a change of clothes?" Shari asked feeling hot and sticky from the long flight.

"Sorry Dave thinks he may have a lead," said Adam.

Marcus nodded. "We can drop you and Davey off at the hotel if you want," Marcus suggested.

"No I'll go with you," said Shari.

"You're sure?"

"Yes I can take a shower later," said Shari.

"Okay let's get going then," said Marcus not bothering to argue.

Shari was as interested in the case of the missing girl as he was. He knew she just wanted to appear at her best in front of someone she had never met. Not that he blamed her he was feeling all sweaty and dirty himself and would have been grateful to stop for a shower and a change of clothes.

----------------------

A short time later they pulled up in front of a big old house that had a nice front lawn that looked freshly cut and glistened with dew in the late afternoon sun. The house itself was brick with a foundation of stone.

"Welcome," said Matthew the butler who opened the door. "Thank you for coming so quickly."

Then Matthew showed them into the parlor without another word. Sir Ian was already waiting along with Dave, Kate and Sara. "Good afternoon Mr. and Mrs. O'Malley," Sir Ian greeted.

"Just Marcus and Shari will do. We don't usually go much for formality."

"As you wish," said Sir Ian with a twinkle in his eye. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last. Kate and Dave have been telling me about you and the rest of the family."

"Has she now," said Marcus giving his sister a wink. "Then she certainly must have told you about some of her exploits."

Sir Ian raised an eyebrow while Kate went red with embarrassment. "No I'm afraid I haven't had the pleasure, but we can discuss it another time. It's time for tea."

----------------------

"I suppose Dave has told you about my missing daughter Susan?" asked Sir Ian.

Marcus noticed that he looked tired and that his eyes were sad even though a few minutes ago they had twinkled.

"Yes he has," said Marcus, sipping tea politely. "Except for maybe the latest," he added.

"There isn't much knew actually since I talked to you a few days ago," said Dave. "I've covered every lead I can think of and I've come up blank."

"Did you check all the officers involved in the case out? Financially I mean?" asked Marcus knowing Dave probably already had for he was good at what he did and was not likely to forget such a vital link.

"We're working on it actually, but the banks don't want to cooperate even if the bank statements are a quarter of a century old and not even with at least two of the original officers still alive."

"Have you tried persuasion?"

"Yes and bribery and even a threat or two," said Dave.

"What kind of threats?"

"The threat; that every bank manager fears an audit."

"I can just imagine how they reacted to that," said Marcus dryly. "All the bank managers I know wouldn't appreciate being threatened with an audit."

"The ones I know as well and didn't quite have the affect I hoped for at least not right away all though it made the manager come close to blowing his top and hitting me," said Dave.

"We think we have one of the lower level clerks bribed and he's agreed to look through the older records but he warned it might take awhile, but it's already been a week," Sara added.

"Have you tried to contact him?" asked Marcus.

"No not yet. We didn't want to blow his cover unless we had no other choice, but if he doesn't contact us soon we'll have to take steps," said Dave. "Well that's about everything we know at the moment," he added.

"Let me see all the data you've collected and I'll see if I spot anything you missed," said Marcus all business.

"Very well, but tomorrow we need a good nights sleep before we try to find more leads," said Sir Ian. "You're welcome to stay here for the duration of your time here."

"That's okay, we don't want to put you out," said Shari, answering before Marcus could.

"Yes," said Marcus agreeing. "Well just stay at the hotel we have reservations at."

"As you wish," said Sir Ian with a nod.

----------------------

Marcus and Shari went right to work the next day right after breakfast. Copies for the original documents had been delivered in a sealed packet at about seven o'clock this morning. The names Marcus and Shari O'Malley were written across the front along with a "for your eyes only". Apparently it was extremely sensitive information. Marcus didn't really expect to find anything at least not something Dave hadn't already seen and followed, but it was a start at least. He was hoping the documents would give him some ideas of where to start.

It was three or four hours later when Marcus looked up to his stomach rumbling rather loudly. He looked at his watch and noticed it was after 1:30 in the afternoon. "Are you ready for some lunch?" Marcus asked his wife.

"I've been ready for at least the last couple of hours, but I didn't say anything and disturb you."

"Well let's go down for lunch then so our stomachs will quit demanding to be fed. Besides you're eating for two now you know so you must take care of yourself."

"I know," said Shari patting her tummy. They gathered up the papers and stuffed then in Shari's briefcase, which they took with them to lunch for safety.

----------------------

They finally got to see the bank's records a week or so after Marcus and Shari had arrived. The bank had held out as long as it could, but when Dave, Marcus and Kate triple teamed him and Dave warned that they would call an audit the next day if the bank manager didn't cooperate and allow them to see the records. That did the trick and the manager led them down to the basement where all the old loans, withdrawals and deposits were kept.

The manager was a fussy little man with red hair sprinkled liberally with gray and a bit of a belly from either over eating or drinking to much. Marcus privately thought the first for he didn't look like the drinking type.

"Here you are. Just make sure you put everything back when you're done."

"We will," Shari promised him as diplomatically as possible.

The manager turned to leave then turned back. "You know if I had my way you would be locked up for life threatening honest people like myself with an audit."

"It's not a threat if it doesn't actually happens now is it?" Dave pointed out, calmly.

"And if you were honest you wouldn't worry about a little thing like an audit anyway," Sara pointed out quietly.

Shari stifled a giggle as the manager turned around with a huff and headed towards the elevator indigently. When he was gone they all burst out laughing.

----------------------

It took them several days to find and go through all the records, but finally on the third day Shari came across Liam's file. She looked it over for the year in question and noticed a rather large deposit shortly before Susan Semple had disappeared. There was another large deposit right after it although a bit larger.

"Look at this guys," said Shari. "Officer Simmons received a large deposit about a month before Susan disappeared. And another one about a; week after she disappeared."

"There's no way this is part of his policemen's salary, especially in 1977," Marcus said looking over the records which were slightly brittle and yellowing with age. "The two deposits are way too big. Of course there could be honest explanations . . ."

"But you don't think so?" Dave said.

"I can't think of an honest way to get this much money, in such a short period of time unless he won the lottery or won at the horse races or something."

"Gambling isn't actually honest, you know," Adam pointed out.

"True, but it would be a less sinister explanation of the large deposits and it would be also; be a more honest one then a payment to kidnap Sir Ian's daughter."

"We could check into all that," Sara suggested, "Although it will take awhile. There are a lot of gambling establishments in London."

"We'll check it out," Kate agreed. "We'll leave no stone unturned as they say."

----------------------

They came to the home of Retired Superintendent Richard Grey at 123 Lions Road in London. No car was in the drive and no one could be seen.

"Maybe he's not home," asked Kate.

"Or he could have decided not to speak to us," said Marcus as he knocked on the door.

A shuffle of footsteps was heard and then the door opened revealing a tall bald pudgy man with small brown eyes. He wore a white shirt and black trousers. He looked at them curiously and asked "You them people looking for the Semple girl?"

"Yes, sir," said Kate. "Can you help us?"

The man sighed and said "Yes, I can. If only I had helped that poor girl all those years ago." He waved at them. "Come on in, me wife is out to go play bingo and won't be back for a couple of hours. So it won't do any harm to speak with you."

He ushered them in and they sat down in chairs after he told them where to sit and began to speak "I wonder if you would like a cup of tea and some biscuits."

"Yes sir. That would be fine. Kate?" asked Marcus.

"Yes, a cup of tea and some biscuits would be great, thank you," said Kate.

The old man shuffled off to the kitchen which was right near the living room where they sat and in a few minutes came back with a tea tray and a plate of biscuits. He gave out cups and poured the tea to which added sugar, lemon, or milk if his guests needed it. Then after they ate and drank quietly, the old man began his tale. "I used to be the Superintendent for this section and before that one of the Inspectors. At the time of the Semple girl's disappearance, I was Liam Simmons's boss. In those days, we didn't have a lot of crime, neither murders nor robbery or kidnapping. Perhaps we were a little naïve about that, thinking that in that day and age, crime would only happen in the big cities and not here until the Semple girl. Before that, I noticed some odd things."

"What, Mr. Grey?" asked; Kate.

"Well, for one thing, Liam wasn't acting right. Mind you, usually he was the right sort of fellow, always trying to help others and see that justice got done. In that year, things went downhill for our Liam. His wife of five years, her name was Beth, a pretty thing who was always happy and helping out at company picnics or fundraisers, became ill. Actually, she had been feeling odd in the year before that. She felt tired and in pain a bit, but she thought that she was just working too hard. She worked in a factory in a section of London a good few blocks from the station and would always have lunch with Liam.

They would have their bagged lunch, mostly sandwiches, out on a stoop nearby and talk, sometimes kiss like young lovers do. It wasn't that hard to see in 1977 that something was really wrong with her. She was so pale and fragile that me wife said to me 'Y'know, that Beth, she don't seem right. When she was helping us with the things for the upcoming fundraiser for the officers that had died in the line of duty, she tried to move some things and nearly dropped them, almost fainted she did. What is wrong with her? I told her that she needed to go to see a doctor, but she wouldn't listen. She said that they didn't have money for a doctor. Then I said that if something serious is going on then she needed to know about it and treat it.'

"After the talk with me wife, the poor girl did go and found out that she had cancer, I think some tumor on the brain, and the doctor thought that they could take it out with surgery and radiation. So they went ahead and did it, even though they did say that there was a good chance that she would never survive the surgery. Well, she got out and everything seemed fine, until she started to have seizures and then a few weeks later, she had one and went to sleep and never woke up," finished the old man with tears in his eyes. "Poor thing it broke Liam's heart that it did. In fact, they still wanted to have children if she survived the surgery, but I guess the Lord decided otherwise."

"Thank you. By the way, sir, where is Liam living now?" asked Kate

"At first he didn't want to move and was living in the same little house where he and Beth had lived before—" He shook his head. "Then he moved to another apartment about two year's later saying he couldn't deal with the memories anymore and when he retired he moved back to Ireland somewhere outside of Dublin. Poor man but there is one more thing—"said Grey.

"What's that, sir?" asked Kate

"I believed that Liam was in some shady business."

"How so?"

"If he was working on an officer's salary and Beth at a factory and they both got decent wages for the time, at least enough to live on, how come he had enough money to pay for her surgery?"

Kat and Marcus didn't look too startled at the announcement, because both had already had suspicious as to where the money came from. They turned to look at each other before turning back to look at the old man. "Yes, that is interesting," said Marcus as he and Kate put their tea cups on the coffee table and got up out of their seats.

"We suspected as much actually," said Kate. "There was no way we could think of that he could have come by that money honestly except a bank loan or to win some kind of gambling.

"And we already checked into the bank loan angle and it's already been confirmed that none of the banks in London gave him a loan," Marcus added.

"When was Mrs. Simmons' surgery scheduled?" asked Kate.

"On July 23rd, 1977," said Mr. Grey as he walked them to the door. "One more thing before you two go. Don't you find it interesting that young Susan Semple went missing on June 12, roughly a bit more than a month before Beth's surgery? Goodbye and Good luck. If you need any help, here's my card with my home phone number." He smiled and let them out in the door. Kate and Marcus said goodbye and Grey closed his door. As they walked down his steps, Marcus turned to Kate and said "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Kate smiled and said "Yes, it seems that Officer Liam Simmons just became our possibly prime suspect."

"He already was one," Marcus pointed out. "He just moved up the list to first though."

"True," said Kate, conceding the point as they walked out into the late afternoon air.

----------------------

"Why, Liam? Why did you do it?" asked Sir Ian, slamming a fist down on the coffee table he was sitting just behind. It was several weeks later and they had gone to Ireland and confronted Officer Liam Simmons. He had been surprised to see them and had tried to run when he recognized Sir Ian and the look of fury in his eyes. He had been found out at last and he was almost relieved that it was almost over. He had always felt guilty for taking the Semples' only child away, but he had had no choice. It was either that or; face death. At least he had managed to save her life and get her illegally adopted by some friends of his.

"Don't you see? I needed the money for Beth's operation. She had cancer and it needed to be taken out."

"But if you got the money and my car, why didn't you let my daughter go then?"

"I wasn't working alone. A young man was my other partner from let's say the wrong side of the tracks. He had a beef with you about some of his mates being hauled off of the maximum penitentiary and thought that you would come after him as well. So he decided to take your daughter and I was given a cut in. We were only going to keep her until we got the ransom money! But even after that, he was going to kill her! I couldn't do that. He even let her think that you were dead! He was planning to make it look like she killed herself, but I couldn't let him get away with it. So I took her and left her here in Ireland."

"Where is my daughter?"

"I told you, somewhere in Ireland. I don't know precisely where. I let a couple that my wife and I know illegally adopt her. They thought she was an orphan. They even changed her name."

"You let them change her name? You let me and my wife worry and grieve for more than twenty years thinking that she might be dead, only to tell me that she was adopted and her name changed!"

"I had no choice. It was either that or kill her because my partner would have found out if she had just gone home and then I would have been more then likely dead."

"Then tell us who adopted her," Sir Ian demanded. "After all you have told us that your partner the guy who planned the original kidnapping is dead and has been for the last few years. If you were telling the truth then you should have no problem with telling us her name now."

"I can't do that, my friends don't even know she was illegally adopted."

"Well they are about to find out, because you are going to tell us that name or I will make sure you pay for your crime even if the crime is twenty-five years old!"

"You wouldn't," Liam protested weakly.

"Watch me," said Ian angrily. "You not only took our only child away from us you let my dear departed wife go to her grave never knowing if her only child was still alive and for that—for what you made her suffer I will make sure you pay "unless" you tell us that name."

Liam sighed in surrender. "Their name is Murphy they "used" to live just outside of Dublin."

Dave was already headed to the door to call Gideon O'Connor who was already in England, but could be on his way to Dublin in a matter of hours.

----------------------

"Well have you found anything?" asked Sir Ian a tad impatiently. He knew he was being unfair for the Blacks, the Richmons and the O'Malleys were doing everything possible to find his daughter, but there had been so many dead ends in the last few months that he was getting frustrated in the extreme. Once they had found out that she might be in Ireland it had at first looked like a good solid lead, but Ireland was a big place even just Dublin and when Gideon thought he was getting somewhere the lead petered out at the last minute. He couldn't help but hope that his dear daughter was still alive.

"We might have found her," said Sara quietly, stressing the word might.

"It took Sir Ian a moment to absorb the words. "Alive?" he asked.

"Yes her name is Mary Templar. It was her husband Simon who contacted us. He saw the picture on the news."

"But; we that months ago why now?"

"He told us he's been debating with himself on whether or not to contact us. His wife refused to talk about her past even when Simon questioned her. There is one thing he did tell us; however and that is she thinks her father is dead."

Ian felt his hope disappearing luck so much vapor. "Then it can't be her can it?"

"It is possible actually," Adam gently corrected. "Both Dave and Marcus agree that one of the kidnappers probably told her that her father was dead probably so that she would never try to come home."

"It certainly makes sense being told your father is dead so of course she wouldn't try to get home. We should at least check it out."

"Just what we were thinking and hopefully this won't turn out to be another false lead," said Adam while praying silently that it would be indeed turn out to really be Ian's daughter and not and dead end. If anybody deserved to get his daughter back it was Sir Ian. The poor man had suffered enough in his opinion. Not only had he spent all most all his family fortune to find his daughter his wife had gone to her grave wondering if her only child was still alive and before that she had lived in the misery of not knowing.

"Perhaps I should go with you?" Ian suggested.

"That might be a bad idea," Adam cautioned. "We should talk to her first and if she is your daughter then we'll try to persuade her to come to England."

"We can't force her so it just might take time," Sara added.

Sir Ian nodded seeing the logic but not happy about it.

----------------------

"Mrs. Mary Templar?"

"Yes, I'm Mary Templar. Who are you?" asked the woman at the door. She had her auburn hair put up in a loose bun and wore a white long sleeved shirt and jeans.

"I'm Sara Black and this is my husband, Adam. Can we ask you some questions?"

Mrs. Templar looked back and said "Well, my husband Simon is going to be home in an hour, but the children; are home from school now. Could you come back later when my husband is home?"

"We can if you would like, Ma'am," said Sara. "What time would you like us back?"

"How about seven o'clock?"

"That would be fine. Goodbye and see you later," said Sara as they left Mrs. Templar's doorstep. Mrs. Templar merely closed the door.

----------------------

"Anybody there, hello?" asked a tall man in a brown three piece suit, who put his briefcase down on the dining room table.

"Daddy, daddy!" three voices raised in an unending litany came close as the children came forward to greet their father, who promptly swept them up in a giant bear hug.

"Simon? Is that you?" asked a voice in the kitchen.

"Yes, It's me. The children are here in the dining room with me."

"Warren, Jean, William! What have I told you about ganging up on your father?" said their mother.

The three kids shook their heads.

"Well, if you ever try this again, don't do it without me," said their mother smiling as she reached over to plant a kiss on her husband's cheek.

"Mary?"

"Yes, Simon. What's wrong?"

"Wait a minute. Kids, don't you have some homework?"

Groans came from all the kids followed by, "Yes, sir."

"Well, your mother and I need to talk alone for a bit. Could you all please go to your rooms and do your homework while your mum and I talk?"

"Yes, sir," said the children heading up the stairs to their rooms.

"What do you think Mum and Dad are going to talk about?" asked William.

"Bret Washington says that when his parents want time alone, they want time to kiss. Blech ," said Jean in her own nine-year-old way.

"I don't think so," said Warren, the oldest at eleven.

"Well, I hope they aren't doing any kissy face yucky stuff anyway," said William.

He waited until he heard the doors to each of the kid's rooms slammed shut and then turned back to face his wife. "I saw a newscast. It was about this girl that has been missing for more than twenty years--"

"Oh, her parents must be worried sick. Have they found any leads?"

"No, but they are looking. Darling, did you see anything suspicious going on when you were growing up?"

"No dear. Why are you asking?" asked Mary.

"I'm sorry, dear. But I'm asking because when this girl vanished, you and she were the same age."

"And you think that I might have come across her? Simon, after one girl went missing, my parents would not let me go out at night."

"What about school? You would have seen her there."

"I doubt it. I didn't really have many friends that year. I was new to my school."

"What about your biological father?"

"He's dead," said Mary with tears in her eyes.

"Listen, I know that, but Mary darling, could you have any other family living?"

"I don't think so. My father was the only one living and my mother--I don't remember her at all."

"Could you have had a twin?"

"Why are you questioning me like this, Simon?" asked Mary, anger in her voice.

"I'm not questioning you, dearest. But is it a coincidence that you and this missing girl are the same age?"

"No, but I'm not her. That poor girl is probably dead in a shallow grave somewhere," said Mary. "By the way, a man and a woman were here and wanted to see me about something."

"What did they want?"

"I don't know, but I told them to come back at seven. Is that all right?"

"It's fine, but what if they are here to talk to you about this missing girl?"

"Then I'll just tell them that I don't know anybody by that name. Or if they show me a picture, I will probably not know who is in the photograph anyway."

"But—"

"No buts darling. It's an honest mistake. I'm sure they will understand," said Mary with a smile.

----------------------

Sara and Adam arrived promptly at seven o'clock and Simon came to the door and welcomed them to their home. They all sat down in the living room, Sara and Adam on a red couch, and Simon and Mary sat on a brown couch across from them.

"Now, I'm Sara Black and this is my husband Adam."

"Pleased too meet you. I'm Simon Templar and this is my wife Mary."

"So you're 'The Saint'?" asked Adam with a grin.

Simon answered with a smile of his own. "My mother loved the Saint books by Leslie Charteris. That man knew how to write some good novels. I've read every one about my namesake or should I say I'm the namesake."

"So what is it that you wanted to see me about?" asked Mary.

"Could you take a look at this picture please?"

Mary took the picture from Sara's hand and looked at it. Then she smiled. "Mrs. Black, where did you get a picture of me with my father?"

Simon went to look at it himself and saw a slightly portly man in a black three-piece suit with an auburn haired little girl in a gingham dress upon his knee.

"Is this little girl you, Mary?"

"Yes, with my father." She turned towards Sara and Adam. "Why do you have this old picture of me and my father?"

"Your—a relative of yours wants to see you."

"What relative? As far as I know, my father and I had no living relatives."

"What about your mother?"

"What about her? I think she left us awhile back ago. Why are you asking?"

"Your mother was alive, but she died ten years ago worrying about you," said Sara.

"Yes, after abandoning me when father died. I'm sure that she didn't think anymore about me."
"That's; isn't true and this relative will vouch for that."

"You don't think I know what went on. My father was killed by vagrants and my mother did nothing!" said Mary, visibly shaking with rage. "Perhaps you should leave now. I don't think I could carry a decent conversation tonight and please tell this relative to stay out of my life."

"Please, I'm sorry if I upset you, but can't we talk reasonably at a later date? Please?" Adam asked.

Mary simply nodded her head and said, "Yes, perhaps we could."

"Thank you. We'll leave now and you have a good night," said Sara as they went out the front door.

----------------------

"So you're saying my father is still alive," said Mary, her tone neutral. They had come to dinner at Mary's request nearly a week after the original visit. They had decided to tell her about her father and see how she reacted to the news. "How do I know that even if he isn't dead that he didn't abandon me all those years ago? My memories at best are cloudy and confused."

"Your father not only didn't abandon you. In fact he spent most of his fortune to hire private investigators to get on your trail," said Adam. "They didn't find anything or at least not much. Of course from what Sir Ian has told us and what we have checked into ourselves they didn't have access to the bank or police records so never came up with the Irish connection."

"Why don't you at least come meet him and form an opinion after you've spent some time with him," Sara suggested.

"I don't know I have so many things to do here…" Mary said sounding uncertain while in the meantime emotions of sadness hope and betrayal were running through her. Simon didn't say anything for he had already decided it was his wife's decision and not his own. He could give her advice if he was asked, but not to influence her decision in any way.

"Let me tell you a little story," said Sara her voice quiet and kind of sad, while Adam looked shocked and gripped her hand even tighter. He knew what she was about to do and it would be an emotional roller coaster for her for she had lived through it with sheer strength of will alone. "There were once two little girls—twins who were very close to each other and who did everything together. One day they were at the park with they're brother and mother. Suddenly a van pulled up and a man grabbed the two little girls after knocking their older brother out of the way when he tried to protect them. They were taken to a root cellar that was out in the middle of nowhere and tied at opposite ends so they couldn't comfort or touch each other one bottle of water between them. They were left there for nine days while money negotiations were going on without food and just the one bottle of water between them. One of those little girls was me and; for twenty-five I had a killer chasing me while his partner sat in prison refusing to tell who the other guy was. So at least go see your father, before it is too late and you feel guilty for the rest of your life for at least not making the attempt."

Mary and Simon had both gone pale at this recitation of the past. "So what happened to your twin?" asked Simon.

"Kim died on the ninth day about dawn. I've always wondered if the man's partner hadn't gotten sloppy if we were ever meant to be found at least not before it was too late. After that my mother divorced my father and moved from England to Texas where she met and married Frank Victor about a year later. Frank was the first one to get me to speak again nearly two and a half years later. He used to take me with him on his rounds around the ranch. I think he sensed I felt safer in the wide open spaces where you could see for miles."

Sara fell silent and Adam put his arm around her shoulders holding her close. Talking about the past was highly emotional for her and wrung her out like a rag.

"All right I'll come and meet my father," said Mary finally.

"That's good," said Adam. "We can arrange a private plane for you if you want."

"No thanks I'll just take a commercial flight. Just give me the address."

"We'll have someone meet you at the airport if you'll just phone us the time your plane lands." Adam handed her three numbers and said, "One is my cell phone number, one is Sara's and the other is the hotel we're staying at. Come along Sara time to head back to the hotel." They both got up to leave without another word

Sara nodded, but did not speak and allowed Adam to lead her out of the house.

----------------------

"Daddy!" said Mary as soon as she saw him. She ran to him and Ian hugged her tight.

"Susan!" said Ian hugging his daughter close not caring who was watching and as if she was never going to let her go.

"I thought you dead," said Mary.

"I know and if that bast…Never, mind your home now and that's all that matters."

"I can't stay more then a couple of weeks I have a home and a family."

"Why not invite your husband and children here?" Ian suggested. "I want to see my grandchildren."

"All right daddy," Mary agreed. "They'll be on the next flight, but remember the name's Mary now," Mary told him almost teasingly. Ian made a face at that, but didn't say anything. "It's a name I've gone by for twenty-five years."

"You know I have Adam and Sara not to mention Dave and Kate and Marcus and Shari to thank for this reunion."

"Me too I really must thank them. For twenty-five years I thought you dead and all because of one man's lies."

"You'll get to meet them and they'll all waiting at my place," said Ian not responding to her last statement knowing that she had a right to be angry after what Liam and his partner had done to her.

----------------------

An hour later the limo driver pulled in front of Sir Ian's house. The limo had been rented for the day usually Ian drove a Camry. The driver parked and opened the back door for Sir Ian and his daughter. The butler opened the door and his face broke into an unaccustomed grin. "Mistress Susan It's so good to see you after all these years."

"Matthew," said Mary throwing herself into his arms. Matthew who had been butler for longer then Susan had been alive hugged her back. They had always had an extremely close relationship when she was younger. If Matthew had been there that night she might not have disappeared for he would have done anything to prevent it. Mary was almost glad he hadn't been for the two men who had taken her had been ruthless and Matthew could well have ended up dead.

"If only I had been there that night I might have prevented you from being kidnapped."

"And you also might have ended up dead," Mary told him. "Besides it's over now."

Matthew didn't respond, but his expression said he didn't agree and led her and Sir Ian to where the others were waiting in the parlor.

----------------------

Later

Marcus was out on the porch enjoying a glass of lemonade. Sir Ian had thrown a party for all those that had been involved in the search and it was still going strong even three hours later. Marcus had come here to get some peace and quiet and to enjoy the stars. He heard the screen door open and didn't bother to move although he tensed slightly until he saw the face of Sir Ian.

"Good evening Marcus," said Sir Ian coming to lean against the deck railing.

"Evening, Sir Ian," said Marcus taking a sip of lemonade.

"Enjoying the party?"

"Yes," Marcus admitted with a sad smile.

"But you're standing out here all alone," Sir Ian said.

"I enjoy the peace and quiet and looking at the stars. It's something I rarely get the enjoy living in Virginia. Even as much as I travel I rarely have time to just look at the stars."

"Ah," said Sir Ian in understanding. "I enjoy looking at the stars to. I will enjoy them even more now that I have my daughter back."

"You're lucky," said Marcus softly feeling melancholy. This case had brought a lot of old feeling back to the fore, feeling he had buried for more then twenty-five years.

"In what way?" asked, Sir Ian. "You have a beautiful wife and an adorable son and five brothers and sisters. You have everything a man could want."

"True," said Marcus softly. "And I wouldn't change that for anything, but what you don't know is that my mother died when I was just a; child—pneumonia. She was a woman who believed in God and was at peace with her situation. When I was younger I believed as well, but when mom died I stopped believing for a lot of years until I met Shari. Now I can start enjoying the simple pleasures in life again—a sunrise, the stars, the smell of wet grass, stuff you wouldn't normally notice."

"If you were an only child like your story suggests how'd you get brothers and sisters?"

Marcus was quiet for a long time deep in thought and Ian thought he wasn't going to answer. Finally Marcus sighed and said softly, "When mom died, dad died soon after of a broken heart. I was too old for a normal orphanage and I ended up at Trevor House, which is where all the older children who aren't adopted eventually wound up. I was there a couple of months when Kate showed up. We had two years of history together when one by one they others showed up." Marcus smiled at the memory. "We—that is Kate and I made them as welcome as we could and as the years passed we became as close as a real family. We were all orphans that we had in common. We all decided together that when we were released from Trevor House and were old enough we would legally change our last names and become a real family. A family that cared about each other—who was willing to take up for each other and who worried about each other when one was in a dangerous situation. Their; were seven of us originally, but Jennifer the youngest of us died a couple of years ago of a rare form of cancer. It left a scar that still runs deep even to this day—to lose one of our own like that it nearly tore our family apart. It hurts even more because she had just found her true love and they hadn't been married more then six months before she passed away."

"Did he know that before he married her?"

"Yes," said Marcus. "It's one of the reason's he refused to postpone his proposal and why he married her as soon as the first round of chemotherapy was over and she was strong enough, because he loved her. Jennifer was the first one of the O'Malley family to believe in God, because Tom was also a Christian. She did what was necessary to convince the rest of us and by the time she passed away only Stephen was left."

"That must have been some powerful pact," said Sir Ian, his voice full of respect.

"It was," Marcus admitted with a smile. "It took me years to realize that only Jesus could have figured out the combination that is our family. In fact it wasn't until I met Shari that I realized even though I had abandoned God he hadn't abandoned me—he sent me the O'Malley's. And I have never been more grateful for anything in my life—except perhaps Shari."

"Tell me about some of Kate's exploits," Sir Ian suggested, in order too break the reflective silence.

Marcus smiled and began to tell him all the times Kate had worried him to death by walking into dangerous situations as her job as police negotiator required. "But there is no one I respect more," said Marcus. "I may be the guardian of the O'Malley family but Kate is its heart—its soul. There is no other person I would trust with my life as much as I trust her. When she stands up to defend someone you don't need to worry for she will get you through somehow. She's stubborn and determined, but has a soft side as well especially when it comes to family."

Marcus stopped speaking as he heard the screen door open. "Marcus; are you going to stay out here all night? You're missing one great party."

Marcus smiled and turned around before he answered, "Getting bored ladybug?" asked Marcus with a grin.

Kate shot him a look of annoyance and said, "No, but Shari is getting lonely and I promised I'd come and find you."

"She's okay otherwise?"

"Yes," said Kate with a reassuring smile.

Marcus nodded and slowly turned and bid Sir Ian goodnight, before he headed back inside to be with Shari.

----------------------

Mary's husband and her children arrived a few days later and when Mary saw her husband, she gave him a hug and then a hug for each of her children.

"Sorry, love. The flight was delayed. You know how it is. Remember our honeymoon?" asked Simon.

Mary laughed. "Oh, do I; ever. You and I were going to Hawaii and we were supposed to have a week there. The flight didn't leave until—what?—about eight hours."

"And then we went by boat and we both were seasick until the last day we docked. Already we wasted two to three days of our week being late and seasick. We did enjoy three days of bliss though and we were late again getting on the plane coming back," said Simon, chuckling.

"How were the kids on the flight, Simon?" asked Mary.

"Mummy have you ever been on a plane?" asked William, their youngest.

"Yes, dear many times," said Mary.

"Do you know how much altitude a plane can fly in the sky?" asked Warren, their oldest.

"I bet we went fast, Mum. Faster than a car normally would," said Jean, their middle child.

"As you can see, all are quite excited," said Simon with a smile.

Mary smiled and bent down to be at eye level with her kids. "All right you can all tell me. Now, I want all of you to meet someone dear to me. Come here and you can meet him."

She took them before Sir Ian who nodded and said in the booming voice. "Hello, children my name is Sir Ian."

The children looked at him, then looked at their mother and then looked back at him. Then they opened their mouths and said.

"Is he St. Nicholas, Mum?" asked Jean.

"Are you a real knight, sir? Do you slay dragons, save damsels, and stuff like that?" asked Warren.

William said nothing and only looked at him.

Sir Ian smiled at all these enthusiastic questions and slowly he bent down on one knee to tell them his answers. "My, what young imaginations that they have!" he said. To Jean, he said, "My dear young lady, I am unfortunately not Saint Nicholas, although I have wealth and love to give gifts and money to children."

"As for you, young sir, I have never had to slay any dragons yet, but I have saved some damsels in distress, a few old and one young in my youth. One whom; became my wife."

"Where is your wife?" asked William.

Sir Ian looked sad. "She's dead. Been; dead for a while."

"Oh," said William. "Do you have any grandchildren, sir?"

"Yes, some that I didn't know I had," said Sir Ian.

"How can you not know you have grandchildren?" asked Jean.

"Jean!" said Mary, admonishing her.

"Sorry, sir," said Jean

"That's all right. If I hadn't been told, I would not have known. You see, at the age twelve, my daughter was taken from my wife and I and we never saw her again until later on."

"Does my mum know your daughter?" asked Warren.

"Yes, in a way, she does."

"How?"

"Well, your mother is my daughter."

"What?" said all three; children.

"Yes, it is true. I'm your grandfather."

The three children turned to their mother in surprise.

Mary smiled. "Yes, its true, my poppets. He is your grandfather. I thought he was dead."

Sir Ian smiled, even though tears were beginning to fall from his eyes. "I thought I'd never find you again, Susan—Mary."

William tugged at Sir Ian's sleeve. "Don't cry, Grandpa. It will be all right."

Mary went over to her father and Sir Ian and Mary hugged. Then he hugged the little ones and shook the hand of son-in-law. Yes, he thought, all was now right with the world.

----------------------

"All rise! The court of the Honorable Matthias Bridgeton is in session," said the bailiff as the judge came in dressed in his black robes and white wig adorned his head. When he sat, then the bailiff yelled, "All shall now be seated." It was several months since they had found Sir Ian's daughter and for England or anywhere for that matter justice had been swifter then in most cases. Liam had been arrested several weeks ago and he hadn't even tried to run. He was being charged with kidnapping and transporting a minor out of the country to Ireland, but also with having her illegally adopted and changing her name, when her parents were still alive.

Then the judge spoke "Will the accused please stand?"

Liam and his barrister stood up and the judge continued.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Sir Ian, and members of this case that have seen this through, in all my years as a judge and before that as a barrister of the court, I have never experienced a case like this. In my lifetime, I have seen this man, Liam Simmons serve justice as an officer and Inspector of the law with such integrity that you would not think that he was anything but an upright citizen of the community. In all my years, I have counted him as one of my best friends, along with Sir Ian, who was, like; myself a young up and coming barrister in our youth. But now in light of this case, I am ashamed and no longer see fit to call this man before me 'friend'." Liam put his head down in dismay, but the judge kept on.

"You, Liam, decided to put upon yourself to kidnap a young girl from her home. Even with your accomplice trying to kill her, you however could not. But what you finally decided to do was worse than murder. For these past twenty-five years, you have made a family, who had done you no wrong, believe that their daughter was dead—causing a mother to grieve herself to death and die without ever knowing that her only child was alive. Plus, you told the daughter, the former Susan Barbara Semple, now Mary Murphy Templar, lies to the affect that she believed her father to be dead and that her mother had abandoned her. Also, you placed her with an Irish family and let them change her name being that you no longer had anything more to do with her. If she had been abused or either truly abandoned, then perhaps you would be applauded for your actions, but in light of the true facts and even after all this time, you will not escape the consequences of your actions. You have deprived a man of seeing his daughter grow up into a lovely young woman, to watch her get married and become a mother. You deprived a woman of knowing her father and mother and tainting her memories of them. You almost deprived an old man of ever knowing his grandchildren. I as a grandfather myself, would hate to know that someone had harmed by kidnapping or any other way either my grown children or my grandchildren for I will serve them justice by my own hand. "

"Before I place the sentence on this man, would the accused like to say something to the court in his defense?" concluded the judge.

Liam turned to face those that had brought him to trial and said, "I would like to say that I apologize for all that I have done to Sir Ian and his daughter Susan—Mary twenty-five years ago, but at the time, I thought that what I was doing was right. I want to save my Beth and thought that kidnapping Sir Ian's daughter was the only road that I had left. But she died anyway," he said, tears streaming down his face. "So to the court, I beg for mercy. For the past twenty-five years, guilt has eaten at my heart and soul and I will serve any time that your Honor will give me for I have nothing left in my life to live for." Then he sat down.

In the massive audience, a hand was raised and the judge said "Sir Ian? Would you like to speak to the court?"

"Yes, Your Honor if I may." Sir Ian stood up and addressed Liam. "Liam Simmons, in my heart I cannot give you forgiveness at least not yet, but perhaps in the future, I will be able to do so. As the court presented, you could not get a loan anywhere so you decided to kidnap my daughter. In your testimony, you said that you went to the bank and asked for a loan. They denied you and you tried other places, which denied you also. If you had known, you could have asked Bridgeton for somebody to give you a loan. I would have been happy to give you one for I know what it is like to need money and not have it. Even though I am now a celebrated barrister and been knighted, once upon a time there was a little boy who lived in a coal-mining town where you had to work in the mines to get any money. It was hard work and my mum and dad and uncles and aunts worked there day and night while my brother and I went to school, where my parents hoped that I could get a better education than working in the mines. The mines ended up killing most of my family through shafts collapsing and coal dust ravaging their lungs. By the time I was sixteen, my parents, uncles, some of my aunts, and my brother were all dead, except for me and a couple of aunts. Then I saved for the university by working in factories in London when the owner saw that I had a head for the law and sponsored me at the local university. There I went to Law School and worked at a cloth factory part time. In the factory is where I met my wife who was an orphan. By then I received top marks and became a barrister. Later still, I married my wife, repaid my former factory boss for his generosity, and took care of my two aunts. I saved my money and we became wealthy through investments, though we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for five years. When we had our daughter, we thought we had the richest gift in the world. I didn't care about money that is why I gave it to you. I only wanted my daughter back safe and sound. As you lost the most precious gift in losing your wife so too did I by losing my daughter, whom by the grace of God been reunited with before I die. I hope that if you cannot find mercy in this court, then perhaps the Lord will bear your mercy in the hereafter and that your wife in waiting for you. Then you two will be always together. Thank you, your Honor." And he sat down.

"Liam Simmons, former officer of the police force, the people have judged you to be guilty and found you such under the charge of kidnapping. I as a judge for the Crown, hereby sentence you to life imprisonment for the same time that you stole from the Semple family—Twenty-five years of hard labor in the Commonworth Penitentiary. I should have you repay Sir Ian for the monies that you stole in ransom, but in light of your finances—being that you are still hundreds of pounds in debt, Sir Ian decided to pay your debt in full. Also, he asked if he could put a headstone on your wife's grave since in all these years, you have been unable to place one there to mark the area on which she is buried. This is the judgment of the court. The case is closed and the court is adjourned," said the judge banging his gavel and then leaving the courtroom.

Everyone filed out happy that Sir Ian's daughter had at least been found, but sad that Liam Simmons had felt he had to go to such extremes to get the money for his wife's operation. As for Liam Marcus quietly watched him and noted genuine remorse for what he had done and also noticed the fact that he hadn't protested the sentence. It was more then fair considering the grief he had put the Semple's through and Marcus hoped he was doing a lot of soul searching and would find his way out of the darkness and into the light that was God.

----------------------

Marcus and Shari arrived back in Virginia late on a cool, crisp October night about three weeks after they had left for England. Davey was asleep in Marcus's arms his head against his father's shoulder. Marcus started to unlock the door with is free hand when the door swung open on its own accord. Marcus reacted instantly, "Take Davey," Marcus whispered. "Go over to the Matthews and call the police. Whoever is in there might still be there."

Shari nodded. She knew better then to argue. "Be careful," she said taking Davey who didn't wake up as he was transferred. She headed towards are neighbor across the street as fast as she could walk with Davey in her arms. While she walked she prayed, Lord please watch of for Marcus and keep him safe. Let him catch this guy before he hurts someone else.

It made her mad that someone thought they could rob Marcus and her blind while they were both out of the country. She hoped Rosie was all right, and hadn't been hurt when they broke in. Shari rang the doorbell on the neighbor's door and paced as when it didn't open immediately. She knew they would have to get out of bed and come downstairs. It was late and she was sorry to wake up the Matthews, but this was an emergency. Finally a voice asked on the other side of the door, "Who is it?"

"It's Shari O'Malley, Mr. Matthews. I need to use the phone it's an emergency.

The door opened and Shari entered. "It must be important to wake us up in the middle of the night."

"I'll explain as soon as I call 911," said Shari, hurrying to the phone and dialing the numbers. She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for an answer. She had handed Davey to Mr. Matthews so she would have both hands free.

"911, Debbie speaking. How may I help you?" came; the calm voice of the operator.

"This is Shari O'Malley. I need the police immediately. Our house has been broken into."

"The address ma'am?"

Shari gave it and Debbie put her on hold for a minute while she informed the police of a possible break-in.

"Where are you Mrs. O'Malley?" asked Debbie.

"At a neighbors."

Stay there help is on the way."

"Please hurry Marcus went in to check it out. He needs backup and fast."

"It'll be there in two minutes.

Shari paced until she heard sirens, then she rushed out of the house and down the street. She hung at the back of the crowd that had formed and thought, I pray Marcus is okay. I don't think I could live without him. I wouldn't want to.

Suddenly she saw Marcus exit the house a boy who looked no more then seven or eight in tow, his head bowed and behind Marcus came a police officer with an older man in front of him, but still basically a kid. This one looked to be seventeen or eighteen and the scowl on his face and the hate in his eyes made Shari take a step back in shock. The hate in his eyes was so intense Shari was almost surprised the whole house or anybody his eyes fell on didn't burst into flame of incinerate on the spot. She searched Marcus's face and then the rest of him from what she could see he looked basically unharmed. Shari gave a silent sigh of relief at that for she wouldn't have been able to live with herself if he had been hurt.

She waited until both boys had been escorted to a police cruiser and then ran up to Marcus not caring who was watching and kissed him. "You okay?" Shari asked in concern.

"Yes," Marcus reassured. "But you should see our living room. It has been stripped bare of anything valuable including the silver frame with all the O'Malley's pictured and the one with you're your family as well as our wedding picture. The only thing left is the curio case and probably only because he didn't have time to remove it. There had to be at least one other person because there is no one man and one boy could have lifted that couch and some of the heavier items alone. He probably heard us coming and took the opportunity to leave while he could. He probably heard our car or saw us turn into the drive and he panicked."

"Will we get our stuff back?" Shari whispered, not caring about the thieves at the moment. It upset her that somebody would destroy the home that she and Marcus had so lovingly put together. "Dad gave me that picture and the frame. They both had sentimental value if nothing else."

"We managed to catch them before they got past the living room. And all our stuff is out in the van parked at the back of the house."

"Good, although it will take us forever to put it all back. We'll need help."

"Before we do that we need to head down to the police station and make a statement."

'Tonight?" asked Shari.

"Yes, tonight minx," said Marcus, rubbing her cheek gently with his thumb. "That way we won't have to worry about it tomorrow."

"All right then I'll just go ask the Matthews' if they can't continue to look after Davey for another hour or two. I don't want to take him to such a place as a police station, besides he needs to sleep."

"Okay," Marcus agreed understanding her reasoning.

"How's Rosie?"

"She was knocked out cold and has a bump on the back of her head the size of a goose egg, but otherwise she's fine."

"Thank goodness for small favors," said Shari fervently.

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Later at the police station

Marcus and Shari both filled out statements and also a property report of what was missing, but it shouldn't be too hard to get back since the stuff was in the moving van just outside the house, but they had to file the report just the same for law purposes.

"I want to see the younger one before we head home," said Marcus.

"Why?" asked Shari, trying to understand. But she thought she understood at least part of the reason. Being an orphan had given Marcus an overgrown sense of what chivalry was all about. Anybody who said chivalry was dead hadn't met Marcus O'Malley. And she did admit to herself she would hate to see a child that young end up going to prison in later years, if it was possible to turn his life around now before it was to late.

"I think he just went along because his brother would have; beat him up and possibly killed him if he hadn't. I'll be back," Marcus promised giving her a hug before he turned and strode towards one of the interrogation rooms with a purposeful step.

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A few minutes later

Marcus strode to the door of the observation room after having watched from through the one way mirror for a few minutes. He asked the policeman standing in the hall to get his wife for him. The way the older brother treated his younger sibling was disgraceful. Just in the few minutes he had stood there the older brother had hit his younger sibling at least twice just for starting to ask a question. It wasn't the playful kind of slapping his brothers and sisters enjoyed. The hit each other just to tease or have fun with each other, nothing that would leave a bruise or a mark. This guy on the other had had slapped his brother across the face with such force that there were red welts on his cheek and he had a feeling he was going to have a bruise on his arm come morning. Marcus winced in sympathy.

He made a quick decision right there. He wasn't going to press charges against the younger of the two thieves. Marcus was almost positive he had been forced to do what he had done or the worst his brother could do to him would have happened. That's what his intuition kept telling him and what his instincts as well as his heart told him was right.

He just needed to talk to Shari and once he told her what he had seen he was sure she would agree with him.

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A few moments later Shari appeared at the door at a policewoman's side who Marcus had asked to get her. "What is it that you want me to see Marcus?" asked Shari quietly, noting his pensive look as well as the anger burning in his eyes.

"Just watch," said Marcus, quietly.

Shari watched and noticed red welts on the younger boy's cheek and recognized the mark of a hand hitting the boy's face with enough force to leave what looked like a palm print in red against the boys pale skin. She winced in sympathy and had a feeling the older of the two had given it to him. As she watched her suspicion was confirmed as the boy started to ask a question and was immediately slapped for his trouble by his "supposed brother."

All the older boy could do was cuss at his younger brother at the two-way mirror he knew they were being observed through even though his couldn't see where it was located. "What do you want to do?" asked the detective standing at their side, "Press charges?"

"What will happen to the younger of the two if we do press charges?" asked Shari.

"More then likely he'll end up a ward of the state and end up in an orphanage. He's an orphan except for his brother and his brother is going to jail if you do press charges."

"And if we don't?"

"Then the older of the two will get out too rob someone else and the younger will disappear with him to possibly end up dead in some alley or in prison in a few years."

Marcus and Shari shared a look as if communicating silently for a long moment and finally Shari gave a slight nod of consent. "We'll press charges on the older of the two," Marcus finally said.

"And the younger?" asked the detective.

"We aren't going to press charges in fact we would like to offer him a choice."

"And that choice is?"

"That either he can go to an orphanage or he; can come and stay with us until we can file the paperwork to be his foster parents."

The detective looked astonished at that last statement and asked. "Why would you do such a thing? You don't know him."

"I know what my instincts tell me detective. And they're telling me he isn't a bad kid it's just his brother forcing him into it. You saw how his brother treated him how he nearly knocked him out of his chair just from a backhanded slap. What's to stop the older from killing his; own brother sometime if we don't take steps now? Besides I know how it feels to be an orphan. I grew up in an orphanage from the time I was about eight or so. Being an orphan is not an easy life detective. Being an orphan is a lonely existence—not enough food—not enough money to buy the essentials like new clothes—not enough toys or activities to keep you from boredom and the worst of all very few friends. I was lucky I had Kate and a couple of years later Stephen, Jack, Rachel, Lisa and Jennifer and of course an after school job in order to earn some cash."

The detective was stunned by the words at first and then he slowly nodded in understanding. It was one orphan having empathy with another orphan he could understand that. "What happened to the other orphans?" the detective asked curiously.

"When we had all gotten out we changed our last names legally and became a real family. I wasn't born with the name of O'Malley but it's as much mine as the name I was born with and has been for over twenty years."

"Would you like to talk to him?" asked the detective, simply having no reply to that statement of fact.

"Alone," said Marcus. "The older what's his name?" he asked the detective

"Seth Wilkerson," the detective said.

"Seth I think has too much control over his brother and the younger of the two might be too intimidated to say anything with him around," Marcus continued.

"I've noticed that," the detective admitted.

The detective nodded and headed out of the room where the two-way glass hung and entered the interrogation room a few moments later.

"And what do you want your mother f—," said the older of the two as he heard the door open.

"What I want Seth is for you to shut up," said the detective calmly but the words were obviously a command. The teenager sneered as the detective approached the younger of the two boy's. "You're to come with me," he told the boy. The boy nodded and without saying a word or even looking at his brother he rose and followed the detective towards the door.

"And just where are you taking my brother?" asked Seth.

"That is none of your business," the detective snapped. "You don't deserve a brother if you're going to abuse him like he isn't even a human being."

"How I treat my own flesh and blood is nobody's concern but my own," Seth snarled

"Yeah well it is our concern when he is a minor. We have laws against child abuse and from what I've seen we are within the law to take him away from you and put him somewhere safe where he will be fed and taken care of—not abused."

"You have no right!" the teenager screamed, his face turning red with rage. "He is my brother to do with as I see fit—" the teenager's words were cut off as the detective closed the door on the words. As soon as the door closed the sound was cut off or at least muffled to where they became nothing more then indiscernible noise.

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The detective escorted the boy to his office where Marcus and Shari were waiting. "I'll be outside somewhere if you need me," said the detective, closing his office door behind him.

"What's your name son?" asked Marcus gently as he studied the boy, taking in the details by habit. Dirty; long black hair and brown eyes that held an earnest pleading soul behind them. The boy was scrawny and malnourished, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few good meals. He had a bruise on one arm and a black eye that was fading to yellow. His pant's were torn and in rags and his shirt wasn't in much better condition. There was another bruise on one thigh what looked like a relatively fresh knife wound just beginning to scab over.

The boy didn't answer as he was practically quivering in fear.

"We aren't going to hurt you," said Shari, her heart going out to the boy, as she saw him cowering. "My name is Shari O'Malley and this is my husband Marcus."

The boy looked up at her soft voice and whispered, "Mikkel."

"Well Mikkel as my wife said we aren't going to hurt you. Why don't you take a seat while I tell you why we wanted to talk to you," Marcus suggested gently.

Mikkel sat down in the chair that Marcus pointed to and tried not to squirm. He still couldn't believe he wasn't being yelled out or beaten after all he and his brother had tried to rob them and had messed up their nice home and yet they were being nice about it. He couldn't understand it. At the very least they should be so disgusted that they were staring at him as if he was some kind of specimen under a microscope to be dealt with harshly. How could they be so nice to him after he'd broken into their home? He asked himself yet again.

"You are an orphan is that right?" asked Marcus gently.

Mikkel hesitated then replied, "Yes, mom died when she was caught in the middle of a gang war. Shot in the chest. She didn't survive long enough to make it to the hospital."

"And your father?" asked Shari, sympathetically.

"He left when I was just a baby, but we heard a few years later that he had died of a drug overdose."

Shari winced at the boy's soft explanations, but let Marcus handle it. "Well Mikkel we are willing to give you a choice. I have a soft spot for orphans seeing as I grew up in an orphanage myself and also my instincts are telling me that it was your brother's idea and you were forced to go along with it."

Mikkel looked up in surprise. "And the choices are?" he asked, quietly.

"You can come home with us and we'll file the paperwork to get foster care of you and the other choice is you'll end up in an orphanage, probably Trevor House since you're a bit old for a normal orphanage."

"Why would you do this?" asked Mikkel in astonishment. He had at least expected to be thrown into juvenile hall for the next year or so then be carted off to an orphanage. Instead they were offering him a choice. Too come live with them or to go to an orphanage. He couldn't understand why. They should be so mad at him they didn't care what happened to him. Was it some kind of trick to get him to let his guard down? He looked up and studied their faces for a moment and as hard as he tried all he could see was concern for him, no anger or hate or any of the emotions he expected to see. Their eyes sparkled with their own light. The man's eye's also had a depth of sadness that he didn't understand and the woman's as well and just as deep. These two had both been through tragedy, but had come out stronger. You could almost physically sense it in a way that was almost tangible—and yet not. It didn't make any sense.

"Because," said Marcus after a moment. "I know what it's like not to have any family and because my instincts are screaming at me that it is the right thing to do and that you aren't a bad kid just that you've been treated rotten by life—more rotten then most."

Mikkel considered the man's words for a moment and realized there was a truth to them. A truth that went deep and had what made the man part of; who and what he was.

"We can do it on a trial basis," Shari suggested as Mikkel thought about it. "And if Mikkel wants to go to the orphanage after he's tried it for a while then that's okay to."

"Or they can try other foster families if he doesn't like it with us," said Marcus nodding his head in agreement with his wife's statement.

"Nobody is going to force you Mikkel," said Shari softly. "The choice is yours and only you can make it. We can't help you because that would be considered getting you to do what we want and then it would not be your choice but ours."

Mikkel considered then silently for a few more minutes then nodded his head in compliance. "I'll take it," he said.
"Good," Marcus said as he relaxed. For a moment he had been afraid that Mikkel would choose the orphanage rather then the option of staying with them. "Then come along and we'll fill out the paperwork so you can go home with us for the night and we'll file the foster care paperwork in the morning."

"It's late and we all need our sleep," Shari added looking at her watch. Her watch said it was going on 1 a.m.

Marcus guided the boy out of the office and down the hall towards the front of the station and Mikkel went obediently too tired to even protest where he was being taken.

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The next morning

Mikkel awoke slowly to sunlight streaming in his window and he opened his eyes to see himself in a room. He lay on a double bed the covers pulled all the way up to his chin and a plump pillow behind his head. There was a dresser over against one wall and if he turned his head a nightstand on the other side of the bed with a digital clock and a lamp sitting on it. There was a chest of drawers up against the far wall and a walk-in closet beside it. A mirror hung over the dresser. Other then that Mikkel noticed the room was neutral. No personal touches that would make this room homey. A guestroom then which made sense if he thought about it.

It was after 11 o'clock and he had slept better then he had in a very long time. In fact better then he had since his mom had died when he was five. The bed was one of the most comfortable he had slept in all of his seven years. Well time to get up and face the music, he thought with a sigh. There had to be some other motive behind the ones he had been given last night. Maybe they were slavers and they needed free slave labor so they had decided to give him a break so he would work for them. No that didn't fit he decided, not with what he had seen in their eyes and no one was that good at concealing their emotions. The eyes were the windows to the soul after all.

He got up and looked down at himself. He was still dressed in his clothes from yesterday although his shoes had been removed. He headed downstairs dreading the coming confrontation, but knowing he couldn't avoid it forever. He walked through the living room and shook his head at the sight. Every piece of furniture had been removed and the framed college degrees were lying on the floor their frames scratched and the glass smashed although it looked like at least the glass had been swept up. Even the silver candlesticks that had been sitting on the mantel were gone. The entire room looked bare and not the nice comfortable room it had been before his brother had destroyed it.

"Good morning," Marcus greeted Mikkel cordially as Mikkel padded into the kitchen to find both of them sitting down and enjoying an early lunch. "It's good to see you finally awake. We thought you might sleep the day away."

"We've been in to check on you several times and you were still snoring away."

"Yeah well, I must have been more tired then I thought," said Mikkel politely, trying to not salivate over the food and trying to keep his stomach from growling like a dog that hadn't been fed in a week.

"We saved some lunch for you," said Shari. "Sit down and eat I know you must be hungry."

Mikkel sat down without a word and bit into the sandwich with pleasure. Fresh roast beef, turkey and cheese with fresh bread. It was sheer heaven to bite into something this good. He took a sip of milk and within minutes both the sandwich and the milk were gone.

"Where do you live?" asked Marcus as soon as the last bite was gone. "We need to pick up your things."

Mikkel hesitated. "It's an apartment building that should have been torn down years ago. It's mostly squatters and a few homeless people."

"We'll go pick up your stuff now, before somebody realizes you aren't coming back and takes it."

"They would be too afraid to," said Mikkel. "My brother was a mean vicious man. They would have to be absolutely positive he wasn't coming back before they'd go near his stuff. Mine on the other hand is a different matter. I had to hide mine in order just to keep the very few things I have from my mother."

His voice was sad Marcus noticed when he mentioned his mother. It was obvious that he had loved his mother and had been heartbroken when she had died by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Well let's get going," said Marcus. "The sooner we go the sooner we can return. I'll see you later minx," said Marcus giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Let me just say goodbye to Davey before I go."

When Marcus was gone Mikkel asked, "Who's Davey?"

"Our son," Shari answered her expression pensive. "He's only a little over a year old. I expect he'll either have a brother or a sister soon," she said rubbing her tummy automatically.

Mikkel was amazed that he hadn't realized sooner that they had a child with another one on the way. Shari did look just a tad overweight, but he hadn't realized it was because she was pregnant.

"Let's go," said Marcus, tossing Mikkel one of his old jackets. The jacket was old faded leather, soft and subtle and a bit big on his skinny young shoulders. He looked like he was wearing a tent, but it was warm and that was all that mattered.

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They got into the car and Marcus clicked his seatbelt into place. "Buckle up," Marcus ordered, noticing that Mikkel was not moving. Mikkel obeyed without a word and Marcus started the engine. There were a few minutes of tense silence. "Mikkel I know us taking you in has you a bit overwhelmed," said Marcus after a minute. "But you have nothing to fear from us. We did what we did because we care about people." Mikkel didn't respond just stared out the window.

Lord how do I get through to him. Too get him to trust in not only me and Shari, but in You as well?

Then a thought came that said, Tell him about yourself and how you grew up.

"Let me tell you a story and this story is true," said Marcus after a moment of silence. "There was once a little boy who watched a mother he loved die; — pneumonia. His mother was a woman of faith and was at peace with her situation. The boy also at that time believed in God and he would spend everyday at the hospital praying for his mother to get well."

Marcus paused. "Eventually his mother died and his father died soon after of a broken heart. The boy was just eight going on nine at the time. The boy was taken to an orphanage known as Trevor House right after the funeral of his father because he had no living relatives that were willing to take him in. He spent the first couple of months a very angry, very lonely little boy. A few months later a girl by the name of Kate who was just seven at the time came to Trevor House. She had been taken away from her parents by social services for reasons I won't go into. At first she and the boy didn't get along, but then he found her a puppy and gave it to her. Then when the puppy was run over by a car six months later she nearly pulverized him, but after that they became friends."

Marcus paused again as if deep in thought. "A couple of years after that Stephen, Jack, Rachel, Jennifer and Lisa, all showed up having been recently orphaned over the next few years. They all became friends and eventually made a pact between them. As soon as they were old enough and were out of the orphanage for good they would legally change their last names and become a family. A family who cared about each other, who felt free to meddle in the each others lives for the good of the family. They eventually chose the name O'Malley and became tighter then most families who have the same genes."

Mikkel looked up at the last sentence and the name O'Malley. "You?" he asked astonished.

"Yes," said Marcus. "We're not related by blood but by choice. They are the best thing that ever happened to me and if took me years to realize that only Jesus could have figured out the combination that is our family. For thirty years after my mother's death I stopped believing that there was a God. It took Jennifer the youngest of us and Shari to get me into believing in God again."

There was a; sadness in his voice, Mikkel noticed when he talked about his sister Jennifer. "Jennifer was the first of the O'Malley's to believe in God and she was determined to convince us one by one that God not only existed, but that he took an active role in our lives." Marcus paused reflectively. "All seven of us had things in our past that didn't make believing in God or Jesus easy, but it happened to us one by one as we each went through our own personal; crisis's. It made us come back stronger then we were before because we weren't just depending on our own strength which since we are human would fail us eventually, but on Jesus's strength to see us through."

The way he talked Mikkel reflected, it was as if God was alive and real there was a quiet sadness under his words, but a; happiness as well. "If God does exist then why does he let bad things happen?" Mikkel asked with just a touch of bitterness to his words.

"It is a good question Mikkel," said Marcus, not seeming offended that Mikkel had asked such a question. "And I will answer it as best I can, but sooner or later you are going to have to go searching for your own answers as to whether or not you believe in God, because no matter what anybody else says it is a journey that one must make alone." Marcus paused deep in thought and Mikkel waited quietly for Marcus to continue knowing Marcus was just gathering his thoughts before he spoke.

"I had the same trouble as you did when I was trying to figure out why God would let such a good women as my mother and Jennifer pass away and why he let criminals escape justice or why he let such crimes be committed in the first place. At least; part of the answer is that he created freewill. Freewill means that we have choice we can either go out own way or follow God's way. God always has a plan in mind for our lives, but we don't have to follow his plan even though it hurts him when we go our own way. Most people think the bible contradicts itself, but it doesn't really once you understand." Marcus fell silent remembering his own struggle to believe in God and then all the trouble the rest had gone through. "It took me a while to come to grips with what happened both in the past and could possibly happen in the future, but everybody has a moment to where they either believe or they die unforgiven. Shari and I both came very close to death one night, before we were married. Shari was a witness to the murder of a friend of hers who also happened to be a federal judge and as a U.S. Marshal it was my job to protect her. They sent an assassin after her—one of the best. If it hadn't been for a fierce storm that kept the plane from taking off and a gut feeling that we should stay in the house until the storm was over she might very well be dead and I would have lost the love of my life."
"What happened to the assassin?" asked Mikkel fascinated in spite of himself.

"He got himself killed," said Marcus not saying anymore.

There was no time for the question burning in his brain for they had pulled up at the building where he and his brother had been living for at least the last year. It was a poor example how a building should look. It was mostly brick with a few boarded up windows a little further up. The windows were covered in plywood one piece nailed diagonally across the other. The drainpipe was rusted and the gutter looked clogged with leaves and trash. The front door was half off its hinges and hanging at an odd angle.

"And you've been living here?" Marcus asked as he looked around the area keeping his eyes open for trouble. "Let's hurry I don't want to leave the car for long. This is a bad neighborhood.

Mikkel nodded, but didn't say anything. Within five minutes Mikkel had grabbed the few things he possessed and they headed back outside only to meet a gang of boys with blue bandannas tied around their brows. "Going somewhere Mikkel?" sneered the oldest who also seemed to be the leader.

"That's none of your business Josef," Mikkel said.

"And where is your brother Seth today?"

"In jail if it's any of your business," Mikkel snarled.

"Is he now and why aren't you with him then?"

"None of your business," said Mikkel, beginning to feel fear. All the boys in the gang were holding an assortment of chains, crowbars and a couple of guns.

Marcus had remained silent up to now sizing up the situation as Mikkel tried to brave it out. "Who's your friend?"

"Marcus O'Malley U.S. Marshal," Marcus replied. "And if you know what good for you you'll move out of our way."

"And if we don't?" asked Josef bravely.

"Then if you decided to attack a U.S. Marshal I would be within my rights to shoot every one of you. Not necessarily in a vital spot you understand just enough to put you out of commission."

Marcus sounded deadly serious. The gang all expect the leader backed off a little at that threat. "You don't have the guts," Josef said trying to sound unconcerned.

"No? You're talking about a guy who killed one of the best assassins in the world for trying to kill a witness in a case when she saw who had murdered a federal judge."

"Who?" asked Josef his bravery beginning to fail, him.

"Lucas Saracelli." Josef blanched at that and backed away. He had heard about the assassin and his death and if this was the man that had killed him . . . he didn't particularly want to find out if this guy would do the same to him.

"Hey man we didn't mean nothing, did we guys?"

The others shook their heads bleakly and started backing away rapidly. Soon they were across the street and disappearing into an alley. "Let's go," Marcus told Mikkel. "Before anything else happens."

They got back in the car and Marcus backed out and was soon out of sight of the building that had once been Mikkel's home. Another piece; of the puzzle of what made Marcus who he was, was falling into place. Marcus had mentioned and assassin had died, but not a name or who had killed him. It was bound to be the same guy. So what did that tell him? That Marcus could be dangerous when he wanted to be? That he protected the people he cared about? That despite the job and the stress he didn't let it affect his family life and he was a lot kinder then most people? All and all the assessment was good. The only downside at the moment as far as he could see, was they would expect him to believe in God that and the fact they would expect him to go to school and get an education. He would stay with these people for a while he had a feeling it was going to be interesting and he also had a feeling that life with the O'Malley's was never going to be boring.

----------------------

When they got back to the O'Malley's house Mikkel remembered the living room and what a mess it had been.

"I'm sorry about your house," Mikkel said as they pulled back up into the drive.

"It's not your fault both Shari and I realize that. Your brother Seth on the other hand is a different matter."

"I know," Mikkel said sadly shaking his head, thinking of his brother. "Seth hung out with a bad crowd even before mom was killed and it just got worse after she was gone. She had at least a little control over his actions, not much but a little. Before I was old enough to walk I learned to stay out of my brother's sight if possible. It was better if he forgot I existed."

"You can help us put it back together," Marcus offered. "Most of the stuff out in the van isn't even scratched. You can help carry the smaller pieces and put them back where they go. I have a few of the neighbors coming over in an hour to help move the furniture back."

"Okay," Mikkel agreed, amazed at the trust Marcus was placing in him.

----------------------

"Where does this go?" asked Mikkel bringing in a picture frame of antique silver.

"Is the picture still in the frame?" asked Shari, coming over and looking at the frame Mikkel was holding.

"No I'm afraid not," said Mikkel sadly shaking his head.

"This was the one that had all the O'Malley's pictured. We haven't found the picture."

"I'm not sure when he did take the frame I guess I should have been paying attention.

"You are not at fault for your brother's actions," Shari said softly. "I will admit I was angry the night it happened, but I was tired and we had just returned from a long trip. Things affect you differently when you're too tired to think straight. Now that I've had a good night's sleep I realize it could have happened when we were home and we might have all ended up dead or at least hurt. I now realize things happen for a reason. Maybe we were supposed to meet you and take you in just like we did. God's ways are often mysterious and you don't have to understand his reasoning to realize it was the right thing to do."

Mikkel absorbed this silently, but didn't get a chance to respond as one of the neighbors yelled, "Shari where do you want this?"

Shari left without another word to direct the men on where to put the couch.

----------------------

A few hours later the living looked as if it had never been disrupted, except for the fact that a couple of the frames had to be replaced for the college degrees and other awards that had been hanging on the walls. They had found all three pictures, the one with all of the O'Malley's and the one with Shari's family as well as their wedding picture thrown behind the curio case the one piece of furniture that hadn't been removed. All three were relatively undamaged, except for a few curled corners. Shari placed them back in their frames almost reverently and put them back on the mantel.

When they were done it was late in the afternoon and Shari plopped down on the couch with a sigh. "You okay minx?" asked Marcus, looking concerned.

"I'm fine—tired but fine,"

"You shouldn't have tried to help so much. You should have let us do the work."

"Marcus I'm not an invalid, I'm pregnant that's all," Shari protested, without much anger behind it. "Besides all I did was direct. I didn't lift a finger otherwise."

"And you directed like a true general," Marcus teased. "You had all the men obeying your every command, like slaves."

The playful tone in his voice made Shari smile, "Yeah well looks who talking Mr.-I-don't-know-when-to-stop-and-rest."

Marcus laughed gently as Shari poked him in the stomach with each word. "I suppose I could have stopped for a few minutes, but I wanted to get it done and get our living room back to normal."

"It's time to go to social services and see if we can become foster parents," said Shari.

"Are you sure you aren't too tired?" asked Marcus.

"I'm fine, let's just go and get it over with. I have a feeling with his past and the fact that he tried to rob us is going to cause social services to ask a lot of questions.

"I know, but hopefully we'll still get custody of him in the end. I don't think most other people would understand what he's been through or they would just brush it off as inconsequential or unimportant."

"And you do understand?"

"To a certain extent yes I do understand. I was never a criminal, but I did grow up in an orphanage so I know how important having someone who cares. Whether; it's family or someone as close as family."

"Then let's go get Mikkel and go—the sooner the better. Besides I really like him a lot."

"I'm glad," said Marcus, giving her a hug and a kiss. "I was afraid you'd object."

"And why would I? Your instincts have always been good and even I could see he was being mistreated. I may be athletically challenged, but I'm not stupid."

"No you differently aren't that. Let's go then, the day isn't getting any younger you know."

----------------------

A half an hour later they sat in the social services office. It was a drab place. The once white paint was faded and gray and peeling in places. The posters on the walls were peeling and faded and the desk was secondhand at best and was loaded down with paperwork.

"And you want to foster the same kid that tried to rob you?" asked the graying haired man in surprise. Marcus and Shari sat in the office with their lawyer, by the name of Janis McCollum. Marcus had called her yesterday and she had been surprised by Marcus's request, but not overly so. They had known each other for over fifteen years at that point and she knew his story and the fact his instincts were usually good. He didn't call on her often but when it did it was for something important like this.

"Yes Mr. Devitch," said Marcus. "We certainly have the money if that is all that concerns you."

"But Mr. and Mrs. O'Malley why would you do such a thing for a kid who was caught—red handed I might add in your house with his older brother—" Devitch looked down at his papers for a name. "—Seth. You have kids of your own, it's not like you need to adopt."

"Mr. Devitch," Shari began, speaking for the first time. "Let me tell you something. Just because we can have kids of our own doesn't give us permission to stop caring about other people. Marcus's instincts tell him that Mikkel isn't a bad boy that he just went along with it to stop his brother from killing him—and I add I agree after I spent time with him. And the look is Seth's eyes was enough the first time I saw them to make me take a step back and wonder why I wasn't incinerated on the spot."

"Surely you're exaggerating?" suggested Devitch delicately.

"She's not," said Marcus. "I got the same impression when I looked in his eyes. Eyes filled with such hate that it makes you feel dirty just by looking. And Mr. Devitch I have seen every kind of evil imaginable in my nearly twenty-five years as a U.S. Marshal. From people being simply greedy to where they narrow a river just so they can save money on building a bridge. Just two and a half years ago it flooded and swamped a lot of homes and killed at least a dozen people all because the contractors didn't do their job properly to people who will be assassins for money. I've seen men who beat their wives and people who try to burn down their own homes just because their a little bit behind on their house payments and they want to collect on the insurance. I've seen children who are caught in the middle of domestic squabble to ones who a beaten to death by one parent or the other to children who bring guns to school and kill three other children before killing themselves or being killed by somebody else—"

"And this has to do with what we were discussing how?"

"It has to do with the fact Mr. Devitch that my instincts are good or I would have been dead years ago and at the moment my instincts are practically screaming at me that Mikkel only went along with it because his brother would have done something brutal to him if he had not. And just because we have a child of our own with twins on the way does not mean we can stop doing something we feel is right."

"I'll see what I can do," Mr. Devitch finally sighed, giving in. "It might be a couple of months he'll have to go to the orphanage in the meantime—"

"If he goes to an orphanage he'll just try to run away," Marcus interrupted. "And perhaps get; himself lost or killed in the process."

"And how would you know that?"

"Because I grew up in an orphanage and I happen to know that look. It's the-I'd-rather-fend-for-myself-then-be-put-in-an-orphanage look and unlike Trevor House nearly thirty years ago when Lisa tried to run away I won't be there to talk him out of it like I did her."

"And Lisa is?"

"My sister, there were seven of us and we all eventually wound up at Trevor House. We decided when we got out we would legally change our last names and become a real family."

"Well I suppose there is no harm in giving you temporary custody until the foster papers go through. Do you want the option to adopt if things go well?"

"Yes," both Shari and Marcus answered at the same time.

"If he fits in as well as I think he will with the rest of my family then we will eventually adopt him," Marcus added.

"And mine," said Shari.

"Let's go tell Mikkel the good news," Marcus suggested, getting up and leaving the office as soon as they had signed whatever papers that needed to be signed. Mr. Devitch shook his head and hoped there was no trouble in the near future from that particular corner. He didn't understand their reasons he didn't have to—he just knew they were good people and would take care of the boy—that was all that mattered.

----------------------

"What's this sentence Mikkel?" asked Shari.

Mikkel struggled to sound it out like he'd been taught. "The cat ran up the road," he finally read slowly.

"Very good," Shari complimented. They had found out a week ago that his reading skills weren't all that good and since they wanted to put him in school with the other third graders next year they were trying to help him improve his vocabulary and his comprehension as much as possible. Mikkel had protested at first saying he didn't want to go to school and Marcus had sat him down and told him all the things he was missing, by not being able to read and he also explained he had to get a good education in order to get a decent job later and to keep; himself from being cheated. He had finally grudgingly agreed to give it a try and that was a week ago. He was making slow, but steady progress and both Shari and Marcus had a way of complimenting him that made him want to continue to learn to get more such praises.

"Why don't we stop for a while and get some lunch?" Shari suggested after they had spent another half hour at it. "Then you can watch TV if you want before we get back to it."

Mikkel jumped up glad to be given a break, because at the moment his head was pounding and he felt as if his brain had been turned inside out and then wrung out to dry. When Marcus was home he sometimes took over the lessons for a few days, until he had to leave again. They had assured him that eventually he would be able to read easily and would understand enough words to read an easy book, then a harder one. Mikkel hoped that day came soon.

----------------------

It was December and only a few days till Christmas. It would be both Davey and Mikkel's first Christmas—O'Malley style. They were all flying to Chicago to see the rest of the family and the other O'Malley's were going to meet Mikkel for the first time. They all knew about him of course and after what both Marcus and Shari had told them they really wanted to meet him. Mikkel was nervous and it was obvious in the way he tapped his foot when he was eating breakfast and they way he avoided the subject. He was even thinking that running away might be a better option then meeting the people both Marcus and Shari talked about with such love and affection. Would they like him? Or would they reject him because of his past? Marcus and Shari liked him, they had invited him into their home and had treated him better then he had ever expected to be treated. Marcus was the cook in the family and his breakfasts were to die for. Eggs over easy, hash browns, milk and orange juice or some day's it was an omelet with bacon and toast. Shari usually fixed a sandwich for lunch and Marcus cooked dinner if he wasn't too tired and if he was they ordered out. He had gained weight just in the in the month and a half he had stayed with them.

"You'll love it," Shari assured him the day before they were supposed to leave for Chicago. "The O'Malley's are nothing if not original."

"Tell me about them," Mikkel requested.

"Well," said Shari, "You should really ask Marcus he's known then a lot longer then I have."

"He's not here," Mikkel pointed out

"Okay I'll tell you what I can, but it's mostly what Marcus has told me and my conversations on the phone." Shari paused for a moment deep in thought. "They met at the orphanage known as Trevor House."

Mikkel nodded for he already knew this bit. Marcus had told him. "They had each been through a lot of strife to reach the point where they were put into an orphanage. In Jennifer's case it was a simple car accident that killed both her parents. The others were more traumatic. I won't go into them, because for one thing they aren't my stories to tell and for another I don't want to get any of the details mixed up. They formed a group and decided if they wanted to add another person to the close friendship they had formed. Marcus and Kate ran the group because they were the two oldest. They had two years of history together before the others started to show up one by one. The bond between then grew even to the point that when Lisa tried to run away and Marcus caught her and Lisa allowed herself to be talked out of it. Of course from what I know even as a kid Marcus could be very persuasive. He had future big brother written all over him."

"Marcus got out first when he turned eighteen and he started searching for a place to live for when the others joined him. He had some money that his parents had left him and it was now legally his. He also looked for a job for he was determined to support the others so they could go to college after they graduated high school in case they didn't get even a partial scholarship. Kate followed soon after and then the others. They all went to college and majored in what they wanted to be. All of them had dreams. Marcus wanted to be a cop, but not just any cop a U.S. Marshal."

"Kate also wanted to be a cop, but she wanted to help people out of bad situations that could turn violent and her past led her to her dream. She became a police negotiator—one of the best you've ever seen. She could walk into any situation where violence was threatened and most of the time; talk the person out of it. The more danger there was the more bored she became. It was her way of putting the emotions like fear and anger aside in order to do her job."

"Jack is a fireman and second in command of company 81. He's the jokester of the family and is always ready with a good joke—a fake mouse or spider and the like. But under that joking exterior is a serious man which makes him a good leader. He is always on the front lines trying to save peoples lives by going into burning buildings."

"Stephen is a paramedic and used to work in Chicago before the job and all the suffering he was seeing got to him and he quit. He was always on the front lines almost continually. Seeing a child die was the toughest and some of the accidents were so stupid. Like a child not being buckled into its child safety seat properly. He moved to a small town known as Silverton which is just a couple of hours outside of Chicago where he bought a farm and is working on restoring it. Carpentry is his hobby—his way to relieve the stress. It's one of the reasons he lasted for ten years as a paramedic in Chicago the other is his family was always there when he needed to talk. He works as a paramedic in Silverton as well although it's mostly broken bones or scrapes and bruises.

"Rachel is a trauma psychologist and helps children who come from broken homes whether it is; domestic violence or something more serious. She has a way to relieve the pain of others. She helps them to deal with the situation so that they can sleep at night without the nightmares."

"Lisa was the odd one out for she never felt like she truly belonged. The O'Malley's didn't care they simply made a place for her and smothered her with love. She is a forensics pathologist and dead; bodies is her game. She has a reputation for making more connections that others would miss about a body then anybody I know. It is her job to investigate such things and give an opinion on whether it was an accident or murder."

"Sounds like an interesting family," Mikkel said fascinated.

"I told you," said Shari dryly, "that the O'Malley's are nothing if not original. There genuine characters with a lot of personality. They mix together well. You have six and it used to be seven distinct personalities and yet they all get along."

Mikkel nodded and didn't say anymore even though he still had a ton of questions.

----------------------

"Calm down," Marcus told Mikkel who was fidgeting nervously. They were at the airport waiting for their flight to be called so they could board. Mikkel was in a fresh pair of jeans and a nice long sleeve sweatshirt. Shari and Marcus hand bought them for him and some other clothes as well. "I know you're nervous about meeting my family, but there nothing to worry about they are going to love you."

"I know what both you and Shari have said, but I still can't help feeling nervous," Mikkel replied trying to remain still.

Who's meeting us at the airport?" Shari asked Marcus.

"Lisa and Quinn," said Marcus. "They were detailed to do it," he said with laughter in his voice.

"In other words they were told to do it and I can just imagine how Lisa reacted," Shari said dryly, trying to hold in her laughter.

"She nearly exploded," said Marcus with humor. "If she had been asked it was one thing—but to be told like her opinions didn't matter...well let's just say that didn't go over well."

Shari didn't have a chance to respond as their flight was called. "Stay close," Marcus ordered Mikkel as he held Davey who was still too young to know better then to wonder off so Marcus carried him.

They boarded their flight without any problems and Mikkel tried to relax and read a book he had brought. He still had some trouble reading, but he'd picked up quiet a bit from going to school and what both Marcus and Shari had tried to teach him beforehand. They had found out that he could read but not very well and they had tried their best to teach them. The book was one of those stepping stone books that; was supposedly easy to read. Both Marcus and Shari had encouraged him and told him that the more he read the easier it would become. So far he didn't know if that was true or not, he was still having trouble. It would just take time he was told to become proficient.

The flight was to short and soon they were landing. They walked down the ramp and Mikkel tried his best to hide behind Marcus and Shari, hoping to be forgotten. He looked around the airport and it was huge. People were streaming all around them like a tide and no one seemed to notice them as they were bumped and jostled as they walked.

"Marcus!" a voice called, "Shari!"

"Lisa!" Shari exclaimed. She rushed forward and gave Lisa a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"It's so good to see you," Lisa exclaimed.

"Any hugs for your big brother?" Marcus teased as he came forward with Davey in his arms.

"Of course," said Lisa, giving her brother a hug practically smothering Davey between them. Davey struggled not liking the feeling of being crushed and said, "Auntie Lisa, Unca Quinn!"

"Here I'll take the squirt," Quinn offered, taking Davey out of Marcus's arms.

"It's good to see you Marcus," said Lisa giving him another hug, "Especially when there's not some emergency or something. So where's this young man you've been telling us so much about?"

"At the moment he's trying to hide behind me," said Marcus with laughter in his voice. "He was nervous about meeting the family." Marcus pulled Mikkel out from behind him and said, "Lisa, Quinn meet Mikkel."

"It's nice to meet you Mikkel," said Lisa crouching down to the boys level an offering to shake his hand.

Mikkel nodded, but didn't say anything. "He's shy about meeting new people," Shari offered

"Hey I know the feeling," said Lisa. "You and I are going to become good friends I just have a feeling. If you're especially good I might even let you see my pets."

Mikkel perked up at that. "I like animals," he admitted shyly. The tough exterior had faded over the last couple of mouths when he had begun to realize he was safe and the real shy, friendly boy had begun to emerge.

Marcus and Quinn chuckled together at that, "Well Lisa has some unusual ones I can assure you," said Quinn. "It's nice to meet you Mikkel I'm Quinn."

They shook hands and Mikkel began to relax a little although he was still nervous about meeting the others.

"Let's get your bags and get out of here," Lisa suggested. "Mikkel why don't you walk with me and let the others catch up." Mikkel and Lisa walked ahead of them while the others followed.

"She's good with children," said Marcus observing the two of them.

"I think it probably comes from the time when the Richards were going to adopt her and then Andy was killed. Maybe she is just trying to make up for what she lost," said Quinn.

Marcus nodded. "You're probably right. Of course I've been trying to figure out Lisa for over twenty years, but there are so many layers to her personality it's like a giant puzzle. She has things in her past that nobody knows about and that she refuses to talk about even now."

"I know," said Quinn, shaking his head sadly.

----------------------

"How's everything going in Montana and how are; my niece and nephew doing?"

"Just fine," said Quinn dryly. "They'll be excited to see their Uncle Marcus and Aunt Shari."

"They wear us out chasing after them without even trying," Lisa admitted with a smile.

"They're at that age where they'd rather run then walk and with all the land in Montana—well let's just say it's like having a gigantic sized backyard."

"You're enjoying them though aren't you Quinn?" Shari teased. "You might as well quit protesting. You're; loving every; minute of it and you know it."

Finally Quinn nodded as if conceded that he did love it. "I enjoy being a family man," he finally admitted. "I also enjoy being back in Montana and doing ranch work."

"You don't miss being a U.S. Marshal at all?" Marcus teased.

"Not much, you know the reasons I originally got into being a U.S. Marshal. I'm just glad the case is solved, even if it did take twenty years."

"You're happier and more contented then I've ever known you to be," Marcus admitted. "Part of that I'll admit was probably solving your father's murder but the other part is more obvious if you know what I mean . . ."

"Marcus!" Lisa exclaimed punching her brother on the arm.

"Now Lisa you behave yourself," Marcus teased.

"Or what?" asked Lisa half-threateningly.

"Or I'll set Jack on you and makes sure he drives you crazy with all his practical jokes."

"You wouldn't," said Lisa, trying not to laugh.

"Try me," said Marcus, with a smile. He enjoyed teasing his sister. "All I have to do is say the word. . ."

"It could go both ways you know," said Lisa getting a mysterious gleam in her eyes. "And this time I am not going to be tricked into doing Dave's room by mistake."

The debate lasted all the way to the hotel.

Mikkel listened as they teased each other and thought it was obvious to anybody who observed them for long that they loved each other as brother and sister. The; way they teased and joked and took comments that to anybody who didn't know them; would have been offended—but not anybody who knew the O'Malley's.

----------------------

A few hours later; Marcus and the rest arrived at Dave's estate which is where Christmas was being held this year. Most everybody was already there the driveway was filled with cars as we the garage which was huge. Some were even parked on the grass.

They arrived at the front door and rang the bell and a tall blond man answered it. "Tom you made it," said Marcus shaking the man's hand. "The last time we talked you were uncertain if you could get away for a few days."

"Well I made it," said Tom. "I hated to miss my chance to meet the boy I've heard so much about over the last couple of months. It's good to see you Marcus and you to Shari. And how is young Davey doing?"

"See for yourself," said Shari handing over her son.

"Man you sure have grown since I last saw you. When was it? Around the Fourth of July barbeque that's it."

"Unca Tom, wan' down," Davey insisted.

Tom laughed and set him down after Marcus gave him the okay sign. "So where is this young man I've heard so much about?"

"Mikkel meet Tom Peterson, Tom, Mikkel Wilkerson," said Marcus pulling Mikkel out from behind him where he had been hiding.

"It's nice to meet you Mikkel."

"You to Mr. Peterson," Mikkel said politely after the introductions were through.

"Just Uncle Tom will do young man after all I'm sure you will soon be family so you might as well start calling me what all the other children do."

Mikkel nodded and followed Marcus and Shari as they went around and said hi to each one of the family.

----------------------

Dinner itself had been quite an event Dave and Kate and their three children then Marcus and Shari and their son Davey and of course himself with twins on the way and Quinn and Lisa and their two children. But also there was Jack and Cassie and their son, Stephen and Meghan who had no children as yet and Rachel and Cole the same and finally there was Adam and Sara with their twins and another on the way and then of course there was Tom whom Mikkel guessed had been married to Jennifer. Jennifer had died, but Tom was still considered part of the family.

That was a lot of people to feed dinner, but the O'Malley's did it with style and laughter. There was a lot of laughter at dinner as Jack told joke after joke that had practically everyone busting a gut laughing and then Cassie swatted his arm and told him to behave that got another chuckle from the rest of the family. Jack would answer politely 'yes dear' and then go and tell another joke.

They opened presents toward the end of the evening and Mikkel of course wasn't expecting to get anything since already Marcus and Shari had bought his new clothes and a pair of new shoes, plus all the essentials for school.

"Here you go Mikkel," said Rachel who was passing out the packages with Lisa's and Jack's help. There were quite a few packages under the tree, but it was also quite a large family by the time you counted adults as well as children.

Mikkel was surprised, but didn't comment on everybody's generosity. He didn't understand it however. They'd just met him for the first time and yet they had bought him presents and were treating him like one of the family He gave up for the moment trying to figure it out and just sat back to enjoy it.

"You go first, Mikkel," said Shari. "I would open that one first," she added.

Mikkel picked up an odd shaped package that had some kind of holes in the top and sides. He read the card slowly and then tore off the wrapping paper. Inside was a carrying case and inside that was a golden ball of fluff. Suddenly the ball of fluff moved and yawned. "Oh a puppy he's so cute," Mikkel said in wonder taking the puppy out of his cage and cuddling him, "Thank you." The puppy barked and licked his face and everybody smiled at Mikkel's laughter. Marcus and Shari looked at each other and smiled they had made a good choice when they had decided to get him a puppy.

"So what are you going to name him?" asked Marcus

"I don't know I'll have to think about it," said Mikkel as the puppy licked his face again. "I've never had a puppy before."

"Doggy," Davey said.

"Here you go Davey, why don't you pet him?" said Mikkel, handing over the puppy.

Davey petted him and the dog licked his face as he had done Mikkel's. Davey laughed happily and cuddled the puppy as Mikkel had done.

And both Marcus and Shari looked more pleased then ever after watching this.

----------------------

"So what do you think of young Mikkel," Marcus asked wanting the opinions from the family. It was late and all the children including Mikkel had gone to bed. They were staying at Dave's place for a few days. All the O'Malley's were there including wives and husbands of the original O'Malley's.

"In general very good," Kate finally said.

"But?" asked Marcus, he could hear a; but coming from a mile away.

Tonight Kate was playing devil's advocate and if he didn't know why she was doing it he might have been annoyed—instead he loved her for it. She was sure enough of her position in the O'Malley to play on the opposite position of everyone else when she had to and that was not a very comfortable place to be in. She was trying to get them to think of all the possibilities of what could happen

"But what about his big brother you've been telling me about. Don't get me wrong I really like Mikkel a lot but his brother could be dangerous."

"But his brother's in prison," Rachel pointed out.

"But he's not going to be their forever. No more then ten years tops. If you do adopt him, you would have to worry about the brother coming after his younger sibling. From what you have told me he's the kind of man who would thirst for revenge."

"I've been thinking the same thing actually, but will he really be any safer in an orphanage? At least I know the risks, the people at the orphanage do not," said Marcus. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he finally decided.

"I agree with Marcus," said Stephen. "Orphanages aren't prepared to deal with somebody like Mikkel's brother at least 'we—'" he said gesturing at all the O'Malley's, "—know the risk and can take steps to protect him as well as ourselves."

"And there is the fact I don't think he would be there more then a month before he ran away or tried to," said Marcus. "And he would probably tell himself he's doing it to protect the people at the orphanage from his brother. Then he would either get himself killed or he would live like a homeless person or he might even try to get back to the only people he knew who cared about him and get himself killed by crossing busy highways or trying to hitchhike. Can we really let that happen to him?"

"You're just guessing," Kate protested, but only halfheartedly. Marcus knew she was just trying to think of all the possibilities of what could go wrong and that told him that she really liked Mikkel a lot, but was trying to protect him and the rest of the family from Mikkel's brother and his wrath.

"Planning for possibilities and all of them are very likely. After all he's lived with us for the last two months I've had time to observe him."

"Besides you didn't see his brother's eyes and I did. They were almost—" Shari shuddered and searched for a term and finally came up with, "—inhuman."

Finally they all agreed with Marcus even Kate and the meeting broke up for the night and they all headed for bed—for it; was quite late.

----------------------

Five months later Marcus was exiting the bank and headed towards his car when he was stopped by a voice. "Marcus Bancroft is that you?"

Marcus spun around. He hadn't heard his original last name in more then twenty five years and it startled him. He gazed at the old man before him who had hair as white as snow and looked to be fifty-five or so. It took him a minute to place the face with the voice. "Mr. Asher is that you?"

"Yes it is," said Mr. Asher. "You look just like the young man I used to know."

Marcus grimaced and said without rancor, "Except I'm twenty years older. And it's not Bancroft anymore its O'Malley."

"Why don't we go have lunch somewhere and talk for a while?" Asher suggested.

"Well I have a few minutes. Just let me call my wife and tell her I'll be late getting home. I don't need her to worry especially with her pregnant."

----------------------

A few minutes later the two men one older and one younger sat at a little café drinking coffee in silence. "So tell me what you've been doing ever since you left Trevor House," Asher suggested.

"Well," said Marcus taking a sip of coffee and gathering his thoughts. "When I was twenty-one I changed my last name to O'Malley."

"Why'd you do that?"

"Because Kate, Lisa, Stephen, Jack, Rachel, Jennifer and I all decided that as soon as we could get out we would legally change our last names and become a real family." Marcus paused deep in thought. "I was the oldest and I became the guardian of the O'Malley family." Marcus sighed.

"And the others what happened to them?"

"Well, Kate is now married to Dave Richmon, before that she was a police negotiator—one of the best." It was said with pride. "She got out of it as soon as he discovered she was pregnant. She now works in robbery and fraud."

"Jack is a fireman and is married to Cassie Ellis who also used to be a firefighter before she was hurt in a nursing home fire. She barely escaped that fire alive. Now she runs a book store that sells out of print books and has a job helping Cole on the arson squad."

"Lisa is a forensic pathologist and can discover more about a murder then anyone I know just from examining the dead body and the room it was killed in. She married my old partner Quinn Diamond and she now lives in Montana with Quinn, but still drives to Chicago to do her job."

"Stephen was a paramedic, but it got to be too much for him after about a decade and he eventually wound up in Silverton where he bought an old farm and is working to try to restore it. He works part time as a paramedic there. He married Meghan Delhart, the same one he and Jack used to play with when they were younger."

"Rachel became a trauma psychologist and works with the Red Cross. She helps out children who come from broken homes. She married Jack's captain Cole Parker." Marcus stopped and took a sip of his coffee and a bite of his cinnamon roll.

"And Jennifer?" asked Asher quietly, sensing an immense sadness in Marcus.

"She died from a rare form of cancer a little over two years ago," Marcus finally said. "We were with her all the way and there was always an O'Malley there at the hospital when she was getting her treatments. It nearly ripped our family apart and it left a deep, lasting, emotional scar that will probably never fully heal. What makes it worse is she had just met her true love Tom Peterson. They were only married about six months before she died. He knew it was going to happen. He was a doctor as was Jen and he married her anyway knowing what might happen."

"And yourself?" asked Asher.

"I became a U.S. Marshal. I married Shari Hanford and at the moment we are expecting our second and third child, sometime in the next month or so. The doctors say its twins." Suddenly his pager beeped and he looked at the number and nearly panicked. It was Shari's emergency code.

"Got to go," said Marcus putting down five dollars for the coffee and the cinnamon roll. "Sorry to cut this meeting short. That was Shari's emergency code. It means come home immediately I've gone into labor."

"Why don't I come with you and help you out?" Asher suggested.

Marcus considered for a moment then just nodded. "Follow me," was all he said before he was out the door and running to his car.

----------------------

Marcus drove home as fast as he dared Mr. Asher in the passenger seat. Marcus was tense and it took a concentrated effect not to panic and speed. Normally he was a man that wasn't panicked by much, but having Shari go into labor early was one of the very few things that could do it. He had called Shari and their conversation had been short and to the point. Basically he had assured her that he was on his way home.

Mr. Asher didn't try to talk he simply hung on for dear life.

"I'm sorry about this." Marcus apologized. "I wasn't expecting this. She's not supposed to be due for a month." Marcus gave a tense chuckle. "Leave it to Shari to go into labor early."

"Did this happen the first time?"

"Yes although not quite as early as this. Shari can't ever do anything by the book." There was a great deal of affection in Marcus's voice as he spoke. He pulled into his driveway and the door to the house immediately opened

"Marcus," an older woman called. "Thank goodness you're home."

"How's she going Rosie?" asked Marcus as he headed for the house.

"Her water broke a few minutes," said Rosie. Marcus nodded and rushed into the house. "And who are you sir?" asked Rosie looking at the other man that had gotten out of the car along with Marcus.

"Just an old friend of Marcus's—we ran into each other in town and got to talking. I offered to ride along and help out. My name's Gregory Asher."

"It's nice to meet you. Name's Rosie Conners. I'm the nanny for young Davey and Mikkel."

Asher was about to ask who Mikkel was when the boy himself appeared from inside the house. Mikkel looked different then when he had first come to live with the O'Malley's. He had gained considerable weight in the last five months. He was no longer the underfed waif the O'Malley's had taken under their wing. There were more muscles in his arms and he looked all around happier. He walked with more confidence and was no longer the boy scared of being beaten up just for talking out of turn. "Mr. Asher, meet Mikkel."

"It's nice to meet you Mikkel," said Asher.

"Nice to meet you Mr. Asher," said Mikkel politely, shaking his hand.

"You'll meet us there?" asked Marcus coming up behind them after putting Shari in his car.

"Yes," Rosie agreed.

Marcus turned to Mikkel who in so short a time had become like a son to him. "Mikkel call Kate and Beth Hanford for me and have them inform the rest of the family. I'm; trusting you."

Mikkel nodded and his shoulders seemed to straighten as Marcus handed him his cell phone, "Yes, sir."

Marcus nodded and was gone.

----------------------

An hour later Rosie, Mikkel, Mr. Asher and Davey who was sitting on Mikkel's lap asleep were all waiting anxiously for news. They knew it was probably going to be a long day before they heard anything. The rest of the O'Malley's had been informed along with Shari's mom and brother and they were all on their way. Beth and Josh were the closest and should be arriving any minute.

A moment later as if Mikkel's thoughts had summoned them Beth and Josh entered the waiting room and greeted everybody cordially. It was easy to tell however that both of them were worried. They were worried about Shari and her children. They were after all almost a month early and that could mean trouble, then again it didn't have to mean anything bad at all.

They all couldn't help worrying however and if Davey wasn't asleep on his lap he'd probably get up and pace. Davey was too young to understand the danger that this early birth could mean. One or both twins could die or both could be fine. And it took a lot of patience to just wait it out and patience which had never been his strong suit anyway; was coming to an end. He was as worried about Shari as the rest, for Shari had become like a surrogate mother and Marcus like a surrogate father. A; substitute for his real father which he had never known.

Finally Mikkel leaned back and tried to relax careful not to wake Davey and was soon asleep himself

----------------------

The other O'Malley's begin to arrive as the hours passed. Dave, Kate, Stephen, Meghan, Jack, Cassie, Cole, Adam and Sara all arrived together, for they all lived in Chicago or close to it and Dave had flown them out with Kate as the copilot. She had gotten her pilot's license last year. Rachel had been out of town and had promised to be their on the next available flight, Tom as well. Kate was the first one to notice the older man sitting on one side of the waiting room and noticed her looked familiar. "Don't I know you?" she asked.

"Kate Emerson of course you do, don't you remember Gregory Asher?"

"One of the people running Trevor House—right?" asked Kate after a moment of thought.

"Yes," Asher confirmed. "Marcus and I ran into each other in town and I offered to help out when his wife went into labor as we were talking."

The others had come over doing this conversation and they were staring at him in amazement, a man from their past had just stepped into their present and it was a bit of a shock.

"It's nice to see you all looking so well," Asher commented

"It's a shock to see you after over twenty years," said Jack, being the first to speak.

"Tell me about it," Stephen muttered.

They all sat down and began the long wait for their new nieces or nephews to be born.

----------------------

In the delivery room everything was not going as planned. Shari was struggling to breathe and seemed to be in a lot more pain then when she had delivered Davey. It had been several hours and at first everything had gone fine, Shari was doing her breathing exercises from that Lamaze class they had taken and everything was going great when suddenly the troubles had begun. Once she was fully dilated the first baby hadn't wanted to come out into the world, but had arrived—feet first. They had had trouble delivering the rest of her because she was positioned wrong—she should have come out head first, that and she was slightly crooked. The doctor had had to use forceps to straighten her before she would come out the rest of the way.

Marcus for his part hadn't stopped praying for a second since things had began to go wrong. Shari felt her pain ease a little as Marcus continued to pray and it allowed her to give one final push with all her strength when the doctor ordered her to. Finally Marcus heard a cry of a newborn and looked up.

"It's a girl!" the doctor announced. And at the moment Marcus and Shari's new daughter was screaming up a storm.

He was at her side in an instant wiping her brow and just letting her know he was there. Shari gripped his hand with surprising strength and pushed again when the doctor ordered. Soon a second cry split the air and Marcus looked up to see the doctors wrapping both babies in blankets one in pink the other in blue.

"It's a boy," said the doctor. The boy wasn't doing much of anything after that first cry except moving weakly and Marcus's heart gave a lurch afraid his son wasn't going to live for more then a few hours.

"Is he okay?" asked Marcus trying to sound calm, but he feared he came out sounding rather frantic instead.

"He's weak," the doctor said calmly. "He is after all a month early."

"Will he live?" Shari asked the Doctor weakly the worry in her voice obvious even as weak as she sounded.

"I can't say for certain. He'll need at least a few days in an incubator and almost constant attention over the next week, but we'll do our best." The doctor handed him to a nurse who headed out of the room and to take him to the nursery level and an incubator. "Medical technology today can do some astounding things and keeping a premature baby alive is sometimes one of them. Despite being a month early both of them are healthy and well formed. I wouldn't worry too much. The incubator is just a precaution," said the doctor trying to sound reassuring.

Just as the doctor finished speaking Shari suddenly let out a groan and started to push again. The doctor and several nurses rushed to her side. "What are you doing you could start internal bleeding like; that." The nurses had already delivered both placentas moments before. The doctor felt her stomach while Marcus gripped her hand and prayed, harder then he had ever prayed in his entire life.

"Doctor, look I see another head crowning," said one of the nurses looking at Shari's birth canal.

A few minutes later a third cry split the air as strong if not stronger then the first. This particular baby didn't seem to appreciate the fact that it had been pushed out into the world and that it had had to leave its cozy womb behind.

"Well what do you know triplets," said one of the nurses in wonder.

"What I want to know is why this third baby didn't show up when we did that ultra sound a few months ago," one of the nurses said piqued.

"She was probably hidden behind her two siblings. Ultra sound can only tell so much after all," said the doctor, calmly glaring at the nurse whose attitude was so sour. "You did the right thing by pushing down like that," the doctor told Shari. "It was just nature's way of telling you that you had another baby in your womb."

Shari nodded weakly and Marcus wiped her brow to try to get rid of the dried sweat. He had never felt so relieved that another baby was all it was and not something more serious. If he lost Shari he didn't know what he would do. Shari as well and the other O'Malley's were his life—it was that simple and yet somehow profound. He had invested over twenty years of his life in looking after his somewhat untraditional family and he had enjoyed every moment. There had been hardships especially in the early year's right after the orphanage, but they had succeeded in holding together and the bond between them had become so deep between the seven of them—now six he thought sadly, that almost nothing could break it. A few years ago Jennifer's death had very nearly done it, but they had managed to stay as close as a family should be with the help of God. Marcus made sure Shari was okay before he left to inform the family of what had transpired.

----------------------

More hours later then anybody liked to count Marcus finally entered the waiting room. His whole family was there. Including Tom Peterson, Adam and Sara

"Well?" asked Quinn spotting him first. Lisa was half asleep leaning against his shoulder and looked about as contented as anyone could get. Marcus was glad to see her happy it made his heart warm.

"Shari's fine, although weak and extremely tired," said Marcus.

Beth and Josh seemed relieved at that and Beth asked, "And my grandbabies?"

"It turned out to be triplets," Marcus finally said, "Two girls and a boy."

While everyone else was exclaiming in wonder Marcus paused and Kate who knew him better then almost anyone felt herself stiffen. "There's something you're not saying," Kate said her eyes narrowing as she tried to figure out what her brother wasn't saying.

Everybody stopped talking at that and looked at him expectantly. "Thanks a lot Kate," Marcus said. "You couldn't have given me time to check into a few things first?"

"Quit stalling Marcus," Jack ordered for once all joking aside. "And out with it."

Finally Marcus nodded, sighed and, gave in. He ran a hand through his already messed up hair and said, "The boy is weak, barely crying at all and is going to be spending the next few days in an incubator being fed nutrients. They were a month early after all. The doctor had assured me that he should be okay, that he has more then an even chance of survival."

"Would you like me to check with the doctor and see if I can get him to let me take a look at the medical charts?" asked Tom, speaking for the first time. Marcus was worried, Tom thought. He loved his family and it had nearly killed him when his wife Jennifer had passed away and the rest of the family as well. They might not be related by blood but that made no difference. They were as close as most families with the same blood—closer even. They felt free to meddle in each others lives and to be there if they were needed. To laugh and care and in Jack's case make jokes and still be loved. Part of it was they had a shared history together starting at Trevor House in Chicago and the other part probably was the fact they had had no one else and the only way to stave off the loneliness was with each other. Now the bond was so deep that very few things could break it.

"It would be appreciated if you would Tom," Marcus said, interrupting his thoughts. "The doctor's name is Connor O'Leary. Not that I don't trust the doctor, but I would like a second opinion from someone in the family. "

Tom knew he was being paid a high compliment indeed for Marcus to trust him enough to give him an honest and straight answer. After all he didn't have over twenty years of shared history with the O'Malley's. The only link he had to the family was that he had been married to Jennifer the youngest of the O'Malley's. It was a high compliment to be trusted like that for none of the O'Malley's trusted easily. Them; being orphans almost guaranteed that.

Tom got up and headed to the door. "I'll be back," he promised then was gone.

"Can we go up to the nursery to see them?" asked Mikkel quietly, having woken up as soon as he heard Marcus's voice. Davey had been transferred a few hours ago to Beth's lap and finally to Josh's. He was glad his legs needed a break and Davey was no light weight.

"I don't see why not," said Marcus.

"We'll go with him," Beth offered. "I want to see my new grandbabies. Come along Mikkel."

As soon as they were gone all the O'Malley's pounded him with questions, "Is he going to be okay? How Shari really doing?" and on it went

"Hold it," said Marcus, "One question at a time please. To answer the first question I don't know except what the doctor told me about my son. We'll have to wait for Tom to get back. And as to Shari she's fine and was sleeping when I left. It was a hard delivery, but she came through it like a trooper."

All the O'Malley's relaxed as soon as Marcus finished speaking, but the tension about the boy O'Malley was still there and would be until they knew for certain whether he was going to be okay or not. If he died it would tear all the O'Malley's to pieces but especially Marcus and Shari for he was their son.

"Why don't you; come sit down?" suggested Sara gently coming to his side. "You're tired." It was a statement of fact not a question.

"I am tired," said Marcus, letting; himself be led to a seat beside her and Adam.

"And no wonder," said Adam, speaking for the first time. "You've had a rough night."

"No rougher then most," Marcus said with a sigh.

"You need to relax and sit back, for a few minutes," Dave told him.

Marcus started to protest, but Quinn interrupted, "At least until Tom gets back with some news."

"You've been taking care of us for more then twenty years it's time we returned the favor," Rachel added, and her tone brooked no argument.

"We don't need you to collapse on us from sheer exhaustion," Lisa added with laughter in her voice.

Marcus saw the others nodding in agreement and he sighed and made a face that was half a grimace half a smile. "All right, all right I give in. I know better then to argue when all of you are behind it." There was laughter in his voice as he spoke.

"Hey we're just trying to take care of you the way you've taken care of us over the years," said Stephen. "So you'll just have to stand a little smothering."

Kate grinned at Marcus's expression, but didn't say anything. It was unusual to see her brother so flustered. Asher watched all this byplay with amusement but didn't say anything. They were close, he noticed. They joked and teased and didn't get offended when one of them said something that other people would have considered rude or at least impolite. That they had managed to remain this close even after the orphanage and for more then two decades was amazing enough—but for them to remain close even through tragedy—the death of Jennifer could have torn them apart, but they had rallied and remained close as a family even though her death had left a deep scar within the family. You could see it every time her name was mentioned how sad they were that she was no longer among them. But they were still a family that was there for each other and that was all that mattered—at least to them

Before anything else could be said Tom returned, "Well?" asked Marcus raising an eyebrow in a question.

"The doctor was more then willing to show me the charts once I told him I was a doctor and that I was also part of the O'Malley family. I think he kind of suspected that you had sent me," said Tom with a chuckle trying to lighten the mood a little. "The charts tell me that Doctor O'Leary thinks the baby is going to be just fine."

"You checked him out yourself?" asked Marcus.

"Of course," said Tom calmly. "I did my own examination of him and it is exactly as the doctor described. A little weak but a week or two in an incubator being force fed through tubes and he should be healthy enough to come home."

Marcus relaxed and the tension seemed to drain out of him, "Thanks Tom, that's exactly what I wanted to hear."

"You're welcome," Tom offered. "Besides; Jen left me a letter asking me to look after all of you—medically that is. She knew that it was going to be hard on all of you to lose her."

"On you to Tom," Kate pointed out. "At least we had twenty years to know her—for her to be a part of our family, but you...you had what a couple of year's tops? Only six months of that married."

Tom nodded feeling somewhat sad. "Yeah well I'll see her again someday and that's all that matters. You all want to go up to the nursery and see the O'Malley triplets?" he asked changing the subject.

"Yes," came in a chorus and Tom chuckled. You had to love this family. They were so enthusiastic and as a group could be a bit overwhelming to people who had never met them.

----------------------

A few minutes later all of them were standing outside the nursery window looking around for the O'Malley triplets. Mikkel, Beth and Josh were not there, they had probably just gone for some coffee.

"There on the back row," said Cole finally pointing to two adorable little girls. The boy wasn't with them because the incubator was probably in another room. A nurse came out and pushed the two cribs they were looking out forward. "So what are you going to name them?" asked Lisa, looking over at her brother

"Well Shari and I discussed it and of course there were suggestions from all of you." Marcus looked over at over at Jack and continued, "Despite what you think Jack joker is not a name."

"Jack you didn't actually make such a suggestion did you?" Cassie reprimanded him slapping his arm playfully.

"I was joking," Jack protested. "And it got a laugh out of you didn't it?" Jack looked at his brother and Marcus just smiled, but didn't respond.

"Anyway we discussed it and it was decided that if it was two girls they would be Rashel Alicia and Elisa Gwynna."

"And the boy?" asked Meghan.

"Ryan Sean," Marcus responded.

"I for one like the names," said Cole, his arm around Rachel's shoulders. "Rae didn't mention did she that we're expecting our first child sometime in the fall."

All the O'Malley's looked at her with hurt expressions and Rachel blushed with embarrassment. "Cole!" said Rachel, swatting his arm.

"All right Rae—give," Lisa demanded.

"I haven't had a chance to tell you. I just found out a few days ago."

"I've talked to you at least once in the last couple of days and you didn't mention it?" Marcus questioned. "Keeping secrets especially from the family isn't good for you Rachel—especially secrets that are practically dying to be told."

"I was going to tell you," Rachel protested.

"When?" asked Kate. "When you had gained so much weight we couldn't help but notice?" Kate sounded hurt and that hurt Rachel as well.

"No, I was planning on telling you once things quieted down. I needed a few days to absorb the news—to get used to the idea that life for me was changing."

"I'm happy for you Rae," Marcus said finally, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "But next time don't hold it inside for so long."

"I won't," Rachel's promised. "The first ones are always the toughest, basically because it takes awhile to get used to the idea that you're going to be a parent."

"You've been a parent to a lot of kids," Lisa pointed out.

"It's different when it's your own," said Rachel. "Kids I work with I can send home again. I can be a friend, a confidante, but I don't have charge of them for more then a few hours or a few days at most. Don't get me wrong I love "my kids" their; my friends and they call me when they have a problem, but they aren't 'mine.'" The way she emphasized my kids and mine; it was obvious what she meant.

The others nodded in understanding a benched the discussion for a while.

----------------------

It was June several months after the birth of the triplets and Marcus and Shari both doted on them. The boy Ryan had to be fed every few hours in order for him to gain some strength, but it was amazing how much strength he had already gained to where he was a lot stronger then when he'd been born.

Mikkel to doted on them and could often be found rocking them back to sleep, when Shari or Marcus were busy. Marcus and Shari both observed this with quiet pleasure for it showed that Mikkel loved kids and was willing to take care of them. It also showed that he thought of all four of the younger children as brothers and sisters, because he was always feeding them and playing with them.

They both decided then and there that it was time to propose adoption and both hoped Mikkel would want to be adopted. They had already done most of the paperwork, but they still had to tell Mikkel. They couldn't do it without his consent it wouldn't be right without asking him first. The word had already gone down the O'Malley grapevine and the rest had agreed not to let word get back to Mikkel, but to plan for a big Fourth of July picnic to welcome him to the family. They celebrated Fourth of July every year, but this year was going to be special—they hoped.

"You wanted to see me?" asked Mikkel, quietly coming into the den. He had wondered on his way down here what he had done wrong for Marcus had refused to tell him what he and Shari wanted to see him about.

"Come sit down," Shari suggested gently. "And quit looking as if you're going to your own execution."

Mikkel looked up then sat down without a word or even a smile and waited for the hammer to fall. He was sure they were going to tell him that he was going to an orphanage and that they didn't want him after all.

"Mikkel," said Shari gently. "Look at us."

Great now they want me to look in their eyes when they tell me the bad news, Mikkel thought. Mikkel looked up and waited for one or the other to continue.

"Mikkel you do realize that you've become like a son to us over the last nine months," Marcus began. "And we would like to make you a permanent part of our family."

"Why?" asked Mikkel sounding astonished. He had expected to be given the door. He had convinced himself that they considered his brother to dangerous and that they would boot him out in order to protect their family. Instead they were offering to adopt him and make him a permanent part of their family. Mikkel wasn't only stunned he was flabbergasted.

"We've already put it in motion, but you have to agree before we take the final steps," said Shari.

"I would like that a lot," Mikkel admitted, "But my brother—he will want revenge."

"He's in prison," Shari pointed out.

"But not for life. Once he gets out I have no doubt that he will track me down and try to kill me. I wouldn't want him to come after you or your family."
"You let us worry about that," said Marcus gently. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Mikkel finally gave in, because despite the danger he knew might be coming his way—and thus their way he couldn't force himself to say no. He liked the O'Malley family a lot and it felt nice to be needed and wanted to have a place that wasn't in some alley or in a building that was abandoned and should have been torn down years ago. It felt great to have a family.

----------------------

"Ready to go Mikkel?" asked Shari. It was Friday after school and they were heading for the airport to fly to Chicago for a Fourth of July weekend. Technically it was July the fifth, but with Mikkel in school it was only time Marcus and Shari could come and bring Mikkel with them. As soon as the other children were that age they would have to do the same so they might as well start now.

"Just about," said Mikkel closing his duffle bag. In it was a teddy bear that Rachel had given him for Christmas. He carried it everywhere with him, but also a game boy that Jack had given him with several games and several books. His reading was improving to the point that he had begun to enjoy reading. Shari had packed his clothes while he had been at school, but his responsibility was to pack his toys and what he wanted to take with him.

"Let's go," Marcus called. "We don't want to miss our flight."

Mikkel zipped his duffle bag and slung the bag over his shoulder. He headed downstairs and met Marcus and Shari at the door. Rosie the nanny was going to see her own children so the house was being closed up for a few days.

"Come on," said Marcus ruffling the boy's hair affectionately. They headed out to the car Marcus locking the door behind them.

----------------------

A few hours later they were landing and going down the ramp to find Kate waiting for them. "Marcus," said Kate giving her brother a hug. "It's good to see you."

"You to Kate," said Marcus. "Motherhood agrees with you I see."

Kate blushed and turned her attention to Shari and her nephews Davey and Mikkel. "It's good to see you Shari."

"Kate," said Shari giving her a hug.

"Aunt Kate," said Davey wanting to be picked up.

"Davey you're growing up real fast on me," said Kate ruffling the boy's dark hair. "Mikkel it's good to see you to," said Kate hugging her soon to be adopted nephew. Mikkel hugged her back for he was a very affectionate boy once the fear of his older brother was past.

They exited the airport after picking up their luggage from the baggage claim. "How's Dave?" asked Shari.

"He's fine fatherhood agrees with him and he absolutely dotes on Holly and Anna."

"In other words he spoils them rotten," Marcus chuckled.

"And you don't?" asked Kate with a chuckle. "Between you and the rest of the family. . ."

"What is family for but to spoil their nieces and nephews a little?" asked Marcus interrupting Kate with a grin. "And don't tell me you don't do the same, because it wouldn't be true and you know it."

"Well—" Kate finally conceded trying to remain solemn, but a grin quirking the corners of her mouth, "Maybe a little."

"Maybe we go a tab overboard sometimes, but I think it's because we didn't have families to spoil us when we were kids and so with our kids we spoil them more then we probably should."

"Yeah well the other side of the coin is that Dave and the others are just as bad," said Kate with a smile. "Here we are." They drove up to her and Dave's estate and Kate drove through the gates once the guard let them in.

"Where is Dave by the way?"

"He had a few errands to run," said Kate. "He promised to be home when I got in from picking you guys up so he should be here unless he got caught in traffic."

The front door opened before they had even gotten out of the car and Dave stepped out. "Marcus, Shari," said Dave giving each of them a hug. "It's good to see you both."

"You to Dave," said Shari.

"Come on munchkin," Dave told Davey. "I'll give you a ride on my shoulders."

"Yeah," Davey yelled all excited. Marcus chuckled and watched Dave swing his son into the air with Davey yelling in delight unafraid that his namesake was going to drop him.

"There you go munchkin," said Dave placing him on his shoulders. He started walking towards the house Davey's arms around his neck his legs on either side.

"Anybody else here yet?" asked Marcus to Kate as they walked toward the house leaving there baggage in the car for the ride to the hotel later.

"Jack and Cole are coming tomorrow. They both took the day off. Of course Cole couldn't guarantee he wouldn't be called to investigate an; arson."

"At least he's coming," said Marcus. "And hopefully he won't get called."

"Rachel is flying in from Miami, tomorrow. She should be here around 9 am. Cole is picking her up and then coming straight here."

"She couldn't get an earlier flight?"

Kate shook her head. "She said the flight for today was packed and that she barely managed to get an early morning flight for tomorrow because somebody canceled at the last minute. She sounded really anxious to see her husband. She mentioned him at least every other sentence."

Marcus chuckled. "It's nice to see her happy. You know what kind of bitter home she came from before she came to Trevor House. She was always afraid of getting married."

"Until she met Cole you mean," said Kate. "They make a good couple."

"Cole is sturdy, dependable and honest. And he loves Rae probably as much as I love Shari. What about Tom?" Marcus asked. "Is he going to make it this year?"

"He should be here sometime later today."

"And Stephen and Meghan?" asked Marcus.

"They're already here. Stephen is playing with Holly and Anna and keeping them districted. Meghan is in the kitchen helping prepare food. Lizzy and Quinn are here as well. They drove up yesterday."

"Well I'm glad everybody could make it. Oh that reminds me are Adam and Sara coming?"

"There'll be here for the cookout, but weren't sure if they were to stay for the activities afterwards."

"I'll beg out of those activities if you don't mind," said Shari. "I'll volunteer to look after the kids."

"You're sure?" asked Marcus.

"Yes, as you well know athletics has never been my strong suit," said Shari cheerfully.

"But the only way you improve is to keep practicing."

"My mind is made up. I'll just sit on the sidelines and cheer you on. Besides especially when it comes to basketball you guys play to rough for me."

"This will be Mikkel's first basketball game."

"Do I get to play?" asked Mikkel.

Shari started to protest that she didn't want him hurt when Marcus said, "Maybe it's better if you watch a game first, then if you still want to play we'll try to tone it down so you don't get hurt. As Shari said, we play rough—elbows in your face, knocking somebody on their butt kind of rough."

"Jack even managed to break my nose once," said Kate. "And Stephen tried not to laugh as he packed it in ice."

"I remember that game," said Marcus with a chuckle. "The; only one where any one of us ended up with more then bruises."

They walked in the front door and Marcus and Shari were immediately almost knocked over, by two adorable little girls.

Unca Marcus, Auntie Shari," cried Holly the oldest. Marcus bent down and they ran into his arms. Marcus hugged them and then kissed each of them on the cheek. Shari also gave them a hug and kissed their foreheads. "Bring us anything?"

"Holly, Annabelle, you know better to then to ask such a thing," Kate scolded. "See I told you they were spoiled."

"Am not," Holly protested.

"Are to and you know it," said Dave teasingly coming back from a different part of the house with Davey at his side.

"Why don't you take a seat and relax for a few minutes," Dave suggested. "You want to go spend some time with Anna and Holly, Mikkel?"

Mikkel nodded, he knew when he was being told to get lost because the adults wanted to talk about something they didn't want the children to overhear.

"So how are plans coming?" Marcus asked quietly once Mikkel was out of earshot.

"How do you want to play this?" asked Lisa who had come to join the group along with Quinn, Stephen and Meghan.

"And do you have the adoption papers on you?" asked Stephen.

"Yes," said Marcus. "Thanks to that judge owing me a favor the request went though relatively fast—as fast as bureaucracy ever is at any rate. And as to how I want to play this I want to make sure he knows we're doing this because we love about him not because we felt an obligation."

"We all love him," Meghan committed. "Under that tough exterior is a very insecure little boy who hasn't had anybody to love or care about him since his mother's death."

"He might act tough but he's really not," said Kate. "I used to be the same way when I was a kid. Underneath that facade is a scared and lonely little boy who fears we will reject him because of his past."

"We won't let that happen will we guys?" asked Stephen.

"We will make sure he knows he is loved and he will grow out of this fear eventually. It just might take a while," Shari agreed.

"What he doesn't realize is that everybody has a past," said Marcus. "Some more violent then most and we as a group are able to uniquely understand what he's been through."

"And after he sees the papers he will be an official O'Malley and I'll have another nephew to spoil," said Stephen.

"And me," said Kate.

"And us," Lisa added for Quinn and her.

----------------------

The next day the cookout began around 11 o'clock. Mikkel watched in fascination as they allowed Jack to do the cooking. "Stephen, Jack has the matches," said Kate.

"I'm on him," said Stephen following Jack out to the back patio where the cooking was taking place. "I for one like my steak unburned."

"Give Jack the matches he's happy," Kate committed, coming to sit beside him.

"But why if he burns them?" asked Mikkel.

"That's why Stephen's out there watching the food," said Kate. "When it's done Stephen signals us and Lisa distracts him while I go and steal the food. We have it down to a science."

"It all has to do with not hurting Jack's feelings," Rachel coming to join them. "Give him a match he's happy."

Mikkel shook his head. Would he ever understand this family? All the subterfuge just not to hurt Jack's feelings?—Amazing, but when you thought about it, it said O'Malley all over.

----------------------

A little later Mikkel was playing horseshoes with the other O'Malley's and having the time of his life. He wasn't doing to bad considering that the others had been playing for years and had a longer reach them him. There had been a baseball game a little earlier and he hadn't done to bad at that either, considering his height and the fact his legs weren't as long as the adults. Besides it didn't matter if he won, just that he was having fun for he feared that it would end and to an orphanage he would go despite all the O'Malley's trying to assure him. Somewhere in his subconscious was the fear that it was all a dream and it would end like all dreams eventually must to leave him with reality.

"Mikkel could you come inside for a minute please?" asked Marcus.

Mikkel got up from where he was sitting and walked back inside the house wondering what Marcus wanted. He found the whole family assembled those that weren't behind him coming in with him were in front of him. Mikkel tried to relax, but as a group the O'Malley's could be a bit overwhelming.

"Mikkel we have something for you," said Marcus, took some papers out of his jacket pocket. Mikkel could see the official ribbons hanging off the bottom. His heart quickened a little—here it came. "The adoption papers came through as of a few days ago you've been an official O'Malley for the last week and didn't even know it." The last was said with humor.

"We wanted to wait for all of us to be together, before we told you," said Shari. "To let you know you had family who cared about you—who loved you." He was too stunned to respond for the moment.

Everybody cheered and surrounded him, until he felt as if he was caught in the middle of a tidal wave. Mikkel smiled and hugged Marcus and Shari and the worries just seemed to fade as if they had never been. He was now a part of the O'Malley family and it felt good. It was nice to feel loved and needed and useful.

----------------------

A few days after the Fourth of July festivities and Mikkel's official adoption Quinn and Lisa were hunting for a piece of art to hang in the library. They entered an art studio where an exhibition was being held and started browsing. "They have some nice pieces," said Lisa.

"And from unknown artists to," said Quinn.

"Well how do you think they become known?" Lisa teased him. "But by having exhibitions like this?"

"I know that Lizzy," said Quinn teasing her right back. "Most artist aren't really popular till after they're dead anyway."

"That's a true but sad fact about most people's tastes. They don't like somebody until he's dead and he's not here to enjoy the fame. They should have been famous while they were still alive to enjoy it. And it doesn't matter whether it's music or art or inventors, there all the same. Just look at Leonardo Da Vinci or Raphael or Michelangelo."

"That is so true," said a new voice just behind them. Both Lisa and Quinn whirled around to find a young man of no more then twenty-five or so standing right behind them observing the same piece they had been. "Oh sorry too interrupt your conversation. The name's Mitchell Taylor."

"Quinn and Lisa Diamond," said Quinn

"It's a pleasure. I was just thinking about buying that piece."

"Not if we get to it first," said Lisa. "It would go great in the library wouldn't it Quinn."

"You have good taste Lizzy. That painting is a Monet, but it would look great in the library."
"You know something about art I see," said Taylor.

"I should, my mother was a well-renowned sculptor, before her death. She taught me everything she knew about the subject."

"You know . . ." said Taylor changing the subject aptly. "You look familiar for some reason," he said to Lisa.

"I do? I don't know why we've never met before this. I would have remembered if we'd run into each other before this."

"I don't know, maybe you just have one of those faces—" Taylor aptly stopped in mid sentence and seemed deep in thought then snapped his fingers as he remembered something. "I remember I saw a picture of you when you were six or seven."

"It couldn't have been me," Lisa protested. "I was in an orphanage at seven."

"I heard him call you Lizzy. Could it be just a coincidence that not only your nickname is Lizzy short for Lisa, but that you look just like that photograph albeit 30 years older. "What are the odds of that?" asked Taylor blissfully unaware of what he was doing to Lisa.

"50/50?" guessed Lisa starting to move away from Taylor, Quinn following without comment. Quinn could feel her shaking and trying not to show it.

"I found an old picture when we were cleaning out the attic of my parents-in-law house. The Richards' told me just to throw it away, but wouldn't tell me why until I badgered them to death and they caved."

At the mention of the Richards' Lisa started to shake harder and was fighting tears. "Come on," Quinn said softly turning away from Taylor. "We'll leave if you want."

"No we came here to find a painting for the library and this might be the only time we have to ourselves for a while."

"Hey where are you going?" Taylor called, walking briskly to catch up.

"You go on ahead," Quinn told her quietly. "I'll catch up with you," he promised squeezing her shoulders which were still shaking slightly. Lisa nodded and headed for a different gallery just as Taylor caught up with Quinn.

"Where's she going?" asked Taylor, unaware that Quinn was trying to rein in his temper and not punch the man—especially in public.

"You listen to me Mr. Taylor," Quinn whispered fiercely blocking his path. "Do you realize the effect of mentioning that portion of her past has had on her? She has things in her past that she doesn't like to talk about and the Richards' is one of them. So get lost."

"Gee I'm sorry—"

"Sorry doesn't cut it pal. A seven year old sees her best friend die and the Richards blame her even if she couldn't swim at that time and she nearly drowned herself trying to save him—they send her back into the system and for nearly thirty years she kept it locked up inside—letting it eat away at her. She doesn't even tell the O'Malley's who are; her family and they have to find out by accident when she has to go to that section of town and it effects her being in that neighborhood even after nearly thirty years and I ask Kate to get into the records for me even though I felt like a rat for going behind her back."

Quinn turned around to head after Lisa just as Taylor said, "The Richards are here you know. They were over the way Lisa was heading."

Quinn didn't turn around, but his pace quickened as he searched for Lisa frantically. He found her not more then five minutes later standing in a corner trying to hide. She was shaking and trying her best not to be noticed. "Lisa honey; are you alright?"

"Let's just get out of here?" Lisa suggested. "There are other art galleries we can go to."

Quinn nodded not bothering to ask why, for he suspected the answer. He put his arm around her shoulder and started to lead her to the front of the gallery.

"Lisa Agate is that you," called a voice. Lisa pretended like she hadn't heard and kept walking as rapidly as possible.

They were just about to exit the building when several people came in the door blocking their path long enough for the Richards' to catch up. Quinn tried to block their path, but Lisa squeezed his arm and whispered, "Maybe it's better if I face this now so it doesn't happen in the future."

Quinn nodded although every fiber of his being was yelling at him to get Lisa out of there.

"It is you," the Richards' said.

"No I am a totally different person then I was when I was seven. It's Lisa O'Malley Diamond now. I have no interests in talking to you now or ever."

Lisa turned away and headed outside, but Quinn stayed for a moment. "Do you have any idea how that one event effected her whole life? She kept it bottled up inside until a few years ago and it nearly destroyed her. So I would appreciate it if you would not try to contact her or talk to her or even look at her. She has taken huge steps in healing the past, but she's not there yet and you probably just set her back emotionally, by a few years." Quinn turned and left the building leaving the Richards' stunned behind him."

"You okay?" Quinn asked Lisa who was waiting for him on the front steps.

"I'm fine, let's go find another gallery to explore."

"Are you up to it?"

"Yes, let's just forget this incident and move on."

"Okay," Quinn agreed, glad to hear her sounding so cheerful.

----------------------

The Richards stood there stunned for a moment then hurried after the pair. Quinn looked back and practically groaned. "We're being followed Lizzy," said Quinn.

"By the Richards?"

"Yes," said Quinn.

Lisa sighed and stopped. "We might as well face them now or they will track us down."

"Are you sure you're up to this?" asked Quinn worriedly.

"Quinn I'm fine quit worrying. But I can't believe our luck. The one day we have to mosey through the galleries and it's ruined by meeting the one couple I never wanted to see again."

"We don't have to see them now," said Quinn. "We can just go."

"Too late," said Lisa, giving a resigned sigh. "They're coming this way."

Quinn took a step forward as if to step in front of his wife, but Lisa held him back. "Stay here and whatever you do don't punch them although I know you probably want to."

"You've got that right," Quinn muttered.

"Quinn behave," Lisa scolded with an exasperated sigh, but also trying to hide a grin.

Quinn didn't respond because as of that moment the Richards reached them.

"Lisa—"

"Mr. Richard's this busy street is not the place for this," said Lisa. "What about some coffee. There's a little place I know about that's about a block from here."

----------------------

A few minutes later they all sat down at the table with coffee in there hands. Quinn looked unhappy but he was keeping his mouth shut which Lisa was grateful for.

"As I said it's Lisa O'Malley Diamond now. I haven't been Lisa Agate for 20 years."
"So you did get adopted then?"

"Oh no," said Lisa. "I never did."

"Then how did you get the last name of O'Malley?"

Lisa considered what to tell them then finally decided if it would end the meeting then she was willing.

"I ended up in Trevor House. By the time I arrived there were already five others around my age. One of them welcomed me and convinced me to join their group." Lisa smiled at the memory. "Evidently we all got out and we had decided long since that as soon as Jennifer turned 18 and got out for good we would all change our last names and become a real family. We are constantly stepping in and out of each others lives. We all have high phone bills because we call each other constantly."

The Richards were fascinated with the concept that seven orphans had banded together and formed a bond so deep that almost nothing could break it.

"It's time for us to go Lizzy. We still haven't found that painting we need for the library," Quinn suggested after a few minutes. "And this is our last day in town before we have to head back home."

Quinn left a five on the table for the tip and they left after saying polite goodbyes.

----------------------

It was the end of September several months after the July celebration and Mikkel's adoption when Marcus was again in Chicago in order to see Lisa about some forensics evidence on a case. Shari had, stayed home because he was working not on vacation and he had called her to make sure she knew he had to divert to Chicago and that he would be home in the next day or so. Her only comments had been to make sure he said hello to Lisa and Quinn for her and that she missed him.

Now that, he had seen Lisa he was headed towards a lunch date with Sara and Adam. They had invited him to lunch at their house when they had found out through Dave that he was going to be in town briefly to see Lisa on a case—if he could make it. He had gladly accepted only saying he was looking forward to a home cooked meal. A few minutes later he pulled up at their house and parked in the driveway.

Adam opened the front door and came out to meet him. "I'm glad you could make it," said Adam.

"Ah well I had a few free hours before I have to catch my flight back to Virginia," said Marcus.

"You travel a lot," said Adam, making it a statement of fact not a question.

"Sometimes I think too much," Marcus admitted. "Don't get me wrong I love my job most of the time, but traveling so much eating room service or at a restaurant when all you really want is a home cooked meal."

"And when you're home Shari has a meal waiting?"

Marcus laughed, "Apparently you've never eaten Shari's cooking or you wouldn't be asking me such a question."

"Can't cook?"

"It's kind of interesting to eat if she cooks it. Sometimes it comes out fine—other times not so fine—and the cleanup afterwards . . ." Marcus made a face then continued, "Of course I don't tell her that. I do most of the cooking when I'm home. With four sisters I learned a lot of lessons early cooking; was just one of them. I'm afraid that Shari never got very domesticated when she was growing up." The two of them had moved into the house and taken seats in the den. Marcus had never been to their house but from what he was seeing it was nice. The chairs were nice but comfortable.

"What made you fall in love with her and finally decide she was the one you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?"

"Several things really, but the most important was that without being aware of it she made time for my family," Marcus said after a minute of thought. "My family is important to me and I had never planned on settling down until the rest of the family was settled, but she made time for my family and that showed me that she had her priorities straight. That family to her was important—special. She was devastated when her father and Carl were shot and died."

"In that I agree, family is important before I met Sara my sister Mary Beth and her family were special still are, but now I have Sara and my boys and I wouldn't trade them for anything."

"Lunch is ready," said Sara coming to the door of the den and interrupting the discussion.

The two men got up and headed into the kitchen where Sara had set the table for the three of them. "It's good to see you Marcus," said Sara, as she served the food. "You're welcome to come to lunch next time your in Chicago if you want."

"If I don't have plans with anybody else in the family I might just do that. I try to squeeze in a few hours with the family when I'm in town—outside of work I mean. We usually end up playing a game of basketball. It's my way to relieve stress. You could come to a game sometime if you want."

"I might do that. I admit I sometimes miss playing professionally. Not much but occasionally. I don't miss the living in a hotel week after week or the crowds what I miss mostly is the joy of the game and of course some of the players."

The conversation turned to other things and finally came back around to family. "How did you handle it when Kate or one of the others got caught in a dangerous situation?" Sara asked. "Especially since none of you were Christians at the time."

"Different ways," said Marcus. "I tend to concentrate on work and Stephen calls me the minute Kate or Jack or whoever it is, is out of it. Of course he keeps me updated all the way through it too. When they are out of it we all tend to relieve the tension by converging on that person lecturing the one who dared get hurt. It's our way to let it all out. Some of the lectures can leave your ears ringing for hours afterwards. I ought to know just because I'm the oldest doesn't mean I haven't had my share when I've gotten shot. I remember there was one time this stalker was giving Kate a hard time. If it had gone on much longer the O'Malley's would have stepped in and done something about it. The stories I could tell you."

"Why don't you tell us one?" asked Adam.

"I would love to, but there's no time to go into family history today. Maybe the next time I'm in town."

"Doesn't Kate being in danger cause you stress?" asked Sara. "I know she's not a police negotiator anymore, but from what I heard from Dave trouble still comes looking for her."

"Too true, she has no idea that half these gray hairs are her fault," said Marcus with a chuckle. "When that school shooting happened three years ago she came this close to being a casualty," said Marcus holding his thumb and forefinger about an; half an inch apart. "If it hadn't been for her pager taking the bullet she could very well be dead and she would have been the first O'Malley to be mourned, not Jennifer. Losing both of them so close together would very likely have destroyed the rest of us. Just losing Jennifer nearly did and we were expecting for her to pass on. Expecting it but it still nearly shook us apart."

"That school shooting was so sad," said Sara. "To see four bright young minds just stripped away before there time. It is such a tragedy.

"I know, I arrived and I felt as if I was walking into a war zone. All seven of us were there for that, my sisters just before it happened. So sad, we traced the school shooting back to Brian Rice who we had found evidence had shot his ex-wife, right before the flooding. He threw the gun into the river where it was picked up by his son Mark who then used it to shoot a boy named Tim and the older brother Greg watched it happen and went after him and both ended killing each other. As for the fourth she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn't see it coming. It nearly tore Rachel apart to see all those kids wind up dead. When it's adults it's one thing, but a child—much less four children . . . ." Marcus shook his head. "Cut down on the prime of their life, before they even really had a chance to live . . . to experience . . . it's sad."

"When a tragedy strikes no matter how you try to prepare for it, it is never enough," said Adam.

"And it's even worse when you aren't expecting it its pretty bad. But the unexpected is much worse then the expected, because then you don't have time to prepare for it," said Sara.

"I know," said Marcus, sounding grieved. "That's one aspect of my job I really hate, that I can't prevent those; kind of things from happening at all—especially to children. I really hate to cut this short, but I have a flight to catch and I would like to be home tonight and sleep in my own bed," he said after a moment looking at his watch.

"There's an open invitation to come to lunch anytime you're in town. If we're home that is," said Adam.

"I'll call, if I'm in town again anytime soon," Marcus promised. "Thank you for lunch I really enjoyed it." Marcus gave Sara a kiss on the cheek and shook Adam's hand and headed out the door.

----------------------

Marcus walked in his door hours later just in time for dinner. Shari had already ordered Italian and it had arrived, before him. He had called ahead and told Shari he was on his way home and what time he expected to be there. Shari had ordered dinner and it had arrived just before he had.

"You're right on time," Shari said, coming over and giving him a kiss.

"It's good to be home," said Marcus taking off his coat and hanging it up in the closet then went and washed his hands.

"Mikkel how was school today?"

"Fine," said Mikkel.

"More then fine," laughed Shari. "He came home real excited, because he got a B on his reading. The teacher even made sure to send a note home saying his reading had improved tremendously."

"I guess all that time we took to tutor him helped um?" asked Marcus ruffling the boys hair. "I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," Mikkel muttered, blushing—embarrassed.

"He's practically up to third grade level now," said Shari.

When they'd signed him up for school they had talked to the principal and they had also explained that he was an orphan and that they had adopted him. They wanted him in third grade so he would be with kids his own age, saying they had helped tutor him over the last eight months and that he had improved. The principal had finally agreed with the stipulation that they hire a tutor if necessary to get him caught up with the other children.

"How was your trip?" asked Shari.

"Fine," said Marcus. "I had lunch with Adam and Sara after I had seen Lisa. We spent a couple of hours talking then on the flight home I slept. And how was your day?"

"Fine," said Shari. She started talking about what they were doing. "We're trying to come to come up with some tougher laws that have to do with the abandonment of children, especially babies to try to prevent that kind thing from happening."

"Good thing to be discussing," said Marcus. "I hope it goes through."

"Me to," said Shari.

----------------------

Later both Marcus and Shari headed to bed. The children had been put down hours ago and were sound asleep.

"I think Mikkel is going to fit in well with our family," Shari committed as they headed upstairs to their bedroom.

"Yes we both already love him like a son," Marcus said. "Come on let's go to bed minx. Tomorrow after all is a brand new day."

The End