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Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family, but to the solitary and an exile his friends are everything…Willa Cather
Blood dripped from the chin of the dark haired man tied to the chair…Staining the brown shirt and deep blue of his denim jeans.
His eyes were half closed and his head lolled loosely on his neck from the savage beating he’d been given. He felt the pain of his injuries but couldn’t manage to lift his head to see if his captors were still close by.
His face felt tight and somewhere in the back of his mind he registered the discomfort as the signs of the bruising and swelling left behind from the fists that had pummeled his helpless body.
He knew they’d injected him with something earlier…Sodium Pentothal…At least that’s what he thought it was…He couldn’t remember for certain. Had he told them what they wanted to know? He couldn’t remember that either but God…What if he had? Lily could pay the price.
A low moan slipped from between clenched lips. Every muscle in his body hurt. How long had he been here?
“He’s awake **** high***,” a vague voice wavered brokenly in his ears.
“Maybe we *** not give *** enou** Vale**,” a cultured voice sneered back.
Not enough what, the captive wondered idly? Oh yeah…Sodium something or other wasn’t it?
“We may **** given him *** much your ****ness,” the other replied.
“Then he would **** **** us what we want** to know.”
He felt a hand painfully grip his chin and jerk his head up. He moaned softly as the half open brown eyes met the sherry orbs glaring back at him in a fury. The face wavered in and out of focus but he knew the man was…Lily’s very angry father…King Alexi Taralovna of Kharkiv*…A small country near the Soviet Union.
“Tell me where my daughter is?” He barked in heavily accented English, right into the youthful battered face gazing blearily back at him but the captive remained mute.
Alexi let go and the young man’s head drooped once more.
“Spare yourself any further pain boy,” the other man pleaded. He recognized the voice…Valery Putyatin …King Alexi’s right hand man.
The dark head barely shook in the negative.
“Give *** more of that,” the regal black haired man commanded, nodding toward the small tray that held several vials and syringes.
“I do not dare your high***…It cou** kill him.” The voices continued to swim in and out around him. The ebony eyebrow rose questioningly as if that possibility were irrelevant.
“Kill him…,” another voice demanded. “We ****find Lili*** on our own.”
“Be silent Nicolai,” Alexi commanded the third captor in the room before turning back to Valery. “I WANT MY DAUGHTER,” he bellowed at his servant.
The man cringed at the rage in his voice…It was the same anger that had sent Princess Liliana fleeing with this young man in the first place. He was afraid of the results of giving the young man more of the drug but he didn’t dare refuse his sovereign either. If he killed the boy, Liliana would never forgive him but what choice did he have?
“Yes **** Highness.” He quickly got the syringe ready and injected it into the arm of their captive.
“Nooo…,” he whispered. He stiffened as the needle pierced his skin but he was helpless to resist.
The reaction came within seconds…He began to cough as his airway constricted…The taste of rotting onions tingled his tongue and the world began to fade to gray.
Two weeks earlier…The glint of metal reflecting in the sun was the only forewarning before the roar of the arriving jet pierced the silence of the restricted runway at LAX used only for special dignitaries or the occasional actor or actress trying to avoid the mobs of photographers that frequented the airports.
The private Lear jet taxied its way over to a limousine waiting on the tarmac. A few moments later the door opened. Several men made their way down the steps and looked cautiously about.
Once they seemed sure that all was clear, they returned to the stairs. The limousine moved in closer and a moment later a tall, regal looking man with dark hair and sherry brown eyes stepped from the plane and descended the stairs. He was immediately followed by another man who appeared to be several years his senior. He stopped at the top of the stairway and turned back.
A moment later a beautiful young woman stepped out of the doorway. Her black hair hung to her shoulders and her alert blue eyes swept the panoramic scene before her. She squinted into the bright California sun and let the warmth of it flow over her for a long moment. The older man offered her his arm but she shook her head in the negative and carefully made her way down the steps unaided.
The man threw her a frustrated glance before he stomped down the stairs behind her in an obvious snit.
The girl smiled without looking back, knowing by the angry stamp of footsteps behind her that she’d successfully gotten her point across.
A moment later they all climbed into the back of the Limousine. The girl made certain that she sat with the first gentlemen leaving the other no choice but to sit alone opposite them. The man next to her heaved an annoyed sigh but said nothing as the vehicle pulled away.
Twenty four year old John Gage dragged into the day room of Los Angeles County Fire Station 51.
“Mornin, ” he greeted his crew mates sourly as he passed.
His partner of two years, twenty seven year old Roy DeSoto turned to look at his young friend as he made his way toward the coffee pot. “What’s got you so down this morning junior?” he questioned the tall, dark haired paramedic.
The younger man shrugged as he turned and came back to the table. “Nothin,” he mumbled as he sank into the seat.
One of his shift mates, Lineman Chet Kelly smirked at the blonde paramedic. “He got dumped again,” he sniggered gleefully.
John shot him a withering glare. “I didn’t get dumped…Exactly,” he replied. “She just thinks we don’t… want the same things.”
Roy heard the hesitation and understood. John had a mild case of Aspergers Syndrome and had trouble forming and keeping relationships with people…Even the women that came and went from his life as if he had a revolving door on his apartment.
John at least now understood WHY he tended to push people away that wanted to get close to him but hadn’t yet learned to love and trust most people enough to stop it from happening and until he did…He’d never find a woman who’d be willing to wait as long as it would take him to sort out his feelings which could take months or years. Most women wanted to know a relationship was going somewhere and John wasn’t able to make that kind of emotional commitment just yet.
Roy understood and he and his family were the exceptions in Johnny’s life. They’d bonded as friends almost from the moment they’d met when John came in to sign up for paramedic training almost three years ago even though John had tried to resist the pull of that bond.
Their friendship had gone through several ups and downs but had only grown stronger as John learned to trust Roy with his life and his darkest secrets…The worst of which was that he’d been a battered child who’d suffered many beatings and had been molested by his Uncle on several occasions until he was fourteen and his paternal aunt had come to take him home to California with her.
John had become numb and silent. Hiding his shame and his fear and hurt down deep in his soul until Roy had come along. He and his wife Joanne and their children Chris and Jen had come into Johnny’s life and changed the young man…Making him a part of their family and teaching him what love and family was all about.
He’d come quite a way but he still had a long road before he was ready to settle down with any woman.
The crew knew about his ASD but they didn’t know the rest of their young crewmates past…That was a secret John hadn’t shared and Roy held just as close to his heart.
Roy smiled understandingly at his friend. “And she wants a commitment?” He questioned knowingly.
Johnny nodded unhappily. “I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet,” he mumbled. “I…I man I don’t even know how I feel about Cathy ya know?”
“So she dumped ya?” Chet teased.
“No…,” he sighed in defeat. “She just gave me an ultimatum…Commitment or else.”
Roy reached over and patted John’s arm. “You can’t commit to what you don’t feel junior.”
Chet opened his mouth to make another smart remark but his partner Marco Lopez kicked his shin beneath the table. This wasn’t the time to make Johnny feel even more uncertain about himself but Chet sometimes didn’t know when to quit.
Marco recognized Roy’s gesture and soothing words and knew John’s insecurities were flaring… It was another symptom of ASD and Chet forgot that sometimes in his zeal to torment their youngest crewmember.
Chet had grown up in a large Irish family where teasing comments and practical jokes were the norm and while it was his way of showing Johnny that he thought of him like family, Johnny didn’t always appreciate the familial gesture.
“Ouch,” Chet whined, reaching down to rub his injured leg and shooting the Hispanic lineman a glare. Marco shook his head warningly while Roy in turn shot him a grateful smile for putting the Irishman in his place.
John glanced their way but quickly returned his attention to his partner. “Another woman will come along Johnny…The right one and you’ll know her when you meet her,” he soothed.
“Yeah sure,” he muttered disconsolately. It wasn’t as if he were ready to settle down yet but still...It was a little disconcerting for him to know he couldn’t seem to hang on to a relationship even when he understood what was happening. He sighed unhappily at that thought and hoped Roy was right…Someday the right woman would come along and she’d be worth the fight… But until then…He’d have to keep playing the field. John almost smiled at that thought.
Roy saw the change in his face and knew he’d once again turned John’s dark inward brooding outward toward a new hope for a chance at healing his past and being happy in his future.
“When she’s the right one junior...She’ll be your princess,” Roy teased him gently.
John grinned. “I already have a princess,” he replied, his brown eyes twinkling.
“But my two and half year old daughter doesn’t count,” Roy said with a smirk.
The station control unit began to tone… “Station 51…Truck 127…Engine 36…Structure fire… 2701 Oakmont…2-7-0-1 Oakmont…Cross street 24th. Time out 9:13…”
“Station 51…KMG-365,” Captain Hank Stanley responded from the podium as their Engineer Mike Stoker slapped the switch to open the bay doors as he rounded the front of the squad on his way to the Engine.
A few moments later trucks began to roll.
The fire was blazing merrily in a story abandoned warehouse as they pulled to a stop about thirty feet from the building where the nearest fire hydrant should be.
“Engine 51…Squad 51…Gage pull an inch and a half and hook up the line.”
Johnny jumped from the squad…His dark eyes scanned the area quickly and he realized that a silver car was parked directly in front of the hydrant. There was no sign of an owner anywhere and they didn’t have time to look for him.
John jerked open the compartment door and snapped up the axe. He slammed the door shut and ran for the engine. He made a quick jump onto the back of the bumper and grabbed the hose before jumping down and running to where the hydrant was hidden behind the car.
Roy frowned in confusion until John dropped the hose and hefted the axe in a two handed grip…He gave one hard swing and smashed in the driver’s sides rear window. Roy’s mouth dropped open in surprise and so did Captain Stanley’s, who by this time had recognized John’s predicament and was standing on the running board looking for the owner of the vehicle.
The young paramedic noted his superior watching him and touched two fingers to his helmet in a jaunty salute before he reached down to grab the hose and toss it through the broken window onto the back seat.
Cap grinned and climbed back in the cab…John had it under control. Roy couldn’t contain the burst of laughter as Johnny ran to the other side and repeated the procedure, reaching through the newly made opening to grasp the coupling and pulling it through to wrap it around the hydrant.
He waved his hand at Hank and Mike pulled away, allowing the hose to feed out behind them. Roy shook his head and followed. John waited for the engine to stop and quickly hooked the storz connector to the hydrant before giving the lug nut a gentle twist with his wrench to start the water flowing and avoiding a potential ‘water hammer’ he turned it once again to get the pressure up.
He grabbed the axe and ran to join his crewmates.
Thankfully the building was empty of people and furniture and it only took about thirty minutes to knock it down.
John, Marco and Chet were re-rolling hoses while Roy stowed their gear.
Chet glanced over at the car where people were gathering to gawk at the smashed in windows. “Quick thinking there Gage,” he teased his young crewmate as he noted a rather large man taking an interest in Johnny’s handiwork.
“I did what I had ta,” Johnny said with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Yeah…Well I hope the owner of the car sees it that way.”
The sable haired paramedic threw a glance over his shoulder and winced at the rage on the man’s face. People were trying to contain their mirth at the big man’s expense…After all he had broken the law by parking there.
One man finally pointed toward the group of firemen…The man’s angry eyes swiveled toward John.
John swallowed hard and prepared to either defend himself or get punched in the face. Lord knew it wouldn’t be the first time.
Thankfully three other men had seen it too. Captain Stanley and Patrol Officer Vince Howard ran quickly to intercept the trouble maker as he stormed toward Gage and the others.
Roy slammed the compartment and quickly trotted over to stand at his partner’s side. There was no way he was going to let this goon have at his young friend. He didn’t need to worry though.
The man stopped when the tall, gangly Captain and the well built black officer stepped in front of him.
“Is there a problem sir?” Cap asked the furious looking man.
The guys blue eyes almost bugged from his head. A problem? Did you see my CAR?”
“Which car would that be sir?” Vince asked the man curiously as he glanced toward the line of vehicles.
“The silver Mercedes,” he snapped, pointing toward his now trashed automobile.
“Ah…,” Vince said as if just realizing who the man was for the first time. He reached in his belt pack and pulled out the ticket book he’d tucked there earlier. There were several other cars parked too close to the hydrant as well…He’d planned on leaving them all a gift for their decision to park there. “The one parked in front of the fire hydrant,” he said with a nod.
“Well I…I…,” the man blustered, looking nervous now.
“You are aware that it’s illegal to park within fifteen feet of a fire hydrant aren’t you sir?” Vince asked as he flipped open his ticket book.
Cap threw the patrolman a quick wink as he spun on his heel and headed back toward his men.
John tossed his partner an impish grin. “See that guys…No trouble at all,” he teased turning back to his task.
The others laughed and joined in.
“My father wants me to…,” the words stopped briefly as the beautiful dark haired girl served the tennis ball to her opposite on the other side of the net with a small grunt of effort. “Marry that pig Nicolai,” she finished as the ball bounced and was quickly returned by her friend.
“Nicolai…?” The pretty blonde almost squeaked in disbelief. “He’s almost…,” she stopped to make the return. “Old enough to be your grandfather,” she huffed.
“I know…I will not…Marry that man…,” she finished breathlessly. She shuddered at the thought of his sweaty hands touching her body.
“What are you…Going to do?” The other questioned as she swatted the ball yet again.
Liliana stopped, letting the ball fly by her without even an attempt at a return. “I am not sure yet Natasha,” she replied in accented but almost flawless English. “I have thought about asking for asylum from your government.”
Tasha’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You would give up your life in Kharkiv?”
She shrugged. “I would find a man I can love before I marry,” she answered.
Tasha nodded…She could understand that. She’d met Nicolai as well and he was horrible. Always panting after the girl…Pawing her arms and trying to caress her shoulders whenever he could. Sweat constantly beaded the man’s brow and his shirt was always wet under the arms. His slightly paunchy belly hung over his belt despite his best effort to hide it with larger, looser clothing.
What could Liliana’s father be thinking? “Why does he want you to marry Nicolai?”
“He thinks I need an older man to curb my willful spirit,” she said tiredly. “He thinks Nicolai will be a good advisor for me down the road.”
“Advice in what…How to sweat enough to fill a river?” The pretty blonde giggled.
Liliana smiled and tipped her head in agreement. “If we needed that in Kharkiv he would certainly be a blessing,” she said with a laugh.
Natasha sobered. “I do not think the United States will give asylum to you just for not wanting to marry,” she warned. “I think it has to be political or artistic,” she added.
“I know…My life is not in any danger, just my happiness,” she said with a sigh.
“Unless you find a man here and marry him…Then they wouldn’t send you home,” she added brightly.
“I am only here for a month Natasha…How will I meet this man among all the arrogant buffoons my father parades before me?”
Natasha looked deflated. There was that. It wasn’t as if Liliana could simply go out by herself and meet young men. Not with a couple of large body guards trailing after her constantly. She glanced over to where the two men were standing outside the court area watching the young woman carefully.
“You want to keep playing?”
“I’ve had enough for today…Come on.”
The two girls headed for a bench where their bags and towels waited. Liliana and Natasha wiped the sweat from their faces with a towel.
“Don’t look now Liliana but your slightly sodden suitor is approaching,” she warned with a slanted glance.
“Xорошо утро Nринцесса Liliana,” he said in Russian.
“Good Morning,” Liliana replied once again in English. “We are in America Nicolai…Natasha does not speak our language. Do not be rude,” she snapped in annoyance.
“Bаш помилование Nринцесса Liliana,” he whined as he sidled up next to the girl to set his sweaty palm on her arm.
Her skin was damp with perspiration as well but then…She’d been playing tennis for over an hour. She stepped away
“I will pardon you Nicolai when you do as I say,” she replied, snatching her arm away from him.
“I’m sorry Liliana,” he said familiarly.
Her eyebrow rose in annoyance at the disrespectful form of address. “I just wanted to ask if you needed me to escort you back home now that you are done with your silly game?”
“It is called tennis Nicolai and it is not silly…It’s energizing. Perhaps you should try it?” She suggested looking at his pot belly.
The older man flushed crimson at the obvious disdain but he didn’t dare argue with her either.
Lily threw him a final disgusted look and started up the stairs that led to the clubhouse. She was about half way up when she turned her head to see if Natasha was following. Her foot hit the stair on the edge and slipped off.
Her arms wind milled and she grabbed at the rail but she missed. A short scream escaped as she fell the remaining six steps, landing hard at the bottom.
A small moan of pain slipped from her lips. Nicolai hurried to her side and started to try and sit her up.
“Don’t touch her,” Natasha snapped in exasperation. She glanced up at the group of people who were beginning to gather about her. “Someone call the fire department please.
One young man nodded before he turned and ran.
Tasha knelt next to her pretty friend. “Don’t move Liliana…You could be badly hurt,” she advised.
“Hmmm,” she moaned.
“The fire department is on their way,” she assured her.
“Fire..?”She murmured in confusion.
“Paramedics,” she clarified. “They’re trained to treat you right here and move you safely,” she explained.
“Hmmm…Al…right,” she mumbled. “Oooh…My ankle hurts,” she whispered.
“Just be still Liliana…”
The boy returned. “They’re on their way he assured her.”
“Okay Liliana…They’ll know what to do.”
The crew had just returned to the station and trooped out to the back parking lot to begin hanging hoses as the station control unit began to tone once more.
“Squad 51…Woman down. Westwood Country Club…10101 Wilshire…1-0-1-0-1 Wilshire…Time out 10:47, Sam Lanier’s voice intoned.
John came down the hose rack two rungs at a time, while Roy tossed the hose he was holding to Marco and the two paramedics raced for the squad.
Hank grabbed the mic.. “Squad 51…KMG365.” He handed the slip of paper to Roy and the truck began to roll.
“Westwood Country Club,” Johnny murmured, glancing at the paper Roy had passed to him.
“Probably the only chance the two of us will ever get at seeing the inside of the place,” Roy said with a grin and casting his partner a sidelong glance.
“What’re ya talkin about?” Johnny argued drily. “Where do ya think I learned to play tennis?
Roy frowned, unsure if his friend was joking or not. He knew his aunt was pretty well off but didn’t know exactly ‘HOW WELL’. It was a possibility that John had learned there.
“Seriously?” He questioned.
“Yup,” the younger man acknowledged with a smirk. “Turn left here,” he added.
“I didn’t know you played tennis Junior,” Roy replied as he made the turn John pointed out to him.
“I don’t…I took two lessons and hated it. I preferred bowling,” he laughed. Roy grinned back.
A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of the country club. They climbed from the cab and began to pull their equipment from the compartments.
The clubs manager rushed out to meet them. “Please…You must hurry. The lady is in a lot of pain.”
“Where is she?” Roy asked as John slammed the doors closed.
“Out on the tennis courts…She fell on the stairs. She said her ankle and her head hurt. We thought it best not to move her.”
“Good idea,” John assured him.
“So she’s conscious?” Roy asked as they walked.
“Yes…But you have to hurry,” he urged.
“Okay…Okay…Just calm down,” Johnny soothed.
“You don’t understand…She’s a princess,” he said excitedly.
“Great,” John muttered aside to Roy. “Just what we needed…Some spoiled chick,” he quipped, thinking of his bratty cousin Tiffany.
Roy chuckled but didn’t reply.
They made their way through the club house, ignoring the gawking stares of the members eating there. They followed the manager down the steps, setting the equipment down near the two women…One of whom was lying on the ground while the other knelt near her side.
Two rather large, burly men hovered over them and another older man, trying unsuccessfully to hold her hand seemed to fawning over the girl on the ground while she repeatedly shook her hand free. John guessed it was her father.
“Could everyone step back and give us some room,” Johnny asked glancing around at the people gathered in a tight group around them as he knelt next to the two women.
The two large men glared at the paramedics but didn’t move until the dark haired woman on the ground snapped out something in a foreign language. The two didn’t look happy but they reluctantly obeyed.
Roy shot the older man a look… “You too sir,” he requested politely, noting that his presence seemed to be irritating the victim instead of soothing her and he didn’t want her moving more than necessary trying to evade his pawing hands.
When his request didn’t produce immediate results he reached out and gently took his elbow and tugged him to his feet. “Let me help you up,” Roy suggested a bit more forcefully.
John had finished opening the drug box and grabbed the BP cuff while Roy returned to kneel next to the woman. Johnny’s dark eyes passed over the attractive blonde sitting close to her friend but moved on immediately. She was very pretty but right now…He had a job to do.
He finally turned to look at his patient and sucked in his breath. Deep chocolate brown eyes met with crystal blue and locked.
Liliana was hurting. It wasn’t excruciating pain but a dull throbbing pulsed above her right foot which was already swelling. Her head was pounding out a rhythm and Nicolai’s pawing and fawning was driving her near to madness.
Her two large body guards closed in tight around her which made it seem even more difficult to breathe. She heard the footsteps on the stairs and sighed in relief.
Natasha had assured her that the fire department had highly trained men who would be able to help her immediately.
She heard the quietly voiced request. “Could everyone step back and give us some room.” Maxim and Dmitry refused to budge.
“задняя часть вверх по” Liliana rapped out in annoyance. What did they think these two men were going to do to her right here in public for Heaven’s sake? She mused exasperatedly.
Her command had also been directed at Nicolai but he was obviously too dense to catch on without her being more direct.
She opened her mouth to tell him to leave her be but the sudden appearance of a tall, attractive blonde man made it unnecessary. He was perhaps in his late twenties with gentle blue eyes and a nice face and she could have kissed him as he took the decision from Nicolai away.
“You too sir,” he said as he helped the older man stand and propelled him away from her. The older man wasn’t happy but he didn’t resist the blonde’s directive.
She heard someone on her other side and turned her head to see another uniformed man kneeling next to her. He was turned away and all she could see was a head full of sable waves.
Turning her head so quickly had been a mistake…It began to throb once again and a wave of dizziness swept over her and she clenched her eyes shut for a moment until it passed. A soft moan slipped from her lips. Her blue eyes finally blinked open to find herself staring into the most beautiful brown eyes she’d ever seen.
She gasped in pleased surprise at the handsome young man staring down at her. A slow smile curled the corners of his sensitive mouth.
“Hi…I’m John Gage…I’m a paramedic,” he introduced himself softly. He nodded toward the other man. “That’s my partner Roy DeSoto.”
Liliana returned the smile but she didn’t look away and for a moment she even forgot the throbbing in her head and ankle.
“What’s your name?” He questioned gently, wanting to test her memory.
“Liliana Taralovna,” she replied a bit breathlessly as she continued to gaze into pools of brown.
Roy rolled his eyes briefly at the look of infatuation on the girls face as he took her wrist to get a pulse. He’d bet he could make a fortune if he could bottle and sell whatever it was John Gage had that charmed the ladies the way it did.
“Can you tell me what happened?” He pressed.
“I fell from up there,” she replied, finally turning her head away to glance up the stairs. “Oooh,” she whimpered softly as her head put up a painful protest.
“Okay Miss Taralovna…Try not to move too much alright?” He advised softly as he gently swept the blue black hair back to check the lump that was bruising over her left eye. He smiled reassuringly back at her and turned to grab the BP cuff. “Did you lose consciousness at any time?” He asked casually as he wrapped the cuff about her arm.
Roy was setting up the Biophone on the other side, content to let John finish the examination.
“No,” she replied softly. She’d enjoyed the warmth of his long, slender fingers against her skin as he’d checked her head but hadn’t lasted long enough to suit her.
Roy picked up the phone while John checked her eyes with his penlight. He smiled at her reassuringly after a moment.
“Rampart base this is squad 51…”
A moment later Joe Early’s gentle voice responded… “Go ahead 51…”
“Rampart…We have a female approximately nineteen…”
“Twenty one,” Lily corrected while she continued to watch John’s every move.
He reached to lay his hand on her belly to get her respirations but one of the guards moved quickly to grab his arm and yank him away from the woman.
Natasha let out a short cry of panic that the poor paramedic was about to be killed.
John gasped in surprise as he felt himself tossed away from her as if he were weightless.
“Correction Ramp…,” Roy’s voice broke off as he watched his partner get flung away like a ragdoll. He dropped the phone and ran to help his friend as the large man advanced on him.
John was climbing slowly to his feet...Looking at the guy in shock. “Look…I was only trying to get a respiration count,” he said soothingly as he held his hands out to try and ease the tense situation. “I wasn’t gonna hurt her,” he promised looking grateful as Roy came around and joined him.
It didn’t appear to slow him down any until another crisply barked order was snapped out by the beautiful black haired woman. “Pазрешение они самостоятельно,” she barked.
The man froze and reluctantly backed away. John dusted himself off looking relieved. The Biophone was squawking for attention. “Squad 51 do you read me…Squad 51 come in please…”
“You okay?” Roy asked quickly.
John returned to Liliana’s side while Roy went to the Biophone. “Rampart…This is squad 51…Sorry…We had a little misunderstanding here but we’re back.”
“10-4 51…What are her vital signs?” Joe asked.
John smiled down at the girl. “I don’t know what you said but thanks,” he teased gently as he cast the guard a nervous glance before reaching out to lay his hand on the girl’s belly.
“I told them to leave you alone,” she informed him a bit breathlessly, enjoying the feel of this young man’s hand on her stomach.
He nodded and turned his attention to her ankle even as he fed his partner the information. “Her BP was 110/60…Respirations 16… Her pupils are equal and reactive. She has a swelling head wound just over her left eye. His practiced fingers moved carefully over her swollen ankle. She gasped in pain but quickly waved off the guard as he started forward once again.
John cast him a quick glance a breathed a sigh of relief when the girl ordered him back with a hand motion.
“Thanks,” he breathed out. She smiled at him. He turned to Roy. “Her ankle is swollen but I don’t think it’s fractured,” he told him.
“Rampart…Vital signs are… Pulse 70…Respirations 16, BP 110/60. She hit her head but did not lose consciousness at anytime. Her pupils are equal and reactive and there is a swollen and bruised lump over her left eye. Her right ankle is swollen and painful but we don’t think it’s fractured,” he told them glancing up to where a crowd was gathering.
He saw the manager leading two ambulance attendants with their stretcher toward the stairs.
“10-4 51…Start and IV…D5W TKO…I can’t give her anything for pain until I see that head injury,” he warned them. “Immobilize her head and neck and take spinal precautions. Splint the ankle and transport as soon as possible.”
“10-4 Rampart…IV D5W TKO,” he repeated the directive before waving the attendants down the stairs.
Johnny was already grabbing the IV kit and the bag of D5W. “Okay Miss Taralovna…We’re just gonna start an IV on you just as a precaution alright?”
She nodded her head and watched in fascination as the handsome paramedic quickly got everything set up and efficiently inserted the needle. She barely felt it. Roy carefully splinted her ankle. John placed a cervical collar around her neck and gently pumped it up until her head was comfortably immobile.
The blonde paramedic moved to help Johnny place the girl on the backboard. They rolled her gently and John slid the board beneath her. They strapped her in and lifted her onto the stretcher. “I’ll ride in with her,” Roy said absently as he closed up the Biophone. Liliana reached out her hand and took hold of John’s tightly.
Nicolai frowned angrily at the gesture and the guards looked unhappy but they didn’t move. Natasha giggled at her friend’s forwardness.
The young dark haired fireman drew back slightly in surprise but smiled a moment later. “It’s okay Roy,” he said softly. “I’ve got her.”
“Yeah Junior,” he teased with a grin. “I can see that.”
John smirked back.
“Where are you taking her?” Natasha asked before the others could interfere.
“Rampart General,” John replied.
“I’ll call her father.”
“I thought that was her father?” He said nodding to Nicolai.
“Thank heavens no…He’s a would be suitor for her hand.”
John’s lip curled in disbelief but he said nothing…It wasn’t his place.
Natasha and the guards followed the two ambulance attendants and the paramedics up the stairs with their burden. Liliana clung tightly to John’s hand as he walked beside her.
“Are you coming with me?” She questioned hopefully.
“Sure,” John replied quietly.
They arrived at Rampart and as much as Liliana wished she could have spent the ride getting to know the handsome man at her side a bit better, she found the swaying of the ambulance was making her head pound even worse.
She spent most of the trip with her eyes clenched shut and trying to keep from totally humiliating herself by throwing up on his feet.
She felt the vehicle make a wide turn and then stop and begin to back up. “We’re almost there Miss,” John assured her. He’d been in ambulance enough times with a head injury to know how she was feeling right now.
She cracked her eyes open experimentally drawing a chuckle from the paramedic and another of his delicious smiles. “I know how it feels,” he informed her with a gentle pat on her hand.
She wrapped her fingers around his and held on. John’s gaze caught and held hers for a brief moment until the doors were whipped open and the attendants began to pull the stretcher from the back, tearing her hand away from John’s.
He stood in the cramped confines and followed the gurney out. He stepped down from the back and greeted an older, pretty blonde woman dressed in white. “Hey Dix…This is Miss Taralovna…She fell down some stairs and she got a pretty mean whack on the head and an ankle sprain,” he told her calmly as they pulled the stretcher down the hall.
“Well…We’ll just get her fixed right up Johnny,” Dixie replied as she waved the group toward treatment room four. “Joe’s waiting in there,” she directed as she glanced back down the hallway to where Roy was just entering surrounded by a group of very excited people. Dixie’s blonde eyebrow climbed in curiosity at the group.
“Her friends,” John explained, nodding his head toward the door to the treatment room where the attendants were making the transfer from stretcher to table. The paramedic saw the group beeline toward them and decided to take the cowards way out and retreat inside and let Dixie handle this.
He stepped into the room and headed toward the exam table. He heard Dixie’s authoritative voice… “No one goes inside until the doctor has examined her,” she snapped. “The waiting room is that way,” she barked.
John laughed at the wide eyed look the girl was now throwing his way. “She was a nurse in Korea,” he teased with a grin. “She can handle your large friends.”
Liliana giggled in delight at the image of the pretty demur woman standing toe to toe with Dmitry and Valery...She’d never let them live this down.
“Miss Taralovna…This is Dr. Early…Doc…This is Liliana Taralovna.” Joe nodded politely but his fingers were already sweeping back the dark hair to look at the bruising on her forehead as John continued. “Her vital signs didn’t change on the way in doc. She seemed to be a bit dizzy from the motion of the ambulance though and a bit nauseas.”
Liliana’s eyes flew to him in wonder…How had he known that?
Her attention was caught as the door opened and Dixie and Roy joined them.
“Dix…,” Joe said without preamble as he made his way down to the splinted ankle. “Get the portable down here. I want a shot of her ankle and her head….She’s got a pretty good size goose egg coming up there,” he teased gently.
“You need us Doc?” John asked.
“No…I think you two are good to go.”
“Okay thanks…,” he replied. He turned to the girl. “It was nice to meet you…I hope everything turns out alright Miss Taralovna,” he said with a smile.
“Liliana,” she corrected, gazing up at the handsome face peering down at her. Her breath caught at the quirky, crooked grin that curled the corner of his mouth.
“Uh Oh,” Dixie teased with a glance to Roy as she brushed past him toward the telephone to call for the X Rays.
“I know,” Roy chuckled as he watched the girl fall for his handsome partner. “I wish I could find a way to bottle it,” he teased, sharing his earlier idea with someone who’d appreciate it.
“We’d all be rich,” she laughed as she snatched the phone up.
“Alright Liliana,” John was saying gently. “Maybe I’ll see you around alright? Hope you’re better soon.”
“I will be fine and I will see you,” she affirmed with a small smile of promise.
John turned and saw the grin on his partner’s face. “Shut up,” he said as he brushed past him.
Roy laughed. “I didn’t say anything,” he protested in amusement.
“Oh yeah you did,” John argued as he pulled the door open and stopped short when he found another set of large men flanking a tall regal looking man. His Black hair was salted with gray and his eyes were the color of a deep rich sherry. Roy almost plowed into his back.
The older man that had been with Liliana at the courts was practically dancing around him as he tried to explain what had happened. Twisting his sweating palms about as he fretted over being blamed for the girls injuries.
“Where is my daughter?” He barked in heavily accented English.
“Uh…Uh…,” John stammered a bit awkwardly for a moment. “She’s in...There,” he finished pointing over his shoulder.
The man started forward but Roy stepped up beside his partner. “The doctor is examining her,” he told the group as the two blocked the door.
Dixie quickly took in the scene and moved toward the gathering. “Thanks fellas…You can go,” she told them as she stepped over to take their place.
“You sure,” John mumbled. Dixie nodded her head and the pair started forward. For a brief moment he didn’t think they’d let them pass but finally the tall man stepped aside and the others parted to let them through.
“Are you Miss Taralovna’s father?” They heard Dixie ask as they moved to the base station.
A few minutes later the group passed them on their way to the waiting area as the portable X-Ray unit was trundled into the treatment room.
Roy grinned at Johnny, knowing Dixie had won another battle. John snorted with laughter as he poured two cups of coffee.
A moment later the attractive nurse and the gray haired doctor joined them. “I think Miss Taralovna will be fine guys,” Joe assured them as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “But I had a heck of a time getting her to tell me how she felt.”
“Well…Well why?” Johnny asked, looking a bit confused. “I know she’s from some foreign country but she spoke English real well.”
Joe grinned. “All she kept asking about was you.”
John blushed but a smug grin curled his lips.
“Wow John…She really musta taken a hard smack on her head,” Roy teased.
“Cute pally,” John shot back as the grin faded and he glared at his best friend for a moment.
Roy reached over and tousled the sable hair, knowing how irritated his young partner would be by the familiar gesture. Johnny didn’t disappoint. He swatted Roy’s hand away and smoothed the sable locks back into place.
“Quit,” he grumbled.
Dixie, Joe and Roy laughed at the surly pout on their young friends face.
“I guess we better get our supplies and head for the barn junior,” Roy finally said as he set his cup down.
“Yeah…Hey let us know how she is Dix,” he said as he set his own now empty mug next to his partners.
“I’ll tell her you were asking for her,” Dix promised as the two pulled the drawer behind the counter open to grab a bag of D5W to replace the one they’d used on the girl.
They cast a glance at the large group in the waiting room before turning to head up the corridor. The door to treatment room four opened and the X Ray machine was pushed out into the hall.
“See ya guys,” Dixie said as she and Joe Early brushed past them and returned to the girl’s side.
“Come on junior…Let’s go home.”
John nodded and the two left.
Dixie stood beside Liliana as Joe studied the X-Rays a short time later. The crystal blue eyes turned toward the pretty blonde nurse. “Do you know this para…medic well?” She questioned the woman.
Dixie smiled. “I know Johnny very well…He’s an exceptional man,” she added, figuring the girl was going to be fishing for information.
“Johnny…It’s a nice name. He’s very handsome.”
“Yes he is,” Dixie agreed. She frowned a bit…She knew John had Aspergers as well and that he had serious problems with relationships. Should she encourage the girl to pursue what might never be anything serious for him or warn her off? “But Johnny can be a little shy in committing to relationships,” she said tactfully.
“Perhaps he just hasn’t met the right woman or found the right incentive,” she suggested.
“I guess that’s possible,” Dixie agreed with a smile as she patted the girl’s hand. “He did ask me to keep him informed about you,” he teased.
“He did?” She questioned. Dix nodded. “He is still here?” She asked hopefully.
“No…He had to go to back to the station.”
“John is a fire fighter.”
“Your fire fighters take care of injured people?” She asked, looking perplexed. Maybe she’d misunderstood his job.
Dixie smiled. “Yes…John is a fire fighter paramedic. He’s trained to administer medical assistance on the scene.”
A look of wonder crossed her features. “What a wonderful idea,” she murmured. She’d have to look into this in her own country when she returned.
Joe Early came to join them. “Good news Miss Taralovna,” he said gently while his right index finger rubbed his left palm as if he were nervous. “Your ankle isn’t broken and there is no sign of a skull fracture. I’d say it’s a moderate concussion.”
“Then I can go home?” She asked.
“I’d like to keep you overnight for observation. Its standard practice with a head injury,” he replied.
She nodded. Well it wouldn’t exactly be the accommodations she was used to certainly but it might be quite an experience besides, it might mean she would have an opportunity to see John again.
“Alright,” she agreed. “If you can convince my father,” she added drily.
Joe frowned. “You’re twenty one aren’t you?” He questioned.
“Yes…But he’s still in control…He is also my ruler,” she added with a grin.
Dixie and Joe exchanged a glance. What did that mean exactly?
Liliana saw the perplexed looks and filled in the blanks. “My father is King Alexi Taralovna of Kharkiv…I am Princess Liliana Taralovna.”
Dixie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Joe’s eyes widened but he only nodded. “I see…Well…I’ll go speak to him then.”
Joe walked into the waiting room. A rather distinguished looking man stood at his approach. Four other large men and another older man gathered close about him. A pretty blonde woman stood apart from them but was still obviously waiting on word of the princess.
“I’m Dr. Early…Which of you is Miss Taralovna’s father?” He questioned not wanting to discuss her condition with the others.
“I am King Alexi,” he answered waving the others off.
“Your daughter is going to be fine,” he began reassuringly. “She has a bad sprain of her right ankle and a moderate concussion.”
“I can take her home?” He questioned.
“We’d like to keep her overnight.”
“If she is not hurt badly…,” he began to argue.
“Any head injury can be dangerous and sometimes the symptoms don’t appear right away. It’s standard to keep them under observation and conduct neuro checks throughout the night.”
The man nodded his head. “Then I shall leave her guard outside her door.”
Joe frowned a bit at that. “As long as they don’t interfere with our personnel doing their jobs, I don’t see that as a problem,” he finally agreed.
“They will not interfere.”
“Good. Then why don’t I take you in to see your daughter,” he offered.
The man nodded. He spoke briefly to the others and they sat down though the four body guards looked decidedly unhappy at this turn of events.
So did Nicolai…He’d rather be at Liliana’s side than left out here with the hired help and the American girl Natasha, who continued to throw smirking glances in his direction. Soon…Soon he and King Alexi would convince the girl that he’d make her the perfect husband and then…The willful young woman would be brought to heel…He’d see to that.
“So what was it all about?” Chet asked as the two paramedics entered the day room.
The others were just sitting down to an early lunch and Roy and Johnny quickly joined them…Hoping to eat before they got called out once again.
“What was what about?” Johnny asked looking perplexed.
“The call ya dummy,” Chet replied, looking exasperated. “What was the call about?”
Roy frowned pointedly at the Irishman. He really hated it when the lineman insulted John’s intelligence that way. He’d been put down by his mother’s family for most of his life and he didn’t like to see those insecurities raised with Chet’s casual insults but he couldn’t explain it without telling them of John’s abusive past which he would never do. That was John’s decision and his alone to make if it ever became known.
“Oh,” Johnny mumbled as he flushed a bit at the crack. “A girl fell down the stairs at the Country Club,” he explained.
“Was she hurt bad?” Cap asked as he sipped his drink.
“Sprained ankle and a concussion…Nothing serious,” John replied before shoving a spoonful of Hank’s homemade clam chowder in his mouth. “But she wa weally cute,” he added around the mouthful of food.
Chet rolled his eyes in disgust at the young paramedic’s table manners and Roy grinned. It was the one thing John’s Aunt Rosemary had truly failed at teaching him. John simply didn’t see the harm in talking with his mouth full. Roy and his wife Joanne had simply learned to ignore it when Johnny ate with them and made sure their kids didn’t follow Uncle Johnny’s example.
“She was from some other country,” Roy added, “but she was real pretty and she spoke very good English.”
Marco threw a glance at his partner on the lines. Gage always seemed to have all the luck when it came to pretty women. They were drawn to him like a moth to a flame much to Chet’s disgust.
“How pretty are we talkin here?”
Johnny swallowed. “Beautiful…Black hair…Powder blue eyes. Slender…Ruby lips.”
Chet glared in disbelief and then laughed. “Sounds like he’s hooked on Snow White,” he joked.
John flushed at the other mans laughter. “Ah shut up Chet…You’re just jealous.”
“Of what…A cartoon character?”
“She was no cartoon,” Roy argued. “And John’s description of her is pretty right on. She was beautiful enough to be a princess.”
John shot his antagonist a ‘see there’ smirk and returned to his lunch.
“Bet she didn’t give you the time of day then huh Gage?”
“Actually…I think she kinda liked me,” he said smugly. “She held my hand all the way in.”
“Probably a bit scared,” Mike suggested. “You did say she was from some other country,” he added with a shrug.
John threw him a wounded look. “Thanks Mike.”
“Sorry John…I didn’t mean it that way…Just that you were a friendly face in a strange city.”
“Betcha didn’t get her phone number did ya?” Chet taunted.
“I was a little busy Chet besides…That would have been unprofessional,” he added indignantly.
The station control unit began to tone cutting of any further argument. “Station 51…Man trapped…”
The group quickly rose from the table and ran for the rigs.
Dixie straightened the blankets after the orderly’s had made the transfer from gurney to bed. She patted Liliana’s hand and smiled at the girl gently. “If there is anything you need Princess…Just let the nurses know and I’m sure we can get it for you,” she assured the girl.
“You can call me Liliana Miss McCall. Here I am not a princess…I am free to be just Liliana.”
Dix smiled. “Alright then Liliana…Is there anything I can get for you before I go?”
“You could get me Ivan’s number,” she teased with a grin.
Dixie looked confused. “Ivan?”
“Ooo…OH,” Dixie said, finally catching on. “If he comes in on another run would you like me to send him up here to see you?” She asked with a grin.
The girl frowned. She didn’t want to come off as being forward but she really wanted to see him again. “Only if he asks after me,” she said quietly. “I would not force my attentions on him.”
Dixie laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pretty woman have to force John Gage’s attention,” she assured her. The girl giggled. “Why don’t you get some rest and if Johnny comes in I’ll tell him you want to see him.”
“Thank you Miss McCall…”
“It’s Dixie and you’re welcome…You better tell your guard to let him in though, or Johnny could get hurt,” she teased.
“Send Dmitry in,” she said with a grin…I wouldn’t want that handsome face covered in bruises.”
Dixie turned and left and Liliana’s mind wandered to the dark haired paramedic. “Johnny,” she murmured. The door opened and Dmitry stuck his blonde head inside the room. She glanced up and said something in Russian. The big man didn’t look happy but he didn’t argue either, just nodded and let the door swing closed.
She let her mind return to her daydream of the handsome fireman. She closed her eyes and imagined herself in his arms on the dance floor…They moved on to a quiet walk in the garden and then that moment when he would take her in his arms and kiss her. She giggled in delight.
Her blue eyes snapped open. The party…Natasha’s family was having a huge party for them…She’d invite Ivan…Uh…John. She could hardly contain her excitement at the thought that her daydream could come true.
There was a knock on the door. “Come,” she called out.
She smiled dreamily when the object of her minds wanderings opened the door and stepped inside.
Johnny and Roy approached the base station where Dixie was standing and filling out paperwork. They’d just dropped off their latest victim. A man had tried to climb a high wrought iron fence and gotten hung up…Literally.
They’d pulled up behind the engine and climbed from the cab. They began to pull the equipment from the compartments and stepped up on the sidewalk to find a crowd gathered about a section of fencing.
There was a groaning whine of protest at the snickers and guffaws that were coming from the man. “Ah c’mon…Stop laughing and help me get down from here,” he moaned.
Even Hank and the two linemen were standing with hands on their hips and smiling at the man’s predicament. The victim had apparently climbed to the top and tried to swing his leg over the top. The pointed posts of the fencing had hooked through his belt and pierced a hole in the waistband of his jeans before coming to the crosspiece. He couldn’t slide to the bottom nor could he lift himself back up high enough to unhook his pants from the points and so he was left literally hanging.
John and Roy exchanged a grin of amusement before the professional paramedic in them took over once more. “Hey man” Johnny said quietly as he used the ladder to climb to the top of the fence. He made the transfer to a second ladder that Chet had put over the iron rail and climbed down. Roy quickly followed.
“Are ya hurt?” Johnny asked as he studied the hang up from several different angles.
“Yeah…That point is kinda jammed into my side…I think I’m bleeding a bit but…”
John glanced up. “But…?”
“Man…It’s giving me one hell of a wedgie,” he whispered, trying not to be heard by the laughing onlookers.
John fought the smile that was trying to break free. “Yeah,” he said sympathetically. “Yeah…I’ll just bet it is.”
“What do you think Johnny?” Roy asked from the other side.
“I think if we can lift him and get Chet and Marco to grab his shoulders we can pull him up enough to unhook his pants and then just drop him down to the ground.”
“Alright…Let’s give it a shot?” Roy agreed…Seeing no simpler way.
They set another ladder on the man’s other side. Kelly and Lopez climbed to the top and each gripped the man securely under his armpits. “Okay guys…On three,” Johnny said as he and Roy each grabbed hold of a leg.
“One, Two, Three,” Roy counted and then pushed up with all his strength while his partner did the same. Chet and Marco lifted and for a brief moment it seemed that the fence wasn’t going to willingly part with its captive but finally the point pulled free and he was clear.
The four men lowered him to the ground amid the rowdy cheers of the onlookers.
“Okay…Lets lay you down over here for a minute,” Johnny suggested moving him away from the unsympathetic crowd.
The man gratefully complied, letting them lead him away with a decidedly hitched gate as his undergarments were bunched up uncomfortably beneath his blue jeans.
He laid down and let the two paramedics look at the small puncture wound to the left of his stomach. Johnny set up the Biophone while Roy began to get the man’s vitals.
“Rampart base...This squad 51…How do you read me?”
“Squad 51 this is Rampart…Go ahead,” Kelly Brackett’s voice replied.
“Rampart…We have a male approximately thirty four…He’s been hung up on a fence post for about….?” He snapped his fingers at the man to get his attention. “How long were you up there?”
“About twenty minutes before you got here.”
“About twenty minutes Rampart…He has a small penetrating wound in his in the lower left quadrant of the torso but I don’t think it’s too deep. The rest of his injuries are minor bumps and scrapes. Vital signs are…” He glanced up at Roy to find him already waiting.
“BP 140/90…Respirations 18…Pulse is 80,” Roy answered before he reached for a bag of ringers.
“10-4 4 51…Start an IV with ringers lactate and transport.”
10-4 Rampart…Johnny replied.” IV with ringers and transport,” Johnny confirmed as Roy tossed him a grin.
Now fifteen minutes later they were with Dixie at the base station hoping to get a cup of coffee.
“Hey fellas,” she greeted her two favorite paramedics.
“Hey Dix,” Roy replied.
John sketched a small wave and glanced at the waiting room. “Expecting someone?” Dixie asked with a delicate arch to her eyebrow.
“Just noting that the Russian wrestling team seems to have gone home,” he said wryly remembering how easily one of them had literally thrown him away from the girl.
“Most of them anyway now that Liliana is in a room.”
“She’s still here?” Johnny asked, looking a bit surprised.
“Of course. She had a pretty nasty head injury remember? Joe wouldn’t just let her go home without the usual twenty four hour observation.”
“Well yeah it’s just that…Well…Those people all seemed super protective of her. I just figured they’d have taken her home.”
“Yeah…Like what is she? A prima ballerina or something?” Roy asked.
“A bit higher up on the totem pole than that,” Dixie teased.
Both men looked at her and frowned. “Huh?” Johnny asked brilliantly.
Dix giggled. “Our patient is none other than Princess Liliana Taralovna from Kharkiv. Her daddy is King Alexi Taralovna.”
“Princess…,” Johnny breathed out, remembering what the manager had said to him. He hadn’t meant it as an insult…He’d truly meant their victim was a princess. “That’s what he meant Roy,” he vocalized his musings.
“Yeah…The manager told us she was a princess but we thought he meant something…Well…completely different,” he admitted at her slightly perplexed look.
“I see,” she said with a look of understanding. Johnny looked a bit disappointed. “What is it Johnny?” She asked.
John jumped…Startled from his musings. He shrugged. “Nothin…I thought I’d go check on her when you said she was still here but…,” He gave her a lopsided grin. “I guess she’s sorta outta my league,” he mumbled.
“Just a bit junior,” Ro teased.
“Well as to that handsome,” Dixie began. “It just so happens that a certain beautiful princess would like you to drop by her room if you were interested in finding out how she’s doing.”
Johnny gave them a bright smile. “For real?” He asked excitedly.
Dixie nodded. “She’s in 214,” she told him pointing at the elevator with her pen.
Johnny clapped his partner off the back and snatched up the handy talkie. “Hey Roy…,” he began.
“I’ll wait for you down here Junior…,” he said resignedly. “Just don’t take all day.”
“I won’t,” he promised as he ran for the elevator.
Roy turned back to Dixie. “What did ya have to tell him for,” he almost moaned.
Dixie grinned. “She asked me too but only if he asked after her…”
“Which he did.” She nodded. “I just hope he doesn’t do anything to start an International incident,” Roy teased lightly. Chet and the rest would never hear the end of this.
Johnny stepped off the elevator and spotted one of the princess’ guards almost immediately. He was hard to miss. He swallowed back a lump of fear that he was about to find himself airborne once again and resolutely headed in the direction of Liliana’s room.
Dmitry gave him the once over but he’d already been warned by her highness that he was to be allowed in should he show up. He looked away and allowed John to knock tentatively on her door.
He heard her answering... “Come” before he pushed the door open and peeked inside. She was sitting up in bed, looking like any other twenty one year old…Certainly not like some regal princess.
“Uh…Hi Lili…Uh Miss Tara….Oh uh Princess…I mean…I mean your highness,” he stammered.
She giggled at the awkward greeting. “Liliana will do Ivan,” she teased as she waved him into the room.
John blew out a breath feeling like an idiot. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s alright…Happens all the time,” she teased.
John moved closer to her but maintained a respectful distance. “I uh…um…I just wanted to see…I mean check on you…To see if you were alright I mean.” He stuttered. He licked suddenly dry lips and had no idea of the effect it had on the young woman. He wished the ground would open up and swallow him. Why couldn’t he talk all of a sudden? He shouldn’t have come up here. He decided a hasty retreat might be in order. “Look…Uh…You’re okay so…I should probably go,” he said backing away.
Liliana sat up suddenly to try and stop him but her head spun dizzily and she moaned…Clapping her hands over her spinning head.
Johnny rushed to her side. “Are you okay? You can’t sit up so fast like that when you have a concussion alright? Here…Just lay back,” he instructed as the girl clung to his arm and pressed against his chest.
“I’m fine… right where I am,” she protested a little breathlessly.
John wrapped his arm around her and held her for a moment, thinking she was still dizzy and possibly fighting nausea. Liliana sighed blissfully.
After a moment her hand gently rubbed his arm and she slowly sat up and gazed into brown eyes that snatched her breath away. “Thank you Ivan.”
“Ivan?” Johnny questioned in confusion.
“John in my language,” she instructed him.
“Oh…I kinda like it,” he said with a grin.
“I kind of like this as well,” she teased as she continued to hold his arm to keep him close to her. John blushed and she finally took his hand and lay back, feeling a little shaky but unsure if it was caused by the head injury or the man’s nearness.
John smiled. “Well…I’m still on duty so I can’t stay long but I wanted to be sure you were alright,” he told her.
“I will be fine in time,” she assured him. “Ivan?” John looked at her questioningly. “My friend Natasha Spencer…She was the girl on the tennis court with me.”
“Yeah…I remember her.”
“We are staying with her family here for a few weeks. Her family is giving a party at her home in our honor.”
“That’s nice,” he said, wondering where this was going.
“I would like you to come.”
“ME?” He almost squeaked.
She giggled. “Yes you Ivan…And your partner if he’d like to come.”
“Oh…I…I dun know,” he mumbled. He remembered the pretentious party’s his aunt had always held in her home. He’d always tried to make himself scarce when THOSE people had showed up. He’d always felt out of place and stupid when he was around them.
“Please Ivan…I would love a friendly face that isn’t bowing and scraping because of who I am,” she pleaded.
John smiled…He completely understood that feeling.
“When is it?”
John ran the schedule in his head. They were off that night but they had to work the next day. He should be alright as long as he made an early night of it. “Alright Liliana…I’ll be there. I can’t promise for Roy…”
She reached over and snagged the notepad from next to her bed and handed it to him. “Write down your address please. I’ll make sure you receive an invitation…”
John nodded and quickly wrote his address down. “I wrote Roy’s down too…I’m sure his wife would love to see something like this.”
“Good…Then I will see you Friday night Ivan.”
John nodded and backed away. “See ya Friday,” he assured her. The handy talkie began to tone. “Squad 51…”
“Oops…That’s me…Gotta run.” He turned and yanked the door open throwing the girl a wink before he ran down the hall.
Liliana smiled. This would be a wonderful party…
“So junior...What did she say?” Roy asked with a grin.
John smirked back. “She wants us to come to a party her friends are having for her.”
“A party? Us? Me and you?”
“Yeah and uh… Joanne of course.”
“I don’t know junior….Royalty? That’s a little out of our league.”
John chewed his lip a bit anxiously. “Ah c’mon Roy…I don’t wanna go alone…Besides the people throwing it aren’t royalty…just friends of theirs.”
Roy sighed…He hated parties like this but he didn’t want to disappoint Johnny either and while he knew if it had been any other party, John would likely have turned his nose up at it as well…He knew he liked this girl and he didn’t want to spoil his chance to see her again even though Roy was pretty sure nothing would ever come of it. Johnny wasn’t ready for that and certainly not on the level of a princess. “Okay junior…I’ll see if Jo would like to go.”
John grinned. “Thanks pally,” he said sincerely, knowing his best friend was doing this just for him.
They pulled up in front of the station and backed into the bay. They climbed out and headed for the day room.
“How come you two always manage to get called out when there are dishes to do?” Chet grumbled from the table where he sat reading his newspaper.
“We lead a charmed life my friend,” Johnny quipped as he trotted to the coffeepot.“Want some partner?”
“So… did you see your little tennis player while you were there?”
“Sure did,” Johnny said smugly as he set the cup in front of his friend.
“Thanks,” Roy said politely as he picked it up and took a sip.
“And,” Chet prompted.
Marco and Mike sensed a Gage VS Kelly set too heating up and left the TV to come and join them at the table.
“She invited us to a party at the house of the people they’re staying with on Friday.”
“Wow…So who is this chick anyway and who’s house is she staying at?” Chet questioned the pair.
“I don’t know where yet…She asked for my address so she could get the invitation to us but as for who she is…,” Johnny said smugly. “Turns out our little tennis star is a princess.”
Marco and Mike exchanged a glance. Was Gage serious?
“And you’re such a glutton for punishment that you’d take some spoiled little girl out just cuz she’s cute? You must really enjoy being shot down Gage,” Chet taunted with a grin.
“No Chet….I don’t mean some spoiled chick…I mean a Princess as in a real one…You know… tiara’s and palaces and stuff like that.”
Chet’s blue eyes widened in surprise and shot to Roy for confirmation. The senior paramedic nodded looking a little smug that Johnny had caught the prankster lineman off guard and silenced him…At least for the moment.
“That’s right Chet. Johnny and I rescued Princess Liliana Taralovna of Kharkiv,” Roy told him over the rim of his coffee cup.
“And she was very grateful,” Johnny said with a smirk as he remembered the feel of the girl pressed against his chest. “So she invited us to this party…,” he grinned. “She calls me Ivan,” he informed them with a grin, pronouncing it ‘Eevawn’ as she had done.
“Wow…The princess and the pea brain,” Chet said wonderingly drawing a chuckle from the group except for Johnny who didn’t understand the reference. He frowned anyway at the insult but the look of confusion was clear. “I rest my case,” the mustachioed fire fighter guffawed.
Roy bristled at the taunt. “Alright Chet…You know Johnny didn’t grow up with all that stuff…,” he snapped angrily before turning to his young partner. “It’s another fairy tale junior…Like Cinderella…I’ll explain it to ya later.”
John remembered going to the movie with Roy and the kids. He also remembered that Roy had almost been killed in a car accident that day and John had been driving. The older paramedic saw the expressions that crossed John’s face. “Quit junior,” he said softly as he reached out to lightly touch John’s arm. “It wasn’t your fault.”
The others suddenly realized what Johnny was thinking about at the softly spoken words and grew serious. John nodded and gave Roy a crooked grin. “Thanks,” he said to his partner, grateful that he’d never held him responsible for the accident.
“Cinderella,” Chet murmured breaking the tension. “In reverse...Cinderfella…,” he blurted with a snide smirk.
“What?” Johnny questioned with a frown.
“Yeah…Yeah, poor little Johnny sits among the ashes until he meets his beautiful princess…”
John rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Oh shut up Chet.”
“And then he gets to go to the ball.”
“Maybe we’ll make you a pair of glass boots,” Marco teased.
“And take you there in a red crown coach,” Mike added with a grin.
“Alright you evil step brothers…Back off and leave Gage alone,” Hank said from the doorway where he’d been standing and listening for the last few minutes.
“Ah sure Cap,” Chet muttered as the others threw John a glance to be sure they hadn’t really upset him but John was smiling at their antics, having finally realized they were only playing with him.
Roy patted his arm. John had come a long way from the silent and withdrawn young man he’d been when they first met and he’d learned to be a part of this team and accept the familial teasing that went along with it. Roy also knew if push came to shove…Everyone of these men would stand shoulder to shoulder with Johnny to the end.
“Alright men…Let’s get to some drills.” The guys quickly gulped down the rest of their coffee and rose to their feet. “And Gage…,” Hank said with a grin.
“Yeah Cap,” he answered innocently.
“Be sure to be home by midnight okay?”
They all laughed.
The rest of the shift remained fairly quiet except for one call out in the early hours of the morning but Johnny wasn’t about to go upstairs and disturb Liliana at that hour of the morning. He guessed he’d just have to wait till Friday.
“Hey junior…You wanna come home for breakfast?” Roy offered as he finished zipping his jeans and slammed the door to his locker closed.
“Sure,” Johnny quickly agreed. John Gage was rarely known to turn down free food, especially Joanne DeSoto’s and then it was only if he was sick or stressed. Today he was neither.
Roy grinned. “Good…I may need reinforcements to talk her into going to this party.”
“I thought she’d be excited?”
Roy shook his head. “You know how much she hates all that glitter and posturing and stuff.”
John looked a bit worried at that. “I don’t wanna make you guys go if you really don’t want to,” he said quietly.
Roy saw the disappointed look on his partners face and quickly amended the statement. “Well don’t worry about it Johnny. You can sweet talk her in to it...I mean you always can.”
John grinned at that. Roy always assured him that he had Joanne DeSoto wrapped around his little finger but it was mutual. John would do anything for her as well.
They headed out to the parking lot throwing the others a final wave.
Joanne smiled when her ‘two’ men walked into the house together. She smiled at the young man accompanying her husband. She loved John Gage like a member of her own family and it never bothered her to see the tall dark haired man trailing in behind her husband even when it was a surprise.
She rose on tip toe to kiss her husband warmly before turning to Johnny to press a brief kiss on his lips as well. “Good morning honey…Morning sweetheart,” she greeted the pair.
“I invited him home for breakfast,” Roy informed her.
“Hope you don’t mind?” Johnny questioned with a small frown.
Jo grinned and gave him a snap of her dish towel on his belly. John jumped back with a gurgle of laughter at her teasing gesture. “When do I ever mind you being here John Gage?” She retorted.
Roy shook his head at their silly antics and headed for the dining room. Johnny put his arm around Joanne’s shoulders and the two trailed along behind.
Jo peeled off toward the kitchen while John slid into his usual seat at the table.
“A moment later Joanne reappeared with two cups of coffee...She set them on the table.
“Hey uh...Babe…?” Roy began a bit hesitantly.
She gave him a suspicious look at the tone. “Yes…?” She questioned cautiously.
“We uh…Had a really interesting rescue yesterday…”
Her blue eyes traveled from her husband to Johnny who was shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Alright you two…Spill it,” she said finally as her hands landed on her hips.
“Well…You see…Our victim turned out to be a real live Princess…,” Johnny blurted out brightly.
As opposed to a real dead one,” she questioned with an arched brow.
“Funny,” John shot back, “You been hangin out with Chet or somethin?” He questioned, looking irritated.
“Not hardly, but what about your Princess?” She teased with a smirk.
John realized she’d only been playing and grinned… “Well…She uh…She invited me…I mean us…I mean me and Roy and you of course,” he added as an afterthought. “To a party,” he stammered as he usually did when he was nervous.
“Oh honey,” she groaned at Roy. “You know I hate all that Hollywood glitz and stuff,” she protested… looking at her husband. John’s face fell a bit at that.
“I know babe but Johnny wants to go and he didn’t want to go alone.”
“It’s okay Jo…If you don’t want to go you don’t have too,” Johnny said quickly, not wanting to be the cause of an argument.
She looked into the dark eyes and saw the disappointment reflected there. She reached over and flicked her fingers through the sable bangs, sweeping them from his forehead as if he were her six year old son Chris.
“I guess I could make an exception this once,” she said, drawing a grateful smile from John. She kissed his forehead. “I’ll go make breakfast.” She turned and left.
John glanced at his partner and found him sitting with his elbow propped on the table with his chin resting on his fist as he stared at his young friend in disbelief.
“What?” Johnny asked curiously.
“Someday you have to tell me how you do that,” Roy said in disgust. “I’d have had to argue with her for days.”
John gave him a grin. “Gage charm,” he teased but the smile faded quickly. “But if she really doesn’t wanna go…,” He began hesitantly.
Roy held up his hand to stop the flow of words. “Just quit while you’re ahead Junior.”
Liliana smiled at Dixie as she pushed the door open and came inside. “Good morning Liliana,” she greeted.
“Good morning Dixie,” she replied.
“So how did it go with Johnny yesterday?” She asked with a grin.
“He is coming to my party,” she whispered conspiratorially.
Dixie laughed. “Good for you,” she answered giving the girl a hug.
“I saw that shyness you spoke of…He was all red faced and he could hardly talk,” she giggled.
Dixie smiled. She knew the reasons for John’s awkward stuttering but it wasn’t her place to share that. “John sometimes has trouble expressing his feelings…He stutters a bit when he’s nervous but…He’s a good man.”
Liliana nodded. The door opened and her father came in followed by Natasha. “Доброе утро,” he greeted gruffly, tossing a glance at the pretty blonde nurse.
“Good morning Father,” she returned. “This is Dixie McCall. She is a nurse here. She has been very kind to me.”
Alexi gave a brief half bow to acknowledge her presence. “My thanks for taking such good care of my daughter.”
“You’re very welcome,” Dixie replied before she turned to Liliana and squeezed her hand. “I guess I better go Liliana…It was a pleasure meeting you and uh,” she leaned closer to whisper. “Good luck with Johnny.”
The girl giggled. “Thank you,” she whispered back. Dixie threw the girl with Alexi a smile and left.
The tall dark man turned back to his daughter. “I brought Natasha to help you to dress. I will take you home when you are ready.”
“Thank you father,” she replied, wishing her father would sometimes be just her papa and not her sovereign even in private.
“I will wait for you outside,” he said as he turned on his heel and left the room.
Liliana sighed and looked at Natasha… “Sometimes I wish I was just an average person with an average father,” she moaned miserably.
Tasha grinned. “If wishes were stars,” she teased.
“I’d have a galaxy,” she sighed. The other nodded sagely. “I spoke to John Gage yesterday.”
“The handsome para-medic who helped me yesterday.”
Tasha grinned. “And…?” She questioned anxiously.
“He’s coming to your party…If it is alright with you.”
“Of course,” she agreed as she took hold of her friend’s hands and squeezed.
She pulled free and turned to grab the notepad from the bedside table. She pulled the top sheet free and handed it to her. “This is his address…Please see that he gets the invitation delivered to him and his partner.”
Tasha shoved it in her purse. “I will…Now…Let’s get you dressed before he sends the gorillas in to help you.”
The nurses wheeled her out to the car a few moments later. The girls carried on a quiet conversation for a few moments.
“So Liliana,” Natasha began glancing at her friends foot. “Will you be well enough to dance at the ball?” She teased.”I know every young man there will want to have a turn.”
The dark haired girl looked at her with a gleam in her eye. “I promise you Tasha…I will dance,” she assured her.
They both grinned but the smiles faded a moment later.
“Nicolai will be happy to hear that Liliana…He missed you last night,” her father informed her.
The pretty girl scowled. “I do not care a fig if Nicolai missed me father,” she retorted with a raised brow. “I cherished the peace I found at the hospital last night without his fawning presence.”
She had no intention of spending this party with anyone but John Gage.
Alexi sighed. “You need to learn to appreciate him Liliana. He’s a grand Duke and a good match for you.”
“I do not care if he is the Czar of all the Russia’s…I will not marry him.”
“You will need a strong man to stand at your side and guide you. We’ve discussed this before.”
“No father….A discussion entails two people. You did all the talking and none of the listening…That is not a discussion but a lecture,” she retorted as she crossed her arms over her chest defiantly.
Her father’s eyes narrowed angrily as he glanced at Natasha and the guards. He had no intention of having a fight and having his daughter flaunt her lack of respect for his authority over her in their face.
He’d deal with her willfulness in private but she would learn to be obedient. He fell silent but the angry furrowing of his brows warned his daughter that the fight wasn’t over.
She cast a glance at Natasha, remembering their conversation yesterday morning. Perhaps she’d have to find a way to stay in America if she wanted to avoid a marriage to a man who made her skin crawl at the mere thought of his touch.
The invitation arrived that afternoon and John grinned. He’d been concerned that Liliana would forget about it once she left the hospital…After all he was just a fireman and he knew nothing could ever come from this…She was out of his league but it still might be fun…just this once.
He swallowed hard as he read the card. ‘FORMAL BALL.’
Oh man…He’d better call Roy and Jo. They’d all need something special for this.
The next evening Johnny, Roy and Joanne stood outside the Spencer home. Jo looked down at the gown she’d worn to her sister’s wedding and shot a glare at Johnny. “How did I let you talk me into this?” She grumbled unhappily.
“What’s the matter Jo?” Johnny asked, looking genuinely perplexed.
“Most of these women are wearing gowns that cost more than my car,” she shot back.
John giggled and Roy gave him a glance and a shake of his blonde head. “She’s not joking junior,” he warned his partner before he turned to his wife. “You look beautiful honey. Don’t worry about it okay?”
Johnny smiled at his friends. “Jo…You’ll outclass most everyone here even if you can’t out dress them. I spent four years around people like this and hated every minute of it.”
Jo raised her brow skeptically. “Thank you baby but I think these people are a bit above our circle of friends.”
They knew John’s aunt was well off but they had no idea ‘how well off’ she was. Johnny wouldn’t talk about his youth most of the time and even the time with his aunt was rarely mentioned.
John remembered the people of this ‘class’ that had hovered around his aunt’s home. He’d despised their arrogance and their parties and endless chatter of finances and fashion. He’d always tried to escape to his room or the stables as quickly as possible.
“Well Roy’s right…You look just as beautiful as any other woman here so just relax. Dance, have a drink or two and a good dinner. Have fun,” he urged as they walked toward the line of people making their way indoors. They spotted a small cluster of photographers trying to take photos of the arriving guests but they were being frustrated by hired security guards. John grinned and smoothed the jacket of his rented tuxedo and straightened the tie. “Let’s go.”
The trio entered the house, joining the crowd in the receiving line. John’s eyes scanned over the group of people shaking hands and chatting politely. He recognized the pretty blonde who’d been with Liliana that day before moving on and settling on the beautiful girl a little further down the row.
She was smiling and shaking hands with a middle aged man and trying to avoid letting him clumsily kiss her hand while he was trying to secure a promise of a dance later.
Nicolai was standing next to her scowling in annoyance. He reached over and clapped his pudgy hand on the man’s shoulder while reaching out to offer his own hand, forcing the man to relinquish his hold and move on down the line. John almost giggled.
Liliana’s blue eyes continued to drift to the door as they had been ever since the first guests had begun to arrive. They stopped briefly on Roy and Joanne as she recognized the attractive blonde man before quickly craning her neck to see who was behind him.
Her smile blossomed as her gaze fell on Johnny. She was practically bouncing on her toes as he proceeded down the line behind his friends.
Natasha recognized them as well. “Welcome,” she said as she shook their hands warmly and introduced them to her parents. “Mother…Father…These are the two gentlemen who helped us on the tennis court the other day…Roy DeSoto and John Gage,” she said brightly.
Roy smiled and shook their hand. “My wife Joanne,” he added pulling Jo a bit closer. She smiled and offered her hand as well.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said quietly.
“These are my parents…Dr. James and Louise Spencer.”
“Thank you for having us,” Roy said. They nodded graciously before shaking hands with John. They moved down the line and Natasha turned to introduce them.
“His Highness… King Alexi Taralovna…Roy DeSoto and his wife Joanne…And John Gage.”
Jo looked a bit nervous but she held her hand out to him. She flushed as the man kissed her fingers gently and his eyes swept over the pretty auburn haired woman.
Roy’s face also turned crimson but not with embarrassment. He offered his hand to the man who reluctantly released Joanne’s fingers to greet the now annoyed blonde paramedic. Roy’s hackles rose even further at the snicker of laughter from his young partner behind him. Roy smiled tightly as he urged Joanne down the line to Liliana.
“This is Princess Liliana,” he said, trying to regain his temper. Joanne giggled at the look on her husband’s face… She really was going to enjoy herself tonight after all. She reached out to shake the girl’s hand.
“My pleasure Princess Liliana,” she said smiling…
“The pleasure is mine…Welcome Roy...Joanne and its Liliana please,” she replied graciously but her eyes continued to drift to the handsome, dark haired man behind them. “Your husband and John were very kind to me and I feel as if I know them, yes?”
“Alright Liliana,” she answered even as Roy leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“You can get to know her but stay clear of papa okay?”
Jo giggled and elbowed her husband in the ribs. “I already have two special men in my life…I don’t think I can handle three,” she teased. “Besides…You’re the only man for me remember?”
“From the moment we met,” Roy affirmed with a gentle smile.
“Alright you two move along,” John said in a stage whisper. They laughed and moved down the line to greet Nicolai.
It was all Jo could do not to wipe her hand on her dress after releasing his sweaty hand.
John stepped in front of Liliana. “Good evening Liliana,” he said softly holding out his hand.
“Good evening Ivan,” she replied almost breathlessly as he lifted her hand and gently kissed her knuckles, letting his mouth linger for a moment.
Roy and Jo stood grinning as they watched their young friend. “Where’d he learn that from?” Jo asked her husband with a giggle.
“Most likely Rosemary…”
“That little smoothie,” she jested even as Nicolai scowled angrily as he watched. He remembered very well the way she’d looked at the handsome young man on the tennis court that morning.
He’d put a stop to her flirtatious behavior once they were betrothed but for now he had to play the soft willed fool for her or she would never consider him and while her father wanted a strong man to stand at his daughters side he’d never tolerate someone with the cruel streak Nicolai hid so well. He planned to rule Kharkiv through Liliana one day once he’d broken her willfulness.
“Wait a moment,” Liliana whispered to John. She turned and laid her hand on her father’s arm. “I am getting a little thirsty father,” she said softly. “I’m going to show Roy and Joanne and their friend around and get something to drink.”
He nodded absently as he greeted the next person in line. “I can get you a drink,” Nicolai offered quickly as Liliana tucked her hand in the crook of John’s elbow.
“You stay Nicolai…Father may need a servant close by,” she said flippantly as she let John lead her away. She noted the way Roy and Joanne frowned at the statement and smiled. “I’m sorry…My father favors him as a suitor for my hand.”
They looked shocked. “Oh I see,” Jo mumbled understandingly. She certainly wouldn’t want to be with a man that much older than herself.
They headed off to the ballroom where tables had been set up for buffet style hors d'oeuvres and champagne before dinner.
Soon they were joined by a number of other guests. Music began to play and the party started as King Alexi and the Spencer’s left the door and entered the ballroom. Liliana clung tightly to John’s arm, politely refusing offers to dance and scowling at several women who’d attempted to engage the dark haired paramedic in conversation.
“She’s not exactly subtle is she?” Jo mumbled teasingly to Roy.
He laughed and shook his head before he gave her a brief bow. “Would my lady like to dance?” He asked formally.
She set her plate aside and took his arm. “I thought you’d never ask my prince,” she jested lightly as he led her out on the dance floor.
Liliana spotted Nicolai heading toward her and turned to John. “Dance with me?” She asked softly.
“Sure,” Johnny said as he set his loaded plate aside and offered the girl his arm. He led her out to the dance floor and took her in a formal waltz hold.
Jo poked Roy’s arm and jerked her head toward the couple. “You know honey…That young man never ceases to amaze me…” Roy grinned. “He’s so unsophisticated about some things…And then POW! Out of the blue, he comes off like Prince charming.”
“I know…There’s so much more to Johnny than we know and I WANT to find out but I hate to push him for details of his past…It just upsets him but …He sure keeps me on my toes… that’s for sure,” he replied, his blue eyes watching his young partner.
Jo grinned up at him. “Well, stay off of mine,” she teased him as he spun her around the floor.
Liliana danced with John several times…Making small talk and getting to know one another before the line of men began to form…Each one waiting for a turn around the dance floor with the beautiful princess. Nicolai was at the front.
She’ sighed forlornly as she gazed up at him. “I do not like this Ivan but I must dance with these men at least once.”
John nodded and stepped back. He gave a small bow and kissed her fingers once again. “I’ll go get something to drink.”
“Do not go far Ivan…”She commanded softly as she glanced at the French doors that led to the garden. “I will dance with some of them before I beg for a breath of fresh air…Meet me in the garden?” She asked as her blue eyes gazed up into his face.
“Alright,” He agreed as he led her to Nicolai. He threw her a wink and wandered over to the buffet where Roy was retrieving two glasses of Champaign for Jo and himself.
“Hey junior…,” he greeted his friend with a smile.
“Hi Roy,” he replied as his dark eyes watched the older man lead Liliana around the floor while she was constantly stepping back when he tried to hold her too close.
“Making any headway with her?” He teased the younger man as they stood close together.
“She wants to meet me in the garden later,” he whispered conspiratorially.
This could be a problem. “Oh oh…Try not to get into any trouble huh junior?” Roy pleaded, knowing the King of Kharkiv would probably not be thrilled with a paramedic for a possible son in law no matter who Johnny was related too.
John grinned. “You got your own problems to worry about pally,” he shot back with a nod of his head toward where King Alexi was reaching out take Joanne by the hand and lead her out on the dance floor.
Jo halfheartedly protested but didn’t want to offend the guest of honor. She shot a pleading look toward her husband, hoping he wouldn’t start something over this and finally allowed the handsome, dark haired man lead her to the floor.
He took her in his arms and began to dance. Roy’s eyes widened briefly and then narrowed angrily. “He’d better watch where he puts those hands or I’ll give him a royal sock in the mouth,” he muttered. John laughed.
The two friends watched from the sidelines as the two women they’d come to be with were swept about the floor in the arms of other men. Roy’s face grew dark as his wife smiled up into the face of the handsome man.
Johnny felt more than saw his partner stiffen as the man pulled Jo a bit closer. “That’s it,” he muttered.
John put his hand on his chest. “Just wait here…I’ll take care of this,” he pleaded, hoping to stop Roy from clouting the guy. John wound his way through the dancers and tapped the older man on his shoulder. “Please excuse me your highness…Could I cut in?”
Alexi scowled but politely stepped aside and allowed John to sweep Joanne into his arms and dance away.
Jo frowned up at Johnny. “What did you do that for?” She asked.
John nodded toward the sidelines where Roy was standing and practically snapping the stem of the champagne flute in his hand. “I didn’t want your husband starting an international incident,” he teased.
Jo giggled. “Perhaps you should dance me over there before he explodes.”
John nodded and led Joanne to Roy’s side. She took his hand and smiled. “What’s wrong honey?” She asked with a grin.
“Nothing,” he mumbled unhappily.
“You were jealous,” she teased.
“No I wasn’t,” he protested, looking a bit embarrassed.
“Yes you were but you don’t have to be Roy DeSoto,” she breathed out, standing on her toes to kiss him gently. Roy grinned as he took her in arms. “I told him all about you,” she teased. Roy chuckled at that.
John grinned and edged away. He’d been on the receiving end of Roy’s jealousy once before and had no intention of sticking around for a replay even if it wasn’t aimed at him this time besides…He had a rendezvous of his own to get to.
He headed toward the doors to the garden, catching Liliana’s eye as she danced by with yet another hopeful gentlemen. He glanced toward the door and smiled. He nodded a greeting to the large stern faced guard standing beside it and disappeared into the darkness.
It only took Liliana a moment to smile up into the face of the young man who held her in his arms. “I’m so sorry Richard…I’m suddenly very warm. I need a bit of fresh air. Could you excuse me?”
“I could walk with you your highness,” he offered brightly.
Liliana sighed. “Thank you but no…I prefer to have a moment to myself,” she deferred demurely.
“Oh,” he mumbled, looking disappointed. She left the dance floor and headed toward the door.
She stopped next to the guard. “I stepping out for some air Valery…See to it I am not disturbed.”
The man nodded. He’d been guarding the Princess since the day she was born. He knew her father’s intent to marry her off to that idiot Nicolai and he disagreed. Liliana was beautiful, intelligent, strong and incredibly willful. She’d make a wonderful ruler one day but Nicolai would destroy her heart and her soul but his opinion unfortunately wasn’t asked for.
He remembered the handsome young man who’d preceded her into the garden and smiled. He’d be sure they were left alone.
Liliana stepped out on the patio and stood for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She spotted Johnny standing near the small walkway that led to the gardens and headed toward him.
He heard the soft swish of silk and the delicate click of her heels on the paving stones and turned toward her. He smiled at the vision she presented. The moonlight glittered off the diamonds of her tiara…The white and lavender silk ball gown swirled around her ankles and her eyes gleamed in the starlight.
“You’re stunning,” he said softly.
“Thank you Ivan,” she murmured with a gentle smile as she took his arm and let him lead her down the path. “So I saw my father with your friend’s wife.”
John grinned. “I thought I better break it up before Roy decided to take a swing at him.”
She giggled. “You are very close with your friends yes?” She questioned.
John looked a bit surprised that she’d picked up on their relationship that easily. “Does it show that much?” He asked curiously.
She nodded. “He stands close to you always. He sometimes watches you as he does a parent with a child.”
John’s face flushed scarlet but he grinned. “Yes he does…Sometimes he gets a bit overprotective though,” he added ruefully.
She smiled. “There is no such thing…There is nothing wrong with someone watching over those they love and feel the need to protect,” she corrected. “I think it is admirable that he is not afraid to show how he feels about you.”
“Well he usually hides it better…At least in public,” he teased drily. She giggled. “But yeah…We’re partners and best friends. We watch out for each other…He calls me his kid brother sometimes,” John added with a grin. “He and his family are pretty much all I have except for my aunt.”
“Where are your parents?”
“They’re dead…They died when I was a child,” he explained simply.
“I’m sorry…My mother is also dead…So that is something we have in common yes?” She asked gazing up at him. John nodded. “It is good that you have found a new family.”
“Yes,” John agreed.
“What about you? You said that guy…Nicolai…Your father wants you to marry him?”
“Yes,” she mumbled looking disgusted. “But that will never happen.”
“Well I hope not…The guys old enough to be your grandfather,” he teased.
“I noticed yes,” she laughed. She halted and looked up at him. “I have considered staying here in America if I have to. I will not be forced to marry that…That swine,” she finished vehemently.
“You’d give up being a Princess?”
She nodded… “I will marry for love only,” she insisted looking up into his dark eyes.
John’s gaze locked with hers and she reached up to gently stroke his cheek. “Would you kiss me Vanya?”
“Vanya?” He questioned curiously as he gathered the girl in his arms.
“Ah…It is a pet name such as Johnny as your friend called you.”
“Oh…I like it,” he leaned down to kiss her softly…His lips caressed hers gently before letting the kiss deepen.
He pulled back and gazed into her crystal blue eyes. Her breath caught and held at the seductive dark orbs that held her own. “You make me dizzy,” she murmured.
“That’s probably left over from your concussion,” he teased as he swept the dark hair back from the bruise that was still barely visible beneath her makeup. She smiled up at him and let her hand circle his neck...Pulling him back down to kiss him again.
They were both lost in the moment and neither of them noticed the flash of light from close to the garden wall.
John pulled back and took her hand. “Lily…,” he began.
She grinned. “Lily…?”
“A perfect delicate flower,” he teased. “Can I see you again? I mean…I know you’re a princess and I’m just a fireman but I’d like to show you around a bit…Just the two of us without all of this,” he waved his hand at all the diamonds that draped her neck and nodded toward the house where all the fan fare was still taking place.
“I would like that Vanya,” she agreed softly. “Give me your number so I can call you and make arrangements to meet you somewhere.”
John frowned. “What about your father and Nicolai?”
“I am not afraid of Nicolai but my father…Well…He would definitely not approve but I do not care Vanya. I will see you again.”
John grinned as he remembered Roy’s words. ‘Try not to get into trouble Junior.’ Well…It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he hadn’t listened to good advice from his best friend.
John leaned down to kiss her again and neither noticed the flash that once again lit the darkness but John pulled back as his well trained senses heard the rustle of the bushes by the wall. “Is someone there?” He called out, figuring it was probably just another couple enjoying a moonlight tryst.
No one answered but there was a distinct sound of rustling branches and then silence reigned once more. John shrugged it off. “C’mon…I better take you back before they send someone to look for you.”
She reluctantly nodded and allowed him to lead her back to the house. She sighed, knowing the moment she entered the room she would lose her alone time with Vanya but she had no option…She was just grateful that he’d asked to see her again later. She knew she was seriously falling for the handsome paramedic and hoped that he’d feel the same way about her.
They stepped through the door and Valery gave the girl a quick once over to be sure nothing was amiss and smiled to himself at the way the girl clung to the arm of the young man at her side.
The smile slowly faded as he thought of his sovereign’s reaction to the idea that his daughter was falling for a commoner and an American one at that. He’d never allow it but he also knew Liliana enough to know that that wouldn’t slow the girl down one bit. She’d have her way ‘come Hell or high water.’
They arrived back inside just in time for dinner to be announced and the other couples began leaving the dance floor to make their way into the huge dining room.
Lily saw Nicolai approach and quickly whispered. “Do not leave my side Vanya.”
John saw the over eager suitor as well and nodded his head. “Alright.”
The man drew closer. “May I escort you in to dinner?” He said as if John were invisible.
She shook her head. “I already have an escort Nicolai…,” she replied shortly, annoyed by his arrogance toward John. “Please excuse us.” She allowed John to sweep her past the man and lead her in to dinner. He held the chair for her before moving to join Roy and Joanne a bit further down the table.
Jo’s eyes were huge and even Roy looked amazed at the table that seemed to stretch on forever.
John had to admit…This was even bigger than his aunts and hers had been pretentious enough.
Dinner was served and soft conversations began. Johnny ate with his best table manners which brought a smirk to Roy’s face and a giggle from Jo. “Why don’t you do that at all the time?” She whispered to her young friend.
John grinned with his crooked quirk. “I can just be me at home,” he replied with a shrug.
Jo smiled tenderly back at him…Glad her young friend thought of their house as his home. She guessed she could live with a few bad table manners…It was a fair trade for Johnny’s presence in their lives.
John felt eyes on him and glanced at Liliana. The girl was watching him even as she carried on a conversation with a man on her left. John’s gaze flicked to Nicolai as he sat across from the girl. The cold look in the man’s gray eyes gave him a chill. He got the distinct feeling the man wasn’t as harmless as he appeared. John had seen that look before in the eyes of his uncles. He should warn Lily not to underestimate him.
His dark eyes returned to the girl and she smiled. He grinned back.
After dinner the guests returned to the dance floor. Much to their disappointment the line of men both old and young was waiting for their turn with the princess. Johnny did have the privilege of having the first dance before the girl was swept away by the crowd.
He sighed as he joined Roy and Joanne by the doors where Jo was sipping a glass of champagne.
King Alexi’s sherry colored eyes returned several times to the pretty auburn haired woman standing across the room. He found her very attractive, but was disappointed that the woman seemed to be very much in love with the blonde man at her side.
These Americans were a strange people. He couldn’t understand why the woman disparaged the attentions of a King in favor of a simple fireman even if she was married to him.
His eyes traveled to the dark haired man next to him. He’d noted his attentiveness to his daughter and her interest in him as well but he wasn’t worried. Liliana might be resistant to the idea of marrying Nicolai but she would come around and do as she was told one way or another. She would never disgrace herself with the man…Her love for her home and her people would be stronger than anything she could feel for that nobody para- whatever he was.
He saw the two men walk to the dessert table and decided to ask Joanne to dance one final time. He walked around the edge of the dance floor and approached the pretty woman.
“Will you join me Joanne?” He asked holding out his hand.
“Uh…Um…My husband,” she glanced around to where Roy was standing but his back was to her. No rescue there. She was definitely feeling the effects of the champagne but couldn’t find a polite way to refuse. She sighed and set her glass down. “Alright,” she agreed simply.
He led her out on the dance floor and took her in his arms.
“What looks good junior?” Roy asked as the two scanned the desserts placed on the table.
John’s dark eyes swept over the offerings. “I don’t even know what some of it is,” he whispered to his friend. Roy chuckled. John glanced over to where Joanne had been standing and noted that his friend was now missing. He quickly spotted her on the dance floor and thumped Roy on the elbow. “I know what King Alexi wants for dessert,” he mumbled with a smirk.
Roy turned around and followed his gaze. The blue eyes narrowed angrily as the handsome man held Jo close. He knew he shouldn’t be jealous…Joanne would never betray him and she’d made it clear when he’d misunderstood her conversation with Johnny and had mistakenly thought they were having an affair that she wouldn’t tolerate his lack of faith in her but still…It was hard for the blonde paramedic to watch another man hold his wife.
“I think it’s getting late Junior…It may be time to head for home,” he growled.
Johnny giggled at his partner’s angry scowl. “I’ll go sneak in a last dance with Lily,” he said with a grin. “I need to give her my number.” Roy nodded tightly.
Johnny wended his way across the dance floor and tapped the girl’s current partner on the shoulder. “Excuse me…I just need a moment.”
The man glared but reluctantly released the girl and stepped aside. John took her in his arms and began to move in rhythm with the music. “Did you want to talk to me Ivan?”
He nodded. “We gotta work tomorrow...My partner wants to go home.” He handed her a slip of paper. “That’s my phone number and the one at the station. Call me when you have time and we’ll figure out when we can meet.”
She nodded and tucked the number up her sleeve. “I will call you…I want to see you again.”
“I uh…I’d like to see you too.” The look he gave her told her he wanted to do more than see her and she smiled up at him.
“I would love for you to kiss me right now,” she whispered as her fingers lightly touched his mouth.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he said with a grin.
“No,” she breathed out in disappointment. “When we are alone.”
He nodded. “Good night Lily.”
“Good night Vanya.” John kissed her fingers and led her to the next man waiting for her attention.
Roy walked out to where his wife was dancing with Alexi and touched the man’s shoulder. “My wife and I are leaving your highness,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” he added politely but the handsome, dark haired man knew from the look he was giving him that that wasn’t true.
“The pleasure was mine,” he said but his eyes were on Jo.
Joanne almost laughed at the look on her husband’s face but she allowed him to lead her from the floor and over to the door where Johnny was waiting.
The parking attendant brought the car around and Roy held the door open for his wife and she climbed in., still giggling like a schoolgirl. He glanced at his watch before slipping into the driver’s seat. “Well junior…You may make it home before midnight,” he teased.
“You better hurry before your Porsche turns into a pumpkin,” Johnny shot back.
John bounded into the locker room the next morning. Roy had arrived just moments before and was in the process of changing when his partner arrived. The younger man tossed him a grin.
“Morning Junior,” Roy said smiling back. “You’re in early this morning. I kinda expected you to roll in under the wire.”
“No man…All that dancing made me tired,” he teased. “I went right off to sleep,” he added, stripping his shirt off.
“Humph,” Roy grunted. “Jo did too. All that champagne got to her.”
“And all that exercise trying to keep King Alexi’s hands from wandering,” Johnny retorted laughing.
“Trust me junior...I’ll make her forget him as soon as she’s sober enough to appreciate it,” he replied waggling his blonde eyebrows suggestively. “She had one whopper of a headache this morning.”
Johnny threw him a lopsided grin and a chuckle at that. The two were still laughing as Marco and Mike arrived.
“Morning guys,” Mike greeted as he popped open his locker and began to undress. He looked at Johnny in surprise that he was already in and half changed for his shift.
“Morning Mike,” the two replied almost in unison.
“So did you two have a good time last night?” Marco asked curiously.
John opened his mouth to reply but a snide remark from Chet interrupted. “I’ll say he did,” he said snapping the paper open and holding the page up for all of them to see. “The Princess and the Pauper Paramedic,” he said with a smirk.
Continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 02/07/13
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