"Miss. Here, let me help you." Hope was almost to her car when she heard the pounding of footsteps coming from behind her. Her steps quickened.

These bags are getting heavy.

"Miss." A hand landed solidly on her shoulder.

In a matter of seconds, Hope jumped, spun around to face the attractive stranger, and lost all her groceries. Bags fell and produce scattered around her in the parking lot. "Shit." With a sigh, she crouched and started gathering everything within reach, shoving it all into whatever bag was handy.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." Immediately he knelt to help.

"No, it's fine. I should have just brought the cart with me but I thought I could save myself a trip." She shifted and plopped to her butt in the middle of the parking space, continuing to pick things up and take what he handed her.

After looking around, he sat down across from her—a bit more gracefully than Hope herself had—putting them at eye level; she could see his blue-gray eyes. Hope took a moment to look him over, from his short blond-brown hair and slightly stubbled face to his simple black t-shirt and light wash jeans. Never in her life had she seen such a simple outfit fit as wonderfully as it did this man. A pair of jeans had never looked so beautiful. As her eyes traveled back up, she was hit full force with a spectacular smile. Gorgeous. There was no other way to describe this man.


"It was my pleasure. It gave me a reason to talk with a pretty woman."

Hope blushed and looked towards the pavement. It was hard to believe he thought that seeing her today. Her hair was a mess piled atop her head and she wore sweats and one of Trevor's old ratty sweatshirts.

As her cheeks cooled, she finally had the courage to look back at him. Flattery, that's all. "Are you new in town? It's a small place, I've never seen you before."

He nodded. "That I am, miss. Here for a job, originally from Texas."

"You're a ways from home, then. I've always lived here, probably always will."

"You know your way around pretty well?"

"Like the back of my hand."

"I haven't gotten out much since moving in. Unpacking your life in a new place is time consuming."

"I could, uh, show you around. If you'd like, that is." What are you doing?

"That'd be great, miss."

"Hope Conner."

"Hope." He grinned again and she was struck by how it lit up his face. She smiled back.

At that moment, she forgot her doubts and realized how right this was. She was only doing her obligation to the town, after all. Besides, her mama would be turning over in her grave if she hadn't offered. "Baby girl, where are your manners? I know your daddy and I taught you better than that."

The man in front of her stood to his full height and offered down his hand, pulling her to her feet, successfully bringing her back to reality and keeping her from the painful stroll down memory lane. "Matt Danger." He kept a gentle grip on her hand and reached down to pick up her bags. Even standing, she had to look up to meet his eyes. She did so willingly, though; they were too entrancing to look away from. He started walking towards her car, the only car at this end of the parking lot. "Is tomorrow night okay?"

"Tomorrow night is great."

"And I'll treat you to dinner for your kindness."

"That's not necessary, Matt."

"Trust me, Hope, dinner is just an excuse." When she unlocked the car, he leaned around her to put the groceries in the back. "I just want another reason to talk to you." When she blushed again, Matt's hand came up to stroke her face, from her temple to her chin. "Pink's a pretty color on you, Hope. I'll pick you up around five?" She managed a nod. He opened her door. Hope forced herself to start the car and drive away when what she really wanted to do was turn and watch him—and see if his jeans looked as great from behind.


"Becky, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know why I even offered."

"Baby girl, you went with your gut reaction. Obviously you're attracted to this boy—sorry, man."

More than you know. Hope's cheeks heated at the thought. She was a grown woman, but at that moment, she felt like the girl her siblings treated her as. Yes, they gave her her independence and yes, they respected her age—or tried to—but they were always on the periphery, ready to step in at the first sign of distress.

Here she was, lying on her bed on the phone to her big sister acting like it was her first date. Is this a date? She had no clue. It had the making of a date but Matt hadn't actually asked her out. She was showing him around town and to show his appreciation, he was treating her to dinner.

"Dinner is just an excuse. I just want another reason to talk to you."

"It's just not how I usually do things."

"Maybe that's the point. Maybe you weren't doing it right before. Just go with it and see what happens."


"I had a wonderful time tonight, Matt. Thanks for dinner."

"No, thank you. Dinner's always more interesting in the company of a beautiful woman." After an evening with Matt, Hope was becoming accustomed to his compliments. "I'd like to see you again, Hope."

"I'd like that too."

"Are you free this Saturday?" She nodded. "How do you feel about dinner and a movie?"

"I'll go out with you on one condition."

"What's that, darlin'?"

"You let me cook dinner."

"I'll compromise. I'm not about to turn down a home cooked meal." Hope smiled. "Thanks again, sweetheart, for taking the time to bless me with your presence." He bowed in front of her and Hope laughed. When he came back up, he was somehow closer. They were mere inches apart now. Her laughter stopped and her eyes strayed to his mouth. His hands came up to her shoulders and slid up her neck to cup her face. It'd been a while, but Hope knew what was coming. Matt moved closer still, his head dipped and a moment later their lips met. Hope's eyes fluttered closed and she sighed, opening up to him. His tongue slipped in, exploring, gauging her reactions.

Too soon, he was pulling back. Hope was breathless but she didn't care. She would have kissed this man until her death. His hands slipped back down and gripped her upper arms—somehow, he must have known she needed that to stay standing—and rested his forehead against hers.

"I have to leave, Hope. It wouldn't be very chivalrous to take you to bed on the first date." Then he pulled away, leaving her completely bereft of his touch and wishing he wasn't such a gentleman.

"I'll see you Saturday, Hope." This time, when he turned to walk to his car, Hope stayed and watched before going inside. The back view was definitely as good as the front. Maybe even more so.


"Darlin', that was delicious. I should let you cook for me more often." Matt was pleased to see her smile. He loved to make her laugh. Hope was a strong woman, he could see that, but she was also guarded. He had no doubt that she wasn't as naïve as she seemed but he didn't think she was playing him either. Which led him to believe something or someone had forced her to put those walls up around herself. He could see it in her face that she kept surprising herself with her offers and that she wasn't one to take his compliments easily. Matt was going to have a fun time digging under and scaling those walls.

He grinned crookedly up at her. His eyes strayed to her cleavage, modestly visible in her white dress, as she bent over him to grab his plate.

Meeting her brown eyes, he wrapped his arm around her waist and stood, taking the plate from her. "Allow me." Releasing her, he gathered the rest of the dishes and took them to the kitchen. Turning on the water, he rinsed the dishes, handing them to her to put into the dishwasher.

They'd set up a good system and finished the task in silence. Finally, Hope shut the dishwasher and turned to him. Her eyes danced and the corners of her lips edged upwards. "Look at you. You're not suitable to go out now."

Matt looked down at himself. The whole bottom half of his shirt was soaked. When he looked back up, Hope was right there in front of him, grabbing for the towel on the counter and patting at his clothes, extremely close to his groin. Before she had time to feel something better left untouched, Matt captured her wrists.

Hope's eyes shot to his. "Wha—"

"I don't think that's working." Not in the way you want it to anyway.

"I think you're right." His gaze shifted to her mouth as she spoke, memories of their kiss floating through his mind.

"Let's stay in tonight. I got you all wet too in you're pretty dress." Matt cleared his throat. His voice husky.

"Yes. You did." Her eyes were half closed. "We could watch a movie here. No point in spending money or making another outfit dirty."

"Right." Because that's exactly what I was thinking. Let's just keep making this outfit dirtier.

"I'll see if I can, uh, find one of Trevor's shirts for you to wear." She turned, breaking free of his hold and flounced away.

Wait, what?

"Trevor?" Matt recovered enough sense to follow her. She'd disappeared into a room towards the end of the hall.

"My brother." Well that's a relief. "He doesn't live here anymore, but he left clothes. I'm always stealing them. They're so much more comfortable than mine." Her sentence trailed off and Matt had a feeling she was regretting saying that.


"Right here." She came out holding a dark blue shirt triumphantly but she wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Thanks darlin'." He peeled his shirt off over his head and used it to wipe up the excess water before laying it on a table. When he turned back to take the clean shirt, he found her staring. Her eyes roamed from his neck down to the waist of his jeans and back up. He smiled. "If I didn't know better, I'd say this was all just a ploy to get me naked."

She blushed and averted her eyes, shoving the shirt out towards him. "Though, it was all my own doing and—" he stepped closer to her, invading her personal space, leaning down to whisper in her ear. "You probably would have been more thorough." He stepped back but just kept looking at her.

"I should go change." Matt almost laughed as she turned and hurried back down the hall. He wandered into the living room and found the movie collection. Lots of chick flicks, a few action movies and… kids' movies, the old ones. Matt looked around. Actually, the whole house had the feel of being lived in. Not by a single woman but a family. Now that he thought about it, why would a single woman of Hope's age need this big of a house? And why would her brother have a room, presumably completely set up, and not live here?

"Uh, Matt?" He turned towards her voice. Hope was standing in the doorway, still in the wet dress.

"Yeah, darlin'?"

"Could you help me? The zipper's stuck." Her face was even redder now than when she'd hightailed it out of the room minutes earlier. She ducked her head, hiding her face from him. This woman really did have the power to kill him. She was simple and beautiful but so unsure of herself. He was struck again by the thought that something had happened to make her so timid.

"Nevermind." Matt didn't realize he hadn't said anything, just stared. When she would have turned and ran away again, he reached up and captured her wrist.

"Wait. Come here." He moved toward her though, closing the distance between them. He took her by shoulders and turned her so she faced away. Very carefully, he gathered her long honey brown hair in his hands and moved it over her shoulder. His hands slid over her soft skin and down to the zipper. He inched it lower ever so slowly, when it caught, he gently tugged until it gave free. Finally, the back was gaping open. Matt could see all of her smooth back from her neck down to the lacy top of her panties, but still he didn't release her.

Hope looked over her shoulder at him. She was trembling. He pulled her back against him and leaned down to kiss her lightly. "You're so beautiful, Hope." She sighed, melding into him, curving her body slightly. Matt's hand slid in the back of her dress and around to rest on her stomach.

He released her mouth to nuzzle her cheek. Her head rolled to the side offering him her neck. He kissed and sucked and nipped. Moving down, he used his free hand to push aside the strap of the dress and licked her collar bone, dipping into the hollow. Hope was panting, her eyes closed. His hand on her front traced her belly button and moved lower to toy with the top of her panties. Matt moved to her ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth and then licking the whorl. "Bedroom?"

"Down the hall. Last door. Left." She was breathless. Matt turned her and scooped her up into his arms. She squealed and gripped his neck. Again, he captured her mouth, swallowing the sound as his tongue pushed inside.

Kicking the door open enough for them to fit through, Matt put Hope down. Still kissing her, he moved the straps down her arms and dropped to his knees. He pulled the dress down until it pooled at her feet. Using him for balance, Hope rested one hand on his shoulder and stepped out of the garment, kicking it out of the way. Matt lifted one foot and took off her sandal. He repeated the action on the other foot only this time, instead of immediately replacing her foot to the safety of the floor, he kissed from her inside arch up to her knee. Slowly standing, he wrapped her leg around his hip and hoisted her up into his arms.

He walked to the bed until he felt the mattress collide with his shins. Carefully but not so gently, Matt tossed Hope onto the bed. The aroused expression wiped out the shock as she bounced. Matt followed suit, falling to the bed. He caught himself before he landed solidly on her, promptly claiming her mouth. Moving lower, he licked a path to her breasts.

Hope wove her hands into his hair, gripping hard. It would have hurt in any other situation but at the moment, Matt couldn't bring himself to feel anything other than pleasure, the warmth and softness that was the woman under him.

"I was right." Matt pulled back to look down at her.

"Huh?" Hope's eyes cracked open. The brown darker than before.

"You do look good in pink. Arch your back for me darlin'." She did and Matt reached around, balancing himself on his elbows, and undid the clasp of her pink bra. He bent his head down and swirled his tongue before edging to the end of the bed.

Looking at her he saw only desire. He slid his fingers in the top of her matching pink lace panties and tugged until they were gone too. Matt crawled back up between her thighs and settled himself there, covering her body with his. Hope's hands roamed the expanse of his back until she got to his jeans. Her tiny hands slipped under the waist band.

"Matt. Clothes." Matt stood and stared down at her, forgetting the reason altogether when he saw he exposed like that to him. She'd pulled one leg up showing him everything she had to offer. "Matt, hurry!" Chuckling, he unsnapped his pants. He had them and his boxers off in record time. He may have found her impatience amusing but he was just as ready to be back on that bed with her.

He caressed every inch of her. He'd be damned if this was going to be over any time soon. This woman absolutely amazed him. Timid and shy one minute, ravenous and insatiable the next.

Hope's whole body was writhing underneath his. He slid his hand sown the contours of her body and over to the core of her. He pushed two fingers into her heat and his thumb connected at the perfect place as he firmly bit down. She screamed and Matt rode it out, pumping his fingers in and out.

Giving the underside of her breast a final kiss, he withdrew and crawled back up her body. He kissed her hungrily, like he needed her breath to survive and only her breath would do.

He rolled to his side, off of her, giving her time to come down from the high and catch her breath.

Eyes still closed, Hope was finally breathing somewhat normally. When Matt would have rolled and slid home, Hope sat up and pushed him to his back. She didn't take her time moving lithely down his body and taking him into her mouth, alternating swirling her tongue and sucking hard.

"Oh, darlin'," Matt groaned. She was working him over relentlessly, taking him to that point before backing off briefly.

Maybe it was because it'd been a while for him, or maybe it was because her mouth felt so damn heavenly, but he was fast approaching the breaking point and there was no stopping it from where he was at.

"Hope. Darlin' stop." He gripped her shoulders and pulled her up his body, kissing her desperately. He could taste himself on her tongue. Gently rolling Hope to her back, Matt somehow found a condom and got exactly where he'd been waiting to be.

It didn't take long after that. Mindlessly, Matt managed to get Hope off again before finding his own release. He collapsed on top of her, resting in the crook of her neck. Hope wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders, sighing when he kissed her over sensitive skin lightly.

Finally, when Matt could do more than pant, he rolled from the soft cushion of Hope's body and pulled her to his side. She settled her head on his chest and surrounded him with her warmth, trying to stifle a yawn. Matt pulled the blanket up around them. "Go to sleep, sweetheart." He rubbed her back, pulled her a little closer and closed his eyes.


Hope woke to an empty bed. She was naked so the night was definitely more than an erotic dream. A smile lifted her lips, even if she did wake up alone.

The night had definitely taken an unexpected turn, though certainly for the better. It was beyond compare.

Sighing, Hope hopped from bed and wrapped herself in her robe. She was sore, a nice hot soak in the big Jacuzzi tub in her parents' bathroom sounded like the perfect way to start her day. She used to love that tub when she was little. Mama would always get the precise temperature and fill it up with bubbles and her bath salts. She'd always known exactly when Hope needed it.

Hope nixed that thought before it put a damper on her good mood.

She was pleasantly surprised when she got to the kitchen to start coffee. She found it already set up, all she had to do was turn it on and start the machine, and when she turned she saw a chocolate chip muffin sitting on the bar, beside it a note written on a napkin from the café in town.

You were right. They do have the best muffins. I had to go to work and didn't want to wake you. I'll call you tonight.


Hope was shocked he'd remembered, she'd only mentioned the café in passing when they'd toured the town. She was so happy, she practically skipped back to the master bedroom. She didn't overthink all the memories that flooded her mind when she opened the door, didn't feel overwhelmed. She didn't think anything could ruin today.


Days had passed with multiple phone calls, texts, and a few more dinner dates—though none quite like their second. Basically, all around, uneventful.

Until about two weeks later.

Hope woke from a deep sleep when the phone started ringing shrilly from her bedside table. "Hello?"

"Baby girl," the speaker slurred.


Matt looked at the recent detainee. Nice clean cut guy.

He walked to the main desk, pointing towards the room. "Hey, Mary. What's this guy in for?"

"Bar fight."

"Really? He doesn't look like a fighter."

"Yeah. Had a few drinks with his buddies. One of his buddies had beef with another patron and that other patron jumped him in the parking lot. He claims he was just defending himself. Either way, they were all brought in." Matt nodded. Moving back towards the room, he overheard some of the processing.

"Can I use the phone yet?"

"After processing. Age?"



"Five, ten."


"One sixty-five."



"Hair: brown also, right. No dye?"


Matt turned back toward Mary. "Hey, what's this guy's name?" It was a wild hunch. The town was small, but there could have been many people with brown hair and brown eyes that lived here. He didn't even know if this particular guy lived in town.

"Trevor Conner." Bingo. Hope's brother.

"Thanks." Well didn't this night just get a bit more interesting.


"You'll find the payphone right down the hallway. I'll be waiting right here." Mr. Macho stood with his arms crossed, all business.

"I know, I'm not stupid," he muttered the last under his breath. Better not to push his luck. He was already in here for no reason, but thankfully, Dumbo's superior had decided to look into his self-defense claim and was letting him go. Though he still needed transportation. According to them, he'd had a "little too much to drink" and couldn't drive himself. Trevor snorted. He was barely even buzzed.

At the pay phone, it took him four tries to latch onto the receiver and another five minutes just to dial Becky's number. Heaven knew he couldn't call Hope.


Only four people in the world called her that and two of them were dead. There was only one person left with that deep of a voice. "Trevor, what are you doing calling me at… two in the morning?"

"I need you to pick me up." Hope's heart jumped. There were few places he could be that he couldn't drive away. Police station and hospital topped the list and Hope really preferred it was the latter. If he was calling and able to go home, then he couldn't be hurt that bad, right?

"Where?" She had a sinking suspicion she wasn't going to like this.

"Police station."


"I know, baby girl. I know. Becky didn't answer. You know I wouldn't do this to you if I could find somebody else, but all the guys are here."

"Trevor, I can't."

There was a long pause. "It's alright, baby girl. I'll just sleep it off."

"I'm sorry."

"I know. I'll talk to you later."

"I love you."

"I know." The phone went dead. Hope had no doubt she'd be up the rest of the night.


Walking back down the hallway, Trevor tried to bypass Mr. Tough Guy but he trailed behind like Trevor knew he would. For some reason, he didn't trust Trevor enough to leave him alone.

"You got a ride?"


"Then, I'll need to put you in a holding cell." Well, duh.

"I guessed that."

Trevor sat on the uncomfortable bed, leaning back against the wall thinking. It was stupid of him to call Hope. He knew she wouldn't—couldn't —come down for him. It'd been almost eight years but Hope had never gotten over their parents' deaths. It was all because fate had put her in a bad position and she'd had trouble dealing with it ever since.

He sometimes blamed himself and he knew Becky did too. There's really nothing either of them could have done, but it was always in the back of his mind that if one of them had been there with her, she wouldn't have taken it quite as bad.

She'd only been eighteen years old. She shouldn't have had to deal with it by herself, but she had because Trevor had been out partying. At least Becky had the legitimate reason of being married and living a town over. Trevor had even lived there at the time.

He'd been over this too many times to count. He was starting to think he wasn't going to get over his guilt like Hope wasn't going to get over her fear.


"Oh, damn it. Damn it all to hell." Hope was sitting in her car outside the police station. She just couldn't muster the courage to even get out of her car.

Trevor had made her feel so guilty and weak. She knew he hadn't meant to. Like he'd said, she knew he wouldn't have called her if he'd had somebody else. It was just the way he's sounded at the end. Not really disappointed in her but resigned and she knew she couldn't let him sit there.

So after calling Becky a few thousand times and getting no answer, she'd donned a sweatshirt over her pajamas, slipped on a pair of flip flops and jumped in her car. Without thinking, obviously, because now she was sitting here, stuck. Unable to move from her spot.

She knew it was ridiculous and ludicrous and absurd, but she could not force herself from the car. It was so simple for a normal person. But she wasn't normal. At least not in this respect. She was the woman who went out of her way to avoid the flashing red and blue lights, had had panic attacks just seeing them. She was the one who took crazy detours all around town just to avoid driving past the police station. The odd thing was, she knew who the officers in the town were, could talk to them without any incident when she ran into them at the café or grocery store, but let them be in uniform and she dodged them like the plague.

She just couldn't do it. As a result, she was a model citizen but at what cost? She couldn't even bail her own brother out of jail without having a meltdown.


It wasn't until hours later that Matt got around to talking to Hope's brother.

"Conner. You want to get coffee?" He was leaning back against the wall of the cell, his head resting there, eyes closed. He seems extremely exhausted, like it'd been a rough night.

"Huh? Sure. Maybe it'll make me sober up enough that you'll release me."

"Ride fall through?"

"Yeah, you could say that. One sister didn't answer and the other has some issues." Matt unlocked the cell door.


"She doesn't like police. Or anything that has to do with them. Their cars, this building. She's terrified of it all." Was he talking about Hope? He said he had two sisters.


"Yeah. She's been like this for about eight years. Since our parents died in a car accident when she was eighteen. She was the only one home when the police came to inform us." Matt did the quick math in his head. Hope was about twenty-five, twenty-six years old.

"That's too bad. We're really not the bad people some think us to be." He strived for nonchalant when inside his heart was racing. Why couldn't he just say the sister's name, damn it.

"It's not personal. It's just the event. We don't feel right forcing her to see a therapist but we've asked doctors and they say she associates all things related to police to that specific event."

Say her name.

"I knew I shouldn't have called her tonight. Knowing Hope, she probably hasn't slept since."

And there it was. The name he didn't want to hear but knew, deep down, was coming. It explained a lot. Her reserve, the house. Matt couldn't believe the train wreck that was going to happen right in front of him and there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening.

"Here, it's more like sludge than coffee, but it'll do the trick."

"Thanks, Officer… Danger. That's an ironic name."

"Yeah. Call me Matt."


Nine times, Hope had gotten out of the car, made it a few steps, then turned and ran back to safety. The good news was she'd made it a little farther each time. At this rate, she'd make it to the door by the time Trevor was sober enough to walk out.

This time. I'm going to make it this time.

Taking a deep breath, holding it just long enough for her lungs to burn, Hope popped the latch, got out. She released another breath and at a slow and steady pace, moved towards the huge glass doors.

She stared at her feet. Maybe if she looked at nondescript things, she would be able to imagine herself anywhere but where she really was.

I am walking up to my door.

I am walking up the stairs to Trevor's apartment.

I am opening Becky's door.

I am—

"Miss. Can I help you?" Hope kept looking down. She hoped and wished and prayed the lady would just leave her alone. So far she was doing good. So good. But it could be broken in a second. Looking up would do that. Her illusion would shatter into a million pieces.

"Miss?" She squeezed her eyes shut until a pain formed in her head. She willed the woman to just shut up. Did she not see how much Hope was struggling?

"Dan. I don't know what's wrong with her. She's won't answer me and she's been like that for almost fifteen minutes."

"And she doesn't respond?"

"No. You can try but she hasn't for me."

"Miss?" Hope could hear the conversation going on around her but she could. Not. Look. Up. The illusion was slowly fragmenting around the edges. She was holding onto it with the barest of threads.

"Should I call an ambulance?"

"Jeez, Mary. Didn't you recognize who it was? It's Hope. Call Matt and have him bring Trevor up."

I am standing in my bathroom, in front of the mirror.

I am standing in Becky's living room with Hunter playing I Spy.

I am standing in Trevor's kitchen cooking.

I am standing in Matt's arms.

Somehow, Hope actually managed to imagine the weight of arms around her waist and the strong embrace holding her up. Could feel the warmth of a body wrapped around her. Could feel the hair being pulled behind her ears. Could feel his breath on her face.

"Baby girl. Talk to me. Look at me. Something." The voice registered, but it wasn't Matt's. It wasn't Matt's arms or warmth or breath. It was Trevor. Hope lifted her head enough to bury it in his neck. Tears had started running down her cheeks at some point because she could feel the moisture puddle on his skin.

"Can I stop by later to fill out any papers? Please?"

"Yeah." Hope was shocked to hear that voice. Had she somehow conjured him up during all her illusions? Without thinking, she looked up and what she saw literally broke her heart. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be seeing what she was seeing. Maybe her illusions had decided to turn on her. Maybe he wasn't real.

Matt was standing in front of her in full police uniform.

He couldn't be real. This couldn't be real. Because if it was, that meant she'd slept with an officer. She'd been dating an officer. And she couldn't do that. Bad things happened when they entered her house. Irrevocable things.

So, no. That was not Matt. She refused to believe what was clearly right in front of her. She'd have to cut all ties with him. She'd been lucky, nobody had died yet, but if she continued that relationship, surely somebody would.


The scene that was playing out in front to Matt had his breath stalling.

Train. Wreck.

He could see her eyes flash with recognition and then resolve. He feared what that meant but knew he'd fight her on it. He didn't plan on losing her over this. He took a step toward her, to do what he didn't quite know.

Her breathing, already coming in short panting gasps, hitched even more and tears streamed down her face even faster.

It nearly broke his heart to see Trevor carry her like a child out the door and not follow.

"What was that?"

"You mean you don't know?" Matt looked toward Mary and Dan.

"Trevor said she didn't like anything to do with us, that I was never supposed to come over in uniform, but I've never seen anything…" Dan looked towards the exit.

Yeah. Neither had he.


Trevor carried Hope to the car and sat her in the passenger seat. There was no way he was letting her drive. It reminded him of when they were little. They'd been riding their bikes and Hope fell. She'd been crying and sitting there on the sidewalk. Trevor had picked her up, even though she was almost as big as him, and carried her all the way home. Their mama had taken her from him when he'd gotten in the house. "Look at me, Hope. You're alright baby girl," she'd said as she'd sat Hope on the counter.

"Look at me, Hope." Trevor didn't like that she was still having trouble breathing. Her eyes were focused over his shoulder. Trevor gripped her chin and forced her gaze to his. "Only at me."

Slowly, her breathing started to regulate. "That's good. Breathe, baby girl. You're alright." Trevor sat back on his heels.

What did I do to her?

Finally, when the tears stopped and dried and her breathing was slow and steady, Hope turned and curled on her side facing the door, closing her eyes. He let his hand trail down the length of her hair before getting in the car.

As he was pulling out, he could see Officer Danger—Matt—standing at the building's doors. He must have watched the entire thing. Trevor lifted his hand and Matt nodded.

Silence filled the car during the ride. At home, Trevor carried Hope to her bed. She had to be exhausted. He pulled back the covers and after situating her, crawled in behind her.

He gripped her hand and held on. Again, just like when they were little and Hope would have a nightmare. Or even more recently when she couldn't sleep after their parents died.


For weeks, Hope hadn't left the house. Partly because it was a small town and everybody would know by now. Mostly because she was scared she'd run into Matt. He'd called continuously, leaving messages on the machine. Even stopped by a few times after she unplugged the phone but Hope wouldn't answer the door. Trevor stopped by every day. It was like he was scared she'd gone off the deep end.

In a way, it was probably right. She could see how irrational she was being, but she was helpless to stop it.

It was after one such incident with Matt that she found herself curled up on her parents' bed when he'd finally given up. Hope didn't know what to do anymore. She wished he'd just stop coming around.

"I don't know what to do anymore, Mama."


Trevor had decided to pick up lunch on his way to Hope's. When he pulled up to the house, he was surprised to see a truck sitting out by the curb and even more so when he saw Matt sitting outside the front door. He stood as Trevor parked.


"Hey. What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see your sister."

"Why do you want to see Hope?"

"We were seeing each other before…"

"And she didn't know you were police." Matt shook his head.

Fucking fantastic.

"And you were inside the house?" Again, Matt nodded. Trevor moved toward the door. "I'll tell her you were here."

"She knows damn well I was here."

"Watch the fucking tone. It's not up to me if she wants to see you or not. I said I'd tell her."

Trevor didn't wait for another response. He pushed past Matt and shut the door in his face.

"Hope?" No answer.

Moving through the house, Trevor couldn't find her. There was only one room left and as far as he knew Hope didn't like going into their parents' room often. When he opened the door though, he found her curled up in the middle of their bed. He could see the dried tear streaks on her face. As quietly as possible, he backed out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

Trevor found her phone unplugged and when he plugged it back in, the machine flashed 56 messages. Pulling a chair over, he hit play. He listened to every one of Matt's messages. Not once did he show any anger or frustration at her like he had outside. It was all pleading and desperation.

"Please talk to me."

"Please call me."

"I'm sorry."

"Please pick up the phone."

Trevor pulled out his cell and dialed. "Becks we got a big problem."

Afterwards, Trevor walked back to the front door and sure enough, Matt was still sitting on the porch, leaning back against the house.


"Hope. Come here." Slowly Hope got out of the bed—she hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep—and made her way to the living room. Trevor wasn't alone though. Becky was there, but so was Matt.

"What's he doing here?" She stood frozen.

"He wants to talk to you, baby girl. And we think you should talk to him too." Becky stood beside Trevor. They both went into the kitchen, leaving her alone with Matt.

"Darlin'—" He stood and moved toward her.

"No! You can't be here! You can't be in this house!" She pushed him. Shoved his chest but he didn't budge. She couldn't move him. "Somebody will get hurt," she sobbed.

Matt wrapped his arms around her, pulling her flush with his body. Hope fought and fought. Punched and kicked and cried until she was too tired to do anything but sag against him.

"Shh. I promise, nobody's gonna get hurt. It's alright. You're alright, everybody's alright." He picked her up and carried her to the sofa, cradling her in his lap, he stroked her hair.

"It was luck. The longer you're here, the more I'm pushing it."

"No. Hope, that was just one time. It was a terrible experience but it's not going to happen again. I swear to you. You've met your quota for tragedy. I just want to help you." He kissed her forehead. "Do you trust me? Will you let me and your siblings help you? It'll take time, I know, but you're strong enough to get over this. Please. Please, darlin'."

Every so slightly, Hope nodded her head. "I'll try."

AN: Okay, so for one, fp is being really stupid and making me to this in an itty bitty screen. I'm really excited to post this story. It's for a challenge over at TWA. (the only requirement was that it had to have a phobia.) It got some good reviews over there, though it needs work and the general opinion is that the ending is weak, forced, and rushed. I agree but I wanted to post first. Review! Tell me what you think =) -ashley