You don’t have to be an established book reviewer; you just need to have an opinion! I would like YOU to help me create the perfect suspense romance novel.

The working title is Who Are You? The novel will be a stand alone sequel to Hearts On the Run and will focus around Max, an assistant district attorney who is seduced by his dream woman – who then disappears on him without a trace. When he finally discovers who she is, he’s in for another surprise. It seems someone else is after her as well, and will use any means necessary to get her. Even if that means killing Max to get him out of the way.

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Every couple of days, I will post a small section of the book. After reading it, comment on what you liked, what you didn't like, how the dialogue flowed, character traits, how well edited the section was, and whatever else you can think of while reading. I will then revise the section based on your suggestions. Names published under the "My Opinion Mattered" section will be listed in order of number of comments contributed, so comment often! For those just joining us, please check out the blog archives to start the book from the beginning.

There is also an area to vote on how well you think the novel is progressing. You will be able to change your vote as the novel progresses to best reflect how you feel at any given time along the journey to a completed novel.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Part 14 of Who Are You?

Chapter 18
Lauren looked at Max lying in the bed and she couldn’t help the flood of guilt that hit her again.  “Max, I’m so sorry.”
            “Stop saying that,” he said softly. 
            “I can’t help it.  All I’ve been is trouble for you and I am sorry.  If I hadn’t pulled that stupid stunt on Halloween, none of this would have happened to you.”
            “You keep forgetting that I asked you out not knowing it was you on Halloween.  I can be slow sometimes, but I would have figured out how attracted I am to you eventually.”
            “I think that’s your head injury talking,” she chided.
            “I didn’t get hit that hard.”
            Lauren raised her eyebrows as she looked at the goose egg on his head.  “You haven’t looked in the mirror yet, have you?”
            Max chuckled.  “I don’t think I want to.”
            Biting her bottom lip for a moment, she worked up the courage to do what she knew needed to be done.  “I think we should stop seeing each other.”
            “What?!” Max almost shouted as he sat up.  His face contorted in pain caused by either the movement or the volume of his voice.  Probably both.  “No,” he said as he slowly leaned back against his pillow and touched his fingers gingerly to his head.
            “At least while this maniac is loose.  I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt again,” Lauren reasoned.
            “So, I’m supposed to sit back and take it easy while a sociopath hunts you down?  I don’t think so.  How could you even think I could do that?  And what about the baby - don’t I get a say in how to keep my child safe?  ” he demanded.
            Lauren stared at Max’s face now twisted in pain and anger.  They both wanted the same thing – to keep the other safe.  But she was the one carrying this baby; didn’t she get to decide what was best for him or her right now?  Saved from responding by the door to his room opening, Julie, Max’s nurse came back into the room.  She looked from Max to Lauren with concern, obviously able feel the tension between them.  “We’re going to move you soon,” she said to Max.  “You’re going to be in a room on the seventh floor that they’re getting ready for you now.  I’m going to help transport you and then hand off your care to Ginger, who’ll be your nurse for the rest of the night.  Do you need anything before we move you?”
            “I’m thirsty,” Max said trying to keep his anger towards Lauren out of his words so they came out strained.
            Julie frowned slightly.  “I can probably give you some ice chips, but the doctors don’t want you to have fluids until you get upstairs and can be properly monitored for intake and output.  How about your pain?”
            “It’s definitely still there,” Max told her.
            Looking pointedly at Lauren and then back to Max, the nurse said, “It’s important that you try to stay calm and relaxed to keep your blood pressure down.  You need to let your head have a break from stress.  But the doctor did write an order to increase your pain meds if your pain wasn’t relieved with the first dose.  If I give you more, you’ll have a difficult time staying awake.  Ginger will have to arrange to have someone sit with you to keep waking you up for the next few hours.”
            Lauren felt even guiltier now.  Great, she was making him feel worse.  Why was it that anything she did in regards to Max blew up in her face?  “Maybe I should go,” she said.
            Max glowered at her.  “So, you’re just going to leave without finishing this conversation?”
            “This conversation isn’t helping your head,” Lauren countered.
            “You leaving sure as hell isn’t going to help it either, but if you’re too much of a coward to stay and work this out then maybe you should go,” he told her as he let go of her hand and folded his arms across his chest.
            Now it was Lauren’s turn to get mad.  “I am not a coward!  I’m trying to do what’s best for you!”
            “Obviously not because I’m telling you what I think is best for me and you’re not listening to a damn thing I’m saying!”
            “Hey!” Julie said loudly interrupting their back and forth.  “I don’t care what you two are fighting about but you need to knock it off!  Max, you need to rest.  Miss, you need to either stay or go but stop arguing with him.”
            Lauren felt like she had just been scolded like a school girl, which she deserved.  And Max was right; she hadn’t been considering what he wanted.  Yes, she was the one carrying the baby, but Max was its father and she did need to consider his feelings.  She just wasn’t used to having to let someone else play a part in her decision making.           “I’ll stay,” she said tersely even though with the way Max was looking at her now she wasn’t sure he still wanted her to stay.
            “Thank you,” he said between gritted teeth.  “I hope that wasn’t too difficult for you.”
            Lauren sighed at his sarcasm.  She probably deserved that, too.  “I’m sorry, you’re right.  I wasn’t taking into consideration what you wanted.”
            Max’s lips started to curl up and his eyes began to soften.  “Did you just say I was right?  Because I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you say that before.”
            “Don’t get used to it, you’ll probably never hear it again,” she teased softly as her own annoyance began to wash away.
            Max held his hand out to her again and she accepted.  “I know you’re scared but we can’t let this psychopath come between us.  There’s more than just us we have to consider,” he said pointedly.  “You’re not in this alone anymore.”
            “I know,” Lauren said but that didn’t appease the worry or guilt in her mind.
            “How’s your pain?” Julie asked interrupting their tender moment with the reality of Max’s care as she disposed of the syringe she had used to give Max more pain medicine.  Lauren had a new appreciation for nurses who must have to deal with a lot more than they bargained for in nursing school.  Each patient must come with their own special drama, and she bet that nurses must have to play referee a lot when a patient’s life circumstances start to interfere with his or her care.
            Max smiled.  “Better.”
            “Great, then let’s get you upstairs.”  Julie released the breaks on his bed and propped the door open.  A young guy in scrubs came in and helped her get his IV and various monitor chords gathered up and ready for transport.  “We’re going to move him now,” she said to Officer Hannigan.  She went to the head of Max’s bed and started pushing the gurney out of the room.  Lauren and Hannigan followed behind as Julie deftly weaved around the hallways to the elevator large enough for all of them and Max’s gurney to fit.  They got off on the seventh floor and she pushed Max into a private corner room.  She told him to lie still while she went to find Ginger, his new nurse, to help get him off the gurney and into his room bed.  She was back in a moment with the aptly named plump nurse with a shocking head of orange hair and freckles.  The two of them helped Max sit, and then stand up, insisting he go slowly.  Julie adjusted his new bed to a sitting position for him and then he took the couple of steps to the bed.  Just that little bit of movement seemed to exhaust him as he laid his head back on the pillows and closed his eyes once he was in bed.
            “Are you okay?” Lauren asked.
            “As soon as the mariachi band in my head stops playing, I’ll be fine,” he said without opening his eyes.
            “Take care, Max,” Julie said as she pushed the gurney back out of the room.
            “Thanks,” Max said opening his eyes to give her a quick smile. 
His new nurse captured his attention next.  “Max, I’m Ginger.  After I get these chords in place,” she said as she began attaching chords to the various monitoring equipment, “I’m going to review your medical history and then I have some information that I need to go over with you regarding your care.  Would you like your friend to be in here or would you rather she wait in the visitors lounge?” Ginger asked and then turned to Lauren. “It’s a standard privacy question we ask everyone.”
            “It’s fine if she stays,” Max said.
            “Okay, we’ll get started then.  The faster we go through this, the faster you can rest.”  Opening the lap top that she had rolled into the room on a little cart, Ginger began the process.  For the next twenty minutes, she asked a series of questions about everything from prior illnesses and injuries to family history and religious preferences.  She logged all of Max’s answers into the computer.  Lauren didn’t realize how in depth a medical history could be. 
When Ginger was finally finished with her questions, she closed the lap top and said to Max, “I’ve requested a volunteer to sit with you for the night.  We’re going to have to wake you frequently to make sure your cognitive abilities stay sharp.  The pressure from your wound is pressing on your skull and the neurologist is concerned about fluid build up between your skull and brain.  We’re going to be monitoring your ICP, intracranial pressure, and giving you a medication called Mannitol to help reduce that pressure along with your pain medication.” 
            “You don’t need to get a volunteer, I can sit with him,” Lauren said.  “I’m not going to get any sleep anyway.”
            “Is that okay?” Ginger asked Max.
            “I’d prefer it, actually,” Max said as he relaxed into the pillow and closed his eyes for a moment.
            “Alright, I’ll be back to check on you in about an hour unless a monitor starts beeping before then.  Don’t hesitate to push the call button if you need anything.”  With a smile, she left the room.
            Lauren looked around Max’s room trying to figure out what to do with herself.  The room was large for a hospital room with a recliner as well as seating on the window ledge.  Max also had his own bathroom with a shower stall.  There was a flat screen TV on the wall in front of his bed and underneath it a small closet for his belongings.  Near the door was a small nurse’s station with a counter and locked cabinets above and below it. 
“Is there anyone I can call for you?  You’re parents?” Lauren asked.  She realized that she didn’t really know much about Max’s family and she didn’t have the first clue as to how to contact them.
            “No, I’d rather save my mother’s hysterics for tomorrow.  They’re down in Florida, so there’s not a whole lot they can do except worry anyway.  I do need to talk to Margaret, though.  Someone’s going to need to take over my case load for a couple of days.”
            Lauren looked at him doubtfully.  “It may be for more than a couple of days.”
            “Nah, I won’t let it be,” Max said tiredly.  Lauren could tell that his medication was making him drowsy.  “Tell me what happened after I passed out.”
            “You hadn’t come back from chasing your neighbor’s dog, so I went outside to help you.  I found you unconscious in your driveway.  I called 911 and after I made sure you were still breathing, I got Captain Kerkowski’s number from your phone and called him.”
            Max smiled.  “I’m sure he appreciated that phone call.”
            “He uttered a few choice words that I don’t want to repeat and then he said he’d meet us here.”
            “He’s a little rough around the edges but he’s a good guy.”
            “From how worried he was, I’d say he’s a good friend, as well.”  Pulling her cell phone out of her purse, she asked, “Do you know Margaret’s number?”
            Max knitted his eyebrows together to think about it and then put his hand gingerly to his forehead.  “I can’t remember it off the top of my head.  It’s in my phone but you could call Jack Pierce instead and he’ll call her for me.  His number is…”
            Lauren cut him off.  “That’s okay, I have Jack’s number programmed into my phone.”  She laughed softly at Max’s raised eyebrows and pointed look.  “I had your number in my phone before we started sleeping together, too.  I tend to talk to you ADA guys a lot.”
            “Mm hmm,” Max said doubtfully as he closed his eyes again.  “Good thing I know Jack’s a happily married man.”
            “Not to mention his wife could kill me in a heartbeat with that black belt of hers,” Lauren reminded him.
            Max chuckled.  “Yeah, she probably would, too.  She’s pretty protective of Jack.”
            “Well, she can keep him,” Lauren said as she leaned over and gently kissed Max’s cheek as her hair fanned over him.  “I like you better.”
            “Good thing,” Max said with a satisfied expression as he pushed her hair back behind her ear.
            Standing up straight again, Lauren pulled up Jack’s number and pressed talk.  She grimaced when she glanced at the clock, it was already after eleven.
            “Lauren?” Jack said sleepily into the phone.  “I’m afraid I’m not on call tonight.”
            “I know.  I’m not calling about work.  Max has been hurt,” she told him.
            “What?!  Is he okay?” Jack asked sounding wide awake now.  She heard his wife in the background asking what was wrong.
            “He was attacked with a tire iron in his driveway and received a blow to the head.  He’s in the hospital and they’re monitoring him for pressure on his brain,” Lauren explained.
            “Is he conscious?”
            “Yes, he’s awake.  He’s just in a lot a pain.”
            “Can I talk to him?”
            Lauren put her hand over the mouth piece.  “Are you up for talking on the phone?” she asked Max.
            “Yeah,” Max said holding his hand out for her phone.  Lauren could get the gist of the conversation from Max’s end as he talked.  “Hey, Jack.  Yeah, I’m okay.  Just got a knock on the head is all.  We think it was probably the stalker that’s been bothering Lauren.  She’s been getting flowers and letters and such, but this is the first time he’s been violent.  Yeah, lucky me,” Max said sardonically.  “Kerkowski is working on it.  Mike Hannigan’s outside my door until a replacement comes.  No, you don’t need to come down here.  Lauren’s here with me.  But could you call Margaret for me?  I’m not feeling up to that conversation.  Thanks, man.  Yeah, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
            Max handed Lauren her phone back after he rang off.  “He’s going to call Margaret for me.”
            “Are you sure there’s no one else I should call for you?” Lauren asked again.
            “No, I think I’d just like to relax for a bit.  Get my mind off from everything going on.  Do you see the TV remote?  Maybe I can catch highlights from tonight’s game.  That would help me stay awake,” Max said as he adjusted his bed so he was reclining back more.
            “It’s right here on the same device as your nurse call button,” Lauren said as she placed it within his reach on the bed.  She moved the blue reclining chair from the corner of the room so it was next to Max’s bed.  “I had better give Ben, my boss, a call.  I promised to keep him apprised of anything involving the stalker.”
            Max looked surprised.  “He knew about it?”
            “Yes, I told him a couple of weeks ago.”
            “And he didn’t advise you to go to the police?” Max asked in astonishment.
            Lauren frowned.  “No, he agreed with me that there probably wasn’t anything the police could do.”
            Max was frowning now.  “And he wasn’t concerned at all with your safety considering the kind of people you work with on a daily basis?  Gee, does he allow sexual harassment in the workplace, too?”
            Feeling defensive, Lauren said, “Of course not, Ben’s a good boss.  He was just being realistic.”
            Max’s eyes were flashing in frustration.  “Being realistic would have meant taking into consideration that you’re not a pre-school teacher with a parent with a crush, you work with criminals for God’s sake!  The first thing good old Ben should have done was pick up a damn phone and get an investigation going!  How could he be so blasé about one of his staff receiving anonymous gifts and letters that were obviously the product of an obsession?”
            Lauren hadn’t really looked at it like that.  Maybe Ben should have given her better advice.  “He did say if anything else happened he would take it to the police himself.”
            “Well, that falls into the too little too late category,” Max said angrily.
            “Max, this isn’t Ben’s fault.  If you want to be angry with someone for not taking action sooner, you should be angry with me.  I’m the one that hoped if I ignored it, it would all go away.”
            Max closed his eyes again.  When he reopened them, his face was less tense but it looked like it was taking serious effort on his part to keep it that way.  “I’m not blaming your boss.  Or you.  I’m just pissed that this is happening at all.  Maybe if I had known sooner, I could have gotten an investigation going and prevented this.”  Reaching over to play with her hair, he said, “I am glad that it’s not you lying in this bed, though.”
            Lauren leaned into his hand.  “Do you really think Captain Kerkowski will find anything?” she asked trying to deflect the conversation back to a less explosive topic.
            “Yes,” Max said right away.  “He takes it personally when anything happens to his friends.  He’ll find something.  This conversation is definitely making my head hurt more, how about if we talk about something else for a while.”  Then with a gleam in his eyes, he added in a husky sexy voice, “Do you know what would make me feel better than this pain medication?”
            Lauren narrowed her eyes playfully.  If he could think about sex right now, she finally believed he would be okay.  “If it’s what I think you’re thinking, you can forget it.  The nurses would have a fit.”
            Max chuckled.  “Yeah, probably.  Can’t blame me for trying, though.  I had some ideas about how we could have spent the night.”
            Lauren smiled.  “You’ll be up and around in no time and we’ll plan some time together – doing whatever you want.”
            “Deal,” Max said as he closed his eyes again.  Lauren thought he was falling asleep but after a moment, he opened them again.  “Or you could just move in with me.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Part 13 of Who Are You?

Max came to with a strange man leaning over him.  “He’s coming around,” the man said and his voice ricocheted around inside Max’s head like a canon ball with spikes sticking out of it.
“You don’t have to yell,” Max grumbled but his own voice seemed just as loud.  What the hell?  “What happened?”
“You took quite a blow to the head.  You’re in an ambulance on the way to the hospital…” the man was saying but his voice faded into oblivion as Max lost consciousness again.
The next time he woke up, he was being moved from the ambulance stretcher to a hospital gurney.  A doctor stood over him shining a light into his eyes.  “Mr. Canter, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” Max mumbled.
“We’re going to get a CT of your head.  We have to make sure you’re not bleeding inside your skull,” the doctor explained as the gurney started moving.  “I need you to try to stay awake, okay?”
“Okay,” Max said.  Talking and the movement of the gurney both amplified the agonizing pain in his head.
A deep baritone rumbled next to him.  “Max, it’s Kerkowski.  Did you see who did this?”
Max started to shake his head as he moved his eyes to look at the burly, gray haired police captain walking next to him, but it hurt too much to move.  Not to mention something around his head and neck prevented him from moving more than the slightest amount.  “No,” he managed to say through the sea of nausea the sway of the gurney was causing.
“We think it was Lauren Stevens’ stalker.  Someone spray painted a message on your car that said, ‘she’s mine.’  Are you sure you didn’t see anything that would help us find this bastard?”
Max caught himself before he tried to move his head again.  “He hit me from behind.  Is Lauren okay?”
“Yeah, by the time she found you the bastard had already taken off.  She called 911 and followed behind the ambulance.  She’s worried sick about you but I told her not to be too concerned; you’re too thick headed to let a little thing like a tire iron damage that brain of yours,” Kerkowski ribbed him.
“Great, thanks.”  Max tried for sardonic but his ability to only speak in mumbles didn’t carry it off.   Hit by Lauren’s stalker in his yard?  The guy must be keeping closer tabs on her than anyone guessed.
“Anything you can remember gets us one step closer.  Did you see his sleeve, a watch, the color of his clothes or skin?
“We’re here,” the doctor said as he pushed a door open.  “You’re questions are going to have to wait.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Max said.  “I wish I had.”
Kerkowski nodded.  “Okay, I’ll wait in your room in the ER.” he said as Max’s gurney was rolled into a bright room with a large machine in the middle that looked like a donut with a tongue depressor sticking out of the middle.  The shock of the brightly lit white room caused unbearable pain in his eyes and he slammed them shut.
“Max, I need to know you’re awake.  I need you to keep your eyes open.” 
“It’s too bright in here,” Max complained.
“We can dim the lights but we need you to stay awake.  We’re going to move you onto the CT table now,” the doctor said meaning the tongue depressor part of the machine.  “We don’t want you to help, let us do the work.  We have you on a board that we can slide over.”  Looking at the two new people now standing next to the table, he said, “On three.  One, two, three.”  They slid Max over and little explosions went off in his head with the movement.
For the next fifteen minutes, Max laid on the table with his head in the middle of the donut.  Something inside of the machine spun loudly when it was turned on and his head was killing him.  It felt like a power drill was working its way through his skull – handle and all.  Fifteen minutes felt more like three hours by the time the technicians and doctor finally decided they had enough pictures.  Then they had to move him back onto his gurney which jarred his head even more.
“Can I get something for the pain?” he finally asked the doctor.
“As soon as we get you back to your room.  We needed the CT results first.  It doesn’t look like your skull was fractured and we don’t see any bleeding in your brain.  But you do have an egg sized lump on your temple that’s causing some pressure that we need to keep an eye on.  We’re going to go ahead and admit you for observation and monitoring.  Sometimes the swelling can hide a bleeder from us on initial exam.”
“If you give me something for the pain, you can keep me as long as you want,” Max told him as he struggled to keep his head as still as possible as the gurney rumbled through the hallways.
It finally stopped moving when they put him in a private room in the ER.  Kerkowski and Mike Hannigan, an officer Max knew pretty well, hovered in the corner while a nurse drawing up medication into a syringe stood off to the side of the room by a counter with a sink.  His eyes scanned the rest of the room and finally rested on Lauren.  Relief washed over him now that he could see for himself that she really was fine.  Max held his hand out to her and she took it.  She brushed at the tears in her eyes with her other hand.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
Max tried to smile but it hurt.  “It’s not your fault,” he assured her.  “You’re not the one who hit me in the head.”
“No, but if it hadn’t been for me this never would have happened.”
“We don’t even know for sure this was about you.  It could have been someone who hates me for putting him behind bars,” he reasoned through the pain in his head, even though the message Kerkowski said the stalker had put on his car really left no room for doubt. 
She opened her mouth to argue with him but Kerkowski spoke first.  “Ms. Stevens, we’d like to go over the information you gave Officer Hannigan at the scene.  Maybe there was something you missed, some detail you thought was unimportant at the time.”  Turning to the nurse getting medication ready to put in Max’s IV, he asked, “Is there somewhere we can go for a little privacy?”
“There’s a family consultation room just down the hall and to the left.  I believe it’s empty,” the nurse said as she uncapped a syringe and picked up the tubing running to the IV.  She attached the syringe to a port and depressed the plunger slowly.
“Thanks,” Kerkowski said as he ushered Lauren and Hannigan out of the room. 
It didn’t take Max long to start feeling some relief from the pain as the medication began circulating in his system.  But it also made it even harder to keep his eyes open.  “This is probably going to make you sleepy,” the nurse explained.  She was about twenty-five with a slender, pretty face and her brown hair was pulled back into a pony tail.  Her ID badge said her name was Julie.  “But we still need for you to stay awake, so I’m going to be checking on you frequently while they get a room ready for you upstairs.”
Max nodded carefully, amazed that he could move with only the dullest ache in his head now.  “Thanks.”  Julie smiled at him and left the room.
It was another ten minutes before Lauren came back into the room with Kerkowski.  She smiled wanly at him and seemed to be at a loss as to what to do with herself until he held his hand out for her to grasp again.  She took it and stood next to him, worry lines etched in her face.
“I don’t know what it is with you ADA’s this year and trying to get yourselves killed, but I sure wish you’d knock it off,” Kerkowski said shaking his head.
Max snorted.  “Maybe it’s just the shoddy police force we work with not keeping us safe.”
Kerkowski laughed.  “Yeah, that might be it.  Think you trust us to keep you safe tonight, or would you like us to call in the National Guard?”
“Maybe you could put them on notice,” Max retorted and tried to smile at the captain’s jesting but grimaced when that much movement of his facial muscles pulled on his injury.
“I’ll get right on that,” Kerkowski said good-naturedly.  “In the meantime, I’m going to arrange for an officer to be outside your room.  No one will be allowed in without your permission.”
Max’s lips formed a thin line as he thought about what Kerkowski needed to know.  With a quick look at Lauren, he blurted out, “Lauren’s pregnant.”
Kerkowski’s eyes became saucers and he whistled softly.  “You don’t say.  Well, that’s certainly not going to help the situation.”
Lauren looked puzzled.  “What do you mean?”
“If this,” Max said pointing to his head, “is what happens when he believes we’re just dating, I can’t imagine what you being pregnant is going to drive him to do.”
Kerkowski crossed his arms over his chest and stared long and hard at Lauren.  “I’m surprised you didn’t mention this.” 
“We wanted to keep it to ourselves for a while,” Max explained. 
His mouth in a thin line, Kerkowski addressed both of them.  “Probably a smart move, I guess.  Keeping it under wraps until we nab this bastard is a good idea.”
Lauren nodded and Max couldn’t help but notice the tears in her eyes again.  He squeezed her hand and she tried to smile.  “Hey, this is a good thing.  Now this bastard has actually committed a crime, so Kerkowski and his officers can go after him.  And if he left evidence at the scene, they’ll find him in a heartbeat.  After that, we can take out an ad in the paper to announce it if you want.”
Lauren shook her head sadly.  “I don’t care about telling people about the baby.  I care that if this person finds out I’m pregnant, he’ll come after you even harder.  I’m so sorry I involved you in all of this.”
“This is not your fault,” Max said sternly squeezing her hand again. 
“I second that,” Kerkowski said as he put his large hand on her shoulder.  “We just don’t want to fuel the fire, is all.  We’re obviously dealing with a sociopath here, so if it’s not Max or the baby, he’ll find some other reason to go after the people in your life - and then he’ll come after you.  Not because of anything you did or said.  These people’s idea of love is obsession that more often than not, turns into violence.  And Max is right.  We have something to go on now.  We can start talking to people and collecting alibis.  The forensics unit is going over Max’s house with a fine tooth comb.  My guess is, he’s been there before spying on the two of you so there has to be some evidence for us to find.  We’re also going to talk to your neighbors and look around your grandmother’s house to see if we can find any traces of him.  We’ll get this bastard and then you two can celebrate that baby of yours.”
Lauren looked like she wanted to believe him.  “Thank you.  Do you really think he left evidence?”
Kerkowski nodded his graying head.  “Every sociopath slips up somehow, somewhere.  We’ll get him.”  Lauren smiled again and it almost reached her eyes. 
“Alright, I’m going to get out of here and let the two of you have some privacy.  Hannigan’s going to stay until I have someone assigned to your room for the night.”
“Hey, Tom, before you go,” Max looked at Lauren briefly, debating if he should say anything.  The pain in his head made him decide he should.  “The only person we know of that knew Lauren was with me was her ex, David Spencer.” 
Lauren looked shocked.  “David wouldn’t do something like this!  I know him; he’d never resort to violence.”
Kerkowski didn’t look convinced.  “Love and obsession do crazy things to people.  We’ll put him on the top of the list for questioning.”  With a nod to Max, he headed out the door.  Hannigan followed after him closing the door behind him.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Part 12 of Who Are You?

Chapter 14

Considering the bombshells that had exploded around Max in the last twenty-four hours, Lauren couldn’t help but be impressed at how comfortable he made her feel as they spent the day together.  He was so different outside of the courtroom; he seemed to have left his arrogance and surliness at his office.  The afternoon slipped by in a beautiful haze of sex and football.  After making love on the couch, they made sandwiches and snacks and enjoyed watching the Lions win for a change.  Max seemed genuinely thrilled that Lauren’s love for sports rivaled his.  She had always been a vocal fan, something that had driven David crazy, but every time she yelled at Max’s TV, he would give her that sexy grin of his and kiss her.  The day went so well, it was hard to remember that they were still practically strangers to each other.
            After the Lions won against Green Bay twenty-eight to seven, Max stood up and stretched.  Since Lauren was now wearing the t-shirt he had on earlier, she couldn’t help but let her eyes feast over his muscular torso.  “I think I’ll have a beer, would you like one?” he asked over his shoulder as he walked towards the kitchen.
            Lauren was about to say yes until her brain kicked in.  “Probably not a good idea.”
            Max stopped and looked at her sheepishly.  “Sorry.”
             “Don’t worry, I’m still getting used to the idea, too.”
            Apparently deciding against the beer, he came back into the living room and sat down on the couch facing her.  “Can I ask you something?” 
Lauren couldn’t read the expression on his face, but his voice when he spoke had lost some of the light-heartedness she had enjoyed all afternoon.  “That sounds ominous,” she said trying not to assume the worst but failing.  The day had been getting along so well, she hated to ruin the illusion that they were a couple who had worked through their problems and had nothing left to do now but stay happy.
            Max began running his hand up and down her arm below the sleeve of the black t-shirt she had borrowed after they made love.  A trail of goose bumps rose up where his fingers touched her bare skin.  “If it hadn’t been for the pregnancy, would you still have gone out with me when I asked you to dinner?”
            Lauren smiled.  That was an easy question.  “Yes.”
            “Would you have told me it was you in the Bat Girl costume if I hadn’t figured it out?”
            Lauren had to think about that one.  “I’m not sure,” she finally admitted.  “Even though it was great at the time, I’m pretty embarrassed about it now.”
            Max grinned wickedly.  “Trust me, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
            That made her laugh.  “I’m not talking about the sex.  I’m talking about the whole night.  Dressing in the costume, tricking you into having sex with me, ending up pregnant.  Probably not one of my sanest ideas.”
            Sobering some, he cocked his head to the side and asked, “Do you regret it?”
            Lauren bit her bottom lip while she tried to think of how to answer that.  “Regret is a pretty strong word.  I don’t regret having sex with you, but I wish I had been more honest about it.  It wasn’t fair to you the way it happened and it makes me feel like a coward that I didn’t just ask you out.  I don’t regret being pregnant right now but it’s not real for me yet.  I haven’t thought about all the things that will need to change in both of our lives.  I always thought I would be in a loving relationship when I had kids, not that I’d end up with an unplanned pregnancy after a one night stand.  Which is why there’s one thing I definitely do regret…”
            “What’s that?”
            “That I’ll never know if you want to be with me because of me or the baby.”
            Max looked at her with the sweetest smile on his lips.  “Can’t it be both?”
            Ignoring his response, Lauren decided to ask the question that had been in the back or her mind all day – even though she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know the answer.   “Can I ask you something now?”
            “Of course.”
            Lauren looked down at her hands.  She didn’t want him to see how much the answer would mean to her.  “Are you going to continue sleeping with other women?”
            Max’s hand stilled on her arm.  He raised it to her chin and lifted her face so she could see his stony expression as he searched her eyes.  “You really think that little of me don’t you?” he spat as he searched her face for the answer. 
Lauren knew she had made a serious error in judgment asking him that question.  Even with all the arguments they had had at work, Lauren had never seen him this angry.  Why couldn’t she have just trusted that he would do the right thing?  Was it uncertainty because he had the reputation of a player, or her own lack of confidence about her ability to keep him interested in her. 
When had she become so pathetic and insecure?  She had never been like this with other men.  Hopefully, the pregnancy hormones were to blame.  She’d go with that theory because she didn’t want to delve too deeply into the subject.  She might not like what she found.
“Dammit!” he swore and dropped his hand from her face turning so he was facing the TV.  He leaned forward with his arms on his knees, his hands clasped so tightly his knuckles were turning white.  Lauren watched uncomfortably while he reined in his anger.  She knew she shouldn’t have asked the question.  She just succeeded in ruining the day.  And probably, any possibility of a relationship between the two of them.  She wished she could take it back, rewind the last five minutes and keep her mouth shut.
After a long moment, Max turned back to her.  He still looked angry, but he didn’t look like he wanted to punch a hole in the wall anymore.  “Look, I know I have a shitty reputation when it comes to women,” he began, enunciating each word in clipped tones as if weighing them each carefully, “but I told you I wanted us to try to be together as a couple.  I even asked you to marry me, for God’s sake!”
“Because I’m pregnant,” Lauren couldn’t help interjecting.  Why wouldn’t her mouth stay shut?
Max took a deep breath then spoke through a clenched jaw.  “Okay, yes, I asked you to marry me because you’re pregnant.  But I guess I’m just a little old fashioned that way.  I think a baby’s parents should be married if possible.  And I may be a jackass, but I’m not a cheating jackass.  I thought it was understood that we would be exclusive while we tried to figure things out.  I didn’t realize I needed to spell that out.”  Then an emotion flashed across his face too quickly for Lauren to figure out what it was.  He looked at her through narrowed eyes and added, “Unless you don’t want to be.”
Lauren’s own eyes widened in surprise.  “Of course that’s what I want!”
He looked like he was about to say something else, but Lauren’s phone started ringing in the hallway where she had left it on the small table near the door.  His mouth clenched in a thin line, Max stood up.  “Why don’t you get your phone and I’ll get myself that beer now.”  He sounded like he needed a breather from the conversation, and truth be told, so did she. 
Rising from the couch, she dug her phone out of her purse and checked to see who it was.  Great, David.  Perfect timing, as always.  If they hadn’t been friends for so long, she wouldn’t answer.  As it was, she didn’t sound overly polite.  “Hello.”
“I was hoping you would call me back after hanging up on me this morning.  I’ve been worried sick.  Did you talk to the police?” David asked.
“Actually, Max talked to a friend of his on the force and he’s going to have someone start looking into it.”
He was quiet for a moment, and then said with forced cheerfulness, “Oh, so you two must have worked things out after you left last night.”
“As a matter of fact, we did,” Lauren said dreading the inevitable backlash from him.
“Does that mean the two of you will be seeing more of each other?” he asked calmly.  More calmly than she had expected.
Max chose that moment to come back into the room.  He looked tense but he gave her a tight-lipped smile as he sat down on the couch.  “Yes,” she said in answer to David’s question.
“Lauren, I know you’re going to get angry with me for saying this, but the guy’s an asshole.  You can do so much better than him.”
Lauren sighed.  “Like who, David?  You?”
“Look, I know I’m not who you want, but there are some great guys out there.  Max Canter just doesn’t happen to be one of them.  The guy has player written all over him and from what I’ve heard, he has that reputation.  He’s going to break your heart.”
Max was looking at her curiously now while she debated what to say to David.  Max did have a reputation as a player, she couldn’t deny that.  And she just might get her heart trampled on.  But she owed it to the baby to at least try to work things out with him.  And besides, for her, it wasn’t just about the baby.  She wanted things to work with him, regardless of how many times she had told herself before Halloween that sleeping with him once would get him out of her system.  That had been one of the biggest lies she had ever told herself.  Lauren’s heart clenched as she realized just how vulnerable she was when it came to Max.  After taking a deep breath, she said to David, “I guess I’ll just have to take my chances.”
David swore softly but he didn’t argue.  “Then I guess there’s nothing else to say about it except that I’ll be here for you when he moves on to the next beautiful woman.”
“Thanks for being so supportive, you’re a great friend,” Lauren replied sarcastically.  “I have to go.”  She closed her phone and hung up on him for the second time that day.
“I take it David Spencer isn’t in our corner?” Max asked sardonically.
“You could say that.”  Lauren put her phone back in her purse and joined him back on the couch.  She really, really didn’t want to finish their conversation from a few minutes ago, and he didn’t look like he wanted to either.  She leaned her head back on the couch cushions and said, “I can’t believe how tired I am.  I’m sure it’s normal, but would you mind if I used your computer?  I’m afraid I don’t really know much about early pregnancy and I’d like to do a little research to figure out what to expect.”
Max raised his eyebrows.  “I thought women were born knowing everything about pregnancy and it was just us lowly men who were ignorant.”  At first she thought he was being serious but a hint of a smile on his lips let her know he was teasing her. 
Lauren snorted.  “Then I guess that gene skipped right over me.”
Max laughed.  It wasn’t the comfortable, relaxed laugh she had gotten used to over the afternoon, but it was a start.  Standing up, he said, “Let me grab my lap top.  We can educate ourselves together.”

Chapter 15

Anything to get off the train wreck of a conversation they were having before her phone rang, Max thought.  Looking up pregnancy information on a Sunday afternoon didn’t rank up there with sex and football, but it was better than arguing about his past.  Apparently, he had a lot of work ahead of him convincing her he’s serious about trying to make things work between them.  This was all new territory for him, but the more time he spent with her, the more he realized the pregnancy didn’t play into things as much as she thought it did.  He wanted to get to know her because he found her intriguing.  The beauty and passion that burned under her carefully put together court façade, and her intelligence that made him want to disagree with her just to see what arguments she came up with in rebuttal, attracted him like no other women ever had.  He wanted to be more than just the father of her baby, and if he had any shot at that, she needed to trust him. 
            What had she done to him on Halloween to get so deeply under his skin, he wondered as he grabbed his lap top from his office in the spare bedroom upstairs and headed back to the living room.  Other than Lauren, even before he knew she was his Bat Girl, he hadn’t been able to think about any other women.  He never, ever, dated anyone from work.  It was a hard and fast rule of his, but he had asked Lauren out anyway.  Subconsciously, he had to have known that she and Bat Girl were the same person.  Why else would his dormant attraction to her have suddenly risen up with such a vengeance?
For the next hour and a half, they researched as much as they could about pregnancy and Max found himself more curious than he thought he’d be.  Some of the information they read about didn’t seem so bad, but a lot of it made Max cringe.  He couldn’t help but be grateful that men didn’t get pregnant.  Especially when they got to the birthing part.  Good thing he had time to mentally prepare for that!  A short clip on YouTube of a woman giving birth without any pain killers had him fearing for the father’s life as his wife took her pain out on him.  Convincing Lauren to have an epidural was going to be high on his priority list.  Both for her comfort and his desire to survive the baby’s birth.  One thing all the research definitely did was harden his resolve to be as supportive as possible for her.  She was going to have a hell of a lot to deal with over the next eight months.
            Max’s phone rang just as Lauren found a particularly disturbing article about people who ate the afterbirth.  Cringing and glad for a distraction, he looked at the caller ID on the screen.  Then he silently cursed himself for not turning the damn thing off.  It was Gina calling.  He looked sheepishly at Lauren who had an expression on her face he couldn’t read.  “Sorry,” he mumbled as he answered the phone.  If he didn’t, she would keep calling.
            “Hello,” he answered gruffly.
            “Hey,” Gina said.  “I missed you at the gym today.”
            “I was with my girlfriend and decided to skip the gym this morning.”
            “Oh, I didn’t realize you had a girlfriend,” Gina pouted into the phone.  “When did this happen?”
            “Recently,” Max said shortly wanting to get off the phone because he could feel Lauren’s eyes boring into him; but he had to make sure that Gina knew not to call him anymore.  That made him think about the other women that called him from time to time and he grimaced again.  Maybe he should just change his number.
            “Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.  I don’t really see you as a one woman man,” Gina said giggled.  “I can wait my turn.”
            Damn, did the woman have no self esteem?  He had known that Gina was immature, but still.  “I’m trying to convince her to marry me,” Max said into the phone as he looked at Lauren.  It didn’t look like thoughts of marriage were running through her mind right now.  Thoughts of killing him, maybe.  Not the greatest start to building her trust.  “So, as much as I enjoyed hanging out with you, I’m afraid I’m not going to be seeing anyone besides Lauren.” 
            Gina didn’t say anything for a minute.  Finally, she said, “Fine!  You’re a jerk, anyway,” and hung up on him. 
Shaking his head, Max couldn’t think of what he had ever seen in her.  Looking guiltily at Lauren as he put his phone on the coffee table, he said, “I guess I need to find a new gym.”
            “And probably a new dry cleaners, and grocery store, and pharmacy, and every place else you frequent,” she said between clenched teeth.  Rising from the couch, she said with eyes flashing, “I don’t think this is going to work out.”
            “Hey,” Max said grabbing her arm and tugging gently to bring her back to the couch.  “I was jealous as hell when David called you earlier but I didn’t just throw in the towel.”
            The look on her face told him this conversation could get ugly fast.  “I have one man who still calls me and I haven’t slept with him in years.  How many other phone calls are you going to be getting like that one?”
            “Fine, I haven’t been the shining example of celibacy that you are, but does that mean you don’t give me a chance to make things right?  You heard what I said to her.  Could I have been any clearer that I didn’t want to hear from her again?”  He watched her struggle with her jealousy and anger and he tried to remember what the articles had said about raging pregnancy hormones.  He would be lucky to come out of this unscathed.
            Folding her arms across her chest, she ground out, “Maybe you could do a conference call and tell them all at once.  Can you get that many people on the phone at the same time?”
            As Max looked at her full breasts crowded over her arms and the hem of the t-shirt rising up, he couldn’t help thinking that she was damn sexy when she was angry and jealous.  But, he was a smart enough man not to say that out loud.  Instead, he stood up and gave her his best humble face as he touched her cheek with his hand.  “I have no problem calling every woman I know and telling them that I am off the market.  Would you like me to do that?  I can do it right now.”
            Max watched as emotions warred across her face.  “No, I’m not going to insist you do that,” she finally said even though she looked like she wanted to tell him to go ahead.
            “Come here.”  He pulled her gently into his arms.  She didn’t uncross her arms from her chest but she didn’t pull away, either.  “I’m sorry that this is an issue but I am whole heartedly committed to making things work with you and just you; and I will make sure every woman I know understands that, okay?”
            After a moment, she nodded her head and finally wrapped her arms around him.  He hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear, “You are the most beautiful and sexy woman I have ever met and I’m glad you’re here.”
            “Right, you’re just saying that to appease my hormones,” she scoffed but she hugged him tighter. 
            “You can believe it or not, but it’s true,” he said pulling back so he could see her face.  “Are we okay?”
            She nodded but still looked uncomfortable.  “Until the next time I freak out with jealousy because I don’t seem to be able to control my emotions any more.  Are you sure you can handle that?”
            Max chuckled softly and rubbed his hands along her back comfortingly.  “I think I’d be more concerned if you didn’t get jealous.  At least this way I know you care about me.  But I’ll do my best not to give you reason to worry, okay?”
            Finally, her lips curled into a small smile.  “Okay.”  She gave him a light kiss and added, “You know, you can be a really sweet guy when you want to be.”
            “Glad you noticed.  You just keep trying to see those good qualities of mine when I’m doing something completely asinine that pisses you off, okay?”
            “Deal,” she said with a real smile this time.
            “Alright, I’m going to go smash my phone into little pieces now and then see about dinner.  I grill a mean steak and red meat is rich in iron - good for you and the baby.  How does that sound?”
            Lauren laughed.  “Leave your poor phone alone and a steak sounds great.”
            Max kissed her and then told her to sit back and put her feet up while he made dinner.  They had weathered their first arguments and they both came out alive and smiling.  Maybe they really could make this work.

Chapter 16

Lauren was already embarrassed about her behavior.  She dropped into his life like an atomic bomb and she’s acting like he should have seen her coming.  Of course other women were going to call him.  Who besides Max and herself even knew anything about their situation?  She was being ridiculous, pregnancy hormones or not.  She had no right to make demands on him about whom he could and couldn’t talk to.
            Sitting back down, Lauren decided to check her email to get her mind working in a different direction for a while.  She could hear Max banging around a bit in the kitchen and she probably should offer to help him, but she thought he might need a little space more than he needed help. 
            It wasn’t long before wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen and her stomach began rumbling its approval.  She could already tell he wasn’t lying about cooking a mean steak.  A loud crash outside made her jump and jarred her thoughts away from food.
            She heard Max swear in the kitchen.  “Damn dog!”
            Standing up, she called out to him.  “Max, is everything okay in there?”
            He poked his head in the living room from the hall.  “Yeah, just the neighbor’s dog.  It digs its way out of its yard and likes to come over here and knock over my trash bin.  I’m going out to catch him and bring him home.  Then I’ll probably have some trash to clean up, but it shouldn’t take me long.”
            “Do you need help?”
            “No, I got it.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
            Lauren nodded and sat back down.  She heard him go out the back door as she started to read an email from her assistant.  After about ten minutes of going through her work emails, she realized she hadn’t heard Max come back in.  Was the dog that hard to catch, or had it made a bigger mess than Max thought it would?  She logged out of her email and decided to see if he needed help after all.

Chapter 17
Max had been deep in thought about the changes in his life as he moved around the kitchen.  He wondered what kind of father he would be.  He certainly didn’t want to be the every other weekend kind.  He wanted to be a part of this child’s life every day, and the only way he could do that was if he and Lauren were together every day. 
Would that be so bad?    She seemed to share his passion for sports and sex - his two favorite activities.  Hell, she yelled at the TV more than he did during a game, which excited the hell out of him, and she was amazing in bed.  But it was more than that.  She was beautiful and funny and smart as well.  He liked that he could talk to her about anything and not only did she understand what he was talking about, unlike some women he dated like Gina, she had an opinion about it.  And she didn’t care if it was the opposite of his, which made for some lively conversation.  She kept him on his toes and she called him out on his bullshit.  Yeah, he had given her that damn nickname because of that, but if he was honest with himself, he had always enjoyed going against her in court.  She was a damn good lawyer.  She made good calls with her clients, like suggesting the Second Chance Ranch for Marshawn Devereaux or convincing clients to plead to a lesser charge if it was in their best interest.  And if she thought her client was innocent, she was like a pit bull in court.
But, she had made it abundantly clear that she had no interest in marrying him if he didn’t love her.  Love.  That had always been a dirty word to him.  His parents had married for love over thirty years ago and had regretted it ever since, even though they were still married.  In fact, the first time they tried to elope, the priest refused to marry them because he said they didn’t get along well enough.  And he had been right.  But they got married anyway and had three kids, living miserably ever after.  Max had always sworn he wouldn’t get married.  But he had also sworn he wouldn’t get a woman pregnant.  Look how that turned out.  True, he didn’t love Lauren, but as he kept finding more out about her, he believed he could in time.  If he had to pick who he was most likely to be happy with from all the women he had ever known, she would be on the top of the list.  He did care for her already, and that had happened faster than he had thought possible.  That was a start.
He could lie and tell her he was in love with her, but he didn’t think she would believe him.  Not with his reputation for avoiding emotional commitment.  But she was a reasonable woman, much as he had said to the contrary in the past.  She seemed genuinely interested in him; after all, she had gone to great lengths to sleep with him.  Maybe she would agree to trial living together.  See how things worked out.  If they couldn’t make it work, at least they would have tried, and the baby would know they tried.  Now he just had to figure out how to bring it up.
The loud crash of his garbage can falling over shook him out of his reverie.   Why couldn’t Mrs. Pruitt keep that damn dog in her own yard?  Shaking his head, he let Lauren know he had to chase the dog and clean up the mess.  It was already getting dark outside, not to mention cold.  He was not happy about having to chase a ten year old, half-blind dog while their steaks burned. 
With a groan, he grabbed his shoes and keys and opened the side door.  When he stepped outside, he was surprised the motion light didn’t go on.  Looking over at it, he figured out why.  The bulb was smashed to pieces on the ground.  No way a dog could do that.  Turning to take a quick look around the yard, a blinding pain exploded in his temple.  The world was swallowed up in darkness as he felt himself fall to the ground - and then there was nothing.