(So sorry for the LONG delay in updating-finally got this and the first, albeit short, chapter to my sequel written, which will also be up shortly.)


Two days had passed since Robert and Mickey had saved Nicole's life, or at the very least, stopped two stumbling, would-be criminals from completing their botched assassination attempt on an innocent young woman.

Nicole had returned quietly to life on the streets, and while she couldn't shake the feeling that there was someone watching over her, she believed that her adventure was over, and she would never see either man again. So, she was therefore surprised when, one night, walking down the street, a familiar black Jaguar pulled up to the curb, and the passenger door popped open, almost inaudibly.

With a smile, Nicole slid into the car, glancing at Robert, who had one hand on the wheel, while the other was taking a sheaf of papers from the glove compartment.

"You really like this cloak-and-dagger stuff, don't you?" She quipped, not in the least bit intimidated by the disapproving frown McCall cast in her direction. She knew she had nothing to fear from Robert McCall. Other people, however…

"Are you alright?" The frown and curtness of the tone didn't serve to detract from the honest concern in the older man's voice, and Nicole nodded. "I'm surviving, Robert." She replied. "It's what I'm good at. When I'm not getting shot at, that is."

"Hmmm." Robert said absently, then deposited the papers in his hand onto her lap. She looked at him, puzzled, but he simply said, "You deserve a little better than mere survival, Nicole."

Still utterly confused, Nicole turned her attention to the papers. She saw the heading, THE GALLERY-COMMUNITY ART COLLEGE, then Robert added quietly, "I've arranged an interview for you. It's not exactly prestigious, but it's a step in the right direction for someone of your talent. Of course, it's up to you to convince them you deserve a place, but while I have only seen one example of your work, your little portrait was enough to persuade the lady who runs the place to at least give you a chance."

Nicole was listening to what McCall was saying, but she couldn't read the information on the college he had gleaned for her, and she couldn't reply, because she had a lump in her throat that felt as large and obtrusive as a golf ball, and her vision was completely blurred by tears.

Robert McCall was saving her life all over again.

Seemingly oblivious to Nicole's emotional state, Robert continued, "Even better, accommodation is provided on campus, which means that not only will you be doing something you enjoy in the name of education, but you'll also have somewhere to live."

Robert hadn't expected ebullient praise for his good deed, but neither had he expected silence. Nicole's head was bowed low over the papers, and awkwardly, he said, "I know it's not much, but it's a start, isn't it?"

His chest tightened when she finally lifted her head to look at him, and he saw the tears streaming down her face. Before he could make any comment, she whispered brokenly, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

The customary response, "You're welcome", never got past Robert's lips, as Nicole suddenly and unceremoniously launched herself from the passenger seat and flung her arms around him.

She had previously hugged him after the showdown with her attackers, but this embrace was even more enthusiastic. She was sobbing, and Robert was sure that the lapel of his expensive jacket was already soaked…but he didn't care. This was the reply to anyone who might have the nerve to ask why he didn't charge the people he helped for his services. No amount of money could compare to heartfelt gratitude like this.

When Nicole finally pulled away, wiping at her red-rimmed eyes, she asked, "How can I repay you?"

"Simple." He told her, smiling. "Stay out of trouble. And don't give up-I have absolute faith in you."

Nicole swallowed and nodded, realizing that this was farewell. "Goodbye, Mister McCall." She smiled, once again ignoring the frown he threw at her for not using his Christian name, as he'd told her to, then, ever needing the last word, she added, before she left the car, "I hope I never see you again."…