Tempting Fate

Chapter One

Pale blue moonlight spilled through the trees, providing the only light for the couple as they traveled up a well-worn, and well-known, path. Lovely blonde curls bounced merrily as she walked beside her fiancé on a sultry late July evening, her hand caught in his, and wide smile splitting her face . "Isn't this exciting?" Trixie exclaimed gaily, exhilarated about spending an entire evening with Jim, completely and totally alone.

"And you don't even know where we're going yet," he teased her gently, squeezing her hand as they continued to walk.

"I know where we're going," she shot back quickly and then added a short shrug of her shoulder. "I just don't know what we're going to find there."

"Something "perfectly perfect"," he replied with a grin, gently mocking his sister's favorite phrase.

She grinned her agreement, happiness radiating from her, as they continued their walk to Ten Acres. Her mind traveled back to eight years ago, when she and Honey had first set foot on the old mansion and had found the most wonderful boy in the world inside. Her thirteen-year old mind hadn't been able to clearly identify the significance of that moment or how it would affect the rest of her life. All she had known at the time was the pure joy of finding and helping out a new friend. Now here they stood, the very best of friends, only a year away from becoming partners in life.

Before they knew it they had reached their destination. Jim paused at the end of the path. There were still times when he could swear he saw the old, dilapidated mansion. Tonight was one of those nights. He had to shake his head to clear away the ghostly vision and focused in on the present. In its place was a brand new, two-story farmhouse, the color of aged wine. Dark gray shutters adorned each window. A large wrap-around porch greeted all visitors, promising a relaxing time for all who entered, and lead up the front door.

Forgetting his small flight into fancy, Jim hurried up the steps, eager to enter the house that was theirs. He threw open the front door, flicked on the lights, and called back to Trixie, "Come on, slowpoke! It's time to get moving!"

Trixie giggled as she ended her perusal of the home and walked up the steps. She followed Jim inside, excited to see what Jim wanted to show her. She stopped in the doorway. "It's certainly come a long way since the last time I was here," she commented, noting the new dry wall that had been set up, as well as the lovely hardwood floors that were laid down. The outlets were still exposed; the ceiling had wires dripping from it; and the light fixtures were merely bulbs. She ran her hand on the wall and then rubbed her hands on her shorts to get off the dry wall dust the collected there.

"Still more to do," he replied with his lopsided grin, proud of all that had been accomplished. "I know that. We can stop to peruse the rest of the inside later."

"Peruse?" She couldn't help it. She had to stop and laugh. "That's quite a word, Jim. I think you've been spending a little too much time with Mart."

Jim's step slowed a bit as he looked back at her, a frown marring his handsome face. "Ah, that would be a little hard to do right now, don't you think? I mean, Mart hasn't been around much lately. It, well, it feels like he's been avoiding me."

"That's true. I hadn't realized that you felt that way, too." Trixie stopped and nervously chewed on her bottom lip, concerned about her older brother. "You see, I didn't think he was avoiding you…I thought he was avoiding me."

"He hasn't been himself, that's for sure," he answered and appeared to ponder the matter a little more. "In fact, I think I'm going to have to set one-half of the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency on him."

"I suppose you mean me, since Honey is in England with your parents?" When he nodded, she nodded back. Then she hummed, pretending to consider the matter, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "As you know, a good detective always hears the particulars of a case, before agreeing to it."

"Is that what you've been learning at Detective School?" he questioned, his own eyes shining with humor.

She knew that he always referred to NCC, New York City College, the college Trixie, Honey and Di attended, as the "Detective School." Trixie and Honey majored in criminal justice in order to pursue their dream of opening a detective agency; Di studied a combination of art and education. She planned on teaching art when she graduated. "Exactly" she chimed in, trying to keep her features schooled and failing miserably.

"Well, back to the particulars." Jim rubbed his chin and wondered, "What do you do when one good friend, or brother, in your case, gradually stops doing his favorite things with you?"

Trixie pretended to take out a notebook. "Don't mind me," she said as she blew on her finger. " I'm simply getting ready to take notes. Detectives do need to be thorough. Please, continue."

Some of the humor faded from his face. "Well, said friend and brother has recently started backing out of events together, even events that include food, and has also curiously seemed to stop using his big word in our presence. In fact, the only person he seems to have time for his the lovely Diana."

It was Trixie's turn to scratch her chin. "You don't say," she murmured, and jotted it down again in the air. "Well, it seems to me that one sister is really going to have to start digging into one slightly uncommunicative brother's life and find out what's wrong with him."

"I have all the faith in the world in you," he said with a chuck on her chin. "If anyone can get to the bottom of this mystery, it is you. Mart Belden's not going to know what hit him!"

"I'll get right on this case, then," she said mischievously and, with a soft giggle, turned on her heel, preparing to leave the house.

"Whoa, whoa," he exclaimed, caught off guard. He held onto her by the elbow. "Now, just where do you think you're going, Detective Belden?"

Trixie grinned impishly, laughing inwardly at him. "Why, to start my new case, of case!" she exclaimed with feigned surprise. "What else do you think I'd be doing? You know a dedicated detective always puts their case first."

"I don't think so." He grabbed both of her elbows and hauled her to him, reveling in the feel of her body so close to his. "I think the case can wait. Now is certainly not the time for that."

Laughing, she batted her eyelashes at him and inched her body even closer to his, so close that she could smell his cologne. "Why, what else did you have in mind?" she replied with mock innocence, having no intention at all of pursuing her newest "case".

He shook his head and gently guided her towards the staircase, being careful not to take his hands off of her. "If you haven't forgotten, I've already retained your services for the evening, Detective Belden. We'll worry about the mysterious Mart later."

She choked back a startled giggle. "Services?"

He didn't respond, just grabbed her hand and tugged her towards the stairs. "Not that I really need to warn you but be careful, Trix. It's a little dark on the stairway. Follow me." Together they ascended the stairs. The railing hadn't been attached yet; the walls weren't painted. The house itself was truly a work in progress. The steps weren't finished but serviceable.

They made it to the hallway. The top floor resembled the bottom. Dry-walled walls, plain floors, not hardwood up here, there were more wires dangling down from the unfinished ceiling. Electrical outlets weren't covered; were merely hanging. Trixie ignored the unfinished work. Instead, she stopped for a moment and pictured in her mind what the house would look like when it was completely done. A huge smile wreathed her face at all of the possibilities.

Jim stopped short, mesmerized as always by the beauty of her smile. "I know it's coming along slowly, Trixie," he whispered in a hushed tone. "But it'll get there."

"Oh…the house," she said, her blue eyes glinting. "Of course it will, Jim." she exclaimed. "You know I have total faith in you…and the contractor you hired."

"Well, let's keep going, shall we?" He headed on down the hall. They passed six doorless rooms until he stopped short at the last one. This doorway was different. A new mahogany door stood, baring their way into the room.

"A new door," she noted approvingly and ran her hands along it. "It's very nice."

He winked at her, wondering what she would say about the rest of his surprise. "There's more, Trix." He opened the door with a flourish, flicked on the light, and said, "After you."

She stepped through the door and gasped. She didn't even feel his hands on her hips as she looked at the room. "Oh, Jim," she breathed excitedly, her wide blue eyes marveling at the changes inside. "It's wonderful!"

Where all of the other rooms where in various stages of work, this room was different. The walls were painted a beautiful shade of pale blue, as per Trixie's request. Light gleamed off the two glossy new dressers, large enough to hold their wardrobes. His and her closet doors marked the walk-in closets for each of them. The ceiling in here was completed, with a large ceiling fan and lights above it. The hardwood floors matched the finished wainscoting. Dainty white curtains adorned the open windows, blowing gently with the midsummer breeze. There was also a large king-size sleigh bed, set in the middle of the room, decorated in darker blue sheets and an absurd amount of pillows, inviting any one who entered the room to rest on it.

Trixie stepped further into the room, twirling around in circles slowly to catch all of the sights of their room. Her smile spread wider after she had completed her assessment of what would be their bedroom.

Jim stepped closer to her, happy to see the excitement and approval shining on her expressive face. It was never hard for him to see how she was feeling. "I take it you like?"

She stopped, giggled again, and then threw herself into his waiting arms. "It's wonderful, Jim. Is this what you've been doing the past week?"

He nodded in agreement. "Your detective skills are right on the money…again, I might add." He pulled her closer to her and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "I wanted to surprise you," he murmured into her ear.

"You certainly did." She laid her head on his shoulders. "So you have finished the kitchen, one bathroom, and our bedroom."

His low sigh of contentment wasn't lost on her, nor the way his arms slid around her and started to gently knead her hips. "I always told you that those were the only three rooms I really needed. Don't worry. I'll keep working on the rest of the house, with the help of our contractor, but now I'll have a place to stay when I come back from the City." Jim had recently finished his Masters in Business and was now starting on his Doctorate in Education at Columbia in order to help him meet his dream of opening his own school for orphaned boys.

"It's a shame my parents wouldn't let me stay with you when I'm home on vacation," she mumbled into his shirt, grimacing slightly at the reaction her parents would have if she were to ask them.

"Not a chance." He gave a short burst of laughter. "I don't think that's going to happen. At least," he amended as he thought of their wedding date, "not until after July 15."

"Less than a year away now," she murmured back. "Won't that be lovely, Jim?"

He whirled her around the room, her giggles resounding through the room like light reflecting off of crystal. After a while he slowed down, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. Her giggles slowed when she saw the intense look in his eyes. And then they stopped completely as his mouth claimed hers with a hunger that they could never seem to quite satisfy.

Very carefully, very slowly, she opened her mouth to him. As always at times like these, time stood still for them until it was forgotten completely. When they finally remembered the primitive need for air, both of them were breathing heavily. "Oh, woe," she mumbled, her mind a complete blank, her heart beating out a wild tattoo that she prayed he couldn't hear. She rubbed her hand along his face, feeling the stubble that was would need to be shaved away in the morning, and buried her face in his chest.

"Oh, woe?" he repeated quietly, nuzzling her hair, as dazed as she was but more gifted at hiding it. "I think I need to try for a better response." And then it started again, his lips on hers, and all good sense flew out the window as it had ever since they had taken their relationship to the next level on the evening of their engagement, three months earlier.

"I don't think we're going to be able to wait for July 15 in order to christen our new bed," she moaned back between the string of never-ending kisses. She could feel his answering grin as he pressed a line of kisses down her neck.

"Much better response than "oh, woe"," he teased before pulling her even closer to him, his hands rubbing her back, and his eyes glinting with a sensual promise that could bring her to her knees. "And now you know my master plan for the evening."

"I don't see anything wrong with that plan. It's certainly becoming one of my favorites." Together they made their way to the bed; clothes falling haphazardly to the floor. The pale summer moon was the only witness to the all-consuming expression of love within.