Okay. I'm going to be a little shameless here and I hope you forgive me for it. If y'all enjoy my writing, it would be awesome if you could drop by soyouthinkyoucanwrite - of course you need to sandwich it between www. and .com because they won't let me post a direct link here. Anyway, I'd love it if you could throw me a vote for the first chapter of my original novel "After the Curtain Call" by Nancy E. Polin. It's in the drop down menu under Harlequin Superromances – page 7 I think. Of course if you think it bites, well, sorry about that but I believe you might recognize whom one character is loosely based on (I've been told that he's really easy to fall in love with!) . Just sayin'. ;) BTW, we all can vote once a day. Sorry about that. I currently have no shame. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Gillian awoke to find Cal gone. Although she immediately missed him, she wasn't surprised. He'd been restless and was still awake even as she'd drifted off.

Emily had been twenty minutes late coming home and he completely lost it, which had resulted in the girl flying to her room. They hadn't seen her the rest of the night. Cal had been out of line and he'd known it but it didn't stop him. Just because Gillian was aware of his reasons didn't mean he'd bothered to share them with his daughter.

He was up, probably brooding, possibly pacing.

Grabbing his robe to pull over her already borrowed Sex Pistols t-shirt, she belted it around her before stepping out onto the landing. She hadn't technically moved in with him but she found herself staying over more and more. It was never planned, it just sort of happened. Her conscious needed to catch up with her subconscious and bring some clothes over already.

She glanced over to her left and noticed the darkness under Emily's door before moving toward the top of the stairs. Sure enough, she could see a soft light from below.

Half his face was washed in an orange glow from the single lamp, the other was lost to shadows. He was just clad in pajama bottoms and a plain white t-shirt, bare feet crossed and stretched out on the coffee table. Oddly enough, there was no glass in his hand. Maybe he'd figured he'd had enough earlier.

Gillian watched him for a few more moments, heart clenching at the pain in his expression. Part of her wished they'd never taken the case but the other part acknowledged that it had been inevitable. She could only hope that it would all come to fruition soon.

"Spyin' darlin'?"

"Observing." She gave a tiny smile as she reached the bottom of the stairs and crossed toward him. "You okay?"

He gave a non-committal grunt followed by a less than convincing "Yeah."

Settling on the sofa next to him, she pulled her feet beneath her and his arm automatically dropped around her to move her closer. She leaned over and rested her head against his chest and they proceeded to share the quiet of the early hour.

Twenty minutes of stillness gradually led to Cal's inevitable fidgeting. "You think I screwed up, yeah?"

"I…think you may have been a little hard on her." She didn't want to get in the middle but at the same time felt he deserved her honestly.

He was quiet for another moment before letting out a long sigh. "You're right. Just…dunno…panicked, I guess. These missing girls and then my own daughter, my usually punctual daughter comes traipsing in after her curfew."

Gillian nodded but didn't add anything.

"And now she sees me as the Big Bad Wolf with all my huffin' and puffin'." Cal shifted and rested his cheek against the top of her head.

"Maybe a little. Your reaction was a little unusual."

"Make a habit of it and I'm gonna screw things up."

"You won't."

"I was pretty hard on her. Wouldn't surprise me if she didn't speak to me for a week."

"Apologize to her. Talk to her."

Emily's shocked wide eyes had filled with tears. He hadn't even given her a chance to explain before launching into attack mode. And now he felt like complete shit. "What if I drove her away?"

There was vulnerability in his voice that Gill wasn't accustomed to hearing. There wasn't anything more important to him then his daughter and the possibility that he'd endangered their relationship over something so petty was tearing into him.

"You didn't Cal. She's a very astute young lady and it'll occur to her that something else is going on." She turned to look up into his face and chanced a soft smile. "Maybe you should tell her. Give her a clue why you went all psycho."

It wasn't his habit to share any of their caseload details with Emily but maybe Gillian was right. Emily's heart was huge and that might be all he needed to get her to forgive him for acting like a royal arse.

Emily slipped away to school early before she heard her father begin to stir. She'd know he'd been up late and more than once had been tempted to go talk to him, explain how the report rehearsal had just gone a little over but images of his expression kept her from doing it. His eyes had been wild, face red in fury. He rarely screamed like that and although some part of her knew there must be something behind it, she just didn't care to face him right now. Her own temper was a perfect fusion between her mom and dad, which meant that she also needed time to cool down.

Class wouldn't start for another hour so she went and grabbed some coffee before heading for the library.

He'd wigged out in the past, sure, but this time was different. There'd been panic and she didn't understand it (it was only twenty minutes after all) and dad, being dad, wasn't about to explain. Gillian had just tried to stay out of the way and Emily could hardly blame her for that.

With a sigh, she plopped down in a chair and started to pull her government book from her backpack. She had a test fourth period and she wanted to brush up because she felt certain that facts may have leaked out during the night.

"Hey Em!"

The voice had her turning and the librarian shushing.

An auburn haired girl with green eyes and ADHD tendencies slid into the chair next to her. "How's it going?"

Emily smiled, genuinely pleased to see one of her best friends. They'd been the proverbial ships passing in the night these days, communicating mostly by texts, since Jackie didn't share any classes with her. "Good, I guess. I mean, you know."

The girl looked at her a little more closely. "Everything okay?"

She didn't want to really say anything, not ever being the type of kid to make her parents or her currently deranged father look bad, but it was really bugging her. She chose to downplay it. "It's all good. My dad and I had a bit of a fight but you know…"

"Parents. Can't live with 'em, can't sell 'em." Jackie leaned closer. "I have a way to get your mind off it though…"

Emily was suspicious. It was in her nature. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, well, I kind of got an interesting invitation…"

Shifting in her chair, she leaned back and stared into her friend's face. The girl was obviously really excited about something. Emily's suspicion morphed into curiosity. "Yeah…? What kind of invitation?"

"What would you say if I told you I was invited to a frat party?"

Emily tried to figure if she was serious or not and decided she was. "I'd say you were nuts."

"Why? Gorgeous guys, beer, music. Really. Can you think of a better way to spend a Friday night?" Jackie's grin broadened. "I met this guy, Adam, at the mall. He was so sweet, oh my God! And what a body! Well, anyway, we just started talking and one thing led to another…"
"Is this going to be TMI?"

The girl let out a gust of air. "As tempting as it was, I'm going to have to say 'no' on that one. But he did invite me and any other friends who might be interested to a little 'get together.'"

Unsettled, Emily just looked at her. "I'm not sure…"

"Oh c'mon! We're seniors! We'll be off to college soon anyway. Consider it a preview." She kept smiling, body vibrating with enthusiasm.

"My dad would kill me."

"Doesn't have to know. Tell him you're hanging with me."

Indecision rifled through her. He technically wouldn't kill her, but she could kiss her car and phone goodbye for like…forever. Of course that would only be if he found out.

"Em…?" Jackie leaned in and nudged her with her shoulder. "You know you want to."

She did actually. There was still all that anger brewing below the surface. He'd treated her like she was five, not someone heading off to college soon. She'd even be able to vote in seven months for God's sake!

"Tell you what, we won't stay late. We'll be back in time to watch something scary and do pedicures." Green eyes were intense in their expectation.

Really. What could it hurt? What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Emily felt herself begin to relax and her smile matched her friend's. "What time?"

Cal dropped by the frat house again that afternoon. Gillian had had a few things to take care of at the group and he was currently flying solo. Maybe it was better. If she wasn't with him, the little tossers wouldn't have anyone to ogle. The memory of it along with his inability to apologize to his daughter that morning kindled his anger and he used it to his advantage. He rapped on the door.

After a few minutes, a dark haired kid about nineteen or twenty answered shirtless and yawning. "Yeah?"

"Does daddy know you're sleepin' off a hangover on his dime?"


"No matter. Just wonderin' if you could answer a couple of question." Cal tilted his head and fixed his stare on the kid, who immediately started to show discomfort.

"You a cop or something?"

"I work in conjunction with the DC Police and the Feds." Tension clouded the young man's face but it seemed like an honest reaction as opposed to someone hiding something. "Just wanted you to take a look at a couple of photos and tell me if you've seen any of these girls." He pulled the pictures from inside his coat and handed them over.

Nothing. No reaction. The kid hadn't seen them. Well so much for finding the weak link. Disappointment rose within him but he kept his face neutral as always.

"Sorry. Haven't seen them. They students here?"

"Anyone else around that could take a quick look?"

"Bobby, you don't have to talk to him." A familiar voice boomed from behind and Adam Bressler stepped into the entry. "He's not a cop."

"It's okay man. It's not a problem." The dark haired boy just looked confused. New pledge?

"Do I really have to call campus security, Mister, what was it? Lightman?"

"Actually it's doctor." Cal stepped close and Bressler took an automatic step back, expression suddenly uneasy but he wiped it away. "There's no doubt in my mind that you've, at the very least, seen one, if not all of these girls. If you're not responsible for their disappearance, you know who is."

"What's he talking about?" Bobby glanced back and forth between the two men.

"He doesn't know what he's talking about. Don't you have a Chemistry test or something?"

"Um, yeah." The boy slipped away with his ears and tail down.

"Look sir," Bressler tried a different approach and Cal narrowed his eyes. "I do have the photos. If anyone recognizes them, I'll gladly give you or Dr. Foster a call. That's the best I can do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have midterms to study for." He reached to shut the door but Cal didn't move and continued to stare.

"You're gonna be one sorry little frat boy and they'll be nothin' Mum or Dad will be able to do for you. Keep that in mind, son." Cal pivoted and headed back down the path as a set of blue eyes burned into his back.