The night hung heavy and cavernous inside the empty homestead. Preston sat back in his high backed plush leather chair. He stared with an air of discontent into the snaping orange blaze of the fireplace. The pops and crackles of the burning wood seemed to echo into the abyss of quiet that surrounded him. He raised the high peaks of his eyebrows as he swiped his hand through his chestnut hair with irritation.

The silence agitated him with mocking loneliness as he shifted about crossing and uncrossing his long legs. With his elbow perched on the sleek mahogany arm of the chair, he pressed his finger idly along his thick brown side burn. He was far behind schedule, and he knew it. Exhaling somewhat sadly, his lids fell over his tired hazel eyes. Was it him?

"I'll say it's you," her voice slid into Preston's subconscious, as it did most nights. "If you didn't line your heart with money, there might be a gentle touch on your cheek tonight."

Preston rolled his eyes as he settled in for his nightly lecture.

"Yes act like a child, that's another reason you're alone. If you weren't so cold there would be children cradled about your feet, instead you pout like one."

"I never was very fond of children," he muttered into the air.

"It matters not Preston," her voice dripped with lethal cynicism. "A home with no children is one thing. But your bed will be cold and empty when you go to it. And in the morning, you won't feel a warm loving arm wrap around you. No one will smile warmly at you. You'll pour your own bitter coffee and greet the day sans a fond farewell."

Preston sighed as he shifted once more.

"I live in the proverbial sticks!" he threw his eloquent white hands before him. "Cultured women of means aren't exactly falling off trees, for crying out loud!"

Her laughter was tauntingly sterile. It echoed and multiplied as it bounced about the walls of his mind.

"The caliber of the women in this town is so high you should be grateful for any scrap of attention these lovely ladies throw your way! But you snide and you sneer, for want of your filthy greed and non-existent pedigree."

"Pedigree!" he shouted into the heat of the fire. "Yes! It is a sign of the civilized."

"Civilized? What is civil about picking out a lady as though she were a prized thoroughbred?" she was beginning to pick up steam now. "Look to yourself Preston A. Lodge THE THIRD! Were your predecessors anymore happy as they sat on their thrones of prestige and financial excess? Your birth was not of love but an investment in the future! A way to keep their precious money in the bloodline. Blue bloods, gold bloods, lonely bloods."

"Is it wrong to want the best for one's self?" he attempted to defend himself.

"It's wrong to measure the things you want with a measuring stick that measures in arrogance and vanity."

"The word, measure, has lost all meaning," he chuckled sorely to himself.

"There's a word for men like you," she said completely unphased.

"This should be rich."

"Miser," the word reverberated throughout his being. It sliced through his flesh and bone, down to the core of his vain little soul.

Preston plastered his hands to his ears. He broke out in a cold sweat as he rose from his fine chair and stocked down the carpeted hall into his bedroom. Hauntingly he stared at the empty king sized canopy bed. It appeared cold to his now bloodshot eyes. There would be no one to press against him in the long freezing night.

He thought of Michaela and Sully surrounded by family, blissfully happy. Grace and Robert E. might be without children but they had each other. Dorothy had Cloud Dancing, and even Loren was encircled with friends! Yet, worst of all, that uncultured close-minded Jake had found love. Preston peered down at his shaking hands. He needed a drink, badly.

"Yes," she chimed in. "Because even Jake knows how well a shot of bourbon can warm the icy loneliness of your heart. Now his wife and child fill him with happiness and love. Have you ever really had a taste?"

"No! Damn it!" Preston thrashed at his bed sheets, ripping the covers from the mattress and tossing them to the ground.

"No, no no no no no no! I never felt love! NOT real love. So how could I possibly feel it for another?" Preston demanded of the cruel voice in his head. "How could I know these things? They weren't bred in me! I didn't even know what they were until I came here!"

"Until you came where?" her tone soften.

"Here! Here! This town! Until I knew these people!" he paused at his sudden catharsis. "That's why I didn't recognize it for what it was."

"What was it?"

Preston breathed heavily as he buried his face into the heap of sheets and quilted blankets on the ground. Slowly he curled into himself on the floor for comfort.

"What was it?" she repeated with an air of compassion.

"Love," he admitted to the empty room. "Unconditional love."

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Preston watched from the banks windows, as the town's people walked up and down the main street. They greeted one another cheerily as long departed relatives. There was a warmth and acceptance in their countenance, which he longed to feel himself. Knowing he would always maintain his ambitions for financial gain, his heart would be open from here on out.

This night would be spent in peace. This night would be filled with hope. Preston's lips curled into his usual sly grin as he watched a beautiful girl with wide bright eyes hurry down the walk. It was after all to fine a day to waste indoors.