- Partners In Crime

- Chapter Six

Two hours later I was yearning for the smooth leather of Mitch's Corvette. Beth made me try on literally every piece of clothing in the whole shop. And then she tried to make me buy some of the clothes. That did not go over well, especially when I could get the exact same clothes at an outlet store for a quarter of the price.

So I dragged her out of the shop empty handed and headed for the closest Gabriel Bros. store. We browsed around there for another hour. Beth had apparently never been introduced to the wonderful world of bargain shopping. Mitch called and told us to get home as soon as possible. I ushered Beth to the register and hurried her along. She bought about a quarter of the store for the same amount she would have paid for one outfit otherwise. I'm not real sure how we got all her items into the Stingray, but we did it.

I pulled into traffic and pushed the car as far as I safely could. Beth clung to the arm rests the same way Mitch did when he was in a car with me. Interesting. Maybe that should be telling me something… I just didn't know what…

We made it home in record time. I carefully parked the car in the garage and hopped out. Mitch had threatened me with my life if anything happened to his baby. I didn't blame him. He had done all the restoration on the '68 Vet all by himself.

Beth managed to carry all her stuff into the house by herself. Mitch was waiting for us in the front room. He didn't look happy.

"Beth, please excuse us."

He physically dragged me out of the room and up the stairs. I followed meekly behind, wondering what he was so upset about. What had I done this time?

"You left Monica's." He said in a low, deadly voice, as soon as the door was shut and locked.


"The little shop." Mitch said in the same voice.

"Oh! Yeah. She wanted way too much for what she was selling, so I took Beth to…" I trailed off at the livid expression on his face. "What did I do?"

"I had that place completely secure, there was no way anyone was getting in that wasn't supposed to get in, and you left. You could have been hurt, or kidnapped, or murdered. All because you don't think I have enough money to pay for whatever you wanted to buy? And all this after we just had a discussion about whether Beth was actually on our side or not?" He hissed.

"I'm fine Mitchie. I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself." I retorted, a little irritated at his overprotective attitude.

"I know that Kat! But maybe I want to watch out for you." He told me, grabbing my upper arms and catching my gaze with his.

"I don't need you to though. I've been watching out for myself for a long, long time. You lean that kind of thing when people, even your best friends abandon you all the time!" I shouted at him.

He looked stricken. Good.


"You did Mitch! You left me and you took my only family with you!" I whispered.

He simply looked at me with tragic eyes.

"And you never tell me anything. What's this about sides? Why did you leave me? Why do I have to watch out for Beth? And why do I have to have you watching out for me?" Anger made my voice climb as I spit out the questions rapidly.

"I can't tell you. If he got his hands on you…" He shuddered, true pain bare in his eyes. "They know the only way they can get to me is through you. The only way they can make sure I don't take the reins is to make sure I don't inherit. And if I don't marry, I can't inherit. They know the only way to make sure I don't marry is to make sure the only person close to me is gone."

I really was trying to understand. Truly, I was. Mitch seemed to enjoy talking riddles to me though.

"Then, I'll just leave. It'll be less trouble for you." I told him coldly, walking toward the door.

"You can't leave." He gave me a cocky grin. "I have your horses here."

I whirled to face him, cold fury in my veins.

"If you think threatening me is going to stop me Ashton Mitchell, then you don't know me very well."

If I could have thought straight through the rage in me, I would have been able to come up with something very damaging. Because that's all I wanted to aim for at the time, his heart. If he had one. I was beginning to wonder.

My mission; the barn. I stalked to the barn and searched for the young woman who had promised to take care of my horse earlier in the day. She was preparing their evening feeding at the moment. I cleared my throat quietly. She turned around.

"Could you do me a favor, and make sure my babies here get some exercise and are taken good care of?" I asked dejectedly.

"Gladly. They're good boys." She whispered.

I nodded and turned on my heel.

"Mr. O'Malley is a good man, Ms. Nelson. Don't give up on him."

I whirled back around and stared at the girl. She went on about her business as though she hadn't even spoken, in fact, I wasn't sure that she had. After staring at her for a few seconds I turned another one-eighty and headed out of the barn. And right into my brother. He grabbed my arms, much like Mitch had, only with furious, bruising force.

"What is your problem!" He yelled.

"Damn Austin! All I did was run into you!" I exclaimed.

"You left my best friend in the world nearly reduced to tears." He explained impatiently.

"Who? Beth?" I was confused.

"No, Ash." He hissed, squeezing my arms even harder.

"Mitch? Tears? I don't think so." I said skeptically.

"Well, not tears, but he's probably about bald by now." Austin laughed, easing he grip on me.

"What?" He had lost me.

"Ash cares about you. I told him he was a dead man, a long time ago, if he ever thought about it. At the time we both thought he was kidding. And now, well, he hasn't been the same since we came back." Austin explained helplessly.

"I don't care. He's a jerk. I was willing to give him a chance when I got his note in the mail, but he's done nothing but act strange since then!" I whined.

"Have you ever considered the fact that he's halfway in love with you?"

I flinched at the 'L' word and the accusation in my brother's voice.

"Apparently not." I said in a bratty voice. "Where's my room, damn it!"

"Third on the right, next to Ash's." Austin said in a distant voice.

"Have you ever considered the fact that I'm your sister, you're supposed to be on my side." I told in the most deadly calm, icy voice I could manage.

He flinched and opened his mouth to say something, but I turned and walked away. It occurred to me that I had been running from everything lately. It bothered me, but at the time, I needed some time to clear my head, and possibly pack my belongings.

.x. Mitch's POV .x.

I was pacing my room, ripping myself to shreds mentally for jeopardizing the only friendship in my life I felt I couldn't live without. When Austin stormed into my room and slammed me against the wall, I didn't even resist. What ever he wanted to do to me, I deserved. Maybe it was the blankness showing through in my gaze, but Austin's grip on me loosened a fraction.

"I don't know what you did to her, but keep in mind Ash, Kat's my sister. She's my blood. If she leaves then so do I." He ground out between clenched teeth.

All I could do was nod miserably. As I said, I deserved it. It was almost like being a jerk was written into my genetic make up. I couldn't help it. And now Kat was most likely leaving. Unless I did something drastic and I had no clue what to do.

Austin stormed out of my room much like he had stormed in. I stayed where he left me, leaning against the wall, contemplating my feelings for Kat. She was a unique character. From the day I met her she made sure I was always on my toes when I was around her. She would do such random things that I was forced to be sure I wouldn't bust out laughing at her.

Kat had a strange ability to read me. When I felt worthless and down she knew how to pull me out of it. When I got overconfident or arrogant she brought me down a peg or two. Along with all that she never failed to make sure I felt like I was in charge, even when I knew I wasn't. She kept me in line and I could count on the fact she was always there for me. And now I had ruined everything. All because I tried to protect her. But it didn't matter. Kat was like a wild animal. Put her in a cage and she would die inside. I knew that. Anyone who met her knew that, and I still tried it anyway.

With a sigh I pushed myself away from the wall and headed out my door. My destination, only ten, or so feet, down the hall looked like the longest walk of my life. I let my feet drag as the uncertainty and doubt creped up my spine. She was going to yell at me and leave for good. I knew it. But I was a man, and I tentatively tapped on her door. I got no answer, so I hesitantly pushed the door open. Kat was sitting on the edge of her bed, a pillow clutched to her chest, and her knees drawn up to her chin. A wave of emotion rocked me. She looked as vulnerable as I had ever seen her look. It was enough to shake me. Especially since it was my doing.

"May I come in?" I asked quietly, cringing against the scathing rejection I knew was coming.

Instead Kat just nodded into the pillow she was suffocating. I shut the door and sat down near her, but not near enough that she would push me away. I couldn't handle being pushed away at the moment.

To my surprise she abandoned the pillow and leaned against me. Elation rushed through my system. I hadn't ruined everything, simply damaged it severely. Kat was always and forever giving me more chances than I deserved; I don't know what I'd do with out her.

"Why'd you leave me, Mitch?" She asked quietly.

My mind battled with itself. For her safety I couldn't tell her, but she would never take me back if I didn't.

"You don't have to tell me now." She said, laying her head on my shoulder.

I nodded against her hair. In return she scooted even closer to me and let me wrap my arms around her. We sat in silence, both of us thinking. Me, about feelings I had promised my best friend weren't there. Kat? Who knows what she was thinking about. Most likely about getting Sting in shape for the NBHA finals. That brought a smile to my face.

"I promise I will, when the time is right." I murmured into her hair.

She nodded sleepily.

"I know you will."

And that's how she was. She trusted until there was a solid reason not to. Maybe that would explain the fierce desire to keep the trust she so willingly gave me. Not many people in my life trusted me as unconditionally as the athletic blonde curled up against me. I don't know what I ever did to earn her trust or her approval, but she never failed to make me see I had both approval and trust from her. It was almost overwhelming.

It hit me then, why I wanted to keep her faith in me. She expected it me to be able to. Others expected me to be able to earn it. From Kat, it was freely given, but taken away after enough reasons to drive a saint mad.

"You're an angel." I mumbled quietly.

In her typical dry manner she chuckled.

"An angel that wants nothing more than to go home."

"I know." I whispered.

"It's okay. You would let me if you could."

I think I glowed with the welcome responsibility she handed me then. Though I doubt she ever saw it; she had drifted into a quiet sleep. Watching her sleep, I made a decision that I refused to alter; I would be who she needed me to be, or I would die trying. She deserved that much. I just didn't know where to start… Maybe Austin would help me figure it out.

Carefully, I slipped away from Kat and went in search of her brother. My strides were long and determined, a grin refusing to leave my face. A maid dusting in the hallway sent me a worried glance. I didn't care if the staff thought I had finally gone loony. They didn't know I finally had a challenge to make my life worthwhile again.

My grin didn't falter as I strode into Austin's office. He looked up from his work with a slightly exasperated, knowing glance. I threw him an innocent grin and plopped into a chair in front of the polished oak desk. My grin spread at the expectant look on his face. Apparently everyone, except me, knew about this not so recent development.

"I think I'm in love with your sister." I announced giddily.

To my immediate surprise Austin simply cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Took you long enough. Now what are you going to do about it?" He asked in an overly patient voice.

"Restore her trust in me. Then tell her." I said matter-of-factly.

"I tell you this now O'Malley. You hurt her in anyway and I will make sure your intestines are fed to you and that you are thrown at the bottom of the ocean for the fishes to strip your bones." His expression changed from threatening to a happy smile. "On a lighter note, congratulations."

With elation in every step I went to my office to work on some paperwork. Even if I had wanted to, there would have been no way I would have gotten any sleep that night. I was on an emotional high that had adrenaline pumping through my system. Again, I wondered if it was in my genetic make up to be a jerk. If it was, I would get over it. For Kat's sake.

I laughed and threw myself into my leather chair. Out of pure happiness I spun the chair in a few circles before settling down. Who would have thought Ashton Mitchell O'Malley would ever know what love was?


Oh my gosh! I have had the worst time getting the end of this chapter right! Grr!

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