Chapter 1

It's a beautiful fall day on a ranch in present-day California.

Twenty-four-year old Andrea Houston is riding on a horse, kicking up plenty of dust. Another man about the same age, Leo Novelli, is riding alongside.

"I thought you said this was fun?" he quipped, struggling along.

She ignored him and kept on riding until they reached the barn. She dismounted and helped her friend off his horse as well.

"You all ready for the bar?" he asked.

"I guess so."

"You guess so?" Leo said as he followed her into the barn."You seem a little preoccupied. Something on your mind?"

"No, just in need of some open air after being cooped up with law books and classes for weeks at a time."

"I missed you Andie," Leo admitted tenderly just before trying to kiss her. But Andie turned away, focusing her attention on her horse instead.

"You know what I think? I think you have a split personality. I mean one second you're calling me at midnight telling me hop over here, that you couldn't wait to see me, and when I get here you're distant and practically mute. What's going on?"

Andie left the barn with a baffled Leo following her. As she bent down to take off her boots she fell into a mud puddle. Leo extended a hand to help her but she pushed him away and marched toward the house.

"Andie!"

From inside the house her mother CJ peered out the window, witnessing the scene. Hearing her laugh, Matt walked over and glanced over her shoulder.

"Those two at it again?"

She shook her head. "They remind you of anyone?"

Matt turned her around with his hands on her waist and pulled her hips closer to his. About to kiss her, Andie marched into the room complaining, "You two at it again?"

He glanced towards his daughter for a but a brief moment before finishing the kiss. With a there's-more-for-you-later look, he left his wife's grasp, walked over to Andie and scooped her up into a bear hug.

"Hey sweetheart! When did you get in?"

"About 2 hours ago. I just had to get out and go riding."

"I see you and Leo have been torturing each other again," he said with a wink.

"Dad! We're just friends... really!"

"Uh huh," CJ and Matt said in unison. "You're talking to the former king and queen of the `we're just friends' club."

"I have to change," answered Andie, as she left the room.

"Now, where were we..." he said, turning his attention back to his wife.

His hands went back to her waist and her arms locked in place over the back of his neck, continuing their kiss. Nothing had really faded over the nearly 25 years they were married.

CJ leaned her head against his chest, just under his chin. "I really should go up and talk to her," she said just before leaving Matt.

The Houston ranch where they all lived was an estate with over a hundred acres of land surrounded by a tall, stately wrought-iron security fence. Multiple rooms branched off from the main hallway, centered around a tall circular staircase. Besides their daughter Andie, their son Wade, Andie's twin, occasionally resided there when he wasn't on a tour with the military's special forces team. They each had their own quarters on opposite ends of the house. Their family business dictated that they could stay safe yet feel a sense of independence from their parents. There were several detached guest quarters, homes unto themselves. One for Bo, Lamar – who helped with various ranch duties, one for a maid, and one for security, since in their line of work they found they always needed. Down the road a half a mile was the residence of Vince Novelli and his family. They moved back to California after Mama Rosa passed away almost a dozen years ago. Vince had become a frequent consultant in Houston Investigations.

CJ walked upstairs to her daughter's bedroom. CJ tapped lightly on the door, which was slightly ajar.

"Penny for your thoughts …"

Andie shot her a look. "I'm in no mood for talking." CJ walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Now I know something's bothering you. You've been in a funk ever since you arrived this morning. Did your exams go well? Is that guy Mark you were seeing at school been treating you well? Did you have a fight with Leo?"

Andie sat on the bed silent, looking at her folded hands on her lap.

"Andrea Madeline Houston... I know you'll feel better if you talk to me."

She slowly lifted her head and looked her mother in the eyes.

"Why … why do men have to be so difficult?"

CJ almost laughed at her question, retaining a straight face as she searched for the best answer.

"They're usually only difficult when we're caring more about them then they are of us."

Andie was almost taken a back by her mother's directness and glared at her.

"I'm right, aren't I?"

The daughter nodded her head, releasing a single tear that prompted her concerned mother to embrace her.

"Mom, you always said some day you would tell me the whole story of how you and dad finally got married."

"I thought we told you that story plenty of times?"

"Yeah, but now that I'm older, I want a woman-to-woman version."

Well, how about that? Somehow this young girl sitting next to her on the bed was a woman! How the hell did that happen?

"Where would you like me to start?"

"Start at the night Daddy broke up with that woman he was engaged to. What was her name?"

"Oh Elizabeth. She was a nice, attractive woman..."

Andie glared at her mother.

"Okay, okay … so I couldn't stand her. From her red frizzy mop of a hairdo to her oh-my-god-I-hope-there's-no-bad-guys- following-us attitude."

Both women laughed out loud for a few moments before CJ continued.

"Well, first of all, you have to understand my state of mind up to this night. Ever since whats-her-name and your father became engaged I found myself spending several nights at home crying my eyes out. I didn't want her around. Yet I wasn't about to tell your father my feelings. Then at about three in the morning I got a phone call from the local police. Seems your father had been picked up for public drunkenness and they wanted to know if I could bail him out."

"No way!"

"Yes. Before I got the phone call I was relieved your father didn't marry her but I was also feeling guilty knowing had bad he was hurting. I was also pretty annoyed that I was rescuing him from a police station … in the middle of the night no less!"

"So what'd you do?"

"I got dressed, went down to the police station, arrived there about 5:00 AM. You see, I didn't exactly rush."

Andie laughed.

"Was he happy to see you?"

"Kind of. He was so intoxicated I don't think he even knew where he was. He did seem to respond to my voice when I told him I was springing him. He managed to follow me to his car."

Andie continued to chuckle, mostly because of the amusing delivery her mother was using.

"Did you take him home?"

"Yes – to his home. He had a beach house in L.A. at that time."

"Did you go inside with him and did you … you know?"

"No! As I was walking him inside the door he turned to me and said the most unexpected thing! He said, `CJ darling, you're always there where I need you. It's like you're my wife yet you let me sleep with all kinds of hot, sexy women whenever I want and I never have to worry ... you'll always be there. You take care of me, work for me, clean up after me… and I can just keep stringing you along knowing full well that you have the hots for me!'"

"OMG – what did you do!?"

"I reacted irrationally. I didn't care that he was a stumbling, mumbling drunk. I slapped him so hard that he lost his balance and fell, landing butt first into edge of the stair. I was so angry I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I went back to my house and immediately packed my bags for an emergency vacation."

Just then Matt poked his head in the room.

"Did I hear my name?"

CJ turned towards him and said, "We were just talking. You know woman stuff."

"Oh."

Andie rose from the bed, walked over to her father and slugged him on the shoulder.

"Ow! What was that for?!"

Before Andie could answer, CJ laughed and said, "I've been telling her the story about the night I bailed you out of jail for public drunkenness."

"Oh. I still don't remember much about that night."

"Good, then you can leave me to tell this saga on my own."

He made a face at her.

"As long as I get to add my take on things later."

Andie agreed. After all, it would only be fair to have the man's point of view.

"By the way, I may need you in the office in about 20 minutes. Kathy Hoyt called and said she needs us for a murder investigation."

"Oh, okay. I'll watch for her through the closed circuit monitor and join you."

Matt smiled and walked back downstairs. CJ watched him leave and Andie prompted her to return to their conversation.

"So, did you leave?"

"Yes, I packed my bags, then made my way to our downtown office to tell Chris to make flight plans ASAP to Hawaii."


L.A., May, 1985...

Acocuntant Murray Chase walked off the elevator into the Houston Investigations penthouse suite immediately greeting the secretary.

"Good morning, Chris! Is Matt or CJ in? I need to see them immediately!"

Chris rolled her eyes at the request. "Houston hasn't come in yet or called. CJ was here briefly but took off for some emergency personal time, as she put it."

"Hmm … maybe I should call Houston," Murray thought out loud before dialing the phone. It rang awhile before Matt picked up.

"Houston..."

"Hello. Houston … we have a problem "

"Very funny. What is it now, Murray?"

"Hey, are you okay. You sound a little down, like your a little hung over?"

"I'm a lot hung over. Is CJ there?"

"No. I think you just missed her. Chris said she only came in for a few minutes and then took off for a vacation – emergency style. Houston ... are you there?"

"Yeah. I'm here. Look, tell Chris and Uncle Roy that I'm taking the day off. I'll be in tomorrow."

"But I need to you sign the papers for the …"

Matt hung up the phone before Murray could finish and went right to kitchen where he swallowed some aspirin. A thought popped in his head as he grimaced at the pain in his backside: now when and how did that happen?


The plane ride was therapeutic, giving her time to let her anger go and focus on more productive things. Matt should take some time, too. Not that she cared. Really. But it would really help if he'd analyze why he keeps jumping from relationship to relationship without committing to a woman who's actually right for him – like a woman who's been by his side for years, putting up with getting shot, chased after, kidnapped, you name it. How dare he say those things to her, especially after getting her involved in all of Elizabeth's drama! Suddenly CJ caught her negative thoughts and immediately opened a novel she had picked up on her way through the airport.

CJ gazed out her taxi window. Hawaii was so beautiful. The blue water, the rolling hills in the backdrop, the picturesque landscaping. Yes, this was exactly what she needed.

The taxi stopped in a restaurant parking lot. CJ grabbed her suitcases and her purse and headed to hotel that was adjacent to the restaurant. The hotel lobby was breezy, with shutters adorning the windows and ceramic Italian tile on the floor. What a nice place to be with a lover… if she had one. All she had right now was a friend, or a … wait, what was he now? Oh, yeah … a cad … a playboy. An ass.

CJ checked in, was escorted to her room and immediately unpacked. A few minutes freshening up in the bathroom was all she needed before heading to the restaurant next door.

CJ poked her head in the door and was immediately greeted by the youngest Novelli, Tony, who ran and jumped in her arms.

"CJ!"

"Hi there, Tony!"

At the same time Vince walked into the room and noticed her. "CJ! What brings to you to Hawaii?"

"Just a little vacation Vince. How's Mama?"

"She's great, she's great..." he said as they embraced. "Tony, go get Mama!"

Seconds later Mama entered the room, wiping her hands on her apron. "What, what is it now, Vincenzo? Oh, my goodness! CJ! What brings you to Hawaii? Is Houston with you?"

"Hi Mama. I'm just here for a little personal time. And, no Houston isn't here."

Mama studied CJ's face carefully and changed her smile into concern. Vince excused himself and returned to the kitchen as Mama took CJ's hands and sat down with her at a corner table.

"Something's wrong. I can see it in your eyes."

CJ didn't respond and tried to escape Mama's eyes by looking at her clasped hands on her lap.

"What did he do?"

Stunned, she lifted her head and glared at Mama.

"CJ, I love you and Houston like you were my very own. You can tell me anything, ya know?"

CJ knew this and decided it wouldn't hurt to get a motherly perspective on her situation. "Why ... why do men have to be so... so … difficult?"

"Oh, I see," she commented as she paused for a moment and searched for the right words. She knew how close Matt and CJ were and wished for years that they would become more than good friends. "I have a question for you, Miss CJ. How comes you cares so much for a man who no give you the same in return?"

CJ was floored. Boy, Mama had a way of getting right to the point.

"Because he, Roy and Will are the only family I've got. And, he's always been there for me."

"Yes, but he's always been your friend and you'd like something more. Am I right?"

CJ's released a tear and nodded.

"I see. Well, CJ I'm going to give you the Mama Rosa fool-proof method of snatching a man. You need three things: good looks – which you've got; a man who is interested – which if you ask me, you've got, and a plan."

"A plan?"

"Yes. Listen to me very carefully. You two, you and Matt, are both pretty stubborn, eh? Wait, just listen to me, listen to me. Okay, maybe he's more stubborn than you. So you're going to have to be patient? Can you do that, eh?"

CJ nodded obediently.

"You have to make him miss you."

CJ straightened up in her chair."Miss me?"

"Uh huh. I tell you what. You stay here as long as you want and hang out with the whole family. I could use the extra help with Vincenzo's wife having baby number five soon. You learn to cook like me and you'll have another gimmick in your bag!"

CJ liked that idea. Mama made it all sound so easy. She rose from the table and hugged Mama and was suddenly greeted by the rest of the Novelli clan.