Chapter 11

Taylor lay in bed, the room now dark. He couldn't believe what had just happened

with Bethany. He had slept with so many other girls just like her. He turned onto his back and stared into the darkness. He couldn't keep the thoughts of Fynn from creeping

into his head.

He'd lied to her. She'd asked him if he remembered what had happened between

them and he'd said no. Although he'd been drinking that night, he wasn't nearly as drunk

as he had led her to believe. He hadn't planned on sleeping with her, hadn't intended to seduce her into bed. It just happened.

He closed his eyes.

* * * * *

He knew he had her when he felt how wet she was. Her body couldn't lie. He hurriedly unlocked the door to his room and they stumbled inside. For a moment, he thought she would change her mind. She walked to the window and stood staring at the

lights of the city below. He moved in behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

"I want you," he whispered, nuzzling her neck. His hands moved slowly up and caressed her breasts through her shirt. She leaned her head back on his shoulder and sighed.

"Tay....." she turned to face him and looked into his eyes. "I want you, too." A look of deep desire spread over her face and she grabbed his hair and pulled him into a passionate kiss.

He hastily pulled her shirt off and expertly unhooked her bra with a swift snap of his fingers. Her breasts were beautiful. He pulled his own shirt off, wanting nothing more than to feel her hard nipples against his bare skin. Her moans and sighs were overwhelming him. He grew harder as their lovemaking took on a desperate quality.

They tumbled onto the bed where the rest of their clothes were shed. He took only a brief instant to look at her naked body before he reached down between her legs. As he inserted two fingers into her, she gasped. She frantically put her own hand over his and forcefully pushed her body against his fingers. Her breathing had grown heavy and he could feel her muscles tightening. Instinctively, he knew she was close to climax.

Suddenly, she pulled his hand away.

"I need you inside me. Now," she whispered.

He didn't hesitate to respond to her command. He leaned his body over hers and

slowly pushed himself inside her. He knew he would have to move slowly. He was so close to the edge, it would take very few strokes for him to tumble over.

Fynn's fingernails were digging into his back as she pulled him closer. He buried

his face in her shoulder and breathed in her smell. He didn't know how much longer he

could hold off. His entire body was tight, anticipating the release.

"Taylor?" Fynn said softly. He raised his head and looked into her green eyes.

"I'm going to come."

"I know, baby," he whispered to her, never taking his eyes from hers. "Let go. I

want to feel you come around me." She shut her eyes and cried out as the orgasm took

over her body. The feeling of her muscles contracting around him was more than he could stand. He threw his head back and let out a deep, gravelly moan as he came.

* * * * *

The memories of that night came rushing back with ease. He could remember every moment, every word, every touch. He envisioned the two of them, entwined in each other's arms. He thought about the look on her face when she reached orgasm. He remembered the depth of his own climax.

Alone in his room, Taylor reached down and wrapped his fingers around his now throbbing penis. Within moments, he achieved what Bethany had failed to do. He stroked himself, Fynn's face and body foremost in his mind. He cried out into the empty darkness as he watched the warm, thick liquid spill onto his stomach.

.

Chapter 12

It was early evening, that time just between dusk and nightfall. Fynn sat on the front porch of the house she and Scout shared with several other students.The porch swing creaked on its chains as she swayed back and forth, looking out toward the street.
It was late summer. In just a couple of weeks, she'd be back in classes,beginning her senior year of college. The prospect of school didn't particularly excite her. She felt unprepared. She couldn't focus. or the past several weeks, all she had thought about was Taylor. Thoughts of him crept into her mind at random, despite her best efforts to concentrate on
other things. In the first weeks following her sudden departure, Taylor had tried to call several times. Either she hadn't been home, or she had refused to speak to him. He had sent letters and e-mails - all went unanswered. Scout said he sounded hurt, but she didn't care. She felt wounded, and she wanted him to feel the pain, as well.

 There were times that she hated him because he had betrayed her trust. When she thought about the way he treated women, she was disgusted. There were days when she felt happy to be finally rid of him. Then there were the nights, alone in the dark, when she missed him so desperately she would cry.

Sitting there on the porch swing, all these conflicting feelings welled up inside. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the soft breeze blowing around her. She breathed in the aroma of the last flowers of summer that surrounded the house. She listened to muffled voices coming from inside the house and in the background, heard a telephone ring.

Scout opened the screen door and stepped onto the wooden planks of the porch. He held the cordless phone in his hand.
"It's for you," he said softly, wishing he hadn't disturbed her peaceful meditation.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"Zac." He handed her the receiver and quietly walked back inside.

Fynn felt her stomach tumble. She hadn't spoken to any of the Hansons since her abrupt exit from Los Angeles. She didn't know if Taylor had explained her reason for leaving. She gingerly held the receiver to her ear.

"Zac?" she said, almost whispering.

"Fynn-ster! Is it really you?" Zac's voice was joyous and, as usual, his glee was infectious. She suddenly realized how much she had missed him. She laughed, in spite of herself.

"Yep, Zac. It's really me."

"I was afraid you'd fallen off the edge of the earth or been abducted by aliens with less than honorable intentions." He was so relieved to finally hear her voice. He wanted to tell her how much she meant to him, that he had missed her, but as he normally did, he covered his true feelings with humor.

"Well, after impregnating me in their reproduction lab, the aliens let me return to my rightful home, she said, smiling. Zac would never change, she thought to herself. "How have you guys been?"

"You'll be able to see for yourself next week. We're coming home!"

"Next week?" The tension immediately returned and she felt her heart begin to pick up its pace.

"Yeah. The tour's over - we were victorious and now we return to our homeland to receive well-deserved adulation."

Wow. Fynn couldn't think of anything to say. She hadn't been prepared for their return and the inevitable confrontation with Taylor. There was a short moment of silence as she contemplated what to say next. There were so many questions she wanted to ask. Did Taylor talk about her? Miss her? Hate her? Remember her?

"Fynn.....?" Zac's voice grew hesitant. "Why'd you leave?" His query took her by surprise.

"Oh, I don't know, Zac. I was missing Scout and I knew school was coming up....."

"I know you and Tay fought," he interrupted.

"You do?"

"It doesn�t take a brain surgeon to figure it out," he quipped. "What I haven't figured out is what exactly happened" He was fishing for answers, hoping Fynn would let down her guard long enough to, if not tell him straight out, at least drop some hints.

"It's really between Tay and I," she answered, careful not to convey too much emotion in her voice.

"I don't know why you've put up with him all these years. He treats everyone like shit. He's the original golden boy - the one who always gets what he wants just because he has everything: looks, talent, money. I can't understand why nobody ever notices the people that get trampled on in the process. Don't get me wrong. He's my brother and I love him. But, Fynn, sometimes he's really hard to like."

There was a sadness in his voice that Fynn had never heard before, but she understood his position. Taylor had always managed to somehow overshadow his brothers. Zac had tried to make up for it by acting crazy and funny, but now she could see that it had really hurt him. Her heart ached for him and she wished he was there so she could put her arms around him. It seemed as though he needed some reassurance.

"Zac?" He was so silent, she wasn't sure he was still there.

"Yeah?" he replied quietly.

"I love you, you know. You and Ike are very important to me."

"I know." He tried to hide his disappointment. The words 'I love you' had shot through him like an arrow. He understood what she meant, but he preferred to believe his heart, not his head.

"And, Zac, don't be too mad at him. It isn't all his fault - what happened between us." She hoped he wouldn't press her for any details.

"I find that hard to believe," he said spitefully. "Will you be talking to him when we get back?"

She hadn't planned that far ahead. The reality of Taylor's returning to Tulsa had not sunk in yet. "I suppose so. We can't have this huge black cloud hanging over us forever, I guess."

"Sure you can. Tay needs a few black clouds in his life. Hey! Should I kick his ass for you?"

She chuckled at his remark. "I appreciate the offer, Zac, but I don't think that's wise. Violence doesn't solve anything."

"It does in our house."

* * * * *

Zac's vengeful spirit was pushing him to tell Tay he had talked with Fynn. He knew his brother had tried several times to call her, but, as far as he knew,
she hadn't deemed his calls important enough to warrant any kind of response. He knew it was mean, he knew he should just keep it to himself, but it felt as though a magnetic force field was pulling him helplessly toward Taylor's room.

He knocked rapidly and loudly on the door. Some of his drum solos didn't sound that good.

"Jesus! I'm coming!" came an angry response from the other side of the door. It quickly swung open and for a moment, Zac thought Taylor was going to pounce.

"It's just me," Zac said sweetly. "Busy?" he asked, as he peeked past Taylor into the room. "Have company?"

"No." Taylor turned and walk over to his bed, leaving the door open for Zac to join him if he wanted. "Either come in or shut the goddamned door!"

"Well, aren't we bitchy tonight." Zac sat himself in a chair next to the window. "Where's the flavor of the day?" He'd noticed that Tay's carousing had substantially subsided in the past few weeks. He had seemed to lose his zeal for women. His taste for liquor hadn't slowed down any, though. Taylor was currently nursing some golden brown liquid that Zac was sure wasn't ginger ale. "So.....what's up?"

"What do you want, Zac?"

"Jeez, can't I talk to my own brother?"

"Of course. You just never do. Your being here makes me suspicious." Taylor eyed Zac from across the room. He watched as Zac slowly pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket. He seemed in no hurry to explain why he was there.

Zac leaned back in the chair and placed his feet on Taylor's bed. "I just thought you'd want to know I talked with Fynn," he said effortlessly. "I'd tell you she sent her love, but she didn't." God, he loved having something over Taylor. Anything at all.

Taylor's eyes widened when he heard Fynn's name. "You talked to her? When?"

"Just now. I called her and she came right to the phone." A look of power spread over his features. "Funny how she was never available when you called."

"Fuck you." Taylor returned to his drink and pretended he didn't care. Zac wasn't going to give up that easily. In that one instant, he decided to press forward and see how far he could manipulate his brother.

"She told me what happened," he stated plainly. He watched as Tay's expression changed. Still, he didn't offer any information. Zac twisted the screw a little tighter. "I can't believe you did that, Taylor. You really hurt her. I thought she was your best friend."

Taylor slowly placed the glass on the lamp table and rubbed his hands over his face. "I couldn't help it," he said finally.

"Why not?" Zac had no idea what it was, but he was fairly confident Taylor was taking the bait.

"She was drunk and she was there. She's probably trying to make you think it was all my fault, but it wasn't. She wanted it, too."

"She did?" Zac placed his feet back on the floor and pulled himself forward. What had Fynn wanted?

"Yes! She was grabbing me and pulling at my clothes. What was I supposed to do? She was driving me crazy!!!"

Suddenly all the puzzle pieces fell into place. A sense of utter disbelief settled over Zac as he thought about Fynn and Taylor making love. No.....not making love. Not Tay. Fucking was all he knew.

Zac jumped up and headed to the door.

"What did she tell you?" Taylor called out to him.

"She said to tell you to forget about it. It didn't mean a thing," Zac said over his shoulder.

"Really?" Taylor asked softly.

Zac stopped for an instant, his hand on the knob. Was that disappointment he heard in Tay's voice?

.

Chapter 13

Fynn was a believer that things happened for a reason. There weren't many moments that went by that didn't seem to have some deeper purpose, if only she
took the time to ponder. Usually she could discover the meaning behind her actions. At times she felt that perhaps she was creating explanations to fit particular situations, but she figured it couldn't hurt to be reflective. A life should not go unexamined. She admitted to herself that she spent a little too much time thinking about the situation with Taylor. For the longest time after leaving L.A., she was convinced things had happened to open her eyes and make her realize who Tay really was - a womanizer, a manipulator. Her conversation with Zac the evening before would seem to confirm that theory.

Lately, however, her thoughts had taken a different turn. She no longer believed that he had used her. Granted, she had been drunk and not in control of the
best judgment, but she began to wonder if she had been more than just a participant. Had she initiated anything? Had she been curious? She felt she knew Taylor as well as she knew herself. Had she wanted to take things to the next level? If her dreams were any indication, she had.

In the past weeks, her dreams had been filled with images of making love with Taylor. Never before had that thought entered her mind - even her subconscious mind. She found herself strangely aroused by these mental pictures. There were mornings when she didn't want to wake up, but instead let her mind wander back into his arms. The first dream had taken her by surprise and she didn't know what to think. Now, as she laid herself down at the end of each day, she looked forward to the comfort of being with him, if only in her mind.

 She was afraid of what this all meant. She was afraid she wanted him.

* * * * *

"God! Is it just me or does it feel great to be home?" Isaac pushed open the door to the large house the three brothers shared. He wandered down the front hall, directly to the kitchen and just stood there, looking around him. "There's no place like home," he said quietly.

"Don't forget to click your heels, Dorothy." Zac had followed close behind and was now standing in front of the open refrigerator, staring at the emptiness.
"Whose idea was it to clean out the fridge?"

"Zac, we've been gone for months. "Do you think anything would actually still be good?" Taylor reached into the cabinet and grabbed a glass. He walked to the sink and turned on the water. As he gulped down his drink, he watched his brother attempt to conjure up food by sheer will power. "Staring isn't going to produce anything edible, Zac."

"Why don't we order some pizza," Ike offered, reaching for the telephone.

"Sounds good to me," Tay replied, still leaning against the sink.

"Okay." Zac slowly closed the fridge and turned to Ike. "But lots of cheese, Ike. Extra cheese. Like tons of cheese....."

"ALL RIGHT! I get the idea!"

Taylor and Zac left the kitchen and grabbed some of their bags. They both headed up the stairs to their rooms. Taylor dropped his bags inside the door and
immediately opened the window next to his bed. The room felt stuffy after being closed up for so long. He kicked off his shoes, laid down on the bed and stretched. He felt tired, not so much physically as emotionally. He needed peace and solitude, something he was unlikely to get, sharing living space with his brothers. Sometimes he thought about moving into his own place, but never actually acted on his impulses.

He'd spent the past week contemplating the situation with Fynn. Just when he had decided to tell her how he felt, Zac had informed him that Fynn had written him off. It had saddened him at first, but now the feelings of sorrow were mixed with anger and confusion.

How dare she? She was the one who was making such a fuss. She was the one who was determined to scrutinize every little detail. She was the one who had refused to talk. Now she was telling Zac, of all people, that it didn't mean a thing. Forget about it, she'd said. He realized he hadn't actually told Zac the whole truth, but it didn't make sense to him. Rejection was a foreign concept to Taylor Hanson. There had to be something more, but he was damned if he was going to be the one to broach the topic. Let her come to him.

"Pizza's here!" He heard Isaac calling up the stairs, but he didn't respond. For some reason, he didn't feel hungry anymore.

* * * * *

"Okay. This is it." Fynn was sitting on her bed, telephone in her hand. She prepared to dial Taylor's number. She had spent the past hour thinking about what shewanted to say to him, but nothing seemed to completely convey what she was feeling. She finally decided that simple honesty was the best way to go. She'd call him up, arrange to meet him somewhere they could talk and then.....well, she'd just tell him.....tell him what? That she wanted something more from him than friendship? That she'd thought of nothing but him since they parted? That she thought she might be falling in love?

She didn't know what she wanted to say. She only knew she needed him back.

* * * * *

Zac was sitting at the kitchen table, still eating pizza, when the phone rang. Isaac had long since finished eating and had gone upstairs to unpack. Zac reluctantly put down the slice, heavy with cheese, and picked up the receiver.

"Hullo?" he mumbled.

"Zac? It's me, Fynn." Zac immediately swallowed what was left in his mouth. "You're home."

"Yep. Got in just a while ago. What's up?"

"I was calling to talk to Tay. Is he there?" she inquired.

Zac felt his heart drop. He knew he had no right to feel the way he did, but he couldn't seem to help it. He simply couldn't stand the thought of Taylor and Fynn together. She was too good for him. He had so much more to offer Fynn than his brother - if only she would give him a chance. Without even realizing what he was doing, Zac made his decision.

"He's not here, he said into the receiver. Zac cautiously peered out the kitchen door into the hallway, making certain Taylor wouldn't make a sudden appearance. He knew Tay was in his room, but he also knew he needed to see Fynn himself, before his brother had the chance.

"Oh." Fynn sounded disappointed. "I figured he'd be pretty worn out after the trip. He went out?"

"Yeah, but just for a minute. He wanted to pick up some stuff from the store. I'll have him call you back."

"Thanks, but I won't be home. I'm on my way to work. I'm closing tonight and won't be out of there 'til about 1:00 a.m." Fynn paused for a moment. "Hey, Zac?"

"Yep?"

"Tell him to meet me at the diner for breakfast tomorrow at 9:00. We need to talk."

"Uh, sure. Whatever." Fynn could sense the hesitancy in Zac's voice, but figured he was just tired.

"Thanks. I can't wait to see you, Zac," she said.

"Yeah, ditto."

* * * * *

After hanging up the telephone, Zac returned to his chair. He felt guilty for lying to Fynn. He placed his elbows on the table and leaned his head into his hands. He needed to decide what to do next.

"Who was on the phone?" Taylor's voice took Zac by surprise. He hadn't heard him come downstairs.

"What are you doing up? he asked, trying to avoid the question.

"I got hungry," Taylor replied, reaching into the pizza box for a cold slice. "So, who was it?"

"Ummm....." Zac couldn't think fast enough to lie again. "It was Fynn."

"Yeah? What did she say?" Taylor attempted to remain nonchalant, but his voice was anxious.

"Nothing. Just called to see if we were home."  Zac didn't look at his brother, now sitting across the table from him. The feelings of guilt were beginning to bother him.

"Is that all?" Taylor was clearly displeased. He quickly stood and walked towards the telephone. "This is ridiculous. She's gotta talk to me sooner or later."

"She's not home!" Zac's sudden response startled Taylor and he dropped the receiver.

"Goddamnit, Zac! What's your problem?" Taylor reached down to pick up the phone and angrily slammed it back in place. "This is really starting to piss me off. I figured once I got home, she'd talk to me, but she's still playing her little game."

"She's already left for work." Zac watched his brother walking out of the room. "But she asked me to tell you to meet her at the diner tomorrow at 9:00." He had to practically spit the words out. He hadn't intended to give Taylor the message.

He looked at his watch.....7:00. He had six hours to kill before Fynn got off work. He'd be there when she finished locking up.

.

Chapter 14 

"Java Beat" was the name of the espresso bar where Fynn worked part-time. It was located in downtown Tulsa on a busy corner in a very trendy neighborhood. She'd worked there for almost a year, but had talked the owner, Steve, into letting her have the summer off to go with the guys on tour. When she returned to Tulsa earlier than planned, Steve gladly put her back on the schedule. Now that school was starting, students were beginning to flock to the shop where there was always great music, good conversation, sometimes a chess or card game going in the corner and, of course, all the caffeine one could consume. Fynn enjoyed working there. She'd gotten to know a lot of the "regulars" and found it easy to chit-chat with them and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

Saturday nights were particularly busy and this one was no different. She and Adrienne were scheduled to work the closing shift. Drinks were served until midnight when the shop closed, but clean-up and balancing the register usually took a good hour to finish. While Adrienne mopped the floor, Fynn cleaned the machines and stocked supplies for the next morning.

"You goin' out when we're done?" Adrienne asked, swinging the heavy mop across the tile floor.

"Not unless Scout wants to. He wanted the car tonight, so he dropped me off. He'll be here around 1:00 to pick me up." Fynn casually lit a cigarette while she cleaned the espresso machine. The shop was strictly "no-smoking", but Steve didn't mind if they smoked after closing. The cigarette hung limply from her mouth and she spoke around it.

"Scout's coming? God, he is so fine." Adrienne leaned on the mop and stared out the window for a moment. "Is he seeing anyone?"

"Not anyone in particular. Scout is just.....well.....Scout. He takes everything a day at a time. I wish I was that laid back and relaxed."

"Right. Like you have anything to worry about. You have four gorgeous brothers to watch over you, you're doing great in school, you don't live with your parents and Taylor Hanson is your boyfriend. Your life sucks, Fynn." Adrienne smiled at Fynn and

returned to her chores.

"Taylor isn't my boyfriend," Fynn insisted.

"Well, he could be. You two have been inseparable ever since I've known you.

Are you telling me you've never done it with Tay?"

"No!" Fynn lied. "Please!!"

"Don't tell me you've never thought about it."

"Okay.....once or twice. But they were very brief moments. Taylor usually manages to do something stupid to snap me out of it."

A soft knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Fynn looked up and saw Zac standing outside, his face pressed against the glass, peering in.

"Zac!!" Fynn dropped her cigarette into a glass of water and raced from behind the counter to unlock the door. "What're you doing here?" she said, welcoming him with a tight hug.

"I couldn't wait until tomorrow to see you." Zac took a couple of steps back and looked at Fynn. "It's really you," he smiled.

"It's really me. Hey, Adrienne and I were just finishing up. Can you hang around for a couple of minutes?" She returned to her tasks behind the counter. "Scout should be

here soon. We can go do something."

Zac sat on the edge of a table so Adrienne could mop under his feet. "Actually, I talked to Scout earlier. He told me he was supposed to pick you up, but I offered instead." Fynn noted the disappointed look that crossed Adrienne's face.

"Great. As soon as I'm done, we can catch up. You have to tell me all about the tour." What she really wanted to hear about was Taylor. She was dying to ask Zac how he was and if he ever talked about her, but the time didn't seem right.

She went about the closing chores a little more briskly than normal. Things wouldn't look as clean as she'd like, but the shop would be opening back up in another five hours anyway. She didn't think anyone on the opening shift would notice a few water spots. Besides, Zac was there and if she played her cards right, she could pump him for information before meeting with Taylor for breakfast.

* * * * *

"You want a beer or something?" Fynn asked as Zac pulled up in front of her house.

"Sure. Sounds great." Zac smiled to himself as Fynn climbed out of the car. He'd been hoping she would invite him inside. He had to make some kind of move before she met Taylor at the diner. He just didn't know what that move was going to be.

Fynn fumbled around in her purse for a moment before pulling out her keys. The apartment was dark, but so familiar to her that she was able to walk across the living area directly to the light switch on the far wall. She flipped it up and the room was cast in a soft, yellow glow. She threw her bag on the sofa and turned toward the kitchen.

"I'm not much of a beer drinker," she called out to Zac, "but Scout always has some kind of weird, exotic brew in here." She opened the fridge to a motley array of lagers and ales she'd never heard of. Scout couldn't seem to lower himself to simply purchase a six-pack at the local 7-11. Each bottle was different; some imported from different countries and some from small breweries in the States. "How about this one?" She handed the bottle to Zac and he inspected the label.

"Devil Mountain Pale Ale, huh? Let's see....." He held the bottle up to the light and narrowed his eyes. "Hmmmm. It's cold and it's beer. Looks good to me."

After Fynn poured herself a soda, they settled onto opposite ends of the sofa. She curled her legs underneath her, getting comfortable. She looked at Zac and studied his face for an instant. It seemed different somehow. It hadn't been that long since she'd last seen him. Could he have changed in two and a half months?

"So the tour was great?" she asked.

"It was incredible." Zac leaned back on the sofa cushion and closed his eyes, as if envisioning the experience in his mind. "I wish you'd stayed with me.....us."

Fynn stared into her glass and said nothing. She still didn't know if Zac knew what had happened and she didn't want her expression to give anything away. He lifted his head and looked at her. When she glanced up, his dark eyes were drilling right through her.

"I know," he continued softly. "Taylor told me everything."

Fynn was shocked. She didn't think Taylor would tell Zac. Isaac, maybe, but Zac? Taylor didn't usually confide in his younger brother. "He told you? When?"

"The other night after I called you. I told him I'd spoken with you and....." His voice trailed off and he paused, thinking. It was important that he carefully consider what he should say next. "He must've thought you told me what happened."

"Why would he think that?"

"Why does Tay think anything that he does? I don't know. Anyway, it was like he was bursting at the seams, he was so anxious to tell someone."

"He was?" Fynn was having a hard time believing that Taylor was that eager to disclose something like that to Zac. Then again, Tay's behavior of late was far from what she would normally expect.

Zac noted the incredulous look on her face and shifted his body around. This lying business was more difficult than he thought. The initial feelings of guilt were intensifying, then he remembered that Taylor had always told him the ends would justify the means. He had learned from the master.

"I was stunned," he went on. "I mean, the way he was bragging about it....."

"WHAT!?!?" Fynn had abruptly left her place on the sofa and now stood over Zac. "Did you say bragging?" Her disbelief was quickly turning to fury.

"Yeah. He told me how you were all over him, pulling at his clothes and stuff. I

think he considers it quite a conquest. He said he finally wore you down." That was it.

He needn't say anymore. Fynn's reaction to this last statement convinced him that any prospect of a relationship between she and his brother had just been shattered.

"That son-of-a-bitch!!" She was pacing the room, still holding onto her soda.

"That lying motherfucker!" She spun around and faced Zac, still seated on the sofa. "Did he tell you I was drunk and that he took advantage of that?"

"No." Zac was having difficulty looking in her eyes. He didn't mean to hurt her, but he had long ago determined that a small hurt now would prevent a huge hurt later when Taylor broke her heart. He set his beer on the end table and stood up. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he pulled her close to him. "I'm sorry," he said. "Taylor's an asshole. What can I say? You deserve better."

When she lifted her head, he saw she was crying. She raised her hand to wipe her face, but Zac pushed it down. He cautiously leaned forward and delicately kissed the trail of tears on her cheek. The mere feel of her skin against his lips sent a shiver through his body.

Lost in the moment, Fynn leaned in closer and gently placed her mouth on his.

The first kiss was tentative, each of them unsure of what was happening. The second kiss was intensified when she reached around his neck and wove her fingers through his hair.

When she felt his tongue slip between her lips, a warmth spread over her and she responded in kind.

Zac didn't want this moment to end. He wanted to hold her forever. He wanted to bathe her body in kisses and feel her smooth, bare skin with his hands. But he couldn't.

He wouldn't. Not yet.

"I think I should go," he said, pulling away from the heat of her lips.

.

Chapter 15

Fynn hadn't needed to identify the diner where she asked to meet Taylor for breakfast. He knew exactly which one. "Sam's" was an old, family-run, 24-hour eatery where Fynn, her brothers and the Hansons had spent many a morning, afternoon and night. It was small - long and narrow with a counter running down one side and several booths against the opposite wall. There was always an advertised "blue-plate special" written on the chalkboard at the entrance - usually something deep-fried and greasy, served with mashed potatoes. The waitresses looked as though they'd been there forever and knew all the regular customers by name. Taylor was no exception.

"Well, good morning, Taylor." Shirley filled his coffee cup and handed him a menu. "This is early for you. Haven't seen ya in a while."

"Just got back in town. I'm meeting Fynn for breakfast." Taylor slid the menu across the table back to Shirley. "I'll just have the usual, Shirl, but I'll wait until Fynn gets here."

"Sure thing, hon," she replied as she picked up the worn plastic sleeve. "Just flag me down when you need a warmer." Shirley was quite aware of Taylor's addiction to caffeine. Usually he looked like he was using it to nurse a hangover. This morning, though, he looked pretty chipper, she noted to herself. He was such a sweet boy, about the same age as her own son.

Taylor settled back in the booth to wait. He was facing the door so he would see Fynn when she arrived. He glanced at his watch. 9:30. Didn't Zac say 9:00? She must be running late. He picked up his cup and sipped the hot coffee. He had purposely stayed away from alcohol the night before. He'd wanted to be clear-headed this morning when he talked with Fynn. He still wasn't sure what he was going to say, but figured he would know when he saw her.

He was stunned to find himself feeling nervous. His palms were sweaty, his heart rate had picked up and he could feel the fluttering of butterflies in his stomach. "God, Tay. Get a hold of yourself. It's just Fynn," he commanded. But this wasn't the normal "sit down, gossip, shoot-the-shit" breakfast he was used to. This could be his only chance to set things straight and tell her how he felt about her. He couldn't bring himself to say he loved her, but he knew he felt something and he thought it was more than lust.

"Still gonna wait on your food?" Shirley had returned with the coffeepot.

"Yeah. She should be here soon," Taylor replied, once again looking at his watch.

It was now 10:00 and there was still no sign of Fynn. He slid out of the booth and headed to the pay phone at the back wall, near the rest rooms. After fishing about in his pocket for some change, he dialed his home number.

"Hey," Isaac answered, sounding less than awake.

"Ike, has Fynn called this morning?" Taylor inquired.

Ike hesitated a moment, trying to remember. It was still early for him to be up.

"Nope."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Maybe Zac answered....."

"Not likely. He's crashed. Was out pretty late last night." Ike was standing in the kitchen in his boxers. He cruised across the room and opened the fridge, looking inside for leftover pizza.

"Are you positive?" Taylor wasn't letting go.

"Geez, Tay. I think I'd know if I talked to her. She didn't call, okay?

Now what don't you understand?" Taylor was so exasperating at times. He always had to dig, never taking anything at face value.

Taylor's hand gripped the receiver tightly. He shut his eyes for a moment, trying to avert the anger he felt growing inside. It had dawned on him that she wasn't going to show.

"Tay? You still there? Can I hang up now?" Ike was munching on cold pizza, a Coke at his side to wash it down.

"That's it! I've had it." Taylor's voice was rising with his rage. "I'm not putting up with this shit for one more day!"

Ike pulled out a chair and sat down, resigned. When his brother got like this, his emotions would quickly escalate unless someone tried to calm him down. "What're you talking about, Taylor?" he asked.

"She was supposed to meet me at Sam's for breakfast. The bitch did'n't show." Taylor was not used to being stood up. This was a slap in the face he was not willing to tolerate.

"Maybe she's just late," Ike offered.

"I've been waiting for a goddamned hour!!" Taylor was shouting now, oblivious to the stares of practically everyone in the restaurant. It wasn't difficult to eavesdrop in such a small place.

"Tay, calm down." Ike had assumed his best "big brother" tone. "I'm sure there's a good reason....."

"Oh yeah, there's a reason. She's jerking me around! First, she won't talk to me.

Then she disappears without a word. She won't accept my calls and doesn't respond to e-mail. Now she asks to see me and doesn't show up." He was pacing a couple of steps in each direction, as far as the telephone cord would allow. He was roughly running his fingers through his hair, as though trying to clear his head.

"What're you gonna do?" Ike was afraid he knew the answer to that question, but felt the need to ask.

"Ike, this has been going on for over two months, but it's ending today - one way or another." His voice was marked with outrage and resentment. "I'm going over to her place....."

"Taylor, don't talk to her when you're like this." Isaac was well aware of the damage Taylor's temper could produce. He realized he couldn't prevent him from going to see her, but he hoped he could soften Tay's mood. "I don't know what's goin' on between you two, but you'll just make it worse."

"You're damn right I'm gonna make it worse. She won't know what fuckin' hit her!!" He slammed the receiver down and turned to leave. He saw heads turned in his direction, eyes wide with curiousity. He felt the blood rush to his face as he returned to his table and threw a ten dollar bill down next to his coffee.

"Let me get your change, darlin'," Shirley said quietly as she picked up the money.

"Keep it. It's yours." He walked toward the exit, trying not to look up into the staring faces. He felt a hand reach out and touch his arm. He stopped and looked into the eyes of an older man, perhaps in his sixties.

"I know what you're going through, son," he said. "Sometimes a woman needs to be put in her place. Don't be afraid to knock some sense into her - show her who's boss."

He smiled briefly and winked.

Taylor looked at the man briefly then walked away. "God, what a creep," he thought as he pushed his way into the parking lot.

* * * * *

Fynn sat at the kitchen table with her coffee and the morning paper. She was determined not to think about Taylor, but found it wasn't an easy task. She was furious with him, angry that he was using even a fraction of the world's precious oxygen. Then there was the episode with Zac last night. What was that? She decided she wouldn't think about that either. She'd just about had it with any male bearing the name Hanson.

She was even pissed at Isaac, and he hadn't done anything.

She reached for the cordless phone and dialed Stone's number. Stone was the second oldest in the Childs family. Each brother possessed a different quality upon which Fynn depended. Stone's particular talent was boosting her self-esteem. If she'd ever needed help in that department, it was now.

"Hello?" Jenna's voice carried over the receiver. She was Stone's live-in girlfriend. Of all the women he'd dated, Fynn liked Jenna best. She was glad they were together.

"Jenna, it's Fynn. How's it goin?" Fynn asked.

"Same old, same old. How about you? You haven't been over for a while."

"I'm doin' okay. Just busy getting ready for school to start. Is Stone around?"

She normally would have chatted with Jenna for a few minutes, but her patience was at a low point.

"Yeah, I think he's awake. Let me go get him." Fynn heard Jenna set down the phone and call to her brother. She waited a few moments for him to answer.

"Fynn! Long time, no hear. Where you been?" The sound of Stone's soothing voice calmed her somewhat.

"I know. I'm sorry," she started. "It's just that my life sucks right now. I need a pep talk."

"Which one?" he asked, concern evident in his tone.

"I think it's Pep Talk #328. You know, the 'you're strong and independent and need to stand up for yourself' speech."

"Oh, that one." Stone smiled to himself, imagining his little sister's forlorn look. "What's goin' on?" he asked.

"I'd rather not say." Her response was blunt and to the point.

"Okay, but then I'm flying blind, you know. You get what you get."

"I know. Just the generic version will do."

Stone searched his mind for a brief instant to gather his thoughts. He then launched into the all-too-familiar address about strong and capable women. Words like "power", "determination", "confidence" and "self-evaluation" tumbled out of his mouth. He ended by telling her that she should stand by her convictions and not let anyone pull her down. She felt the words seep into her and, as they always did when they came from Stone's mouth, they filled her with resolve.

"Does that work?" Stone asked when he brought the speech to an end.

"Yep. That does the trick. I feel invincible now," Fynn smiled. "Stone? Thanks. I love you."

"Love you, too."

She disconnected the call and placed the phone next to her. She felt better now, certain that she could stand up to Taylor if and when he confronted her. She picked up the paper and resumed reading the day's news.