1 The characters of Lundy and LaFiamma don't belong to me, nor the Garth brooks song used. Just barrowing.

2

3 RETURNS



Houston, TX

April

It finally stopped raining. It had been raining for a week. That wasn't unusual for Houston in the spring, but some of the residents got tired of it. Especially since the spring had been predicted to be a nice one. Not too hot or humid with warm days. But then the rain fell steadily for eight days, on and off. More on than off. And now, the first warm day when the predicted high was 79, the humidity was climbing too.

LeVon E. Lundy didn't mind the weather. He was born and raised in Texas. He had lived in the south part of Texas and endured the hot humidity. He'd lived in the Northwest part and dealt with drought and tornados. He preferred humidity.

LeVon was shaving, getting ready for work. He didn't consider himself to be handsome, although a few women in his time had told him he was. His blond hair was getting a little long; he needed a haircut. Once it was over his ears, it started to curl just a bit, especially when it was humid. He was just less than six feet tall, but weighed a constant 155 pounds, which gave him a lithe figure. And it was all muscle, hardened by old-fashioned work, not in a gym. His Wrangler jeans, faded just a little, fit snug, but not tight. He'd worn the same size since college, a fact he was proud of. His cowboy boots were riding boots today, with a low riding heel. He had five pairs of boots, including two pairs of Roper boots. He didn't see the need to own anything else. He thought he might still have a pair of running shoes in the back of the closet from his days at the academy.

His sharp, clear blue eyes noticed every detail. The lines around his eyes hadn't been there last year, he thought. And his hand that held his razor looked a little more age roughened.

Levon finished shaving and toweled off. He pulled on a tan colored Wrangler brand western style shirt. His wardrobe hadn't changed much since his college days either. He wore the same style shirts, those of a working cowboy that he always had. His style only changed with that of the times and the brands sold in the stores.

Lundy grabbed a cup of coffee and checked his duty weapon, a Glock 45 caliber pistol. He made sure it was clean to the eye, free of debris, and the magazine was full. He slipped on his brown leather shoulder holster and fitted the weapon under his left arm. He donned his gray Stetson 4 X hat and he was out the door of his two-bedroom house. He'd recently added a carport off the side of his house and had been glad of it during the rain. Also, since the purchase of his new truck, he had become a bit overprotective.

He unlocked the new black Ford F-350 Power Stroke diesel. It still had the "new car" smell inside. The interior was gray and had all the extras that Lundy had never allowed himself in the past: power windows, doorlocks, cruise control, air, and a 3 CD changer. Lundy had waited a long time for this truck, and treated it that way. It was an extended cab with a third door on the passenger side. He felt great driving it too. He even didn't mind the freeway gridlock he sometimes got stuck in trying to get to the Reisner building. But today, the roads weren't bad. He sailed into Houston in a good mood listening to George Strait all the way.

Joseph A. LaFimma was not so lucky to be in as good a mood. He'd gotten up late and showered and dressed hurriedly. His dark brown hair had just been cut, so he just combed it wet and prayed for a good hair day. He poured his tall muscular body into a blue summer weight suit, tailored to his exact fit and weight of 165. He had picked a pale blue shirt that made his dark blue eyes even bluer and a dark blue tie with purple horizontal stripes. It was a Giorgio tie and he loved it. He put on black socks and black Italian loafers. He didn't even have time to make a pot of coffee, and as usual, he didn't have anything to eat in his refrigerator. So he simply shrugged on his black leather shoulder holster with his weapons securely fastened under each arm. He wore a pair of guns, a matched set of .44s, a gift from his uncle a long time ago.

LaFiamma found a "Past Due" notice on the front door of his apartment as he dashed out the door. He discovered his phone was about to be shut off if the bill, a whopping 485.00 was not paid in the next three days. He shoved the notice into his jacket pocket and caught the elevator to the underground garage.

He gunned his Cobra out of the parking garage with a squeal of tires. He pulled into the heavy morning traffic along the surface streets of Houston and hoped he wouldn't be too late.

Morning briefing was long over by the time Joe LaFiamma made it into the bullpen at the Reisner building, where he and his partner Sgt LeVon Lundy were stationed in the Major Crimes unit of the Houston Police Department. Lundy already sat as his desk, going over a case file, drinking coffee and looking smug when LaFiamma hurried in.

"Oversleep, LaFiamma?" he asked, not even glancing up when his partner slid into his seat across the desk.

"Yeah, something like that," La Fiamma muttered. "What'd I miss?"

"Besides breakfast? We got a case. Not a good one either. We got a sleeper."

"A sleeper? What the hell's a sleeper?" he asked.

"A sleeper is an old case, a case that was marked unsolved. They've got to be reopened in the event of any new evidence."

La Fiamma rolled his eyes. "Great. How'd we get stuck with that?"

Lundy finally looked up. "Well, seeing as my partner wasn't present for shift report, all the current cases demanded immediate attention. This was the only one that we could wait on you for," he said sourly.

"Jeez, what'da you want? I'm sorry I was late."

"Yeah, well I've got a feeling you'll keep bein' sorry. Take a look at this file." He tossed a thick file across the desk, almost hitting La Fiamma's Bonsai tree.

"Hummel, Rachel, Bevin, Karen, Duvall, Iris. Three murders committed in three days. A black rose left at the scene of each crime. All three vics killed in their homes, no sign of forced entry, no prints, no sexual assault, no ties found between the victims. No leads on the perp. Case closed, unsolved 1968," Lundy summarized from the file while La Fiamma read over the cover sheet.

"Okay, fine. What's the new evidence?"

"We got a guy called several times says he knows who killed these women and has killed others. Could be a hoax, a crank, whatever, but it's gotta be checked." He stood. "You ready?"

"Yeah, let me grab some coffee."

"Well you better drink it quick," Lundy advised in his drawl. "'Cause there ain't not eatin' or drinkin' in my truck."

LaFiamma sighed. This was going to be a long day.

They drove to an older part of city and found the address they needed. It was a run down house with a fence around a small junkyard. A big Rottweiler dog was chained to a tree in the yard.

"Oh perfect," La Fiamma sighed.

They walked up on the porch, which was sagging and in need of paint. The dog just growled, but didn't move.

Lundy rang the bell. And elderly man shuffled to the door.

"Yes?" he asked through the screen door.

"I'm Sgt Lundy, this is Sgt La Fiamma. We're looking for Herman Peal."

"I'm Herman."

"Sir, we're responding to the call you placed to the Police department involving some murders that took place in 1968."

"Oh, oh yes!" he said, opening the screen. "Come in. It's been a week already. I didn't think anyone was going to come."

Lundy removed his hat inside. "Well sir, we're pretty busy. We got to you as soon as we could."

The house looked almost as bad as the junkyard outside, over crowded with furniture, appliances, magazines, newspapers and everything else one could imagine. Herman Peal led them through a path to his living room where a TV played a daytime soap opera. He clicked it off.

"Would you gentlemen like something to drink? Lemonade or coffee?"

"No thank you," La Fiamma spoke up. "We just need to get the information."

Lundy gave him a sour look.

The man sat down and gestured for them to sit as well.

"Well, I told the officer when I called, I know who killed those three college girls and left the black roses."

"In 1968."

"Yes, yes," Herman confirmed. "He was a tenant of mine. I own several apartments out back. I rented one the summer of '68 to a Bob Shiff. He seemed like a clean-cut fellow. Maybe late 20's. He stayed about three months, and then moved on. He left most of his stuff. That wasn't unusual back then, especially if one had back rent owed, and he did, two weeks worth. So I kept his things, thinking he'd come for them when he had the back rent money. I eventually put them into storage with other junk."

La Fiamma wondered exactly what this man didn't have in storage or in his house, for that matter.

"Well, my sister convinced me and my nephew to clean out that old storage house and I found those things of Shiffs. One of them was a large trunk. My nephew was curious and wanted to open it. I figured after all these years, what could it hurt? So we pried off the lock."

"And what did you find?" Lundy asked.

"Some dried up flowers. Roses. They were all colored black. I say colored cause they were solid black, stems, leaves and all. There were some pictures too, those three women that were killed, plus some others. The newspapers that had the stories about those girls' deaths were in there too. There was a spool of nylon cord and a pair of leather gloves."

"Do you still have the trunk?"

"Course. That's why I called the police. So you all could come get it."

He led the detectives out to the back porch. A musty dark green trunk sat on the stoop.

"There 'tis."

"Well, Mr. Peal, do you have any idea where this Bob Shiff might have gone?"

"No sir," Peal answered, scratching his head. "I never heard from him again."

"Did he have any friends here? Anyone you might know that might have come to see him at the apartment?" Lundy asked.

Peal shook his head. "I never seen no one with Shiff or come ta' see him."

La Fiamma shrugged. "Well I guess that's it then."

"Well have to take this in for evidence," Lundy explained.

Peal nodded. "I shore don't want it."

They picked up the trunk and hauled it back through the house.

"Well, thank you for the information and your time," Lundy told Peal. "And if you think of anything else, you call me." He handed the man his card.

"Will do. Thank you boys."

They hauled the trunk out and put it in the back of Lundy's truck.

"Well that was fun," La Fiamma said sarcastically, getting in.

"It's a lead," Lundy shrugged.

"Yeah, on a case from '68. We've got murderers and bank robbers and drug dealers running around right now. And we're looking for a guy who's like 80."

"Who killed three innocent women," Lundy reminded him.

La Fiamma conceded. But still he finally added, "We should probably check nursing homes first."



After the evidence had been turned in to the evidence lockup, until further needed, Lundy and La Fiamma went back to their office. Lieutenant Joanne Beaumont was waiting for them. She looked somber.

"LeVon, I need to talk to you."

La Fiamma shrugged and went to get the coffee he'd never gotten earlier.

Lundy followed the Lt back to her office. She closed the door.

She paced for a moment, unused of how to put into words what she had to tell him.

"Maybe you ought to have a seat," she finally said in her low, husky voice.

"What is it Joanne?" he asked. He hadn't seen her this upset in a long time.

"LeVon, I got a call from a hospital in Galveston. The Fort Turner Medical center. It's a hospital for long term mentally disabled."

Lundy nodded. He may have heard of it.

"There is a woman there. When she was brought in, she was in a coma. Apparently she had been in the coma for three years when she was transferred to Turner. She wasn't expected to come out of it. Apparently she did, just over a year ago. The doctors said she was suffering from amnesia." Beaumont licked her lips and laced her fingers. "The woman was a Jane Doe when she was brought in. Up until recently, there was still nothing known about the woman, who she was, where she came from. A legal guardian had been appointed by the state. The doctor I spoke with, Belinda Bell, said she has worked with this woman extensively over the past year and gradually some memory has returned."

"Joanne, where're you goin' with this?" Lundy was baffled.

"Levon, this woman says that she is Caroline Miller Lundy. She says she's your wife."

Lundy shook his head. "Joanne, my wife was killed. I saw her car explode."

"LeVon, I know that. That's why this is so difficult. I had Dr Bell fax me a picture of this woman before I even thought about telling you any of this." She took a paper fax copy of a picture off her desk. It was grainy and black and white, but the woman's face was fairly clear. She handed it to Lundy.

He took it and looked at the paper. The color drained from his face. In that picture, he saw high cheekbones, strong jaw line, long flowing hair, clear bright eyes…all features he had memorized in his mind…features he'd tried to forget.

"Okay, so it's a woman who looks like Caroline," he finally said, unable to deal with any other explanation.

"Yes. She does. That's why I called you in here. LeVon, I'm not sure what you want to do with this information. Dr Bell says that the woman remembers certain things, certain people. She gave them your name, told them you were a cop. It took them several weeks to track you down here."

LeVon shook his head, as if trying to clear it. He stood up abruptly from the chair, almost sending it over backwards. "What am I supposed to do? My wife is dead! She died in a bomb that was meant for me! I tried to get to her, but the flames were so high…" he paced the office.

"What am I supposed to do?? Go talk to this lady?" His mind was on fire. How dare someone violate Caroline's memory like this!

"LeVon, if it were me…well, I know that I would want to get to the bottom of this, if I could."

Lundy took several deep breaths. He finally nodded. "Yeah. I do."

"Take the day," Joanne told him. "Tomorrow if you need it."

Lundy nodded again. "Okay. Thanks Joanne. I'm gonna find out just what the hell is going on and who's playing games with me." He was still upset and unable to think of any other answers.

He left the office, banging her door.

He grabbed up his hat.

La Fiamma looked up from his desk and saw the expression on his partner's face.

"Lundy? You okay? Where're you going?"

He got no answers from his partner, so he got up and went after him, jogging to catch up.

"Hey, Lundy. What's up?"

"I'm takin' the rest of the day off!" Lundy snapped.

"Everything okay?" La Fiamma asked with genuine concern in his voice.

Lundy got on the elevator and punched the button. "No!"

The doors closed and La Fiamma was left standing in the hall with unanswered questions.

He went back to the bullpen and to Joanne's office.

"Lt, what's up with Lundy?" he asked.

"It's a personal matter," Beaumont told La Fiamma.

"Lt, he's not okay."

She nodded. "I know that. Hopefully he will be when he comes back."

Lundy drove out of Houston, headed for Galveston.

Caroline. She had been dead for as long now as they had been married. She was the only woman he had ever really loved. They'd grown up together; high school, college. They'd married right after he'd graduate the police academy. She had been it for him, the only thing that mattered.

Their marriage had been mostly good. He hadn't been able to give her much, not on a cop's salary. But they'd bought the house, a couple of acres. He'd let her down repeatedly, he knew that. The last year was the worst, although not all bad. He'd just kept disappointing her, missing dinners, not showing up for events he was supposed to take her to, keeping late hours, sometimes not seeing her at all for days. It was all because of his job. She'd started drinking more than she should, he'd known that. Hadn't known in time.

And then he's been caught up in a bad case. There had been threats. But he kept pushing, not taking them seriously. Until that day. He'd gotten home just that morning. He was exhausted. He'd parked his Blazer behind her Mustang. He'd come in and fallen into bed. He'd forgotten he and Caroline were to go to a baseball game at noon. She let him sleep. She figured she'd drink enough to kill the pain, like she did most every day. But they were out of scotch. Instead of using her car since he'd blocked her in, she'd grabbed his keys.

Lundy heard the explosion and leapt from his bed. He ran outside as high flames licked the sky and his Blazer was a roaring blaze of orange. He'd tried…God how he'd tried to get to her! He'd suffered second and third degree burns trying. But nothing could have saved her.

Nothing!

Lundy slammed his hand on the steering wheel.

"So why is this woman saying she's Caroline?" he said out loud.

He arrived at the Fort Turner Center. He parked his truck and went inside. It was a nicer place than he'd expected, looking more like an assisted living facility.

He went to the front desk.

"I need to see Dr Bell," he told the girl. He showed his badge. "Sgt Lundy."

Dr Bell arrived in less than five minutes. She was a tall woman with silver hair. She was quite striking. She shook his hand firmly.

"Sgt Lundy. I'm glad you could come."

"Listen Dr, I'm a little confused. Lieutenant Beaumont, she told you my wife was killed in an explosion?"

"Yes she did. All I can tell you is what I have learned from my patient. Then I'll let you make your own judgment. Lets walk outside in the garden and I'll tell you my story."

They went out back into a large park like garden.

"I know a little," Lundy told her. "What my Lieutenant told me. About the woman being brought in in a coma."

Dr Bell nodded. "Yes. She was transferred here from Dallas. She had a state appointed guardian. His name was Norman Clay. I'm afraid I can't locate him at this point. I lost track of him after a new guardian was appointed here. But at that time, he explained to me that the woman had been injured in a car accident and had remained in a coma ever since." She gave Lundy the dates; the date of the car accident, when the woman was admitted to Dallas Memorial Burn center, and when she was transferred to Ft Turner. The dates did coincide approximately with the dates of the car bombing.

"She was in a comatose state for approximately two years at Dallas. She was transferred here when their care center was taken over by ours and we brought several patients here. She remained in a coma for three years. And one day, she began to come out of it. It was a slow process. At first, she had to learn to talk all over again. And other things as well. Of course she had to learn to walk again. After she woke up, she appeared to have no idea who she was or where she'd come from. We had no more information then we had when she was admitted. She was a Jane Doe. She made good progress with her motor skills and so I began to work with her on her memory. We didn't believe it had been erased, just blocked.

"A little over a year ago, she began to have memories. Nothing big at first, but little things. Mostly childhood. She progressed with that as well and several months ago, she began talking about the man she married. Those memories began to come a lot faster than any others. And one day she told me her name was Caroline. She said she remembered it because she remembered he husband calling her that.

"She was able to describe him, as well as some other people she seemed to have known."

Lundy had a pensive expression on his face.

"I understand that this is very hard for you sergeant."

"It's more than hard Doctor, it's impossible."

"I spoke with your Lieutenant. She did tell me that the remains taken from the car bombing at your home were unidentifiable. The identification was based on your statement that it was your wife."

Lundy realized what she said was true.

"The woman here, she came up with your name in a session three weeks ago. She's had many many memories of her life, her husband, but hadn't been able to bring up a name. When she finally did, more things came back; in fact, most of her memory was restored. At this point, she is only missing perhaps the last three years of her life before the accident. She told me your name and that you were a policeman. She didn't know where she was from, but some of her descriptions of things in Houston were so vivid, I was able to use that as a starting point. That's how I was able to track you down."

"Ma'am, I just still don't see how this is all possible…"

"I understand," she told him again. "And we're all hoping that you can provide some sort of evidence, one way or another. Her fingerprints, of course, were submitted a long time ago, but with nothing to compare them to, that was no help."

LeVon could think of no reason that Caroline would ever have had her fingerprints taken.

"As I said, we wouldn't have contacted you if we didn't think that there was a very good chance that this woman could be your wife."

LeVon was flushed and felt dizzy. He sat down on a nearby bench.

Dr Bell sat beside him. "We took a blood sample, but all I can tell you about that is her blood type is the same as your wife's, AB Negative."

"Caroline…" it was almost painful just to say her name, to light that flame of hope. "Caroline had a birthmark on her shoulder, just below her neck. Left side. It was almost heart shaped."

Dr Bell shook her head. "Well, she was burned on her left arm and shoulder. There's only scar tissue there. Is there anything else?" she asked hopefully.

LeVon thought back to the body he's known so well. "She had an appendectomy scar and a knee injury to her right knee." He thought harder. There had to be something!

"Wait. Behind her right ear!" He'd just now remembered. After all those years of kissing her earlobes. "Caroline had a mole behind her right ear. A round mole. She wanted to have it removed but never found the time. No one could see it."

Dr Bell closed her eyes. She knew her patient's identifying marks inside and out, like her own children's.

"Sgt Lundy, my patient has a small round mole behind her right ear," she told him softly.

In all these years, Lundy hadn't shed many tears. But there, on that bench, he broke down and began to weep. Dr Bell put her hand on his shoulders while he held his head in his hands.

A while later, Dr Bell led LeVon back into the facility.

"She knows we've been trying to contact you, but she doesn't know you're here," she told him. "Are you ready for this?'

Lundy nodded. He felt like he'd been waiting for all these years for this moment, although he'd never expected it. He was nervous, scared, excited and happy all at the same time. He ran a hand through his hair. They walked down a long hall with patient rooms on each side.

"Are you ready to accept that this woman is your wife?" Dr Bell asked.

"I…I think so. It's just real difficult to believe."

"Well she certainly believes it, although I'm not sure how she'll react to you. It has been a long time."

They found the woman on an outside patio, reading a book. LeVon felt his breath leave him when he saw the long auburn hair, pulled back behind her ear, her pert nose, high cheekbones and strong jaw line. As she read, she dangled a sandal from her toe. LeVon remembered warm summer evening when he'd find Caroline sitting on the back porch swing, reading, maybe sewing, dangling one shoe from her toes like that, over her crossed leg. He took several steps forward, Dr Bell staying in the foyer behind him.

She heard the heavy boot footfalls. She looked up.

LeVon stared her full in the face. A flood of memories hit him so hard it would have knocked him over. Caroline, the day she first agreed to go out with him; at the sidelines of a football field; at a formal dance in a blue gown; the day he proposed, on a blanket outside; their wedding day; the day they bought their first home…it all came rushing back when he saw her face. For it was the face of the woman he believed dead for so many years. The face of the woman he loved like no other.

She dropped the book and stood.

"Caroline…" he barely uttered, fearing if he even dared to breathe, she would vanish like a dream.

"LeVon." He voice was too but a whisper. And then as if gliding, she was in front of him. And LeVon knew it wasn't a dream. He gathered her up in his arms. He was laughing and crying at the same time. She held on to him like a drowning woman, never wanting to let him go.

Joe La Fiamma spent the rest of the day searching computer data and utilizing search engines looking for Bob Shiff. He had eleven possibilities so far. He'd enlisted Carol to help.

"Well, that narrows it to seven," Carol said, hanging up her phone, speaking to Joey. "I just got confirmation that four more Bob Sniff's were buried this past year."

"Well, I've got only two that look promising," Joe shrugged, "the only ones who were in Houston for a long enough period of time to commit the murders."

"I'm exhausted Joe. What's say we call it a night?"

La Fiamma looked at his watch. It was already after seven.

"Yeah, sure. I'm sorry Carol. I lost track."

The red head smiled and gathered up her things. "Only for you, green eyes," she said sweetly and left the semi-deserted office.

La Fiamma didn't feel like going home. He was tired but still tightly wound up from the day. He didn't have anyone to unwind to. Although Lundy wasn't much of a conversationalist, they'd come to an understanding in their partnership: they could talk to each other. They might not agree with what the other had to say, but at least they could air everything out.

So instead of driving home, LaFiamma went downtown. He found one of the few nightclubs he could tolerate, Trends. It met two of his requirements: no country music and no cowboy hats. After valet parking his car, he went inside. The music was loud, upbeat, a Jennifer Lopez song, he deduced. He melted into the crowd. He faded over to the bar and ordered a vodka martini. His eyes scanned the young couples dancing, the hungry half naked women's bodies, and the overheated, baggy dressed young men. His eyes met others, seeking out someone. He didn't know exactly what he was looking for. He wasn't really in the mood to dance. He sure wasn't interested in one-niters anymore. Hell, in this day and age, you had to practically boil them, do a thorough medical history and then wrap them in plastic before you slept with them. It was almost more trouble then it was worth. And he had the Playboy channel at home. He didn't feel like drinking to intoxication either. So he sat alone at the bar. He begged off when approached by several women. He was lost deep in thought. He was vaguely aware of someone sliding onto the seat next to his.

"So you new in town sailor?" The voice was sultry and smooth. And very familiar.

Joey glanced over.

"Cassidy?" he asked, his mouth hanging open.

The blond woman beside him smiled. "Hey Joey," she greeted.

His whole face lit up and he leaned over and hugged her. She returned the warm embrace.

"Jeez, Cassidy Taylor!" he said again, not being able to help himself from staring at her long legs gliding out from under a black mini skirt. "What are you doing in Houston?"

"I'm down here for a show."

Joe shrugged. "What kinda show?"

"I quit the CPD," she said. "So I had to fall back on my legs. I'm dancing again."

Joey beamed. He remembered Cassidy and those long, lithe dancer's legs.

"I'm with a dance company from Boston. We're doing the musical-dance production of 'Fame'."

"That's great!" he told her. He didn't remember her being this beautiful. Of course it had been years since he'd seen her.

"How long are you in town?"

"The show runs five nights," she told him. "I called your place earlier. I guess it was just fate that we ran into each other sooner than I'd hoped."

His heart leapt. She'd wanted to see him. Could it be possible that all her feelings for him weren't dead?

"I'm sure glad we did. You wanna get outta here? Maybe grab a late dinner?"

"I'd love to."

The two left the nightclub in Joey's car and drove to a small but nice Italian restaurant. Over a late dinner, they laughed and talked over old times. Cassidy and Joey had been patrol officers on the Chicago Police Department at the same time, even been partnered for a time. Until they got romantically involved. Then Cassidy had been transferred to another district. Somehow, their relationship had fallen to ruins, though Joe couldn't remember just why, except that she'd always felt they were competing. Then all his trouble happened and he'd come to Houston. They'd just lost track of each other. But he was quickly catching up.

Her face captivated Joey as she talked. She had soft full lips and blue eyes that looked like sparkling sapphires in the flickering candlelight. Her long, dark blond hair waved softly around her face and shoulders. And he noticed how she smelled, so good, like a bouquet of roses.

"Joe?" Cassidy asked. "Are you even listening to me?" She laughed.

He grinned. "Yeah, of course. I just…" he shrugged. "I guess I just missed the view."

She smiled back. She put her hand over his on the tabletop. "I missed you."

LeVon and Caroline spent hours walking in the gardens, talking. LeVon was now convinced that the woman he believed dead was in fact alive and right beside him. He couldn't help but stop and just stare at her from time to time.

"It's like…it's like a dream," he told her at one point.

"For me, it's like the edge of a dream, when you're trying to pull it back."

He looked deep into her green eyes. "I'm gonna help you. You're gonna get it all back. With me. If you'll have me."

Caroline turned her back to him. She didn't want him to see her face right then.

"LeVon, what I was afraid of more than not finding you was…finding you and then finding out there was someone else in your life. I couldn't expect you to stop living. I was supposed to be dead. I was all prepared to see a ring on your finger."

LeVon took a step up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Well, I didn't stop living. But there ain't no ring. I couldn't find anyone to take your place."

And then there were more tears, and LeVon wiped them away, so thankful to be able to do it. He didn't tell her about Jaime. There was time for that later. And it had been a while since he'd even been out with Jaime. Or anyone else for that matter. What he told Caroline was true. He hadn't been able to replace her.

Later, they sat on the terrace, staring into each other's eyes, holding hands, talking, and never tiring.

"I want to take you out of here," he told her.

"I want to go. I'm just not sure I'm ready. There's so much I still don't know about me. About us. About our life."

"Does it really matter? I know how you must feel, like you're missing something. But I want to give you a future. The past isn't going to change that."

She looked out across the patio. "Is there…something, things, maybe, you think I shouldn't remember?"

He lowered his eyes. "Maybe," he confessed. "I mean, things weren't always perfect. There are things that I'd rather forget. Things I did. Things that hurt you. I…I'd be just as glad to never remember, for you to never remember. I guess it would let me off the hook. Give me a clean slate with you. "

Caroline looked at him again. Slowly she nodded. "I guess you're right. It's in the past. I don't think anything I remember could change the way I feel about you right now. I love you. And I want to go home." Tears glistened in her eyes.

"I love you too. And I want to take you home."

There's a ship out on the ocean

At the mercy of the sea

It's been tossed about, lost and broken

Wandering aimlessly

And God somehow you know that ship is me

Cause there's a lighthouse in a harbor

Shining faithfully

Pouring its light out across the water for this sinking soul to see

That someone out there still believes in me

On a prayer

In a song

I hear your voice

And it keeps me hanging on

Rainin' down against the wind

I'm reaching out

Till we reach the circle's end

And you come back to me again

There's a moment

Tat we all come to

In our own time and our own space

Where all that we've done we can undo

If our heart's in the right place

On a prayer

In a song

I hear your voice and it keeps me hangin' on

Rainin down against the wind

I'm reaching out till we reach the circles end

And you come back to me again

And again I see my yesterdays in front of me

Un folding like a mystery

Changing all that is and used to be

On a prayer

In a song

I hear you voice and keeps me hanging on

Rainin down against the wind

I'm reaching out till we reach the circles end

And you come back to me again

When you come back to me again

Joey LaFiamma wasn't alone when he finally made it back to his apartment sometime after eleven. Cassidy Taylor was with him. They had laughed and hugged and kissed in the elevator. They were joking and playful as they entered his living room.

Then, after turning on a lamp, Joey turned and took Cassidy in his arms. He kissed her. It was a long, deep, passionate kiss. It was so new, yet so familiar.

Cassidy ran her hands up his back. He pulled her closer.

Finally breaking the kiss, she moved her lips along his neck, close to his ear. "I want to be with you," she whispered. "Take me upstairs."

And, leaving a trail of clothing, that's just what Joey did.

The weekend dawned and Saturday found the two partners not having one thought of each other. Joe and Cassidy, after finally climbing out of bed around nine, spent most of the day touring around Houston. She had to be at rehearsal at four, but until then, she only had eyes for Joey LaFiamma. They went to malls, and to the zoo. They acted like teen-agers, feeding each other cotton candy and playing 'chase' around the park until Joey captured Cassidy and they collapsed in a laughing heap on the grass. It was then, laying on top her, looking into her eyes that he realized what had been missing in his life: Fun.

LeVon had helped Caroline pack up what few belongings she wanted to take from the hospital. Then she said goodbye to the people she'd called friends for the past years. And then he drove her back to Houston, home.

Caroline just stared for a long time when they pulled up in front of the house. It was white clapboard with a wide front porch and big windows. There was a nice front lawn that expanded into a whole acre of property in front of the house. Out back, the small barn, corral and pasture. LeVon's horse, Fooler, roamed the corral looking hopefully at them.

"It's so…so wonderful," she finally said. "I remember some of it. I just can't remember ever appreciating it quite so much."

"I've done a little work," LeVon explained. "I just added the carport. And made the barn a little bigger last year. Been tryin' to keep the lawn mowed." He rambled. "Let's go in?" he asked, not wanting to push her.

Memories flooded Caroline's mind all day, and it took some getting used to. But it was not at all unpleasant. During the afternoon, while Caroline rested, LeVon took the phone out to the front porch.

He called Joanne first.

"It's her," he said once Beaumont answered her home phone. "It's really her."

"LeVon! I'm so happy! I don't know what to say…"

"I don't either. But thank you. "

"You don't have to thank me LeVon. Just thank God."

He smiled. "I already have. I still am."

He called LaFiamma's next. His partner didn't answer, so he left a message to call.

Then he went to check on Caroline. On his wife.

She lay on her side on the big four-poster bed. She wasn't asleep and looked up when he came in.

"You're supposed to be resting," he said with a smile.

"I am," she said. "But I was just thinking."

He sat down beside her.

"What were you thinking?"

"It'd be real nice if you'd lay beside me. Just to see how it feels."

He smiled and pulled off his boots. He lay down on his side of the bed, behind her, getting up close and putting his arm over her. They stayed like that for a while.

"Well?" he finally asked.

"I like it but…"

"But what?"

She slowly rolled over on her back to look at him. "I'm not sure I know how to do any of this anymore."

He softly caressed her face. "We don't have'ta do anything. There's no rush Caroline. I don't expect anything from you. When the time is right, everything will feel right for you. I'm more than satisfied right now."

She smiled. He was so patient, so understanding. "Kiss me," she said.

And he did. Softly, gently, relishing in every moment. He was surprised when he felt her take his hand and move it slowly to her breast. She arose so much aching, needing desire in him it was almost painful.

"Are you sure?" he finally asked her, just inches from her beautiful face.

She was unbuttoning his shirt. "I'm not sure of a lot of things, but I am sure I want to make love to my husband."

And she needed say nothing more. It was so totally breath taking, almost as if it were the very first time all over again.



There's a ship out on the ocean

At the mercy of the sea

It's been tossed about, lost and broken

Wandering aimlessly

And God somehow you know that ship is me

Cause there's a lighthouse in a harbor

Shining faithfully

Pouring its light out across the water for this sinking soul to see

That someone out there still believes in me

On a prayer

In a song

I hear your voice

And it keeps me hanging on

Rainin' down against the wind

I'm reaching out

Till we reach the circle's end

And you come back to me again

There's a moment

Tat we all come to

In our own time and our own space

Where all that we've done we can undo

If our heart's in the right place

On a prayer

In a song

I hear your voice and it keeps me hangin' on

Rainin down against the wind

I'm reaching out till we reach the circles end

And you come back to me again

And again I see my yesterdays in front of me

Un folding like a mystery

Changing all that is and used to be

On a prayer

In a song

I hear you voice and keeps me hanging on

Rainin down against the wind

I'm reaching out till we reach the circles end

And you come back to me again

When you come back to me again

Garth Brooks