Chapter 6

Kate always had the utmost respect for her father. But, now, she began to question everything she ever knew of him. This would be the worst possible thing to ever happen to her family name. She didn't know how much more bad news she could take. She looked at Lauren's solemn face and for the first time found herself actually feeling sorry for her. Whatever happened would affect them both, but Lauren was the type of woman who, despite her wealth and demeanor, was a lonesome figure without Teddy. His sudden death shocked them both. It was an experience that taught them that you can't take anything, or anyone, for granted. Each day will bring what it will.

"Lauren," Kate said softly. "This is going to get out to the media, if it hasn't already. Have you talked to Sharon in Public Affairs? She should do some damage control and quick!

"I wanted to talk with you first before calling her. So now that I have, it's time to get the ball rolling to turn this thing around."

"OK. Is there anything that I can do on my end to help with this mayhem?"

"Actually, no for now," Lauren said as she lightly punched in the numbers on her phone to contact Sharon. "I will be sure to let you know, though. Thanks."

"OK," Kate said in a loud whisper. "I'll just go back to my office and watch everything Dad worked for completely crumble from the sidelines!" she said sarcastically.

"Kate, there isn't much that you or I can do at this juncture," Lauren said as she held up her right index finger to alert Kate that the Public Affairs Office answered. "Yes, this is Lauren Reed. I'd like to speak to Sharon Worthington, please. Yes, I'll hold." Lauren continued her conversation with her hand over the receiver, "Kate, we'll just have to take this one day at a time. I'm scared to death about this, too. But we have to keep a clear head if we're going to effectively deal with the authorities. Facts are key here, not speculation."

"Spoken like a true lawyer!" Kate replied. She then turned toward the door and stormed out.

Lauren talked to Sharon and they decided to meet within the next thirty minutes. Lauren cleared her morning schedule. There would be much to do in order to save the reputation of Reed & Reed and so little time to get it done. Lauren likened the events to a high speed runaway train without brakes. Things were moving very fast and Lauren had to work quickly.

Kate's mind was racing. As she passed Leo's desk, she gave him a "come with me" signal with her index finger. As he walked into her office, Kate turned to him and began talking before he had a chance to say anything. "Leo, in case you haven't heard, Reed & Reed or I should say, Tom Montane, is being investigated for extortion."

"What?"His reaction mirrored Kate's reaction earlier. He instinctively closed the office door behind him.

"Yep. The FBI agents are scattered all over the place as we speak with two in Tom's office retrieving his computer and all his electronic and paper records, and the other agents are in the basement storage area with a couple of assistants whom Lauren sent to help retrieve the rest of his archival paper records. This is going to be a rough ride."

"What does Lauren have to say about all this?" Leo asked.

"She's her usual self when dealing with chaos. She won't let me lift a finger to help despite the fact that I'm a partner of this firm! She's called Sharon in Public Relations to come up with a statement for the media. God, I just want to hit something or somebody," Kate said with her hands clenched into fists. Her dark brown eyes became even darker.

Leo leaned back while holding up both hands opened as if to deflect any jabs from her. "Whoa now, Miss Reed," he said with a Texas-style drawl. "Cool your jets! Take a deep breath." Leo took a deep breath to demonstrate. His diction returned to its norm. "Kate, it sounds as if Lauren is on the right track, for starters. I'll be glad to help in any way I can. The first thing that comes to mind is to check our records to find if you've worked on any cases with Tom. If there are none, you should be in the clear of any chance of having to appear in court, correct? "

"I may still have to appear because of my partner status. Leo, this mess may implicate Dad. Lauren says Tom's activities go back to before she married Dad. He's the last of the original members of this law practice. Reed & Reed could be ruined if his activities were in any way connected to our firm." She suddenly realized that she had referred to Teddy as 'Dad'—several times already. She felt a sense of perjury.

"Wow. This is madness." Leo shook his head in disbelief. "I'll get started right away on researching your case files now. Would you like me to clear you schedule for today?"

"Yes, thanks Leo. That'll give me some time to help Lauren, if she'll let me." Actually, Kate had other plans. "I can't take many more hits like this. This bad karma's got to end!" Kate said in frustration.

"Stay strong. I've got your back," he replied. Leo was her ally; she knew he meant what he said.

"Thanks, Leo," Kate replied with appreciation. "OK, get started to find out what you can. I'll do the same here."

Leo opened the office door and closed it quietly behind him. Kate turned around and walked past her desk to peer out the window of her office. Her eyes began to swell with tears as she said, "Damn you, Teddy! What did you know about this?"

The morning hours passed quickly. Sharon composed a strategic press release that focused primarily on Tom Montane. Lauren approved it without delay to have it read later to the press once the FBI agents were gone. The news media trucks began arriving one by one early in the morning and were parked in front of the building just before noon. By then the FBI had completed their search and seizure and had left.

Lauren maintained her composure throughout the morning; she called Kate to her office. "Kate, let's talk. Have a seat." she proffered. Kate sat down without blinking; if stares could create holes... "Kate, Sharon is going to make a short statement to the press in a few minutes. I've put a call through to the San Francisco Police Chief to order their trucks to leave the front of the building after she reads the statement. I wanted to discuss with you the obvious jeopardy any conversation regarding this mess may cost the law firm."

"What are you inferring?" Kate asked defensively.

"Just don't talk about this upcoming case to anyone! That includes Justin. He may become involved in the prosecution of Montane anyway. To talk to him would, of course, be a conflict of interest."

"I understand your premise, but, Lauren, Justin and I are divorcing. That would legally separate us from any conflict of interest."

"Kate, you know very well that even having been married to him will be cause for conflict of interest. Justin is an ambitious man and being a part of the downfall of Reed and Reed could be the very thing that catapults his position to District Attorney if he handled it in a way that would go in his favor."

"Justin wouldn't..."

"He just might, Kate. Spouses can become rather ugly during the period of their divorce proceedings. You should know. You've seen enough of that kind of behavior."

"Yes, but Justin wouldn't do that," Kate replied again, attempting to convince herself.

"Kate, you're too smart to be that naïve. Please go with me on this one, for the sake of Reed and Reed, OK?" Lauren asked in an imploring tone.

"OK. I understand. Is that all?" Kate was ready to call it a day and it wasn't lunchtime yet. One more 'order' from Lauren and she was going to go ballistic.

"Yes, for now. Thanks for your cooperation."

"Sure." Kate raised herself out of the chair and walked back to her office. She looked outside her office window and saw that Sharon was reading the press statement. God, they look like a bunch of vultures, she thought to herself. After the statement was read, Sharon refused any questions and further comments and walked back into the building. The police arrived soon thereafter ordering the news media trucks to leave as one lane of the road in front of the building was impassable. Twenty minutes or so later the front of Reed and Reed's building appeared as if nothing had happened.

The long day was finally over. Lauren managed to fulfill her afternoon appointments with poise and dignity; Kate wondered if she possessed any faculty for emotion at all. Kate and Leo's research confirmed that she had not worked with Tom in any of his cases; however she planned to sift through Teddy's files alone after the FBI left. Since Montane was the only one implicated thus far, Teddy's electronic records were, fortunately, still available in the basement storage room and not the property of the FBI. She retrieved some of the records stored on CDs to start her own investigation. She planned to sift through the information little by little until such time she found something—anything for that matter—that would save Reed and Reed. Kate would not reveal to Lauren what she was doing; Leo wasn't even in on this. She decided that the less he was involved, the better in the event that the investigation widened to include all of Reed and Reed. She would have to make certain that the CDs be kept secure somewhere safe. That was going to be a challenge.

If they were going down, she was going to go down kicking and screaming. Lauren could continue to maintain her stoicism, but Kate wasn't going to give anyone the chance to destroy the firm. She was determined to find out everything, even if it implicated Teddy.

Veronica woke from a pleasant dream. The nightmarish dreams that had been occurring intermittently during the past year were beginning to diminish. This dream was of her walking down a sunlit path sprinkled with fallen blossoms from flowering cherry blossom trees that lined the path. She remembered feeling peaceful and immensely happy. She stretched and quietly eased herself off the mattress with the aid of her walking stick. David was still asleep in his makeshift chair bed. He'd kept watch over the fireplace during the night, replacing the firewood as needed. He'd also kept watch over her, but Veronica wasn't aware of that fact. He had finally succumbed to exhaustion and was sound asleep. She saw that the firewood was still red hot, so she removed the fire screen and quietly added a couple more logs, one by one, to the fire grate, stoked the wood, and added kindling. A large crackling fire ensued providing crucial warmth to the room.

She had slept in her clothes worn the day before, so decided to bathe and change. She quietly opened the pocket door leading to the hallway and just as quietly closed it behind her and went into the bathroom to turn on the water for her shower. However, she discovered that the frigid temperatures from the freakish snowstorm froze the water pipes. She sighed and limped across the hall to the kitchen's back entrance to avoid waking David and put a pot filled with water on the gas stove to warm for what she referred to as a sink bath.

Feeling a great deal better in clean clothes, socks, and sweater, she returned to the kitchen. She opened the pocket door to the sitting room slightly to find David still sleeping. She saw that he had shifted to his side with his back toward the fireplace ostensibly to avoid the heat emanating from the fireplace. She quietly closed the door. Feeling hungry, she opened the refrigerator out of habit and quickly remembered the power was out. She noticed that the food that was in it was gone. Puzzled, she checked the freezer. She found that David had transferred the food to the freezer sometime during the night as it was colder. She immediately removed the milk, poured some into a cup, and returned it to the freezer. She made a mental note to take advantage of Mother Nature later this morning by storing those items on the back porch as the temperature would be low enough to keep them fresh.

She spread peanut butter onto a slice of wheat bread and filled a coffee pot with water for hot tea as the temperature in the kitchen was rather cold. She heard the door sliding open and turned around. David leaned in the doorway with his arms folded in front of his chest. He looked rather haggard, but ruggedly handsome, in his Henley shirt and jeans. He'd also slept in his clothes from the day before.

"Good morning, Veronica. I thought I heard you moving around. How's your ankle?" he asked as he moved his head slightly down and to the side with his eyes fixed on her ankle.

"Good morning, David," she replied with a smile. "I'm surprised I didn't wake you before now. The ankle is still sore, but on the mend." She didn't like to complain. "By the way, I noticed the food was transferred from the refrigerator to the freezer. It might be a good idea to put those items later this morning on the back porch to keep them cold. The freezer compartment won't be cold for much longer."

"Good idea." There goes that analytical mind again he thought to himself. "Actually, the outdoor temperature might be too cold, but we'll check the food during the day to make sure it doesn't freeze solid. A snowstorm of this magnitude is unheard of this time of year in this area, even at this elevation. We really got hammered."

"I'm going to make some tea. Would you like some, or would you rather have coffee?" Veronica asked as she stood to retrieve the box of tea bags from the kitchen cabinet.

"Coffee, please," he replied as he rubbed his face with the back of his fingers of his right hand. "But first I need to shower and change my clothes." He still planned to nix the shaving routine while on vacation, but perhaps he'd modify it to a light stubble. Maybe it had something to do with Veronica's presence.

"Then you'll need to heat some water. The pipes are frozen," she said with a knowing smile. He looked toward the kitchen window and saw the snow pack against the sill. "OK, then," he said with a shrug. "A sink bath it is." David walked past her. She could feel his heated energy as he passed. He took one of the large pots of water from the kitchen counter drawn up the day before and put it on the stove to warm. He then walked into the hallway and down to the bedroom to retrieve a change of clothing.

The water in the coffee pot began to boil just as he returned to the kitchen. Veronica removed it from the burner. She filled two mugs with hot water, placed them on the table, and sat down.

"I'm famished," David said as he added sugar to his coffee. "How about some french toast covered with pure maple syrup and melted butter?" he asked in a mockingly enticing tone. "If you can wait until I've cleaned up, we'll have a feast," he said as he began to leave the kitchen with his mug of coffee.

"Sure, I can wait. French toast does sound good," Veronica replied as she dipped the tea bag in and out of her mug. "I've fixed a slice of wheat bread with peanut butter to eat before taking ibuprofen, but I'm sure I'll have room for French toast."

"Good," he replied with a wink. "I'll be back in a jiffy. By the way, keep that ankle propped up," he said pointing to her foot as he left the kitchen. He remembered she said she would ask for help if she needed it, but he couldn't resist giving his unsolicited advice.

She was slowly becoming accustomed to this man's kindness. It was the simple things that he did for her that proved him to be an unselfish and thoughtful man. However, she had to keep in mind that in a few days they'd be returning to their separate lives.

When David returned, he saw that she was stretched out on one end of his makeshift bed with her ankle propped on a pillow wearing an instant ice pack. She was reading one of her books. He left her to her solitude and began preparing breakfast. As he cooked, he found himself whistling. It wasn't a recognizable tune, just one made up. Veronica looked up from her book and watched him for a few moments. It was so peaceful here, despite their confinement. She closed her eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, and returned to her reading.

Moments later, he said, "Breakfast is served, madam," imitating a French accent as he walked towards her with their breakfast plates in his hands.

"A girl could get used to this royal treatment," she said with a chuckle. "Thank you." She repositioned herself to more upright position and took her plate from him. David set his on the small table and repositioned the other chair and ottoman to provide a separate seating area for him. They ate their breakfast quietly without much conversation.

After a few minutes, David looked over at her with a slight smile. She returned his gaze. She sensed there was something on his mind, but concluded he would reveal whatever it was in his own time. He returned to his breakfast, finished it, and set the plate on the small table. The fire was getting low so he added more wood. He walked to the front window to peer outside. The snow height was midway to the vehicles' car doors. There were still clouds in the sky and the wind had died down.

He tugged at the front door to open it only to find that the snow drift was almost to the level of the doorknob. He analyzed that beyond this snow drift the depth of the snow pack was about three to four feet leading to the vehicles. He remembered seeing a couple of snow shovels in a small alcove in the kitchen while he was preparing for the storm the day before. He walked through the sitting room to the back door, opened it, and found that the snow drift was about the same depth as it was at the front of the cabin. He was feeling a bit anxious because of his concern of the amount of snow that may have accumulated on the roof. He had heard on the weather radio late last night that another snow storm was headed in their direction with an expected arrival later this evening. The chances of a roof cave-in would increase exponentially with any additional snowfall. He had to remove the snow on the roof now before the second storm arrived. He was going to have to tell Veronica about the second storm and its implications.

He closed the back door and walked to the sitting room and explained about the roof. Her eyes revealed alarm. She was by nature a rational person, but this new information was bad news—another snow storm and possibly a longer confinement... "David, you could be seriously injured if you fell from the roof," she said trying to remain calm. "Why don't you wait until the road crews make their way into the rec area? They could help you. I don't mean to imply that you aren't able to do the job, but it could be dangerous." David saw she was getting anxious.

"Veronica, we could be seriously injured or, God forbid, killed if the roof caves in. I'd rather do something now rather than later. The priority of the road crew is to clear the major road arteries first, then the secondary roads next. They may not get here for another day or so. And...," he paused. "So, you see, this should be done now."

She stood up. "I want to help. What would you like me to do?"

"But your ankle...?" David said with concern.

"It'll be fine," she replied with assurance.

"I can handle this," he said insistently. His male ego was surfacing.

"Are you implying that because I'm female that I am unable to do physical labor? Let me tell you..."

"Hey, let's not get into a male-versus-female role argument here," he said not wanting to ignite further tension. "I'm sorry. It's just that this situation that we're in has brought...," David cleared his throat and lowered his voice, "has brought out the chivalrous male in me. I just don't want you to be on your injured ankle too much. You could reinjure it."

"David, David, David," Veronica replied, looking down and shaking her head slowly as she limped towards him. "First of all, thank you for your concern," she said standing as she looked upward to meet him face-to-face. "But, as you can see, I'm hobbling around pretty well. I'll be careful. Second of all, if I don't do something physical soon, and I mean work, I'm going to go stark raving mad!" She hoped that she drove the point home to him. She, however, wasn't sure she was as confident about herself as she sounded.

"OK," he replied as he shrugged and raised his hands in resignation. "I get your point." He paused for a few moments to recollect his thoughts. "I remember seeing a ladder lying along the side of the cabin on the porch, but it's buried under the snow," he said. "There are a couple of shovels near the back door that we...," he said as he pointed to himself and to her, "can use to dig through to get to it, and then we'll have to dig a short path from the porch to just beyond the roofline in order to lean the ladder against it. Once I get to the roof, I can begin to remove the snow."

"OK," Veronica replied as she turned and walked toward the hallway. "I need my coat and boots and ..." Her voice trailed off as she limped away into the direction of the bedroom. David shook his head as he watched her walk away. He took the breakfast dishes to the kitchen then proceeded to the bedroom to also get his winter gear. When he entered, he found Veronica crying. He had that "Oh, man-n-n" look on his face when he saw her, but quickly changed it to show more consideration.

"Hey, what's the matter?" he asked gently as he walked towards her. She was sitting on the edge of the side chair putting on her second boot. She waved him off, wiping the tears from her face as she finished tying the boot laces.

"Damn it; my emotions...they're getting the best of me," she said in frustration as she stood up. As she began to walk past him, he took her into his arms and held her close, cradling her head on his chest with his hand. She continued to cry. She was usually emotionally stronger than this, but this new information was just too much. She instinctively wrapped her arms around David's waist.

David closed his eyes while taking a deep breath. "Listen to me. I can't promise that everything's going to be alright," he said in a low voice while resting the side of his face on the top of her head. He continued to hold her tightly. "But I will say this; I'm going to do everything in my power to protect us from any harm. It's not going to be easy, but I know we can do this, alright?" He gave her another quick squeeze and gently stepped out of their embrace, tilted her face up to his and looked into her tear-filled eyes. He gently wiped the tears off her cheeks with his thumbs while caressing her face in his hands. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so protective of anyone. He wanted her so badly but was not going to take advantage of her vulnerability.

Veronica took in his gaze. Her knees felt weak. She nervously cleared her throat and smiled wryly. "We'd better get started then," she said as she wiped away the tears from her eyes and cheeks with her fingers. "Your things are over there," pointing to the bed frame and box springs as she reached for her winter gear.

"OK, thanks," David replied softly. He wanted to hold her again, but took her cue and retrieved his coat, boots, and gloves. He hesitated walking out of the room until she was on her way out. He closed the door behind him and followed her out through the back door of the cabin.

They worked steadily to complete their task while taking frequent breaks inside the cabin to warm up. Frostbite was something neither of them wanted nor needed.

David rested the ladder against the roofline and began his ascent with snow shovel in hand. Veronica stood at the foot of the ladder making sure it remained steady. When he got to the top, he discovered that the snow pack was not as thick as he had assumed. He concluded that the strong winds of the night before prevented significant snow accumulation there. "You're not going to believe this," he said looking down to her.

"Believe what?" she asked looking up.

"There isn't as much snow as I thought. It's still thick, looks to be about a foot and a half. It seems the strong winds from last night kept much of it off the roof."

"That's good to hear," she replied. "Please be careful."

"You bet," he replied as he proceeded with the snow removal. Veronica had to move to the porch to stand just beneath the edge of the roof to avoid being pummeled with the discarded snow. They continued to take occasional short breaks to get out of the bitter cold to prevent frostbite.

He had removed much of what was accumulated and began his descent. Veronica was waiting. "We're OK for now," he said as he stepped off the ladder. "Your face is very red," he said as they walked back inside.

"So is yours," Veronica replied. "I don't see any dark red or purple areas," she continued as she observed his face while removing her coat and hat.

"None on your face either," he replied with satisfaction. "Once we are warm again it should fade."

David walked into the sitting room and added more wood to the fireplace. "We're running low on firewood. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He was able to access the firewood pile which was protected by a tarp-like covering with the ends weighed down by concrete blocks. There was a path created through the snow earlier to retrieve the ladder. He came in with an armful. Veronica was in her coat again and limped passed him as he walked through the back door.

She turned and said, "If we do this together, we'll get the firewood in here quicker." David didn't say a word.

The firewood pile was replenished to their satisfaction. They noticed that it was past their lunchtime, so they proceeded to prepare lunch together. Veronica offered to make hot sandwiches and David prepared the hot drinks. He added the filled mugs to the tray already laden with the sandwich-filled plates and utensils. He carried this into the sitting room while Veronica closed the pocket door behind her.

"I meant to ask you earlier," he said after drinking some tea.

"Yes?" she replied as she ate.

"What were you reading this morning?" he asked as took a bite of his sandwich. "By the way, this is good," he said pointing to the sandwich.

The emotional scene earlier in the day seemed to have been forgotten. "Glad you like it," she replied with a smile. "The book is a fictional story based on actual Irish history from the 1800s. There's something in it for everyone; romance, mystery..."

"Sounds interesting," he replied. "I love the history of Ireland. I worked there years ago."

"Really! How long were you there?" Veronica asked with some astonishment as she took a bite of her sandwich.

"About nine years. I got a job as a systems analyst with an American software company after graduating college. It was one of the best periods of my life."

"So, you like to travel too?" she asked.

"You bet," David replied. "I served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. Later I entered college on the GI Bill and travelled to Chile and Italy. After graduating I was fortunate enough to get that job in Ireland. I haven't been able to travel for a long while...," he paused and then continued, "because of my busy work schedule. I'd like to return to Ireland one day." He wasn't ready to reveal any information that would lead him to explain the twelve-year gap in his life.

"I've been to Canada and Puerto Rico. I studied art in Paris, France as an exchange student while at college. That was a great experience. I'd like to go back for a visit."

"You must be pretty good. Do you still paint?" He liked learning more about her interests.

"Occasionally." She wasn't ready to explain why she hadn't kept up with it.

"There's a lot of pretty country around where you work...could be inspiring. What lead you to be a waitress?" He wanted to know more.

"Actually, I'm not a waitress." Veronica replied. She saw a puzzled look come over David's face. She smiled and said, "I own the café."

"What? I had no idea!" he said with surprise and delight.

"Well, you wouldn't have. The day you came in for lunch was the day after one of my waitresses quit without notice. I was filling in until I got a replacement. The café originally belonged to my father. He died a couple of years ago and left it to me. My mother died a year before Dad. There are great childhood memories there. I couldn't sell it to a stranger."

"That was a lot of grief for you to go through in such a short time," he replied sympathetically.

"Yes, but life goes on," she replied.

"I own an Irish pub in San Francisco; looks like we have something in common."

"Interesting! Tell me about it," she replied with genuine interest.

He described the pub and its offerings of Irish and American cuisine and told her about Big Max and the other staff members. She listened attentively.

"Your pub sounds like a jewel! I'd like to see it sometime."

"I'd like for you to visit," he replied with anticipation. "Have you ever been to San Francisco?"

"Not for a visit. I've passed through a few times on my way to Los Angeles."

"Well, I'll be glad to be your tour guide when you have a chance to visit."

"I'd like that," she replied. She wanted to know more about this man. She was enjoying their conversation, but she suddenly began to feel some unexplained anxiety. She hated when this happened.

"David?" Veronica asked.

"Yes?"

"Tell me more about your travels." She hoped that more conversation would provide a diversion to her increasing anxiety.

He talked about his experiences in Chile; the rain forest, the coast, and the music. His stories of Italy were also interesting; Rome and the Coliseum, Tuscany, and so on. He said he loved meeting the locals from other countries; they were always so kind and welcoming. As he spoke, he could sense she was uneasy. He wanted to know why.

"Veronica, I don't mean to pry, but you seem edgy. Are you alright?" He had risen from his chair and was sitting on the edge of her ottoman facing her.

"I'm OK. I didn't realize it was so obvious. It's not you, yet it is you," she replied.

"OK. It's not me, yet it is me. I don't understand." He was concerned and confused as well.

"I have occasional panic attacks that appear out of nowhere. I was in a pretty bad relationship for a few years," she said as she tried to control her breathing. "I've seen a therapist in an attempt to piece my life back together. I was counseled on what to do when it happens because I refused to take medication. I usually ride my bicycle in a nearby park or meditate. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it's frustrating when it does." She hated appearing helpless. She took another deep breath.

"I understand a little of what you're going through. I sometimes wake up with anxiety when I've had dreams of Vietnam. Like you, it doesn't happen as often as it used to. Fortunately, though, I don't have problems with anxiety during my waking hours. Go figure."

She stood up and turned to walk to the front window to peer outside. She thought that by looking outward from inside the cabin might help to relieve the malady. David followed out of concern.

Her heart was beating fast and her palms were damp. She opened the front door and stood for a few moments to breathe in the cold, fresh air. David watched intently. He knew he couldn't fix her problem, but he wanted to help somehow.

She stood in the opened doorway practicing the visual relaxation and controlled breathing techniques that her counselor taught her. She was getting sick and tired of these anxious feelings. It was getting in the way of her quality of life. After a few moments, she closed the door. The thought of this happening again while she is with David was unnerving. Then she began to cry. God, he must think I'm a basket case crying twice in one day, she thought to herself.

David walked quickly over to her and took her into his arms. He couldn't resist her any longer. He wanted to comfort her. While still embracing her, he tilted her face up to his and kissed her gently, but wanting more. She quickly pushed him away. He was startled.

"God, I-I'm sorry, Veronica," he said while leaving his arms opened for a moment. He feared he may have alarmed her. "I just got caught up in the moment." Then he rested his arms at his sides. "I'm really sorry if I upset you. I wasn't trying to take advantage of you." He stood still, waiting for her response.

"No, David, I'm sorry," she replied as she turned away wiping the tears from her face. She walked to the fireplace.

He watched her. He didn't want this to be an uncomfortable situation for her, yet it was. He also didn't want Veronica to feel he didn't respect her. He just wanted to be close to her.

He joined her by the fireplace. He didn't touch her. He just stood behind her and waited for her to speak.

"I don't know what came over me," she said as she looked down at the fire crackling in the fireplace. "The only thing I can attribute this attack to is our being in such close quarters. The panic attacks began during a bad relationship I had with a guy named Luke."

"So, his name was Luke, huh?" David said as he remained behind her. Her revelation validated his suspicions of her having had a bad experience in her life.

"Yes. It was a physically and verbally abusive relationship. He would always apologize afterwards and I'd forgive him, but when things didn't change over time, I knew I was in trouble and had to get out of the situation."

David was developing hatred for this guy and he didn't even know him. He never understood why some men were so cruel to the women in their lives.

Veronica continued. "We were living together. I lost who I was—I didn't paint or do any of the things that were a part of me. My family was very concerned. At first, I resisted their advice because I was 'in love' with him and thought things would get better. God, I was stupid. But the last time he beat me, I finally saw the light, as the saying goes, and left him. I went to the local police station, filed a complaint, and had him charged with assault and battery. They took pictures of the injuries to my face and body. He was arrested, but got out on bail. However, with the financial assistance of my family, I began legal procedures to bring him to court. The day before the court date, however, he was killed in a single car crash. The vehicle he was driving burst into flames. The investigation revealed he'd been drinking, crossed the center line of a two-lane highway at a high rate of speed, and crashed into a grove of trees. That was the end of it." She didn't want to stop talking. She felt she could trust David with her feelings.

"Since then, I've found it very difficult to be alone with a man, even if it's just to go out for dinner. There have only been a couple of guys interested in me since then, but I haven't wanted to get involved with anyone...until now." She turned with her arms folded and faced David. "When you hugged me this morning, I felt a spark of emotion for the first time in a long time and it frightened me. It's been on my mind all day." He continued to listen patiently. "I've been protecting my heart by having it encased in an imaginary thick concrete wall, much like that of a medieval tower, surrounded by a moat filled with piranha." He remained quiet, but slightly smiled at her attempt at metaphor. "The drawbridge has been up for a long time, David. There is a door to my heart, but I won't lower the bridge until I'm ready to let you cross over and into my heart." There was silence for what seemed an eternity.

He gently placed his hands on her shoulders. "Veronica, I'm glad you've told me about all this. I'm so sorry you've experienced so much pain." He noticed her eyes beginning to glisten with tears again. "You sound as though you've become stronger." He gently pulled her towards him. She allowed him to envelope her into his arms. "I want you to know this; I'm a pretty good risk...no, I'm a damned good risk." He paused to think of what to say next. "I hope that in time you'll come to trust me and give me a chance." He continued to hold her and then said, "The heart does become stronger and before you know it, you're feeling alive again."

She listened to his words. "How can you be so sure that will happen?" Right now, she wasn't feeling so optimistic.

"I lost someone, too, long ago. However, my situation was that I was in love with her and her with me. I don't want to go into detail, but we had to split up. Pain is pain regardless of the reason. I never thought I'd feel anything for anyone ever again...until now."

Veronica let those last two words sink in. She slowly stepped out of their embrace. "David, what ever happened to that woman?" she asked in a gentle tone. She wanted to know where she stood in the grand scheme of things.

"She died a number of years ago."

"Oh, David. I'm so sorry." She reached out to touch his arm.

"It's ok. I've gotten past it all. But, for me, it took a long time." David didn't want to go any further with his past.

"David, I don't know how long it'll be before I'm ready for a relationship. I don't want you to waste your time waiting on me." Her furrowed eyebrows indicated she meant what she said.

"I don't consider you a 'waste of my time' Veronica," he replied as he shifted his stance."Want to know something else?" he asked in a low voice with his eyebrows raised slightly.

"What?"

"I will wait for you for as long as it takes," he replied accompanied with as much love and conviction as he could muster. "And, I promise not to be so amorous again until you're ready." She nodded, managed a slight smile, and whispered OK then turned to face the fireplace.

David felt he needed to be by himself to absorb what had happened and about what had been said. He also needed to expend some physical energy, so he decided to shovel more snow from the back porch to create a path to the vehicles. Without saying anything further, he picked up his coat, hat, and gloves on his way to the kitchen and walked out the back door closing it quietly.

Veronica turned and watched him as he left. She walked into the kitchen to look out the window to watch him work. She knew she wanted him in her life but had to find a way to open her heart again. She had a feeling he'd be worth it.