HHFC#11: In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black and towering. ~ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

A Courtship Cut Short

Francis Corelli liked his job. There was room for advancement, excellent benefits, and the starting pay was phenomenal. And he accepted the fact that it came with some risks. After all, most good things in life did. Over the years, he had been assigned to watching pimps and drug dealers, murders and rapists. He had been the shadow trailing rival mob bosses and the only thing standing between his own employer and the smoking end of a fired gun. Never had he been scared, and never had he been hesitant to anything he had been told. Well, at least, that was until Elizabeth Webber had come into their lives.

There was something about following around the pretty little thing that made the bodyguard feel edgy. She was just an innocent artist, barely five foot two inches… as her New York issues driver's license stated, and, to top it all off, she even baked brownies. Brownies of all things, just like Betty Crocker, and that had the older man doubting that the brunette posed any risk whatsoever to him, his boss, or their organization's enforcer. However, if nothing else, Francis didn't balk when given an order, so that's why he found himself that mild November evening spying on the petite artist, just as he had been for over a week now.

However, this time, she wasn't walking back from an uninhabited location outside of town, grocery shopping, or sketching at a local bar, but, rather, she was on a date. And it was a first date, too, the kind where both parties were nervous and attempting to make a good impression, and he knew that, if he was caught tailing her, there was no chance Miss Webber would ever go out with the doctor again. And who could blame the guy from running away scared with his tail tucked between his legs if that were to happen? Most women didn't have professional mob bodyguards following after their every step, at least, not unless there was a very good reason, and, despite the fact that Francis wasn't exactly sure why Jason had put him on this particular assignment, he knew that, whatever the enforcer's reasons were, they weren't good enough to excuse the situation in the physician's eyes.

That was if he found out, and he was bound and determined not to let that happen. With that thought in mind, the security expert hung back further than he usually did from his target, keeping an eye on the brunette while still maintaining a safe distance.

So far that evening, the two of them had gone to see a movie, a horrendous fright fest that made the older man want to drown himself in the theater's giant tubs of butter popcorn, stopped to get ice cream cones together, and, now, they were in the park, rambling along the winding paths as they made their way slowly but surely back to Elizabeth's studio apartment. Judging by how comfortable they seemed to be in each other's presence and how smoothly the conversation had been flowing between them all night, Francis had a good feeling about the date, and that made him even more determined not to cause it to end on a bad note.

Feeling justified in what he was about to do and perhaps foolishly optimistic that the organization's second in command would see things his way as well, the guard located his cell phone in the right front pocket of his suit jacket, removing the electronic device in order to place a call. It only rang once before Jason picked it up.

"What'd she do now?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Elizabeth," the younger man clarified, sounding more than just slightly exasperated. "I knew it wouldn't take her long to retaliate against me."

"She hasn't done anything," Francis found himself defending the blue eyed artist, flabbergasted by just how blinded by embarrassment the hitman was when it came to the woman who had bested him. "Jesus, Jason, she's just on a date, and I wanted to see if it would be alright if I left her alone for the rest of the evening. You know," he pressed, lowering his voice and coughing slightly, "give the two of them a little privacy."

The line fell silent.

Ten seconds passed.

Then twenty.

Then twenty more.

And, then, finally, after a full minute, the bodyguard found himself speaking up once again. "Uh… Mr. Morgan? You still there?"

"Break them up," came his coworker's gruff command.

Laughing nervously, the older man argued, "what? That's ridiculous. Why would I do that? She really seems to like this guy, this doctor, and you can definitely tell that he's just about over the moon for her as well. And, really, Jason, they make a cute couple. Plus, as long as she's with him tonight, she's not going to be coming after you, so why I can't I just go home early this evening?"

"I said," the blonde ordered, speaking slowly, heatedly, "to break them up. Sabotage their date. Scare him off. Hell, kidnap her for all I care, but, no matter what, their evening ends now. I'll be there in ten. No," he corrected himself, and Francis could hear the enforcer already leaving his penthouse. "Make that five minutes, and that uptight prick better not still be there with her."

And, with that, all he was left with was the dial tone and an order he most definitely did not want to see through.

"I know this is probably going to make me sound paranoid, but have you noticed anything strange tonight… like someone following us?"

Whipping her head around from her sitting position on the bench next to Matt Hunter, Elizabeth observed their surroundings, seeing nothing. "No," she drawled out, unsure of how exactly to respond to her date. While she didn't think anyone was tailing them, and, really, why would someone be, she also didn't want to make the doctor uncomfortable. "Maybe it's just the wind," she suggested, nodding her head along with her own idea. "You know how the fall weather can be – unpredictable and volatile. With the leaves almost all gone and the branches bare, the shadows are different than they normally are, and the sounds you hear at night are different, too. I'm sure it's nothing."

"You're right," her date agreed, sitting back against the wooden slats more comfortably. "Of course you're right." A quiet, the first of the night, descended upon them, and the brunette found herself shifting nervously. "So," the physician teased, smiling. "Tell me, Miss Webber," he asked of her. "What exactly made you ask me out?"

"Well," she started, pausing dramatically. She had two options, really. One, she could tell him the truth, that he was a doctor, and, if she couldn't make her family happy by becoming one herself, maybe going out with one would get them off her back, or, two, she could just give a typically trite and pleasant response. "I just officially became a Port Charles resident a few months ago, moving here permanently from Colorado, and I know that you're new as well, thanks to my Gram, so I thought it would make sense for us to maybe get to know our new city better together."

Obviously, she had decided to go with option B, the polite, bullshit answer.

"In case I forget to tell you later, I'm glad."

"Glad that you moved here," she questioned, forging ahead with her response before the surgeon could respond. "Oh, yeah, me, too. It's wonderful to be away from my parents and living on my own."

"That's not what I meant, Elizabeth."

"Oh?"

Her date laughed. "I meant," he corrected her, "that I'm glad you asked me out, though it was a little untraditional of you. Isn't the guy typically supposed to do the asking?"

Wrinkling her brow in disagreement, the painter was just about to contradict him when a loud rustling noise interrupted her train of thought. Swiveling around, she confronted a sight she was most definitely not prepared for.

"Holy shit," Matt breathed out, already scrambling to put his hands in the air. "See," he hissed into her ear, sounding pissed off. "I told you someone was following us."

"I'm sorry about having to do this, Miss Webber," the stranger with the gun said, and he really did sound apologetic. "But orders are orders."

"How do you know who I am," she questioned him.

"You stopped by the coffee shop last week," he told her, and, quickly, her mind scrambled to match the face with the date, place, and time. "I was the guard at the door who let you in when you came to see Mr. Morgan."

"You know Jason Morgan," Matt hissed, standing up angrily. "Who are you really, Elizabeth," he demanded to know. "Were you actually interested in me, or was this just some sort of set up to get me in trouble? What? Does your friend Mr. Morgan need a new mob doctor, or does he and his boss want me to run fake drugs through General Hospital for them?"

Turning to face the physician, the petite brunette glared at him. "Will you please shut up? I didn't trick you into going out with me. You agreed quite eagerly as I seem to recall. And as for your outrageous accusations, for your information, the very last person on earth that I would ever help do anything is Jason Morgan. That man is the most egotistical, stubborn, rude, and spiteful person that I know. In fact, I wouldn't care less if he did get shot and ended up bleeding to death because he didn't have a mob doctor!"

Half way through her tirade, Elizabeth noticed her date start to pale, but she was too fired up to merely stop. However, by the time she was finished, she found herself watching Matt Hunter turn tail and run away from her as fast as his legs would carry him. "Well, that certainly was rude."

"So was wishing me dead."

Frightened, her left hand fluttered to her chest to clutch frantically at her now rapidly beating heart, and the brunette artist slowly shifted her position on the bench to face the man who had just spoken to her. Instead of finding the older gentleman with the gun who had been there previously, she spotted Jason Morgan, a glowering, pissed off, and, if she didn't know better, offended Jason Morgan.

"What happened to the muscle? Did you scare him off, too?"

"I told Francis he could go home for the evening, that I would handle youfrom here on out myself."

Standing, she snapped, "trust me, it'll be a cold day in hell before your grubby paws ever handle me!"

Placing his hands on his hips, the hitman challenged, "is that so?"

"Damn straight."

"Well, good," he commented, making her glower. "Because it would be a cold day in hell before my grubby hands would ever want to handle you. What I meant was that I'd keep an eye on you myself from now on."

"Over my dead body," she challenged him. Jason simply shrugged, as if her statement could be arranged, and folded his leather clad arms tightly across his chest in response. "Look, I don't know what your game is, but I don't need some overgrown ape of a babysitter policing what I do. I'm a grown woman."

"So I've noticed," he quipped.

"And I can, as you put it, keep an eye on myself."

"You don't get it, Elizabeth," the older man replied. Uncrossing his arms and walking towards her, he stopped once they were just a foot apart, and the artist found herself forced into tipping her head back in order to meet his steely, impenetrable gaze. "I really don't give a shit what happens to you, especially not after that stunt you pulled two weeks ago." Screwing up her brow, she found herself wondering why he wasn't mad about the brownies as well, but she knew better than to ask him such a thing outright. Pressing on, Jason explained, "the reason I've had someone watching you and the reason why I'll be doing so myself for the next few days is because I don't trust you, and I don't need you causing me any more trouble than you already have."

Yelling, she countered, "you can't do that! That's… that's stalking!"

"File a police report. Once my tech genius Spinelli recovers from the flu, he'll have you monitored electronically, and he's too good at what he does for the inept PCPD to catch him."

Now that caught her attention. "The flu, huh? I didn't realize that was going around."

The enforcer shook his head as if rattled by the sudden change in conversation she had introduced, but he answered her anyway. "Apparently, it is. In fact, the very same day you dropped by the office last week, Spinelli and Carly both came down with the flu. Carly recovered quickly though. She was only sick for a day, but Spinelli just can't seem to kick the bug. Anyway," he stopped himself from saying anything further. "Why am I telling you this?"

"Because I asked. You see, Jason," Elizabeth mocked, smirking at him. "This is how a real, adult conversation works. Someone asks a question, and the other person answers with more than just a grunt or a simple shake of the head. Congratulations. Bully for you. This is banner day in your rather simple life. Make sure you mark it on your calendar when you get home later. As for you not trusting me because I tied you up and stole a little cash, get over it. It happened; it's done. You can't do anything to change it now. But I really don't think my little prank warrants being followed like a common criminal."

"I'm sorry, Webber," the blonde apologized, sounding absolutely, positively unrepentant, "but this is what happens when you get in bed with the mob."

He turned and walked away from her, casually strolling back out of the park in the same direction that he had come from moments before, but she just couldn't let things drop. Running after him, she yelled, "But I'm not in your bed. I was trying to get into Doctor Hunter's bed, but then your goon ruined that, probably on your orders." Realizing what she had just said, the brunette stopped dead in her own tracks. "Or is that what's really going on here," she called out, making the enforcer pause. "Is it because of the fact that I'm not in your bed and that I don't want to be – ever – that has your tighty-whities in such a bunch? Oh my god," she laughed, practically doubling over in amusement. "You were jealous."

"Good night, Elizabeth," he called back to her, never once meeting her gaze as he simply sauntered further and further away from her rooted position. "Oh, and just for the record," he quipped, avoiding her inquiry into his motivations altogether. "I prefer boxer briefs."

With that, he disappeared, leaving her both annoyed and alone in the middle of the park. Turning in the direction of home, she began the trek back to her lonely studio apartment, realizing that never before had she met a man more frustrating than Jason Morgan.

And never before had she met a man that she wanted so much either.