Derek Davenport, undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, strolled along the moonlit deck of the Honeymoon Hotel cruise ship with the arm of his partner and make-believe "wife", Cheryl Carstairs, linked through his.
Cheryl was a voluptuous and sultry bleached-blonde with hypnotic, aquamarine eyes. She and Derek had been "involved" once, but that had ended some time ago and they had parted as friends. Now, however, here they were, posing as husband and wife aboard one of the most exclusive cruise ships in the Caribbean, and Derek was acting as though he were on Death Row, rather than on a honeymoon cruise.
Frustrated, Cheryl stopped in her tracks and shoved Derek up against the railing. Despite being diminutive in stature by comparison to her tall and muscular companion, Cheryl was a trained agent and perfectly capable of handling a man of Derek's size . . . if she managed to catch him off-guard. Grabbing him by his lapels, she kissed him squarely and firmly upon the mouth, then broke off and glared at him.
"What the—?" Derek stammered.
"We're supposed to be married, Derek, remember?" Cheryl whispered to her companion. "If you don't start acting more like the amorous new groom you're supposed to be, the smugglers are going to get suspicious and we could end up dead—just like Rob and Lisa." She released him and wrapped her arm through his again; they then resumed their stroll.
"I'm sorry, Cheryl, but I'm in love with Terri Holland and I just can't pretend anymore," Derek told her.
Before either agent said another word, two rapid shots were fired from a silenced automatic pistol. Moments later, the warm bodies of Derek Davenport and Cheryl Carstairs were thrown overboard. Barely alive but still semiconscious, Derek felt himself sinking beneath the surface of the salty waters of the Caribbean.
Drenched in sweat from head to toe and gasping for air, Derek Davenport threw off his bedcovers and sat bolt upright in bed. What in the . . .? He shook his head. What had he been dreaming about? He couldn't remember. It was gone, whatever it was. But it had left him with a strong feeling of urgency and foreboding—something to do with his future.
In that case, he mused, let it come, whatever it might be. Derek Davenport was not a coward—he had stared Death in the face more than once and was certain that he would do so again.
As for the immediate future: In a few hours' time he would be on a plane, bound for Washington, D.C. and the headquarters of the DEA. There he would receive directives and details concerning his next mission: an undercover operation aboard the cruise ship Honeymoon Hotel.
CHAPTER 1: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
"What am I doing here?" Terri Lynn Holland asked herself as she sat on the cement embankment that lined the wide stairs leading down to the Reflecting Pool in front of the tall, white obelisk known as the Washington Monument. Behind her and across the street was the Lincoln Memorial, which she had not yet visited.
Terri was twenty-five years old, 5′4″ tall, and rather attractive in an unassuming way. Currently, her hair was short, brown and curly. Her eyes were hazel-green; and she had a modest but shapely figure.
"Why on earth did I ever come to this horrible city?" she wailed.
Terri's eyes filled with tears as she thought about the chain of events that had brought her to this place. She took a tissue from the packet she carried in the right-hand pocket of her bleached denim jeans, then dried her eyes and blew her pert little nose in the dainty manner that her mother had taught her when she was very young.
It was Saturday, March twenty-second, and it had been nearly two months since Terri's father had passed away, leaving her an orphan, as her mother had succumbed to a lengthy illness when Terri was just a young girl of twelve. Now, thirteen years later, she was on her own in a city that, to Terri, felt cold and heartless.
If she had had to leave home, Terri mused, perhaps she should have chosen someplace other than Washington, D.C. She had received a job offer, however, and hadn't wanted to remain in her hometown after all that had happened.
Terri was so full of her own thoughts that she didn't even notice when a tall, attractive man about ten years her senior sat down beside her on the wide cement slab. He cleared his throat. "Ahem."
Terri started visibly. "Oh my gosh! You scared me!"
The man shook his head apologetically. "I'm sorry; I didn't realize you were so deep in thought." He held out a hand. "My name is Derek—Derek Davenport."
"Terri," the young woman replied, taking the proffered hand, "with two R's and an 'I' on the end. Terri Lynn Holland."
Derek was momentarily taken aback when she told him her name—something about it seemed familiar—but, being a professional, he maintained his outward composure and spoke to Terri as though nothing were amiss. "Do you come here often, Ms. Holland?" he queried, releasing her hand.
"Only when I feel a need for reflection," she quipped, smiling softly and sniffling.
"Well," said Derek, "it's nice to see you haven't lost your sense of humor, in spite of all the problems you're obviously packing around."
"What makes you think I've got problems?" Terri asked defensively.
"Well, the red, puffy eyes and the tears on your cheeks are dead giveaways. But, even driving by I could see that something was bothering you: You look lost and alone—or maybe just sad and miserable. In any case, I thought maybe you could use a friend. So, I decided to come here and offer you a listening ear and/or a shoulder to cry on, if you need one—and it looks like you do." He pulled a clean white linen handkerchief from the pocket of his navy Dockers and gently dabbed the tears from her cheeks and eyes.
Terri smiled shyly. "Thank you, Mr. Davenport. You're very kind. But tell me: Are you in the habit of coming to the rescue of damsels in distress?"
"(Call me 'Derek', please.) Rescuing damsels in distress is kind of a hobby of mine. Why, just last week I stormed the Pentagon and took out six armed guards, just to save a couple of secretaries from heartless bosses." He smiled slightly at his own wit. "So, Terri 'with two R's and an 'I' on the end', are you in need of a friend or a shoulder to cry on?"
"I could definitely use a friend . . . although I think I could forego the shoulder to cry on—at least for the moment: I'm feeling much better now, thanks to you."
"Glad I could help. Now, how about letting me buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me what all the tears were for in the comfort and warmth of a coffee shop."
She shook her head. "Thank you, but no: I'm a Latter-day Saint—I don't drink coffee."
"Hot chocolate, then."
Terri looked up at the handsome face and prayed silently before responding. "All right," she finally replied, surprised at the answer she had received to her prayer.
Derek's car was close by. It was a late model sports convertible of metallic blue, with off-white leather interior and a five-speed transmission. Terri smiled softly when she saw it. This, she concluded, definitely suits Derek. In Terri's opinion, her new friend—who was currently opening the passenger-side door for her—was not only really nice, he was also very attractive.
Although she was shy about looking directly at Derek, Terri stole a few furtive glances at him as he drove. She estimated his height at around six-foot-two. He had a medium build, although Terri could tell—even through the bulky sleeves of his sport coat—that his arms were well-muscled.
His brown hair—which was short, but shaggy—was two shades lighter in color than her own and had a slightly-graying, fluffy fringe in front that could have been bangs if it had covered more of his fairly high, slanted forehead. His deep-set eyes were hazel-gray and somewhat close together. A small, round cleft adorned the middle of his chin. His nose was long and slender, but not so long as to be unattractive; a bump just below the bridge, however, gave Terri reason to believe that it had been broken at some time in his life.
A scar—around three-quarters of an inch long—was visible above and below his right eyebrow; two more scars sat side by side above his upper lip, just to the right of center. An additional two almost-imperceptible marks dotted his right cheek and the middle of his chin. Terri felt certain that, at some time in his life, Derek had had an accident that had just missed causing one long, ugly scar that very probably would've marred his handsome features irreparably. She thanked God that the injury had not been as serious as it might've been. Although the scars weren't all that noticeable, Terri could almost feel the pain Derek must have suffered when he received them.
"So, have you made up your mind yet?" Derek queried, breaking—what to him—seemed a rather lengthy silence.
"About what?" Terri asked, startled. She had been so caught up in studying his features that she had been oblivious to the silence.
"About me," Derek said, looking at her with something bordering on amusement. "I've seen you glancing over at me, studying me. But, I'm not sure if you're measuring me as a friend . . . or as a man."
Terri blushed and smiled sheepishly. She had met very few men who were so forthright. "Both, I guess," she stated. "Your face shows a lot of character, which is an important quality for a friend to have; and, as I told you, I could really use a friend right now. I've only been in D.C. for a couple of weeks, and I still feel kind of lost." To herself she added, —and alone.
"D.C. does take some getting used to," Derek said. "I was born here and have lived here off and on for most of my life . . . but, I can still get lost if I go to a part of town that I'm not too familiar with."
That wasn't the kind of "lost" Terri was talking about, but she chose not to make an issue of it: Her curiosity was aroused. "Where do you live when you're not here?" she asked.
"Miami," Derek replied. "I work for the DEA, trying to keep drugs out of the country. I'm here in D.C. now to prepare for my next assignment—to work up a cover and find the right partner . . . among other things." The tone of his voice and the look in his eyes told Terri that Derek had something specific in mind that could well involve her, but she had no idea what it might be.
Unable to solve the puzzle, Terri shrugged mentally and asked, "Is that how you got all those tiny scars on your face? –working undercover for the DEA?" When Derek's eyes opened wide in amazement, Terri bowed her head and apologized, "I'm sorry, Derek. That was rude of me. I had no business asking such a personal question when we just met."
"No, it's okay, really; I'm just surprised. Most people I meet don't notice the scars right away. I once dated a woman for five weeks before she spotted even one of them! You're amazingly perceptive."
It was a flattering remark, but Terri sensed that it was an evasive tactic, which meant that she was not going to get an answer to her question . . . at least, not right away. For whatever reason, Derek didn't want to talk about those scars and how he had come by them. Terri's suspicion that the incident had been very painful for him increased.
Derek slowed down and parked his car in front of a warm and friendly-looking coffee shop called Café au Lait. After disembarking, he ran around to open Terri's door for her, looking for—and cautiously avoiding—any puddles. "Watch your step, Terri," he cautioned her. "There's water in the gutter from all the rain."
According to the calendar, spring had arrived just two days before, but the weather had been wet and rainy for nearly a week and had melted what remained of the last snowfall, which had been light.
Terri was certain that the almost relentless profusion of rain was one of the reasons she had been so depressed of late. The sun had come out today, however, so she had dressed in bleached denim jeans; a white, lightweight pullover; and a neon-pink windbreaker. She had then ridden a bus to the Reflecting Pool, hoping that sitting in the sunshine for a while would brighten her somber mood a bit. It hadn't. A few minutes with Derek Davenport, however, had done what the sun alone had been unable to do: Terri was now in much better spirits.
After closing the door for Terri, Derek held out his arm. Terri wrapped hers through his, smiling shyly up at him as they headed for the café entrance. Derek then opened that door, allowing Terri to enter ahead of him. He was a head taller than she was; and, because he towered over her, she felt safe and protected . . . something she hadn't felt for several months.
"Derek!" exclaimed a somewhat rotund blonde woman in a pink waitress's uniform. (She was, in Terri's estimation, wearing too much of too many different types of eye makeup.) She approached Derek with her arms wide open, gave the unfortunate DEA agent a hug and then quickly released him. "So, how long you planning to be in town this time around, sweet-cheeks?" she queried, pinching the lean skin that covered his prominent cheekbones.
"I'm not sure yet," Derek replied as the woman released his cheeks. "It depends." After pausing for a brief moment, he said, "Rita, this is Terri, my new . . . friend." He patted the hand that was wrapped around his arm and winked at the waitress, a twinkle in his eye.
Rita's eyebrows went up as she looked over at Terri. "Oh, it's like that, is it? Well, don't ever let it be said that Rita Toledo doesn't know when to butt out. C'mon; I'll show you two lovebirds to a table."
"Oh, but we're not—" Terri began.
Derek hushed her with a gesture of his hand and whispered in her ear, "Let Rita believe what she wants. If she suspects we're anything but lovers, she'll hover around us all day and we won't get any privacy!" Terri nodded and kept quiet, although she bit her lip in dismay.
Rita showed them to a booth in a back corner, as far as possible from the front door and window. "Do you wanna sit across from each other, or side by side?" she queried, holding onto their menus while waiting for an answer.
"Side by side," Derek responded quickly, letting Terri enter the booth ahead of him. He then sat down, put an arm around her shoulders, and said, "Never mind the menus, Rita. Just bring me a cup of coffee, and some hot chocolate for Terri."
"You want that coffee black with sugar?"
Then Rita looked at Terri and asked, "You want whipped cream in that hot chocolate?"
"No, thank you. Whipped cream is nothing more than a lot of air, filled with calories."
"Gee, I wish I had your taste buds!" said Rita. She then turned abruptly away.
Terri smiled. "Rita's quite a character—like Gina, my best friend. (She runs the café in Pahoran, my hometown.) I don't think they'd get along, though: They have completely different personalities."
"Rita can be a bit . . . brash," Derek admitted, "but she's got a good heart. . . So, have you known your friend Gina long?"
Terri nodded. "She's been like a second mother to me ever since my own mom died when I was twelve. She helped me through the agonizing years of adolescence and puberty, listening to my problems and worries when I thought I was in love with some boy at school, or sympathizing when I was in trouble for not getting my homework handed in on time."
Once Terri started talking, the words began to flow on their own; and, in due course, she told her companion her sad and painful story.
"My dad ran for the Idaho State Legislature after my mom died, because he couldn't handle being home all the time with so many memories haunting him everywhere he went.
"Whenever Dad was in Boise for a legislative session, I stayed with my grandparents. They lived close to my schools—which was convenient for me—and my grandfather was really good at science and math. He helped me a lot with my homework. . ..
"Whenever Dad was home in Pahoran, I'd just go to Gina's café after school 'til he got off work. (Gina's a widow, but she doesn't have any kids of her own, so she kind of pseudo-adopted me.) When I needed help with my homework, she would do what she could to help me and phoned my grandfather if it was over her head. Then Grandpa would come to the café, and Gina would let us have a table in the back corner—kind of like this one—where we could work undisturbed.
"Dad would close up his appliance-and-hardware store at six o'clock every night, and then he'd come to Gina's to get me. If he was really tired, we'd eat there before heading home. Otherwise we'd go straight home and take turns doing the cooking. After dinner, if I still had homework to do, he'd help me with it and then look over his agenda for the next legislative session.
"It was really hard for Dad, raising a daughter alone. But he loved Mom so much that he didn't even want to think about remarrying. He did his best to keep busy, filling his life with Church and community service so he wouldn't have a lot of time to think about Mom and miss her. And, with the help of Gina and my grandparents, we managed okay.
"I graduated from high school fifth in my class and then went to Idaho State University in Pocatello, where I majored in Economics and minored in Political Science.
"In late summer (before the start of my senior year), because I was twenty-one and had no immediate prospects for marriage, I decided to put in my papers and go on a mission for the Church. When I received my mission call, I found that I was assigned to northern Belgium, where they speak Flemish, or dialect Dutch. I spent around two months at the MTC—that's the Missionary Training Center—in Provo, Utah, just off the BYU campus. While I was there, I learned how to speak and teach the gospel in Dutch. After those two months were up, I spent the next sixteen months in Belgium."
"I'll bet that was quite an eye-opening experience for you," said Derek, "—coming from a small town in Idaho."
"It was. I'd never realized before how blessed we Americans are. Even though Belgium isn't really considered a 'third-world country', there're so many things that we take for granted here in the States . . . I came home with a new appreciation for being an American."
"I've been out of the country a few times myself," interjected Derek, "so I know what you mean. Go on. What happened after you came home?"
"I finished my college education at BYU and taught Dutch at the MTC to earn money for tuition and expenses.
"While I was at BYU, I met and started dating a man named Robert Durham. Like me, Robert is an Idaho native, born and raised in Blackfoot. He served a mission in Venezuela, and then went to BYU to get a Master's degree in political science. During the semesters that he was trying to earn his Master's, he was also a part-time teaching assistant . . . which is how I met him: he was teaching one of my political science classes. He was really excited when I told him my dad was in the Idaho State Legislature, and he wanted very much to meet him. So, after we both got our degrees (Robert his Master's and me my Bachelor's), I took him home to Pahoran and introduced him to my dad."
"Hush," warned Derek. "Here comes Rita." As the nosy waitress made her way back to their table—carrying two steaming cups of beverages—Derek placed a hand on Terri's cheek and began kissing her lips with tenderness.
Terri, taken by surprise, gasped and stiffened with alarm. Eventually, however, she relaxed and enjoyed it, sighing and quivering as Derek slowly withdrew his lips from hers. When the kiss was over, she ducked her head and blushed like a school girl. Now it was Derek's turn to be surprised. Unless he was very much mistaken—and he didn't believe he was—Terri Holland had not done a great deal of kissing in her life, despite her relationship with the man named Robert Durham. She was sweet, lovely and innocent. Derek was, therefore, thoroughly enchanted and reluctant to take his eyes off of her.
"One black coffee with sugar," said Rita as she set the mug down in front of Derek, "and one hot chocolate." She placed Terri's cup in front of her and then said, "Sorry it took so long, but with the lunch rush coming soon, I had to make a fresh pot of coffee. . . If you're interested, I have a couple of cinnamon rolls left over from this morning . . ."
"Terri?" Derek queried, still gazing at her.
"I'd love one, thank you."
"They've got raisins . . ." Rita cautioned her.
"That's just the way I like them," Terri replied.
"Why don't you bring us whatever you've got left, Rita, and we'll take our time and enjoy them," said Derek, taking his eyes off Terri at last.
"You got it, Loverboy. Be right back."
"I noticed she was through fixing your hot chocolate," said Derek quietly, "and would be coming back. . . I know you don't like the charade, Terri, but if you want to be able to talk to me freely, Rita has to believe there's something between us."
Terri bowed her head shyly. "You're right: I don't like the charade; but I do understand. I'm just not comfortable with deception of any kind."
Derek softly caressed her cheek. "I appreciate that and I respect it. You're a very rare and special kind of woman . . . which gives me even more reason to want to . . . be a part of your life." He then took hold of her chin and briefly kissed her again.
Rita chose that precise moment to return. "Two raisin cinnamon rolls," she said, placing a small plate containing the treats in front of the couple. "I hope that's enough to keep you two satisfied. . ."
"Thanks, Rita," said Derek. "Now, if you don't mind . . . ."
"Okay, okay! I'm going. You don't have to drop an anvil on me; I know when I'm not wanted. Just holler when you're ready to leave." Fortunately, the bell on the door clanged at that moment and announced the arrival of more patrons. It was nearing noon now and, as Rita had said, the café would soon begin to fill with hungry people.
Derek retrieved the arm he had around Terri and wrapped both of his hands around his coffee cup for warmth. He then turned the cup around, raised it to his lips with his left hand, and began blowing on his coffee to cool it.
So, he's a southpaw, Terri noted.
Derek wore his watch on his left wrist, which surprised Terri, as—in here experience—most left-handers wore their watches on their right wrist, in order to make fastening and setting easier. If Terri had not seen him use his left hand to pick up his mug, that one piece of evidence would have made her believe that Derek was right-handed.
"Why don't you finish the story you were telling me," he was saying. "What happened after you and your boyfriend got to your home town?"
"All right. . . Robert and my father hit it off from the very beginning; and when Dad discovered that Robert had a lot of political savvy, he hired him to be his personal aide. I was hired as an economic adviser to the town mayor, moved into an apartment of my own, and attended most of the social and political functions in town with both Robert and my dad. Everything was great.
"Then, last summer, Robert informed me that he was planning to run against my father in the Republican primaries for a chance at his seat in the state legislature. At the same time, he told me we had to stop dating due to 'conflict of interest', and that he'd only continued seeing me when he came to Pahoran because it was 'socially acceptable and politically expedient'."
"In other words, he used you to get in tight with your dad, and he used your dad to get enough political clout to make a bid for his seat in the state legislature. He sounds like a real honey of a guy," said Derek sarcastically. "I guess politics can even ruin Mormons, if they let it. Isn't that kind of bad for the Church's image though?"
"Sometimes. Robert is the kind that makes people turn up their noses at us. We're supposed to be striving for perfection; most people know that. So, they love to point fingers whenever one of us does something they think we shouldn't. Unfortunately, no one outside of Pahoran knew what had happened between Robert and my dad and me; and the young people who were voting for the first time didn't really care. As a result, Robert won the county primary; and, in November, he won the seat.
"My father was so upset by Robert's betrayal—and the way he bamboozled the voters—that he had a fatal heart attack soon after Robert was sworn in. My only consolation is knowing that my parents are together now. I just hope they don't spend all their time worrying about me."
"Their only daughter is alone and friendless in Washington, D.C. Why should they worry?" said Derek with irony. "How did you come to be here, anyway?"
"Our congressman—a man who greatly admired and respected my father—knowing how much pain I was in after Dad died, offered me a job on his staff here in Washington as an economic adviser; so, here I am."
"Would you rather be back in Idaho?"
Terri shook her head. "Not really. Part of me feels guilty for not staying in Pahoran and looking after my grandparents, but I just had to leave. There were too many memories and too much pain, and I just couldn't take any more. After Dad died, my grandparents moved in with my aunt and uncle in Idaho Falls, so they wouldn't have to be alone. They were really unhappy about leaving their home in Pahoran, but there was nothing I could do. Except for my job with the mayor, I had nothing to keep me there."
"So," said Derek, "you've burned all your bridges behind you, and here you are—stuck in the big, bad city of monuments and corrupt politicians. Kind of a rude awakening, I'll bet."
"Yes, it is. I'd heard stories, of course; who hasn't? But it never occurred to me that things were really as bad as people said. I want to go home, but I have no home to go to anymore."
"Then stay here and make the most of what you do have. I'll bet you can find other Mormons to hang out with if you look hard enough. Have you been to church?"
"Yes, but no one seems to have really noticed me." She sighed. "I don't know. . . I guess maybe they think I'm a visitor or an investigator or something. . . Anyway, I've never been one to draw much of a crowd."
"What about your co-workers? Haven't you been able to make friends with any of them?"
"Most of them are a lot older than I am, and the ones closer to my own age are cynical and have too much 'attitude'. I don't feel comfortable around them; so, I'm kind of on my own."
"Not anymore, you're not: You have me now, and I'm making you my personal project . . . Self, make a note: Do everything possible to make Terri Lynn Holland happy."
"Oh, but Derek . . ."
"No 'buts'. I'll have plenty of time during my off-hours to show you around town. Now, c'mon, eat your cinnamon roll and drink your hot chocolate. This place is getting a little too crowded."
With a sigh, Terri picked up her mug and sipped at the chocolate, discovering that it had finally cooled enough to drink. A bite of cinnamon roll preceded each sip of cocoa, and the delicious combination warmed her inside and pleased her palate at the same time.
Within minutes, both Terri and Derek had finished eating and drinking, so Derek asked Rita for the check. He paid it on the way out and frowned as he found that the sky was overcast again.
"I'd better put the top up on my car," Derek said as he opened the door for Terri. Once inside the vehicle himself, he started the engine and pushed the button that closed the convertible top automatically. "Now, where do I take you from here?" he asked Terri. "Do you have a car back at the monument?"
Terri shook her head. "No, I don't have a car. I flew when I came here, and I've been using public transportation to get around."
"Hmp," Derek grunted with mild amusement. "Must be pretty expensive taking buses, cabs and subways everywhere you go."
"It is, but I can afford it: I was sole beneficiary of my father's life insurance policy, and I inherited everything in his bank account. . . Anyway, I have a terrible sense of direction, and I'm afraid I'd get lost if I tried to find my way around this place on my own. Just take me back to the Reflecting Pool and I'll catch a bus."
"Nothing doing! I'm driving you home and that's all there is to it. So, where do you live?"
She told him her address and then Derek said as he drove, "Tell you what: Beginning Monday I'll pick you up, drive you to work, and then bring you back home again in the evening; and on the weekends I'll show you around town. So, if there's someplace in particular that you're dying to see, just ask. But, I'll only take you to one or two places each weekend, so that once you know how to get somewhere, it'll be easier for you to find it on your own when you do decide to get a car."
"How come you've got a car when you don't live here all the time? You didn't drive this all the way up from Miami, did you?"
"No, I didn't: it's a company car. I couldn't afford to buy one like this unless I saved every cent for at least two years! But, it's good for my cover, so they let me use it whenever I'm in town—even if I'm not on assignment, just in case I'm spotted by anyone who knew me when I was working undercover before."
They had reached her brownstone apartment building. Pulling up and parking, Derek looked the place over and said, "So this is where you live." He didn't seem impressed.
"I could afford something nicer," Terri admitted, "but when I first arrived, I didn't wanna spend a lot of time looking around. I'm kinda used to roughing it anyway, thanks to some of the places I lived in when I was on my mission. This place isn't any worse than some of them and not as bad as others." She reached out a hand to open the car door.
"Hold it," said Derek, laying a hand on her arm. "I'd like to come around, open the door for you, and walk you up."
"That's okay, Derek; you don't have to baby me."
"I'm not trying to baby you; I'm trying to be a gentleman."
"I'm sorry; I'm kind of new at this. We're a lot less formal out West: Guys don't usually walk a girl to her door unless they've been out on a date. Most of them don't feel obligated to do anything more than a drop a girl off, when all they've done is provide her with transportation."
Derek smiled crookedly. "It looks like I'm going to have a few other things to teach you besides how to find your way around this city."
"Oh, Derek, I don't want to be a bother . . ."
"It's not a bother," Derek insisted. "I don't have to do any of these things. I'm doing them because I want to . . . because I care about you."
"You barely even know me!"
"I know you better than you think I do," said Derek cryptically and with a beguiling smile. "In any case, you really could use a friend; and here I am, ready and willing to be one. Just let me in, Terri, that's all I ask."
"I'll try," Terri replied, smiling awkwardly. "It may take some time, though. After the way Robert treated me, I'm a little skittish."
"I understand that; but I assure you, my intentions are honorable . . . and I get a kick out of doing the Knight in Shining Armor routine. For as long as you need me, I'm at your service."
"Then I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done and all that you will do for me in the future."
"You're more than welcome, Ms. Holland. . . Now, what're your plans for the rest of the day, if I might be so bold as to ask?"
"I have laundry to do. I should've taken it to the laundromat this morning, instead of indulging myself and going to the Reflecting Pool . . . but I needed the time to think."
"Where's the nearest laundromat?"
"Down on the corner," Terri replied, pointing ahead. "It's close enough to walk."
"Maybe, but it's not always safe for an attractive young woman to walk the streets of D.C. alone. I'll wait while you go up and get your laundry; then I'll walk with you to the laundromat."
"Derek, that really isn't necessary. It's the middle of the day and this isn't a bad neighborhood. Anyway, I'm not a politician: I don't need a bodyguard everywhere I go."
"All right, suit yourself; but I'm still walking you to your apartment, so sit tight while I go around and open the door for you." Derek then got out of the car and ran around to the other side. As he opened Terri's door, he reached out a hand to her. "My lady," he said, bowing over her hand, "I am Sir Derek of Davenport. Please allow me to assist you in alighting from this carriage."
Terri's eyes opened wide in surprised delight and she decided to play along. "Thou art verily gallant, Sir Derek, and I thank thee." She stepped out onto the sidewalk and he shut the door with a flourish.
"May I escort thee through the gates of yon castle?"
"Thou mayest indeed."
Derek held out an arm; Terri took it. Derek had tried this with other "damsels" he had "rescued" in the past, but they had looked at him as though he were out of his mind and refused to play along. Terri, however, was different. Derek had finally found a girl after his own heart and was thoroughly enjoying every moment of it.
When they reached the building's huge front doors, he bowed and opened one for her. As Terri entered the lobby, she took her keys from her pocket, checked her mailbox, and then unlocked the inner, glass-paned door that no outsider was allowed to enter without consent of one of the tenants.
"I thank thee, Sir Derek, for thine escort. Now wouldst I bid thee good day."
"May I not escort thee upstairs to thy chamber door? It is a long climb and arduous for one as delicate as thy fair self."
"I am not so delicate as that, Sir Derek. However, since thou hast already declared thine intentions to be honorable, thou mayest indeed escort me up the stairs."
She took his arm and then grasped the stair rail with her other hand. When they reached a dark-stained wooden door with a brass plate bearing the number "202" on it, Derek released Terri's arm and bowed low. "My lady."
"My thanks, Sir Knight. Thou art truly a gentleman."
"I live but to serve thee, my lady." Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed it while gazing into her eyes.
"Uh, Derek," said Terri, "could we be ourselves now, please? Playacting is fun, but . . ."
"Sure." He smiled with satisfaction and released her hand, thrusting his own hands into the pockets of his Dockers. "Thanks for playing along with me, Terri. You're a good sport."
"It was fun and you played your part really well. Thank you again for bringing me home."
"You're very welcome. . . What time shall I come pick you up Monday morning?"
"Eight-thirty would be fine: we don't start work 'til nine—which has been really hard to get used to. Out West, a lot of companies open their doors at eight. Of course, the extra hour of sleep I'm getting now is nice . . ."
Derek smiled at her whimsical attitude. "Have a nice weekend, Terri, and if you need to go anywhere, call me. Here are the numbers of my cell and home phones," he added, as he took a card from his wallet and handed it to her. "You can call me anywhere, any time of the day or night. So, if I don't hear from you, I'll see you Monday morning at eight-thirty."
"All right. Thank you again, Derek, and . . . goodbye." Terri then unlocked her apartment door and went inside, smiling at Derek as she closed the door.
After trotting back down the stairs and out to his car, Derek drove away from the old brownstone and flipped open his cellphone, using his thumb to push the appropriate numbers. "Ted, it's Derek. I've found the woman I want to be my wife."