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The front page showed a quarter of a page photo of Princess Liliana Taralovna in the arms of none other than John Gage. Their mouths locked together in what was obviously a passionate embrace.
‘Who is the Mystery Man’ the headline read.
John’s eyes widened in shocked surprise and the color drained from his face as he read the headline. “OH man,” he muttered as he snatched the paper from Chet’s hands to read the story below the photo. The dark eyes scanned the story. “Oh no,” he moaned.
“What is it Johnny?” Roy asked worriedly.
“They’re offering a reward for any information on the man in the photo kissing the Princess,” he breathed out nervously. “They give a number to call if someone knows who it is.”
“I wonder how much it’s worth to them,” Chet questioned musingly.
“Chet…,” John began threateningly.
“What’s going on?” Hank asked from the doorway.
“Uh…Nothin Cap,” John mumbled.
“Gage made the papers Cap,” Chet crowed gleefully, ignoring John’s look of betrayal and Roy’s scowl. Kelly handed the paper to his captain.
Hank’s eyes widened in surprise as he scanned the paper. “Pal…?” He questioned as his brown eyes lifted to look at John.
“Sorry Cap...I uh…I thought we were alone. I didn’t know there was a photographer around.”
Hank frowned. “You do know that it’s only a matter of time before someone recognizes you and calls it in?”
Johnny looked horrified as his dark eyes flew to Chet in concern that the Irishman would sell him out.
“Oh don’t worry John…None of our crew would ever do a thing like that…RIGHT GUYS?” Hank asked. The warning tone was clear.
“Uh…No way Cap,” Chet muttered nervously.
“I won’t Cap,” Mike promised as well.
“Me either,” Marco assured his superior.
Hank handed the paper back to Chet before rubbing his hands together. “Well…That’s six people who won’t spill the beans. Now all we have to do is figure out how to keep the other seven hundred firemen police, doctors, nurses and paramedics that know you from calling and we’ll be all set pal,” he said sarcastically.
The others chuckled at Cap’s comment but John looked a bit sheepish. “I…I’m really sorry Cap.”
“I know pal but you do realize that the moment they find out who you are…?” He let the sentence hang. John’s face paled.
“They’ll be all over you,” Roy warned worriedly.
“Oh man,” John muttered.
“The department may not appreciate that too much pal.”
“I know,” John murmured apprehensively.
Chet lost his smirk. He wouldn’t seriously want John to get into trouble.
“Well let’s just hope no one recognizes you,” Mike said hopefully.
“Yeah…It’s not a real good photo,” Marco added.
“Yeah…I mean with your face stuck to hers like that,” Chet said with a smirk.
“Well he could have been a bit more tactful,” Roy said drily, “But it is true. Your face isn’t clear.”
“And we only recognized you cuz we knew you were there,” Cap pointed out.
“Man I hope so,” John breathed out worriedly.
“Well there’s no point in getting all wrapped around the axle over it,” Cap said philosophically. “At least until something happens,” he added.
“And with Gage involved…That’s only a matter of time,” Chet said snidely.
“SHUT UP CHET,” rang out from five voices.
“Let’s get to roll call gentlemen,” Cap suggested, shooting a glare at his Irish lineman.
They all headed for the apparatus bay.
Johnny and Roy’s first run of the day found them dropping off an accident victim before stopping at the base station for a cup of coffee.
They were discussing the run and neither noticed the alternately jealous or giggly smirks being thrown at them as they walked.
Dixie glanced up from her paperwork as they approached. “Well hi fellas,” she greeted with a broad smile.
“Hey Dix,” John replied, oblivious to the teasing looks being tossed his way.
Roy gave her a suspicious frown at the mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes. “What’s up?” He questioned warily.
“Well…I thought Johnny could tell me,” she teased, reaching for the LA Times lying on the counter next to her.
John’s smile of greeting dropped away and he groaned as she snapped the paper open.
“Oh no,” Roy muttered.
“I take it from your reaction that you’ve already seen this?” She questioned with a smug grin.
John nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. We were hoping no one would recognize me,” he mumbled.
Dixie leaned over to cup his face in both hands. “Like I wouldn’t recognize this handsome face,” she cooed teasingly.
Johnny blushed as Roy chuckled in amusement. John threw him an un-amused scowl. His smile slowly faded and Roy coughed into his hand guiltily. “Sorry junior,” he mumbled,
“Let’s hope no one else does,” he replied sourly, turning his attention back to Dixie.
She smiled back. “The whole hospital has seen it,” she informed him.
John’s dark eyes widened in alarm…“Oh man,” he murmured unhappily as he glanced around and for the first time noticed the giggly group of nurses throwing smug looks his way.
Roy groaned too. “It’s only a matter of time junior,” he warned.
“I know,” he whispered forlornly.
“For what?” Dixie asked.
“Till someone calls the paper and gives them my name,” Johnny answered quietly. “They’re offering a reward,” he confided to his friend.
“I know,” Dixie replied with a smile. “But Kel already made it clear what will happen if ANYONE from here calls the paper…” She let the sentence hang.
John grinned broadly in relief. “Thanks Dix,” he said softly.
“Tell Doc thanks too would ya?” Roy added, slapping Johnny on the back. “Come on junior…Let’s get back to the barn.”
The two of them sketched a wave and headed for the exit. Dixie watched them leave with a grin.
Roy slid into the cab beside his partner and glanced toward him. Johnny looked back. “What?” He asked warily.
“You need to be careful junior…You don’t need to start an international incident.”
John scowled in annoyance. “It was just a kiss,” he argued, hoping he was right.
Liliana was in that in between stage of being awake and considering just allowing herself to drift back off to sleep. She’d been dreaming of a pair of bottomless brown eyes and a quirky crooked grin and hated to lose the feeling.
The decision was taken from her as someone pounded on her door, startling her completely awake. She threw back the covers and climbed from the bed. She shrugged into her robe and belted it around her before she went to open the door.
She was surprised as an angry Nicolai Rusayev shoved past her and into the room before he spun to face her. “Is it not bad enough that you make a fool of me in public that you felt you needed to make one of yourself as well,” he barked as he whipped the newspaper out to almost shove it in her face.
Lily’s mouth dropped open in shock at the disrespectful tone the man used with her. She disregarded the paper and slammed her hands on her hips. “How dare you take that tone with me,” she growled angrily.
“How dare I? You throw yourself into the arms of some poor American nobody and humiliate your future husband and think I have no right to be angry,” he barked, shaking the paper at her.
“You are NOT my future husband Nicolai and you never will be,” she snarled as she snatched the paper from his hands. Her mouth snapped shut as the crystal blue eyes took in the photo in the paper. “Oooh,” she murmured and then a grin turned the corners of her mouth. “Is this all that’s bothering you?” She giggled.
“ALL..,” he bellowed in a rage. He gripped her by the arms and shook her angrily. Liliana’s head rocked dangerously on her shoulders. “Did you make a whore of yourself with this man?”
Lily’s hand flashed and cracked the older man across the face. “Take your hands from me,” she demanded but anything further was snatched away along with her breath as the brutal streak the man had kept hidden rose up.
He hurled the girl away from him. Liliana stumbled and barely managed to catch hold of the bedpost and right herself before she crashed to the ground. A look of fear entered her eyes as the man approached her.
His hand drew back into a fist to deliver a vicious blow but another large hand wrapped around his wrist and yanked him backwards. Nicolai quailed in fright at the sight of Valery Putyatin.
“You dare raise your hand to the Princess,” he snarled.
Nicolai suddenly had a vision of those huge hands choking the life out of him and tamped down his anger.
“I…I…I am sorry,” he muttered. “I lost my temper Valery.”
Any further comment was cut off by King Alexi’s arrival. The Spencer family was not far behind.
“What is happening here?” Alexi barked at the couple.
Nicolai’s face paled as he realized that his temper might well have cost him not only his chance with Liliana but his title and his freedom as well for manhandling the princess.
“He barged into my room and attacked me father,” Liliana explained, showing her father the bruises already forming on her delicate skin.
Alexi’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What is the meaning of this Nicolai?” He growled angrily.
“I uh…I regret my…Uh…My outburst your Highness,” he stammered, swallowing nervously. “I um…I saw this picture and I…I was humiliated that my future bride…,” he trailed off lamely as he handed the paper to Alexi.
“I’m not your future bride,” she snapped angrily but her face was paling with anxiety as her crystal blue eyes watched her father’s face set in lines of shock as he looked at the photo.
“What is this Liliana?”He asked, his voice a low growl that warned his daughter of just how angry her father was.
“It was nothing father…A simple kiss.”
“You allowed this man to take you unescorted into the garden and kiss you in front of a camera…A commoner Liliana?”
“We didn’t know there was anyone else there father,” she explained.
“Nevertheless,” he said crushing the paper in his hands. “You have embarrassed me…Our country and Nicolai,” he snapped, tossing the offending paper to the floor.
Liliana looked at the floor a bit sheepishly. “I am truly sorry for embarrassing you and our country father but Nicolai has no bearing on this,” she argued, shooting a glare at the older man.
“He does Liliana and now more than ever.”
“What do you mean?” She asked warily as she rubbed her sore and rapidly bruising arms.
“This escapade has made it obvious that you need a strong hand to guide your willful spirit.” The girls face paled, afraid she knew where this was going. “You will marry Nicolai when we turn to Kharkiv.”
Natasha gasped in horror for her friend at that pronouncement while Nicolai looked smugly at the princess.
The Spencer’s saw the mutinous look that crossed the beautiful girl’s features and decided it was a personal matter that didn’t concern them. “Come Natasha,” her father said firmly as he began to usher the girl away.
The two young women exchanged a glance and the blonde knew from the look. Liliana would flee before being forced to wed a man older than her father. Natasha followed her parents but her heart was aching for Liliana.
The pretty, dark haired girl shot a glare at Nicolai before turning to her father. “I will never marry Nicolai,” she declared adamantly. “And I can not believe you would offer me to a man who has abused me,” she growled.
“That will NEVER happen again will it Nicolai?” He warned.
“No your highness,” he added contritely but he had no intention of keeping that promise. He’d teach the girl her place as soon as they were married.
“I will not marry Nicolai,” she said defiantly as she folded her arms over her chest.
Alexi bristled angrily at her defiance. “YOU WILL DO AS YOU ARE TOLD,” he thundered back.
Liliana stepped back nervously. Her father had never bellowed at her like that though she had seen it directed at others and she’d never defied him this openly either but then…Nothing had ever been this important to her and her entire future.
“I WILL NOT MARRY THAT OLD MAN…I’ll LEAVE KHARKIV FIRST,” she yelled back.
Her father was furious at her stubbornness…His hand lashed out to slap the girl soundly across the face. She reeled from the force of it, stumbling away as her hand flew to her cheek in shocked horror. Her father had never hit her before.
Nicolai gloated as he watched the haughty blue eyes fill with fear and tears that pooled and rolled slowly down her cheeks at this assault.
Alexi stood breathing hard in his rage and shock at what he’d just done. He’d never struck his daughter before…He saw her tears and the frightened look in her eyes but he couldn’t back down now or she’d never obey him again.
“I will not tolerate your defiance Liliana…We will return to Kharkiv on Wednesday and we will announce your upcoming marriage on Thursday and you will marry Nicolai even if I must drag you to the Alter,” he stated as he spun on his heel. “Come Nicolai…We will give her chance to think about her wedding plans,” he added as he swept his hand toward the door.
The Grand Duke threw the girl a triumphant sneer and followed his King out.
Liliana rubbed her bruised cheek as tears continued to roll down her face. She turned watering eyes to her faithful guard Valery. “I’ll die first,” she stated unequivocally.
Valery paled at the words and from the look in her eyes he had no doubt she meant them.
A few moments later there was a soft knock on the door. Valery opened it cautiously, prepared to send Nicolai packing if he’d come back to bother Liliana…After all…He wasn’t married to her yet.
Natasha stood in the hallway. She glanced around carefully to be sure no one was watching before she brushed past the large man. She gasped in horror at the bruise on her friend’s cheek as well as the clear hand prints on her arms from Nicolai’s vicious grip.
“Oh my God Liliana…What happened? What did Nicolai do to you?" She questioned, looking shocked
“He saw that,” the dark hair girl replied nodding toward the crumpled up newspaper.
Natasha picked it up and unfolded it carefully. Her face paled at the photo staring back at her. “Ooh Lord,” she mumbled as her eyes shot to her friend.
“He shook me and almost knocked me down,” she explained rubbing the marks on her arms.
“Did he hit you?” She gasped at the swollen and discolored cheek.
“No…That was my father,” she whispered sorrowfully.
“YOUR FATHER?” she asked incredulously. “Why?”
“Because I refused to marry Nicolai.”
“But you’ve been refusing right along…,” she began.
“But I’ve never had my photo taken kissing an American Commoner either,” she explained.
“Oh,” the pretty blonde mumbled. “What are you going to do?”
The crystal blue eyes looked toward Valery. “I am leaving here. I will ask your government for the right to live here in this country.”
Valery looked horrified. “Princess…,” he began to argue.
“Would you see me married to a man who makes my skin crawl,” she interrupted angrily. “To an animal that has abused me and turned my own father against me,” she snapped.
“No your Highness,” he replied miserably.
“Where would you go Liliana…You know no one here but me.”
“I do not know,” she answered forlornly. Her eyes fell on the paper in Natasha’s hand and a slow smile curled the corners of her mouth. She winced slightly as her bruised cheek protested the grin.
“What is it Liliana?” The blonde asked.
“I do know someone else Natasha,” she said softly.
The other girl frowned in confusion. “Who?”
Valery looked worriedly between the two women. “Princess…I’m sorry but I just can’t allow you to do this,” he warned. He couldn’t let the girl run off with a man she’d just met.
“I will not marry Nicolai,” she said adamantly.
“Perhaps your father will change his mind,” he suggested hopefully.
Liliana frowned. “You do not believe that anymore than I do,” she snapped.
He knew she was right but he couldn’t just let her disappear in a strange country. “I’m sorry Princess…I am going to talk to your father.”
“Valery please,” she pleaded desperately but the servant continued on. “You sentence me to death,” she added. The man hesitated but then moved resolutely on, praying she was just being melodramatic and wouldn’t actually attempt such a foolish action, after all…One day she would be a Queen and she could banish the fool to Siberia if it suited her.
Liliana looked to Natasha. “What am I going to do?” She sobbed miserably. If he tells father he’ll pack me off to Kharkiv today.”
The blonde hugged her friend. “Are you serious about staying here?” She asked.
“Yes…I’d rather die than marry Nicolai,” she avowed.
Natasha didn’t doubt her for a minute…She’d probably feel the same way. She had to help her friend.
“Come Liliana…We can call John from a pay phone and tell him where you are.”
“Where are we going?” Liliana asked, quickly pulling on a blouse and pulling a skirt over her head and tugging into place. She slipped a pair of flat shoes on and grabbed her purse.
“I have a friend…She has a little restaurant…She’ll let you wait until John can come for you…You call me later and tell me where you are and I’ll bring your clothes and things.”
Liliana nodded and followed her friend to the door. The blonde peeked out into the hallway to be sure the hall was clear before they crept softly down the stairs. They heard Alexi’s snarl of rage from the library as Valery told him of his daughter’s plans.
“Hurry Liliana,” Natasha urged her friend.
The two girls tip toed for the door and slipped quietly through and ran for Natasha’s car.
They didn’t hear the Spencer’s, Alexi and Valery race up the stairs but by the time they reached the room…The girls were already gone.
The guys were setting the table for an early lunch a short time when the phone rang. Hank picked it up.
“Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking.” There was a brief pause. “Certainly he’s right here…Gage,” Cap called holding the phone out.
“Who is it?” Johnny asked curiously.
Cap rolled his eyes. “I don’t know, I didn’t ask,” the older man replied. “But she doesn’t sound happy.”
John frowned as he took the phone. “Hello?”
“Johnny…This is Cathy.”
“Oh hi Cathy,” he replied hesitantly, curious at the irritated tone of her voice and a bit surprised to hear from her since he’d been pretty sure she was done with him when he wouldn’t make the commitment she wanted.
“HI? That’s all you have to say?”
“Uh…Wh…What do you mean?” Johnny questioned uncertainly.
The others stopped at the anxious stammer that warned them that their youngest crewmember was getting nervous about something. Roy stepped a bit closer so he could hear.
“I saw your picture in the paper Johnny.”
A look of dawning crossed John’s features. “Oh,” he mumbled.
“Yes oh,” she replied snidely. “Is SHE why you wouldn’t make a commitment to something more permanent John?” She growled angrily.
“Uh…No…I just wasn’t ready and I…I…Uh…I mean I just met Lily and…On Wednesday I mean,” he stuttered.
“Well you seemed awful cozy for someone you just met.”
John worried his lower lip. “Well I…I thought you didn’t wanna see me so…”
“Well I don’t now, that’s for sure. You know all my friends saw this picture. They thought we were still together. I’m the laughing stock of the whole building right now…They think you dumped me so you could go out with some Princess.”
“But I…I didn’t,” Johnny stuttered. “You…You said we were through…,” he trailed off.
“We are…But you’re going to be sorry you humiliated me like this Johnny.”
“I didn’t,” he began to argue but hesitated as the threatening words clicked. “Um…What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ll find out,” she said, crying now as she slammed the phone down. How could she face her friends? She’d told them all that she’d be able to bring him around by threatening to dump him if he didn’t commit to their relationship and then they’d tossed the paper in her face this morning and laughed.
Well he’d be sorry. She picked up the newspaper and began dialing the number listed at the bottom of the article.
“Who was that?” Roy asked his forlorn looking partner.
“That was Cathy. She um...She saw the picture.”
“She thinks Lily’s the reason I wouldn’t commit but,” he looked at his partner. “I just wasn’t ready,” he added softly, looking embarrassed that he was unable to hold onto a relationship.
Even Chet had sense enough to shut up and move away as he noted the flush on his young crewmates face. They all knew how much Johnny hated discussing his emotional hang-ups from AS even though they were all aware of it.
John just couldn’t see in himself what they did…The incredibly strong fire fighter and courageous paramedic he’d become despite it.
“Johnny…You weren’t in love with Cathy…,” Roy stated. Johnny shook his head. “Then you needed to break it off,” the older man assured him.
“She did that,” he mumbled.
“Then she shouldn’t be angry,” Roy added.
“I know but she is. I…I didn’t mean to hurt her Roy,” he said looking unhappy.
“She’ll get over it Junior.”
“She said I’d be sorry.”
Hank and the others frowned in concern. “She threatened you pal?” Cap asked. John nodded. “Did she say what she was gonna do?”
The young paramedic shook his head. “She didn’t say.”
The phone rang again and Captain Stanley snapped it up. “Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking.” There was a brief pause before he sighed at whatever the caller was saying. “John…It’s for you pal,” he said holding out the phone.
“Uh…who is it?” He asked nervously.
“I don’t know…I’m not your answering service and I didn’t ask,” he said sarcastically. “But she doesn’t sound happy.”
John threw his best friend an unhappy look but took the phone. “John Gage,” he said almost timidly. He blew out a relieved breath at the voice on the other end but it was short lived... It wasn’t Cathy but it was the beginning of a whole lot of trouble.
“This is Liliana’s friend Natasha Spencer…”
“Hello Miss Spencer, How can I help you?” He questioned curiously, breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t Cathy again.
“What about her?” He asked anxiously, hearing the worried tone in her voice.
“Her father and Nicolai saw a photo in the paper this morning…”
“Oh no,” he muttered. He hadn’t even thought of that.
“You saw it then?”
“Nicolai barged into her room this morning…He shook her and he almost hit her with his fist if her body guard hadn’t stopped him in time.”
“Is she alright?” He asked worriedly.
“Yes…Her father came in but then he became angry too when he saw the picture. He told her she had to marry Nicolai because she’d embarrassed them all…”
“I’m so sorry,” Johnny said softly. “What happened?”
“She refused and he…He hit her,” Natasha finished breathlessly.
John could feel his blood pressure elevate with that piece of information. Having been abused himself, he couldn’t tolerate someone else being hurt like that. He bristled in anger that Lily had been hurt because of him.
“What does she need me to do?”
“We got her away from there…We’re at this little restaurant in Carson…Lily’s in the back room but it’s only a matter of time before someone recognizes her and it’s a sure bet they’re probably already looking for her.”
“And…?” John prompted.
“She won’t marry Nicolai and she wants to stay here but she doesn’t know anyone but me and you John.”
“Okay so…?” He questioned again not understanding her subtle hints.
“Can you please pick her up and take her somewhere safe until we can figure out how to contact the state department to see if they’ll let her stay.”
John’s eyes widened in shock. Man….This was getting worse and worse. He didn’t want to cause problems that might embroil the fire department in some major incident that could cost him his job but at the same time, how could he just turn his back on her after he’d caused her all this trouble by kissing her in the first place, even if she had asked him to.
“I…I…Uh…I mean wow…Um,” he stammered uncertainly. “I’m ah…I’m at work right now…”
“Please John, she’s really afraid…Especially now that she’s run away. Her father will be furious.”
John stood frozen in indecision and he could feel Roy and the rest of the crew watching him curiously.
John was still uncertain but he didn’t have time now to talk this out with Roy or think about it. “Where are you?” He asked, yanking his green pen and pad out of his pocket as Roy and Hank ran past him.
“It’s the Spires on Wilmington. 22327…In Carson.”
“Got it…I’ll try and see what I can do…”
“Please help her.”
“Yeah…I gotta run.” He slammed the phone down and took off for the squad.
“Move it Gage,” Hank barked as Johnny rushed from the day room and around the back of the squad.”
“Sorry Cap,” he apologized as he whipped open the door and slid inside beside his partner.
His partner threw him an irritated look for holding them up as John reached for his helmet. Roy was already rolling out of the bay before he set it in place.
They arrived at the scene quickly and began to pull their equipment from the compartments. It took less than a minute to be standing at the door knocking.
An elderly woman opened the door…Her face pale and frightened. “Fire Department,” Johnny said gently. She nodded and stepped back looking a bit perplexed.
“It’s my husband but I called for an ambulance,” she explained worriedly.
“Yes ma’am,” Roy began. “We’re paramedics…We’re here to stabilize the patient before they transport him okay?”
“Oh…Well…Alright I guess,” she said worriedly, still unsure.
Roy threw Johnny a grin as they followed the lady inside. A man lay slumped in his chair…His breaths were shallow and his eyes were closed. He seemed to be in some pain as low moans slipped from between clenched teeth.
“Sir,” Johnny began, quickly setting down the drug box and defibrillator as Roy set the biophone on the table and swung the oxygen canister around and began to set it up. “Can you hear me?” John continued as he gripped the man’s wrist to get a pulse.
The man lifted is head and blinked his eyes blearily at the young man standing before him. “Who are you,” he panted.
“I’m John Gage…I’m a paramedic with the LA County Fire Department. That’s my partner Roy…Can you tell me if you’re in pain any where?”
“My chest…,” he gasped, rubbing at the offended area.
“Your chest…Is it a sharp pain or more like pressure?” He questioned as Roy began to wrap the BP Cuff around the man’s arm.
“Feels like a concrete block sittin on my chest,” he muttered as his head slumped again.
“SIR?” John called anxiously.
The eyes opened again. “No need to yell sonny…I’m old not deaf,” he replied.
John grinned. “Yes sir…” Roy shot his young friend a wink as he finished up with the BP and rested his hand on the man’s belly for a respiration.
John pulled the small note pad from his pocket and flipped it open. The dark eyes fell on the address where Liliana was waiting for him but he didn’t have time to dwell on that right now. He flipped the page, writing the pulse he’d gotten down before looking to Roy who began to reel off his own results before John even asked.
“BP 150/90…Respirations 12…”
John threw him a concerned glance and yanked the defibrillator toward him and opened the case while Roy grabbed the Biophone to set it up. John handed him the small notebook and began to unbutton the man’s shirt. He pulled it aside and stuck the small pads to his chest. He could hear Roy making contact with Rampart.
“Rampart base…This is squad 51.”
“Go ahead 51,” Joe Early’s voice replied.
“Rampart…We have a male…Approximately seventy…He’s complaining of chest pains…Vital signs are pulse 80…BP is 150/90 respirations 12.”
“51…is your monitor hooked up?”
“10-4 Rampart…Standing by to transmit EKG…”
“Go ahead and transmit 51.”
Roy flipped the switch and watched as the blip traced across the screen showing its peaks and valleys. “Johnny…He’s throwing PVC’s,” Roy said calmly, throwing a reassuring smile at the man.
“51…I’m reading PVC’s,” Early said, confirming Roy’s diagnosis. “Start an IV D5W…Administer 5 mgs MS, followed by .5 mgs atropine and transport.”
“10-4 Rampart… IV D5W…Administer 5 mgs MS, followed by .5 mgs atropine and transport.”
The sound of approaching sirens was a welcome sound. A short time later they had the man on a gurney and loaded in the back of the ambulance.
Roy climbed in with him. “See you at Rampart,” Roy said as Johnny slammed the doors behind him and watched the vehicle pull away.
His thoughts turned to Liliana. She was now on her own with nowhere to go and it was partially his fault. He sighed at this new predicament. The least he could do was try and help her.
He climbed into the squad and drove away. The ambulance made the left turn toward the hospital…John hesitated briefly and turned right. It would only take a few moments to hand the keys to his apartment over to Liliana before joining his partner. It was all he could do at the moment.
King Alexi paced the hallway of the Spencer home…Rage and worry vied for equal time as he watched and waited and hoped that Liliana would come to her senses and return. The girl was young and naïve and had been raised to a lifestyle that she would never regain here in America…She’d realize that in time but they didn’t have that.
He hoped she’d quickly tire of playing games and return home before she did something impulsive and foolhardy. They hoped she’d figure out that she had no future here.
Dr. Spencer had wanted to call the police but Alexi had put him off for the moment. The last thing they needed was another scandal on top of the one this morning.
Nicolai was fuming at the insult that the girl would rather live as a pauper here than marry him. He’d make her pay for that once she was his.
Alexi paced the hallway once again, praying he hadn’t driven her into the arms of the young fire fighter she was so infatuated with. What could that young man offer her in comparison to Kharkiv?
He mentally kicked himself for his rage this morning. What had been thinking to strike his child that way? He’d never raised a hand to her but she’d been so defiant and he was unused to that from anyone…Even his daughter.
Nicolai and James Spencer watched him worriedly. Natasha and Liliana really had nowhere to go…They’d have to come back here eventually and ask for forgiveness and then Alexi would take her home.
The doorknob turned slowly and all three men froze with a hopeful look. Their hopes were dashed when Natasha entered the house…Alone.
John pulled up in front of the Spires restaurant. He glanced at his watch…Roy would be arriving at Rampart very soon. It would only take a few minutes unless Early needed him to stay and help out with the patient.
John blew out a breath…Roy would expect him to be right behind him…What would he tell him? He didn’t know whether to talk to his partner or not, unsure of his reaction to getting involved in the girl running away but what could he do?
He couldn’t leave Lily to be abused or forced into a marriage with a man she despised…especially since he had had a hand in it.
He climbed from the cab and headed inside. He spotted Natasha and Lily at a table in the shadows almost immediately though the latter sat with her back to the room.
“He’s here Liliana,” Natasha whispered.
The pretty dark haired girl turned to see Johnny hurrying toward them and slid from her seat to rush to meet him. She flung herself into John’s arms and kissed him warmly. John pulled back as she snuggled against his chest.
He set her away from him. “I’m sorry Lily…I didn’t mean to cause you all these problems,” he said softly as he examined the rather ugly bruise decorating the girls cheek.
“You didn’t Vanya…The man who took that picture did,” she said wryly, wincing a bit as his long fingers touched her face.
John dug in his pocket for his keys. He handed them to Lily. She looked at him questioningly. “What is this Ivan?”
“The keys to my apartment…I’m on duty so you can have the place to yourself tonight and tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do…My aunt knows a lot of people in high places so she may know someone in the state department who can help you.”
“Mr. Gage,” Natasha began.
“Johnny,” he corrected the pretty blonde.
“Johnny…I think you should take her there yourself.”
“Oh…Uh…I can’t . I…I uh…I’m on duty,” he protested, glancing at his watch worriedly. This was just getting worse all the time.
“I have to go home and I need to be able to honestly tell my father and Liliana’s that I don’t know where she is.”
John worried his lower lip as he stood rooted in indecision.
Liliana looked at him sorrowfully. “I do not wish to cause a problem for you Ivan…Perhaps I should just go back.”
John glanced around uncertainly, noting that they were starting to draw the attention of the waitress and a couple of other patrons of the restaurant though it was most likely his uniform and the squad parked in front of the building.
He turned his attention back to the girls. He couldn’t let her go back to her father until he was sure she’d be safe.
He reached for his wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill. He wrote his address on a sheet of paper from his notebook. “Here,” he said as he waved the curious waitress over. “Can you call her a cab please,” he asked throwing the middle aged lady a quirky Gage smile.
“Sure thing sweet cakes,” he replied with a flirty smile.
Johnny flushed and he knew if Roy were here he’d be rolling his eyes in irritation. The waitress left to make the phone call. He turned back to the girls.
“You have my keys and my address. That should be enough to pay the driver alright?”
She nodded. “Are you sure Vanya?”
He grinned and gave the girl a quick kiss. “I’m sure. Can you wait with her until the cab gets here?” He asked the pretty blonde.
She nodded. “I’ll see to it she gets safely away before I go home,” she assured him.
“Great…Okay…I gotta run…My partners waiting for me at Rampart,” he said as he whirled and ran smack into the returning waitress. He gasped as the coffee in the cup she was holding spilled on him. “Ouch!” he yelped brushing at the hot, spreading stain.
“Sorry sweet pea,” she said using the small dishtowel to wipe at the front of the young paramedic. Johnny jumped back, flushing once again at her familiarity.
“I uh…Gotta go.” He fled the restaurant.
“The cab’s comin honey,” the waitress told the two girls.
“Thank you,” Liliana replied. “And thank you too Tasha,” she added hugging her friend.
“I’ll sneak out and call you at John’s when I can. I’ll try and get your clothes and some money to you as well. “
The cab pulled up in front of the building and honked. “I’ll see you soon,” the dark haired girl called.
“Good luck Liliana,” Natasha called back.
Lily climbed into the car and the vehicle pulled away.
Roy was pacing in front of the base station and glancing at his watch for the sixth time. when Johnny finally trotted around the corner from the emergency entrance.
Dixie’s blue eyes watched the anxious striding and she grinned in amusement at the senior paramedic as he silently worried over his young partner’s absence. He glanced up as Johnny approached the duo.
“Where the hell have you been?” Roy barked before Johnny could even greet them. “I’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes.” He didn’t add that he’d been getting very worried, especially with Dixie grinning at him but his partner had been right behind him one minute and gone the next and Roy had been concerned, especially when he still hadn’t arrived by the time he’d left the treatment room.
John gave him a sheepish glance at the tone. He’d taken a lot longer than he’d expected and hadn’t meant to keep his partner waiting so long. “I uh…I um,” he stuttered.
“What’s that on your shirt?” The older man asked, interrupting John’s halting explanation.
John glanced down at his shirt and back at his partner. “Uh…Coffee…It’s coffee.”
John stood frozen for a moment. “I uh…I stopped at that little donut shop…You know the one on Olivia. Thought we’d missed lunch so…,” he said quickly but his dark eyes slid away from his partners gaze.
Dixie noted the look and grinned as Roy’s blue eyes narrowed suspiciously at the evasive gesture. John was obviously nervous and was hiding something. He looked a bit closer and his mouth pursed in amusement,
“The donut shop huh?” He asked with a raised brow.
“Uh yee…ah,” the younger man agreed hesitantly. “Coffee and donuts,” he added getting a bit carried away with the tale. Roy’s eyebrow cocked skeptically. Johnny hated lying and he was a terrible at it.
Roy folded his arms over his chest and smirked at his partner. “So where are they junior?”
“Uh…Where’s what?” He asked in confusion.
“The donuts…The coffee? Did you spill it all…Eat them?”
“Um…Uh…They were out.” John was beginning to shift from foot to foot and Dixie had to turn her back to avoid laughing at her young friend who was beginning to look for all the world like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
“Well you obviously had coffee since you’re wearing it.”
“Yeah…I uh…Spilled it.”
“So wears mine junior?” Roy asked with a grin, knowing his partner was hiding something and backing him into a corner.
“Uh…Uh…They were out of that too?” He said lamely, though it sounded more like a question than an answer.
“So you’re telling me the donut shop was out of donuts AND coffee?” He questioned disbelievingly.
“Yeah,” John mumbled, knowing Roy wasn’t buying any of this. His friend confirmed it as he stepped closer and flicked John’s collar.
“So the waitress made it up to you with a nice big hug huh?”
“Huh…?” John’s lip curled in bemusement at the question.
“Lipstick,” his partner said with a grin.
John’s face flushed at having been caught in the blatant lie. “Ummm.” The dark eyes flicked to Dixie who had suddenly become very interested in the chart on the desk in front of her.
“Forget it junior,” Roy said drily. “We’ll talk about it later,” he assured his young partner. “Because as entertaining as this is…Right now I’m hungry and a donut and coffee would have been really good but since they were all out. Let’s get back to the station and see if they saved us anything for lunch.”
Dixie coughed with suppressed laughter.
“Kay,” Johnny mumbled, shooting his best friend a sheepish look. He knew Roy would get it out of him eventually but not here in front of Dixie.
The dark eyes flicked to the pretty nurse. “I…I’ll uh…See ya later Dix,” Johnny muttered.
“Bye tiger,” she teased.
Roy turned and headed for the exit. John followed a bit more slowly.
Natasha drew a deep breath at the sight of the group waiting in the vestibule. She didn’t have long to wait for the fireworks to start.
Alexi rushed toward her. “Where is my daughter?” He barked angrily.
The blonde’s face paled as his hands painfully gripped her arms and she winced.
“Alexi please,” her father, Dr. Spencer said to his long time friend. “We’ll get Liliana back but please…You’re hurting my daughter.”
Alexi blew out an angry breath but he released the girl as Nicolai moved to join his King. Natasha stepped back close to her father. “I’m sorry James,” he apologized but the tone was still surly.
James turned to his daughter. “Where is Liliana?” He questioned the girl sternly and without preamble.
Natasha knew her father well enough to know the warning tone that he meant business and she was grateful she could answer honestly.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you do not know?” Alexi snarled.
“Just what I said your highness… Liliana left in a cab…I don’t know where she was going,” she answered honestly.
Alexi’s face turned scarlet in rage and the girl stepped back fearfully…She’d already seen the evidence of the man’s foul temper on Liliana’s cheek and had no desire to experience it herself.
Nicolai stepped closer to the girl, his face a mask of fury that Liliana had escaped his plan to marry her. Natasha’s face paled a bit, afraid the man might take a swing at her. Her father saw it too and stepped between them.
“James,” Alexi said quietly. “I think it is time to call the police in.”
The other man nodded and headed for the phone.
Roy glanced over at Johnny as he drove up 229th Street. The younger man had been gazing out the passenger side window since they’d left Rampart.
The occasional sighs of frustration and the nervous chewing on his lower lip warned Roy that he was worrying something around in his head but he also knew that Johnny wouldn’t talk until he was ready.
John would eventually come to him…He always did. He returned his attention to the road and a moment later his gasp of shock brought John’s head around to see what was happening.
“What in the world…?” John began.
Cars lined the street across from the station and a group of men and women armed with cameras and microphones were gathered on the driveway.
Captain Stanley was talking to them and it was obvious from his gestures that he was ordering them off the station’s property.
“I uh…Think they’ve found out who the guy on the front page this morning was Junior” he advised quietly.
His young partners face paled perceptibly. “Oh wow…Man,” he groaned. “What am I gonna do?” He asked as his dark eyes turned to his partner.
“Nothin…We let Cap handle it.”
Johnny nodded but he tugged at his lower lip nervously with his teeth, wondering if they knew Lily had disappeared yet and if so…Did they know who’d helped her?
Roy slowed as they drew closer to the station, drawing the group’s attention. It took no time at all to spot the handsome, dark haired paramedic in the passenger seat and the cameras began to click as they moved toward the vehicle.
Roy looked to his Captain who began waving them around to the back. The blonde nodded and quickly pulled the squad into a U turn and slipped down the alley to the rear of the station. He pulled into his usual spot and Chet quickly hit the door button. The doors began a slow roll downward.
The news crews looked angrily at Hank who spread his hands and shrugged in apologetic manner but the smug grin belied the gesture.
He turned and headed back inside through the small door to his office. He came into the bay as his two paramedics climbed from the cab. He glared at John who threw him a sheepish look.
“Sorry Cap,” he murmured as the others gathered around.
“They’ve been here for fifteen minutes and they’re refusing to leave until they talk to you.” John’s face paled.
“Well I guess we figured out how Cathy was gonna make you pay huh?” Roy said with a grin.
“Yeah I guess,” Johnny replied unhappily, shooting a betrayed look at his amused partner.
“Well it gets better Gage…Chief Sorenson is on his way down here.”
The amusement faded from all of them. The dark eyes swiveled between Captain Stanley and his partner. “Oh man,” he whispered, sure he was about to lose his job and worse…They didn’t even know about Liliana’s disappearance or his involvement with it…Yet.
“They can’t fire him over this can they?” Roy asked worriedly.
“I doubt they would,” Cap replied…“It’s not worth losing one of the two best Paramedics we have but you can bet they aren’t gonna be happy with the publicity.”
The others seemed reassured for their young crewmate’s sake but John swallowed uneasily. They weren’t gonna like the publicity they’d be receiving later even more if anyone found out where the Princess was hiding out.
The doorbell rang and Hank threw a ‘here we go’ look toward John as he passed him.
A few seconds later Chief Sorenson came inside. “What’s this all about Hank?” He asked, glancing at the crew curiously.
“It’s my fault sir,” Johnny said, standing a bit straighter.
The gray haired man looked over at him… “How so Gage?”
“I uh…We,” he said glancing at his partner. “Responded to a call at the tennis court last week and it turned out that our victim was a visiting princess.” Sorenson nodded. “She was grateful for what we’d done and invited us to a party at a friend’s home the next Friday.”
“Alright,” he said, plainly not seeing where this was leading. The two hadn’t broken any rules at this point.
“Well…When I got there…Lily and I…I mean the Princess and I went for a walk in the garden.”
“And…,” Sorenson prompted.
John’s face turned scarlet… “We thought we were alone sir…,” he began nervously.
“What happened?” He asked.
“I uh…It was nothing bad,” he assured his superior… “I just…I kkk…issed her,” he stuttered nervously.
Sorenson grinned. “I see…Go on.”
Chet slipped away unnoticed at this point.
“There was a photographer or something and he…He snapped a picture.”
The light was beginning to dawn for the Chief. Chet returned and handed the man the newspaper. He opened it and his blue eyes fell on the photo. He began to snicker but quickly schooled his mouth into serious lines.
He’d been young and single himself at one time and the young fireman certainly hadn’t done anything any red blooded young man wouldn’t with a beautiful woman in his arms in a moonlit garden.
John’s face flushed again at the laughter in the Chief’s eyes as he waited for whatever he’d have to say…It surprised him. “Well…Congratulations John…She’s beautiful,” he added.
The others grinned as Johnny stood with his mouth open in shock. Cap and Roy looked relieved.
Sorenson shrugged. “What you do on your own time is your business Gage as long as it isn’t illegal or something that brings embarrassment or censure on the department. Kissing a girl is neither and though it would have been nice if you could have kept it private, that obviously wasn’t your fault either,” he added, flicking the paper and handing it back to Kelly.
Johnny’s mouth snapped shut. “Thank you sir,” he mumbled in relief.
“I’ll go talk to them,” he said as he headed back out the door.
The others followed but stayed inside the doors while Sorenson stepped out to the drive. The reporters began asking questions and demanding to see John but he waved them silent.
“I can’t stop you all from talking to John off duty, however… John Gage is currently on duty and all of you are in danger of impeding his ability as well as the rest of the crews to perform their job by being here and blocking the stations driveway. You need to stay off the stations property or we’ll be forced to call the police to ensure that he can do his job unhindered…Do I make myself clear?” He barked authoritatively.
They didn’t look happy but they had no option. They couldn’t stay on private property and as much as they had freedom of the press they could all also be arrested for hindering a fireman in the performance of his duty.
They all backed away from the stern looking Chief and began moving to the vehicles parked across the street. They’d just have to bide their time. He’d be off duty in the morning and they’d be waiting.
Chief Sorenson smiled smugly as the reporters retreated to the other side of the road and the older man shook his head. He didn’t envy John Gage tomorrow morning when he tried to leave but for now at least they were gone.
“How about some coffee Hank?” He questioned, wanting to stay long enough to be sure the reporters were going to stay across the street.
“Of course sir,” Hank replied sweeping his hand toward the day room. The others followed and Johnny was grateful that the Chief’s presence kept the others from harassing him…At least for the moment.
Sorenson sat at the table and sipped his coffee. He glanced at John who was still very quiet for the usually verbose young man. He’d thought he’d made it clear that he wasn’t in any trouble but the dark haired paramedic was still looking extremely nervous.
“John…I don’t envy you tomorrow morning,” he teased with a smile.
John threw him a quirky half smile… “I don’t envy me either,” he replied.
“If they’re still here in the morning than I’ll smuggle him out in my car,” Roy said, reaching over to ruffle his young partners sable hair teasingly.
John swatted his hand away. “Quit that,” he growled, smoothing the dark locks back in place.
The others laughed and Sorenson grinned at the familial gesture between the two paramedics. He’d heard their friendship went beyond just partners and he had no doubts about it as he watched the byplay and the look in Roy’s eyes as he harassed his friend or the one John returned despite the surly response. He returned his attention to Hank, feeling as if he was interrupting a private conversation.
“If they give you any more trouble Hank, just call the Sheriff’s Department and they’ll remove them.”
“Yes sir,” the tall, thin Captain replied.
“No need,” a voice interrupted from the back door. They all glanced over to see a uniformed officer and a couple of men in suits who were holding badges out for them to see. “We’re already here,” he continued.
John’s stomach turned a flip.
The police stood in the foyer of the Spencer home a short time later. One officer had his notebook out and was scribbling furiously while the two detectives that had been called in on the case stood and asked questions of the group.
Only the fact that Liliana was a visiting Princess had brought them there in the first place. Had it been anyone else, they’d have been told to wait at least twenty four hours but that had been waived as a courtesy.
Not to mention that there was some concern that she was lost and alone in an unfamiliar city. She might even have been kidnapped. Even the possibility had been enough to propel the local police into action.
The lead detective, Adam Mallory was talking to Alexi while the other, Sam Hanson was focused on Natasha.
“What was she wearing Miss?” Sam asked the girl.
“A brown skirt and beige top.”
“Any idea why your daughter would run away?” Adam questioned.
“We had a disagreement about her future.”
“Why would your friend leave here and take a cab somewhere?”
The two conversations continued back and forth
“Her father planned to force her to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather,” Natasha replied, shooting a glare at Alexi and Nicolai. “He struck her when she refused,” she added brazenly.
“Do you know where she was going?”
“No…I didn’t hear her give him the address.”
“Why did you slap your daughter?”
“She defied me.”
“She’s twenty one right? Old enough to make her own decisions?”
“In your country perhaps but in mine…I am her father and her sovereign…She must obey me,” he said arrogantly.
The two detectives shot each other a glance. Both of them were married and knew what their wives would think of this character. They both doubted there was any possibility that the girl had been forced against her will but they’d at least follow through and see if they could locate the woman and bring her back if only because she was here on a visa and needed to return to her own country or follow the legal procedures to emigrate here if that’s what she wanted.
“Where was the last place you saw her?” Sam sighed.
“The Spires restaurant…That’s where she caught the cab.”
“Which Cab company?”
Natasha shrugged and looked away as her father’s mouth tightened angrily that she wasn’t being as forthcoming as she could be but she didn’t care. She wouldn’t help them any more than she had to.
“You better find her,” Nicolai growled angrily at the officers. “My future wife is out there alone, possibly lost or abducted or being taken advantage of by some crazy person in your city.”
Well that was always a distinct possibility if the girl wandered into some of the more seedy areas of LA…Though it might be preferable to marrying this guy, Adam mused as his eyes swept over the man and the cold look in his eyes.
“We’ll head over to the Spires and see if the waitress can help us.”
“You might try that young Fire Fighter that she was with as well,” Nicolai sneered.
Adam and Sam both saw the pretty blonde stiffen up and glanced at each other.
“Which fire fighter would that be?”
They all glanced at each other. “I do not know his name but this is his picture,” Alexi growled holding out the newspaper.
The two detectives and the officer glanced at it…None of them recognized the man in the photo however. “We’ll ask around,” they promised as they closed their notebooks and headed for the door.
None of them were very anxious to return the poor girl to what awaited her here but it wasn’t their call…They’d at least try and find her.
It didn’t take them long to get to the restaurant and it took even less time to decipher what had happened.
They held out a photo of the princess to the waitress. She nodded her head. “Yup…She was in here with another young blonde woman for about an hour this morning.”
“Did you see where she went?”
“Yeah…Got in a cab…Don’t know where she went after that.”
“Do you remember which cab?”
“No…I have a bunch of their cards by the phone…I called one when she asked…It was yellow,” she added with a shrug.
The two detectives sighed. Three quarters of the cab companies in LA were yellow and they were constantly being called to pick up fares at restaurants all along here. They may not remember her, though the girl was beautiful…That might be something one of these drivers would remember.
“Anything else you can tell us?”
She shrugged again. “You might wanna talk to the fireman that stopped here to see her…Maybe he knows something?”
Adam and Sam exchanged a glance. Fireman again…He must have helped the girl get away…But who was he? “I don’t suppose you caught his name?” Adam asked.
“I’d like to have caught more than that,” she said with a grin… “He was a looker. Dark hair…Dark eyes…Nice smile. Real thin.”
“A name?” He prompted but she shook her head.
“Didn’t catch it…Sorry…I did spill coffee all over him though.”
“That’s helpful,” Sam muttered. “We can put out an APB out to all the dry cleaners for a coffee stain.”
Adam grinned but directed his attention back to the woman as he snapped his notebook shut. “Well if you think of anything else…” He trailed off as they started to walk away in disappointment…It could be anyone of several hundred firemen.
“Oh…,” she said as if suddenly remembering.
“What is it?”
“He drove one of them small rescue trucks…A Paramedic…That’s what he was. Said so on his name plate…J. something…The truck had a 51 on it…I remember cuz it’s my age,” she added.
Adam smirked at that. “Thank you ma’am…You’ve been very helpful.”
The two left the restaurant and climbed in their car. Sam picked up the mic… “Now let’s just find out where station 51 is located,” he said with a grin.
Liliana unlocked the door to John’s apartment and went inside. Her blue eyes swept the small apartment curiously. She set his keys on the counter and moved further down the hall.
She glanced into the tiny kitchen that was clean and gleaming before she moved on to the small living area. There were several pieces of mismatched furniture but like the kitchen everything was neat. A blanket of bright colors and beautiful design was draped over the back of the sofa.
There were photographs hanging on the wall. Mostly landscapes but there were several of John's partner and his wife and two blonde children along with an older photo of who she assumed were his parents.
She glanced around unsure of what she should do now. She went back to the kitchen. She was hungry and felt herself flush in embarrassment that she didn’t even know how to cook something for herself. She pulled open several cabinets and pulled down a few cans but she couldn't find a way to open them.
She opened the cabinets and found some pots and pans but she wasn't sure what to put in them...She continued her search and finally located a box of something called macaroni. According to the directions all she needed to do was boil some water and pour it in. She filled the pan with water and set it on the stove.
She leaned forward and studied the knobs and finally turned one...It was a bad choice. The one beneath her palm flared to life. She yelped in pain, dropping the box and spilling the hard elbow shaped pasta all over the floor.
Tears of frustration filled her eyes at her own ineptness in the kitchen. She went to the sink to run her hand under the cold water, unsure what to do next. She remembered seeing a box in one of the cabinets with the universal sign of the red cross. She retraced her steps and found it.
She set it on the counter and opened it, breathing a sigh of relief at the contents. She bandaged her hand and then shut the stove off...Afraid she might burn the place to the ground.
She opened the refrigerator, hoping she could find something that didn’t require cooking.
She rifled through the drawers and found some lunch meat…Further searching of the kitchen yielded a loaf of bread. Well…It certainly wasn’t what she was used to but she wouldn’t starve until tomorrow when Vanya returned home.
She made a sandwich and found a can of soda…She popped it open and wandered about the apartment. She pushed open one door and smiled at the neatly made bed. As with the rest of the rooms, this one was spotless. She patted the bed briefly before settling herself on the bedspread to finish her sandwich.
She let herself drift into daydreams about Ivan. She giggled to herself…The first thing she’d have to do is learn to cook…Vanya was already too thin and she wanted to be able to take care of him.
She pushed herself off the bed and headed out to the living room. She turned on the television and settled on the sofa, hoping to pass the time quickly until he came home tomorrow morning so they could talk.
John swallowed heavily, knowing without them saying another word that they were here for him.
The men came further into the room and introduced themselves. “Detective Adam Mallory…This is my partner Sam Hanson and Officer Lew Masters,” one of them said tucking his badge back in his pocket and unfolding a newspaper that he was holding. “We’re looking for the man in this photo,” he added, holding the paper for them to see but his eyes were already resting on Johnny.
The young paramedic chewed his lip nervously as every eye turned toward him curiously. Why would these detectives care about the situation, they mused? John already knew…
The dark eyes shot to his best friend and then to his captain and his Chief. Roy immediately moved to his partner’s side to lend a bit of moral support.
The young paramedic sighed and gave the men a quick nod. “That would be me,” he admitted quietly.
“Your name sir…?” Mallory asked.
“You’re a paramedic?” He asked looking at John’s name plate.
“Were you driving the squad on Wilmington earlier this morning Mr. Gage?”
“Yes sir,” John replied, feeling Roy’s blue eyes resting on him. What was going on? The question was being asked without the words.
“Are you aware that Princess Liliana Taralovna is currently missing from her residence Mr. Gage?”
“Oh Dios,” whispered Marco, looking at John worriedly.
“Do you know what he’s talking about John?” Cap asked as Roy moved closer and rested his hand on his young friends shoulder.
Mike and Chet were staring at him open mouthed with surprise.
The dark eyes remained locked on the two detectives and John knew something was about to hit the fan. “Yes I know,” he replied.
Chief Sorenson came to John’s side. “Why don’t we step into the Captains office for this discussion,” he suggested as he gripped John’s arm and steered him away from Roy.
The young paramedic could feel Roy’s eyes boring into his back but he refused to meet them or his Captains, knowing both men would be angry with him.
The three men left the day room leaving the other five members of station 51 staring after them in confusion.
Hank whirled on Roy immediately. “Did you know about this?” He demanded of his senior paramedic.
“No Cap…This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“How did he even set this up?” Mike asked worriedly.
“The call from that young woman this morning…Liliana’s friend Miss Spencer,” Roy reminded them. “I never had time to talk to him about it.”
“You think she asked Johnny to help the Princess run away?” Mike asked.
Hank sighed. “I’d say it’s a sure bet,” he replied.
“But when did he have time?” Chet questioned.
“He was late picking me up,” Roy replied absently as he continued to watch the door for his partners return.
“Did he say why?” Marco asked.
“Yeah,” Roy mumbled. “He said he stopped for coffee and donuts.”
“He lied to you Pal?” Hank asked in surprise.
That wasn’t like John. He didn’t lie and despised dishonesty and he invariably talked to his partner about things like this. Maybe he just hadn’t had the time to think things through just yet but Hank and the others knew he would eventually.
“Yeah,” the blonde man replied. “I guess so.”
“John could be in a lot of trouble huh Cap?” Marco asked worriedly.
The older man nodded unhappily, wishing he could be in on this conversation. They all grew quiet and watched the door as they waited for the others to return.
“You could be in a lot of trouble John,” Sorenson said sternly.
“Yes sir…I know,” he replied.
Mallory held his hands out in a placating gesture. “Well as to that sir,” he began soothingly. “We are aware that the Princess left of her own volition and she is over twenty one.” John nodded in agreement, relieved that he wasn’t about to be arrested for kidnapping at least. “She is however, a foreign guest and we are checking into this to try and avoid any unpleasant repercussions.”
John’s eyes widened in shock…He hadn’t ever thought one kiss could get so far out of hand, Man…How did he get himself into these things?
“I don’t want any problems either sir,” John began, looking at the chief and then at the two detectives.
“Good,” Mallory interrupted. “Then you just tell us where she is and we’ll pick her up and take her home so she and her father can resolve this,” he finished, looking relieved that the young paramedic was being cooperative. John’s next reply crushed that idea.
“No sir,” the dark haired fire fighter responded.
“WHAT?” Mallory almost squeaked in surprise.
“I said NO SIR…If you take her back her father will force her to marry someone she doesn’t want to marry.”
“Well Gage,” Hanson began. “That’s really between her and her father to resolve.”
John chewed his lower lip nervously for a moment and felt Sorenson’s eyes boring into him. He shook his head in the negative.
“Why not Gage?” The older man asked, knowing John Gage could be mulishly stubborn but that he also had a compassionate heart and despite his youth and a slightly wild streak, he was a responsible young man...There had to be a good reason for him to dig his heels in like this.
“I don’t like the way he ‘resolves’ things sir,” he answered softly.
“What’s that mean exactly?”Mallory asked suspiciously.
“She has a bruise in her face the size of my hand and a couple of others on her arms from her father and from where her uh ‘future husband’ shook her this morning.”
Sorenson’s face clouded with anger while the two detectives exchanged an uncertain glance.
“You’re saying he hit her? You’re sure?” Sorenson asked.
John nodded his assurance and the others sighed. The two detectives had already been aware but hadn't realized exactly how hard she'd been struck. They didn’t like returning this girl to that kind of situation but she wasn’t American and she couldn’t just stay here without going through the proper channels.
The two detectives sighed. “What are you planning on doing here Mr. Gage?” Mallory asked.
John wasn’t exactly sure himself yet but he’d had an idea on the drive back to the station. “I’m going to call my Aunt when I get off tomorrow. She knows Governor Reagan and she can talk to him about maybe helping Lily stay here if she wants to.”
Sorenson and the two detectives looked surprised. “Who is your Aunt Mr. Gage?” Hanson asked warily.
John sighed. He hated tossing her name around, preferring to succeed or fail on his own merit or lack of if that turned out to be the case but he had no option here. “Rosemary Hughes of Santa Barbara,” he said quietly.
Three sets of eyes widened in shock at that piece of information. “ROSEMARY HUGHES is YOUR Aunt?” Mallory demanded skeptically.
“Yes sir…My father was her brother, Roderick Gage,” he replied.
Sorenson looked at him curiously…He’d never put the name in connection with the family that lived in San Gabrielle and Santa Barbara for years. This was the first he’d heard of John’s family other than his well known close bond with his partner and his family. He’d assumed that since Roy DeSoto held the young man’s power of attorney that John was alone in the world.
This was a surprise to say the least…He half smiled as he remembered the young man’s career, moving up the chain from lineman to rescue to being one of the two best paramedics LA County had and he’d done it all on his own and hadn’t ridden the coattails of his aunt or fathers name.
“Um...Well…Ahem,” Mallory cleared his throat. “Alright Mr. Gage…We’ll give you forty eight hours to talk to your aunt and see if she’ll help but you do realize that this could easily start an international incident?”
John almost groaned…Roy had warned him this could happen but he hadn’t taken his best friend seriously at the time. Johnny had laughed but now it wasn’t so humorous…How had he gotten himself into the middle of all of this over one small kiss, he mused again?
“Yes sir I do,” he sighed unhappily. “But I can’t just hand her over into that situation without trying to help ensure her safety or her freedom.
The three men nodded. “We’ll see you in forty eight hours Mr. Gage,” Mallory warned him. “If Mrs. Hughes hasn’t resolved this with either the Governor or the State Department, we won’t have an option but to take her back.”
A stubborn look crossed the younger man’s face but he said nothing…He didn’t have to…the set jaw and compressed lips said it all.
Sorenson hid his smile behind his hand. He knew the young man’s reputation around the department for a wide stubborn streak and that he wasn’t about to give in that easily.
“Gage and I will discuss that when the time comes,” he assured them.
John’s dark eyes glanced toward his chief, knowing the older man would make it an order if he had to. John would have to decide then how far he wanted to fight this.
The three men left the office and headed back to the dayroom where the rest of the crew waited.
They all climbed to their feet as the four men came in. Hank looked to his youngest crew member before turning toward his chief.
“Is everything alright sir?” He questioned worriedly as his brown eyes shifted toward John once more.
“John has forty eight hours to either resolve this through legal channels or turn the lady over to the police.”
“Will there be any…Uh…Departmental repercussions?” He questioned hesitantly, not wanting to lose John.
Sorenson grinned and clapped his hand on Hank’s shoulder. “John hasn’t done anything wrong Hank…Not yet anyway and until he does, there’s no need for disciplinary action at this time.”
Johnny understood the subtle warning…There could be if he chose to be uncooperative forty eight hours from now.
The four men gave the crew a brief nod and left, taking the young patrol officer with them.
Roy didn’t give the others a chance to even talk to Johnny before he gripped his young partner by the arm and steered him toward the door… “Let go of me,” he growled as he tried to tug free but his partner refused to loosen his hold until they were in the dorm.
“Sit,” he said in annoyance.
John sank onto the bunk, rubbing his abused arm and looking up at his partner warily…Already knowing he was angry with him.
“Is she the reason you were late?” He demanded without preamble.
“Yes,” John admitted.
“You lied to me then,” he accused.
“Come on Roy…you knew at the time I wasn’t telling you the whole story,” Johnny replied.
“That’s beside the point…But why…? Why didn’t you just tell me?”
John looked over at him. “Cuz you’d a been mad just like ya are now?” He mumbled.
Roy blew out a deep breath and tried to calm down. “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into here Junior?” He asked.
John looked away and nodded. “Yes…” He could feel the blue eyes of his best friend watching him carefully.
Roy reached out and gently gripped his young friends chin, turning his head toward him. “I’m not mad…I’m concerned.” The dark eyes lifted to meet blue. “And I guess a little hurt that you didn’t feel you could confide in me.”
John’s eyes averted once more as he always did when he was nervous or upset. “That wasn’t it…I woulda told you later….I…I just wasn’t sure about what to do at first but then when I saw her...,” he trailed off.
Roy nudged his partners chin with knuckles until the chocolate brown eyes lifted to his again. “So talk to me now…Are you in love with this girl?” He asked softly.
“No,” Johnny admitted. “At least I don’t think so…I mean…She’s a princess for Heaven’s sake…What could I offer her?”
“That’s not what I asked junior?”
Johnny sighed. “I thought about it…I mean she’s beautiful and sweet and,” he shrugged “I’m fond of her but… I guess…The answer is no… even if she would settle for a fireman…,” he glanced away again. “I don’t think I’m ready for a commitment,” he confessed quietly.
Roy blew out a relieved breath. John had come a long way over the last two years but the older man had to agree…Between the Asperger’s and the past history of Traumatic Stress from child abuse…John wasn’t secure enough in himself yet to commit to a long term relationship with a woman, let alone one as high maintenance as Princess Liliana would undoubtedly be…Besides he was still young…Plenty of time to wait and be sure it was the right woman before he settled down.
“So what changed your mind about helping her? You said you weren’t sure until you saw her?”
“She has a bruise on her cheek Roy…Her father hit her for refusing to marry Nicolai.”
Roy’s eyes widened in shock and then anger. After knowing what his young friend had endured, the older man couldn’t tolerate abuse of any kind any better than Johnny could.
“I guess I can’t blame you there then can I?” He asked, giving the dark hair a gentle tousle.
John shot a wry half smile and shook his head before reaching up to smooth the sable waves back into place.
“Still mad at me for lying to you?” He asked softly...Shooting his best friend a sideway’s glance.
Roy chuckled and gave John a nudge with his shoulder… “When can I EVER stay mad at you?”
John grinned in relief. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Come on Junior,” Roy said, standing up and pulling John to his feet. “Let’s go back and explain things to the others.
They returned to the day room where the other four crew members remained waiting.
John explained the morning’s events. “So I gave her my keys and my address and money for a cab,” he finished his tale. “And then headed to Rampart.”
“Why didn’t you tell Roy?” Hank asked curiously.
“I wasn’t sure myself if I was doing the right thing by getting involved with a woman I barely knew and helping her to leave everything she knows behind until I saw the bruise on her face.”
The crew bristled in annoyance. “Someone hit her?” Chet almost squeaked in protest.
Johnny nodded. “I just couldn’t leave her to fend for herself,” he added not going into detail why. The others had no idea he’d been an abused child and he had no intention of any of them finding out about it if he could help it...Except for Roy of course…He knew most of the secret’s of Johnny’s past but not all…The worst of those were still locked deep within and he didn’t care to dredge them up.
Mallory and Hanson returned to the Spencer home. They were shown into Dr. Spencer’s study where Alexi, Nicolai and Valery waited with James for word on the young Princess.
Valery was kicking himself for having allowed the willful Liliana to slip from under his nose.
Alexi was worried that his daughter would do something foolish to spite him and he wanted her back where he could control her stubborn spirit. She had much to learn before she took her place on the throne.
Nicolai was red faced with anger and humiliation that the girl would rather live as a pauper in America than to marry him.
Natasha heard the doorbell and slipped from the Library to hear the conversation taking place. Her lips turned up smugly as she listened to what was being said.
“Have you found my daughter?” Alexi urgently demanded.
“No your highness,” Mallory replied politely.
“Then why are you here and not out looking for her,” Nicolai snarled angrily before Alexi could reply.
Mallory’s eyes narrowed at the man who John Gage had told him was responsible for several of the bruises on the girl.
“Sir…If you would allow me to finish, I’ll be happy to explain,” he replied coldly.
Nicolai was about to retaliate to the upstart officer but Alexi waved him silent. “What do you wish to tell me?” He questioned anxiously.
“We went to the restaurant where the cab picked her up…” Outside the door Natasha’s face paled as bit, hoping the woman hadn’t told them anything but her hopes were quickly dashed. “She couldn’t remember what cab company she called and she had no idea where they took her…” Natasha brightened hopefully. “But she did remember that a young paramedic came to the restaurant and gave her money for the cab and a slip of paper with an address on it.”
“Oh no,” Natasha breathed out softly to herself.
“And did you speak to this para…medic?” Alexi growled angrily.
“Yes sir…We spoke to Mr. Gage at length and he did confirm that he gave the Princess money and an address to a safe place to stay until she decides what she’d like to do.”
“What SHE’D like to do?” Alexi snarled. “It is not HER choice. SHE is subject to MY rule,” he informed them arrogantly and looking thoroughly enraged. Nicola’s face was scarlet as well.
The two detectives exchanged a glance, having no doubt about John’s claim that this man had hit the girl rather forcefully.
“Well sir, that may be true in your country but in this country she is over twenty one…She left of her own accord and is planning on petitioning the Governor for permission to stay in the country. Mr. Gage is helping her in that regard.”
“WHAT?” Alexi and Nicolai bellowed almost in unison.
“Mr. Gage claims the young woman has bruises on her person that he claims you and this other ‘gentleman’,” he said looking rather dubious at the appellation he’d just used. "Put there...In fact you admitted it yourself," he added.
“She humiliated me before the whole city,” Nicolai snapped, looking completely unrepentant.
“I was angry,” Alexi admitted guiltily. “I lashed out without thinking.”
“Yes sir…but your highness…In this country, it’s illegal for you to hit your daughter like that.”
Alexi and Nicolai both looked shocked but the dark haired man recovered quickly. “It is not something I make a practice of I assure you,” he growled.
The two detectives looked toward Nicolai. “What about you sir…You left a few of your own apparently.” Mallory remarked.
“I told you…She humiliated me…She is betrothed to me and is caught by some photographer in the arms of another man,” he pointed out without telling them that Liliana hadn’t been engaged to him at the time.
“You do realize that we could arrest you for that,” Hanson warned.
Nicolai’s face paled at that. “It will never happen again,” he assured them sullenly. “Once she and I are married she will do as I say.”
Alexi frowned at that statement….Liliana would be ruler not Nicolai…
“Or you’ll what…Shake her again. Hit her?” Mallory asked.
“No,” Alexi quickly replied. “He will never hurt her again,” he assured them.
The two detectives nodded in satisfaction. “Glad to hear that but regardless…We have given Mr. Gage forty eight hours to either resolve this with the state department or return the girl.”
Alexi looked furious but James touched his arm. “You won’t win this argument Alexi,” he warned. “I’ll call my lawyer…He’ll get a judge to force them to tell us where she is,” he said smugly.
Mallory returned the smirk with one if his own, despising the arrogance of these people. “Well I hope they know someone higher than the Governor who is apparently a friend of this young fireman’s Aunt.”
Dr. Spencer’s face clouded with anger at that piece of information. “I see,” he sneered. “Then I guess we will have to give them their forty eight hours,” he finished, obviously unhappy that his ploy had failed to produce their acquiescence
Mallory and Hanson smiled in triumph before they turned and headed for the door.
Natasha backed away and slipped into the library as the two men left the study. A smile of victory curled her lips…Liliana was safe. She might not have been so relieved if she’d stayed to listen.
“I will not allow my daughter to remain in this country,” Alexi barked angrily after they’d gone. “How could you have let her sneak away,” he snarled, turning his rage on Valery.
The guard almost cringed at the fury in his sovereigns eyes. The guard was already kicking himself for the same thing but he wasn’t really all that sorry that she’d managed to escape her father and that little worm Nicolai and their controlling anger…The same anger that had sent the girl fleeing from them in the first place.
Nicolai threw the incompetent guard a glare, unwilling to take any of the blame for the Princess running away. He turned to Alexi. “Your highness…There must be some way to find this ‘fireman’. He must know where Liliana is hiding…We just need to MAKE him tell us,” Nicolai growled threateningly. The tone was clear…He’d do whatever he had to, to make the hapless fireman talk.
Valery looked decidedly unhappy about the tone…Liliana was rapidly falling for the fire fighter he was certain of it. She’d never forgive him if something happened to the young man.
“They said his name was Gage…,” Dr. Spencer murmured. He suddenly brightened. “He’s a paramedic…He treated Liliana on the tennis court.” Alexi and Nicolai nodded their agreement. James picked up the phone. “I’ll call Harbor General…UCLA, Rampart…One of them must know what station he works out of…We’ll just go and um..Talk to him ourselves,” he suggested with a smirk.
The reporters continued their vigil outside the station, hoping to get a clear shot at the young, dark haired paramedic that had swept the Princess off her feet.
The Station Control Unit wasn’t making it easy on John, toning them out repetitively over the afternoon. Johnny carefully kept his head down and his arm propped on the open window frame to shield his face from the cameras.
Roy threw him a glance. “How’s it feel to be a celebrity junior?” The older man teased.
“Not as cool as I always thought it would be,” he grumbled, shooting his partner a glare that only made the blonde laugh harder.
“What am I gonna do Roy?” He almost whined. “How am I supposed to get outta here tomorrow with them…” He waved his hand airily… “Hovering around out there like vultures?”
Roy grinned…I can always smuggle you out in the back of my Porsche,” he teased his young friend.
“You may HAVE to,” he replied plaintively.
“That’s the price you pay for getting involved with a princess,” he admonished.
“Thanks dad,” Johnny shot back snidely.
Roy chuckled again at the unhappy pout on his friends face. John glared at him for a long moment before the infamous Gage giggle slipped from his lips at the absurdity of the whole situation.
Roy smiled smugly… proud of his ability to bring his partner around to a better mood.
By the end of the day, they still hadn’t given up and remained stubbornly camped across from the station…A fact that was driven home when the squad was called out in the middle of the night…Blazing spotlights and the glare of flashbulbs popping nearly blinded both paramedics as they pulled out of the station. Johnny sighed in frustration.
“Relax partner…We’ll get this sorted out in a couple of days,” he assured his sleep ruffled partner.
“Yeah,” John mumbled tiredly.
“They’re still out there pal,” Hank told Johnny as the crew gathered behind their captain the next morning.
“Great,” John moaned softly as they peered over Captain Stanley’s shoulder out the glass door that opened to the driveway.
Roy winked at Hank at the forlorn tone in his best friend’s voice.
“Don’t worry junior…We’ll sneak you out the back and we’ll come back for your truck later,” he assured him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to sneak Johnny past a group of rabid paparazzi.
“Thanks,” he muttered as they turned and headed for the kitchen to make the morning coffee.
They were just finishing up as B shift began to arrive for work.
“What’s with the circus out there?” Charlie Dwyer asked, hooking his thumb over his shoulder toward the front of the building.
“Oh they’re just here for the world’s most famous Paramedic,” Chet said snidely with a nod of his curly, dark head toward John.
Charlie glanced at the young fire fighter as Johnny’s mouth tightened into a thin line and shot a withering glare at the Irishman.
“Don’t worry amigo,” Marco said, slapping John off the back. “He’s just jealous.”
Charlie looked bemused. “What’re ya talkin about?”
“John made the papers,” Mike said with a grin, ignoring the pleading look from his young friend.
“Yeah?” Charlie asked sounding interested. “For what?” He questioned, wondering what kind of great rescue Johnny had gotten involved in.
Chet quickly grabbed yesterday’s paper and handed it over to Dwyer as the rest of B shift began to arrive.
Charlie unfolded it. “OH MAN!” He gasped before he started to laugh.
John hung his head in resignation as Dwyer began to pass it around to the others.
Captain Hookrader walked into the dayroom, throwing a concerned look over his shoulder toward the bay doors.
“What’s going on Hank?” He asked curiously.
John almost groaned. Cap grinned at his youngest crew member. “Well Bob…Seems our Princely Paramedic here,” he began, nodding toward the two men seated side by side at the end of the table. John’s face flushed crimson at the jest. “Is very popular with the press right now but don’t worry…They’ll leave as soon as he does.”
Hookrader’s eyes shot toward John, absolutely certain that Hank was referring to Gage.
Carlson handed the paper to his captain while John buried his face in his hands in mortification.
“It was just a kiss,” he muttered.
“That’s how it started anyway…It’s gone way beyond that now Gage,” Chet teased.
“Shut up Chet,” Johnny growled, not wanting the whole station to know that Liliana was probably sleeping peacefully on his couch about now.
“No need to share everything is there Kelly?” Hank suggested warningly.
Hookrader frowned, wondering what else was going on that the crew wasn’t sharing but he knew they were a tight group and despite the teasing, family atmosphere, they’d protect the young man to the bitter end.
The rest of his crew looked anxiously to Chet, hoping the Irishman would spill the beans but even Chet knew his captain’s tone when he was serious.
“Uh…No cap…No need at all,” he replied nervously.
The others sighed knowing they’d get no more out of the talkative fire fighter.
“Roy…John. Kirk and Charlie are hear now, so why don’t you see if you can smuggle John past those vultures.”
“Sounds good cap…Let’s go junior,” Roy said, patting his friend on the shoulder.
John nodded and followed his friend out.
“Rampart General this is Nurse Miller, How can I help you?” A professional, older woman’s voice answered.
“Yes…This is Dr. James Spencer. I had a paramedic bring a patient in the other day and I wanted to ask a couple of follow up questions.”
“Oh yes sir…”
“Problem is I uh…I don’t know what station he works out of so I can’t call him.”
“Maybe I can help you…I know most of the paramedics that work out of this hospital.”
“I only have the last name for sure…It’s Gage.”
Betty smiled on the other end of the phone. She was very fond of the young paramedic. “Oh Johnny,” she replied with a sigh, sounding like a moony eyed teenager.
“You know him then?” James questioned, nodding his head at Alexi and Nicolai. They moved a bit closer to listen. Across the room, Valery folded his arms over his chest and looked away, wishing they’d been unable to find the young man and through him…Liliana.
“Oh yes Doctor…That would be John Gage…Station 51 in Carson,” she added helpfully.
“Thank you nurse Miller…you’ve been very helpful.”
“You’re welcome doctor.”
“Station 51 in Carson.” James said hanging up…
“Then let us go and ask him to take me to my daughter.”
“Just wait Alexi…I think it would be better to wait until morning and catch him alone.”
“What are you suggesting?” Nicolai asked with an ugly gleam in his eyes.
“Only that he’s already proved to be uncooperative with the police…He may not want to tell you where Liliana is.”
Valery returned his attention to the three men worriedly. Wondering what James Spencer was planning for the young fire fighter.
Nicolai smiled at that…Alexi frowned but finally nodded his head. He wanted his daughter back…Whatever the cost.
Roy peeked out the back doors making sure none of the reporters had ventured down the alley to try and catch the unwary paramedic as he tried to leave but apparently Sorenson’s warning had been taken seriously. That wouldn’t be the case as they left the parking lot…Johnny needed to be out of sight or they’d be swarmed or possibly followed.
They climbed into Roy’s Porsche. “Okay Junior…You’re gonna have to duck down,” the older man warned as he started the engine.
John looked around in disbelief at the tiny car. “How?” He asked, looking baffled.
“Just bend your knees up under the dashboard and slide down,” Roy suggested helpfully.
John bent his knees and slid down but his head was still above the level of the dashboard. “They’ll still be able to see you,” he warned. “You’re gonna have to slide down a little more,” he said pushing at Johnny’s head.
John swatted his hand away. “This is impossible,” he whined, trying to comply with Roy’s directive. He slid further down but now his knees were practically pressed to his chin. “I’m squashed,” he complained.
“Good thing you’re so thin junior.” Roy teased with a chuckle.
“Good thing I’m flexible,” he grouched back unhappily. “But you better hurry…I feel like a pretzel.”
Roy grinned as he put the car in gear and pulled out. He stopped at the end of the alley, drawing the attention of the reporters. They craned their necks to see who was in the vehicle.
Roy refrained from giving them a jaunty wave, afraid to push his luck and maybe raise their suspicions…He simply pulled out into traffic. The reporters resettled when they realized he was alone and it wasn’t the dark haired man they sought. Roy drove by. “I’m getting pretty good at smuggling you past reporter’s junior,” he murmured aside to his partner, remembering when they’d had to smuggle him from the hospital in Oregon after the plane the DeSoto’s were on had crashed.
John had miraculously found them, claiming to have seen the crash in a dream…That had sparked a human interest story and the press had been desperate to speak to him but John was ill and in no condition to be fielding questions from reporters so they’d smuggled him out the back doors and onto a plane to LA.
Johnny shifted uncomfortably. “Can I get up yet?” He asked, sounding a bit muffled. “I can’t breathe.”
Roy chuckled and took pity on his young friend. “Okay junior the coast is clear.”
Johnny struggled unsuccessfully to get himself back into his seat. “Roooy,” he whined.
The older man was struggling desperately to stifle his laughter at his partner’s efforts and finally pulled over. He climbed from the car and came around to the passenger side to help him.
“Just remember this junior the next time you wanna ‘get involved’ with a victim okay?” Roy grunted as he grabbed his partner under his arms and hauled him upright.
“Yeah…Yeah,” Johnny grouched as he climbed from the car and stretched his cramped limbs.
Roy laughed again and ruffled the dark hair.
Neither man noticed the car with dark tinted windows that slowed down as it passed them. They couldn’t see the driver turn in his seat to look back at them.
“That is them your highness.” Valery said as he passed the two young men on the sidewalk next to the silver sports car.
“You are sure?” Alexi said as he turned in his seat to look back. He couldn’t see the face of the dark haired man but the blonde was easily recognizable as the man who had been with the lovely auburn haired Joanne that night.
“Turn around Valery…Follow them.”
They drove on for a bit trying to find a spot to turn the Limo…Driving past the station and its crowd of reporters still hovering outside.
“Did you not hear your King Valery…TURN AROUND,” Nicolai demanded angrily as he watched the two paramedics climbing back into the small car.
“Your pardon sir but I can’t turn this vehicle around that easily,” reminded them as he finally found a parking lot where he could turn the large vehicle around and head back the way they’d come.
The silver sports car was gone by the time they returned but they could see the tail end of it a mile further up the road. Valery continued slowly on…The cumbersome vehicle unable to maneuver through the traffic as effortlessly as the small Porsche but he managed to keep it in sight through all of it's travels …At least until it turned into a large apartment complex…He couldn’t follow it in without drawing their attention and they’d never catch them if they spotted the tail and took off.
They’d have to park a bit further up the street and try to find Gages apartment if they had to knock on every door in the place. He pulled into a shopping center parking lot a bit further up the street. The four men climbed out and began walking back to the building.
They were still a short distance away when they saw the silver sports car exit the complex and turn up the street driving away from them…The blonde man was alone.
John Gage was now on his own and they’d be able to ‘talk’ to him at their leisure. He’d tell them where Liliana was no matter how long it took.
Roy pulled up in front of the apartment complex and glanced over at Johnny who was still trying to work some of the kinks out of his neck from his earlier contortions.
The older man grinned…Johnny could look like such a big kid sometimes that he couldn’t resist a playful hair tousle for his best friend. “Quit that,” Johnny growled at the teasing gesture.
Roy laughed. “Sorry junior…You just reminded me off Chris when he first gets up in the morning.”
John tossed him a sour look but he wasn’t really angry at the words. It always made him feel good to know that Roy cared about him like a member of his family. He finally threw his friend a wry grin. “Thanks Roy…For bringing me home and for…, he hesitated, unsure as he always was about expressing his feelings. “Just thanks,” he finally mumbled in embarrassed defeat.
Roy understood anyway. He reached over to turn his face toward him. The dark eyes met blue and Roy smiled. John returned it…Nothing else needed to be said.
John climbed from the car. Roy gave a brief nod toward his apartment. “Good luck with your aunt and uh…Liliana,” he said with a grin.
“Thanks,” Johnny said dryly.
Roy pulled away as Johnny climbed the stairs to his apartment. He’d borrowed back Roy’s key this morning in case Liliana was still sleeping. He unlocked the door and stepped inside.
His mouth dropped open in shock. His usually spotless kitchen was a disaster. Dishes in the sink and a box of cereal open on the counter. Several unopened cans of heat and serve pasta, a box of macaroni spilled on the floor…Pots and pans on the stove, a loaf of bread laying open but what worried him the most was the first aid kit standing open on the small kitchen table.
He headed for the living room but there was no sign of Lily. He frowned and walked down the small narrow hall to his bathroom but the door was open and the lights were off.
John quietly eased the door open to his bedroom and gave a quick peek inside. Lily was curled in his bed …Her cheek resting on her hand as she slept. The other hand was wrapped with a crude bandage.
John stepped into the room and smiled…She looked beautiful with her sleep tousled hair and a gentle smile on her lips. He stepped to the bed. “Lily,” he called softly, giving the girl a small shake on her shoulder.
The girl woke slowly and looked up at him standing beside her and a delicious smile curled her lips. “Good morning Vanya,” she murmured as she sat up and stretched. The covers fell away revealing the fact that the girl was wearing nothing but one of Johnny’s plaid flannel shirts that she must have found in his closet.
She flung the covers back and stood up and John swallowed hard at how beautiful a picture she presented. He turned away… “Uh…Maybe I should um…Ahem…Wait out here while you get dressed,” he murmured, flushing in embarrassment.
She grinned as she stepped closer to him. John looked anywhere but at her, afraid of his body’s reaction to the girl’s half dressed state. Lily giggled as she reached up to loop her arms about his neck. “I’m so glad you’re here Vanya,” she said, kissing his mouth gently.
John slid his arms about her and pulled her against him, letting his lips play over hers for a brief moment before stepping back. “You need to get dressed Lily…We have to talk,” he said with a sigh.
“About what?” She asked looking bemused.
“About what…?” John questioned in amusement. “Well for starters…What did you do to your hand…And my kitchen?” He teased.
“I’m sorry Ivan,” she murmured softly. “I couldn’t find anything to eat last night…At least nothing I knew what to do with,” she said scuffing her toe in embarrassment. “I’ve never even seen the kitchen in my father’s palace,” she admitted.
“Lily…I’m sorry…I never thought of that,” he admitted. He lifted her bandaged hand…So what happened?” He asked, kissing her fingers gently.
“I burned my hand on your stove,” she explained.
“Let me take a look at it,” he suggested, leading her out to the small kitchen and letting her sit at the table. “I’ll start some coffee and then I’ll make us some breakfast okay?”
“Thank you Vanya…I’m starving,” she replied. John quickly got the coffee started and returned to the table to sit opposite the girl. Her eyes swept the counters. “I’ll clean this up after breakfast,” she offered, feeling guilty that she’d conceded defeat and gone to bed the night before without cleaning up the mess she’d made.
John grinned. “Don’t worry about it…I’ll put it all away after I check this out and make us something to eat.”
“You can teach me da?” She questioned.
John nodded. “Sure.”
He unwrapped her hand and checked out the blister that had popped up over night. It wasn’t huge but it looked pretty painful. He pulled the tube of burn cream out of the kit and gently spread it over the burn. It looked clean at least so he wasn’t worried about infection. He quickly and efficiently rewrapped the hand.
Lily watched it all but her eyes kept returning to look at John’s face as he worked. A look on concentration creased the area over his straight nose. The dark eyes held her mesmerized even though he wasn’t looking directly at her.
He finally finished and the objects of her attention lifted to meet her gaze. He smiled at her and her stomach turned a small flip. Her hand touched his cheek and Johnny gave in…Leaning forward to kiss her once again.
“I’ll start breakfast,” he murmured, pulling away. He had to stay in control here…He’d told Roy the night before that he wasn’t in love with this girl…He had no intention of taking advantage of her gratefulness for his help or what he suspected was her innocent first crush.
She frowned as he moved away, wondering why he wasn’t taking the opportunity afforded him to hold her, kiss her…Her mind wandered to what might follow but she had no knowledge herself of it. She’d led a very sheltered life after all and she’d never been allowed to even be alone with a man except Nicolai and she’d never let that reptile touch her.
“What did you want to tell me?” She asked.
“Oh…The police were at the station.”
Her eyes widened in alarm. “You’re not in trouble for helping me?” She asked worriedly.
“No…,” he replied. “Well at least not yet,” he added as he put the cans of pasta back in the cupboard. She’d obviously been unable to figure out how to use the can opener.
“What do you mean?”
“I told them I was going to call my aunt…She knows some people pretty high up the ladder,” he explained. “She may be able to help you find a way to stay here,” he said shoving the pans back under the counter into their proper spot.
“Oh,” she mumbled. She’d had a couple ideas of her own but Johnny was obviously not thinking along those lines…At least not yet but if she had time…That could change.
“They gave me forty eight hours to find a way to keep you in this country and then they want me to take you to them…”
Her eyes widened fearfully. “No…I won’t go back.”
“I didn’t say I agreed to it,” John said with a grin.
“Oh thank you Vanya,” she said launching out of the chair and into his arms.
John was a bit taken aback by the sudden armful of warm, soft woman that was suddenly pressed against him but he had no time to react before she kissed him long and gently.
He finally remembered himself after a long moment…The girl was still only half dressed and he stepped away. “I’ll uh…Start um…Breakfast. Why don’t you go get dressed?” He suggested.
She grinned at the embarrassed flush of color on his cheeks. She’d just started for the bedroom when John’s phone began to ring.
The four men had no idea which apartment John Gage lived in. They pulled the Limousine up to the curb and climbed out.
“Well…What do we do now?” Nicolai demanded as his eyes scanned the rows of doors.
“We go to the manager’s office and ask?” James suggested drily. He couldn’t stand this arrogant man and had no idea what Alexi saw in him.
They found the manager’s office and knocked on the door but there was no answer. The sign on the outside informed them that they were ‘gone to the bank’ and would be back soon.
“Now what?” Alexi questioned his friend.
James looked around. “We knock on doors until we find someone who knows him,” he replied.
John picked up the phone on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Johnny…Its Laverne,” the voice from his downstairs neighbor and friend replied.
“Oh hey Laverne,” he said amicably.
“Hey…There’re some guys going door to door asking if anyone knows you?”
“What?” John questioned worriedly. His face paled a bit. “What do they look like?”
“Ones a big guy…Some kinda accent. The others are normal looking…Two of ‘em are older with gray hair and the fourth one’s kinda nice looking with black hair.”
“Oh man,” Johnny breathed out. The tone stopped Lily in her tracks.
“What is it Vanya?” She asked in concern.
“Did you tell em where I live?” Johnny questioned.
“Of course not…I wouldn’t do that without askin but you can bet some of these others might.”
“Damn it,” John murmured. “Oh and uh thanks Laverne…I owe ya one.”
“I’ll remember that at two in the morning when I’m fighting with my boyfriend,” she teased before hanging up.
Lily looked at John fearfully as he stood there in indecision. They had to get out but where could he take her. He couldn’t leave her at Roy’s…If her father was this determined he might think to look there and he’d never put the DeSoto’s in harm’s way deliberately.
He couldn’t take her to his aunt’s without talking to her first. He didn’t want to embroil her into this whole mess without her acquiescence first and he didn’t even know if she was at home yet.
“We got company,” he replied as he stepped to the door and cracked it open. He stepped to the edge of the walkway and glanced over. He could see the four men below knocking on yet another door.
John stepped back as it opened and another of his female friend’s named Jeannie…She was a sweet girl and Johnny knew her ‘helpful’ nature…She’d tell them for sure…They had to go…Right now.
John turned and stopped short. Lily was still dressed in his flannel shirt and not much else. “Stay here,” he commanded as he ran for his room. He yanked open a drawer and snatched a pair of jeans from the drawer.
He flung the closet open and snatched several items…First was the sleeping bag that was rolled tightly about his small pup tent that he used when he went camping. He grabbed a small knapsack that held his gear…Matches, first aid kit, canteen, rope, knife and a small amount of canned meat and beans.
Last he grabbed the two helmets off the shelf. He turned and ran for the living room. The sound of running feet coming up the stairs warned him that Jeannie had in fact told them where John lived.
He tossed the jeans to Lily. “Put those on,” he said as he scooped her shoes from the floor.
She quickly complied. “What is it?” She asked. Looking frightened as she held the too large jeans up around her waist.
John didn’t have time to fix them right now. “Your father and Nicolai and that big guy…”
“Yeah…They’re here…We gotta go.” She nodded as she looked toward the portal.
There was a loud banging on John’s door. “John Gage…Open up…We want to speak to you,” her father’s heavily accented voice demanded.
She slipped her shoes on and followed John to the balcony. “Where are we going?” She whispered softly.
“Down the fire escape…” She nodded and followed him out. Johnny handed her one of the helmets and released the lock, letting the ladder slide downward. John could hear the banging on the door once more.
“Open the door Gage?” Dr. Spencer yelled.
“Go,” John commanded.
Lily didn’t waste any time…She began to descend the ladder.
John waited till she was almost on the ground before he followed. He was halfway down when he heard his door crash open. They’d obviously grown tired of waiting and kicked it in.
Johnny let go and dropped the rest of the way. He grabbed Lily’s hand and yanked her along behind him.
They heard the shout from his balcony and knew they’d been seen. Johnny stopped beside a gold motorcycle. “Put that helmet on,” he said as he quickly strapped the bedroll and knapsack to the small bar behind the seat.
He climbed on and kicked the bike to life. A quick glance showed the four men were coming down the ladder in record time at least three of them. Nicolai wasn’t quite as athletic as the other three.
“Get on,” Johnny shouted to the girl as he set his own helmet on his head. She quickly slid onto the bike behind him. She threw a fearful glance as she heard them shout behind her.
“It’s the princess,” Valery yelled as he picked up speed. He wasn’t fast enough…John hit the throttle and the powerful motor kicked into gear as the two roared out of the parking lot and out into traffic, leaving the four now winded men staring after them with mixed emotions...Rage from Alexi, defeat from James, Valery looked on in almost smug relief while Nicolai’s eyes narrowed with thoughts of revenge.
They all knew they weren't done with John Gage yet.
Continued in part 3 ...The conclusion
Posted to site 03/17/13
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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