HOT Off The Press

A Clark & Lana Future Fic
Rated: PG-13

Background: Lana Lang was not a part of Clark's life in Smallville, but almost everything else that helped Clark progress toward his destiny on the show, still happened. Clark graduated from Met U in journalism three years ago, then started working at the Daily Planet with Lois. He's officially been Superman for about two years now, though he doesn't pretend to be the dork that the Superman movies make him out to be . . . nor does he have to wear glasses to pull off his double life, and you'll soon discover why. I hope you enjoy the story!


Author's Note for readers … This story is still being written, but already has 35 chapters, so I'll post several chapters at a time to get new readers caught up. Please leave reviews so I'll know when readers are ready for more. Thanks!


Chapter 1

Metropolis, 2012
The Daily Planet News Floor

"Stop drooling on your shoes, Clark," said Lois Lane. "It's disgusting."

Clark's first thought was, That's funny. You didn't think anything was wrong with my drool last night . . . not when it was coming from Superman's lips.

"I'm not drooling. I'm yawning," Clark said, rubbing his eyes as if he was tired. The truth was, he was about to start the room on fire as he watched the hot new reporter get settled into her desk. Her station was directly across from his own, but he hadn't dared introduce himself yet. Of course, that hadn't stopped him from checking her out with his x-ray vision through the high cubicle wall.

Clark had escaped to what the staff called the 'watering hole,' for some relief from the heat—but Lois joined him shortly after he downed his third cup from the water tank and rightly guessed his reason for fleeing the scene. And boy was it a scene. How can any creature be so beautiful?

Lois backhanded Clark's chest. "Yawning is for losers," she said. "What were you doing up so late? It's not like you have a social life."

"Oh gosh, I don't know . . . watching Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica . . . anything a Desperately in Need of a Life guy does to keep busy."

Lois rolled her eyes when she caught Clark taking another peek at the new reporter. "Her name is Lana Lang. And since I know you don't have the steel to ask her anything yourself, she worked with Chloe at The New York Times. They also went to school together at NYU—graduating at the top of their class."

"Yeah, I know," Clark said, taking another long gulp of water. It wasn't doing a thing to cool him down. Strangely, neither was the fact that Lois was standing next to him—the woman who held the official title Tormenter by Day, Semi-girlfriend by Night. He should at least feel some sort of guilt for eyeing a chick this way in front of Lois. But he didn't. "Chloe already told me about her."

What Chloe hadn't mentioned was how breathtaking Lana was. She'd gone on and on about how Lana had an amazing talent for journalism, but hadn't yet found her personal niche in the reporting world—despite the praise of her superiors and readership.

Chloe had even given Clark the task of befriending Lana, because she was so nervous about her new job. He'd have absolutely no complaints about this if he could banish the frog he felt croaking in his throat. It seemed to be leaping around in his chest as well.

Lois stepped in front of Clark and pinched both his cheeks. "What I'm saying, Smallville, is that the girl is out of your universe. Way out! Farther out of reach than the moon, buddy."

Clark smiled, wanting to say . . . You know, Lois. If you'd pay a little less attention to the big man himself, and a bit more to the real guy filling out the suit, you'd know that the moon isn't truly that far out of reach for me.

He had made the trip twice last week, just for exercise.

"Well, a guy can always dream, can't he?" Clark said, not wanting to get into one of their usual zinger wars. Others in the office often misunderstood their banter for flirting, but Clark knew better.

He knew the way Lois really flirted, when she wanted to snag a guy. Superman had been the object of her affection for nearly two years now, which Clark had soaked up like a wilting flower in a rainstorm. Ever since they met through Chloe, a couple of years before Superman came on the scene, Clark had had a thing for the sassy city girl.

Chloe had turned Clark's attention to journalism while they were still in high school, but Lois got full credit for Clark actually applying at the Daily Planet. He wanted to see what would happen if they spent more time together.

He'd wondered if Lois would ever stop thinking of him as merely her cousin's best buddy, who, okay, at times made a fool of himself. Why couldn't she see Clark for who he really was—a super catch, even without the costume?

Unfortunately, Lois' affection had steered farther off course than Clark ever imagined. More often than not, she treated him like an obnoxious younger brother. On a good day, Lois used him as her errand boy—totally ignoring the fact that he had just as much status as a respected reporter as she did. She'd only been working at the Planet a year longer than he had.

Nevertheless, her wish had been his command, because Clark appreciated any attention he could get from her—until recently. He'd been growing tired of it for quite some time now.

Superman was Clark's alter-ego, not the other way around. Clark Kent was the real him. Superman's confidence—and smooth moves—had always been an act.

But Supes was the guy Lois liked. That was if she really had feelings for him at all. Clark would know if she was truly in love with either Clark Kent or Superman . . . she would see them as one in the same. A woman who was truly in love would see through the superhero disguise, as well as the modifications on his appearance Clark took on while in costume.

Three years ago, his biological father, Jor-El, had made it possible to live this double life, one that Clark had insisted on. If he was going to become Superman, he demanded that he could still have a separate identity as Clark Kent as well. So rather than wearing a mask, which made Clark feel much too claustrophobic, Jor-El gave Clark a new ability—he could camouflage his actual appearance . . . the color of his eyes and hair, his voice, and even his skin tone to appear more tanned. Clark also looked bulkier in the costume his mother had made for him from Kryptonian material—the baby blankets that arrived in his spaceship.

There were only two people this elaborate façade didn't work on—his mother, and Chloe Sullivan. When Clark questioned Jor-El about this, Jor-El told him that even the best of tricks could not fool the heart . . . that both Clark Kent and Superman still shared the same soul, and if someone was to love him for the man he was on the inside, it would not matter how he appeared on the outside.

There was nothing Clark could do to hide his identity from someone who truly loved him, whether or not those feelings were romantic.

Chloe had long since resolved her feelings for Clark, and they were now both entirely comfortable with their relationship. Clark trusted Chloe implicitly, and she had proved her loyalty to both his secret and their friendship dozens of times over. He'd wished at times that he felt the one spark missing between them, but he'd never been able to.

Clark had felt that spark for Lois, but it was fading. He sometimes wondered if Lois' affection for Superman was all just an act, to get the scoop on his true identity. Lois was more persistent than a dog digging for a t-bone. When she smelled a front page story, nothing could dissuade her.

And Clark wasn't stupid. He knew Lois would get more than just a front page story if she revealed Superman's identity. She'd probably get the Pulitzer Prize, along with an offer to work for any paper she named. Heck, Clark had even thought of turning himself in, if that would be the result.

"Dreaming is for losers, too, Clark. Lana Lang probably has her own dream guy she's thinking about," Lois said, bringing Clark back to reality.

That was probably true—he may not even have a chance with Lana. Just as he hadn't with Lois. But there had to be someone out there for him, right? It was a question that had plagued Clark since he was old enough to long for a romantic relationship, which was something that had almost completely evaded him.

It was Clark Kent's heart, and Clark Kent's courage, that gave Superman his soul. And that was the one clue that Lois had overlooked—the one thing that could've given her the truth. But instead of Lois accepting one of Clark's many invitations to go out, he was usually answered with something like, "You can't be serious, Clark. That would be like dating my brother. Eww. And there's a reason I don't have brothers. They couldn't handle me!"

The next thing Clark knew, he was being pushed away from the watering hole and toward Lana Lang's desk. "Whoa! What are you doing, Lois!"

"I told you," Lois said with another shove. "Dreaming is for wimps. Get over there and be a man!"

Clark had to turn on his super-strength to stop Lois. He whirled around and grabbed her shoulders. "I'll meet Lana when I'm ready to meet her. There's already a freaking carnival line of guys over there right now. Keep your nose attached to your face for just five minutes, and stop sticking it into everyone else's business. Please."

Lois' eyes grew wide. "Oh my gosh. You're whooped with a capital W. How funny is that?"

Clark groaned, dropping his hands. "It's not funny at all. It's my life," he said, the thoughts of the last few minutes rising to the surface. "So what if I'm nervous to talk to a beautiful woman? Why does it matter to you?"

"It matters because I have a friend who's socially bass-ackwards!" Lois said in a hushed, but strong voice. "Geez, when was the last time you even went on a date?"

Folding his arms, Clark was ready to let her have it. "You want the truth? Last night."

"You're joking."

He shook his head. "I even kissed her."

Lois laughed. "Now I know you're lying." When Clark's face remained stone serious, Lois dropped her jaw. "Was she any good?"

You picked the wrong day to ask. "She's okay."

"How many times have you two gone out?" Lois asked, looking utterly stumped.

"More times than I can count."

Lois' expression became even more perplexed. "I don't get it. You're as dumb as a rock when it comes to keeping secrets from me. What's her name?"

Clark scratched his head. "Darn. I'm as dumb as a rock, so I can't remember," he said, then walked off in the opposite direction of Lana's desk. He didn't even dare look.

"Oh, don't be such a baby!" Lois called after him. "I was joking."

Now feeling twice the need to cool off, Clark headed toward the elevator to get some air on the roof of the Daily Planet building. He did a lot of thinking up there, not just at work, but at night when Superman needed to clear his head as well.

The only elevator that reached the top floor looked like it was on it's way down from there, but still had a long way to go. Clark didn't feel like waiting, so he made his way to the stairway and x-rayed thirty floors up, making sure he wouldn't super-blur past anyone who happened to be on the stairs at the same time.

Seeing the coast was clear, Clark ran the stairs in five seconds flat. He threw open the door to the roof and heard someone scream.

Spinning around to look for the poor victim he must've scared to death, Clark came face to face with a dark-haired goddess. The dark-haired goddess he'd been trying to avoid for the past few hours.

"I'm so sorry," Clark said with a gulp. "I didn't expect anyone to be up here."

Lana was flat against a brick wall, her trembling hand on her hyperventilating chest. When she caught her breath, she laughed. "Chloe said you were entertaining, but that was . . . "

"Really stupid," Clark said, frozen where his feet insisted on keeping him. He was having a hard time catching his breath as well, but it had nothing to do with the thirty flights of steps he'd just ran. "So stupid that I'd usually skip the part where I introduce myself, and go find a rock to crawl under, but it sounds like you already know who I am."

Lana took the few steps between she and Clark, the ones he couldn't manage to take himself. She held out her hand. "I'm Lana Lang. But just call me Lana," she said, with a beautiful smile. "I've seen pictures of you for years, Clark, so I recognized you right away."

Clark only gave a slow nod, hypnotized by Lana's gorgeous hazel eyes. And, man, her skin! It looked as soft and smooth as pearls. He wanted to touch her face so badly that he had to stuff his hands deep in his pockets to stop from doing so.

"So, anyway," Lana said, confused by his response, but still holding out her hand. "I thought Chloe said she told you about me, but maybe not."

Clark finally blinked and noticed Lana's outstretched hand. "Oh, yeah, she did," he said, slowly lifting his hand to meet hers. When they touched, Clark swallowed, letting his hand linger as long as he could without making an even bigger fool of himself. "I'm Clark. Kent." He swallowed again. "I already said that, didn't I?" He shook his head. "I mean, you already said that, didn't you?"

Lana smiled. "Not the Kent part," she said. "Do you mind if I just call you Clark, though? I'm not really into the formal thing, it makes me feel too old."

"I prefer bumbling idiot, if you don't mind. It fits me better."

Lana laughed again. "I've read some of your articles, so I don't believe that for a second. Besides, you seem twice as normal as anyone else here, so I'll take my chances."

Clark grinned, having seen the clowns who were falling all over themselves to meet her today. She must've escaped to the roof to get some much needed air, just as Clark had.

Lana tipped her head and continued. "And you definitely have the most sincere smile I've ever seen. I could use a friend, if you can spare the time."

"Umm. Uhh," Clark started, shifting from one foot to the other, then back again. What he really wanted to do was ask her out for dinner, but felt it was probably too soon. He didn't want to scare her off. "Sure, time. I've got some time. Do you need help moving into your new place?"

She took a few moments to respond. Clark thought he saw a glimmer of disappointment in her eyes, but wasn't sure what that meant.

"Actually, I'm in a hotel for now," Lana said. "But Chloe told me that her cousin's roommate is moving out soon, and that Lois is anxious to find a new one. I hear you know Lois quite well, would you mind introducing us?"

Lois and Lana roommates! Holy crap, no! Clark's mind screamed. How could I date Lois as Superman, and Lana as Clark Kent? Especially if they were roommates!

Clark knew the answer—he couldn't.

Chapter 2

Perry White's Office

"You have an unusual gift for writing obituaries, Miss Lang," said Perry White, the Daily Planet's Editor in Chief. As Lana had already learned, the staff secretly called him, The Terminator.

They were sitting across from one another, at White's bombsite of a desk. It had been a long day, and this impromptu meeting he'd called Lana into was the last thing she felt like doing. This was sure to ruin her chances of having another conversation with that tall drink of hot cocoa, topped with sweet whipped cream, who sat on the opposite side of her cubicle.

She should know better than to go after a guy who she'd been told had eyes for someone else, but Lana had never been afraid of some healthy competition before, why start now?

"Thank you, Mr. White," Lana answered, focusing again. She'd been trying to maintain a delicate balance of respect and confidence in their conversation, so he'd know she wouldn't be just another one of his sock-puppet reporters. But the fact that he brought up her interesting knack for writing obituaries made her nervous. Very nervous.

Lana wanted more out of this job. She wanted more out of her life—which is why she'd jumped at the chance to move to Metropolis. Something was calling to her here, and she was determined to find out what it was.

"Are you aware of how you came to our attention?" White asked Lana.

"I've heard rumors."

He laughed. "Well, I'll tell you this—you couldn't have caught the attention of a more powerful man," he said, giving her a curious look, as if he was skeptical of her luck. "It was Mr. Olsen himself, the owner of the Daily Planet—and half of Metropolis—who insisted we offer the sky to get you to join us here."

Lana smiled, flattered, but feeling a tad uncomfortable. Why exactly was Mr. Olsen so interested in her? These days, a woman could never be too cautious.

"You happened to write a brilliant obituary for his dear old mother," White continued. "She was as crazy as a crossed-eyed chicken in a minefield of firecrackers! But somehow, you managed to make her sound like a Nobel Peace Price winner. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Olsen has written you into his will by now."

"Oh my! That was his mother?" Lana said, trying her best not to explode with laughter.

Lana clearly remembered the day her editor at The New York Times dropped a television-sized box on her desk, and said, "Lana, if you don't kick some butt on this project, we're both toast! The guy is paying for a full page obituary on his mom—that's big bucks—and you get to write it!"

It took Lana forty-eight hours without sleep, and hardly a bite to eat, to sift through the memorabilia in the box and write the obituary in the allotted timeframe, but she got it done.

Surprisingly, it was perhaps the work Lana was most proud of. From the proof in the box, Mr. Olsen's mother could've been written up as nothing more than a batty old cat lady, but Lana did her best to dig into this woman's motivation behind her absolutely insane antics, and come up with a life story that rivaled Mother Teresa's . . . the only difference being that Mother Teresa saved human lives, and Mr. Olsen's mother focused more on felines, squirrels, and shrubbery.

Yes, shrubbery. Some fight to save trees, but this woman couldn't stand to see a neighbor take clippers to their hedges—sometimes protesting for days at a time, naked, until she was hauled off by the authorities.

Lana had focused the obituary on a woman who fought for what she believed in, no matter the cost. Not a single shrub or squirrel was mentioned . . . only a love for God's creations, which gave this patron saint incomprehensible determination to protect our dear planet from those who attempt to defile it.

Most unfortunately, Mr. Olsen's mother lost this battle when her kindness came back to bite her in the butt—well, actually in the hand. When climbing a fifty foot oak tree to return a baby squirrel to its home, the naughty little thing bit her, and she took a nasty fall.

Thus, the obituary.

"Yes, that lunatic was Mr. Olsen's mother," White answered. "You have a lot to thank the old woman for. She's the reason you have your job."

Lana cleared her throat, not about to let him get away with that. "Actually, I earned this job because I'm a talented reporter. And I'm looking forward to proving myself in more high-profile sections of this paper than the obituaries."

White's jaw tightened, making Lana's heart jump. "Obituaries bring an amazing amount of cash flow to a paper, Miss Lang. From what I hear, your tribute to Mr. Olsen's mother made quite a stir—soliciting high profile, full page obituaries from around the country. And that's exactly what we intend to do with you here. You're going to make us some money."

Off dead people? Geez. It would've been nice to be told this in her interview two weeks ago. But if that objective was made clear, Lana probably wouldn't have noticed anyway. All she heard during that interview was her inner voice. Do it, Lana! This is your chance to escape the cyclone that's pulling you into a life you don't want to lead . . . with a man you no longer want to be with.

"My full effort will go toward honoring the memory of loved ones," Lana said, leaning forward in her chair, but wearing a gentle smile to ease the tension, "and will not be for the purpose of adding zeros to the Daily Planet's piggy bank."

White leaned forward in his chair as well, a wide grin appearing. "Heaven have mercy on us. I believe we've hired a woman who can give Lois Lane a challenge."

What does he mean by that? Lana thought, but chose to ignore it. After all, she'd just agreed with Lois to move in as her roommate. She didn't want any bad blood between them.

Lana stood her ground, "And I expect to be given additional assignments as well—in the field, doing the work of a true reporter."

White laughed now. "You don't happen to be that spit-fire cousin of Lois' she's always talking about, do you?"

Lana shook her head. "No, but I know her—Chloe Sullivan. And if you're ever in the market for another killer reporter—the best of the best—she'd be the one to go after. But I can guarantee she wouldn't write your obituaries."

"Oh, that's right—Chloe," White said. "What makes you think she wouldn't write our obituaries?"

"Because she's an investigative reporter. She's too talented to be anything less."

White arched his brow. "And so are you, Miss Lang. That's why you'll be raking in the green stuff for us with your poetic memorials by day," he said, then lowered his voice to a whisper, "but by night, you'll be investigating crime. And I'm talking gritty crime."

Lana smiled, thrilled by the prospect, but a little stumped by this out of the blue proposal. "But this is Metropolis, where the crime rate has dropped by eighty percent in the past two years. Superman patrols the sky."

"Exactly."

"Exactly?" Lana asked, squinting. She was completely confused now.

"There's still someone committing that remaining twenty percent of violent crimes in this city, and I have my theory of who it is," White said, beaming as if he was Sherlock Holmes himself. "It's Superman."

"Superman!" Lana said, unable to stop from mocking such a ridiculous idea with her vivacious laugh.

It was obvious that White didn't appreciate Lana's giggling. "Miss Lang, there are two rules above all else in this office. One, never laugh at Perry White. And two, never question Perry White. You are violating both."

Lana straightened up, needing nothing further to sober her. "My apologies. Please explain."

White cleared his throat. "Think of it. He's bulletproof, he can see through walls, walk through fire, he's faster than a bullet, as powerful as a bomb . . . he can fly—making the entire world his target. What sort of man wouldn't take advantage of those gifts for his own good?"

An honest one, Lana thought, but didn't dare speak while White's face was still so red.

He continued, "And who wouldn't want credit for the heroic acts he does? Only a man who was living a lie—making us all believe that he's the good guy, when in reality he fights crime to both stay in our good graces, and more so, to eliminate his competition. I think this Superman isn't so super at all. I think he's a fraud, living the high life of a master criminal! That's why he won't expose his true identity, not even to the woman he loves! After two years of investigating Superman, all Lois has come back with is stars in her eyes!"

Chloe had told Lana all about Superman's relationship with Lois. Lana had to admit that it was strange that Lois didn't know who he was, but she was sure that Superman had his reasons for keeping his deepest secret, even from Lois. But doing so because he was really a criminal . . . that was just silly.

Lana took a deep breath. "Alright, let's say all this is true. What sort of investigating could I do that Lois hasn't already done? It seems that she knows him better than anyone."

"You can use your brain, not your heart," White snapped. "That's the kind of investigating I need done! I haven't told Lois a thing about my theory, because love clouds the mind. So you, Miss Lang, are to pose as nothing more than a reporter after the truth behind crime sprees, you got that? Trust me, you'll find the caped vandal soon enough. He's everywhere."

This is freaking unbelievable. I have to stalk Superman! And he certainly wouldn't be difficult to run into, since he's dating Lana's new roommate.

White pointed a finger at Lana. "And if you tell a single soul about this assignment, there will be hell to pay." He shook his head. "I'm not talking about myself here. Lois is extremely protective of Superman, and if she even gets a whiff that you're after the same story, you'll be like a lone duck in a small pond . . . on opening day of hunting season. Kaboom!" White pulled the trigger on his hand, now shaped like a gun.

"My, my," Lana said. "It sounds as if you're more concerned about me crossing Lois Lane, than ticking off the big man himself."

Duh! What would Lana do if she did discover Superman to be a criminal—make a citizen's arrest? Lana almost laughed when she thought of it. Put your arms of steel in the air, buddy! I'm gonna kick your armored butt! Umm, no. Not gonna happen.

"You just get the dirt, and I'll do the rest," said White, smiling.

Lana's previous courage took over. "What if there isn't any dirt to get? What if I find that Superman is as squeaky clean as he appears to be?"

White gave her a smirk. "Oh, there will be dirt. There's always dirt! Didn't they teach you that in your journalism classes at NYU?"

"I'm not making anything up. I refuse to stoop that low," Lana said, her jaw set as firm as concrete. "I'll report the facts as I find them, and nothing more."

Folding his arms, White shook his head, looking amused. "You know, I'm almost tempted to leak your intentions to Lois myself. Oh, boy! You two could really go at it if you had your hearts set on the same prize. What fun that would be!"

Lana would've rolled her eyes, but that's typically something you want to avoid doing to your boss on the first day of work. Instead, she stood and placed her hands on White's desk, looking him firmly in the eyes . . . but managing to give a smile. "If you make this your own personal competition, I won't be the lone duck in the pond. The pond will be empty, and I won't be coming back."

"Fair enough," White said, holding out his hand.

Lana reluctantly shook it, feeling a pit of regret for taking this job. Perhaps she'd be better off high-tailing it back to New York, where her previous job was still available.

She opened the office door to exit, and nearly got a fist in her face. Clark was standing there, his hand stopping a mere inch from her nose—looking as though he was about to knock on White's door.

Lana laughed when Clark's face went bright red. "We seem to have a thing with doors," she said, instantly feeling the strain of her conversation with White leaving.

"I think I just have a thing with being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Clark said, his smile doing what it did to Lana earlier—flipping her insides over.

Or the right place, at the perfect time, Lana wanted to tell him.

"You're late, Kent!" White called. "Give me that article!"

Lana smiled back as she and Clark shimmied past one another through the narrow doorway. Oh my gosh, he smells good. Lana mused.

As she walked away from the office, Lana got the feeling that Clark's conversation with White would be a short one . . . so she took her sweet time, studying the framed news articles in the hallway as if they were Monet paintings.

Lois couldn't have both Superman, and Clark. She had to be playing one of them, and at this point, Lana didn't care which one it was. Clark was too good of a treat to pass up. Lana wanted to get to know him. Well.

But would he even be interested? From the way he was looking at her on the roof a few hours ago, she had thought so, but right when she opened her big mouth to hint that she'd like to spend some time with him, on a more personal level, a conversation she had with Chloe came rushing back to her . . . Clark had been infatuated with Lois for years now, which was why Chloe had told Lana from the first time she saw Clark's picture, that she couldn't line them up. Lana had wanted to meet him despite the fact that she was dating someone else, but Chloe felt that she had to remain true to her cousin, holding out hope that Lois would come around.

Well, Lois had had enough time to clear the fog in her empty head . . . it had to be empty if she hadn't fallen for Clark—even with Superman around. Lana had known the guy for less than a day and couldn't stop thinking about him.

Out of the corner of her eye, Lana saw Clark exit White's office and head her way.

Her heart started skipping beats. Calm down, Lana. Don't act stupid, she told herself. Did she even know how to flirt anymore? Had she been with Jason too long to even do it right?

She was about to find out.

Chapter 3

The Daily Planet Hallway

Clark didn't hear anything but, blah, blah, blah, coming from Mr. White's wide mouth. So what if his article was late? It was late almost every night, along with everyone else's. It wouldn't matter if he turned in his work a month early, Mr. White would still call it late.

Clark did, however, hear two things quite clearly while he was standing in White's office . . . his own heartbeat, pounding in his chest . . . and Lana's footsteps stopping in the hall.

He'd turned on his super-hearing so he would know which direction Lana was headed—back to her desk, or toward the elevators to go home. But Clark could tell that she stopped walking before she reached either, and he couldn't wait to get out in the hallway to find out why.

Okay, Kent. Be cool. Don't trip. Don't say anything dumb. Just chill. Clark repeated these words to himself as he walked toward Lana, taking deep breaths. He had little trouble as the suave Superman, but being in costume gave a person more advantages than just disguise. Wearing the suit gave Clark permission to be someone he wasn't—to use bravery for more than just heroics. As Clark Kent, his words usually failed him with women. But this time, he thought, would be different.

"Hey, Lana," Clark said. So far so good.

Lana turned from a framed article she seemed to be studying like it was the key to a chemistry test. "Oh, hey."

Clark's hands suddenly felt like round watermelons—heavy, and in the way. He didn't know where to put them. He tried his hips, but that felt too obviously manly. "So umm . . . " he dropped one arm to his side, keeping the other on his hip . . . nah, too girly. "How was your, uhh . . . " he folded his arms, but realized right away that this was too defensive. He stuffed his hands in his pockets—his usual default—and called it good. "Your meeting with White?"

Lana tipped her head and tucked one side of her luscious mocha hair behind an ear. "It was alright."

Silence. Both smiled, then looked away, red faced.

Rocking on his heels, he glanced back to her. "So, did White drop any bombs on you? He's famous for the old 'bait and switch.' You know, luring you in with one idea of what your job will be like, then giving you some top secret assignment that makes you want to pack up and run for your life."

Lana laughed . . . it was the sound that had been resonating through Clark's soul since they'd met on the roof top. "Funny you say that, Clark. That's exactly what happened." She leaned a bit closer and whispered. "So, will he come to his senses tomorrow, and give me an assignment that actually sounds like a legitimate story?"

Smiling, because he remembered that Lana complimented his smile earlier, Clark said, "Not likely. Once White gets a scandal spinning in his head, you're pretty much stuck with it. He's had some of us working on his same crazy personal quests for years now."

Lana nodded, tipping her head to the other side now, and putting a hand on her slender waist. She was wearing a light gray, fitted suit . . . her skirt hugging her legs just right, and touching a few inches above her knees. Yum. Focus! Or you'll tip over.

"Oh, you mean like Lois' assignment to discover Superman's secret identity?" Lana asked.

Clark shifted his weight. "Yeah . . . like that. Ridiculous, huh?"

"Pretty much," Lana replied. "So, is she the only one investigating the heroic hunk, or does White have a full army devoted to the cause?"

Heroic Hunk, Clark repeated in his mind, all dreamy like. Or did she say Hulk? Or maybe, Heroic Hulky Hunk? Whatever she had said, it made Clark's toes curl in his size thirteen shoes.

"Clark? Are you okay?" Lana asked, waiting for his answer.

"Yeah!" Clark said, falling from cloud nine and back to Earth with a thud. "And no, I think Lois is the only one who's bugging Superman . . . err, I mean, you know, who's constantly trying to figure out who he really is."

Lana smiled. "Bugging him, huh? You don't think it's a mutual thing? From what Chloe told me, the guy seems pretty whooped over Lois as well."

Clark shrugged. He had to have a serious talk with Chloe to find out all she'd told Lana. "Well, maybe sometimes, or maybe at one time, or, well, times change. And people change, over time. You know what I mean?"

Biting down on both lips, Lana looked like she was about to burst.

"Of course you don't know what I mean," Clark said, laughing at himself. "Even I can't figure out what I just said to you."

"It was something about 'time.' That much I understood," Lana said. Clark looked up sheepishly and scratched his head. "So, it sounds like you know Superman as well," Lana continued.

Clark swallowed, not wanting to lie. "We've talked. He's a really nice guy—well obviously. I mean, you'd have to be pretty decent to do what he does, right?"

"Definitely," Lana answered with a sure nod. "And I've seen pictures of him. He has this great countenance—of bravery, and self-sacrifice. I can't quite place my finger on it. And the articles Lois has written make him sound amazing. He seems intelligent and well spoken."

Clark was nearly on the floor from lack of strength in his iron-clad legs. "Wow. Most women just say Supes is hot. Or handsome, or whatever."

Lana glanced away for a moment, seeming a bit unsure of her words. "Yeah, I guess he is."

She GUESSES I'm good looking? Ouch.

Then, being quicker than usual to get a clue, Clark remembered that they were talking about Superman here, not himself . . . who didn't look much like Supes at all in newspaper photos. And, duh, Kent, if she's interested in YOU, she's not going to say another dude is hot.

"But there's more to a guy than his appearance, like you're saying," Clark said, trying to bring his voice back to a casual tone.

Lana looked Clark right in the eyes and gave her most beautiful smile of the day. "Yes, but good looks complete the package quite nicely."

After Clark released an embarrassing sigh, he knew he had two choices. Either walk away, like the chicken he usually was around girls, or pull his shoulders back and ask Lana out. He decided on the latter, before the amazing chemistry bouncing between them died down.

But then, an elevator dinged and they both looked toward the doors. Clark knew he was in trouble the moment the tall lanky fellow stepped into the hallway, whistling a happy tune . . . one that only belonged in an animated Disney movie.

Clark closed his eyes. "Oh, please hide me. Quick."

Lana laughed hard. "Behind what? A skyscraper? You're huge!"

"Kent! Kent! Just the lad I was looking for!" cried Mr. Olsen, the owner of the Daily Planet. What Luthor Corp didn't own in Metropolis, Olsen Enterprises did. The two corporations were at constant odds with one another.

Why now! Why of all freaking times did this guy have to show up now! Clark knew there was no way out of being thoroughly embarrassed when Mr. Olsen came around. Not when you're Clark Kent.

Forcing an enormous smile, Clark turned toward Mr. Olsen. "Wow! What a surprise. What can I do for you today, Mr. Olsen?"

"That's what I love about you, boy! Always so eager to help!" said the man, brushing his thin comb over back into place. His hair was the color of milk, so it hardly made a difference.

"Anytime, Mr. Olsen," Clark answered.

Mr. Olsen's eyes bugged out as he peeked around Clark's broad shoulders to the woman behind him. "Oh my stars! It looks as though you've traded in your older model for an upgrade!"

Clark's face suddenly felt hotter than it had been in years. "Actually, she's, umm—"

Circling Lana like he was admiring a flawless granite statue at an art museum, Mr. Olsen said, "Perfect! Gorgeous! That's what she is! You two make a much finer couple than you and that . . . oh, what's her name that you're always dawdling around with, Kent?" Clark wasn't about to offer hints. Mr. Olsen tipped his head in thought. "Oh! Lois Lane—that's who! That sneaky little reporter of ours." He put his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Now, I'm not trying to intrude with affairs of the heart, but I never did think she was the one for you. She's much too brash, son. And she's two-timing you with that caped fella, you know that, right?"

Lana was standing there, open mouthed and wide eyed.

Clark blew hot steam from his lips . . . and ears. "Lois and I are just—" He was about to say friends.

"Not meant for one another," Mr. Olsen said, nodding sadly. Then he did a little hop and snapped his fingers. "But this woman! Wow! Excellent choice. I wholeheartedly give my blessing!" He stuck out his hand to Lana. "But you didn't even introduce us, Kent! What's wrong with you?"

Both Clark and Lana smiled now, shaking their heads in unbelief.

"Mr. Olsen, this is Lana Lang," Clark said. "She's a new report—"

"Ahhhh! Lana Lang! Kent, why didn't you say so?" Mr. Olsen chirped, pumping Lana's hand up and down like a levy. "This is the angel who . . . " he sniffed, then sniffed again. His eyes began to water, then tears spilled out. "Miss Lang, you can never imagine what you've done for my family. We are eternally indebted to you for your kind remarks about my lovely mother. Few people have recognized just how wonderful she was, but . . . " Mr. Olsen threw his arms around Lana, crying into her hair as he leaned over a full foot to embrace her. " . . . you! What wisdom! What talent! What a pure heart you have! God bless you."

As Mr. Olsen continued with his smothering, Lana patted his back and whispered consoling words about his mother. Her eyes met Clark's and they gave one another a warm smile. This was a good man . . . a crazy one, no doubt . . . but he had a heart of gold.

The obituary that Lana had written was no secret around the office. Many had mocked it, saying that Mr. Olsen not only would've had to pay the New York Times to print it, but also pay the writer to make up such nonsense. But neither Clark, nor Lois, had agreed with them. They thought the obituary was pure genius. Every word was true, just slanted in a different direction than most would've written it.

This was exactly the reason Clark supposed Mr. Olsen sent it to another paper to be composed. Too many reporters at his own paper had met his mother, and would not see her as anyone more than the woman who often stalked the Daily Planet news floor, with her legion of cats, looking for "Young, spirited hearts, to join her life-saving efforts for all things fluffy. Including shrubbery." She had a banner and everything, waving it with pride. When she forgot to wear clothes, Mr. Olsen would wrap the banner around her and pin it tightly.

But he never showed an ounce of shame for his mother. He was proud of her, no matter what she did.

During a lengthy conversation between Lana and Mr. Olsen, with Lana making obvious attempts to move on, Clark felt really out of place . . . especially when others started passing through the hall, leaving for the day, and gawking at the three of them with curiosity. Clark felt it was too apparent that he was sticking around to talk to Lana a while longer, so he decided to give up for the day and try again tomorrow. That was, if he could get the nerve after the spectacle Mr. Olsen had just made of him.

Clark took the opportunity to bolt during a brief pause in Lana and Mr. Olsen's chatting. "Well, I'm off to finish up for the night," he said.

Lana's smile slipped from her face, which made Clark's grin do a magical reappearing act.

"Not so fast," Mr. Olsen said, latching onto Clark's arm. "You're the reason I made the trek down from my office."

Oh no. Those were never good words to hear. Clark could tell he was about to be assigned to a wild goose chase. Between White and Mr. Olsen, Clark rarely had the chance to investigate, and write about topics that truly interested him.

"You two got me completely off base," Mr. Olsen continued, "but here's what I need you to do, Kent." He grabbed Lana's hand, displaying a smile the size of a banana. "And you, too, Miss Lang. Oh this will be perfect!" Then he grabbed Clark's hand as well, and connected it with Lana's. "You two are now engaged! So I need you to go out and look for a sparking diamond to seal the deal."

Both Lana and Clark gulped, then laughed. "We may want to date first!" Clark said.

Mr. Olsen startled, then pressed ahead. "No need. This is for the good of lovers everywhere," he said. "I have a sneaky suspicion, after recently shopping for jewelry with my dear wife, that we have a dirty diamond supplier in the area. I need you two to pose as a starry-eyed couple and see if you discover the same interesting clues that I did! Someone is ripping off the public, and it's our duty to expose them." He took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Clark. "Here's a list of three jewelry stores to investigate, along with my personal notes."

Clark and Lana made hesitant eye contact. What an awkward first date! Clark thought.

When Lana nodded to him, Clark followed suit. "Alright, when would you like us to take care of this, Mr. Olsen?" he asked.

"Tonight, of course," he said, giving both a cheerful wave as he practically skipped back toward the elevators. "Let me know what you find! And have fun, young lovebirds!"

The new couple watched in awe as Mr. Olsen left. Clark didn't know what to say, so he simply blurted out the first words that came.

"Do you have any idea what just happened?" he asked Lana.

"Sure. I don't know how you missed it," she answered with a giggle, her breath-taking eyes shining. "I think we just got engaged."

Clark laughed, feeling the courage he needed. "Well, in that case, would you like to join me for dinner before we shop for a ring?"

"I'd love to."

Chapter 4

Chloe Sullivan's Apartment, New York City

Chloe was trying to juggle an overstuffed satchel, her bag of Chinese takeout, and finding the right key for her apartment . . . when her cell phone rang.

She swore under her breath. "Can this day get any crazier?"

Opening the door, Chloe dropped her satchel, and barely balanced her takeout. She caught the call just in time. "New York Times, Chloe Sullivan speaking," she said, then heard laughing shimmer through the speaker. She knew right away that she must've answered her cell the way she answers the phone in her office. Crap! I did it again.

"Rough day, huh, Chlo?" asked the caller.

Chloe breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't anyone who would rub in her lapse of sanity. "Hey, Lana! Who cares about my day, how was yours? What do you think of Perry White? Did you talk to Lois about moving in?"

Lana laughed again. She sure seemed to be in a good mood, Chloe thought, so Lana's day must've gone much better than her own.

"Alright, let's get the insignificant stuff out of the way," Lana said, making Chloe squint her eyes. Since when was a first day at work insignificant? "White is crazy. Lois seems cool—yes, we're going to be roommates. But then, there's this other little detail we need to discuss."

"What?"

"I'll give you a hint . . . just one word should do," Lana said. "Yummy."

"You went to Kung-Pow's for lunch, didn't you?" Chloe looked down at her own bland Chinese food, now on the coffee table, wishing she was back in Metropolis at her favorite restaurant. There was more giggling. Lana didn't typically giggle, so there could only be one explanation. Chloe gasped. "You met a guy!"

"Yep. And not just any guy either—the one you should've introduced me to years ago."

Chloe opened her carton of fried rice, watching the steam rise until her brain clicked. She dropped her fork on the floor. "No! No, no, no. He's off limits, I told you that!" Lana was dead silent, and Chloe felt like an idiot for freaking out on her. "Dang, I'm sorry. But Lana, this could be a nightmare for me—my three best friends in a messy love triangle."

Lana gave a frustrated sigh. "What would be so messy about it? Clark and Lois aren't dating," she said. "I know you told me that he's liked her for a long time, but she's with Superman, and from what you say, they're pretty serious. So why does the thought of me dating Clark seem so awful to you?"

Chloe's whole body felt like a tangled ball of rubber bands. Crap! How can I explain this? "Lana, it's not that I don't think you and Clark would make a great couple, because honestly, you two are a lot more alike than he and Lois, but," okay, this was where she had to get clever, "Lois is starting to come around with Clark . . . and she, well, she likes him a lot more than she appears to."

"Well, if she refuses to step up and do something about it, then I don't see why I can't at least get to know Clark," Lana said, sounding more feisty than the friend Chloe was used to. "If Lois knows Clark likes her, and hasn't even given him a chance, I'm sorry—I know she's your cousin—but she must have a screw loose somewhere. It only took me a few minutes to realize he's the kind of guy I'd like to date."

Chloe plopped down on the couch with her dinner, but her stomach was grumbling for other reasons besides hunger. "Look, do what you want, but I don't think it's a good idea to go after him right now," Chloe said. "You're just coming off a break-up, and Clark still has unresolved feelings for Lois. Do you really want to deal with all that?" In the absence of a reply from Lana, Chloe thought of the most horrifying complication of all. "And besides, you'll be living with Lois, just imagine the chaos this could cause."

Still, Lana didn't respond, and Chloe felt awful. But what was she supposed to do? She adored Lana, and wanted her to be happy—especially since her last relationship was so unfulfilling—but when it all boiled down, Chloe's allegiance had to remain with her cousin, Lois. They'd spent a lot of time talking lately, about Lois' feelings for Superman, and Chloe was certain that Lois was genuinely falling in love with him—which meant she could see through his disguise any day now, and realize that he and Clark were one in the same.

Clark had been on pins and needles for two years now—waiting for that moment.

Chloe felt that she owed it to both Clark and Lois, to buy Lois a little more time. Once Lana set her heart on a guy, there was no way he could resist her. Chloe had seen that girl work her charms enough to know that.

"Okay, I'll back down, for now," Lana said, sounding distraught. "But can you do me a favor, please?"

"Sure, anything," Chloe said, relieved.

"Talk to Clark and see where he really stands with Lois," Lana said. "And if he's ready to move on, let me know. Because I felt something today, Chloe, that I've never experienced before."

Chloe's insides twisted. "Are you serious? Like what?"

"I'm not sure what it was," Lana said, sounding light and airy. "But I was instantly comfortable with Clark, like we were meant to be friends—or maybe more. I don't know how I can ignore that."

Chloe knew all too well that Clark could have that effect on women. She had to agree with Lana, Lois had a screw loose somewhere. Why couldn't she see what was so clearly in front of her? Lois had met Clark years before she ever met Superman, yet still hadn't shown any sort of romantic interest in him. Stupid, stupid, girl!

There was a rapid knocking on Chloe's door. "Hold that thought, Lana . . . let me get the door, then we'll keep talking."

"Actually, I have to make a quick call, then I'll call you back, alright?" Lana said.

Chloe clicked her cell shut, then looked through the peep hole. "Speak of the devil," she said, opening the door. "What are you doing here?"

Clark's grin was so huge, it surprised Chloe that he fit through the doorway. "First off, I need your help deciding what to wear," Clark said, motioning to the completely stuffed duffle bag hanging off his shoulder. "And secondly, you're going to tell me every word you've ever spoken to Lana Lang about either myself, or Superman."

Chloe threw her hand over her mouth as she closed the door with her backside. "Oh no! You like her!"

Clark laughed. "How couldn't I? She's amazing," he said, then his eyes narrowed, playfully. "Which makes me a little ticked that you haven't hooked us up before." Just as Chloe opened her mouth for an explanation, Clark's cell phone started ringing. He looked at the caller ID screen and his smile grew even larger. "It's her."

"Then just excuse me, while I throw myself out the window," Chloe said.

"Huh?" Clark asked, confused, as he answered the phone.

Chloe reached up and pulled Clark down by the head, so she could listen in—which made him even more confused.

The first of their conversation was casual, with Clark sounding happier than Chloe had heard him in as long as she could remember. Then Chloe heard Lana say, "Clark, I think it might be best if you take Lois on this assignment tonight."

Clark's face fell. "Lois? Why?"

Chloe stepped away from Clark, "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Lana said something, but Clark was too focused on Chloe to hear it. "Lana, I apologize, but can you hold on for just one second?" he asked, then put the phone on mute. "What did you do, Chloe?"

Chloe gulped, holding up her hand in a defensive stance. "Lana called and I talked her out of, umm, getting to know you better."

"What? Why?" he said, stunned. "I finally get the guts to ask a girl out, and you blow it for me?"

"You have a date with her?"

"Yeah, tonight," he said, throwing his free hand in the air. "Well, at least I did have a date with her."

Chloe was devastated. She couldn't stand to see Clark this disappointed after seeing how happy he was just a few minutes earlier. Forget Lois—at least for now, she had to fix this.

"Okay, keep Lana on the phone, I'll take care of it," Chloe said, grabbing her own cell. "When her call waiting beeps, tell her to answer it."

Clark nodded, then returned to the phone—drawing a deep, courage gathering, breath. "Lana, if something else has come up for you, we can put this off for another night. But I'd rather not cancel. To be honest, I'm looking forward to it, especially dinner. With you, not Lois."

As Chloe's phone was ringing Lana's number, she gave Clark an impressed nod, knowing those weren't easy words for him to say.

Clark must've heard Lana's call waiting interrupt her, because he said, "Go ahead and take that call, Lana, then get back to me about tonight."

"Lana," Chloe said, when she answered. Clark hurried over to listen in, but Chloe shoved him away—knowing she was being hypocritical, but this was girl's talk. She also gave him the sign that he better not use his super-hearing. "I can't stop thinking about what you said, and you're right, you shouldn't ignore . . . " she turned away so Clark wouldn't hear, " . . . what you felt."

Lana sighed. "Thanks, Chloe. I'm glad you called back, because I was just about to cancel our date tonight, and was feeling absolutely sick about it."

"Then go. You two will have a lot of fun together. And forget about Lois," Chloe said, then turned and rolled her eyes at Clark, who was jumping up and down with excitement, "she has her own guy."

"And I'm sure Superman is just perfect for her," Lana said, all cheery . . . which made Chloe nauseous again.

"Only time will tell," was Chloe's reply. Then they said their goodbyes and Chloe hung up, about to burst with laughter as she watched Clark do a happy jig around the room.

"Clark, what's the number one rule of our friendship?" she asked.

He gave her a playful scowl. "Don't stick your nose into the other person's love life?"

"No, that's rule number two," Chloe said, walking over and making him hold still. "Number one is to never, never, dance in front of me. It's just not pleasant."

"Oh, thanks a lot," Clark said with a smirk. His cell rang, and it was Lana, saying that she'd love to keep their arrangements for the evening.

Clark had to restrain himself from dancing again, then said goodbye and told Chloe, "Now help me figure out what to wear—I brought almost everything I own."

He wasn't kidding. Clark must've used some super-strength to stuff so many clothes into his duffle bag.

"Okay, first I need to know what you're doing—dinner, I suppose, and what else?" Chloe asked, picking through the pile he'd dumped on her couch.

Clark got a very serious look on his face. "We're shopping for an engagement ring."

Chloe's knees gave out and she collapsed to the couch. "Holy—" she couldn't even finish.

Laughing hard, Clark said, "It's for a crazy assignment that Mr. Olsen gave us. That's how this all started, then I just tacked on an invitation for dinner, and Lana agreed."

"Smooth," Chloe said, in desperate need of CPR.

Clark gave a proud nod. "Yep, that's what I thought," he said, snatching up a shirt and pants and changing into them at the speed of light. "How does this look?"

Chloe glanced up, still stunned. "Like you're a farmer, Clark. How many times have I told you to ditch the freaking plaid?"

Frowning, as he looked down at his favorite blue and black plaid button down, he said, "Deep inside, Chlo, I'll always be a farmer. Don't you think it's important for Lana to know that side of me?"

"Umm, no."

"Fine," he answered, disappointed. Then he changed into another outfit and strutted around the room. Chloe's twisted expression said a definite no to that choice as well.

When he'd gone through almost all his clothes, Chloe said, "You'd think it would freak me out that you were changing your clothes right in front of me, whether I can see you or not, but the only thing on my mind is, 'Dang, this guy has no fashion sense whatsoever.'"

"You've lived in hoity-toity New York for too long," Clark answered.

"No, I've just been shopping in the past ten years," she said, sifting through the remainder of the pile. "Don't you have anything solid black in here?"

"Black?" he asked, with an empty stare. "Why black?"

Chloe smiled. "Trust me, Lana will go crazy if you wear a black shirt. You have no idea how hot you look when you go all Red-K and wear black."

Clark shook his head. "No I guess I don't. I'm too busy blowing stuff up."

She laughed. "Wearing black doesn't make you the bad guy, Clark. It just gives you an edge—a very sexy one."

"In that case, I'll be right back," he said, super-speeding out the door. Ten minutes later, he returned with a Macy's bag in tow, pulling out a black long-sleeved button down.

Chloe handed him some khaki Ralph Lauren Chinos, that she knew he looked good in. What didn't look good on Clark's bottom half? No matter what kind of mess he wore as a shirt, the rest of him was always deliciously perfect.

When Clark had changed, Chloe gave him a standing ovation. "There you go," she said, motioning for him to spin around. "Now cut the tags off the shirt, and iron it."

She grabbed the ironing board and iron for him, then supervised as she listened to her answering machine messages. The last two messages were from Lois. One said that she needed to talk to Chloe immediately, but not over her cell, since too many people were always around. And the next message Lois left, which Clark could hear loud and clear, went like this . . .

"Okay, so I can't wait any longer. Where the hell are you? Anyway, here's the thing . . . I'm going to tell Supes how I really feel. He was kind of distant with me last night, and it got me thinking . . . where are my priorities? Are they with the guy I'm crazy about, who makes me feel like the woman I never thought I could be, or are they with my editor, who I know I can never please—no matter how hard I work? So, I've made my decision. I don't care if my career suffers for it, I'm not pushing Supes anymore—it doesn't matter who he pretends to be in the daylight hours. When he's ready to share that part of his life with me, he will. So, what do you think? Am I crazy? Call me! We're going out again tonight, and I want to know if I'm doing the right thing."

In his stupor, Clark had picked up the iron from the wrong side, and the hot metal plate was burning against his flesh . . . steam rising without him noticing.

Chloe grabbed the iron from him. "Oh man, bad timing."

Clark nodded slowly, his mind spinning cobwebs of confusion. "Yeah, especially since I totally forgot that I'd also made plans with Lois tonight."

Thinking hard, Chloe stared at Clark until the right words came. "Who do you feel like being tonight? Clark Kent, the true blue farm boy from Smallville, Kansas . . . or Superman, Hero to the World?"

He gave a half-smile. "Sometimes the tights give me a wedgie, so I think I'll go with the Chinos."

Chloe laughed. "Geez, Clark. I never knew your buns of steel were so sensitive!"

Chapter 5

Downtown Metropolis

Clark had made it back to Metropolis just before six-thirty—dropping off his duffle bag, and cruising to Lana's hotel in his maroon Envoy. He had purchased the SUV a few years ago, out of necessity . . . to look normal, not because he needed it to get around. In fact, it irritated him to have to drive, when he could run or fly anywhere in no time flat. Well, almost no time. It usually took him about ten minutes to get to New York City to see Chloe, but he was shaving off seconds everyday—timing himself on a regular basis.

All of his abilities were slowly improving, and he'd been working on them with more passion than ever. Clark was determined to live up to his name—Superman—the hero who could do anything. He'd failed enough times to know that wasn't true, but so far, those shortcomings hadn't occurred in public . . . and he hoped to keep it that way.

Realizing there wouldn't be time to eat before they did their ring shopping, Clark had suggested that Lana grab a snack when they were speaking on the phone earlier. When he picked her up in the hotel lobby, Clark's head just about spun around on his neck.

Lana was wearing a white halter top, with black trousers that fit her all too well for a normal man not to fall on the floor. It was a good thing Clark had super-strength, but his legs still felt like Jell-o. The site of so much of her tanned, smooth skin, on her shoulders, arms and neck, caused not only his eyes, but his chest to burn.

Chloe had coordinated them well. Just as Clark was leaving Chloe's apartment, Lana had phoned her back to say that she'd tried on everything in her closet, but couldn't find the right outfit—and needed Chloe's advice. The thought of Lana being so excited, as well as nervous, about their date gave Clark even more confidence that he'd done the right thing by asking her out so soon. Just don't mess up! He warned himself, over and over again.

Clark wanted to say something that took Lana's breath away when he saw her, but all that came out was a muffled, "Hiiiiiiii . . . " And then he just trailed off, his own breath being stolen.

He saw Lana swallow, with her beautiful eyes as wide as saucers. "Wow, you look . . . umm, very nice in black."

"Thanks," Clark said, with a gigantic grin. He'd have to name his first child after Chloe for making him look so good tonight.

After a few more, oooooo's, and ahhhhh's, from each of them, they headed to the downtown shopping district, where all three jewelry stores were located. Lana went on and on about how much she loved Clark's SUV. She loved the color—maroon, then she said how much she loved being up so high, like a truck, since she was so used to riding in city cabs.

"I can't wait to get my own car," Lana said. "I've never needed one until now."

Clark wanted to hand over the keys and say she could have his SUV, since he didn't need it anyway, but how could he explain that? Go ahead and take it, Lana. It only slows me down—topping out at a measly 120 miles per hour. Paaahhleeesssee. I'm working up to light-speed right now. I've been able to pass bullets and catch them in my hand since I was fifteen.

Nah, that probably wasn't a first date type of conversation.

"You're welcome to borrow this whenever you'd like," Clark said, trying to keep his eyes on the road. He cheated a few times—looking Lana over at super-speed—every inch of her. "I don't drive much, I take the subway a lot." That was true, but it was usually at night, while he was looking for troublemakers.

"Thanks, Clark," Lana said, truly sounding grateful. "You've got a sweet set of wheels."

You have no idea, Clark wanted to say. It wasn't that he was feeling arrogant, just unusually good about himself—as plain Clark Kent.

When they reached the first jewelry shop, Clark took Mr. Olsen's notes from his pocket, and did his best to read aloud the chicken scratch on the creased sheet of paper: Store #1—Downtown Diamonds . . . I know diamonds, and these scoundrels have an unusually vast collection with a horrid yellow tint. They were trying to sell one to me at a premium. Let's put an end to this abomination.

The notes for the next two stores were similar, all complaining about the low quality of diamonds being peddled as rare gems.

After a quick planning session, of how they could sell themselves as a starry-eyed couple, Clark opened the passenger door and helped Lana out.

Just before they reached the store entrance, Lana stopped and looked up to Clark. "Maybe we should hold hands," she said, then bit her bottom lip, looking uncertain.

Clark swallowed. "Yeah, of course. Otherwise, you know, it might not be believable."

Lana nodded, inching her hand a few inches closer to Clark's. Clark looked down, taking the tiny hand in his and hoping he wouldn't accidentally crush her thin, delicate fingers. He smiled, making eye contact with Lana, and thinking of how perfect their hands felt together, then opened the door of Downtown Diamonds.

An older salesman in a crisp, expensive suit, greeted them right away, asking their names in a forced accent—metro-snobby.

"I'm Isobel," Lana said right away, surprising Clark.

He followed with his own made up name . . . well, kind of. It was too short of notice for Clark to think of anything other than . . . "Kal," he said, shaking the man's hand as he cleared his throat.

When the salesman turned to escort them to the glass cases, Lana whispered. "Cool name."

"You, too. Who's Isobel?"

Lana leaned closer. "A distant ancestor I've been studying. She was a very naughty girl."

Clark raised his brows. "How naughty are we talking here?"

"She was burned at the stake."

"Oh! Well, there's nothing like having a witch in the family."

"Pardon?" asked the salesman, spinning on his heels to face them again.

Clark put his arm around Lana and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I was just saying how excited our family will be when they learn we're engaged." He slid his hand down the length of Lana's bare arm, and could've sworn he felt her shiver—so he brought her closer, in case she was cold. Whether or not that was true, it was an excuse to keep touching her.

"Yes, it's a wonderful announcement to make," said the salesman. "How long have you two been together?"

"It feels like forever. Doesn't it, sweetie?" Lana said, grinning up at Clark—who almost laughed because she so easily called him a pet name.

Clark looked back lovingly. "And at the same time, it seems like we just met."

"Ahh! Young love is so beautiful," the salesman said, ushering them to two velvet padded seats in front of a long glass case of diamonds. "Is there a certain style of ring you have in mind?"

"One that matches the sparkle in La— " Clark caught his mistake just in time, "Isobel's eyes."

It was obvious to Clark that Lana had to stifle a giggle. "Oh, snookims, you're just too sweet."

From there, their act became more and more ridiculous—both of them nearly forgetting their purpose for being in the store. The exasperated salesman seemed to be growing less fond of young love with every new ring he pulled out of the case for Lana to try.

Clark studied each diamond carefully, not only for a yellow tint, but using his super-vision to scan for serious defects. He didn't see anything suspicious at all.

Finally, Clark said, "I want something really special for my sugar bear. Something unique—as rare as she is. Do you have rings in a higher class than this selection?"

"Oh, yes!" the salesman said, his eyes bulging. "I usually don't show our most precious gems to, well, those who are just starting out, but perhaps you'll find what you're looking for in this exclusive case over here. Follow me, if you will."

Lana gave Clark a wink of approval as they walked hand in hand to a display of enormous, sparkling gems. "My goodness," Lana said, making herself comfy on another velvet chair. "These are stunning!"

Clark could tell that she was truly in awe. And so was he—he'd never seen such an interesting array of jewelry. Right away, Lana pointed out a ring with an emerald-cut pink center diamond, with classic white diamonds on each side.

The salesman was quick to retrieve the ring and slip it on Lana's finger. "Wow . . . wow." Lana moved her hand at alternating angles—the store lights catching the facets of the diamonds and giving the ring the appearance of a twinkling star. "This is the one."

Clark involuntarily coughed. They hadn't talked about what he should do if she found a ring she liked. Umm, was he supposed to buy it? Twelve thousand dollars was a lot to lay down on a first date.

Lana startled and looked at Clark when he coughed, then her face went bright red. "Uhh . . . what I mean, is that, well, it's beautiful." She hurried and took the ring off and handed it to the salesman.

He winked at Clark. "Perhaps Kal and I should talk for a moment," he said to Lana.

Clark shifted in his seat, then Lana grabbed his hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. "Actually, I'd rather he come back and choose the ring himself. He now knows what settings I like."

Phew! Clark wiped his forehead, which was feeling like a blast furnace. "Yeah, I . . . want to surprise you," he said. His attention was then drawn to some diamonds in the same case that definitely had a yellow tint to them . . . but they were gorgeous. "What about these yellow diamonds, sweetheart?"

Lana followed Clark's line of vision, having still had her eyes stuck on the pink stone. "Oh, I love canary diamonds, they're breathtaking." She squinted, then smiled at Clark. "You don't think—"

"Yeah," Clark said, amused at the possibility that they'd found Mr. Olsen's yellow junk diamonds.

The salesman cleared his throat, looking between the two of them. "Can I answer a question about our stunning canary diamond collection? We're quite lucky to have secured such, rare, exquisite gems."

"I'm sure," Clark said, trying not to laugh. "And yes, I have a question. These 'canary' diamonds are bright yellow . . . but I thought yellow was a flaw in diamonds."

Nodding, the man said, "In white diamonds, yes. But these are much more unique than a typical gemstone. They're enhanced and treated to bring out their natural beauty . . . a brilliant yellow coloring. It's a very expensive process, and thus, are sold at a premium."

Lana was smiling now, shaking her head in shock. "Interesting. Have you ever had anyone doubt their quality, being yellow?"

The salesman gave a sliver of a smile, then he burst into laughter. "Just last week, a man—well known, in fact—brought his wife in for an anniversary gift, and just wouldn't believe that we would carry such 'riff raff.' I tried to explain, but he wouldn't hear of it. It was really quite hysterical."

"Riiiiiighttt," Clark said, standing. "Well, at least Lana and I know a good stone when we see it. We'll keep these beautiful canary diamonds in mind."

When Clark looked down to Lana, she had wide, hurt, eyes . . . then she smacked his arm. "I can't believe you just called me your ex-girlfriend's name! You jerk!" She spun around and headed toward the door, pouting.

Clark hit his head, realizing he'd just called her Lana instead of Isobel. "Oh, man! I'm such an idiot!" he said, waving to the salesman as he chased after Lana.

"Yes. Yes, you are," the salesman said, with a dropped jaw.

When Clark caught up with Lana, who was in hysterics leaning against Clark's SUV, he said, "I need serious acting lessons. Sorry I almost blew our cover."

"Who cares? It made it all the more fun," she said. "It's not often that I get away with being a drama queen."

"Yeah, you were fantastic," Clark said, laughing along with her. He wanted to reach out and hold her hands that she was dangling so casually in front of her. But he couldn't . . . they weren't pretending anymore. "So, do we even need to go to the other two stores, or are you just as satisfied as I am that Mr. Olsen was talking about the canary diamonds?"

"Oh, I'm definitely convinced those were the diamonds he was freaking out over," Lana answered, tipping her head. "But that was so much fun, I don't mind doing it again."

Clark nodded, happy that she felt the same way as he did. "That way we can assure Mr. Olsen that we were meticulous in our investigation."

They joked around about Mr. Olsen's theory as they walked to the next jewelry store, two blocks away. The whole way there, Clark wanted to hold Lana's hand, but still didn't dare. He smiled when she slipped her hand in his just as they reached the store entrance.

The next two visits were just as silly as before, the two of them having a blast acting so out of character. They were quick this time, though, going straight to the canary diamonds and confirming that Mr. Olsen had been scrutinizing them the previous week. It was the same story each time—and salesmen in both stores had been in stitches over their run in with Metropolis' most eccentric man.

Clark and Lana didn't sit down for dinner until nine. They were both starving, but had been having too much fun to notice until they were looking at their menus at Kung-Pow's. Lana was thrilled to be trying out the food that Chloe had praised for years, and Clark was happy to oblige. Chloe had got him hooked on the restaurant, just the same as every other friend she'd ever recommended the place to.

The food was fantastic, but the company was even better. Where Clark was previously worried about a first date being so awkward, he couldn't believe how well he'd gotten to know Lana in just a few hours. He was surprisingly relaxed around her and didn't want the night to end.

On the way to his SUV, he took a chance that she was having just as good of a time as he was. "There's a playground around the corner that I've been wanting to check out for a while . . . my dad used to take me there as a kid when we'd come to Metropolis. You feeling up to giving the swings a try, or would you like to go home and get some rest?" It was nearly eleven, and they had to work in the morning, so Clark would've accepted either answer. But he was hoping for a certain one.

Lana smiled. "I'm definitely feeling up to some playground action," she said. "After a night like this, I doubt I'll sleep for a week!"

Neither would Clark . . . he was already sure of that.

Chapter 6

Downtown Metropolis

Lana had been trying all night to avoid gawking with an open mouth at Clark—his distinct cheek bones, his full inviting lips . . . his eyes that made her melt whenever he so much as glanced her way.

And, oh boy, his impossibly perfect body just had to be ignored altogether, or she would find herself at the mercy of all sorts of reckless impulses.

She found herself debating with her inner voice of reason. Here was this guy, who seemed utterly ideal for her, so what was the use in holding back? Even if they'd only just met. There were less ladylike things than kissing on a first date, right? She wasn't the type of girl to do anything more than that, and she was sure Clark wasn't that type of guy.

So why not just give him a little nudge in the right direction—take the verbal flirting to the next level by slipping her hand back in his, even though she no longer had an excuse to do so.

But that was just it. Lana wasn't the forward type. She'd never had to be, and she was determined not to start now. Clark was a big boy—a bit shy, but if and when he started to like her, she was sure he'd have the courage to let her know. Yep, that's what she had to do—let Clark be the man he was, and take the initiative.

But, Oh those lips! She had to force her eyes from them as Clark spoke. Instead, she watched her feet grazing the grass of the playground as if she was walking on air—and she sure felt like it.

"So, now I see why you wanted to hide today when you spotted Mr. Olsen in the hallway," Lana said, sitting in a swing and looking up to Clark. "This must not be the first interesting assignment he's thrown your way."

Clark grabbed the neighboring swing and tossed it over the high supporting a-frame, so it would be the right height for him. "Well, it's the first time Mr. Olsen has given me a fiancée, but believe it or not, it's not the craziest thing he's had me do. Not even close."

Lana raised a brow, swinging along side him and enjoying the soft June breeze as it swept across her face and arms. "How did he top this?"

Clark smiled, sending Lana's head into spinning mode. "A few months ago, Mr. Olsen sent me to investigate a case he called, The Phantom of the Opera. Only this phantom didn't live beneath the stage and sing like an angel . . . oh, no. This ghoul was much more creative. He lived in the men's restroom on the second floor of the Metropolis Opera House, flushing toilets and turning on sinks to scare away visitors."

"How terrifying," Lana said, laughing.

"That's exactly what Mr. Olsen said when he came to me near tears, frightened out of his mind," Clark said. Lana could tell that he was trying to keep a straight face, but it wasn't really working. "So I went to the opera the next night with an open mind. I don't know what Chloe has told you about Smallville, but I've seen my fair share of the unexplained, and felt that it was possible, for once, that Mr. Olsen had stumbled onto something supernatural. And . . . " Clark trailed off, with his charming laugh, "when I walked into the restroom, I have to admit I was a little creeped out. A full chorus of toilets flushed as I made my way to the other side, one right after another . . . and the sinks were turning on and off just as frequently."

Lana was intrigued now, having stopped her swing to listen more intently.

Clark paused, coming to a halt as well, and giving a darling smirk. "But being the brave man that I am, I stopped still in the center of the chaos and the room instantly fell silent—all except for the sink and toilet that I was standing directly in front of. So I took two steps to the side, and they turned off, but the next sink and toilet started flowing and flushing. And then I saw the phantom menace and started laughing. The automated red sensors were set at too far of a range, and were oddly over-sensitive! But I had a lot of fun running back and forth for the next few minutes, testing out my theory."

"It's good to know that you're so easily entertained," Lana said, giggling like a school girl—who truly belonged on the playground. "But I'm sure Mr. Olsen was disappointed. Poor guy."

"Actually, he thanked me for weeks, saying he hadn't been able to sleep since the night of the encounter. He was grateful to get over his fear of public restrooms."

"He ought to check out some of the public restrooms in Manhattan—they surely give me the heebie jeebies!" Lana said, starting up her swing again—side to side this time, where she could inch closer to Clark.

"Do you think you'll miss anything about Manhattan?" Clark asked.

"Sure, there's a lot to miss," Lana said, thinking of some of her favorite people and places. "But it was time for me to leave. I'm excited to start a new life here."

"Did you grow up in New York City?"

"No, but close," she answered, feeling that Clark was genuinely interested, not just asking an empty—small talk, question. "I was raised on Long Island. But the funny thing is, I have roots in Smallville—from a couple of generations back. My grandmother lived there until her sister, Louise, was murdered and the entire family moved away."

Clark squinted, then gave a far off look for a moment. "To Long Island, huh?" he asked, but Lana wasn't sure that his delayed response was related to where she grew up. "Is your family still there?"

Lana swallowed, knowing this news would dampen their perfect night. "My parents died in a car accident just after I graduated from high school," she said. "And I'm an only child, so I've pretty much been on my own for a while now."

All life drained out of Clark, confirming Lana's fear that such a revelation would ruin the mood. "I'm so sorry to hear that," he said, his sincerity so genuine that Lana was put at ease. "Although my own father passed away around that same time, I can't imagine losing both my parents."

They spent the next half hour or so talking about the topic and discovered how similar their experiences had been of healing and moving on with their lives—doing their best to become the people their parents always wanted them to be. They both felt that even though time takes the sting away, little by little, nothing could ever replace what was lost . . . that losing someone so close and important, changes who you are. It's as if they take a piece of you with them, but patch the gap with a portion of their own soul. In some ways you're left more complete than ever, but feel empty all the same.

"My mom would really like you. You're the kind of girl she keeps expecting me to bring home," Clark said, surprising Lana with his sudden revelation.

Lana smiled, flattered, but too curious to pass up an opportunity. "Exactly what type of girls have you taken home to meet your mother?"

Clark laughed, standing from the swing and helping Lana out of her own. "So far, only the invisible ones."

"Which explains why she'd be so impressed with me!" Lana said, following Clark to a park bench a short distance away. "A real flesh and bone girl—how refreshing."

"Yeah, and one who happens to be the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I hope I haven't scared you today by acting so weird—I don't usually stare at people—I promise," Clark said, gently placing his hands on Lana's bare upper arms. She shivered at his touch and Clark noticed. "Let's get back to the car. You must be freezing."

Lana released the breath she'd been holding. "Not at all. I'm actually quite warm at the moment."

He smiled, taking the smallest of steps closer, making Lana's heart come to a standstill. "Me, too," Clark whispered.

Just as Lana thought something magical was about to happen, sirens ripped through the night air coming closer toward them, then speeding by, accompanied by dozens of flashing lights.

It was impossible, as well as insensitive, not to mention the occurrence.

"Wow. Something awful must have happened," Lana said, turning to watch the convoy of emergency vehicles make its way further down the city street. "I don't know if I've ever seen so many—"

Clark jumped on the bench to get a better view. Then he did something strange—he squinted as if he could see through the darkness better that way.

"It's a good thing Metropolis has Superman," Lana said, looking up to Clark with the confidence that everything would be alright. "I hope he gets there in time."

"Yeah. He better," Clark said, sounding oddly breathless. Then he turned back to Lana, stepped down to the ground and put his warm hands on her shoulders, stroking her skin with his thumbs. She didn't know where one session of chills ended that night, and another one began. "Lana, this looks pretty serious. I should go see if I can help out."

As courageous as that sounded, Lana was disappointed that he wanted to leave. "Oh, okay."

"Besides, White will kill me if I miss covering an event like this."

"Right," Lana said, forcing a smile. "Maybe I should go as well."

Clark hesitated. "Actually, it looks like it might be a high rise fire. I don't want you anywhere near it. Anything could happen."

Lana bit her lip, knowing he was right, but wanting to be treated as a hard-nosed reporter right then, not a delicate young woman. "I'll take a cab back to my hotel." Maybe, she told herself.

Clark reached in his pocket and retrieved his keys. "Take my Envoy," he said, walking her toward the SUV, not too far from where they were. "I'll take the subway, it's right around the corner and will get me as close as I can to the fire."

He was acting so anxious, Lana wasn't sure what to think. She took the keys, nodding, then started to walk off.

"Lana," Clark said, catching up with her again. "I know this is a crummy way to end the night, but I hope you've had a good enough time that you'll let me make this up to you."

She smiled. How could she help it with such an sweet face looking back at her? "I'll look forward to it, Clark. Be careful."

"I will," he said, racing off toward the subway station. "See you tomorrow!"

Or sooner, Lana thought, twirling the keys around her finger. Superman was sure to be at the fire, so this was a perfect time to see him in action. She had some investigating of her own to do, but hoped Clark wouldn't see her there.

Chapter 7

Downtown Metropolis Luthor Sky Tower

Lana could feel the panic in the air, thick with terror, as she walked the two blocks from where she had parked Clark's Envoy to the site of the high rise fire. The top portion of Luthor Sky Tower was completely ablaze—ten floors of raging inferno.

"How could this happen?" she said aloud, gasping. She thought of all the people who must have been snug in their beds at this hour. Save some sort of miracle, there was sure to be an unimaginable loss of life. She shivered, remembering the day the twin towers fell in Manhattan.

It had taken her a full hour to get to the fire. Finding streets that weren't blocked was impossible, especially since she didn't know the city. She still had her New York Times press pass in her handbag, pulling it out to persuade an officer to let her by. But she could only get so close—the emergency vehicles were scattered everywhere.

A man being rolled into an ambulance pulled off his oxygen mask to speak to a paramedic. "He saved us. Superman saved my wife and I. Please find her."

"I'm sure she's on her way to the hospital, sir," answered the paramedic, replacing the oxygen mask. "Along with the others Superman has pulled from the fire. Without him, I doubt we'd have many survivors at all."

Superman IS here! Lana thought with relief. She wasn't thinking about her luck as a reporter, she was thinking of how fortunate the victims of the fire were. Of course Superman was there, how could he have been doing anything else? From what she'd heard and read, he was always around when Metropolis needed him most.

Lana shook her head, making her way closer and closer to the chaos. How could Perry White ever suspect Superman of living a secret life of crime? The idea was completely preposterous!

Just as she was blocked from getting any closer to the radiating heat of the building, a blur of red and blue—unlike anything she'd ever seen—sped past her. For only a moment, she saw a flash of raven black hair when the blur slowed, appearing to deposit a coughing woman on an ambulance stretcher, out of thin air.

"Was that him?" Lana said, not really to anyone in particular. The question was a silly one, and she knew that. It had only been said out loud because of her shock.

"Of course it was him!" answered a female police officer, still blocking Lana from moving too close. She looked Lana over like she was from outer space. "Do you know anyone else who can move that fast?"

"No . . . umm, I'm new here," Lana said, feeling completely stupid. "I just moved from Manhattan."

"Oh! Well, that explains it," said the officer. "You only have the web-slinging variety of superhero where you come from. Boring."

Lana put her hand on her hip, tipping her head. "Excuse me! Spiderman is every bit the hero that Superman is!" she said, ready to get into a MY City's Superhero is Better than YOUR City's Superhero, brawl.

But then, the blur was back . . . and this time the raven black hair was attached to a head . . . and, oh my gosh, a smile! Such a smile. It was pretty much all she could see of Superman's face—it was covered in ash. But something was quite clear, she'd only seen that great of a grin on one other guy.

It was funny that she'd met both men in a single day.

"Don't worry, your family is safe," Superman said to the grateful pajama-clad man he had just rescued. Then he was off again. Lana watched more closely this time, but still couldn't see where he went. Over and over again, Superman returned with someone new, never pausing for more than a moment or so.

Does he breathe? Lana wondered. She knew Superman was from another planet—though he'd never revealed the name of it—but was it possible that he didn't need oxygen? Did he eat? She knew he liked women, so he couldn't be too different from Earth men. Could he? Her mind was racing with curiosity, none of the questions entering her thoughts being the ones her editor wanted answers to.

Soon, Lana heard a tumult of noise coming up behind her. She turned to see a man—who looked to be in his early thirties, but bald—fighting his way through a crowd of officers. "Let me go! I need to find my father!"

"Mr. Luthor, please calm down," said an officer, with his hands on the younger man's chest.

The guy they were calling Mr. Luthor grabbed the officer's walkie-talkie from his suit. "This is Lex Luthor! If anyone knows where my father is, bring him to the ambulance station now!" He dropped the walkie-talkie, looking lost and hopeless.

Lana's heart was gripped with empathy, knowing how awful it felt to await the news of whether or not a parent had survived a tragedy. Her own father had made it as far as surgery following the accident her parents were involved in. It had been horrible enough to learn that her mother had died on impact, but Lana had sat in the waiting room, hour after excruciating hour, pleading with any power that would listen to please, please, don't let her lose them both . . . but she did.

No matter how many friends had come and gone, no one had ever made Lana feel whole again. She was very much alone in this world.

Lana turned and walked toward the weeping man, who was on his knees now. She didn't want him to feel as alone as she was in that waiting room. Kneeling beside him, she said, "Mr. Luthor, I'm Lana Lang. I know we haven't met, but I hope I can offer some comfort as you wait for news of your father."

Lex looked up weakly, focused, then said, "Thank you. He lives on the top floor . . . I don't . . . I just don't know how . . . "

Lana knew what he was trying to say. He couldn't imagine how anyone could survive the flames that were spewing from the top of the building. Then the name of the high rise clicked in Lana's head—Luthor Sky Tower. This man's father must own the building.

She continued to offer soft words of hope to Lex, then suddenly he looked up, his face drooping even further as he slowly stood. "No! No!"

Lana glanced over her shoulder, seeing a lifeless body being carried toward them in Superman's strong arms. Lex raced over, screaming over and over again. "No! No!"

She knew the word well—the only word that came when terror this deep ripped through one's soul. It still echoed in her mind from that tragic day.

Being this close to Superman for the first time was not what she imagined the moment would be like. Even though she was behind several people now, she could see that his eyes were glossy, his blackened cheeks stained from where tears had obviously fallen. He didn't seem to notice anyone around him, only the grieving son of the dead man he held in his arms.

"Lex, I'm so sorry," Superman said, his voice solemn and filled with pain.

Lex stroked his father's face, making Lana start to weep. Then Lex looked up to Superman, towering above him. "You liar!" he shouted, shocking everyone in sight. "You left him for last! You knew where he lived! You let him die!"

Lana threw her hand over her mouth, wishing she could've done the same to Lex just as easily. People tend to say things they don't mean when they're in such a raw emotional state.

"No, Lex. I would never—" Superman started.

"You hated my father! You were always trying to nail him for one thing or another! Well, now you've taken care of him, haven't you?"

There was whispering all around Lana. She only understood a comment here and there. Many were saying that it was true—Superman and Lionel Luthor were known enemies. Others were saying that Lex was being irrational—Superman would never let personal differences stand in his way of saving a life.

Lana wasn't exactly sure what to think, but she was certain that Superman had done his best to get to whomever he could in that building. She'd seen him save dozens of people, how could he have chosen which floor to start at—the top or the bottom. Does the floor number make one person's life more important than another's?

No, of course not. And Lex would surely come to his senses and realize that. He had to be somewhat of a decent man to be grieving over the loss of his father this intensely.

Superman gently set the elder Mr. Luthor down on a stretcher, then walked away. Lana felt like going after him. Here he had saved all these people, and was leaving with his head down. Though officers and firefighters were trailing after him, offering their thanks and support, he still continued to mope. She felt like Superman should be carried out on shoulders like the triumphant hero he was.

Lana looked between he and Lex, trying to decide what to do. If she called after Superman, it would probably stir Lex up again. He had finally calmed, kneeling beside his father.

No, she'd have to find another opportunity to meet Superman—somehow.

By the time Lana left the scene, after helping however she could, it was three in the morning. She was used to walking the streets of New York City at night, but being unfamiliar with the alleyways of Metropolis got her on edge quickly as she made her way back to Clark's Envoy. Now she wished that she had somehow bumped into him at the fire, whether or not he would disapprove of her being where she acted like she wouldn't go.

Just as Lana came to the lot where she'd parked, a man stepped out from behind a truck. "Hey, sweetheart, a bit late for a stroll, ain't it?"

Her heart stopped, then started racing at light speed. Why hadn't she brought her stun gun? Damn!

The guy was coming in fast. There wasn't time to run. When he got close enough, reaching out for her, she let him get the first grab of her arm, then spun around, back-kicked him in the knee, elbowed his face, then when he stumbled back, she did the round kick of her life. All the while, she screamed for help, as well as courage.

The guy was screaming as well.

Her self-defense instructor would've been proud, but she wasn't about to stick around for round two! She started running, then heard a blood-curdling screech from her attacker—then a thud of something hitting metal.

Lana whirled around, having no idea what to expect. What she got was more of a shock than she could've imagined—a big S in her face.

She looked up slowly . . . up, up, up. He was huge!

"Are you okay?" Superman asked. "I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."

Swallowing down what seemed to be a rock stuck in her throat, Lana said, "Yeah, I'm alright." She looked around. "Where is he?"

"I tossed him into the dumpster."

She gave a laugh of relief. "Good idea. That's the perfect place for gutter trash."

"Actually, I think you did a better job of taking care of him than I did," Superman said, with that smile Lana had admired earlier in the night. He'd cleaned up now, so she could see what he really looked like. Wow. They grew their men quite handsome here in Kansas, or wherever he was from. His newspaper pictures didn't do him justice. With the streetlight catching his eyes just right, Lana was stunned by how brilliantly blue they were. "I guess there's one less woman I need to worry about in this city. Nice job."

Lana tipped her head. "You saw what happened?"

"Well, I heard you screaming, then shot down from the sky, but man, you were quick," he said, giving a darling smirk. No wonder he made Lois swoon. Oh yeah, she should mention Lois.

"Thanks so much, really," she said. "And I know Lois Lane. We work together and decided just today to be roommates."

"Really?" Superman said, not acting too surprised. Then his eyes grew wide—like he'd just remembered something. "Oh crap!"

Lana laughed. "Superman says 'crap?'"

"I say and do a lot of things I shouldn't," he said, lowing his head then raising his eyes to meet hers. "Like forgetting to cancel a date."

"Oh my," Lana said, folding her arms. "I'm sure she'll understand though. You were off saving lives . . . which by the way, I wanted to tell you what an amazing job you did. Forget about what Lex Luthor said, he wasn't thinking clearly."

"You were there?" Superman asked, squinting. "I can't believe I didn't see you."

"Well, you were busy—to say the least. And you don't know who I am, so why would you notice me in such a large crowd?"

He smiled. "Trust me, you wouldn't be hard to spot in a crowd."

Lana looked down, feeling oddly awkward. She knew what he meant—but this was Lois' boyfriend. He shouldn't say things like that. Maybe Clark was right, that Superman's feelings for Lois were fading. But either way, she didn't feel right flirting with him—especially since she was already so swept up by someone else she'd just met.

"Would you mind walking me to my car?" Lana said, trying to wiggle out of the situation.

"You mean Clark Kent's car?" Superman said, walking to her side.

She looked at him in shock. "Do you know what everyone's vehicle in Metropolis looks like?"

Superman gave a wry smile. "They don't call me Superman for nothing." Then he laughed when Lana didn't look impressed. "I'm joking. Clark and I are good friends."

"You are?" Lana said, fishing out the keys from her handbag. "Well, I guess that makes sense. You both know Lois so well."

Superman leaned up against the Envoy, folding his arms. "You'd be surprised how many common friends Clark and I have."

Lana nodded, uncertain if that was a self-compliment, or kudos to Clark for being so popular. "My friend, Chloe Sullivan, says she's met you."

"Yeah, the reporter-extraordinaire."

"That's the one," Lana said, impressed that he remembered the meeting. Chloe had told her about it a few years ago. "And you probably won't be too surprised to learn that I'm a reporter as well." Then she remembered that she hadn't even told him her name. "Lana Lang."

"Nice to meet you, Lana," he said, stretching out his hand.

Lana shook it, having the feeling of familiarity. It had been a strange day, she decided, feeling so at ease with people she didn't even know.

"I'm sure we'll run into one another again," Lana said, climbing into the Envoy. "Especially with Lois and I being roommates."

Superman nodded. "Can I just make something clear before you leave?"

Lana was just about to shut the door, but stopped, curious about the serious tone of his voice. "Sure."

Taking a deep breath, he said, "Lionel Luthor was one of the first people I pulled from the fire. He had already passed when I got there—along with his three security guards, who were staying at his penthouse. When his son Lex came, I wanted to be the one to deliver the body. It was obviously a mistake."

"I'm so sorry about what happened," Lana said. "I'm sure you did everything you could. You lived up to your name tonight, and everyone will know that."

"I hope so," Superman said. "As far as I know, those four men were the only casualties."

Lana smiled. "That's truly amazing. The rest are alive because of you."

"Thanks. After something like this happens, I feel like giving up on this whole suit and cape thing."

"Well don't. We all need a hero," Lana said with sincerity.

Superman motioned to the dumpster, with a tip of his head. "Especially guys who make the mistake of picking on you."

Chapter 8

Daily Planet News Floor

Clark's desk phone rang three times before he even noticed. He blinked out of his sleep-deprived coma, and answered, "Daily Clark, this is the Planet speaking."

Suddenly, it seemed like there was surround sound laughing—coming from both the receiver and somewhere else. "I didn't keep you up that late!"

Clark sat up, trying to draw enough energy to speak to Lana in coherent sentences. "Are you calling me from your desk?" He squinted through the other side of his cubicle, but his x-ray vision was far from working this morning. He couldn't even see his computer screen clearly.

"Yep, and there's a reason I'm being sneaky, so don't come over here," Lana said. "We need to talk. I'll meet you on the roof in ten minutes."

Before Clark could say, But we ARE talking, Lana, like any typical guy who couldn't take a hint would, Lana hung up.

Clark's mind finally clicked on. Oh! She wants to be alone. Okay, what could that mean? Too many things for Clark to imagine in his state . . . except for one thing.

Maybe she wants to finish up what we left undone last night. Clark stood in a flash, knocking his chair over. Yeah, he could definitely go for that!

While Clark was trying to get his chair off the floor, Lana walked by in a hot baby doll dress. She gave him a sideways glance with a sultry smile, then kept going.

Lois had been right yesterday, Lana did make him drool on his shoes.

He shook his head, hoping he could wake up enough to control his heat vision on the roof. It had better be a breezy day . . . but then, Lana was wearing that tiny baby doll dress, so wind would make things even worse.

Oh man, Clark couldn't wait another ten minutes. He had to follow her right then. But there was only one elevator that went to the roof, and he couldn't super-speed the stairs again. Not because he was tired—that suddenly wasn't a problem anymore, but because Lana would wonder how he made it up there before she did.

He made his way as casually as possible across the news floor, then through the hallway toward the elevators. Lana had already taken the elevator that went to the roof, so he'd have to be tricky. Since she was only a few floors up by then, he ran five flights of stairs, then requested her elevator to stop.

The doors opened, and there she was—first with a stunned look, then a bright smile. "Well, you surely woke up in a hurry, Kal."

Clark stepped inside the elevator. "Fancy meeting you here, Isobel," he said, leaning against the wall, near the control panel. He pushed the button to close the doors in a hurry. "You don't plan to cast any magical spells on me today, do you?"

Lana scrunched her face in contemplation. "Umm, maybe. How well did my spell work the last time?"

Dang, she looked so smokin' hot, Clark wanted to forget the fact that he was a gentleman—and especially that he'd only been on one date with her. "Better than you can imagine. It was an exciting night."

"I wasn't talking about the fire."

"Neither was I," Clark answered, not believing they were so blatantly flirting. He'd never done this in his life. They weren't even looking at one another, just staring straight ahead like it was small talk—which made it all the more alluring.

It only took a few more comments to make Clark lose his balance and accidentally bump the emergency stop button with his elbow. They came to a rough halt, just before the exit to the roof. Lana looked at Clark and started laughing. "You're being a bit naughty today, aren't you?"

He gave an impish grin, looking over his shoulder as he tried to get the elevator going again. "I didn't plan this. You're the one who invited me to the roof." He continued pushing buttons, but nothing happened. "We might be stuck here for a while."

Lana walked over to the doors. "Maybe we could pry the doors open and crawl out." She looked down at her dress. "Well, you could crawl out first, then help me."

Clark smiled. "Good idea," he said, faking a grimace as he parted the doors, little by little.

"It shouldn't be that tough, I've had to do it myself before."

"Oh," Clark said, pulling the doors open in an instant. "Dang, there's only a few inches of space. You couldn't even—"

Clark stopped talking mid-sentence, hearing an approaching voice from the floor they were just shy of—a very familiar one. Lana grabbed his hands from the doors, and they closed. "That's Lois!" she whispered in a panic.

He had his own reasons to worry about being caught in a elevator with Lana—Lois would never stop teasing him about it, but why was Lana so freaked out?

Unfortunately, Clark had bigger issues to worry about at the moment. It was obvious that Lois was crying. Crying! Lois Lane—the General's daughter, weeping her eyes out.

"Chloe, I don't know what to do," Lois said, sniffing. Clark x-rayed through the floor to see Lois on her cell. "He didn't even call. He straight out stood me up!"

Lana and Clark made hesitant eye contact. It wasn't like they were eavesdropping on purpose, they didn't have much choice.

"No, that wasn't it!" Lois said. "The fire didn't start until eleven. He was supposed to be at my place at eight!"

Clark had unintentionally tuned into the other side of the conversation with his super-hearing. "Oh. Well, I'm sure he'll have a good explanation. Something must've distracted him—big time," Chloe said. She had that tone in her voice that said she was gonna freaking strangle Clark when she got a hold of him. Clark knew that tone and it made him shiver. Chloe scared him more than a mountain of Kryptonite sometimes.

Lois sniffed again. "No, Chloe. This is my fault. I've waited too long to tell him everything I should have. Supes is tired of me. I knew I wasn't good enough for him, Chlo. Let's face it, who is? And not just because he's a superhero. He's so much more than that."

Lana gave a half-smile as she tipped her head. "That's sweet," she whispered.

Not really! Clark felt less than a centimeter tall. He was such a jerk—how could he forget to call Lois and cancel their date? He'd called from payphones dozens of times before to cancel, and she usually understood. This was such crappy timing for him to forget, when Lois was already self-conscious about Superman's behavior.

But, maybe Lois was only feeling this way now because Superman was so obviously pulling away from her—and for good reason. Lois was right, he was getting tired of her—all of her questions and articles, revealing things he thought he'd shared in confidence. He was never sure what parts of their conversation would make it into the paper for all to read.

He'd never been able to figure out where Lois drew her line between professional and personal interest—at best, it was a blurry boundary that moved without warning.

After a few more minutes, with Lois still ripping both herself and Superman's manners, Lois started pushing the button to call the elevator. Clark saw her glance up at the floor status and pound the call button again. "Damn it! The elevator's stuck! I'm not taking the stairs, so they better fix the freaking thing fast!"

"I'm so sorry about this, Lana," Clark said to her. Her face was starting to glisten, but Clark couldn't feel the heat as well as she could. The way she was looking, however, heated him up in a different type of way.

Clark shouldn't have been thinking what he was, not with another girl crying because of him. But was he supposed to blow his chance with Lana, only to continue waiting around for a woman he'd been waiting for much too long anyway? Someone who had never made him feel nearly as confident about himself as Lana had in their first twenty-four hours together?

Lana smiled, surprising Clark by taking his hand, one finger at a time. "Who's complaining?"

Well, Lois was still doing plenty of complaining, but her voice was fading out fast as Clark returned Lana's gesture by taking a much needed breath and stepping closer to her.

That was until Lois said, " . . . and then, Chloe, you won't believe what happened this morning. I was pulling into the parking garage, and Clark's Envoy came down the opposite side of the same row—only Clark wasn't driving. It was Lana!"

Clark's eyes widened and Lana bit her lip, glancing away.

Lois laughed. "How the hell did he manage to snag her so quickly? I guarantee Clark hasn't spent the night under the same roof as a woman since he lived at home with his mother!"

Lana covered her face, and Clark closed his eyes in humiliation. What part of Lois' comment was worse—that she thought he and Lana had a sleepover, or making Clark sound like the 40 Year Old Virgin? Because she was definitely wrong—he was only 25.

"I knew she thought that!" Lana whispered, pulling Clark into the far corner of the elevator by his front belt loops. "We better get away from the doors. She'll hear us."

Who cared what Lois thought? Lois who? Clark was in the corner with a gorgeous woman, one who just turned his insides out with a single tug.

"That's the reason we needed to talk," Lana said, her eyes scanning his lips like she was a hungry lion looking over a good meal. "I wanted to warn you that Lois saw me in your Envoy, in case she said something."

"She can think whatever she wants. I don't care," Clark said, catching his breath just in time to answer.

All he could think of was how good it felt for someone to want him as badly as he wanted her. He could sense it—he had every time they were together. That was, every time he was Clark Kent. When he stood in front of Lana as Superman, he sensed that she admired his courage, but wasn't a bit interested in flirting with him. Dang, that felt good! He had plenty of people to respect Superman's courage, or admire him as a superhero.

Lana made Clark feel like a man. One who could be loved and wanted for who he was deep down inside, not just for his super-powered genetics.

Clark tucked a loose strand of hair behind Lana's ear and she smiled. "I hope you're not upset that Lois jumped to that conclusion."

"Not at all," Lana said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. She tightened her hold on Clark's belt loops, making his knees give out. Clark leaned in, an irreversible force of nature pulling him closer. The heat bouncing between them was crazy, and he was going for it. "But don't get me wrong, I'm not . . . you know, like that," Lana said with a nervous laugh. She looked away and released her grip on him. "In fact, this isn't like me either."

Clark backed off, disappointed, but knowing it was probably for the best. "Lana, for some reason, I feel like I've known you a lot longer than I have. And it makes me, well, more reckless than usual," he said, unable to stop himself from admitting it. "And it's not just because you're inexplicably beautiful. There's just something . . . I don't know . . . some sort of—"

"Connection," Lana said, giving a shy smile. "I'm feeling it, too, Clark. Believe me."

"Good," he said, running his hands down the length of her delicate arms. Lana's skin was so soft, he could've kept it up all day and the thrill would've never died down. She glanced back to him, with a look that said she was enjoying his lingering touch every bit as much as he was. Clark swallowed, and asked, "Do you have plans tonight?"

Before Lana could answer, the elevator jolted to a start—going up. They only had half a floor to go before the doors would open.

"I do now," Lana said, raising a corner of her lips in a suggestive smirk.

They backed away from one another. "I'll pick you up at seven," Clark said, just as the doors opened with a ding.

Without either Clark or Lana realizing she left, Lois must've given up on the elevator and taken the stairs, because she wasn't there to see the prize waiting behind door number three—and thank heaven!

When lunchtime arrived, Clark found himself more twisted up than a triple-looping roller coaster. The majority of him wanted to forget about Lois' feelings. He'd played games with her long enough—it was time to move on. But the friendship he had with Lois was tugging at him to do something nice to make up for his mistake.

He had to admit though, that his primary reason for wanting to take care of it so quickly was because he wanted to get the guilt off his chest before his date with Lana tonight. He didn't want to think of anything but her . . . her eyes, her voice, her smile.

Clark laughed to himself when he thought about what happened in the elevator. He had almost kissed Lana. Him! The guy who didn't dare hold her hand last night at the park—even though he'd already been doing it most the night. In so many ways, he hoped they could get back to where they were in the elevator tonight, but the thought of it worried him.

He didn't want to move so fast that their foundation was built on sand. Clark felt that there could be so much more, so why take the chance of ruining it? Lana was the smart one for keeping things under control today. Had he scared her though, by acting too aggressive . . . by being too comfortable with the idea of moving so fast with someone he'd just met? Because that definitely wasn't typical for him, but she wouldn't know that.

Maybe Chloe could tell her that. Yeah, he'd have to solicit Chloe's help again. Oh . . . whoops. He forgot about the death threat he'd just received from his so-called best friend on his voice mail. It went something like this: "Clark, you better be to my place ten minutes after you get off work. You're in for the tongue-lashing of your life. No, make that a butt-whooping you'll never forget. We're talking Special-K here, buddy, so be prepared."

Special-K was Chloe's way of saying Kryptonite would be involved. Obviously, she didn't mean it . . . at least he didn't think so. But she did sound pretty darn ticked. Oh well, she'd get over it. He'd pull his innocent smile on her, and Chloe would brush off his stupidity to a raging surge of Big Dumb Alien hormones.

Just to complicate matters, Lana had invited Lois to go out to lunch. Clark was certain Lana did it so she could have a chance to explain what she was doing in his car that morning. He didn't blame her for wanting to protect her reputation, but geez, he wished there was a way to keep them separated. He didn't want the girls getting all cozy and talking about their loves lives. That might cause more trouble than he could even imagine. And now, they were moving in together in three days.

Supes had to break it off with Lois, Clark knew that. But how? He wanted to let her down gently, and he was about to take that first step—by apologizing for last night, but nothing more.

Knowing that Lois' favorite flowers were wildflowers, he called several different floral shops during his lunch break. He used his cell phone, but was smart enough to know he couldn't give his card number—which would mean also giving his name. When he finally found a place that had wildflowers available for delivery that day, he asked the shop to get the order ready, then said he'd be in shortly to pay for them—with cash.

When Clark got to the floral shop, he asked one of the clerks to fill out the card for him. It read: Lois, I'm so sorry about last night. It's not what you think.

Clark had already scanned the place for any sort of surveillance cameras, so he knew Lois wouldn't be able to track him down that way if she came looking. He'd also made sure that he placed the order with one clerk over the phone—with a fake name, and paid for it with another clerk. It was quick and painless, and the flowers would be delivered to Lois' desk by the time she returned from lunch.

Clark was such a clever boy . . . or so he thought.

Chapter 9

Downtown Metropolis

Lana's ears were literally ringing a mere ten minutes into her lunch date with Lois. She'd never heard anyone talk so fast, nor so much. Lana wondered how Superman managed to keep up with Lois, even at the speed he could move.

It was an interesting conversation, however, and Lana was not nearly as annoyed by Lois' motor mouth as Chloe had told her others were at times. Lana was quick to clarify what she was doing in Clark's Envoy that morning. She said that Mr. Olsen had sent them on a silly assignment, then Clark was concerned about helping out at the fire and left her with his Envoy. She didn't mention anything about dinner and the playground because she still wasn't sure how lightly she needed to tread with Lois. And she wasn't about to give away her early affection for Clark—for one thing, she was quite surprised herself that she was feeling this way so soon, and for another, an intelligent woman would never reveal her cards to a possible opponent if she wants to win the hand.

"That makes a lot more sense than the alternative implication," Lois said, shoveling a fork full of salad into her mouth. "Clark isn't your type. Trust me."

Lana sipped her mineral water, then calmly said, "Actually, he's a very refreshing change from the brash, arrogant city guys I'm used to."

Lois continued to chew. "Well, duh. The dude grew up scooping poop from stalls and practically drinking his milk straight from the cow's udder. So of course he's different. Women are drawn in by Clark's country charms, but you're a city girl—his nice-boy ways will get on your nerves soon enough. A real man takes control and makes you feel like a woman. Clark just isn't capable of that."

Well, that answered one very important question for Lana. Lois had obviously never been stuck in a steamy elevator with Clark Kent.

Lana could still see his devouring eyes looking back at her. She could feel that desperate ache of wanting so much more than she should from a practical stranger. But like Clark suggested, it seemed like they had known one another so much longer than they had. There was both a physical and emotional connection that she had never felt before. Just thinking about Clark's hands on her skin made her chill all over again. His strong, hungry touch, made her feel not only wanted, but longed for.

Lois was so wrong. Clark was very much capable of making Lana feel like a woman. In fact, she could only imagine—and she'd definitely been doing quite a bit of imagining, how it would feel to be in his arms, caressed by his delicious full lips . . . trailing down her neck . . .

"Are you sweating?" Lois asked, making Lana jump. "You spaced off for a sec. Are you feeling okay?"

Oh, yes! Lana nearly answered.

"It's a bit hot in here," Lana said, dabbing her face and forehead with a napkin. "But I'm fine. So, anyway, tell me a bit more about our apartment."

Lois went on about their living arrangements, how they'd each have a separate bedroom, but would have to share a bathroom. That was fine—Lana was used to that. The rent was high, but the place was in one of the safer parts of town and the building was only a few years old—which was nearly impossible to find in such a crowded city.

Lana had searched for a place when she was in Metropolis for her interview and hadn't found anything nearly as nice as this sounded, so she was excited to see it. The itty-bitty detail that she would be roommates with Lois was just starting to settle in.

"Why don't you come over tonight?" Lois asked.

Lana swallowed. She wasn't about to tell Lois about her date with Clark—not wanting to hear Lois tear down Clark any further—it was all bogus anyway. She didn't know Lana well enough to judge what type of guy would make her happy.

And Lana would've asked if Lois had plans with Superman, but she already knew that he would be much too tender a subject to bring up.

Lana resorted to answering, "You know, I trust you, and Chloe's been there and loves the place. So I'll just move in three days from now like we've planned—site unseen."

"Good," Lois said, waving over the waiter for the check. "Because it's a freaking mess right now and I'm not in the mood to clean."

Lois' mood was changed significantly when the two ladies returned from lunch. On her desk, was a beautiful arrangement of wildflowers. Lana smiled instantly, remembering how bad Superman had felt about forgetting his date with Lois last night.

"Well, someone sure thinks a lot of you," Lana said.

Lois was basking in the glow of the flowers, grabbing the envelope and reading the card aloud. "Lois, I'm so sorry about last night. It's not what you think." She trailed off without reading who the card was from, then shoved it back inside the envelope and whirled around to Lana. "Anyway, fun lunch. Let's do it again."

Lana hadn't meant to hang around, but Lois was so quick to open the card that she hadn't had time to leave. Lana had only been admiring the flowers and thinking how thoughtful Superman had been to send them. The message seemed like a decent enough apology though, so why was Lois acting so strangely about it?

With that question in mind, Lana made her way toward her own desk, passing Clark's empty cubicle and taking a deep breath to see if she could capture the slightest whiff of his delicious scent. She giggled to herself, knowing she hadn't been this silly over a guy since grade school. Clark made her feel so young and innocent again—the way she was before the weight of serious relationships and life-changing tragedies.

Lana's smile doubled in size when she rounded the corner to her own desk. A bouquet of exotic flowers—three times larger than Lois' bouquet—was sitting there. She threw her hand over her mouth and whispered in awe, "Oh my gosh, Clark."

When he said he was going to make up for leaving her at the playground last night, he wasn't kidding.

Lana glanced around, hoping no one was laughing at her girlish reaction, then with shaking, excited hands, she opened the envelope—immediately dropping the card to the floor. "Lex Luthor?"

She hadn't even bothered to read the message. All she needed to see was the name to feel the bitter sting of disappointment. She slumped over in her chair, wondering how Lex had even managed to remember her name in the state he was in at the fire—let alone track her down already.

Looking around in a panic—she wasn't sure why—she wanted to get rid of the flowers before Clark saw them. The sweet secretary, Heidi, who Lana had talked to a few times was away from her desk when Lois and Lana had returned from lunch, so that gave her an idea.

Lana was sure that the delivery man would've gone in through the main doors, not the back entrance to the news floor where Heidi sat, so Lana grabbed the enormous vase of flowers, barely able to manage it, and trucked it toward Heidi's desk.

Heidi was fortunately still at lunch, so Lana placed the flowers down and scribbled a note on cardstock paper, trying to make it look like a man's handwriting. She cut the note to look like it came from a florist and stuck it in the flowers. It said, "Heidi, you look beautiful today!"

Lana had hidden the note from Lex in her pocket, deciding to read it later. It didn't matter what it said. The only thing Lana knew was that the flowers were from the wrong guy.

Telling Perry White that she had a possible lead on Superman, Lana left work by four. Clark was picking her up at seven, so if she was going to look anywhere near as beautiful as she wanted to look for him, she needed some serious time for primping.

However, she hadn't lied to White. Lana was first heading to the florist shop where Lois had received her flowers from Superman. Though the floral card and envelope didn't reveal the name, Lana had called around, and only one place had wildflowers—"Blossoms on Broadway." Certain Lois would be doing the exact same thing any time now, if she hadn't already, Lana knew she had to be quick.

Finding it difficult to put on her serious investigator's hat—since she'd been too distracted today to think of anything other than investigating Clark Kent a bit closer—Lana thought she'd draw on her emotions and pretend to be a scorned lover looking for evidence of betrayal.

Lana moped into the floral shop, sad-eyed and taking shallow breaths. She approached the middle-aged woman behind the counter. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help with a rather delicate situation?"

The woman, Betty, her nametag said, immediately picked up on Lana's gloomy disposition. "Sure, honey. What can I do for you?"

Lana sniffed, squaring her shoulders as though she was trying to draw courage. "My boyfriend might have sent another woman flowers. They came to my roommate, of all horrible possibilities, and I'm desperate to find out if it was him. I don't think he would've used his name when he sent the flowers—he probably paid with cash."

"He's after your roommate?" said Betty, looking stunned. "Goodness me, that's awful! What's this fellow look like? We'll catch that bugger if he's being any bit unfaithful to a pretty girl like you."

Lana gave a shy smile. "You're so kind, thank you," she said. "I don't have a picture with me, but he's about six-five, with really broad shoulders, and dark hair. And they were wildflowers."

"Wildflowers?" she asked, shaking her head with a dismal pout. "Were you the young lady who called a while ago and asked if we sold them?"

Lowering her eyes, Lana nodded.

"We rarely get orders for wildflowers, but today was one of those days," Betty said.

Lana threw her hands over her face. "Oh, I knew it. I just knew it!"

The woman put her hand on Lana's shoulder. "Honey, don't you cry now. It might not have been him. The fellow I helped with the wildflowers did pay with cash, and ordered ahead of time, but I'd say he was closer to six-three than six-five . . . and nice as can be, so let me just check with my delivery boy, who took the order, to see if he got a name."

Smiling under her hands, and wanting to do a happy dance, Lana nodded—then sniffed.

A minute or so later, a college-aged guy came out with a Blossoms on Broadway delivery cap on. "Holy freak! Is the dude blind?" he asked Betty, while still staring in awe at Lana.

"Just tell her what you have, Mike," Betty said, motioning to the cell phone in his hand.

Mike blinked hard and gulped. "Well, you see, when Betty is on another call, the overflow calls ring to my cell while I'm out making deliveries. So, I took this guy's call about the wildflowers, told him we had them, then he said to get the order ready and he'd come in and pay cash. I wasn't here when he came, but his number is on my caller ID—and I'm sure it's his number here at 12:17, because I was eating at Subway when I took the call, and my lunch break is between 12 and 12:30."

He tipped the cell phone toward Lana so she could see the number. She was so excited her eyes were blurry, but she forced herself to focus—seeing only a number without a name. "Oh thank heaven! It's not him! Well, at least I don't think so. He didn't use his own phone if it was, but what if he used one of his friend's cells? Maybe I should get the number just in case."

"Yeah. Because you never know," said Mike, obviously trying to take advantage of the situation. "Guys can be sneaky. Well, not me, I'm not that sneaky. Really, I'm not."

Betty slapped his arm. "Just give her the number, Mike."

Lana gave Mike a sweet, 'nice try' smile. "Thanks so much. You've both been so kind." Lana scribbled down the number, and clenched the paper in her hand.

"Let us know what happens, darling," Betty said, as Lana headed for the exit.

"Yeah! Let us know!" Mike said, with hope resounding in his voice.

Walking as quickly as she could to where she had earlier seen a payphone, Lana could hardly catch her breath. She had Superman's number! She didn't know what she was going to say, but hoped she could think of something clever when the time came.

Picking up the payphone receiver, Lana dialed the number she got from Mike's caller ID. It rang twice, then a deep voice answered. It didn't sound like Superman's particular voice, but perhaps he sounded different over the phone. "Hello?"

"Hi, I just received a call from this number, but I'm not sure who you are," Lana said, certain the moment the words left her mouth that she'd blown it. She should've thought of a better plan!

"Lana?" answered the voice. "It's Clark. I don't think I called you—I was going to in a few minutes though."

Lana dropped the receiver and it banged against the metal frame of the payphone. She slowly gripped it, returning it to her ear.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked, his voice echoing through Lana's numb mind. "I have you on speed dial now, so I might have bumped my cell, and it called you. Sorry." There was a pause. "Are you calling from your hotel? My caller ID didn't pick up your number."

"Umm, actually, I'm calling from a payphone. My reception isn't very good in the city sometimes," she said, which was true. "We'll talk in a while then, see you at seven."

Before Clark could return the farewell, she hung the receiver back on the hook—keeping her hand there for several moments as she tried to process what had just happened.

"CLARK!" she said, her chest burning.

Clark was the one who sent Lois the flowers—not Superman. Now Lois' reaction made sense when she hurried and hid the note—she was trying to keep the truth from Lana—that Clark was still crazy about her. Why else would he feel a need to apologize for taking Lana out the previous night?

Lana tried to remember what the note said. Something about being sorry for last night, and that it wasn't what she thought. What in the hell did Clark mean by that? That Mr. Olsen forced Clark to take Lana out, so Lois shouldn't worry—it wasn't a date! Or, even if he was talking about Lois misunderstanding why Lana was driving Clark's Envoy, why should Clark feel the need to explain that with a freaking bouquet of flowers?

Kicking the payphone pole, since she didn't have Clark there to kick, Lana told herself, Stupid girl! You should've listened to Chloe. She was right—you shouldn't have gotten mixed up with a guy who had unresolved feelings for someone else.

And now, she felt even more ridiculous for leaving Chloe the syrupy voicemail she had earlier. Urg!

Lana found her way to the playground she and Clark had visited and swung endlessly, thinking about the guy who stole her heart away in just a few short hours. Why had she felt such a connection to him if things weren't meant to be? And why was she crying over someone who was never hers?

How could she have believed Clark was as interested in her as she was in him? Maybe he was just like every other guy—only seeing what was on the outside of her—not into her soul as she felt Clark had.

Lana wiped her eyes, once again feeling alone in the world—not knowing if she had the strength to fight for the man she knew could fill that void.

Chapter 10

Chloe Sullivan's Apartment, New York City

Clark felt like flying. He wanted to bolt into the sky and feel the wind blasting against his face.

More to satisfy his need for speed, than to appease Chloe's demands, Clark went to New York City straight after work—again.

When he got to Chloe's door, he knocked. The door opened just a crack, then a piece of paper was passed through. He took it and read:

"Here are the items we need to discuss, so plan your answers wisely. I'm ticked.
#1 - You're an idiot – I helped you keep your date with Lana, then you stood up Lois! Do you have any idea how guilty that makes me feel? Lois was bawling her eyes out. I want to strangle you, my dear socially-challenged friend.

#2 - Lionel Luthor died in a fire last night! Did you hear me, Clark? LIONEL LUTHOR DIED IN A FIRE LAST NIGHT! And how did I learn of this? Was it from the guy who's been after his butt with me for ten years? Nope. I read about it on the front page of my own freaking newspaper. And oh, what's more—Supes was there. Yep. He was the one who pulled Lionel's body from the fire. Gosh, that's kind of a big deal, flyboy! Thanks for the heads up.

#3 - Did you bump into some red-k again? Because you're sure acting like it. Only Kal would corner a girl in an elevator and get her all hot and bothered. Geez, Clark. You met the girl yesterday. Control yourself."

That's when Clark threw the door open to find a red-faced Chloe taking deep breaths as she tapped her foot—waiting for him.

"Okay, first things first," Clark said, looking back to her list of complaints. "I mean, last things first. What did Lana tell you about the elevator?"

"Clark! You've got to be kidding me!"

"No, I'm not," he said, tossing the paper into the air and relaxing on Chloe's couch. "I think I'm in love."

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Oh please."

"Actually, I'm sure I'm in love," Clark said with a sigh. Chloe threw a thick book right at his head—it was nice having an invincible friend. He didn't make a single motion to block it. "You can pound me as much as you want, I don't care."

Clark kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the full length of the couch, putting his hands behind his head.

"Get your stinky feet off my pillows," Chloe said, grabbing the pillows from under his feet.

"My feet don't even sweat, so how can they stink?"

Chloe gave up, sitting on the floor beside the couch. "Okay, let's get this over with. It's obvious your date with Lana went well last night, even though I know it didn't end the way Lois thought it did."

"Oh yeah? What makes you say that?" Clark asked with a smirk.

"Because Lana refused to go that far with a guy she dated for two years, so I know she's not the type to end up with someone else after just one night."

Clark sat straight. "Who? What was his name? How serious were they? Is it totally over? For how long? Do you think she still likes him?"

Chloe shook her head in disbelief. "Could you please submit your list of nosy questions in writing?" she asked. "And address them to Lana. It's not my place to tell you."

"Come on, Chlo," Clark said. "You know I won't dare ask her."

His pouty face always made Chloe crack. "His name is Jason—he's a business tycoon here in Manhattan. And yeah, they were pretty serious for a while, but as hard as Lana tried, she couldn't imagine spending her life with him. She knew she wasn't in love, and broke it off about two months ago."

Clark smiled, relaxing back on the couch. "Good. Because here's the amazing part—I think Lana likes me every bit as much as I like her. Crazy, huh? I mean, that's never happened to me."

"What are you talking about? You're always having to fend off women."

Propping up on his elbow, Clark said, "Yeah, but have I ever been in an equal relationship? Where we both felt the same way? This is a first for me, Chloe." Clark knew he was walking on thin ice, since Chloe had at one time been one whose affection he didn't return with the same intensity. She'd been over it for long enough though, that he hoped she wouldn't take offence.

At first, Chloe didn't seem a bit bothered, but then her expression changed to one of concern. "Clark, I really think Lois is close to that—finally. And you're walking away from her. Are you sure that's what you want? What if things don't work out between you and Lana? You may come to regret the path you're taking."

This answer was a no-brainer. "You know my feelings for Lois started fading before Lana showed up. Think about it, Chloe. Lois likes a part of me that isn't genuine. How can I spend the rest of my life being someone I'm not? It's easy to pretend to be the guy she wants when I'm in the suit, but when I'm not—I'm far from what she's looking for. And truthfully, she isn't the woman I want anymore either. Things have changed."

"Obviously," Chloe said.

"Man, I can't even tell you how good Lana makes me feel," Clark said, running a hand through his hair. "When I'm with her, I can hardly catch my breath. When we were stuck in the elevator together today . . . " Clark glanced at Chloe, knowing there were 'boundaries' he had to stay in, " . . . well, let's just say, I was feeling very Kal-like as you suggested in your formal list of complaints. I couldn't help it though, she just . . . umm, does something to me."

"That's a great place to stop," Chloe said, holding up her hand. "But, Clark, that doesn't mean that you're falling in love. I hate to tell you this, but Lana has that effect on pretty much every guy who's ever looked at her."

"Well, duh," Clark said, sitting up and facing her. "But it's more than that, Chloe. Last night was so amazing. It's the best time I've ever had on a date. We never ran out of things to talk about—we're so much alike. And she laughs along with me—not at me, like someone else I know. When we went to the playground, I had this feeling that . . . I know this will sound corny to you, but I felt like she was the part of me I've always been missing. After just one night, I never want to spend another minute without her. How can you explain something like that?"

Chloe's mouth was hanging half open. "Umm, I can't really. And it's kinda freaky to hear you talk like this. Especially since I think you're right, she feels the same way."

Bounding from the couch, Clark said, "You see, it's fate. We're meant to be together." Towering above Chloe, he added, "So, what did she tell you about the elevator?"

"Enough," Chloe said, holding out her hand so Clark could help her stand. "And she says you have another date tonight that she can't wait for."

Clark put a hand to his pounding chest. "Good, because I've been worried that I scared her today. I'm sure she knew exactly what I was thinking in the elevator. I knew it was too soon to kiss her, but dang, I wanted to. I wanted to—"

"Okay, yeah . . . if you had that same look in your eyes that you do right now, I would've been scared, too," Chloe said, backing away.

Desperate to find an excuse for having acted so forward with Lana, Clark said, "Well, she called me Kal when I got into the elevator, all seductive like, so that didn't help."

"She WHAT?" Chloe coughed, like she was choking on a hairball. "H . . . how! How does she know that name? You've never even told Lois that."

"Well, gosh, Chloe," Clark said, sardonically. "I wonder if that has anything to do with knowing my real name would be published around the world by the next morning. Just like everything else I've ever told her in confidence. But don't worry, Lana calling me Kal has nothing to do with Supes. It's the only name I could think of when we invented nicknames for the jewelry store."

"Oh," Chloe said, her face regaining color. "And what was her nickname?"

"Isobel."

Chloe smiled, as if she knew who Isobel was. "My, my. Lana must've been feeling naughty."

Clark nodded. "Yeah, she said that. Well, not exactly that, but close enough." He raised his brows up and down. "See, I have the same effect on her as she has on me. Man, I love it!"

"And what do you think her reaction would be to Supes?" Chloe asked.

"Didn't she say anything about meeting him?"

Chloe shook her head. "How did you manage that?"

"After the fire—" Clark started, then told her everything that happened.

"Wow. I'm surprised she didn't say anything. I guess her mind was elsewhere when she left the message on my voicemail," Chloe said. Her face scrunched up. "Just like your mind was elsewhere when you stood up Lois."

Clark gave his best puppy dog face. "I sent her flowers from Supes."

"Not good enough."

"Why?"

"Because flowers in this situation just say, 'I'm a jerk—deal with it!'" Chloe said. "You need a face to face apology."

"Chloe, I can't right now. I don't know what to say to her," Clark said. "I'm tired of feeling guilty about everything! I've felt guilty every single day since I knew where I came from, and how I got here. Every time I let someone down, I load another pile of Kryptonite onto my shoulders. And when Supes breaks up with Lois, that will just cram some more crap into my bulging backpack of guilt. So can I just have a few weeks of peace? I'll call and tell her that's what I need—a break until I figure things out."

"But you've already figured it out, Clark, so you shouldn't drag Lois on and on."

Clark returned to the couch, burying his head in his hands. "I just don't want to deal with it. Not when I'm so happy right now at the thought of a relationship with Lana."

Chloe sat beside Clark. "I have to admit that it's good to see you smile so often in such a short time period. I've hated watching you go through all this, Clark. You deserve to be happy."

"And now Lex is blaming Supes for Lionel's death—oh crap!" Clark said, snapping his head up to look at Chloe. "I need to call Police Chief Wilson. Lionel and his men need autopsies!"

"Autopsies? Why?" Chloe asked. "They were in a fire, Clark. That's a pretty clear cause of death."

Clark shook his head. "I'm positive they were dead before the fire started."

"No way!" Chloe said, then gasped. "I should've thought of it, but the fire chief said the fire was started by the dryer in the penthouse below Lionel's."

"I don't doubt that, but how did the guy who lived in the place where the fire started survive, but the four men above him didn't?" Clark said. "Especially since I pulled Lionel and his men out before him."

"Wow. Who did it, I wonder?" Chloe said, adding a wicked smile. "Not that I blame them. Lionel had more enemies than either of us could keep up with, so the sky's the limit."

"True. That's why Supes needs to talk to Chief Wilson. I've got to make sure those bodies get an autopsy before the mastermind behind the murders destroys the evidence."

Chloe nodded. "Which was obviously the reason for the fire. If it wasn't for Supes, there wouldn't be anything left to examine."

There was a deep pain in Clark's chest. "Chloe, even if someone wanted to get rid of Lionel, they obviously didn't care who else they took with them. It makes me sick to think of everyone who's been put in harm's way because of the Luthors. When will it ever stop?"

"I don't know, Clark," Chloe said. "But I think you're the only hope we have. And that's a lot of pressure for you to deal with."

"Yeah," Clark said, taking a long breath and releasing it just as slowly.

Chloe bumped him with her shoulder. "So, I think you should take care of yourself first—which means giving it a shot with Lana."

He smiled, taking out his cell. "I intend to. Now, excuse me why I get my mojo on."

Chloe stood. "Did I just get kicked off my own couch?" She walked to the kitchen, only ten steps away since the apartment was so small.

"I just need to call and tell Lana to wear something casual."

"Oh? What do you have planned?" Chloe asked, taking a plate of leftovers from the fridge.

"I'm taking her flying." Chloe dropped the plate—but Clark super-sped over just in time, catching it a mere inch from the floor. "Just kidding."

"Damn it, Clark! Don't do that to me!" she said, laughing. "With the way you're acting, I thought you were serious."

Clark shrugged. "Maybe I am. A part of me wants to tell her, just to get it over with."

"But then you'll miss out on the chance to know if she truly falls in love with you—just for you," Chloe said.

"Yeah. Which is obviously a big deal," Clark said, still holding the cell in his hand. It felt heavy for some reason, just like everything did whenever he thought of someone learning his secret. "It's funny, but last night when I was Supes, I half-expected her to recognize me."

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Clark, as much as we'd like to believe that love-at-first-site actually exists, it doesn't. And thank heaven, because what would love mean if it happened so easily?" she said, making him relax and smile. "It takes time, and little by little, I bet Lana will start to see what others have missed."

"I sure hope so."

Standing on tiptoes, Chloe messed up Clark's hair. "But let's face it, you're not the easiest guy to love. However, if anyone can manage you, it's Lana."

"I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to even have a chance with her," he said, a familiar warmth pouring through him. "I may not be human, but she makes me feel 100-percent like a man."

"Cool down there, hot stuff," Chloe said. "If you want a solid foundation with her, you've got to build it one stone at a time."

Clark groaned. "I know, I know," he said, scrolling down to Lana's number on his phone. It rang several times, making Clark's stomach suddenly twist.

"Hi, Clark," Lana said.

Her voice put an instant grin on his face. "Hiiiiiiii," he said breathlessly, making Chloe snicker. "I had such a great time with you at the playground last night, I thought we could go back—so maybe you'll want to wear something casual." There was silence. "Umm, or we can do something else, if you want."

Chloe gave Clark a sideways glance of worry, biting her lip.

Finally, Lana spoke up. "Clark, I don't know how to explain this, but can we change our date tonight, to lunch tomorrow?"

Clark's shoulders fell—along with his face muscles. "Lunch? Oh, okay. Is everything alright?" He walked away from Chloe, suddenly sick.

"Well, I was just thinking, you know—"

"That we're moving too fast?" Clark asked. "Lana, I'm embarrassed about being so forward with you today, but it doesn't mean I wasn't sincere in what I said—because I am. I want to get to know you better. A lot better."

There was another pause, then it sounded like Lana sighed. "Clark, I also meant what I said. Every word. And you don't need to be embarrassed, I've loved every moment I've been with you. Please remember that."

Clark's legs gave out and he collapsed to the couch. Dang, she was so beautiful—even over the phone. He could see her so clearly when he closed his eyes, feeling her warmth radiate around him. "Of course I'll remember that, how couldn't I?" She was quiet again. "Lana, this is really foolish of me to tell you right now, but I haven't stopped thinking about you since we met on the rooftop."

Lana gave a soft, sweet laugh. "Clark, that's actually the best thing you could've told me right now. But I still think lunch is a better opportunity for us to get to know one another."

"I understand what you're saying," Clark told her. "You're probably right." With a lunch date, there was less of a chance of them moving too fast physically—which seemed inevitable if they spent one more minute under the glow of the moon.

"Good, I'll see you tomorrow then," Lana said. "And I want to make something clear—I'm not canceling our date, just rearranging the time."

"Sounds great," Clark said, then felt a need to ask once more, "Are you sure everything's okay?"

"I have a good feeling that it will be," Lana said, sounding much more relaxed than when they started the conversation.

They said goodbye, then a few moments later, Chloe sat next to Clark on the couch.

"Something spooked her, and I don't think it was me," Clark said, his mind racing through possibilities. With how positive Lana's voice was, he wasn't feeling depressed, just extremely curious.

"Did she drop any clues?" Chloe asked.

"Not really, but she went to lunch with Lois. That's a big enough clue for me."

Chloe tilted her head. "I'd say 'bingo,' but Lana left her perky message about you after her lunch with Lois. So that's probably not it."

"Dang," Clark said, standing. "Well, if I can't see her tonight, maybe Superman can."