Thankfully the ghost must have gotten tired of waiting, because Kylie found her room warm with Socks, her black-and-white tuxedo kitty, resting peacefully on her pillow.

When she joined Socks on the bed, the cat scooted over, giving her room, then with his front whitesocked paw, he swatted at the teddy bear Kylie still held.

"Okay, I guess holding you is better." She set the bear on the floor. The cat climbed up on Kylie's chest and she gave the kitten some much needed attention. After several minutes, Kylie sat up, shifting the feline to rest at her side. "Sorry, buddy, gotta call Mom. But don't worry, I'll probably be short and sweet.

She's much too busy with John to spend time talking with me."

The moment the words were out of Kylie mouth, she realized half her problem with John. She was jealous. She felt her relationship with her mom had just found solid ground when John had come along and snagged her mom's attention. Was it wrong for Kylie to want to be the most important thing in her mom's life for a while?

Probably, Kylie answered her own question. Especially when she was living away from home. Her mom had every right to need a life of her own.

But if Kylie's jealously was only half the problem, what was her other issue with the man? Plain and simple, she just didn't like him. She reminded herself that Burnett had done a background check on the guy and nothing suspicious came up.

Kylie remembered how shocked Burnett had been to discover that Hayden wasn't everything his background check had revealed. Maybe Kylie shouldn't put too much stock in Burnett's checks.

Then again, maybe Kylie should stop trying to paint John as a bad guy and start trying to accept him as a part of her mom's life. Especially when he seemed to be the only part of her mom's life that was making her happy. Her mom deserved to be happy, didn't she?

Kylie dialed her mom's number, determined to play nice.

It rang once. Then two more times. Normally her mom picked up quickly. Kylie worried she might be interrupting some romantic interludes. She frowned and looked at the time. It had to be almost lunch time in the UK, surely they really weren't ... doing the deed, or as Della would have called it, having a nooner.

She pushed that thought from her mind as quickly as she could, and instead let her mind wander to Della. Burnett had said the little vamp had run into some type of altercation. Seeing Miranda had been super soothing, but having them both here would be just what the doctor ordered.

Another ring of the line brought her attention back to the phone. She expected it to switch to voice mail at any moment. Was her mom okay? Resentment stirred inside her for John again. If something happened to her mom on this trip ...

"Hello?" Her mom sounded ... distant. Somehow unwelcoming."Everything okay?" Kylie asked, her hand tightening on Hayden's phone.

"Kylie?" her mom said. "Whose phone are you using to call me?"

Realizing this to be the reason for her mom's delay and odd distant tone, Kylie sank back on the pillow.

However, the aloofness in her mom's voice reminded her of when she'd been younger and tried so hard to win her mom's approval. A time when Kylie questioned her mom's affection for her. But that was the past. They had found a new place in their relationship. Or they had before now. Kylie prayed John's presence didn't change that.

"Where's your phone, young lady?"

"Oh ... I..." She had think of a lie quickly and make it sound convincing. Her mom might not be able to hear her heart race with a lie, but she had some maternal lie detector that got Kylie in trouble more times than not. "I misplaced my phone last night, so I borrowed a friend's." For all intents and purposes, it wasn't really a lie.

"Well, that explains why you didn't return my call last night," her mom said in a scolding tone. "Oh, goodness, do you realize how much it's going to cost to replace your phone?"

"I ... think I might be able to find it. And I'm sorry." Kylie stroked Socks when he moved to brush his face against her chin. "Is something wrong? Why were you calling me?"

"No, just ... your dad was worried."

Stepdad, Kylie wanted to correct, but didn't.

"He said he called you three times late yesterday and you hadn't responded. And then he called me three times while John and I were ... I mean, while I was in bed."

Ew! Kylie's capacity for being grossed out hit maximum overload, triggering her brain to block out all inappropriate mental images. "I'm sorry," Kylie offered, and then bit down on her lip. She'd told herself she had to give up hoping her mom and stepdad might get back together, but it was tough at times. Still, where it mattered most-a place where she cherished the memories of what her family used to be-a spark of hope existed.

"Three times is ridiculous," her mom said. "Especially when he knew what time it was here."

"I know," Kylie said, but thought, Give it a break, Mom! He was worried about me!

"Well, it's time your dad learned I'm not his phone buddy," she said.

"I'm sure he will in time," Kylie said. "I'll get in touch with him today and see what he wants."

"Do that," her mom said, and paused. "Wait. If you didn't know I called earlier, then what's up? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, I just wanted to check in. I hate thinking you're so far away."

"I know ... I sort of feel like that, too. I miss you. Not that I'm not having a great time. England is gorgeous, Kylie. Maybe when John and I come back next time you can come with us."

Next time? Were they already planning another trip? "Yeah," Kylie muttered, and reminded herself she was playing nice.

"Guess what, baby?" her mom asked.

Fear suddenly filled her chest. God, please don't let her tell me they got married or something.

"What?" Kylie asked, her voice sounding like she'd swallowed a frog.

"John asked me if-"

"No," Kylie snapped."No what?" her mom asked.

"You don't know him well enough."

The line remained silent for a beat too long. "What do you think he asked me?"

Kylie cringed. "I don't know," Kylie said, and realized she probably was too tired to have called her mom. Too exhausted to hold a logical conversation-especially one where she had to pretend to like someone she didn't.

"He wants me to come work for his company," her mom said. "He's willing to pay me almost double what I'm making now."

Okay, so her mom working for the man wasn't as bad as her marrying him, but Kylie didn't like that, either.

"I thought you liked your job?" Kylie said.

"I do, but ... twice as much money and free travel. I mean, that's hard to turn down."

"But ... but you're"-banging him-"you're dating him. Isn't that like sexual harassment? I mean there's laws against that, aren't there?"

"Not if the relationship is consensual," her mom said. "John and I talked about how my working for him could be difficult. But he pointed out that I wouldn't be working directly under him. So, it wouldn't really be like we were working together."

Kylie could hear it in her mom's voice. Her mind was made up. She was going to take the job. "Yeah, but I just don't know if it's wise to work for someone you are ... dating."

"I think John and I are mature enough to deal with this."

Yeah, like he behaved so mature the last time you brought him here when he socked Dad and started a whole free-for-all fight in the lunch room. Kylie bit her lip to keep from saying anything hurtful.

"I guess I just don't know him that well," Kylie said.

"Which I plan to remedy the next time you're home," her mom said. "I thought maybe we could all go somewhere for a weekend."

Please no! "I ... don't think we need to do that. I ... to be honest, I kind of like knowing those weekends are for just me and you."

"But you need to get to know him, Kylie. He's a great guy. I just know you'd love him if you really got to know him."

"Yeah, and that's fine. But let's not ... not rush it, okay? All in good time."

Her mom got quiet again. "You okay, baby? I just realized what time it is there. What are you doing up at five thirty?"

"I had some homework I had to catch up on," Kylie lied again. "And I'd best get going and start working on it, too."

"Do you have boy problems again?" her mom asked.

Along with a ghost-carrying-a-severed-head problem. "Nothing I can't handle."

"What happened, sweetie?" her mom asked.

"I'm fine. Actually, I prefer not to talk about it. Maybe later."

Her mom's long sigh came through the phone. "I'm here when you're ready..."

"I know, and I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, baby."It was by replaying her mom's words over and over in her head that Kylie finally fell asleep.

"Where are we going?" Kylie asked Derek as she felt that haziness of being in a peaceful dream state.

Correction, being in a dreamscape. And right then, the peacefulness of it floated off. It had been a while since she'd done this, but she instantly realized this wasn't her dream. She hadn't gone to Derek. He had come to her. And now he was leading her somewhere-walking ahead of her but with his hand held behind his back holding hers, and leading her down a path. A wooded path.

She tried to get her mind to work on a more alert level. What time was it? How long had she been asleep? She had to stop this.

But then Derek looked back over his shoulder and smiled at her. She lost her train of thought and got caught up in the world she was in. A safe world, her mind said. She looked up. The sun sent soft morning rays of light dancing through the trees.

"We're going to our rock. You like it there, don't you?" His hand gave hers a slight squeeze. His palm felt warm in hers. Comforting. Odd how just holding someone's hand could feel like a hug-like a warm embrace. Then again, she was talking about Derek. He had all those fae powers that made his touch ...



She vaguely remembered him trying to kiss her earlier on the escape from her grandfather's place and thinking he wasn't going to be as easy to keep at bay. Did she really want to keep him at bay?

The answer seemed to be somewhere between her heart and mind and she couldn't draw the conclusion. But this was just a dream, a part of her offered up as an excuse. Later she'd figure it out. She would, she promised herself.

"You always liked going to the rock before," Derek said.

"Yes, but..." She stopped and glanced down at herself. She was dressed in a pair of cut-offs and a Tshirt. But she was barefoot. It felt good. A soft bed of moist grass and earth beneath her feet. Definitely a dream. If real, she would be feeling the pebbles and thorns. This wasn't real. Not really. But she needed to be careful. She wiggled her toes and tried again to wake up enough to figure out what was right and what was wrong.

Derek turned, still holding her hand, and faced her again. "Just come with me, Kylie. Give me this, please." She could already hear the trickle of the stream flowing through the earth, splashing over stones that had been smoothed by time. The smell of the grass, the woods, and the tall trees scented the air she breathed.

A breeze stirred Derek's hair. "Give me some time to be with you."

She stared at him through her own hair dancing in front of her eyes. Saw the pleading in his gaze.

The word no rested on the tip of her tongue, but then she saw the bruises on his neck. Bruises that looked just as bad as those on Lucas. Not that she'd given those bruises to Derek. Mario had. But it had been because of her. He'd thrown himself at Mario to protect her.

Derek had been willing to die for her.

He loved her.

"Please," he said, and the sound of his voice echoed in her heart like a sad song.Going with him didn't feel completely right, but telling him no didn't feel right either.

"Just to talk," she said, and arched a brow.

"Right." He grinned and the gold flecks in his eyes glittered. She remembered that look, too. A sexy devil-may-care look that hinted he was up to something.

He turned around and she continued following him. In a few minutes, they arrived by the stream. He waved toward the rock.

"Your chariot awaits you, my dear lady," he said in a formal voice, and gave her a bow as if in some school play.

He looked so cute, she couldn't help but grin. "You're being silly."

"Yeah, but if that's what it takes to make you smile, I'll be silly all day long. You had a rough night.

You deserve a little fun."

"I do, don't I?" she said, and then hopped up on the rock. On her chariot.

He jumped up on the rock right after her. His shoulder brushed against hers. She couldn't help but remember the first time they'd come here. It had looked so magical, so much like a fairytale, something from a painting in a children's book. Of course, back then that had happened a lot when she was with Derek, and it didn't have to be just there.

Kylie looked around at the woods and sights. No fairytale feel dominated the place. Maybe the fairytale feel didn't happen in dreams.

Not that it wasn't pretty or soothing to be here. The sun sent a golden color between the trees and their stirring leaves. The air smelled morning fresh. It felt nice to be sitting next to Derek, to feel his shoulder gently pressed against hers. Couldn't she relax? She wasn't going to let anything happen. They were here to talk, she reminded herself.

She looked at him and felt the tickle of attraction making her stomach flutter. For the first time, she noticed the subtle changes in him over the last few months. The boy she had once come to the rock with was almost gone, and a man had taken his place. The hair resting against his brow looked a little darker.

He had a masculine profile, a strong jaw line, and beautiful lips.

He looked down at her. "You know, it was really cool when you turned me invisible."

"Yeah, but it scared the crap out of me when I didn't see you right away when I brought you back."

"I know. I could feel your emotions." He hesitated. "But that was kind of cool, too," he said. "Actually, that was the coolest part."

"No it wasn't," she said. "Seriously, it scared me."

"I know, but that's what made it so cool. Because that's when I knew for sure. That's when I knew you still loved me."

His words echoed in her head and bounced around her heart. He leaned down. His finger brushed across her cheek. His breath whispered across her temple. Oh damn, Kylie thought. Here she was again, up shit creek without a paddle.

The touch moved across Kylie's chin.



She remembered dreamscaping with Derek, but couldn't remember how it ended. The touch came again. The feel of bedsheets pressed against her side. Oh crap, was she still with Derek? In bed? What the hell had she done?

She jerked her eyes open, scared that ... that ... Yellow eyes stared right at her. Yellow feline eyes.

And a white paw now rested on the tip of her nose.

"Socks." She chuckled with relief, her heart pounding with distant memories of the dream playing peek-a-boo with her mind.

"Hey, baby," she muttered when the cat's paw swatted at her nose. "So you really missed me when I was gone, huh?"

"Everyone did," a voice came from the other side of the room. Before she could force her brain to identify the voice, or to even know if it was male or female, she'd bolted out of the bed and stood wideeyed, staring at ... Okay, she took a deep breath. No reason to panic. It was just Holiday.

"I didn't mean to scare you. I just slipped in to check on you. I was getting a little worried. You've been out for hours. I checked on you two or three times and you didn't even stir."

Kylie blinked and looked at the clock on her bedside table. Three o'clock. "I didn't mean to sleep that long."

"I think you were exhausted," Holiday said, then frowned. "Burnett told me about the whole Hayden episode." Socks jumped off the bed and started doing figure eights around Holiday's ankles.

The camp leader ignored the cat and continued to stare at Kylie.

"About that," Holiday said. Her expression told Kylie that she was about to get a reprimand. Holiday didn't reprimand very often, so when she did, it always seemed to hurt twice as much.

And sure, Kylie might deserve it, but still half asleep, she didn't know if she could take it standing up.

She plopped back on the bed, reached for the teddy bear, and hugged it.

"You can't hide stuff from us, Kylie."

Yup, here came the scolding. Copyright 2016 - 2023