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John and Lily sped north on the Santa Ana Freeway toward the San Gabriel Mountains. There was only one place John could take her where he knew she would be safe. His place…The place he retreated to most often when he was frustrated or troubled.
He’d found the place with his father long ago when he’d lived here as a child in Duarte and had sought it out again as a teenager when he’d returned with his aunt.
The crew of 51’s had been here once before briefly when they’d been searching for them after they’d turned up missing but only Roy was a frequent visitor to this special haven.
He needed to be sure she’d be hidden until he could talk to his aunt and find out if she’d help Lily.
The girl behind him on the bike had her arms wrapped around his waist and she was pressed against his back. Johnny was surprised to hear what sounded like laughter after their near escape from her father and his friends but he didn’t dare stop until he knew they weren’t being followed.
Alexi and the others returned to John’s apartment, hoping to find something that would tell them where he’d taken Liliana.
They noted the kitchen was still in disarray after the young woman’s foraging expedition from the night before. They moved on.
Everything seemed neat and in order within the rest of the apartment with no hint of the girl’s presence until they pushed open the door to the bedroom. Alexi and Nicolai both flushed with rage at the rumpled bed covers, which in itself only indicated that the girl had slept there but it was the discarded blouse, skirt and undergarments that sent both of them apoplectic.
Just exactly WHAT had they interrupted? Both her father and her future husband wanted John Gage very badly and they wanted him now…Before he finished what they were afraid he had started.
Johnny drove for almost an hour before he finally pulled into a parking area. A large log cabin type structure stood to one side, nestled into a stand of trees. The sign in front identified it as a ranger station.
Lily wasn’t exactly sure what that was but she trusted Ivan completely. He swung his long leg over the bike and stretched briefly before he pulled his helmet off. Lily followed suit, laughing gleefully as she climbed from the motorcycle and then flung her arms about his neck.
“That was wonderful Vanya…,” she shouted exuberantly before she kissed him
John wasn’t too sure he agreed with her assessment of the whole situation but he was certainly enjoying the armful of the warm, excited girl he was holding as she bounced on her toes gleefully.
John finally set the woman away from him and grinned at her. He still had some things to handle before she’d be safe. “I need you to wait here Lily,” he instructed as he set his helmet on the seat.
“Why can’t I come with you?” She asked, looking bemused.
The dark eyes scanned over the girl and he grinned at the rather eye catching attire. She’d draw the attention of every person in the station in her too large shirt and jeans she was wearing. His brow arched skeptically.
She glanced down at herself and a gurgle of laughter erupted from her lips and her blue eyes sparkled with joy.
“Well this is certainly not what I’m accustomed to wearing but I love it,” she teased, holding the waist band of the pants to keep them from falling down her slender hips.
John grinned back…It was impossible not to at her silly play. “Stay put,” he warned as he turned and headed for the station.
He found a pay phone and fed in a dime before calling his aunts number. The housekeeper answered. “Hughes residence.”
“Helen its John…John Gage…Is Aunt Rose in?” He asked hopefully.
“No sir…She’s in Sacramento this week.”
“Oh…When will she be back?”
The housekeeper heard not only the disappointment but the urgency and understood that this was something important. “By Wednesday but I do have the number of her hotel…I can get a message to her to call you if it’s important?”
John sighed. He really hated dragging his aunt into all this but he didn’t have time to wade through all the government red tape, especially now that her father had made it clear that he wasn’t willing to wait forty eight hours or let his daughter defect to the United States without a fight.
“I’m not at home right now. Could you please ask her to call me at Roy’s tomorrow morning before she goes out for the day?” He asked.
“Yes sir,” she agreed.
“Around nine…I’ll be sure I’m there to take the call,” he promised.
“I’ll get the message to her sir.”
“Thank you.” Johnny hung up but immediately snatched the handset up again and fed in another dime.
“Hello?” The deep voice of his partner answered.
“Hey Junior…What’s up?” He questioned his friend, frowning at the slightly upset tone in his voice.
“Roy they found us….”
“Who did? The reporters?”
“No man…Lily’s father and his guard and that guy Nicolai…They kicked down my door Roy.”
Roy’s face paled a bit at that, remembering the size of Valery’s hands and his biceps. “Are you alright?” He asked urgently.
“Yeah…Yeah we got away…We went down the fire escape. I called my aunt…She’s not at home but she’s gonna call me tomorrow at your house, is that okay?”
“Of course but Johnny why don’t you just bring Lily here?”
“Too risky…He found me somehow so he may be able to find you and I won’t put you and Jo and the kids in harms way.”
“Johnny…,” Roy began but John cut him off.
“NO Roy…I just need to use the phone tomorrow…Please.”
Roy sighed in defeat. “You know my house is your house junior,” he said quietly.
John smiled even though Roy couldn’t see it. “I know,” he replied softly. “And I promise you we’re safe where we are. They won’t find us.”
“Alright junior,” he replied. “I'm going over to your apartment and check it out. Make sure the door is locked or fixed. I’ll tell the landlord it was a break in and I’ll call Mallory and tell him what happened.”
“You be careful Roy…I don’t know where they are right now.”
“YOU be careful…I’ll be fine.”
“I will Pally,” John promised softly. He hung up and headed back to where Lily stood waiting with his bike.
He grinned at her effort to hold up the too large jeans. “Let me fix that before we go any further,” he teased pulling the knapsack loose from the back of the bike. He pulled a length of rope and cut it before he threaded it through the belt loops and tied a loose knot.
He knelt down and began to roll the pants legs into cuffs. He glanced up at her and their eyes met. She reached out to caress his cheek and smiled down at him.
“More what you’re used to?” He teased from his rather subservient position.
She giggled. “I’d never ask that of you Vanya,” she assured him as she leaned down to kiss him softly.
John broke the kiss after a moment and returned to what he was doing. He finally stood up and gave her an appraising look and shook his head with a grin. “You look like Elly May Clampett,” he snickered teasingly. “But it’ll have to do till I get you some of your own clothes.”
Lily frowned. “Who is she…? One of your girlfriends?” She asked jealously.
John laughed at the pouty look she threw him. “No…She’s a character from a TV show,” he explained.
“Oh,” she replied, looking relieved.
He grinned as he picked up his helmet. “Normally we’d hike in from here but I don’t think those shoes are exactly made for that,” he said glancing at the low heeled pumps. “The bike should handle the worst of it as long as I go slow,” he added. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable ride but it would definitely be faster than trying to walk in with Lily dressed as she was. Yes …this was definitely the best way.
He placed his helmet on his head and climbed on the motorcycle. She slid on behind him and wrapped her arms about his waist, snuggling close against his back.
They rode for quite a distance just admiring the quiet and beauty of the forest. “So what are we going to do Vanya?” She finally asked above the roar of the bikes engine.
John tossed her a glance over his shoulder and pulled the motorcycle to a stop. He turned around and tugged the visor of his helmet up. “Well the first thing is to get you set up with a safe place to sleep and to hide out while I’m at work. Tomorrow I’ll drive down to meet Roy at his house and wait for my Aunt to call. I’ll ask her to speak to the governor for you. If he agrees to let you stay, then I‘ll come back for you after my shift ends and take you to her. She can help you get set up somewhere safe. She practically knows everyone,” he explained. “But then the real question becomes what are you gonna do?”
“Me?” She asked as her eyebrows knitted with confusion.
“You’ll have to find a way to support yourself,” he replied logically. “You’ll need a job.”
She looked at him blankly as he started the bike once again. “Doing what?” She yelled over the engine.
“Well being a cook is out,” he teased as he flipped the visor down. “And there’s not much call for being a princess,” he added as he drove on.
She smiled and wrapped her arms about him as the bike began to move. “You’re right though,” she agreed ruefully. “My father will cut me off.”
She rested her head against his back and debated on whether or not to broach what was on her mind. They’d gone a couple more miles before she finally screwed up the nerve to ask him. She lifted her head and rested her chin against his shoulder… “But I was thinking that maybe I could stay with you while I look for a job,” she suggested loudly.
She couldn’t see the ‘deer in the headlights’ look that crossed John’s face. He was spared having to reply as they left the woods and entered a clearing. He stopped the bike and smiled at her reaction.
“Oh Vanya…It’s beautiful,” she breathed in awe as she slid off the bike and turned in a circle at the breathtaking view.
Trees circled a large grassy area filled with wild flowers. A pile of boulders sat close to the ledge of a steep drop off that ended a hundred feet down. She wandered toward the edge still enamored with the spectacular view it afforded.
“Careful,” Jonny warned, “It’s a long way down,” he added drily. She glanced at him curiously at the tone. John pointed to the stack of boulders. “I fell from there about a year ago and landed on that ledge down there,” he indicated with a sweep of his hand.
Lily’s eyes widened in horror as she looked carefully over the edge… “It’s a wonder you weren’t killed,” she breathed out in shock.
“Roy was with me. He climbed down and took care of me until we were rescued the next morning,” he explained.
“He cares for you very much,” she stated rather than asked.
John flushed crimson but he nodded. “Yeah…Yeah he does.”
“I care for you too Vanya,” she admitted softly as she stepped closer to him.
John licked his lips a bit nervously at that. He gripped the girl’s shoulders…His strong hands were much more gentle than Nicolai’s had been.
“Lily…We need to talk,” he said softly.
Lily saw the look in his dark eyes and was afraid she wasn’t going to like what he to say.
Roy arrived at John’s apartment a few minutes after he’d reached Mallory to tell him what had happened. He found the chestnut haired detective standing outside Johnny’s door with Laverne as she explained about the four men who’d come pounding on doors, asking for the young, dark haired fire fighter.
Mallory gave him a brief nod before he thanked the woman. She gave the blonde fireman a once over before she headed back to her apartment. She knew she’d seen the man with Johnny on more than one occasion and hoped he knew where John was.
“Mr. DeSoto,” Mallory greeted, remembering that he’d also seen the man with Gage yesterday. “You said you’ve spoken to your friend about this”
“Yes sir…He called me to tell me what happened. I told him I’d call you and have you come check the place out.”
“And he’s sure it was Princess Liliana’s father?” He questioned.
Roy nodded. “That’s what he told me, though I don’t know for certain who kicked down the door.”
The two detectives nodded and Mallory sighed. “Let’s step inside and see if anything is damaged or missing.”
“Alright,” Roy agreed.
“Let us know if you see anything unusual.”
The blonde nodded and Hanson used a gloved hand to push open the broken front door and went inside. Roy frowned at the mess in the kitchen.
“Something wrong?” Hanson asked, seeing the frown.
“Yeah…The kitchen is a mess. Johnny never leaves the place looking like this.”
“Ransacked?” Mallory mused softly. “Think they were looking for something?”
“Like what?” Roy asked looking at the spilled macaroni on the floor and counter.
They shrugged and shook their heads before moving on. The only thing out of place in the living room was an empty soda can on the coffee table. Roy shook his head at their questioning look…Everything looked undisturbed.
They moved to John’s bedroom. The covers on the bed were rumpled, indicating that someone had slept there the previous night. Mallory’s eyebrow lifted inquiringly.
“Lily spent the night here,” Roy explained at the look. “We were still on duty,” he reminded them with emphasis on the last word.
They flushed a bit at their incorrect supposition that something untoward had occurred until they spotted the pile of clothing on the carpet. Hanson swept the items from the floor, his eyes lifted to the blonde paramedic.
“Look, I’m telling you…Johnny had no intention of taking advantage of the girl and he hadn’t been home long enough for anything to happen,” he added defensively. “I doubt she’d sleep in her clothes,” he reminded them scathingly.
The two detectives exchanged a glance before they tossed the clothes on the bed, realizing he was probably right from the time Roy had dropped his partner off until the men had arrived according to the neighbor…It had only been about ten minutes before the couple had had to flee but they had to wonder just what the girl had been wearing since she hadn’t taken anything with her but the clothes on her back.
“Other than the bed and the clothing is anything else out of place or missing?”
Roy looked around and was about to shake his head in the negative but stopped as he pulled open the closet doors. The empty space on the floor was glaring. “He took his camping gear,” he said positively.
The two detectives glanced at each other in surprise. “He took a princess… Camping?” Mallory asked in disbelief. He’d love to see the pampered Miss out in the wilds of LA somewhere but managed to restrain the chuckle that threatened to escape at the young fire fighters naiveté.
Hanson glanced at his partner with a grin. “No one will ever think to look for her out in the woods,” he said positively.
Roy scowled until he realized they were teasing and he had to smile himself. “If Johnny doesn’t want to be found out there…I guarantee you…You won’t.”
“So she’ll be safe enough with him?”
“Absolutely,” though Roy had to remember some of their more memorable camping trips. A fall that had left them stranded on a ledge over night not to mention the one that had been followed by a snake bite. Well that hadn’t actually been on the trip but on a rescue the next day, he had to admit. “Johnny knows what he’s doing out there.”
They nodded. “Alright…I have his neighbors description of the men who were at her door and it’s probably our uh…Friends but look…We’re still in a bit of a bind here with this whole mess so we’re asking you to be patient.”
Roy frowned. “Patient…What if Johnny and Lily hadn’t gotten away?”
The two men sighed. “I know…But he did. Look…We’ll go and talk to them…Warn them that if this happens again they’ll be arrested but…”
“You don’t want to start an international incident,” Roy muttered angrily.
Roy blew out a frustrated breath but he nodded his head. “Alright but if this happens again…They go near him…”
“We’ll arrest them…I promise you.”
Roy nodded in defeat. “I’ll go talk to the landlady…Get someone up here to fix the door,” he said in disgust.
“Thank you Mr. DeSoto and um…Tell Mr. Gage we’ll do our best to take care of this.”
Roy nodded and followed them out, closing the door behind him. He spoke to the land lady Mrs. Larson who gasped and aahed over the idea that someone had broken in to Johnny’s apartment and promised to get her husband up there right away to fix the door.
“Mr. Larson’s absolutely wonderful with tools,” the gray haired lady assured him.
Roy grinned and nodded his thanks before he headed for home.
King Alexi paced the sitting room of James Spencer’s home. Valery, Nicolai and their host watched him as if they were at a tennis match…Their heads turning back and forth even as he reversed course yet again.
“Why are we just SITTING here your Highness?” Nicolai finally asked, just short of snapping at his sovereign. The older man was furious as he saw all of his aspirations for a marriage to the Princess and ruling Kharkiv slip away.
“What would you have me do Nicolai, turn this wretched city upside down?” He snarled angrily.
“Send Valery to watch for them. They have to come back sometime.”
The body guard bristled at the arrogant man’s demand. He had no business telling King Alexi what to do. He wasn’t even married to the Princess yet and even if he was King Alexi was nowhere near ready to hand over Kharkiv to anyone else…Not even Liliana.
“Well thank you Nicolai for coming up with such a brilliant idea…I’m sure it would not have occurred to me,” Alexi sneered.
The Grand Duke at least had the good graces to flush in embarrassment at his foolish outburst.
“I am sorry Your Highness,” he murmured contritely.
James and Valery both had to struggle to contain their smirks of satisfaction at seeing the arrogant man knocked down a peg.
There was a light tap on the study door that interrupted any further conversation.
“Come in,” Dr. Spencer called.
The maid peeked inside. “I’m sorry to bother you Dr. Spencer but those two detectives that were here yesterday have returned. They’d like to speak to you."
Alexi and James exchanged a glance. Either they were here to tell them they’d found Liliana or they had somehow heard about they’re somewhat abrupt entry into John Gages apartment.
“Send them in Margaret,” Dr. Spencer said ruefully. They really had no option.
Mallory and Hanson came into the study. The stern look on both men’s faces warned them that they were there because of their rather forceful entry.
“King Alexi, Dr. Spencer,” Mallory greeted, tossing Nicolai and Valery a frigid acknowledging nod. Nicolai bristled at the disrespectful glance but remained silent as the chestnut haired detective spoke again. “We were called to the palm court apartments a short time go to investigate a break in, in which you four gentlemen were clearly described.
“It was NOT a break in,” Alexi countered. “He had my daughter.”
“Regardless of that your Highness, you weren’t invited in…She wasn’t being held against her will. Kicking the door down constitutes an unlawful entry or what we call here…Breaking and entering.”
Alexi scowled at the condescending tone, unaccustomed to being taken to task for his actions regardless of what they were.
“If you would have done your job, we wouldn’t have had to do it ourselves,” Nicolai sneered arrogantly.
They shot him a dismissing glance which only aggravated the man even more. “We WERE doing our job sir,” Hanson corrected… “And we ARE doing it now. As it happens his partner was at the apartment and we’ve asked him to please, for the sake of diplomacy to ask Mr. Gage not to press charges.”
Spencer and Alexi exchanged a relieved glance. At least they wouldn’t need to have James’ lawyer bail them out of jail.
“Thank you,” Alexi said, though the arrogant tone clearly told them he really hadn’t expected anything less.
“We are warning you all however, if this happens again we’ll have no choice but to arrest you.”
Valery stepped forward in defense of his King. “I was the one who kicked the door down…I am the one to be held responsible,” he volunteered, prepared to go to jail for his sovereign if he needed to.
“No one is going to be held responsible for anything but the cost of repairing Mr. Gage’s door,” Hanson explained, but the tone clearly said he didn’t like it.
“I’ll take care of that Alexi,” Spencer offered.
“My thanks James,” Alexi replied. “If there is nothing more?” He questioned, his raised brow stating that the man was completely unrepentant.
“We’ll be leaving then,” Mallory said, understanding the silent request for them to go. “Please leave Mr. Gage alone for the forty eight hours we gave him to resolve this.”
Alexi made no reply except to fold his arms across his chest.
The two detectives sighed but spun on their heel and left. The door clicked shut behind them.
“What do we do now your Highness?” Nicolai asked angrily.
Alexi waved him off. “Valery…? I want you to go to John Gage’s apartment. Wait for him to return and bring him to me.”
“If he doesn’t want to come?” Valery asked worriedly.
“Insist,” he replied smugly.
Johnny led Lily to a fallen tree stump that he and Roy had dragged over a while back to give them something to sit on.
“Lily,” he began gently. “I think you’re beautiful, sweet, fun girl but…,” Lily bit her lip, afraid of what he was about to say. “It wouldn’t be fair to you to let you move in with me or to take advantage of what may well only be gratitude.”
“Gratitude?” She repeated in shock. “Is that what you think?” She snapped.
John bit his lip at what was obviously a poor choice of words. “I uh…I didn’t mean to upset you Lily,” he back peddled. “It’s just that sometimes a victim can mistake gratitude for something more and the fact that I’m trying to help you now…I just think…,” he shrugged. “That you might be mistaking what you’re feeling for me.”
Lily folded her arms over her chest in a huff. “I’m not a child or an idiot Ivan,” she said angrily. “I know what I feel.”
John glanced away with a deep look of sadness in his eyes. “Lily…I…I believe you…I do but…It’s not just about you.”
“What do you mean?”
Johnny tugged at his lower lip with his teeth. He hated sharing his past with anyone and with the exception of Roy and Joanne and Kel Brackett he kept it a careful and painful secret.
He never spoke of it even with the women he dated though he supposed that was selfish. Cathy might have been more understanding and given him time to sort out his feelings if she knew he had AS and had been abused as a child but he didn’t want their pity and he knew he had too far to go to heal his own heart and spirit after what had been done to him to dump it all on some poor woman but Lily was special…She wasn’t just the average girl you casually dated for fun and hey…If it doesn’t work out…Move on.
“Lily…There are some things you don’t know about me…,” he began.
“There are A LOT of things I do not know about you Vanya…That’s why I want to be with you…to find out.”
John sighed heavily. She wasn’t leaving him an option. “Lily…I have a problem…A couple of them really,” he added tentatively.
“What problem Vanya?” She queried worriedly at the hesitant tone and sadness in the dark eyes.
“I have neurological disorder,” he explained, flushing a bit in embarrassment at the admission. Her eyes widened…Afraid he’d tell her he was dying or something. He saw the look and delved in a bit deeper. “Well…It’s an emotional problem really I guess,” he said not wanting to go into too many details. “I uh…I have trouble understanding and uh… expressing how I feel….I can’t say…I mean…I’m just not ready to…commit to anyone,” he stuttered.
She remembered Dixie warning her of the same thing. “I’m not asking you to marry me Vanya,” she said softly.
“I know Lily but…You deserve a man’s devotion…His love…You’re not some one night stand ya know…The type of girl who’s just out to have some fun and hang out with a guy. You’re not…,” he shrugged, unsure of how to explain it.
“But how do you know that you won’t fall in love with me unless we try?” She asked plaintively.
“Lily…Roy asked me this too and I told him…I can’t begin to offer you what you’re used to…”
“I do not care about that,” she interrupted.
“I do…Besides,” he began, not wanting to hurt her but needing her to understand. “I don’t love you and I don’t know that I ever will…I don’t even know if I’ll ever be able to love ANYONE the way they deserve…To tell them what they need to hear and you deserve someone who does and can…”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears that pooled and slid down her cheeks.
“Please don’t cry,” he whispered, squeezing her hand gently.
“Why? Why did you help me then?” She wept softly.
“Because you asked me too. Because I was partly to blame for what happened in the garden that started all this trouble. Because I couldn’t stand the idea of seeing you forced to marry someone you didn’t love and who doesn’t love you and I guess most of all…Because they hurt you and I’ve…,: He hesitated a moment. “Because I’ve been there myself,” he admitted. “And I couldn’t let that happen to you.”
It took a moment for what he said to sink in. “You were abused?”
John nodded. “As a child…Yes.”
“I’m so sorry Vanya,” she said softly as she reached out to caress his cheek.
He glanced away. “I didn’t tell you that to gain your sympathy,” he mumbled, “I just felt you had a right to an honest answer…Besides…,” he began with a half hearted shrug and a crooked grin. “You may decide you wanna move to….I dunno…New York or something,” he finished.
Her heart felt ripped into shreds…John Gage was the first man she’d ever fallen in love with and he didn’t want her. “Maybe I will Vanya,” she said sadly. “But until then maybe we can at least be friends,” she said as she leaned over to kiss him tenderly.
John didn’t pull away...Lily was grateful for that much anyway. At least there was still some hope.
Johnny finally broke the kiss and pulled back. He smiled and used his thumb to wipe away the tears that still tracked down her cheeks before dropping a teasing kiss on her nose.
“Let me show you how to set up a campsite,” he said lightly as he stood up and pulled the girl lightly to her feet.
She nodded and followed him.
Joanne DeSoto was coming down the stairs as Roy pushed the door open and stepped inside. She saw the frustrated look on his face and frowned worriedly. “So what happened?” She asked curiously.
Roy frowned even more. “They kicked John’s door down just like the detectives said but it doesn’t look like anything else was damaged.”
“Are they going to arrest them?” She asked.
Roy shook his head, looking disgusted. “No…They asked me to talk to Johnny and ask him not to press charges.”
“WHAT? But why?” She almost yelled.
“Because the man is a King and they don’t want any nasty repercussions. They said they were going to go talk to them and warn them that if it happens again they’ll be arrested. They were going to get them to at least pay for the damages.”
Joanne’s hands landed on her hips in disbelief. “I don’t believe this…They’re going to just let them get away with it.”
Roy shrugged. “I guess so…I guess if that’s the worst thing they do we can live with it as long as Johnny will be safe from them,” he finished with a sigh.
“I suppose,” she murmured unhappily. Jo was very protective over John Gage who she considered ‘her boy’. Roy almost pitied Alexi if he messed with John and Joanne got a hold of him but at least he wouldn’t have to worry about Jo having any ideas about the man now either.
Valery stood leaning against a tree as he watched the older man in coveralls fix the broken door. He’d wait patiently until he was finished and then carefully pick the lock.
He hated doing this and especially since he had no idea what his King and that little worm Nicolai had planned for the boy.
It bothered him that the young man could be hurt for simply trying to help Princess Liliana. He understood…He’d wanted to help her too but he’d been caught between two loyalties. One to his King and the other to the girl he’d been watching over since the day she was born.
He also knew she was falling for the handsome fireman and she’d hate him forever if anything bad happened but what could he do?
The older man finally finished up and put his tools away. He wiped his hands on a rag and picked up the small kit before heading back to his own apartment.
Valery glanced around, making sure there was no one about to see him and carefully made his way upstairs. He pulled a small leather kit from his pocket and removed two small tools…Within just a few moments the tumblers in the lock were turning and so was the doorknob. Valery slipped inside to wait. John Gage had to return sometime and he’d be waiting for him when he did.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly for Lily and John. He’d led her down to the narrow river where he and Roy often fished, especially when something was bothering Johnny.
He then took her for a long walk through the woods. She listened carefully as he pointed out the animals, plants and trees and watched his handsome face become more animated as he went on and knew he was in his element out here in the wilderness.
They returned to the campsite at dusk and John opened a can of beans and spam that he’d had in his bag. He’d pick up something more substantial in the morning.
Lily was falling more and more for the young fireman with every passing moment but he’d been clear and honest with her. He wasn’t in love with her and may never be. She didn’t care…She knew what she wanted and all she had to do was get Vanya to cooperate, even if it was all she’d ever have.
They talked about her future over their meager dinner. Discussing the possibility of being a model if she chose not to use her degree in economics…He was sure his aunt could help her out until she got settled.
All Lily cared about was having more time to change Ivan’s mind about her but in the meantime she had him here…now…She didn’t plan on letting the moment go to waste.
“I’m getting tired Vanya,” she murmured, as she sat up from where they had been lounging and watching the stars while they talked. She stretched slowly and sinuously like a cat awakening from its nap.
She pretended not to notice the dark eyes that watched the material of her shirt stretch tautly over her chest, almost popping the buttons. Lily may never have been to bed with a man but she certainly knew how to use her looks and her body to get what she wanted.
John glanced uncomfortably away, afraid his body would betray him at what he assumed was the girls ‘innocent’ display.
He climbed to his feet and reached down to take her hand and pull her up. She followed him to the small tent and climbed in behind him.
John began to unroll the sleeping bag, fluffing its small attached pillow. He sat back in the tight quarters and bumped into Lily, almost knocking her over. He grabbed her arms and pulled her toward him.
She was a mere few centimeters away from his face…Their gazes locked. Johnny seemed to shake himself back to the moment. “Sorry,” he murmured as he dropped his hands and inched away from the beautiful woman.
“It’s alright,” she murmured in disappointment. She’d been so close and hadn’t taken the opportunity to kiss him, make him forget that she wasn’t a ‘one night stand’ as he’d called it.
“Where am I sleeping?” She asked glancing about. It was obvious there was only one bedroll here.
John looked surprised but he patted the sleeping bag. “Right here.”
“Well what about you?” She questioned curiously.
“Oh…Uh…I’ll just um…Sleep out there,” he finished pointing to the blanket they’d been lying on earlier.
“But there is only one of these to sleep in,” she pointed out.
“Oh that’s okay…I only need a blanket,” he assured her.
“Don’t be silly Vanya, there is plenty of room here,” she argued, nodding toward the empty space.
Johnny knew that…He and Roy had shared this tent many times on their trips but this was different. Roy wasn’t a beautiful, young woman. His face flushed. “I uh…That wouldn’t be…I mean…I…I’m fine outside,” he stuttered.
Lily grinned at his flustered state, knowing he was attracted to her... Even if he wasn’t in love with her…At least not yet.
“But there is no need Vanya,” she protested determinedly. “We are both adults here,” she reminded him.
That’s what Johnny was afraid of. “I uh…I do it all the time,” he explained.
“Well then…If you’re going to sleep outside then so am I,” she threatened as she began rerolling the sleeping bag.
“Lily,” he protested.
“I mean it,” she warned with an arch to one delicate eyebrow. “Besides…I’ll feel safer if you’re with me.”
John rolled his eyes in frustration. “Alright,” he gritted out through clenched teeth. He crawled from the tent and went to get the blanket they’d been lying on earlier. He shook it out before climbing back inside.
He waited for her to slip inside the sleeping bag before rolling himself tightly into the blanket and lying down, using his arm for a pillow.
“Good night Lily,” he mumbled softly as he closed his eyes.
“Good night Vanya,” she replied but she was still awake long after his gentle breathing told her he was asleep. Her blue eyes wandered over his handsome face and she desperately wanted to wake him, hold him but she was afraid if she pushed him he’d just leave and she didn’t want to scare him off.
She slid from the bag and carefully moved it closer to the dark haired man beside her before sliding back inside. She reached out to gently caress his cheek.
John shifted restlessly at her touch but didn’t wake. She snuggled as close to him as she dared before closing her eyes and letting sleep claim her.
Johnny woke early the next morning to find Lily curled close to his side. His arm was draped over her and her head was tucked beneath his chin, He was surprised that he hadn’t noticed her sooner but still…This felt pretty nice. He smiled down into the beautiful face so close to his own and wished there was more than mere attraction.
He knew he wanted her but that wasn’t enough for a woman like Lily…She deserved to have someone who loved her with all their heart and he knew that wasn’t him.
He sighed and edged away from her before he lost his resolve. He sat up slowly and disentangled himself from the blanket before slipping quietly from the tent.
John was warming the last can of beans when he felt a presence and glanced around in time to see the Princess slip from the tent and come across to join him at the fire.
“Good morning Vanya,” she murmured quietly as she leaned down to give him a soft kiss.
He returned it briefly before pulling back and smiling up at her. “Good morning Lily,” he replied. “Sorry it’s just beans,” he said looking a bit embarrassed to be offering them to her yet again. “I just don’t keep a lot of supplies in my bag and I didn’t have time to grab anything.”
Lily grinned and sat down next to him. “Don’t worry about it Ivan…My father didn’t exactly give us much warning before he came crashing in,” she replied with a cheeky grin.
“Well I’ll bring you back something better to eat and some clothes that fit better when I come back from Roy’s.”
“Where will you get them?”
“You and Joanne wear about the same size, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind loaning you something until we can get your own things from Natasha.”
She nodded. “Can I come with you?” She asked.
John shook his head. “Your father found me easy enough and he’s certainly had enough time to find out who my partner is. He could be watching the house. I wouldn’t have too much trouble slipping past them but…”
“But not with me slowing you down,” she added.
John grinned and nodded. “Will you be gone long?”
“A couple of hours today but…”
“I have to work tomorrow…I’m not sure what to do with you then.”
“I’ll wait here…I’ve been watching and I’ll be alright for one night.”
John chewed his lip uncertainly. Lily was a novice in the woods. What if something happened? “I don’t know…”
“I’m a big girl Ivan…I can take care of myself. Just bring me a book to read to pass the time and something I don’t have to cook,” she teased.
“Mallory and Hanson will be back after my shift to find out what my aunt is going to do. If I refuse to tell them where you are…,” he let the sentence hang.
“Tell them then…I won’t let them arrest you because of me…I never intended to cause you this much trouble.”
John shook his head. “If you choose to go back then fine…If not,” he shrugged, unprepared to let them take the girl back to that kind of dictatorial servitude.
“Thank you Vanya,” she murmured softly as she cuddled against him and laid her head against his shoulder. If John would do this for her, she had to wonder what he’d do for someone he did love and felt a twinge of jealousy for the woman who would one day own John Gage’s heart.
They finished breakfast and John made sure she had enough wood to keep the fire going. “Stay away from the edge,” he admonished. “And watch those boulders,” he reminded her. “They’re not stable.”
She threw him a jaunty salute as if to her superior officer, drawing a chuckle from Johnny but she also knew he meant business and she’d take the warning to heart.
John mounted the bike soon after. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” he promised.
“I’ll be waiting,” she promised him, giving him another tender kiss before he dropped his helmet in place and kick started the bike, pulling out to begin the arduous trek back through the rough terrain. He hoped he wouldn’t have to repeat this too often.
Roy and Joanne and the kids were finishing up breakfast when they heard the raucous growl of John’s motorcycle slipping inside their garage where it would be out of sight.
Roy was on his feet and headed for the door to meet him. He yanked it open to find his partner looking a bit tousled from their daring get away but none the worse for wear.
“Come on in junior,” Roy said, stepping aside to let his young friend in.
“Thanks,” Johnny replied with a grin as he stepped past and came into the kitchen where Joanne was waiting.
“Good morning sweetheart,” she greeted kissing him lightly on the mouth.
“Morning Jo,” he answered before stepping to the table to greet the two children. Jen grinned up at him from her booster seat Chris stopped chewing long enough to give his uncle a hug of welcome.
“Are you hungry sweetheart?” Jo asked as she went to pour John some coffee.
“Starving but I uh….Kinda feel guilty eating while Lily is settling for a can of beans.”
“I’ll pack you some food to take back with you then.”
Joanne shooed Chris upstairs to clean up and get ready for school while she washed Jen’s sticky fingers.
“Where is our runaway Princess anyway?” Roy asked.
“Not living the high life at the moment I promise you,” Johnny replied with a snicker. “But I did warn her away from the boulders,” he added without really answering the question directly before turning to take the cup from Joanne. What Roy didn’t know, he couldn’t be forced to tell. “Joanne…?”
“What is it sweetie?” She questioned as she began to whip up some more waffle batter.
“Do you suppose you could let Lily borrow a few things to make her a bit more comfortable? Right now she’s only got a pair of my jeans and a flannel shirt.”
“Yeah…I had some tough explaining to do over the fact that her clothes were on your floor when the police got there,” Roy told him with a smirk.
John flushed and hoped her father hadn’t hung around to see that or he’d truly want him dead even though nothing had happened.
“She was just sleeping in one of my shirts…Nothing happened,” he assured Jo who was looking at him with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
She giggled at the image of the Princess dressed as Johnny described her. “Sure baby…I’ll loan you something for her to wear and maybe get some toiletries together for her as well…She’s not going to feel comfortable all gritty and dirty like you and Roy do when you’re out there,” she teased, eyeing the overnight growth on John’s chin.
“Thanks Jo,” he said with a laugh as he sat down at the table and waited for breakfast.
The phone rang just before he finished and Roy went to answer it. “DeSoto residence…Hi Rosemary…Yes he’s here, hold on a moment.” He held the phone out to John.
He swallowed back a grimace, unsure how his aunt would react to all the trouble he’d stirred up and dragging her into the middle of it. He took the phone.
“Um hi Aunt Rose…”
“Hello sweetie…How are you?” The voice on the other end questioned, sounding concerned. John rarely called and never asked Helen to disturb her when she was traveling either for business or pleasure so she was worried as to what the emergency could possibly be.
“I’m fine Aunt Rose…I uh…I have a problem and I hate to bother you with it but...”
“Don’t be silly Háahketa, what is it sweetie?”
“Well…,” John blew out a breath and jumped in. “I sorta started a big problem after I met this Princess from some Soviet country and…,”
“Oh nooo,” Rose almost moaned. “Little one…What did you do?” She asked, knowing her nephews rather impetuous nature, especially when it came to women.
John flushed at the nickname that she usually used only in Indian as well as the tone, knowing what she thought he’d done.
“It wasn’t THAT Aunt Rose,” he said indignantly.
“Oh…Well I’m sorry I just assumed,” she added with a laugh.
“No it’s just that…Well…”
“Spit it out John Roderick…you know I hate it when you beat around the bush.”
“I kissed her in the garden,” he blurted out.
There was a long pause. That couldn’t be IT. “And…?” she prodded.
“There was a photographer there.”
“Yeah…He got a picture of it and it got in the paper. Her father got real uptight and told her she had to marry some guy old enough to be her father and she refused and he…He HIT her Aunt Rose.”
“Oh dear,” she muttered, knowing how Johnny would react to that even though he’d never confirmed to her directly that he’d been abused…She knew. “All right my sweetheart…What is it you need me to do?” She asked.
John blew out a relieved breath that she wasn’t angry with him for causing all this trouble. “Can you talk to the Governor? Ask him if he’ll let her stay here?”
“John…Are you in love with this young woman?” She asked curiously.
There was a long pause. “No ma’am…I don’t …I don’t think so,” he murmured. “But I do want to help her to be free to make her own choice.”
Rose was relieved. She knew her nephew had a troubled past and seriously doubted he was ready to commit to anyone yet, despite the fact that Roy and Joanne had already turned his life around for the better and taught him about having a family and learning to love again. Something she’d never thought she’d see. He was getting better every time she saw him.
“Alright sweetie…This really is matter for the State Department but I’m sure Ronny can help me get the ball rolling with them.”
John grinned on the other end of the line. “Thank you Aunt Rose,” he said excitedly.
“I’ll speak to him today háahketa…Should I call you at Roy’s again when I find out?”
“Uh…No. I’m not staying here.”
“At home then?”
“Uh no…I’m… I uh… kinda had to hide Lily away,” he admitted. “Her father is really mad.”
“And he’ll be even angrier if they grant her asylum. Are you in any danger John?” She asked worriedly.
“No ma’am…I don’t think so…They won’t find me until after we get Lily safely away.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Alright then, so where do I find you?”
“I’ll be at work tomorrow so you can call me at the station.”
“Alright…John…You do realize that her father will most likely not just walk away without her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that she’ll most likely have to disappear at least for a while. Change her name even. He’ll be waiting to take her back.”
John blew out a breath. They hadn’t thought of that but she was probably right and it was just another reason to keep the girl at arms length. “I’ll be sure to warn her about that Aunt Rose. Thank you,” he replied softly.
“Alright sweetie…I’ll talk to you then. You be careful…I love you.”
John smiled. “I um…You know…Um…I love you too,” he mumbled uncertainly, having trouble speaking the words aloud. Only Roy and Joanne’s love and friendship had brought him to this point where he could say it to his aunt…to Chris and Jen and Jo…He’d told Roy once but it was more often something read in a glance between them than by spoken words that embarrassed them both at this point in their friendship though the love, caring and brotherly devotion was obvious to anyone who knew them well.
John hung up.
“Well?” Roy asked.
“She’s gonna help,” he told them with a grin.
“Great…Now…Let’s get some things together to help make Liliana more comfortable,” Jo suggested as she took John’s hand and led him upstairs. Roy watched them go with a shake of his blonde head.
His young partner sure could stir up a hornet’s nest, he mused thoughtfully before he mounted the stairs and followed. He just prayed he didn’t get stung.
Joanne and Roy watched as John strapped his bags of borrowed treasures to the back of his motorcycle.
“You coming here tomorrow junior?” Roy asked as John threw his leg over the bike.
“Nah…I took most of my clothes home to wash so I don’t have anything but my sweats here so I’ll need to shower and change before I go to work.”
“What if they’re still watching the apartment?” Roy asked worriedly.
“I doubt it Roy…Besides I’ll only be there a couple of minutes.”
Roy frowned, not liking that at all. “I don’t know junior,” he murmured worriedly.
Johnny grinned at his friends over protective attitude. “Tell you what Pally…If it will make you feel any better, why don’t you pick me up there and then I’ll be able to drive the rover home and save myself an extra trip. Once I hear from my aunt then I can go get Lily and take her to the State Department until the decide what to do with her.”
Well it wasn’t Roy’s first choice but he figured it was the best he was going to get out of his stubborn partner.
Joanne stepped forward and tilted John’s face toward her. “But from now on John Gage, you make sure you leave some of your things here so you have something to wear when necessary…I’ll wash them.”
John grinned at the motherly rebuke. “Yes ma’am.”
“Don’t you ma’am me…I’m not your grandmother,” she teased, giving his arm a playful swat. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “You be careful.”
John nodded and threw a glance at his best friend. “See ya tomorrow Pally?”
Roy gave him a brief head bob…“I’ll see you tomorrow junior.”
The bike purred to life and Johnny roared off down the street.
Both of the DeSoto’s watched him go with a concerned frown on their faces but there wasn’t anything more they could do right now. They turned and went back inside as John turned the corner and disappeared.
Valery paced the confines of the small apartment. He’d turned the television on and turned the volume down low…He’d poked through several books the young firefighter had on his shelf.
He’d fixed himself some of the food he found in John Gage’s cabinets and he’d fretted. What was he going to do when the young man returned? He could hope that Liliana was with him and he could simply take the girl and return her to her father but what if she wasn’t?
He didn’t want to hurt the boy…He seemed like a nice kid…Handsome, courageous. If anything happened to him Lily would never forgive him.
He considered just telling his sovereign that the young man hadn’t returned but he’d never lied to his King and if he found out…Valery would never be trusted again. He was truly caught between a rock and a hard place here.
He flopped down on John’s sofa and continued to wait.
Lily was waiting patiently when Johnny finally arrived back at the campsite. She ran to meet him as he parked the bike and climbed off. He pulled the helmet free and turned to greet her. “Everything okay…?” He questioned as she put her arms around him and held him to her.
“Fine…I was just a bit lonely…I missed you,” she teased.
John grinned. “Already…? I was only gone a couple of hours,” he teased. “What are you gonna do when I’m gone all day and night?” He questioned, brushing a kiss on her forehead.
“Hopefully I’ll be too busy reading a good book and trying to figure out how to cook to notice.”
“Well…On that note then.” He pulled the cords free and pulled the bag of items that Joanne had sent loose and handed it to her.
“From Jo…She thought you could use these.”
Lily retreated to the blanket and dumped out the bag. She gasped in pleased surprise. There were small bottles of shampoo and rinse for her hair…A bar of soap…Toothbrush and toothpaste…John scooped up the razor.
“That’s for me,” he said rubbing at his stubbly chin. “I didn’t leave home with much either.” he teased as he scooped the sweat pants he’d shoved in the bag clear of the other things.
Lily nodded and held up a woman’s shirt and blue jeans and sighed in relief. “Well…These should hopefully fit me better. At least I will no longer look like this Ellie May.”
John snickered and she giggled in return as she set them aside and picked up a pair of sneakers and socks.
.”These will also be a relief,” she said kicking off the uncomfortable pumps and pulling the canvas shoes on in place. She picked up the last item of apparel in the bag and smiled at the soft pink nightgown. “Joanne has thought of everything…I will thank her for this soon I hope,” she added as she set the garment aside and removed a couple of small towels before she picked up the two books in the bottom. One was a book of poetry and the other looked to Johnny like one of those romance novels Jo was always reading.
John had joked that Roy must be doing something wrong if Joanne needed those books….
“She’s just getting some new ideas junior,” Roy had shot back with a leering grin and waggle of his blonde eyebrow.
John unstrapped the second bag and shook out the contents. A loaf of bread…Soup, powdered eggs… A jar of peanut butter, canned spaghetti like the type Johnny had had in his apartment. A small cooking pan…Real plastic cups and plates and utensils and Johnny’s favorite…A coffee pot and a small bag of coffee plus a few other items.
“Oh thank heavens…I’m starved,” she said in relief.
John grinned. “Why don’t we have some lunch and then we can head down to the river and clean up…We’ll bring some freshwater back to camp,” he added shaking the almost empty canteens.
“Sounds good,” she agreed.
They made soup and sandwiches with their remaining water and ate quickly, both of them looking forward to a freshening up a bit after.
They tidied up the camp, raising the rest of the food high above the ground at the end of the rope to prevent looting from unwanted four legged intruders and then headed down to the river.
Johnny carried Lily’s bundle of borrowed clothing and toiletry items down to the water. She had her arm looped through his and surreptitiously glanced up into his handsome face as they walked.
If someone had ever told her a week ago that she would be living in a tent on a mountain and was planning on taking a bath in a river and wearing borrowed clothes to boot she would have laughed in their face.
She had always slept on silk sheets and beneath downy soft comforters…Her clothes handmade to fit. Her bare feet had never touched the dirt but today…She wanted it to go on forever.
She knew she was in love with the young man beside her and she knew he was trying desperately to do the right thing for her…To remain distant and hands off but that’s not what she wanted even if it was all she would ever have of him.
John set her bag down and hung her clean clothes on an overhanging branch. “This is a good spot,” Johnny said as he plucked the bar of soap from the small plastic case Jo had tucked it into. “The water runs pretty clear here through the rocks.”
Lily looked out into the crystal clear water flowing slowly by. “How deep is it?” She asked curiously as John pulled his shirt off and began to use the soap to lather his face.
“About four or five feet at its deepest,” he replied without glancing up.
Lily watched the razor scrape the stubble clear as John used his reflection in the water for a mirror. She smiled and turned away…
“Four or five feet…?”
“Uh hmmm,” he agreed.
She watched the play of muscles beneath the taught flesh and she grinned wickedly as she untied the rope that held up the too large pants and let them drop down her slender hips to her ankles. She unbuttoned the red flannel shirt and shrugged it off before sliding her underwear off as well.
She stared at the John’s back, well aware that she was taking unfair advantage. She knew she was a beautiful woman and she’d seen the desire in the dark eyes when he’d looked at her and she intended to use whatever she had too to sway him.
She came up beside him as he rinsed the remaining lather from his face and dried it with the towel. “I’ll wait for you over there if….,” the words trailed off as John opened his eyes and his mouth dropped open in shock at the reflection in the water.
Standing next to him was a very beautiful and very naked woman… “I’d rather you didn’t,” she said softly as she ran her hand over his bare shoulder.
John rose to his feet. “Lily…What are you doing?” he groaned, looking away…Trying desperately to keep his body under control…She was stunning. “We talked about this.”
She reached around to cup his cheek and force his head around until his dark eyes met hers. “No Ivan…You talked…I listened…Now it’s my turn.”
Her fingers rested over his mouth, silencing the rest. “Today…Tonight might well be the only time I will ever have with you Vanya…”
John shouldn’t have been surprised that she’d realize her father would never just give up and let her stay without attempting to take her back. She knew him better than anyone after all. “I know that and…”
“Shhh,” she commanded as she reached up to kiss him…Her hands playing over his chest. John sucked in his breath. “They may well send me back to Kharkiv but even if they let me stay…I may need to disappear until my father gives up…He won’t leave me without a fight. I love you Vanya…I will never love anyone else the way I do you.”
John smiled poignantly. “Lily…You don’t know that…You’re young and beautiful…They’ll be dozens of men…,” he reasoned. “I can’t prom…”
“And none will be you…Oh I know you do not love me,” she said holding up her hand to stop his protest. “I do not care…I want one night…This night…My first night to be with you…To hold on to no matter where I go or who I will one day marry. Please Vanya…Let me have that…No strings…No promises…No commitment you aren’t ready for,” she murmured as she stood on tip toe to kiss him again…Her small hands coming to rest on his belt. She knew the moment she’d won.
This was a bad idea. John knew it but his body had other plans as the girl pressed against him. Her mouth brushing his in feather light touches…Her small hands tugging at his belt. John groaned softly as his arms slid around her, pulling her against him. His lips parted hers and he bent to sweep her up in his arms as he carried her up the bank to the soft, meadow of wild flowers that bordered the river.
He knelt and laid her down before standing to remove his jeans. He tossed them aside before he joined her on the sun warmed grass. John moved over her and gazed down into the young woman’s face, the blue eyes full of an even mixture of desire and anticipation.
“Are you sure?” He whispered as he smoothed the hair from her face.
“Never more sure of anything Vanya,” she murmured huskily back as she lifted her arms to loop about his neck and pull him down to her. His hands began a slow trek over Lily’s body bringing a gasp to her lips as her nerves suddenly began to tingle. “Can I touch you,” she asked uncertainly. John nodded and grinned as she began to mimick his movements.
She smiled up at him a long while later as John rolled over bringing her beneath him. He smiled back before his mouth claimed hers.
The sun was high overhead when Lily’s eyes fluttered open. John’s arms were wrapped loosely about her but the dark eyes were closed in sleep.
She smiled dreamily at the memory of his body against hers and the taste of his mouth. She reached up and softly kissed his lips. He shifted restlessly but didn’t wake. Lily carefully disentangled herself from his embrace and slowly climbed to her feet.
She glanced at the river and decided the bath she’d planned to take earlier might feel wonderful about now. She padded to the edge of the water and dipped her toe in. The water was cool but not uncomfortably so. She made a little splash, sending ripples out across the surface before she picked up the soap and waded into the water. She washed quickly and slipped beneath the surface to rinse the lather away. She set the soap on a rock before moving further out where the water was deeper.
She swam for a few minutes before flipping onto her back to float peacefully beneath the warm afternoon sun. She marveled at the freedom she felt being out here with him like this and felt a bit like Adam and Eve in their own private garden. Lily laughed out loud at the thought.
John’s brown eyes cracked open at the sound of laughter. He immediately registered the fact that not only was he completely nude, he was also alone. He sat up and glanced around, spotting Lily almost immediately.
She was floating in the middle of the river and laughing at nothing all by herself. John grinned…He’d felt this way himself a time or two when he’d come here alone. Free from prying eyes and the rules of city living…To run and swim free as his ancestor’s had and feel no shame.
He pushed himself to his feet and walked to the water’s edge and stood watching her innocent wonder of the moment and wished he felt different. Could he fall in love with her? He knew he still had a long way to go but what if she was still there at the end of that journey? Would there be an end for him? Would he ever be able to truly love someone the way they deserved with this damn AS in his life? He didn’t know…He sighed in frustration. He didn’t have the right to ask her to wait for him maybe to find out that there was no hope of his ever having the ability to understand his emotions well enough to make that commitment but for now...Lily was his and she understood his limitations.
“Do you have any idea what a beautiful picture you make?” He asked huskily.
Lily sat up and began to tread water. She grinned at him standing there as naked as she was. “Well Vanya…,” she teased lightly. “I could say the same about you,” she finished as her eyes swept over him.
John gave her a suggestive smile and a waggle of his brows.
Lily giggled and crooked her index finger in a ‘come here’ gesture. John dove into the water and quickly swam out to join her, surfacing in front of her. She looped her arms about his neck and pulled his head down to kiss him.
John’s mouth parted hers as he pulled the girl against him and the two sank beneath the surface of the water.
The sun was just rising when John woke the next morning. Lily was curled against him within the narrow confines of the sleeping bag. He glanced at the sliver of light creeping through the tent opening.
He hated waking her but he didn’t want to just leave without saying a word, especially since it could be the last time he’d see her for a long while. He had to get back to his apartment to shower and change before Roy showed up to pick him up and it was a long ride over some rugged terrain to get back to Carson.
Johnny nuzzled Lily’s ear bringing a blissful sigh from the young woman. She rolled over in his arms and smiled up at him. “Good morning Vanya,” she purred softly as she reached up to pull his head down to her.
John grinned and kissed her but pulled back after only a moment. “As much as I’d like to stay,” he assured her. “I have to meet Roy and go to work,” he told her, looking a little disappointed.
She smiled ruefully, knowing as well as he did that this might be the last time she’d get to hold him like this. “I don’t want this to end,” she whispered forlornly as tears sprang to her eyes.
Johnny closed his as well, not wanting to see her tears. “Lily you knew…”
“I know,” she interrupted. “I knew this moment would come but that doesn’t mean I have to like it,” she wept, pulling him closer.
“I’m so sorry Lily,” he whispered against her hair. “I shouldn’t have let this happen,” he said regretfully as he pulled away from her to try and sit up.
“Yes you should have,” she corrected him, letting him go. “It’s what I wanted. I knew when I went to you yesterday how you felt but I wanted this moment Ivan and I will never regret it,” she said fiercely. John looked away guiltily. She deserved so much better. She reached out to cup his cheek and turn his face back toward her. “I do not want you to regret it either.”
Johnny nodded. “I still wish it could be different…I just…”
Her fingers rose to rest against his lips, cutting off any further arguments. “Shhh…No regrets,” she whispered again.
John nodded and unzipped the sleeping bag to throw back the cover. He slid out and grabbed his clothes. He tossed Lily the pink nightgown.
She donned the thin garment with a delicious grin. “Well at least I finally get to use this,” she teased. “Thank Joanne for me will you?”
John laughed as he crawled from the tent to finish dressing. “Will you be okay by yourself here?” He asked as he pulled on his boots.
“I will be fine Vanya but I will be waiting impatiently for you to return in the morning to find out if your Aunt can help me.”
“Don’t worry Lily…I won’t let him hurt you again no matter what happens,” he promised her.
She smiled at him and gently stroked his cheek. “My knight in shining armor,” she teased.
John laughed. “Not hardly…Just an average fireman but I’ll still do my best.”
“Nothing average about you at all,” she said with a lift to her brow. “But really Ivan…I don’t want you getting into trouble because of me.”
John shrugged. “I’ve managed to get myself in trouble too many times all on my own…One more won’t matter,” he said dropping a kiss on her nose. He glanced at her watch. “I gotta go.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
John nodded and pulled his helmet on. He threw his leg over the bike.
Lily backed up and waved him off as he roared away. “I love you Vanya,” she whispered as he disappeared into the trees.
Valery had made himself comfortable on John’s sofa for the night. He’d made the decision that if the young fire fighter didn’t return in the morning, he’d give up the vigil and return to the Spencer home.
The forty eight hours would be up by then anyway and a decision made on whether the United States would let the Princess stay or send her home. They’d either force the young man to tell them where she was or King Alexi would have to try something else to get her back.
He finally drifted off around midnight, almost hoping the man wouldn’t return and he wouldn’t have to bring him to Alexi at all. He hoped in vain.
The sun was up and the sky was turning from the deep purples and oranges of sunrise to a hazy cloud filled blue when Valery awoke.
He stretched his cramped muscles and glanced at his watch. Seven twenty…He decided to wait a few more minutes before giving up and heading for the Spencer home to report his failure to his King. He’d prefer that to what he’d been ordered to do.
He went to Gage’s kitchen for a drink of water and stood at the window sipping the cool liquid. His attention was suddenly caught by the arrival of a motorcycle. The rider climbed off and pulled his helmet free.
Valery almost sighed in disappointment… It was John Gage and even worse he was alone. Alexi set the glass down, remembering how fast the young man was from the other day…He decided to wait until he wasn’t in a position to bolt. He retreated down the hallway to wait.
Johnny pulled into the parking lot and settled his bike into its regular spot. He climbed off and tugged his helmet free. The dark eyes flitted about the area warily to be sure no one was lurking in cars or loitering around the lot.
He glanced at his watch. It was still early. Roy should be here in about ten or fifteen minutes. That should give him enough time to shower and change before he got here. He headed up the stairs at a trot. He might even have enough time to get a cup of coffee if he hurried.
John unlocked the door to his apartment. He stepped inside and closed the door, locking it behind him. He started down the narrow hall, glancing into the small kitchen as he passed.
He’d suddenly stopped and backed up. He had a very uncomfortable feeling but wasn’t sure why. An empty can of soup sat on the counter. A half full glass of water on the table.
Had that been there when he was here with Lily? She’d burned her hand trying to cook…Had it been soup. Roy might have gotten a glass of water when he was here.
John shook his head and almost laughed at himself, jumping at shadows but still…His instincts had been honed by his grandfather long ago…He hesitated again…He chewed his lip uncertainly. The clock ticked loudly reminding him that Roy would be here soon…He was just imagining things he mused.
He continued down to his room, pushing the door open and stepping inside. He hadn’t taken more than two steps when the door was suddenly slammed shut behind him.
John whirled around but never even had time to raise his hands in self defense before Valery’s fist slammed into his face…John flew backwards, falling onto the small table near the door. The small lamp and picture of him with the DeSoto family crashed to the floor and shattered…His head hit the corner and blackness washed over him. His helmet dropped from his hand and rolled slowly away.
Valery stood over the crumpled form regretfully. He stooped and lifted the slight young man over his shoulder and headed for the door.
Roy pulled into the parking lot at seven forty. He quickly spotted Johnny’s motorcycle in its normal spot. He parked where John’s Rover normally sat and climbed out.
He headed up the stairs, glancing at his watch. He was a bit surprised that Johnny wasn’t waiting for him.
Roy approached the door and raised his hand to knock but froze in mid motion as he realized the door was already cracked open. Hackles rose on the back of his neck. It wasn’t like his partner to be careless. He pushed the door open carefully and glanced inside.
The hallway was dark and empty. He continued into the apartment. “JOHNNY?” He called worriedly. There was no response.
He moved cautiously through the rooms and finally came to the bedroom. He pushed the door open and his heart sank into his stomach at the sight that greeted him.
John’s helmet lay on the floor amid the remains of a picture frame and the scattered shards of a smashed lamp. The table was toppled and there were spots of blood on the beige carpet.
“Oh my God,” he muttered as he reached for the phone.
“Station 51, Captain Hookrader speaking,” a voice answered.
“Cap…This is Roy DeSoto, is Captain Stanley there yet sir?”
“Hold on DeSoto.
A moment later Hank’s voice replied. “Hey Roy...What’s up pal?”
“Cap…I’m at Johnny’s. I was supposed to meet him here and bring him to work with me.”
“And…?” Hank prodded.
“He’s not here cap. The motorcycle is parked outside and his helmet is on the floor. There’s broken glass and blood on the carpet.”
“Oh good Lord,” Hank muttered.
“I think something’s happened to him Cap.”
“And by something, you mean Liliana’s father?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Hank blew out a worried breath. “Call those two detectives and get them over there. I’ll see if Carlson and Dwyer can stay until you get here. I’ll call headquarters and let them know what’s happening and get a replacement for Gage.”
Valery entered the house, greeting the housekeeper who came to meet him. “Is King Alexi up yet?” He asked the woman.
“She nodded. “Yes sir. He’s in the study with Dr. Spencer and the other ‘Gentlemen’,” she said, the tone implying that she thought he was anything but.
Valery almost grinned but caught himself. “Thank you.” He went to the door and knocked, waiting for them to answer.
“Come in,” James’ voice responded.
Valery took a deep breath of regret. He pushed the door open. “Your Highness,” he said, giving his King a brief bow.
Alexi looked worried but it was Nicolai who snapped angrily... “Why have you returned…Where is Liliana?”
“I do not know where the Princess is your grace,” the servant replied, barely civil. He turned to his sovereign. “Your Highness. I have Gage.”
“Where is he?” Nicolai barked, coming quickly to his feet.
Alexi threw the man an annoyed glare but turned his attention to Valery who’d ignored the Grand Duke’s question.
Nicolai’s eyes narrowed angrily at the servant’s lack of respect but backed off as Alexi came to his feet and stepped between them.
“Where is he?” Alexi demanded.
Valery hated doing this but he had no choice. “He’s in the car your Highness. He’s unconscious. I didn’t want to bring him in past the housekeeper.”
“Good thinking,” James said. “She’d probably faint or run and tell my wife, besides…I don’t want Natasha to see him.”
“The police will certainly come here when they find he is missing,” Valery added.
James looked thoughtful. “Bring the car around to the back…There’s an old boathouse down by the lake. We don’t use it anymore. We can put him there.”
Alexi nodded to his body guard and Valery turned and left while the rest of the group left the study to go around and meet him on the back lawn.
Valery drove around and pulled to stop beside them. He climbed out and opened the trunk. The other three men looked inside. John’s tall, slender form was curled fetal like within the small space.
“Bring him,” Spencer said as he turned and headed into the garden where John and Liliana had kissed. Alexi and Nicolai were close behind.
Valery pulled the unconscious body of John Gage from the trunk of James Spencer’s car. He slung the limp form over his shoulder and followed the others.
He led them almost a half a mile through the garden and across the well manicured lawn to a small lake. A dock and a boathouse stood abandoned. The paint weathered and cracked.
James opened the door and let the others precede him into the dark interior. He closed the door behind them before turning on the lights. The doctor pointed to an old worktable and chair. “Put him in the chair,” he directed.
Valery carefully lowered the young fire fighter from his shoulder. He was a bit worried that the young man hadn’t awakened yet. He set him in the chair and for the first time noted the sticky, matted hair behind the man’s ear.
He parted the hair and frowned. “What is it?” Alexi demanded.
“He must have hit his head your highness. He’s bleeding.”
“He’ll be bleeding worse than that if he doesn’t tell us where Liliana is,” Nicolai sneered.
“He won’t tell you anything if he’s badly injured,” Valery snapped back, without thinking.
Nicolai glared. “Wake him up…We’ll make him tell us where Liliana is.”
“That will have to wait,” James intervened.
“Why?” Alexi and Nicolai barked almost simultaneously. “I want my daughter,” he added.
“This is the first place the police will look. We need to be at the house when they arrive and obviously unaware of the man’s disappearance.”
Alexi sighed and nodded. “You’re right. This will have to wait until after they have come to check. Tie him in the chair Valery.”
“Yes your Highness,” he agreed unhappily as he retrieved a coil of rope from a hook on the wall. He tied John’s hands to the arms of the chair and knelt to do the same to his ankles. They were all reasonably sure the young paramedic wouldn’t be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
“Let’s get back to the house before they get here,” James suggested.
Alexi looked at Nicolai, knowing the man’s arrogance and fearing that he might say something that could tip them off that Gage was somewhere nearby he made a decision.
“Nicolai…Stay with him,” Alexi ordered.
Nicolai looked slightly put out to be relegated to guard duty but then his eyes flicked to John. The gray orbs narrowed dangerously. “He is well secured?” He questioned Valery.
The guard didn’t like the look in the man’s eyes but he nodded. “He is well secured,” he assured him.
Nicolai nodded. This might not be a bad thing after all. The younger man was helpless and injured and Nicolai wanted revenge on the man who had taken Liliana from him.
“Of course Your Highness. I will be more than happy to watch him,” he said smugly.
“I could stay,” Valery offered, suddenly nervous about Nicolai’s willingness to stay in a dirty, dingy shed.
“You would be the first one they will suspect,” Alexi reminded him.
“And no one will miss Nicolai,” James pointed out, Much to the older man’s chagrin.
Valery wasn’t happy about leaving the boy with the hate filled Grand Duke but he had no choice. “Yes Your Highness,” he said softly as he cast a final glance at the young man slumped in the chair. He reluctantly followed the other two men from the Boathouse.
They arrived back at the house and just in time. They’d barely gotten resettled in the study before Mallory and Hanson arrived.
Mallory and Hanson knocked on the door to John’s apartment. It was obvious that the blonde paramedic had been waiting for them as the door opened immediately.
“Come in,” he invited, stepping back to allow them inside.
They stepped inside. “What makes you suspect that something happened to Mr. Gage?” Hanson asked.
“Well besides the fact that the door was open when I got here and John’s gone,” he said drily…”Let me show you.”
He led them to the bedroom where the toppled table and broken glass told the tale at least as far as Roy was concerned. “There’s blood,” he added pointing out the drops.
The two detectives exchanged a glance. “Mr. Desoto…It is possible that Mr. Gage simply fell and cut himself.”
“Then where is he?”
“Maybe he went to the hospital?”
“On foot? His motorcycle is in the parking lot and his Rover is at the station.”
“Maybe he called a cab?” Hanson suggested.
“Or an ambulance,” Mallory added.
“He’d have called,” he growled as he ran his hand through his blonde hair in frustration remembering when Johnny had been kidnapped by Scott Jackson and Brad Kimmerlin in revenge for his testimony about their stealing from their victims as well as the attempted murder of Johnny himself.
The police hadn’t been very helpful that time either and Roy had set out to find and rescue his young partner himself.
He’d rescued John but he’d been deeply in an AS withdrawal at the time, having been physically abused by Jackson and then the added stress of being told that Roy was dead because of what he’d done. John had fully retreated. It had taken the older paramedic a whole day and two desperate sessions of hold therapy to bring him back. Would John retreat again?
What were they doing to his young partner and how could he help him if the police wouldn’t?
“Did you talk to the neighbors?” Hanson asked, remembering the redhead down stairs who’d identified the men the first time.
“No…I was busy worrying about my partner,” he barked snidely.
“Look Mr. DeSoto,” Mallory began placatingly, seeing the combined look of anger and fear in the younger man’s blue eyes. “It does appear that a struggle took place here. I am going to call in a crime scene team and dust the house. I’ll have them talk to the neighbors and in the meantime…We’ll go talk to King Alexi and see if they can shed some light on Mr. Gage’s disappearance alright?”
Roy nodded in relief. They were at least going to try and help this time. “Alright,” he agreed quietly.
“We’ll call you if we find anything…”
Roy bobbed his head in agreement. “I’ll be at the station.”
“Fine…We’ll call you there.”
Roy left and headed for work…Not that he’d be any good…His heart was pounding in fear and his mind was on Johnny and what might be happening to his kid brother.
The housekeeper knocked on the study door.
The three men inside exchange a look. “Here they come,” Spencer guessed wryly. Alexi and Valery nodded. “Come in.”
“Sir those two detectives…,” she began worriedly.
“Send them in Margaret,” James said, interrupting her.
The two detectives entered the room... Their eyes sweeping over the occupants. “Good morning gentlemen?” They said giving a slight bow towards King Taralovna.
“What can we do for you?” James added picking up his now cold coffee and taking a sip as if they had nothing more to worry about then the weather.
“It appears as if something has happened to John Gage.”
“My daughter…,” Alexi exclaimed worriedly as he came to his feet…Playing the part of an innocently concerned father beautifully.
“Oh no sir…There’s no evidence that your daughter was with him,” Mallory assured him.
“Oh…That is relieving news,” Alexi said as he returned to his seat. “Have you found my daughter yet?” He asked with a raised brow.
“No sir…Right now we’re concerned about Mr. Gage’s whereabouts.”
“Why are you here?” James asked curiously.
The two men gave him a disbelieving look. “Sir…You do realize that you are the prime suspects in his disappearance.”
James touched his chest as if in shock. “We are?” Mallory nodded with a skeptical look at the man’s seeming innocence. They both knew he wasn’t a fool and they would be the first logical choice. “You asked us to give you forty eight hours and we have,” he answered. “You can ask my wife, my daughter even my staff. Alexi and I haven’t left this house since the day before yesterday,” he avowed.
The eyes turned toward Valery. “I am the King’s guard,” he said quietly as if implying that he never left the man’s side.
“And the other gentlemen…Where is he?” Hanson asked.
“Nicolai is out drowning his sorrows over the loss of his Princess,” James said snidely, his obvious dislike for the man coming through.
“Could he have taken Gage?” Mallory asked.
James snorted. “That weasel…? I wouldn’t think he could take a small child…”
“Nicolai is arrogant and proud,” Alexi said, casting a glance at his long time friend. He had always seen the Grand Duke as a strong man and that was why he had chosen him for his daughter but had he missed something that James saw in him? “But he is not the type to dirty his hands kidnapping someone,” he finished.
“I see…Well since you’re swearing that he’s not here, you wouldn’t mind if we searched the house?”
“Of course I would,” James said arrogantly. “But if it will make you believe that we don’t have your missing paramedic…Go right ahead.”
The two left the study.
It wasn’t long before Louise and Natasha Spencer joined them in the study. “James…What is going on?” His wife asked fearfully.
“It seems the young man who took Liliana away is missing dear,” he said with a shrug.
“But why are they here?”
“They think we may have taken him,” he said with a small laugh as if the idea was ludicrous.
“Well…that’s ridiculous,: she said indignantly that these upstarts would think that her respected husband and the King of Kharkiv would stoop to kidnapping.
Natasha’s eyes were on her father. They narrowed suspiciously. She didn’t doubt that Alexi would do anything to get Liliana back…
It took a while but the two detectives finally returned to the study. “Did you find anything?” James asked smugly.
“No sir…No sign that Mr. Gage has been in this house.”
“Then you are leaving?”
They nodded unhappily but they didn’t have a warrant and he’d been good enough to let them search the house. They didn’t have enough men to search the entire estate…At least not at this time but if the forensic team came up with anything they’d be back.
“Thank you for letting us look Dr. Spencer…Your highness…Ladies,” they added with a brief nod.
“Let me show you out,” James said as he led them to the door. He hooked his arm through his wife’s and escorted her from the room along with them.
Natasha’s eyes swept over Alexi and Valery…She didn’t believe for a minute that they weren’t involved and where was that snake Nicolai?. Her mouth tightened as she spun on her heel and left the room. The detectives hadn’t found anything but she grew up here. She knew every nook and cranny and she’d see for herself if John was somewhere on the property.
She pulled the door open and came face to face with her father. “Excuse me,” she murmured as she started around him.
He reached out to catch her arm. “Where are you going?” He snapped at the evasive look on his daughters face.
“I thought I’d take a walk father.”
“I think it would be best if you stayed in the house today,” he said sternly.
“But why father?” She asked suspiciously.
His eyes narrowed at the tone. “I don’t think those two detectives are done and I don’t want them talking to you if they were to catch you alone.”
“But I have nothing to tell them father so what harm would there be?”
Plenty…James mused. He too knew his daughter would show them every square inch of the property if they asked her. “I said no…Now go upstairs and find something else to do,” he snapped angrily.
Natasha blew out a frustrated breath. “Fine father,” she agreed, fearful now that her father was certainly involved with John’s disappearance. Dear God what had he done to the young man and where was Liliana? She’d wait…Eventually he would let his guard down and she would sneak out and look around.
Blackness turned to gray and then to blurred splotches of color as John’s dark eyes cracked open. His head throbbed with a dull ache and a burning sensation behind his right ear. A small groan of pain slipped from his lips as his head jerked upward. Where was he? What had happened? He suddenly remembered. Valery…Oh God…Where was he? John tried to move and realized he was tied to a chair.
Fear welled at the memories of being tied and the feeling of helplessness and defeat that accompanied them. He felt a hand twist painfully into his hair and snap his head back. The bleary eyes finally seemed to regain their focus as the image of Nicolai Rusayev glared back.
Sweat beaded the man’s brow and the gray eyes were filled with hate. “Welcome back John Gage,” he sneered.
John’s eyes flitted about the dimly lit room. “Where…?” He managed to whisper through dry lips.
“You are the guest of Dr. Spencer John Gage and you will remain so until you tell us where Liliana is.”
John gave a small negative shake of his head despite the hand that was twisted painfully in his hair. “No,” he mumbled.
The man’s hand flashed and John’s head reeled as the back of Nicolai’s hand cracked viciously across his cheek. Pain exploded in his head as his already concussed brain was rocked by the blow.
Dizziness washed over him but John shook it off. “Where is the princess?” John stared defiantly back. His mouth set in a stubborn line.
“Go to Hell,” he mumbled.
This time it was the man’s fist that slammed into the young paramedics face. John tasted blood as his lip was driven forcefully into his teeth. The crimson liquid welled and dripped down his chin but again the dark head shook.
Rage filled Nicolai’s mind. He’d teach this boy a lesson he’d never forget. Nicolai hid his brutal streak behind a façade of ineffective arrogance but the man enjoyed hurting others.
The back of his hand reeled the young man’s head to the right only to snap it around the other way with a return slap.
John’s face burned from the abuse being leveled at it. His brain pounded as if it would explode. Involuntary tears of pain welled in his eyes as the man’s fist and hands slammed into him again and again. His face…His stomach…John gagged as the air was driven from him from a blow to his diaphragm.
Blood flowed freely from his mouth and nose mingling with the tears as they tricked down his cheeks but he remained silent. John would never let this man get his hands on Liliana even if he killed him for his refusal.
John felt the tightening of bruises and the skin below his eye split with the next brutal punch. He moaned softly as the encroaching blackness finally won the battle and he passed out.
Roy came through the back door to find his worried Captain and five equally concerned crew members waiting for him, including Doug Stone and Jay Cameron. They all stood up and quickly gathered around him.
“Well?” Hank asked I concern at the bleak look on Roy’s face.
“They’re gonna go talk to them Cap but,” he hesitated and shook his head.
“They don’t have any real evidence that anything’s happened to Johnny so there’s no way to force them to let them search or anything.”
“They kicked down his door for Pete’s sake,” Mike said angrily.
Roy shrugged. “I doubt they’d be stupid enough to hold him at the house either,” the blonde paramedic finished in frustration.
“So where do you hide someone?” Marco questioned.
“I don’t know but they’re not gonna let him go till they get Lily unless the police can find him,” Roy said softly.
Hank patted Roy’s shoulder…He knew the bond between Roy and John very well and his senior paramedic was afraid for his young partner, he could see it in his face and hear it in every word regardless of how hard Roy tried to hide it.
“We’ll get him back pal. Maybe Lily would have some idea of where they’d be keeping him.”
“Maybe…But I don’t where Lily is.”
“John didn’t tell you?” Hank asked in surprise.
“He thought it was safer for me if I didn’t know...He just said he warned her…” The younger man suddenly stopped and look of realization crossed his face.
“Warned her about what?” Cap asked.
Roy suddenly grinned. “He did tell me Cap…I just wasn’t paying attention,” he said climbing to his feet. “I’m gonna go get her…Maybe she can help.”
“John won’t be happy if they take the girl back,” Mike warned his crewmate.
Roy nodded. “I know Mike but he’ll just have to be angry. I won’t let them hurt Johnny…Not even for her.”
“Be careful Roy and keep us informed,” Hank said quietly. “I have to call the Chief and let him know what’s going on. He’s concerned about John too.”
Roy nodded. “I will and Cap…If John’s aunt calls, just find out if the Governor can help us and tell her I’ll call her as soon as I find Johnny.”
Roy ran for the door leaving the others to exchange worried glances for the fate of their youngest crewmate.
The three men headed for the boathouse as soon as the detectives left. Valery hoped the young fire man had awakened and would at least be willing to talk to them so there would be no need to resort to other measures.
He pushed open the door and his gasp of horror alerted the other two men to be prepared for something shocking but neither of them had imagined what awaited them.
Valery’s bellow of rage surprised them even more. “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?” He roared angrily.
Nicolai bristled at the servant’s disrespectful tone. “How dare you talk to me that way?” He sneered indignantly.
Valery wanted to kill the man with own bare hands and he didn’t care if King Alexi exiled him for it at this point but to his surprise his sovereign’s anger was as great as his own.
“You beat a helpless, bound prisoner?” He questioned Nicolai in shock.
How had he not seen this cruel and cowardly streak in the man before now?
Nicolai heard the tone and realized his mistake in letting his temper get the best of him. He’d thought Alexi would see his eagerness to rescue Liliana but his King’s sense of injustice had been aroused in instead. He needed to do damage control.
“I merely wanted him to tell me where Liliana was but he grew stubborn and refused and I was merely concerned for her safety…I um…I lost control. Forgive me Your Highness,” he said contritely.
The hate filled gray eyes glanced furtively toward the other three men and he was dismayed that his ploy hadn’t worked. Alexi’s eyes were still full of disgust while Valery’s were filled with rage. James shook his head in disbelief.
Nicolai tried again. “I apologize for my lack of restraint,” he tried again. “But when I realized he would never tell us where she is hidden and that he’s even taken advantage of her…I was afraid…”
The comment hit the mark and Alexi’s sherry eyes narrowed dangerously.
“So you tried to beat it out of him?” James barked. “And now he may never tell us.”
“How else did you propose to make him talk?” Nicolai sneered, tired of this Americans obvious disdain and lack of respect for his position.
“I’m a doctor…I’ve sworn an oath to do no harm,” he growled back. “And there are less violent ways to make the boy talk,” he finished angrily.
Nicolai realized he had no allies here and finally retreated into sullen silence.
Valery knelt next to the chair. “Ivan? John…? Can you hear me?” He asked gently as he tipped the young man’s face up. His heart thudded miserably in his chest. The damage was even more severe than it first appeared.
John’s left eye was swollen and discolored while the skin below his right was split and bleeding, a match to the lip which was also swelling and welled with blood that trickled down his chin, mingling with the scarlet stream that ran from his nose.
His face was multiple shades of black, red and purple. “I’m so sorry Ivan,” he whispered. Liliana would hate him forever for having delivered her young man into the hands of her father and her own abuser.
He wished now that he’d simply warned the boy off and returned without him even if he’d been punished for it. All the young fire fighter had tried to do was rescue a damsel in distress as it were. He didn’t deserve this.
He looked up at Alexi. “He’s unconscious Your Highness.”
Alexi glared at Nicolai. “Well done Nicolai…So now we must wait until he awakens to speak to him though I doubt his willingness to cooperate with us now,” he growled.
Nicolai remained silent and retreated to the corner of the shed to sulk in a rage. Damn them…They should have rewarded him for the effort but instead these spineless weaklings had turned against him. .He should have known Valery would since Liliana was like a daughter to him and he had no noble blood to boil in righteous indignation…even the American Doctor but he had at least expected Alexi to applaud his actions.
Dr. Spencer examined Johnny briefly. He shot a final disgusted glare at Nicolai. “He’s badly injured but I don’t believe he’s in any danger of dying,” he said quietly. “No thanks to YOUR efforts,” he sneered at the older man. “I’m going to go and get my bag. I’m pretty sure that once he wakes up that I can make him tell me where Liliana is.”
Alexi and Valery nodded as James headed for the house.
Natasha paced about her bedroom. She’d gathered Liliana’s things the previous day with the intent to smuggle them to John’s but now he was missing and she had no idea how to find her friend.
She was certain her father knew where the young firefighter was and he had to be on the property somewhere or he wouldn’t have banished her to her room like a child but where? The police had searched and found nothing.
She wandered t the window that overlooked the gardens and stared out. A motion just below her window caught her eye and she glanced down. Her father was leaving the house and headed out to the garden.
That wasn’t what worried her however. It was the doctor’s bag he carried that gripped her attention. Who was it for and where was he going with it? Should she follow him or call for help? What if her father caught her?
Maybe she should wait until he returned and then sneak out and see if she could figure out where they were hiding the young paramedic but what if he was injured? What if it wasn’t him at all? She mused worriedly.
Natasha finally left her room and snuck down the stairs. She made her way out the back door and into the garden, creeping along quietly in case her father was nearby.
She’d walked quite a way before the garden ended and the open expanse of lawn began. She saw no one about but sparkle of the lake caught her eye in the distance. She started to look away but then something else drew her attention. The old boathouse.
Is that where they were keeping John? She had to know. She walked toward it, trying to stay quiet so she wouldn’t be heard.
Pain washed over John in a wave as he began to regain consciousness. A soft whimper slipped from his lips as his head nodded only to fall forward once again as his concussed brain complained of the motion.
Nausea welled and he gagged pitifully but thankfully there was nothing in his stomach to come up but saliva and blood.
He heard a voice speak softly near him. “John…Can you hear me?”
“R…R…Roy,” he whispered hopefully but then the awareness that the voice had had a heavy accent flitted through his brain. It wasn’t his best friend at his side but his captor.
“No Ivan…Not Roy,” the man corrected.
A flicker of fear edged its way in, afraid he was about to take over where the other had left off. He didn’t know if he could take much more of this abuse before he slipped into the grayness of withdrawal or unconsciousness.
He finally managed to lift his head. His left eye wouldn’t open and he could taste the metallic taste of blood as it trickled down his throat.
The right eye wasn’t a lot better but at least he could focus it on the face of Lily’s body guard, Valery. The one who’d hit him and brought him here.
His eye flicked to the side and he saw King Alexi, Dr. Spencer and the man who’d beaten him near to death. Dr. Spencer was readying some kind of injection and John managed to swallow heavily at what it might be, almost gagging again at the blood he'd swallowed. He groaned pitifully.
They turned toward him at the sound. “Ah good…He’s awake,” James said as he came toward the young man. He flashed a penlight in the paramedic’s right eye bringing a wince of pain from Johnny as he tried to jerk his head away.
“Well?” Alexi demanded.
James grimaced. “He’s concussed,” he replied before turning back to John. Mr. Gage…We want you to tell us where Liliana is. Can you do that?” He questioned, hoping the boy would be cooperative.
John’s good eye swiveled toward Nicolai. Is this what was in store for her if she was forced to marry that animal? John shook his head in the negative.
“Mr. Gage…I want my daughter back…Tell us where she is and no harm will come to either of you,” Alexi promised.
No harm…John mused foggily. What the hell did they call what they’d already done to him? His attention was pulled back to the dark haired man before him as he continued. “I am sorry Nicolai hurt you. That wasn’t our intent but I want my daughter.”
“Nooo,” John whispered stubbornly.
Alexi was livid with anger… “Tell me where she is?” He yelled. “If you’ve hurt her.”
“Sheee’s safe,” John slurred as his head nodded weakly.
“Screaming at him isn’t going to get him to answer you Alexi,” James said warningly. He squatted next to the young man. “John,” he said quietly as he held up the syringe. “This is sodium pentothal…You’re a paramedic so I know you know what this does?”
John gave a weary nod. “Ana…ana…sthe…tic,” he breathed out.
“That’s right…And it makes you tell the truth right?”
John nodded heavily. “Canna l…lie,” he muttered.
“So I want you to tell us where Liliana is John or I’ll give you this and make you tell us.”
“Nooo,” John moaned softly.
James sighed in frustration at the young man’s stubbornness. “Alright John…This will sting a bit,” he warned as he rolled up the young man’s sleeve.
John tried to struggle against the bonds but they were tied to tightly. He winced as the needle pierced his skin. A strange smell filled his nostrils and he could taste the flavor of rotting onions on his tongue. He gagged again but it didn’t last long before his eyes began to roll upward and his head drooped in sleep.
“Can you hear me John?” Spencer called softly.
John’s head bobbed briefly. “Yesss,” he slurred through his swollen mouth.
“John…I need you tell me where Liliana is,” he directed.
“Nooo,” he murmured softly.
“I thought you said he couldn’t lie,” Nicolai said snidely.
“He didn’t lie…He simply refused to tell us. I just have to phrase it correctly,” James added.
Alexi nodded. “Proceed,” he requested his friend.
“John…Is Liliana with a friend of yours?”
“Nooo,” he mumbled.
“At a hotel?” He asked again.
“With a family member?”
Again John’s head shook in the negative. “No.”
The others exchanged a look. Was he somehow fighting the effects of the Pentothal or had they simply not guessed the right place. Where else would he hide her?
Nicolai was glaring daggers at the stubborn young paramedic who’d snatched his future bride from under his nose. He had a question of his own…An answer he had to have and it just might be the final blow to Alexi’s control as well.
“Did you sleep with Liliana?” He barked without warning.
“Yesss,” John admitted without hesitation.
“I will kill him,” Alexi snarled angrily as he reached for the younger man. Nicolai grinned smugly but it was short lived.
“Then you will never find Liliana,” James said quickly as he gripped his friends shoulders and held him away from the drugged fire fighter.
Alexi drooped in understanding. He had to control himself until he had his daughter back. James glared at Nicolai and turned his attention back to Johnny.
“John…Are you keeping her in a cabin somewhere?” He questioned, remembering all the resorts and tourist areas in LA.
There was a brief hesitation. “Nooo,” he finally replied.
James knew he was onto something. “At a park…A camping site?” He asked, throwing out anything he could think of. John’s head bobbed briefly and then sank onto his chest. “John…John wake up,” James urged, giving him a light shake but John’s reserves had finally failed. He was asleep.
“What happened?” Alexi barked.
“Pentothal only lasts for a short time. I’ll wake him with an ammonia capsule…”
A small sound outside of the building startled them all. “What was that?” Alexi asked.
“I’ll go see. I’ll be right back. Let the boy rest for a bit and I’ll give him a bit more and try again.”
James opened the boathouse door and stepped outside. He saw nothing but he crept along the side of the building quietly. He heard the swish of grass that warned him that someone was nearby and just around the corner. He moved quickly. His daughter’s frightened squeak greeted him as he leaped around the corner.
He gripped her arm roughly. “What are you doing here?” He barked angrily. “I told you to stay in the house,” he snapped.
“I’m not a child father that you can order me about,” she answered, angry now herself.
“You still live in my house…I told you to stay in it. Now why are you out here?”
“I saw you come out here with your bag…I thought… someone… might be hurt.”
James mouth tightened and so did his grip on her arm… “Come with me,” he demanded as he began to lead her back toward the house.
“Where are we going?” She asked fearfully as he dragged her along.
“Since you can’t be trusted to behave yourself…I thought I’d put you in Dmitri’s capable hands.”
“WHAT?” She shrieked in shock that her father would put her under guard like a criminal.
“Only for a short time Tasha,” he assured her.
“You have John don’t you…He’s hurt isn’t he?” She accused.
“Don’t be ridiculous Natasha,” he replied evasively.
“I’m not…You can’t do this? Liliana doesn’t want to come back…Just let her go…Let John go.”
“I’m sorry Tasha but this isn’t the time for this debate,” he said as he led her inside the house. He waved Alexi’s other guard over. “Take her to the library…Keep her there…Liliana’s safe return is at stake.” The guard nodded and led the girl away.
Roy bumped along over the rough terrain of the San Gabriel Mountains. He’d come this way many times with Johnny but always on foot. Including the time when John had fallen from the pile of boulders that had shifted under his weight after a heavy rain.
John had told him where to find the girl when he’d said he’d warned her about the boulders. Roy simply hadn’t caught the reference.
He thanked his lucky stars that he’d had the foresight to borrow Johnny’s rover from the station. His Porsche wouldn’t have been able to handle this terrain.
He finally recognized the trees that bordered the edge of the clearing and knew he was close. He breathed a sigh of relief. He knew Johnny wouldn’t be happy about this but he’d have to get over it.
Lily might be the only bargaining chip he had to get his best friend back and he’d use it if he had to and hopefully, Rosemary had pulled the right strings to help the girl to gain her freedom the right way.
He spotted her right away as he drove into the clearing. She stood up from the blanket she’d been sitting on, reading one of the books Joanne had loaned to her. She waited as he pulled to a stop and climbed out.
She recognized John’s friend and her brows furrowed worriedly. Why was he here? They were supposed to be on duty. Where was Vanya? Had something happened to him?
She ran toward his friend. “Where is Ivan?” She asked as he grabbed her shoulders to hold her steady.
“Someone took him this morning,” Roy said softly.
“My father?” She asked fearfully.
“I think so.”
“Let’s go,” she said as she pulled herself free from his grip.
“Where?” Roy asked her, wanting to be sure she intended to help John.
“I will go to my father…I will not let him hurt Vanya…Not even to save myself,” she whispered as her blue eyes locked with his.
Roy looked at the girl with understanding. She was in love with John. Did Johnny now feel the same way? Would he hate him forever for letting the girl sacrifice herself to save him?
“We’ll try to avoid that if possible Lily,” Roy said quietly, But I…” He hesitated.
She smiled gently and finished the sentence. “You love your friend and will do whatever it takes to get him back.” Roy nodded.
“Then let’s go.”
The trip back was a bumpy one but Lily didn’t complain. They finally broke through to the trail and the road smoothed out but still it was another couple of miles back to the ranger station.
Roy pulled up in front of it and ran to use the phone. He called Hank. The phone was snatched up on the first ring and he knew they’d been waiting. Station 51... Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Cap…Its Roy. I have Lily. She’s willing to help us out.”
“Great…Roy. John’s Aunt called. The Governor pulled some strings. There are two men from the state department on their way here to talk to Lily.”
“That’s great Cap. Can you call Hanson and Mallory. Tell them and these two guys to meet us at the Spencer’s.”
“They already searched there pal.”
“I know…But I don’t want them to take Lily away and not give me Johnny either.”
“Can you send a squad too…If the blood on the floor was any indication… Johnny could be hurt.” Lily’s hands flew to cover her mouth in horror. What had she got Vanya into?
“I’ll do better than that pal…I’ll call in the still alarm. How long do you think before you get back..?”
“I’ll be busting the speed limit back Cap…Forty five minutes.”
“We’ll be waiting there for you.”
Blood dripped from the chin of the dark haired man tied to the chair…Staining the brown shirt and deep blue of his denim jeans.
His eyes were half closed and his head lolled loosely on his neck from the savage beating he’d been given. He felt the pain of his injuries but couldn’t manage to lift his head to see if his captors were still close by.
His face felt tight and somewhere in the back of his mind he registered the discomfort as the signs of the bruising and swelling left behind from the fists that had pummeled his helpless body.
He knew they’d injected him with something earlier…Sodium Pentothal…At least that’s what he thought it was…He couldn’t remember for certain. Had he told them what they wanted to know? He couldn’t remember that either but God…What if he had? Lily could pay the price.
A low moan slipped from between clenched lips. Every muscle in his body hurt. How long had he been here?
“He’s awake **** high***,” a vague voice wavered brokenly in his ears.
“Maybe we*** not give *** enou** Vale**,” a cultured voice sneered back.
Not enough what, the captive wondered idly? Oh yeah…Sodium something or other wasn’t it?
“We may **** given him *** much your ****ness,” the other replied.
“Then he would **** **** us what we want** to know.”
He felt a hand painfully grip his chin and jerk his head up. He moaned softly as the half open brown eyes met the sherry orbs glaring back at him in a fury. The face wavered in and out of focus but he knew the man was…Lily’s very angry father…King Alexi Taralovna of Kharkiv*…A small country near the Soviet Union.
“Tell me where my daughter is?” He barked in heavily accented English, right into the youthful battered face gazing blearily back at him but the captive remained mute.
Alexi let go and the young man’s head dropped once more.
“Spare yourself any further pain boy,” the other man pleaded. He recognized the voice…Valery Putyatin …King Alexi’s right hand man.
The dark head barely shook in the negative.
“Give *** more of that,” the regal black haired man commanded, nodding toward the small tray that held several vials and syringes.
“I do not dare your high***…It cou** kill him.” The voices continued to swim in and out around him. The ebony eyebrow rose questioningly as if that possibility were irrelevant.
“Kill him…,” another voice demanded. “We ****find Lili*** on our own.”
“Be silent Nicolai,” Alexi commanded the third captor in the room before turning back to Valery. “I WANT MY DAUGHTER,” he bellowed at his servant.
The man cringed at the rage in his voice…It was the same anger that had sent Princess Liliana fleeing with this young man in the first place. He was afraid of the results of giving the young man more of the drug but he didn’t dare refuse his sovereign either. If he killed the boy, Liliana would never forgive him but what choice did he have?
“Yes **** Highness.” He quickly got the syringe ready and injected it into the arm of their captive.
“Nooo…,” he whispered. He stiffened as the needle pierced his skin but he was helpless to resist.
The reaction came within seconds…He began to cough as his airway constricted…The taste of rotting onions tingled his tongue and the world began to fade to gray.
“What’s happening to him?” Alexi demanded.
“Oh God…I’ve killed him,” Valery replied in horror as the young man choked and gasped for air.
James came in the door and his eyes widened in shock. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” He yelled as he raced to the young man’s side.
John’s face was turning blue as he struggled to breath. Nicolai laughed in glee as he watched the boy’s eyes roll into the back of his head.
“DO SOMETHING?” Valery yelled in desperation.
They were all engrossed in the drama unfolding before them and none of them heard the quiet sounds of approaching feet or the engines of the cars that were surrounding the boathouse.
Roy pulled up in front of the Spencer home…He breathed a sigh of relief at what awaited him. Mallory and Hanson along with several squad cars of uniformed officers. Two men he didn’t recognize dressed in suits and the engine, squad and crew of station 51.
The two men came forward as Lily and Roy climbed from the Land Rover. “Princess Liliana?” They greeted, giving her a slight bow. Their eyes swept over her dubiously in her jeans and borrowed shirt. She almost giggled.
“Yes…I am Liliana Taralovna.”
“We’re with the State Department. I’m Charles Shea and my partner here is Tom Wallace. We’re here to talk to you about staying in the country.”
She nodded. “Yes…But first I have to see my father. He may be holding a young man hostage who was trying to help me,” she explained.
“Yes…They told us that but we should see you safely away,” he urged as he reached to take her arm.
“No…I want to be sure John is alright first,” she insisted as she pulled her arm free.
Mallory and Hanson came forward. “Are you sure he’s here?”
“No.” The two detectives exchanged a worried look. They’d had to about stand on their heads to get a judge to issue a search warrant for the renowned doctor’s whole premises. If the search turned up empty they’d both be busted back down to patrol. “But my father most certainly is and I need your protection while I get my things,” she added with a smile.
The two men sighed. It wasn’t much help if the warrant failed to produce a victim but they’d have to go with it. The young paramedic’s life was possibly in danger.
“Let’s go,” Mallory said, waving the others back into their vehicles. They drove quickly up to the house.
The housekeepers face turned pale as she opened the door to a dozen officers, two detectives, fire engine, paramedic squad and Princess Liliana dressed like some backwoods tracker.
“C…Cccan I help you?” She stammered.
“Step aside ma’am…We have a warrant,” Mallory said as he handed it to her and the others rushed in.
Natasha heard the commotion and bolted for the door, catching Dmitri off guard. He raced after her but she yanked the door open and ran into the hall…Stopping short at the sight of so any policemen.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Liliana. “I THINK HE’S IN THE BOATHOUSE,” she shouted, pointing toward the back of the property. “He wouldn’t let me call for help,” she added, nodding toward the large guard.
“Can you show us?” Mallory asked as another officer handcuffed Dmitri.
She nodded and they led her out the door toward the cars. The others fell in line behind Mallory’s vehicle as they drove around toward the back.
They approached the boathouse and climbed from the cars. Inside they could hear the yelling of several men but the words weren’t clear.
Mallory waited until all of his men were in position…Roy and the crew were waiting behind them impatiently as they set up while Lily and Natasha were safely tucked away in the detectives car.
Finally Mallory gave the signal. One officer gave the door a mighty kick sending it smashing back against the wall. They rushed in with guns drawn and halted in horror at the sight that greeted them.
A badly beaten John Gage was tied to a chair. Bloody, bruised and gasping for air…His face was a pale shade of blue gray. Dr. Spencer was attempting mouth to mouth while Valery desperately tried to untie the ropes that bound the helpless victim to his seat.
“Move away from him,” Mallory barked at the now frozen group.
“HE’S DYING,” Spencer yelled at the officers.
The gasps of shock behind them warned them that DeSoto and the crew had entered the scene and had heard every word.
The officers dragged the four men away from the young fire fighter…Shoving them to the floor and slapping on handcuffs, despite Nicolai’s arrogant declaration of his and Alexi’s exalted position.
“Not here you’re not,” Hanson snarled in his face. “You’re just another criminal,” he added in disgust at the brutality inflicted on this young man in the chair.
Roy, Doug and Jay all moved quickly to John’s side. Jay was setting up the Biophone while Doug quickly pulled his pocket knife and slit the bonds that held John in his chair. Roy tipped John’s head back and began to breathe for his partner.
“I’ll need an airway,” he barked between breaths.
Jay nodded and pulled the items from the box even as he started contacting the hospital. “Rampart base this is squad 51…Do you read?”
Roy caught the tube and the mask as Chet ran in carrying the portable oxygen tank from the squad. He quickly fitted the mask over John’s nose and mouth.
“Squad 51…This is Rampart…Go ahead,” Kelly Brackett’s voice responded.
“Rampart…We have a twenty four year old male. He’s been beaten Rampart and he’s in respiratory distress.”
Doug and Roy lifted Johnny from the chair and laid him on the ground.
“Oh my God,” Lily’s voice whispered from the door.
No one had the time to go to her at the moment. Roy was setting up the airway in anticipation of the hospitals instructions even as Doug ripped John’s shirt apart to check for other injuries. Bruises decorated his belly and ribs.
“WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO HIM?” Roy bellowed in a rage.
“It was Nicolai,” Valery said glaring at the Grand Duke who stood bristling in indignation at his treatment at the hands of these commoners.
“I gave him sodium pentathol,” Spencer admitted.
“WHAT?” Roy barked. He looked back at Johnny. “How Much?”
“Seven Milligrams over an hour ago but they gave him more while I wasn’t here. He went into respiratory distress,” he explained as they continued to watch the three paramedics work on the young dark haired man.
“How much did you give him? Roy snapped.
Valery shook his head. “I’m not sure…Maybe seven or eight,” he whispered.
“Oh God,” Roy muttered, knowing his partner was very intolerant of most drugs. They always had to be extremely careful when medicating Johnny. “Hang in there junior,” he whispered a Chet handed him the mask to place over John’s nose and mouth.
“How could you?” Lily wept as she stared at her father in horror. “He was only trying to help me,” she sobbed.
“I’m sorry Liliana…I never meant for this to happen. He wasn’t supposed to be hurt…I just wanted you back.”
Tears rolled down the young woman’s face as she watched the desperate battle to save John unfold. “I’ll never forgive you for this,” she whispered forlornly. Alexi and Valery weren’t sure which of them she was talking to…Maybe both.
“Rampart we’re being told that he was given seven milligrams of Sodium Pentothal over an hour ago and another seven or possibly eight only a few moments ago. He’s cyanotic Rampart…His BP is 90/60 and his breathing is Apneatic…Respirations depressed at about 8. Pulse is 40. He has a contusion behind his right ear and his belly and ribs are bruised but no apparent breaks or guarding,” Jay was advising. “We request an esophageal airway.”
“Go ahead with the airway 51…”
Roy didn’t wait to hear the rest. He tipped John’s head back and began to insert the tube as Brackett continued.
“Start an IV 51…Ringers Lactate…Give him seven milligrams of Aminophylline IV…He has a head injury you said?”
Jay threw Roy a frustrated glance. “Affirmative Rampart.”
“Alright 51…Transport as soon as possible.”
“Damn it,” Roy muttered in aggravation. They were going to deny John any kind of pain medication. He’d known before it happened but it didn’t make it any easier to take but at least at the moment…He was unconscious. Roy knew when he woke he’d be hurting and his heart broke for his young friend who’d already endured to much abuse in his young life
Before long John’s color began to return to some semblance of normal as the drugs and the oxygen began to take hold.
“He’s stabilizing some,” Doug announced as he pulled the stethoscope from his ears. “Let’s get him on a gurney.”
The ambulance attendants were waved forward. Roy leaned down to gather his best friend into his arms and lift him onto the gurney. Jay started forward to help but Doug waved him back.
“Let him,” he said softly.
Roy lifted his partner. “You hold on Johnny okay…I need you junior…You know that,” he said quietly, close to John’s ear as he laid him on the stretcher.
Hank and the other exchanged a poignant look as the blonde paramedic’s fingers stroked the sable hair from John’s forehead for one brief moment before he became all business once more. “Let’s get him outta here.”
They loaded Johnny into the ambulance and Roy climbed in with him. No one challenged him despite the fact that he wasn’t on duty. They all knew he needed to be with John right now.
Chet would drive John’s rover in and the others would follow. Roy glanced out the rear window as the ambulance began to pull away and saw the officers as they loaded the four men into separate police cars.
Lily was led away by Shea and Wallace. Her eyes were on the ambulance as it began to move. She never once glanced at her father as he was driven away.
Kel was waiting in treatment room three when they arrived. His eyes widened in shock as he recognized his patient. “JOHNNY?” He gasped.
Dixie charged into the room. “I just heard they brought Johnny in,” she said worriedly as she looked at the battered face of her young friend. “Oh sweetie,” she whispered softly.
“What happened?” He asked as he began to examine the man on the table.
Dixie hooked John to the Ventilator while another nurse named Ann hung the IV bag and began to get his vitals.
“Johnny was helping Liliana get away from her father. He’d hit her and was forcing her to marry some old guy she couldn’t stand. They got a hold of him this morning and I guess they tried to get him to tell them where she was.”
Dixie looked horrified. “They tried to beat it out of him?” Roy nodded.
“And when that didn’t work they used sodium pentothal,” Kel stated rather than asked.
“Yeah…I guess they gave him a second dose without the doctor present…”
“Doctor?” Kel asked in surprise.
“They had a doctor helping them with this?” Dixie asked in shock.
“Yeah…King Alexi’s dear friend. Dr. James Spencer.”
“My God…I know him,” Kel muttered. “How could he do this to someone?”
“Trying to help his friend get Lily back I guess.”
Brackett shook his head. “What are his vitals Ann?”
“B/P is 100/70…Respirations assisted at 16 and pulse is coming up…60,” she reported.
Kel nodded. “Let’s get X-Ray down here and get a shot of his head and his ribs and belly,” he ordered.
The brunette nurse nodded. “Right away doctor,” she replied as she headed for the phone.
“Hopefully the head injury won’t be too bad I want to be able to give him something for the pain when he wakes up. It’s a sure bet he’ll be hurting,” Kel said as his hands continued to move over John’s stomach and ribs. “I’ll start him compazine now though…The last thing I need is him vomiting with that tube down his throat,” he said drily, knowing the paramedics propensity to be nauseous from a head injury.
Dixie was tenderly washing the blood from her young friends face.
“I need to call Joanne. She’ll want to be here. John’s her boy ya know?” Roy said, only half teasing.
Dixie grinned. “We know.”
The X-Ray technician Malcolm, pushed the door open and trundled his machine inside. Roy gently cupped the side of John’s face. “We’ll be right outside junior,” he assured his partner as they turned and headed for the door.
Roy called Joanne and explained what had happened. “Roy…I wish you’d called sooner,” she said sounding annoyed.
“I’m sorry Jo but there wasn’t anything you could do and I was kinda out of touch with phones and then it got really crazy,” he defended himself.
She sighed. “I suppose. I’ll be right there Roy…I’ll ask Deb if she can watch Jen and pick up Chris from the school bus.”
“Thanks Babe…I figured you’d wanna be here when he woke up.”
“Of course I do honey. You know Johnny’s my boy,” she teased not realizing that Roy had mouthed the words along with her as she’d spoken them.
“I know he is babe,” Roy replied with a chuckle.
She heard the amusement and wiped the smile from his face. “Don’t worry honey…I won’t tell anyone he’s your boy too.”
“Joooo,” he groaned as he hung up in the middle of her laughter.
Roy returned to the waiting room where the rest of his anxious crewmate were waiting. “Well?” Hank said as they rose to their feet.
“Brackett thinks he’ll be okay. They’re doing X-Rays now and he’s pretty sure he’s got some really bad bruising around his stomach and ribs but he doesn’t think he’s bleeding internally or that his ribs are broken.”
“How about that hard head?” Chet asked, trying to sound unconcerned.
“Not as hard as we thought,” Roy replied with a scowl. “He’s most likely got a nasty concussion and he’s gonna need some stitches on his cheek and inside his lip but other than that…It doesn’t look like he’s fractured any bones.”
They all looked relieved about that. “Well,” Cap said rubbing his hands together. “That’s good news. Looks like he’ll be back on the job sooner than we thought then,” he said in relief.
“I’ll take him home with me and Jo for a couple of weeks. He’ll be okay,” Roy said, trying not to sound as worried about his young partner as he felt. He knew the guys would pick on them both if they really knew how much he cared about John. They’d never hear the end of the big brother and mother hen cracks. He had no idea that he wasn’t as good at hiding it as he thought. They already knew.
“Well…I guess we need to get back to the barn then,” Cap suggested.
The others nodded in agreement. “You’ll keep us informed though right?” Mike asked as they turned away.
“Call us if he needs anything?” Marco added.
Roy nodded. “Tell him we’re uh…We’re thinkin about him,” Chet muttered, barely audible.
“Awww Chet…Johnny will be touched by that.”
“Then don’t tell him…I don’t wanna spoil a perfect friendship.”
“Yes tell him,” Hank said as he herded his crew toward the door. “Tell him I said it.”
“Okay Cap,” Roy chuckled as they left.
John felt pain…Unforgettable, breath snatching, burning pain wash over him as he opened his eyes… The brilliant light above him lanced into his one good eye, sending a knifing agony through his brain. His dark eyes snapped shut once more.
His head pounded and his face felt like someone had scoured him with sandpaper.
He moaned softly and gagged as he felt the intrusive tube that was thrust down his throat. He panicked. What were they doing to him now? He already hurt so bad…He didn’t think he could take any more. His hands rose to grab at the thing in his mouth but a strong hand suddenly caught hold of his. John struggled against the grip.
An involuntary whimper of pain slipped around the vent tube sending the alarm screeching. It quickly cut off and he heard a voice…Well several really but one in particular that relaxed him instantly.
“Hey, hey….Shhh junior. Just calm down…I’m right here,” he said gently.
John felt the stroke of those rough fingers sweep across his brow and he let himself sink back.
Another voice and a more gentle touch swept through his sable hair. “It’s okay baby we’re here.”
The chocolate colored eyes drifted open…Well one of them at least, he noted blearily. The faces of his partner and Joanne finally came into focus, albeit a bit hazy.
John’s face twisted in pain as the effects of the latest struggle began to make themselves felt.
“Johnny…Are you hurting?” Roy asked even as his finger hit the call button.
John noted the light had been turned off in deference to his eyes. His hand lifted to touch the vent. “You had a pretty bad reaction to a drug…You couldn’t breathe for a bit there junior.....You gave me quite a scare. ”
John frowned for a moment, trying to remember. The dark eye flicked about a moment later as his memory of the last few hours returned. The alarm began to screech once more as his breath became labored.
The nurse ran in. “What’s wrong?”
“Get Dr. Brackett please,” Roy said as he quickly turned back. “Settle down John,” he ordered the suddenly frightened younger man. “You’ve got to be still.” Roy suddenly seemed to understand the sudden panic as Johnny turned his head from side to side searchingly. “They’re in jail…They can’t hurt you anymore…They’re in jail…All of them,” he assured his friend.
John relaxed a bit at that. He winced again as his stomach and ribs protested every movement.
The door opened and Brackett rushed in. “What’s happening Roy?”
“He just remembered what happened and got a little panicky is all doc,” Roy assured the older man. “But he’s hurting and he needs something for the pain.”
Kel leaned over the younger man. “Are you hurting John?” He asked gently.
John gave him a small nod and his eyes squeezed shut. “Doc?” Roy prodded.
The dark haired doctor turned to the nurse who’d followed him in. “Cheryl…Get me 30 mgs of Meperidine for John please.”
She nodded and left. Kel pulled the blanket down to John waist and raised the gown to inspect John’s belly. His hand pressed lightly against his stomach drawing a grimace from his patient.
“You’re going to be pretty tender here for awhile John but your ribs aren’t broken,” he added as his hands ran over the bruised rib cage. John closed his eyes in relief.
The nurse returned and emptied the syringe into John’s IV port. “Well young man…Let’s listen to your lungs and we’ll see if we can’t get that tube out for you alright.”
John nodded briefly and lay quietly as Brackett listened to his lungs. He felt hands take hold of his and his one eyed gaze swiveled to look at Roy on his right before he turned his head to see Joanne on his left…Each of them offering support. He tried to smile but he hurt too bad.
Kel pulled the stethoscope clear and smiled down at his patient. “Alright John…I’m going to pull the vent for you.”
It took a couple of uncomfortable minutes but Brackett finally removed the tube. John breathed out a sigh of relief and coughed, almost doubling over in pain as his stomach tightened. "Hurs...," he slurred
“Shhh….Easy,” Roy said as he grabbed the younger man’s shoulders and held him down.
“I know it hurts Johnny but I want you to try and rest alright. The Meperidine should kick in soon,” Brackett assured him.
“Kay,” he rasped. “W…wa…ter.”
“Water? Sure junior,” Roy said grabbing the glass and angling the straw for John to drink. He sucked in the liquid but gasped as his swollen mouth made itself felt. He reached up to touch his lip.
“Oh baby,” Jo soothed as she caught his fingers and kept him from probing the injury. “Don’t touch okay? It’s very swollen.”
John shot a glance at her with his one eye. “Ssseee,” he slurred.
Roy and Joanne glanced at Kel worriedly. He nodded. “Let him see.”
Jo grabbed her handbag and pulled a small compact from it. She opened it up and held it for Johnny to see his reflection. “Ohh…My…G…od,” he whispered in dismay.
“It’s okay John…,” Brackett reassured him. “I did a great job of putting you back together again…You won’t even have much of a scar,” he promised the young man.
John shot him and incredulous look. “Well…Now Chet has a new storybook name for you Prince Charming,” Roy teased.
“Humpty Dumpty?” Jo questioned. John scowled at the two of them before he managed a small laugh.
“You’ll be as good as new, I promise,” Kel said patting his arm.
John laid back but suddenly struggled to sit up. He clutched at his side and Roy grabbed him quickly to lay back down. “What is it junior?”
“She’s fine Johnny….Just relax. I went and got her…She’s with the state department until they figure out what to do with her.”
“How’d you….Finehur,” he slurred through swollen lips.
Roy chuckled. “I warned her about the boulders. That wasn’t exactly a hard clue junior,” he teased.
John flushed at the memory of his rather ungraceful tumble off the boulders. He was experienced in the woods and he should have known better but he’d gotten so excited over the eagles soaring overhead that he hadn’t thought about the rain and the hazards the mud had posed. He’d never make that mistake again but it was still embarrassing.
“Goo…She’d beou there al lone,” he muttered.
Roy flicked the dark bangs from John’s forehead. “Why don’t you try and get some rest junior,” he suggested, seeing the tired droop of John’s eyes. The Meperidine must be starting to work he mused in relief.
“Kay,” he murmured tiredly.
Jo leaned down to kiss him gently. “I have to go sweetheart but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Kay…You go…in too?” Johnny asked, tightening his grip on his partner’s hand.
Roy felt it. “No…I think I’ll stick around a bit longer junior,” he replied
“Okay,” he mumbled as he sank into sleep.
Roy was still there the next morning when Mallory and Hanson arrived. “Good morning Mr. DeSoto,” they greeted the blonde paramedic quietly. They looked at John. “How is he?”
“He was awake for a bit last night but they’re keeping him pretty heavily medicated at the moment.”
“We really need a statement from him so we know who to charge with what?”
John moaned at the sound of their voices and his eye cracked open. “R…oy?” He murmured.
“Hey junior…I’m sorry we woke you.”
“S’okay,” he mumbled sleepily.
“Detective Mallory and Detective Hanson are here Junior…They need you to tell them what happened so they can charge them. Are you up to that?”
John looked away for a minute. It was Lily’s father…What should he do? Would she understand…Would she hate him?
John sighed…He had to tell them. “Okay,” he agreed quietly.
It took a while as John had to speak carefully around all the stitches and swelling but he managed to tell them the whole tale.
“So it was Nicolai who actually did all this damage?”
“And the guard ah…Valery Putyatin who gave you the Sodium Pentothal the second time?”
“Yes…Bu Lexi order him too.”
“Yes…Well there are enough charges to put them all away for a time if you choose to do so.”
Roy’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
The two detectives swallowed uncomfortably. “The state department is asking us to ask you to drop the charges against King Taralovna,” Mallory admitted.
“WHAT?” Roy bellowed. John jumped at the anger in his friend’s voice and winced slightly. “Sorry Junior” he apologized contritely squeezing his friend’s arm.
“They don’t want to start an…”
“Innernasional Inciden,” Johnny slurred tiredly.
“I’ll give them an international incident,” Roy growled.
“Alright…We understand your upset Mr. DeSoto…,” Mallory said soothingly. “I would be too if someone hurt my friend this badly but…”
“He’s my father,” Lily said from the doorway.
John turned his head toward her and tears sprang to her eyes at his battered features. “Oh Vanya,” she whispered as she came into the room.
John gave her a small attempt at a smile. “Hi Lily,” he managed as she leaned down to kiss his bruised cheek.
“I’m so sorry.”
John nodded. “Nah you faul,” he mumbled.
“Yes it is…I should never have asked you to help me.” She blew out a breath. “And now I have to ask you to drop the charges.”
“No…,” Roy said adamantly. “Johnny you can’t.”
John raised his hand briefly to stop his best friends rant. “Is’okay Roy,” he said quietly.
“No…I wazzin gonna press sharges anway,” he managed without moving his mouth.
Roy’s blonde eyebrow climbed to his hairline. “What?”
“Roy…He’s a king…he’s Lily’s fath...er.”
The older man looked ready to explode but he backed off as Lily kissed John again. “Thank you Vanya,” she said softly. “I spoke to him at length yesterday…He’s agreed not to press me into marrying Nicolai…Not that it’s an option with him in jail of course,” she teased.
John began to look a bit alarmed. “You’re goin ba wit him arn ya?”
She nodded. “He’s very contrite Vanya and he knows he was wrong with what he did to you…He needs me…I’m all he has. He said he didn’t see the cruel side of Nicolai but he’s a king and he’s a leader and he just couldn’t handle my refusal to do what I was told…”
John didn’t like that much. What If she someday refused again? “I wanna tal to him.”
“What?” She asked uncertain that she’d heard correctly.
“I wanna… talk… to… him,” he said slowly. “If he will hear me out…I’ll dra the sharges.”
“Alright…I’ll tell him that. Vanya…I hate to ask this but…Valery…?”
Roy’s eyes narrowed. The man had almost killed Johnny. “You wanme to let him go too?”
She nodded. “He never wanted to hurt you…He tried to talk them out of this…to protect you.”
Johnny had vague memories of his voice apologizing…Railing in a rage at Nicolai…”
Roy looked about to explode. “You’re not considering it?” He yelled.
John flinched at the anger in his best friend’s voice. “Yes…,” he admitted, not meeting Roy’s eyes.
“Becuz she ask metoo,” he replied simply.
“He’s part of my family,” Lily said to Roy. “Just as Ivan is to you.”
Roy sighed…there was nothing he could do to stop him…”What about the others John? You gonna drop the charges against them too?” He barked unhappily. Damn it…John was sometimes too forgiving.
John shook his head. “Not agains Nicolai…Dr. Spencer?” He shrugged.
“He’ll lose his license,” Mallory informed them.
John shrugged again. “Guess thas punishmen enou,” he whispered.
“Thank you Vanya. I’ll bring my father to see you later.” She said as she leaned down to kiss him. “I love you,” she whispered softly.
John nodded as Lily turned to leave. “I know you do,” he mumbled softly. Mallory and Hanson followed the girl out. Johnny watched her leave before laying his head back and closing his eyes.
“Did something happen out there between you two?” Roy asked gently.
Johnny looked at him ruefully and nodded. “Yes.”
“Did you fall in love Junior?” His friend asked as he gently brushed the sable hair back.
John sighed at the familiar, soothing touch. “No…But she did,” he said quietly.
“Yeah…I saw that…Get some sleep junior.” John nodded and a moment later his soft breathing told Roy he’d complied.
Lily came back later that afternoon…A rather humiliated King Alexi entered the room with her, followed by Valery. He stared at the young man they’d nearly killed…The same young man that admitted he’d slept with his daughter. The same young man who his daughter had fallen in love with by her own admission.
She’d told him John was willing to drop the charges if he’d agree to come and talk to him at the hospital. He’d agreed since Lily had promised to return to Kharkiv after he’d apologized for hitting her and trying to force her into marrying Nicolai…He’d admitted that he hadn’t seen the man for what he truly was and that he’d allow her to choose her own husband…Even if it was John Gage.
She’d burst into tears that had ripped his heart out. She admitted that she was in love with the young paramedic but that he had told her up front that he wasn’t in love with her. She assured her father that John hadn’t pressed her to make love but that it had been she who had asked him.
Alexi was a bit shocked but his anger at the boy had dwindled a bit as he realized his daughter would never have the man she loved and he was saddened for her.
John turned his head as they came in. His friend was at his side and stood up as they entered to hover protectively near his partner.
Lily leaned down to kiss him gently. “We are leaving today for Kharkiv…I have brought my father as you asked.”
John nodded and looked at Valery. “Why doan you take Lily to say goo bye to Disie,” he suggested.
The girl looked a bit surprised by that but Valery realized that John wanted to speak to Alexi alone. John glanced at Roy but knew better than to even ask…He’d never leave John alone with the man who’d nearly gotten him killed.
Lily leaned down to brush her lips against his softly, taking care not to put too much pressure on his mouth. “I will always love you Vanya…,” she whispered. “And I thank you for our one night…I will treasure the memory always.”
“I’ll always remember you Lily,” he replied quietly. Lily’s heart was breaking that she’d never hear the words she longed for from John but she held no grudge. He’d never lied to her.
“No regrets,” she said softly as she turned away so he wouldn’t see the tears that welled and rolled down her face. “Come Valery,” she whispered as she brushed past the servant.
Valery gave John a final apologetic glance for his part in all of this and then turned and followed his Princess.
Alexi watched her go and then turned to John. “What did you want to say to me John Gage?” He asked.
“I wanna tell you wha a great daughter you have…And wha a great ruler she’ll be,” he said carefully.
“And you think I’m not?” He asked haughtily, looking offended. “I am a strong leader John Gage…I rule my people well.”
“Thas the pro…lem,” he said softly. Alexi looked genuinely perplexed. “A grea leader leads by ezample,” Johnny said around his swollen lip. “He doesn nee ta impose his will on his people...Rule over them.” Johnny said, thinking of Captain Stanley. “People follow a grea leader by chois not force.”
Alexi tried to look bored but he was listening.
“Liliana has a strong will.” Alexi snorted his agreement with that statement. “She’ll nee it to rule but she’ll never be that leader if you break her spirit and force her to marry a man who isn’t her equal.”
The older man looked thoughtfully at John. “I would guess by your rather wise insight that your spirit has been broken at one time as well Mr. Gage.”
John blushed at the observation but he nodded. “It was…Once,” he admitted.
John looked at Roy. “I foun a strong an wise frien who helped me heal it…So now I can pass that wisom on to you,” he said with a small smile.
Roy stared at his friend in surprise. John so often had such a childlike naiveté and then at other times like this, be so full of mature wisdom. He squeezed John’s hand and grinned back.
Alexi nodded. “I have heard your words John Gage and I will truly think about what you have said.” Johnny nodded and let his head drop back on the pillow.
Alexi gave Roy a brief nod and left.
"Get some sleep junior” Roy said as his fingers trailed over John’s forehead.
A small smile played over John’s lips as he nodded off.
The door opened a short time later and Joanne entered the room. She was rubbing her wrist as if it pained her as she came to John’s side. She leaned down to kiss him gently.
“How is he Roy?”
“Had a rough morning but he’s better now. What’s wrong with your wrist?” He asked curiously.
“I saw Alexi in the parking lot. He came over to say goodbye…”
“And…?” Roy asked suspiciously.
“He tried to kiss my hand so I gave it to him.”
Roy looked a bit shocked. “You let him kiss your hand…”
“After what he did to Johnny?” She asked, looking affronted. “I said I gave it to him,” she said showing him her reddened palm.
Roy’s blue eyes widened I delight. Man he’d love to have seen that. He began to chuckle…A moment later Joanne’s giggle joined in.
John was released to Roy’s care the next day and spent the next two weeks recuperating at the DeSoto house. The bruises faded and the cuts healed as Brackett promised…Without a scar.
Much to John’s relief, the press had pretty much dropped the issue of trying to talk to Johnny after they’d found that the Princess had left to return to Kharkiv.
John returned to work the following week. Things had returned pretty much too normal for the crew of station 51. Johnny’s track record with women remained unchanged…Much to Chet’s amusement and Roy’s weary ears as he listened to his young partners woes time and time again when it came to the fairer sex.
Liliana would always be remembered by John as one of the ‘if only things had been different’ list but as time passed her memory began to fade into the never ending list of failed relationships so he was slightly surprised when a letter arrived from her about three months later.
My Dearest Vanya,
I have met a man of noble birth…Different from most of the others.
His name is Mikhail and he reminds me much of you. He is handsome and strong but he will never hold my heart for that will always belong to you but he will make a good husband and a good father and will one day rule at my side.
How can I ever thank you enough Vanya for whatever you said to father that day…He has changed so much since we’ve come home and I give that credit to you. He listens to his people and their concerns and makes better decisions. He even listens to me on occasion.
He is planning to build two new University’s…One solely for women.
We are also trying to put together a paramedic program for Kharkiv.
I just thought you should know. You have given me a great gift Vanya. One I will always love and cherish…I want you to be happy as well.
I Will always hold you and the time we shared together in my deepest heart. I love you.
John set the letter down and smiled.
John sat on the sofa with the DeSoto’s later that evening…He’d told them about the letter and Roy could tell that the girl was still on his mind and hoped one day he’d find the love of his life and have his fairy tale ending.
Roy smiled as his daughter climbed into John’s lap to snuggle close against his chest. Her pink bunny slippers peeked out from beneath her frilly nightgown.
“Can you tell me a story Uncle Johnny?” She asked.
John looked thoughtful for a long moment and then he grinned.
“Once upon a time there was a handsome prince named Ivan.”
“Was he hansome as you Uncle Johnny?”
“Yup…Just like me,” he teased, giving the little girl a tickle in the ribs. Jen giggled but then resettled as John continued. “And of course there was a beautiful Princess.”
“Was she boo-iful as me Uncle Johnny?” She asked looking up into his face.
He gazed down into Jen’s soft blue eyes. “Almost Princess…Not quite but almost…”
Posted to site 4/14/13
*Kharkiv is actually just a city within the Ukraine. I just liked the name. The nobility named within it are totally fictional.
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