Choices 7

Houston and Roy hunkered down in the back of the battered van and waited. They had spent five days and five nights watching the coming and goings at KS Holdings, taking photos and videos of everyone who went in and out, listing the boxes of the cargo loaded on and off ships and in to the backs of lorries. CJ and Pip had carefully logged all of the information, and tracked the various loads throughout their journeys, discovering some odd detours via Cairo or Hong Kong. Hoyt had passed on what they had to the various departments and before Houston had a chance to ask him why he had come back to his office to find three federal agents waiting for him.

CJ had walked out holding a glass of orange and eating a large cookie. She had sat down as Houston had filled in the agents, adding extra information from her own research and reading through the files they had brought, so now Houston and Roy were part of a larger operation than any of them could have foreseen.

The radio Roy held crackled into life. "Sector two we have visual of target"

"Copy that sector two. Sector four, you in place? Over" came the reply

"In place and ready to go Sector one. Do we have our eyes in place on sector five, over?"

Roy nodded as he clicked the speak button and hoarsely whispered. "Eyes are open on sector five, we have visual now!" he added quickly as Houston prodded him and pointed out of the back window as the black truck trundled around the corner

"Ok, all sectors sit tight until we see the first of the cargo loaded in the back. Remember, we can't board the ship unless we have grounds and we can't link the cargo until it is loaded on the truck." the FBI agent in charge instructed

Houston wriggled in his place as he pressed his nose against the side of the window, suddenly he saw a black SUV sweep around the corner and pull up next to the truck He smiled broadly as he saw the boss of KS Holdings, Malcolm Kettering, step out and walk over to the cranes . He to was smiling as he watched the boxes land on the docks, nodding as the first boxes were lifted straight up and into the truck.

"GO! GO! GO!" came the shout over the radio in Roys hand, and just before Houston leapt out of his hiding place he saw the look of shock and panic flash across Ketterings face. The FBI swarmed into the truck and carried one case to the back, as the others stood pointing their guns at the dock workers and halting the unloading activity. Durham, the lead agent, smiled as he handed Kettering the search warrant and muttered "Glad to see you here in person" before he gave the signal for his team to smash open the crate labelled Vino Rouge. Roy and Houston both gasped as they saw the array of automatic weapons that spilled out . "A good vintage?" Durham asked as he picked one of the weapons up and handed it to Houston. "Care for a souvenir?"

Houston chuckled as he handed it back. "Thanks but no!"

Kettering was glaring at him as his hands were cuffed behind his back. "Smile while you can Houston! Think this is over? Think again…just when you think you're safe, just when you think it is all behind you, I'll make you pay…this time I won't make any mistakes!"

"This time?" Houston asked as he stepped closer. "So it was you behind all of this? You killed an innocent woman and tried to frame me? Why? What did I do to you?"

Kettering sneered. "You don't know? Ha! Don't that beat all!"

Roy stepped up and quietly said. "Look around you Houston son. This shipment alone is worth a couple of million. When you shut down the company you and Elizabeth had set up you cost him dear! And the circles this man moves in money isn't just about buying things, it's about buying power and respect…control. This man is used to being in charge, take that away from, you take away everything!"

"Not everything!" Kettering hissed, "I still have connections! The old man is right, you cost me a lot of money and caused me a lot of trouble, you and that damn lawyer friend of yours…but you'll see..you'll BOTH see"

"Enough talking Kettering" Durham said as he pushed him towards two of his men and watched as they walked him to the back of a waiting car. "you'll need all your gift of the gab when you get to jail!"

Houston watched as the doors closed on Kettering and the vehicle drove off. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair and closed his eyes

"You ok son" Roy asked as he put his hand on his nephews shoulder

"I dunno Uncle Roy, I just dunno. I mean we got him, he is goin' to jail for a long time, but taking so many unanswered questions with him ya know!"

"Like?"

"Like…where is Elizabeth? How did he get to Lowell I mean that guy was so fast to arrest me he had to have been in Ketterings pocket right? And CJ…"

"What about CJ?" Roy asked as his eyes crinkled in the corner

Houston sighed again. "This guy is making threats Roy, and I don't think he is kidding…but I can't keep CJ safe when she is back in the Uk can I? And do I warn her, warn Pip…or Stephen? "

This time it was Roy who sighed as he patted Houstons back. "I don't know the answers son, but what I do know is that all these weapons are off the street cos of us, a mother won't lose her child and that's something to be proud of"

"Not enough!" Houston whispered as his heart filled with the fear that he had some how pulled CJ into danger

"Enough for now son" Roy said softly before adding "let's go home, they'll be worried"

CJ was pacing the office as she glanced at the clock again. "They should be back by now!" she said as Pip chuckled

"Will you relax!" her sister in law replied softly. "If things had gone wrong you would have heard by now ok! Remember the old adage…no news is good news! Well, hold on to that ok?"

CJ nodded and grinned. "You're right!"

"Of course!"

"And modest!" CJ laughed

"Absolutely!" They both froze as Pips mobile started to ring. "Hello?" she answered smiling broadly as she heard the reply

CJ stepped nearer but stopped as Pip waved her back. Nodding that she understood it was personal she walked away and out onto the patio. She could hear Pip laugh softly and thought it was Det Cameron, the two of them had spent a lot of time together recently, as when Pip hadn't been helping CJ research Kettering she had been working with the young cop to try and ID the woman killed instead of Elizabeth and to try and find a way that Lowell was connected to it, if at all. She glanced around and hugged her arms to her as fond memories flooded through. The parties, the banter…the barbecues…so many good times. She missed it all, and she had felt so alive again these last few weeks, working with the old team, digging through information, sitting in front of Baby and feeding new leads to Houston. Part of the team, part of being at home. It felt, it felt wonderful and it made her feel…complete. And yet something was missing. With a small smile she rested her hand on her tummy and closed her eyes …yes, right now something was missing, she was missing a piece of her heart…yep, right now, she missed her husband. She turned as Pip walked out towards her.

"Will you be ok on your own for a little while?" she asked

CJ blinked and raised her eyebrows. "Well, sure but…"

"Great…won't be long! Oh, and I'm taking the car!"

"Well I…oh…ok!" CJ said forlornly as her sister in law had already turned and walked away . With a soft sigh she flicked her hair back over her shoulders and turned back to walk towards the edge of the patio and stare out at the city. She closed her eyes and imagined the rolling green hills she could see from the windows of Coombes Manor, so different from the thousand of lights she could see from up here.

"Penny for them?" came a voice from behind her

"You're safe! Oh thank God! I was so worried." She walked quickly across to him and wrapped her arms around his neck to hug him tight, not noticing how as he hugged her back he ran his hands through her hair and inhaled as he closed his own eyes. Finally she pulled away from him a fraction and looked straight into his eyes. "Everyone is ok? Where's Roy?"

Houston grinned. "Oh he is fine CJ, just had a hot date he didn't wanna miss! Where's Pip? Off with our friendly young cop?"

With a soft chuckle CJ shook her head as she told him she had no idea where Pip was

"Uh huh" Houston winked as he, "probably is with Mac, the two of them are getting along real fine!"

CJ pulled herself free of Houstons arms and went to sit on the couch, watching as Houston crossed to the bar. "They sure are, though to be fair they have been working real hard to! Pip is determined to found out who the real victim was, while Mac seems determined to finish Lowell…I can't help but admire they have partnered up, like they have worked together for years!"

"Like me and you?" Houston asked as he picked up two glasses and went to fill them both with Scotch

"Oh Houston, not for me thanks! Apple juice is just fine! And yes, almost like me and you!"

Houston frowned a fraction then shrugged as he reached for the apple juice in the small fridge behind the bar. After filling her glass he walked over and sat next to CJ, taking her hand in his after setting the glasses down on the table. "You know," he said softly," I;m glad we got Kettering tonight, and he more or less confessed to the murder so I am in the clear, so I should be happy…but"

CJ tilted her head as he paused and swallowed. "But?" she asked, a small grin playing across her mouth

"I miss this CJ, I miss US. And now this case is done and I'm a free man, you'll be wanting to go home, and I…well I…I miss you ya know!" Houston reached ot to lift his glass, he took a small sip before looking back at CJ. "My life isn't the same without you here CJ, I'm not the same. I love you!"

CJ pulled her hand free and reached up to press her fingers against his lips. "Ssh now Houston, don't say that."

Houston again took her hand, kissing it gently before clasping it to his chest. "It's no good CJ, I gotta say it. I made some bad choices in my life, really bad…but the absolute worse was letting you go"

"But Houston, you didn't…"

"I DID CJ, I did. Ya see I was a coward, I started to get all these feelings for you, kept wanting to reach out and hold you, never let you go…but I couldn't cos you didn't see me like that. It got worse after you got shot again, you know…that preacher guy, there was a moment in the lighthouse when I thought you'd stopped breathing, I have never been so terrified in all my life, never felt so lost and useless, and I realised just how important you were to me, it scared me…so I took the cowards way and I pushed you back. Worked more with Roy so even our late night office chats weren't as frequent, I looked up all sorts of old girlfriends but none of them could hold a candle to you…then, just when I was about to risk our friendship and tell you how I felt, along came Elizabeth. She needed me CJ, I didn't feel useless. I felt, protective, in control, she didn't scare me, my feelings for her didn't overwhelm me, and I decided to hide from how I felt about you by marrying someone else"

CJ put her hand flat against Houstons chest and closed her eyes. "You should have told me how you felt Matt" she whispered

Houston took a deep breath and clasped her hand tighter. "I tried CJ, I did. And I waited for you to try and stop me marrying Elizabeth, but you didn't, so I figured you didn't love me that way. I couldn't lose you CJ. I thought if you knew how I felt, you'd leave. Our first time as a couple nearly ended up with us married then you ran away, I figured you didn't see me that way anymore and would run again if I told you I did. I couldn't risk it. I'd rather have you in my life as a friend and hide how I feel than lose you"

"So why tell me now Matt, why now?" CJ could feel the tears pricking at her eyes .

Houston sighed deepy. "Because I can't hide it anymore CJ. I love you. I have always loved you. Letting you go the first time was a big mistake, but letting you goa second time…I lost part of who I am CJ!"

"The first time, oh cowboy. We were kids when we first got together Matt" she told him softly," you were getting ready to go to war, I was starting law school…I knew there would be so many changes in our lives and I didn't want you to regret tying yourself down when we were so young. And I was right! You came back from 'Nam with so much anger, so much fight…you didn't want to let anyone get real close to you, and I wanted to prove I could succeed on my own, I wanted to be a success not a wife who took second place to her husbands career. We have both come along way since then Houston, we've grown up together! You have put your nightmares behind you, you're not angry with the world anymore…you're ready to commit to one person, to have the family you deserve. And I, well I know that I can have it all, I can have the successful career and not have to sacrifice having the family that I have always dreamed of. "

"We just can't have them together?" he whispered

"I SO love you Houston. And I did want to beg you not to marry Elizabeth, to marry me instead…but I'm your friend, and as I love you so much I just wanted you to be happy. I thought you were, I thought she was what you wanted. I was going to stick around, be our friend, but she didn't want me here, and I never wanted to put you in the situation were you had to choose between your wife and me. So I was the coward, I ran away, as far as I could. Called it a business decision, moved to London…and met a great man Houston, I met a truly great man. He's smart, he's funny, he's warm…he's very good looking, and he loves me, completely and utterly. No hesitation, no complications…he loves me…and Houston, I love him"

"More than me?"

CJ took a steadying breath. "Don't make me choose Houston"

"I'm not. I just wanna know…do you love him, more than me?"

CJ felt the tears slide down her face, her heart was thumping. She hadn't expected this. She had never thought the day would come when Houston told her he loved her. How many times had she longed to hear it. Then she had her heart smashed to pieces when he married someone else, and she had moved away to put her life back together. And met Stephen. Her Stephen, the man who made her feel safe, who made her laugh and made her feel loved. She loved Stephen, he was the father of her child, she wanted to grow old with him. But as she looked into Houstons eyes, saw the way he looked at her, the words wouldn't come, her mouth went dry, her mind raced. She opened her mouth to speak, just as the lift chimed behind them. It took a few seconds for them to realise before they both turned in their seats to look, with CJ gasping in delight as the doors slid open to reveal Stephen standing there. "Stephen!" she cried as she stood and ran over to join him, throwing herself in his arms before he could say anything. He chuckled as he swung her round, then as soon as he put her gently back on her feet he reached over to pull her close and kissed her passionately

Houston gave a small nod as he stood. He reached down and picked up his glass, downing its remaining contents in one gulp, before plastering a smile on his face and walking over to shake hands with CJs husband as the two pulled apart. "Good to see you Stephen" he said with a smile. He glanced at CJ and saw how she was smiling, and although it broke his heart he had his answer, and he was happy for her. "Can I get you a drink? We're celebrating Ketterings arrest, guess you can take CJ home soon!"

"I'll have a Scotch thanks!" Stephen hugged CJ to him and smiled down at her. "Can't wait to get her home, but no rush…I have a few days off and I thought it would be nice to just all spend some time together chilling out…maybe fishing or a weekend away?"

Houston nodded as he crossed back to the bar. "We could all go riding! I bought some more land next to the house, not really explored it yet bit think horse back would be the perfect way!"

"Ah, sorry Houston, you'll have to count me out!" CJ said quietly as she glanced up at her husband who smiled down at her and nodded. "I'm pregnant Houston. "We weren't gonna tell anyone until after the first trimester…but well, it's nearly there and I can't keep it a secret from you anymore"

Houston put the bottle of Scotch down on the counter and felt the air leave his lungs. "You're preg….pregnant?"

"Uh huh" CJ grinned nervously

"As in, you're havin' a baby?"

"That's usually what it means cowboy!"

"You're gonna be a momma?"

CJ giggled. "Yes!"

Suddenly he felt himself laughing and he ran across to where she was standing, he swept her off her feet and swung her round. "Woooohoooooo!" he cried. "I'm gonna be an Uncle!"

"Houston! Put me down!" CJ cried in between giggles

He did put her down, then surprised all of them by grabbing hold of Stephen and swinging him around. "Congratulations daddy!"

Stephen was stunned and a little shocked as Houston finally put him back down. "Uh thanks Houston…get the feeling you're pleased for us…thanks!"

Houston looked at him and patted his back before looking back at CJ and smiling gently. "Yeah, I;m happy for you. You get to have it all…and you deserve it!"

CJ smiled gently back and reached out to stroke his cheek. "Thanks Houston..."

Stephen was smiling as he watched the two friends. He had long ago accepted that heirs was a special bond, if he hadn't he could be feeling a little jealous right now, but he knew CJ loved him, and that was all that mattered. "Uh, hate to break this up, but we should be getting to the hotel. Pip has gone on to book us in, I said we would get a cab over."

"Well why a hotel? Stay at my place!" Houston said as CJ linked arms and went to walk with Stephen to the elevator

Stephen smiled at her and winked at Houston. "I have been away from my wife for nearly two weeks Houston, I thought I could have her to myself, just for tonight…we'll stay with you the rest of the time of that's ok?"

"Sure, oh yeah…sure! I understand!" Houston felt the familiar twinge in his chest as he thoughy of CJ with Stephen, but covered it with a bright smile as he watched them walk in to the elevator and press the button. "You two have fun now ya hear!" he called as the doors closed. He sighed and ran his hands through his hair, turning to look at the empty office. He walked back to the bar and closed his eyes. He was happy for them, he was happy for CJ, A baby. A family, it was what she had always dreamed of…yet his own heart was breaking. He sat on the barstool and reached inside his jacket to pull out his wallet, there he pulled out a photograph, it was CJ, taken last Christmas as they threw snowballs at each other. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes were sparkling with mischief, and that wonderful smile lit up her face. He didn't know how long he had been sat there, how long he had been studying the picture, but he jumped when a soft voice said "Couldn't you have picked one that got my better side?"

He turned and saw CJ standing at his side, looking over his shoulder. "You came back?" he whispered

CJ looked at him for several seconds before muttering. "I forgot my purse, Stephen is waiting for my downstairs, he is calling a cab"

"Oh!" Houston stood and placed his hand on her tummy, she rested her own hand on his. "I'm pleased for ya CJ" he said as he looked up at her, locking his eyes on hers. "Real glad"

"Thanks Houston, means a lot" She gave a small smile then turned to walk away. She stopped as she reached the top step, and without turning to look at him said. "And just so you know…the question you asked before…the answer …was no" And with that she ran the last few steps to the elevator, the doors closed as her answer registered in his mind

"CJ!" he called as the elevator motor started. "CJ!" he yelled again, before throwing the now empty whiskey glass against the wall