Summary: Troy and Gabriella are happily married, living in California after attending law school and medical school. Their shared dreams are coming true, and life couldn't be better… until Gabriella's new colleague takes a disturbing interest in her.
Chapter 1: First Day
The late-August California sun was beginning to peek through the closed bedroom curtains as 26-year-old Gabriella Bolton willed her sleepy eyes to open. The smell of coffee and bacon tempted her, but the familiar ache between her thighs reminded her that her husband had kept her awake much later than she had planned the night before. Gabriella smiled at the memory of their lovemaking, and marveled that after eight years of dating and two years of marriage, the mere thought of Troy still made her stomach flutter and her heart beat a little faster. It was the same effect he'd had on her since they met at the ski lodge on that fateful New Year's Eve ten years ago. Troy had taken her back to that Colorado lodge for New Year's during their first year of graduate school, telling her that they both needed a vacation after a particularly stressful semester. She smiled again at the memory.
Gabriella pulled her sweater tighter around her small body as she stood on the deck of the ski lodge, listening to the sounds of the kids' party in the next ballroom. She wondered about the DJ who had forced her onstage to sing with Troy. Did he still work there? Was he still shoving reluctant teens onto the karaoke stage? Did he have any idea how he had changed her life, her destiny? She really should find him and thank him, she thought as a familiar pair of strong arms snaked around her waist from behind, and a deep honey voice murmured in her ear, "Hey, beautiful." She hummed a response, and turned in his arms so she could look up into the blue eyes of her boyfriend. "Hi," she whispered, and he leaned down to place a gentle kiss on her lips. After a few moments he broke the kiss and pulled her tight into his chest, peppering kisses in her hair as he breathed her intoxicating scent.
Finally they separated and Troy's nerves returned as he mentally ran through his plan once more, hoping desperately that he wouldn't screw it up. He wanted it to be perfect, as perfect as the woman that he planned to spend the rest of his life with. "It's almost midnight… I brought you some champagne," he told her, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt.
"Thanks," she replied, brushing his fingers as she took the glass from him. She didn't seem to notice the quiver in his voice as she turned again to gaze at the beautiful snow-covered mountains, getting lost once again in her thoughts as she sipped the bubbly liquid.
"The fresh snow is just amazing—so pure and soft," she mused. "I always enjoyed the winters when Mom and I lived in states where it was cold enough to snow. I've missed it since we moved to California… and Albuquerque too, for that matter." She paused and took another sip of champagne. "Thank you so much for bringing me here, Troy. It's the best Christmas gift I've ever gotten."
Troy cleared his throat behind her, and replied, "Actually, there's one more gift that I still have to give you."
Confused, Gabriella turned around and was surprised at the intensity with which Troy was staring at her. Her took her champagne glass from her hand and set it on the table behind him, and then gathered her small hands in his larger ones.
"Gabriella," he began slowly, and her heart leapt into her throat at the emotion in his voice. "The day I met you, my life changed forever. The things that mattered to me, the plans, the goals, the dreams, stopped being about me and became about us. You have opened my mind and heart to so many new possibilities, you've challenged me to be a better person, and you've given me more love and happiness than I could possibly deserve. I've asked myself so many times how I ever ended up with a girl like you, so smart and beautiful and amazing and just… perfect. My heart belongs to you, and it always will."
Tears flowed down Gabriella's smooth cheeks as Troy spoke, and then she choked back a sob as Troy lowered himself to one knee and fumbled in the pocket of his sport coat before pulling out a small velvet box. He flipped it open, revealing a simple but beautiful round-cut diamond ring, and took her trembling hands. His glistening eyes locked with hers, and as the countdown to midnight began in the background, he spoke again. "Gabriella Montez, I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life taking care of you and trying to make you as happy as you've made me. Will you marry me?"
Gabriella couldn't control her sobs as she pulled Troy to his feet and launched herself into his arms. He crushed her to his chest, rubbing her back and smoothing her hair, before pulling back to see her tear-filled eyes. "So is that a yes?" he asked. "Oh Troy, yes, yes, yes!" she answered gleefully. He released her long enough to slide the ring on her finger and tenderly wipe the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs, and then pulled her back to his chest and lowered his lips to engage her in a searing, passionate kiss. When they finally broke apart, he looked into the beautiful brown eyes of his fiancée. "I love you," he whispered, and waited for her soft reply, "I love you too," before taking her hand and interlacing their fingers, and leading her back to their suite for their own private celebration.
"Wow, look at that smile… you must be thinking about your wonderful husband," Troy teased as he leaned against the entry to their bedroom, and chuckled as his wife's cheeks blushed into an adorable shade of pink. She threw a pillow at him, which he easily dodged, before shaking a mock-scolding finger at her. "Now Mrs. Bolton, is that any way to treat a man who just made you…" Troy disappeared from the doorway for a moment, and then returned with a tray. "…breakfast in bed?"
Gabriella gasped, and then clapped her hands like a little girl as he sat the tray next to her and then pulled up a chair beside the bed and straddled it to watch her. "What have I done to deserve such a treat?" she asked, surveying the impressive spread he had prepared.
"Well, besides being your usual gorgeous self," he said with a flirtatious wink, "today's a big day for you—first day of class, Professor Bolton."
"Associate Professor," she corrected, grinning as he swiped a piece of bacon from her plate.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Gabriella had continued on to graduate school, and after two years practicing law at a firm in San Francisco, she had been offered a teaching position at UC Hastings College of Law. Troy had completed his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, and then stunned his parents by announcing that he was enrolling in the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.
"It's not fair," Troy whined. "Four years of college, four years of medical school, and I've never had a professor that's anywhere near as hot as you are. I always get the crusty profs who've been there for a gazillion years, or haven't yet mastered the English language, or are socially inept and still live with their moms…"
"It's probably better that way, Troy," Gabriella teased. "Otherwise, you might've had too much trouble concentrating on your lessons. You tend to get a bit distracted around beautiful women."
"Only you, baby," he answered, reaching for her left hand and placing sweet kisses on the top of her hand, her palm, each of her fingertips, and finally the wedding ring on her fourth finger. "Only you."
Gabriella grinned at Troy's adorable gesture, and then turned the conversation back to him. "Hey, enough about me… It's a big day for you too, Doctor Bolton," she reminded him.
He nodded seriously, and took a sip of orange juice from the tray. "First day of residency… hard to believe, isn't it?"
"Troy, you've worked really hard to get to this point—graduating from medical school, starting your residency… I'm so proud of you. You're going to be a terrific doctor," Gabriella assured him, and then picked up her fork at pointed it at him. "Of course, your first job might be stitching up your own hand if you don't quit stealing my breakfast!"
Troy laughed, and then swooped down to kiss his wife. "Good morning, by the way."
"Good morning, babe… and thank you for making me breakfast," Gabriella replied, before settling back against her pillows to enjoy her meal.
An hour later, Gabriella hurried toward the law building at Hastings, frustrated with herself that she was running late. Nerves had overtaken her as she got dressed, and she'd lost count of how many outfits she'd gone through, trying to strike a balance between stylish and professional. Troy had it easy, she mused—He just threw on regular street clothes, stuffed a pair of scrubs in his bag, and was ready to go. Gabriella's thoughts were still racing as she climbed the steps in front of the building as quickly her high heels would allow. She was about to pull open the door when it was flung open from the inside, catching her off guard. She stumbled backwards, missed a step, and landed hard on her right side. Her books, briefcase, and classroom materials scattered in every direction around her.
"Damn it!" She heard from above her as she gingerly ran her fingertips over the angry scrapes on her knee and thigh. She winced and looked up in the direction of the deep voice, meeting the gaze of a man in his mid-thirties, clad in a suit and carrying his own briefcase. His demeanor softened somewhat as he took in the attractive young woman, and offered his hand to help her up. Oddly, he didn't bend down to help her pick up her belongings, but instead stood and watched her, enjoying the sight way too much for Gabriella's liking. Finally she straightened and smoothed the front of her skirt, relieved that it was long enough to cover her torn stockings.
"Gabriella Montez?" The man asked, squinting at her.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Gabriella asked warily.
"Dr. David Strickland. I teach Corporate and Advanced Business Law. You attended Stanford, did you not?"
"Yes, both for undergraduate and graduate school," Gabriella replied.
"I was a law professor at Stanford, and although I never had you in my classes, your academic reputation was well-known on campus. And what brings you to Hastings?" Dr. Strickland asked.
"I'm a newly-appointed Associate Professor. I'll be teaching Intro to Health Law and Law & Bioscience," Gabriella explained.
"Aah, so then we are colleagues. I've been on a research sabbatical for the last two years, so it appears that the timing of my return could not have been better, Miss Montez." Dr. Strickland looked very pleased with himself, and took a step toward her.
"Actually, it's Mrs. Bolton now… I was married the summer after I finished grad school," Gabriella told him, feeling increasingly uncomfortable as his eyes continued to wander up and down her slim body. "My husband Troy is a first-year resident at UCSF Medical Center."
Dr. Strickland seemed undeterred to learn that she was married, much to her chagrin. "Well, the School of Law is certainly fortunate to have such a lovely young woman on the faculty. And since we are colleagues, I insist that you call me David. And may I call you Gabriella?"
"Um, yes, okay," Gabriella stuttered. "Now if you'll excuse me, I really must get to my class."
"Yes, we can't have the new professor arriving late on her first day," Dr. Strickland smirked. "Would you like me to accompany you to the lecture hall?"
"No thank you, I've taken up enough of your time with my clumsiness," Gabriella quickly replied. "I'll see you around, I'm sure."
"Count on it, Gabriella," Dr. Strickland leered before turning to walk down the steps away from the building.
Gabriella shuddered a bit as she entered the building, but pushed aside the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach and refocused her thoughts on her lesson plans. Her excitement returned as she approached the lecture hall and saw that her students were already wandering in. She smiled to herself, remembering the nervous excitement she had felt as a pre-law student several years ago. After opening her briefcase, spreading her materials on the desk, and glancing at the clock, she cleared her throat and began, "Good morning, I am Professor Gabriella Bolton. Welcome to Intro to Health Law…"