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I'm Not Going Anywhere

Chapter Text

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Jessica Sula as Rebecca Thompson/Ross -- Gabriel Mann as Nolan Ross -- Emily VanCamp as Emily Thorne

Molly C. Quinn as Genevieve Starke -- Gregory Itzin as Charles Starke --Julianne Moore as Sophie Bonnard

Zoe Saldana as Grace Thompson -- Brenton Thwaites as Jason Shepherd -- Tom Selleck as Stanford Shepherd

Taraji P. Henson as Agent Olivia Walker -- 

Chapter Text

 Family isn't always blood. It's the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what. - Unknown

 

Nolan Ross walked up the steps to the front door of Emily's beach house with two, giant, white teddy bears in his arms. He fished his keys from his blue denim blazer pocket and slid the key into the door. With a soft creak, he pushed the door open.

It became a habit for him to walk into Emily's house unannounced. Ever since last summer her house had turned into their bat cave. Their HQ for the plotting of take-downs against The Hampton Elites.

"Knock, knock, Ems," Nolan called out, as he walked through the foyer into the hallway. He smiled when he saw Emily sitting on the couch with her laptop on the coffee table.

Emily kept her eyes on the screen as she replied, "Hey, Nolan what are you doing here?"

"Thought I'd stop by and say hi."

Her stern face was enough to tell him she was working on something revenge-y. He didn't even need to see her Infinity Box, the contents of which were splayed out like a puzzle, on the coffee table. Nolan dropped the bears on the opposite side of the couch. With a sigh, he loosened the button on his blazer and took a seat between Emily and the bears.

"On the hunt again?" He asked.

She smirked, "Always."

He let out a sigh, "Ems, it's like I told you, everything's' quiet on the Graysons' side."

She shot him a serious look, "When has that been a good thing for us?"

She had a point. The last time the Graysons were off the radar things went south. The most recent disaster being Emily's mother, Kara, arriving out of the blue after Amanda gave birth to Carl. The excitement had died down after Emily sent her mother away from The Hamptons. After that, the Graysons had faded from the public spotlight.

"What's with the giant teddy bears?" She asked, closing her laptop.

Nolan smirked, glad that she noticed. "They're gifts. Oh, that reminds me," He reached into his blazer pocket and pulled out a blue and white invitation in the shape of a sailboat, "Did you get the invitation that Amanda and Charlotte sent out for Carl's party?"

Suddenly, Emily got up. Her pink and cream floral kimono swept behind her like a cape. Nolan watched as she placed the stacks of paper and photos on the table back in her box. A familiar invitation slipped out of the stack. Nolan reached down to pick it up.

He glanced at the invitation and then to Emily with a frown, "You haven't sent it out?"

Emily spun around to him and reached her hand to grab it. Nolan darted up. Being a few feet taller than her had it's advantages. He held up his arm out of her grasp.

He flipped the invitation over, seeing the RSVP side left blank.

"You didn't send a reply? Ems, the party is in two days."

"That's none of your business Nolan." Emily sent him a warning glare, "just give it to me."

No matter how many boxing lessons he'd taken up, they both knew that Emily could (had) kick his ass.

Realizing this, Nolan lowered his arm. In a quick motion, Emily snatched the invitation from his hand. She crammed the invitation in the pocket of her tanned Capri pants and turned back to her box.

With a grunt, Nolan shoved his hands in his salmon pink cargo shorts, "Don't you want to be there for your sister?"

She turned to him, "Amanda is Charlotte's sister Nolan. Not me, I'm not a part of their family," Emily said matter of factly.

Nolan felt the hurt in her voice. The faux sisterhood between Amanda and Charlotte had gotten stronger since Amanda had given birth to Carl. And, as a result, Emily had secluded herself from them.

Nolan walked closer to her, "Ems, I know you. You don't want to be away from them. I know you feel like you've hurt them and that there's no chance for you to make things right. But this could be your chance to connect with Charlotte."

She looked away from him and slammed her box shut. "It's too late for that now."

Emily walked past Nolan to the stairway. For a moment, he swore he saw a tear run down her cheek.

He hated when she would shut herself off from everyone. It's what she did. But didn't she realize she had friends - a family that cared about her? Nolan wanted to see her smile again. It had been too long since he'd last see her smile.

Nolan shrugged his shoulders and walked over to her, "Alright then fine. Just me and you, let's go somewhere."

Emily arched a single brow at him, "Nolan, I don't have the time to go anywhere."

"Yeah, because you're so busy patrolling the streets Batgirl," Nolan said teasingly.

Emily rolled her eyes at him. She stood up and walked into the kitchen. She pulled out a tea kettle from the cabinet, her back turned to him as she filled it with water.

Nolan leaned against the island in the center of the kitchen. Noticing the jars of tea, he lifted the caps on a few and sniffed. Emily turned to him and grabbed the jar from his hand. She scooped a spoonful of orange and cinnamon smelling tea into a mug.

"So," Nolan started, "there's a new Italian restaurant in Manhattan that I've been dying to try, and, Saturday nights are all you can eat cannolis."

He smiled at her knowingly, "Ems, you love cannolis."

Emily let out a breath and turned to him a mug of tea in her palms. Her shoulders visibly relaxed, She smiled, "Okay. That actually sounds nice."

She wouldn't tell Nolan, but she hated how he could do that to her. How he would annoy her and get on her last nerve one moment and make her smile the next.

Nolan spoke before he realized what he'd said, "Great then it's a date." Realizing what he said he stuttered, "Uh, not like a 'date' date. Just lunch, you know, with a friend."

Emily shook her head, "Goodbye, Nolan. I have somewhere to be. Oh, and don't forget your friends."

Nolan walked to the living room and picked up the bear with the green heart. Just then, his cell phone buzzed in his blazer pocket. Nolan fished out his phone. He stared at the screen and smiled widely at the text message. He pocketed his cell phone, clutched his bear under his arm and walked out the front door.

 


 

Nolan was at his SUV a few feet in the driveway when Emily called to him, "Hey, you forgot your other bear."

Emily stood at the doorway the teddy bear in her arms.

He stuck his head out the window and smiled at her, "That's for you to keep."

Emily was about to protest, but Nolan had already peeled out of the driveway. She looked down at the bear in her arms and noticed the red heart in the center of its chest. Emily, written on a small white card, was attached to the heart. Curious, Emily picked up the card and opened it.

See you Saturday Babe. Knew I'd get you to smile. :-) - Nolan,

The sound of a horn honk snapped Emily's gaze up. She watched as Nolan's silver SUV disappeared down her gravel stone driveway.

Emily turned back to the threshold of the door. She held the bear close to her chest and with a smile shut the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

The sun had begun to set by the time Nolan made it to the airport. He leaned against his SUV facing the doors of the terminal. The airport pick-up and drop-off bustled with swarms of teenagers filing into and out of private cars, limos and buses.

Nolan craned his head to the crowd when he saw a teenage girl in a thick green coat. She walked towards a row of charter buses. HAMPTON CHARTER AND BOARDING SCHOOL was written in big bold lettering on the side of the bus. A line of luggage toting students and teachers wrapped around from the terminal doors to the bus. The teen stopped mid-step, almost dropping the handle of her suitcase. With a loud exasperated sigh, she veered around from the buses. She reached into the pocket of her jeans, pulled out her cell phone and stalked off towards the direction of the SUV.

Nolan lowered his Ray-Bans and took in her appearance, her curly brown hair was longer and had grown out past her shoulders. And her usual glowing caramel skin was pale and sun-deprived.

He chuckled as his daughter unknowingly walked past him. Nolan pushed off the SUV and turned to her. "Hey, Rebecca!" He called out.

Rebecca craned around, her long hair whipping around her face. She spotted her dad with an over-sized teddy bear in his hands.

"Dad? What are you doing here?"

"I got your text message from earlier, figured I'd surprise you and pick you up."

Becca dropped her suitcase and ran into her dad's arms.

Nolan smiled as he pulled her into a hug. "I missed you so much kiddo."

"I missed you too." Becca pulled away from the hug and smiled up at him. "Thank you for saving me from a bus ride from hell."

She pointed to the row of charter buses which were already crammed full of people.

"I just spent the last six hours on a private plane. I don't care how much AC that bus has." Her face twisted in disgust, "sweaty people are a no-go."

Nolan chuckled and handed her the bear in his hands.

Becca smiled at the giant, green heart teddy bear. "Aww, he's so cute!"

They walked around to the back of the SUV. Becca placed her suitcase in the trunk. A large green bumper sticker of a forest, with the words, MAY THE FOREST, BE WITH YOU, and another sticker of a black silhouette of Sasquatch decorated her suitcase.

Becca peeled off her coat, which was starting to make her green t-shirt of the Hulk stick to her skin. She flung the coat over her suitcase,"Oh my god, I thought I was going to have a heat stroke wearing that."

Nolan slammed the trunk shut."Why didn't you just put it in your suitcase?"

"The AC on the plane stopped working," Becca explained. "The entire ride here was like flying in an ice box."

Nolan gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry to hear that. Well, how about we head home? I have a surprise that I think you're going to like."

Becca gave him a look. "A surprise? Dad, you know I don't like surprises."

Nolan smiled. "You're gonna love this one. Trust me."


Nolan pulled into the driveway of his beach house. They got out of the SUV and Becca darted to the trunk grabbing her suitcase. The beach house had been one of Nolan's old houses that he'd go to when he was in the city. It was in a quiet, little neighborhood without any reporters, cameras or crazed, choke holding, knife-wielding hitmen. With the beach as their backyard, the house was a sanctuary. A place Nolan and Rebecca would be out of the public eye and relax, away from all the craziness of the Hamptons. As of late, it was their home away from home.

Becca walked into the wide open space foyer. Large white windows above the door overlooked the ocean capturing a view of the setting sun. She looked in awe as the orange rays of sunlight seeped through the cream-hued canvas shades, bounced off the crystal chandelier above the stairway. The fractured rays of light sparkled like diamonds across the hallway.

"This is a nice place." Becca spun around to her dad."I didn't know we had a beach house."

"Figured it was time for a change of scenery," Nolan explained as he set his keys in the on the wicker end table next to a potted plant by the front door

Becca wheeled her suitcase up the stairs. "I'll be down in a bit. I'm gonna change and put my stuff away."

"You're room is the second room from the bathroom." Nolan called out.

He waited till she was all the way up the stairs. When he heard a door close he dashed down the hallway to the kitchen. Nolan pulled out his cell phone and glanced at the fan of menus on the fridge.

An hour later, after a long shower Becca walked down the stairs. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail. She wore a comfy, faded t-shirt with Ironman on the front, and black yoga pants. She was glad to get out of those sweaty clothes and into some fresh clean ones. Becca's stomach growled out with hunger. It had been awhile since she'd eaten.

She was about to walk into the kitchen when Dad rushed out, holding out his arms blocking her way.

"Wait, don't go in there!"

Becca gave him a suspicious look. "Why? What's up?"

She tried to stand on the tips of her toes to see past him. Of course, that was useless. She was a short five- foot four while her dad was a Sasquatch at six feet.

"Your surprise is in the living room," Dad explained. "It's a surprise, so, close your eyes."

Becca smiled, excited to see what her dad had gotten her. She covered her eyes with her hands. Dad placed a hand on her shoulder and guided her into the living-room.

She came to a stop when she felt the plush carpet under her feet. Something was placed atop of her head and she guessed that it was a party hat of some kind.

"Okay, you can open your eyes," Dad said excitedly. She removed her hands and opened her eyes.

"Welcome home Rebecca."

"Whoa." She breathed.

A myriad of balloons floated around the living-room. Across the ceiling raced lines of colorful party streamers which branched out from a WELCOME HOME banner that hung above a flat screen TV. The coffee table was full of gift bags of various sizes. Becca walked around the living room and stopped when she saw a Xbox 360 sitting among the gifts on the coffee table. Her eyes widened as she picked up the video games next to the console. "Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and Halo 4?" She turned to her dad, "How did you get these? They haven't been released yet!"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "I know a few of the game devs."

Becca walked over to her dad and gave him a hug. "You're definitely the coolest Dad ever."

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "Anything for my girl."

She grinned, her hazel eyes sparkled with excitement as she waved the game around in her hand. "Come on, let's play."

Just then, the doorbell rang out. "I'll get it," Dad disappeared through the kitchen door.

Becca turned on the TV and the Xbox and placed the game into the disk tray.

"I didn't know what you wanted to eat," Dad reappeared in the living room with various takeout bags in his arms. "So, I brought all your favorites."

Becca grabbed a couple of takeout bags from his hands and placed them on the crowded coffee table. She opened a grease-stained paper bag, pulled out a burger and plopped onto the couch. Nolan sat next to her with his Chinese food in hand. Becca lifted the bun off her burger inspecting the meat patty.

"This is real meat, right?" Becca asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"Once you've eaten chickpeas disguised as 'beef'," She used air quotes and shuttered, "You don't take any chances."

Dad rolled his eyes at her. "You saying you didn't have a good time? You're the one that wanted to go to a boarding school in Portland. I suggested the tech schools in LA, and Miami, even Canada."

Confident her burger wasn't fake, Becca took a bite. "This is so good." she exclaimed. "Living in Portland was awesome, you know except for the rain and no sunlight." Becca murmured with a mouth full of burger.

"Do you see how pasty my skin is?" Becca laughed. "It'll take a week for me to look like my normally tanned goddess self."

"What did you do over there? I hope you used that scholarship money for something other than buying comics and CDs."

Becca took a fry from the bag and popped it into her mouth. "My roommates and I did all kinds of stuff. We hiked at Mount Hood. I ate donuts with cocoa puffs on them, and I did an experiment at OMSI, where we had to make a working robot. That got covered by the Times and the Portland Tribune." Becca paused, her mind was moving faster than her mouth. There were too many awesome things she'd done to recall at once. "Oh, here's something interesting; my professor says there's actually more trees than people in the entire city of Portland."

"Did you meet anyone interesting?" Nolan asked with a smile.

Becca laughed at his subtlety. "You mean did I find a tall dark and handsome that swept me off my feet?" She chuckled. "Don't worry Dad, there won't be any secret boyfriends in the front yard, serenading for my hand anytime soon."

Dad smiled. "Sounds like you had a great time."

"I did meet a few annoying people." Becca murmured to herself, before taking a bite of her burger. By people; Becca meant one person in particular. One person that annoyed her to no end and made her year away a living hell. But, that person didn't matter. Becca was here in New York. Half way across the country. While they were in Paris, or London or whatever country their mother's fashion line did business in.

Suddenly, the TV screen flickered to life. The music from loading screen blared from the TV, pulling Becca from her thoughts.

"Bet I can beat you at zombies," Becca exclaimed, grabbing the controller off the table.

Nolan took up the control. "I'd like to see you try. In case, you forgot I'm a pro at this game."

At that moment, Nolan couldn't help but feel that everything was just perfect in his world.


Later that night, after Becca had won against her dad five times in a game of zombies. Nolan's claim was that he'd let her win.

Becca sat in her bedroom on her laptop, headphones over her ears. She hummed along to the lyrics of Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot".

She was glad to finally be home. In her own bed, surrounded by her collection of comic books and CDs. The year at boarding school was an amazing experience. She wouldn't have traded it in for anything. But, she missed her dad more than she realized. Video chats and phone calls weren't enough.

She was glad to see him, and more importantly in one piece. It was terrifying to watch the news and hear that your home was invaded and your dad was stabbed - the worst part? There was nothing you could do when you're half way across the country - Becca shuddered at the memory. She pulled her stuffed bear off her desk and held it close to her chest. Her eyes fell to the half-opened bags on her desk. CD's of Elvis Presley, Bonnie Tyler, and Aerosmith were stacked beside a power tool set and a mini robot making kit.

At least some things didn't change, She thought.

Suddenly, there was a knock at her door.

Becca lowered the volume of her music. "Come in,"

Nolan walked into the room, he looked a lot more casual in a black long sleeve, sweats and slippers. He smiled at Becca and took a seat on the edge of her bed. "You working on something?"

"Nope, just surfing. What's up?"

Nolan shrugged and laughed. "I just wanted to see if you needed anything."

Truthfully, Nolan just wanted to see that she was physically here. Every day, he'd walked past her bedroom hoping that he'd see her face. Now that she was here he just wanted to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

"Nope. I'm good Dad. Thanks for all the gifts, they're amazing."

Nolan smiled. "You're welcome, Princess."

Becca started to rub her fingers against the soft fur of the bear. She glanced away from her dad and stared at her laptop screen. She swallowed the lump that suddenly formed in her throat before she spoke.

"Dad, nothing bad is gonna happen right, like last time?"

Nolan looked at her, wondered where this was coming from. "What do you mean?"

She let out a shaky breath, "You know…when you got stabbed by that Tyler Barrol guy."

Nolan understood why she was acting strange now. That was a scary experience for both of them. She'd called him right after the news aired. Nolan had to calm her down and after a long conversation finally convinced her into not flying all the way to the Hamptons.

"Becs trust me. I won't let anything like that happen again." He assured her.

Becca's vision started to blur as tears began to pool in her eyes.

Nolan placed his hand over hers, "Hey listen, kiddo." She snapped her gaze up to him. "We're a team remember? It's you and me against the world."

Her dad was right. He'd always said they were a team, no matter what happened they'd always have each other.

Becca wiped away the stray tears with the back of her hand. "Right." She sighed deeply, laughing from the moment. "We're a team."

Nolan leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Goodnight, Princess."

Becca reached up and wrapped her arms fiercely around his neck. "Good night, Dad."


Nolan sat in his office chair with the glowing screen of his laptop in his face. He stared at the list of business emails and clicked the trashcan icon on the screen. With a loud sigh, Nolan stretched his arms over his head.

Work can wait, He thought.

He closed his business window and clicked on the internet browser.

Suddenly, his eyes fell on a photo icon in the taskbar. He clicked on the icon. A picture of him and Rebecca at the beach popped onto the screen. He smiled fondly remembering the event. It was the first time that she'd try to swim in the ocean.

Nolan scrolled through the long list of photos. He clicked on one when they'd gone to a carnival at Coney Island, with Nolan sporting a pair of sunglasses and Becca holding a whale plush - that he'd won her in a game of balloon darts-. A ruby-eyed, golden dragon stood in the background in a picture where they'd gone to Chinatown for Chinese New Years.

He clicked off the photos and returned to the browser window. He pulled up REBECCA'S ACHIEVEMENTS, it was a folder he'd started over the last two years. His digital scrapbook of sorts contained all of Rebecca's biggest and greatest moments. Of course, she didn't know he had it. She didn't like it when he made a big deal about what she did. This was something he'd kept for himself.

Nolan searched through the folder, till he found the newspaper article, TECH SAVVY TEENS TEACH ROBOT TO TYPE.

He clicked on the article.

The image on the front page showed Becca standing proudly next to an oddly constructed robot made of Popsicle sticks and Pepsi cans. The scrawny robot sat at a typewriter, the words HELLO PEOPLE OF EARTH on the screen. Becca stood with two other girls each of them were smiling big and holding gold trophies with, TECH AWARD 1ST PLACE, etched into the gold plaque at the base of the trophy.

He read the heading underneath the image: "Marisol Vega, Jasmine Farhadi, and Rebecca Thompson create a functioning soda can and Popsicle stick robot that can type."

Nolan smiled sadly, this was one of the moments he'd wish he'd been there for her. Where he'd proudly say to the world that she was his daughter. But he knew that moment was never going to happen.

As far as the public knew Nolan Ross was a simply a cagey billionaire, party playboy, and fashionably savvy tech genius.

Not the father of a seventeen-year-old girl.

Nolan had a list of reasons why he wanted Rebecca to keep her mother's maiden name. The most recent and urgent; the two home invasions, both incidents resulting in his bodily harm.

Nolan involuntary touched his bicep. The scar on his arm had faded long ago. But the scar would ache sometimes. He figured it was caused by the fear of getting stabbed and it was like a reminder of the event. But, Nolan wasn't going to psychoanalyze it. Besides, he didn't like therapists.

He brought his glass of bourbon to his lips, took a long sip and reclined fully in his chair.

Nolan wasn't stupid. He knew that the risks involved in their escapades when he decided to help Emily. He'd vastly underestimated the lengths the Graysons and their friends were willing to go to keep their dirty laundry hidden.

Nolan shuddered. Just thinking about the white haired man sent a cold chill up his spine. Occasionally, he'd wake up in the middle of a night, in a cold sweat, heart racing from nightmares about being back in the albino's Hannibal torture chamber. That was a story he didn't tell Rebecca.

If anything was to happen to Rebecca because of his actions. Nolan wouldn't forgive himself.

He'd sworn to her that he'd protect her. That she wouldn't be alone again. He was still new to the whole world of parenting, and he'd made more than a few mistakes in the beginning. Hell, he was still learning how to be a dad. But, no matter how many mistakes he'd made, Nolan promised himself that he'd be a hell of a better father to Rebecca than his own. Definitely a better parent than her mother.

Nolan craned his head to the clock on his desk.

He smirked. "10:30 PM."

Nolan sat up and reached for his cellphone and turned it on. Disappointment crossed his face when he saw there were 'no new messages'.

Usually around now, Emily would call him and ask him to hack into a security camera feed or track a cell phone.

"Even ninjas need their rest." The thought of his blonde ninja always brought a smile to his face.

Nolan hated to see her so sad earlier. "That's gonna change Saturday." He reminded himself. He would do whatever it took to get back his red sharpie-wielding angel of justice.

Chapter Text

The morning sunlight streamed through the paper thin blinds. Nolan snapped his eyes open and sat up from his desk. With a groan, he rolled his stiff shoulders. Nolan stretched his arms above his head, his muscles cracking and popping from sleeping in his chair. He glanced at his alarm clock.

It was already 10:00 AM? Where did the time go? The last thing he remembered doing was looking at photos of him and Becca, and then spending the rest of the night and early morning answering emails and phone calls from work.

Nolan glanced at the pictures on his laptop. He smiled warmly. Rebecca was here. She was back home.

His stomach growled. Nolan grabbed his empty coffee mug off his desk and strolled into the hallway. The smell of eggs and maple syrup wafted through the air. He figured his mind was playing tricks with him. But the unmistakable smell of bacon told him he wasn't dreaming. Nolan stepped into the kitchen Becca stood at the granite island, already dressed for the day in jeans and a hoodie, a knife in her hand cutting a kiwi into a mixing bowl.

She turned around and smiled at him. "Morning Dad."

Nolan walked to the coffee machine next to the stove. He was surprised to find the coffee pot warm and full.

"You made coffee?"

Becca handed him a mug of coffee,"I know you can't function without some kind of caffeine."

Nolan spotted a plate of bacon next to the frying pan, with Becca's back turned to him, he quickly snuck a strip into his mouth.

"You slept in late," Becca noted, spinning around to him.

Nolan chewed quickly and took a sip of his coffee. "And you're up early. I thought you'd sleep in."

He figured she'd be exhausted with jet lag and the excitement of yesterday.

"I woke up early to go on my run. And I went shopping while you were asleep." She shook her head, as she placed the fruit on the table. "Apparently, all we had to eat was takeout from last night and some energy drinks. It's great to know that that college life is still alive in you Dad."

Becca pulled the plate of bacon strips away from him before he could grab another strip.

She smirked at him. "I saw that," Becca motioned her hand to the table. "If you're hungry have a seat. Breakfast is ready."

Nolan grabbed his coffee and took a seat at the table. Becca sat the plate of bacon in the center of the table along with a plate of a lopsided puffy, golden square, covered in powdered sugar.

Becca slid in the seat next to him, she scooped some of the fruit salad into her bowl and cut a slice of the sugared square onto her plate.

Nolan looked down at his plate. Tentatively, he stabbed at the square with a fork."What's this?"

She glanced at his plate. "German pancake. A girl that I roomed with taught me how to make them. I know it looks strange,"

Nolan grimaced. "You got that right."

She laughed. "They taste good Dad. Give it a try."

Becca watched intently as he brought a fork full of pancake to his mouth.

"This taste really good." Nolan took another bite."When did you learn how to cook like this?"

Becca stabbed at her fruit salad with her fork. "Dad, I've always cooked. If I didn't cook we'd be eating takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner,"

Nolan laughed. "I might not be an Iron Chef like you. But I can cook. I made pancakes before."

She nodded. "At least you can cook. The only thing mom knew how to make was tomato soup from the can. She'd 'spice it up' with different things like Goldfish and cheese sandwiches. There's only so many ways you can eat tomato soup."

He took a sip of his coffee. "I'm lucky to have you, huh?"

Becca grinned. "What would you do without me Dad?"


After breakfast, the two of them sat in the living room. Becca played Paradise City on full blast as she worked on her laptop.

Becca swayed her head to the music singing, "Take me back to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty-"

She heard the ring of the doorbell through the music. Becca rose from the couch.

"I'll get it," She called out. She walked to the front door and opened it. A postman stood at the door with a package in his hand.

He glanced at the package and back to her. "Package for NolCorp."

"I'll take it."

He handed her the notepad and she signed it off.

Becca closed the door and looked at the box. She stepped into the living room. She grinned at her dad. "You've got mail."

"It's here?" Nolan looked up to her from his laptop on the coffee table.

"What is it?" Becca asked excitedly. It was NolCorp signed. Which meant it had to be some cool unreleased tech her dad was working on.

Nolan smiled. "How about you open it,"

Becca squealed, walking over to him. She opening the box to see a hard plastic case. She opened the case unboxing a sleek, white chrome smart watch. "Whoa, this looks awesome."

Nolan smiled. "My designers are upgrading them. Consumers wanted a more user-friendly interface." He took the watch from her hands. He flipped the watch over pointing to the side. He pushed the side and a little compartment popped out,"See this? There's even a little slot for a micro SD card. So you can upload your music, photos, etc."

"So, it's pretty much a computer at the touch of your fingers." Becca smiled. "Seriously, this is way cool." She examined the white band and the slim black touchscreen.

Her dad's tech was the most sought after in the world. Everyone wanted to invest with NolCorp because their cellular and computer technology was always ahead of the curb. Becca was sure that by the Fall, one of her dad's many competitors would unveil a similar watch, just so they could stay ahead of NolCorp and it's ever changing tech.

He nodded proudly. "And this one is yours."

She glanced up at him. "No, way! Are you serious?"

He smiled. "Figured you could give me your opinion on it, tell me if it needs any adjustments before it hits the shelves in the Fall."

Becca slid the watch on her right wrist. "Thanks, Dad."

Just then, Nolan's cell phone buzzed against his thigh. He pulled the phone out of his pocket. He slid the phone icon across the touch screen to the red 'IGNORE' button.

Becca raised an eyebrow as Nolan slipped his phone back in his pocket. "Everything alright?"

He nodded, giving her a reassuring smile. "Yeah, it's just work."

Nolan stuffed his hands into his pockets. "So, you have any plans for today?"

"Uh, well I was just working on some code for that robot I made. I figured I'd get a working prototype, mess around with it, use some real metal."

Becca loved to code ever since she coded her first web page in middle school. From then on her hobby took a life of its own and she found herself engrossed in the world of coding and inventing. It was one of her hobbies, besides inventing, that she and her dad could bond over and talk about. Their idea of fun was spending the day coding and building model robots.

"Need any help?"

Becca smiled. "Sure."

An hour later, the two of them sat at the coffee table, with power tools and scrap pieces of metal scattered around them. Normally, Becca would build things in her own workshop at their glass mansion, but they had to make due with the kitchen for now.

Becca stepped back from the table. The once soda body of the robot was now made of flexible sheet metal, the Popsicle sticks were replaced with green plastic rods. The entire thing was hooked up with wires connected to her laptop.

"It looks pretty good to me," Nolan said looking it over.

Becca nodded. "Now to test it." She pushed the ENTER key on her laptop. The mini robot slowly started to type a message that appeared on the screen: HELLO

She spun around to her dad. "Did you see that?" She exclaimed, jumping up and down. "It spelled 'HELLO"

Nolan smiled proudly at her. "That's impressive, a typing robot. I can see how your team won first place. Making that out of soda cans and Popsicle sticks? That's quick thinking."

Becca shrugged. "I know. It was weird, we didn't have any of the same materials as the other contestants. But I saw some empty soda cans and when with it. The judges thought it was an innovative twist."

"You are a Ross." Nolan grinned smugly. "Being innovative is genetic."

Becca laughed, shaking her head. "It's not genetics Dad. It's just creative problem-solving."

The sounds of kids laughing from outside made Nolan craned his head around to the patio door. He stood and walked towards the glass doors of the patio. Children with floaties and buckets rushed down to the beach. A pack of mothers with MP3 players strapped to armbands, pushed strollers jogging along the beach path.

Nolan turned to Becca. "Wanna go for a walk? It's a nice day outside."


The sunlight felt great on Becca's skin as they walked on the beach path. She missed this kind of weather. Sure Portland had it's moments, but it wasn't like The Hamptons. Nolan zipped up his grey hoodie as the cool ocean breeze blew towards them.

He slowed his pace and Becca followed suit. He turned to her with a boyish grin. "Hey, wanna race?"

Becca smirked, up for the challenge. "Sure. But, you know I'm gonna win right?"

She was a runner. She'd been the track star in middle school and at her old high school for two years in a row.

He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt to try. Who knows? I might win."

Becca tied up her hair in a ponytail and got into her runners stance. "Alright then. On your mark, get set g-"

At that, Nolan dashed ahead. His long legs carrying him two steps ahead. Becca stood watching him run a couple of feet away. She grinned. It didn't hurt to make him think he had a running start.

"One...two...three...four.." She counted, "five...six...seven.. eight...nine..ten."

And she was off.

"So, what did you say about winning?" Becca teased, running up beside him. "I'm the Speedy Gonzalez of running Dad."

No matter how many steps her dad could take she was always the faster runner.

Nolan smiled, determined to win. He pointed to the small park ahead of them, "I'll race you to the swings!"

Becca grinned as she spotted the empty swing set. She pushed her legs racing farther up the path.

A sense of pride overwhelmed her as she planted her butt on the swing. "I won!" Becca breathed out. She pulled out her legs and made a victorious push forward.

Nolan staggered to the swings. "Nice...Y-you won." He clutched the chain of the swing for support and dropped into the seat.

Becca noticed his face was red and clammy. His hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. "Dad, are you gonna pass out?" Becca asked worriedly.

"No I'm just resting," He said breathlessly, "I haven't run like that in a while."

Just then, the familiar tune of an ice cream truck played through the park Becca looked around, spotting a man standing at a kiosk in the center of the park. Hoards of children clenching dollar bills in their firsts raced towards the kiosk.

"Dad, I'll be right back."

After a couple of kids ran off with Popsicle in their hand. Becca stepped up to the kiosk. The older man smiled warmly at her. "What will you have miss?"

"I'll have a water bottle, and ice cream sandwich."

Becca reached into her boho bag, fished out her wallet, and handed him a few bills.

"Coming right up."

"I want the ice crweam daddy!" A small voice called behind her.

Becca turned around, a little boy pointing behind her to the ice cream stand. The boy's father glanced at her with an apologetic smile.

"You don't mind if we go ahead do you?" He asked.

Becca shook her head no and stepped to the side.

"Which one do you want little man?" The dad asked him.

The little boy exclaimed. "Strwahbeweh!"

The boy smiled widely as the older man handed him a cone. His dad lifted him off the ground and carried him off on his shoulders.

Becca smiled sadly. Sometimes, she wished that she could tell people who her dad was. But her dad didn't want her to be hounded by the press and reporters. Besides, if everyone knew that Nolan Ross had a secret kid, things would be different. She was able to go wherever she wanted without the press or paparazzi hounding her. She had freedom and anonymity. Something a lot of people like her didn't have. Especially if their father was one of the most wealthiest and iconic men in America.

Despite that, she really wanted to be known as Rebecca Ross. Not Rebecca Thompson. She really didn't care if the paparazzi hounded her. She just wanted to be completely and totally her dad's girl.

Her dad raised her right. He wanted to protect her. He knew that exposing her to the public would put her through unnecessary drama. And she had enough drama growing up with her mother to last a lifetime.

"Miss?" A voice asked her.

Becca snapped out of her thoughts. She turned back to the man. "Here you are."

She smiled embarrassed. Becca grabbed the water bottle and ice cream from him. "Uh, thank you."

Becca sighed when she walked back to the swings. "You did pass out."

Nolan lifted his head up to her and heaved himself to a sitting position. He took the water bottle from her hand."Thanks."

Becca plopped into the swing beside him as Nolan took a sip of his water bottle.

"I thought you were in peak physical condition." Becca teased.

Nolan chuckled. "I'm working on it. But, I don't think I'll be as fast a runner as you."

He was sure that any parent that passed by would think a grown man sitting on the swings was weird. But Nolan didn't care. He was exhausted from their run. Being a CEO and a tech genius didn't require a lot of physical endurance. That was until he started working with Emily. But for his benefit he was working out more. Though, he reminded himself that he needed to do some more cardio.

Nolan's cellphone rang out. He let out a frustrated groan. He grabbed his cellphone out of his pocket and shut the phone off.

"Are you avoiding someone?" She asked worriedly.

"Well, uh, I wouldn't call it avoiding, more like evading. It's some annoying investors wanting to talk to me."

"Oh, I thought it was Ems." Becca said simply.

Nolan looked shocked. "Emily? What about her."

"I just figured it was her. I mean you've told me about her everyday for like the past year."

Becca stared at him hopefully. "Have you told Ems about me?"

Nolan took a big sip from his water bottle. "No." He mumbled.

Becca gaped at him. This was huge. She knew everything about what her dad and Emily were doing for the past year. But he didn't tell Emily about her?

"What, How come?"

"Becs," Nolan started to crinkle the plastic water bottle in his hands. "There really wasn't a right time to say, "Oh, and Ems by the way I have a kid."

He wanted to tell her so many times. But things didn't go down well between them after he revealed that Carole Miller was his aunt.

How would something as big as this affect their relationship? Nolan had always been a closed book and held things like family close to his chest. There were things that even Emily didn't share with him. But, they'd broken some new ground in their relationship ever since Kara had left. Emily had shared the anger and sadness she'd felt about having to lose her all over again. He'd even told her something about his own father and growing up with Carole.

Emily deserved to know that he had a daughter. And he wanted to tell her. But he was afraid that she would hate him.

Nolan had done the math; he was ninety-eight percent certain that Emily would react negatively. The other two percent was a positive response. He wasn't sure about that.

Becca went back to her ice cream. "Okay."

Nolan turned to her. Shocked by her response. "Okay?"

She shrugged. "Yeah, I mean, I'm sure you had your reasons." She smiled at him knowingly, "Who knows, maybe, I'll meet her soon. Like tomorrow around noon ."

He raised an eyebrow at her suspiciously. "How'd you know that?"

Becca smiled. "Dad, you left a reminder on your laptop. Plus I kinda overheard you talking to the manager of the restaurant. Window seat, wine and red roses. Sounds fancy!" She smiled teasingly as his face started to get red. "Ooh, that sounds like a date to me."

"It's not a date," Nolan said simply.

She gave him an 'are you serious?' look. "Are you saying it's not a date, or did Emily say that? Because to me and everyone else that is a date."

Nolan said jokingly."You're crazy you know that?"

She smiled at him. "I'd say I'm more cute then crazy."


Emily held her cell phone to her ear a few seconds later and a voice mail answered:

"This is Nolan, you know what to do."

She shut her cell phone. Emily glanced at the newspaper on the table. The front page showed a picture of Victoria and Conrad Grayson smiling at the camera. The headline read - ''Socialite Victoria Grayson and Running Governor Conrad Grayson attending upcoming convention."

Emily uncapped her red sharpie and circled Conrad and Victoria's faces. She smirked. "The Graysons are back on the radar."

Chapter Text

Becca raced up the stairway to her room and grabbed her mp3 player off her desk. She walked out of her room. Her running shoes squeaked against the hardwood floor as she walked down the hall. She stuck her head into her dad's room, to utter a quick goodbye, when she stopped mid sentence. Ties, dress shirts, and jackets were strewn across on the floor and bed. Becca gawked at the tornado of clothes.

Nolan stood at the full-length mirror fiddling with a tie. Becca grimaced at the bright orange tie. It did not go with his blue suit and white button down.

"Dad, not that," Becca said.

Nolan turned around to her. "What's wrong with it?"

"The orange is overkill," Becca walked into the room and grabbed a navy tie off the bed. "Try this one."

She took a seat on the edge of the bed, watching as her dad put on the tie. Becca smiled to herself. She'd never seen her dad so worked up. He was really going all out for this lunch with Emily.

"So," Becca smiled at him. "When's Emily coming over?"

"I'm meeting her at the restaurant."

Becca feigned hurt. "Dad, you can't just take a girl out on a date and not bring her over to see me. I thought we had rules!"

"For the last time, it's not a date,"

"Okay, whatever you say." Nolan wouldn't admit it yet, but Becca knew that Emily meant much more to her dad than just a friend.

Nolan's cell phone rang out on the nightstand. Becca darted to his cell phone. "It's Emily,"

Nolan grabbed the phone off the table and turned to Becca. "Don't you have a run to get to?"

"Yeah, I do. See you later, tell me how it went!" She sang over her shoulder, breezing out of the room.

Nolan shook his head, embarrassed before he answered the phone. "Hey, Ems."

"I tried to call you yesterday, what happened?" Emily shifted the phone in her hand as she grabbed her clutch off her vanity table.

"I was, uh, preoccupied with lunch reservations and stuff. What's up?"

"The Graysons," Emily said flatly.

Nolan sighed. "Great, just when you think they're gone they pop back. They're like zits."

He thought they could have some time to relax and unwind. Clearly, that wasn't going to happen. "I'd hate for us to lose our appetite. Let's save the bad news for after lunch."

"Alright, fair enough." Emily agreed. "Hey, Nolan. What kind of stuff do you have planned?"

He started fiddling with his tie. "You'll find out when you get there." He teased. "I'll see you later Ems."


Becca's legs ached with fatigue as she bounded over the hill crest. She spotted an empty bench near the beach parking lot. She smiled through the pain, letting it fuel her, as she pushed herself towards victory.

She leaned against the bench. Her chest rose and fell as she inhaled deep, oxygen-rich breaths. Sweat dripped from her forehead as the sun beamed down on her neck. Becca glanced at her smart watch, the image of a timer appeared on the screen, and she spoke into it. "Time; nineteen minutes."

Becca sighed unsatisfied with her progress. "Not my usual best for three miles. Gotta work on that." She glanced down at her tank top. It was a bit snug in the mid-section. As a runner she had a fast metabolism.

But she did have one weakness. "Maybe, I need to lay off those burgers and fries for a while." She considered seriously.

Becca grabbed her water bottle and took a long sip. Becca glanced around the beach; the parking lot was packed with cars. Guys with washboard abs in board shorts jumped out of the back of Jeeps, running with surfboards in hand to the ocean. Girls wearing maxi dresses, a Starbucks cup in one hand and cell phone in the other, stood in front of a little souvenir shop taking selfies.

"Hey, can you help me out? I'm looking for Gibson beach." A voice asked behind her.

Becca turned around to see a girl with wavy brown hair, holding a map. She glanced at the map, noticing the titled 'Hamptons and Montauk Beaches' was upside down.

Becca pointed to the map. "Sure, but uh, your map is upside down."

The girl laughed, embarrassed and re-positioned the map. "Well, that explains why were lost,"

Becca looked at the map and pointed at the highways connecting to the nearby beaches. "You're going in the wrong direction. Gibson Beach is the other way."

The girl glanced at Becca with wide eyes. "Ohh, uh, thanks."

Just then, a convertible buggy pulled up to the side of them. The driver, a girl with brown hair and dangly, boho feather earrings turned to them.

"Kim, you get directions?" The girl asked.

Kim turned to the girl. "Hey, Meg we're going the wrong way. Turns out I was reading the map upside down."

Meg let out an exasperated sigh. "Nice Kim, real nice." Meg's BlackBerry rang from the dashboard. She picked it up, eyes widening at the screen. "I can't believe this!" Meg furiously began to text. "Thanks a lot Kim. Drakes' already on stage. We're going to be late to the biggest party of the summer and it's all your fault."

Kim balled the map in her fists. "You're the one that gave me the map, Meg!" She tossed her hands back, hitting Meg square on the shoulder. "You know I'm not good at geometry!"

Meg snapped her eyes up at her and let out a laugh. "Don't bitch at me because you can't read a map." She gave her a sympathetic look, "You're not doing so hot in English either, and for the record: it's geography."

Kim threw her hands up. "Whatever!"

"Right. Well, I'm just gonna go." Becca muttered slowly stepping away from the two.

"Meg, Kim where did you go? I walked around for like a mile." A voice yelled irritably.

Becca wheeled around. A girl with fiery red hair in a flowing green maxi dress stalked towards them, her hands full of shopping bags.

The redhead neared the car and gasped loudly at Meg. "Meg, what did I say about sitting in the driver's seat? This car is worth three times what your mom makes in a month. Move,"

Meg shot her hurt a look as she scrambled out the car. "Yeah, whatever, Genevieve."

Becca stared wide-eyed at Genevieve. She recognized that mean girl attitude anywhere. Becca had heard her condescending voice every-day for the past year.

Genevieve threw her bags in the backseat cramped with shopping bags. She snapped around to Becca, raising a brow over her Gucci sunglasses. "You want a picture or something?"

Becca wanted to say something sassy back. But the only thing she could do was stutter. "No, uh, I-."

Genevieve lifted her sunglasses. She stared at Becca for a moment and let out a shrill laugh. "Hey, Rebecca is that you? I hardly recognized you." Genevieve looked her up and down, her pink lips twisted into a smirk. "Nice outfit, shorts are really making a comeback."

Becca self-consciously tugged at her tank top. Suddenly, Meg and Kim huddled around their queen bee, closing in on Becca.

"What are you doing here Genevieve?" Becca asked feigning confidence.

"I spent the last five months touring with my mother and her fashion line," She smirked as she flipped her hair over her shoulder. "I traveled to Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris. It was Tres Magnifique!"

Kim smiled. "That so cool, I'm totally jealous."

Meg turned to Genevieve. "You know, you still owe me a purse from your moms' collection."

Becca rolled her eyes. Oh please, she thought. Genevieve was your typical rich and spoiled brat. She couldn't even spend a minute without gloating.

Genevieve folded her arms over her chest. "I didn't even think I'd see your face around here. Especially after your latest invention." She laughed. "What did you build again; a typing soda can? How embarrassing,"

"Didn't your team win first place?" Kim asked Becca curiously which earned a glare from Genevieve.

Becca chuckled. "Yeah I did. What did your team place? Oh right, third." Genevieve's tight-lipped smile egged her on. "And against all odds, after you sabotaged my team. Stealing our parts? Wow, Genevieve, that's so fifth grade."

Genevieve's face turned as red as her hair. Her green eyes sparked as she said coolly. "Well, we'll see who's really the best in a week, when they award the best student inventions at the tech ceremony." Genevieve challenged.

"Guess we will." Becca placed her hands on her hips, her confidence comes back. She was up for the challenge.

Meg pointed at Becca's wrist. "Shut up! Is that the upgraded NolCorp watch?" Meg asked grabbing her wrist.

Kim huddled around Becca. "That's way cool! Those aren't even out yet, how'd you get it?"

"Gen, you said that your dad gave you the newest one," Meg said, confused.

"I have the newest model," Genevieve assured them, flashing a similar watch on her wrist. "Yours is probably a fake."

"No, it's real." Becca couldn't help but feel a twinge of joy seeing Genevieve's face twist in jealousy. "My dad is a designer at NolCorp, so, he gets to test out the prototypes before they launch."

That wasn't a complete lie, Becca thought.

"That is so cool! Hey, you think you could get us some?" Meg and Kim asked hopefully.

Becca chuckled. "Well uh, I don't know-"

"You think you're so cool Rebecca?" Genevieve spat. "You're nothing but a loser." Genevieve fiddled with the strap of her smart watch. She tore it off her wrist, and flung it towards her car, the watch bounced off of the door and disappeared under the tires.

"Come on, we're going to be late!" Gen barked, hustling into the drivers' seat.

Kim and Meg sent a glare to Becca before joining their leader. The car screeched against the pavement. A cracking sound was heard as she pulled away. Becca looked down at the crushed smart watch.

Becca rubbed at her temples feeling a headache coming on. She hated Genevieve with a passion she was, for a lack of better word, a total bitch.

Ever since Becca met Genevieve she'd always felt the need to one up her. If Becca won first place Genevieve had to get first. If Becca had an idea for an app or an invention that everyone else liked, Genevieve would have to invent the next best thing. Genevieve wasn't like this to her initially. When Becca had first met her, she'd introduced herself as this friendly, and cool person, a potential friend. But Becca started to see her true colors as she gained recognition from teachers and students at school, and Genevieve steadily became the Queen of the school, making it her mission to bully Becca. The stolen materials was just one of the many things Genevieve did to get at Becca.

The vroom of an engine roared in Becca's ears snapping her out of her thoughts. She spun around. Genevieve was driving straight at her.

"Hey Rebecca, watch out!" She yelled.

Becca's eyes widened as the car jumped the curb. She darted out of the way, just missing her feet become a pancake by a few inches. She tripped over her feet, stumbling over the curb, and fell to the pavement.

"You crazy bitch!" Becca yelled. She leaned forward scrambling to get up. Becca yelped in pain as her right ankle gave out, causing her to fall back on her butt. She tried to hold back the tears as a buzzing pain shot through her right ankle.

The car spun back around. Becca's heart leap to her throat. Was she coming back for round two? Instead, Genevieve drove past her. Her worker bees laughed and smiled as Genevieve held out her hand, flipped her off and raced away.

Heart racing. Becca scrambled for her cellphone.


As Nolan drove down the street his cellphone rang out. He picked it up placing it to his ear.

"Dad? Where are you?"

"I'm down the street." He panicked. "Why, what's wrong?"

Becca winched in pain as she tried to move. "Don't freak out, but I got hurt running and I think I sprained my ankle."

"Where are you?"

"The beach, three miles from home."

Nolan flashed his signal to turn the car around."I'll be right there,"

Becca saw the SUV pulled up to the curbside. Nolan practically flew out of the driver's seat when he saw Becca sitting on the side of the road, her scratched up legs were stretched out in front of her. Becca managed a weak smile as he halted in front of her.

"What happened?" Nolan asked.

"I fell and twisted my ankle."

Nolan bent down to her and glanced at her bare, swollen ankle. "It looks bad. You can't walk?"

Becca shook her head no. "It hurts too much to move it."

Nolan glanced around the area. His eyes fell back on the broken watch a few beside them. He looked at Becca with worried eyes. "How did you fall?"

"I tripped over the sidewalk." She said and quickly looked away from his worried eyes. "I didn't do my usual stretches and I guess my leg got jacked up because of it."

Nolan gave her an incredulous look as she looked away from him. Something told him there was more to the story than she was telling him. "Alright give me your hand. You need to get to the hospital."

He placed his arm underneath her shoulders. Becca grabbed his hand, hooking her hands around his neck as he hoisted her up to her feet. She studied herself, leaning on Nolan for support as the two of them limped to the SUV.


"Dad, was the wheel-chair really necessary?" Becca asked as she sat in the doctor's office. Nolan sat in the waiting chair beside her.

"It was either that or the stretcher," Nolan reminded her.

Becca fidgeted in the seat trying in vain to get comfortable. "This thing is so confining! I'm pretty sure whoever was in this was sweating baloney."

A knock sounded at the door. A heavy-set woman in Tweety-Bird scrubs walked in. Her eyes were glued to her cellphone as she texted in one hand and held an ice pack in the other.

"Here hon, this should help with the swelling." The woman handed her the ice pack. Becca placed the pack on her ankle sighing in relief.

"The doctor will be with you in a minute," She said before walking out of the room.

"Alright, thank you." An older woman with hot pink glasses, wearing a doctor's coat walked into the room.

"Mr. Ross. Back again I see?" The woman smiled at Nolan and extended her hand to him.

Nolan shook her hand. "Dr. Mallard, thanks for coming on such short notice."

"Now Nolan, what have you gotten yourself into this time?" Dr. Mallard asked with a stern look.

Nolan grinned, embarrassed. "I'm not the patient this time. It's my daughter."

Dr. Mallard turned to Becca and smiled. "Hi, Rebecca. I'm Dr. Linda Mallard general and ER doctor here at Suffolk Memorial. And your father's personal physician."

Becca smiled, "Hi."

"You're father talks about you a lot. It's nice to finally put a face to the name. Now, let's have a look at that ankle shall we?"

She knelt down to Becca examining her ankle. "It's a good thing you got here as soon as you did. That ankle is very swollen," she said, propping Becca's leg out. Dr. Mallard pressed her fingers into her ankle. Becca let out a hiss.

"How did this happen?" She distracted her as she continued to poke and prod.

Becca bit her lip. "I didn't stretch before I went running." Becca could feel her dad's eyes on the back of her head.

Dr. Mallard rose to her feet. "I see, well I think we should get an x-ray on your ankle to make sure it isn't broken."

"X-ray?" Becca's eyes widened.

"Yes. You have a lot of swelling, which the ice will reduce. However without an x-ray I won't know how badly injured you are."

Becca pressed the ice pack to her ankle. "You know I don't think an x-ray is really necessary. Like you said it's mostly swelling."

Dr. Mallard turned to Nolan. "It's ultimately her choice. But I'd recommend the x-ray just to be sure."

Nolan glanced at Becca, concern written on his face. "What's the matter?"

"I don't like the hospital. And I don't like x-rays." She muttered. Her eyes clouding with a far off look.

Nolan suddenly recalled the last time Becca needed to get an x-ray for her wrist when she was eleven. She didn't like hospitals. Neither of them did. It only reminded them of the pain and hurt they'd experienced in the past.

Nolan placed his hand on her shoulder. "I'll go with you."

Becca looked up at him, her eyes brightening up. "Really?"

He smiled. "Of course, kiddo."

Dr. Mallard looked up from her tablet to the two. "It's settled then?"

Becca nodded. "Yeah. I'll do it."

"I'll have the room prepared for you." Dr. Mallard gestured for the two of them to follow her out of her office and down the hall to the radiography department.

"Cynthia!" Dr. Mallard called out as they walked down the wide corridor. She looked down the halls of the corridor. "Where did she go? Honestly, I wonder how I got stuck with such a scatterbrained intern." She explained to the two Ross's. "I swear she spends more time twiddling her thumbs that phone than doing her job.

She sighed heavily. "I'm just glad that no one's severed a limb under her watch."

Becca's eyes widened at her remark. Nolan laughed nonchalantly. "You're just joking."

Dr. Mallard gave them a serious expression. "I wish I were."

Becca glared at Nolan. Dr. Mallard led the two of them down the hall of the x-ray room. The three spotted the intern in Tweety scrubs. Her back was turned to them as she leaned against the window talking on her cellphone.

Dr. Mallard stormed over to her. "Cynthia, for god's sake, if I see you on that thing one more time you're going to be looking for a new doctor to complete your internship."

Cynthia jumped. She spun around to the three, placing her phone behind her back, like a child who'd gotten caught with their hand in a cookie jar.

"I-I'm sorry Dr. Mallard," she stammered. "I was just taking a personal phone call and I-"

Dr. Mallard cut her off, "I don't want to hear it. Just do your job and prep the x-ray room."

Cynthia nodded meekly. She pocketed her cell phone and walked past the three of them.

"Oh and Ms. Lewis?" said. Cynthia spun around.

"Phones go in there, please." Dr. Mallard motioned to the plastic bin labeled, METAL OBJECTS across the hall.

Cynthia sighed like a teenager and dropped her phone into the bin.

A few minutes later Cynthia reappeared out of the x-ray room and Nolan wheeled Becca into the room. He stood back, watching as Cynthia prepped Becca for the x-ray.

Nolan glanced at the clock over the doorway and panicked. He was ten minutes late to his lunch with Emily. He whipped out his cell phone to send her a text.

'Hey, Ems... I'll get there as soon as I can, I'm a little held up at the moment -'

"Sorry, no phones or metal objects are allowed in here," Cynthia said seriously, reappeared into the room with an apron for Nolan.

"Right." Nolan smirked and took the apron from her. He handed her their things. Emily would just have to wait for a little. As much as he hated to make her wait.

"The x-ray will be starting in a few minutes," Cynthia told them.

Becca's eyes widened. "Wait you'll be doing the x-ray?"

"Is that a problem?" Cynthia asked her voice heated.

Becca shrugged cautiously. "Well, I mean as long as I don't lose a limb."

"I don't think that'll be a problem," Cynthia assured her before stepping out of the room.

Nolan walked over to Becca. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "You all set?"

She let out a breath, not realizing she was holding it in. "Yup, I guess so."

As Cynthia placed the phones and watch into the bin she spotted Dr. Mallard talking with a doctor. Cynthia quipped a brow as the man stepped into the x-ray room.

Dr. Mallard turned to her with a small smile and walked over to her.

"Cynthia I'm sorry, but I'd feel more comfortable having a Fellow take over." Dr. Mallard explained, hoping her intern wouldn't take it too hard. It wasn't that she didn't trust Cynthia. She just didn't want to take a risk.

Cynthia stifled a frown. "Alright, Doctor."


Emily glanced back at the empty seat across from her. She checked her cell phone for the time. It'd been twenty minutes since she'd arrived and Nolan still wasn't here. She'd figured he was stuck in traffic, so she didn't think anything of it when he didn't respond to her text.

Nolan had outdone himself with the reservations. She appreciated the gesture. It had been a long time since she'd just gone out to eat with a friend. She smiled, thinking back to his teddy bear gift from before. He really had a big heart. Now, if only she had the man to share the afternoon with.

The bell above the restaurant door rang out.

Emily looked past the bouquet of red roses on her table to the front doors of the restaurant. A man with blond hair walked. His back was turned to her. Emily sat up hoping it was Nolan.

Her smile faltered, however, once the man spun around to her with a sleeping little girl in his arms.

The owner of the restaurant and older man wearing a red bow tie appeared at her table with a plate of cannoli.

"Still no sign of him?" He asked setting the plate in front of her.

Emily shook her head. "No, not yet."

"He'd better have a good reason for not showing up. For his sake." The man offered her a small smile before leaving to tend to the other customers.

Emily grabbed her cell phone and pressed speed dial. A ring later and the line picked up.

"Nolan, where are you?"

"Uh, sorry but he's not available." An unfamiliar, female voice answered.

Emily frowned at the voice. "I'm sorry, but who is this?"

The line went silent for a moment. Emily pressed her cellphone to her ear, her usual calm was replaced with worry. "Hello? Are you still there?"

In the background, Emily heard an announcement over a PDA. She recognized it as the one from the hospital. She'd spent so much time there with Amanda it was difficult to forget. Memories of last winter came flooding back to her. The last time she couldn't contact Nolan he ended up chained to the wall of an assassins' torture room.

"Nolan's in the hospital? What happened? Where is he?" Emily demanded, tired of playing games with the woman.

"Suffolk Memorial. The radiography department." Cynthia stuttered, nervous at Emily's gruff tone. She turned back to the x-ray room as the door opened. "I'm sorry, but I have to go."

And just like that the line went dead.

Emily shot up from the chair and raced out the restaurant, determined to find out what the hell was going on with Nolan.


The x-ray machine whirred to life. Nolan took the moment to finally ask what had been on his mind. "So, you wanna tell me the real reason you got hurt?"

Becca twisted around to him. "What? I already told how I fell."

"You run every day Becca." Nolan started. "I doubt you hurt yourself because you didn't stretch." He knew that she was hiding something from him when she didn't look at his eyes.

"I saw the broken smart watch. Is someone bothering you?" He asked seriously.

Becca knew that she should tell her dad the was afraid that he'd over react. But this wasn't some petty incident; Genevieve had tried to run her over. She reminded herself that she was here getting an x-ray done. Now, was as good a time as any. No matter how her dad would react she needed to tell him.

Becca let out a shaky breath. "Okay, but, don't freak out."

Nolan nodded slowly, the worry he felt in the pit of his stomach piled up.

"I fell because of Genevieve."

"Who's Genevieve?"

"I met her at boarding school. She thinks she's the Queen B." Becca let out a breath. "She's been bullying me for the last year,"

Nolan shook his head, confused. "Didn't you ever tell the principal or a teacher?"

"How? She'd always find a way to put the blame on someone else. She's never gotten caught for anything she's done."

Becca went on, preparing herself for her dad's reaction. "I met her today at the beach and we got into a stupid argument. The next thing I know she tried to run me over."

"She what?" Nolan exclaimed. "Where does she live? I'll call the cops on her. Or call her parents." Nolan started. If that wasn't enough, then he'd find some other way to get this kid straightened out. His blood boiled. He wasn't going to stand back and let his kid become a victim. He'd spent most of his life being bullied. He knew first hand how aggressive things got.

"Dad," Becca stressed. "Please don't, you'll just make it worse."

"Make what worse?"

"Everything! I already dealt with her crap in Portland, I don't want to deal with it here at home."

Nolan shook his head. "Becca, she tried to run you over. This isn't something you can ignore. This girl is unstable."

Nolan felt like he got punched in the gut. She never mentioned this to him before. Why would she wait this long to tell him? Did she not trust him?

"Why haven't you told me about this before? Did you think I wouldn't listen? That I wouldn't care?"

Becca had dealt with bullies her whole life. She was always the new kid in school, the one girl that moved from state to state. Never staying in one place long enough to have any real friends. She was a nerd and a geek, and she was proud of that, but, at the same time it made her a prime target. Her mom wasn't the maternal nurturing type. She was always stuck in her own world, coping with her own problems. Becca had been so used to taking care of herself and solving her own problems, that she tended to forget that her dad was there. That he did care.

She looked at her dad this time and could see the worry in his eyes. "I don't know," She muttered softly, "I figured I could deal with her myself. I thought if I ignored her she'd stop bothering me. The most she'd ever done was steal my ideas. She's never tried to make me road kill."

"Becca, I knew kids like this. This was just Genevieve's first outburst. Bullies, if not stood up to, only become more vicious. I should know since I was bullied growing up." Nolan shook his head as he recalled the cruelty that kids had middle school and high-school. "Hell, I'm still bullied now."

"How do you deal with it?" Becca asked softly.

Nolan wished that he could give her a better answer. "Well, I don't let what they say get to me. And if I can't ignore them, I give them something to talk about."

The light of the x-ray machine clicked off.

"You're all done." Dr. Mallard announced, walking into the room.

After Dr. Mallard examined her ankle, Becca was back in her wheel chair. Nolan and Becca followed Dr. Mallard out to the hallway. Nolan grabbed his phone from the bin, flipping through his messages for any new messages from Emily. There were none.

"That's not like Ems." He pushed speed dial calling her back. That was weird. It wasn't like her to ignore his calls.

"So, what's the prognosis Doc?" Becca asked, itching to get out of the wheelchair as soon as possible.

"I won't know until the results are processed. However, with the swelling down significantly. I'd say that you have a grade 1 or minor sprain." She smiled noticing Becca's discomfort. "How about we get you some ice and a brace for your ankle and you can get out of that wheelchair."

Becca nodded enthusiastically. "Please."

Nolan stood next to the window to get better reception. "I'll catch up with you two in a bit."

Dr. Mallard smiled. She took hold of Becca's wheelchair.

Becca twisted around to Nolan. "Dad?" she called out.

Nolan looked up from his phone. "Yeah, Becca?"

She smiled brightly. "Thanks."

Nolan smiled at her. A swell of pride washed over him, he was glad she trusted him enough to tell him the truth.

As they made their way down the corridor Dr. Linda Mallard started. "You know, I once had a veteran that came into the ER for getting an arrow lodged in his foot. He'd just gotten married and went on a bachelor party, ironically it was hunting themed. Poor guy got drunk and shot himself in the foot."

"No way! So, what did you do?" Becca exclaimed.

Nolan watched as they rounded the corner of the hallway. He looked down at his cellphone and redialed Emily's number. He could just imagine her face, her walking up to him asking why and how he'd forgotten about her.

"Nolan?" Emily's voice called out.

Nolan spun around surprised and shocked to see Emily standing down the hall. "Emily?!"

Emily took in his appearance. He was fine. He wasn't hurt or unconscious. She'd jumped to conclusions. "What are you doing here Nolan?"

"How did you know I was here?" He asked.

"That's not important." Emily said, slipping back into her cool indifference. "What is important is why you're in the ER. You better have a good reason for leaving me at the restaurant."

Nolan's hands started to shake. "A good reason? Uh, Ems, look I'm sorry, I swear I have a reason." He rambled. "It's just hard to explain, and I don't think you'll believe me if I tell you the truth."

Emily gave him a pointed look. "The truth about what Nolan?"

Ninety-eight percent he recalled. Nolan stared at her. Silently praying that two percent was on his side.

"Emily, I have a seventeen-year-old daughter named Rebecca."

Chapter Text

Emily slowly blinked her eyes at him. "You have a daughter? How?"

"Do I really have to explain the birds and the bees to you, Ems?"

Emily let out a light laugh, she spun around, and walked away from him.

Okay, so maybe a joke wasn't the best approach.

"Emily, wait a minute!" Nolan raced after her blocking her path.

Emily shot him an accusing stare. "You've had a daughter for seventeen years, and you never told me."

He looked away from her eyes, "With everything that went on last summer I didn't know if it'd be a good idea to tell you-"

"Oh, because you didn't trust me?" Emily cut him off. She couldn't hide the hurt in her voice. "Nolan, I've known you for eleven years. You've never mentioned having a daughter."

Nolan scrubbed at his face and sighed. "I knew you'd react this way! God, I never wanted you to find out."

Emily nodded, "Well it's nice to know where our friendship stands." Emily quickly brushed past him, trying to hide the tears that threatened to escape.

Nolan spun around to her. His mind swirling with fear and regret, he felt like a little kid that had been hit in the face. "Emily, I didn't mean it like that. Please, just give me a chance to explain."

Emily paused mid step, she turned around, her steely resolve slipping every second, "I'm sorry Nolan, but I can't do this."

He watched defeated as she walked away. He messed up big time.


Emily grabbed her phone seeing dozens of missed calls from Nolan. She made her way to her beach-house. Later that night she sat in her room reading a book. Well trying to, her mind kept going back to Nolan.

How could he not tell her that he had a daughter?

She thought they were friends. She thought they could trust each other.

Granted, the first time they'd met she never gave him a reason to trust her. There were countless times that she'd manipulated him for her own advantage. Maybe, he was right to not tell her. Maybe being alone was what she deserved. No friends, no family. Just her.

Emily had taught herself not to trust anyone, to not allow others in. It was her one weakness. She'd payed the price for that weakness before.

She laid in bed the calming sounds of the ocean waves usually calmed her, but tonight she wasn't finding any sleep.


Nolan shuffled through the front door of his beach house. He kicked off his sneakers, trading them for a pair of slippers, and dropping his brief case on the inn table. Nolan walked up the steps to the living room, to see Becca sitting on the couch with her laptop, he plopped beside her on the couch.

Becca turned to him, "How was work?"

"Same old, same old." He sighed.

Nolan glanced at Becca's ankle which was wrapped in a brace. "How's that ankle?"

Becca moved her foot, "Pretty good. Doc says I can keep running, says it should be better in a week or so."

She frowned at him. "Still no word from her?"

It had been two days since the hospital incident. Two days of Emily's silent treatment. Nolan couldn't really focus at work, his mind was constantly drifting back to their fight. He felt horrible, he never intended to hurt her with his decision.

He'd never dealt with this side of her before. All he wanted to do was to get her back.

Nolan ran a hand through his hair. "We've never fought like that before. I don't know what to do."

"Well Dad, if you don't know what to do, I'm sure someone else does."

Nolan's eyes widened in realization."You're right, there is someone."

He got up from the couch and smiled widely at her. "I should listen to you more often Becs."

"Aren't I always telling you that?" Becca smiled cheekily.


The bell above the door chimed as Nolan walked into the Stowaway. He looked around the half filled bar. A few young waitresses scurried around, cleaning up the hurricane of a mess from the lunch rush. Jack stood at the counter of the bar cleaning out a tray of beer mugs.

"Papa Porter!" Nolan greeted with smile.

"Nolan, hey, it's great to see you." Jack made his way around the bar and the two bro hugged.

He smiled at Nolan tiredly. "How you been man?"

"I've been busy, but not as busy as you it seems." He noticed his blood shot eyes and five o clock shadow. "Little Carl's wringing you dry, huh?"

Jack let out an exasperated sigh and ran a hand through his disheveled brown hair. "He's something else, he sleeps all day and is wide awake at night."

Nolan leaned against the bar placing the gift bag in his hand on the counter.

"Hey, is Amanda here? I was hoping to drop this off for the little guy."

Jack looked up to the stairway, "I'm pretty sure she's upstairs with Carl. You're welcome to go up."

Nolan grabbed the bag from the counter and made his way up the stairs.

He peeked his head into the Porter's cramped living-room every corner of the room was occupied with a play pin, a high chair, and baby toys.

"That you Nolan?" Amanda yelled over Carl's crying, as they appeared from the bedroom to the living-room. Amanda looked even more exhausted then Jack, her curly hair was frizzled, her t-shirt inside out and covered with miscellaneous stains, with many sleepless nights under her eyes. She rocked Carl in her arms trying to calm him down.

Amanda walked over to Nolan, "Oh, thank God. Can you hold him for a minute?"

"Well, uh I don't think-" Nolan didn't have time to object as the gift-bag in his hands was replaced with the baby.

Nolan gently tried to rock the baby in his arms to quiet him down,"Hey little guy, it's Uncle Nolan."

Carl's cries rose to ear piercing screams. Nolan nervously looked over to Amanda whom walked past him grabbing a clean bottle from the rack on the coffee table.

"He's hungry. I just need a minute to warm his bottle." She said before vanishing into the small kitchen.

Not knowing what else to do, Nolan looked around the room, praying that Amanda couldn't hear him,and started to sing under his breath.

"Here comes the sun, duh, duh, duh, duh,

Here comes the sun,

and I say, It's all right

Little darling

It's been a long, cold lonely winter

Little darling

It feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, duh, duh, duh, duh,

Here comes the sun,

and I say, It's all right"

Carl's cries quelled. He glanced up at Nolan with his big brown eyes, Nolan kept singing.

"Little darling

The smiles returning to the faces

Little darling

It seems like years since it's been here..."

As if Carl could understand what Nolan was saying, his crying turned to happy babbling, and he flashed Nolan a toothless smile. The song was one of Rebecca's favorites, and Nolan had sung to her a few times, and it always managed to cheer her up. It'd done the trick with Carl too.

"How did you get him to quiet down?" Amanda asked returning with a bottle in hand.

Nolan looked up at her, glad that she didn't hear his little rendition of the Here Comes The Sun. Nolan shrugged, "I just talked to him."

"I couldn't stop him crying, he's been fussy all morning. Would you like to feed him?" Amanda offered.

Nolan's eyes widened, "Really? You sure?"

"He won't bite, Nolan." Amanda assured him, "Just makes sure you support his head a bit." She handed him the warm bottle Nolan placed it to Carl's lips. He beamed down at Carl as he closed his eyes gulping down the milk.

"Thank you for the help Nolan," Amanda sighed, "Jack's been downstairs all day and I haven't had a minute to myself." Amanda said almost guiltily. She loved being a mother, but, she just needed one minute to catch her breath.

"It's no trouble." Nolan smiled at her, "And, you need a break too, being a parent isn't easy."

Amanda smiled softly, gratefully taking a seat on the couch. She looked over to the coffee table, to where she'd placed the gift bag. "What's all this?"

"Oh, that's for Carl, a little sorry-we-couldn't- be-there- for-your-party gift."

Amanda looked through the bag, pulling out the colorful gifts, "Baby rattles, board books," She placed them on the table and pulled out a bigger box, "a kids LEGO set?"

Amanda laughed, "Nolan, he isn't even three months old."

"Hey, you can never start them too young." Nolan defended, he looked down at a sleepy Carl. "Right little guy?"

She placed the gifts back in the bag. She stared at Nolan in awe amazing at how natural he was with taking care of Carl. "Thank you Nolan these are great gifts. You'd make a great father someday."

"You think so?"

"I do. You managed to calm Carl down, and you're great with kids."

Nolan smiled to himself. When he saw Carl he couldn't help but think of a little baby boy with blonde hair and familiar deep brown eyes. When Carl finishes eating, Nolan holds him on his shoulder and starts to pat his back, burping him as Amanda had demonstrated.

"So, I take it you didn't just come here bearing gifts. Let me guess: Emily's avoiding you?" Amanda started.

He nodded, "She's giving me the silent treatment."

"Join the club. She hardly comes by to visit anymore and I can never get a hold of her." Amanda folded her arms over her chest, shooting Nolan a worried look, "What happened to make you two fall apart?"

"It's a long story," Nolan sighed.

Amanda gasped, "Did she catch you flirting with someone else?"

"No" He said confused, "Let's just say that I messed up, big time, and I don't know what to do to make it up to her."

She nodded accepting his cryptic response. "Emily is too stubborn to make the first move. You have to be honest and sincere when you apologize for whatever it is you did."

"I don't think she'll forgive me." Nolan said doubting it would be that easy for her. At least now he had a plan of action.

"Trust me, I know Emily." Amanda was like a younger sister to Emily, they'd had each other's backs for years. If anyone knew how to get through to Emily it was her.

Amanda nodded. "She won't stay mad at the people she cares about for long."

Carl began to fuss. Amanda walked over to Nolan and he placed Carl in her arms. "Come on little owl, it's time for your nap. Say goodbye to Uncle Nolan." She rocked him in her arms and placed him in his crib.

Amanda followed Nolan out to the hallway. As Nolan headed down stairwell he turned around. "Thanks again, Mandy."

"Good luck. When you two have made up bring her over here. Maybe, we could all get together for dinner sometime."

Chapter Text

Emily raced through the lobby of the country club. She sent the young receptionist at the desk a glare as she passed her. The receptionist had pulled her out of her meeting to inform her that her car was being towed out of the lot for illegal parking. She'd spent the last twenty minutes arguing with a towing company all to find out it was a mistake on their part (the guy mentioned something about their computer systems not working since morning). To say she was annoyed was an understatement. Emily spotted her conference room of the Landmark Committee luncheon down the hall. She breathed in deeply, letting out a tense breath, stuffed the towing ticket into her purse and strolled through the doors.

"Sorry for the interruption, ladies." Emily began, coolly. "The matter is all sorted out." She stopped, noticing that the women weren't sipping daiquiri at the meeting table and instead were huddled around the buffet table across the room.

She marched over to them, parting through the sea of stuffy dressed women, Emily stopped in her tracks and narrowed her eyes at the sight before her.

She sighed. "I should have known."

Nolan stood at the buffet table chatting it up with the ladies. He noticed Emily in the crowd and smiled to her. Emily faked a smile, walked over to Nolan, and hooked her arm with his.

"Nolan, could I talk to you for a moment?" She asked in the sweetest voice she could muster.

"Well, ladies, it seems I'm needed." He explained.

This earned a collective whine from the women as the duo strolled away.

"That was you with the tow company wasn't it?" Emily whispered harshly. "How'd you even know I was here?"

Nolan couldn't help but smiled. He knew Emily was pissed with him.

"Oh, well I checked your calendar." He said as he popped a cheese cracker into his mouth. "If I just showed up you would have kicked me out. This was way more fun. Besides, this isn't all about you, Ems. Why didn't you tell me that the Landmark Committee needs tech funding? I'm all over that."

"No, you're not." She hissed, pulling him along to the exit like a mother scolding her child. "You're leaving right now-"

"Heading out already?" An older Japanese woman wearing a ugly pink dress suit interrupted as she strolled over to them.

"Afraid so, Cindy." Nolan sighed.

"Oh, so soon?"

"He's late for a business meeting." Emily explained in mock regret. "Being the CEO of NolCorp keeps him very busy."

"Well, it was great having you here." Cindy said.

"Thanks for having me." Nolan smiled.

"Emily, you really should bring him to our meetings more often." Cindy noticed how close the two were. She flashed them a wide smile. "But I can see why you keep him away, he is quite a catch."

"Oh, we're not." Emily started. She followed Cindy's gaze to her intertwined hand with Nolan. She quickly released his hand.

"Aww, shucks, Cindy." Nolan interrupted. "You're too kind. Hey, just let me know how NolCorp can contribute to your cause." He reached into his blue pinstripe suit pocket, handing her his business card.

"Sorry, Cindy. We have to go." Emily rushed, not waiting for a reply before she and Nolan walked out the doors.

They walked out of the country club a grand water fountain stood behind them. Nolan leaned against the edge of the fountain. He glanced over to Emily, giving her an amused look. She stood before him, arms folded over her chest, giving him one of her Croc-stares.

"What do you want, Nolan? Besides crashing my meetings." She asked, not in the mood to play.

"I want to help out with that panda homelessness thing Cindy was talking about. Seems serious." Emily wasn't amused. Nolan cleared his throat. "Look, we need to talk."

"As you can see, I'm busy. What ever it is can wait." She said sternly.

Nolan looked at her hard. "You know, I learned when I was five that ignoring your problems doesn't actually make them go away."

"Maybe staying away from the people causing them does." Emily bit back. She turned away from him, seemingly ending the conversation.

Nolan watched her stalk off. He knew that she would do this. That she would close up and keeper self locked up in her little bubble. "In the eleven years that we've known each other, did our friendship ever mean anything to you?" He asked seriously. "Or, have you always thought of me as some lowly pawn in your master plan?"

Emily paused mid step, her back to him. They stood in silence for a moment. Nolan's heart dropped in his throat and his eyes widened in shock.

Her silence told him everything. "Well, then, I guess that answers that." He pushed off the fountain and stalked away.

Emily heard his footsteps walk down the stone path. She felt a stab at her heart, and a lump suddenly formed in her throat.

Was that really her answer? Did she only him as a pawn, someone she could manipulate for her plans?

Emily remembered when Nolan first showed up at her house with the offer to help her in her mission to avenge her father and his friend.

In her less than grateful gesture, she threatened to crush his windpipe. Emily always planned to carry out her revenge alone. There wasn't any room for a partner. But for some reason, despite her threats and deception, Nolan stuck around, always eager and willing to help her with her next take-down. As they worked together, the man grew on herhe encompassing her life as much as she did his. After a while, he just fit so seamlessly, filling a space in her life that she'd sorely neglected over the years.

At a young age, Emily taught herself to bottle her emotions, to trust and count on no one. She believed that if no one knew who you really were, they couldn't hurt you. She thought it'd make her stronger. But, she quickly realized after years of wearing a mask of lies and living with deception, that it didn't make her stronger.

It made her lonely.

She had too many ex-friends to count. She'd burnt too many bridges. In her attempt at being 'strong' she'd lost Amanda and Charlotte.

Maybe, Nolan Ross wasn't just a thorn in her side. He wasn't a pawn either, and he wasn't simply her partner in crime. He was her friend.

Or, rather, ex-friend who was currently half way to his car.

"Damn it."

Emily raced after him.

She couldn't let the one good thing to happened in her messed up life walk out because of something she did. She couldn't lose Nolan.

Emily caught up to him, reached out, and grabbed him by the arm. "Nolan, please stop!"

He spun around to her, his eyes red and puffy. "What do you want, Emily?" He asked, wiping at his eyes.

Now it was her turn to apologize.

Emily's softened under his gaze, her brown eyes shone with something Nolan rarely saw: honesty. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for how I've been treating you. I was angry with myself, for everything that happened with Amanda and losing Charlotte the last few months. It wasn't fair that I took that out on you. Nolan, you're friendship means a lot to me... and I don't want to lose you because of something stupid I did."

Nolan looked at her for a moment. Letting her words soak in. He turned away from her. Emily nodded to herself. Maybe she really was alone after all. Maybe she used up all her chances with him. They stood in silence. Emily searched his eyes one last time before turning to leave.

"Apology, accepted." Nolan said finally, causing her to spin around. "Look, Ems, I'm sorry. I never intended to hurt you by keeping that from you."

"I know you didn't." She acknowledged.

The stood like that for a moment. A breeze blew between them, causing the jacket hem of Emily's teal business suit to ruffle.

Emily straightened out her jacket. She stared up at Nolan. "I still haven't figured you out."

"Figure what out?"

"Why you're still here." She said softly, "Even after the way I've treated you. You're still here."

He stood next to her and playfully bumped her shoulder. "Maybe, it's because I can see past the wooden heart you show the world, to see the real one inside, just waiting to get out."

Emily looked away from him feeling awkward under his gaze. She smiled. She knew that even if they didn't directly say it they were both okay with each-other. She felt light and liberated.

"Can I meet Rebecca?" She asked him after a moment.

He smiled widely, his eyes lit up. "Yes. I'd like that."

"So, I'll meet you both at the beach, around four? We can talk then." She asked.

Nolan nodded, "Okay. She'll be so excited. She can't wait to meet you."

Emily arched a brow at him. "You already told your daughter about me?"

"Yeah, well, I mean you know, just some things..." He laughed, running a hand through his hair.

"Ms. Thorne, the ladies are waiting for you!" Cindy called out. Nolan and Emily looked back towards the club to see her standing at the entrance.

"I'll see you both later." Emily said as she started off towards the club.

"See you later, Ems." He smiled, watching her leave.


The sun hung low in the sky casting an orange tint into the ocean. Emily sat at the picnic table waiting. Just then, Nolan's SUV pulled into the parking lot across from her. He stepped out of the van along with a teenager. Emily stood, removing her sunglasses to observed Rebecca as she walked over to her.

Becca smiled at Emily and held out a hand to her. "Hi, Emily. I'm Becca. It's nice to finally meet you."

Emily shook her hand. "It's nice to meet you, Becca."

"Dad, talks about you a lot." She smiled. "Nice things of course."

Emily smiled at her remark and looked to Nolan. She noticed how red his face was getting and how he was stuffing his hands in his pockets obviously nervous.

Becca looked between the two adults sensing that they wanted some space. "Well, I'll just be over there." She headed off to the beach with her headphones around her neck.

Nolan took the seat next to Emily, they watched as Becca headed down to the beach.

"She seems like a great kid." Emily started.

"She is a great kid." Nolan smiled proudly.

"I'm still trying to figure out how Nolan Ross had a kid." She started, breaking the ice.

Nolan let out a slow breath. "Well, having a kid, and becoming a father was never in my cards. But then again, I was never holding them."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that her mother is a manipulative, selfish, and greedy woman. Prepared to do whatever it takes to get what she wants."

"How did you meet someone like her?" Emily asked.

"I met her mother, Grace, when I attended MIT for computer engineering. Grace was the girl next door; she grew up eating caviar on a gold spoon, pampered by a serious and well respected newspaper editor of a father, and a wealthy artist of a step-mother. I was the lonely, geeky nerd with a dream. She was the friendly girl next door, riding on the coat tails of her father with a degree in journalism. We couldn't have been more different."

Nolan gave Emily a sideways glance. "After I dropped out of MIT, Grace and I were engaged."

"You were engaged?" Emily couldn't believe it. Nolan Ross was once off the market.

He chuckled. "We were young, and she was the first person to really believe in me and my dream. But, Grace became a different person once her father cut her off."

"Why'd he cut her off?"

"Her father didn't like the idea of his daughter with an MIT misfit. He severed all ties with her and by then we were already seriously dating. So, we ended up moving in together in an apartment in Brooklyn. I thought everything was great, I started working on NolCorp day and night, Grace even pitched in with the start up funds. But, see building NolCorp wasn't an overnight project, especially when every investment company I turned to, slammed their doors in my face. NolCorp wasn't the only one that wasn't doing so hot. We were nearly broke and living off of Ramen noddles and SPAM."

"And it wasn't the lifestyle Grace was used to?" Emily stated knowingly.

He laughed. "It was completely foreign to her. She hated it. And her degree in journalism wasn't any help. She hated to work, said it wasn't her thing to sit behind a desk. The most work she'd ever done was deciding between a shopping spree on 5th Avenue and a nail salon appointment. She even used the money towards our three months of rent on a trip with her girlfriends to Barcelona. I guess, Grace thought if she hung onto me long enough she'd be living large again. But, I couldn't believe the person she was becoming, we were always arguing over the smallest things. I don't know why I stayed with her as long as I did. I think I felt bad for her that her dad cut her out of his life because of me... I think I was just too naive to see she was using we were having problems, NolCorp was close to extinction. I was ready to give up. Until, I met David." He smiled at Emily, his eyes brightened. "That's when everything started to change for me and NolCorp started to become a reality. I'd spend as much time with my company as possible, giving Grace her space to deal with whatever she was dealing with."

Emily nodded processing the story. "So, when did Rebecca come into the picture?"

"Well, Grace felt that I spent too much time with NolCorp and not enough with her. So we took a trip to Paris and spent a week just reconnecting." Nolan's nose and ears went red as he recalled the memories. They'd spent more time in their hotel room then sight seeing.

"Once were back in the states, I had investors calling me day and night and reporters wanted to know how NolCorp became a seemingly over night success. Things had never been so great and it was all thanks to your dad for believing in me. But, Grace couldn't handle being second. The world had to revolve around her. So, one night, she decides to go partying with her friends. Her friends call me at three in the morning, telling me to pick her up from the night club, saying that she's too drunk to drive. I go over there and find her wrapped around the arm of some guy. I end up taking her back home, she's drunk and crying saying that she wants nothing to do with me, that I don't love her and that she's leaving me for her ex-boyfriend. At that point things started to go south for us. Four weeks later she tells me she's pregnant and admitted she was seeing her ex. One day, her father pulled me aside and said that if I couldn't make her happy that there was no future for us."

Emily glanced at Nolan seeing that his face was a mixture of anger. He had a far off look in his eyes. "That was the last straw for me. We ended our relationship. I even gave her some money to help her out with the pregnancy." Nolan sighed. "After that, I didn't see her again for twelve years."

"So, when did you meet Rebecca?" Emily inquired.

"Once NolCorp went public in 2006, Grace reappeared and claimed that I was the father of her child. She explained that she lied about seeing her ex because she knew that her father was capable of eradicating NolCorp in the press." Nolan chuckled bitterly, "I guess I should count myself lucky that she had a lapse in conscience."

"What did you do?" Emily asked.

"I didn't believe her at first." He admitted guilty. "All she ever did was use me and my money. I didn't think this time was any different. But, Grace expected that, she played her cards perfectly. She wasn't just there to tell me I had a kid. She wanted all the money I owed her in child support. She even threatened to go public with the paternity. Spinning a story of how I walked out on Grace, leaving her to raise Rebecca off of government spending across the country while I lived in my big mansion. I didn't care about the money; I just wanted to see my kid. My first meeting with Rebecca wasn't that smooth. She was twelve, and didn't really know who I was. Grace had already decided I was the bad guy, telling Rebecca that I left her and her mom because I didn't want her."

"I didn't want her?" He exclaimed. "I never even knew I had a kid." Nolan's eyes narrowed as he looked out to the beach. "In the end, Grace got what she always cared about;money."

Emily let his word sink in. She placed a hand on Nolan's shoulder. Nolan's eyes shifted to Emily's hand. He was silently glad for her listening to him, for not judging him.

"I'm so sorry, that she used you like that." Emily said, after a moment.

"Despite everything that happened, I can't complain." He looked out to the beach as Rebecca walked towards them. "Rebecca is the best thing that's ever happened to me...I'm just sorry that a woman like Grace is her mother."

"You're a great father, Nolan." Emily said.

Nolan smiled. "Well, I didn't do it all alone. Carole was there every step of the way. She fell in love with Rebecca the moment I earned custody of her. If she didn't help us, I don't know where we'd be." He admitted. "Could you ever imagine me braiding hair, selling Girl Scout cookies, or, attending a PTA meeting?"

"Oddly enough, I can." Emily could see it clearly in her mind. "Nolan Ross: Soccer Dad."

"Well, I do have the van for it." He laughed.

Emily bit her lip. She asked carefully. "So, where's Grace, now?"

"She walked out on me." Becca explained, coming up behind her. She plopping into the spot beside her dad.

Emily's eyes widened at her statement.

Becca played with the small yellow shell in her hands. "Once she hit the jackpot in child support she left. I haven't seen her since I was twelve. The cops tried to track her a couple of times, never found her." Her eyes shone with an anger that made Emily think of herself as a teenager. "Wherever she is, I'm sure she's somewhere sunny, tanning on the back of her new sugar daddy's yacht."

"But, why keep your mother's last name?" Emily asked, curiously.

"If the media got wind of this, they'd make Dad look like he ditched his lovechild to focus on his multi-billion dollar empire." She said bluntly. "So, Dad and Aunt Carole kept me out of the media and all things NolCorp. Being a Thompson gave me a shot at a normal life." Becca smiled at her dad. "That's more then my mom ever wanted for me."

Nolan wrapped an arm around his daughter, pulling her into a hug. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me, kiddo."

Becca eased into the hug. She knew that her dad cared about her and loved her. He was all she needed. "You too, Dad."

Suddenly, Nolan jumped up from the bench. "What the-" He spun around. A yellow shelled hermit crab crawled out of his pocket.

Becca stepped back from her dad, bursting out in laughter. "I'm sorry, Dad. You were too easy. I had to."

Laughing, Nolan picked up the hermit crab, holding out to her. "Hey, I think this little guy wants to say 'hi'."

"No, get away!" Becca laughed, darting away from him to the beach.

Nolan kicked off his shoes and chased after Becca. He grabbed her from behind, picking her up in his arms and spinning her around. Nolan wasn't a twenty something anymore and a few seconds later he tumbled to the ground taking Becca with him.

Emily watched in amusement as the father and daughter chased each other. She couldn't believe that someone would use Nolan like that. Keeping him apart from his only daughter all for money. Emily couldn't understand how a mother could leave her child for such a selfish reason. If Grace hadn't already disappeared, Emily would have done everything she could to find her and take her down.

She stood up as the father and daughter walked back to the picnic table.

"Any one else hungry?" Nolan asked.

"It is about dinner time." Emily said.

"Let's get pizza." Becca exclaimed. "I think I saw a pizza shop not far from here."

Nolan slipped on his shoes. "Great then, let's go!"

The mom and pop pizza parlor wasn't too crowded when they arrived. A waitress came over to them and handed them menus.

The three of them sat in a comfortable silence eating. Becca was glad to see that her dad and Emily were enjoying each other's company. She'd notice how her dad would stare at Ems for a few seconds longer when she wasn't looking, and Emily seemed to enjoy their company, laughing and having a good time.

An hour later, the three walked out of the restaurant. Becca walked along with her dad and Emily to the parking lot. She skipped ahead and spun around to them. "So, Dad. Can I drive the SUV?"

"Not a chance, Becca." He said.

"Oh, come on." She whined. "I'm a great driver!"

At that, her dad started to laugh uncontrollably. Becca rolled her eyes. "Oh, great, this again."

"What's so funny." Emily asked.

Nolan stopped laughing long enough to explain. "Once, when Becca was learning how to drive, she drove Carole's station wagon straight into the chicken coop. We lost all the hens. And we had to catch every single one of them."

"You still can't let that go, can you? I was fifteen!" Becca defended, her cheeks darkened at the memory. "You're the worst backseat driver ever."

"You drive like your in a getaway car." Nolan stated.

"We live in New York. I'm a defensive driver."

"Well, it still doesn't change my answer." He said finally. Seeing that she lost the battle, for now. Becca walked ahead of them and stood next to the SUV waiting.

Emily laughed at their exchange. Nolan placed his hands in his pockets as he and Emily walked in step.

"Hey, Emily, thanks." Nolan began breaking the silence between them.

"For what?"

"For believing me, for listening to my story, and for meeting her." He said.

Emily smiled softly. "I'm glad that I've earned your trust again."

He smiled. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm not doing a good job at being a Dad." He admitted. The fact that she'd kept her year long bullying away from him still bothered him.

"Parenting isn't easy Nolan." She said. "No one is perfect. Despite your beginnings you've managed to make things work between you two. Your inseparable."

Emily placed a hand on his shoulder. Nolan stopped walking and looked at her. "If you or Rebecca need anything, I'm here for you."

Nolan was surprised at this new side of Emily. He liked it. He liked it as much as her ninja side. Maybe he liked this side of her even more because she smiled. He always thought she looked the prettiest when she was smiling.

"Thanks, Ems."

They reached their cars and Emily fished her keys out of her purse.

"Good night, Nolan. Thanks for a great evening."

"Night, Ems."

Nolan piled into the SUV. Becca stuck her head out the driver's window, smiling to Emily. "Good night, Emily."

Emily smiled. "Good night, Becca."

Chapter Text

"There sure are a lot of people here." Nolan said, impressed, as he and Emily stood outside of the doors of the convention center. They were surrounded by crowd of reporters, students and other celebrities. They moved up the queue of people and stepped through the doors.

"Amazing, all this for a student ceremony." Emily glanced up to the huge banner STUDENT TECH AWARDS that hung from the ceiling in the lobby.

A server appeared before them and offered them champagne. Emily and Nolan took their flutes and turned to the crowds of students. They spotted Becca with a group of girls and a photographer outside the entrance to the auditorium.

Becca smiled as she stood with her group. The camera flashed in their eyes and the girl broke away as the reporter thanked them.

"My cheeks hurt from smiling," Becca whined, placing a hand to her cheek, "I'm tired of pictures."

"I've taken pictures with every reporter here. It's not too bad," An Arab girl said as she reached for her clutch pulled out a mirror, and started to fix her hair.

"Jasmine can't help being in front of the camera." Shot back a petite, deeply tanned girl in a pink, cocktail dress.

"Marisol was hogging the spotlight." Jasmine smoothed the wrinkles from her blue dress.

Marisol rolled her eyes at Jasmine and sidled up beside her, "Anyway, who's up for some food? Those stuffed mushrooms appetizers look pretty good."

Just as they began to walk, Becca spotted Nolan and Emily standing in the lobby.

She turned back to her group. "I'll catch up with you guys in a bit."

Marisol waved her off and Jasmine muttered ''Kay," her eyes glued to her Blackberry as they strolled away.

Becca raced over to Emily and her dad and smiled. "You made it."

"You should be proud, this is a really impressive event, Becca," Emily smiled at her. "You look beautiful."

Becca blushed and played with the flutter sleeves of her olive green dress, "Thanks, Ems. So do you."

Becca couldn't help but stare at Emily. She looked stunning, like a fashion model with her hair in curls, wearing a sparkling, red curve-hugging gown. She glanced to her dad who was sharply dressed in a grey suit and blue shirt.

"I'm sure you'll win that award." Emily assured.

"I hope so." Becca fiddled with her student ID that was clipped to the collar of her dress,"I've been waiting for this all year."

"Of course you will," Nolan smiled proudly. "You have my genes."

Becca wasn't sure if genius was a genetic trait. She was confident in her group and their abilities.. but she always seemed to doubt herself. There was a lot of pressure riding on this award. wining this was like a gold star on her permanent record. It showed prospective colleges that she was worthy of getting in. The one who's eyes she hoped to get was MIT. She always saw herself doing something related to technology and computers and MIT seemed like the perfect fit. Another factor in her decision was her dad. Whenever Becca would mention college, Nolan would get excited, saying; 'You could be the first person in our family to graduate MIT!'

"Thanks, Dad."

Click. A stampede of camera people and reporters rushed towards them. Becca jumped out of the way, for fear of getting trampled, as the hoard raced through the auditorium doors behind them.

"What was that about?" Becca asked.

Emily, Nolan and Becca walked through the double doors of the auditorium. The three of them walked through the aisles of fancy decorated dining tables surrounding the stage. Servers passed by them, carrying flutes of champagne to the tables occupied by people, while others were preparing the tables with vases of flowers and plating silverware. They looked ahead, towards the front of the stage which was swarmed with reporters.

"Oh, Mr. Grayson, Secretary Starke, can we get a picture?" A cameraman raced up with his camera.

"I think you've taken enough picture for today, Charles." Conrad laughed.

"You can never have enough pictures." The man, Charles, smiled as the cameras flashed in their faces.

Emily glanced over the crowd, spotted Conrad Grayson, standing for the camera with a smiling couple. The man looked to be around Conrad's age, maybe a little older, with the balding forehead of salt and pepper hair. Even from afar Emily felt a grand and pompous presence radiating from him. It was almost like it was clashing with Conrad's.

Both men were dressed in crisp navy blue suit and tie and white shirts. The older woman who stood beside Charles, clutching his arm had wide cheekbones and was willowy like a ballet dancer. She looked like a supermodel with her long, red hair styled in waves which cascaded down the front long, floral teal gown. The man and woman smiled widely, posing for the camera as though they'd done it all their lives.

A reporter held his microphone out to them."Secretary Starke, you're known as the 'Golden Boy' of New York. This is your fourth term in office. That being said, can you give us your opinion on Grayson running for Governor of New York?"

Hands clasping microphones jutted from the crowd.

"Well, I've seen a lot of Governors come into office." Charles started, proudly and turned to Conrad. "Conrad is a dedicated and honorable man. He's someone who understands and listens to the needs of New Yorkers. The state of New York would be a better place if he became Governor."

The cameras flashed in their faces and reporters clamored for follow up questions.

"You think he practices that speech every morning?" Nolan asked Emily and Becca.

"I wouldn't doubt it." Emily said.

"He's a class act. That's for sure." Becca added.

Charles Starke was far from a golden boy. He was just another crooked government official abusing his power. Becca recalled the briefing that Emily had gone over a few days ago.


The sun beamed through the patio doors and into the Ross's living room. Becca sat in the armchair across from Emily and Nolan who claimed the couch. Nolan's laptop occupied the coffee table which was littered with newspaper clippings and papers. He clicked a few buttons on his laptop and the flat screen TV in front of them to glow to life.

"And we're live," Nolan announced.

A newspaper article popped onto the screen. In the center of the article was a picture showed Conrad Grayson and Victoria Grayson with a smiling couple.

"Meet Charles Starke." Nolan explained. "He's been Secretary of State for the last three terms. The guy has a 'rags to riches' story. Grew up poor. His old man was a door to door salesman, and his mother was a seamstress. "

Pictures of Charles as a younger man appeared on the screen. Nolan read off the info he found from public records.

"After he graduated alma mater from CUNY he served as paratrooper in the Army, before taking up politics."

The screen phased to pictures of Charles in various charity events, smiling and shaking hands with important government figures.

"His first term in office, he went to work on a rehabilitation programs for disabled vets, founded an education fund for homeless, undeserved youth, and even teamed up with the NYPD to crack down on police corruption and youth gangs and violence."

"He's been apart of everything." Becca said in awe as she read off the list of accomplishments. "Save the Whales? Really?"

"That's impressive." Emily admitted.

Becca glanced at all the info on him.  "What makes him so bad, aside from his horrible taste in hats." Becca asked.

She grimaced at the picture of Charles dressed in a tacky blue suit and straw hat. Shaking hands with a large man in a similar ugly hat, they both stood behind a banner BELMONT PARK HORSE DERBY 2005.

Nolan glanced to Emily and laughed nervously. "As hard as this is to believe, I couldn't find anything bad on the guy."

Emily raised brow at Nolan. "No sex scandals, no secret mistresses? Not even a DUI?"

"He's a squeaky clean record throughout his political career. He's been coined as 'New York's Golden Boy'."

"No one is that clean." Becca pointed out, folding her arms over her chest."They're totally hiding something."

Nolan nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, well, as if it couldn't get any weirder. The wife is the same deal."

A few more pictures appeared on the screen. An older woman with fiery red hair and a wide smile.

"This is Sophie Bonnard." Nolan started off. "She's a French born American fashion designer. She owns - Le Papillon - a clothing line that's widely popular across Spain and Europe."

More pictures of Sophie with different charities, and organizations appeared on the screen.

"She spends her weekends providing aid to disadvantaged women and children through her non-profit organization." Nolan explained, earning a groan from Becca.

"Could they be more weird?" Becca questioned.

Nolan chuckled in agreement. "The woman is apart of a number of committees and social clubs across New York."

"Is it just him and the wife?" Emily wondered, reading over the information again.

"They have a daughter." Nolan said.

The picture of a familiar red haired girl cause Becca to jump to her out of her seat.

"I know their daughter! " Becca exclaimed walking over to the flat screen. Emily and Nolan turned to her giving her an interested look.

"How well do you know her?" Emily questioned.

"Genevieve Starke. 18. Semi decent inventor, loves fashion as much as coding," Becca smirked, "and Grade-A bitch."

"So, I take it you're not friends?" Emily chuckled lightly.

"We're best friends," Becca joked. "She gave me a really nice welcome home present last week." She pulled up the leg of her jeans, exposing her lightly bruised ankle. It'd healed over the week and she was glad to be running again.

"That's the kid that tried to run you over?" Nolan questioned his voice tense.

"She did what?" Emily asked looking between Becca and Nolan worriedly.

Becca narrowed her eyes at the picture of Genevieve.

Now, this was personal.

"If you guys are taking them down I'm in." Becca turned to Emily and her dad, her hands on her hips, her eyes serious.

"This isn't a game, Rebecca." Emily gave Becca a pointed look, "The Graysons and people like them are are dangerous."

"Look, we all know their hiding something. There's no coincidence that Conrad's running for Governor and just so happens to be friends with a guy that can give him direct access." Becca pointed out. "These are the same people that framed your father for blowing up a plane and murdered hundreds of others. What if the Starkes are trying to do the same thing or worst?"

"Now, wait a minute." Nolan yelped, letting Becca's words sink in. "I don't think this is a good idea."

"Dad, how is this a bad idea?" She argued. "Just think, I know their daughter, I'd be the perfect person to uncover the secrets of their apple pie family."

Nolan ran a hand through his hair. He didn't like the idea of Rebecca getting involved in this. He knew first hand how intense things got. He promised her that she'd keep her safe.

But, she had a point, if the Starkes were friends with Graysons they were more than likely playing another angle.

"Rebecca if you do this, it's your decision and your decision alone." Emily stressed.

Nolan let out a breath he didn't know he was holding in. He had to accept the fact that his little girl wasn't so little anymore. She could make her own choices.

Becca took a seat next to her dad. "Dad, I don't care how dangerous it is. If I can help prevent something bad from happening, I want to help. " She gave him a reassuring smile. "Besides, I'm a Ross. We can handle anything."

"Alright." Emily approved finally with a nod.

"Welcome to the Club." Nolan said after a few moments.

"This isn't a club," Emily stated annoyingly. "I can't believe you still call us that."

"You're right. We should have a proper name. Thorne's Angels, The R-Team, how about The Ross Squad." Nolan called off, earning a laugh from Becca and a groan from Emily. "It's a work in progress."

"So, what's our plan?" Becca questioned.

"We use the Starkes to get back in with the Graysons."

"How do you propose we do that?" Nolan questioned.

"build enough trust with them, to expose their secrets. If the Starkes are anything like the Graysons they'll keep their friends close and their enemies closer." Emily explained.

"And once we do?" Becca asked.

Emily's lips curved into her usual revenge smile, "Their world's gonna come crashing down."


Emily turned to Nolan. "Why don't we go and say 'hi?'"

"Do we have to?" Nolan whined before finishing up his champagne.

"Becca, are you coming or what?" A voice called out from behind her.

Becca spun around to see Jasmine and Marisol standing by the auditorium doors.

"I'll see you guys later!" Becca said to Emily and Nolan before heading off with her friends.

Emily and Nolan walked into the crowd, the reporters gathered their things and scattered. Conrad and Charles were talking with one another, as the blonde duo walked up to the stage.

Conrad spun around to them, he raised his flute of champagne to them. "Emily, Mr. Ross what a surprise to see you here."

Emily smiled. "Conrad, you must be so thrilled to be running for Governor."

"It was a decision I felt was long over due." He said haughtily, before taking a sip.

"I'm surprised that you didn't run sooner." Nolan smiled. "What made you want to get into politics?"

"That would be me," Charles interrupted, stepping towards the three. He placed the hand that didn't have a flute of champagne on his friend's shoulder. "Conrad's been under my influence I'm afraid."

Emily extended a hand to Charles, "Secretary Starke it's so great to finally meet you. I'm Emily Thorne."

"Have we met before?" Charles raised a brow at Emily as he shook her hand. "Your name sounds familiar."

"We've met indirectly." She answered. "I've worked with a number of your charities and organizations over the years."

"Really?" Charles asked, completely interested. "Why are we meeting for the first time?"

"I've spent a lot of time traveling all over the world." She described. "My father was an expatriate and we lived in France for a time when I was younger. He'd spent a lot of time helping retired Army veterans."

Charles pointed to the silver badge of a parachute on his suit. "Well, back in the day, I was a paratrooper in the Army." Charles smiled proudly. "Does your father still volunteer? Perhaps I know him."

Emily grasped her flute of champagne tightly, her voice went soft. "He passed away when I was nine in a car crash." Nolan came beside Emily, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Nolan was shocked at how well Emily could spin a story. Even he believed her for a moment.

Charles's smile faltered. "I'm sure your father is very proud of you. He obviously raised a wonderful daughter."

"I think, that's why I feel so strongly about giving back to those less fortunate and making sure people that harm others get what they deserve." Emily's eyes flashed with something sinister as she glanced to Conrad.

"Emily's practically made it her mission in life to help people." Nolan added and placed a reassuring hand on Emily's shoulder for a brief moment. Emily glanced up to him smiling softly.

Just then a young man in a suit with a tablet came up on the stage. "Mr. Grayson, The Times would like to interview you."

"Sorry to leave so soon, but, carry on." With that Conrad walked off with the man..

"Not only are you a philanthropist," Sophie strolled to Emily's side, "But, I see you have impeccable taste too."

Emily beamed and shook Sophie's hand, "Merci, I absolutely adore your fashion line."

Sophie glanced to Nolan and gestured to his suit, "Mr. Ross, I see that you're sporting a suit from my men's collection."

Nolan smirked, "What can I say? The French know their ascots."

This earned a laugh from Sophie. "You two are just too much." Sophie hooked her arm with Emily's and spun her around to the dining area. "You know you must meet my dear friend, Victoria Grayson. She'll simply love you!"

"We've met before, haven't we Emily?" Victoria walked up the stage, the hem of her violet gown trailed behind her.

"Mr Ross, a pleasure to see you again."

"Victoria." Nolan greeted with fake enthusiasm. He stood off to the side watching with interest as Victoria stopped beside Sophie and Charles. Emily hadn't seen Victoria ever since Kara arrived and caused a domino effect with Amanda. And Victoria was still sore about how things ended with Emily and Daniel's engagement last summer.

"How do you know each other?" Sophie asked Victoria.

Victoria smiled thinly at Emily. "Emily owns the beach house just across from Grayson Manor."

Sophie squeezed Emily's shoulder lightly. "Well, Vick, your neighbor is a real gem."

"Ms. Thorne seems to be apart of a number of activities as of late." Victoriae explained, sending a thinly veiled glare at her.

"You know, we're all seated at the table near the front. Where are you and Mr. Ross seated?" Sophie asked them.

"We're somewhere in the back." Nolan interjected.

"That's unacceptable." Sophie said sternly. "I know, how would you two like to join us at our table?"

"Oh, well, we wouldn't want to impose." Emily said.

"Nonsense, it's fine." Sophie glanced to Victoria. "Vick, you wouldn't mind would you?"

Nolan could just feel the electric energy radiating off of Victoria as she glared daggers at Emily. Sophie seemed oblivious to the fact as she glanced between the two women.

"Of course not."

Sophie beamed. "Oh, this will be perfect!" She linked her arms with Victoria, and the other with Emily and walked with both women off the stage, chatting and laughing.

Nolan couldn't help but laugh at the sight. It seemed that they were going to be forced to sit with each other regardless. He just hoped she could keep her ninja skills at bay.

Charles walked up to Nolan. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he said, "but, I get the feeling that Victoria and Miss Thorne don't like each other?"

Nolan laughed. "Oh, you have no idea."


"Is there anything better than free food?" Becca laughed as she Jasmine and Marisol walked through the lobby.

"Yeah, cute guys!" Jasmine typed on her Blackberry updating her Facebook status.

"I agree. But, there is one more thing." Marisol stopped abruptly causing Becca and Jasmine to collide into her.

"What?" Jasmine looked up from her Blackberry.

Becca and Jasmine followed Marisol's gaze. The three of them watched as a server strolled out of the auditorium, carrying a tray of champagne, and into a bar that was tucked off to the side of the lobby.

"What kind of a student event serves alcohol?" Becca blurted.

She wasn't a drinker - she'd tried it in Portland in a game of truth or dare. And after a couple drinks, Becca spent the rest of the night bent over the toilet with Jasmine holding her hair back.

"The best kind." Marisol smiled mischievously.

Just then a group of guys in polos and jeans walked passed. The guys looked over their shoulders smiling at them. Becca's cheeked burned as a dark skinned guy in a purple polo grinned at her, before he went into the bar.

"Girls, this is my kind of event." Marisol smiled at Becca and Jasmine."Free booze, and cute guys? I'm in!"

"Who says we're getting free booze?" Jasmine slid her phone in her pocket.

"Stick with me Jaz and you'll see." With that Marisol raced into the bar.

Becca turned to Jasmine and folded her arms over her chest, "Come on," she sighed. "We better go with her. You know what happened last time."

"Yeah, I remember."

The smell of greasy fries and onion rings hung in the air as they walked into the dimly lit bar. Becca looked around,a pool table sat off to the side of the entrance, occupied by a couple of guys and girls drinking beer. A crowd of guys sat with beer mugs in hand watching a football game on the flat screen at the bar. Tainted Love by Soft Cell played on the stereo. Becca looked past the bar, to sectional couch seating area, to see Marisol sitting with the polo guys.

"Gotta give it to her, she works fast." Jasmine commented.

Becca and Jasmine walked to Marisol interrupting her flirting.

"Hey, guys." Marisol smiled, and gestured her hand to a tall, brown haired guy. "This is Troy and these are his friends." The other two guys smirked at Becca and Jasmine.

"Hey," Troy said in a deep smooth voice.

"Troy was just about to get us some drinks," Marisol said in a sweet voice.

Troy got up from the couch. "Sure thing babe. What'll you have?"

"Oh surprise us."

Troy was off to the bar. Becca and Jasmine sidled up to Marisol.

"Don't drink too much." Becca warned her.

"Hey, I won't." Marisol snapped. "Will you relax?"

"Look, it's just that the award ceremony is gonna start soon and the last thing we need is you getting wasted." Jasmine reminded her.

"That was one time okay? I'll admit things kinda got outta hand that night."

"Out of hand?" Becca exclaimed. "It got a little more then out of hand. We had to drag you from Seattle to Portland on the train. Plus we almost got kicked off the train!"

"Why did we almost get kicked off, Becca?" Jasmine turned to Becca earning a glare from Marisol.

"Oh, that's right, because you took up that freaky motorcyclist bet on who could drink more shots. You lost. Stole his wallet and crashed his motorcycle into a tree!"

"Hey, I wasn't about to pay for those drinks," Marisol looked into her compact mirror applying lipstick. "That guy was a cheat and a sore loser."

Jasmine rolled her eyes at Marisol. "He chased us to the train station and he would have caught us too-"

"Yeah, yeah." Marisol shut her compact. "He would have caught us, if Becca didn't round house kick him in the crown jewels."

"I've saved your ass more times than I can count." Becca narrowed her eyes at Marisol. "So you owe me."

Marisol let out an exasperated breath, smiled, and turned back to the polo guys. "Hey guys. Meet Rebecca, and Jasmine."

Marisol placed her hands on either side of Becca and Jasmine's shoulders, whispering. "If you don't want a repeat of last time, I suggest you both stay here."

"I hate you." Becca shot playfully.

"Love you too." Marisol smiled.

With the sectional quickly full, Becca had no choice but to take the seat next to purple polo guy.

"Hey, I'm Shawn," he smiled extending a hand to her.

"Rebecca." She took his hand shyly, smiling weakly.

"So Rebecca you're in the ceremony?"

Becca let out a nervous laugh. "Yeah, how about you?"

"'Fraid not. I guess I didn't inherit my dad's engineering skills."

"Your dad's an engineer?" Becca asked interested.

"Yeah, he owns one of the biggest electric systems companies in New York." Shawn stared at Becca intently, his green eyes sparking. "You know, you have some pretty nice eyes."

"Oh uh, thanks." Becca grinned, blushed, and looked back to her friends.

Jasmine let out a loud laugh with her guy. Troy reappeared with drinks in hand and placed them on the table.

Becca looked around the bar and spotted Genevieve with her worker bees and a cute guy at a table across from them. Their eyes caught for a moment. Becca swallowed nervously. She so wasn't in the mood to deal with her today. Just as she was about to get up Genevieve strolled over to their table.

"Hey, Rebecca." Genevieve turned to the guys. "Who're your friends?"

"What do you want Genevieve?" Jasmine turned to her with a roll of her eyes.

"Go away no one wants you here." Marisol snapped.

Genevieve smirked at Becca and looked like she was about to say something.

"Hey, look, it's the Geek Squad," A voice said haughtily from behind Becca.

She turned around to see Charlotte Grayson standing at the front of the bar. Becca knew that Charlotte was Emily's young half sister.

Genevieve spun around to Charlotte giving her a look. "What are you doing here Charlotte?"

Becca glanced to the drink beside Charlotte. She was obviously drunk or stupid. Maybe both. She hated girls like this.

"Getting hammered? Isn't it a bit early?" Genevieve asked.

Charlotte took a sip of her drink. I glanced to a young bartender, who was counting a handful of dollar bills in his hands, before stuffing them into his pocket. I guess when you look like that and come from a family that rich, you can get away with anything.

"Just because our dad's are friends doesn't mean we have to be." Genevieve explained.

"Hey, if you girls are so smart, how come you haven't found a solution?"

"For what?" Jasmine asked.

"For how you can get laid." She snickered.

Genevieve and her drones laughed with Charlotte. Marisol and Jasmine looked away, their guys sat there stupidly doing nothing. Becca's cheeks darkened. She narrowed her eyes at Charlotte and marched over to her.

"You must feel really good talking like that." Becca said.

"What? you gonna cry?" Charlotte laughed taking another sip of her drink.

"No, I just feel sorry for you. Girls like you are just brats. You grew up getting everything and anything you want, never having to deal with any real problems or struggles. The one time mommy and daddy don't pay attention to you, you throw a tantrum. So, you act out, get drunk, wrap your sport's car around a tree, all so you can get your face plastered on the front page and feel important."

Charlotte's face turned red. "You don't know anything about me."

Becca grinned. "Preppy Grayson turns Pill Popper. Am I getting close?"

Charlotte opened her mouth to talk but didn't say a thing.

Becca turned to walk away, but stopped, and spun around. "Looks like we all can't be poster girls for trophy wives and addicts."

Charlotte's eyes widened. "Whatever, bitch." Becca turned back to the group Jasmine and Marisol smiled at her.

"Wow, you really got her good!" Jasmine grinned.

"Girl you were on fire!" Marisol laughed.

Becca walked back to the couch. She hated girls who were complete brats and acted like they could get whatever they wanted. Shawn laughed and Becca couldn't help but laugh too. Why was it she was better at defending her friends then herself? She'd act like a total idiot with Genevieve.

"Hey, that was pretty hot what you did back there."

"You think?" Becca asked with a smile.

"Yeah, hey, look, there's this party we're going to later. You should come." Shawn's hand moved from its spot on the couch to Becca's thigh. She looked down at his hand.

"Uh, well.." She muttered awkwardly sliding a little away from his hand.

Becca had to admit; She wasn't that interested in Shawn, but, a party did sound like fun. Just as she was about to reply, her voice caught in her throat, as she spotted her dad heading right for the bar.

Nolan loosened a button on his collar. He stood in front of the bar. He needed a drink, just something to relax and focus. He glanced to his wrist watch. "Yeah, I got time." He stepped into the bar, ordered a scotch and turned back to the crowd.

Nolan glanced around seeing that the crowd was mostly teens. He shook his head in disappointment.

"At least my kid isn't here." Nolan smiled triumphantly taking a sip of his drink. "Yeah, good job on that. Way to lay down the law."

Becca's mind raced. Her dad was gonna freak - no, he was going to explode - if he saw her with a bunch of guys in a bar with liquor. He might have joked before about if she met a guy, but really, he was bent on making sure Becca didn't date till she was at least thirty.

"Would you excuse me?" Not waiting for a reply, Becca bolted from her seat, just as her dad walked past, and plopped into the seat next to Marisol.

"Can you come with me to the bathroom." Becca asked Marisol .

"You're a big girl, Becca. You can go by yourself." Marisol laughed waving her off as she stared into Troy's eyes. The only thing she cared about was trying to suck Troy's face.

Becca turned to Jasmine and kicked her in the leg. "Ow!" Jasmine yelled, turning to Becca with a glare. "I need you to come with me to the ladies room."

"Why?"

"I think I left my purse in there."

"You didn't bring a purse." Jasmine gave her a look.

Becca let out a sigh. "Look towards the bar. You see a tall, blond guy, grey suit, blue shirt?"

Jasmine turned towards the bar. "Yeah… why are you hiding from Nolan Ross?"

How could she explain that he was her dad?

Genevieve and her friends squealed and spun around to the bar. "Oh my god! It's Nolan Ross!" They rushed towards him.

As Nolan sipped his drink a group of teenage girls walked up to him. He lowered his drink and glanced to the girls giving them a smile.

Genevieve stepped towards Nolan. "Hi, I'm Genevieve Starke. Just wanted to say you're one of the reasons I started coding."

"Well, thank you. Glad to see a bunch of young women like yourselves inventing."

Genevieve pushed a piece of paper to him. "If it's not a big deal, can I get your autograph?"

"Sure thing." Nolan took a pen from the pocket of his suit.

Becca carefully craned her head around to the bar to see Genevieve and her drones blocking her from her dad's view. She was glad that the couch was facing away from the bar. Becca swerved back to Jasmine and glanced at the shimmery, blue shawl around her shoulders.

"Can I borrow your shawl?"

"No way! This is my favorite." Jasmine gave her a suspicious look. "Is there something going on?"

Becca let out an exasperated sigh and crouched low to her ear. "Look, if you help me I will make you a code so you can hack into Drake's Facebook account, and change his relationship status to taken by Jasmine Farhadi. But, you need to walk me out of here right now!"

Jasmine smiled widely and took off her shawl. "Deal,"

"What's he doing? Is he looking away?" Becca and Jasmine were ten feet away from Nolan their backs turned to him.

"Yeah, he's signing autographs." Jasmine stood beside Becca, covering her as she started to walk. "Looks like Genevieve is a fan."

Becca wished she had her phone so she could record the moment.

They were so close to the exit. A good twenty feet from the door. At any rate Becca was ready to run for it.

"Okay, come on." Jasmine said. Becca sprinted towards the doors, the shawl slid off her head , blocking her vision, and she collided with someone. Becca fell to the floor, her student badge slid across the wooden floor, stopping at the heels of the person in front of her.

"Are you alright?" A woman asked worriedly.

"I'm fine." Becca muttered hurriedly. Jasmine raced up beside her, Becca grabbed her arm pulling her to her feet. "Sorry!" Jasmine apologized before they rushed past the woman.

Emily glanced down at her feet. "Hey, you dropped this…" She spun around, and glanced down at the ID. "Rebecca?"

Shit. It was Emily! Becca thought.

"You know her?!" Jasmine whispered in a panic to Becca.

"She's a friend." Becca stopped in her tracks. She hoped that Emily wasn't going to rat her out.

"Let's hope."

Becca turned around, glanced up to Emily, the shawl sliding off her head.

"Hey, Ems." She smiled weakly.

Emily eyed Becca and her friend suspiciously. "Are you alright?"

"If you're a real friend you'd let us go." Becca pleaded, re-fixed the shawl on her head.

Nolan found himself signing a bunch of autographs. The last person in the queue moved forward. Nolan looked past the line of people to the doors of the bar to see Emily was arguing with two teens.

He grabbed his drink and walked over to her.

"Hey Ems, what's the trouble?" Nolan grinned coming up beside Emily. He almost dropped his drink seeing Becca standing there.

"Rebecca," Nolan's eyes widened. "What are you doing here!?"

Becca waved meekly.

I'm so dead.

Emily turned to Nolan. "Rebecca and her friend were just showing me in here."

Nothing prepared Becca for what happened next.

"Hey, Rebecca. Where'd you run off to?" Shawn stopped beside Becca with a drink in hand. He was completely oblivious to the anger that was emitting from Nolan Ross.

Now. She was dead.

Nolan stiffly turned to Shawn, his jaw tight. "Shawn, huh?"

His grip on his glass was so tight that his knuckles turned white. Becca half expected him to throw the glass at Shawn's head. She glanced to Emily pleading for help, if not for herself, then for Shawn.

"Nolan, aren't you on in a few minutes?" Emily hooked her arm with Nolan's arm. "We should get going." She tried to turned him around. Nolan didn't budge. He stood unwavering, his eyes like a hawk on Shawn and Becca. Emily glanced to Becca, giving her the silent command that all parents seemed to know that meant 'we're leaving, now'.

"I can't believe you were in there!" Nolan yelled at Becca. They were outside the building. Becca leaned on the stairway railing, her eyes following her dad as he paced around. Emily stood next to Becca.

"And who was that Shawn kid?" Nolan spun around to Becca giving her an accusing stare. "He's way too old for you...is he your boyfriend? Since when did you have a boyfriend!?"

Becca narrowed her eyes at him. Her dad always jumped to conclusions! So she shouldn't have been in the bar she'll give him that, but she wasn't doing anything wrong!

"He's no one. I was in there to help a friend and I wasn't drinking!"

"Prove it." Nolan gave her a smug grin.

"What?" Becca asked confused.

"Let me smell your breath."

Becca let out a laugh. "I didn't drink, I swear!" She glanced to Emily pleading for help.

"Nolan, she didn't drink." Emily explained trying to extinguish the flames.

Nolan wasn't convinced.

"If that's true then she won't have a problem." He folded his arms over his chest and stepped towards her till he was right in her face. "Come on, breathe out."

"Why do you act so weird!?" Becca yelled in frustration."We're in public for god's sake. For once, can you try to act normal?!"

"What's normal about you being in a bar? You're seventeen and I'm your fath-"

Emily cleared her throat loudly causing Nolan and Becca to stop. Just then the door swung open, Jasmine stood awkwardly in the door.

"Is everything okay, Becca?" Jasmine asked worriedly, glancing to the three.

Nolan took a step backwards from Becca, realizing that from his angle, well at any angle, he looked menacing.

Becca pushed off the railing and stepped towards the door. "Yeah, come on."

Nolan took a step forward, reaching out to grab Becca by the arm, but Emily held him back. "Nolan, let it go." Emily agreed.

"But, Ems." Nolan argued trying to find something to say.


Becca stood beside the stage watching as her dad finished his keynote speech.

"He's pretty good." Emily offered coming up to stand beside Becca.

"Dad's done it a thousand times." Becca explained. "I'd always watch him on TV when ever he went to tech conventions across the country."

Becca turned away from the stage to Emily, "Thanks Emily, for what you did earlier. That was pretty cool of you."

Emily grinned. "Trust me, what you did was nothing."

Becca nodded, "Dad can be a bit over protective sometimes."

"He does it because he cares about you." Emily assured her.

An applause roared from the stage as Nolan walked through the door.

"Nice speech, Nolan.' Emily applauded, "You really had the crowd on their toes,"

Nolan wiped at his sweat slick on his forehead, and took a sip of his water bottle. "I know, they love me." He smirked. "Must be my charming charisma."

Emily laughed and gave him an eye roll, "Oh, yeah. It's definitely that charisma."

"Dad, you're leaving already?!" Genevieve yelled.

Becca looked behind her to the doors of the stage to see Genevieve and Charles arguing.

Charles looked away from his smartphone to Genevieve. His assistant walked towards him. "Mister Secretary, you have an appointment with the Mayor of New York in thirty minutes."

He pocketed his smart phone, and took the tablet from his assistant, signed something with a pen. "I'm very busy today."

Genevieve folded her arms over her chest. "You'd rather have a meeting with the Mayor then be here for your daughter?" She accused.

The assistant shoved another piece of paper at Charles. He put on his reading glasses and furrowed his brows. "Tell them I want that moved to next week. I have a huge fundraiser coming up and I need everything perfect." He explained to his assistant.

"Dad, are you even listening to me?!"

Charles removed his glasses from his nose, pocketing the readers. "Yes, yes I am Genevieve."

"Dad, this is my award ceremony," Genevieve explained. "I've waited all year for this! Can't you stay to watch me on stage?"

"Tell you what, how about when I come back we can do whatever you want. We'll go out to dinner. How about Toloache, you love that place."

Genevieve's nose and cheeks flushed red, and her voice started to break. "I don't want to go out. I want you to stay here!"

Sophie walked up the path. "Charles, where are you going?"

"I have a meeting with the Mayor." He glanced at his Rolex. "I'm already running late."

Sophie looked to her daughter, she looked back at her husband, her eyes like daggers. "Charles, this is a huge event for Genevieve. Not just a publicity stunt for you."

"You're the Secretary of New York, just cancel your meeting with that loser." Genevieve snapped.

"I'm afraid it doesn't work like that, sweetheart." Charles said simply.

"Whatever, just go!" She yelled angrily. "It's not like you were here for me anyway."

With that, Genevieve stormed away from her parents.

Sophie gave Charles a hard stare, "Nice job, Charles."

His assistant interrupted them. "I'm sorry, Sir. But you need to get going."

"Right, right." Charles sighed and turned to walk with his assistant. He stopped mid step, and glanced to Sophie with an apologetic look.

"I'll make it up to her." Charles promised.

"Just like last time, right?" Sophie laughed bitterly. Knowing all too well how her husband worked. He'd put a meeting with the Mayor above staying to support his own daughter. That was typical of him. Service to the state of New York was more important than family.

"It's funny how you always leave me to clean up the messes you make." Sophie exclaimed and stocked off from her husband.

"Seems like things aren't going so well on the home front." Nolan noted.

Becca frowned. She kinda felt bad for Genevieve. If her dad wasn't there for her she wouldn't know what she'd do.


Later that afternoon, Becca found herself in her room. She stood on her chair, reaching up to her bookshelf to set the glass plaque on her bookshelf.

"It's like it was meant to be there," Nolan said as he stood at her bedroom door with a glass of Scotch in his hand.

"I think it looks good too," Becca jumped off her computer chair, stepped back and grinned proudly. She agreed smiling at her dad.

Nolan stepped into the room and took a seat on the end of her bed. He patted the spot next to him. Becca grabbed her stuffed bear off her desk, plopped into the spot beside him, her bear sitting in her lap.

Nolan grinned at her. She looked like a five year old in her oversized t-shirt, holding her bear. He shook his head burying the lost time in his mind.

"Look, I want to apologize for how I acted earlier." Nolan started, he absentmindedly sloshed the amber liquid in his glass. "I jumped to conclusions."

"It would have been nice if you'd listened." Becca admitted softly.

"Well, from now on, I'm gonna try being a better listener." Nolan announced. He shrugged, giving Becca a half smile. "Just be patient with me, okay? I'm still new to this whole raising a teenager thing."

"That's fair," She considered, "And I'll try to listen more."

Becca's eyes wandered back to the glass in her dad's hand. She knew he'd drink late in the afternoon when something was bothering him.

"Dad, what's the real problem?"

"You know that I trust you, and I know that you can take care of yourself." Nolan declared, "It's the guys that I don't trust."

Becca felt a warm glow in her chest at her dad's words. She was glad that her dad trusted her enough to handle herself.

"You're growing up." Nolan continued, "And pretty soon you'll be moving away to college, get a job in California or Chicago…." He let out a strained breath, his mind worried at the thought "Find a guy and get married..." His voice lowered, his eyes shifted away from Becca's to the glass in his hands.

"You won't need your old man anymore."

"You're my Dad. I'm always gonna need you." Becca stated like it was obvious and smirked cheekily, "Even when I'm old, like thirty five."

Maybe that's why he was acting so harsh earlier. It finally hit him that his kid was growing up and there was nothing he could do to stop it. All Nolan wanted to do was lock her in a cage and keep her protected from the world for as long as he could.

"I thought you were gonna hit him." Becca said referring to Shawn.

Nolan laughed dryly, "I was. Good thing Ems stopped me." He took a sip of his drink.

"Are you gonna act like that with my future boyfriend?"

Nolan chuckled lightly."Who says you're getting a boyfriend any time soon? "

Becca frowned. "Dad, your not serious about the whole date when I'm thirty thing?"

Nolan shrugged, nonchalantly. "Yeah, alright…twenty five sounds about right."

"Make it twenty one." She bargained.

"That's pushing it." Nolan stood up from the bed as his cellophane rang out from his sweat pant pocket. He answered it and muttered a quick see you then, before hanging up. Nolan spun to Becca.

"Get dressed kiddo, We're going to Emily's."

It was late in the evening when Nolan and Becca arrived at Emily's house. Emily knew that something was up when Nolan walked through the doors with a bottle of wine and a school boy grin. When he explained plans to have dinner with Amanda, she was less than thrilled.

"Not interested." Emily replied.

Nolan watched as she got up from the dining room table. He glanced to the table her laptop was out surrounded by newspaper clipping of the Starkes and Graysons. She was back in revenge mode; the Starkes were her next target. And there was no way she was going to let up.

"Ems, this would be a good chance to clear the air between you and Amanda." Emily rolled her eyes at him and walked away. Nolan let out an exasperated sigh and followed her into the kitchen. He leaned against the island, resting his elbows on the top as Emily grabbed a mug from the cupboard. Nolan lifted the lid off the jar the smell of cinnamon hit his nose. Emily snatched the jar from his hands and scooped a spoonful of the tea into her mug.

Emily didn't look at him as she countered sternly, "There's nothing to clear the air about."

She's doing it again! Shutting herself in her 'Emily Bubble' . Nolan thought.

Nolan glanced across the living room to Becca. She looked up from her laptop and shot him a look saying 'is that all your gonna do?'

"You and Amanda are like sisters." Nolan disagreed, trying to make her see reason. "Do you really think she'd hold a grudge against you?"

As Emily poured the hot water into her mug, plums of steam clouded her face. Visions of Amanda lying in the hospital bed with tubes and IV's sticking out of her arms came rushing back to her. She'd risked her friend's life to find out more information on her so called 'dead' mother. But the chase was all for not. Kara's mental fragility made her a danger to herself and others. After sending her away Emily felt even more alone and lost than before.

Would she end up like her mother?

It wasn't like Emily ever expected to have a 'normal' life. After all she was a ninja, a magnetic grifter, and a warrior bent on revenge. But that didn't stop the day dreams of Little Amanda Clarke from popping into her mind every once in a while.

Fantasies like;

Falling in love.

Marriage.

Having Children and Raising a Family.

Emily accepted that she wasn't a good hearted, kind person like the princesses in the fairy-tales her father read her. People like that lived happily ever after with prince charming in a castle. No, she was more like Maleficent. A dark, cold, and powerful witch that lived alone, isolated from the world.

And everyone knows that people like her don't deserve a fairytale ending.

The only real thing she had left was Amanda. She wasn't a stranger. She was the closest thing Emily had to a sister in her whole life. She'd been there for her for years, through good and bad. But Emily wasn't sure long she could play tug of war with her friend's emotions. Nolan had accepted her apology and even introduced her to his daughter.

But Amanda was like a magic 8 ball. And Emily was pretty sure that she'd run out of luck with her.

"I would, if I was her." Emily confessed.

Nolan shrugged and frowned. "Alright, don't go for yourself, go for me." He suggested, "I'd appreciate the support when I tell our friends that I have a seventeen year old daughter."

"Really, Dad?" Becca whined, looking up from her laptop. "Great, now I feel like I did when I got braces."

"I just think it's a good time to be surrounded by friends." Nolan insisted as Emily glanced to him over the lip of her mug.

"Just talk to her." Nolan urged, sensing Emily's hesitation. "No matter the outcome at least you'll have closure."


 

The sign on The Stowaway was turned CLOSE. The tavern was empty except for a last couple of customers that staggered out.

Ring. A whoosh of air passed through the tavern as Emily and Nolan walked in.

"We're closed." Jack said over his shoulder, as he put a stack of mugs on the bar.

Amanda spun around from clearing off the table to the door. Her eyes widened and she smiled.

"It's just Nolan, Emily," she looked past their shoulders to see a teenage girl looking around. "And someone else."

Emily swallowed the lump in her throat as Amanda walked towards her and gave her a friendly smile. "Howdy, Stranger." Amanda smiled.

Jack walked over to Nolan and the two hugged it out in a bro hug.

Becca stood off to the side watching as her dad and Emily greeted their friends. Nolan spun around to her who stood off by the door playing with her mp3 player. She pushed off the door and strolled over to him. She smiled nervously, as the pair put their attention on her.

"I have someone I want you to meet." Nolan placed a hand on her shoulder, "This is my daughter, Rebecca."

Nolan had gone on to explain their story. Both friends were shocked and surprised at first, and in the end they swore to keep the family's secret.

Becca was sitting at a table across the bar. The table was covered in a red table cloth, with silverware and plates and flute glasses. The smell of Italian food waifed through the air, Amanda walked out the double doors of the kitchen carrying a container in her hand, she set the lasagna on the table, between the basket of warm, buttery garlic bread and stuffed peppers. Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones played through the speakers as the adults chatted at the bar.

A whine erupted from the baby carriage sitting on the table next to Becca. She looked into the carrier seeing a soft and squishy face, wrapped in a blue blanket.

"Becca can you give Carl his pacifier?" Amanda asked, "It's in the diaper bag."

She reached into the diaper bag, pulled out a blue pacifier, and placed it in Carl's mouth.

Amanda smiled, wiping at her forehead, she turned to Emily who was quietly sitting at the bar, listening to Nolan and Jack talk about sports.

Amanda placed a hand on Emily's shoulder, "You've been quiet." Amanda said and plopped into the stool next to her.

Emily's throat constricted. Why was she feeling so emotional? She turned around to the table. "You need help setting up?"

"Nah, it's fine. We'll have the guys finish things off." Amanda noticed how Emily was evading the question at hand.

"How about Carl is he alright?" Emily questioned trying to stall.

"Becca seems to have him under control." Amanda spun back to Becca. She smiled, watching as the teen played peek a boo with her son.

"Can we talk outside? I could use the walk." Amanda started, her voice weary. Emily noticed the tired look on her face.

Emily nodded and followed Amanda outside to the deck. The cool sea air blew towards them blowing their hair around.

Amanda strolled down the pier, she turned to face Emily. "I'm glad you're here." Amanda smiled. Suddenly, Emily found herself in a hug with Amanda crying on her shoulder. "What was with the silent treatment?"

"I didn't want to cause any more problems for your family." Emily choked, regret filling her voice.

"You are my family, Amanda." The real Emily, corrected through tears. "You're the closest thing I've had to a sister." Emily pulled back and gave Amanda sad smile. "I don't hate you for the things that happened in the past."

"Why?" Emily asked, trying to understand why people like Nolan and Amanda still stuck around. Why they're still here, even when shegave them no reason to be.

"Because, we're family. And family sticks around, no matter what."

Emily stood back and laughed a bit, letting a few tears escape. They stood like that for a moment before Emily reached into her jacket pocket, "Here's a little something for Carl."

Amanda took the white envelope. She opened it her eyes widened. "That's a lot of money." Amanda stammered. "I can't accept this."

"Please take it." Emily urged. "Think of it as cleaning the slate between us."

After a few moment of hesitancy, Amanda pocketed the envelope in her jeans, "Thank you."

The door to the bar opened and Becca stuck her head out the door. "Sorry to interrupt. Amanda, Carl is getting fussy."

"Alright, we'll be right in." Amanda called.

They walked back into the tavern. Everyone was waiting for them, Emily took the seat in-between Becca and Nolan. Jack held his son in his arms, Amanda slid into the seat next to him. The small group was about to eat, when Jack raised his beer.

"How about a toast?" Jack proposed.

Emily raised her glass of wine, Nolan his beer, Amanda lifted her glass of seltzer water, and Becca with her orange soda.

"Salute to family!" Amanda cheered.

They clanked their glasses together and a light laughter filled the room.

Chapter Text

Emily sat outside of a café in Manhattan reading a VOGUE magazine. Just then a waiter appeared and set two white mugs on the table. She closed her magazine and thanked the waiter before he left to attend to the other customers seated inside.

As Emily took a sip of her tea Nolan appeared from inside the café. He plopped into the seat next to Emily and placed a brown paper bag on the table. She reached into the bag, taking out her croissant and leaving the slice of coffee cake for Nolan.

"Sure you don't want coffee Ems?" Nolan asked as he poured a handful of sugar packets into his latte. He frowned at her choice in drink. "I don't know how you can function without caffeine."

"There's no crash with tea." Emily retorted. She watched as Nolan stirred up his drink, took a sip, and added some extra packets of sugar in his latte.

"How much sugar is in that?"

"Enough to keep me awake." Nolan took a sip of his latte and let out a content sigh."Yeah that's some good Joe."

Emily grimaced. "More like sugar flavored coffee. How do you eat that much sugar and still stay fit?"

"Hey, don't judge me." Nolan grinned. "It's not my fault I have the metabolism of a teenager."

"Sure you still aren't a teenager Nolan?" Emily countered. Emily felt her stomach churn as Nolan took a bit of his cake.

She hated super sweet food.

"I need the energy," Nolan explained between bites, "You're the one that called me up at six in the morning to come down here." He glanced at his wristwatch, "It's 7:30 a.m. Who are we meeting this early?"

Nolan wasn't a morning person like Emily or Rebecca. His idea of waking up early was 10 a.m. Rebecca disagreed, saying the earlier he woke up the more things he could get done in the day.

Emily said simply, "A friend, Nolan. And there she is."

Walking towards their table was a young African American woman wearing a purple business suit. Emily stood up and walked toward the woman.

"Fiona, it's great to see you," Emily smiled.

"Sorry, I'm late!" Fiona brought Emily into a hug. "I had to drop off my son at daycare."

Emily led her to their table. "It's no trouble. Please, have a seat."

Fiona's eyes widened as she spotted Nolan. She glanced worriedly to Emily. "Who's he?"

"This is Nolan Ross," Emily explained, "He's a good friend of mine. You can trust him."

"Nice to meet you." Nolan smiled offering a hand to Fiona. He couldn't help but notice how jumpy the woman seemed.

"Nice to meet you." Fiona shook his hand and slid into the empty seat across from them.

The waiter walked up to their table. "Espresso with Biscotti." He set the drink down before Fiona.

"Thank you." Fiona thanked the waiter before he walked off.

"I come here all the time," Fiona explained to Nolan and Emily. "They have my order memorized."

"So, Fiona," Emily started getting down to business. "Can you tell us what happened again?"

"Alright." Fiona brought the espresso to her lips with trembling hands.

"Are you alright?" Nolan asked Fiona. "You're hands are shaking."

"I'm fine." Fiona urged. Her grip on her mug slipped sending the espresso across the table. Nolan reached forward, with a handful of napkins, mopping up the spill.

"You sure?" He looked into her green eyes noticing they were bloodshot.

Fiona let out a shaky breath. "I guess I'm still jumpy after everything that happened."

"What happened?" Nolan asked.

Nolan took the seat next to Fiona. The waiter came around with another espresso and set it down in front of her.

Fiona inhaled the aroma of her espresso and took a long sip. She sighed contently.

"Better?" Nolan asked.

She smiled widely at Nolan. "Much. Coffee always steadies my nerves."

Nolan looked between Emily and Fiona. "So curious minds want to know; how do you know Emily?"

"I met Emily in our junior year of college." Fiona explained, she laughed and seemed to lighten up as she said. "Emily and I advocated for the rights of people, the environment, animals. Pretty much anything we believed in. At rallies, we'd be the ones in the front of the crowd, tied to the trees, megaphones in hand, getting a band of students together to stop whatever cause we believed in."

Nolan couldn't help but laugh. Emily shot him a glare. "What's so funny?"

"What? I'm not laughing at you," He chuckled, "It's just, I can't believe that you were one of those girls in college."

He could clearly imagine Emily being one of those girls holding up signs and giving out buttons for a cause.

Emily rolled her eyes at him. "You're a real child, Nolan."

Fiona couldn't help but grin at their exchange. "And now, I'm an environmental engineer. I was the lead engineer tasked with designing a water treatment program for an underserved community in the Bronx. The project is headed by Joseph Greene, CEO and founder of EcoCorp."

Nolan turned to Fiona with wide eyes. "You're talking about the Joseph Greene?"

"What's so great about him?" Emily asked not following.

"He's only the youngest up and coming business tycoon this side of the Atlantic!" Nolan exclaimed.

He grabbed his NolPad off the table, typed something on the touch screen, and flipped the tablet to Emily and Fiona.

A newspaper article showed the image of a handsome, twenty- something, African American man dressed in a sharp blue suit. Joseph Greene stood with a group of similarly dressed people. Each member smiled, holding a glass of clean water in their hand, as they stood in front of a gallon sized container of muddy water. A green and blue banner hung above reading GREENE FOR CLEAN WATER.

"EcoCorp is one of the trendiest business in New York as written in Forbes." Nolan continued reading the article.

"They manufacture environmentally friendly water filtration systems made from coconut shells. Even Japan is jealous at how many years ahead Greene is!"

Emily shot Nolan a surprised look.

"What?" Nolan asked almost sounding offended, "You thought I only knew about computers and tech?"

Fiona took a sip of her espresso. "Well, he sounds great, huh? I worked for that brat until two weeks ago, when I was laid off."

"Why were you laid off?" Nolan questioned, coming off his excitement.

"It's my job to test the quality of the water, and once the filtration systems were installed, I discover the filtered water samples were contaminated with high amounts of arsenic, from the coconut based carbon filters. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive problems, and it has also been linked to diabetes."

"Bottom line: it's bad news." Nolan stated.

"Greene sells these filters cheap," Emily noted, "Guess we can see why."

"Knowing all this, I brought it to Greene's attention, and, you know what he tells me?" Fiona looked at the two. "He says that 'the water is perfectly safe to drink'."

"He's always talking about saving the environment and helping people," Fiona laughed bitterly. "What a joke. I bet you anything he wouldn't drink that water."

"So, what'd you do with all the information?" Nolan questioned.

"I planned to report EcoCorp's water filters to the CPSC." Fiona started.

"CPSC?" Nolan asked.

"That's the Consumer Product Safety Commission," Emily explained. "They regulate consumer products and establish safety requirements for everything from baby cribs to blenders."

"I rushed to the store one morning, I didn't have time to get a sitter, so I asked my neighbor to watch my son, Sam. When I got back, the police were there. My neighbor told the police they saw a couple of men dressed in ski masks break into my apartment."

Nolan's throat tightened and his pulse raced. "Where was Sam when this happened?"

Fiona turned to him. "Thankfully, he was out with my neighbor when this went on."

Nolan couldn't help but empathize with Fiona. Her experience reminded him of when Gordon Murphy broke into his house and kidnapped him. Nolan didn't know what he'd do if Rebecca had been around then. What if she'd gotten hurt or worst?

Fiona smiled at Nolan glad for his concern. "I guess it's a good thing Sam likes to go to the park so much."

"Well, what did they take?" Nolan asked, wanting to know more.

"The only thing they stole was my laptop," Fiona rumbled with anger, "Everything I was going to use for a case against EcoCorp. Sam was traumatized, little guy couldn't sleep for a week. We're staying with a friend for now till he's alright."

"Have you told the police about what Greene's doing?" Nolan inquired.

"They said without proof of Greene's activities I wasn't worth their time. Greene would just deny everything anyway." Fiona's eyes sparked with realization, "I don't' care what the police said. I know Greene hired those thugs."

"Without evidence you don't have much to report to the CPSC." Emily stated.

Fiona sighed heavily and ran a hand through her long, black hair. "Look, I'm a single mom.I even filed a complaint with OSHA but they're saying it'll take two to three months just to investigate my report." Fiona shook her head. "I can't afford to be jobless."

She glanced to Nolan and Emily. "You want to know the worst part? The filters have already been installed in people's homes and a lot of people, mostly elderly and children have fallen ill."

Fiona let out a long sigh and wiped her face. "This is all my fault. I shouldn't have left all the evidence on my laptop."

Nolan placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Don't do that to yourself. None of this is your fault."

Emily glanced up at Nolan and Fiona. "Greene's the one at fault. He did whatever it took to cover his tracks."

Fiona sobbed, she curled up to Nolan and started to cry on his shoulder.

"Uh.." Nolan drawled, trying to comfort her.

Just then Fiona's cell phone rang from her purse she sat up and answered her phone.

"I have to get going," she sniffled, wiping at her eyes. "I have a job interview in half an hour."

The three of them stood up from the table and Emily brought Fiona into a hug.

"Don't worry, Fee," Emily gave her a reassuring smile. "Trust me. I'll take care of it."

Nolan perked a brow at Emily's words.

"I do trust you, Emily." Fiona pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder, "I just want Greene to get what's coming to him."

"Take care of yourself and Sam," Emily said before giving her one last hug.

"I'll walk you to your car," Nolan offered.

Fiona and Nolan walked to the parking lot. Nolan's mind swam with questions. Why did Fiona come to Emily? Nolan thought. What did she think Emily could do? She wasn't the police.

He glanced to Fiona eyeing her as she texted on her cell phone.

What did Emily tell her?

Fiona piled into her car. "I really hope that you and Emily can help."

Nolan leaned against her car door, and stuck his head in the window, "Me too." He smiled, "So, uh, what made you come to Emily?"

Fiona smiled. "She says that you both have experience dealing with cases like these."

Nolan perked an eyebrow at her. "Really? What else did she say."

"That was pretty much it," Fiona admitted, "It's funny. I haven't seen Emily in over three years. And just a few months ago she calls me up, wants to meet for coffee and reconnect."

"That sounds like my Emily," Nolan mumbled placing a hand to his mouth. "But, what's she using you for?"

"What was that?" Fiona asked looking up from her cell phone.

"Uh, nothing." Nolan laughed and stepped back from her car as the engine roared to life.

He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Good luck at that interview."

"Thanks. And thanks for your help Mr. Ross."

As Nolan watched Fiona drive away he couldn't stop the nagging voice in the back of his mind; something wasn't adding up with Emily and Fiona's story.


 

"What did you tell your friend?" Nolan asked Emily. He sat on the couch in his living room with his laptop at the coffee table. Emily walked into the living room with a mug of tea.

She plopped into the couch beside him. "I told Fiona that we could help her," She replied simply.

"All that stuff about break-ins, and stolen laptops. We're not the police Emily." Nolan shrugged, "The most you can do is find her a job at some company or a university."

He didn't get what Emily was trying to do. His mind was buzzing with questions ever since this morning, trying to put together the pieces to the Emily-Fiona Puzzle.

Just then Becca walked into the living room. She placed her backpack on the couch, grabbed an orange off the counter and walked down the steps to the living room.

"Hey, what's up?" Becca asked Emily and her dad.

They didn't seem to notice her as they kept arguing.

Emily rolled her eyes at Nolan. "You heard what Fiona said; she wants Greene to get what's coming to him."

Nolan let out a groan and wiped at his face. For a certified genius, he sure was slow to figure this out.

"Wait, you're talking about taking down Greene for Fiona?" Nolan exclaimed.

Emily gave him her signature revenge smirk.

"Why?"

"Why not?" Emily shot back." We've taken down corrupt CEO's before Nolan. How is this any different?"

"But, that isn't you," Nolan sighed exasperated, trying to find the right words to express this, "Emily Thorne doesn't help the greater good."

"You think that I'm using her for something?" Emily questioned loudly.

"Yes," Nolan said simply.

Emily laughed bitterly. "I thought you of all people would understand Nolan." She bolted from the couch and gestured to Becca. "Especially since you have Rebecca."

"Hey, this is a nice place, Nolan," Amanda muttered as she walked into the hallway. "A lot smaller than your last house." She walked into the living room unprepared to enter the storm of Nolan and Emily.

Amanda sidled up to Becca, "What are they fighting about?"

Becca offered her a slice of her orange and Amanda popped a piece into her mouth. "I don't know. I just walked in."

"You know what Nolan, I was wrong to ask for your help." Emily stalked out of the living room, "I shouldn't have even bothered."

Becca and Amanda watched confused as Emily stalked to the kitchen.

"Dad, what's going on?" Becca asked worriedly.

"Are you two love birds arguing about?" Amanda smiled.

"Lovebirds?" Becca laughed.

"Well, they do argue like an old married couple." Amanda popped another piece of orange into her mouth.

Nolan's face turned red at Amanda's comment. He bolted from the couch and walked over to Becca and Amanda. "Rebecca hasn't known Emily as long as us, but Amanda, hear this; Emily wants to take-down someone for someone else." Nolan couldn't help but laugh, "It's crazy right?"

Amanda frowned, "No, not really."

"What?" Nolan blurted.

"Emily is a philanthropist Dad," Becca reasoned with her dad as she leaned against the sofa. "She helps people all the time."

Emily appeared in the middle of the hallway, her purse slung over her shoulder and keys in hand.

"What are you guys fighting about?" Becca asked Emily.

"Nolan thinks it's a bad idea to help my friend," Emily explained.

"By 'help,' " Amanda used air quotes. “Do you mean going undercover?"

Emily nodded. "Look, Greene hired some guys to break into my friend's house and terrorized her five-year-old son," Emily started, "He stole her laptop which had evidence she planned to use to expose his company whose supplying tainted water filters to families."

Nolan felt a wall of shame build around him as Emily spoke.

"All she wants is for Greene to be held responsible," Emily's eyes caught Nolan's for a moment. He turned his head away in shame. "And I think we can help."

Emily glance to Amanda and Becca. "So, are you guys in?"

Emily knew she could take-down Greene on her own. But she'd figured having a team would be better. Ever since Nolan and Amanda proved they were more than capable of helping her, along the way they'd formed a sort of team. Nolan hacker, Emily, mastermind + ninja, and Amanda grifter. And now, Emily had a new addition to her team, Rebecca. Emily knew Rebecca was a smart girl, being a coder and hacker like Nolan. Her being a teenager was an asset to this takedown. Emily was curious to see just how well the teen would fit into this take-down and into her plans.

"It's been awhile since we've done anything exciting," Amanda grinned, "Hell yeah, I'm in."

Becca looked back to her dad who was shuffled off to the corner of the living room, fiddling with a painting. Why wouldn't he want to help Emily's friend? Wasn't this the kinda thing they did? Her dad would always talk about how he and Emily would take-down bad people that hurt others.

Becca turned to Emily, "The guy terrified her kid. Not cool, bro."

Amanda slapped a hand on Becca's shoulder. She grinned. "Aww, this is gonna be your first take-down."

"Alright, I'll fill you both in later," Emily said simply. She gave Nolan quick look before walking down the hallway.

Shit. Nolan knew that he'd messed up. He was just so sure that Emily had some ulterior motive, some other revenge angle. Turns out he was wrong.

Amanda wasn't blind to why Emily and Nolan were being weird. Whenever they argued things tended to get blown out of proportions.

"Hey, Nolan." Amanda said sweetly, he glanced to her and Amanda gave him a look that said - You messed up. Fix it.

Amanda turned to Becca. "Hey, Becca, show me around will you?" Amanda hooked her arm with Becca's and turned to the patio doors. "I think I saw a park driving up, maybe I can bring Carl sometime."

"Sure, okay," Becca muttered before she had a chance to say anything else.

Nolan raced down the hall catching up to Emily as she was about to walk out the door.

"I'm sorry," Nolan apologized. Emily stopped mid step her hand on the door and spun around to him.

"I was acting like a complete and total jerk," He glanced up to her, "I'm sorry, Emily."

Emily gave him a pointed look, "If you show up, I'll know you mean it."

With that, Emily walked out the door. Nolan was about to ask her to where when his phone rang out. He pulled out his phone and looked down at the screen seeing a RSVP invitation.

Nolan looked at the door, and a pang of regret bubbled in his throat, as he realized he'd doubted the only one woman that never once doubted him.

 

Chapter Text

- Environmental Expo, Brooklyn, NY -

The Environmental Expo at the Brooklyn EXPO Center was in full swing. Emily sat at the front of the stage in the auditorium. She joined the crowd of cheering business people as the smooth talking, environmental tycoon, Joseph Greene, walked onto the stage.

Emily had done her research on Joseph Greene, the kid started as a door to door salesman in high-school and became a self-made billionaire by the age of twenty-three. Greene was young, rich, and influential. A dangerous cocktail for a narcissist. The environment isn't the only cause Greene fights for; his image is just as important. To keep up with his facade, he's a part of every charity you can imagine from The Boys and Girls Clubs to saving the rainforest.

The floodlights surrounding the outside of the stage dimmed, replaced with warm, lights that illuminated the auditorium. A single spotlight rested on Greene and a projector screen behind him lit up showing slides of the EcoCorp logo.

Joseph smiled to the audience as he held a microphone in his hand, "I'll be real with you guys. Growing up in Melrose was tough. Most nights I'd go to bed hungry because my Ma made less than minimum wage cleaning houses as a housekeeper," Greene cleared his throat and walked to the middle of the stage, "Times have changed since I was a kid and all for the better. That is why I'm introducing EcoCorp's water filters to my old neighborhood in addition to the surrounding boroughs in the Bronx. My mission is simple; to give every kid and family access to what everyone deserves; clean water."

The projector faded to slides showing the slogan;  GREENE FOR CLEAN WATER.

Emily stood up, hollered, giving Joseph a standing ovation. Joseph turned to Emily shooting her a smirk before walking off the stage. Emily shuffled out of the auditorium and into the bright, spacious area of the expo center. Surrounding Emily were a myriad of display booths and people buying, walking and conversing with salespeople. This event was a mix and mingle for top ranking environmental businesses and organizations.

Emily scanned the aisles of people and spotted Greene. He was walking through the aisles of display booths, stopping at various ones to chat with the owners as though they were old friends.

Just as Emily was about to tail him, a server approached her with a tray of wine.

"This wine is made from grapes that were pressed with solar energy," The server explained, "That process makes the wine sweeter and fruity. It's even said to have health benefits like more increased energy and improve the mood,"

Emily nodded in interest and took a sip of the wine.

"Don't mind if I do," a man burst in, grabbing a flute of wine.

Emily's gaze trailed up the arm of the man's dark brown suit, till she made it up to his blonde hair and familiar blue eyes. It was Nolan.

Nolan took a sip of the wine and let out a content sigh, he slapped a hand on the server's shoulder, and laughed, "Buddy, this wine is a miracle," Nolan gave Emily a grin, "I feel energized already and not only that, but this stuff also attracts beautiful women,"

Emily rolled her eyes at Nolan and stifled a grin behind her wine glass. She observed Nolan's brown suit and olive green tie. A light green pocket square sat in the right breast pocket of his suit. Emily sometimes wondered what process Nolan went through to choose his outfits. Has he always dress this flamboyantly? She recalled the first time she met him he wore simple clothes. Emily has come to believe that since Nolan started working with her last year, that his outfits were really costumes,  made to fit the roles of the many characters he'd created for their take-downs.

In a way, Emily was doing the same thing. Emily Thorne was simply a character, a role she was playing as Amanda Clarke.

The server left them. Emily smiled to Nolan, "Glad you made it,"

He sidled up beside her, his hand lightly brushing against her hand, "What's Batgirl without her Robin?"

Emily felt a swell of happiness radiate to her chest and face.

"Batgirl, are you blushing?" Nolan asked staring at her rosy cheeks.

Emily scoffed, "No, it's the wine."

Nolan smiled as he took another sip of wine, "Mmhmm, sure."

She was glad that Nolan had decided to come. The takedown wouldn't be the same without him by her side.

"So, what'd I miss?" Nolan asked.

Emily glanced down the aisle to find Joseph at his display booth.

"Our kid billionaire gave a rousing speech earlier, didn't know you were such a fan," Nolan said.

"And now I'm going to make a point to show our interest," Emily smile.

"Nothing like stroking his ego," Nolan grinned.

As the duo walked towards Greene an elderly couple appeared at his display booth. The couple looked at the boxes of home filtration systems on the table, as they debated amongst themselves. Nolan and Emily watched as Joseph approached the couple.

"Hello, Sir. Can I interest you in a free trial of EcoCorp water filters?" Joseph smiled.

The older man looked unsure at his wife and turned back to the con man, "You're saying it's free?"

"Yes, Sir," Joseph nodded, "You might ask why would I give these revolutionary filtration systems away for free?" He glanced to the older woman and smiled, "When I first started in sales at eighteen my Ma. Bless her soul. Would always tell me, 'Baby, if you want to make it in sales, the only thing you need to sell; is your friendship,"

The woman smiled softly, "That's wonderful."

The man didn't seem convinced, "Hmm, nothing in life is free."

"But, Sir, I am so confident that you'll love EcoCorp's water filters that I am giving it to you for free. If you don't love how energized, fresh, and healthy you feel after installing these filters in your home, no problem. Just send them back no charge."

The man nodded in approval, "Alright, we'll take two."

"We'll need a few more, honey," The woman insisted, "You know my sister is always drinking bottled water. She's scared of tap water. She might benefit from this."

Joseph smiled, "Of course, tell your friends and family." He pushed a few more boxes into the man's hands and handed the woman a business card from his suit pocket.

Nolan was impressed, "He's pretty good. You should really consider recruiting him for revenge camp,"

Emily didn't say a word as she strolled over to Joseph's table, "You definitely have me interested Mr. Greene,"

Joseph sauntered over to her, "You must be my cheerleader?" He smiled.

Emily giggled and stuck out her hand to Joseph, "I'm Emily Thorne. I just have to say that I've been searching for something like for the community rehab project I'm leading,"

"Well, Ms. Thorne," Joseph started.

Emily's lips curved into a smile. "Emily, is fine,"

"Emily, I think I can help you out," Joseph grinned and his eyes ghosted over Emily's curve hugging, green wrap dress.

Nolan noticed Greene's eyes were resting on Emily's figure for a moment too long. Suddenly Nolan felt a sensation in his throat like someone was twisting their hands around his neck. He cleared his throat, stepped forward and reached his hand out, shaking Joseph's, "Nolan Ross, CEO of NolCorp,"

Nolan brushed off the surprised look Emily gave him.

Joseph smiled at Nolan, "I'm quite familiar with your work Mr. Ross. You were a huge inspiration to me growing up. What with your rags to riches story. Joseph Greene, CEO of EcoCorp. Pleasure to meet you both."

"You've made quite a mark on the map," Nolan stated, "Water filtration, huh?"

Joseph nodded, "I figured why not fight a cause that's close to home, right here in New York? What's something that everyone can't live without?"

Emily smirked, "You chose water. I like how you think."

Nolan placed a hand to his chin and glanced at the display booth, "You know, I have been tinkering with the idea of NolCorp going green."

Joseph smiled, "You're interested?"

"Well, I don't know," Nolan shrugged. "I might have some reservations. I've heard some controversial things from my European friends about your products."

Emily gave Nolan a worried look, "What? Really, what about?"

Nolan gave Joseph a hard look, "Turns out they're slowly causing Arsenic poisoning."

Joseph let out a laugh, "Mr. Ross I can assure you that EcoCorp filters are perfectly safe. They undergo rigorous testing against the strict New York water laws."

Emily frowned at Nolan, "If that's really true, I can't recommend these." Emily watched as Joseph tried a new tactic to get them back on board.

"How would you two like a tour of my company?" Joseph took a few business cards from his pocket and handed them to Emily and Nolan, "You can see how everything works and I can put your minds at ease."

Emily glanced at the business card and back to Greene, "That would be wonderful,"

"Sure," Nolan shrugged.

"Roman!" Joseph called out.

A tall, buff, African American man appeared at Joseph's side. Nolan tried to hold back his shock. Roman was at least seven feet tall and looked like a wrestler or a bouncer of a club. Not the personal assistant to a young billionaire.

Joseph spun around to Roman and snapped his fingers, "Pencil in Ms. Thorne and Mr. Ross for a lunch date and tour of the company this week."

Roman replied in a deep, gruff voice, as his giant hands wrote with a tiny stylist on his NolPad.

"Hey, would you look at that," Nolan noted, pointing at his merchandise.

"Oh these," Joseph grinned, "Yup, the entire EcoCorp facilities use NolCorp technology. Speaking of; aren't you working on something big for the fall launch?"

Nolan smiled slyly, "You're not the only ears that want to know. Sorry, but these lips are sealed."

"All set, Joe," Roman's voice rumbled.

Joseph clapped his hands, "I'll have my office call you and set up the details."

"Thank you, Joseph," Emily said before she and Nolan walked off.

They were outside of the expo center walking through the parking lot.

"Did you see the size of that Roman guy?" Nolan exclaimed, "He's a wall that talks!"

"Odd, that he calls him Joe, I wonder if he's a friend of his," Emily turned to Nolan, "Did you see how quick he was to lie about the filters?"

"The kid is a real smooth talker," Nolan noted. "And he's a real Casanova,"

Nolan wasn't sure why he felt...weird when he saw Joseph ogling Emily.

Emily laughed sarcastically, "Oh, god, that lunch will be a lot of fun. Guys like Greene are easy to play," She reached into her purse and pulled out her car keys, she clicked the button and the doors unlocked. Nolan rushed to the passenger door of her car.

"Why are you getting into my car?" Emily asked.

"I had my limousine drop me off," Nolan replied as he slipped into the passenger seat.

Emily rolled her eyes and got in. She slammed the door shut and turned to Nolan, "Since when did you have a limousine?"

"Since yesterday, when Becca insisted that I let her drive the SUV. She wants her own car, something sporty and chic that has "good base to blast her music," But I told her no."

Emily frowned, "Why not? It's not like money is an issue."

"Normally, I would," Nolan explained, "But since we're on the down-low about me not having a teenage daughter. Well… you can see how that's a problem."

"Who's that mysterious teenager driving into Nolan Ross' parking lot? She looks oddly like him."

Nolan smiled. "Bingo."

Emily didn't realize how simple things like that could be a challenge for Rebecca. She and Rebecca's childhoods were very different.

"Growing up in the foster system people already had their story about me," Emily revealed, "I was known as 'The Devil's Daughter', because of all the things people thought my father did. The other kids judged me before they got to know me," Emily glanced out the window not seeing the sad smile that Nolan gave her.

"Not having someone to sort out the truths from the lies makes it harder," Nolan acknowledge, "We've kept her away from the press her whole life. You know what scares me the most about the public finding out? That she'll believe what's printed in that paper, more than she'll believe me."

He let out a sigh and rested his head against the window, "I wasn't there for the first eleven years of her life. What if she believes what her mom told her all along? That I never wanted her."

"I don't think Rebecca would believe that. You stepped up and took her in, you became her Dad. She knows you love her," Emily assured him.

"How can you be so sure?" Nolan's voice was laced with uncertainty and fear.

"Because you have a big heart. And you've never given up on anyone," Emily smiled confidently, "I'm proof enough. And, if the press ever found out I'll be there to help Rebecca sort out the truths from the lies. Just like you did for me."

-Melrose, Bronx, NY-

"Here are your drinks," The waitress said, as she set the glasses before Nolan and Emily.

"Thanks." Nolan smiled.

Emily and Nolan sat inside an Italian restaurant waiting for Greene. Emily was staring at her menu, "What are you ordering, Nolan?"

Nolan snuck a glance at Emily from behind his menu. He couldn't help noticing how pretty she looked today. She wore a red wrap dress and a cream-colored blazer. Nolan always thought she looked best in red.

Emily looked up from her menu, "Nolan?"

Nolan set his menu down, "Uh, I don't know. Why don't you order for the both of us?"

"Where's your head at?" Emily took a sip of her lemon water.

Nolan took the straw from his glass and chewed on it, "Just thinking,"

"Okay," Emily brushed it aside. She took out her cell phone, "I'm going to call Amanda, see where she and Becca are. They should be back from the theater by now."

Nolan placed a hand on her cellphone, "No need for cell phones Ems. That's so 2011."

Nolan reached into his blazer pocket and took out a small, black box. He opened it revealing two earbud devices, "I figured we'd use these again."

Emily smiled and placed the comm in her ear, "I'm impressed Nolan,"

"New and improved, babe. We can communicate wireless and won't have to worry about our signal getting tracked. Courtesy of my own private network," Nolan grinned. He was proud of his work, "And the four of us are all set to the same frequency. All you have to do is speak."

Emily placed a hand to her ear, "Amanda, Becca, are you guys here?"

The Italian restaurant Emily and Nolan were in was across the street as a black van pulled up to the curbside. Amanda put the van in park and glanced out the window.

"We just got here," Amanda replied.

"We went to a food stall and stopped for some tacos," Becca explained to Emily. Becca looked down at her lap, to the grease-stained cardboard box, "Apparently they're the best in Melrose!"

"I want one right now!' Amanda exclaimed as Becca handed her a box.

"Is everything set? Did you get the stuff?" Emily asked Amanda.

"Yup, all set," Amanda assured her, "My friend says to give them a bit of time to dry. They're still a little wet," Amanda took a bite of her taco. "These are so good!"

Becca took a bite of her taco and let out a satisfied groan, "Thank you online reviews! The internet has yet to fail me!" Becca glanced out the window, "Is he there?" she asked her dad and Emily.

"Nope, we're early,"  Nolan replied.

"Hey, what kind of car does the kid drive?" Amanda asked, "Probably drives a Prius."

Becca scoffed, "That's so obvious. Greene is clearly a Ford kind of guy."

Amanda smiled mischievously, "I bet you ten bucks that he drive a Prius."

Becca scoffed, "Why would we bet that?"

"Because it's fun. And why not?" Amanda challenged.

"We must be really bored if we're gonna bet on the kind of car this guy drives," She laughed, "Alright, I'll take that bet."

Amanda and Becca watched as the cars zoomed past them. Soon a silver Prius pull up to the restaurant. Joseph stepped out of the car dressed in a sharp navy suit and walked into the restaurant.

"Pay up," Amanda smiled.

Becca reached into her jacket pocket and took out her wallet, "Lucky guess!"

"It's not luck, it's the skill," Amanda grinned smugly.

Nolan and Emily had informed them about Joseph. Becca grinned mischievously. The guy had a habit of flaunting his money to a lot of different women. Fancy cars, expensive jewelry, romantic vacations to Paris and Tahiti.

Becca knew the perfect bet.

"I bet twenty that Greene tries to flirt with Emily and asks her on a date," Becca said.

"What about Emily and a date?" Dad asked suddenly through the comms.

Amanda scoffed, "That's not fair! You can't use his personality as a bet."

"Yeah I can. There're no rules against it. What, are you scared to lose?" Becca asked cheekily.

Amanda scoffed, "Playing hardball? I like it. I bet that Nolan tries to intervene."

"Why would Dad try to intervene?" Becca asked.

"What are you guys betting?" Nolan asked in hushed tones. Just as Joseph walked into the restaurant Emily stood up and greeted him.

"Emily, you look stunning," Joseph smiled.

"Thank you," Emily said.

Nolan locked eyes with Joseph as he said something to make Emily laugh. Nolan felt it again, that twisting sensation rise from his stomach to his throat. Why did it happen when he saw Greene and Emily together? Why did he feel this way?

"Isn't it obvious?" Amanda laughed.

Once they were finished at the restaurant, the trio made their way to the EcoCorp building. Emily and Nolan got out of Emily's car. Nolan stared up at the towering, sleek, and modern office building.

Joseph guided them to the front doors, "What do you think Mr. Ross? EcoCorp has the most sustainable office building in Melrose."

Nolan shrugged, "It's nice."

"It's impressive," Emily agreed.

"Just wait till you see inside," Joseph smiled and held the glass door open for Emily.

"Thank you," Emily smiled.

Nolan rolled his eyes at them. He walked to the door and it slammed shut in his face.

"Jerk," Nolan muttered as he grabbed the door handle.

Joseph took Emily and Nolan through a tour of the lobby until they were on the floor of his office.

"EcoCorp's entire building is made with renewable resources," Joseph explained, "Almost all of the furnishings in the lobby are made from re-purposed items found right here in Melrose. Figured we'd keep Melrose green too,"

"Very neat," Emily said. 

Nolan looked around the lobby with a bored expression, "Eh, it's pretty impressive. NolCorp's furnishings are all recycled."

Joseph grinned, "Well, we're working on it."

He walked past Nolan to the doors of his office, "How about we get down to business?"

Joseph held the door open for Emily and leaned against the door. Nolan watched as Greene tried to put his moves on her.

"Emily, how do you feel about basketball? The Knicks have a game coming up. I was wondering if you'd be interested in going."

"Oh, well," Emily started. 'I'd love to,"

Nolan cleared his throat and cut by Emily and Joseph and walked into the office.

Becca's voice squealed through the comm, "Pay up Amanda!"

Greene went through played a slideshow and went through each one explaining the different functions of the water filters and EcoCorp's many achievements abroad.

Joseph turned off the slides and took a seat in his office chair across from Emily and Nolan. "Now, Emily, Mr. Ross are you convinced yet?"

"Well, I can see that you've done your research. You've definitely put me at ease with those rumors," Emily turned to Nolan, "What do you think?"

Nolan knew that he had to make the deal.

He reclined in his chair and propped a leg on his thigh, "I just don't know if you're the right person for us,"

Nolan wanted Joseph to beg him to make a deal.

"I mean there're tons of other markets that offer a better price for water filters. Look, I'm just not sure that you're the right person for us." Nolan got out of his chair, "Maybe we can find someone else who isn't trying to cheat us."

Emily glanced to Nolan, "Nolan?" Was he trying to back out of the deal? What was he doing?

There was a knock on the door and Roman walked into the room, "I'm sorry to interrupt. Joe, one of your associates are here."

Joseph turned to Roman, "Tell them I'm in a meeting."

Roman walked closer to Joseph and whispered in his ear. Joseph muttered something and walked around to the front of his desk, "I'm sorry, Emily, but I have a matter to attend to. It won't take long, please make yourselves comfortable."

Joseph and Roman walked out of the office leaving Emily and Nolan alone.

"Nolan, what is the matter with you?" Emily demanded, "Are you trying to get him on board or not?"

"I'm just giving him a reason to make a better deal with us," Nolan walked around the desk to Joseph's computer. He took the turtle thumb drive from his blazer pocket. He dislocated the head from the body and stuck it into the USB port of the tower. The screen lit up with the ECOCORP logo.

Emily walked to the glass office door and glanced out. She turned back to Nolan, shooting him a pointed look, "What's up with you lately? You've been acting strange ever since we've met Greene."

"Nothing is wrong Ems, I just know the kid's type. I'm just playing him. Same as you... well almost."

Emily perked a brow at him, "What's that supposed to mean, 'almost'?"

Nolan kept his eyes on the computer screen, to hide his face, "Nothing, it's just the whole flirting thing is heavy handed. Maybe you should lighten up."

Emily smirked at Nolan. Now she understood why Nolan was being so weird, "Are you jealous of how Greene is when he's around me?"

Nolan's head shot up. He felt his face redden, "Me, jealous?!" Nolan laughed, "Why do I care who you're going out with? That's not my business."

"I'm not going out with anyone Nolan," Emily corrected, "Especially not someone like Greene."

Why did he feel happy to hear her say that?

Nolan lowered his head to the computer screen and typed furiously on the keyboard. As he typed he was met with a security warning, stopping him in his path. "Okay, that's as far as I can go. Becca, are you in?"

Becca sat a desk with her laptop in the back of the van. The van had no seats. It was big enough so she could stand in it. Amanda sat next to Becca watching as she typed.

"I just broke through the second and third levels of security. Psssh, this is easy," Becca typed a few lines of code allowing her access to all the files on Joseph's computer.

"How do you do all that?" Amanda asked curiously.

"What break through security?" Becca shrugged, "Well, to be honest, NolCorp's security has a few weak spots. It's easy to bust through once you know how."

"Remind me to upgrade the next software,"  Nolan noted, "If it's that easy for you to get through."

"Did I say that out loud?" Becca laughed nervously, "Just forget I said that!"

"The power of the comm, kiddo,"  Nolan replied.

"What am I looking for?" Becca asked.

"You're looking for files related to the water filters, their manufacturing, and anything else that looks incriminating to EcoCorp or Joseph," Emily explained. 

Becca scanned through various folders on until she came upon a folder marked CONFIDENTIAL.

"Not anymore it isn't," Becca smirked and typed in a few lines of code. She opened the folder to see schematics for the filters and shipment information. She filtered through various emails, some were complaints from various environmental and human services organizations, and a few recent emails were from the Governor of New York.

"Whoa, I can't believe this," Becca exclaimed as she scanned the email.

"What?" Emily asked,

"Looks like the Governor of New York knows what Greene is doing. He's even requested Greene to implement his products into a few community renewal plans. And he's getting paid a lot."

"More evidence to take him down," Amanda said.

"I'm downloading the files to the thumb drive now," Becca stated.

"Good work Becca," Emily stated, "Amanda make the calls."

Amanda glanced to Becca, "Give me that number again,"

"The one to the radio station?" Becca handed her a slip of paper, "What are you gonna tell them?"

Amanda glanced to the paper as she typed the number in her cell phone. She placed the phone to her ear and smiled at Becca,

"Hello? Melrose News? I have a story that I think you'll want to hear,"

The reporter sighed into her microphone, "Look, lady unless you have a real story that doesn't involve cats or the weather you're wasting my time,"

Amanda smirked, "It's about EcoCorp's CEO Joseph Greene, there's a rally going down at the front of his office! I think I see the police here too, it's getting pretty intense!"

The reporter sounded excited at this, "Really? Why am I hearing about this now?"

"Are you kidding? It's all over Facebook and Twitter!" Amanda exclaimed.

Amanda motioned to Becca. Becca logged onto all the social media sites she could get her hands on. She created a fake photo of a mob of picketers rallying in the front of EcoCorp. She even got the attention of a Facebook group, 'Anti EcoCorp' whose purpose was bent on dispelling the lies of EcoCorp. With 20K followers, it seemed that Greene had a lot of haters.

"Nothing like adding fuel to the fire," Becca smiled and added them onto the list. She clicked SUBMIT and mass emailed all the social media sites.

The reporter lazily moved her cursor on the screen and logged onto Facebook. Her eyes widened at how many hits the post was receiving on Facebook. She spun around in her chair, "Guys, we have a story to cover!"

Amanda snapped her phone shut."It's done."

"That was kind of fun." Becca laughed.

Becca stretched her foot out accidentally kicking one of the picket signs. The picket signs were crowding the small space.

"How am I supposed to hack if I don't have room?" Becca sighed exasperatedly, "You can't put these somewhere else?"

The sign scraped against her knees. Why did she choose today to wear jean shorts? Becca let out a groan and purposefully kicked it out of her way, leaving a scuff mark.

"Hey, don't scuff these up. They're on loan from my friend!" Amanda chided.

Becca picked up a sign and read off the words, "GREEN =/= CLEAN? So, what does your friend do?"

"He works in theater," Amanda explained, "He owes me a favor from back when he got too drunk at the club, the police got involved and I bailed him out. It's a long story."

"I hope that making signs isn't his profession," Becca admitted. The signs in her opinion were pretty terrible.

Amanda huffed and grabbed the sign from Becca, "Don't be mean. It was short notice."

"Yeesh, touchy," Becca muttered.

"He's coming," Emily moved from the door and sat back in her seat.

"I'm not ready," Nolan tapped his fingers on the desk and glanced to the DOWNLOAD bar on the screen, it was at 85 percent and slowly inching to 86. Nolan let out an exasperated sigh, "still has ten percent left.'

"Just take it out," Emily urged, "I do it all the time,"

Nolan looked up from the computer and gave Emily a complete look of horror, "Are you kidding me? You can't just pull it out Emily that'll corrupt the data!"

"We don't have time for that." Emily reminded him. Joseph was just outside the door.

The door opened and Joseph stepped into the room, "I'm sorry for that interruption,"

Emily came to a stand, "It's no trouble,"

She glanced to Nolan who was standing casually at Joseph's desk. She held in a breath knowing that the thumb drive was still in the computer.

"You were a regular Michael Jordan, huh?" Nolan stared at the wall admiring the various basketball trophies and awards plastered on.

Joseph looked at the wall proudly. "I was the best in high school even got into nationals."

"Interesting," Nolan pushed off the desk and stood next to Emily.

Nolan nudged Emily's left hand, she opened her palm and felt the familiar shape of the turtle thumb drive. She let out a relieved sigh and placed it into her blazer pocket.

"Why did you give it up?" Emily asked.

Joseph turned to the two of them. He sighed wistfully, "Once you dislocate your ankle before nationals' tryouts. You're worthless to them. Physical therapy bills don't pay themselves and sales seemed like the fastest way to make money. Ma always said I was good with people." He let out a sigh, "But, everything happens for a reason, right?"

"There's no coincidences." Emily smiled and walked towards Joseph, "I know where I stand on your offer. I look forward to signing that paperwork."

Joseph smiled, "Great, I'll just have the papers drawn up."

As Joseph was about to leave, he turned to Nolan and shot him a sympathetic smile. "I understand your hesitation to do business with me, Mr. Ross. All this talk about alternative environmentally substance material is too advanced for someone who from the days of floppy disks and ARPANET,"

Nolan's smile faltered, "Excuse me?"

"Did he just call Nolan old?" Amanda laughed through the comm.

"Yup,"  Becca couldn't help but laugh, "ARPANET is BTI!"

"BTI?" Amanda asked.

"Before the internet,"  Becca explained.

Nolan wanted to say one of his usual witty comebacks. But he couldn't muster a response.

Joseph turned to Emily, "Let's get that paperwork," Emily let Joseph lead her by the arm out of his office.

At that moment, Nolan knew exactly what he felt; jealousy.

Nolan was in the waiting area outside of Joseph's office waiting for Emily to finishing signing paperwork. He walked to the coffee table and took a Styrofoam cup filling it with coffee. He glanced at the sorry excuse for a snack table and grabbed a muffin. Nolan took a seat. Emily's laughs mocked him in his ear. Nolan placed a hand to his ear and took out the comm.

What did Joseph have that Nolan didn't? They were both rich and influential men. Nolan took a bite of the muffin and spit it out in disgust.

Nolan was like the muffin. Old and stale. He was starting to believe that age didn't always make things better. No matter what the magazines said being thirty was not the new twenty. He sighed and threw the muffin in the trash bin beside him.

It made sense that Emily would find a hot, successful, young guy like Greene attractive. Hell, who wouldn't? What made a nerd like Nolan fun and attractive? Nolan wasn't sure why he cared if Emily thought of him as attractive. It wasn't like he and Emily were together. They were just friends.

Nolan ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He was being stupid. None of this matter. The only thing he cared about was taking down that punk and stopping him from harming other people.

"That's all that matters right now," Nolan noted with a new found determination. He placed the comm back in his ear.

"Dad, are you there?" Becca's voice piped in his ear, "Things sound quiet on your guys' end,"

Nolan smiled at his daughter's voice, "Hey, kiddo. Look, I have a question; do you think I'm old?"

"Do you want the truth or a lie?" Becca asked seriously.

"I'm tired of the truth," Nolan whined.

Becca wasn't sure what to say to make him feel better, "Look, Dad, if this is about Emily-"

"Who said this was about Emily?" Nolan cut her off, "Why does everything have to be about Emily?"

Becca played with the end of her French braid. "Well, you guys got into a pretty bad fight earlier,"

Nolan groaned, he didn't want to go down this road, "So, are you guys set?"

"Just about," Becca replied.

She stood with Amanda outside the van. Becca spotted a rowdy group of teens walking to a basketball court across the street. She glanced back to Amanda who was pacing back and forth as she talked on the phone.

"Where are you?" Amanda snapped, "You're stuck in traffic? Look, we need that student improv group now!"

Amanda rested a hand on her hip and let out a laughed, "Are you still getting paid? Well, what do you think?! Tell him he owes me. Big time!" Amanda snapped her phone shut.

"I think we might have a problem," Becca observed.

"What's the problem, Mandy?" Nolan asked.

"The improve group we paid for the rally is stuck in traffic!" Amanda ran her hands through her hair, "How the hell are we supposed to create a rally if we don't have picketers? Do you know what picket signs are without picketers?" Amanda ranted.

"Just signs." Becca quipped.

"Exactly!" Amanda exclaimed and slammed the doors to the van shut.

"Okay, relax, Mandy. We'll think of something," Nolan assured her. As he thought up a plan, the laughter of Emily trailed into the waiting area. Nolan spun around to see Emily and Joseph in the hallway, "Scratch that. We don't have a lot of time."

Amanda threw her hands up," Awesome. Well, unless you can round up a group of people in ten minutes we can forget about helping Fiona."

Becca frowned. She wasn't going to let down Fiona and her son. The sounds of laughter and cheering emitted from ahead of her. She glanced to the teens in the basketball court across the street.

"I think I have an idea," Becca muttered to herself. She raced up to Amanda, "I need the money you won the bet."

"What, why?" Amanda demanded.

"Do you want to help Fiona and her son or not? I have an idea, just trust me." Becca pleaded. She took the wad of cash from her pocket and started to count.

"What's the idea, kiddo?" Nolan asked. He watched Emily and Joseph flirt. Maybe it was a good thing he was such a flirt. It gave them time to stall.

"I don't know, exactly." Becca admitted as she counted her money, "I have forty from the bet, add fifty bucks in extra cash, that's ninety dollars." Becca glanced to Amanda, "you have thirty from the bet. So, together that's-"

"One hundred and twenty dollars," Amanda cut in, "Thanks for the math lesson Becca."

"Will you stop being a Debby Downer?" Becca insisted, "Will you help me, or not?"

Amanda let out a tense sigh. She reached into her jean pocket and handed Becca the wad of cash.

Becca smiled, "Thanks, I owe you one!"

Amanda watched in confusion as Becca raced across the street to the basketball court.

Becca walked alongside the graffiti covered wall of the basketball court. She looked past the tall wire gate which surrounded the outside of the court. Cheers and yells from the court drew her forward. She watched as a girl in a pink jersey rushed past a tall guy with an afro. Across from them sat two shirtless guys roasting on the sizzling courtyard. Their foreheads and abs dripping with sweat, water bottles in hand, with towels, draped around their necks as the hot sun beamed down on them. The wire gate creaked as Becca pushed it open. The shirtless guys turned toward her as she walked towards their side of the court.

"Ty, you suck!" The girl laughed at the afro guy as she stole the ball from his hands. Her ponytail trailed behind her as she rushed past him to the basketball hoop and made a basket.

Becca swallowed the dryness in her throat as the guys stared at her, "Hey, can I play?" Becca asked.

Afro guy perked an eyebrow at her, "Sorry, but uh, you don't look like you can play."

Afro and the other guys snickered.

Becca glanced down at her outfit. She guessed she was dressed more for hacking then playing basketball.

Becca scoffed, "Oh, come on. I might be really good,"

Jersey girl raced over to Becca and stood beside Afro guy. She locked her eyes on Becca, looked her up and down, and let out a dry laugh.

"Come on Ty, let the Prep have a chance,"

"Okay, Leisha. Sooner we do this the quicker we get back to our game," Ty caught a basketball that one of the shirtless guys threw him and handed it to Becca. Becca walked closer to the basket and stopped a few feet from it. Hushed snickers emitted from the group as she dribbled the ball.

Becca shot the ball. It flew across the court and bounced off the rim of the basket. Snickering and laughter erupted from behind her.

"Better luck next time." Ty apologized.

Becca turned around to them, "How about I make this more interesting? If I get the next shot, you and your team need to help me out with a favor."

The group shot her odd looks, "And why would we do that?" Leisha asked.

Becca smiled. "Because, I'll pay you all." She took out a wad of cash from her short pocket and flashed the money in their faces. "One hundred and twenty dollars. That's thirty for each of you."

The group was transfixed on the cash. To the privileged residents of The Hamptons, this was pocket change. But, Becca knew well that to a lot of other people, this much cash was like winning the lottery.

"Damn girl, you rob a bank or something?!" A shirtless guy hollered.

Leisha's lips turned up in a smirk. She grabbed her boyfriend's arm, "Make the bet baby! There's no way she'll win. You're the best!"

Ty smirked at his girlfriend, "That's true," He gave Becca a smug grin, "What if you lose?"

She shrugged, "Then you keep the money. And we go our separate ways."

Becca turned to the basket and dribbled the ball. She eyed the basket and let out a slow breath. With a flick of her wrists, she shot the ball. A satisfying swish emitted through the air as the ball went through the hoop.

Becca turned back to the group with a smile, "Now, about that favor."

"You've made a great decision to install these filters at the community, Emily," Joseph explained to Emily as he led her through the lobby.

"I can't wait to see the kids' faces," Emily smiled.

Joseph grinned, "Maybe you don't have to. See, EcoCorp host kids basketball game each year. It's a charity event to raise money for kids clubs and promote water awareness. You should come."

"I'd love to," Emily smiled.

Joseph turned to Nolan, "And of course, you're more than welcomed to attend Mr. Ross."

"Thanks for the invite," Nolan said faking enthusiasm.

As they walked towards the doors of the lobby, Emily and Nolan stopped in their tracks. A mob of picketers blocked the exit. They held a myriad of signs and chanted "GREENE ISN'T CLEAN!" and "WATER = LIFE, NOT DEATH!" Security guards barricaded the doors preventing the mob from entering.

"What's going on?" Emily asked worriedly.

"I have no idea. I need to get my assistant." Joseph spun away from the crowd and whipped out his cell phone.

Emily glanced to Nolan and whispered, "Change in plans?"

"Improving, Ems. Improving." Nolan assured her.

"Joe! Wait, Joe!" Roman yelled as he sprinted down the lobby.

"Roman, what's going on?" Joseph asked with a tight smile.

Roman scanned his Nolpad, "I don't know. The Governor of New York is on hold on line three," Roman swerved to the doors, "I don't even know how a mob got here! And the media is here for the press conference."

Joseph let out an irritated sigh, he stood threatening towards Roman, "Wait, what press conference?"

Roman scanned through his Nolpad and turned it over to Joseph. Joseph peered at the screen, "The press got an email saying you'd hold a press conference. Something about a big announcement."

Joseph's jaw tightened as he snapped, "I didn't schedule a press conference."

Emily smiled her revenge smile to Nolan as she thought back to earlier.


 

"What do I do with these complaints?" Becca asked Emily as she glanced at her laptop.

Emily smirked, "Send an email to the news stations. Let them know that EcoCorp is having a big announcement."

Becca smirked and pressed send on the email.


 

Joseph let out a deep breath. He rolled his shoulders and let out a sigh, "Alright if it's a press conference they want. Let's give it to them." Joseph walked past Roman to the doors.

"Joe, wait, you don't understand," Roman warned futilely.

"Come on Roman," Joseph commanded.

Emily and Nolan stood off to the side of the lobby watching as Joseph took the stage. The rants of the mob echoed into the lobby as Joseph shoved open the doors, opening the floodgates to the swarm of reporters. Joseph smiled at the crowd of cameras and reporters, "Hello, uh, welcome. I'm sure you all expecting a press conference today. But, unfortunately, there's been a mistake."

A reporter jutted her microphone at him, "I don't think so Mr. Greene. We were told you had a big announcement,"

"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you all. But there is no announcement," Joseph laughed.

The reporter perked an eyebrow, "Really? Well, what do you have to say about this?" The reporter held out a piece of paper to the camera, "This email shows a detailed account of various complaints from the CPSC and other groups about the health hazardous your water filters have caused,"

Joseph smiled nervously, "Well, I can assure you that's not true,"

"Are you denying this accusation, Mr. Greene?" The reporter demanded.

"Is it true that EcoCorp's water filters are slowing causing arsenic poisoning?" Another reporter yelled.

"Uh, well...I-" Joseph turned to Roman and gave him a tight smile.

The cameras crowded Joseph and reporters began to smother him with questions. Emily and Nolan smiled at each other.

Joseph Greene was finished.

 

Chapter Text

Joseph Greene stormed through the lobby of EcoCorp. He rudely shoved past the morning janitor, as he made his way to the elevator. He stabbed the elevator button and darted his hands to his blazer pocket. The janitor and older Hispanic man shot Joseph a glare as he lit up a cigarette. Ignoring the NO SMOKING sign hanging above the elevator.

The janitor glanced to the newspaper on his cleaning cart and snatched it up. His eyes darted between the newspaper and Joseph. The man pointed the newspaper accusingly at Joseph. "¡Eres mal persona!" He pushed past his cart stomping towards him.

Joseph turned to the janitor, letting out a dry laugh. "You think I'm a horrible person? No tienes razón. You're wrong. It's everyone else!"

He lurched forward, grabbed the newspaper from the janitor's hand, and stalked into the elevator. He exhaled a tense puff of smoke and he slouched against the chrome walls of the elevator.

These last few days had been hell. His investors were in a tailspin, once they'd found out the CPSC was starting to investigate the dozens of complaint emails. Adding all that to the hundreds of letters, and emails - some death threats -from consumers filing complaints to sue him for negligence.

Ding. Joseph jumped as the doors peeled open.

He was certain he'd almost avoided a drive by this morning on his way to work. He rushed out the doors. He bite into his cigarette and grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and sent his assistant a quick text.

Joseph kicked open his office door and stepped inside. He wouldn't drown in his lies. He was a survivor, he'd gone through worse than this. All he needed was a way out.

"You really shouldn't smoke," A smooth, smug voice lectured from across the room. "It's bad for the health."

Joseph darted his eyes from his cellphone. He spun around, surprised to see Conrad Grayson sitting casually behind his desk.

"Trust me, son," Conrad looked up from the framed photo in his hand and shot Joseph a pitiful look, "Nothing good comes from reminiscing about the past."

Joseph's eyes darted to the familiar gold frame. It a newspaper clipping of his most prized moment; the day he got into nationals.

Joseph let out a dry laugh, "Conrad Grayson? How the did you get into my office?"

Conrad smirked and set the photo on the desk. "I guessed your assistant's number. First rule in business; never work with friends."

Joseph stepped forward, eyeing Conrad cautiously, "What the hell do you want?"

The To-Be Governor rested his elbows on the desk, and leaned forward, placing his hands to his chin like he was the CEO and owned the damn office.

"Mr. Greene, you've landed yourself into quite a predicament. You have the CPSC on your back, conducting a full-scale investigation on your company."

Conrad tusked, "Your business prospects aren't faring well ever since the media pulled you through the ringer."

Joseph squinted his eyes at the sunlight flashing off of Conrad's gold Movado watch.

He dropped into the seat across the desk, "So, you still read the newspaper. Congrats old man," Joseph hissed.

Conrad chuckled, "Mr. Greene If it wasn't for you this city would be nothing. The people of Melrose owe you their thanks."

The cigarette smoke left a smoggy haze in the air. Joseph leaned back in his seat, "I'm listening."

"I'm prepared to offer my services to you restore your image. I'm good friends with some well-known PR and media representatives. They'll have this debacle with the public cleared up overnight."

Joseph let out a puff of smoke, "And what's in it for you?"

"My numbers with the younger demographic aren't faring well," Conrad explained. "You're an influential young man. That kind of power would be an asset to my campaign."

The air in the room shifted. A chill run up Joseph's spine. For a second, he wondered if he was talking with Lucifer himself.

"You want me to be a mouthpiece for your Governor campaign?" Joseph tapped his cigarette on the glass ashtray. "That's all?"

Conrad fixed the gold buttons of the cufflinks on his sharp navy suit. "As well as donating a modest amount to my campaign, in addition to showing your support at the polls."

Joseph was quiet for a moment. The offer was too perfect. He wasn't some naive, kid from the hood. He'd been around and hear things about the Graysons' and their way of business. His ma had a saying; 'if a crooked man comes walkin' in church and starts preachin' like a pastor; you just keep on walking.'

Conrad came to a stand, "If you want to lay down and die. That's your choice." he stated at Joseph as he passed.

Joseph walked to his desk and clutched the gold frame, staring at it fondly. What more did he have to lose? His dreams were stolen from him once before. This company…. it was all he had left. Melrose did owe him their thanks, without him this decrepit city wouldn't even get clean water much less the renovations he made, that the city so badly needed.

Joseph scoffed. This was how they were thanking him?

He whirled around to Conrad, "What do you want me to do?"


 

1 Week Later


 

Becca danced through the hallway, bopping her head and singing along to Aerosmith's Dream On, as it blasted through her earbuds. She pushed open the white French doors to Nolan's home office. She reached for her mp3 player, which was clipped to the belt of her jeans, and turned down the volume. She grinned as she spotted her dad sitting at his computer.

Becca plopped into the chair across from him. She dropped her brown messenger bag with a TMNT sticker on the hardwood floor.

Nolan looked up from his computer and waved a hand to her in acknowledgment.

"Hey, Daddy-o," Becca sang.

Nolan tapped his finger to the Bluetooth in his ear. Becca sighed in boredom and slouched in her seat. Her eyes wandered to her dad's desk. It was littered with stacks of boxes, manila folders, and a calculator. Becca took a manila folder from the stack and opened it. She frowned at the pages full of bank statements and grabbed a black Sharpie off the desk

Becca's giggling caused Nolan to look up from his laptop. She turned the folder around to him. She'd doodled Nolan, wearing a pair of reading glasses, sitting at his computer YOU = BORING was written in bold lettering across the paper.

Nolan smiled tiredly and took off his glasses. He wiped at his eyes. He didn't know if it was the exhaustion he'd felt from talking with complete morons for the last three hours, or if it was the lack of sleep. In either case, the drawing of him made him burst out laughing.

Becca grinned. At least he's in a good mood she thought.

"No, sorry. I'm not laughing at you." Nolan quickly apologized. He turned around, the back of his chair facing Becca. "Absolutely, there's nothing funny about what's going on."

Among the pile of boring papers, Becca noticed a small, black whale figurine. She picked it up and fiddled with it until the head came off, revealing a detachable USB.

"Exactly," Nolan drummed a pen to an imaginary beat on his thigh. "I want to get to the bottom of this."

Becca wondered what her dad's obsession with whales was about. Dolphins made sense because they were cute. But whales? What attracted him to such a weird mammal?

Nolan spun around to Becca. "Email me the account numbers and I'll look into it. Yeah, thanks." He tapped a finger to the Blue-tooth.

He slouched into his chair, closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh, "Do you know the worst part about being an adult?" He asked Becca.

Becca shrugged, "Having a job?"

Nolan groaned,"Taxes."

"You're so funny Dad." Becca chuckled. She set the thumb drive on the desk and forced a smiled at her dad. She thought he'd be in a good mood this afternoon but obviously not.

Nolan sat up and glanced at his empty coffee mug, "I need coffee." He grabbed the mug and stretched out of his chair. The bottoms of his grey lounge pants skimmed the floor as he ambled out to the hallway and into the kitchen.

"I'll get it." Becca offered, taking the coffee mug from his hands. She threw his old mug into the sink, pulling out a new mug from the cabinet and filled it with fresh coffee.

Nolan took a seat at the kitchen table. Becca set the mug of hot coffee in front of him. "Five sugars and two creams. Just how you like it."

Nolan smiled gratefully. "Thanks, kiddo."

"You know what would go great with that coffee?" Becca smiled.

She darted to the fridge and pulled out a small, white box from the fridge. Nolan's eyes widened as she set the box next to him.

"Is that what I think it is?" Nolan grinned as he opened the box.

"Coffee cake from your favorite bakery?" Becca took a seat and handed him a fork, "It was nothing."

Nolan took a bite of cake and let out a satisfied groan. He smiled widely at Becca, "This right here. Is the best."

He reached out a hand and ruffled the top of her hair, messing up her styled curls. "What did I do to deserve a kid like you?"

Becca pointed to the coffee mug with the gold star on it. It was the mug she'd bought for him on Father's Day a few years ago.

"You know you really are the 'Best Dad Ever," Becca said sweetly.

"Alright, act's over. What did you do?" Nolan shot Becca a hard look.

Rebecca was a naturally caring girl. But, Nolan knew his daughter well enough to know that something was up.

"What's it going to cost me?" Nolan was surprised at how much he sounded like his dad at that moment. "Whatever you destroyed with your invention I can get it replaced."

Becca shook her head, "I didn't break anything."

Nolan let out an exasperated sigh, "You hacked into the FBI didn't you? Should I be expecting an agent at the door?"

She laughed, "No, Dad. I didn't hack into anything. I didn't do anything... bad." Becca looked down at her lap. "It's a good thing, actually."

Nolan's eyes darted to his coffee cake. His eyes fell on the mug Becca had bought him for Father's Day two years ago. She was doing her best to butter him up.

Something else must have happened.

He dropped his fork. His heart leapt into his throat.

Oh, God.

With shaking hands, Nolan reached out, gently taking his daughter's small hands in his.

Becca looked at her dad. His usual cheery expression was replaced with one of worry and concern.

"Rebecca, whatever it is," Nolan said firmly. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"

"I know...Dad.' Becca bit her lip. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something."

Nolan clasped her hands tighter, trying to calm himself down.

"I..I get it the big one-eight..You're going through a lot of responsibility, and emotions." Nolan rambled. "I was eighteen once too. I know how confusing things can be. You're just starting to figure out who you are and where you really fit in the world. You experiment and take risk, try new things, meet new people that you think you're going to spend the rest of your life with..."

He trailed off hoping she was understanding.

Man, I suck at this. Nolan thought

Becca scrunched her nose and nodded in agreement. "And, sometimes trying something new is a mistake. You do some things you wish you didn't do." She looked at her foot, "I wanted to tell you first, because I didn't want you to be angry with me, if you heard it from someone else."

"Sweetheart, I'd never get angry with you. We're a team, remember?" Nolan gave her a reassuring smile. "I'll always be here for you, no matter what."

Becca smiled softly, "Dad, I.."

"You know what?" Nolan quickly interrupted her.

Nope. He couldn't do this. Should he call Emily? She was a woman. She had to have some experience dealing with this, right?

Nolan grabbed his cell phone from his sweatshirt pocket, "Do you want to talk to Emily?"

Becca shot him a confused look, "Why?"

Nolan was heading into uncomfortable territory. Fast. "I just…I really think you should talk to her about this." He pushed the cell phone into her hands.

She looked at him warily, "Y..you think she'd be okay with it?"

He nodded. "Of course she would."

Becca grinned, "You really think she'll let me borrow her car for the concert?"

Nolan's world came to a crashing halt. "W-Wait, what?"

Becca looked at her dad like he was crazy, "Dad, what did you think I was talking about?"

Nolan's nose and cheeks went rose red. "I uh...I thought you were talking about you know…" He shifted his gaze from Becca to the floor. "T-the birds and the bees."

Becca stared at her dad with a blank expression. Nolan's heart thudded in his chest as an awkward silence filled the space between them.

Suddenly, Becca's head shot up. Her chest rumbled with laughter

"Dad, you thought I was pregnant?" She laughed and snorted, dropping the cell phone on the floor.

Becca leaned over to pick up the phone. She fell out of her chair and doubled over in laughter. She climbed back in her chair and wiped at her eyes. "Oh, man, Dad," She clapped her hands. "You jumped to conclusions just like that!"

Nolan shot her a serious look, "So, you're not pregnant?"

She shook her head, "No, Dad. I am not pregnant."

Nolan felt his blood pressure lowering. "Oh, thank God." He reached for his mug of coffee and took a long gulp.

Becca played with the cell phone in her hands, "So, about the car..."

Nolan gave her a look as if to say, 'you just gave me a heart attack and now you want the car?'

Becca smiled, "Dad t's like this; there's this concert coming up in a few weeks and I told my friends - Jaz and Marisol- that I'd drive us to the concert, but, I don't have a car... So I was hoping that I could take the SUV."

Nolan set his mug of coffee down, "You know, I don't like you hanging around those girls. Especially Marisol… she's too wild."

Becca laughed at the way her dad went into overprotective dad mode. "Dad don't be so judgmental. They're good girls. Marisol has a shot to meet the president this fall, as part of her plan to be a House of Representative advocating for Latino women's rights. And Jaz is applying to Harvard to be a lawyer."

Nolan looked at her incredulously. He wondered why she was making such a big deal about some concert.

"Where's the concert?" he asked.

Becca glanced to the phone in her hands and muttered. "Buffalo, NY."

Now, it was Nolan's turn to laugh. "There's no way you're going to a concert in Buffalo. That place is full of murderers, con artist, and thieves."

"Dad you're being over dramatic. I swear I'll bring the car back in perfect condition. You won't even know I took it!"

Nolan shook his head, "Have I ever told you the story of when I bought my first car?"

"Nope." Becca said quickly, not wanting to hear another one of her dad's boring high school tales.

"When I was fifteen," Nolan started, "I saved to buy a red Pinto. I earned the money working the summer at my dad's electronics shop. I'd fix up computers, teach older customers how to email, and IM."

Nolan chuckled at the memories of spending hot summer afternoons at his dad's shop, bent over a work bench with the insides of a computer laid out in front of him.

He took a sip of his coffee, "We weren't rich, but, my dad made a decent living with the electronics shop. He even liked the idea of me working there, granted he didn't pay me very much and the working conditions were...questionable."


"Dad, it's like a hundred degrees in here," Nolan whined. Sweat dripped down the back of his neck, soaking his shirt. He wiped at his face which was red like a lobster. "Can't you turn on the A/C or something?"

His dad walked across the room to the white shutters and replied in a matter of fact tone. "Nolan, we have A/C. It's called a window."


Nolan laughed dryly. That was one of his dad's favorite excuses for not wasting money on what he deemed 'unnecessary things' like buying a car or paying the electricity bill. Nope, he preferred to spend their week's grocery money on a lottery ticket in hopes of 'making it big'.

"That's how I got my start in the tech world," Nolan realized.

After school, he'd spend hours in his workshop (which was a spare room in the shop, his dad being the tightwad he was, couldn't bear to rent the space out to anyone) just exploring the innards of a computer discovering what made them tick.

Becca grabbed his fork and took a bite of cake.

"Hey, I thought this was my cake." Nolan wondered

"It's called sharing," Becca took another bite of cake, "Anyway, I didn't know your dad owned an electronics shop."

Nolan stood up and grabbed a fork from the cabinet, "Well, between spending his mornings at the bar and bowling the night away with his friends, he had to do something to get the creditors off our backs."

Becca didn't know a lot about Nolan's dad. This was all news to her. In fact now that she thought about it, Her dad didn't talk much about his childhood or growing up. The only person she knew from his past was Carole.

"Do you still talk to your dad?" Becca saw the far-off look in his eyes. Nolan's grip on his fork tightened. He took his seat and stabbed at a piece of cake.

"Now, where was I?" Nolan said in a dismissing tone, "Back in my day, computers weren't the high tech stuff you have now. You had to be making quite a bit to afford one. My dad dreamed of being rich. He thought we'd hit the jackpot when he'd sold a computer to one of the ladies that frequented the country clubs."

Becca nodded in interest and took another bite of cake. "How did you survive without tech? Sounds terrifying."

"I got by with an ancient place called the library," Nolan joked. "Once I made enough money, I went to the dealership all I could afford was a beat up Pinto. The car was a total wreck; busted tires, the engine was shot. The thing wasn't even red from the old paint, but from rust. It took me a whole summer to fix that car up."

Becca was starting to find out all types of interesting things about her dad, "You can fix a car? That's so cool!"

Nolan grinned,"Yup." He recalled how that Pinto turned him from a lonely outcast to cool somebody.

"A lot of memories were made in that car…and then... I crashed it in a ditch."

"You what?" Becca exclaimed.

"Well one evening a couple of jocks from my high school were talking about drag racing. And I took them up on their dare that I could jump the canyon - really it was a ditch the size of a community swimming pool - between the school's parking lot and the woods."

The rush of flying through the air after you jumped out of a car that was going 70 miles was something you didn't forget.

Nolan shook his head. "I'll never forget when my dad had to pick me up from the hospital, and asked the doctor whether or not you can treat a broken arm with a packet of frozen peas."

Becca laughed. "Are you serious?"

He nodded, "Yup, and the doctor said yes. I had a packet of peas stuck to my arm for a month."

She grinned. "Your dad sounded pretty cool. Like those tough love dad's from the 80's."

"Trust me. He wasn't." Nolan assured her.

Becca frowned. "Dad I enjoyed the history lesson but what's the point?"

Nolan shot her a grin, "The point, my darling daughter, is that your social life will survive one missed concert."

Becca made a face. She stood up and whipped out her cell phone from her jacket pocket. "Fine, I'll just play video games all summer, watch That 70's Show reruns, and eat my weight in junk food."

With that, Becca disappeared into the living room. Nolan chuckled at his daughter's melodrama. The doorbell rang. Nolan walked out of the kitchen and opened the front door. He instinctively knew something was wrong when he gave Emily a smile, but she didn't return it.

He frowned, "What's wrong?"

Emily stepped through the door, "Have you watched the news?"

"No, why?"

Nolan followed her into the living-room. He grabbed the remote off the couch and clicked on the television.

"Channel 6." Emily folded her arms over her chest. Her eyebrows creased as Nolan flipped through the channels. A news report showed a press conference with Joseph Greene smiling for the cameras.

"Am I seeing this right?" Nolan exclaimed. Emily shushed him. Becca who was sitting on the couch looked up from her cellphone to the flat screen.

"Why isn't Greene in jail?" Becca asked.

"Turn it up," Emily demanded.

Nolan turned up the volume. The news anchor's voice traveled through the living room.

"The CPSC is issuing an apology to EcoCorp CEO, Joseph Greene, after conducting an investigation on the company with unfound claims that the company's environmentally friendly water filter systems were the cause of the sudden illness that struck a developing community in Melrose. Officials report there are no correlations between the filters and the illness-"

Nolan muted the television. He turned to Emily, "What do we do?"

"Sorry, I'm late!" Amanda called as she raced into the living room.

Emily frowned at Amanda, "You're late."

"I know, I'm sorry," Amanda plopped onto the couch next to Becca.

Becca sniffed loudly. She leaned into Amanda's shoulder and sniffed her shirt, "Dude, why do you smell like a bait and tackle shop?"

"I'm late because I was serving some tourist fish and chips," Amanda ran a hand through her hair, and let out a heavy sigh, "We're packed at the bar. It was impossible to get out of there. We're understaffed. With Declan away at college, things have been hectic."

"Don't let it happen again," Emily said coldly.

Amanda gave Emily a look, "Alright, sheesh." She turned to Becca, "So, what'd I miss?"

Becca motioned to the television, "Greene is back."

Amanda rolled her eyes at the screen. "Are you kidding me? I thought we took the punk down. Remember the picketers and cameras?"

Nolan reclined in the couch, "Looks like kid billionaire had a little help from someone higher on the food chain."

Becca turned to her dad, "Who do you think helped him out?"

"Conrad," Emily announced causing everyone to look at her.

"What makes you so sure?" Nolan asked.

Emily typed a news station into the laptop. She clicked a link, an article about Conrad Grayson and his highlights on his campaign trail appeared on the flat screen.

"Looks like Conrad isn't doing so hot with the young crowd," Nolan observed reading the pie chart data from the newspaper. Compared to other candidates, Grayson's voting numbers are in the negatives."

"Not anymore they aren't," Emily brought up another article. "It's only been a week but with Greene on his side Conrad's numbers are tripling."

Becca scoffed. "Nothing says 'Vote For Me!' like a rich guy and a cause for the environment."

Amanda swung her legs onto the coffee table, she leaned back into the couch. "So, Grayson made him an offer that he couldn't refuse; clean his image in exchange for his support." She scoffed, "Great."

Becca bit at her fingernails as she read the data. She knew this was bad news. She turned to Emily.

"What are we going to tell Fiona?"

Emily sat stiffly beside Nolan. He saw a flash of regret fill her eyes. She looked down at her khaki pants and sighed heavily.

"She already knows," Emily said finally.

She felt like she failed Fiona. She hated the look of horror that Fiona's son gave her when he asked why the 'bad man' wasn't in jail.

Nolan knew that Emily felt responsible for what happened. He knew she needed to be in control. Being five steps ahead of her opponents was what made her a mastermind. And in his eyes a superwoman, bent on righting the wrongs of bad guys. But even superheroes couldn't anticipate everything.

Emily felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She glanced to Nolan out the corner of her eyes.

He flashed her a reassuring smile, "Whatever you need Emily. I'm here."

Nolan's smile radiated with a confidence and reassurance that she needed. His grin widened as she returned with a small smile of her own.

"There's my Ems," Nolan said softly.

Emily ran a hand through her hair. She stood from the couch, strolled to the front of the room and turned to her team. She felt an overwhelming deep inside her gut. It was like something powerful had broken down the walls she'd placed around herself.

She wasn't in this alone. She had a team, her friends, by her side.

"Alright, what do we know about Greene?" Emily questioned.

"He's a narcissist and a ladies man," Becca started recalling his flirtatious attempts with Emily.

"He has bad taste in cars," Amanda added.

"And he has that charity event coming up," Nolan brought up the event on the flat screen. The flyer for the event was a small white card with a blue silhouette of a group of kids playing basketball. HOOP FOR A CAUSE was written in bold, orange lettering above the silhouettes.

"That's right, Greene hosts that kid's charity basketball game in Melrose every year," Emily recalled.

Nolan strolled over to Emily and grinned. "What better way to get voters' attention than with a kid's charity event?"

Emily smiled at him, "It's the perfect agreement."

Becca scrunched her eyebrows at the invitation, "Even after everything that happened last week people are still going?"

"The seats aren't cheap." Nolan pointed out.

Nolan's hand accidentally brushed Emily's shoulder. She felt a fuzzy feeling, like static, run up her bare arm as Nolan breezed past her to his laptop. He brought up the tickets on the screen. "We're talking one grand just for courtside."

Becca whistled. "With that much cash you could make a down payment on a car."

Amanda turned to Emily, "So, what's the plan?"

"We're going to use the charity basketball game to take down Greene." Emily glanced to Nolan. He knew she was back on task with her 'revenge' smile in place.

"For good."

Chapter Text

Emily stood outside of the high school parking lot with Nolan. She tapped her foot and glanced to her wrist watch. A breeze picked up, tousling her wavy hair in the dark, night sky. Nolan leaned against the door of Emily's black Mercedes. An SUV pulled into the parking lot across from them and Nolan perked his head up, expecting his familiar silver vehicle.

The evening lights in the parking lot flashed on, revealing a dark blue SUV.

He frowned and glanced to Emily, noting that she was doing her best to keep her cool. "Ems, don't worry, they'll be here."

"There you guys are." Becca appeared walking down the steps of the high school.

"Cute hoodie Becca," Nolan said.

Becca looked down at her outfit of jeans and sneakers. She grinned at her red hoodie which had the Avengers' faces plastered on the front.

"Thanks, Dad."

She glanced to Emily awed by her cream-colored silk, floral kimono top, beige cami, dark wash jeans, and wedge sandals. Even when Emily was dressed casually, she always looked photo-ready. Of course, her dad looked as flamboyant as ever in his purple blazer, black and white gingham shirt, ochre trousers, and tan penny loafers.

Becca looked past her dad to the back seat of Emily's car. "Where's Amanda?"

"She's not here?" Emily questioned.

Becca frowned. "No, I thought she was with you guys." She rolled up her sleeves and scratched her wrists.

"That's not like Mandy," Nolan pointed out. He glanced to Becca noticing her furiously scratching her wrist. "You okay?"

She nodded, "I'm fine."

Emily grabbed her cell phone from her purse and pressed speed dial. "Amanda where are you?"

"I can't make it," Amanda apologized.

"What do you mean you can't make it?" Emily questioned.

"We're swamped at the bar," Amanda explained. "Look, I know it's last minute-"

"It's more than last minute Amanda!" Emily could see her plan falling apart. She needed all four of them for this to work. It was too late in the game to make changes. "Where am I supposed to find a fourth person?"

"Don't worry," Amanda assured. "I got backup."

Emily didn't like the sound of that, "Backup?"

"Remember the picket signs? The guy that made them is a buddy of mine," Amanda started. "I told him the plan. He knows what to. And relax, Ems, I didn't tell him anything more than he needed to know."

Beggars can't be choosers, Emily thought. She placed a hand on her hip. "Alright, anything else?"

"Also, I might have said something about him being paid for the job," Amanda muttered.

"Great." With her cool back in place, Emily hung up the phone. She turned back to Nolan and Becca.

"Mandy's a no show?" Nolan folded his arms over his chest. "Bummer."

Emily sighed heavily, "Apparently, she's hired a friend of hers to help out."

Nolan laughed, "Hired? Ems this club of ours is getting bigger and bigger every day. We really need a name."

"Hey, you Emily?" A male voice muttered from behind them. Everyone spun around to see a tall Indian guy in a blue long sleeve and jeans. His brown wavy hair fell over his square-framed glasses.

Becca thought he looked like those Indian actors from the Bollywood movies that Jasmine obsessed over.

Emily stepped forward eyeing him. "Who are you?"

"Raj." The guy extended his hand to Emily. "Amanda sent me. Said you needed some help."

Emily ignored his hand. "She says you're good at what you do."

Raj got the message and his hand fell to his side. "Not to brag, but I'm a pretty skilled actor."

"We'll see about that." Emily took a slim vial of clear liquid from her purse and handed it to him, "You know what to do?"

"Yes, ma'am." Raj mock saluted. He glanced to Nolan and flashed him a smile, "I'm your man."

With that, Emily, Nolan, and Becca started off for the entrance of the high school.

"I was told I was getting paid. Six hundred up front!" Raj called after Emily.

Nolan spun around to him. "Let's see how well you perform first."

"I've been known to get standing ovations," Raj said in a deep, husky voice, sauntering closer to Nolan.

Becca was getting weird vibes from the guy as he kept his gaze on Nolan.

Nolan stood his ground. He smiled. "I guess we'll see just how good you really are."

Emily rolled her eyes at Nolan. She placed a hand on Becca's shoulder and guided her to the entrance.

"Come on," Emily started. "The game's about to start."

Emily and Becca walked through the crowded lobby of the high school. The squeaks of sneakers running on linoleum greeted them. Becca followed Emily through the gym to their courtside seats. She looked around the gymnasium. Reporters stood off to the sidelines, adjusting their cameras and microphones. Sitting high in the bleachers were hundreds of families, proudly wearing their home team's' colors - purple and yellow- on their faces and clothes. A group of high schoolers cheered, waving banners and #1 foam hands, their voices echoing off the high ceilings of the gymnasium, as their home team raced onto the court.

"It's a full house," Becca observed as she took a seat next to Emily.

"Greene does love the camera." Emily smiled.

"Hey, team." Nolan plopped into the seat next to Emily."You left me behind."

"We would have waited for you, but, you looked like you were busy," Emily said with a snippy tone.

Nolan shrugged and crossed his left leg over his right as he reclined in his seat. "Oh, come on. The guy was just being friendly."

"If friendly is a synonym for trying to get into your pants," Becca muttered. This earned a small laugh from Emily.

"I never knew actors were your type," Emily noted.

Nolan grimaced. "I dated an actor once. Too much drama." He smiled like a school boy at Emily. "You have a type?"

"Yeah," She said simply.

Nolan scoffed. "Let me guess; tall, dark hair, brooding personality?"

She smirked at him. "That's for me to know."

And for me to find out. Nolan thought with a grin.

Becca tapped Emily on the shoulder, "You were right about Conrad." She pointed to a flat screen television mounted on the ceiling ahead of them.

Emily, Nolan, and Becca glanced to the screen. An advertisement showed pictures of Conrad volunteering with various organizations, everything from homeless pets to foster kids and, of course, EcoCorp. The screen faded out to a waving American flag, patriotic music played in the background as VOTE FOR GRAYSON fazed on screen.

"Those pictures were so Photoshopped," Becca pointed out.

Nolan frowned. "Greene's gone to the Gray side, cookies and all."

Emily narrowed her eyes at the screen. Greene was just as easy to fool as she thought.

"Emily, I'm glad you could make it." The infamous Greene raced across the court and stood before Emily and Nolan.

"You're playing?" Emily observed Greene's purple basketball uniform and black Nikes.

"It's a great way to connect with the kids," Greene smiled.

The buzzer rang. Greene turned to the court. "Time to get out there."

"Good luck!" Emily blurted out.

Greene spun back to her and shot her a winning smile. "I don't need luck, with my cheerleader here."

Nolan narrowed his eyes at the punk as he raced onto the court. Becca, Nolan, and Emily sat back and watched the game. Before they realized it, it was the final quarter of the game.

Nolan and Emily walked out of the gymnasium and made their way through the crowded lobby to a makeshift concession stand. Nolan held a box of popcorn in one hand and walked with Emily down the hall.

Emily took a sip of sparkling cider from her flute. "The game is almost over. The presentation's going to happen soon."

Nolan shoved a handful of popcorn into his mouth. "Showtime."

"There you two are." Greene appeared from doors of the gymnasium dressed down in tanned chinos and a blue fitted chambray. He walked in step with Emily and Nolan.

"It's like magic," Nolan gestured to Greene's outfit.

Greene laughed. "I've had my fun. I'll let the real stars shine tonight."

Just then, an announcement on the PA system came on: "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you could all start heading back to the gymnasium, it's almost time for the special presentation by EcoCorp CEO, Joseph Greene."

"You know, Greene I have to hand it to you," Nolan congratulated. "You're still going on with the presentation after everything that happened. Aren't you the least bit worried of the press hounding you?"

"Trust me," He smirked. "Things are going to go my way tonight."

Emily grinned into her flute. "I have no doubt."

Just then, Roman strolled up to them. He leaned towards Greene and whispered in his ear.

Greene said hastily to the blonde duo, "Would you excuse me? I'll see you both in the gym."

Emily and Nolan watched curiously as Greene and Roman strolled down the hall and disappeared behind a pair of double doors.

"Want me to follow them?" Becca walked up to Nolan and Emily with a package of Cheetos in her hands.

"What's going on with your neck?" Emily gestured to the orange dust covering the ends of Becca's hair and neck.

Nolan laughed. "Did you get bit by a Cheetos vampire?"

"No, my neck has been itching like crazy." Becca scratched at her neck as the itchy sensation came back. "Maybe I'm allergic to something. Anyway, who's going after him?"

Nolan ate a handful of popcorn. He threw the package into the trash bin and patted Becca on her shoulder.

"I'll follow him." Nolan said as he walked down the hallway.

"Play nice!" Becca yelled to him before he disappeared behind the double doors. She scratched her hands and frowned at the bright cheesy orange powder staining her wrists.


The music and cheering from the lobby died down as Nolan slipped into the empty hallway. The door slammed behind him and Nolan jumped. He whirled around to see Emily walking towards him.

"What Ems, you don't trust me to play nice?" Nolan grinned and followed after her.

Emily scoffed. "Something like that."

He and Emily walked down the hall and turned the corner entering another hall. All the classrooms were dark and vacant and Nolan peeked into the one of the class windows.

Sleek linoleum lab tables shone in the moonlight, periodic tables lined the walls, and glass cabinets full of shiny glass beakers and mischievous chemicals were locked tight with a chain.

"So, what's your plan to get him to confess?" Nolan turned to Emily, "Let me guess, you're going to go all ninja on him?"

Voices echoed from a lit classroom at the end of the hallway. Emily stopped mid step. She turned to Nolan with a finger to her lips. They stood in the shadows. Emily leaned forward into the hall, her back facing Nolan. He sniffed the air and stared down to the back of Emily's head.

He could smell her perfume.

He cursed at himself for getting distracted and shot his gaze forward, sneaking a glimpse into the classroom to see Joseph leaning on a lab table and Roman standing before him with a tablet in hand.

Roman stared at his Nolpad, "Looks like your investors are growing, Joe."

Joseph twirled a pencil between his fingers, "As they should be. Did you think that thing with the press was gonna stop me?" He stood proudly, "Once the presentation is over, the city will be begging to take me back."

Roman looked up from his tablet, "About that," he started. "The press want a follow up about the CPSC's apology. They're still confused about everything that happened last week-"

Joseph put his hand up, signaling Roman to stop. "Listen, I didn't make it this far, this fast, without pulling out a few stops. The public doesn't need to know that the filters actually leach arsenic into the water."

Emily turned to Nolan with a grin, "Looks like we have our confession."

Joseph shook his head. "Do you have any idea how cheap it is to manufacture filters with bum parts?"

Roman was about to answer. Joseph hopped off the table and stepped towards the bodyguard, "Of course you wouldn't. You never were the brightest kid in the hood," He patted the giant's shoulder. "That's why I hired you and your buddies to break into that engineer's home and steal her laptop."

Emily stifled at the revelation. She wasn't going to let Roman off easy. She'd make him pay.

Roman glared at Greene, "How do you think the press found out about the complaints?"

"I asked myself the same question," Joseph gave him an accusing stare, "Thought you'd know."

"You think I called the press?" Roman argued. He took a menacing step forward, towering over Greene, "Why would I do that?"

Joseph glanced at his wristwatch, "It doesn't matter. Things are back in order and better than ever. You saw how many investors were out there? Grayson knows how to keep his end of a bargain."

He walked into the hallway, "Let's get ready for my big night."

The light in the classroom turned off and Joseph and Roman stepped out of the room.

"Babe, there you are!" A petite dark skinned woman in a skimpy, blue dress sauntered down the hall.

Emily and Nolan leaned back into the shadows watching as the woman stopped at Greene's side.

She twirled a strand of her wavy brown hair around her manicured fingers, "Hey, baby. When are you gonna be done with this boring charity stuff?"

Greene smirked at her and wrapped his hands around her waist, "After the presentation babe."

The woman pouted her big, pink lips. "But, babe." she whined as she placed her arms on his chest.

"Now, don't be like that." Greene pulled her in closer to him, "Guess what I got you for our anniversary."

The woman smirked, "Babe, we've only been dating for three months. You already thinking of our anniversary?"

Greene reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a pair of tickets, "You know what these are?"

The woman's eyes widened, she snatched the tickets out of his hands, "NO WAY! HAWAII!?" She squealed, "OMG, BABE! You shouldn't have!" She threw her arms around Greene's neck.

"Anything for my cheerleader." Greene leaned down and kissed her on the lips.

Nolan's blood boiled. When Greene said that to Emily earlier he'd really meant this… Bimbo!?

Nolan took a step forward with the full intent of walking over there and punching the smirk off his face. Emily must have sensed his anger as she gripped his arm holding him back.

"Let's go." Greene smiled to the woman, "I have a crowd to impress."

Roman followed behind as Greene started down the hallway with Ms. Bimbo latched around his neck. Emily and Nolan dashed into the classroom as Greene, Ms. Bimbo, and Roman rounded the corner.

Emily shut the classroom door behind her. She turned around to the classroom to see Nolan pacing back and forth, his hand to his chin, muttering to himself.

"The nerve of that punk!" Nolan shook with anger. He knew that Greene was a player, but he couldn't bare to see Emily be used like that. It wasn't right.

"Forget him, Nolan." Emily walked further into the classroom. She took a seat at one of the lab tables, "Greene isn't the priority anymore."

Nolan let out a heavy sigh. Emily was right. He needed to cool down and focus on the case at hand.

"And what is?" Nolan spun around to her, "It's not like we recorded his confession."

Emily waved her cell phone in her hand and pressed play, "What the public doesn't know won't hurt them…"

Nolan smirked. She was always a step ahead, "Nice work Batgirl."

"We need to get this confession on the PA." Emily handed him the cell phone.

Nolan grinned, "Leave that to Becca."


The music playing over the gymnasium thumped in Becca's ears. She was crouched behind a cart of water bottles in a hallway, watching and waiting as the DJ - a college guy with dreadlocks- was fumbling to lock the door to the press box.

He hopped from side to side and cursed as he dropped the keys to the floor. He cursed, leaving the door ajar and bolted down the hall.

Becca darted inside the press box. She looked out the box windows giving her a full view of the basketball court down below.

Becca gawked at the mixing board in front of her. There had to be at least 200 buttons on that thing. She was glad she didn't have to touch that for now. She spotted a laptop sitting on top of the mixing board beside a half-eaten burger.

"You want this recording on the air?" Becca took a seat in the red leather rolling chair, "No problem."

She spun the laptop around to her and started to type, "I'll sync my phone to the laptop and upload the audio files. Piece of cake." Becca took her smartphone out of her pocket and connected the phone with a USB to the laptop.

"It's that simple?" Emily asked in surprise through the comm.

Becca grinned, "Don't you just love technology?"

She clicked OPEN FILES and searched for the recording. She giggled, naming the audio file,'The King's Speech' before dragging and dropping it into the itunes playlist on the laptop.

"All done," Becca informed. "I put Greene's speech as the last song in the track."

"Great work, Becca," Emily said. "I knew I could count on you."

At that, Becca smiled. She quickly learned that Emily is a tough person to impress. She couldn't help but feel like a little kid at Christmas at her praise.

Becca had to wonder; why did Emily recruit her for her mission? For her team?

She wasn't as skilled at hacking as her dad. Nolan would hack into the FBI just because he was bored.

She had a black belt in Taekwondo, and could defend herself, but Emily was a kick ass, ninja, capable of getting into the mind of anyone and conning them in a flash.

Becca acted like a bumbling fool when she tried to talk to guys. She laughed at the thought of hooking a guy for a case.

Nope. She definitely wasn't a grifter like Amanda whose looks were just as deadly as her fists.

Rebecca wasn't a genius hacker, cunning mastermind, or a seductive grifter.

She was a normal teenage girl who liked to use a computer, was quick on her feet, and could bribe a couple of teenagers.

Becca frowned as she realized: compared to everybody else, she looked pretty lame

Why does Emily want me? Becca thought. What did she see in me that was so great?

Emily must have seen something worthwhile in Becca to want her around. When Becca would sit in the living room with everyone, going over the case, she felt like she was a part of something important. She felt like she was apart of something greater than a team. She felt like she was apart of a family.

Unlike her mother, Emily made Becca feel like someone worthy of praise and affection. Unlike her mother, Emily made her feel like she was good enough.

And unlike Grace Thompson, Emily Thorne made Rebecca feel cared for and loved.

Because Emily is a tough person to impress Becca won't let her down. She'd keep proving to Emily, to her dad, to everyone, that she wasn't a burden. That she's worth keeping around.

"Thanks, Mo-" Becca cleared her throat, "Uh..thanks, Ems."

"Hey, what are you doing in here!" Becca spun around, to see the DJ in the door, a beer in one hand and his keys in the other.

Becca pocketed her phone and darted out of the seat, "Well, this isn't the bathroom."

The DJ shot her an incredulous look as she breezed past him out the door.

She spun around and quickly threw over her shoulder, "Great music!"


"What are you two doing here?" A voice boomed.

Nolan and Emily jumped to their feet. They spun to the doorway to see Roman. The bodyguard turned on the lights and trudged into the room.

Nolan's heart raced in his chest. The tip of his nose and ears were burning red. This reminded him of the time he was in high school and was busted by a teacher for trying to make it to second base with a girl he was crushing on.

Nolan glanced to the lab table, spotting Roman's silver tablet. The giant followed his gaze. Nolan stepped to the side as Roman plucked his Nolpad off the table.

He shot them an incredulous look.

Emily glanced to Nolan,"We were just leaving."

Emily and Nolan stepped forward, passing Roman to the door. For a heavy guy, Roman sure moved fast. The bodyguard barricaded the door. Click. Nolan's throat tightened at the sound of the door locking.

Roman turned from the door and stepped towards the duo.

"I knew there was something… off about you two," Nolan and Emily stepped back as he advanced towards them, "Looks like I was right."

Nolan's eyes darted around the room, looking for a way out. He panicked realizing they had one exit and the grizzly bear currently blocking it.

"Right about what exactly?" Emily kept her voice even and cool.

"I know you both had something to do with those emails being leaked to the press," Roman closed in on them.

Emily gasped in shock; a chill ran up her spine as her back pressed against the cold glass cabinets.

Nolan eyed the red fire extinguisher sitting on the wall above a sink beside him. He glanced to Emily out the corner of his eye, she nodded her head agreeing with the plan.

Roman chuckled, "Now you're here to finish the job, release that little conversation to the press."

"You're a lot smarter than Joe gives your credit for," Nolan said coolly as he slowly inched away from the cabinet to the sink. "Look, we don't want any trouble."

Nolan was ready to run for the fire extinguisher, "We can sort this out like reasonable people-"

"No one makes a fool out of me!" Roman yelled. His eyes fell on Emily. His lips twisted into a greasy smile, "Especially, not some dumb, blonde, bitch!"

Roman lunged at Emily and grabbed for her hair. She ducked down. The giant's fists collided with the glass cabinet. Roman let out a monstrous snarl. Blood trickled from his busted hand onto the sparkling, glass-covered floor.

Nolan yanked the fire extinguisher off the wall. He swerved around to Roman and pressed the handle, effectively blinding the giant's face in white, powdery foam.

"Looks like I found your Kryptonite, big guy!" Nolan stepped closer, feeling a surge of excitement overcome him as Roman staggered backward.

"Ems, what's going on!?" Becca's panicked voice echoed through the comm. "What's happening!?'

"Rebecca," Emily breathed, as she heaved a large, clear beaker labeled HCL out of the cabinet, "Hold on a minute."

She darted towards Roman and smashed the beaker of clear liquid over his head.

The smell of bleach nipped at Nolan's nose. He stifled and dropped the fire extinguisher.

"Oh, God, Ems." Nolan coughed. He reached for the handkerchief in his pocket and held it to his nose. "Warn me next time will you?"

Roman wiped at his face and let out a ferocious growl. Emily spun on her left heel and swung her right leg out, slamming her heel into Roman's gut. He staggered back, toppling over the eyewash station behind him, and slammed the back of his head on faucet of the emergency shower.

Emily strolled towards Roman and pulled him up by the scruff of his t-shirt. "Still think I'm a dumb, blonde bitch?"

Roman let out a weak moan. Emily spun around to Nolan and gestured to the cabinet behind him, "Nolan, hand me those Bunsen burner pipes."

With one hand, Nolan handed her the hose. Emily tied the flexible, plastic hose around Roman's wrists, securing the giant to the eyewash station.

Emily dusted her hands on her jeans and came to a stand, "That should hold you."

Roman darted his head up to Emily growling as he struggled in his restraints. "You little bitch! When I get my hands on you I'll-"

Nolan pulled the chain on the emergency shower. Roman sputtered out threats as the water cascaded over him.

"You, Mister, need a timeout," Nolan laughed. "Preferable for fifteen minutes or until that stuff rinses out. That should give the cops plenty of time to find you."

"Ems!? Dad?" Becca screamed. "What happened?! Hello!? Somebody better answer!"

"We got into a little fight…." Nolan started.

"Are you okay?" Becca whimpered.

"We're fine," Nolan assured her. He glanced to a passed out Roman."You should see the other guy."

The PA announcement sounded through the classroom, "Will everyone please make their way to the gymnasium. The presentation is about to begin."

"Becca, meet us in the gymnasium," Emily replied. She opened the classroom door and spun around to Nolan.

"Let's go, Bill Nye."


"I think I took a wrong turn," Becca muttered to herself.

When she'd darted out of the press box and she rounded the corner she ended up in some backstage area.

A stage director walked past Becca. He spun around to her and gave her a look.

"Are you lost?" he asked.

"Yeah," Becca admitted, "I'm trying to get to the gymnasium."

The man let out an annoyed sigh, spun around, and motioned for her to follow him, "Come on."

As she walked with the director they passed by a room. A piece of paper with the words STAFF was taped above the entry way. Becca back stepped and peered into the room. She spotted Raj casually standing at a table with a tray of glasses.

He looked over his shoulder, to the stage crew who were eating and playing blackjack at the lunch table. He grabbed something small and shiny from his jean pocket and leaned over the table.

What's he doing? Becca wondered.

"Miss, please keep walking," the director ordered.

Becca turned around to the man. "Right, sorry."

She glanced back to the hall, hoping to see Raj: he vanished. A woman wearing a headset walked over to the table and grabbed the tray. She passed Becca and strolled ahead to a doorway that flooded the hall with loud music and cheering.

The director lead Becca out the same doorway. She found herself standing in front of the stage with the rest of the tween basketball team. She tried to move out of the crowd, to get to seat ahead of her, but was stuck in between tweens shuffling to their folding chairs. The director motioned for her to take a seat. Becca plopped into a folding chair and she glanced to the young Latino kid next to her. He grinned, leaning towards his knee, and picked at a scab.

Becca's stomach churned and she turned away. She sat up in her chair, trying to look through the wall of people that blocked her view of the gym doors.

"Where are you guys?"Becca hissed into her comm.

All the lights in the gymnasium dimmed. A single spotlight fell on the stage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, can we all direct our attention to center stage?" The presenter announced. "Please give a round of applause for EcoCorp's CEO: Joseph Greene."

"Thanks," Joseph said as he walked onto the stage.

Nolan and Emily rushed into the gym. "In the gym," Emily replied to Becca through the comm.

"Get me out of here!" She whined.

Nolan and Emily were at a stand still in the crowd as the presentation began. There was no way they could get to Becca.

"Looks like you're stuck there kiddo," Nolan apologized.

An assistant appeared on stage, wheeling a table with glasses, and a water cooler. Becca grimaced as the water in the cooler, which was a murky brown, sloshed around with twigs and rocks. The basketball tweens looked on, some making grossed out faces and others squeaking and making gagging noises.

"Well, in order to start this demonstration, I'll need a volunteer," Greene scanned the basketball team in front of him."Come on, don't be shy. Who wants to come up here?"

"Becca, go ahead," Emily insisted through the comm.

"Me?" Becca whispered. "But, that water looks gross."

"Well, sometimes you have to get uncomfortable," Emily said matter of factly.

Becca whined, "But, Ems!"

"Rebecca, you're the one that wanted to be a part of this case," Emily reminded her. "Now, get up there."

That was true. She did make a promise. "I'm gonna hate this." Becca raised her hand, faking enthusiasm. "Me, I'll do it!"

Joseph motioned for Becca, "Come on up, kid."

Becca walked on stage and stood between the water cooler and Greene.

"What's your name, kid?" Greene asked.

"Anna," Becca blurted out the first name that came to mind.

"Anna, do you have any idea where your tap water comes from?" Greene asked.

She shrugged, "Underground, rivers, lakes, places like that."

"That's right," Greene nodded. "The water from those places is taken to water treatment plants, and it goes through the water treatment process."

Greene looked out to the crowd. "Did you know that some cities don't receive clean water even after it's treated?" He placed a hand on the water cooler, "This water cooler is filled with water that's been treated at a local water treatment facility."

"You sure about that?" Becca grimaced at the muddy brown water. There was no way she was drinking that.

"It's dirty now," Greene smiled to the crowd. "But, we can turn this into clean, healthy drinking with EcoCorps' environmentally friendly home water filtration system."

Becca shot him an unimpressed look. "Are you serious?"

"Don't believe me? How about a demonstration?" He placed a glass under the water cooler and pushed the button. Joseph held the glass of clean water to the crowd, earning a round of applause

Greene pushed the glass to Becca, "You want to be the first to try it?"

"Well, um..." Becca's mind raced back to Raj. What was he doing backstage? She swore she saw him with the vial Emily gave him earlier.

"Rebecca, what's wrong?" Emily asked.

"Ems, I don't know," She muttered. "I saw Raj doing some hanky stuff backstage. W-what was in that vial?"

Emily cut in, "Do you trust me?"

Becca was silent for a moment. She recalled her near colossal mistake in the press box how she'd called Emily "Mom". If her dad trusted Emily to keep their secret, and if Emily trusted her to be a part of her mission, then maybe it was time Becca did the same.

"Yes, I trust you." She said finally.

Emily replied in a firm but gentle tone, "Then trust me when I say that I won't let anything happen to you."

Becca tentatively took the glass from his hands. She took a whiff, expecting it to smell like something disgusting.

"Come on Anna, you can do it," Greene encouraged.

Becca held her nose and downed the water in one gulp. She shoved the glass in Greene's hand and stepped back from the front of the stage, giving her enough room from the crowd if she threw up. The tweens below scooted away from the stage and covered their heads, like they were expecting her to throw up on them.

A moment passed. And nothing happened.

Greene placed a hand on her shoulder,"Well, what did you think?"

"That wasn't too bad," Becca smacked her lips. "It kinda tastes like coconut."

"You see folks?" Joseph turned back to the crowd, "With just this simple piece of equipment you can have fresh, clean water free of dirt and chemicals anywhere in your home."

"Thanks for your help Anna," an assistant said in a bubbly tone as she led Becca off the stage.

"For being awesome, you get an EcoCorp t-shirt and sweatshirt!" The bubbly blonde woman dropped the items in her arms.

"Uh...Thanks," Becca walked down the steps of the stage. She coughed. A sudden tickling sensation scratched her throat. She took another step and put a hand to her mouth as she coughed harder.

"You okay?" The assistant asked.

Becca blinked her eyes, trying to get rid of the blurriness. "Yeah, I'm fine." She placed a hand to her head: suddenly it felt like gravity was pressing down on all sides of her brain. She staggered forward, missed a step, and tumbled down the stairs.

The crowd gasped and everyone huddled around the stage in panic. Nolan and Emily pushed through the crowd and darted for the stage.

Nolan knelt down to Becca. "Kiddo, you alright?" Her face was clammy and her usual bright, toffee skin turned ashen.

She coughed weakly,"Everything's spinning.."

Nolan scooped her up in his arms and helped her into a seated position, resting her back against the edge of the stage.

He snapped to the panicked assistant whimpering in the corner, "Call 911!" She jumped and took out her walkie-talkie.

Becca reached out, grabbing Nolan's hand, she moaning weakly, "Dad.."

He turned back to Becca, "Hey, I'm right here. You're gonna be okay." Nolan shushed as he wiped strands of hair out her face,"Everything is gonna be okay."

Emily paled at the scene before her. She spun around to the crowd, "Is anyone a doctor?!"

"I am!" An elder man with a balding hairline stormed to the stage. He knelt down on the other side of Becca. He took a penlight from his blazer pocket and shone it in her eyes, "Where are you hurting?"

Becca let out a pained whimper and clutched her abdomen,"My stomach feels like it's on fire."

The doctor took her hand and pressed his fingertips to on the inside of her wrist, "I'm having a hard time locating her pulse. It's very shallow."

"Everyone stand back!" A team of EMTs burst through the crowd carrying a stretcher. Nolan was pushed to the side as Becca was lifted onto the stretcher and an oxygen mask was strapped to her face.

He raced with the EMTs as they wheeled Becca out the doors of the gym.

"Where are you taking her?" Nolan demanded.

A grey-hair EMT placed his hands on Nolan's chest, stopping him from following them out the doors. "Sir, you need to stay behind."

"She's going into shock!" a female EMT yelled from the doors.

Nolan shoved the EMT off of him and raced to Becca's side. He swept a pair of curls out of her closed eyes.

"Hey, kiddo," Nolan cried helplessly as he held her in his arms. "Come on, open your eyes."

"Rebecca?" Nolan choked out. Her head fell to her side like a rag doll.

The grey-haired EMT rushed forward and placed his fingers to Becca's neck, checking her pulse.

The man turned to Nolan with a somber expression, "I'm sorry….we lost her."

Nolan stood glued to his spot as the EMTs rushed around him. They threw a white blanket over Becca and hauled her out of the gymnasium.

Emily appeared beside Nolan. She placed her hand on his shoulder in a vain attempt to comfort him. Nolan stifled. He shrugged out of her touch.

He swerved around to the stage staring down Greene with bloodshot eyes, "That was some demonstration." Nolan's voice was cold and icy.

Joseph took control of the situation like a true champ, "Look, everyone it's nothing to be worried about-"

"Who are you kidding? That girl is dead!" The doctor exclaimed.

"The news reports were lying," Emily stated, "The EcoCorp filters were the cause of those families getting sick... and now this?"

"Trust me," Joseph countered. "There is nothing wrong with EcoCorp's water filters-"

"Listen, I didn't make it this far, this fast, without pulling a few stops. The public doesn't need to know that the filters actually leach arsenic into the water." Everyone in the gym snapped their heads to the stage, as the speakers played the recording. "Do you have any idea how cheap it is to manufacture filters with bum parts?"

All eyes, cameras and cellphones were aimed at Joseph. He darted off the stage and raced out the doors of the high school. But, he didn't make it very far.

There to greet him outside of the high school were the NYPD and sitting in the back of a police cruiser was a beat up Roman.

A pair of beefy police officers rushed behind Joseph and forced him to the ground. Click.

"This isn't happening!" Joseph was pulled up to his feet by the handcuffs, "This isn't happening!"

A crowd had gathered outside the steps of the high school. Emily stood on the steps, watching as Joseph was hauled to a police cruiser. As he was about to get shoved into the back of the car, Emily strolled over to him.

"Emily, look," Joseph explained weakly. "This-this isn't what it looks like-"

"Is the Little Prince going to cry now that his castle has burned down?" Emily taunted.

Joseph's eyes widened in realization, "It was you? H-How did you..."

She smirked. "It's just like you said; everything happens for a reason."

With that, the cops stuffed Greene into the back seat. The lights above the cruiser flashed to life. Emily watched with steely eyes as the cruiser disappeared down the street.

"BABE,WAIT!" Miss Bimbo pushed past Emily and raced for the cruiser. She banged her hands on the window and clawed at the door of the cruiser. She stumbled to the side, the heel of her shoes snapping off, and tumbled to the ground. "BABE! What about Hawaii?!"


Emily strolled down the sidewalk to the empty parking lot in the back of the school.

"Looks like you guys survived the night without me," Amanda appeared, leaning on Emily's Mercedes.

"I'll be honest," Nolan walked up behind Emily. He bumped her shoulder with a laugh, "I did not expect him to run."

Raj waltzed over to the team. He folded his arms over his chest and shot Amanda a grin. "Damn, Amanda, you sure know how to have a good time."

A voice replied, "I'll say. That was fun."

Everyone, including Emily, Amanda, Nolan and Raj spun around. Becca walked out from her spot behind the car, a wrapped in the thermal blanket, and stopped in between Nolan and Emily.

"Weren't you on a stretcher?" Raj wondered.

Becca nodded."I slipped away while the EMTs were bombarded with the police."

"Did you see that chase?" She exclaimed and turned to her dad and Emily."It was just like the movies! Do they always run?"

"That was a first," Nolan admitted with a laugh.

"That was pretty good kid," Raj congratulated Becca."What was in that vial?"

"Capcisum extract," Emily explained. "It caused the profuse sweating and flushed skin."

"You knew that Greene wouldn't drink the water, and ask for a volunteer," Nolan put a hand to his chin. "That's why you were so adamant about Becca going up."

"The rest was just acting." Becca grinned. She scratched at her wrists peeling off the latex sheets and did the same with the ones on her neck. "Kinda scary how well these worked on the EMTs."

Becca spun around to Raj, shooting him a glare. "These stupid things had me itching like crazy!"

"Maybe you're allergic to latex," Raj pointed out. "By the way, special effects makeup isn't cheap."

"Right," Nolan took an envelope out of his blazer pocket and handed it to Raj, "Your pay."

Raj thumbed through the cash, "Looks about right." He smiled widely at Nolan, "So, you doing anything later?"

Nolan ran a hand through his hair, laughing nervously,"Well, I don't know if that's a good idea."

Becca narrowed her eyes at Raj and took a protective step ahead of her dad, "Not with you." she said in an icy tone.

Raj looked between Becca and Emily, both staring him down with steely eyes.

He placed the envelope in his jean pocket. "Well, I prefer guys that aren't tied down with a kid, anyway."

He smirked at the team, "Still, Nolan Ross has a teenager? Can't wait to see that in the news."

Emily took a menacing step towards Raj.

Her voice was calm as she said with a chilling smile, "Tell anyone, and I'll make sure you and your little theater - or should I say, ring of con artists - make the headlines come the six o'clock news."

Raj jumped back. "Easy, mama bear!" He threw his hands up in surrender. "I swear, I won't tell a soul!"

He glanced warily to Amanda. "See you around Amanda. It was fun working with your little team."

Becca glared daggers at Raj as he walked out of the parking lot. She turned to her dad, and grimaced. "Did you see how he was eyeing you up and down? That was gross."

Nolan laughed as he pulled Becca into a one-armed hug and kissed the crown of her head. He smiled at Emily. "I don't think we have anything to worry about, thanks to mama bear."

Emily turned to Nolan. "No one messes with my family."

Emily didn't expect it when the Becca threw her arms around her waist, pulling her into a tight hug.

"Thank you, Emily."

Emily could read the meaning the lines, she knew those words meant more than a simple thank you; they really meant that Becca was comfortable with her and that Emily had earned the teen's trust.

In the short amount of time the teen had entered her life, Emily instantly felt a need to protect her. She saw something of herself in the teenager.

Emily wrapped her arms around the teen's shoulders returning the embrace.

Click.

Emily and Becca shot their heads up. They spun to Nolan, who was smiling and giggling with Amanda, his cell phone pointed at them.

Becca laughed, "You're recording that?" She walked over to him, with Emily's arm wrapped around her shoulder. "Seriously?"

"We couldn't pass up the Kodak moment," Amanda laughed.

Emily looked over Nolan's shoulder watching the video play. "Should I be expecting that in the mail?" Emily joked.

"Oh yeah, this is proof," Nolan smiled. "I'm getting it framed and everything."

Chapter Text

Three days later, Nolan, Emily, and Fiona met at the Stowaway. A waiter walked up to their booth and placed a red food basket on their table.

"Thank you." Fiona smiled to the waiter before he left. She turned to her son and pushed the basket towards him. "Here you go, baby."

"Chikki nuggets!" Sam exclaimed as he swept up a nugget from the basket.

Emily and Nolan chuckled. Fiona grinned at the blonde duo. "Five-year-olds. They're so enthusiastic at this age."

A voice said. "It looks like this is the end of EcoCorp."

Nolan, Emily, and Fiona turned to the flat screen TV mounted above the bar.

The news reporter continued. "…the CPSC and Department of Justice have issued a voluntary recall on water filters manufactured by EcoCorp, after officials discovered the filters violated the CPSIA's arsenic content standard. The CPSC has confirmed the filters were directly linked to the illness that plagued many consumers and even the cause of death for a young girl, which happened at the EcoCorp charity basketball game just three days ago. The CPSC urges consumers to return their filters for a full refund…"

Fiona spun back to Nolan and Emily with a smile. "Looks like Greene is being cooperative."

"He's in a full court press with the CPSC and Department of Justice." Nolan grinned. "Looks like Greene won't be selling anything, anytime soon."

Fiona sighed in relief "There's still a lot of damage to clean up in the communities in Melrose, but, knowing that Greene was held responsible and those filters are out of the market makes me very happy.

Sam giggled as he smashed his hands in his food. "Mommy! Look what I make."

Fiona glanced to the mound of French fries and ketchup.

She laughed, "Do you want to be an architect when you grow up?"

Sam shook his head 'no'.

"Well what do you want to be an environmental engineer like mommy?" Fiona asked.

The five year old smiled and exclaimed. "BATMAN!"

Nolan grinned. "Nice choice, kid."

"Speaking of," Emily started with a laugh. "How's job hunting going, Fiona?"

"Well as good as can be considering everything," Fiona started as she took a napkin from the dispenser and wiped at her son's hand. "I know I shouldn't complain, a grade school science teacher's salary isn't much: but it's something to get us by till I can find another corporate job."

Nolan turned to Sam. "If you want to be Batman you're going to need a Bat Cave, right Sam?"

"Yeah!" Sam agreed.

Nolan glanced to Emily with a smile as she took a white envelope from her purse and slid it across the table to Fiona.

Fiona shot her a confused. "What's this?"

Nolan grinned. "Just a little something to help you get back on your feet. And to start on Sam's Bat Cave."

Fiona took the envelope and held it out to Emily. "Emily, please I won't accept a hand out."

"It's not charity Fee," Emily assured her. "Just open it. I think you'll like the surprise."

Fiona opened the envelope. Her eyes widened and her hand shot up to her mouth. "I haven't seen this many zeros on a check before." She looked around them and asked in a hushed tone. "Emily how did you get this money?!"

"I didn't do anything: it was all you Fiona," Emily explained. "The report you filed against EcoCorp with OSHA is considered a whistleblower claim."

Nolan smiled. "Because of your claim, the CPSC was able to pull the water filters off the market. And once that happened, you received a percentage of the settlement between the CPSC and EcoCorp."

"But, I never had the chance to file with the CPSC." Fiona recalled.

Nolan laughed. "We made sure your report was on the top of their list."

Fiona's eyes lit up. She seemed at lost for words. "I…I don't know what to say…" She squeezed the envelope in her hands. "This will go towards making sure the Melrose communities get clean water."

"What about Sam's Batcave?" Nolan wondered.

"Yeah, Mama I want to be Batman!" Sam smiled.

"Well, I guess we can do that now, huh?" Fiona pulled her son into a bear hug.

"Mama, is the bad man in jail?" Sam whispered.

Fiona kissed her son on the cheek. "Yes, baby. The bad man is in jail." She smiled at Nolan and Emily. "Thanks to these two."

Sam giggled. "You like suuupah-hewoes?"

"Yeah. I guess so," Fiona agreed with a smile. "Our super heroes."

Nolan couldn't help but grin at the comment: he'd always joked that he was 'Robin' and Emily 'Batgirl'.

Fiona and Emily came to a stand and the she brought Emily into a hug. "Thank you, Emily."

Nolan observed how awkwardly Emily returned the hug. For once, she wasn't playing the cool and charming Emily Thorne. She was exposing a part of herself that she'd just started to show him.

Emily released her from the hug. "You're welcome Fee."

Fiona turned to Nolan and gave him a quick hug. "Thank you, Mr. Ross."

"You're welcome. Take care Fiona." Nolan waved goodbye to Fiona and Sam and walked down the steps to the bar.

Fiona smiled at Emily. "I'm glad that you've found a family, Emily. I was worried you'd end up alone or something…"

She watched Emily. Emily glanced to the bar to see Nolan sitting down with a drink in hand as he talked with Jack.

Fiona grinned at the subtle blush on the apples of Emily's cheeks.

"He looks like a keeper." Fiona giggled.

Emily snapped back to Fiona. "There's nothing going on, Fee." Emily clarified. "We're just partners and good friends."

"Alright…" Fiona replied knowingly as she slid back into the booth with her son. "Just saying, that's how it always starts."

"Just you wait, Emily Thorne!" Fiona called after Emily as she walked down the steps. "I can already hear wedding bells."

Emily took the seat beside Nolan. "What was that all about?" Nolan asked.

She scoffed. "Nothing important."

Jack set a glass in front of her. "Your usual." He said.

"Thanks Jack." Emily took a sip of her drink.

Nolan chewed on a straw and looked up as he watched the news report from earlier. He glanced to Emily out the corner of his eye and noticed the proud smile forming on her lips.

"Crazy stuff happening these days." Jack heaved a tray of mugs off the counter and onto his shoulder. "It's nice to see there's still some justice in the world." He walked around the bar disappeared behind a pair of double doors to the kitchen.

"I'll say." Nolan threw the chewed up straw into his glass.

He reclined in his seat. "Who'd a thought: Emily Thorne a Revenger for the greater good? You really are Batgirl."

"Don't make a big deal out of it." Emily looked down at her drink and ran her fingers over the lip of her glass "…I couldn't have done it alone without Rebecca, Amanda, and you."

She turned to Nolan. "Thank you, Nolan."

The bell above the front door rang. Emily and Nolan turned to the entrance to see Rebecca. She strolled over to them and plopped into the seat beside Emily.

Becca smiled. "Hey, Ems."

"Hi, Becca." Emily replied before taking a sip of her drink.

Becca turned to her dad. "Dad, come on, if you don't hurry up we'll miss the first movie!" She twirled the keys in her hands. "I'll drive!"

Nolan grinned. "That's okay," He opened his hands motioning to the keys. "I'll drive."

She frowned and handed him the keys. "Dad, one of these days you're going to have to let me drive."

Becca hopped off the seat and spun to Emily. "Emily, you want to join us for family Movie Night?" She grinned. "I'm picking the non-boring movies this time."

"Top Gun is a classic," Nolan defended as he got out of his seat. "We are not watching Iron Man. You've seen it about fifteen times already."

Becca rolled her eyes at her dad. "Dad, how many times are you going to watch the same Tom Cruise movie?"

"How many times are you going to watch the same Robert Downey Jr. Movie?" He shot back.

"My movie is way better." Becca said in a matter of fact tone. "It has everything: action, suspense, tech, Pepperony-"

"You like your movie because it has pepperoni?" Emily asked.

Becca shook her head no. "No, no, not actual pepperoni. It's a shipping term."

"What's that?" Nolan wondered. "You teenagers are making normal language harder to understand."

"A shipping term is like the ultimate name that you give two characters you want together. Ergo: Tony Stark and Pepper Pots is Pepperony."

"I just learned something new," Nolan said like he was mind blown.

"Emlan…Emolan…Nemily… I don't know. I'll work on it." Becca muttered to herself.

Emily smiled at their exchange. Nolan and Rebecca were truly a like. She stood up and adjusted the strap on her purse. "Thanks, Becca, but, maybe another time."

Becca nodded in understanding. "Okay. Well, good night, Emily." She stepped forward and pulled Emily into a hug.

Emily smiled and wrapped her arms around Becca's shoulders. "Night, Becca."

Becca strolled to the door with Nolan. He spun around to Emily with a grin. "Night, Batgirl."

Emily grinned. "See you later, Robin."

She watched as the father and daughter strolled out the tavern.With that Emily said goodnight to Jack and headed out to her car.


As Emily sped down the street she glanced out her window, admiring the orange and pink colors of the sky, as the sun set into the inky blue ocean. She pressed the break as she came to a red traffic light. Emily tapped her fingers on the steering wheel waiting for the light to turn green.

The sudden sounds of laughter sailed through her window. Emily glanced to the park across the street to see a group of kids sitting at a picnic table. A little, blonde-haired girl wearing a princess outfit had her hands on her eyes. Kids dressed in party hats began to sing 'Happy Birthday' as a smiling blonde-haired woman and a blonde-haired man walked up behind her and set a cake in front of the girl. The girl leaned forward and blew out the eight candles. Her parents pulled her into a hug and stood on either side of her, their hand on the knife as she cut the cake.

Fiona's words came barreling back in her mind: Family.

Emily did have a family with her friends. They all made a mismatched family. It was one that Emily had fully come to accept being a part of and protect.

The traffic light flashed green. Emily tore her gaze from the family and sped down the street.

Friendship wasn't the only type of family Emily wanted. The familiar hands of dread snaked around her throat at the thought of heading back to her dark and empty beach house.

Ever since her mother left and Amanda had Carl: Emily noticed she spent a lot time daydreaming about the things Little Amanda Clarke wanted. She'd let herself indulge in the dreams for a while. It wouldn't hurt: they were just fantasies after all.

Emily imagines coming home to him after a long day of work - she doesn't know 'him' is or what he looks like. All she can imagine is a tall man in a dark sweatshirt and jeans. - The house is warm and full of light and he holds her in his arms and greets her with a kiss. They sit at the dining room table: eating a meal they'd cook together as they talk about their day.

She'd fall asleep not alone in her big bed: but curled up next to him, feeling safe and at home in his strong arms as she drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

She wouldn't awake to a deafening silence with her only company the ocean waves crashing outside her window: but to a home buzzing with his laughter along with the laughter of children.

Emily's been an only child her whole life. Growing up in the foster system she met a lot of other kids. Her foster siblings but they never stuck around long enough for her to form any kind of relationship. She'd warmly welcome kids running through the house.

Emily didn't grow up with many positive parental role models. Still, she knew she'd make a great mother because she had a lot of experience on what not to do.

For her, having children would be proof that she wasn't a monster or a lost cause and proof there really was a higher power up there that thought she was worthy of a do over. A child would mean a clean slate. She'd have a second chance to redo her entire childhood by doing everything in her power to raise her children (she was partial to adopting since she'd grown up in the foster system) in a safe, loving and supportive environment.

But none of those dreams would come true for Emily Thorne. Because these dreams were from a different girl, from another lifetime.

Emily was a rebellious teen in every sense of the word. Dating bad boys was one card in the deck of teenage rebellion that led her spiraling down a lonely and dark path till she ended up in rock bottom: AKA Allenwood Correctional Facility.

It only made sense she'd end up there of all places.

"You'll never amount to anything, Amanda." The money hungry parents would say like a mantra.

Well-intended parents would at least make an effort. "Keep this up young lady and you're only career options are: drug addict, criminal and stripper."

Emily chuckled. All of her foster parents should have been fortune tellers or stock brokers. Because they'd all make a fortune on how damn accurate they were about her future.

Once Emily aged out of the foster system and before she ended up in Allenwood: she'd scraped by to survive on her own. She was young and angry at the world and not yet willing to take responsibility for her life or channel her anger and harness it for a greater purpose. Emily's teenage mentality was as much of a habit as the packs of cigarettes she smoked.

But like all habits once the high is gone it leaves you feeling empty, alone and nursing one heartbreak after lonely heartbreak. The men - if she could even call them that - were only interested in her because she was the Devil's Daughter. They just wanted to see how much of a bad-ass she really was.

She rolled her eyes realizing her foster parents were right about one thing: she made a great criminal.

Some of the men she used were stupid and just as shallow as their bank accounts. Others were wealthy and rich and easy to catch. She was a black widow and her victims were her ticket to staying off the streets.

Just as quickly as she'd snatched them up with her charm and looks: she'd find the dirt-bags with their arms and lips around another girl.

Emily sighed in relief. Being older gave her the wisdom she didn't have when she was younger.

She scoffed as she recalled Nolan's question: What's your type Ems? Tall, dark hair, brooding personality?

Jack was no longer an option. Not only because Amanda and him were married, but because she'd lied to him ever since she arrived her. If he ever knew the truth that she was really Amanda Clarke: he'd never want anything to do with her.

Daniel popped up in her mind space but Emily quickly shook him out of her mind.

"Not after last summer." Emily said definitely.

She wanted someone that cared about her, a real friend and a passionate lover. Someone who knew her better than she knew herself. More importantly: someone who'd accept her for messed up past as Amanda and her uncertain future as Emily.

Suddenly Nolan came to mind.

Emily had never thought of Nolan that way before. But ever since she'd found out about Rebecca and finished the case: Emily noticed she'd been acting differently around him. Her body would react to his touch and whisper. She found that his warm smile was enough to melt the icy cage around her heart and pull her out of the dark recesses of her mind.

He was able to open her heart and showed her it was okay to trust in people.

The mystery man in her dreams was replaced with Nolan Ross. Nolan was the one that would greet her with a kiss after a long day. Nolan was the one that she'd snuggle up with in bed. It was Nolan's laughter that'd fill her mind and heart. It was Nolan who she'd have a real family with and raise a child.

Was Nolan Ross: tall, blonde and quirky her type?

Honk!

Emily snapped her eyes forward. She slammed her foot on the break, just in time to prevent her Mercedes from rear-ending the car ahead of her as they merged onto the freeway.

The car behind her honked once, then twice, before they sped ahead of her. They weaved back into her lane and got onto the freeway.

The traffic light flashed green. Emily pushed on the gas pedal. She threw up her flashers and merged onto the freeway. As she quickly approached her exit ramp Emily realized the left lane lead her to Nolan's house while the right lane took to her beach house.

Which was it: left or right?

Her cold and lonely house or Nolan's warm and inviting home?

Emily let out a breath. She flashed her blinkers and took the…


Becca smiled widely at the snacks and movies spread on the coffee table.

"Everything looks perfect," She said proudly.

She sniffed the air at the smell of burning chocolate. She dashed into the kitchen. Becca grabbed an oven mitt off the counter and opened the oven. She yelped as she picked up the piping hot tray and dropped it onto the countertop.

Nolan appeared from the living room. His eyes were glued to his Nolpad.

Becca narrowed her eyes at him. "Dad, you were supposed to be watching the cookies."

He glanced up from his Nolpad to her. "Sorry, I was in my office."

Becca noticed the Bluetooth in his ear. She frowned. "Dad, you're not going to work are you? It's movie night."

"I'm not working," Nolan assured as her. "I'm just getting a few last minute things done."

He looked away from his tablet to the plate of cookies. "Those look good." He reached out a hand and swiped a cookie off the plate.

Becca swatted his hand with the spatula. "Don't eat those yet, I need to decorate them!"

"Ow, okay. Sheesh." Nolan whined as he ate the cookie.

The doorbell rang and Nolan walked out the kitchen down the hall and opened the front door. He was shocked to see the blonde haired superwoman standing at his door. Nolan had gotten used to Emily arriving at his home at odd hours of the night, requesting for his help on a mission.

Nolan took in her appearance; a tan jacket, white shirt, and jeans and her hair was tied back in a ponytail.

Definitely not mission apparel. This was more like date night apparel.

"Emily," Nolan choked on the cookie in his mouth. "What are you doing here?"

Becca stuck head out the door. She smiled at Emily. "Ems are you here for movie night?"

Emily held up a shopping bag. "I bought some snacks."

Becca glanced to Nolan. "Dad, you gonna keep staring at her or are you gonna let her in?" A smile tugged on Emily's lips as Nolan opened the door letting her into the foyer.

"It smells great in here," Emily said as she followed Becca into the kitchen. Emily hung her jacket on the back of the chair and set her bag on the table. She glanced to the kitchen table: cookies, sprinkles, and ice cream sat in grocery bags next to a bag of nachos and a can of olives and a bag of shredded cheddar cheese.

Emily turned to Becca. "What are you making?"

"Ice cream sandwiches and nachos," Becca explained.

"Need any help?" Emily asked.

Becca handed her an ice cream scoop. "You scoop. I'll build."

After they'd finished making the ice cream sandwiches they started on the nachos. Emily stood at the stove with Becca mixing milk and cheese in a pot. She glanced out the corner of her eye to Nolan who was sneaking glances at her from behind his tablet as he sat at the island.

She finally turned to Nolan. "Something on my face?"

Nolan shook his head. "N-no, it's just, I didn't know you could cook."

Emily scoffed. "I'm a woman of many mysteries."

He grinned. "I'm interested in uncovering the mystery."

Becca watched as her dad and Emily exchanged glances. It was the kind that two people in love made. She grinned: it looked like they'd moved from the friend zone to something else.

Once the snacks were made Becca and Emily placed everything on the coffee table. Becca grabbed the remote off the table and sat on the couch ready for movie night. Nolan had pleaded with Rebecca to play something they hadn't seen before. But, neither of them could come to a decision. Emily decided to watch Rebecca's favorite, Iron Man, much to Nolan's disapproval.

"Glad that's over," Nolan said gratefully as the end credits rolled. He grabbed the remote off the table and backed out of Netflix.

Emily got up from the couch taking her mug with her. "That was a pretty good movie. You know, Ironman kind of reminds me of you." She disappeared into the kitchen.

"Maybe we should watch your movies more often." Nolan said to Becca. He glanced to his shoulder: Becca was fast asleep. She clutched her teddy bear in her arms.

He smiled. "Already tuckered out huh? Someone ate too much sugar."

"Like father, like daughter." Emily chuckled coming back into the living room.

She set her mug on the coffee table and grabbed the blanket off the couch. Nolan smiled as Emily tucked the blanket over his daughter. Emily grabbed another blanket off the couch and sat with Nolan.

Emily pointed to the screen. "What movie is this?"

Nolan glanced to the television screen not realizing a movie was playing. "It's When Harry Met Sally. It's a chick flick." He reached for the remote. "I can put it on something more action-y."

Emily shook her head no. "Let's watch it."

"One of your layers?" Nolan laughed. He figured she was more of a gore and action kind of gal.

Emily reclined into the couch and pulled the blanket closer to her as the movie started. She felt comfortable and safe as she rested her head against his shoulder.

Nolan stifled as Emily rested her head on his shoulder. He realized that if she were to move her head up or if he were to move his head down their lips would touch. He could smell the shampoo on her hair. Nolan let out a breath trying to steady his nerves.

He kept his gaze towards the movie. "Hey, Ems, thanks."

She glanced up to him. "For what?"

She just had to do that. Nolan swallowed the dryness in his throat. "Rebecca's never really had a woman she could go to and trust. I just really appreciate you being there for her. And keeping her paternity a secret. I-I just really appreciate it."

Emily frowned. She didn't feel like she deserved his thanks. It didn't feel well earned. After everything she did to Nolan last summer, she felt like she was just starting to treat him like a real friend and not a sidekick or a pawn in her plans.

Her voice filled with sincerity as she said. "You know I would never do anything to harm Rebecca or use you like that again."

At that Nolan had to look at her. He examined her face: looking for any hint of deception. He stared into her eyes. Searching hard for any but couldn't find any lies and half-truths.

All he could see was the truth.

Nolan murmured softly. "I know you wouldn't."

He knew that he could trust this woman with his life. With his daughter's life. Ever since he made number six on Forbes Youngest Billionaires only thing people wanted from Nolan was his money.

Every romantic encounter and one night stand left him feeling used, both emotionally and financially. The playboy lifestyle just wasn't him. But like so many things in his life it was an act, a well-placed mask to hide his less than ideal past.

And then Emily came into his life and changed everything. She accepted him for who he was: awkward nerd and all. She didn't like him for his money or his name. She liked him for him.

A smile tugged on his lips knowing that Emily cared for his daughter's well-being. Nolan could see that Becca thought of Emily as mother-figure. Emily was someone that Becca could trust and rely on. Emily cared about Becca. She cared about Rebecca more than Grace ever did. Nolan knew without a doubt that Emily would go to the ends of the earth to protect his daughter.

At that moment, Nolan wondered what he'd done to deserve a woman as strong, amazing and caring as Emily.

Nolan turned to Emily. Her gaze fixed on the movie screen. He reached out a hand and moving a strand of her hair out of her face. Emily turned to him as his hand cupped her cheek. She softening into his touch and let out a soft moan. Her hands found their way to his jaw and she held his face in her hands and looked into his deep blue eyes.

"I love you, Emily." Nolan uttered in a whispered.

"I love you, too." She leaned forward and captured his lips in a kiss.

A sharp sensation struck Nolan's left rib. He jumped and snapped his gaze to Becca to see her hand struck out to punch him in the side.

Nolan shot his gaze to Emily who was focused on the screen.

Was he was imagining the whole thing?

Nolan grabbed a pillow from behind him and used it to prevent Becca from using him as a punching bag.

"She punches in her sleep." Nolan explained as he scooted closer to Emily.

Emily curled her feet under her lap and rested her head against Nolan's bicep. He let his arm fall from the back of the couch till it gently rested on the blanket covering her legs. She didn't attempt to jerk from his touch his or swat his hand away.

Instead, Emily let out a content sigh and snuggled closer to Nolan. He looked back at the movie and relaxed enjoying the present moment.

Someday soon: he'd tell her he loved her.

Chapter Text

"We're all over the news. It's over. "Becca showed Nolan the news article on her smartphone. She read the article, "Nolan Ross tech billionaire and bad dad! Chose billionaire dollar company over child: lived it up while his love child and baby mama scraped by."

"I never should have trusted Emily." Nolan concluded. He kept his eyes on the road ahead. He snatched the blue Yankees baseball cap off of his head and punched the steering wheel. "I'm such an idiot to have believed that she changed."

"I trusted her." Becca muttered. "I thought you guys were friends."

Nolan laughed bitterly. "Emily Thorne doesn't have friends. She has puppets."

Becca flinched at her dad's words. She'd never heard him talk about Emily like that before. She turned in her seat to the rear view mirror and then looked out the backseat windows of the SUV.

It didn't look like anyone was following them.

Becca sighed, "I think we're good." she untied the green headscarf around her head and released her curly hair.

Nolan glanced to Becca out the corner of his eye. She sat in the passenger seat balancing her laptop in her lap.

"Looks like our route is clear through downtown Manhattan." Becca reported looking at the screen. She twitched her nose and the over-sized Hollywood sunglasses slid down her nose.

Nolan responded, "Good."

His grip turned white knuckled on the steering wheel. Was he doomed to repeat history? Again he fell for another predator that only used his kindness, name and money to get ahead.

Did he learn nothing from his experiences with his ex fiancée Grace 18 years ago or the hustler Tyler last summer?

He really was a bad judge of character.

He never should have told Emily. She'd played him good, with promises of change and being a friend. All lies.

They didn't have a future together. Not anymore.

Nolan moved his hand off the steering wheel and gently patted Becca's shoulder. "I'm so sorry kiddo. I shouldn't have introduced you to Emily. This is all my fault."

Becca looked up from her laptop to Nolan. "Hey Dad, I don't know what if-"

"Hold on." Nolan clicked the Bluetooth in his ear. "Ross." he answered, "Yeah. Have the plane ready by the time we get there."

Becca blinked her eyes. "Where are we going?"

"Pennsylvania. Carole and her horse ranch is in Lancaster." Nolan smiled at Becca, "Remember when you first learned to ride a horse? And we'd have Christmas there every year."

"Yeah…that was fun." Becca agreed with a smile.

"You'll love it there," Nolan grinned. "It's secluded and off the map. It's the perfect place to be till things blow over with the media."

"So we're just going to run away and hide?" Becca frowned. "Dad, what about my friends? What about school? School is three months away: how am I supposed to apply to MIT if I'm in hiding?"

"It's not forever." Nolan assured her, "The only thing that matters to me is keeping you safe."

Becca fiddled with the tassels on her scarf. "What are we going to do about all of this?"

Everyone in New York believed that Nolan Ross was a heartless jerk that cared more about his company than his kid. It was all lies.

Nolan kept his eyes forward and uttered. "You're going to stay in Pennsylvania with Carole. And I'm going to stay in New York and clean up this mess."

"Wait, you're just going to leave me in Pennsylvania?" Becca asked hurt laced in her voice. "When did you decide this?"

"Six years ago. You see what they're writing in the papers," Nolan explained in a stern voice. "I'm not going to let them tear us apart!"

"I'm not twelve anymore Dad. What happened to us being a team?" Becca reminded him. "You know, me and you against the world?"

Nolan sighed heavily. "Well, kiddo the world doesn't work like your comics. It's not so easy to be a hero when the whole world treats you like a villain."

"Screw them! I'm not afraid of the media." Becca exclaimed, "If you just stop being such a control freak and let me help, I'm sure I can come up with a plan to-"

Nolan snapped his head to Becca. "Rebecca just shut up! I'm the parent, you're the child and you'll do as I say!

Becca's lips quivered. "Fine! It's not like you needed my help anyway." She shut her laptop closed, stuffed it in her backpack, shoved it next to her feet and curled away from Nolan to the passenger window.

Nolan had officially failed to keep his promise: protect his daughter.

The SUV came to an abrupt halt. Nolan honked at the stretch of afternoon traffic leading out of Manhattan. He spotted a short cut across the street. He swerved out of the traffic and darted into the narrow alley way.

Nolan sighed in relief glad they were off the main streets, they'd make it to the airport on time.

He glanced to Becca and frowned. He hadn't yelled at her like that in a long time.

"Kiddo, look I'm sorry. I'm trying to do what's best for you." He relaxed his iron grip on the steering wheel. He reached a hand out and touched Becca's shoulder.

She jerked away from him. "I don't want to talk to you. Please, just leave me alone. You're good at that."

Nolan shrugged his shoulders and looked back to the road. So he'd have to deal with Rebecca would hating him for sending her off to Pennsylvania. He could live with that, it was a small price to pay to keep her out of the media. He knew how vicious these vultures were once they targeted a family. They'd eat them alive without mercy.

Just then Becca's cell phone rang. She sat up and fished it out of her jean pocket. EMILY, flashed on the caller ID.

Becca lifted her sunglasses. "It's Emily."

"Don't bother answering it." Nolan stated, "She'll try to reel you back into her evil games."

Becca glanced at her phone and shook her head. "This doesn't make any sense…I don't believe that Emily did this to us."

"What doesn't make sense?" Nolan demanded, "Emily used us: we're just pawns in her master plan!"

"Well if that's true than I want to hear it from her." Becca moved her finger to swipe at the green ANSWER button.

Nolan snatched the phone from Becca's hands and chucked it into the backseat.

"Dad, what the hell?" Becca huffed, "You're such a paranoid control freak!"

"I'm not paranoid." Nolan shot her a glare. "Rebecca, for once will you quit being stubborn and listen? I'm trying to do what's best for you! I'm trying to protect you-"

"Dad, watch out!" Becca pointed out the window.

Nolan snapped his head forward. A mob of paparazzi stood before them, cameras ready, blocking the exit to the street.

"How did they find us?" Becca blurted. "Damn these guys are persistent." They stood unwavering as the van advanced on them. "Do these guys have a death wish?"

"Let's find out." Nolan stated in an eerily calm voice. He pushed on the gas and the SUV sped up.

Becca swerved her head to her dad. "Dad, stop the car!" They charged at the paparazzi like a bull at a matador.

It was official: Nolan Ross had finally lost his mind.

"Dad you're insane! Stop the car!" Becca cried again. The mob was a few feet away from them. Becca shut her eyes and braced herself against her seat.

Crack!

Becca screamed as a body collided into the windshield. It made a loud cracking sound, like a bag of bricks slamming into a glass window. The SUV rocked back and forth as it ran over the body.

The SUV screeched to a halt. "Damn it." Nolan cursed.

The door light beeped and he raced out of the driver seat.

Becca peeled her eyes open. She peeked out the cracked window to see Nolan with his back to her standing at the hood of the car, looking down at the ground, pale faced with a hand to his head talking frantically into his Bluetooth.

Becca's palms were sweaty and her mouth dry. Did he just run over someone? Becca's pulse raced in her ears. Was she going to jail?

She was pretty sure MIT frowned at prospective students who had 'accessory to murder' on their permanent record.

"Dad, what happened? Is everything okay?" Becca uttered shakily as she pushed the car door open and got out.

Nolan spun around to her and held his hands out in a stop motion. "Everything is fine, don't get out of the car! Just stay inside."

Against her dad's advice Becca stepped from behind the door. A chemical smell burned her nose. She held her nose, took another step forward and slipped backwards. She quickly grasped the door handle for balance.

"What the hell?" Becca looked down at the sticky puddle at her feet. Her eyes widened. Bright red blood stained the soles of her white Toms.

Becca let out a scream.

Chapter Text

 

Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception - Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

 

One Week Earlier


 

Becca tapped her hands on her bid paddle and then glanced around the auction room. The bidders sat with their eyes glued forward to the flat screen TV's mounted above the stage. The only sounds that filled the spacious room full of priceless paintings, vases and other art - beside the occasional yawn - were of the monotone auctioneers who were explaining the 'beauty' and 'skills' of Degas's 'The Dancing Class' which was up for auction.

It was so quiet, even the security guards by the doors looked like they were nodding off. Becca glanced back to the stage. She snuck a peek down the front aisle to see Victoria Grayson and Sophie Bonnard sitting and talking to one another.

They were the reason they were here.

Normally, Dad and Emily did recon missions — but Dad was busy with NolCorp business — so Becca jumped at the chance to go. Emily thought it'd be a good experience for her to learn about how to deal with the marks — the enemy — in their natural habitat.

The auctioneer, a woman in a boring grey suit and an even more monotone voice, stood at the podium and took the gavel in her hand. "We'll start the bidding on the Degas at two million."

Becca sighed heavily. She thought she'd get to hack into something or Emily would have to beat someone up for information.

Nope.

So far they'd been sitting here for the last hour, doing nothing but bidding on stupid paintings.

"Excuse me, Dear." A voice said from beside Becca. She looked to her left to see an older woman in a floor length gown, big sun hat and white gloves, standing in the middle of the aisle. She looked like she walked straight out of a 50's movie.

"Is this seat taken?" The woman asked.

"No, go right ahead."

The woman took a seat and dropped her Mary Poppins bag on the floor then looked ahead to the stage.

Becca turned to her right and asked Emily. "Where's that auction fever I've heard so much about? That ought to liven this place up. I mean who really cares about buying art from a bunch of dead people?"

"It's all for a women's charity." Emily replied.

Becca frowned. "Ems, there are less mind numbing ways to give to charity."

Big Hat (the woman) turned in her seat and shot Becca a look as if to say teenagers these days. "In my day young women kept quiet and spoke when spoken to."

Becca smiled. "When was that exactly ma'am - when FDR was president?"

The woman made a disgusted noise and turned back to the stage.

Emily turned to Becca. "Can't you sit quietly?"

Becca whined, "Ems I'm trying. I just can't."

Bidders weren't allowed to bring cell phones or electronics into the auction room and because of that Becca was bored out of her mind.

Usually when Becca was bored she'd spend hours playing Candy Crush or watch Youtube videos on her tablet.

Can't do that here.

Becca flipped her bid paddle between her hands. "I bet Dad gets as bored as I do at things like this."

"Unfortunately, yes." Emily recalled with a small smile. "Must be a family trait."

"Do I hear four million?" The auctioneer called out. Emily raised her bid paddle.

"Four million to the miss up front! Going once, going twice-"

"Six million!" A voice yelled out from the front of the room.

Emily and Becca glanced to the front aisle to see Victoria Grayson standing up with her bid paddle raised high above her head.

Emily came to a stand. "Nine million."

"Ten million." Victoria countered.

Becca felt like she was watching them play tennis, but instead of a ball they were using the painting.

Just then Sophie Bonnard darted up and whispered something in Victoria's ear. Victoria smiled at Emily and took a seat.

"Going once. Going twice." The auctioneer banged her gavel. "Sold for nine million to Miss Thorne."

And just as before the room went silent and another painting was brought onto the stage. The auctioneer went back to announcing the painting in their monotone, robot voices.

Becca rolled her eyes and muttered. "Oh come on."

She looked down at her bid paddle. She felt like some kind of addict with withdrawal symptoms. She was a hacker and a teenager. Technology was her whole life.

Becca needed to get out of here. She needed her phone.

Suddenly DDR came to mind. Becca whistled and drummed her fingers to an imaginary beat.

"Are you on drugs dear?" Big Hat implored, not hiding the annoyed tone in her voice.

Becca turned to her and said with a straight face. "Not since last week. I've been having a hard time contacting my dealer. The summer buzz really takes a toll on the supply and demand."

She stifled a laugh as the woman's eyes grew wider and wider in disbelief. "Without crack I'm just no good."

"My goodness!" Big Hat's placed a hand to her mouth.

Just then Emily grabbed Becca by the hand and took her paddle away. She looked up at her expecting a laugh, but Emily looked less than amused at her attempt to have some fun.

"This is a big mansion," Emily hinted. "I'm sure there's something interesting going on outside in the garden."

"You're the best Emily!" Becca darted out of her seat and grabbed her hobo bag off the floor. Before she could skip out the doors to freedom, Emily grabbed her arm and said in a stern tone."And stay out of trouble."

Becca smiled. "I make no promises."


Becca raced out of the auction room and to the halls of the mansion.

She fished her cell phone out of her bag. "Finally." Her fingers tingled as she held her phone. "Come to Mama."

She looked at the screen and made a face. "No signals, are you kidding me?" Becca glanced at her smart watch on her wrist and wasn't surprised to see there wasn't a phone signal there either.

Concrete; technology's greatest weakness.

Laughing emitted from behind Becca. She spun around watching as two girls with pink flutes in their hands walked down the sun lite hall. They laughed and disappeared around the corner at a marble statue of a fish.

Becca threw her cell phone into her bag and followed them. Maybe they could lead her to the land of phone signals.

She followed the girls out of the mansion to a rose garden. Becca stood off to the side of the French doors and looked out to the veranda, observing as teenage girls in sundresses sipped on pink lemonade as they sat on outdoor couches gossiping with their cliques.

Becca stepped out to the veranda, took her phone out of her bag, and held it out in the air trying to catch a signal.

"Thank God, two bars." She smiled as her phone signals came back up.

Becca wasn't looking where she was going. And someone bumped into her, knocking her cell phone out of her hand and spilling a plate of food all over her dress.

"I'm so sorry!" The girl apologized.

Becca flicked pieces of fried shrimp off her navy blazer and grabbed a napkin off the buffet table. You could hardly see the tartar sauce stains on her mustard yellow dress. Becca knelt down, picking up her smart phone.

"Actually," The voice snickered. "I'm not."

Becca looked up to the girl. She narrowed her eyes at Genevieve.

"Nice outfit Becca. Shrimp and mustard are really your colors." Genevieve walked off laughing and joined her friends on the other side of the veranda.

Becca's cheeks burned. She balled the napkin in her fists. Becca glanced at the buffet table and grabbed a shrimp. She wanted so badly to fling one of those suckers into Genevieve's perfectly straight hair.

But she couldn't do it. She looked around her to the cliques. The familiar isolated feeling fluttered in her stomach. Having no one to back her up sucked.

Becca stuffed the shrimp in her mouth and walked off from the buffet table.

At least she had phone signals now.

"Maybe I can call Dad." Becca muttered to herself. "He could send a limo to pick me up."

As Becca headed into the mansion, two girls bounced over to her blocking her path.

"Hey," And Asian girl asked. "You're the girl that beat Genevieve in the tech awards right?"

"Yeah," Becca nodded. "That's right."

The Asian girl snickered and glanced to her brunette friend and then back to Becca. "Well, is it true that you bribed the judges to let you win?"

Becca shot the girl a look. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah," The brunette said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Word is you won because you slept with the son of one of the judges."

Becca couldn't believe what she was hearing. "W-what? None of that is true-"

"We just wanted to say, it's cool that you stuck it to Genevieve." The girls praised. "She's a real bitch and thinks she's all that just because her dad is the Sec of State."

With that the girls raced off to the garden. Becca tightened her fist around her phone. She spotted Genevieve with her drones and stormed towards her.

"You know, Genevieve I knew you were a sore loser and maybe homicidal - I mean you did try to run me over, so maybe I should have known better."

Genevieve's pink lips turned into a smile. "Well how else could your little,'invention' win first place?" She laughed. "Do you always put out that easily?"

Becca was seriously considering rearranging Genevieve's face with her fists. Genevieve was spewing every shade of BS.

She'd never put out for anyone; she was still a freaking virgin!

"Listen here Genevieve," Becca took a menacing step towards her. Genevieve took a step back.

"We both know that isn't true. And anyone who believes you, is stupid enough to trust anything you have to say."

"You know I kinda feel sorry for you. Daddy has no time for you being the Big Man of New York, and your mom is busy being a Mother Teresa. It's too bad you didn't pick up that family gene." Becca smiled as Genevieve's face went somber.

Becca always did this. Use people's pasts against them when they screwed her. It was the one thing other people couldn't do to her. She was in effect a ghost. No one really knew who she was.

"Is that why you spread these crazy stories?" Becca wondered taking a step closer to Genevieve.

"So you can feel important?" If Genevieve was the enemy and this was her natural habitat then Becca was the hunter there to disrupt it. "Maybe try to fill that little hole in your heart? But nothing really replaces Daddy's love, right?"

Genevieve's face twisted in anger. "You don't know shit about me Rebecca."

"I do, unfortunately." Another voice piped in. "At least she doesn't update her Instagram whenever she gets laid."

Charlotte Grayson appeared from the foyer and stopped beside Becca. "Really Genevieve — have a bit more decorum. You are the Secretary of State's Daughter," Charlotte laughed. "And I thought I had issues."

Genevieve pointed a finger at them. "You're an addict and she's a liar."

"Maybe so," Charlotte stated coolly, "But, at least we aren't attention whores."

At this Genevieve's face turned red. She swerved around and rushed off.

"Genevieve," Becca yelled. "Watch out!" Genevieve collided with a bowl of salsa when she smacked into a server. The chunky red salsa stained the front of her maxi dress.

Everyone bursted out laughing. Becca couldn't help it and joined in. "Salsa really is your color Genevieve."

Genevieve shoved the server out of her way and stormed into the mansion. Her drones following right after her.

Becca was surprised at what happened. Charlotte just did her a solid. Why? She didn't have to step in and defend her.

Becca turned around to thank Charlotte, but she had disappeared. She looked inside the foyer to see Charlotte talking with her friends.

Just then someone tapped Becca on the shoulder. She spun around to Emily who had a big grin on her face. "I just saw the Starke's girl rush inside. What happened?"

"Karma." Becca replied. "It's a bitch or in this case a bowl of salsa."

Emily gave her a knowing look. "Nice job staying out of trouble."

"Hey, it wasn't me!" Becca defended. "Anyway, how did your Antiques Roadshow go?"

Emily smiled. "I'm the proud owner of three paintings and a vase."

"Let me guess — Victoria was into the same ones?"

Emily nodded and took a sip of her lemonade.

"Nice." Becca's cell phone rang from her bag. She fished it out of her bag and glanced at the screen. "Hey, it's Dad. Gotta take this." Becca walked down the steps of the veranda to the garden.

"Emily!" A voice called from the foyer. Emily spun around to see Charlotte walking over to her.

Emily took in her appearance with her peach sun dress and floppy sun-hat. She smiled and pulled Charlotte into a hug. "Charlotte, you look lovely."

"Thanks, so do you." Charlotte grinned. "I didn't know you were attending. My mother hasn't exactly welcomed you with open arms. Speaking of, there's my mother."

They both looked into the foyer and spotted Victoria. Charlotte gave her mother a wave which Victoria returned. Emily did the same -Victoria looked away.

Emily let out a tiny laugh. "I think I've about mastered the art of dealing with your mother."

"If you can handle her, then you're practically a member of the family."

Charlotte tucked a strand of hair behind her ear – causing the jade bangles on her wrist to slide down. "You know even if you and my brother aren't together anymore. I'm glad we can still talk and hang out."

Emily felt a tightness in her chest. She was glad to see that Charlotte was doing better since she got out rehab. She worried that her half-sister fall would be trapped in the vicious cycle of pain meds. But she proved herself. She survived and got out of that dark place.

Charlotte had matured. She wasn't the same carefree easy going party girl from last summer. She had a good head on her shoulders despite the chaos that plagued her life.

"I'm proud of you Charlotte," Emily stated. "You're a lot stronger then me." She placed a hand on Charlotte's shoulder and brought her into a hug. "I'll always be there for you. You can count on that."

"Thank you Emily." Charlotte returned the hug. "That really means a lot."

"Ems it's official; I am the most awesome person in New York." Becca bounded up the stairs of the veranda. Emily and Charlotte released from their hug and spun around to her.

"Oh, hey," Becca uttered. "Charlotte Grayson."

"It's Clarke. " Charlotte replied in a snippy tone. "Charlotte Clarke."

Emily smiled at her sister. Glad that she'd taken up the name. "Charlotte this is Rebecca Thompson. She's a friend of Amanda's."

Charlotte narrowed her eyes at Becca. "We've met."

"Right, at the tech awards." Becca finished.

Becca had to admit she hadn't been the most tactful person when she met Charlotte. Using Charlotte's past with drugs as a comeback was a low move. She wasn't going to apologize. When it came to defending her family and friends — Mean Girl Becca showed up without remorse.

Emily felt tension build between the girls. It reminded her of herself and Victoria. Fire and Ice. Rebecca and Charlotte.

"I was meaning to ask you Emily," Charlotte started. "Amanda told me that you started up some charity organization — helping people."

Becca shot Emily a look that said should we be worried?

Emily knew that Amanda had a hard time keeping secrets. One way or another things ended up getting out of the bag when she talked.

"What do you do?" Charlotte asked Emily.

"We help people with legal troubles and provide them with the help they need." Emily stated.

Becca had to chuckle at that.

"Sounds really cool," Charlotte beamed. "Do you have any openings?I'd love to be a part of it!"

"Sorry," Becca cut in. "We're closed to accepting new members."

"At this time we're full," Emily reached into her purse and handed Charlotte a card. "Here's my business card. If you know someone who needs advice. Give me a call and I'll do my best to help."

Emily looked past Charlotte and Becca to inside the mansion."Well, I think I see Sophie Bonnard. I'll need to tell her what a wonderful event this has been. You girls have fun."

And just like that Emily walked off, leaving Becca with Charlotte Clarke. Becca looked down at her cellphone trying to figure out what she should say or do.

"Hey, thanks for all that with Genevieve." Becca started. She looked up from her phone to Charlotte with sincere eyes.

Charlotte pocketed the card in her clutch. "Genevieve is more trouble than she's worth. I'd stay away from her if I were you."

Becca scoffed. "Too late. We were good friends once before. And now she's turned into a-"

"A total bitch? No, that's just her personality. " Charlotte grabbed a flute of lemonade off the buffet table. "So what's your story?"

"What story?" Becca replied.

"Well, your last name is Thompson. I'm friends with pretty much every influential family in New York and I haven't heard of you. What does your family do?"

How did this turn into a game of twenty questions? Becca thought.

Becca grabbed a flute of lemonade and took a sip. "Well, my father is one of the top ranking engineers and designers at NolCorp."

Charlotte smiled, "How nice. And what does your mother do?"

Charlotte might have gotten Genevieve off her case. But Becca didn't owe her anything. Especially not the truth. "Mom wasn't ever around. My parents split when I was little - it's just been me and my dad."

"Oh, so you're an only child then?" Charlotte guessed. "Wow, that must get really lonely not having anyone around."

"Sometimes." Becca looked away from Charlotte and took a long sip of her lemonade.

Becca thought of Amanda and Charlotte's relationship. She'd never had that before. Ever.

It was lonely to come home to an empty house when her dad was working late. When Becca was younger, she wished she had a little brother to listen to music and play video games against or a little sister to invent robots with and have tea parties.

Becca knew that she would never get to have that kind of experience. Nolan was far from ready to be a parent when she showed up. What were the odds that he wanted another kid?


Becca twisted a rose between her fingers as she and Emily walked down the stone path from the mansion.

Emily turned to Becca. "You know it wouldn't kill you to be nice to Charlotte. She is my sister."

Becca twirled around to her. "Half-sister," She corrected. "And I'd like to remind you that being nice to Charlotte isn't part of the plan. You didn't say anything about me having to have a Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants moment with her." She shuttered at the thought of sharing her feelings and braiding each-others hair.

"Charlotte's in a fragile place right now Becca." Emily explained. "She's been through a lot."

"Who hasn't?" Becca shot back. "That doesn't give her the right to act like a jerk."

"Aw man..." The petals of the rose started to fall. Becca spun around to see a trail that started from the mansion to Emily's Mercedes. Becca flung the stem into a bush.

Emily fished keys from her purse and unlocked the car."I don't know Becca – you were acting like a bit of a jerk earlier."

Becca piled into the passenger seat. "Charlotte just rubs me the wrong way." She reached her hand to the radio and turned the dial till AC/DC shook the front seat.

Emily reached a hand out and lowered the volume. "Have you ever thought that maybe, Charlotte is looking for a friend, just like Genevieve."

"I don't know if you noticed but Genevieve is my arch rival." Becca reached out a hand and raised the volume a bit. "Besides, Charlotte and I have nothing in common."

Charlotte grew up eating off of gold spoons and wearing designer clothes. A far cry from the Chinet tableware and Goodwill brand lifestyle of Becca. No matter what, Rebecca couldn't ever see herself being friends with Charlotte.

Becca reclined in her seat and whipped out her cell phone to play Candy Crush.

Emily narrowed her eyes at Becca. "Have you forgotten your promise - to help me with my revenge?"

Dammit, Becca thought. She noticed that Emily brought that up at the times she didn't want to hear it.

She looked up from her cellphone. "No, I haven't."

Emily turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life. "Then for the good of the mission – you need to get on Genevieve's good side and gain her trust. That means not letting her rattle you every time you see her."

"Yeah, uh, I don't think I can do that." Becca kept her eyes to her cell phone.

"You're going to learn how to," Emily said seriously. "Because you'll be seeing a lot of each-other. Sophie Bonnard has the two of us on her RSVP list for the rest of the summer."

Becca darted her eyes up to Emily, "Are you serious?"

"Dead serious."

The memories of complete isolation came flooding back to Becca. Genevieve lies and tricks were only part of her bullying. The only real friends she made were her group partners – were Jasmine and Marisol and that was because they were being bullied just like she was.

"It's not that easy to ignore her Ems," Becca glanced to the tartar sauce stains on her dress. "Genevieve has a freaking army of drones to back her up. And what do I have?"

Emily placed a hand on Becca's and said with complete sincerity. "You have me. As you know I can be a very convincing person."

Becca looked up at her with wide eyes. Emily believed in her?

"You are just as smart and talented as Genevieve," Emily pointed out. "How many seventeen year olds do you know that can hack through NolCorp software?"

"Not a lot." Becca agreed.

"Just think of these parties as training with Genevieve as your target."Emily reached into the glove compartment taking out a pair of sunglasses. "I'm going to share with you a little secret."

Becca asked excitedly. "Are you going to teach me a ninja trick?"

Emily peeled away from the curb and started down the street. "Sort of, if you want Genevieve to stop bothering you - you need to show her that she doesn't have any power over you."

"Right," Becca nodded. "How do I do that?"

"You stand up to her by killing her with kindness." Emily stated.

"Isn't that counter intuitive?"

"You can't go around outing everyone Becca." Emily implied, "If you want to take someone down you need to act like their friend. Get them to trust you enough that they'll reveal their darkest secrets to you."

Becca was partly awed and partly freaked out at how Emily knew how to get into people's minds.

Emily smiled, "And I'll teach you how."


Nolan craned his head to the digital clock on his office desk. It was already midnight and he still had a ton of emails to reply to. He stretched his hands above his head and let out a groan, as the muscles in his neck popped. Sitting for six hours will do that to a guy.

The two things he hated about running a company were paperwork and board meetings.

He really needed to put inventing a self managed company on the top of the list.

There was a knock at the door and a second later Becca peeked her head inside the room.

"You're still awake?" Becca asked.

Nolan looked up from his computer. "Unfortunately, I haven't invented an automated business yet. Give me a few years."

Becca walked into the room with her laptop. "You have a second?"

He smiled. "Sure."

Becca grinned and plopped into the chair across from him. She opened her laptop and looked at the screen. "Okay, first question; what's your favorite color?"

"I can't pick just one." Nolan admitted. "But if I had to, I'd have to say blue."

"Alright, out of these musicians: David Bowie, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen or Rihanna; who do you listen to the most?"

"That's a no-brainer David Bowie. Because of his one hit song. Let's Dance."

"Alright," Becca spun her laptop around to him. "From this list, what matters to you most at the end of the day?"

Nolan glanced at the list and said firmly. "Family."

Becca turned the laptop around, hit a few keys and announced with a grin. "Congratulations, you're the Hulk."

"The Hulk?" Nolan blurted reading the results for the quiz. "No way, I always saw myself as Tony Stark. You know I am a tech genius and own a multi billion dollar tech company."

"Yeah, but personality wise I'd say you're more like Bruce Banner — you're nerdy, a bit of a loner." Becca knew her dad well enough. Besides Buzzfeed never lied to her before. "Plus when you're really angry you kinda explode!"

"Yes," Nolan agreed. "But, I'm also a blunt and charming ladies man."

"Oh, yeah Dad.' Becca scoffed. "You're a real heart breaker."

Nolan winked. "I don't tell you everything, kiddo."

"Eww. I don't want to know anything about any of that."

"Iron Hulk!" Nolan blurted after a moment.

"What?" Becca laughed. "Iron Hulk?"

"I have Tony Stark's money and brains with Bruce Banner's personality. Makes perfect sense."

"Okay, I guess that could work." Becca shrugged. "But you're still the Hulk to me. Hey, you wanna know what Ems is?"

Nolan laughed. "You got Emily to take this quiz?"

"It was a long car ride back from that auction house. Ems is Black Widow — she's a super-spy and member of the Avengers. And Amanda is Elektra — a badass assassin turned vigilante with a dark past."

"What about you?"

Becca fist pumped the air. "I'm Agent 13. She's a tech savvy agent of S.H.I.E.L.D who kicks butt… and Captain America is her love interest." She sighed dreamily. "I love me some Chris Evans."

"You really like superheros huh?"

Becca shut her laptop closed. "Yeah I mean they're pretty cool, and I think the whole idea of having a double life and help people is cool." "Heroes aren't perfect and they have their flaws but people still care about them and want them around."

Becca yawned, "I'm going to bed." She grabbed her laptop and walked around the desk to Nolan, pulling him into a hug.

"Night, Dad."

Nolan pulled her into a hug. "Night, kiddo."

Just as Becca walked out the room she paused mid step and spun around to her dad. "You know you guys might not think so — but you really are superheroes to me." She walked out the room and bounded up the stairway.

Nolan didn't have time to process what she said as his cell-phone pinged. He grabbed his phone off his desk and looked down at the text message:

Hey! There's an Investor's Meeting tomorrow… you should attend, it's a good opportunity to catch some new investors :-) - Padma

Nolan looked at the invitation attached in the message and noticed the option to invite a guest. He smirked knowing exactly who his plus one would be.


A banner with the words INVESTORS MIX AND MINGLE hung from the wooden beams above the entrance of the convention hall.

Sunlight poured into the room from the wide glass windows. The high wooden ceilings echoed with the chatting and laughter of business people.

Nolan and Emily stood off to the front of the room at the buffet table.

"You know," Nolan quipped. "Outside a Yankees game, this is the only place you'll see all these big shots together."

He looked at the spread of dishes. "Tapas. Sí señor." He grabbed a skewer of cheese and olives and took a bite.

"So, do you know these people?" Emily asked as she scanned the crowd around them.

"It's hard not to when everyone of them sends me invitations to their company picnics. They just can't take no for an answer." Nolan pointed his skewer wielding hand to a group talking near the windows. "See that big guy in the grey suit. His wig looks like it was styled by Einstein?"

Emily stifled a laugh as she glanced to the group. "Yeah."

"That's Alec Richards. The guy practically created the motherboard." Nolan explained. "But, he's a total hack and isn't that smart. I guess you don't really have to be smart when your net-worth is almost as much as mine."

"Who's the cute, young blonde on his arm?" Emily watched as the woman in a green dress laughed uncontrollably.

"That's Bethany Holt. Heiress to the Holt Electronics company." Nolan picked up another skewer from the tray. "Don't let her looks fool you. The woman is a shark in the boardroom."

"I think she spotted you." Emily stated. Holt and Richards broke away from their group and made a beeline for the blonde duo.

Richards laughed heartily. "Nolan Ross!"

"What a surprise to see you here." Holt added with a twang of Southern accent.

Nolan raised a hand meekly, returning the wave.

Emily leaned over to Nolan and whispered. "I thought you couldn't stand him."

"You'd be surprised how much you're willing to put up with for first dibs on a fifty billion dollar virtual reality contract." He turned to her with a smile. "I've learned a thing or two from you Bat-girl. Let's catch a whale, shall we?"

Nolan stepped towards the couple with a grin. "Alec, Bethany. You're looking great." Nolan offered his hand to Richards.

"And who is this lovely young miss?" Richards asked his voice rumbling.

Emily grinned and offered her hand. "Emily Thorne. Pleasure to meet you both."

Just then a server walked up to them with a tray of wine. Emily and Nolan each took a flute.

"And, let's talk business Alec and not about the wine this time." Nolan started earning a laugh from Richards and Holt.

Nolan smiled as Emily joined in with the laughter.

As the server traveled through the crowd the flutes of wine were quickly plucked off the tray.


"I'll take that off your hands mate." said a deep British voice. The server paused as a tall man in a sleek grey suit took a flute. The man walked over the bar at the end of the room.

He frowned at Daniel Grayson who was hunched over the counter mini bar surrounded by shot glasses. "Daniel, I think you had one too many."

Daniel looked up from the counter. "It's a free bar Aiden," He picked up an empty shot glass."I'm just trying them all." He raised the empty glass to the bartender."Be a sweetheart and give me a refill will you?"

Aiden took the seat next to Daniel. "Look, mate. We came here because we wanted to show your old man up, right?"

Daniel nodded his head slowly. "Yeah."

"So, get back in there and go get em. You can't let a couple of investors drag you down."

Daniel groaned in protest. Aiden looked across the hall to see Nolan."It's your lucky day: there's Nolan Ross."

"I don't think that's a good idea." Daniel suggested.

"Why not? He's the richest guy here and you said it yourself your father's been trying to land him for the last ten years." Aiden grinned. "You could be the one to close the deal. This could be the big one."

Aiden took a sip of his champagne. "Who's the pretty blonde next to him?"

Daniel spun around to take a look. "That's Emily Thorne."

"Isn't she the one that broke off your engagement?" Aiden quipped.

Daniel shot him a look. "Sorry," Aiden turned back to the crowd. "Well it looks like Emily has someone new to play with."

"Who Nolan Ross?" Daniel downed the shot. "They're just friends."

"Well then, let's make this a friendly competition." Aiden rested his weight against the bar. "You know how we Brits like to be competitive."

Daniel raised an eyebrow. "What kind of challenge?"

"How about, whoever lands Nolan Ross first buys dinner and beer." Aiden challenged. He watched out the corner of his eye as Emily walked off with another group.

He downed the rest of his champagne. "Well?" Aiden offered his hand to Daniel. A moment later Daniel shook his hand.

"Alright," Daniel agreed. He watched as Aiden rose from his seat and walked off.

"Aiden, wait!" Daniel exclaimed.

He chuckled and spun around to Daniel. "The game starts now, mate."

Aiden raced through the crowd to Nolan. He tapped the genius in the navy suit and red penny loafers on the shoulder and he spun around.

"Hi, Nolan Ross? I'm Aiden Mathis." He stuck his hand out to Nolan. "I work with Grayson Global."

Nolan ignored his hand. "You should have started with that." He frowned. "I'm not interested in doing business with Grayson Global."

Aiden perked an eyebrow at him. "Why not?"

"Let's just say that Grayson Global isn't too great at keeping their investor's personal lives private. If I invest with you how can I be sure you can keep me safe?"

Nolan chuckled as Daniel walked over to them. "It looks like Simba isn't ready to lead Pride Rock."

"Look Nolan, whatever happened last summer was a mistake." Daniel kept his cool. "But I promise you that if you invest with Grayson Global you won't regret it."

Nolan scoffed. "You know what they say: first impressions are your last impression."

With that Nolan walked off from the duo.

Aiden glanced to Daniel. "What was that about?"

Daniel stood fuming. He wasn't going to loss. He needed this to happen, he needed to get ahead of his father. He turned away from Aiden and looked around the room trying to come up with a plan. As he looked around the room he spotted her.

Daniel turned back to Aiden and said sternly. "Look, Aiden. You do whatever you can to get him on board with us. I'm going to turn in favors with our top investors."

"Got it, Boss." With a nod Aiden raced off through the crowd.

It was hard not to spot her once she walked in the room. How couldn't he notice her? She stood out in her red business dress against the background of monochromatic dressed people.

Daniel didn't know why he was following her like a moth to a flame. Or why he was hiding behind a wooden beam, watching as

Emily conversed in Italian with a group of women. "Grazie mille," She took the woman's business card. "Teniamoci in contatto."

He knew she spotted him once she turned from the group. And now she was walking over to him.

Shit.

"Daniel?" Emily called right behind him, causing him to appear from his hiding spot.

He leaned against the wooden beam and held his flute of champagne in the other. He took a sip, willing the nerves in his stomach to calm down.

"Emily, what are you doing here?"

"I'm just here to support my friend Nolan Ross." She smiled. "And see if I can land a few investors myself."

Daniel took a sip of his champagne as he took in her appearance. She still looked as incredible as ever.

"It's uh. Good to see you. You look great."

Emily looked down at her flute of champagne and giggled. "Thank you. So do you."

"Emily," Daniel started. "I wanted to asked you something."

She looked up at him. Her brown eyes sparkling. "Yes, Daniel?"

"I wanted to ask if you'd uh..." Daniel trailed off. "If you would like to…"

If she what? If she wanted to go out for drinks like old times? If she could give him a second chance and they could rekindling their relationship?

Emily spun around as Nolan called out for a few yards away. She waved to him and then turned back to Daniel. "What was it you wanted to ask me?"

"It's nothing important." He waved her off. "Never mind."

"Are you sure?" She pressed, her voice with a hint of worry, "Is everything alright?"

Daniel looked at her expression. he knew that she could sense there was something more he wanted to say. He knew she'd try to pry - it was her nature - and he'd end up telling her what was going on.

"Yeah," He assured her. "It's nothing."

"Well...it was great seeing you," She smiled softly. "Good bye, Daniel."

He watched somberly as she walked off. Daniel cursed at himself at the fact he blew his chance with her.


 

As Nolan and Emily drove down the highway, Nolan turned in his seat and gave the blonde ninja a smirk.

Emily looked at him from the corner of her eye."What?"

"I couldn't help but notice your little moment with Danny earlier." Nolan revealed. "The poor guy looked pretty nervous when he saw you."

Emily kept her eyes on the road. "He was trying to ask me out. But he couldn't."

"Can't blame the guy. Shot in the heart and you're to blame." Nolan scoffed. "So, with a broken heart the prince of New York seems kind of obsolete to your plans now."

"Just because I'm not his fiance, doesn't mean I can't use him." Emily stated. "Daniel is still a part of the plan."

Nolan reclined in his seat. He couldn't wait to see what Emily would do this time.

Chapter Text

"Yesterday could have gone better don't you think, mate?" Aiden glanced across the limo and noticed the future prince of New York looking down at his cell phone.

Aiden spotted the name EMILY on the contact list.

"You still have her number?" Aiden stated.

Daniel shot Aiden an accusing look and pocketed his cell phone. "Is it a crime to have her number?

Aiden held up his hands in surrender. "Fair enough."

The limo rolled to a stop. Aiden looked out the window and up at the modern building front of NOLCORP.

Daniel grabbed his briefcase off the seat and stepped out of the limo. Aiden stuck his head out the window, watching as Daniel made his way to the doors of NolCorp.

"Mate," Aiden called out. "I thought Nolan Ross wasn't interested in investing."

Daniel spun around and grinned. "I have my ways of being persuasive."


Nolan walked down the R&D hall of NolCorp with a tablet in hand. He stuck his head into one of the labs and yelled. "Surprise inspection!"

Classic rock blasted through the speakers of the design lab. The lab was bustling with coders typing at desks. Engineers stood at drawing boards going over designs. Designers were hunched over tables covered in blueprints, crafting watch prototypes out of metal and leather.

Nolan walked up to a design table and grabbed one of the watches off the display.

A designer glanced up to him nervously. He strapped the watch on his hand and glanced to the designer.

Nolan grinned. "Nice, but, try making the wrist band a little less bulky."

The designer nodded, "Will do."

"This is so stupid!" A voice exclaimed.

Nolan glanced behind him to the computers lab. to see a young woman punching her keyboard. She darted up from her desk, sending her office chair sliding across the linoleum floor, knocking it into the design table behind her.

Nolan grabbed the office chair and wheeled it back around to the woman. "Be nice to the furniture, it has feelings too."

She looked at him the ink pen in her mouth falling onto her desk. "Oh, Mr. Ross I'm sorry."

"What seems to be the problem?" Nolan asked picking up the ink pen from the floor.

The coder replaced the pen in her mouth and muttered. "I've been working on this web app for the last hour and I've just about had it!" She chewed on the ink pen furiously. "I'm a freaking computer engineer and I can't even figure out how to make this software work?"

"Let's see what we can do." Nolan offered taking the seat next to her.

He glanced to her computer screen. To some people HTML was as foreign as speaking Urdu, but for Nolan the line of code was practically his first language — in an instant he found the problem.

"You didn't close off this line of code."

"Shut up." The young woman pushed herself towards her desk and gawked at the screen. "Are you serious?" Her hands flew across the keyboard. She hit ENTER and the graphic of a rabbit chasing a carrot leapt across the screen.

The woman turned to Nolan and smiled. "You're way awesome, thanks a bunch!"

In that moment Nolan thought of Rebecca. He could imagine she'd be a great addition to the R&D department. NolCorp always had internships in the summer. Maybe Rebecca would be interested in interning. They could use some new blood around the office.

Nolan was pulled out of his thoughts when an older woman wearing a navy suit strolled up to him.

"Mr. Ross," The woman said in a professional voice. "I need you to sign off on some forms from accounting."

Nolan came to a stand and looked at his R&D team with pride. "Great job everyone. I'm excited and you all should be too, things are looking good for the fall launch!"

Nolan and his assistant walked out to the hallway and she handed him the tablet.

"Beth, did you do something to your hair? Are those highlights?" He gestured to her pin straight pony tail.

Beth scrunched her nose and her glasses shifted on her face. She shifted them back to their proper place. "No. I've worn my hair the same way for the last five years."

Nolan handed her back the tablet. "You know you really should come to the corporate parties. Have some fun and lighten up. They are a lot of fun — last time there were flamingos and hula dancers!"

"I don't go to parties Mr. Ross."

"Of course you don't." Nolan replied. "Beth you're no fun."

"It comes with the job." Beth grinned a little and handed him a small brown package. "There's something for you from accounting."

Nolan opened the package surprised to find a bronze elephant shaped key-chain. He picked it up and read the slip of paper attached to it:

Elephants are a symbol of power and good fortune. Here's to being free of the IRS - Padma.

The Audit Whispered had used her powers to dispel the IRS from NolCorp once and for all. Nolan was glad that he'd hired Padma when he did. While Padma didn't have a lot of experience as a CFO, Nolan admired her drive and perseverance.

He had to admit he was a bit of a control freak preferring when things went according to his plans. When it came to hiring a new CFO he wanted a partner he could micro manage who would follow his rules. Padma was different — she was an initiator, she'd take charge of a situation no questions and was willing to put in the hard work to get results.

Nolan could see a lot of his younger self in her.

Beth looked up from her tablet to Nolan. "Mr. Ross, your three o'clock just arrived."

He perked an eyebrow at her. "I have a three o'clock, with who?"

Nolan walked down the hall to his office. He opened the doors and stopped dead in his tracks as the person sitting at his desk turned around.

"Oh," Nolan deadpanned. "And I thought I had everything Grayson blacklisted."

Daniel Grayson rose from his seat and grinned. "Nolan, good to see you too."

Nolan shut the door behind him. He strolled into his office and took a seat at the front of his desk.

"Have a seat." Nolan offered. Daniel set his briefcase on the floor and took the chair across from him.

Nolan grabbed the solved Rubik's cube off his desk. He glanced to Daniel with a bored expression. "What do I owe your unwelcomed presences?"

"Nolan you're a cagey man." Daniel started. "Some would even call you a Maverick."

"Flattery will get you nowhere." Nolan reorder the tiles on the Rubik's cube. "I have a lot of work to do, so don't waste my time."

"Well, it's no secret that Conrad's been trying for eleven years to get you to invest with Grayson Global. And every time you've denied. Now why is that?"

Nolan chuckled to himself. Well, for one your family used my mentor, my best friend - tried and murdered for a crime he didn't commit. Second, your parents irreversibly screwed up an innocent eight year old girl's life, leaving her alone to fend for herself..

"Sorry that I'm not Team Grayson," Nolan jeered."I have my reasons."

Daniel's eyes flashed with annoyance.

"Well, Danny you can add another 'No' to your list." Nolan set the Rubik's cube on his desk and rose from his seat. As far as he was concerned this conversation was over. He walked past Daniel to the door and opened it. "I'm not sure what part of I'm not interested in investing with you, wasn't clear."

"Does the name David Clarke ring a bell?"

The slap of the thick manila folder hitting the desk rang through the office. Nolan went silent. He swallowed the dryness in his throat. He glanced to the manila folder and then to Daniel.

Did Daniel Grayson know about Emily's real identity? Were the blonde duo's days of plotting and avenging over, just like that?

Nolan closed the door. He turned to Daniel and walked back to his desk.

"Who hasn't heard about them? They're all over the news." Nolan explained. "I'm not really familiar with them."

"Really?" Daniel asked incredulously. He picked up the folder and opened it. "David Clarke should be very familiar to you, because according to this prison visitor's log, you visited Clarke over thirty-eight times before he died in prison."

Nolan scoffed and picked up the Rubik's cube. "Now where did you learn that?"

Daniel smirked triumphantly."I have my sources."

"You mean your family's private investigators?" Nolan implied. "Those files were sealed."

David insisted that Nolan's involvement in his legal case be sealed from public record because he didn't want any repercussions from their relationship to come back on Nolan later. Now that he was a father and had Rebecca to care for, he didn't just have himself to worry about. Nolan was glad that his friend, his mentor, was looking out for him.

"Amanda Clarke is practically a celebrity now." Daniel noted. "In fact, I heard you were one of the first people she came to visit when she arrived back in the Hamptons last summer. Seems like you were pretty close with the Clarke family."

Nolan kept his cool. So Daniel didn't know the real truth about Amanda or Emily...or so he hoped.

"Is there a point to all this?" Nolan pleaded. "We all know how you like to beat around the bush."

Daniel's smile faltered. He slammed his hands on the desk and looked Nolan square in the eye.

"The point - is you were friends with a terrorist. Come on Nolan, you're the genius here: you own a software company. Do you really think your customers would want to buy computers if they knew it was associated with a monster that bombed a plane full of innocent families?"

Nolan observed Daniel. It looked like his crusade to steer Grayson Global on the straight and narrow was taking a detour. Fast.

"What would happen if your potential investors knew about this?" Daniel inquired. "NolCorp - you're life's work would go down the drain just like that."

Nolan raised his head meekly. "Well...who else knows about this?"

"Right now, the only people that know about this is us." Daniel revealed "And if you invest with Grayson Global it'd stay that way."

Seemed he was taking a page out of Conrad's book on how to do business.

Nolan grinned. "So, you're blackmailing me?"

"Blackmail is a bit extreme. I prefer the term 'being transparent' - which is something Grayson Global prides itself on."

"Save the speech for someone else Grayson," Nolan stated coolly, channeling his inner Emily. "Blackmail is blackmail."

Daniel smirked. "I'm just making your potential investors and customers aware of the skeletons in your closet."

"Everyone has skeletons in their closets and things that are better left buried." Nolan mentioned. "Your family of all people should understand that."

Daniel picked up his briefcase, strolled over to Nolan, and shoved the manila folder into his hands.

"Just think about it." Daniel smiled deviously. "I'm confident you'll make the right decision." He turned toward the door and walked out the office.


Daniel walked out the NolCorp building towards his limo. The driver opened the door and he stepped inside.

"Alright," Aiden said into his cell-phone as Daniel took the seat across from him. "Thanks for the heads up. I'll let him know."

The limo started off down the street. Aiden shut his cell-phone and glanced to Daniel. "Judging by your smile and livened attitude - I'm guessing your persuasion with Nolan Ross went well?"

Daniel handed Aiden a glass from the compartment of the mini bar and took out a bottle of amber liquid.

Aiden smiled as Daniel poured the Scotch into their glasses. "Reason to celebrate?"

Daniel smiled confidently and held his glass out. "It may be too early to say but it looks like we can put Nolan Ross on Grayson Global's' board of investors."

They clinked their glasses.

Aiden looked down at his glass. "Mate, I don't meant to piss on your parade, but you're Japanese translator called to canceled. Something about strep-throat."

Daniel took a sip of his drink and waved his hand to Aiden like he was a king. "No problem. You work with Takada –- you can be my translator."

He shook his head, "I wish I could mate, but Takada and Kenichi have bad blood between them. I wouldn't want to threaten your business deal."

"Well where am I going to find a Japanese translator last minute? My meeting with Kenichi is in two days."

Aiden took a sip of his drink and gave Daniel a wide grin.

"No," Daniel said sternly. His chipper demeanor vanishing. "Don't say it. In fact don't even think it."

Aiden shrugged nonchalantly. "Look mate hear me out. I've known you for three months — yesterday was the first time you actually looked happy. When I saw you and Emily together there was this spark ignited inside you."

Daniel took a long sip of his drink.

Aiden sighed heavily. "I understand that Emily and you had a falling out and that it still hurts. But this is the perfect reason for you to show her that you're a changed man. If she's as great as everyone says she is she's gotta believe in second chances — right?"

Aiden laughed and downed the rest of his drink. "You're Daniel bloody Grayson – who wouldn't want you back?"

Daniel looked down at his glass of Scotch. He was determined to carve his own path in the family company. And make Grayson Global better than his father and grandfather ever did. Securing NolCorp as an investor was the first rung on the ladder of Grayson Greatness.

If Daniel could get Nolan Ross to invest with him - something his father could never do - then why couldn't he win back Emily? Winning her back would get his life back together. He needed her. She was the puzzle piece missing from his dysfunctional life.

And he knew that Emily needed him. Just as badly.

Daniel smiled to himself as a winning plan formed in his mind. By the end of the week Nolan Ross would be an investor of Grayson Global and Emily Thorne would be by Daniel's side once again.

He was after all a Grayson —- it was in his DNA to win.


Nolan sat in his home office looking through the manila folder that Daniel provided him. He reached for the glass of Scotch on his desk and took a sip.

"I never thought that Daniel was smart enough to blackmail me with my old prison visits with David." Nolan said to Emily over the phone.

"I'm concerned about your company," Emily explained. "If Daniel releases this to the press this could be bad news for NolCorp."

"I wouldn't worry too much," Nolan remarked. "Daniel thinks releasing this to the press is going to ruin me. What he doesn't realize is that I own pretty much every major investor with NolCorp. I have nothing to lose."

A ping came from Nolan's computer. He looked at the screen to see an IM; ALL CLEAR.

"You can relax Bat-girl," Nolan reassured. "Looks like no one has tried to access you or Mandy's records."

The two had cross referenced their contacts to make sure nothing was out of place.

Nolan took a sip of his drink and reclined in his seat. "Your secrets are safe."

"What about yours?" Emily questioned.

"What do you mean?"

"What if Daniel starts to dig deeper for information and makes a connection between Rebecca and you? He could try to use that to blackmail you into investing with Grayson Global."

Nolan scoffed. "Danny isn't that smart Ems. He can barely tie his own shoes."

"Maybe not, but he can hire people smarter than him to start digging."

The thought never crossed Nolan's mind. It's possible Daniel could use Rebecca as a pawn and threaten to reveal her paternity to the world — all to get his hands on NolCorp.

Nolan's mind raced with worry. He could see his life crumbling apart.

Rebecca would lose her anonymity. The press would drag their names through the mud. Nolan couldn't let that happen. He'd only had her for the last six years - he wasn't going to let anyone hurt his kid.

"Do you think he would?" Nolan worried.

"I wouldn't put it past him." Emily added reassuringly, "I'll keep an eye on him; make sure he doesn't go sticking his nose where it doesn't belong."

"Thank you Emily." Nolan was silent for a moment. "Hey, are we still on for Chinese and movies Thursday?"

"I'm looking forward to it." Emily replied. "After this week of meetings and luncheons I'm ready to relax."

After his long and stressful week all Nolan wanted to do was relax with his two favorite girls and watch cheesy action movies over some of the best Chinese takeout in New York.

Nolan closed the manila folder and placed it in his desk drawer. "Becca told me you gave her some ninja advice on dealing with her arch rival."

"I just told her a few things," Emily explained. "I hope that's alright."

"No, it's great. Whatever you said seemed to make her more confident." Nolan was glad that Emily could have a positive effect on Rebecca. "I've never seen her so fired up to attend another art auction."

"She tends to be hard on herself and has some doubts about her abilities," Emily revealed. "She's steadily gaining confidence. She's a smart and charming young woman. You did well."

Nolan smiled widely. "I can't take all the credit. She did most of the raising both for herself and me."

"Just take the win Nolan," Emily teased. "I'll talk you to later. Good night."

"Night, Ems."


After they hung up, Nolan went on his computer and pulled up REBECCA'S ACHIEVEMENTS.

Doubts plagued his mind. He wasn't so sure if he had this whole parenting thing down yet.

And yet, as he went through the photo album of memories - a sense of calm wash over him.

He smiled seeing Rebecca at the age of fifteen dressed up in a glittery blue gown for her junior-sophomore prom.

The next picture on the slide was of the two of them at an arcade eating ice-cream sundaes with Nolan sporting a shaggy brown wig and a mustache.

Nolan turned off the light to his office and walked up the stairs. He knocked on Becca's door. A moment passed and he didn't hear a reply. A soft creak emitted as he opened her bedroom door.

Becca was fast asleep with her mp3 player in her hand and headphones over her ears. Nolan walked over to her bed, gently removed the headphones from her ears and placed them on the night stand.

He grabbed the plush green comforter off the end of her bed and tucked her in. Nolan grabbed her stuffed bear off the floor placing it next to her and then leaned down to kiss the crown of her head. Becca grinned and clutched her bear to her chest.

As Nolan made his way out the room he noticed a poster of The Avengers tacked on the wall above Becca's computer desk.

Becca had mentioned yesterday that she thought of Nolan, Emily, and Amanda as superheros. And that she thought of him as the Hulk.

He didn't admit it to her yesterday and maybe he never will - but he felt honored that she felt that way about him.

Despite his shortcoming - Rebecca thought he was a good parent.

Nolan knew that parents like superheroes weren't perfect. He was learning each day that parenting was all about doing what was best for your kid and trusting yourself to make the right decisions for them. All he ever wanted to do was be the type of parent she deserved and the type of father he never had.

Honestly, he didn't know if he was doing a good job sometimes. When they first met, he worried Becca would turn out to be like him - a loner nerd who'd hide themselves away in their computers. But Becca proved him wrong. Even though they both liked computers and coding. In many aspects they were different.

Nolan still doesn't know if he has the parenting thing down. Yet when he looked at how far he and Rebecca had come in the last six years. He figured he must have gotten something right.

Maybe he wasn't a perfect parent, but if Rebecca thought he was good enough -- well maybe he could be alright with that.

Chapter Text

Thursday couldn't have arrived sooner for Emily. Working as a philanthropist was exhausting. Sure the work had its perks — like wining and dining with celebrities and dressing up for glamorous parties. That world, tended to overshadow the other less than glamorous side. Lethargic board meetings, headache inducing grant proposals. Spending days, even weeks, bending over backwards, trying to land prospective organizations to sponsor the events of choice.

Sometimes, Emily wondered why she chose the role of a philanthropist as her cover. She could have chosen something simpler — like a philosophy professor or a karate teacher.

Philanthropy was in a few words; gratifyingly exhausting. She couldn't forget the smiles on the faces of the kids and families she'd helped — from causes like foster care to women's mental illness.

They made it all worth it.

Emily pressed the button on the elevator and stepped inside. She let out a heavy sigh and glanced at her reflection in the chrome plated walls. She looked professional in her cream pencil dress and navy blazer. Emily smiled. Makeup, as magical as it was, couldn't hide the tiredness in her eyes or the subtle stress lines on her forehead. She released her hair from its ponytail, letting the long curls cascade over her shoulders.

She ran her fingers through her hair. Teasing it, hoping it would make her look more energetic then she felt. She reached into her purse for lipstick and applied the crimson color to her lips.

With a frown, Emily leaned back and rested her head against the wall of the elevator.

"I can't wait to relax."

Her heels clicked against the granite tiles as she walked through the lobby. Moving through the revolving glass door, Emily stepped outside. She shielded her eyes from the bright mid-morning sunlight with her Gucci sunglasses.

She walked into the crowd of business people and waited at the street corner for the walk signal.

A Hispanic business man stopped at the crosswalk ahead. What was out of place in the normal picture was the teenage girl wearing a frilly tutu. With a tote bag slung over her shoulder as she looked down at her cellphone.

The walk signal lit up.

"Dad, you're going to my recital right?" the ballerina asked.

"Of course, kiddo," the man replied. "I wouldn't miss it."

As Emily passed the ballerina and her dad, she couldn't help but smile at the thought of going to Nolan's home later that evening. She was looking forward to spending a normal, relaxing evening with the two people she cared about.

Spotting her Mercedes in the parking lot a block ahead, Emily fished her keys out of her purse.

"Emily!" A voice yelled out through the noise of traffic. The voice yelled again. Emily kept walking not thinking much of it — Emily was a common name.

"Emily!" the voice yelled from behind her, closer this time, they yelled again and that time she recognized the voice. Emily spun around to see Daniel Grayson bolting down the sidewalk, his tie flailing behind him. He stumbled forward as two kids on skateboards zoomed past him, halting him in his search.

Emily snapped back to her car and picked up the pace, pretending that she didn't see him.

She wasn't in the mood to deal with Daniel. Despite what he told the press about running Grayson Global differently from his father and grandfather his actions said otherwise. Emily knew that Daniel blackmailing Nolan was just one of the many stunts he'd pulled on other investors since becoming CEO of Grayson Global.

Emily thought he was better than his parents. But, he proved time and again that he was and always would be a Grayson.

She opened the door to the driver's seat — but it was too late.

Daniel raced up to Emily and slapped his hand on the hood of her Mercedes.

"Emily," he breathed out, his chest heaved and sweat dripped from his forehead. "I was calling for you back there. You didn't hear me?"

She shook her head. "No, I guess I didn't."

"Anyway, I'm glad I caught you. Do you have a minute?"

"Actually, I need to get going," Emily held up the thick portfolio in her hand. "I have a meeting to get to. So, if you'll excuse me."

Daniel begrudgingly stepped aside as she opened the car door wider.

"Wait, Emily, please." He grabbed the door handle preventing her from getting inside. Emily snapped her gaze up at him. Daniel looked at her with pleading eyes. "Look, I know this is completely out of the blue, me showing up at your work — but I need your help."

She perked a brow at him. "My help?"

Daniel pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket to dab at his forehead and then pointed down the street from the direction he'd come running. "Do you see those Japanese men, sitting at the Starbucks, wearing the Yankees jerseys?"

Emily glanced to said group. "Yeah."

"That is Sato Kenichi," Daniel explained. "CEO and Founder of Japan's largest steel corporation — Chen Iron. He's interested in investing with Grayson Global and it's his first time visiting New York."

Emily turned back to Daniel and shot him a confused look. "Congratulations, but what do you want me to do?"

Daniel laughed. "You know that my Japanese isn't good. I can get by with nods and some phrases." He dabbed at his forehead again. "Our translators got sick." Daniel stepped closer to Emily and shot her a winning smile, "So, I was hoping that you'd go with me. You know be my translator."

Emily could see right through his mask. What were the odds that both their translators just happened to fall ill?

How convenient.

Emily knew that Daniel was using her. He wanted to get back together with her and knew full well that this entire deal with Kenichi was a set up. His little game to try and pop back into her life and her heart.

Unfortunately for Daniel — tall, dark haired brooding men didn't catch her eye any more.

Emily said firmly, "Daniel, look I don't know if I can-"

Daniel took her hands in his and shot her a desperate look that of a lost puppy. "Please, Emily, I'm begging you."

Well, two can play at that game. Emily thought.

Emily had learned that Grayson Global had had a major impact on the success of Conrad's campaign. Blackmail, bribes, expensive gifts, political and personal favors. The standard gambit corrupt politician's used to win over influential supporters. As much intel she'd gathered from her sources, it wasn't enough. She needed to infiltrate Grayson Global and have her eyes on inside again. That didn't mean she needed to go back to wining and dining Daniel Grayson. No, she could gain access indirectly — by planting a man on the inside.

Despite how much Emily hated Daniel she needed him…for her mission. She'd learned in her training that when an opportunity presents itself to take full advantage of it.

And that's just what she planned to do.

"Well, I suppose the meeting can go on without me." Emily explained.

Daniel's eyes lit up. "Thank you."

Emily gathered her hair into a high bun and that they walked to the Starbucks. She took a moment to observed Sato Kenichi. He was a lanky man and wore black, square framed glasses. Which made his sharp, calculating features all the more intimidating. He came to a stand as Emily and Daniel stopped at their table.

"Kenichi-san," Daniel started. "I'd like to introduce you to Emily Thorne."

Emily bowed a bit and extended her hand to Kenichi. "Hajimemashite. Doozo yoroshiku. Nyuu youku e youkoso irasshaimashita."

Kenichi bowed."Hajimemashite," he extended his #1 foam hand to Emily. "It's nice to meet you."

Alright, then. Emily thought slightly taken aback by the oddity.

Just then a couple walking with two Australian Shepherds passed by them.

"SUGOI!" Kenichi suddenly grabbed the camera from around his neck and started taking pictures of the couple.

Emily glanced to the other men at the table, trying to understand if this was normal behavior. In her experience it wasn't. The men laughed and smiled, simply looking on as if it was no big deal.

She shot Daniel a look that said — You're kidding right?

Emily walked over to Kenichi who was busy taking pictures of the taxis that zoomed past.

"Sumimasen." He spun around to Emily and snapped a picture of a few pigeon on the sidewalk.

Kenichi turned to Emily. "For my wife. She and I are fanatics about American culture."

Oh boy. Why did I agree to this? Emily thought. "Sumimasen, but, Daniel-san mentioned that you were here on business."

Kenichi laughed heartily and nodded. "Souka, but first, Won't you join us and see the sights? I wish to see the Statue of Liberty."

Kenichi was starkly different from what she first expected. He was eccentric to say the least.

"Ah, well…" Emily began ready to decline as Daniel walked up beside her. He glanced to her silently pleading her to agree. Emily quickly reminded herself that this was all for her mission. She could handle this. She'd experience worst.

Emily nodded. "Yes, of course."

"Ikuzo!" Kenichi yelled and he and his team piled into their limo van.

Daniel leaned down to Emily and whispered in her ear. "I owe you one. Big time."

"Oh, you definitely will." She muttered under her breath.

Emily didn't realize how much sightseeing Kenichi and his team wanted to do. Between taking pictures of the Statue of Liberty, feeding otters at the Central Park Zoo, and standing in Times Square — Emily felt like she was tagging along with an eccentric tour group. She was glad that she'd wore her comfortable heels today.

Kenichi's tour of New York finally came to a stop when they'd all agreed to have dinner at a steakhouse in Midtown.

Emily sat next to Daniel with Kenichi and his team surrounding them.

She didn't think that Kenichi would take up any more of their time and Daniel's business deal would go through just fine.

Emily glanced around the rooftop dining area. Groups of chic people sat at wooden picnic tables, illuminated by rustic glass lanterns hanging from wood beams. She looked past the railing covered in peonies, to the hustle and bustle of the city below her.

A cool breeze picked up, tussling her hair. The sun was beginning to set in-between the tall buildings and the sky was turning a beautiful orange and pink. The sky farthest from the city rolled into a deep inky blue.

A sudden panic filled Emily. She snatched her phone out of her purse and glanced to the time. It was in fact, six o'clock. She told Nolan and Rebecca she'd be there by seven-thirty. There was no way that she'd be able to make it in time. This was New York. She'd be stuck in traffic forever.

"Damn it." Emily muttered.

Daniel turned to her with a worried look. "Everything okay, Em?"

She looked up from her phone and smiled. "Not really. Remember that meeting I mentioned earlier? I forgot to let the committee know I wouldn't make it." Daniel nodded as Emily scooted out of her seat. "I'm going to call them — let them know I can't make it."

Daniel smiled. "I'll be here."

"Excuse me," She said before scurrying off to a secluded part of the rooftop. She glanced behind her, to see Daniel and Kenichi in sight.

As Emily stared at Nolan's number and was about to press CALL her hands shook.

If she explained the real situation it would lead Nolan into a game of 20 questions. Asking who, what, when, and why. She really wasn't in the mood for that.

Emily Thorne felt nervous. She didn't know why but the idea of lying to Nolan felt...wrong.

"You don't have to lie," Emily muttered to herself, "Not completely, just make the truth a bit easier for him to handle."

A little white lie.

Emily saw the entire incident with Daniel as an opportunity. Surely, Nolan could appreciate that she seized an opportunity to further her mission… right?

She had lied to Nolan in the past no problem. Back when she saw him as a disposable pawn in her mission. But now, he was her friend, her partner in all of this. Now, she felt that lying to him was the worst thing in the world to do.

Honestly, after so many years of doing it, Emily supposed it was just easier to lie then tell the truth.

"And it's not it's the end of the world if I cancel." Emily reasoned.

It wasn't like Nolan would never want to speak or see her again.

And highly unlikely Rebecca would think less of her or hate her because of it.

"I'm being ridiculous," Emily laughed as she came back to her cool indifference. "One missed dinner isn't going to ruin our friendship."


"I have no idea what I'm doing." Nolan stood in the flower shop, eyeing the same bouquet for the last five minutes. He was trying to decide which bouquet to get. But none of them felt right for Emily.

With a sigh, he placed the bouquets back in the bucket. "I'm obviously not the kind of guy that gets flowers." He was more of the build a life size robot, or buy a stuffed animal kind of guy. But flowers? Even when he was with Grace he didn't know any of this stuff. She'd treat herself on their anniversaries. With 'little gifts' as she called it —- like designer shoes, and traveling to Paris for a weekend.

He didn't think they were so little. When you're scraping by to make rent, those 'little gifts' had a big price tag.

"Still deciding, huh?" A voice asked.

Nolan spun around to see a petite Korean woman with a motherly face stroll over to him.

"Yup." He laughed.

Everything else was set for the evening. Becca ordered takeout and selected a bunch of movies. It was perfect… almost. Nolan thought a bouquet of flowers would show Emily that he went the extra mile. That he thought she was amazing.

"Maybe I can help," The woman offered. "What's the occasion?"

"Just a simple dinner," Nolan explained. "Nothing fancy. Very casual."

Moving to a bucket of carnations the florist asked. "For your friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife?"

"They're for my….friend," Nolan started, almost saying girlfriend. "I've known her for a long time."

The woman grabbed a bouquet of lilies. "How do you two get along? What's your relationship like? "

"Well, she's someone that I care about a lot. She's kind of a hot head and really stubborn." Nolan chuckled. "...we've been through a lot together. She's someone I trust with my life…I'd do pretty much anything to make sure she's happy."

"No. These no good." The florist announced, throwing all the bouquets back in a white bucket. "I have better." She disappeared behind a beaded curtain at the back of the shop.

"These are the one!" She smiled, bringing out a large bouquet of red dahlias to the cash register.

Nolan eyed the bouquet and instantly knew those were perfect for Emily. "I'll take them."

The woman smiled, "She must mean a lot to you."

"More than she knows." Nolan agreed.

As the florist wrapped the flowers the bell above the shop door rang out.

"I'll be right with you, sir!" The florist called out.

"No, take your time," Aiden started, walking over to the cash register with a bar of chocolate. "I'm in no hurry."

Nolan looked up from the greeting card display to see Aiden. "Wow, Mathis. Ever heard of the word restraining order? Keep stalking me and you'll find out."

Aiden chuckled, "I'm not stalking you."

"You ran into me yesterday at the coffee shop," Nolan pointed out. "And just today I saw you at a tech conference in Flushing."

Aiden grabbed a greeting card off the display on the counter. "Well, it's my job to know all about Mr. Graysons' investors."

Nolan laughed, "See, that's where you're wrong. I never will be a part of Grayson Global." He looked around the flower shop and then back to Aiden. "Where is Lil Grayson anyway? I thought you two were connected at the hip."

"He's in a business meeting at the moment."

"So, he sent you to spy on me?" Nolan laughed. "Yup, that sounds like Grayson. Never willing to do his own dirty work."

Aiden picked out another greeting card. "Despite what you might think, I'm not spying on you. I actually live around here."

"Since when can entry level employee afford to live in downtown Manhattan?" Nolan asked incredulously.

"Red Dahlia's," Aiden watched as the florist put the flowers in a plastic sleeve. "A nice choice for someone special."

He turned to Nolan with a grin. "Did you know, they're a symbol of unyielding love?"

The florist beamed. "A perfect choice for his wife."

Nolan's face turned red. "Oh, no. You've got it wrong. She isn't my wife or my girlfriend. She's just a friend." He was secretly hoping that maybe, one day, she'd see him as something more. Because he certainly was.

Just then, Nolan's cell phone buzzed in his blazer pocket. He grabbed his phone and walked a few feet away from to a card display by the door before answering.

"Hey, Ems," Nolan greeted. "You're going to love tonight, even got your favorite dessert; cannoli."

He fiddled through the cards and his eyes fell on a card that said I LOVE YOU. The day dream that he had a week ago — the one where he'd confessed his love to Emily came rushed back in his mind.

It felt so real to him. And the kiss they had. Even if it was a dream it felt so real.

Nolan quickly spun the display around. "It's gonna be great. We even bought the first three episodes of Star Wars—"

"Listen, Nolan," Emily broke in. "I'm sorry, but I won't be able to make it tonight."

He stopped messing with the display cards. Nolan could sense the distressed undertone in her voice. "Is something wrong?"

"No, it's just that the women's charity I'm working with, they need me to go over some proposals. I wish I could say no but they really need the help."

Nolan brushed aside the tight feeling in his chest with a smile. "Say no more. Go help — we can just reschedule." He learned years ago to let little things disappointment roll off of his skin like rain.

Emily muttered something far away from the phone. He could hear someone else's voice in the background, "Sorry to bother you Ems… we need you over here."

She said quickly, "You're the best. Talk to you later."

With a sigh, Nolan grabbed a blank card off the display and set it on the counter by the cash register. "You think you can have those delivered?"

"Of course," the florist handed him a delivery receipt. "Tell me when and where."

Nolan wrote down Emily's address on a slip of paper. He scribbled something on the card and then handed it back to the woman.

"Mathis." Nolan said cheekily, before walking out the door. As he walked down the sidewalk he couldn't help but think it was odd that Emily canceled so suddenly. Weird of all, he thought the voice talking to Emily in the background was Daniel's.

"You're losing it man," Nolan told himself as he fished his keys out of his pocket.

"So, your friends with Emily Thorne?" Aiden asked walking in step with Nolan.

"How did you know that?" He questioned. He couldn't help but be cautious around strangers. You tend to be when you once you got kidnapped by a hit-man.

"I noticed her name on the receipt." Aiden explained.

"Oh," Nolan calmed down a bit. He opened the door to his SUV and got in.

"Sure you're just an entry level employee?" Nolan stuck his head out the window and chuckled. "Stalking her too?"

Aiden leaned against the car door, and stuck his head in the window. "Must know her well enough to get flowers like that. Just a heads up mate, you should know that Emily is a tricky person."

"How would you know?" Nolan was freaked out little bit. There was something… off about him. Nolan didn't know what. But he noticed how Aiden seemed a bit too observant. Like how he'd tended to scan the area. Almost like he was looking for someone.

What if this guy was FBI or a cop?

"Just watch yourself with her," Aiden suggested. "She's kinda a black widow."

At that comment, Nolan chuckled. Now, he understood where this guy was coming from. "You know for a second I actually thought you were a cop. But, then I realized you're just Napoleon's wing-man. Listen, Pedro; not everything Daniel tells you is true. Grayson has a nasty habit of spilling his feelings to the nearest shoulder, especially when he's drunk."

Aiden stepped back from the SUV as the engine roared to life. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "In any case, I'd be careful around her, mate. Not too long ago she was Daniel's fiancée. And you know how the Graysons do business — by any means necessary." He reasoned. "You are one of the investors that he's eyeing."

Sure, in the past Emily would Nolan for her own selfish reasons without a second thought. But now, things were different. She'd changed. They were friends. Partners in her mission.

He trusted her words when she said she would never use him or Rebecca as pawns.

Nolan scoffed. "Yeah, well, why don't you go and report back to your captain or something?"

With that, Nolan sped down the street, leaving Aiden in his dust.


"Thank you very much for a wonderful day Mr. Grayson," Kenichi praised and held a hand out to Daniel. "I look forward to doing business with you."

"Thank you," Daniel shook his hand." Thank you so much."

Emily and Daniel watched as Kenichi and his team drove off down the street in their limo.

Daniel turned to Emily smiling like a school boy. "Thank you so much, my Japanese translator."

"Of course," Emily nodded in thanks. She pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder. "I should get going. It's getting late."

"Hey, uh, let me take you back to your office," Daniel offered, as his limo pulled up to the curb side. "Really, it's no trouble."

"Thank you, Daniel." Emily agreed. Only because her car was parked half way across town.

The sound of Emily's heels clacked against the concrete, as she and Daniel walked through the dim lit parking lot.

Nearing her Mercedes, Emily unlocked the car doors. She opened the door, setting her purse inside and then turned to Daniel,

"Thank you for the ride."

"No problem." As Emily was about to get into her car, he added quickly. "Emily, thank you again, for everything. It felt just like old times."

Daniel stepped a bit closer to her, closing the space between them. "You know, the two of us working together." Emily's back was pressed against the door of her car.

And what happened next, genuinely caught her off guard. Daniel leaned in close and kissed Emily on the lips. Just as quickly as it happened — he pulled away.

Click!

Click!

Daniel and Emily spun around to see a hooded guy with a digital camera.

He aimed the camera at them taking more pictures. The flash shining in their faces." Smile for the camera Grayson!"

"Damn paparazzi, get out of here!" Daniel chased after the paparazzo. He struggled to get the camera out of the paparazzo's hands.

Emily was about to step in. She couldn't let that photo get out.

"Oh, my god, Daniel!" Emily exclaimed, as the punk socked Daniel in the gut. Daniel returned the favor, sending the guy to the ground.

The paparazzo held a hand to his stomach, scrambled to his feet. He jumped over a guardrail, bolting away from the parking lot like a bullet train.

Emily raced over to Daniel's side. "Are you okay?" She observed the tears on his jacket and dirt stains on his suit shirt.

"Just a scratch." He laughed as he held his right hand to his rib.

"Are you okay?" His left hand moved to her cheek.

She evaded his touch, gently grabbing his hand, "Yes, I'm fine."

Daniel's hand fell to his side. "Come on, let's get you back to your car."

Emily got into her car and Daniel shut the door for her. As she was about to pull away. She turned to him. "Daniel, how did the paparazzi know that you were here?"

"Well, you know how the paparazzi just come out of nowhere."

"They're not going to print that are they?" Emily questioned. If that photo got out...No, she couldn't let herself think of that. Besides, it wouldn't be hard for her to track down a blue haired punk in a Metallica hoodie with a broken rib.

Daniel scoffed. "I don't think he'll get far without this." He waved the digital camera in his hand.

Emily sighed in genuine relief, "Thank you, Daniel. Good night."

Daniel waved Emily off as she drove out of the parking lot. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted the headlights of a car. A door slammed shut. Daniel spun around to the limo to see Aiden walking towards him.

"So, hero, how'd it go?" Aiden asked.

"Just like we planned," Daniel put a hand to his ribs and let out a groan. "Damn, that kid punched hard."

"You get what you pay for, mate," Aiden laughed. "I'd say five hundred dollars and a sore rib is a small price to pay."

The driver opened the doors of the limo and they stepped inside.

Daniel took the digital camera out of his pocket. He flipped it on its side, opened the SD slot, and took out the miniature card.

"This was just the beginning," He handed Aiden the SD card. "I want those in the press tonight," Daniel smiled to himself. "I want New York talking about us by morning."

"Will do, Boss," Aiden pocketed the card. "I know a guy in the Bronx."

Daniel grabbed the bottle of Scotch and a glass off the mini bar. "What's with the 'Boss' stuff. Why do you call me that?"

"Well you are my boss," He explained simple. He took the glass from Daniel. "So you think that this is going to win Emily back?"

"No, not entirely." He smirked. He had a more personal method for that.

"And how are your plans for taking over NolCorp?"

"It's only been three days. I'll give him to the end of the week to make a decision. If he doesn't then I release everything to the press."

Aiden took a sip of his Scotch. "Well, you may want to act quickly on your plans to win Emily — before someone else does."

"Oh yeah?" Daniel laughed. "And who would that be?"

Porter was way out of her league. The only person Daniel could think that Emily wanted was — him.

"Who else would fight for Emily like me?" Daniel challenged.

Aiden revealed, "Nolan Ross."


"I'm just saying Dad, that's kinda weird is all," Becca and Nolan sat on the couch with a bowl of popcorn between them. "It just doesn't seem like Em to cancel all of a sudden like that."

"It's not weird kiddo, stuff happens," Nolan explained as he grabbed the remote off the coffee table. "It's not big deal."

"I'm just saying Dad weird," Becca pointed out and shot him a look. "How did she sound when you talked to her? Did she sound rushed?"

"I don't know," Nolan grabbed a handful of popcorn. He thought back and tried to remember their conversation. "Yeah, I guess…she sounded kinda rushed."

"Okay, did she sound like she was in a hurry?" Becca asked. "Like talk-to-you-later? Or was it like she was nervous and desperately wanted to end the conversation? There is a difference."

"I don't know…" he added, "What kind of a question is that?"

"Amanda is teaching me critical listening skills," she explained. "Says it's important to know when someone is lying over the phone. "

Becca threw a piece of popcorn in the air and caught it in her mouth. "Good for negotiating a hostage situations or bartering with a sleazy fishmonger."

"Alright, Nancy Drew, enough talk," Nolan leaned back in the couch. "Let's watch Star Wars."

...

It was midnight once Becca had gone to bed after watching Episode 2 of Star Wars. Nolan sat in the living room flipping between late night television. He couldn't sleep. He was too anxious. He glanced to his cell phone, expecting a text or call from Emily. He hoped she liked the flowers.

Nolan flipped through the television channels, skipping through the infomercials. He then skipped right back to a news station.

"What the hell," Nolan's eyes widened.

The headline — SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES was plastered above an amateur photo of Emily and Daniel standing in a parking lot kissing.

"You're seeing it right guys," The news anchor exclaimed. "The Hamptons' power couple, Emily Thorne and Daniel Grayson are back in the limelight. The two lovebirds were caught red handed this evening, showing off a little PDA."

So, clearly Emily left out a few things when he'd called her earlier. Namely that she wasn't at a meeting but with Daniel. Suddenly, Aiden's words of caution came tumbling back into Nolan's mind.

"She's tricky."

Why would she lie to him about being with Daniel and not at her meeting?

Even better question: Why did he feel like he'd been punched in the gut?

The only person that could answer one of those questions was her.


Emily's cellphone buzzed on the coffee table. She set her flute of wine down and grabbed her phone.

"It's Nolan," she stated, as she was about to answer, Daniel took her hand in his.

"Babe, forget about him," he started huskily.

Her eyes darted to the bouquet of red dahlias sitting on the kitchen table.

"I should probably—" she started, but Daniel leaned in close and kissed her fiercely on the lips, stealing her words away.

"I need us," he whispered in her ear. He leaned into her deepening the kiss.

Emily's grip on her phone loosened and she placed the buzzing device on the table next to the wine basket. She leaned back, resting her head against the couch, as Daniel trailed kisses down her neck.

Emily peeked over Daniel's head to the coffee table. Remorse flashed through her eyes as the call ended.

...

"This is Emily. Leave a message—"

Nolan let his hand fall to his side. She didn't pick up. Maybe she was asleep or up revenging. He quickly pushed the thought of Emily and Daniel together out of his mind. His eyes wandered back to the photo of them.

Emily said she wasn't interested in getting back with Daniel. She'd made it clear that she wasn't interested in love.

She wanted to be a lone ranger and focus on her mission.

But, that didn't stop Nolan from sending her the flowers, or the new feelings he'd started to grow towards her.

One of them being love.

It wasn't like he'd confessed his love to her or anything. He didn't even know if she felt the same way.

It's just… she could have told him that instead of spending the evening with him and his daughter, watching Star Wars and eating Chinese takeout — she'd had rather spent it with Daniel Grayson eating prime rib in a glitzy Manhattan steak house.

Okay, so it didn't take a genius to see which the better offer was.

Nolan shut off the television. He knew better than to listen to the gossip rags of late time news, but, knowing that didn't make the dull ache in his chest any less real.

She didn't pick up...all he needed….all he wanted was to hear Emily's voice. For her to reassure him that even if he wasn't the guy she wanted to end up with —he still had a place in her world and her heart.

Chapter Text

There are three sides to every story - yours, mine, and the truth - Robert Evans


Emily held her heels in her hands as she walked up the sandy pathway to her beach house. Her cell phone pinged. She fished her phone out of her purse and looked down at the text message. She frowned seeing it was Daniel again. She was hoping it was Nolan. It'd been three days since the photo of her and Daniel had gone viral.

Three days of her pretending to be with Daniel. It'd paid off of course, she'd gotten new intel. Now she just needed her computer genius to help her.

Of course she'd made an attempt to apologize to Nolan and explain what had really happened that night. But his assistant told her he'd been traveling a lot the last few days, making it hard to get a hold of him.

She didn't understand why he was being so strange… like he was avoiding her. She needed his help. She needed him back.

As Emily approached the veranda she noticed something was off. The veranda doors —which she'd closed before she left for brunch that morning with Daniel - were ajar letting the mid-morning breeze flutter the drapes.

She went into to ninja mode. Keeping her head down as rounded the side of the stairs. She bent down, set her heels to the side and began to dig her hands in the sand.

Crack!

The sound of glass breaking came from inside. Whoever was in her home was still there. The plastic bag jutted out of the sand. Emily smiled, the familiar sensation of her handgun made her feel powerful.

With her gun in hand Emily prowled up the steps. The types of people that could be in her home were innumerable. She had seen on the news that street punks had started to break into people's summer homes and steal their jewelry and collectibles.

Though Emily had things more valuable than gold or diamonds. She took in a deep breath, with her foot, she gently pushed the glass doors open. Her eyes darted to the kitchen and to the island counter. The shattered glass came from a bowl full of popcorn that'd spilled across the hardwood floor.

There was movement from behind the counter. The head of someone with long brown hair. A female was crouched to the ground, her back to Emily, with a broom in her hands. Emily smiled. They were alone. They chose the wrong house.

"Don't move." Emily pointed her gun at the back of the invader's head. The invader stifled and dropped the broom to the floor. Emily walked closer to the woman and loosened her hold on her gun. Her eyes widened.

"Amanda?!"

She spun around to Emily completely unfazed by the gun pointed at her. "Hello to you to, this wasn't the greeting I was expecting, but I've dealt with worst."

Emily set her gun on the counter top. "What are you doing in my house?"

"How about we play 20 questions when I'm not stepping on glass?"

Emily grabbed a broom from the closet and helped Amanda sweep up the mess.

"So, you want to tell me why you're here?" Emily tried again once the two of them had finished sweeping. They were sitting across from each other at the dining room table.

Amanda reached across the table and grabbed an Oreo from the package. "Don't tell me you forgot."

"Forgot what?"

"Our Girls Day Out. The day where I'm sans a diaper bag and I'm not dressed in clothes covered in miscellaneous stains?" She exclaimed, "I had Jack schedule out this day for the last week!"

"Oh, that was today?" Emily recalled, suddenly feeling guilty. "Look I'm sorry, Amanda. I've just had a lot on my mind lately."

"Hey, I'd forget too if I was busy being Daniel's girlfriend. Again."

"I'm not Daniel's girlfriend," Emily grabbed an Oreo. "I'm sure you've seen the news."

"Who needs the news? Every customer at the Stowaway is talking about you two."

"You know that whole photo of us in the parking lot? Daniel set me up. So, I'm returning the favor. I'm only using him to get information on Grayson Global. If I need to play the part of his 'girlfriend' well it's a small price to pay."

"So, you're not going out with Daniel?"

Emily took a bite of her Oreo. "No."

"Oh, that's a relief," Amanda laughed. "You know I like the thing you and Nolan started."

"We don't have a thing."

"Yes, you do." Amanda smiled.

Emily scoffed. "If by thing, you mean he's avoiding my calls and texts for the last three days then yes - we have a thing."

"Wait a minute; you haven't told Nolan what's really going on between you and Daniel?"

"I've been trying to, but, it's like he's avoiding me."

Amanda shot her a look. How could Emily be so oblivious to the reason why Nolan was avoiding her? Was she this blind?

"I don't know if you've noticed, but, Nolan's in love with you."

Emily shook her head, saying in complete disbelief. "What?"

"Oh, come on Emily. You have to have noticed it. He's been eying you since the Fiona Case. Maybe longer. It's no wonder the guy is avoiding your calls. You're stringing the poor guy along."

She took another Oreo. "What? I'm not stringing him along. Nolan knows that I'm not serious about Daniel. He's been in this long enough, that it should be obvious I'm just using Daniel for my mission."

"Well maybe it isn't obvious to him because he's crushed thinking that you're serious about Grayson." Amanda pointed out. "You're not though, right?"

"For the thousandth time, no."

"Do you care about Nolan?" Amanda questioned.

"Yes." Emily replied.

"So why can't see he cares about you deeply? The man trusted you with the fact he has a daughter. That's not something you trust anyone with. You of all people know that."

"That doesn't mean Nolan loves me," Emily pointed out. "He told you and Jack as well."

"Do you love Nolan Ross?"

Emily glanced to the dahlias she'd placed on the dining room table. She recalled her daydreams and Nolan being in every one of them. But those were just dreams. This was reality. "No, I don't love Nolan."

Amanda eyed her seriously. "You don't mean that." She leaned in close and looked into her eyes. Emily's cold expression unfaltering. "I don't believe you."

"You can believe whatever you want, Amanda."

"You must have some romantic feelings for him… and what about Rebecca? She's bringing out a softer side of you."

"I do care about Rebecca," Emily stated. "But that doesn't mean that I love Nolan."

"Nolan's been there since the beginning, the man's at your every beck and call, but the one time he needs you the most you let him down?"

"What, because I didn't pick up the phone when he called? How is that letting him down?" Emily stated. "Look, I don't have time for this…I need Nolan back on board."

"And she's back, just like that." Amanda frowned.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a thumb drive. "I have some new intel and he's the only computer genius that can do it."

"You can't do that if he's not talking to you."

Emily sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Right, what should I tell him to get him back?"

"How about the truth?"


Emily made her way to NolCorp. She made her way to his office and found him sitting at his desk his eyes fixated on the computer screen before him.

"Hey, glad I finally caught you. Your assistant, Beth, let me in. She seems sweet." She walked further into the room and took the seat across from Nolan.

"What can I do for you Ems?" Nolan asked, his usual chipper tone gone, as he kept his eyes on the computer screen.

"How about answering you phone?" Emily started, "I've left you like twenty messages."

"I'm sorry," He replied curtly, he looked at her, Emily noticed something was missing from his usual demeanor. Even his usual bright suits were toned down to a black long sleeve and trousers. "I've just been busy running a multi-billion dollar tech company."

Nolan's phone buzzed off the desk. He came to a stand, pocketed his phone and grabbed a stack of portfolios off the table. "If you'll excuse me. I have a meeting to get to."

Emily came to a stand and folded her arms over her chest. "Since when did you attend meetings? I thought you hated them."

"Well, I figured I'd try something new." He replied as he made his way to the door. "Look, uh, whatever you need can it wait till later?"

"Nolan, wait, please." For every two strides Emily took, Nolan took three. Just as he was about to walk out the door, Emily rushed up beside him, blocking his exit.

"Emily what are you doing?"

"Nolan, I'm sorry that I lied to you," Emily started. "No, I wasn't at some charity meeting that night I was with Daniel. But, you know by now that none of what I'm doing with Daniel is real. I'm just acting like we're together for the good of my mission. Grayson Global is a major player in Conrad's campaign and there's things Daniel has access to that I need."

"Oh, well if it's for the good of your mission." Nolan replied sarcastically.

"Nolan?"

He scrubbed at his face. Hiding the pain and heartbreak from her. Nolan smiled at Emily and asked in his usual friendly tone, "What do you need?"

Emily grinned. "I need you to hack into this database and transfer the files onto this thumb drive." She fished through her purse and handed the thumb drive to him.

He stared at the thumb drive. Oh, so this was how he fit into her world? He was back to being her sidekick. Was he really just a one trick pony to her?

She was completely oblivious to him hurting.

Just then Beth appeared at the door and announced that the meeting was about to begin.

"Can you get it back to me by tonight?" Emily asked drawing his attention back to the thumb drive.

"No," Nolan pushed the thumb drive back into Emily's hands. She looked up at him with wide eyes. He'd said no?

He stepped beside her opening the door. Nolan tapped his fingers on the portfolios in his hands as he inched out the office. "Look, I have a lot of work to do today. Why not ask Rebecca? I'm sure she can help."

Without even saying good bye, Nolan walked out the door, leaving Emily to stand in confusion.


Becca stepped through the patio doors into the living room. "Dad, you'll never guess what happened to me on my run!" She looked around the living-room to see her dad sitting with his laptop at the coffee table.

Nolan looked up from his laptop. "What happened that I'll never guess?"

"Come on," She grinned and plopped onto the couch beside him. "You have to guess."

He shrugged. "I don't know, uh, you met that Pakistani guy from that one band…what's it called…One Direction?"

"Dad, would I really be sitting here and miss out on my chance to become 'Mrs. Zayn Malik'? No, guess again."

"Becca, I have no clue."

"Fine," she sighed. "I'll just tell you…I got ambushed by the paparazzi!"

"Are you okay?" Nolan's hands darted to her arms and face checking her for injuries.

Becca waved his hands away. "Dad, stop, I'm fine."

Nolan darted from the couch to the patio doors. "Did they follow you?" He looked out the window and closed the blinds. "Who were they? What did they want?"

She turned around on the couch to him. "No. I don't think so. It was just some magazine reporters," She smiled widely. "They wanted to know if I was interested in being in their next issue. Apparently my win against Genevieve is worth statewide coverage."

"And you're sure you weren't followed?" He asked again.

"Yeah, Dad. It's cool."

"No, it's not cool, Becca."

Nolan rushed out of the living-room and Becca followed after him. "Dad, what's the big deal?"

"The big deal is reporters are like spiders, spinning lies with their rags of newspapers and magazines." He walked to the front door and closed the blinds over the glass door. "What if they had followed you home? What if they found out who you really were? What if it was one of the Grayson's security force posing as reporters?"

Becca sat on the stairs and kicked off her sneakers. She looked up from her sneakers to her dad.

"Uh, Dad, aren't you being a bit paranoid? It was just a magazine. No harm done."

"All it takes is one time. One mistake, to undo everything we've worked so hard to build."

"Would that really be such a bad thing?" Becca asked, earning a frown from her dad. "It's not like the world would end if everyone knew you were my Dad."

"You know why we can't do that. Because we need to protect you from the press—"

"Dad, I'm not twelve anymore," She butted in. "I'm a big girl — I can handle name calling and gossip...wow, I can't believe I'm actually thanking Genevieve Starke."

Nolan understood how unfair this was for Becca. She spent her whole life with her mother, not knowing who her father was. And now that she was living with her father, she had to act like she didn't know who he was.

He took a seat on the stairs beside her. "I know you think you can handle the press but, you don't know these people like I do. Their lies will destroy you and everyone you care about." Nolan added, wondering if she understood. "Don't you like the anonymity? Don't you like the freedom to do whatever you want without the press watching your every move?"

"Dad, I'm grateful for you and the lifestyle you made for me. I just feel like I've outgrown it."

She looked into his eyes, searching for an answer. "I just wonder if you're doing all this to protect me or to protect you. What are you so afraid of?"

Nolan felt his daughter was giving him the same soul piercing look that Emily would give him when she'd catch his bluffs.

He couldn't lose his daughter to their lies. He'd already lost his father to them. And now he'd lost Emily not to gossip but Daniel. He just couldn't stand to be alone. Not again.

"I'm done talking about this Rebecca." Nolan said finally.

Becca rolled her eyes watching as he walked off to his office. She turned to walk up the stairs. Just as she was about to leave, she spun around to her dad.

"Have you talked to Emily?"

Nolan spun back to her and scoffed. "No, I've been busy."

"Let me rephrase that: has Emily talk to you and did you listen?" The shrug of his shoulders told her everything. "You just said the paparazzi were like spiders, spinning webs of lies, at least give her a chance to explain what happened."

"She's already explained what happened. She's with Daniel Grayson. End of story. And I'm back to being her tech savvy sidekick."

"And you're okay with that?"

"Yeah," No. I wasn't. "I'm fine with it."

"I don't think experiencing the five stages of grief with your friends Elvis, Sinatra and a glass of Scotch is an acceptable way of saying you're 'fine with it'. You need to take action Dad! That's the only way you're going to get better."

"And what do you suggest that I do?"

"Um, tell her that you don't like her with Grayson." She stated like it was obvious. "Profess your undying love to her? Dad, who's the genius here?"

Nolan scoffed. "It's not that simple kiddo."

"Fine, be that way," Becca stood up. "I'm gonna shower. How does chicken for dinner sound? I'm tired of eating Chinese takeout."

"Sounds good, kiddo." Nolan replied and disappeared into his office.

As Becca bounded up the stairs she sighed in relief. She didn't hear any music. It seemed that her dad had gone through his depression phase in the five stages of grief.

Well, since my baby left me

Well, I found a new place to dwell

Well, it's down at the end of Lonely Street

At Heartbreak Hotel

"Ugh, Dad, come on!"

Later that evening, Nolan was sitting at his computer in his home office. He glanced at the photo of him and Rebecca at an 80's themed arcade. Becca was wearing her blue prom dress with Nolan in a biker jacket and jeans, sporting a shaggy brown wig. They both smiled, holding out their ice cream sundaes to the camera.

"I looked good with a mustache," He stroked his chin. "Maybe I should grow one out."

He'd been staring at that photo for the last twenty minutes. He could never forget that day. Because it was on that day that Becca had called him 'Dad'.

As Nolan reclined in his chair, propped his legs on the desk and took a sip of his glass of Scotch, his mind raced back to earlier today.

The reporters trailing Rebecca was too close of a call. She thought he was being paranoid, he was being protective. The whole point he wanted Rebecca to be a Thompson and not a Ross was so that she could live a normal life. Away from the crazy world of the paparazzi and the press. And away from people that would use her as a bargaining chip for their own advantages. People like her mother and Daniel Grayson.

He didn't want the media to warp their story; that he'd never known she existed until she was twelve. That while he lived the life of a wealthy bachelor in a glass mansion in the Hamptons, surrounded by all the luxuries, recognition and fame he craved his whole life. Becca and her mother were scraping by to pay rent for their decrepit condo in Chicago. That while he should have felt happy with his life — he never felt so alone.

Nolan never planned to have kids; never wanted to be a father.

Once Grace vanished, Nolan was less than thrilled with at the idea of raising a kid. At first, he pretended she wasn't his problem. That if he'd give her everything his money could buy she'd just leave him alone. Disappear.

And that approached worked — all too well.

Nolan spotted a thirteen year old Becca walking with a social worker out of the stalled subway cart.

He dashed past the cops that barricaded the entrance of the subway with CAUTION TAPE, towards her. They stepped off the train and onto the platform. Once the social worker released her hand, Becca raced to Nolan. Her TMNT backpack juggled behind her as she jumped into his arms and wrapped her arms around his sides.

"I'm sorry for running away, Nolan," She cried, her tears wetting his polo. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for making you angry."

Nolan ran a hand through her curly hair. He cupped her face in his hands, wiping the stray tears from her cheeks. "I'm not angry with you. I was terrified that I'd lost you for good."

He'd almost lost his firecracker. He messed up. She'd ran away, thanks to him saying things about her that he didn't mean. He shouldn't have said that he didn't want her.

Nolan didn't realize he was crying till his vision blurred. "I'm sorry for saying those things… I didn't mean it, Rebecca. Can you ever forgive me?"

"Yes," she nodded and buried her face in his warm jacket. "Can we go home now? My feet hurt."

He held her close to him and smiled into her hair. "I'm never going to leave you again."

"Promise?" She looked up at him with red eyes.

Her mother didn't keep that promise. And Nolan almost lost Becca for betraying her trust. Could he really keep that promise, despite his recent track record?

"Yes, I do," He kissed her forehead. "I promise."

They still had their moments but for better or worse, Nolan Ross was Rebecca's father. Her Dad. Which was why he was so determined to let no one and nothing destroy the life they'd worked so hard to build.

Nolan grabbed his cell phone off the desk and pressed speed dial.

"Hello?" a deep, male voice answered.

"Hey, Big Ed, how's Toronto?"

"Cold."

"Hey listen, I have a job for you, if you're up for it."

"When do I start?" Ed replied.

"I can get you down to The States by morning. Pack your sunscreen and capris Big Ed, you're coming to New York."


Becca and Emily walked through the front door of Emily's beach house with shopping bags in hand. Becca set her bags on the dining room table next to a bouquet of dahlias and a laptop.

"Thanks Ems, that was really fun, us going shopping together," She took a seat and looked through her bags. "I think I'm going to need a bigger room for all these extra CD's."

Emily walked into the kitchen and pulled out mugs from the cabinet. She smiled. "I had a great time too. We should do this kind of stuff more often."

"Yeah, for sure," Becca glanced to the flowers. "Oh, those are nice flowers."

"Nolan gave them to me." Emily set a steamy mug in front of Becca and took a seat across from her.

"Aww, Dad's so nice." Becca took a sip of her tea. She knew full well what had happened that night. Between what her dad told her and what she saw on the news it looked pretty serious between Emily and Daniel.

"Alright, Rebecca, I have a job for you," Emily slid a thumb drive across the table to her. "Can you hack into a database and transfer the information on this thumb drive?"

Becca grabbed the thumb drive, inspecting it. She snapped her gaze back to Emily and smiled. "What's on the database?"

Emily couldn't help but feel like she was dealing with Nolan. "Some high profile investors from Grayson Global. I got it this morning, but the security on there is too advanced for me, so I was hoping you could do it."

Becca pulled her hair into a ponytail, "I'll see what I can do." She plugged the thumb drive into the laptop. Emily moved to the seat beside Becca, watching as her fingers glide over the keyboard.

"You're fast."

"I practice a lot." She'd managed to get past security protocols and was met with a screen saying INVESTOR DATABASE.

"I'm going to transfer the files to the thumb drive," Becca explained as she started folders and dragging them to the folder named EM_THUMB (F:)

The screen popped up a message TRANSFERRING 5%.

Becca turned to Emily. "This may take a few minutes."

She took a sip of her tea and asked after an awkward minute. "So, um, I kinda feel like the replacement here. Isn't this something you'd ask Dad to do?"

"Yes, usually. But he's too busy to help me."

Becca asked awkwardly, "So how real is this whole thing with you and Daniel Grayson?"

"As real as it needs to be."

Just then a loud buzzing sound came from the laptop. They glanced at the screen to see the words SECURITY BREACH. A message appeared on the screen saying.

UNAUTHORIZED PERSONAL. TERMINATION IN PROGRESS.

"What?" Becca grabbed the laptop. "No, no, no!"

"What is it?" Emily asked.

"The security system is detecting us as a threat," Becca typed at the keyboard furiously. "It's deployed a virus…it's wiping the thumb-drive!"

"Can you stop it?" Emily questioned.

"I can't stop a virus!" Becca pulled the thumb-drive out of the laptop and the screen went black. She rebooted the computer and replaced the thumb drive. "It wiped the thumb drive."

She looked up at Emily with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry Ems." Emily placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Becca. You did your best."

Becca bit at her fingernails after a moment she stated. "We need Dad, I'm sure he can do this."

Emily took a sip of her tea. "If you haven't noticed, your Dad isn't exactly talking to me, I'm sure he's told you why."

"Oh, he's done one better," Becca laughed. "All the man does in the evening is listen to Elvis and Sinatra on his old record player. Ems it's really getting annoying, you need to do something."

"What can I do Rebecca? I already apologized to him. What more can I do?"

"Maybe, you need to start treating him like a friend." She suggested.

Nolan had been such a huge part of her mission. A huge part of her life. It felt weird to not have him there by her side. Was her whole ploy with Daniel really upsetting him this much?

"I guess I've always expected him to help me when I needed it," Emily admitted, recalling his behavior earlier today. "I've been taking him for granted… and now he's tired of it."

For the second time that day, Emily Thorne found herself at a loss for what to do. To win Nolan back wasn't as simple as apologizing. She needed to understand that Nolan Ross was her friend and maybe he did have deeper feelings for her. The question was did she feel the same way?

"So, Nolan really likes me?" Emily asked, finally accepting it. "Likes me — likes me?"

Becca smiled. "Yes. And do you like him too?"

Emily looked down at her mug of tea. "I don't know," She admitted. "I care about him deeply and I know that I don't like to see him hurting. Especially if it's because of me."

She wasn't ready for real love. Maybe she never would be, not after she'd been hurt in the past.

Emily realized now how lame her apologies really were. She hadn't treated Nolan like a friend earlier. She'd treated him like an asset. Telling him what she though he wanted to hear without really listening to him.

"Well, Rebecca, what should I do?"

"I think you need to do what you think is right," Becca suggested simply.

Emily glanced to the dahlias. Unyielding love was a two way street. Nolan had always been there for her, he'd done and sacrificed so much for her, and now it was time she was there for him.

"I have to end things with Daniel."


The next morning, Aiden sat outside of a Starbucks drinking tea. Just then a thick manila folder was thrown on his table. Aiden looked up to the clerk — an older, scrawny man in a grey suit.

"Was afraid you wouldn' go through with it," Aiden started in his Manhattan accent. "Did you get what I asked for?"

"It wasn't easy," The clerk took the seat across from him. "These files was as secure as Fort Knox."

Aiden grabbed the envelope and sifted through the papers. Nolan's name was on the bottom of a birth certificate, beside a woman named Grace Rachel Thompson. He glanced to another folder which had a picture of Rebecca but younger. Records of social workers, custody papers, and paternity tests were in his hands.

"So, that's it huh? Everything you need is all here," The clerk shook his head causing his glasses to slide off his nose. He readjusted them and said. "You know, I could lose my job for doing this."

Aiden chuckled as he placed the manila folder in his black bag. "I think losin' your position as municipal clerk should be the least of your concerns."

He turned his laptop around to the clerk. A picture of the clerk standing on the back of a yacht, dressed in nothing but a speedo and a flower lei. Two young college girls dressed in bikinis were on either side of him. All were holding bottles of vodka in their hands, the sun setting behind them, as they smiled for the camera.

"I gotta say, the bong in the background, really pulls it all together." He pulled the laptop back and looked at the screen. "But these are nothin', your photos from Vegas. Now there's a story."

"No, just, don't, please!" He pleaded, reaching out his hands in surrender. "My wife would leave me for sure!"

"That's what, 35 years of marriage down the drain?" Aiden tusked and went back to his tea. A moment passed and he glanced to the nervous clerk.

"What are you still doing here?"

As the clerk stood to leave, Aiden pointed to the fake police badge clipped on his belt. "Remember, you tell anyone about this and I'll make sure your ass goes straight to prison."

The man nodded. "You don't have to tell me twice."

With that he walked away from the table.

Aiden chuckled, "Never work with amateurs." He glanced to the manila folder in his bag.

He noticed how close Emily and Nolan Ross had gotten since he saw them at the investors mingle. He knew she was using Ross as a key to get into Grayson Global. And it was working. So well, that she'd managed to make Ross fall in love with her.

"And she with him, it'd seem." Aiden said to himself. He pushed play on his laptop starting the recording.

"I have to end things with Daniel."

"But, if you end things now, how will you keep tabs on Grayson Global?"

"Sometimes, it's best to cut your losses. There are other ways to get our eyes back into Grayson Global."

Honestly, planting a bug in her house was damn near impossible. He knew how often Emily scanned her house for those things.

"But it looks like Ross has his uses after all." Aiden had managed to place it somewhere she'd never think to look.

Aiden had been listening in on her sappy conversations from the past few days. It was utterly pathetic — she'd really gone soft. Where was the Devil Woman he knew and once loved? The woman who would con a man in the blink of an eye and not feel a shred of remorse. This caring and compassion woman wasn't her.

Takada always said Emily had a soft heart. That despite her training in deception her heart still held onto compassion. He said that would be why she would lose to her mission.

Takada sent him to put Emily back on track with her mission. After they'd learned she'd gone on a goose hunt to find her mother which only put her further off course.

Now she was willing to sabotage the next phase of her mission all for Nolan Ross. Pathetic. It was clear that Emily didn't need Nolan Ross anymore. He was a distraction to her plans. She had him. Together they would complete her mission. She wouldn't fail. She would succeed.

Aiden smiled. "I'll make sure of it."

 

Chapter Text

"Dad, you made breakfast?" Becca walked into the kitchen surprise that her dad at the stove cooking.

Nolan spun around to her, "Morning, kiddo. Breakfast is ready have a seat."

She took a seat at the kitchen table. "What's the occasion? You never cook."

He set a plate in front of her. "No occasion. Just thought I'd try my hand at cooking."

Becca looked down expecting a plate of something burnt and unappetizing. To her surprise the toast, omelet and bacon looked great.

"Wow, Dad," Becca started in surprise. "You did pretty well. How long did it take you?" she took her fork stabbed at the omelet and took a bite.

Nolan slide into the seat next to her. "Like, two hours. Well, what do you think?"

"It's...uh, it's really good." she drank down the salty omelet with the glass of orange juice.

He smiled and took a sip of his coffee. "Hey, guess what."

"What?"

"My whole schedule is clear for today and I thought that you and I could go somewhere."

"Dad, what's going on?" Becca asked seriously. "Did something happen?"

"Nothing's happened," he started. "It's just, I know I've been working a lot the last few weeks and I know how I behaved between things with Emily and I wasn't healthy."

"I noticed the lack of Elvis this morning." she observed her dad's face, noticing the glow in his eyes were back. He was even wearing his bright, double collared polo and khakis. "You look better."

"I feel better," he admitted honestly. "Even put my record player away."

Nolan realized that maybe Emily and he weren't meant to be anything more than friends. He was okay with it. He remembered his promise to David — look after Emily. No matter what, came between them, he intended to keep that promise.

He reminded himself that he didn't need to resort to alcohol or any of his other habits to feel happy or less alone. Because the truth was - he wasn't alone. This summer was different because Rebecca was here. He had to snap out of that state, or else he'd miss out on watching his kid mature into an intelligent and beautiful young woman. He already missed half of her life. He wasn't going to miss another second.

"I wanted to make it up to you," he explained, "And what better way to do that then to blow off work and spend the whole day with my favorite daughter."

Becca laughed, "I'm your only daughter."

"All the more reason!" he smiled. "So, where do you want to go?"

"Well, I've never been to a baseball game."

"New York Yankee's it is. And since it's your first game, we'll go all out."

Becca's eyes lit up. "Do you think we'll see Beyoncé?"

"Maybe," he laughed. "Come on, go and get ready."

"Can I eat first? The breakfast you made was pretty terrible."

"You just said you liked it!"

"I was being nice! How about we make French toast? It's so easy even you can do it."

The Rolling Stones I Can't Get No Satisfaction blasted through the kitchen. As Nolan cracked eggs into a bowl, his cell phone rang from the counter. With a hand not covered in egg he answered his phone.

"Hello, Nolan Ross."

"Mr. Ross, this is Paige Stone your family attorney."

Nolan was glad she specified which lawyer. He had so many that it was hard to keep track. "Paige, I haven't talked to you since 2007."

He moved from the kitchen into the hallway out of Becca's ear shot. "Don't tell me I have another mini me."

"Not to worry, I'm not calling about that," she assured. "My call is regarding Rebecca."

"What about?"

"Earlier this morning, a woman from social services with a court order arrived at the New York county clerk's office, requesting Miss Thompson's vital records."

"What…did they take anything?" Nolan demanded, he was hoping it wasn't Daniel that was behind it.

"She didn't get a chance to take anything — once the clerk called me up to verify who she was — she left the building. That's when I called you to make sure you were aware."

That's weird. Why would a social worker ask for her records out of the blue? And then not take anything?

"Did she mention anything about Daniel Grayson or the Grayson family?"

"No, sir," Paige replied confused. "I don't believe so."

He wasn't taking any chances.

"Deny access to her records," Nolan ordered. "I want to find out who did this. Keep me posted as soon as you find anything."


Emily watched as Daniel gave a news crew a tour of his office. Once she stepped into the room Daniel noticed her.

"Hey, babe. What's up?" he walked over to her and pulled her in for a kiss, which she halfheartedly returned.

The reporter, a woman in a Barbie pink business dress, motioned for the cameras to focus in on them. "Miss Thorne mind taking a picture with you and your boyfriend?" she squealed.

"Maybe in a bit," Emily turned to Daniel and whispered. "Can we talk in private?"

"Sure," He turned to the reporter with a smile. "Hey, Alexa, can we take a break?"

"Of course, Mr. Grayson." Alexa replied in a bubbly tone. "Come on, boys."

With that they walked out of the office closing the door behind them.

Emily and Daniel took a seat at his desk. Emily noticed the newspaper on his desk with their picture on the cover.

"They won't stop talking about us," Daniel informed. "You know it's be great if you did do a segment with the paper."

She glanced back at Daniel. "What's with the news crew?"

He shrugged. "It's just a publicity stunt for the company."

"Daniel we need to talk." Emily started, looking down at her hands.

He noticed the shift in her tone. "Is something wrong? You seem upset."

She gazed at him, her eyes holding a spark. "Tell me the truth; that night at the business meeting, did you set up that paparazzo?"

She waited for his usual reply a lie of some kind.

He nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry for that, it wasn't right," he smiled and took her hands in his. "I was taking an opportunity to bring us back together, you know like we used to be."

Emily pulled her hands away from his. "Just like you took the opportunity to blackmail Nolan Ross?"

He looked surprised that she knew that.

"Nolan and I are friends," she explained. "He told me everything."

Daniel scoffed. "Look, babe, what's going on between me and Nolan is just business."

"Just business?" She stood up and looked him square in the eye. "'Just business?' What happened to you Daniel?"

"I became a Grayson, Emily. That's what happened," he stood up and furrowed his brows at her. "And last time I checked, you wanted to be one too," he grabbed the newspaper pointing at their photo. "Admit it Emily we're great together. Everyone loves us. Do you really want to give up the power and fame that comes with being a Grayson?"

If all of that meant losing Nolan. Then yes.

"Yes," Emily said after a moment. "I'm sorry Daniel."

With that she walked out the office doors. Daniel slumped against his desk. He looked down at the newspaper and crumbled it up in his hands.

There was a knock on the door and Aiden walked into the room. "Daniel, they want you back out there. What's wrong?"

"Emily just broke up with me."

Aiden walked further into the office. "Oh, mate, that's rough. I'm sorry."

Daniel looked up at him. If he couldn't win Emily back then he could win NolCorp. "I want Ross's prison story on the air."

Aiden nodded. "Alright, I'll let em' know."

He walked out of the office, passing by the camera crew, down the hall.

"Miss Thorne!" He looked behind him to see the reporter, Alexa Chen, racing ahead of him to the elevators. Aiden hid behind the corner, watching as Emily talked with Alexa Chen.

Alexa was an opportunist. She was a reporter infamous for acquiring information about her clients by unethical means.

Emily frowned at the camera. "I'm not interested in doing an interview," she turned to the elevator doors.

"Wait, please," Alexa stuck her foot in the doors were about to close. "Miss Thorne, there have been rumors that you two are back together. What do you have to say to that?"

Emily gave the reporter a croc stare. "Here's the truth; Daniel Grayson and I are not together. If you want the details, you should ask him. Now, if you'll excuse me." Alexa jumped back as the elevator doors closed in her face.

Aiden moved from his spot and raced to the reporter. "Excuse me, Alexa Chen?"
She looked up from her smartphone to him. "Yes?"

"I'm Aiden Mathis, I work with Daniel Grayson."

"Hello, Mr. Mathis, and what can I do for you?"

He smiled. "Actually, it's what I can do for you."

Her bright pink lips turned up in a smile. "Oh, and what's that?"

"You're the kind of reporter that likes juicy stories, right?"

She laughed and playfully hit him on the shoulder. "The juicier the better."

Aiden smirked. This was too easy. "I have an exclusive story about Nolan Ross that I think you'll find very interesting."


"You can see the entire baseball field from here!" Becca exclaimed, as she and Nolan sat in the sky box that overlooked the outfield of Yankee Stadium.

"Yup, it's pretty cool." Nolan looked down to the sea of people below them, some were decorated in the Yankee team colors, with face paint and baseball tees. Others were holding up #1 foam fingers and hand painted banners with pictures of their favorite players.

Nolan frowned. Seeing all those people made him feel claustrophobic. He wasn't a huge fan of large crowds of people squished together in a small space. He looked around the sky box. The spacious seating area had overlooked the outfield. It was air conditioned keeping out the hot sunny weather. Best of all, they didn't have to fight for seats; it was just the two of them.

Nolan turned in his seat to Becca. "So, do you like it?"

"Heck yeah!" she held her cell phone out in front of her and took a selfie. "I've got to commemorate the moment."

The commentator's voice boomed through the speakers. "Welcome to Yankee's stadium, looks like it's going to be a great game today."

"The game is about to start." Nolan said.

"Wait, we're missing foam fingers!" Becca exclaimed, "it's not a real baseball game without them!" She darted out of her seat, "I'll be right back." She raced out the door attached to the suite.

"Okay, I'll be here." Nolan smiled glad that Becca was enjoying herself. He grabbed a remote off the table and looked up at a flat screen TV mounted on above him. He flicked through the channels till he made it to CNN, where Daniel Grayson's interview was taking place. Nolan grabbed his Bluetooth from his blazer pocket and placed it in his ear. "How are we on my prison story?"

"Everything is fine so far, Mr. Ross." A woman replied on the other line.

Nolan had his PR team monitoring the news all week. Their main task was to watch for any chatter about his prison visitor logs. Nolan wasn't shying away from this. He was prepared for whatever the press could throw at him.

"Good, let's keep it that way."

The interview with Daniel changed to an Asian woman with long black hair in a pink dress sitting at a desk. Nolan narrowed his eyes at the reporter. Alexa Chen was a devious woman who loved to make up stories and twist the truth.

"My interview with Daniel Grayson was in a word; boring," Alexa started in a bored tone. "The heir to the Grayson Empire is following in his father's footsteps to success. We're heard it all before." The headline picture change to a photo of Emily and Daniel with a broken heart between them. Nolan looked at the screen intently.

"I have a question; what's going on with Daniel and Emily?" Alexa asked skeptically, "They were engaged just last summer and broken up in the same year. And now the power couple is back together and things seem to be going well as we've seen over the last few days. Or are they? I had an opportunity to interview Miss Thorne earlier today about her and her beau, as she made a hasty from Grayson Global."

The video on screen fazed to a recording of a seemingly annoyed Emily. She frowned at the camera. "I'm not interested in doing an interview," she turned to the elevator doors.

"Wait, please," Alexa pleaded, "Miss Thorne, there have been rumors that you two are back together. What do you have to say to that?"

Emily gave the reporter a croc stare. And Nolan was surprised she didn't use her ninja skills on her.

"Here's the truth; Daniel Grayson and I are not together. If you want the details, you should ask him. Now, if you'll excuse me."

"We did," Alexa said, her face coming back onto the screen, "And all he had to say was quote, 'we're working through some things at the moment. That's all I can say at this time,' end quote." Alexa shifted the papers on her desk and smiled. "I guess things aren't always greener on the other side. This is Alexa Chen, reporting the juiciest celebrity gossip, and I'll be back right after these messages."

Nolan stared at the screen with confusion. Wasn't Emily using Daniel for intel? Why would she publicly break it off with him? What was going on? A small smile formed on his face. He wouldn't lie and say he wasn't a bit happy to hear they were broken up.

Down at the merch store, Becca grabbed a foam finger off the display stand. She set it near the cash register. "I'll take this."

"That'll be nine dollars." the sales guy said. As she handed him the money she noticed a blue Yankee's baseball cap. "Hey, how much are the hats?" She thought her dad would look pretty cool with that hat.

"Fifteen."

"I'll take it." She put the hat on her head and put the foam finger on her hand. With a smile, she turned from the kiosk and walked down the crowded, sun lit corridor to the suite.

Back in the suite, Nolan kept his eyes glued to the news channel.

"In other celebrity news," Alexa reported, "there's been a lot of talk recently about computer genius and tech mongrel Nolan Ross." Nolan's photo phased onto the screen. "Many have called Nolan Ross's leadership style that of a Maverick. The few people lucky enough to get into his inner circle say he's impossible to work, controlling and secretive."

Nolan rolled his eyes at the true comments.

"Ross is so secretive, that he's managed to hide the fact that he was close friends with infamous terrorist, David Clarke, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, after he bombed airline flight 197 in 1994. We were able to get commentary from Daniel Grayson, who had this to say."

Video footage of Daniel from the interview popped onto the screen. He smiled smugly. "What I want to know is how Ross is going to deal with the backlash from his customers. I mean, who wants to buy computer software associated with terrorism?"

Nolan put a hand to his Bluetooth. "I'll send out my press statement in the morning," he said to his PR team. "That wasn't too bad, huh?"

"But, that wasn't the only secret we uncovered at Grayson Global." Alexa smirked.

As Nolan was about to turn off the TV, the headlines NOLAN ROSS: BAD DAD flashed onto the screen with a press photo of Nolan and a candid photo of Rebecca taken near their beach house, a few days ago.

Nolan's pulse raced in his ears. His hands sweated. He realized that he couldn't breathe.

"You've heard it here folks: Nolan Ross is the father of a seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson. Here's the question we all want to know; who is the baby mama? It's Grace Thompson." A picture of Grace appeared on the screen.

With all their photos side by side it was obvious that Grace was her mother. They shared the same caramel colored skin, dark long curly hair, and soft square faces. It didn't take much to see that Nolan was her father. They had the same eyes, same smile and even their noses were alike.

"Okay, but who's that? If you asked your grandfather or your neighborhood cat lady, pretty much anyone who reads the paper," Alexa noted with a laugh. "They'll tell you she's the daughter of the ingenious, late news editor James Thompson."

Nolan regained his motor skills and bolted out of his seat. "Take this off the air!" Nolan yelled into his Bluetooth, "I WANT THIS OFF NOW!"

"Hey, not so fast," Alexa mocked as if she could see Nolan through the TV. "What happened to make Ross and Thompson fall apart? Some speculate it was Ross's obsession with NolCorp that ultimately made him choose his empire over fatherhood."

The television's screen turned black. The announcer's voice boomed through the skybox. "IT'S A HOMERUN!" The crowds below him cheered and clapped. Nolan felt frozen in place. His whole world had crashed down.

The door to the sky box flung open and Becca darted inside.

"Dad!" Becca yelled racing down the stairs. "You won't believe what just happened… I don't know how but, the press know who I am. I mean who I really am!"

"Dad, are you okay?" Becca blinked at Nolan. He was standing still, mouth agape like a fish, staring at the flat screen. Becca looked up at the TV. She froze as her picture from the tech convention and near their beach house were plastered on the news. She felt like she was in a dream. How could their secret be revealed, just like that?"

"We need to get out of here," Nolan said, after a minute. "We need to get out of here, now."

They raced out the sky box and into the suite. Becca's phone pinged like crazy from her purse. She looked at her phone seeing the selfie she'd posted an hour ago was trending.

"Damn it," Becca whined and turned the phone to her dad.

CHILLIN AT YANKEE STADIUM. GO YANKEES! :-) XX BECCA

He frowned at the caption. "Well, that makes things difficult."

"I barely made it up here, those paparazzi are vicious!" Becca explained as she bit her nails, "Dad, what are we going to do?"

His mind drew a blank. Becca was relying on her Dad to be her hero, to protect and fight for her, but he couldn't come up with a plan.

Looking around the suite, Nolan glanced to the baseball cap on Becca's head. An idea formed in his mind. "We need to get out of here undetected right? But, the press know what we look like, we'd be ambushed before we even got to the car."

Becca stopped biting her fingernails. "So, we need disguises?" she handed him the baseball cap. "Here, this is for you."

As Nolan put on the baseball cap, he glanced at the green pashmina scarf around Becca's neck. It fell past her baseball tee ending at the bottoms of her jeans shorts.

"Your scarf. Use it."

She looked down at the scarf with a smile. She wrapped it around her hair. Nolan lowered the sunglasses perched on his head over his eyes. Becca turned to look at her reflection in a full-length mirror surrounded by portraits of MLB players on the wall.

Yeah her disguise wasn't much. But she wasn't recognizable.

"Keep your cell phone on," Nolan stated, waving his cell phone to her in the mirror. "We need to split up. I'll meet you in the SUV outside of Gate 4. Got it?"

She nodded, "Okay." Becca turned to her dad and pulled him into a hug. "Dad, be careful."

He pulled her in for a final hug, "You too."

The smell of peanuts and popcorn filled Becca's nose as she stood at the merch shop. She grabbed a pair of sunglasses off the display rack. She slapped a twenty dollar bill on the counter.

"Keep the change," she told the sales guy coolly and walked off.

Ahead of the crowd of people, she spotted the exit of Gate 2. She'd taken a longer way, thinking that an old couple with their cameras were paparazzo. So she was being a bit paranoid, but at least she didn't get caught. Her hands started to shake and her pulse quickened. She could do this. She could do this. A group of rowdy teens with selfie sticks rushed past her. Becca's pulse raced in her hears. She tried not to think that someone in the crowd of people around her would jump out at her with a camera. Becca took a deep out and walked out sun lit the exit. She made it to the cross walk and released a breath she didn't realize she was holding. She looked up at the street sign.

"Jerome Avenue. Just two more blocks till Gate 4. I can totally do this."

The walk sign lit up. As Becca walked across the street the scarf slipped from her head and just like that it fell to her shoulders. She kept walking, trying in vain to readjust the scarf. A girl in a group across the street spotted her.

"It's her!" the girl yelled.

"That's Rebecca Ross!" another cried.

Becca darted down the street. She only had a few more blocks till she made it to the gate. Her cellphone rang from her pocket and she picked it up.

"I'm coming up on the Macomb Street," Nolan stated over the phone. "Where are you?"

She glanced behind her to the horde of teenage girls. She'd never ran so fast in her life and if she was keeping track, she was sure she'd broken a record.

"Thank God," Becca sighed in relief as the SUV pulled up to the curb side. She darted into the car. The tires squealed against the pavement as Nolan peeled from the curbside and down the street.


Becca grabbed her TMNT backpack from the backseat. She opened her laptop and started typing.

"What's the damage?" Nolan asked, afraid to know.

"#Nolan Ross #Bad Dad is trending on Twitter," she turned to him, tapping her fingers on the keyboard. "How did the press find out? Do you really think it was Daniel Grayson?" Her dad had mentioned it to her before. He'd said Grayson was trying to win NolCorp and was using her dad's records from his past as blackmail.

"Our lawyer called this morning, saying a social worker tried to access your files at the county clerk's office."

"What? That's so creepy. Did they get anything?"

"Nothing, according to the clerk's office."

Becca scoffed. "Obviously not, since my birth certificate is trending on Twitter."

Nolan honked his horn at the cars merging onto the lane ahead of him. He sighed, "Find us a clearer route. We're going to be stuck in this traffic all day."

"On it."

As he inched across the freeway, Nolan took a moment to think. He needed to make sense of what had happened.

He knew that Daniel played dirty, but he wasn't this good. How could he get his hands on her records when his team had her files under lock and key?

Nolan felt in his gut that something… someone was missing from the equation.

"Paige, mentioned it was a female social worker." Nolan stated suspiciously.

"Okay," Becca added with a laugh, "That's not weird. This is the 21st century."

Who was the common thread? Nolan felt his throat tighten up as he realized who it was.

"Emily did this."

"That's a bit of a leap," Becca scoffed. "You think Emily masqueraded as a social worker and took my records? Why?"

"Guess where Emily was a few hours ago? With Daniel at his Grayson Global interview," he insisted, seeing her whole plan clearly in his mind. "She does the interview, slips in your records. To throw suspicion from her, she pins it on Grayson, who was already on a digging mission to find out about my prison visits. It's a great plan."

Becca shook her head in disbelief. "WHY would Emily do this?"

Emily was back to using Daniel as a pawn in her schemes. Back to treating him like a sidekick. She'd asked him to hack into a database. He refused.

She had means and a motive.

"Because it's what she does if you don't play by her rules." Nolan said finally.

An awkwardness filled the space between them.

"I never should have trusted Emily." Nolan concluded. He kept his eyes on the road ahead. He snatched the blue Yankees baseball cap off of his head and punched the steering wheel. "I'm such an idiot to have believed that she changed."

"I trusted her," Becca muttered. "I thought you guys were friends."

Nolan laughed bitterly. "Emily Thorne doesn't have friends. She has puppets."

Becca flinched at her dad's words. She'd never heard him talk about Emily like that before. She turned in her seat to the rear view mirror and then looked out the backseat windows of the SUV.

It didn't look like anyone was following them.

Becca sighed, "I think we're good." she untied the green headscarf around her head and released her curly hair. "Looks like our route is clear," she reported looking at the screen. She twitched her nose and the over-sized Hollywood sunglasses slid down her nose.

Nolan responded, "Good."

His grip turned white knuckled on the steering wheel. Was he doomed to repeat history? Again he fell for another predator that only used his kindness, name and money to get ahead.

Did he learn nothing from his experiences with his ex-fiancée Grace 18 years ago or the hustler Tyler last summer?

He really was a bad judge of character.

He never should have told Emily. She'd played him good, with promises of change and being a friend. All lies.

They didn't have a future together. Not anymore.

Nolan moved his hand off the steering wheel and gently patted Becca's shoulder. "I'm so sorry kiddo. I shouldn't have introduced you to Emily. This is all my fault."

Becca looked up from her laptop to Nolan. "Hey Dad, I don't know what if-"

"Hold on." Nolan clicked the Bluetooth in his ear. "Ross." he answered, "Yeah. Have the plane ready by the time we get there."

Becca blinked her eyes. "Wait, where are we going?"

"Pennsylvania. Carole and her horse ranch is in Lancaster." Nolan smiled at Becca, "Remember when you first learned to ride a horse? And we'd have Christmas there every year."

"Yeah…that was fun." Becca agreed with a smile.

"You'll love it there," Nolan grinned. "It's secluded and off the map. It's the perfect place to be till things blow over with the media."

"So we're just going to run away and hide?" Becca frowned. "Dad, what about my friends? What about school? School is three months away: how am I supposed to apply to MIT if I'm in hiding?"

"It's not forever." Nolan assured her, "The only thing that matters to me is keeping you safe."

Becca fiddled with the tassels on her scarf. "What are we going to do about all of this?"

Everyone in New York believed that Nolan Ross was a heartless jerk that cared more about his company than his kid. It was all lies.

Nolan kept his eyes forward and uttered. "You're going to stay in Pennsylvania with Carole. And I'm going to stay in New York and clean up this mess."

"Wait, you're just going to leave me in Pennsylvania?" Becca asked hurt laced in her voice. "When did you decide this?"

"Six years ago. You see what they're writing in the papers," Nolan explained in a stern voice. "I'm not going to let them tear us apart!"

"I'm not twelve anymore Dad. What happened to us being a team?" Becca reminded him. "You know, me and you against the world?"

Nolan sighed heavily. "Well, kiddo the world doesn't work like your comics. It's not so easy to be a hero when the whole world treats you like a villain."

"Screw them! I'm not afraid of the media." Becca exclaimed, "If you just stop being such a control freak and let me help, I'm sure I can come up with a plan to-"

Nolan snapped his head to Becca. "Rebecca just shut up! I'm the parent, you're the child and you'll do as I say!

Becca's lips quivered. "Fine! It's not like you needed my help anyway." She shut her laptop closed, stuffed it in her backpack, shoved it next to her feet and curled away from Nolan to the passenger window.

Nolan had officially failed to keep his promise: protect his daughter.

The SUV came to an abrupt halt. Nolan honked at the stretch of afternoon traffic leading out of Manhattan. He spotted a short cut across the street. He swerved out of the traffic and darted into the narrow alley way.

Nolan sighed in relief glad they were off the main streets, they'd make it to the airport on time.

He glanced to Becca and frowned. He hadn't yelled at her like that in a long time.

"Kiddo, look I'm sorry. I'm trying to do what's best for you." He relaxed his iron grip on the steering wheel. He reached a hand out and touched Becca's shoulder.

She jerked away from him. "I don't want to talk to you. Please, just leave me alone. You're good at that."

Nolan shrugged his shoulders and looked back to the road. So he'd have to deal with Rebecca would hating him for sending her off to Pennsylvania. He could live with that, it was a small price to pay to keep her out of the media. He knew how vicious these vultures were once they targeted a family. They'd eat them alive without mercy.

Just then Becca's cell phone rang. She sat up and fished it out of her jean pocket. EMILY, flashed on the caller ID.

Becca lifted her sunglasses. "It's Emily."

"Don't bother answering it." Nolan stated, "She'll try to reel you back into her evil games."

Becca glanced at her phone and shook her head. "This doesn't make any sense…I don't believe that Emily did this to us."

"What doesn't make sense?" Nolan demanded, "Emily used us: we're just pawns in her master plan!"

"Well if that's true than I want to hear it from her." Becca moved her finger to swipe at the green ANSWER button.

Nolan snatched the phone from Becca's hands and chucked it into the backseat.

"Dad, what the hell?" Becca huffed, "You're such a paranoid control freak!"

"I'm not paranoid." Nolan shot her a glare. "Rebecca, for once will you quit being stubborn and listen? I'm trying to do what's best for you! I'm trying to protect you-"

"Dad, watch out!" Becca pointed out the window.

Nolan snapped his head forward. A mob of paparazzi stood before them, cameras ready, blocking the exit to the street.

"How did they find us?" Becca blurted. "Damn these guys are persistent." They stood unwavering as the van advanced on them. "Do these guys have a death wish?"

"Let's find out." Nolan stated in an eerily calm voice. He pushed on the gas and the SUV sped up.

Becca swerved her head to her dad. "Dad, stop the car!" They charged at the paparazzi like a bull at a matador.

It was official: Nolan Ross had finally lost his mind.

"Dad you're insane! Stop the car!" Becca cried again. The mob was a few feet away from them. Becca shut her eyes and braced herself against her seat.

Crack!

Becca screamed as a body collided into the windshield. It made a loud cracking sound, like a bag of bricks slamming into a glass window. The SUV rocked back and forth as it ran over the body.

The SUV screeched to a halt. "Damn it." Nolan cursed.

The door light beeped and he raced out of the driver seat.

Becca peeled her eyes open. She peeked out the cracked window. Nolan's back faced her as stood at hood of the car, looking down at the ground, pale faced with a hand to his head talking frantically into his Bluetooth.

Becca's palms were sweaty and her mouth dry. Did he just run over someone? Becca's pulse raced in her ears. Was she going to jail?

She was pretty sure MIT frowned at prospective students who had 'accessory to murder' on their permanent record.

"Dad, what happened? Is everything okay?" Becca uttered shakily as she pushed the car door open and got out.

Nolan spun around to her and held his hands out in a stop motion. "Everything is fine, don't get out of the car! Just stay inside."

Against her dad's advice Becca stepped from behind the door. A chemical smell burned her nose. She held her nose, took another step forward and slipped backwards. She quickly grasped the door handle for balance.

"What the hell?" Becca looked down at the sticky puddle at her feet. Her eyes widened. Bright red blood stained the soles of her white Toms.

Becca let out a scream.

"Becca why are you screaming?" Nolan yelled.

She darted to the front of the SUV. Nolan bent down to the guy lying on the ground. He reached out his hand and helped him up.

"You'll kill someone driving like that." the guy groaned rubbing at the back of his neck. Bright red stuff covered the front of his t-shirt and jeans. A smudge of red was on his cheek.

"H-he's not dead?" Becca whimpered, "But, he's covered in blood."

"He's not dead." Nolan assured, shooting her a worried look. "And that's not blood," he pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his nose. "It's paint. Can't you smell it?"

So that was what that chemical smell was.

Becca swerved around to the SUV to see her footprints. A glint of something sparkled under the SUV. She crouched down to get a better look. A crushed paint can was lodged under the tires.

That was a paint can, not a body they'd ran over.

"I might as well be dead, thanks you two." The painter spat, rushing past Becca to a ladder propped up against the side of the alley wall. She glanced up the wall to see a half painted window frame. Red paint was splattered across the window.

She looked back at the crashed windshield. She glanced back to the painter.

"You fell on our windshield?" she asked.

"Nearly broke my damn neck thanks to that guy!" he exclaimed, pointing a finger at Nolan.

Becca sighed heavily, relief washed over. She walked over to her dad and sent him a glare. She almost had a heart attack!

"You scared the filling out of me!" She snapped.

Nolan placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Did you really think that I'd run over someone?" he pulled her into a hug. "I'm a lot of things, but homicidal isn't one of them."

"My wife is going to kill me! Do you have any idea how long it took me to paint that window?" the painted yelled at them from his balcony. "You're paying for this buddy!"

Nolan rolled his eyes at the painter. "Too bad pal. I've got my own problems to deal with."

He placed a hand on Becca's shoulder, and they walked back to the SUV. "Come on, let's go."

Click!

Click!

Nolan and Becca spun around to the noise to see the pack of paparazzi.

"Just keep walking to the car." Nolan stated, pulling Becca close to him, trying to shield her from the swarm of vultures.

Microphones were shoved in their faces. Lights flashed in their eyes. Becca felt like the world was closing in on her. She felt small and compact surrounded by the crowd.

"Mr. Ross, what do you have to say about your relationship with David Clarke?"

"Where's your mother?"

"What is it like being the daughter of Nolan Ross?"

Their voices melted together echoing in her ears. She felt like she had too much adrenaline, like everything was going faster than her. The paparazzi faces were getting hazy and dark. Her breath was getting uneven and shallow.

Becca yelped as a pair of beefy hands grabbed her shoulders. She struggled against the man, fighting him off, as he tried to pull her into the mob.

"Get AWAY from her!" Nolan seized the sleaze bag's arm, grabbed him by the back of his head and pushed him face first into the brick wall of the alley.

No one laid a hand on his kid.

"DAD!"

Nolan darted around to Becca. His chest tightened seeing fear in her eyes as she was trapped between the hood of the SUV and the mob of paparazzi. He dashed through the mob towards her.

This had to be a bad dream right? This wasn't happening. God, please, let this be a nightmare.

A horn blared as a black Mercedes came to a neck breaking halt beside the SUV.

"Mr. Ross!" a voice boomed. Everyone spun their heads to see a beefy African American man race out the car. The paparazzi stood back, smart not to mess with the ex-Marine as he dashed to the Ross' side.

"Are you okay?" Ed asked Becca, offering his hand to her.

She blinked up at the man. She smiled gratefully, taking his hand, as he pulled her up from her seated position on the ground.

"Thank you." she watched him curiously as she raced to Nolan's side.

"Big Ed," Nolan smiled thankfully, at his bodyguard. "Always timely," he turned to Becca, taking her face in his hands, and wiped away a smudge of paint. "Are you okay?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I don't know about my Toms though."

"You can buy a new pair." He smiled, hugging her fiercely. Nolan spun around to Ed with a smile.

"Ed, my man, you think you can take care of them for me?" He pointed to the cowering bloc of reporters standing near the trash cans.

He smiled. "Of course, Boss."

"Wait, hold up! Who is he?" Becca glanced between Nolan and Ed in confusion.

Nolan sighed, "Rebecca meet Big Ed, my bodyguard. Big Ed meet Rebecca, my daughter."

"Ma'am."

With a nod of his head, Becca watched in amazement as Ed lumbered over to the reporters.

"We had a bodyguard this whole time? And you said nothing?"

"Never came up." Nolan said simply.

Becca laughed as the paparazzo held their cameras out to Ed like he was some ferocious dragon and they were trying to save their skins from being eaten.

"Come on, let's get going." Nolan said to Becca.

"Right," Becca muttered, following after him to the SUV. As Becca was getting into the passenger seat Nolan spun around to her. "You drive." He threw her the keys and she caught them mid-air.

"Wait, you want me to drive?" Becca asked confused. Her dad was dead set on not letting her drive the car with him in it and now he was all for it?

They piled into the car. Becca put the keys in the ignition and the SUV rumbled to life. She glanced to her dad, who was sitting stiffly in the passenger seat, looking out the window with a tight jaw.

Before she could ask where she was driving to, Nolan answered, "Drive to Emily's house."


Nolan didn't wait for Becca to park the car as he tore off his seat belt. "Stay here," he ordered and bolted out of the car.

"Wait, Dad, what are you going to do?" Becca exclaimed, struggling to unbuckle her seat-belt. "Dad, wait a minute!"

Nolan flung the front door open and trudged into the living room. Emily spun around from the television, relief in her eyes. She set her cellphone on the coffee table and raced over to Nolan.

"Nolan, where the hell have you been? I called you a dozen times,"

"Am I just a sidekick to you Emily?"

"What are you talking about Nolan? Of course we're friends."

She shot him a worried expression, looking past him to the door. "Where's Rebecca?" As she walked past him to the front door, Nolan seized Emily's hand. She looked up at him confused. "Nolan, what are you doing?"

His grip tightened and he hissed. "Stay away from my daughter."

"Nolan, let go of my hand," Emily warned. "You're hurting me."

He panicked, seeing fear in her eyes. He'd seen that all too familiar look in his mother's eyes when ever his father came home. With a shaky breath he released her hand. He stepped away from her until the back of his legs bumped into the island counter.

Emily rubbed at her wrist and shot him a look. "Nolan what is going on with you? "

"You spun a tale that Daniel would blackmail me with Rebecca's paternity," he started.

"What's going on is I found the woman behind the curtain. I got a call from my attorney today. Told me a female from social with a court order came to the clerk's office, inquiring about Rebecca's records. And just a few hours later I see you on the news at Grayson Global and then the whole world knows I have a kid."

"You think I did this?" she countered, "Nolan I would never do this to Rebecca I care about her."

He chuckled darkly. He wasn't falling for her lies again. "If memory serves, you did the same things to your own sister. You didn't show a shred of sympathy then, so why now?"

Emily looked away from his prying eyes. That was one of the plans she wished she didn't set into motion.

"This is my kid's life you're screwing with," Nolan exclaimed. "She gave you her trust and you just took advantage of it like you always do."

Emily's eyes watered at his words. She hated to see the man she cared about crumbling before her eyes. "Nolan, please, let's just talk for a minute—"

"NO! I'm done talking and listening to you," Nolan smirked and grabbed his cellphone from his blazer pocket. "I told you I could be just as powerful of an enemy as the Grayson's. All it takes is one call to my PR team."

Emily knew that in his highly emotional state he would do it. She walked over to him, to make him see reason. "Nolan please, I'm telling you the truth."

He looked at her with bloodshot eyes, "Look me in the eyes and swear to me that you didn't do it. Otherwise it's over."

Emily took his face in her hands and stared him straight in the eyes. Her eyes watered and lips trembled. "I swear to God, I did not reveal Rebecca's paternity."

Nolan examined her face. After a moment, the only thing he saw in her eyes was the same look she'd given him that night they watched movies on the couch. He couldn't find a lie, or a half-truth.

All he found in her glossy brown eyes was a mirror of the hurt, anger and despair he felt.

Nolan took her hands in his and pushed them away. He turned away from Emily and sunk into the couch. He wiped at his face and his body racked with sobs. Emily swallowed the lump forming in her throat and plopped into the seat beside him. She gingerly placed her hand on his shoulders and pulled him in close, letting him cry on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Nolan. I'm so sorry."

Nolan lifted his head off Emily's shoulder. He sniffled and shot her a look of remorse. He'd blamed her for something she didn't do. He'd threatened to reveal her secret to the world. He'd put his hands on her.

"Emily, I'm—"

She placed a finger to his lips, shushing him. "Don't apologize for what you did, Nolan. You were only doing what you thought was best to protect your family."

Nolan's eyes traveled to her glowing red wrist. He didn't realize how strong he was. He couldn't move. He was too embarrassed and disgusted with himself. He'd never put his hands on a woman. Never even thought of raising a hand at Rebecca. But he just did, to Emily. He was afraid, what if he'd do it again? What if he was a monster, just like his father?

"Ems, I'm so sorry," he choked out.

Emily looked at the faint hand print on her wrist. "You didn't hurt me, Nolan, not really."

She frowned seeing how he was beating himself up about it. "Look for yourself." She held out her wrist to him. He closed his eyes and looked away.

"I'm sorry." he cried.

Nolan inhaled deeply as Emily took his right hand and guided his cool fingertips over the faint red skin of her wrist.

She looked up at him, trying to calming him down with a smile, "I'm fine, really."

Nolan said in a raspy voice. "I'd rather have my hands cut off then do that again."

"You're being dramatic." But, she knew by the look in his eyes that he was dead serious.

"I grew up watching my mom and I get slapped around by my bastard of a father," he explained. "Kids who grow up with abusive, alcoholic dirt bags tend to be the abusers in their relationships."

Emily couldn't ever imagine Nolan being like that. He was kind, big hearted and caring. He could never be like that. It just wasn't him.

She gently took his face in her hands and wiped away a stray tear. "Nolan, you are not like your father."

He gently took her hands in his and looked into her eyes, "I swear to God, I'll never do that again. Ever."

The jingle of keys made Emily turn her head. She spotted Becca standing off to the side of the stairs with a worried expression. Emily nodded reassuringly for her to come over. Becca nodded and inched into the living room. Emily came to a stand, letting Becca sit beside Nolan.

"I'll get you some water and an Aspirin." Emily walked to the kitchen.

"Dad?" Becca pipped up. She'd never seen him look so sad before. She didn't know what to do.

"Come here, kiddo." Nolan opened his arms and pulled Becca in for a hug. She buried her face in his neck. The comforting smell of his Antaeus Chanel cologne and spicy cinnamon from the French toast they cooked earlier made her feel safe and warm.

The faint voice of the reporter made Becca glance to the television screen. Her and her dad's pictures were plastered all over the screen. She got her wish. It was official: everyone knew that Nolan Ross had a kid. She always imagined this moment as a happy one, with her dad smiling and crying tears of joy, not despair. Well, reality sure had a way of biting you in the ass.

Becca sat up and looked at her dad wearily. "Dad, are you okay?"

He smiled weakly. "I think so, all things considering."

Emily came back with the water and Aspirin and handed them to Nolan.

Becca glanced to Emily, with uncertainty. "So, you didn't do this to us?"

"No, Rebecca," Emily took a seat in the arm chair next. "No, I didn't."

"I knew you didn't do this to us Emily," Becca smiled brightly, "I just knew it."

Nolan took a long sip of water. "Then, who did?"

"I wouldn't cross Daniel off the list of suspects," Emily started. "What I do know is that things just got a lot more complicated for you both."

Becca frowned at her dad. "Does this mean I still have to move to Pennsylvania?"

"Pennsylvania?" Emily questioned.

"Dad planned that if something like this happened I'd move to Pennsylvania, while he took care of things over here," she sighed. "Might I add it's a bad plan. I don't want to go into hiding."

"It's still a good plan," Nolan added." Because it's the only one I've got. I won't let them tear us apart."

Becca sighed loudly, "Gosh, Dad, I keep telling you that no one is going to tear us apart. My own mother tried to tear us apart and that didn't work. And neither will this," she leaned her head on his shoulder and took his hand in his. "I know who you are; you didn't leave me, because you chose to, like my mom. You're my Dad. None of their lies will change my truth."

Nolan pulled Becca close to him. He was so glad that she believed the truth. That he loved her with all his heart. He kissed her forehead. "We'll get through this...somehow."

"The three of us can get through this, together." Emily stated with a small smile.

Nolan glanced to Emily with wide eyes. Her eyes burned with the same protectiveness Nolan had seen when she'd the night of the Fiona case, when she'd gone into Mama Bear mode.

Seeing that look in her eyes, Nolan felt a wave of relief wash over him. He wasn't alone in this. He had Emily, Rebecca, his friends by his side. He didn't know how he'd get through the press. But he was certain with his family by his side. Somehow, they would.

 

Chapter Text

Emily stepped out to the patio of her beach house with a mug of tea in her hands. She looked around, spotting Becca sitting on the porch swing, looking down at the Nolpad in her hands.

"What are you reading?" Emily asked, taking a seat beside her.

Becca didn't look up from the tablet as she replied. "Just catching up on the headlines."

"How is so far?" Emily humored, "find anything interesting?"

"Looks like Gangnam style isn't leaving any time soon," she scoffed. "Other than that, this is still the same gossip rag."

Emily snuck a peek at the article Becca was reading. NOLAN ROSS: BAD DAD was printed in big letters. Becca thumbed through the photo gallery full of candid photos of her and Nolan.

Emily saw the internal struggle happening in Becca's mind. She was deciding if the words on the screen were a true reflection of who she believed her father was. Emily promised Nolan that she would be there for Rebecca — to sort out the truth from the lies — just like he did for her.

"Is there anything you want to talk about?" Emily encouraged, "If you need an ear to listen, I'm right here."

Becca glanced up to her, "Really?" she asked hesitantly.

She nodded. "Of course, you can talk to me about anything. No judgments here."

You can talk to me about anything.

Those words sounded so foreign to Becca. Her mom wasn't the kind of person to sit down and have a heart-to-heart. If Becca wanted to talk about computers, coding or other things she liked, her mom turned a deaf ear. The only things her mom talked about was how much she hated her job, shoes, makeup, and her boyfriend of the month.

On occasion, Grace would happily ask for Becca's input about what kind of condo in what state she'd like to stay in. Becca always dreaded those talks. It meant she had to move. Pack up and leave her new life and all her friends behind. All because her mom couldn't hold down a job because of the number of sick days she'd used up.

Becca looked down at the Nolpad. "I wish I had a time machine. So I could go back and fix the past." She glanced up at Emily, her eyes showing a sort of regret and heaviness that made Emily's chest tighten.

"Then maybe things could have been different for my mom and me growing up."

"Things like what?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Everything. When I first met Dad, he was the complete opposite of who my mom made him out to be. When he came to get me from social services I didn't expect him to be so caring or concerned. I thought he'd just leave me in foster care and never look back. But after knowing me for like an hour he said, 'come on, let's go home.'"

"That sounds like the Nolan I know," Emily smiled. "He's always been unconditionally caring."

"No kidding," Becca laughed. "I don't know if Dad told you, but, once I ran away from him. I was thirteen, I still didn't like him and we weren't getting along, mind you I wasn't making it easy for him. So, I stole his Gold Amex and booked a plane back to Chicago. It took Dad less than an hour to figure out what happened before he called in Special Forces to track me down at JFK."

"Why'd you run away?"

Becca picked at the red nail polish on her finger nails. "I guess I hadn't gotten it through my head that my mom left me for real. I guess I held onto a stupid fantasy that she would come back if I tried to be a better daughter. Earn her love or some Freudian thing like that. I thought, 'hey if I can find her then maybe she'll come back.'"

Emily said softly, "You know your mom leaving isn't your fault."

"Yeah..." Becca looked away from her eyes. "I know."

"Hey, it's not stupid for a child to want their mother's love and affection," Emily corrected in a firm tone. "That's normal, it's what all kids need. Every child wants to know that they're protected and loved and wanted by their parents."

Becca blinked her eyes. She nodded and looked down at the Nolpad. "Well, I guess Dad did a pretty good job," she praised. "I could write a whole story about all the mistakes I made growing up with Dad. But after all the mistakes I made, he never stopped caring, never stopped trying to love me."

"Even when I screw up he still cares," She glanced to Emily, with glossy eyes. "Why?"

"Because he's a father," Emily revealed with a knowing smile. "Dads love and care about you even when you make mistakes. It's what they do."

With a small smile, Becca tentatively rested her head on Emily's shoulder. Emily placed a comforting hand on Becca's shoulder and pulled her in for a hug.

After a moment, Becca sat up. "Thank you, Emily." she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I needed to vent a little."

Emily nodded, "If you ever need to talk, I'm here."

Becca smiled, feeling a wave of relief wash over her. She was glad she'd talk to Emily. It was nice. "Thanks, that means a lot."

Nolan's voice traveled from the living room out to the patio. Becca grabbed her tablet and came to a stand. "I wondered what Dad was up to. He's been too quiet."

Emily stood up and smiled. "And, if I know your father that's never a good thing."

They strolled through the patio doors into the living room. Nolan sat at the dining room table, every inch of the table was covered with cardboard boxes.

Nolan turned around from his laptop to Becca and Emily. "There you two are. Hey, guess what? Tonight's' a full moon."

"Really?" Becca took the seat across from her dad. "Hey, why don't we have a cookout on the beach? We can have a bonfire, watch the stars, even make s'mores," she looked between her dad and Emily with a smile. "What do you guys think?"

"It would be great to relax sans helicopters and paparazzi," Nolan admitted.

"I'm up for it," Emily agreed, standing by the patio door. "Sounds like fun."

Becca smiled brightly glad at the idea of planning a party. She grabbed her Nolpad off the table and started to type. "Great, I'll make a list! I'll make the whole thing look like something off of Pinterest," she looked up at Emily. "We'll need a lot of stuff."

"How about we go shopping together?" Emily offered.

"Okay, I'll get my jacket from upstairs and we'll go." Becca darted out of her seat, passing a stack of cardboard boxes labeled NOLAN'S SHIRTS, and raced up the stairway.

"Tonight, we'll have a normal, fun, evening!" Becca called from upstairs.

At that, Emily laughed. She was glad that Becca was feeling better. "She always this full of energy?" she asked Nolan.

"Yup, that's my girl." Nolan looked up from his laptop to Emily and added cheekily. "I didn't know you could laugh."

Emily perked an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean? I laugh all the time."

"I'm not talking about the laugh you give when you're with those vultures with manicures. I'm talking about your real laugh," he added. "In fact I've never heard your laugh before...I'm Em-pressed."

Emily rolled her eyes at him, "Boo." she walked into the kitchen and Nolan followed her with his coffee mug.

As he poured coffee into his mug, he tried for another joke. "Aw, come on don't be a Thorne in my side."

"Don't quit your day job, Nolan." Emily urged turning to the whistling kettle on the stove. She walked to the island counter, shuffling around the cardboard boxes for the tin of tea. Emily sighed. Nolan's boxes had taken over every inch of her house.

She spun around to him. "You're welcome to use the storage room. I don't think the guest room downstairs can accommodate your collection of polos."

"Thanks, Emily, I really appreciate it."

"It's not a big deal, Nolan. It's just a closet."

"Not, just that," Nolan laughed, walking over to her. "I also meant to thank you for what you said at the press conference."

He grabbed his cellphone from his sweat pant pocket and read off the news article. "You said quote ...besides being a loyal and trusted friend, Nolan Ross is one of the most caring, dedicated and wonderful fathers I have ever met, end quote.'" he smirked. "Of course, I'd expect nothing less from the leading lady of the Hamptons."

"I wasn't acting Nolan," she objected, stirring a spoon of tea in her mug. "I meant every word of what I said."

He looked up at her. "Really?" he asked surprised.

She met his gaze. "Yes, you're a great friend Nolan. And a wonderful father."

He smiled his usual schoolboy smile. "You left out devilishly handsome and witty."

Emily went from a tiny giggle to a full on laugh. She wasn't why she found his smile so funny.

"All it took for a couple of lame jokes to make you laugh? Forget an apple, it's a Ross a day keeps Emily smiling."

She shook her head no and said between laughs, "Your jokes are terrible."

Nolan leaned against the counter, stared into her eyes and smiled. "I wish you'd stay like that, smiling and happy. It suits you."

Emily's face felt hot under his gaze. She spun away from him and glanced at the dahlias sitting on a stack of boxes near the edge of the counter. She looked down at her mug, thankful for the cool steam hitting her warm cheeks.

"You know," she said after a moment. "I never got to thank you for the flowers."

"Well we never got to have dinner together," he pointed out. "And I've been dying to try your cooking.  I guess we'll be having home cooked meals more often, now that we're living together."

Emily wasn't sure why her cheeks burned up at that last part.

Maybe, it hadn't fully sunk in that she'd offered to let Nolan and Becca stay till they could find a new house. She wasn't used to having guests staying over.

"That's if you help with the cooking," she pointed out.

Nolan laughed and held his hands out to her. "These hands weren't' made for cooking, Ems."

"Don't worry Nolan," she shot playfully. "I've heard you're a man of many talents. You can be taught."

He smirked. "Well, I guess it's a good thing I'll have such a great teacher to show me how to cook."

Was Nolan Ross shamelessly flirting with her? Was she falling for his charms?

"Do you flirt with everyone Nolan?" Emily questioned, looking past his charms.

"Not with everyone," he said with mock hurt. "I have standards Ems."

"Really, now? I never would have guessed," she took a sip of her tea. "Because, I figured that Raj guy was your type."

"Please," he scoffed. "People like him are not my type."

She narrowed her eyes at him playfully. "What is your type, exactly?"

"You are, Emily."

Nolan wanted to say that. He wanted to say that ever since the press conference and after all she'd done to help him and his daughter, he was finding more and more reasons to love and appreciate her. That despite what reality and logic were screamed at him that they couldn't ever work and that she probably didn't feel the same way about him — he couldn't get Emily out of his mind and heart.

And if Nolan was being honest with himself — he didn't want to get her out of his mind. Because all he wanted to do was think about her and be by her side.

"Well, uh, well..." he muttered, "you're-"

Beep! Beep!

Saved by the bell, Nolan thought, glad he didn't have to confess his feeling to her. "Hold that thought," he raced over to his beeping laptop.

"Finally!" Nolan exclaimed, his hands shooting up in victory.

Emily raised an eyebrow at him. "What are you so excited about?"

He brought his laptop over to her and set it on the counter beside the dahlias.

"Look at this. I finally found out who was responsible for leaking Rebecca's files. Turns out it was a clerk from the county clerk's office."

Emily smiled, glad they'd found out who was behind it all. "And what did you do to rectify the situation?"

"Nothing much," He shot her a knowing smile. "I might have leaked some scandalous photos from his 'business vacation' to his superiors. Long story short; he's out of the job."

"That's not the only victory we should celebrate," Emily added. "I got Kenichi to pull his investments with Grayson Global. Looks like Daniel will be busy with other investors for the time being."

"Sweet," Nolan laughed. "Man, I wish I could've seen the look on Daniel's friend, James Bond, once he heard the news. With Daniel's interest shifted away from NolCorp, I guess, I won't need that restraining order after all."

"Restraining order?" Emily asked worriedly.

"It was Daniel's friend, the guy was like his watchdog or something. He was stalking me all last week."

"That's weird," she pointed out.

He shrugged. "Can't argue there. But, with my dirty laundry aired out, I guess we can actually relax for once."

Nolan leaned his back against the boxes. With a crash, the vase of dahlias shattered on the ground. Emily and Nolan stepped back as shards of glass flew at their feet.

"Damn it," Nolan groaned.

"Don't worry. I'll get a broom," Emily went to the laundry closet.

Nolan bent down to pick up the flowers. "Ems, you might want to call and exterminator."

"What are you talking about?" Emily walked back over to him with a broom.

Nolan flashed a mini black microphone in her face. He stood up with a laugh. "And Becca calls me paranoid."

He glanced from the Emily to the bug noticing her worried expression.

"Judging by your expression, I'm guessing that's not yours. Ems, I thought you checked for bugs all the time."

"I do!" she snapped, snatching the microphone the size of a dime from his hands.

Emily couldn't believe someone managed to plant a bug in her house and she didn't know it.

"Someone could have been listening in on our conversations. Our plans. Everything!" She raced over to the sink, threw the bug in and hit the garbage disposal button. The crunch and crackle of the device being crushed into scrap metal made her feel a bit better.

At least they could talk in private now.

Nolan ran a hand through his hair. "Well, do you think the Graysons' did this?"

Emily switched the disposal off. She turned to Nolan and folded her arms over her chest. "Unlikely, I have Shamu for surveillance. No one comes in or out of my house without my knowing."

A sense of dread filled Nolan. "Ems, what if I brought the bug with me? Someone must have put it in the flowers when I wasn't looking."

He racked his brain for anything weird that had happened last week. "The only weird thing that happened was that I kept 'bumping' into Daniel's new mate, Aiden Mathis. But I don't see how he has—"

"Who did you say?" Emily cut him off.

"Aiden Mathis?" he replied confused. "What you think he had something to do with the bug?"

"That son of a bitch." Emily sighed deeply, "Nolan, Aiden's the one that revealed Rebecca's paternity."

She'd make him pay for framing her and for trying to destroy her family.


 

"Officers!" Emily cried, as she darted down the sidewalk to a pair of cops standing at a hot dog stand.

A beefy police officer stopped eating his hot dog and turned to Emily with a grunt.

"Can we help you, ma'am?"

She tore off her sunglasses, her eyes watering as she sniffled. "I live in that apartment." She pointed to an apartment complex across the street from the park. "I came back from work, minding my own business, when I swore I heard a woman screaming across the hall from my apartment." her voice shook and tears ran down her face. "I think I saw blood on the door handle too!"

A young, lanky cop with a soda turned to the beefy cop. "We better check it out," he handed Emily a napkin from the cart and asked in a serious tone. "Ma'am, what's the number of the apartment across yours?"

Emily wiped her eyes. "Apartment 240," she sniffled.

The beefy police officer nodded to his partner. "Alright, Ma'am. We'll check it out."

"Thank you officers, thank you." Emily sobbed, watching as the police officers walked over to the apartment.

A few minutes later, the beefy police officer opened a window facing the street. He stuck his head out the window, throwing down a bulletin board with photos of Hitler, books about bombs, Neo-Nazism to the lanky officer. The beefy officer reappeared with a red cloth in his hand. He held it outside the window unraveling it to show The German Naval Flag.

The lanky office's eyes widened. He grabbed his walkie- talkie and spoke worriedly, "We're going to need back up."

Police quarantined the apartment entrance with CAUTION tape. A crowd of people had come over from the park to see what all the commotion was about. Even a news crew was covering the story.

Emily stood near the hot dog car. She placed a hand to her ear. "Nolan, I think your plan worked a little too well," she said into her comm.

"Hey, this is nothing," he replied through the comm. "This guy messed with my kid. You're lucky I couldn't find a cadaver or something. I could have turned this into something straight out of a Law and Order episode."

Among the crowd of spectators that formed, Emily spotted Aiden with a brown bag of groceries walking up to the apartment complex.

He glanced to the crowd that formed in front of the apartment.

"What's going on?" Aiden asked a petite red haired woman.

She turned to him with a disgusted look. "Some Anti-Semitism sicko. The cops are searching his apartment. Looks pretty bad."

He watched as the cops were throwing bulletin boards, books and flags out of a window. His smirked as he realize the cops were searching his apartment.

Aiden's cell phone rang. He picked it up knowing exactly who it was. "Nice, but, the flag was a bit much though."

"Bug in the flowers," Emily replied. "Did Takada teach you that?"

"My idea actually." Aiden smirked, as he looked around the crowd to find her. He stopped walking when he saw her standing across the street at a hot dog stand.

Emily lowered her sunglasses to him. "This is your first and last warning Aiden," she warned. "Stay away from the Ross'. Or else next time, the police will be investigating your homicide."

With that, Emily threw her burner phone in the trash can. Aiden watched with interest as Rebecca walked over to Emily carrying shopping bags in her hands. Emily pulled her into a one armed hug and they walked off towards the park.

 


 

Nolan, Emily and Becca sat under a tent made of white drapes on the beach. A string of tea lights hung from inside the tent across a table decorated with plate sets and a bouquet of flowers. A few feet away from the dining table, a trail of lanterns led to a swaying bonfire surrounded by three, short, wooden lawn chairs. The bonfire flickered in the air as the ocean waves gently crashed onto the shore a few yards away.

"You did a great job, kiddo." Nolan praised, walking from the table to the bonfire with Emily.

"I agree, nice job." Emily added, taking a seat next to Nolan, both of them holding flutes of wine.

"What can I say? I'm a woman of many talents." Becca grabbed a fire iron off the table. She dragged it behind her, making swirls in the sand, as she joined them at the bonfire.

She poked at the crackling logs. The embers glowed a bright orange as they floated into the starry night sky. Becca turned to her dad and Emily with a smile. She was glad to see they were happy and back to trusting each-other again. She hated to see them upset and fighting. Now that they'd taken care of the guy who was responsible, Aiden Mathis, she felt a sense of calm she hadn't felt in a long time. She actually wanted to thank the guy for what he did, despite all the trouble he caused her family.

With her paternity out in the open, Becca felt a warmth in her chest and sense of clarity in her mind. For the first time in her life — she felt whole. Because both sides of her life had finally come together. She didn't need to hide who she was anymore. She could freely go out in public and proudly say who her father was. Despite the backlash she received from the press, her friends (they were surprised they didn't figure it out sooner, they admitted) and Genevieve she didn't give a damn.

Becca's fist collided into Genevieve's nose after an incident at the Stowaway where Genevieve talked about Nolan and Amanda being nothing more than a pack of terrorists like David. Amanda and Nolan were highly impressed by Becca's actions. While Jack hoped the Starke's wouldn't press charges. It looked like the plan to kill Genevieve with kindness was reset to 0.

Becca had her dad and Emily and their friends to back her up. To be there for every moment. To assure her that no matter what came there way they could handle it, together.

Besides, wasn't that what family was about — being there for each other in the toughest times?

"This is nice," Becca said. "Us just sitting on the beach, under the stars with a full moon, in front of the fire."

"I haven't felt this relaxed in a long time." Nolan closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.

"Hey, don't fall asleep Dad. We still have to make s'mores!" Becca looked around her for the stuff. With a frown she got up and walked back to the table.

"I left the supplies to make s'mores in the house," Becca admitted. She looked past the bonfire to the path leading up to Emily's house in the distance. She really wasn't in the mood to walk all the way back there.

"I'll get them," Emily offered quickly as she stood up with her flute of wine.

"Really?" Becca smiled. "Thanks, Ems."

"Of course, you two relax."

With that Emily strolled away to the beach path.

…...

Emily stood at the counter chopping a bar of chocolate. Even as she noticed movement from behind the staircase. She kept chopping, acting natural. A floorboard creaked behind her. With the swiftness only a ninja possessed — Emily spun around, and flung her the knife, stabbing the wooden beam.

"Are you trying to bloody kill me?" Aiden exclaimed. His chest a few inches to the right from where the knife landed.

"Want to try again?" Emily smirked, "I promise, I won't miss."

She pulled another knife off the chopping block, holding it menacingly, as Aiden stepped out from behind the beam.

"I don't exactly trust you right now." She explained.

He nodded. "Fair enough. What was all that back at my apartment? Thanks to you the FBI think I'm a terrorist."

"It wouldn't be too far from the truth. It's payback for you framing me!"

"I wasn't trying to frame you: I was trying to help you."

"Your 'help' almost destroyed my family!" Her blood boiled. She gripped the knife tightly. "Get out of my house. Go back to Japan and tell Takada that I don't need a nanny!"

"Takada didn't send me."

"Well he didn't stop you either." She prowled towards him like a tigress, jutting the knife at him. "Now, are you going to get out or do I need to throw you out?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "What you need is my help!"

She scoffed. "Last time I asked for your help, Aiden, you abandoned me."

"And what, you think your sidekick, Ross won't?"

At this, Emily lunged forward to strike him. But Aiden was always slightly faster than her. He seized her knife wielding hand and slammed her back against the counter. With a clank, the knife in her hands fell to the floor.

Aiden pinned her hands above her head, ruffling her sweater, exposing her bra strap. He pushed himself onto her, trapping her body against himself and the counter.

"I was always the strongest," Aiden pointed out with a smirk.

Emily struggled under his iron grip. She tried to kick him. She grunted in pain, her skirt rode up mid-thigh, as the wooden counter beneath her bit into the back of her thighs.

She glared daggers up at him. "Why are you here?"

He smiled. "I'm here to help you with your mission."

"I don't need your help! I can handle the Graysons on my own—"

"CLEARLY you do," he broke in. "Your little break up with Daniel almost ruined everything. So I had to act quickly. Thanks to my position on the board member, you now have complete access to Grayson Global and all their accounts."

Aiden ran his hand through her hair, and leaned in close, "A little gratitude wouldn't kill you, Amanda." he whispered huskily. His lips hovering just a few inches above hers.

He leaned down to kiss her and Emily pressed her lips to him. Aiden pulled away from her and let out a pained grunt.

She smirked triumphantly at the bloody mark she made on his lower lip, "Go to hell Aiden."

Emily pushed herself off the counter and kicked him in the shins. Aiden staggered backwards. She slammed him up against the wooden beam. The knife loosened from the beam and with a clank fell to the floor.

"Don't you ever call me that," she warned, pressing her forearm into his windpipe. "You don't have the right."

"What are Ross and his brat to you anyway?" Aiden choked out.

"That's none of your business."

"That's why you will fail your mission..." he chuckled weakly, "because you hold onto compassion. You're pathetic and weak."

Emily gritted her teeth, "Having compassion is not weakness."

As she said that, Aiden saw that look in her eyes. The one she'd given him when she'd helped him after faking an injury for their training exercise. She let her guard down for half a second. Aiden seized Emily by her forearm and threw her back on the counter, pinning her down.

"Don't tell me that you're actually falling for Nolan Ross," Aiden chuckled.

Becca walked back to the bonfire and plopped into the seat next to Nolan. She played with the hem of her dress, watching as the fire swayed.

Nolan opened his eyes and turned to Becca. "So, kiddo. How does a summer internship at NolCorp sound?"

"Are you kidding? I'd love to intern," she smiled. This would be a great opportunity to learn more about inventing and coding.

"But, Dad don't treat me any different from the rest of your interns," she insisted. "I don't' want any special favors. I want to get by on my own merit. Not because you're my dad."

Nolan smiled. He knew in that moment that Becca was his daughter. He was glad that she wanted to get by on her own hard work and her own efforts.

"Alright," he agreed. "You start this Monday. I expect you at work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, missy."

"Okay, will do," she laughed at him and then bit her lip. "I guess that means I should give you back the SUV."

Nolan sat upright in his chair. "I know you said you didn't want any favors," he started. "But it's going to be difficult to get to downtown Manhattan without your own car."

Becca thought her dad looked like a tourist wearing his khaki shorts as he reached into the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt.

The jingle of a pair of keys made her eyes widened.

"Are you serious?" she looked at his face, noting that he wasn't' cracking a joke or trying to laugh.

He grinned, holding out the ring of keys to her. "The red key is to Emily's house and the green key is to your new car."

"Oh my God, you already got me a car?!" she grabbed the keys from his hands. "Dad you're the best! Thank you!" she squealed, as she flung herself into her dad's arms, pulling him in for a hug.

Nolan returned the hug. "You've earned it," he started. "For being responsible at boarding school and getting good grades. And for being so strong while your picture plastered on every cover of every newspaper."

She pulled away from her dad with a smile. "Well, I couldn't have done it without you dad and Emily too."

"Speaking of, where is Emily?" Nolan looked back to the empty path leading to the house. He frowned, stood up and put on his slippers. "I'm going to see what's holding her up."

"Okay, I'll just be here," Becca added.

 


 

"I'm not in love with Nolan."

"Liar," Aiden chuckled. "Your actions say otherwise. Rebecca looks up to you like some superwoman. You put up a facade to keep people out, but it looks like you're getting comfortable with them being around. Damn it, Emily, I won't let Ross distract you from your mission."

Emily struggled against him. "Nolan isn't a distraction!"

"You sure? You sabotaged your own plans for him. And for what - so you can play house? Can't you understand that you will never be like them? We've seen and done things, that people like him couldn't ever understand."

"Nolan understands me," she corrected confidently. "More than you ever could."

"Do you really think that Nolan or Rebecca would want you, love you, if they knew all the terrible things you've done?"

She fell silent. A pressed built up in her throat. She had done a lot of things in her past she wasn't proud of. Made choices she wished she could take back.

If Nolan knew about all the things she'd done it was likely he wouldn't look at her the same way again. And Rebecca would probably want nothing to do with her.

Since she was little, Emily shut people out. Since she was little, she believed that she could never find happiness because the concept of love, happiness and family were all ripped away from her too soon.

That was until she met Nolan and Rebecca.

They made her feel like she had something other than hatred in her heart. They made her house felt like a home.

They brought with them:

Happiness.

Compassion.

Hope.

Family.

Feelings and ideas she hadn't let herself experience in a long time. And Emily would be damned if she let someone like Aiden or Takada destroy the only shred of happiness she had to look forward to.

"Nolan could never understand you like I do," Aiden said, breaking her thoughts. "We're one in the same you and I."

Emily looked up at him with fire in her eyes. "We are nothing alike, Aiden."

"Together, we can finish your revenge and avenge your father," Aiden offered. "The only way to do that is to lose your emotions and let anger and hate into your heart."

She stated in an icy tone. "The last thing I want is to take advice from someone who failed his own mission."

Emily's eyes widened as she looked past Aiden to Nolan. He gave her a silent nod as he slowly crept behind Aiden with the knife in his hands.

The floor board creaked stupidly.

Aiden darted around. He grabbed Nolan's fist knocking the knife out of his hand. Nolan threw a punch at Aiden's face. He grabbed Nolan's hand mid swing. Nolan grunted in pain, as Aiden twisted his arm behind his shoulder and grabbed his other arm pulling it behind his back.

Nolan pushed Aiden back against the beam, knocking the wind out of him, and allowing him to break free. He spun back around to Aiden and kicked him in the in the solar plexus.

"So you can fight mate? And all this time, I thought you were just weak." Aiden gritted out.

"I've been waiting to do this for a long time," Nolan laughed. He threw a punch. Aiden dodged his hit and threw a punch at Nolan's face.

Nolan staggered into the living room, fell over the couch and hit his head on the back of the coffee table.

"Is that all you got James Bond?" Nolan coughed as he pushed himself off the floor.

"If you insist," Aiden laughed ready to attack again.

"Nolan, stop!" Emily raced to stand between Nolan and Aiden.

Nolan shot her a look. "You want me to stop attacking the guy who's trying to kill you?"

Emily sent Aiden a glare. She raced over to Nolan and helped him stand up. "He's not trying to kill me," she assured.

"Though, I can't say the same for her," Aiden rubbed at his neck.

She spun back to Aiden. "Aiden get out of my house. And if I see you again: I'll kill you myself."

Aiden nodded his head. "I'll go, but I'll be around if you need me."

Emily and Nolan watched as Aiden left through the front door.

"Ems you should have let me throw a few punches at him at least," Nolan insisted.

"Nolan, what were you thinking?" Emily asked in a low tone.

"What?"

"You could have been killed!" she yelled spinning around him. "Aiden is a trained killer. Did you even stop to think about what could have happened to you? What would I have told Rebecca if something happened to you?!"

"Hey, Emily, calm down," Nolan gently took her by the shoulders. "Look at me, please."

She looked up at him with glossy eyes and a red nose.

"I was thinking, no matter what happened to me, I needed to step in and help you," he added with a laugh. "Yes, I know you can take care of yourself. But, I couldn't just stand there. I saw you like that and I had to step in and do something."

Emily rested her head on Nolan's chest. He pulled her close to him and rested his chin atop her head. She didn't resist. She didn't shoot his hands away.

Emily blinked the tears out of her eyes. She just couldn't' handle the thought of losing Nolan again.

A few minutes later, Emily gently pulled away from Nolan. She wiped at her eyes and looked up at his face. "Nolan, your nose."

Nolan wiped at his bloodied nose on the back of his wrist. "It's nothing."

"I'm pretty sure I have a first aid kit under the kitchen sink," she pointed to the dining room table. "Sit down."

Nolan plopped into a chair. Emily walked over to him with a first aid kit. She set it on the table and stood before him.

"You have to admit I looked pretty heroic just now," Nolan laughed.

Emily rolled her eyes at him as she grabbed a gauze packet. "Honesty, Nolan. If you think getting the shit beaten out of you is heroic,"

"Hey, you can't argue with the results." he hissed as she wiped the dried blood off his nose. "Be gentle with me, Ems."

"Bend your head forward and keep the gauze on your nose." She instructed handing him a dry gauze.

Nolan held the gauze to his nose. "So is this going to be a thing? I get hurt and you nurse me back to health? Because I'm not complaining or anything-"

With a huff, Emily reached forward and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Ow, Ems!"

"Sorry," she smiled, not at all apologetic. "Just making sure you're all better."

"What happened to you guys?" Becca raced through the patio doors into the living-room.

"Did you guys drive to the Hershey's factory or -- what the heck happened in here?"

Becca looked around the kitchen and living room: food was on the floor, the rug was overturned, and the couch was out of place.

"Rat."

"Rat."

Nolan and Emily glanced to each-other surprised they were on the same wave length.

Emily shut the first aid kit and strolled back to the sink. "It got caught in here and your dad tried to get it out."

"There's rats in the Hamptons?" Becca walked further into the kitchen. She turned to the wooden beam. "Is that a stab mark?"

"Yup," Nolan leaned forward, holding the gauze to his nose and replied proudly in a nasally tone. "And your old man won."


 

Emily shot out her bed, pulled on her cream silk robe and raced down the stairs. She swore she heard a noise, like someone was in the kitchen, rummaging through the cabinets.

She sighed in relief when she saw Nolan in a white t-shirt and blue sweats, on his knees at the island counter. The upper part of his body vanished into the counter, pots and pans were scattered around him, as he searched for something.

"Nolan?"

Startled, Nolan hit his head as he pulled out of the counter with a bottle of Scotch. He looked up from the disorganized floor to Emily with an apologetic smile.

"Did I wake you?" He asked, guiltily. It was obvious she'd rushed out of bed because of him.

She pulled her robe closer to her and walked down the stairs. "No," she lied. "I was already up."

Nolan put the pans back in the cabinet. "Sorry, if I'm being noisy," he came to a stand and walked over to the cabinet to get a glass. "It's been a long and stressful week. Figured a night cap would help me sleep. Do you want some?"

"Do you have to ask?" she took a seat next to him at the dining room table.

Nolan poured some amber liquid into the glasses. "Rebecca's asleep, right?" he asked Emily.

"I checked on her a few minutes ago, she was fast asleep."

Nolan sighed, "Good."

He was glad Rebecca was asleep in her room upstairs. He didn't like to make a habit of drinking in front of her. Especially when he was stressed — though it didn't happen often, he'd drink his troubled away till he couldn't stand straight.

Emily grabbed a glass and took a long sip.

"Didn't take you for a Scotch woman," Nolan chuckled.

She stared down at her glass, she ran her fingers over the lip of the glass and said simply. "After this week, I don't know what kind of a woman I am."

He saw that far off look in her eyes. He knew that look meant she was about to block herself off in her Emily Bubble.

Nolan had heard what Aiden said to Emily. That she couldn't have a normal life like him and his daughter. That she could never find happiness.

Nolan didn't believe that for a second.

He tentatively put his hand on Emily's hand. Her gaze snapped up to him.

"Emily, please don't stop pushing me away," he pleaded. "No matter what, if you need me, just call my name and I'll be there by your side."

"Thank you, Nolan. I appreciate it."

She slowly pulled her hands away from him. She realized how cold her hands felt without his warm hands holding her hands.

"I'm going to bed. Good night, Nolan." Emily said as she headed up the stairs.

"Night, Ems." He waved her off as she disappeared the stairs. With a sigh, he poured himself another glass of Scotch and took a long sip.

His life just got a bit more complicated.

Chapter Text

-X- 

 

Change was a six letter word Nolan Ross was starting to accept.

A lot had changed in his life the last three weeks. The media were constantly in his and Rebecca's space. They had to leave their quiet and secluded beach house, because the house was no longer that. The board members of NolCorp were in a tailspin about how Nolan's ties with David Clarke would affect the company.

Even with all the bad that'd happened, a lot had gone right too — Nolan couldn't have been happier that the world knew about his daughter. And Rebecca was handling her public role with new found confidence. Despite the bad press NolCorp received; sales had never been higher.

And since they didn't have a place to live. Emily had offered to let them stay with her. Through it all Emily had been by his side. She came to his aid when he needed her the most. Their friendship and trust in each other had evolved and strengthened.

For the last three weeks, they'd been living under the same roof. They'd fallen into a new normal routine. Nolan would greet Emily and Becca at breakfast after their morning run on the beach. Then he and Becca headed out to NolCorp, while Emily went into the city for business. They'd all return home late in the afternoon.

Music and laughter filled the beach house when Becca and Emily cooked dinner. Other times, Emily and Nolan would cook, with Emily showing him basic kitchen skills. He finally understood what it meant to chiffonade basil and how to cook chicken cutlets. He'd felt ambitious enough to try cooking dinner for the three of them one night.

That night, Nolan lost his kitchen privileges when Emily called the fire department, after he'd almost set the kitchen a blaze. He'd warned Emily that he couldn't cook. She'd finally accepted that some things weren't meant to be.

When Team Revenge — the unofficial name Nolan referred to himself, Emily, Becca and Amanda — weren't knocking heads and hacking into mainframes to further Emily's mission. They'd spend their time doing normal summer activities. Like, watching movies, attending baseball games, and spending the weekends going camping.

Emily was becoming a bigger part of his life and Rebecca's life. She was more than simply his friend or his partner. She was something much more than that. While Nolan hadn't told her how he really felt about her, he was simply enjoying how things were at the moment. It looked like his desire to see Emily happy, smiling, and surrounded by her family and friends was becoming a reality.

Nolan pulled into the driveway of Emily's house. He parked his SUV, grabbed his messenger bag off the passenger seat, and slung it over his shoulder. As he got out of his car, a white Mercedes pull into the driveway next to him. Becca stepped out of the car, wearing a colorful floral dress and a navy blazer.

Becca slammed the car door shut, placed her keys into her purse, and turned to him with a smile. "Well, what do you think of my new car?"

He glanced to her Mercedes. "It's classic and sporty, a perfect fit for you kiddo."

"I know right? It's like it was made for me." She grinned, walking up the driveway with him.

"Hey, I wonder who Ems has over." Nolan pointed to a red, Toyota pickup parked near the curb in front of the house. The truck looked out of place amongst the wealthy Hampton neighborhood.

Becca looked up from her cellphone, "Don't know."

Nolan strolled over to the truck to inspect it.

If there was one thing he'd learned from Emily over the past year, it was who you were dealing with at all times. While he doubted Emily's new visitor was a thief, a hitman, or a psycho, he still wanted to know who this guy was.

"Are you ID-ing the guy from his truck?" Becca followed after him. "Dad, seriously?"

"Yeah, you can tell a lot about a person from their vehicle." He stuffed his hands into his blazer pockets as he strolled leisurely around the truck.

"This truck is from 1995. It's pretty old." He peeked into the back of the trunk, finding nothing but a green tarp and a red, vintage tool box. "The guy is handy. Snap-On. Looks like 58' maybe 60's. He's gotta be in his late 50's early 60's."

"You got all of that from a toolbox?" Becca asked, surprised.

"Yup. Looks like Emily's ninja skills are rubbing off on me."

"Alright," Becca grinned. "Let's see what I can find." She walked around to the front of the truck and peeked in the windows. The dashboard was spotless. The only evidence someone owned the truck was from the pine air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror and the half drank bottle of Arrowhead.

"He takes really good care of his truck," she pointed out. "Kind of a neat freak too. My car isn't even this clean!" The front seat of her car was littered with CDs, notepads filled with code and ideas for inventions and empty orange soda bottles

Becca rounded the back of the truck and glanced at the license plate. "He's from Virginia." She pointed at a black bumper-sticker with a yellow star. "What's with the star bumper-sticker?"

Nolan stopped beside Becca and glanced at the bumper-sticker. "It's an insignia for the US Army," he revealed.

"How'd you know that?" Becca asked.

"Because, my dad served in the Army for the last 25 years." Nolan explained.

"You never told me that," Becca turned to him, shooting him an incredulous look. "How come you've never told me that?"

"Because, I don't' like talking about my childhood." Nolan turned from the truck and started towards the house. "Come on, let's see who Emily's visitor is."

They walked to the front door, before Nolan could fish his keys out of his pocket, the door swung open.

"...I'm sorry he wasn't here to see you..." Emily's voice traveled out to the front door. "...but, I'll let him know you stopped by." She turned to the door and locked eyes with Nolan. "Oh, Nolan," she greeting him with a small smile. "You almost missed your uncle."

"Uncle?" Nolan asked curiously.

Nolan's mother was an only child. And his father only had one sister, Carole. Carole was married a long time, but Nolan never consider her jerky ex-husband to be his uncle.

Nolan leaned in close to Emily and whispered in her ear. "I don't have an uncle."

She snapped her eyes to him. "Then who is he?" She whispered.

"He's Army, if that helps," Nolan added.

A gruff voice called out. "That you Nolan?"

A tall man, probably in his mid-sixties, stepped onto the patio. He wore a red t-shirt, a tan jacket, and faded blue jeans. A green baseball cap, ARMY, stitched on the front, perched on his head. He had rough, pale skin, a thick brown mustache, greying brown hair, and hard blue eyes.

"Uncle Ford?" Nolan dropped his guard.

"Uncle?" Becca exclaimed. She looked between her dad and the man. They didn't look anything alike.

"I thought you said you didn't have an uncle." Emily pointed out.

Nolan walked over to the man and hugged him. Emily and Becca exchanged confused looks. They turned to Nolan shooting him a look, wanting answers.

Nolan turned to Becca and Emily with a smile. "Emily, Rebecca, this is my Uncle Stanford. He's not my uncle by blood. He's more of a close family friend."

Ford was one of the few of his father's friends that was decent. He didn't waste his money gambling or drinking. He could remember spending summers as a teen with Ford. Learning everything from fishing, to how to stand up to bullies. Even supporting Nolan financially when he dropped out of high-school.

"Ford, this is my daughter, Rebecca." Nolan and Ford walked up to Becca.

"Son, when I heard on the news that you had a daughter I couldn't believe it," Ford smiled warmly at Becca. "She looks just like your mother. They share the same dimples, eyes, and smile."

"Thank you, sir," Becca blushed.

"Kiddo,'sir' is what my soldiers used to call me when I was a Lieutenant Colonel back in the Army," he explained with a laugh. "You can just call me Great Uncle Ford or Ford, got it?"

Ford clapped a hand on Nolan's shoulder. "I never thought you'd settle down," he walked proudly with Nolan towards Emily. "I'm glad to see that you found someone as lovely as her."

Becca stifled a laugh at how red her dad's face got.

"I'm just a good friend," Emily smiled.

"I just figured when your assistant told me you lived here and Emily answered the door," Ford explained.

"Emily is just a good, close friend," Nolan clarified. "Becca and I are just staying with Emily temporarily."

"I see," Ford looked between Nolan and Emily, noting his nephew's red nose and chuckled. "My mistake."

"So, Grunkle Ford, what brings you to the Hamptons?" Becca asked.

"How's about we go back inside, I have a lot to tell you all," Ford suggested.

Everyone sat in the living-room. Emily took a seat next to Becca on the sofa while Nolan sat beside Ford on the couch.

"Have you talked to your father lately?" Ford asked Nolan.

"Not recently," Nolan shrugged. "I haven't talked to nor seen him in ten years."

Ford sighed heavily. "Son, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this. But, your father passed away a week ago."

"What?" Nolan breathed.

Your father died a week ago. Your father died. Ford's words echoed in Nolan's ears.

His father was dead?

"How...did this happen...what happened?" Nolan stumbled over his words.

Ford looked between Emily, Becca and Nolan with a somber expression. "Edward was a heavy drinker. It looked like his liver finally caught up to him. Autopsy says liver cirrhosis. I found him at home the next morning in the living-room with a bottle of Scotch."

"He died alone?" Becca uttered, her eyes wide. "That's awful."

Emily looked between Nolan and Ford with a sad smile. "I'm so sorry, for your loss."

Nolan scoffed. "Fitting; the old man loved his Jack Daniels more than his own family."

Ford turned to Nolan, shooting him a look that told him to shut up and listen.

"Son, I know that you and your father had a lot of disagreements growing up. I can't blame you for hating him for how he treated you and your mother growing up." Ford added sternly, "But, I fought side by side with that man in two wars. I loved him like he was my own brother."

Ford looked down at his mug of coffee. "Your mother, Maria passed away when you were ten. Then your aunt Carole in 2002."

"Yeah," Nolan uttered, feeling a tightness in his throat.

Ford looked up from his coffee. "You're the only one left son. All I'm asking is that you all attend the funeral in Arlington. And then you can come back to your life in New York."

Nolan looked up at his uncle with a frown. "That all?"

"There is the matter of dealing with your father's estate." He added.

Nolan scrubbed at his face. He let out a sigh. This was too much to deal with.

Just then, Ford reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a folded up handkerchief and handed it to Nolan.

"What's this?" Nolan asked.

"You're father wanted you to have it," Ford explained. "Open it."

He unfolded the handkerchief to reveal a small bronze medal with yellow and green strips on the ribbon.

"What's this medal mean?" Becca asked.

"It's a medal of service given to those who fought in the Vietnam War," Ford stated. "It stands for courage, bravery and sacrifice, it's a great honor to receive that."

Nolan grimaced at the medal. He felt like those specific adjectives weren't apt at describing his father.

Becca plopped into the seat beside Nolan, getting a better look at the medal. "It's pretty cool." She awed.

Ford glanced to Nolan. "Your father wanted you to have it, as something to remember him by."

"That's funny," Nolan chuckled. "Here I thought the scars he left on my back were what he wanted me to remember him by."

Emily's eyes snapped up to Nolan. Becca shot her dad a weird look. Awkwardness filled the air between everyone.

Ford narrowed his eyes at Nolan. His voice tensed. "Nolan, your-" Ford coughed violently. He grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed his lungs out.

"Are you okay, Ford?" Emily asked worriedly. "Do you need some water?"

"I'm fine, Emily," Ford's cough subsided, he wiped his lips, and turned to the three of them. "It's allergies. All this big city pollution."

"Let me just think about it," Nolan blurted out, as if he was making a business deal.

Selfish. Rude. Disrespectful. Nolan didn't care how anyone thought he was acting. No one, not even his close friends, understood how much of a monster his father was. Why did he have to do this?

"Son, what's there to think about?" Ford questioned loudly, "This is your father's funeral!"

"Well, maybe, I don't want to attend that bastard's funeral!" With that, Nolan bolted up from his seat and rushed out the patio doors.

 

Emily looked around the empty porch. She spotted Nolan sitting on the porch swing. She took in a deep breath and strolled over to him.

"I did a dramatic exit on purpose Ems." Nolan explained, not looking away from the ocean horizon ahead. "I want to be left alone."

Emily took a seat on the swing next to him. "Are you really not going to attend your own father's funeral?"

"I don't do funerals Ems," he glanced to Emily. "I attended my mom's and David's funerals." He swallowed, trying to get rid of the tightness in his throat. "Frankly, I don't think I should waste my tears on someone who never gave a shit about me."

"Nolan," Emily started, trying to make him see reason.

"My dad wasn't like your dad. My father was a monster. He was abusive, a cheapskate, and a functioning alcoholic." Nolan wiped his eyes on the back of his hand, thinking about his mother. "I don't know how my mom put up with him for ten years. Must have been her Bible book club meetings and strong faith in Jesus."

He threw his father out of his life. He tried to give him chances to reconnect, but Edward didn't want anything to do with him. He wasn't going to forgive his father, let bygone be bygones, because he was six-feet under.

"I understand if you don't want to forgive what your father did to you," Emily uttered. "It's not easy for a child to forget the actions of a neglectful and abusive parent."

Nolan glanced to her, expectedly. "So, you're saying I shouldn't go to the funeral?"

Emily perked an eyebrow at him. "That's not what I'm saying, Nolan."

"Well, what are you saying Ems?" Nolan snapped. "Because, as far as I'm concerned I have no reason to go to the funeral."

"What about Ford?" Emily questioned.

"What about him?"

"You heard what Ford said. He and your father were like brothers. I know how much pain and hatred you have towards your dad. But, think about Ford. He needs you there to put his friend - his brother to rest."

Emily gave Nolan a stern look. "You really want my advice? You can either sit here, sulking, and angry, making this all about you. Or, you can go to Arlington and help your uncle get through his grief."

"But, Ems-" Nolan began, wanting to fight against her truth. The truth he knew was the right and best thing to do.

"The choice is yours," Emily said finally. With that she stood up and smoothed out the wrinkles from her dress.

Nolan watched with wide eyes as Emily walked to the patio doors and disappeared into the house. He sighed deeply. He ran his hands through his hair.

Ford was more of a father figure to Nolan then an uncle. He was there for him in the hardest points of his life. As much as resentment Nolan held for his father, he couldn't let his uncle down.

 


 

A chilly Virginia breeze swept through the cemetery. Nolan tugged at his suit collar, sitting stiffly in his folding chair with everyone. Emily was at his right, Ford at his left, with Becca sitting at the end of the front row beside Ford. Not to mention the fifty some friends and relatives sitting behind them.

Nolan swallowed the dryness in his throat. He hated funerals. A casket team — seven men and women dressed in navy blue uniform — stood over the casket holding the American flag.

A CD player a melancholy rendition of Taps as the casket team began to methodically fold the flag into a triangle. A woman in a navy blue uniform, was handed the flag.

Nolan came to a stand as the Army reserved walked regally towards him. "On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for your father's honorable and faithful service." She handed him the flag.

Nolan looked down at the flag in his hands. He knew that the flag was a highly regarded symbol of freedom, service, and honor in the military. It felt surreal to know that his father was a part of something so important and grand. Nolan tuned out what the priest was saying as the service concluded. Time felt like it'd slowed to a halt as Nolan watched his father's casket lower into the ground.

Nolan sat at the bar nursing a glass of Scotch. People dressed in black were sitting at the bar or at the dining tables behind him. Groups of relatives had come up to offer their condolences and then spend ten minutes introducing who they were.

Friends from his Army days, second, third, and fourth cousins, their kids, aunts and uncles.

Some of these people, Nolan hadn't in years. Other's he'd never met of before today.

"Had enough?" Emily piped in, the classic rock blaring over the speakers, as she took a seat beside Nolan.

"It's a wake," Nolan explained. "It'd be a disrespect not to."

Wakes weren't supposed to be sad and gloomy, like typical memorials. They were supposed to be a time to celebrate the deceased in a cheerful, happy manner. Booze was one of those means.

Sighing, Nolan turned away from the bottles of liquor lining the wall in front of him. They reminded him of a casket. He couldn't' get the image of his father's casket out of his mind. He was grateful the ceremony was closed casket. Otherwise he was sure he would have gotten sick.

"I never got a chance to tell him about Rebecca," Nolan revealed with a frown. "The one time I actually want to talk to my dad, share part of my life with him..." He stopped mid-sentence and took a long sip of his drink. "He would have liked her."

Emily placed a hand on Nolan's shoulder. His eyes snapped to hers. "We could get head out," she offered, seeing how much of an effort it was for him to stay here. "If you're not comfortable staying for the rest of the wake."

Nolan shook his head. "I'm fine Ems. Just gotta smile, or cry, my way through the next few hours and I'll be fine," he took a long sip of his drink. It was the least he could do for Ford.

A voice exclaimed, "Nolan Ross, is that you?" A gruff, large man in a black suit with a beer in one hand walked over to Nolan and Emily. "Well look at that, little Nolan is all grown up. Bring it in brother." The man pulled Nolan into a death hug. Before his oxygen supply ran out, the man let him go.

"Do you remember me?" The man asked, excitedly.

Wasn't that the question of the day? Nolan looked the man up and down. "No, I can't say I do."

"Oh, come on," he whined loudly. "Cousin Bernie? I'd spend summers with your family when you were a teenager."

"Oh, right, Emily this is Cousin Bernie." Nolan chuckled. "When Bernie was fifteen, he broke his wrist at Ford's ranch. While attempting to show us younger kids how to use the balcony as a diving board into the kiddie pool."

"Good memories," Bernie sighed wistfully. He glanced to Emily and held out a hand to her. "Bernie, nice to meet you."

Emily shook his hand and smiled. "Emily, likewise. I'm sorry for your loss." Suddenly, Bernie pulled Emily in for a hug. As quick as the hug happened it ended.

Nolan stifled a laugh. Cousin Bernie was the classic example of a weird, loud and obnoxious cousin.

"So, Bernie how did you know Nolan's father?" Emily asked after a moment.

"Major Ross, was one of the damned best XO our battalion ever worked with." He explained with a smile.

"XO?" Emily asked.

"Battalion executive officer," Bernie clarified. "He was the brains behind some of the toughest missions I've ever been in. He was quick, decisive, and always there for his brigade. We got into alot hairy situations but we'd always come on top thanks to him."

"Major Ross seemed like quite an accomplished man." Emily said.

Bernie smiled. "He was a hero."

"Really, now?" Nolan asked in disbelief. Emily caught the switch in Nolan's mood instantly. She linked her arm with Nolan's and shot him a small smile.

"So, Nolan, word is Rebecca's applying to MIT in the fall?" Bernie took a swig of his beer. "You've got one smart kid. Wish my son was more motivated. All he wants to do is spend his senior year chasing girls and partying. I hope that kid has a brain up there."

"Thanks," Nolan smiled weakly.

"So, Nolan, have you introduced the rest of the family to your lovely girlfriend?" Bernie smiled.

"She's not my girlfriend." Nolan explained, before Emily could jump in. "She's just a friend."

"Oh, sorry," Bernie apologized. "I just figured..." He quickly took a sip of his beer. He glanced around the pub "Hey, Ralph, that you?! It's me Cousin Bernie."

"I'll talk you to two later," Bernie added before, chasing down one of their many relatives.

Nolan sighed deeply, "What's that the tenth time someone's said that? We should have worn shirts with arrows saying 'just friends'." He took a seat back at the bar with Emily.

"It's fine, Nolan," Emily assured. "You have a quite a big family."

"Yeah, you'd think word would get around faster." He down the rest of his drink.

"Another one, Nolan?" The bartender asked coming over to him.

Nolan pushed his glass forward, "If you're offering." The bartender grabbed a bottle off the shelf and filled his glass.

Emily frowned. She never knew Nolan to be a heavy drinker or an alcoholic. She was just concerned that he'd go over his limit to try and cope with the current situation.

"Dad, Emily, guess what I've been doing." Becca raced over to them with a Nolpad in hand.

She frowned, noticing Dad with his third glass of Scotch. She knew Dad tended to drink a lot when he was stressed. She just hoped he wouldn't go overboard. The bartender didn't care as Becca took a seat at the bar. It might have been because he was the owner of the pub, as well as a close family friend of Grandpa Edward.

"What have you been up to?" Emily asked, sensing the discomfort Becca had with Nolan's current state.

"My cousins and I have been designing a family tree." Becca tilted the Nolpad to Emily. ROSS FAMILY TREE, written in cursive was on top of the page, below a tree with a picture of Nolan in the middle of the trunk.

Nolan glanced to the tablet. "You did all this?" He asked amazed.

Becca handed him the tablet with a smile. "I designed the interface," she explained. "Dad, click on your picture."

Nolan clicked on his picture and it expanded to show his picture connected to his father and mother.

"Now, double click your picture." Becca instructed.

He clicked his picture again and Carole and her kids popping up on the screen beside Edward, along with Rebecca and Grace's picture connecting to Nolan. His eyes watered. His throat felt dry. He'd never get a chance to tell his dad he had a grand-daughter. His dad would never get a chance to meet her.

"That's great kiddo." Nolan handed Becca the tablet with a shaky hand. He quickly got up.

"Dad, are you okay?" Becca worried, noticing how he staggered a bit.

Nolan nodded. "I'm going to go get some fresh air." He walked away from the bar and walked into the crowd of people.

Nolan grabbed the handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead. His pulse raced in his ears. It was his fault his dad was dead.

The sounds of the pub were deaf to his ears. Nolan felt lightheaded, the walls of the pub were closing in on him.

Nolan raced out to the patio. He leaned against the railing, letting his lungs fill with the cool, Virginia air, till he felt control over his airways again.

"Nolan, are you alright?"

Ford walked over to him. Nolan straightened up slightly, his mind running through a million thoughts of anger and regret. Anger, because he didn't try hard enough to reconnect. Regret, because if he did reconnect, then maybe, his father wouldn't have been found dead, alone in his living room. Instead he would still been alive, surrounded by his family and friends.

"I'm fine. It was kind of stuffy in there." Nolan said calmly.

Ford glanced to his nephew's face, inspecting his red eyes. "Son, it's okay to cry. Men cry all the time, there's no shame in it."

Nolan scoffed, recalling the few weeks after his mother passed away. And Edward telling him to toughen up and stop crying, because men — especially Army men, didn't cry.

"What if I'd tried harder to reach out to him?" Nolan admitted, the guilt creeping back on him. "My dad would still be here."

"Don't do that to yourself," Ford said firmly. "No good comes of it. Your father was drinking for years, he was in and out of the hospital, never told anyone what was going on. Damn it, I should have seen it, I was his best friend."

Ford sighed deeply, turned to Nolan and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Son, I just want to thank you for coming. Having people I know and trust here for this, it means a lot to me."

Nolan glanced to his uncle with a guilty expression. "What I said back in New York, I'm sorry."

"All that matters is that you're here now." He stated.

"Nolan Ross, is that you?" A petite, elderly woman asked as she rolled her wheelchair up to Ford and Nolan.

"Nolan you remember Cat don't you?" Ford asked. "She's been a grandmother to all of us."

Nolan shook her hand. "I remember you, you were the one that'd make the best cookies on Christmas. Carole swore by that recipe."

"I still make the best cookies this side of the Atlantic." Cat smiled brightly at Nolan. "I remember taking care of you when you were just a baby. I babysat you and even your father when he was a little boy. He was such a brave and man. You should be proud of your father's legacy."

"Cat, how about we go find Nolan's daughter Rebecca?" Ford asked as he and Cat walked off. "Have you met her yet?"

"No, I don't think I have," Cat replied softly.

As Ford and Cat walked back into the pub, Nolan felt like he was in a twilight zone.

Brave. Hero. Legacy.

All words other people used to describe his father. All these people knew parts of his father he'd never got a chance to see.

There were times when Nolan felt like he grew up with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When he was a child, Edward was the most caring and fun Dad in the world. But that all changed when Maria died. All Nolan knew, was once his mother passed away from a stroke when he was ten, his father turned into a completely different person. The only way Edward could cope with losing Maria, was to open the electronics shop. It gave him something to do, kept his mind busy and away from drowning his pain in alcohol and gambling.

A childhood dotted with the occasional affection, family outings and baseball games didn't make up for years of estrangement, neglect and abuse.

Some kids have the privilege of looking up to their fathers as heroes. For a boy, a father serves as a model for the type of man and father he wants to become. But, Nolan never saw Edward as a hero. He saw him as a villain. Someone to fear when he drank too much and stumbled home too late in the evening. He promised himself that he'd never be a man like his father. Ever.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.

Nolan loosened a button on the collar of his shirt. His blood boiled. Maybe it was all the alcohol finally taking effect. He rushed inside the pub, spotting Emily, Rebecca and a couple of teenage girls sitting in a booth near the bar.

The two girls looked up from their cellphones to Nolan and offered their condolences.

"Thanks," He looked to Becca. "Hey, kiddo, let's get going."

"Dad, already?" She looked up from her cellphone. "But, I haven't gotten everyone's phone numbers yet!"

"That's what Facebook is for," he snapped.

Emily got up and strolled over to Nolan. "Is everything alright, Nolan?" She asked, noting his sudden change in attitude.

Nolan let out an annoyed sigh. "Yes, Emily, I'm fine."

"Let's talk about this over here." Emily led Nolan a few tables away from Becca and the girls, to a lottery ticket machine near the front entrance of the pub.

"Nolan, what's going on?"

"I just think we should get going is all…" He sighed deeply. "Before something happens."

She shot him a worried look. "Before what happens?"

Before he snapped. Before he exploded. Before he said something he'd regret.

Nolan jammed his hands into his pocket, and let out a deep breath. "Before I freaking lose it Emily. I came and did everything I said I would. Now all I want to do is for all of us to leave."

Even though he didn't say it, Emily knew exactly what was bothering Nolan. He was in a room full of people saying things that didn't make sense to him. Everyone was praising one side of his father's public life without acknowledging his private life. A side that Nolan knew well yet was hidden from the rest of the family.

"Okay, I'll get Becca," she nodded.

"There you are Nolan!" Bernie interrupted as he walked over to the blonde duo.

Nolan spun to Bernie and asked in a heated tone. "What is it Bernie?"

"Hey, is something wrong?" Bernie asked, shooting Emily and Nolan an apologetic look. "Sorry, if I interrupted you two."

"No, Bernie, it's fine," Emily assured, trying to be polite. "What is it?"

He glanced to Nolan. "I was wondering if you've spoken yet. You know, given a eulogy?"

That wasn't part of the deal. The deal was to show up to the funeral meet everyone and leave. That was it.

"Actually, we were getting ready to head out, right, Emily? And uh, I wouldn't know what to say or anything."

"It'll be quick, Nolan," Bernie assured. "Everyone would appreciate a few words."

"Uh, well," Nolan started his mind blanking.

"Hey, everyone!" Bernie called out, causing everyone in the bar to turn in his direction. "Nolan would like to say a few words about his father."

Nolan shot Bernie a glare. "What am I supposed to say?"

"That's easy, just say what's on your mind." Bernie encouraged, handing Nolan the microphone.

"Trust me, I don't think that's a good idea." Nolan muttered.

He stood at the front of the bar with all eyes trained on him. He spotted Rebecca, Emily, and Ford sitting in a booth near the front of the bar. Emily gave Nolan a small smile. Her being here was the only reason he wasn't breaking down. He took in a deep breath and looked back to the crowd.

"Uh, well," Nolan muttered into the mic. "We all have different interpretations of who my dad, Edward Ross was like." He glanced to Ford, Bernie, and Cat. "To most he was a brave soldier and a wonderful friend, to others a dear brother and a loving husband. I simply knew him as Dad," Nolan chuckled. "You know, you're all really lucky. You got to know parts of him that I never had a chance to know. I'm just grateful that he had all you around him all these years."

Everyone clapped. Bernie walked over to Nolan and patted him on the back. "Great speech, man."

Nolan handed him back the microphone. "Thanks."

After everyone had their chance to say a few words and drank their weight in free booze. The wake was over.

The sign on the door to the bar was flipped to CLOSE. Nolan pushed the door open, ready to leave with Emily and Becca, when Ford appeared from behind them.

"Hey, now, where are you all headed off to?" He asked.

Nolan turned to his uncle. "To a hotel. It's been a long and exhausting day. So, I booked a hotel in Virginia Beach for the rest of our stay."

"Well cancel it," Ford ordered. "You won't be staying at a hotel. You know that my ranch in Kilmarnock has enough room to accommodate you three."

"Well, we wouldn't want to impose, Ford." Nolan added, not really wanting to step foot in the town he grew up.

"You're not imposing, Nolan. You're all family." He assured them with a smile. "Besides, the house has been pretty empty since my wife, Deborah, is overseas with her human rights group, for the summer. I'd appreciate the company."

"Thank you Ford," Emily said. "We really appreciate it."

"Yeah," Becca smiled. "Thanks, Grunkle Ford!"

 

Later that afternoon, Nolan drove the SUV up the winding road towards Ford's property. A spacious Victorian style ranch, tucked into the woods, overlooking a private pier beside a crystal blue lake.

Nolan parked on a gravelly driveway. A green Toyota pickup with its hood popped up, was parked in a garage in front of them, its guts splayed on a rusty, tool cart.

Becca got out of the car with her suitcase, and then turned around, looking down the driveway to the ranch. The house looked like something out of a Better Homes and Garden magazine.

This place reminded Becca of those family drama movies. Where the characters spent their summer having epic summer romances, and learning big, life lessons.

"So, is this is where you grew up?" Becca asked Nolan as he and Emily grabbed their bags from the trunk.

Nolan turned to Becca. "No, but, I might as well have, spent lots of summer's here."

They followed Ford up a gravel pathway leading up to a spacious veranda, decorated with a white patio chair set and green paisley throw pillows.

Flags of Virginia, America and the US Army waved in the cool, afternoon breeze. Nolan turned to a towering maple tree, with a tire swing hanging from the branch, in the middle of the yard. "I can't believe, that old thing is still here." He exclaimed.

"Deborah couldn't part with it," Ford explained. "She wanted to keep the house feeling like it used to."

"That's it," Becca dropped her suitcase. "I'm getting on that swing." She raced over to the tire swing, got on and rocked herself back and forth on it.

As Becca swung back, Nolan grabbed the tire swing and gave her a push forward.

"God, nothing's changed here." Nolan smiled. Memories spending came rushing back to him. Fishing on the lake with Ford, exploring the woods with his cousins. Having barbecues with Carole and camping out under the stars with his mother. It felt like time was froze in place here.

"I hope that's a good thing." Ford chuckled as he and Emily stood on the veranda watching Nolan and Becca. Ford turned to Emily. "You know, we still have cook outs when we can. It's not easy with everyone scattered all over the states, but when we can, it sure brings back memories."

"Must be nice, having a big family," Emily said.

"Your parents were more of the small family type?" Ford asked. "It's just me and my wife living on the ranch."

She nodded. "Very small. It's just me."

"Where are your parents?" Ford asked.

"They passed away."

Ford added. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It was a long time ago." She smiled sadly. "You know, seeing how close everyone was today, how everyone came together, it brought back some memories."

Ford shot her a smile. "Never underestimate the power of family."

Ford showed the three of them into the house. Warm oak floor met them at the entrance. A white patterned rug ran from the inn table into the living room.

A spacious white couch and sofa set stood in the center of the room, next to a stylish wooden coffee table, across from a fireplace. Wide windows and French patio doors peeked out to the backyard with a small vegetable garden.

The smell of coffee wafted through the air from the open kitchen. White stainless steel appliances tied into the warm, rustic feel of green and yellow decor of the country style kitchen.

"You guys have really updated the place. I was expecting checkerboard print couches and Grandma China patterned curtains," Nolan said to Ford. "Looks like Deborah loves designing."

"She had the entire house remodeled," Ford explained. "I don't know what she'd do without those Better Homes' magazines. Let her remodel the whole house, but she knows better than to touch my garage."

"Your house is really neat, Grunkle Ford," Becca added.

"Thank you. Now, I'm sure you're all tired. Come on upstairs and I'll show you to your rooms." Ford lead them up a tall, wooden staircase, lined with dozens of pictures of Ford, Deborah — a woman with dark curly hair and energetic green eyes — and their many family members.

"Dad is this you?" Becca stopped mid step, pointing at a picture of a young, dorkier, teenage Nolan.

Nolan glanced at the picture. He chuckled. "That's me."

"You totally had a bowl cut," Becca giggled. "Didn't he Ems?"

Nolan felt his ears heat up as Emily laughed in agreement. "Yup."

"Hey, it was the 90's!" He defended.

 


 

An hour later, after everyone was settled in, Ford suggested that they all go out to eat dinner.

"I can't cook very well," Ford admitted to Emily as they stood in the entrance. "So, we'll be heading to the diner for supper."

Becca walked down the stairs and Ford turned to her. "Where's your Dad?" He asked.

"Maybe he's getting dressed?" She offered with a shrug.

"It's been fifteen minutes." Ford noted seriously, looking down at his watch. "If there's one thing you should know about Army men, is that we're very timely."

"I'll go and check on him." Emily offered and walked up the stairs. She knocked on Nolan's bedroom door. He uttered a reply and Emily pushed open the door.

"Nolan, are you ready to go? Why is the room so dark?" She asked noticing the blinds were closed shut and the lights were off. Emily flipped the lights back on.

"No, keep them off!" Nolan groaned.

He sat dejected on the bed, his back facing Emily. She noticed he was still dressed in his funeral clothes. One of his bright dress shirt from his suitcase laid on the end table next to him.

"You're not even dressed yet." Emily observed.

"No," He answered monotone.

"Are you okay, Nolan?" She asked worried.

"I'm…" His hands flew up to his head. "I'm...fine." He groaned.

Emily walked over to him. He glanced up to her with bloodshot eyes and a pained expression.

"You don't look fine."

He snatched a pillow off the bed and shoved his face into it. "I have a terrible migraine." He mumbled.

"It might have been all the Scotch you drank," she pointed out. "I'll get you some Aspirin."

Emily left the room. She returned with a glass of water and a bottle of Aspirin. She coaxed Nolan out from his hiding spot and handed him the water and pills. As Nolan drank down the Aspirin, Emily unzipped his suitcase and found a pair of jeans and a blazer to go with the orange shirt. She laid them on the bed next to him.

"You should come with us to dinner," Emily explained. "Ford and Rebecca are looking forward to it."

Nolan set the glass on the inn table. "Emily, I feel like my head's been tumbled in a dryer. I really just want to sleep."

"I think it'd be a good idea," she insisted firmly. "It'd be a great time to be surrounded by family."

Nolan shot her a look, reading between the lines. "What, you're afraid I'll get too carried away with Ford's liquor cabinet and drink myself to death?" He snapped, not meaning to.

"Nolan—"

"Look, Emily, I appreciate your concern," he interrupted her, standing up. "I know right now, I'm as emotional as a pregnant woman, but, you have to trust me when I say, I would never do that to Rebecca." He stressed. "If there's one person I have to live for, it's her."

Emily glanced down at her hands. She didn't want to think that Nolan would do something like that. "That's good to hear."

Nolan glanced to the clothes she'd laid out. He grabbed the dress shirt and pants. "I will change into those clothes. I smell like Bernie." He walked to the bathroom across the room.

The bed creaked as Emily took a seat. She sighed heavily as she ran a hand through her hair. She could see how much pain Nolan was in today. It hurt to see how she couldn't do anything to help ease his pain. All she could do is let him know she was here for him.

It took Nolan a few minutes longer than necessary and Emily started to panic. She believed what he said before, about living for Rebecca, but she honestly didn't know what to expect from him right now. She'd never dealt with this side of him before. She just wanted to be careful but she was coming off as overprotective and paranoid.

She knocked on the bathroom door. "Nolan, you okay in there?"

A moment later, Nolan emerged from the bathroom. His shirt was ill fitted, the buttons mismatched.

"I can't get the damn thing closed!" Nolan complained. He turned to the vanity mirror, trying with shaky hands to close the buttons. He swerved to Emily and threw his hands up in frustration. "This shirt is wrong. The buttons aren't on right."

"Nolan, it's okay. Calm down." She reached out to Nolan, placing her steady hands over his shaky ones. Nolan's hands fell to his side as Emily helped button up his shirt. As she buttoned up the shirt, her fingertips grew warm and fuzzy, like she received an electric shock, as her hands ghost over his chest.

Emily glanced up to Nolan for a moment. Her warm brown eyes softened as she took in his worn out appearance. She felt a warmth grow in her chest. She swallowed a lump that formed in her throat. "All better." She smiled softly as she closed the collar button.

"I'm sorry," Nolan muttered as he sunk into the bed. "I'm a complete mess."

"You have nothing to be sorry about Nolan. It's understandable, given the circumstances."

The bed creaked as she sat down beside him. She placed her hand over his. Nolan glanced up to her.

"You're grieving," she explained gently. "It's normal, everyone goes through the stages in their own time."

Nolan put his other hand over Emily's, clasping her hand in his like a lifeline. His eyes were glossy. His voice broke as he said. "Ems, it's all my fault that my father is dead."

"But you know that your father was a heavy drinker for years." She reminded him.

"He's a stress drinker. I added onto that stress. I added onto our estrangement." He sobbed, feeling the knot in his throat tighten. "I should have tried harder to connect with him. I should have done more."

Emily pulled Nolan in for a hug. Tears pricked her vision as he laid his head on her shoulder and sobbed into her hair. She rubbed his back soothingly, letting him stain her shirt and jacket with his tears.

The all too familiar pain of regret bubbled in Emily's throat. She had a list of regrets. Actions and the consequence of which she'd have to live with. Not being here for Nolan in his time of need wasn't one of them.

Nolan slowly lifted his head off Emily's shoulder. His head felt heavy. His nose was runny. His eyes were sore from crying and his hangover. He locked eyes with Emily, seeing her tear stained cheeks. She grabbed the box of tissues off the inn table and handed one to him. He wiped his eyes and blew his nose.

"Thank you, Emily." Nolan said after a few moments.

"It's going to be okay, Nolan," she squeezed his hand and smiled reassuringly. "You're going to get through this."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because you're strong. Because you have your daughter, Ford and me to help you through this."

Emily's phone vibrated in her pocket. She fished it out of her pocket and read the text from Becca.

"That Becca?" Nolan asked.

She nodded. "Yeah."

"Go with them."

"But, Nolan." Emily stressed, wanting to stay here with him and make sure he was okay.

He grabbed her phone and texted a quick reply. "Don't keep them waiting." He added with his usual lively laugh. "Trust me, you don't want to deal with an Army man who isn't on time."

"Ford's sweet."

"Yeah but he's still Army. Trust me timeliness is what they live for. And I'm not really hungry." He yawned and stretched out his arm. "I just want to stay here and sleep forever."

She frowned at the last part. "Nolan."

"Sorry. That's not what I meant," he sighed deeply. "I won't do anything like that, I promise. I have Rebecca, remember? I'm just tired is all. I want to sleep for a couple of hours."

Emily trusted Nolan. She knew he had Rebecca to live for. He wouldn't do something reckless.

"Okay, I'll go if you're sure." He handed her back her cellphone and she stood up hesitantly.

"I'm sure," Nolan grabbed his pillow off the floor and pulled back the comforter. "Go."

Emily's cell phone buzzed in her hands. She inched out the room. She stood hesitantly at the door. Nolan spun around to her. "Go babe, I'll be alright."

Emily rolled her eyes at the name. "I'll check on you when we get back. Just, get some rest." She finally closed the door.

 


 

The next morning, Becca raced down the stairs. "Hey, guys, guess what I got in the mail last week? " She walked into the kitchen to see Emily standing at the stove with a tea kettle.

"What is it?" Emily asked as she turned to Becca.

"My MIT hoodie. It's finally here!" She unraveled the maroon hoodie. MIT, written in bold white font covered the front. Becca pulled the hoodie over her head and stuck her arms through the sleeves. She raced to the oven and looked at her reflection in the glass.

"Don't I look awesome?" She asked Emily.

"Very, nice. Does that mean you're accepted into MIT?"

"No. I'm still waiting on that." She grabbed a blueberry muffin from the basket and plopped into the seat at the kitchen table.

Emily grabbed her mug of tea and took the seat next to Becca. "So, how did you get your hoodie?"

"I bought it off Amazon." She revealed, playing with the ends of her hair.

"Why's that?" Emily asked amused.

"Okay, so I've been reading this book, The Secret. The book says if you think positively you can get what you want."

"Sounds, interesting." Emily said skeptically.

"I know it sounds gimmicky." Becca took a bite of the muffin. "But, there's no harm in testing a hypothesis."

"Wasn't the tech awards a part of you getting into MIT?" Emily asked.

"Yeah, it was more like an awards show, once you have that you have a better chance. Maybe, if I think enough happy thoughts and dress like I go there. I might increase my odds of getting accepted. I applied to Yale and Columbia, but, MIT is my dream college!"

"I'm sure you'll get accepted, Rebecca," Emily assured. "What's your major?"

"Computer science with a minor in Criminology." She smiled.

"Interesting combination."

"Yeah, I want to create top notch security software for home computers. And when I'm not doing that, I figured I'd freelance, and share my skills with those who need it. Maybe even help the FBI. They could always use some whiter hat, or ethical hacking, hackers on their side.

Emily took a sip of her tea. "I'm impressed, you have a whole plan."

"Yup, I just hope I can get into the college to make it happen." Becca looked around the kitchen and the living-room then turned back to Emily. "Hey, where's Dad and Grunkle Ford?"

"They went down to the courthouse this morning," Emily explained. "To finalize the papers for your grandfather's estate."

"Oh, I see." She glanced up to Emily. "Hey, Emily. Do you think that Dad'll be okay, once all this is over?"

"I believe so," Emily said confidently. "Your dad is just trying to get through each day. Being back here has been hard for him."

"I get that, but I just hate seeing him so mopey and sad." Becca took a bite of her muffin. "I hate not being able to do anything to help him."

"Well, the best thing we can do to help him out is to be there for him."

"Ems, thanks for coming with us," Becca smiled. "I don't think Dad would've came to Grandpa Edward's funeral if you weren't here."

Emily smiled. She was glad she'd came along too. Nolan had been there for her in her toughest moments. She wanted to be there for him, let him know that he had support and someone to count on. Things had changed between her and Nolan the last three weeks. She'd gotten closer to Nolan and Rebecca Her house had turned into a home thanks to them.

"Of course," Emily said. "That's what family is for."

Just then, the back door opened and Nolan and Ford walked into the kitchen.

"How'd it go you two?" Emily asked.

Nolan took a seat at the table. "Well, I put the estate up for sale. Our realtor is sure we'll get a good price, given the season."

Emily glanced to Nolan. "That's done."

"Yeah," Nolan scrubbed at his face. "Ems, can I talk to you for a minute? Outside? I could use the fresh air."

"Sure," she nodded.

Becca watched as Emily and Nolan walked out the patio door. Ford appeared from the back door carrying a large tool kit. He set it on the kitchen table.

"What's with the tools?" Becca asked.

"Have you ever repaired a truck engine?"

"No, but it sounds cool." Becca said.

"Want to help me?"

She grinned. "Yeah, okay."

Ford coughed, grabbed the handkerchief from his shirt pocket, and went into a coughing fit.

"You have some bad allergies, Grunkle Ford." Becca said.

Ford nodded his head. "Yup."

 

Nolan and Emily stood on the pier and looked out to the lake.

"What's on your mind, Nolan?" Emily asked.

"I need to stay here a few more days, get some last minute details squared away with the estate." Nolan grabbed a pebble off the ground, faced the lake, and chucked it into the water. "I was wondering if you wanted to go back to New York."

"Why would I do that?" Emily asked seriously.

"You know, so you don't have to deal with all my depressing, family stuff," he shrugged his shoulder. "I figured you had other more important things to do in the Hamptons."

She laughed, joking with him. "Oh, so you want to get rid of me that easily? Nolan, being here for you and Rebecca, that's what's important to me."

Those words brought a smile to Nolan's face. "Thanks, Emily."

"What needs to be squared away?" She asked.

"I have to go to the storage unit and sort through all my old man's things or else they'll be auctioned off." Nolan picked up another pebble and threw it into the lake. "But, I don't know what my father has or what I'm going to do with it. It could all be junk for all I know."

"I can go with you, help you sort things out."

Nolan arched an eyebrow at her. "Really?"

She smiled. "Of course."

"Thank you, Emily. I really appreciate it."

Once Nolan and Emily reached the front of the house the roar of an engine greeted them. They turned their heads to a guy in a black helmet riding a black motorcycle drove up to the garage — where Ford and Becca stood working on the truck.

Becca darted her head up to the tall biker guy as he turned off the engine to his motorcycle. She watched, interested, as he got off his bike and took off his helmet.

He looked to be a few years older than Becca. His skin was sun tanned, like he'd spent his free time riding his motorcycle through the country. He had cropped brown hair and thick eyebrows. His muscles appeared through his fitted grey shirt and white leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and brown leather boots. He grabbed his duffel bag off the back of his bike.

Becca didn't know how long she was staring at the handsome guy. She stopped once he neared her and Ford.

Ford wiped his hands off with a greasy rag. He smiled brightly at the guy and walked up to him. "Jason!"

"Dad, I'm sorry I couldn't be here for Uncle Edward's funeral."

Ford brought his son into a bear hug, "You're here now. I'm so glad you're here." He patted his son on the back.

Becca wiped her greasy hands on her jeans. Her cheeks burned up and her legs felt weak. Maybe it was from the sun. Or maybe it was because a hot guy was standing in front of her and she had motor oil stains on her pants. Suddenly nervous, she stepped back, wedging herself between the garage and truck to hide out of Ford's sight. She grabbed her hoodie off the stoop of the back door and pulled it over her head. As she pushed her head through the neck hole, Becca spotted Dad and Emily walking towards Ford and Jason.

Unsure what to do, Becca raced over to Emily. Emily shot her a surprised look as Becca grasped her arm, stopping her from going with her dad.

"Ems, Ems! How do I look?"

"Your hair is kind of frizzy," Emily pointed out. "And you look nervous."

Becca ducked behind Emily and tied her hair up in a bun.

Emily grinned. "I can see why, he is cute." Becca peeked past Emily, watching excitedly as Dad talked with the father and son.

"Ford, I didn't know you had a son." Nolan observed with a grin. "What a surprise."

Ford nodded. "You might not recall, but Jason was twelve, when he attended Carole's funeral."

"Nice to meet you Jason, I'm Nolan." He held out his hand.

"Sir," Jason returned the handshake. "I'm sorry I couldn't attend your father's funeral. My Sergeant is really firm about breaks of any kind. If you leave in the middle of training, well, there goes the past two and a half months."

"You're training for in the Army?" Nolan asked interested.

"Yes, sir, as a soldier." Jason nodded. "I plan to follow in my father's footsteps one day to be a lieutenant."

"I'm very proud." Ford smiled.

"Wow," Emily whispered to Becca as they watched Jason, Ford and Nolan talking. "He's handsome, cute name and even an Army man. What a catch. Looks like your type."

"Pssh, my type?" Becca blurted. "He's so not my— Oh, God, he's coming over here!" She squealed. Emily laughed at how flustered Becca became.

Jason introduced himself to Emily.

"Nice to meet you Jason, I'm Emily." She shook his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you, Ma'am."

Becca no longer had a hiding space. She was out in the open. She tried to act normal, standing straight and not fidgeting with her hair as Jason walked over to her. She tried not to stare at him, but it was impossible to look away from his hypnotizing, green eyes.

"Your bike is pretty cool." Becca blurted out, gestured to his black Yamaha motorcycle parked next to the SUV.

"Thanks," Jason smiled. "That's Justine, my baby. I fixed her up myself."

"You work on motorcycles?" Becca asked. No wonder he was muscular.

"Yup, bikes and cars. Been fixing them up since I was ten," he smiled and held out his hand to shake hers. "I'm Jason, by the way."

She looked down at his hand. She blanked, not remembering basic etiquette. "I'm Rebecca, but you can call me Becca." Not knowing what to do next she slapped his palm in a low five.

Jason chuckled. "Alright, Becca, nice to meet you." He turned to Ford and gestured to the truck he was working on. "Dad, you're fixing up trucks at here? Couldn't you have done it at the shop?"

"You own a mechanic shop?" Emily asked, interested.

"Had to do something with my pension," Ford explained. "Don't worry about it Jason, your mother won't find out."

"Just like the last time she didn't?" He grinned. Jason pulled on the strap of his duffel bag on his shoulder and turned back to Nolan, Emily and Becca. ""It was nice to meet you all, but, I'm going to head inside and rest." He shot Becca a smile. "Maybe you'd like to see our shop sometime?"

She nodded quickly. "Uh, huh. That's cool."

The second Jason disappeared into the house, Becca wanted to sink into the ground. She groaned, her cheeks turning red. What the hell was that. Becs!? Becca thought, mortified, her mind replaying the past moment like a broken record. A low five? What even was that?

"Hey, Becca you want to go with us to the storage unit?" Nolan called out to her as he and Emily piled into the SUV.

"Yeah, I'll come with!" Becca raced to the SUV. She slammed the car door shut, buried her face into her phone to text her friends.

 

"I feel like Pac Man." Nolan glanced to the slip of paper the attendant gave him as he drove through the orange door maze of the storage facility.

"Why is it so confusing to find one storage unit?" Becca whined.

"That's because we're on the wrong side, Nolan." Emily pointed out, glancing out the window to count off the number. "We're unit 240. You're in unit 360."

"Oh, well. That explains it." Nolan turned the SUV around and drove towards the correct unit.

Emily glanced out the window to the storage unit. "Unit 240."

Nolan parked the SUV. The three of them got out and walked to the unit.

"Dad, you and Grunkle Ford aren't related by blood, right?" Becca asked suddenly.

"Nope." Nolan replied.

Becca played with the end of her ponytail, "So like, Jason and I wouldn't be blood cousins, right?"

She'd texted Marisol and Jasmine. They both said that if the guy she liked was a second or third cousin it was a go. First cousins were totally off limits. Unless they were super-hot, as Marisol pointed out.

"The whole 'cousin' thing, it's just a formality?" She clarified.

"Yep, that's right," He glanced to Becca suspiciously. "Why?"

"You know, it's for the family tree," she said truthfully. "I just want to get my facts straight."

It wasn't like Becca was crushing on the guy. She just met him! But it didn't hurt to make sure. She looked down at her smartphone, pulled up the list of names of her relatives and typed in Jason's name. Beside his name she wrote NBR, NO BLOOD RELATION. A small grin appear on her face.

Becca stopped behind Dad and Emily as they stood in front of the storage unit.

"Well, let's get this over with." Nolan sighed. He turned the key in the handle, squatted down and lifted the door open. Boxes overflowing with of drapes, pillow cushions, books and clothes were stacked up to the ceiling. The walls were lined with broken down tables, chairs, and clunky exercise equipment.

"What's the plan? How are we going to sort through all this stuff?" Becca asked, looking around.

"Easy, we don't." Nolan said simply. "Most of this stuff is junk. My dad was a hoarder."

Becca walked over to a big box near the door and opened it. She yelped and jumped back as moths flew out.

"Well, we have our work cut out for us." Emily pulled her hair into a ponytail. She rested her hands on her hips and turned to Nolan. "You don't want to look around?"

"Ems, there's a ton of stuff in here." He whined. "It'd take all day to look around."

"Oh my God," Becca pulled out a laminated poster for Rolling Stones. "This is super rare and it's in mint condition! Dad, can I keep it?"

"Keep whatever you find kiddo," Nolan explained as he walked around the cramped unit. "Because I'm donating and trashing all this."

"Really Nolan?" Emily asked shocked. "What if your father held onto things from when you were growing up or something? Do you really want to throw away all your family memories?"

He scoffed. "Emily, I'm a lot of things. Sentimental isn't one of them."

"It still doesn't hurt to look around," she offered.

Emily and Becca giggled as they held a yearbook in their hands. Nolan stopped sorting through the boxes of tax receipts and turned to them.

"What's so funny?" He asked as he dusted his hands off on his jeans and walked over to them.

"It's nothing, Nolan." Emily assured, stifling a laugh. She quickly handed Becca the book.

"Yeah, Dad, it's nothing." Becca nodded, trying not to laugh as she placed the book in a box.

"Alright, alright. Girls Club only I get it." He glanced to the box full of old books they were sorting through. "What did you guys find anyway?"

"Oh, we found a family cookbook." Becca exclaimed. She handed him a worn, green binder filled with yellowing pages.

"These are some of my mother's and Carole's recipes." Nolan flipped through the pages, being careful not to tear the ancient pages. The book smelled like cinnamon and butter. "No way! I found Cat's secret recipe for Christmas cookies."

Becca grinned darted over to him and glanced at the pages. "That's pretty cool."

"Cat's super private about this kind of stuff, swore that she never wrote the recipe down." He laughed. "Guess she forgot."

"And you wanted to donate everything." Emily retorted.

"Yeah, well," He trailed off with a grin.

 


 

Four hours later, the unit was a third of the way cleared out. Nolan closed the trunk to the SUV. He glanced to his watch. It was only five o'clock. With a sigh he turned to the orange hued sky.

He walked back to the unit. Emily stood in an empty half of the unit sorting the contents of a plastic bin into a trash can.

"Becca's saying if we put anything else in the back seat, we won't be able to find her." Nolan laughed.

Emily chuckled. "I don't think we'll have much to take. This box is mostly old receipts."

"Anything else to sort out?" Nolan asked.

Emily gestured to a box, labeled JEWELRY, sitting in the middle of the cleared isle. "I haven't sorted that one out yet."

"I'm on it." Nolan strolled over to the box and began to sort.

"Dad, you were a total pack rat." Nolan observed. Broken and rusty costume jewelry, unpaired earrings, and tarnished class rings were tossed in the trash." He stopped combing through the box and sighed deeply. "Might as well dump it all."

As he was about to dump the box into the trash, he spotted a silk blue ring box. "Or wait a minute…" He picked up the box and opened it. He swallowed the dryness in his throat. It was his mother's engagement ring. The gold band was slightly tarnished, but in good condition. The diamond in the middle was small and sparkled. The ring was timeless and elegant.

"Did you find anything, Nolan?" Emily called out.

He walked over to her. "I found my mother's engagement ring." He showed her the mint condition ring.

"Wow, Nolan." Emily whistled. "That's a nice ring."

He glanced to her with wide eyes. "You really think so?"

"Yes, it's a timeless look. Very elegant."

Nolan glanced from the ring to Emily with a smile. "Do you want to try it on?" He asked.

"Really?" She asked interested.

"Yeah, uh, I mean if you want to."

"Only if it's okay with you," she insisted.

Nolan noted how excited she seemed at the idea of wearing an engagement ring. He took the ring out of the box.

"Nolan, what are you doing?" Emily wondered as he got down on one leg before her. He held his hand out to her, looked into her eyes and smiled widely. "May I have your hand, Emily Thorne?"

Emily rolled her eyes playfully at him. "What are you doing?"

"Just play along Ems," He urged with a laugh. And said again. "May I have your hand, Emily Thorne?"

"Yes," she said after a moment. "Yes, Nolan Ross, you may." She held out her right hand to him. Nolan slipped the ring on her ring finger. It fit perfectly.

Emily held her hand up to the florescent lights above them. Nolan wasn't sure if it was the flood lights or the sunset but Emily's skin and hair was glowing. She looked even more beautiful than she normally did.

She smiled brightly and turned to Nolan. "It's beautiful."

"You know," he started. "In my family, it's a tradition for the parent to passed down a piece of their jewelry to their children. It's not weird for use to use our parent's engagement rings to propose. Once we're married, we pass down a piece of our own jewelry to our children."

"What a unique tradition." Emily said

He nodded. "So, when Rebecca gets engaged, she'd get a ring of mine to give to her fiance. It started with my mom's mom. I guess this was born out of necessity, give the times they lived in. The women didn't have a lot of money to buy new jewelry for themselves."

"I see," Emily nodded, glanced at her hand and asked. "Nolan, what was your mother like?"

"What was my mom like?" Nolan sighed wistfully and stood up. "She was smart, strong willed, a caregiver. She had this way with people, a certain aura, once she talked to you, you'd open up and just spill your whole life story. She'd stop whatever she was doing to help anyone no matter who they were. That all came in handy when she worked for Red Cross as a nurse during the Vietnam War. Coincidently, it's how my parents met."

Emily smiled as Nolan chuckled. "What' so funny?" She asked.

"I was just thinking of all the times she made me laugh. My mom had a great sense of humor. There was more than one occasion when even my dad would laugh at her jokes."

"I wish I could have met her, she sounded like a wonderful woman."

"She really was," Nolan agreed.

After a moment, she hesitantly, slipped the ring off her finger and handed it back to Nolan. A pause of comfortable silence filled the space between them. Nolan wondered if he should do it all again, but for real this time.

Emily tuned away from him with a grin. "Well, this is the last box." She hauled the box she was sorting through off the table. "Ready to go?"

Nolan stuffed the ring box in the pocket of his jeans. "Yeah, I'll just get rid of these trash bins." He grabbed the trash bins and wheeled them out to the front of the storage unit.

As Emily packed the box in the trunk and shut the trunk shut, she looked down at her hand and at her ring finger. It looked lonely without a ring. It looked lonely without that ring.

As they drove back to Ford's ranch, a warmth swelled in Emily's chest. She snuck a peek at Nolan. The apples of her cheeks burned red. She glanced back to the window, watching the forest roll past them.

In that moment, Emily Thorne realized she was in love with Nolan Ross.

Chapter Text

Emily sprinted up the gravel path to Ford's ranch. Chest heaving, she leaned against the veranda to catch her breath.

Emily muted the music playing from the iPod strapped to her shorts.

She wiped the sweat from her brow on the back of her hand. Sweat stained the back of tank top.

It wasn't just the humid Virginia summer air; she'd pushed herself pretty hard on her run. She had a lot of energy in her the last few days making her uncharacteristically restless.

Emily Thorne always had a way to find her center and relax. Meditation and herbal tea weren't helping the last few days. She suspected it had something to do with Nolan.

The thought of Nolan made her already racing heart race faster.

Was she really feeling something more for the quirky blond billionaire?

Emily Thorne, who swore she had no romantic interest in anyone, saw Nolan Ross as more than her friend and her partner.

He'd taken up a larger part of her life as of late.

Rebecca's paternity reveal. Now Edward's funeral.

Emily was glad she'd decided to be here for Nolan and for Rebecca. Being here for him in his time of need only made her realize that she was more invested in his life then she'd realized.

In the past, Emily would have told Nolan to deal with his own problems. That she'd had too many of her own to deal with.

Things were different now. She was willing to sacrifice a part of her mission for Nolan's well-being. Before she wouldn't have given a second thought.

She was starting to see that Emily Thorne, not Little Amanda Clarke, could have a happy future; she really wanted that future with Nolan and Rebecca.

She glanced down to her right hand and to her ring finger.

Emily smiled to herself, cheeks turning red. The thought of Nolan proposing made her stomach twist in knots.

She hadn't felt that feeling since Aiden walked into her life so many years ago.

Emily bit her lip.

She didn't want to jinx herself; whenever she'd start to enjoy the good things in her life, it was when they'd start to get taken away from her.

With Nolan things were different. They'd gone through the rough patches. They'd had their fights - through it all Nolan was still here.

With Rebecca in the picture, Emily admitted she was softening up. She felt the hidden parts of her caring and maternal nature awaken whenever she was around the teen.

After a few minutes Emily composed herself and walked into the house. As she stepped through the door, the fire alarm blared from the hallway and the living room.

A burning smell of food pricked her nose. Smoke billowed down the hallway. Emily darted into the kitchen.

What she saw made her chuckle. Nolan, with a smudged apron covering his clothes and flour in his hair, stood at the stovetop, attending to a smoking cast iron skillet.

"Hey Ems," Becca rushed past her to open the patio door.

Nolan spun around to her. His nose burned red. "Ems, what are you doing back so early?"

"What's all this?" Emily asked them, noticing the flour dusting the floor and dirty mixing bowls on the island.

"We're uh... making breakfast." Becca explained.

Nolan went back to the skillet. He muttered a curse. With a sigh he dumped the burnt pan in the sink. He turned on the water, smoke and steam clouding his face.

"Correction," Nolan retorted. "We're failing at making breakfast."

Nolan turned back to the island and snatched up his mother's cookbook. He leaned against the counter and peered at the book.

"What am I doing wrong? How hard can it be to make tattie scones? My mom made it look so easy."

"Not burning them helps." Becca pointed out, grabbing a plate full of burnt scones off the counter.

Nolan rolled his eyes at her. He laughed. "Hey, I'm trying my best."

"Try harder, Dad." Becca whined, dumping the plate of scones in the trash bin. "I'm hangry!"

"Need some help?" Emily offered the two.

"Please, Emily!" Becca said.

Emily grabbed an apron off the rack. "Did Ford and Jason leave? His truck isn't outside."

"I think they left earlier this morning" Becca said. "Don't know where. Dad wanted to surprise them with breakfast when they got back."

Once Emily laced up her apron, she, Nolan and Becca stood at the island. A bowl of potatoes, a grater, and a bag of flour sat before them.

Emily grabbed a potato from the bowl. She turned to Becca. "So, what are tattie scones?"

"Potato scones," Becca explained as she grabbed a potatoes from the bowl. "Traditional Scottish breakfast food."

Nolan chuckled. "I'm butchering the traditional aspect."

Once the dough was made Emily began to cut it into triangles. Nolan came up beside her. He grabbed a glob of dough, and started to roll it out on the floured surface.

"So, have you ever made this before?" Emily asked him.

"Nope. I figured we'd try something special today."

"We could have stuck with pancakes," Becca explained as she chopped potatoes on the cutting board. "You know something simple."

"Where's the fun in that?" Nolan grinned boyishly at Emily. "I like the challenge of trying something new."

Emily grinned. Nolan seemed to be in a better mood. His blue eyes shone brighter today. He was smiling.

"I'm glad you're doing better." Emily said.

"Well, Ems, with you here. I feel like I can get through anything."

Just then a timer went off.

"It's ready!" Nolan exclaimed.

Emily felt a static shock run up her shoulder as Nolan shifted past her to the stove.

Nolan's eyes were the size of saucers as he flipped the scone over, revealing a golden brown side.

"It's not burnt!" He exclaimed. He plated the scones and slathered butter on the crusty brown side.

"Now, the real test." Nolan took a bite. "It's really good. Try it Ems."

Emily held up her hands covered in flour. "Kind of busy at the moment."

"Here," Nolan tore off a piece and brought it to her mouth.

She leaned forward, cheeks burning, opened her mouth and took a bite of the scone.

"Wow, Nolan. I'm impressed."

"So, does that mean I'm a Master Chef, now?"

Emily grinned. "One recipe at a time grasshopper."

Once everything was ready the small family sat at the dining room table to eat.

Becca smiled as she thought of her dad and Emily's exchange from before. She was glad that they were being more open about how they felt. They were so cute when they were acting like a real couple.

She secretly hoped that those two would become more one day.

Amanda had said that Nolan had a thing for Emily for a long time.

Becca really like Emily. She thought she was one of the bravest and strongest women she'd ever met and she was glad to be a part of her team.

The possibility of Emily becoming Becca's step-mom was a thought that'd constantly played through her head since they'd moved in with her.

Emily and Becca only knew each other for a short time, and in that time Becca felt she could really trust and depend on Emily in ways her own mother couldn't begin to comprehend.

Emily supported Becca and she took an interest in her life. Emily protected Becca from harm; she didn't use her as a scapegoat. Emily was someone who put her family first; she didn't abandon them when things got tough.

"Sorry," Nolan and Emily said.

Becca grinned as Emily and her dad reached for the bottle of jam, their hands touching at the same time. Both their faces turned red. Her dad handed the jam to Emily. She smiled and put some on her plate before handing it back to him.

Honesty, her dad deserved someone like Emily. She was genuine and kind. She had each other's backs and they'd both sacrificed things for each other to succeed. And Emily was there for her dad through his ups and downs, and when they argued (and boy did they argue), they'd make up.

Their relationship was built on mutual understanding and trust in one another.

That was love, in Becca's opinion.

The front door opened and Ford walked into the kitchen.

"Morning Grunkle Ford," Becca smiled.

"Morning, all. Something smells good." Ford set the white paper bag on the counter. He grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water.

"Hope you don't mind the mess in the kitchen," Dad said.

"It's nice to have the kitchen in use," Ford said. "Your aunt's more of a cook; me not so much."

"Won't you join us for breakfast Ford?" Emily asked.

"I'm not feeling hungry at the moment," he smiled tiredly. "You all enjoy breakfast. I'm going to lay down for a bit."

Just as Ford was about to walk out the kitchen, he stumbled and fell, the glass in his hand fell, shattering on the hardwood floor.

Dad darted out of his seat and raced to his uncle's side.

"Are you okay, Ford?" Dad asked worriedly.

Emily and Becca stepped over to Dad and Grunkle Ford.

Becca noticed Grunkle Ford's pale and sweaty face. He didn't look fine. His eyes were glossy. Even his mustache didn't look well as it dropped over his lips.

"I'm fine, son." Ford assured. He grabbed the end of the inn table steadying himself as he slowly got up.

"You don't look so good." Becca added.

"Yeah, well, it's my damn medication." Ford said with a hint of annoyance.

"Let me help you." Dad offered reaching out a hand.

Ford shooed Dad's hand away. He gritted his teeth. "I'm fine, son. I've got it."

Like it was nothing, Ford strolled up the stairs. Becca shot her dad and Emily a look.

"I'll check on him." Dad said before ascending the stairs.

Becca grabbed some paper towels and mopped the spill. Emily grabbed a broom and swept up the glass.

After the mess was cleaned up, Dad returned a few minutes later to the kitchen.

Emily shot him a worried look. "Is Ford okay? He doesn't look too well."

"Tells me his allergies are to blame." Dad explained, taking a sip of coffee.

"Does he always get like this?" Becca asked.

"I don't remember Ford having allergies." Dad said.

As Becca was cleaning her plate at the sink, she jumped as the front door slammed shut, jingling keys rattled through the hallway, and then Jason walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, Jason," Emily greeted. "Join us for breakfast?"

"Sure, ma'am, in a few minutes." Jason replied. "Uh, did my dad come through here?"

"He went upstairs a second ago," Dad explained.

Jason nodded. "Thanks."

Jason spun around and darted down the hall his footsteps echoing as he raced up the stairway.

What was up with him? Becca thought. She dried her hands and took a seat at the table with her dad and Emily.

"Good news ladies," Dad started. "I've found a buyer for my dad's estate."

"That's great news." Emily said.

Becca took a sip of her orange juice. She played with the end of her hair, thinking.

She'd noticed that Jason had been acting kind of weird the last few days. Ford seemed kind of weird too; he wasn't his usual energetic self.

He'd seemed out-of-it.

Zoned out.

Then there was that thing about the two of them going out at odd hours of the morning, without telling anyone.

Becca had heard Ford's Toyota rumble to life at 5 in the morning yesterday. She'd peeked out the curtain from her bedroom window, watching as they drove off into the dark, without a word.

Dad and Emily never said anything about it, because they'd come back before any of them even woke up.

"It looks like we get to leave for home a bit earlier than I thought," Dad said. "I just have a bit of paperwork to do with the real estate agency this morning."

"Mind if I tag along?" Emily asked, "I'm curious to see where you grew up."

"Sure, Ems."

Becca wanted to know what was going on with Jason. Why he was being so sketchy.

"What are you thinking about, kiddo?" Dad asked, pulling Becca out of her thoughts.

She stopped messing with her hair. She glanced to her dad and Emily. "Oh, uh, nothing. Just you know….ducks."

Emily shot her a grin. "Really?"

"Yeah, I mean like, why do they fly south for the winter? What's up with that?"

"Anyway, you want to with us kiddo?" Dad asked, "You get a chance to see one of the houses I grew up in."

"One of the houses?" Emily asked.

Dad nodded. "Being an Army Brat, we move around a lot. Kilmarnock was one of the last places my dad was stationed in. Which meant no more awkward first days of high-school for me."

It was a perfect excuse to go upstairs. And find out what was up with Jason.

"Sure," Becca said. "I've always wanted to see where you grew up. Let me get my jacket from upstairs."

"You want to wear a jacket?" Emily asked surprised, "Do you have any idea how hot it is outside?"

"It's a humid and sticky 75 degrees outside," Dad stated. "Do you want to get a heat stroke?"

"What can I say?" Becca scooted out of her chair. "I get cold easily. I think I may be anemic. Dad you really should have made me eat more vegetables growing up."

Becca walked out of the kitchen. In the hallway, she heard a crash like glass breaking, from upstairs.

She darted up the steps. Ford's bedroom door was open. Becca heard Jason and Ford talking.

Becca neared the door. She glanced into the room. Ford was lying on his bed, his head propped up on a pillow. Jason stood in the middle of the room holding a dustpan and broom.

"I'll get you a new glass of water," Jason said. "Where's your prescription?"

"I left it downstairs on the inn table." Ford replied weakly, he looked even more sickly and pale then he did downstairs.

"I can get it," Becca blurted out.

Jason turned to the door. "Hold on, Dad."

He stalked to Becca, closing the door behind him. He ran a hand through his short hair and sighed.

"No thanks, Becca, I got it." He snapped.

Rude much?

Becca perked an eyebrow at Jason. She noticed he'd been on edge the last few days. But he'd never snapped at her like that.

"It's no big deal. Besides, you have a mess to clean up anyways," Becca said, trying to be nice. "What's the bag look like?"

Jason sighed deeply after a moment he said. "It's a small white prescription bag. He must have left it on the inn table in the hall, or something."

"Got it." As Becca spun on her heels, Jason grabbed her arm, stopping her. She glanced up to him with wide eyes. Her face felt warm and she flustered dizzy, partly from Jason standing so close to her and because he'd stopped her so suddenly. He looked into her eyes, his green eyes pulsing with anger.

"And don't open the bag." He said seriously.

A few minutes later once she was downstairs, Becca looked around, spotting the white bag sitting on top of the key rack. Swiping up the bag sent the stack of mail on the rack to the ground.

Becca reached down, picking up the Better Homes and Gardens magazine and other mail. As she put the stack of mail back on the rack a few letters caught her eye.

FINAL NOTICE OF PAYMENT stamped in red blocky letters were on a few envelopes.

"CARE Foundation," Becca read off the sender address.

She knew reading other people's mail wasn't right. And she didn't like the fact that most of America had their nose in her business as of late, but she couldn't help her curiosity.

Man, I'm such a hypocrite. Becca realized.

Putting the mail back in a stack, she spotted a brochure with CARE written in fancy lettering. A picture of the American flag was behind a smiling stock photo of a picture-perfect family of four.

Becca read the slogan on brochure quietly.

"CARE Foundation: Dedicated to providing financial assistance for Veterans and their families with medical needs.

What's this about?

The stairs creaked behind her. Becca dropped the letters in her hands. Her heart leapt in her throat.

She spun around seeing no one. She quickly rearranged the letters, making sure they were back in the same spot as before.

Becca went to the kitchen, filled a glass with water and raced back to Ford's room.

"Here you go," Becca handed the bag and glass to Jason.

"Thanks."

"Sure thing."

As Jason moved to Ford's door, Becca asked quickly. "Is that allergy medication?"

Jason nodded. "Yeah, my dad's always had allergies. When it gets really bad he ends up like this."

"I hope he feels better." Becca said.

"Same here," Jason tapped the bag and shifted closer to the door, "I'm going to give this to him."

He walked into the room and closed the door behind him.

Becca frowned, she wasn't any closer to figuring out what was up with Jason, it seemed like she made him upset. She wasn't sure why.

 


 

"Hey, Rebecca!"

Becca spun around to see Jason strolling over to her from the house. He came to a stop on the lake beside her.

"Hey, Jason." Not really in the mood to talk, she went back to her game.

Becca looked back towards the lake eyeing the red beer can stuck on a buoy.

She threw her hand back and chuckled her stone at the can. The stone missed its mark by a foot. With a plunk the pebble sank, the ripples effectively pushing the beer can farther away from her.

"Come on!" Becca exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air.

"Uh, what are you doing?" Jason asked.

"I'm trying to free that beer can from its captor."

Jason snickered at her. "Are you serious?"

Becca spun around and shot Jason a glare. "Do you really think it wants to be stuck on that buoy for the rest of its days?" She bent down and grabbed a stone from the little pile at her feet.

"Alright," Jason stated, holding his hands up in surrender, like Becca was some raging feminist at a pep rally. "I didn't know you cared so much about beer can rights."

"I don't — I care about the environment. That can is a menace to the plants and wild life here." She spun back to the lake, eyed the can and threw the stone.

She missed.

Jason folded his arms over his chest and scoffed. "Looks like your mission isn't going to well."

She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Well, you try it."

"Alright, step aside."

Becca didn't think he'd actually do it. Jason walked past her, reached down and plucked a stone from her arsenal.

"Hey, find your own stones," Becca said. "It took me forever to find the perfect ones!"

"Yeah, well, you're running low on ammo." Jason noted.

Becca glanced down to the empty pile at her feet.

"And you think you can do it?" She challenged. "In one shot?"

"Let's see." He spun back to the lake.

Jason's muscular arms rippled under his grey t-shirt. Like a quarterback, about to throw the winning ball, Jason threw the stone.

The stone zoomed over the water, slammed into the can, causing a dent in its side, the force was enough to unlog the can, sending it on happy trails down the lake.

Becca spun around to Jason with wide eyes. He was a good shot. "Lucky shot."

He shrugged and grinned cockily. "Maybe lucky, or it could be that I've been doing this since I was a kid."

Becca looked away from his cheeky smile. She strolled a few feet away from him.

Mostly to make her stomach stop doing somersaults from standing so close to him.

She thought he was mad at her; but here he was having fun and acting like nothing weird had happened between them a few hours ago.

Becca looked around the sandy ground plucking random stones. She spun around, seeing that Jason was following behind her. He shoved his hands in his jeans and kicked sand with his Army boots.

Jason bent down, picked up another stone, skipping it into the lake. He glanced to her and she quickly looked away.

Did he want to talk to her or something? Apparently, since he stopped a few beside her, watching as she badly tried to skip stones.

"Hey, listen, Rebecca."

She glanced to him out the corner of her eye. "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry for how I acted towards you earlier."

Becca turned to him, giving him her full attention.

"What was that about?"

"My mind's been all over the place the last couple of days — I didn't mean anything by it."

"I thought you were angry with me or something."

Jason shook his head. "No, no, no. I've just been under a lot stress the past week."

"Thanks, Jason." Becca rubbed the smooth flat stone between her fingers. "It's been a rough week for all of us."

"Tell me about it," Jason sighed as if he was getting the world off his chest. "Dealing with Uncle Edward's funeral, now my dad's on this new treatment." Jason stopped, as if he'd regretted saying the last part.

Becca wasn't sure why he suddenly had a worried look in his eyes.

"You mean his allergy medication?"

"Yeah," Jason paused for a moment, seeming to struggle with what he wanted to say next. "It's taking a lot out of him."

Becca felt an awkward silence come between them. She turned back to the lake and tried to skip another stone.

It plopped into the lake. Becca's cheeks burned red.

"You're not too good at this." Jason pointed out with a deep laugh.

"I know." Becca admitted.

"That's because you're not holding it right," Jason said. He plucked a stone off the ground and demonstrated how to hold and throw the stone.

He turned to Becca with a smirk. "Skims the lake like butter."

"Alright, Mr. Expert. Let me try." Becca laughed.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, Becca had finally managed to skip one stone. Hey progress, not perfection.

Becca plopped onto the sandy ground. She was surprised when Jason did the same.

She swallowed her nervousness. Jason seemed like a pretty nice guy. He didn't act like a jerk and he'd apologized for what happened earlier.

She took in a deep breath and turned to him. "That's pretty sweet of you to take care of your dad like that."

Jason nodded. "Well, it's the least I could do. He is my dad. And with my mom overseas, it's just been here by himself.

"Were you and Edward close?" Becca asked. "I mean you call him Uncle Edward."

Jason nodded and went on to explain how Grandpa Edward was around for him in his teens and was a big part of his life growing up.

As Becca listened she couldn't help but feel a bit sad for her dad. It seemed like Grandpa Edward acted more like a father later in his life instead of when Dad really needed him growing up.

"How about you?" Jason asked.

Becca shook her head no. "I never even met him. My dad never talked much about his childhood."

Though, she couldn't blame him. After learning all she had about her father's childhood and his relationship with his dad, Becca could see why her dad never shared his past with her. It was too depressing. Too sad.

Just one other thing they both had that in common.

"So, you're at MIT?" Jason asked, pointing to her hoodie.

"Not yet," Becca's ears felt hot. She laughed and played with the ends of her hair. "But, my dad's already super hyped. He's been picking out apartments since I finished high school last year. I hope I get in but... you know."

"You don't seem sure," Jason noted seeing through her shyness.

Becca shrugged. "I don't know, I mean MIT's acceptance rate is pretty steep."

"You have to do the SAT, ACT thing?" Jason asked.

"Yup." Becca sighed. "Just kill me now, please."

"Sheesh, that's brutal." Jason said. "I'm glad I was able to do my first two years of college with a correspondence."

Becca looked down at her red fingernails. "So, any reason you're in the Army?"

"Well, my dad's in the Army, so were my grandpas' and my aunts. I want to keep the tradition alive."

Then Jason laid on his back with a sigh. He closed his eyes. Becca thought he looked peaceful and handsome sunbathing.

"Now you're turn; why are you following your dad's footsteps in computer science?"

"Computers are what I'm good at." Becca said simply.

Jason opened an eye and smiled at her. "You know, you're pretty easy to talk to."

At that Becca grinned like an idiot.

"Jason, Rebecca, there you two are!"

Becca spun around to see Ford strolling over to them.

"Dad, what are you doing up?" Jason darted up and spun around to his dad. "You should be resting."

"I'm done resting," Ford said. "I feel better anyway."

Becca did notice how much brighter and healthy her Grunkle looked.

Grunkle Ford smiled at Becca. "Say, Rebecca, want to go check out the shop with me? We're meeting your folks over there."

"Yeah, let's go!" Becca said excitedly. She walked with Ford to his truck.

Jason narrowed his eyes at his dad. He walked in step with Becca and Ford, stopping at the truck.

He looked between Becca and Ford, shooting Ford a serious look.

"Dad, are you sure you should be driving?" Jason asked hesitantly. "You know how your medication makes you feel after a few hours."

Becca glanced between Ford and Jason uneasily. It seemed like something else was going on. But she wasn't about to pry and ask what.

"Quite, worrying so much, like your mother." Ford said, getting a bit irritated.

"Yes, sir." Jason said finally.

Ford walked past Jason to his truck. Becca piled into the passenger seat.

She turned to Grunkle Ford. "What's up with him?"

"The boy thinks because I'm 60 years olds that means I can't drive myself around." Ford said.

He started up the engine. The front seat rumbled and the pine tree air freshener swayed.

Grunkle Ford frowned adding bitterly. "If it were up to my son I'd be sitting in an old home right now. And instead of fixing up trucks I'd be playing cards and watching The Price is Right. Kids these days. He forgets that I'm an Army man." He added. "I fought in two wars; I can take care of myself."

She just nodded not sure what to say to Grunkle Ford's rant.

Becca was about to buckle her seatbelt when she heard a loud bang from the back of the truck. She snapped her head back to see Jason piling into the trunk.

Grunkle Ford started off down the gravel road. Becca felt like someone was watching her.

She glimpsed in the rear view mirror, Jason's eyed the back of her and Ford's heads like a hawk.

Well, that wouldn't be awkward for the next ten miles. Nope, not at all.

Chapter Text

Thirty minutes later, Grunkle Ford parked his truck in the lot of his mechanic shop.

With the AC quickly dying down Becca felt like a baked potato. So maybe it wasn't a good idea to wear a thick hoodie in this humid weather.

Dad and Ems were right.

Becca tore off her hoodie, tied it around her waist and hopped out of the truck.

Without a word, Jason jumped out of the trunk and walked across the lot to the front of the shop. A bell rang out as he pulled the door and disappeared inside.

Man, he's really moody today, Becca thought.

Grunkle Ford simply sighed.

Becca turned to the garage. It suddenly reminded her of those mom and pop gas stations from the 60s.

The new white paint and red tin roof were eye catching. But it threw the shop back in time.

The painted sign above the covered garage SHEPHERD'S AUTO REPAIR SHOP — along with the little notice for — FREE WIFI were the only indicators that the shop was a little bit modern.

"The place used to be an old gas station; till we turned it into the shop." Ford revealed.

"Way cool," she said.

Becca followed Grunkle Ford into the shaded garage. It wasn't that much cooler in here. She wasn't a huge fan of humid weather. She felt like she was suffocating under this heat. She wiped at her sweaty face.

Standing off to the side of the garage were two cars. One had its hood up and the other was jacked to the ceiling, missing a tire.

Grunkle Ford walked up to a door labeled STAFF ONLY. He unlocked the door with his keys and went inside.

Becca heard a clicking sound. Then what sounded like a fan going off. She looked around, spotted a fan standing by some chairs and a Coke machine in a waiting area ahead.

She smiled, relieved and dashed over to oasis.

Grunkle Ford walked out of the room. "Hoping that's better?"

"Much," Becca said.

He handed her a water bottle.

"Thanks," she took a long sip of the icy cold water. Feeling much cooler.

Ford took a seat next to her. He took a sip of his own water bottle as he looked around the shop. Becca glanced at his face. His mustache was back to looking healthy. Ford's eyes were brighter and his smile reached to his eyes.

This was the happiest she'd seen Ford in the past week. It was obvious this shop was her great uncle's pride and joy.

"After I retired, I knew I didn't want to do nothing," Ford said. "I've been in business the last eleven years and we've going strong ever since."

"Does Jason work here?" Becca asked curious.

"When he can — his Army training occupies most of his time as of late. It helps to have some extra hands around here in the summer."

Ford glanced back to Becca with a smile. "So, what do you think kiddo?"

"It's pretty cool, the place kinda has a retro vibe to it." Becca smiled as The Doors Break On Through played over the PA system. "Nice music choice."

Grunkle Ford glanced past Becca out to the lot. "I see your folks,"

Becca spotted Emily and Dad walking from her dad's SUV which was parked near the wire fence along with a couple of cars Ford was working on.

Ford went on give Dad and Emily a tour of the garage. The three of them disappeared around the corner to the front of the garage.

Becca declined their offer to join them, opting instead to stay in her oasis.

She propped her legs on a few chairs. The fan was on the highest setting, blowing her hair around.

Becca closed her eyes, the cool air blowing on her face made her feel like a lazy bum of house cat. She really didn't mind being a bum one bit. Especially if she was cool.

Just then, the bell to the shop chimed and then Jason walked into the garage. Becca opened her eyes.

Jason had a scowl on his face as he trudged to the Impala that was jacked up in the air.

Becca quickly closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She didn't want to bother Jason, especially if he was in a mood. She didn't want to get in the middle of it.

Jason grabbed a wrench off the bench, kicked the creeper — the wheeled bench thing mechanics lied down on — from under the workbench and threw down the wrench.

At the clatter, Becca opened her eyes, just in time to see Jason take off his sweaty t-shirt.

Her face felt like it was on fire as she stared at Jason's chiseled abs and muscular arms.

God, he's handsome.

Did Jason not realize she was sitting across the room?

Becca's heart hammered in her chest. She felt like she was going to faint.

She scrambled out of her chair, she tripped over her feet clumsily knocking over the chairs.

Jason swerved around. "Rebecca?"

Becca hobbled over the fallen chairs. "Ow, shit," she stared back up at Jason with a grin. It took all her willpower to keep her eyes at his face. "H-hey.."

Jason must have sensed how awkward this was for her as he proceeded to put his shirt back on.

Part of Becca was glad that he did and the other part wish he didn't.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"It's cooler in here," Becca said. Do you always work shirtless? She wanted to race out of here and into the shop.

Just then, a black jeep Wrangler screeched to a halt in the front of the lot. A man with a blonde buzz cut and a petite Asian woman with a pixie cut stepped out of the jeep.

They both wore jeans and Ray Ban sunglasses. The guy's chiseled abs poked through his grey t shirt.

Silver dog tags poked out from underneath the woman's wife beater. She took a long drag from her cigarette.

Becca felt a twist in her stomach as they stepped into the garage.

"Jason!" the man greeted him with a laugh, "figured we'd find you here when no one answered your house. We need to speak to your old man."

"He's busy at the moment," Jason said flatly.

"I know how busy your old man is," Buzz Cut smacked a hand on Jason's shoulder as if they were best friends. "The man works too hard for his age."

Becca knew from Jason's ice cold body language that he didn't want to be near the man.

Jason shrugged away from Buzz Cut and sent him a glare.

"We'll be quick," Pixie added. "We just have some money business to discuss with him."

Jason glared at the woman. "Sorry, ma'am — no smoking allowed."

Becca's eyes darted to the NO SMOKING sign hanging on the wall five feet away from her.

Pixie scoffed and threw her butt on the ground, smashing it with the heel of her Army boots.

"My dad isn't here. And anyway, we're closed," Jason explained. "If you need work on your jeep, we'd be happy to help you tomorrow morning."

Buzz Cut tsked. "Come on Jason, is that any way to treat your old friends?" He shot Becca a toothy smile.

The twisting feeling Becca's gut tightened. She felt uncomfortable under the guy's gaze.

"Seem to be treating your new friends better than your old ones."

Jason quickly moved protectively between Becca and Buzz Cut. She noted the serious look on Jason's face.

It looked like he knew these people.

Buzz Cut smirked. Jason sent him a glare as he walked over to the silver Yamaha motorcycle parked beside the creeper.

"Nice bike," Buzz Cut ran his fingers over the hand bars and the seat. "Must have taken you a while to fix it up." He grabbed a wrench off the bench and then turned to Jason with a smirk.

Becca's eyes widened as Buzz Cut smashed in the headlights.

"What the hell man?!" Jason yelled.

"That's your first late penalty," Pixie remarked strolling over to Buzz Cut. Glass crunched under their boots.

Buzz Cut turned to Jason. "So you wanna stop shitting with me and get your old man?"

"We already gave you the money," Jason remarked. "All of last month's."

"Well now, we wouldn't be here if that was the case," Pixie said smartly.

She grabbed the wrench from Buzz Cut and sauntered to the Impala that was jacked up with a missing tire.

She whacked the rear view mirror in. "Be a good little soldier, and get your father, before we turn your repair shop into a junkyard."

Becca swallowed the lump in her throat. She blinked her eyes. Were these guys gangsters or something?

"Rebecca, go inside and get my dad," Jason whispered calmly.

Becca shot him a confused look. "Should I call the cops?"

"No, just get my dad."

"Okay," Becca sent a glare to the duo as she walked shakily across the garage. Before she even made it out of the door, she felt something like someone's warm breath on the back of her neck.

"Rebecca!" Jason yelled.

Becca spun on her heels to see Jason's arms around Buzz Cut in a headlock three feet behind her.

Jason threw a punch at Buzz Cut's face. But Buzz had at least ten pounds of muscle over Jason and was a foot taller. He socked Jason in the nose and shoved him against the Coke machine.

"Look at you; haven't even finished your training and you're already trying to be a hero. Too bad you're gonna get your ass kicked in front of your girlfriend!" Buzz Cut punched Jason in the face.

Jason let out a grunt and slumped to the ground in a heap.

"I'm calling the cops!" Becca grabbed her cellphone.

"That's not a good idea, sweetie," the woman smirked and showed off her handgun.

Becca's heart leapt into her throat. Her hands shook as she hit 9 on the keypad. Even though it was legal to carry a gun in Virginia she was still freak out. This was the closest she'd ever been to a real gun.

Buzz Cut picked up Jason by the scruff of his shirt and shoved him up against the Coke machine again. "Still think you can be a hero?"

"PLEASE, STOP!" Becca screamed, finding her voice.

"Rebecca?!" Dad, Emily, and Grunkle For raced from the back of the garage inside.

Nolan's eyes widened at the sight before him. Rebecca stood in front of some pixie haired chick terrified while Jason was lying in a crumpled heap at the feet of some guy with a buzz cut.

It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened. The glint of Pixie woman's gun caught Nolan's eyes. He took in a deep breath. Resisting the urge to grab Rebecca and get her out of harm's way. He needed to stay calm.

Emily must have seen it too because she wasn't making any sudden movements towards Becca.

"Rebecca, are you okay?" Emily asked her.

She nodded. "I'm fine," she glanced to Jason worriedly, he was lying on the ground breathing heavily.

"Stanford good to see you again," Buzz Cut smiled and walked away from Jason.

"Leave my son alone," Ford threatened taking a step towards Buzz Cut.

"Stan we wouldn't even be in this situation if your last two cheques didn't bounce," Buzz Cut smiled patronizingly at Ford. "Your son is fine. Though I'm not so sure you will be."

"Here it is," Ford pulled an envelope from his pocket and handing it to Buzz Cut.

The guy ripped open the envelope and counted the stack of bills. He frowned up at Ford. "This is only half Shepherd."

"You'll get the rest," Ford explained with a stern voice. "I just need more time —"

The man scoffed. "I don't know… you're cutting it pretty close here as it is."

"Maybe we should take something else as a late penalty." Pixie suggested with a wicked smile.

Nolan snatched a tire iron off the work bench and Emily stood beside him ready to attack when needed.

Buzz Cut looked around the shop and his eyes fell on Ford. "Nothing here worth takin'."

Just then a cell phone rang out. Pixie answered her phone. "Yep, alright. Got it." She handed the phone to Buzz Cut.

"Yeah? Oh, I see," A few seconds later Buzz Cut hung up the phone and smiled at Ford. "You're in luck Stan, you get to keep your shop for another day."

"Have that money by Tuesday," Buzz Cut said.

"You know, it'd be a shame to see something happen to the shop," Pixie threatened as she took a drag from a cigarette.

"See yah around Stan," Buzz Cut sang.

With that, the duo hopped into their jeep.

The jeep reversed out of the lot. Pixie tossed her cigarette over her shoulder. The half lit butt burned on the asphalt, as partners in crime peeled out of the lot and raced down the street.

Ford spun around to everyone with a solemn expression. He took a cigar from his pocket and walked out from the garage.

Nolan watched with wide eyes as his uncle wordlessly walked out. He spun around to Emily and Becca who were helping Jason.

"Jason are you alright?" Emily asked going to his side.

"I'm fine ma'am," Jason pushed himself off the ground. He removed his hand from his face.

Becca grimaced at the dark red bruise around his eye. She hissed. "That's gotta hurt."

"Like hell," Jason laughed.

Emily, Becca and Jason walked past Nolan.

Emily spun around to Nolan. "Talk to Ford," she demanded.

Nolan walked out of the garage and spotted Ford smoking near the front of the lot.

"Ford who were those guys?" Nolan questioned.

Ford shrugged. "They were no one. Forget about it."

"Forget about it?" Nolan laughed, amazed by his uncle's simple request. "You want me to forget about Bonnie and Clyde who messed up your shop and gave Jason a black eye?"

Nolan was quiet for a moment. Those two were gangsters, specifically - loan sharks. They kept talking about money and penalties.

He knew about loan sharks all too well, thanks to growing up with his father's gambling debts.

Nolan glanced to Ford. He felt like he was looking at a different man and not his uncle.

He didn't peg Ford as the kind of man with a drinking or gambling problem. But addictions were usually hidden from loved ones and only to be revealed when things like this happened.

Nolan looked his uncle straight in the eye. "Ford be straight with me: are you in some kind of trouble? Do you need help?"

He knew far too well that the cops weren't the best at dealing with these matters.

Ford took a long drag and then exhaled with a cough. He threw the cigarette onto the ground and then snapped around to Nolan.

"Son, you can help by minding your own," he added curtly. "I have it covered."

With that Ford stalked away back into the garage.

As his uncle walked off Nolan felt a heaviness in his chest. Nolan always saw his uncle as this brave and courageous man capable of overcoming anything. Ford was stubborn and didn't easily accept the help or assistance of others. He rarely needed to - he was a Superman, capable of getting through anything.

But in that moment, Nolan didn't believe that Ford had it covered. Something told him that Ford was in deeper trouble than he was willing to admit.

And that only made the heaviness in Nolan's chest heavier.

Chapter Text

Becca tossed and turned in her bed. She flipped her pillow over on its cool side. Even with the fan at full blast her room still felt like a sauna.

The Hamptons had a few weather options; hot, hotter and cold. It was rarely humid.

"I hate this!" she groaned, kicking her sheets off of her. She couldn't stand this sticky, gross humid weather that was making her t-shirt dress stick to her skin.

Becca jumped out of her bed and walked out of her room to the kitchen. Maybe there were popsicles in the freezer. She could go for something cold right now.

"Anything to beat this heat," she said.

Becca rummaged through the freezer to find the last box of popsicles. "Yes," she grinned. "Strawberry."

Just as she was about to eat her heaven on a stick she heard a clatter from the livingroom.

Peeking her head into the dimly lit room she saw Grunkle Ford sitting at the coffee table a book in front of him.

Instead of reading, he was struggling to open a pill bottle.

"Grunkle Ford?" Becca said.

He dropped the bottle sending the little pills splashing across the table.

"I'm sorry," Becca apologized walking further into the room. "I didn't mean to startle you,"

"What are you doing up?" Ford spun around to her, his glasses shone in the light of the lamp.

"It's like a sauna in my room; figured I could find something cool to eat to beat the heat." She felt guilty as he collected the pills into a pile.

"Hey, I think the bottle fell under the inn table." Becca got on her knees and reached her arm under the table for the bottle.

She stood up and handed the bottle to Ford but not before catching a glimpse at the prescription label.

"Thank you," Ford put the white pills back into the bottle. Then he popped one in his mouth and swallowed it dry.

"We should both be getting to bed. It's late." Ford closed the fishing book he was reading.

He got up, staggered forward and clutched the arm of the chair as he stood.

Becca didn't know if she wanted to ask Ford if he was alright even when she could tell he wasn't.

His skin was pale and glowed with sweat under the lamp. He looked a bit worst than he had earlier that day.

Ford walked over to her and pulled her into a hug which she returned.

Becca looked up at him. His eyes were kinda glossy and droopy. "Hey, uh, are you feeling okay?"

Ford nodded. "I'm fine, kiddo. I just need some rest is all."

"Good night, Rebecca," he shot her a smile before walking up the stairs.

"Night, Grunkle Ford."

Making her way back to her room Becca felt a twisting sensation in her stomach.

Grunkle Ford looked weaker and more tired than she'd ever seen him; his allergies seemed to be taking a lot out of him.

And ever since that meeting with Pixie and Buzz Cut Grunkle Ford had been acting strange. He wouldn't even talk about what happened.

Becca couldn't get rid of the big ball of anxiety in her stomach. She just felt like something else was going on with him and Jason. Something they didn't want anyone to know about.

She couldn't wrap her head around what.

Or do I? She thought

Becca plopped onto her bed and grabbed her laptop off the inn table. She opened it pausing an episode of That's 70's Show and opened a new browser window.

"What was the name of those pills?" she tapped her fingertips on the keyboard. "I think it was...Tarceva."

She typed the name of the prescription into Google and hit enter.

The second the results popped up, her chest tightened and the ball of anxiousness in her stomach got bigger.

"Tarceva is a drug used to treat…. LUNG CANCER?!"

"Grunkle Ford has lung cancer?" Becca exclaimed. She nervously glanced to her door hoping that no one woke up from her outburst.

How could Ford have cancer? He didn't ACT like he had cancer. He was super energetic. He was always outside working on his trucks or fishing in the lake.

Weren't people with cancer really weak and sickly?

Curiosity overtook Becca. She typed 'non-small lung cancer' into the search bar. A second later the results pop on screen.

She read off the screen: "Non-small cell lung cancer is a type of cancer that commonly affects smokers and nonsmokers."

Ford didn't really smoke. Becca had only seen him smoke a few times. And even then he mentioned he quit a few years ago.

But then she remembered that Ford had a prized collection of hand carved pipes on display in the livingroom.

"So he's only had cancer for a few years," she reasoned.

Becca scrolled down the web page and clicked on symptoms. "Symptoms, include shortness of breath. A cough that won't go away."

Suddenly all the times that Ford coughed came back to Becca.

"He was coughing in New York and a lot here," she shook her head feeling like an idiot. "That wasn't allergies. It was his cancer."

Becca clicked on treatment options. The words Chemotherapy jumped out at her.

She scrolled through the page, reading. "Chemotherapy is a common and effective treatment to treat cancer. Side effects are fatigue, chemo-brain, or foggy brain."

Then she looked up all the major cancer treatment centers in Virginia. The closest one was in Arlington.

"Arlington, that's like a three hour drive from here," she stated.

And then it clicked in her mind. That must have been where Ford and Jason went so early in the morning.

Could they have gone earlier today? And then there were the side effects of chemo. Fatigue and feeling tired.

Could that be why Jason didn't want Ford to drive?

Becca stared at her laptop screen for what felt like hours. The twisting feeling in her gut became a ball of anxiousness as she sat with this new info.

She'd discovered that her great-uncle — an amazing man she'd just met less than two weeks ago — had a life threatening disease.

And he didn't want anyone else to know about it.

Why?

Why didn't he want his family to know about this?

Becca's mind jumped back to earlier when Jason warned her not to open the bag. Was he worried she'd tell everyone?

Well it was too late, thanks to her curiosity, now she knew too.

Becca sighed deeply, hopped off her bed and paced around her room.

She obviously had to tell her dad and Emily. They had a right to know what was up with Ford. Why he'd been acting so strange.

But was it her place to say? Should she just wait and hope that Grunkle Ford tells everyone?

"Unlikely, if he hasn't already," she groaned. "Doesn't he care how this effects everyone else?" She said heated, getting upset over this whole thing. "Wait, care?"

Something in her gut told her to look up that agency.

Becca typed CARE Foundation into Google. She clicked on the website and her eyes snapped to the foundation's ABOUT page.

The foundation were big supporters of the military. Their mission was to give back to veterans by providing them financial assistance with their medical bills.

Becca recalled the letters about late payment notices.

"So, Grunkle Ford's been using this foundation to help pay his medical bills," she said. "And I guess he's been having a tough time paying them back, too."

Becca sighed, and her vision started to blur. She wasn't sure why she was crying. Maybe it was because she was scared. Scared of losing Grunkle Ford to cancer. Scared because he kept acting like nothing was wrong with him.

Her insides felt like they were going to explode if she kept this to herself.

She needed to tell someone. She glanced at her laptop screen for the time. 3:20am. She was sure that her dad was asleep.

Becca had only one option left.

With a shaky hand Becca knocked on Emily's bedroom door. She let out a stifled breath when there was no response.

After five minutes of waiting she finally opened the bedroom door.

Becca barely stepped foot in the room before Emily shot up from her pillow.

"Rebecca?" she asked her voice laced with sleep. She craned her head to her cell phone. "It's four in the morning."

Becca felt like a scared little kid going to their parent as she stood at the foot of Emily's bed.

"Ems...can I talk to you?" she asked with a tight voice as if she was about to cry.

Emily sat up a bit. "Of course, what's wrong?"

Becca swallowed the lump in her throat. "Ems, I have something to tell you about Grunkle Ford..."

 


 

Team Revenge sat in the living room with Becca's laptop in front of them.

"So, Ford has cancer?" Nolan stated. Becca had informed them of what she'd found out. He got up from the couch, pacing around the livingroom.

"I should have known it wasn't allergies," Nolan scoffed feeling like a total idiot. He threw his hands up. "I mean, he's never had allergies!"

"How are you going to tell him?" Emily asked. "You know he isn't very open about these things."

Nolan stopped pacing and spun around to Emily and Becca. "I'm going to ask him straightforwardly. I'm tired of all this secrecy."

Just then the patio door opened and Jason walked in. His forehead and workout clothes were covered in sweat.

Jason dropped his workout bag on the counter and turned to everyone with a surprised look.

Nolan swerved around to Jason, "Jason, have a seat."

"Is something wrong, sir?" Jason asked as he walked into the livingroom.

"No, no. I just want to have a chat with you is all."

Jason took a seat on the couch beside Becca across from Nolan and Emily.

Nolan examined Jason's face. The swelling from his black eye had gone down but it was still bruised and red.

"So, when were you going to tell us that your father had cancer, before or after we left?"

"Well, sir, you know how my father is," Jason said casually. "He's very private about that kind of stuff."

"And the loan sharks?" Nolan added with a smirk. "I'm guessing he wasn't going to tell us about that either."

"Sir, with all due respect, this is none of your business." Jason said hotly.

What the hell did Jason know? He was just a kid. A freaking kid! He didn't understand the severity of the situation.

"None of my business?" Nolan yelled, darting out of his seat. "How are loan sharks hustling my uncle out of everything he owns NOT MY BUSINESS?!" He gestured to Jason's black eye.

"I've dealt with things like this, but much worse. Your black eye is the least of your problems, cadet. Ford is my family."

"What would you know about family, sir?" Jason shot.

Nolan got in Jason's face and they both looked like they were going to throw down.

"Whoa, guys cool down," Becca urged, getting in between the two.

Jason glanced to Becca. He sighed, backing off from Nolan as he sat back down.

Emily shot Jason a glare. "This is our business. You're dealing with loan sharks is very serious. We need to know everything about what's going on."

"What's going on?" Ford asked as he stepped into the livingroom.

Nolan took in his uncle's expression. Ford didn't take suprises very well. "Ford, we know that you have cancer."

A long awkward pause.

Ford nodded and said calmly. "It's true. I do have lung cancer. Stage two. I didn't want to share it with you all with everything that happened last week."

"We also know that you were scammed by that charity and that your ''friends'' from the other day were there to put the pressure on you to pay up," Nolan added.

That news stunned everyone.

Ford glanced to Jason with a scowl. Jason looked away from his father.

"It wasn't Jason who told me, Ford," Nolan clarified. "I figured that part out; everyone seems to forget that I have an IQ of 120."

Ford turned to walk away but Nolan raced over to him and reached out a hand to stop him.

"Ford, please talk to me. You know that I dealt with this kind of thing with my dad growing up. You know how bad this can get. Let me help you — "

Ford spun around to Nolan. "I don't need any damn help! I told you all to mind your own!"

"Stanford," Emily started, walking over to him, "He was only trying to help."

Ford pointed a finger at Emily. "Now, you stay out of it." Ford exclaimed, he hunched over and started to cough. He leaned against the wall and coughed.

"Ford?" Nolan placed his hand on Ford's back, helping him to get across the living room to the sofa.

Ford took a seat, pulled out his handkerchief and coughed into it.

"Are you okay?" Nolan asked worried.

Ford nodded and his cough subsided. "It's just a cough, Nolan. I'm not dyin'."

Nolan took a seat across from his uncle. He looked him in the eye. He now understood exactly what was going on. He needed Ford to understand too.

"Ford, you were scammed. Con artist target the minority: unfortunately veterans are their favorite victims," Nolan explained. "Charity scams like what happened to you are very common."

Ford reached for his cell phone out of his jean pocket. "Then we need to call the police."

"They're the last people you want to call," Nolan argued. "You know they won't give a damn about something like this."

Emily added: "By the time they get wind of this these guys will have packed up, changed their identities and start up the same scam someplace else."

"Ford, you're the closest thing I had to a father," Nolan said trying to keep his voice even. "I can't just stand by and watch you get hurt."

Nolan paused. He knew what he had to do.

"I want to help you get your money back. Emily and I, we do this kind of stuff all the time. We help people. Let me help you get your money back."

"Son, I don't care about the money," Ford said weakly. "That woman, Catlin, took advantage of my illness. I fell for it and I made myself a fool."

Ford chuckled, his voice raspy and deep. "My own wife didn't want to go away with her group for the summer. She didn't want to leave me alone. Probably worried I'd do some stupid shit like this."

Ford looked at his family with a sad smile. "But I forced her to go. I told her that just because I was suffering didn't mean she had to be."

Nolan felt tears prick at his eyes. He couldn't imagine the pain that his uncle was feeling to be limited and confined and taken advantage of because of his condition.

It wasn't fair that bad things happened to good people. It wasn't fair that people like Catlin existed, their only purpose to prey on honest, hardworking people.

Ford reached out a hand and placed it atop of Nolan's. Nolan looked into his uncle's glossy blue eyes.

Ford coughed. "Son, all I want is my honor. My dignity. Unless you can get those back, I don't want anything else."

 


 

Nolan sat in the livingroom typing at his laptop. Emily walked in. She glanced around the livingroom.

Notes and papers were scattered around the coffee table.

Nolan hadn't even touched his dinner of steak and potatoes, which Emily and Becca had decided to prepare, since everyone was tired of eating out.

She noted that determined look on Nolan's face. He was completely absorbed in uncovering who scammed Ford.

Nolan didn't look away from his laptop as Emily took a seat beside him.

"Is my cooking that bad?" She said with a laugh.

"No, it's fine. I'm just not hungry, Ems," Nolan said simply.

"Have you move from that spot?" Emily offered, seriously concerned about him. "You've been glued to this couch for the last six hours."

"I can't just stop Emily," Nolan said curtly.

"I know," Emily sighed. "But at least take a break."

Nolan peeled his eyes away from his laptop and glanced to Emily. "Look, with everything that's happened, I'd understand if you wanted to leave."

Emily narrowed her eyes at him. "Why are you so adamant about sending me back to New York?"

He sighed deeply. "Ems, this is my problem and I have to deal with it."

"Not alone you don't," she stressed. "I want to help you, why won't you let me?"

Nolan shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."

Nolan was used to dealing with his own problems. He'd taken care of himself ever since he was fourteen.

He never really relied on others because they were never really there for him.

It didn't help, when people were only friends with you because of how many zeros you had in your bank account, you can't help but put up walls.

Nolan was a loner by choice. Being a loner helped him survive and protected his family.

"I guess I'm just used to shutting people out of my life, when everyone sees you as a walking bank, it's hard not to."

The only reason Nolan wasn't a resentful rich ass hat like the rest of the Hamptonites, was because he lived by what his mom taught him growing up: be kind to others, even to those that didn't deserve it.

"You don't have to shut me out," Emily stated.

"I know," Nolan sighed, feeling guilty for even thinking that about Emily. "I know. I'm just so used to solving my own problems."

"Whatever problems you're dealing with, we can handle it Nolan, together."

Emily grabbed his hand. Nolan snapped his eyes to Emily's warm brown ones.

"I care about you Nolan. You and Rebecca and Amanda, you're all my family. You know that I'd do anything to help you."

"I know you would Ems," he nodded. "I know."

Because somewhere down the line all the good for others will come back to you. And it'll come back to you in a form you least expect it. That was why Nolan thought that Emily was his unexpected goodness that appeared in his life.

The twenty ton weight on Nolan's shoulders dissolved. He was glad he didn't have to do this on his own.

Nolan let out a breath. "I never knew how you felt that way about me."

"Well, now you do," she added with a laugh. "You're stuck with me. Whether you like it or not."

"Thank you Emily," Nolan said.

Emily blinked her eyes. "For what?"

"For always being there, for never leaving me, for believing in me."

"You're welcome," Emily smiled brightly.

Nolan loved that she was smiling. He loved that she was here. He loved that she was his rock, and that she was able to push him out of his shell.

Nolan thought Emily looked cute in her t-shirt and lounge pants. He liked that he was still holding her hand, that her lips looked soft and kissable. He also liked that her head was tilted to the side, just so, that he could kiss her.

And he really, really wanted to kiss her.

Nolan dared to move his hand that was holding Emily's and move a strand of golden hair out of her eyes.

As he moved forward, millimeter by millimeter, Emily was doing the same thing.

Emily felt like butterflies were trapped in her stomach as Nolan moved closer to her.

His warm breath hit her cold cheek causing goosebumps to appear on her arms. She looked into his deep blue eyes seeing a warmth and compassion she'd desperately wanted and needed.

Emily moved her hand and cupped Nolan's cheek, wanting nothing more than to be close to him and feel his warm skin.

They both leaned forward. Their lips literally inches apart from each other.

This wasn't a dream. This was really happening.

"Dad you texted me?" Becca called out.

Nolan and Emily pulled away from each other. Both felt like teenagers caught red handed.

Becca walked into the living room, looking between the blonde duo, sensing the awkward air between them.

"Am I interrupting something?"

"No, nothing." Emily said a bit too quickly.

"Okay, well, what's up?" Becca asked them. "Did you finally figure out who scammed Grunkle Ford?"

"Yes," Nolan said.

"Let's see it!"

Emily tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, sliding back into her cool exterior. The redness of her cheeks nearly invisible as Becca plopped into the seat beside her.

But Nolan, wasn't as skilled at hiding his emotions; he couldn't hide the redness of his nose and ears nor the happy grin on his face.

"You guy's sure I wasn't interrupting anything?" Becca asked.

Nolan swallowed the dryness in his throat and said nothing.

He tapped a few keys on his laptop and a photo of a smiling brunette woman appeared on the screen.

"Meet Nancy Rhodes aka Eve Lewis aka our con woman Catlin Tucker," Nolan started.

He clicked a button and documents of Catlin's business records appeared on the screen.

"She's a professional conwoman. She's had twenty four different business all across the states. Everything from real estate to insurance and everything in between,

"Looks like she's found her niche with charities," Nolan said.

"When did she start CARE?" Becca asked.

"About four years ago when she moved to Arlington," Nolan revealed.

"Her business venture hasn't been without some hiccups. There's been complaints from her former clients about her loan shark behaviors."

Pictures of documents with court orders appeared on the screen.

"Why hasn't she been caught?" Emily asked.

"She's a ghost. Her identities are untraceable," Nolan stated. "The feds couldn't ever find anything on her. And when the families she scammed started to suspect something was up, she'd send Bonnie and Clyde after them to keep them quiet. "

"She's good Ems," Nolan said, feeling a sense of dread in his stomach. "Maybe too good."

"Not good enough," Emily said unfazed.

"How are we going to get Ford's money back?" Becca asked.

"Well, I'm glad you asked," he brought up a bank receipt. "Based on Catlin's bank statements, Ford's $750,000 hasn't been cashed in."

"But, guess who's feeling a bit unsafe? Her recent personal bank statements show she bought a wall safe for her office."

"And you think that the money is in there?" Becca wondered.

"Yes," Nolan said.

Emily nodded. "Catlin's smart I'll give her that. Cash is untraceable. She'd keep her dirty money somewhere she'd have access to at all times and away from the feds."

Emily turned to Nolan with her revengenda smirk. "So Robin, what's the plan?"

"This is weird, usually I'm the one asking you that," Nolan laughed. "Catlin has a charity function coming up. I have the three of us as yes on the RSVP."

"While you two are keeping her occupied I can find the safe and get Ford's money back," Emily said.

"Sounds easy enough," Becca agreed.

Nolan glanced at the photo of Catlin with a glare. He would help his uncle. He would get his money and Ford's dignity back.

Even if Nolan thought that last one would be harder to get he'd still try.

Nolan smiled, "Let's take the bitch down."

Chapter Text

The Veterans charity fundraiser was in full swing. Red, white, and blue balloons hung from the ceiling.

Banners reading CARE VETERAN'S FUNDRAISER stretched from one end of the entrance to the other. Servers weaved through the crowd with trays of champagne as groups of well-dressed men and women and Army folk in regal uniforms stood mingling.

Nolan and Emily stood at the mini bar near the back of the ballroom. Nolan looked ahead, spotting Becca sitting at a table with her Nolpad.

"This is just what I expected a fundraiser to be like," Becca's voice traveled to Nolan's ear. "Full of rich people lying through their teeth, flaunting their cash and getting boozed up over all about a cause they don't care about."

"Welcome to every party I've ever been to," Nolan replied as he took a sip of his champagne.

"I see the woman of the hour," Emily said.

Nolan glanced to the entrance to see Catlin Tucker. He took in Catlin's appearance. She had a sort of modern elegance to her. Catlin's shimmering Dior black dress, Jimmy Choo black stilettos and gold hoop earring made her look like she was a film star or a supermodel.

Nolan knew she was neither but it surprised him that she never considered the idea.

"For a con woman Catlin has great taste," Nolan said.

"Catlin knows money and status mean everything, you have to look the part to blend in," Emily replied, watching the woman.

"You're too much, Ted," the con woman laughed, her voice airy and sultry with her Virginian accent.

Catlin strolled into the room with an Army man dressed in a lofty service uniform.

"Of course, I'd love to attend. When's the big day?"

"July 10th…but Kitty I couldn't ask you for something as expensive as that."

"Consider it done, darling. I can't wait for the wedding." Catlin said as she jotted something into her smartphone.

"Kitty you're the best," the man smiled.

Catlin and the man exchanged hugs.

"I'll talk to you later Ted," Catlin smiled. "Please, say hi to Richard for me."

Catlin tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear as she sidled up to the bar to order a drink.

"Target's in sight," Nolan said.

Nolan was having a momentary hesitation. Usually he was in the background with Emily's takedowns. The pawn to be moved wherever and whenever needed. Now he was in charge. This was his game Catlin was playing.

But he couldn't afford to mess up. He had Ford's health, his shop, his money, even his dignity all on the line. Nolan usually saw all the pieces of the puzzle at once and in order to solve it everything needed to be just perfect.

Emily shot him a look. "What's the matter?"

He swallowed the dryness in his throat. "Wondering if I'm up for this."

"Just breathe. Nolan, you've got this," she squeezed his shoulder. "I believe in you. Ford's in good hands."

It seemed like that was the push Nolan needed. "You're right. I've got this."

Nolan let out a breath and then strolled toward the bar.

"Go get her, Nolan," Emily's encouraging voice calmed him.

"I'll take a Scotch on the rocks," Nolan told the bartender.

Catlin whipped around to him. "Well, what a surprise. I wasn't expecting Nolan Ross at my charity event."

He turned to Catlin with a grin. "You must be Catlin Tucker. I guess the rumors are true."

"What rumors are those?" Catlin asked.

"That your little charity is making big leaps. Forbes says that you've helped more Vets in the past three years than any other organization."

"It's true," Catlin smiled confidently.

"Now, don't tell me you came all this way to Virginia just too sweet talk me Mr. Ross," Catlin's red lips curved into a smile.

"Nolan is fine," he insisted smiling brightly. "Mr. Ross is my old man's name."

That earned a light laugh from Catlin.

"Nolan what brings you all the way to Virginia?" Catlin asked.

"Business. I'm looking for more ways to expand NolCorps' interests towards charitable causes."

Caitlin's eyes lit up as he said. "I've been thinking of partnering with some veterans organizations. But none of them really jumped out to me. None of them felt right."

"With money like yours it's easy to find charities who would want to work with you just because." Catlin smiled confidently. "It's even harder to find the right charities to work with."

Nolan smiled. "Something tells me that you're the right one,"

"Oh there you are, Nolan," Emily said walking up to him.

Emily hooked her hand, that wasn't holding her clutch, around Nolan's forearm.

Nolan felt that familiar spark of electricity running through his spine that he always felt from being this close to Emily. Except this time it was more intense.

He knew now that Emily's actions towards him had a meaning and a purpose.

They both felt the same way towards each other.

"Catlin, have you met my good friend Emily Thorne?" He almost said girlfriend. Almost.

"Yes, Miss Thorne. Your name looked familiar as I looked over the donors roster," Catlin said. "I'm very grateful for your generous donation."

"Well what's $4 million to an organization such as yours," Emily asked. "No amount is too small to aid the brave men and women who risk their lives to serve our country."

"It does means quite a lot," Catlin admitted. "I'm fortunate to get so many donors and supporters. We're still a small charity, even with the press we received, every little bit really helps the cause."

"Yeah her own cause," Becca's mocking tone added through Nolan and Emily's ears. "Out of the billions of dollars CARE received from donors, only 1% actually went towards paying for services for veterans and their families. And guess where the rest ended up; In Catlin's personal bank account."

Beaming, Catlin said proudly, "These men and women risk their lives for us. Fighting for our freedom. You really can't put a price tag on people like that."

Except, you do. Nolan thought.

His spine crawled knowing that Catlin was such a terrible human being. She didn't care about anyone especially not the wellbeing of hardworking and well-meaning servicemen.

Nolan was looking forward to getting Ford's money out of that safe and exposing Catlin as the fraud she really was.

Given the amount of feds loitering around the ballroom that shouldn't have been too difficult.

Just then Emily's cell phone rang off. She fished it out of her clutch. "I'm sorry, I need to take this, the committee finally returned my call for a woman's charity I'm hosting. Would you two excuse me for a moment?"

Nolan knew no one was really on the line and that it was Becca who was faking a call to Emily.

"Of course," Catlin said.

Emily leaned into Nolan and whispered into his ear. "Keep her busy, while I find the safe," then she leaned in, kissing Nolan on the cheek.

That was NOT a part of the plan. Nowhere in the plans was it for Emily to kiss him.

Wordlessly, Emily pulled away, shooting Nolan a smile that made him want to race after her and return the favor.

He stood speechless, watching Emily walked off.

"Hope that gave you a bit of a confidence boost," Emily explained through the comm.

Turning, he swore he saw something like jealous flash across Catlin's face, as she looked on in Emily's direction.

Catlin's eyes snapped to Nolan's face. "You have a bit of something on your cheek."

"Oh, uh," Nolan grabbed the handkerchief out of his pocket. He wiped away Emily's red lipstick, leaving the tingling sensation she left on his cheek.

"Well Mr. Ross, I must really be going," Catlin started, her cellphone buzzing like crazy in her hand, as she shifted past Nolan. "It's been a pleasure."

Nolan was losing her fast. He needed to keep her on the hook.

"Well, before you leave, I'd like to donate a little something in honor of my father," Nolan brought out a cheque from his suit pocket and then handed it to Catlin. "I hope it's enough."

That caught Catlin's attention. Her eyes nearly bugged out of her head, she placed a hand to her mouth, looking at the cheque. "Oh my, goodness, this is more than a little, Nolan."

He shrugged his shoulders and said cockily. "10 million is pocket change for me."

This earned a laugh from Catlin.

Just like that the con woman was back.

"Well, I suppose I could have a drink," Grinning, she took a seat next to him and her phone stopped ringing. "And Nolan, I'm confident that CARE will fit your needs."

Their drinks arrived.

Nolan held out his glass to her. "Well, Catlin, here's to new partnerships."

She held out her glass, she smirked. "Please, call me Kitty, everyone I like does."


 "Nolan, you mentioned your father as the reason you decided to donate," Catlin said. "It must have been such an honor to have someone like that in your life."

"My father was something else," Nolan said with mock praise.

He quickly took a sip of his Scotch.

He wasn't sure why his dad came into the conversation. He just couldn't think of anyone else to name off the top of his head. But, using Stanford would have aroused Catlin's suspicions.

"Nolan, don't get too close," Emily's stern voice lectured him. "Keep your distance."

Emily warned Nolan about getting too personal with the case. She said not to associate himself or his story too closely with the client or with the mark.

Yet he was doing the exact opposite.

If he already had one foot in his story, he might as well put both feet in.

"To tell you the truth I hated my dad," Nolan stated firmly.

Catlin's eyes widened taken aback by his outburst.

"I hated my old man. I never got along with him. Never connected even to his last day," Nolan took a sip of his drink, trying to keep down the choking feeling in his throat. "And while I would have liked to call him a war hero or something like that, for all that he did. He was anything but to me growing up."

"Did you hear anything I just said?" Emily shot back.

"When does Dad ever listen to what anyone says?" Becca said.

Nolan wanted to tell them not to worry. That it was okay. That he knew what he was doing. He could read Catlin. Her approach for a con was sympathetic and friendly. She mirrored her victim's emotions to gain their trust.

The only way Catlin was going to make a deal with him was if he was being genuine and personal.

Catlin placed her hand atop of Nolan's. Nolan glanced up at her. Her warm brown eyes looked deeply into his. "I understand how you feel Nolan."

He felt that she really meant that. And that she wasn't just playing him.

There was a fiery look in Catlin's eyes as if she was trying to fight a memory. That was the same look Nolan had from Emily whenever she was in the middle of a takedown.

"Nolan, we have a situation," Emily's voice buzzed in his ears.

Nolan pulled his hands away from Catlin. "Kitty, would you excuse me for a moment?"

She nodded. "Of course,"

Nolan moved towards the buffet table. He spun around, glancing to Catlin, making sure he was out of her earshot, and then spoke into his comm.

"What's the sitch, Ems?" Nolan asked.

"I'm trying to get into Catlin's office. But her door is only accessible with a keycard," Emily explained.

Nolan frowned. His first time leading a takedown and they were already at a roadblock.

"The schematics of the building didn't mention that," Nolan offered.

"Must have been an upgrade," Becca piped up. "Those schematics were kinda old."

It seemed that Catlin was a bit mindful of security. Nolan thought.

"Good looks, smart and cautious," Nolan said. "Catlin's the full package."

She wasn't just a looker. Catlin knew what she was doing.

"Hey, I can't hack into a keycard door," Becca added. "What's the plan?"

Nolan glanced back to Catlin. He eyed her purse sitting on the bar stool beside her.

"She's got to have the keycard on her," Nolan explained. "We just need to steal it off of her."

He spotted Becca sitting alone, off at a table in the corner, playing Candy Crush on her tablet.

"Look, normally, I wouldn't condone this kind of behavior. But this is a special case. Kiddo, are you up for helping me with a lift?"

"What me?!" Becca asked uncertain, her hands freezing at her tablet and flying up to twirl a strand of her hair.

"I mean, uh, yeah sure.. I guess I could do that…" Becca added. "It's just you know I've never done it on an unwitting victim."

"Don't you practice with Amanda?" Emily questioned. "She says you're really good."

Nolan was proud. "See you're qualified."

Any normal parent would be concerned that their teenager was learning how to pickpocket from a grifter.

But then again Nolan wasn't a normal parent.

"Well yeah… that's different," Becca countered. "Amanda knows what I'm doing! Catlin will catch me in a second. Maybe Emily should do it."

"Look, we don't have any room for negativity here," Nolan stated, trying to reel everyone back in. "I'd do it myself but this is a two person job. It's simple Becca; I'll keep Catlin distracted while you lift her purse and find the keycard."

"Alright, I'll do it," Becca groaned.

"Do what you have to," Emily said. "When you've gotten the keycard Becca meet me upstairs."

Chapter Text

Becca watched as Dad strolled back to the bar, taking a seat next to the con woman. Catlin smiled, batting her lashes at Dad.

Dad gave her the signal - dropping a napkin on the floor.

Becca breathed in and out deeply. She could totally do this.

Acting natural, she walked over to the bar, eyeing Catlin's black purse on the stool beside her.

Dad placed his hand on Catlin's shoulder and leaned in close to her, whispering something in her ear that Becca couldn't clearly hear.

Whatever it was caused Catlin to laugh. She turned away from Becca and stared at her dad.

Ugh.

To see people throw themselves at her dad was annoying. Becca could understand why; he's super rich and good looking. She couldn't understand the point of them making complete idiots of themselves over someone that clearly wasn't interested.

Becca snuck a peek around her, making sure the guy sitting at the end of the bar, who she was pretty sure was hung over, wasn't watching her.

She waited till a server passed her and then grabbed Catlin's purse.

Becca quickly shuffled through the contents, skipping past the designer makeup bag, car keys, and bag of half eaten peanut brittle.

Yuck, that stuff was disgusting. Becca thought.

It looked like Kitty, as she'd asked Nolan to call her, had a sweet tooth.

Becca found Kitty's wallet with the keycard sticking out of the front pocket.

Snatching up the card, a rush of nervousness and adrenaline coursed through Becca's body. She felt like she was on cloud nine. Like she'd just ran a marathon or hacked into the FBI.

"I got the card," Becca reported to Emily.

"Good job. Meet me upstairs," Emily told her.

"Nolan, you're too much!" Catlin laughed at something Dad had just said.

"Oh please," Becca muttered with a groan.

Catlin might have been a pro at conning people but she was terrible at flirting. Even Becca could see that and she was a total dork whenever she was around Jason.

With the keycard in hand, Becca strolled away from the purse.

She eyed a server carrying a tray of champagne walking towards her, heading to the entrance.

Becca stepped along with them, acting natural, and not like she had just committed larceny.

"Rebecca Ross?" Catlin said.

Catlin spotted her.

Becca felt the adrenaline pound like drums in her ears. Her face felt hot. Had Catlin caught her? Did Becca ruin the con?

Becca swallowed down the paranoia in her throat. She hide the keycard behind her back and then turned around to Catlin.

"Darling, you're just as beautiful in person," Catlin gushed. "You look just like your father."

Becca held back an eye roll. Ever since her paternity became public people had been treating her like she was some trophy kid.

"Oh, thank you ma'am," Becca forced a smile and walked casually towards her dad.

"Hey, Dad, who's your new friend?" Becca asked scooting closer to him till she stood right beside him.

The keycard in her hands felt like she was holding fire. She needed to get it to her dad ASAP.

"This is Catlin Tucker," Dad introduced. "She's the Founder of the CARE: Foundation."

Becca turned to face Catlin with a smile, keeping her hand with the card behind her back.

If there was anything Becca learned from her dad and Emily it was to pretend like you gave a shit, even when you didn't.

"It's nice to meet you Catlin," she forced a smile and held out a hand to shake hers. "Your charity's success is.." Becca searched her mind, looking up a word in her 'entitled rich snob' dictionary. "Noteworthy."

"Thank you darling," Catlin said. "I've read that you're applying to MIT in the fall. That's quite impressive."

"Thank you."

"You're how old now? Sixteen?" Catlin asked her in a condescending tone.

"No. I'll be eighteen in a few months," she replied flatly.

Was she seriously trying to start a conversation with her? Becca had the feeling she was only doing it because Catlin was interested in her dad.

Even though her dad was acting like he was interested. Becca knew for a fact that he wasn't.

Catlin could flirt all she wanted; Becca knew her dad would never be into a woman like that.

Seriously, the sooner Dad and Emily made their moves and said they loved each other the better all of them would be.

"You're daughter is quite accomplished for her age," Catlin looked past Becca at her dad with a flirtatious smile.

Internally Becca cringed. How old did she think Becca was; five or something?

Becca stepped back to her dad and gestured the hand behind her back with the keycard to him.

Dad plucked the keycard from her hand in one swift motion.

Kitty was none the wiser.

"I couldn't be more proud of her accomplishments," Dad said proudly.

"What's the hold up?" Emily's voice reminded Becca.

"I'll leave you two to chat," Dad said, standing up. "I wonder where Emily ran off to."

Becca swerved around to her dad, shooting him a look, saying, you're not leaving me here with her.

Dad placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and gave her a sympathetic look saying sorry, good luck.

 


 

"Ems, Becca's keeping Catlin busy," Nolan replied making his way to the elevator bay. "I'm on my way up with the keycard."

"One keycard, mademoiselle." Nolan smiled, grabbing the card out of his pocket as he walked down the hall to Emily.

"Good work," Emily said, taking it from him.

Glancing over her shoulder, Nolan watched as Emily moved towards Catlin's office. She swiped the card on the reader and the little green light above the handle blinked.

Emily pushed the door open and stepped inside. Nolan glanced down the halls, making sure no one was watching, before following after her.

The blonde duo glanced around the modern office.

Emily opened her clutch, took out a pair of black gloves and handed a pair to Nolan.

Nolan and Emily snapped on their gloves.

"Let's be quick, we don't know how much time we have," Emily stated.

Nolan glanced around the office. That painting on the wall did look kind of crooked.

He tried lifting the painting up and off the wall. Setting it down he frowned. Just a blank wall.

The heavy smack of books hitting the floor made Nolan swerve around. Emily stood at a bookshelf, shifting the books on the shelf and setting them on the floor.

"Why are you looking there?" Nolan asked.

"People like Catlin always try to hide safes in obscure places," she explained.

Rounding the bookshelf, Emily grasped an edge and with a grunt tried to push it forward.

Nolan walked over to her and took the other edge of the shelf. Together they pushed it forward, being careful not to damage the tiled floor.

"You see anything on the wall behind it?" Emily asked.

Nolan glanced behind the shelf to the bare wall.

"Nope. Nothing," he replied.

"Let's keep looking," Emily told him.

"If I were a safe, where would I be?" Nolan asked himself.

He looked around the office, his eyes darted to the seating area in the middle of the room, then to a maroon cashmere rug that was curled at one of the ends.

Nolan shifted the coffee table out of the way and then knelt down pulling the curled end up.

Just a normal floor.

"So, what did you whisper to Kitty earlier?" Emily asked Nolan with a chuckle.

Blushing, Nolan darted his head up and glanced past the top of the couch to see Emily standing at Catlin's desk.

"Nothing important," Nolan replied.

"Uh huh," Emily replied not believing him.

"What, you don't believe me?" Nolan got to his feet and walked over to Emily.

"I believe you. It's just easy to get... distracted with a woman like her," Emily said, placing a manila folder she was looking through back in its drawer.

"It's like you said, she's good looking, smart, the total package," Emily continued.

Nolan hoped that Emily didn't think he thought of Catlin like that.

"I wasn't distracted," he clarified. "Besides Catlin's nice but she's not my type."

Nolan was done with the days of flirting with beautiful people at fancy parties. The only beautiful person he wanted to flirt with was standing right in front of him.

Emily knelt down, looked under the cherry oak desk, and then pulled out the drawers. She knocked on the bottoms of the drawers to make sure they weren't hollow.

Standing there, Nolan tried to find his voice, and tried to muster the courage to how he felt.

"Ems, look, there's something I have to tell you," Nolan started.

Emily stood up and glanced at him expectantly.

Looking into her warm brown eyes Nolan felt like he was on a spot light. But he kept his cool.

"Emily, I think you're pretty amazing, you're smart, and you're funny."

Emily smiled and blushed a bit. "You're not too bad yourself, Nolan."

He chuckled at her humor, feeling slightly less nervous.

"Emily...I...I..."

Emily paid attention to Nolan, with wide eyes and a warm smile.

Suddenly, Nolan noticed the painting on the wall behind Emily was slanted a bit too much.

"I found it," Nolan stated.

Emily shot him a confused look as he walked past her and up to the painting. He stretched his arms out to the painting's width and tried to heave it off the wall.

"Ems, help me with this, it's too heavy," Nolan said.

Nolan and Emily took sides of the picture frame.

"On one, ready?" Emily asked.

Nolan gripped his side of the frame. "Ready."

"Three, two, one!"

They lifted the painting off the wall and set it with a thud on the floor.

Nolan looked at the wall to see a small black wall safe.

"Found the safe," Nolan said, he turned to Emily with a grin. "What was that about obscure places?"

Emily simply rolled her eyes and playfully shoved past him to get in front of the safe.

She brought out her lock picking tools and started to pick the lock.

Nolan watched amazed at the finesse of Emily's skills. She was always surprising him. Just when he thought he knew all there was about her she'd come around and surprise him out of nowhere.

"Do you do this often?" He asked her, curious.

"Yes. If I don't use it, I'll lose it," Emily replied.

A few minutes later, the safe made a satisfying click.

"I got it," Emily smiled.

Nolan felt a jolt of anxious energy pump through him. "Let's see what's inside."

With a creak, Emily opened the safe door.

The duo peered inside, stacks of manila folders and a small red chest sat before them.

Emily rifled through the folders. Nolan opened the small chest.

"The money isn't here," Emily stated.

"What?" Becca piped in through the comm. "Are you serious? Well, what's in the safe?"

"Just a diamond ring," Nolan said looking at the ring. He closed the box and set it back in the safe.

The pieces of Nolan's puzzle suddenly didn't fit in place. If Ford's money wasn't here, then where could it be?

Nolan looked over Emily's shoulder at the documents from the safe.

"We're looking at manufacturing documents for a factory," Emily explained.

Nolan took a closer look at the document. "It's for peanut brittle. That's bad business; Northern Virginia alone has at least twenty factories."

"Peanut brittle?" Becca groaned, her voice breaking in. "That stuff taste gross. Nougat that's the good stuff."

"Who cares?" Nolan pointed out getting annoyed. "We're no closer to finding Ford's money than when we started."

He felt like a total idiot and a failure. He'd gone off a hunch and it lead them all down a wild goose chase.

Nolan sighed deeply and glanced to Emily with a worried look.

"Nolan, we'll find the money," Emily assured him gently.

Nolan felt like the twenty tons on his shoulder again. He said he could help and he'd failed.

"How Emily? That safe was our only lead," Nolan stated.

He slammed the door to the safe. Emily jumped.

"Without it we have no money. No money means Ford's in debt and can't afford to pay Catlin," Nolan explained seriously. "Which means he's stuck with a loan sharking con-woman for the rest of his days."

Emily stood, holding the same expression that Nolan felt. Despair.

"Catlin won't ease up on him, she'll make his life a living hell. Believe me, I know," Nolan stated.

He swallowed the dryness in his throat, trying to keep the memories of his childhood buried in his mind.

 


 

Becca finally had a chance to get away from Catlin.

"Hey next time, I'll crack the safe and you guys can stay talking to Miss Chatter-box," Becca complained to them over the comm.

The woman could talk. Forever.

"Seriously," Becca groaned. "It's like she doesn't have an off switch."

From Becca's spot at the bar, she spotted the con woman standing at the buffet, talking with a couple of young men dressed in Army uniforms.

Buzz Cut and Pixie waltz into the ballroom. Becca's eyes widened. She ducked down, hiding behind the passed out drunk guy, watching as they walked towards Catlin.

The three of them were talking in hushed whispers.

Becca couldn't hear what they were saying.

She focused on their lips but still couldn't make out what they were saying; she wasn't that skilled at lip reading. Yet.

It seemed whatever they were talking about turned that usual flirty smile on Catlin's face into a frown. They walked out of the ballroom.

Becca followed them out. She stopped in the hall watching as the three got into the elevator.

"Hey guys," Becca said into her comm. "Buzz Cut and Pixie just showed up and Catlin's headed up with them to her office. You guys might want to get going."

 


 

Emily snapped a photo of the documents with her cell phone.

"Why are you taking a picture?" Nolan asked.

"There must be a reason Catlin kept this under lock and key," Emily explained. "But, we can figure that out later. Right now, we need to get out of here."

They rearranged things and then snuck out of the office.

They hurried down the hallway. The elevator pinged from around the corner.

"It won't even matter. Pretty soon…" Catlin's voice was just down the hall.

Nolan stopped in his tracks, he grabbed Emily's arm. She stopped and turned to him.

"Ems, the keycard," Nolan pointed out. "She'll know something's up."

Emily glanced down the hall. Caitlin was even closer. Once she rounded the corner they'd be done for.

She turned back to Nolan with a soft smile.

"Just trust me, Nolan."

Nolan perked an eyebrow at her. "What do you mean, trust you—"

Emily grabbed Nolan by the shoulders and pushed him up against the wall. She closed the distance between them, pressing herself so close to him that Nolan could smell her perfume.

She leaned into him. Her lips inches away from his own. She giggled and smiled, ghosting her hands up from his shoulders to his face.

"We'll just need to change the shipping date," Catlin said.

Nolan's heart raced in his ears as he heard Catlin's voice so close.

Emily shot him a warm and loving smile and then pressed her lips against his.

It was quick. It was subtle. But Nolan felt it. That spark. That zing. His lips felt tingly.

Like the kiss she'd left on his cheek earlier, only this feeling shot up his spine and back again, as if an electric current was running through his body.

Nolan relaxed into the kiss. The problems and the weight on his shoulders melted away.

He moved his hands from their spot on the wall towards Emily's face. He cupping her face to deepen the kiss.

This kiss felt better than what he'd imagined.

Nolan's hands moved to her soft hair. Her hair felt softer than he'd thought it would.

For a moment Nolan forgot that they were in the middle of a con, and that any second now, they would be caught by Catlin and her goons.

"You all have one job," Catlin snapped. "One job."

He felt Emily pull away. He snapped his eyes open.

Nolan looked over Emily's shoulder to see Catlin and her goons walking towards them.

Grabbing Nolan by his tie, Emily took a step back and collided into Catlin. Sending both of their purses and their contents to the ground.

Emily swerved around to Catlin. Nolan stood up straight and fixed his tie.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Emily apologized to Catlin.

Scrambling for her keys and cell phone and makeup bag.

Dropping in Catlin's keycard to the pile like a pro.

"I believe this is yours," Emily said handing Catlin her keycard as the con woman grabbed her bag.

"Again, I'm so sorry," Emily apologized.

Catlin said nothing. Her eyes caught with Nolan's for a second and he saw a flash of jealousy on her face.

Exactly what he'd seen the first time. He realized.

The con woman spun on her heels and continued down the hallway. Buzz Cut and Pixie followed behind her shooting the blonde duo a puzzled look.

"Are you guys out?" Becca's worried voice piped in.

"Yes, we're on our way down," Emily replied smoothly.

Wordlessly, the blond duo rode the elevator to the lobby. Nolan looked up from his cell phone. He pocketed the device and glanced to Emily.

She hadn't said anything after that moment.

"Am I the only one that feels all warm and tingly?" Nolan asked her seriously.

"You're not the only one," she replied acting somewhat embarrassed.

Emily tucked a strand of hair out of her eyes and sucked in a deep breath.

"I can't believe we just did that," she glanced to Nolan with a wide smile.

Nolan licked his lips, tasting the faint spice of cinnamon and sweetness sugar from her lips. He didn't know if it was her lipstick or what, but he liked it.

He scooted a bit closer to Emily. Unsure whether or not to place his hand on hers he just stood there leaning on the railing.

He grinned, his face turning beat red. "You're a great kisser."

"You're not too bad yourself," she scoffed, blushing. "At the end you got better."

"Well, hey a little warning would have been great next time," Nolan defended. "Like, 'hey, Nolan, by the way I'm going to kiss you right now."

Emily sighed deeply, and rested her head against his chest, then she moved her hand off the railing, intertwining her fingers with his.

She felt safe and warm and at home with Nolan. Emily was glad that she'd decided to take the plunge and kiss him. She'd banished all her fears and worries and what ifs and just went for it.

Nolan put a caring hand over her shoulders and pulled her close to him.

The scent of her hair and perfume made him feel like his world was alright.

He felt like he was on cloud nine.

"What does this mean?" Emily asked after a moment.

Nolan looked at her, hopeful, "What do you want it to mean?"

"I'm hoping it means that you like me," she started uncharacteristically shy. "And that we, us, you know, can -"

Nolan placed his hands on either side of Emily's face and brought her into a kiss, silencing her rambles.

Emily felt like the butterflies trapped in her stomach had been release and were flapping their wings, making her feel tingly inside, as they excaped out of her hands and toes and lips.

She leaned into him letting herself get enveloped in his warmth. Moving her fingers, up to his hair, she played with the slightly curled bites with her finger tips.

They pulled away from each other. Needing a moment to breath.

Nolan looked at Emily with a loving expression. "Does that answer your question?"

"Yeah," she replied breathlessly, nodding slowly. "It does."

Nolan took Emily's hand in his as she rested her head against his chest. He rested his head atop of hers.

"We're so going to have to tell Becca," Nolan said. "She's going to freak out."

"She doesn't already know?" Emily asked.

Nolan grinned. "Muted our comms before we stepped into the elevator."

"I'm pretty sure she and Amanda have a betting pool for when this would happen," Emily revealed with a smile. "Amanda owes Becca a lot of money."

With a sigh, Nolan leaned his head against the elevator and closed his eyes, cherishing the moment with Emily.

Even though the case didn't go as planned, Nolan had one thing go right. And it wasn't according to plan.

Chapter Text

 

Emily sat in a booth of the diner looking over the menu. Her stomach felt queasy, all the items on the menu featuring bacon, sugar, and lard in some shape or form.

 

Sighing, she shut the menu closed and then looked ahead to the front of the small diner.

 

The diner wasn’t busy for a Friday morning. The only sounds filling the diner were that of the waitresses taking orders and from the television mounted on the wall near the front, along with the obnoxious hollering from a group of college guys watching the football game.

 

A young Hispanic waitress carrying stacks of trays strolled out of the double doors of the kitchen, passing by Emily, to the table with a family of four behind her.

 

She spotted Becca walking out the restroom doors, tucked off in the corner of the diner behind a potted plant. Becca passed the counter with the pie display and squeezed past an older waitress who was juggling three trays of breakfast on her arms.

 

"Did you find anything to eat?" Becca asked, sliding into the booth, taking the seat across her.

 

"Why does everything here have bacon in it?" Emily asked seriously. “It’s not natural.”

 

“I like bacon. I’m sorry,” Becca picked up her menu and scanned the options. "There has to be something here you'd like to eat. What about the waffles?"

 

"Topped with bacon, maple syrup and served with a side of greasy eggs," Emily stated. "No thank you."

 

"Good morning, what can I get for you ladies today?" The waitress asked.

 

Emily glanced to the waitresses’ name tag. Angie, an older woman, grabbed her order pad from her uniform apron and took the pink feather pen out of her salt and pepper hair.

 

 "I'll take an orange juice and a number 5." Becca said, closing her menu.

 

Angie wrote off her order and then turned to Emily with a smile. "And for you Hun?"

 

"Just some tea with lemon. No sugar."

 

"I'll have your orders right out darlings," Angie grabbed their menus and walked off.

 

"Ems, are you feeling okay?” Becca asked. “You don’t look so good.”

 

"Reading off the menu made me nauseous,” Emily glanced to her warily. “I’ll be fine.”

 

“You know I suggested we have breakfast at home,” Becca said, ripping open a sugar packet and pouring the contents into a pile. “But ever since the case turned south, Dad’s been obsessing.”

 

“He’s not obsessing, Becca, he’s just searching for a new angle.”

 

The dead end that led them towards Catlin left Nolan wanting answers. He’d spend every day since trying to figure out how they could find Ford’s money. So far no luck.

 

“I don’t mean to sound insensitive,” Becca said. “It’s just really getting annoying with him locking himself in his room.”

 

Emily sighed deeply and ran a hand through her messy hair. “I know.”

 

She hoped they would find a new angle soon. Emily didn’t like Nolan shutting himself out, getting so focused on the case, it boarded obsession, and blocking out everyone and everything, except when he needed to eat or sleep.

 

“I think he took Ford’s words to heart,” Emily reminded Becca. “About going to the police instead of him.”

 

Emily knew how much value Nolan put on Stanford’s opinion. To hear those words from the man he considered a father was his ultimate driving force. Even if Nolan didn’t say it, Emily knew he was working so hard so he could prove to his uncle he was capable of helping him. And in some way proving he wasn’t like Edward, because he hadn’t been a part of his uncle’s life in ten years. 

 

“Ford didn’t mean it,” Becca said. “Dad knows that. And if anyone can help Ford it’s Dad.”

 

Becca sighed and stopped ripping open sugar packets. “I just hope we get a new lead soon.”

 

Angie returned with Emily's mug of tea and set a saucer of banana bread next to her.

 

"Peanut butter banana bread," Angie explained. "On the house. Enjoy."

 

“That looks good,” Becca said.

 

Emily’s stomach churned at the sight of the bread and immediately she pushed the saucer towards Becca.

 

"Go ahead,” Emily offered.

 

Becca ate a piece of the bread. "It's pretty good."

 

"Here you are Hun,” Angie said, placing a hot syrupy plate of pancakes and greasy eggs in front of Becca.

 

Glancing at the plate was all Emily needed to feel like vomiting.

 

“I’ll be right back,” Emily said quickly to Becca.

 

Darting out of the booth, rushing to the restroom, Emily made it in time.

 

Emily stood over the sink and rinsed her mouth and then splashed cold water on her face. She looked at her face in the mirror.

 

She couldn’t stand this state. She was looking forward to heading back to New York soon.

 

Making her way out of the restroom, Emily spotted Aiden Mathis, sitting casually at the counter. Even in his attempt to blend in with the locals – with his simple tan jacket, jeans and baseball cap with ARMY on the front -- he stood out like a sore thumb.

 

Strolling towards him, Emily seethed as her mind replayed the last time she’d seen Aiden and her threatening to end him if she saw his face again.

 

What was he doing here? Didn’t he get the message the first time?

 

Of course not, Emily knew Aiden well enough to know he didn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘no’.

 

“What are you doing here?” Emily stated.

 

"Trying the ham,” Aiden looked up from his mug of tea, shooting her a smug grin. “The internet says this diner makes the best ham and biscuits.”

 

Just then, a group of police waltzed into the diner and took a seat at a booth, straight across from Emily and Aiden.

 

Aiden kept his back to them, pulled his cap down and then folded up the collar of his jacket.

 

"Still on the run?" Emily smirked.

 

Aiden looked forward at the diner menu with a scowl. "Was it really necessary to send my picture to EVERY police database on the east coast?"

 

"Yes. Yes it was,” Emily said with a small grin.

 

She glanced back to her table to see Becca was occupied with her cellphone as she ate her breakfast.

 

She turned to Aiden with a smile. “Well, it looks like your new babysitters will keep you in line."

 

As Emily turned to leave, Aiden reached out a hand to grab hers. She spun around to him, shooting him an annoyed look.

 

He glanced at her, eyes soft, holding something Emily had never seen in Aiden’s eyes before. Remorse.

 

"I'm not here to cause you any trouble, Emily,” Aiden stated, his voice low. “I’m only here because I want to earn your trust and forgiveness, for what I did to you and the Ross’”

 

“You know I don’t forgive."

 

“I know," he chuckled.

 

“You're still Takada’s proxy, you’re still his little spy,” Emily pointed out not hiding how she felt about her mentor sending Aiden to her like some kind of babysitter.

 

“That’s true,” Aiden admitted. “But I’m not here on Takada’s orders; I’m here on my own accord.”

 

She released Aiden's grip on her hand, folded her arms over her chest, and shot him a skeptical glance.

 

“I promise. I’m a changed man.”

 

"Here's your cheque sir,” the young Hispanic waitress slide the cheque book on the counter. “Just pay when you're ready."

 

Aiden pulled out his wallet from his jacket pocket and Emily glanced to the stolen credit card Aiden used to pay.

 

Emily stifled an eye roll. This was the Aiden she was used to. The one who used and exploited people for his own benefit.

 

“Your veterans discount gets you a free slice of pie," the waitress told him.

 

"What kind do you have?" Aiden asked.

 

"Peanut pie. It’s a big hit."

 

"Sounds good."

 

Aiden shot the waitress a flirtatious smile. She blushed, grabbing the cheque book, before walking to the pie display.

 

"Your right. You are a changed man; Brian McMurphy,” Emily scoffed.

 

“I’ve had to keep a low profile,” Aiden said. “Thanks to you and Ross.”

 

“That’ll make you think twice about interfering with my plans,” Emily warned him and smirked. “Goodbye, Aiden.”

 

As Emily turned to walk back to her table, she spotted a young man standing at the counter a few rows down. His hands were stuffed into his jeans. His grey hoodie covered his head, his shoulders slouched, making his tall frame looked smaller than he really was, as he stood hiding in the corner between the booth and the counter.

 

The man kept looking over his shoulder, eyes darting towards the door, as if he was looking out for someone.

 

It didn't take a skilled ninja like herself to know that the man was afraid.

 

Emily watched intently as the young man, eyed the police, pushed himself off the wall, and walked across the diner to their booth.

 

The bell above the door rang out. The young man jumped as if he’d heard a gunshot. A woman wearing pink workout clothes, jogged past the man, leaning her sweaty, scantily clad, figure against the counter beside Aiden.

 

"I'll be right with your order," the young waitress told the jogger.

 

The jogging woman wiped at her forehead and then glanced to Aiden shooting him a grin.

 

Emily rolled her eyes as Aiden returned the gesture.

 

The jogger shot a glance in the man's direction. The man stopped walking, turned on his heels, and strolled towards the counter.

 

“Here you are, sir.” The young waitress handed the man a brown paper bag.

 

Turning to the entrance, his eyes caught with Emily's. She felt his fear and nervousness, a plea for help, in his green eyes.

 

It wasn’t a lot to go off of, but Emily knew, in her gut, that something bad was about to happen.

 

The man didn't even return the waitresses' good bye as he dashed out of the diner.

 

Angie handed the jogger her order.

 

“Thanks,” the jogger smiled. Tuning to leave, she shot Aiden one last flirty smirk, and then rushed out of the diner.

 

"Did you see that?” Emily asked Aiden.

 

“Yes,” he said with a smug grin. “I did.”

 

Emily sighed deeply, Men, she thought.

 

She turned away from Aiden, passing Becca, walking towards the back of the diner, her eyes on the young man like a hawk.

 

Glancing out the window, Emily watched as the man rounded the diner, to the parking lot towards a silver Chevy Silverado.

 

Before he made it to his truck, the jogging woman raced up behind him, a Taser in hand, and jutted it in his back.

 

The man dropped his brown bag and slumped to the ground. His body twitched, face twisting in pain, he held a hand to his chest.

 

A black sedan screeched to a halt in front of the Chevy and two beefy men in cargo pants and white tees stepped out, steel bats in hand.

 

They lumbered towards the man, the woman yanked him to his feet by the scruff of his hoodie and then threw his back against the hood of his truck.

 

Emily couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She snapped her eyes to the cops that were sitting ahead of her. Their backed turned away from the scene outside.

 

She was about to walk over to them when, as a cop snuck a glance out to look at the chaos outside, turning back to his crew, his eyes locked with Emily’s.

 

He simply shrugged, as if to say, what do you want me to do?

 

Aiden raced towards Emily and placed a hand on her shoulder.

 

“They’re corrupt cops,” he whispered. “It’s a setup.”

 

Emily’s blood boiled. She couldn’t believe this was happening.

 

She glanced to Aiden, her eyes sparking with fury.

 

“We have to do something.” Emily stated and then rushed past Aiden to the entrance.

 

“What’s going on?” Becca asked, concerned.

 

Emily placed her hand on Becca’s shoulder, causing the teen to look up at her.

 

"Rebecca, don’t talk to the cops over there,” Emily stated in a hushed tone. “No matter what, stay inside and call the paramedics.”

 

"Okay?" Becca said unsure.

 

She watched as Emily and Aiden raced out the back entrance, both sprinting around the corner.

 

Confused and not wanting to be in the dark, Becca followed after Emily.

 

Once she was outside, Becca heard grunts and swears and the clank of metal cracking something, coming from ahead.

 

She peeked her head around the side of the building, eyes wide and pulse thumping in her ears; Becca couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

 

Emily pulled a woman off of a guy who was slumped against the side of a Chevy.

 

Emily grabbed the woman by the pony tail, kicking her in the solar plexus, sending her face first into the windshield of a red sedan.

 

A man swinging a baseball bat, rushed up behind Emily.

 

“Emily watch out!” Becca yelled.

 

She felt glued to the asphalt, fear and inexperience with fights keeping her rooted to her spot.

 

Aiden rushed up behind the man, connecting the base of the bat with the guy’s rib cage, and sending him to the ground.

 

The other man, holding a bat charged at Aiden. Emily threw a kick at the man and then grabbed the Taser at her feet and stabbed at the man’s chest.

 

He crumpled to the asphalt in a jittery heap.

 

Becca held out her right hand and then spoke into her smart watch.

 

“Call the paramedics!”

 

“Okay, Rebecca. I’m calling local paramedics,” the watch replied in a robotic female accent. “They are being dispatched to your location. And will arrive shortly.”

 

Moments later, police sirens wailed out.

 

Becca spun around to see the ambulance racing down the street. She spun back around to see an unconscious jogger chick and two dudes sitting by the red sedan. Aiden was nowhere to be found. Emily was crouched next to a young man, lying on the ground, clutching his chest.

 

The police arrived and handcuffed the jogger and her friends, while the EMTs put the man on a stretcher.

 


 

Emily and Becca sat in the ER waiting room. “Alright, Dad, we’ll see you then.” Becca said into her phone, before hanging up.

 

She turned to Emily. “Dad, Jason and Grunkle Ford said they’re on their way.”

 

Emily ran a hand through her hair and sighed deeply. She was still processing what had happened a little less than an hour ago.

 

Emily stood up, as a doctor with a clipboard strolled up to her.

 

“Are you Greg Milano’s wife?” The doctor, a petite Korean woman, asked her.

 

“No, I’m not, uh –“Emily said.

 

“I am!” A female voice broke in.

 

Emily spun around to see an African American woman, with messy brown hair and an oversized tote bag over her shoulder, dart up from her seat. The woman’s daughter, a confused looking girl, clutching an Iron Man action figure to her chest, followed behind her.

 

They raced past Emily to the doctor.

 

“I’m Tanya Milano,” the woman explained. “How’s my husband?”

 

“Mrs. Milano, your husband is lucky to be alive,” the doctor said. “He suffered major injuries to his heart. And his LVAD stopped working. We have him on life support. And we’re going to have to perform emergency surgery to replace his LVAD...“

 

The doctor paused. “Ma’am are you alright?”

 

Tanya looked like she was about to faint.

 

“Oh my God,” Tanya panicked. “I…I..I can’t breathe!”

 

She swayed to the left, her tote falling to the floor as she grabbed the armrest of the chair behind her.She held a hand to her chest as she breathed in sharp, uneven bursts.

 

“Mommy?” the little girl cried.

 

Emily stepped forward, gently grasping Tanya’s shoulder. She looked her in the eyes, seeing fear, worry and confusion.

 

“Tanya, breathe in and out,” Emily demonstrated for her. “Just breathe.”

 

Emily and the doctor guided Tanya to the chair behind her. Emily rubbed her back and held her hand, helping her to come down from her anxiety attack.

 

Tanya breathed in and out. In and out. In and out. For a few minutes.

 

“Is everything okay?” Becca asked coming up beside Emily.

 

“I’m fine,” Tanya nodded, inhaling and exhaling like she’d practiced. “I’m fine now. Everything is okay.”

 

The girl raced to her mom’s side and touched her shoulder. “Mommy, are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine, Zoe,” Tanya assured her, looking visibly better. She wasn’t shaking anymore and her breathing had evened out.

 

Tanya turned to her daughter and pulled her in for a hug.

 

“Mommy just had a little anxiety attack.”

 

Tanya turned to Emily with a grateful smile. “Thank you for helping me.”

 

“Tanya, I’m Emily Thorne. I was the one who found your husband unresponsive in the diner parking lot.”

 

Emily left out the words attacked, Taser, and gang. She knew that Tanya wasn’t in the right emotional state to know what had really happened to her husband yet.

 

“We called the paramedics as soon as we could,” Becca added.

 

Tanya nodded at the two. “Thank you both for helping my husband.”

 

The doctor stood off to the side of the ER doors. “Ma’am if you’re ready to see your husband before the surgery.”

 

“Of course, Doctor.”

 

Tanya stood up without shaking. She turned to Emily, clutching her tote bag and biting her lip she asked.

 

“Emily, do you mind watching my daughter for a few minutes? I’ll be right back.”

 

“Of course not,” Emily replied with a smile.

 

Tanya turned to Zoe with a smile.

 

“Zoe sit right there with Emily. Mommy will be right back, I just have to talk to the doctor about Daddy.”

 

Zoe left her Iron Man action figure on her seat and darted to her mom’s side.

 

“Mommy, don’t leave!” she cried, clutching the hem of her mom’s dress, tears running down her cheeks.

 

Running her hand through Zoe’s wavy brown hair, Tanya said. “I’ll be right back, love.”

 

“Zoe, your mommy will be right back,” Emily assured her gently.

 

Zoe glanced to Emily her green eyes bloodshot and tear stricken cheeks. She turned back to her mom. “I want to go with you!”

 

“Sweetie, you can’t. I have to go with the doctor myself.”

 

“Ma’am.” The doctor said impatiently.

 

Emily narrowed her eyes at the doctor, shocked at her impatience.

 

Zoe only cried louder. She grasped her mom’s hand for dear life. Everyone in the waiting room turned in their direction.

 

“Is that your Iron Man action figure?” Becca asked Zoe, curiously.

 

Zoe spun around to her. She nodded, sniffling.

 

“It’s really cool. Do you like Iron Man?”

 

Zoe nodded again.

 

Through her tears she said. “He’s the best.”

 

“Yeah he is,” Becca smiled. “Have you watched Iron Man 3 yet?”

 

She shook her head no.

 

“Do you want to watch it with me?” Becca grabbed her Nolpad from her book bag on the ground beside Emily. She spun around to Zoe. “We can watch it on my Nolpad.”

 

“That’s a great idea, do you want to watch the movie, Zoe?” Tanya asked her.

 

Zoe nodded, her wavy curls bouncing. She released her mom’s hand and took a step towards Becca.

 

Becca and Zoe sat beside each other; Zoe grabbing her Iron Man action figure as Becca held the tablet as the movie started.

 

Tanya strolled over to Zoe, placed her hands on either side of her face and kissed her on the forehead.

 

“I’ll be right back, love.”

 

Tanya mouthed a thank you to Becca.

 

Emily walked up to Tanya before she walked towards the doctor.

 

“Tanya do you need any help?” Emily asked her quickly.

 

“Uh, well.” Tanya glanced back to Zoe nervously and Emily followed her gaze.

 

“Zoe’s in good hands,” Emily smiled. “Rebecca can watch her.”

 

Tanya seemed to relax at her words. She glanced to Emily with a shy smile.

 

“If it’s not too much trouble,” she said.

 

“Not at all,” Emily smiled.

 

With that, Emily and Tanya stepped through the doors of the ER with the doctor.

 

Becca smiled to herself, glad that her idea was holding up. She glanced to Zoe curiously, as the little girl watched the first few minutes of Iron Man.

 

“My daddy is like Iron Man,” Zoe stated.

 

“Yeah?” Becca asked

 

Zoe nodded. “He’s got a clicky metal thing in his heart,” she gestured to her chest. “Just like Iron Man. But it doesn’t glow or nothing.”

 

Becca wondered what Zoe meant by that. “Why does your daddy have that?”

 

“Mommy says he can’t breathe normal because his heart isn’t strong,” Zoe looked up at her with wide eyes. “The doctors said that if that stopped working then my daddy would die.”

 

“That’s not good,” Becca said knowing that was an understatement.

 

“What if my Daddy’s heart stops working? I don’t want him to die.”

 

Becca wished she could say he would be make it. That everything would be just fine.

 

But she couldn’t assure Zoe anything.

 

Becca didn’t know if Zoe’s dad would be okay. She barely went to church and her faith in God wasn’t much.

 

But right now she silently prayed that God cared enough to have mercy and forgiveness on the small family.

 

All she could do was empathize. She knew just how afraid Zoe felt. She’d felt the same way about Grunkle Ford.

 

"Your Daddy's strong.  He'll get through this. He's got you and your mom thinking about him,” Becca said.

 

Zoe’s lip quivered. She turned to Becca and threw her arms around her waist in a hug. Becca gently hugged her back.

 


 

Emily stood off to the side, watching as Tanya Milano talked with the doctor about the surgery they needed to perform on Greg.

 

Emily listened in to their conversation.

 

“We did some x-rays on your husband's chest and it appears that his LVAD stopped working, because the circuits were fried,” the doctor said. “He’s lucky the incident didn’t cause further damage to his heart.”

 

“How is that possible?” Tanya demanded. “What caused it?”

 

“We’re still figuring that out.”

 

Apparently Greg’s LVAD — left ventricular assist device. A battery-operated pump, that assists the left ventricle in pumping blood to the body — had short circuited.

 

Emily suspected the Taser wielding jogger was to blame.

 

“Does that mean he’s pushed up the list?” Tanya asked. “We’ve been waiting for the last year...”

 

“It’s possible,” the doctor said simply. “But I cannot guarantee anything.”

 

Tanya nodded. “I understand.”

 

“We’ll start the operation soon.”

 

“Thank you doctor,” Tanya said half-heartedly, watching as the doctor walked off.

 

“God,” Tanya sighed deeply, walking back over to Emily. “Could this day get any worse?”

 

Tanya glanced into Greg’s room with watery eyes. She held a hand to her mouth covering her sobs.

 

“Emily, what really happened?” Tanya demanded.

 

Emily glanced to Tanya, arms crossed over her chest, giving Emily a pointed look.

 

“My husband’s LVAD was working perfectly fine. And now all of a sudden it stops working. And based on the x-rays I doubt he just got a few broken ribs and a broken nose because he fell out of his truck.”

 

Emily was at a lost for what to say.

 

“I’m an Army Wife,” Tanya stated firmly. “I’ve gone for months on end, without hearing a word of how my husband was doing stationed in God knows where. I’ve had to console my eight year old, for weeks on end, because she was crying herself to sleep, asking if her daddy was going to come home in a body bag.”

 

Tanya took a defiant step towards Emily. “Believe me when I say, I can handle the truth of what happened to my husband.”

 

Emily glanced through the glass window to Greg’s room. She imagined Nolan lying in the hospital bed.

 

Broken. Battered. Bruised. Hooked up to life support.

 

She felt a tightness in her chest.

 

If Emily were in Tanya’s position and Tanya was withholding information from her, Emily would do everything in her powers to find out the truth.

 

Emily glanced to Tanya.

 

“Tanya, Greg was attacked by a gang.”

 

“My God,” Tanya sucked in a deep breath. “Greg you idiot.”

 

Emily glanced to her confused.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just…God damn it Greg, why do you have to be so stubborn? I tell you not to do something and you do the opposite,” Tanya started to cry. “Now, look where you are now…”

 

Emily had a feeling she knew what Tanya was talking about. All the pieces of the puzzle were lined up before her. Curious, she gave it a shot.

 

“Tanya, do you think that Greg’s attack is connected with Catlin Tucker?”

 

Tanya spun around to Emily, eyes wide with fear. “How did you know that? Are you with her?”

 

Tanya took a step back from Emily.

 

“No, Tanya, I’m not,” Emily stated.

 

“Then how do you know about Catlin?” she questioned. “Are you the police, DHA?”

 

“I’m investigating Catlin, building a case against her and the CARE Foundation,” Emily explained, realizing that was the truth.

 

Tanya seemed to buy it.

 

“A case?” she asked suspiciously.

 

“Yes. I have clients that have dealt with similar problems like you and your husband,” Emily whispered lowly. “The police were present when your husband was attacked. He was set up.”

 

Tanya inhaled deeply, her eyes wide with the new information. She turned away from Emily, walking a few feet away from her.

 

“First we’re scammed by Catlin, left in debt up to our ears, and now this,” Tanya glanced up to Emily with a tired expression. “This is just too much.”

 

“It’s clear I can’t trust the bumpkin police in this ass backwards city,” Tanya said. “God knows how many people Catlin has on her payroll.”

 

“Tanya, it’s important that you trust me,” Emily said taking a seat beside her. “Until we’ve built a case against Catlin you can’t let anyone know.”

 

“I understand, Emily,” Tanya nodded.

 

“You mentioned a list,” Emily stared, curious to find out more about the Milano’s and how Catlin had conned them.

 

“Heart transplant,” Tanya nodded and said. “For the last year, Greg’s been on an LVAD, we’ve been waiting and waiting for a donor. Greg’s had heart problems for as long as I can remember, joining the Army only made it worst. The high stress job was just too much for him.”

 

Emily listened intently. Tanya’s story just as heart breaking as Stanford’s.

 

Tanya sighed deeply. “Greg found the CARE Foundation through his work. He thought it was a good idea, let the Foundation help us take care of the costs of his medical bills. We thought it was a miracle,” she smiled to herself. “And it was for a time.”

 

She glanced to her husband’s room, looking lost in thought.

 

“Catlin started charging us interest rates that made payday loans look like a safe option. Greg and I went through the process of filing a complaint with the courts. But our complaint didn’t even make it to court.”

 

She turned back to Emily with a frown. “The moment Catlin heard what we’d done she sent her hit squad, told us if we’d contact the police again, the incident with Greg’s brakes giving out, would be the least of our concerns.”

 


 

Strolling out of the ER with Tanya, Emily spotting Nolan and Ford standing in the waiting area.

 

Jason sat with a smiling Zoe, watching the movie with her and Becca.

 

Spotting them, Zoe shifted off of Jason’s lap and then darted over to her mom.

 

Smiling, Zoe threw her arms around her mom’s hips.

 

“Mommy you're back!”

 

“I told you I would be, pretty girl.”

 

“Mommy look at the new toy I have,” she waved the Captain America action figure.

 

“Very nice,” Tanya smiled.

 

“Jason got it for me!” Zoe exclaimed.

 

“Did he?” Tanya asked, glancing to Jason with a smile.

 

Jason walked towards Tanya with a worried look.

 

“How’s Greg?” he asked.

 

“He’s going into surgery,” Tanya explained. “His LVAD stopped working, it’s not looking too good.”

 

Jason pulled Tanya in for a hug. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, sobbing into his shoulder.

 

“It’s going to be okay, Tia,” he said, gently rubbing circles into her back.

 

Tia? Emily thought surprised

 

“How are you holding up?” Ford asked Tanya.

 

“Fine, sir.” Tanya said, wiping away her tears.

 

“Greg’s strong.” Ford assured her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “He’s got his strong girls here for him.”

 

Emily passed them walking over to Nolan and Becca.

 

“Friends of theirs?” Emily asked Nolan.

 

“Yeah,” Nolan replied.

 

“They must be really good friends,” Becca said, watching Jason standing so close to Tanya, his arm over her shoulder.

 

Emily noticed the scowl on Becca’s face.

 

Zoe raced to Jason. He picked up a giggling Zoe, throwing her over his shoulders, walking around with her pretending to be an airplane.

 

Tanya strolled over to the team.

 

“Thank you for watching her,” Tanya thanked Becca.

 

“Sure,” she forced a smile.

 

“We’re about to head to the cafeteria, for something to eat, would you like to come?”

 

“No thanks,” Becca said curtly.

 

“Alright then,” she turned to Emily with a smile. “Thank you for everything, Emily.”

 

“Of course, Tanya,” She handed her a card. “Don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions.”

 

With that, Tanya walked off with Jason and Zoe to the elevator.

 

“What was that about?” Nolan asked Emily.

 

"Actually that was what I wanted to talk to you about," Emily started, wanting to tell him how she'd found a new lead to the case.

 

Before Emily could say anything else, Ford approached them.

 

"Nolan, walk with me?"

Chapter Text

Nolan and Ford walked through the doors of the emergency ward. Strolling down the sterile white halls, Nolan scrunched his nose, feeling like he'd vomit at the smell of antiseptic.

Ford stopped at a room and peered into the window. Nolan looked through the glass window to the young, battered, man in the hospital bed.

"That's Greg Milano," Ford explained. "26. Former Army-man. Married to his college sweetheart, Tanya, the past eight years." he chuckled lightly. "He likes to take their eight-year-old, Zoe out on Sundays, to fish in the lake, but he's terrible at fishing."

Ford turned to Nolan with a somber face. "Greg has heart problems. He's been waiting the past year, for a donor for his heart transplant."

Ford scoffed. "Do you think that Catlin gave a shit about any of that when her men beat him black and blue?"

Nolan stood speechless. Greg was another victim in Catlin's game.

Ford was making a point: that the game Nolan was playing had more losers than winners. That the odds of Nolan coming out a winner was unlikely.

"People like us do our best to follow the law, enforce it, protect people," Ford stated. "And when the people you thought would help and protect you don't. Well, it feels like a slap in the face."

Nolan felt a heaviness settle in his throat. Even though he had nothing to do with Greg's current situation, in a weird way, he felt responsible.

Law enforcement and parents; they were the ones tasked with helping and protecting you from harm.

Nolan knew the sad reality was that that wasn't always the case. He wished someone stepped in when he was a kid and protected his mother and him from Edward's abuse.

Emily had told Nolan he was nothing like his father; he was finally confident to accept that was the truth.

Unlike Edward, Nolan stepped in as a parent, preventing Rebecca from ending up in the foster system, after Grace abandoned her.

Nolan protected Rebecca from the media. Made her a Thompson, for as long as he could, because he wanted to give his daughter a normal life, filled with material and emotional stability.

All the things he never had growing up.

Nolan was by no means a perfect parent; he fumbled a lot and made mistakes he wasn't proud of.

Even still, he kept trying. Thinking of his mother, David and Stanford when times got tough.

In return, Rebecca broke the glass box around his heart. She pulled him out of his shell and helped him to become a person, a father, she could be proud of and look up to.

Nolan knew that not everyone had that kind of support. Not everyone had a second chance.

I'll step in. Nolan thought. I'll do something right.

If no one else was willing to help the Milano family then Nolan would.

 


 

Later that day, Nolan walked out to the veranda and spotted Ford sitting in a chair carving a wooden pipe.

"Ford, you have a minute?"

Ford stopped carving and turned to him. "What is it?"

Smiling, Nolan took a seat across from his uncle.

"You'll be happy to know that Greg's been moved to a hospital in Arlington. He's receiving five star treatment from some of the best facilities in the country and he's been put on an expedited waiting list for his heart transplant."

"That's great news, Nolan," Ford said proudly.

A silver Lexus pulled up to the driveway and a woman wearing a business dress walked out and strolled over to the veranda.

Right on time, Nolan thought.

Smiling brightly, the woman walked up to Ford.

"Hi, Mr. Shepherd," she introduced. "I'm a representative from Cancer Treatment Centers. Nolan's explained to me the stage of your lung cancer. I'm here to help you transition to our clinic in Arlington."

"Please, have a seat," Ford offered her.

Nolan was actually surprised that Ford didn't turn the woman away.

He smiled to himself, watching as his uncle and the representative talked about treatment options. Nolan knew his uncle didn't like it when his private affairs were shared with others, but this was a matter of Ford's health.

"Well, I'll just leave you two to talk," Nolan said, making his way back inside.

Thirty minutes later, Nolan strolled out to the veranda, expecting Ford ready with a treatment plan.

The representative strolled towards Nolan with a small disappointed frown on her face.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Ross, I tried, but he's not interested," she explained.

"Thank you for trying," Nolan thanked, before she left in her Lexus.

Turning to Ford, Nolan sighed. He didn't understand why his uncle had declined the service.

Ford sat carving a pipe out of wood. Flicking his knife, wood shavings fell onto the information packet laying on the table.

Nolan stifled and eye roll at his uncle's obvious disinterest.

Taking the seat across from him, Nolan asked. "Ford, what's going on?"

"Son, I appreciate what you're trying to do," Ford said. "I don't need any help from some, for-profit company, who just want to use me as their next guinea pig."

"Come on Ford, they can help you," he assured. "They're one of the top cancer treatment specialist in the States and they've successfully helped thousands of cancer patients stay in remission."

"I'm fine with what I have," Ford let out a gruff sure and kept carving. "Also, you can expect your money back as soon as possible."

"Ford, really, you don't owe me anything."

Nolan was glad he could help keep off Catlin's goons a bit longer.

"No can do son," Ford added sternly, "You'll get your money back; every cent."

"Look, don't be concerned about the cost," Nolan added carefully, knowing how Ford felt about money. "I've got it all covered."

With his money he knew he could get Ford quality health care. He was sparing no expense.

Ford stopped carving and pointed the knife at Nolan with a scowl.

"Why do you wealthy people, think waving your cash around can fix every problem? It isn't that easy for the rest of us."

"What? No, I don't think that at all," Nolan couldn't believe his uncle thought he was a narcissist. Did Ford forget he had it rough growing up? He knew what it was like for him, going to school hungry, and not having enough money to pay the electricity or water bills, because Edward figured it was better to gamble the money away.

Nolan was surprised by his uncle's behavior. Maybe it was his medicine and treatments that were making Ford slightly more agitated than usual.

"Look, Ford," Nolan felt like a kid, trying to win back their parent's affections. "I know the case hasn't worked out, but all I'm asking is for you to trust me."

Even with everything that happened, he was still holding on to kilobytes of hope that he could help Ford.

He just needed Ford to believe in him. Needed him to believe that he could take down Catlin. Needed him to believe that he could help make things right.

"Nolan, it's a little hard to trust you when you have nothing to show for it," Ford said harshly.

Nolan swallowed the dryness in his throat, keeping back the emotions that threatened to come out in tears. He didn't realize how much his uncle's words hurt.

Maybe it hurt so much because it was the truth.

Every time Nolan tried to help the people he cared about, he'd always have a way of messing things up. He just wanted to prove that he could do something right. Make the people he cared about proud of him.

So far, he was failing.

Chapter Text

"Nolan, I'm coming in."

Emily opened the door to Nolan's room, she stepped inside, walking over to the computer genius, who was hunched at his desk, eyes glued to his laptop screen.

Rock music blared from the headphones over his head.

Coming up behind him, Emily glanced at the screen, seeing a picture of Catlin Tucker, along with all the other information Nolan had gathered about her.

Nolan didn't even notice Emily was there until she'd set down the warm plate of pasta beside him.

"Oh, Ems," Nolan said tiredly, pushing the headphones off his head, as he spun around in his chair to her.

"Didn't know you listened to rock," Emily said.

"Helps me concentrate," Nolan turned the music volume down, so it wasn't blaring in his ears.

Emily examined his face; his eyes were slightly red from sitting in front of the screen for the last couple of hours. She noticed he was even starting to grow a five o'clock shadow, because of all the time he'd spent locked up in his room.

"Nice to see that you're eating," Emily said as she took the plate from yesterday's dinner off his desk.

"Can't work on a diet of caffeine, sugar and carbs, like when I was in college," Nolan laughed lightly, lips curving into a small smile.

She smiled, glad to see his humorous side.

"Well, I'll just leave you to it," Emily said, turning to make her way out the room.

"Emily do you think I'm a screw up? Because right now I'm feel like a total failure."

Emily spun around to Nolan, seeing a hopeless look in his eyes. She set the plate on the desk and then sat on his bed, glancing at Nolan with a questioning look.

"Ford's losing faith in me," he explained. "With everything that's happened I don't blame him."

"We know that takedowns never go according to plan," Emily reminded him. "There's always bumps in the road, glitches in the plan. But, that's never stopped us before."

"Yeah but this time it's different, Emily," Nolan pointed out. "This is personal; this is my family."

"And because they're your family, when things go wrong, you feel like you're to blame," Emily said knowingly.

Nolan nodded, tiredly running his fingers through his messy blonde hair.

"You'll go to the ends of the earth for them," Emily said. "Take down anyone in your way, to make things right."

Emily placed her hands over Nolan's and said confidently, "Nolan, you'll find a way to move forward," she smiled. "You always have."

Nolan smirked, glad that Emily's faith in him was still there.

Nolan's laptop beeped from the desk. Swerving around in his seat Nolan glanced at the screen.

"Well, would you look at this," Nolan said with a small laugh, as he typed away the beeping stopped.

"What?" Emily asked, looking over his shoulder to the laptop.

Pointing at the screen of Catlin's bank account, Nolan said. "I've been tracking Kitty's bank accounts with my AML software. It looks like the software detected suspicious activity from her account."

Emily glanced to the screen, "That's a lot of cheques from the same place."

"Look at the various amounts; $500 all the way to $240,000, and more." Nolan scrolled down the long list. "That's just from earlier today."

"It looks like the cheques are originating from someplace called Missy Peanuts," Emily said. "What's that?"

"Already searching, babe," Nolan said with his usual charm as he typed.

A few minutes later and Nolan generated an address and location on Google Maps.

"It's a peanut brittle factory in Norfolk," Nolan's eyes widened in realization. He glanced to Emily. "Those papers we found in the safe — those were business licenses for this factory."

"I didn't notice anything weird in her accounts." Nolan shook his head, feeling like an idiot for not making the connection sooner. "Technology never ceased to amaze me."

"So, Catlin owns a factory. Hmm, can you bring more information?" Emily asked.

"What are you thinking?"

"Playing a hunch," Emily said.

Nolan brought up the business documents for the factory.

"Now, we have access to everything from corporate memos down to the shipment schedule," Nolan said.

"Show me the financial statement and earning reports," Emily said.

Nolan did so. And seeing both side by side showed the blonde duo a very different story.

"Based on this, Missy Peanuts, doesn't even make a fourth of the money, they claim to have from sales" Nolan pointed out reading off the report.

Nolan smirked at Emily. "How is Catlin receiving $240,000 cheques from a company that doesn't even make that much in sales?"

"That's because, Missy Peanuts is Catlin's front company," Emily explained. "She's laundering dirty money from her CARE victims through the factory. Once the money is clean, she deposits it to her personal account. To make CARE look like it's financially struggling, she puts a little of the money into the foundation's fund."

"It's a classic money laundering scam," Nolan realized.

Emily saw the pieces of the puzzle connecting in Nolan's mind.

"Ems, we've got proof of Catlin money laundering, on top of the charity scam she's pulling," Nolan exclaimed, a small smile forming on his lips.

They'd discovered their miracle card. This was the key to making things right.

"It's enough to send her to prison," Emily noted.

"That, and we can expose her for the fraud she really is," Nolan said. "And, I know just how we can do it."

 

 

 

 

A few hours later, Nolan stood in the living room ready to explain the plan to his family.

"Catlin's going to give back all the money she stole from you, the Milano's, everyone," Nolan stated confidently to Ford and Jason. "The Milano's will have enough money to pay for Greg's heart transplant."

"What makes you think she'll just give you the money?" Ford questioned skeptically, sitting on the couch next to Jason.

"I don't," Nolan stated, earning a confused look from everyone but Emily. He smiled at Emily and said confidently.

"Catlin is going to do that herself. As her new business partner, I'm going to show her just how generous she can be."

"You're going to con her into giving back the money," Ford realized.

"Exactly," Nolan said.

"And you're sure that'll work?" Jason asked.

"Yes. I know exactly how women like Catlin work."

"Kitty's head over heels for you, well, your money," Becca piped, sitting on the couch beside Emily.

Catlin was similar to Grace in that she was only interested in Nolan for his money and name. He wasn't blind to her coming onto him. He was used to the attention and usually ignored it — hating to waste his time on shallow and stupid people.

Usually on a take down, Nolan was in the background, using his fame and name to aid Emily. However, the tables were turned, he needed to be in the spotlight and be the mastermind of the takedown.

Grabbing his cell phone, Nolan dialed Catlin's number.

"Kitty, Nolan Ross here," he greeted.

"Nolan, great to hear from you!" Catlin's voice was so loud and excited that everyone could hear her.

"Listen, what do you say to lunch, tomorrow, so we can talk business and get to know each-other a bit better."

"Of course darling," Catlin added with a dramatic sigh, "It's just that I'm attending a derby in Plains with a few clients around the same time…"

"I'll just meet you there," Nolan replied with a light laugh. "I'll bring my betting money,"

"Well then, it's a date," Everyone could practically see Catlin smile over the phone. "I'll see you then."

"See you," Nolan hung up.

Beaming, Nolan turned to Emily.

"She's on the hook."

Chapter Text

Hi guys!

Hope everyone is doing well, how's your summer going?

Thank you to all the new readers that have been leaving reviews and following the story! It makes me so happy to see new faces!

Just want to let you all to know that I'm busy this month with finals. So more likely than not there won't be an update this week. I'll do my best to update next week, but I won't make any promises!

With that said please feel free to tell me what you want to see in future chapters. I love to hear feedback and would totally appreciate any suggestions or ideas.

Also you can follow me on my Tumblr (I'm more active on there) if you have any questions about INGA or suggestions on what you want to see in future chapters or want some writing tips/advice or just want to say hi!

Tumblr: ddljx2 . tumblr . com

See you all in a couple of weeks!

Take care.

- DDLJ

Chapter Text

Nolan scanned the spacious suite. Horse racing memorabilia plastered the walls. A live news feed of the dirt track played on the flat screen in the center of the seating area.

 

Passing an open balcony, overlooking the dirt track across the suite, women sipped wine in poufy hats and pastel dresses next to men smoking cigars, donning bowler hats with suits and suspenders.

 

Nolan was never a huge sports fan, preferring video games and mental exercise to actual physical sports. He couldn’t help laugh at how dressed up everyone got for the derby.

 

He adjusted the fedora on his head and straighten his bowtie. So he’d decided to get a little dressed up. He figured he’d at least blend in for the sake of the con.

 

Walking into the crowded dining area, Nolan spotted Catlin, sitting at a table, drinking a flute of wine and conversing with a server.

 

“Kitty, great to see you again,” he greeted, strolling up to her.

 

“You as well, darling.” Catlin stood up and outstretched her arms giving Nolan a hug. She pulled back, and looked him over, her pink lips curving into a smile. “You look dashing in that suit.”

 

“Thank you, and you look very pink.” Nolan said, noting her dress, heels, and large, feathery sun hat. All pink.

 

“I can’t help but get dolled up for these sorts of events,” she smiled. “The derby is fun, don’t you think?”

 

“To be honest, I’m not much of a sports fan,” Nolan said, taking a seat with her at the table. “I guess, it’s fun, if you can stand the smell of manure.”

 

Catlin laughed. "It’s not all bad; you'll enjoy it,” she looked at Nolan expectantly. “Will Miss Thorne be joining us?”

 

Nolan glared at her slightly, his mood shifting. “No,” he replied snappily and picked up his menu.

 

“Oh, I see.” Caitlin nodded.

 

She took a long sip of her wine. She glanced to Nolan over the lip of her glass with a curious expression.

 

“So, uh, I hear the crab is good,” Nolan said casually, scanning the menu.

 

“Excuse my forwardness,” Kitty said. “But I had no clue that you were a committed man.”

 

“Sorry?” Nolan looked up from his menu, eyes wide, surprised at her statement.

 

“It’s just, I assumed that you and Miss Thorne were together.”

 

“Catlin, you assumed incorrectly,” Nolan stated. He closed his menu and sat back cockily in his chair.

 

“If you’re referencing that little incident at the fundraiser,” Nolan made a face and shook his head in disgust. “Emily practically threw herself at me, she was another socialite wanting her 15 minutes of fame.”

 

“You poor thing,” Catlin cooed.

 

Nolan sighed deeply. “I’m used to people throwing themselves at me, asking favors of all kinds. All so they can get to know me or some shit like that.”

 

“It’s pathetic, the things people will do to get to me,” he scoffed. “When I try to let them in, really start to trust them, that’s when they show their true colors. Usually, they just want me for my money or to pretend like they know me. ”

 

“It must be hard to know who to trust,” Catlin’s usual smile turned to a slight frown. “I’m so sorry to hear that she used you like that.”

 

Nolan leaned forward and gazed into her eyes.

 

“I like you Kitty. You know, I wish more people were real with me, like you are,” he said in a low, husky voice.

 

Catlin’s cheeks turned the same shade of pink as her dress.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nolan sat up and chuckled, embarrassed. “I don’t know where all that came from.”

 

“No, please, don’t apologize,” Catlin assured, not hiding the blush on her face. “I don’t mind.”

 

“Well, I really do enjoy your company.”

 

“And I yours,” Catlin smiled and leaned forward. “Your honesty. It’s quite refreshing.”

 

Just then a server approached their table.

 

“Good afternoon, sir,” the server greeted Nolan. “What can I start you off with?”

 

“A Bourbon on the rocks and an order of crab cakes,” Nolan ordered, handing his menu to the server.

 

“I’ll take the usual,” Catlin told the waiter.

 

After their lunch, Nolan and Catlin walked out to the balcony to the box seats.

 

"What a view," Nolan said, looking past the heads of people ahead of him, and across to the dirt track.

 

"Who're you betting on?" Catlin asked, taking a seat next to him.

 

“Uh, some horse name Bolt,” Nolan grabbed his ticket and showed it to her.

 

"You bet on Bolt!?"

 

"Is that bad?" Nolan asked, not sure how horse betting worked. "The cashier did laugh at me when I placed my bet."

 

"Place Onyx. Bolt’s a losing horse," A woman sitting ahead piped in. She turned around to them shooting them a pitiful smirk. "Bolt’s odds are 10-1. He rarely wins."

 

"I placed some pretty Benjamins on him,” Nolan whistled.

 

"I bet on him as well," Catlin added. "But, I have a feeling that he'll win."

 

"Well, good luck losin'." the woman scoffed and turned her back to them.

 

Catlin pointed to the horse track. "That silver Thoroughbred is Bolt."

 

Nolan turned to the track to see a scrawny, silver haired horse, galloping with the jockey to the gate. He frowned, feeling like he’d made a mistake; compared to the other larger and regal horses; Bolt was a runt.

 

"Why do they call him Bolt?” Nolan asked.

 

“He used to be one of the fastest horses on the track,” Catlin explained. “A real winner. But he’s been slow the last couple of years. He’s been doing better as of late, but he’s still considered a losing’ horse.”

 

“And, you sure betting on him was a good idea?" Nolan asked. "Everything about him is unlucky."

 

"Well, it's a good thing I believe in making my own luck," Catlin said with a confident smile. “I just have a feeling that he’ll win.

 

"It's about to start," Catlin exclaimed, turning to the track with wide eyes.

 

A bell rang out. The gates swung open. The horses darted off.

 

"AND THEY'RE OFF!" The announcer exclaimed over the speakers.

 

Nolan watched, nervous as Bolt was pushed back with the other horses as he came around the track.

 

"It looks like Bolt isn't doing too well, moving down to 6." The announcer continued.

 

"Come on Bolt!" Catlin exclaimed.

 

Coming to the next turn, the other horse pulled back. Bolt’s scrawny legs pushed him past the pack of horses. He galloped ahead of a sandy brown horse to a regal, black horse.

 

"Bolt races past Fuego placing him in lead with Onyx; an unexpected turn of events."

 

"Come on Bolt!" Nolan exclaimed, "You got this!"

 

Catlin laughed at his reaction. Nolan simply shrugged, caught up in the excitement.

 

“They're coming up at the quarter mile," The announcer said. "Bolt is neck and neck with Onyx."

 

Both horses raced down the curb like race cars, leaving plumbs of dust behind them.

 

A rush of adrenaline pumped through Nolan's veins as Bolt raced like lightning past Onyx.

 

He felt like he was watching the derby in slow motion as Bolt dashed straight across the white chalk finish line.

 

"We did it!" Nolan exclaimed, jumping out of his seat with the rest of the crowd. He glanced to the woman from earlier with a smug grin.

 

"We won!" Overcome with excitement he hugged Catlin.

 

Catlin threw her arms around Nolan's neck returning the hug.  He grinned at her and then she leaned forward and kissed Nolan on the cheek.

 

She glanced at him, her smile dropping as he stared at her surprised. Nolan pulled away from their hug and Catlin stepped back suddenly looking flustered.

 

“My apologies...I got carried away."

 

Nolan forced a grin and stepped closer to her. Even though his mind wanted him to stay put and having her lips on him made him nauseous.

 

“Well that’s one way to celebrate,” Nolan chuckled. “We just made money on a losing horse!”

 

With the Derby over, Nolan and Catlin followed the crowds to the lobby to earn their winnings.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Caitlin said once they reached the lobby.

 

“Tomorrow?” Nolan asked as they walked in step.

 

“I'm having a mandatory meeting for my business associates; we’ll be discussing plans for some upcoming events,” Catlin grinned. “I’m confident that together we can do some amazing things.”

 

“I’ll be there. You know, it’s nice to be around a woman who takes charge and gets business done,”

 

Nolan smirked, earning another grin from Catlin.

 

He’d smiled for real, because the next phase of his plan had worked. He’d gotten Catlin to take a total interest in him. Which meant he was one step closer to taking her down.

 


 

Nolan stood in the mirror of his bathroom dressed in a crisp, navy suit and shiny yellow leather shoes.

 

He struggled knotting his necktie. He’d been standing in the mirror for the last ten minutes and wasn’t making any progress.

 

He heard his cell phone beeped on the inn table.

 

“Screw it,” Nolan scoffed, annoyed and let the thing hang around his neck. He walked out of the bathroom and grabbed his cell phone.

 

A text from Catlin; See you at dinner tonight.

 

He text back; Can’t wait. See you then.

 

Nolan smiled to himself; Catlin may have been a skilled con artist, but when it came to her emotions she was an easy catch.

 

All it took was a half assed lie and some casual flirting for her to trust him.

 

In the week they’d been together, CARE had tripled its donations and every one who’d never heard of the foundation knew exactly who they were, thanks to the amount of publicity they’d received.

 

Of course, name dropping Nolan Ross was your business partner tended to do that.

 

Nolan had already given Catlin what she wanted; his money and attention.

 

Catlin was parading around with him like her arm candy. He was her plus one, at every charity function, social, and benefit in Arlington.

 

All the wining and dining wasn’t for nothing; Nolan had managed to pick up new juicy intel from the bugs he’d planted in her office.

 

He’d uncovered the extent of her money laundering operation, as well as the law enforcement agencies (whose names she’d kindly mentioned). She had on her payroll for the street crimes she orchestrated, like the one against the Milano family.

 

With that information, he’d built a solid case of physical evidence against Catlin that would send her and her accomplices to prison.

 

“Well, don’t we look handsome,” a voice said.

 

Nolan pulled himself from his thoughts and turned to the door to see Emily standing there.

 

“Hey, Ems,” he smiled.

 

His phone beeped again.

 

Emily frowned. “That another text from your girlfriend?”

 

Nolan knew that she was joking.

 

He walked across the room to her. “Yup,” he grinned, playing along. “Says she can’t wait to see me at dinner tonight.”

 

Emily grinned as she snaked her hands around his waist.

 

“You jealous?” he asked, pulling her close to him. He rested his hands on her hip and shot her a sly smirk. “I’m wearing a brand new suit all for her.”

 

“No.” Emily replied flatly, her expression neutral.

 

“What, not even a little bit?” He asked, shooting her a surprised look.

 

“You do look good in this suit.” Emily ran her fingers over his white silk shirt and up the buttons of his navy blue jacket.

 

Nolan’s eyes caught with Emily’s. They shared a mischievous look. His breath caught in his throat and all he wanted to do at that moment was take her.

 

“You, know, Catlin does that to me all the time,” he pointed out.

 

He’d never let things get past harmless flirting. Nolan was like a designer item, something everyone craved and desired but only one person could have.

Emily was the only one he wanted to love. Things were still new between them and Nolan didn’t want to cross or step out of line with Emily. They hadn’t even had sex yet.

 

Emily’s eyes flashed to Nolan’s with a serious expression.

 

“She better not be doing this to you,” she warned, moving her hands down to the backside of his trousers.

 

She locked her eyes with his and gave him a chilling smirk as she squeezed his butt.

 

“No ma’am,” he replied quickly.

 

“Good,” she leaned in close to him, her warm breath tickling the inside of his earlobe. “Because, I’m the only one that can do that,” she whispered lowly.

 

Nolan’s breath hitched in his throat, feeling more then turned on. He pulled Emily closer to him and leaned in close to her.

 

“Babe, you’re seriously doing things to me,” his hands moved lower down her backside and pressed his lips to her neck. “Did you just come up here to tease me?”

 

“Maybe,” she smirked mischievously. “Come on, you don’t have time for this, you have a date to get to.”

 

She pulling away from him like a mesmerizing temptress and Nolan let out a disappointed groan.

 

Emily glanced at his neck and giggled. "You don't know how to knot a tie?"

 

Nolan glanced down at the stupid red tie around his neck.

 

"Have you ever seen me wear a tie? I rarely wear ties and when I do, they're clip-ons or in some style that isn’t a tie."

 

“Unbelievable,” Emily scoffed, rolling her eyes at him as she grabbed the ends of his necktie.

 

“I can’t believe you don’t know how to knot a tie. A Windsor knot is basic.” Emily pulled the wide end of the tie through the loop.

 

Nolan’s hands traveling back around her waist. “What would I do without you?” he asked, dropping back to a husky voice.

 

Emily looped the tie once again, tucked the wide end through the loop and then pushed the triangle shape of the knot up to his neckline.

 

Finished, she locked her eyes with Nolan and rested her hands on his chest with a smirk.

 

He perked a brow at her thinking her blowing him off was a farce. But she was smiling and not in a sexy way more of a genuine way.

 

“I’m proud of you,” Emily said. “You’re doing a great job with the case.”

 

Well that killed the mood, Nolan thought.

 

He was glad things were finally working out for once.

 

“It gets better; Catlin has some good news for me tonight.” He said, recalling the text message she’d sent a few minutes ago.

 

“Could be something good for us,” Emily pointed out. “Maybe we can finally take her down.”

 

“Mhmm,” Nolan hummed, as he rocked back and forth on his heels. Emily pressed herself against him, swaying with him on her toes.

 

Nolan dipped his head into her hair inhaling her scent. God he loved how she smelled. He just felt so safe and right with her.

 

“I wish you were coming,” Nolan muttered into her hair.

 

“Me too, but right now, you’re a solo act. I’d hate to ruin your progress.”

 

“Please, you’d make everything better. You know I can’t stand being around people like that.”

 

She turned her head, and Nolan moved his chin so he could look at her face. Her warm brown eyes stared up at him. 

 

Nolan smiled. He loved being around her. He loved being so close to her. Having Emily in his life made his world that much brighter.

 

“It’ll be over soon, Nolan.”

 

“You know I could have exposed her already, with everything we have,” Nolan said. “But I’ve waited for the right moment.”

Emily caught the spark in his eyes. Nolan wanted Catlin to get what was coming to her and to pay for all she’d done in the most public way possible.

 

“When she goes down I want it to be in front of all the people she’s scammed. Ford, the Milanos, all of them,” Nolan stated.

 

“I’m proud, you learned well grasshopper,” Emily smiled.

 

“Arigato sensei,” Nolan leaned forward to kiss her.

 

"Ah ah," Emily tsked, pulling back. "Don't want Kitty to get suspicious, you know how possessive she can be.” 

 

“Come on Emily, you can’t just leave me hanging, just one kiss.”

 

“Have fun tonight,” she teased, turning to leave the room.

 

About to walk out the door, Nolan grinned, took a stride towards her and gently grabbed her hand.

 

As he pull Emily back to him, he tripped over the area rug. In a split second, Emily grabbed onto Nolan’s jacket. Her back smacked into the door, slamming it shut.

 

“Emily, are you okay?” Nolan asked worried, moving off of her so he wasn’t crushing her.

 

“I’m fine, Nolan,” she nodded and looked up at him with a grin. “You really want a kiss?”

 

Nolan didn’t need to say anything as he stared at her, eyes lidded with desire. Emily took in the desperate look on his face. She liked to tease Nolan but knew that he could only be so patient.

 

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled her closer to him. Nolan rested his arms on the small of her back as they both moved forward, their lips just a few inches away from each other.

 

“Hey, Dad, Ems, are you guys alright?” Becca called out from downstairs.

 

They stopped, their lips ghosting over each other.

 

“Don’t reply,” Nolan groaned, not able to stand waiting any more.

 

But Emily was already turning away from him.

 

“Yeah, because if I don’t she’ll get suspicious.”

 

Nolan begrudgingly moved aside as Emily turned away from him to open the door.

 

“Yes Becca,” Emily replied, out to the hall. “Everything is fine. I’ll be right down.”

 

Nolan and Emily hadn’t told Becca that they were a thing yet. Thing being the preferred word the blonde duo agreed upon.

 

Boyfriend and girlfriend didn’t really fit. Emily felt they had more history and commitment than that.

 

While Nolan didn’t like keeping Becca in the dark, they both planned on telling her once they were back in New York.

 

For now they chose to keep it a secret. Take things slowly and explore their new world together. That included acting like nothing had changed between them.

 

That proved a challenge; especially in moments like this.

 

Turning back to Nolan, Emily couldn't stand his puppy dog eyes and gave in. Their kiss was slow and passionate and took both of their breaths away.

 

Pulling away she smiled, “Good luck, babe.”

 


 

Nolan sat in the section couch of the rooftop dining area.

 

He looked around him. Groups of elegantly dressed people lounged at the bar near the edge of the balcony. Others sat mingling on the sectionals spread around the spacious rooftop.

 

Their table was illuminated by a row of string lights hanging from the canvas covered awning. The light chatter of people taking and slow jazz filled the space.

 

The sun was beginning to set in-between the tall buildings and the sky was turning a beautiful orange and pink.

 

Nolan glanced over the railing, out to the bustling Arlington nightlife.

 

"I hope that, Veuve Clicquot  is to your liking," Nolan heard Catlin say.

 

He turned back to the rooftop, spotting Catlin walking back to their table from the bar, with a bottle of champagne.

 

"What are we toasting to?" He asked holding out his flute.

 

Filling their flutes, she grinned. "Our success. It’s done, CARE's on the map."

 

"Congratulations," Nolan smiled as they clanked their flutes.

 

Taking a quick sip, Catlin said. "Also, I want to make you the guest speaker for Friday night. You’re still on board?”

 

“What was Friday night again?”

 

“The Veterans Benefit Ball. It’s one of the biggest events CARE holds, it’s a three day convention. All our biggest supporters and donors will attend," she shot him a look. “I thought I told you.”

 

Nolan shrugged. “Must have slipped my mind.”

 

Beaming Catlin asked, “Please, say you’ll attend.”

 

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

 

Sipping on her champagne, Catlin grabbed her Nolpad off the table and got to work.

 

Friday night would be the perfect opportunity to expose Catlin. Nolan grinned and he had an idea to make it even better.

 

“I have one suggestion; have you considered inviting your clients to the benefit?”

 

Catlin glanced to him with a disapproving look. “No, I haven’t.

 

“You know, we do it all the time at NolCorp. We give out tickets to our best clients during conventions; it’s a great chance to have some free testimonies for potential investors.” Nolan chuckled. “Plus, the Average Joe and Joann, love the idea of wining and dining with the rich.”

 

Catlin seemed to entertain the thought for a moment but shook her head. “I don’t know, Nolan. It’s an unorthodox idea.”

 

“Well, you know, it was just a suggestion.” He said and dropped the conversation.

 

Catlin went back to her tablet and Nolan assumed that was the end of that. 

 

“How many clients would I invite?” she asked after a moment.

 

“A dozen or so. Something small.”

 

“I like the idea,” she grinned like a cat. “I’ll be one of the biggest Veterans charities in Virginia with an idea like that.”

 

Catlin turned back to her tablet. “I’ll have my assistant send out invitations tonight.”

 

“Great,” Nolan smiled taking another sip of his champagne.

 

He couldn’t help but be happy; in two days Catlin Tucker was going down.

Chapter Text

 

"Hey, Dad, look what I found with your old stuff."

 

“I’m surprised you can find anything with all this mess,” Nolan pointed out, glancing to the coffee table covered in old junk.

 

“One of your old books from M.I.T.” Becca handed him the book.

 

“Advanced computer engineering,” he flipped through the dog tailed pages, full of highlighter and Post It notes. “Yeesh, this is ancient.”

 

He laughed and set the book back on the table. “Why are you looking through all this junk?”

 

“It’s not all junk there’s a lot of cool stuff in here. Oh, I found your interview at twenty two in WIRED magazine,” she opened the faded magazine.

 

Beaming she said, “I didn’t know you started NolCorp when you graduated high school at 17. And that the reason you're so obsessed with whales is because you got your palm read by a fortune teller in LA and they said you’d grow as successfully as a whale. And you took that literally.”

 

Becca laughed glancing at the cover, “Nice haircut.”

 

Nolan took a seat next to Becca and cringed internally, “Yeah, the Matt Damon look was in.”

 

She handed him the magazine. Curiously, he flipped to his interview, started to read and began to laugh.

 

“What’s so funny?” Becca peered over his shoulder, looking at the article.

 

“Listen to this,” Nolan read, “I said that by thirty, in addition to being the most successful tech company on the East Coast, I’d get NASA to officially name a star after me and I’d get Stephen Hawking to prove the existence of aliens.”

 

“Well, I’m pretty sure you got the successful company bit down. What about the other things?”

 

“I only got the one; successful tech company.”

 

“You still got time Dad,” she added cheekily. “I mean you’re only forty.”

 

“I’m thirty eight,” he corrected.

 

“Well, you should try the other two. I’m pretty sure Stephen Hawking is alive. And NASA could really use the publicity right now.”

 

Nolan went back to reading the interview.

 

“Listen to this; when Nolan Ross was asked what his future looked like in twenty years he replied; bright.”

 

“You sure had a way with words,” Becca giggled, as she sorted through the rest of the box.

 

“When asked if his bright future had room for anyone else; Nolan Ross replied; there isn't any room for people who don’t get my vision. I don’t have time for romance and the domestic life doesn’t suit. Sorry dudes and dudettes; I’m already taken and her name is NolCorp.”

 

“Wow, Dad, just wow,” Becca grimaced.

 

Nolan glanced to her with an embarrassed look.

 

“I know. I know, it’s terrible. I was twenty two, I was a total ass hat as you can see...” he sighed deeply and flung the magazine on the table.

 

“Thank God I’m not like that anymore,” Nolan praised laying his head against the couch.

 

“You and me both, Pops.”

 

“Where did you find all this crap anyway? I thought we dealt with everything at the storage unit.”

 

Sifting through the box, Becca said. “This was from the same box as that Rolling Stones poster. I also found a few,” she giggled, “hmm, choice magazines amongst your belongings.”

 

She pulled out a magazine, opened the cover. The tri fold unfolded onto the coffee table.

 

“Yeah,’ Becca whistled lowly, smirking, her eyes glued to the trifold. ‘That’s some good stuff.”

 

“Hey, now!” Nolan’s face turned beet red.

 

Becca giggled as he swiped the magazine from her hands.

 

“It’s just a computer magazine, Dad.” she assured him, laughing at his reaction.

 

His eyes darted to the magazine worried he’d scared his daughter for life.

 

“Sure it is,” he replied, relief washed over him when he realized it really was just a computer magazine.

 

From that moment on, Nolan kept the box firmly planted on his side of the coffee table.

 

“Seriously, Dad.” Becca rolled her eyes, stifling a laugh, watching him organize the junk.

 

They found a mint condition Star Trek action figure set and CDs of AC/DC and Metallica.

 

“Oh hell yeah!” Becca snatched up the white RUN DMC sweatshirt, putting it in the pile with the Star Trek figures and CDs, to keep.

 

Seeing all this stuff was like going back in time, an opportunity for Becca to see the kind of person her dad was growing up.

 

Nolan glanced to the table of his old stuff. “I can’t believe you want to keep this old crap.”

 

“I like it,” she smiled. “You were pretty cool back then.”

 

“Well, it’s nice to know my trash can be your treasures,” he shrugged. “And I’m still pretty cool.”

 

“Surrrre, Dad,” Becca replied sarcastically.

 

“I’m totally hip with the kids.”

 

“Dad, no one says that. Like ever.”

 

Nolan rolled his eyes at her playfully and when back to sorting.

 

“You know what, I think my dad packed this box,” he figured. “This had to have been after I left home for M.I.T.”

 

“Why do you think he kept all this stuff?”

 

“Why else? The man was a hoarder. When my mom died, he kept all of her most valuable stuff in a box and kept it in his bedroom closet. He never even looked at the stuff. Something about wanting to keep her memories with him or something like that.”

 

“Some people are just sentimental, Dad.”

 

“Well, I’m not,” Nolan stated.

 

He turned back to the half empty box, to see a black photo book, NOLAN written on the front in Sharpie, looked up at him.

 

Perking an eyebrow, he grabbed the book.

 

“What’s that?” Becca asked.

 

Inspecting the book, Nolan quickly realized it was Edward’s handwriting on the front.

 

The choking feeling reappeared in his throat. That same feeling he got thinking of all the disappointing things his dad did.

 

Nolan glared at the book. If this was Edward’s book, odds were that this wasn’t anything worth looking at. It was probably full of all his dad’s disappointments of him or something.

 

Nolan set it in the trash pile. "Trash it."

 

"What?"

 

"It's probably not important."

 

“Really, Dad?” Becca picked up the book, wanting to take a peek inside.

 

“Yup.”

 

“Well, can I at least look inside?” She asked.

 

He motioned for her to get the book. As Becca flipped through the book, Emily walked into the room.

 

“What’s all this?” Emily asked them.

 

“Dad and I were sorting through one last box from the storage unit.” Becca gestured to the table, “Look at this cool stuff I get to keep.”

 

“Well, I’m about to take out the trash,” Nolan commented.

 

He darted up from the couch, taking the box of junk with him, and disappeared out the back door.

 

“What’s up with him?” Emily wondered.

 

“This book that Grandpa Edward made,” Becca showed her the book. “He thinks it’s his dad’s Burn Book or something, but it’s not. It’s more like a memory book.”

 

Emily looked over Becca’s shoulder to the book. She glanced at the photos of Nolan as a teenager and a young adult. Interview articles and magazine covers of Nolan from WIRED and FORBES were cut into collages, filling the pages. It was chock full of Nolan’s successes, his rise to NolCorp.

 

“His father made this book?” Emily questioned.

 

“Yup,” Becca replied. Flipping through the pages, an envelope slipped out of the book. “Oops.”

 

“I got it,” Emily knelt down and picked it up, she turned it over. NOLAN written in black ink was on the front. There wasn’t a sender's address but Emily had a feeling she knew who wrote it.

 

“Is this Grandma Maria?” Becca asked.

 

Emily turned back to the memory book. A Polaroid of a young woman wearing a paisley dress with straight blonde hair and piercing blue eyes smiled back at her.

 

She stood next to a younger Nolan, both smiling. Nolan held a sailboat in his hands as his mother wrapped her arms around him.

 

“I think so, I mean I’ve never seen his mother. She was very beautiful.”

 

“Yeah, she was,” Becca scrunched up her nose. “Dad does look like her.”

 

“You look like her too,” Emily smiled. “You both share the same nose and your dad and you have that warm and friendly smile. Guess it’s a Ross trait.”

 

Scrutinizing the photo, she spotted a familiar tire swing in the background. “This photo was taken here. See the tire swing.”

 

“Wow, then Dad must have been like, eight years old when this was taken.” Becca glanced up at Emily, and scoffed. “Can you believe that he was going to throw this away?”

 

“Yes. Your dad never bothers to look through anything. Claims he isn’t sentimental.”

 

Emily glanced down to the letter in her hands. With a sigh, she opened the envelope.

 

“Wait, isn’t that illegal?” Becca piped in.

 

“It wasn’t like your dad was going to read it anyway,” Emily pointed out. “He wanted to trash it all.”

 

“Fair point. Continue.”

 

Dear Nolan,” Emily read. “I’ve tried writing you this letter so many times….”

 

Reading the letter Emily teared up. She couldn’t believe that Nolan was going to throw this away.

 

“Whoa, are you crying?” Becca asked. “What’s the letter say?”

 

“It’s from his father,” she swallowed the lump in her throat.

 

Becca peered over her shoulder to read, but Emily folded the letter back up. She didn’t even get a chance to read it.

 

Emily wiped a stray tear on the back of her hand. “Your dad needs to see this,” she concluded, slipping the letter back into the book.

 

“Nolan, Emily, Rebecca, are you all here?” Ford’s voice called out from the hallway.

 

“We’re in the living room, Grunkle Ford!” Becca replied, tucking the memory book in the couch beside her.

 

“What’s up?” she asked Ford as he strolled into the living room.

 

Ford coughed and stopped at his arm chair. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at his forehead, out of breath.

 

“Do you need some water, Ford?” Emily offered.

 

“I don’t want to trouble you, Emily.”

 

“It’s no trouble,” she insisted with a smiled and got up.

 

The back door opened and then Nolan walked into the kitchen. He went to the sink to wash his hands. Emily grabbed a glass from the cabinet and strolled up to him.

 

She glanced at him, noting that look on his face. It was the one Nolan had when he was thinking about something but didn't want to talk about it.

 

Nolan needed to see that book. He needed to see that his father did care about him. That photo book was Edward’s memorabilia of Nolan’s greatest moments. Even if Edward failed to show his son he cared when he was alive, he’d made an effort to once he passed.

 

From what Nolan told her about his dad, this would be a monumental step in Nolan seeing a different side to his father.

 

The side that cared and loved him.

 

Emily fumed, realizing that Nolan was about to throw away the only physical proof showing his father’s effort.

 

Edward Ross made an effort to show he cared about his son.

 

Emily knew well, that that was more than most parents were willing to make.

 

Nolan dried his hands with some paper towels and stepped aside as Emily filled the glass. He finally looked over to her, noticing her evaluating him for the last few minutes.

 

“Is something wrong, Ems?” he asked, leaning against the sink to look at her.

 

“It’s nothing,” she said simply, keeping her eyes away from him, as she filled the glass with water.

 

“You sure?” he asked warily.

 

“Everything is fine, Nolan.”

 

Uh oh.

 

Nolan knew when a woman said ‘nothing,’ and ‘fine’ in the same sentence it was exactly the opposite. He started racking his brain trying to figure out if he did something wrong.

 

He stepped closer to her, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

 

“What did...did I do something?” Nolan whispered.

 

Sighing loudly, Emily shrugged out of his touch and strolled back to the living room.

 

“Here you are, Ford.” Emily handed him the glass of water.

 

“Thank you Emily,” Ford smiled.

 

Emily sat beside Becca. Nolan walked into the living room, eyeing the open seat beside Emily.

 

Whatever was going on with her, he wanted to find out.

 

As he grabbed the RUN DMC sweatshirt and tossed it on the table, Emily sent him a croc stare.

 

Nolan knew that look meant to back the hell away.

 

He replaced the sweatshirt and meekly took a seat on the couch across her.

 

What the hell was going on?

 

“Nolan, look what came in the mail,” Ford interrupted his thoughts and held and envelope out to him.

 

“I bet I know what it is,” Nolan said knowingly as he tore open the envelope.

 

The CARE invitation was decorated to look like the front of a tux. Except the bow tie had cameo pattern instead of the usual black. YOU’RE INVITED was written in bold black lettering in the center of the card.

 

Nolan read the invite and smiled at Ford.

 

“Welp, I hope you have a suit on hand, because you’re invited to Catlin’s annual Veterans Benefit Ball tomorrow night.”

 

Ford nodded, “And tomorrow night, that’s when you’ll get her for good?”

 

“Yup, we’ll expose Catlin for the fraud she really is. Allow me to demonstrate how.”

 

Reaching across the coffee table to get his laptop and Nolan’s eyes caught Emily’s. She turned away from him, crossing her arms over her chest and leaned her back against the couch.

 

Seriously, what did he do wrong?

 

He glanced to Becca, giving her a look, asking ‘what’s going on?’

 

She simply shrugged, seemingly just as clueless as him.

 

Giving up for now, Nolan turned back to his laptop. “Uh, Rebecca and I have been working on the finishing touches to our little presentation for Catlin,” he explained to Ford, clicking on the keyboard and brought up the presentation on the flat screen.

 

“If you cannot afford to pay the premium, I’m afraid, you’ll be charged a penalty, Mr Milano.” Catlin’s voice played on screen.

 

“Miss Tucker, that wasn’t part of the plan,” an irritated male voice fumed.

 

“Plans change, darling,” Catlin snapped. “Either you fix this mess or I’ll be your worst nightmare.”

 

“Fine, it’ll get done.”

 

“Call me once he’s taken care of. The last thing we need is a loose end.”

 

Nolan stopped the recording.

 

“That man she’s talking to is Chief of Police of Arlington,” he explained. “He’s been a key player in her orchestrated attacks on CARE clients, like Greg.”

 

Nolan brought up the invitation list for the benefit, “I made sure he has a front row seat for all the action.”

 

"All of Catlin’s lies will be on display to her donors, supporters, and clients,” he added with a grin.

 

"And what about the money?" Ford questioned.

 

"Ah, glad you asked," Nolan smiled. "We're cashing all the money from CARE’s Fund. With the money in cash, we don’t have to worry about the Feds getting their hands on it. Then we’ll alert the Feds to her money laundering schemes and just as the presentation ends, the FBI will arrest Kitty in spectacular fashion."

 

"Nolan, I'm sorry for not believing in you," Ford apologized. "I can see now that you've got things planned out. That you know what you’re doing; son, I hope you can forgive me for how terribly I behaved."

 

Just then, Emily’s phone rang.

 

“Tanya, hi...” she answered and walked out of the living room. “It’s great to hear from you too, how is everything?” the front door opened and closed, Emily taking the conversation with her.

 

Nolan smiled widely, he placed a hand on his uncle's shoulder, and pulled him in for a hug.

 

Pulling back from the hug, Ford grinned. “I’m proud of you son.”

 

“Thank you, Ford.” Nolan smiled, trying to hide his happy tears.

 

Patting him on the shoulder, Ford said. “You mentioned suits; how’s about I take you to buy one; it’s on me.”

 

“Alright,” Nolan nodded. “I’ll take you up on that offer.” He added carefully, “Ford, are you sure you’re up to going tomorrow night? It’ll be a long night.”

 

“Nolan, I’m not missing this moment,” Ford got out of his armchair with a smile. “I’m going to that benefit, even if I have to show up in a wheelchair.”

 

A few minutes later, Emily reappeared in the living room.

 

“Was that Tanya?” Nolan questioned, putting his laptop away.

 

“What did she want?” Ford asked.

 

“She wants to meet in downtown Arlington for lunch. Says she has some good news to share,” Emily put her phone in her purse and then turned to Becca. “Would you like to come along? Zoe’s excited to see you. Plus, I need to go to a boutique and buy a new dress for the benefit.”

 

“Sure, I’ll come along.”

 

Emily adjusted the strap of her purse. “We’ll see you later, Ford.” she said, not even saying goodbye to Nolan as she turned to walk out the room.

 

Becca got out of the couch and followed after Emily, she walked up to Grunkle Ford and brought him in for a hug. “See you later, Grunkle Ford.”

 

“See you, kiddo.”

 

Becca spun around to her dad. “Bye, Dad!”

 

Nolan motioned for her to come over to him. Becca sighed and she did so. He put an arm around her shoulders, turning her away from Ford.

 

“What’s going on with Emily?” He whispered. “Why is she giving me the silent treatment?”

 

“Dad, I don’t know.”

 

“Rebecca, are you ready to go?” Emily called out to her from the hallway.

 

“Hey, wait a minute,” Nolan stated, he squeezed her shoulder, and shot her a stern look. “You have no idea why she’s upset with me. None?”

 

He knew that Becca would keep a secret if Emily asked her to. If that secret had anything to do with him, and why she was giving him a cold shoulder, he wanted to know.

 

“Maybe it has something to do with that memory book you wanted to trash,” Becca hinted. “But that’s all I know. I swear.”

 

Nolan studied her face. Becca had a habit of giggling or laughing when she made up a lie on the spot. But not this time.

 

“Well, alright,” Nolan let her go, watching as she skipped out of the living room.

 

Great, he was nowhere closer to figuring out what was wrong.

 

“Something going on between you and Emily?” Ford asked.

 

“I have no idea,” Nolan scoffed and turned back to the table, to pack up his gear.

 

Ford pointed to Nolan’s laptop. “Son, you mind if I use your laptop for a few minutes. There’s a few shows that I want to download onto my thumb drive.” He took a black thumb drive out of his pocket. “My computer is in the shop,” he chuckled. “I have to watch my Price is Right.”

 

“Sure thing, Ford,” Nolan set his laptop down on the table and then Ford took a seat.

 

“I’m going to go upstairs, take a shower, and we can get going,” Nolan explained.

 

“Alright, I’ll be here.”

 

Nolan bounded up the stairs. Ford turned to the laptop and inserted the thumb drive. Clicking a few keystrokes, he found the files he was looking for.

 

He clicked the file and while he expected to be denied access to the files, the thumb drive made it possible for him to get past the security.

 

Everything on Catlin Tucker and the evidence Nolan had uncovered about her was sitting right in front of Ford.

 

With a smile, Ford dragged the files from the laptop onto his thumb drive. Watching as the files uploaded, he felt a pang of guilt, for going behind Nolan’s back.

 

He did trust Nolan and was truly proud to see how far he’d come and how close he was to ending this nightmare for all of them.

 

But, all Ford wanted to do was end this nightmare as soon as possible.


“Tomorrow night, this’ll all be over,” Ford promised himself.

 


 

“This is the one.”

 

“You said that about the other six suits.” Ford added.

 

“Yeah, but this one is the one.”

 

Nolan stood in the three way mirror dressed in a sharp black tux. He fixed his bow tie with a grin. He knew this was the perfect suit for the benefit. He felt like a badass; like 007 or something.

 

He turned to the tailor, “I’ll take it.”

 

“Right away, sir.”

 

Nolan hopped off the stand with a grin. He wondered what Emily was wearing to the benefit.

 

“That’s a nice suit, Nolan,” Ford said.

 

He spun around to Ford, who wore a smoky off-white suit with a red tie and dress shirt. Ford held his arms out as another tailor measured across his shoulders.

 

“Looking good, Ace Casino.” Nolan grinned, walking past Ford.

 

“That’s a nice tux, sir.” Jason told him.

 

“Thanks, Jason.”

 

Nolan disappeared into the changing rooms. He walked out, dressed in his jeans and t-shirt. He handed the tailor his suit, and followed her to the front of the shop, to the cash register.

 

“So, are you going to get a suit?” Nolan asked Jason as the tailor boxed up his suit.

 

Jason looked up from his cellphone and shrugged. “No, sir. I don’t attend enough events to really buy one.”

 

“Every man needs a suit. It says a lot about him,” Nolan grinned. “Plus, girls dig a guy in a tux.”

 

“That’s a great reason,” Jason chuckled.

 

“Hey, I’m just saying. If you want to get a girl’s attention. A suit is the way to go. And a sports car.”

 

“Well, I have Justine, my motorcycle.”

 

“And what’s a girl’s reaction?” Nolan asked with a grin.

 

“They usually ask for a ride,” Jason replied simply. “Or ask me if I fix up bikes.”

 

“Jason, get a suit; you’ll be a total chick magnet.”

 

“Sir, your total comes to $500,” the tailor announced, sliding his boxed suit across the wooden counter.

 

Nolan handed the woman his credit card. “You know, I’ve gotten my suits tailored by tons of high end New York shops, but yours really stands out. These are some well-crafted suits.”

 

“We appreciate that,” the tailor grinned.

 

“Been buying suits here for decades,” Ford added. “Never disappointed in the quality.”

 

“Well, I’ll be sure to spread the word,” Nolan grinned, swiping a business card off the display.

 

He grabbed his suit and strolled back to the fitting room, where Jason was sitting.

 

“Uh, sir, can I ask you something?” Jason asked, looking up from his phone.

 

“Shoot.”

 

“Uh, I was wondering if I could take Rebecca with me to a party tomorrow night. I wanted to ask your permission before I invited her.”

 

“That’s very….respectful of you.”

 

Nolan shot him an odd look. He realized he was talking about ways Jason could get girls and now he was asking him permission to ask Rebecca out.

 

“You're not asking me for permission to take her on a date, are you?”

 

Jason shook his head no. “No sir, not at all!”

 

Nolan shot him a glare. “Are you saying you wouldn’t ask her on a date?”

 

His eyes widened in horror. “I...I mean I would definitely ask Rebecca on a date,” Jason stammered, “But this, this isn’t a date. It’s just a party, for one of my friends. It’ll just be myself and a group of my friends hanging out, airsofting.”

 

“Hmm, I don’t know if I like the idea of my daughter partying it up with a group of Rock Star enhanced, EDM rocking, frat guys.”

 

“My friends are not like that,” Jason corrected. “I’ve known these guys since middle school and they’re part of my brigade; they’re good guys, sir.”

 

Nolan had gotten to really know Jason in the last month; he was friendly, good hearted, trustworthy and protective.

 

Qualities, Nolan admired and looked for in a young man. Especially if that young man was interested in his daughter.

 

Nolan wasn’t blind to how Rebecca had been acting around Jason. She’d get nervous and embarrassed around him.

 

Nolan knew that Jason wasn’t the player type; Ford raised him to be respectful towards women. He’d heard only good things from Ford, about Jason’s Army training and mechanic work.

 

Besides, Jason had basically asked Nolan for his blessing.

 

Even though they’d gotten into an argument last week; Nolan saw that as a good thing. It meant he cared about his family and was willing to do whatever it took to protect them.

 

Jason had a naive honesty about him that was refreshing to Nolan. He trusted Jason and knew he had a good head on his shoulders.

 

In all honesty, Jason was probably the only guy friend of Rebecca’s Nolan trusted and liked. And that was limited.

 

Jason was a good young man; Nolan doubted he’d have to use liquid nitrogen on him. Unlike Becca’s last crush.

 

Nolan chuckled to himself, he didn’t really need to intimidate Jason. But it was fun putting him on the spot.

 

He glanced to Jason, noting the worried look on his face. He was probably wondering what the silence and sudden laughter meant.

 

“Well, I trust that there won’t be any funny business with you by her side,” Nolan said.

 

“Funny business, sir?”

 

“You will look after Rebecca,” Nolan stated, seriously. Make sure she doesn’t get ambushed by a crazed fan or the paparazzi.”

 

“I will do my best to make sure she’s safe, sir.” Jason promised. “And has fun.”

 

“Not too much fun.”

 

“R-right, sir.”

 

He held out his hand to shake Jason’s. The army recruit shook his hand and with a grin, Nolan said.

 

“I’m holding you to your word, Jason.”

 

“Stanford, I didn’t expect to see you here.” A male voice said.

 

Nolan watched as an older Hispanic man with broad shoulders, wearing a blue sheriff's uniform, strolled into the fitting area.

 

He had weathered tan skin and salt and pepper hair. He looked at least twenty years younger than Ford.

 

Nolan glanced to the badge on his shirt. SHERIFF jumped out at him.

 

“You still in training for the army, Jason?” the man asked.

 

Jason nodded. “Yeah, just got leave for a little while.”

 

“Drake, what are you doing here?” Ford grinned, walking over to the sheriff.

 

“Got an invitation to that benefit downtown. Figured I’d buy a new suit for the occasion.”

 

He grinned. “That Ace Casino look is good on you.”

 

Ford chuckled and placed a hand on Drake’s shoulder.

 

"Nolan, this is a good friend of mine, Sheriff Drake Garcia."

 

"Heh, I'm not the Sheriff yet, Stan." Drake corrected with a grin. "Still have a few months to go before elections."

 

"Always modest. With all the cases you've solved, you've got it in the bag, Drake." Ford assured with a laugh.

 

"It's nice to meet you," Nolan greeted.

 

"Likewise," Drake nodded.

 

"Have you shopped here before?" Ford asked Drake.

 

"Nope,"he replied, staring at the suits on the wall like they were foreign. "Never worn a suit."

 

"Well I'll show you around, follow me," Ford said and the two of them walked off to the suit display.

 

Nolan couldn't help but be wary of law enforcement here. But it looked like Ford knew the man well enough.

 

Once they were far away enough from everyone, Ford reached into his pocket and then handed Drake the thumb drive.

 

"It's all here," Ford whispered, "Everything you need to make a case."

 

Drake pocketed the thumb drive. "I'll have the boys look it over, Stan. But if this is as extensive as you're saying. This could blow the lid off the entire department."

 

"It is," Ford sighed. "Thanks for doing this."

 

"For you, sir, anything."

Chapter Text

"The outfit you bought is really beautiful Emily," Becca said as she and Emily walked out of the boutique.

They strolled down the plaza, passing other high end boutiques and restaurants.

"Now, I just need the shoes to go with it," Emily said as they walked into a shoe store.

As Emily tried on a pair of heels, Becca took a seat in the waiting area, playing Candy Crush on her cellphone.

"I hate this game," she groaned, pocketing her phone in disappointment. She'd run out of lives. Again.

"Wow, Ems, that's a lot of shoes!"

Open shoe boxes and heels were splayed on the floor. Emily had tried on at least a dozen pairs of heels at this point.

"What do you think of these heels?" Emily asked, strutting past Becca to the mirror. She did a once over.

The heels were a simple black pair with little diamonds lining the strap.

"Ooh, those are pretty," Becca awed. "I'm sure Dad will think they look pretty too."

Emily scoffed and shot her a slightly annoyed look in the mirror. "Perhaps a different pair?"

"Are you really mad at Dad for wanting to trash the memory book?"

Emily walked off from the mirror, grabbed another pair of heels off the display and tried them on.

"Yes, I am. It's so typical of him to just make a split decision. He didn't even bother to look at the book and if he did..." Emily scoffed, lacing up the sparkling red heels. "Sometimes your dad just gets on my last nerve."

"Sometimes?" Becca laughed, "Ems, it's Dad, that's just how he is." She chuckled, wondering how much more she could pretend with Emily. "It's why you love him so much."

Emily raised a brow at her.

Maybe she'd finally caught on that Becca knew that they were in a relationship. That they were having a thing. Becca wasn't stupid or blind; Dad and Emily spent way more time around each other as of late. And Dad wasn't as depressed as he'd been since they'd been here. He seemed to smile a lot more. Well except for earlier. Also, it was kind of hard to miss the faint lipstick stains on the collars of his shirts.

Becca was kind of confused though; why wouldn't they tell her yet?! She thought they wanted all of them to know the good news. Especially her!

Before Emily could say anything, Becca's cellphone rang. She didn't recognize the number but didn't seem to care. Big mistake.

"Hello?" she replied.

"Hey, Rebecca," Jason greeted.

She looked down at the number and felt a nervous flutter in her stomach. She pressed mute.

"Oh my God, it's Jason!" She squealed and jumped out of her seat. She spun to Emily. "What do I do?!"

"Answer the call," Emily suggested.

Taking in a deep nervous breath, she pressed un-mute.

"H-hey, Jason," she greeted and let a beat pass before asking. "H-how did you get my number? I mean I don't even remember giving it to you."

She twirled a strand of her hair and paced up and down the aisle.

"I uh… I asked your dad," he revealed with a nervous chuckle.

Becca made a note to herself to thank Dad for that. Maybe she could actually do what he said and stop leaving her orange soda cans in his SUV.

She couldn't help but laugh, not at Jason, but the way he was getting nervous. "Well, thanks, Dad."

Pacing, she face-palmed.

"So, um, I was wondering if you wanted to go with me to a party," Jason stared. "It's a party for one of my friends, we're going to go airsofting and hang out at the beach."

"Yes!" Becca said way too quickly. She glared at Emily who was laughing at her reaction.

Embarrassed, she paced down the aisle again and found a pink pair of pumps on display to fiddle with.

"I mean, yeah, that sounds like fun,"

Becca's eyes traveled to the woman standing at the cash register, shooting her a scowl.

She stopped messing with the heels and said coolly. "I'd love to go to a party with you."

"Alright. It's at 6 tomorrow night."

"Cool, I guess I'll uh, see you at the house, around then," Becca cringed.

OF COURSE YOU WILL, IDIOT! Becca yelled in her thoughts. YOU'RE STAYING AT HIS HOUSE!

She wished she could just sink into the floor.

"Right," Jason chuckled. "And, be timely, you know how us military guys are."

"Ahah, yeah," Becca laughed. That wasn't funny.

STOP LAUGHING BECCA, THAT WASN'T EVEN FUNNY.

Once Becca hung up, she felt like she had heart palpitations. She sank into her seat across from Emily and sighed deeply.

"So, Jason invited you to a party?" Emily asked amused.

"Yep," she nodded, grinning like an idiot. "I think he did."


Once they were out of the shoe store, and on our way to the restaurant to meet Tanya and Zoe, Becca started to ramble.

"Ems, what am I going to wear? It's airsofting. I looked it up and it's a game involving airsoft guns that shoot plastic pellets…. sounds painful. And what about a gift?" She turned to Emily with wide eyes. "Do I have to bring something for his friend's party?!"

"Wear long sleeves and jeans for airsofting. Unless you want to look like you got hickeys from a bee all over your body," she added. "No, you don't need to bring a gift."

Emily parked the SUV outside of a seafood restaurant. She spotted Tanya and Zoe sitting at a table outside on the patio with a waiter. The waiter moved aside, and Tanya was talking with a tall guy in a suit with sunglasses.

"Um, Ems, is that Aiden?" Becca asked. "What's he doing here?"

"Yes it is," Emily said, noticing his get up, complete with a fake police badge, clipped to the inside of his jacket.

The last time Emily saw Aiden he'd helped her beat up Catlin's gang and save Greg. Now he was here, talking to Tanya. That couldn't have been good.

"Don't say anything and just follow my lead," Emily instructed Becca as they got out of the car, leaving her purse behind.

Once they were inside the waitress guided them to their table. At seeing Emily, Aiden and her exchanged looks. Becca knew that that was Emily's way of telling Aiden to leave, now.

"Well, Miss Milano it's been a pleasure," Aiden said in his Virginian accent as he got up from the table.

"Thank you, Detective." Tanya smiled.

"Of course," He extended a hand to shake hers and with a nod of his head, walked off.

Emily walked up to Tanya.

"What was that about?" Emily asked.

Tanya turned to her with a small smile. "Oh, that was Detective Lasky. Arlington Police. He wanted to do a follow up on Greg's incident. Turns out the police of Arlington are more aware than those in Kilmarnock."

"He didn't ask you anything about the case did he?" Emily questioned.

"No. But, he did mention he was in the process of conducting an investigation on CARE."

"Are you two working on the same case?" Tanya questioned.

"I may have asked the police for some help," Emily lied smoothly.

"I'm glad that we're getting the help we need. It's about time," Tanya said thankfully. "Rebecca, great to see you," she smiled and gave her a hug.

"It's great to see you too," Becca returned the hug.

They both took a seat at the table. Zoe smiled to Becca showing her the brand new Black Widow action figure.

Emily looked away from Tanya, just in time to see Aiden stroll inside the restaurant. She cursed under her breath.

Aiden was back in the picture. The last thing she needed was Tanya getting suspicious and going to him for help. She needed to nip this problem in the bud. Fast.

Emily glanced back to Tanya with an apologetic smile.

"I'm sorry to leave so suddenly, but I forgot my purse in the car."

"Alright, we'll be here," Tanya assured.

Waiting till Emily left the patio, Becca asked.

"Tanya, do you know where the restroom is?"

"Oh, it's inside, make a left at the big fish tank."

"I'll be back," Becca said as she got out of her seat.

She couldn't help but be curious. She wanted to know why Aiden was here. She snuck out of the restaurant and stopped at the entrance, watching as Emily raced up to Aiden in the parking lot.

Keeping herself hidden between the pillar of the restaurant and the wooden crab statue, she watched and listened.

"What are you doing here?" Emily asked, moving in front of his car door, blocking him from leaving.

Aiden juggled the car keys in his hands. "I'm just doing my duty and following up on a case," he replied dropping the accent. "I got to say Emily, that's pretty noble of you, to help these families out with that con woman."

"Aiden, I swear to God, if you're here to mess this up-"

"I'm not here to mess things up," he insisted. "I want to help."

"Why? Why are you getting yourself involved?"

"I just want to be a part of your little team. I just want to earn your trust again; why is that so hard to believe?"

"Because it's you," Emily said flatly. "Because I know you well enough to know that your only loyalties are to yourself." She took a step towards him. "Stay away from the Shepherds and the Milanos."

Aiden noted the scowl on her face. Her stiff body language an attempt to stay calm and not snap. If they weren't in a crowded public place full of witnesses, Emily would have kicked his ass.

"Alright, Emily. I promise; I won't interfere with your little crusade."

"I meant what I said when I'd end you," Emily stated. "If you even think about showing up to the benefit."

"Damn and I already bought a suit," Aiden chuckled. "And I know, that's just another empty threat."

"Believe me, you and I both know that I'll be more than happy to fulfill it," she stated with a chilling smirk.

"Oh, shit!" Becca cursed, walking out of the restaurant to see Emily strolling towards her. Thinking fast, she ducked behind the tall, wooden crab sculpture.

She peeked her head out from one side, seeing Emily walked past her into the restaurant. Becca peeked her head out on the other side of the statue to see Aiden about to get into his car.

"Aiden!" Becca yelled out, running towards him, just as he pulled out of the parking lot. "Aiden, wait up!"

He better not make me run after him! Becca thought.

She raced up beside the car and then slammed herself against the front windshield, in an attempt to make him stop.

Thankfully, Aiden stepped on the brakes. A second longer and she'd had ended up crushed under the car.

Aiden stuck his head out the window. "Are you crazy!?" He yelled.

"No, and how else was I supposed to make you stop?" Becca defended, winching at the pain in her shoulder. OK maybe that wasn't her best or brightest plan, but it worked.

Chest heaving and sweat dripping from her forehead, Becca pushed herself off the windshield and strolled to the driver's window.

"What are you doing here?" Aiden scoffed, "Let me guess Emily sent you?"

"No, she didn't 'send me'," Becca countered, kinda annoyed that he thought she was Emily's little spy or something.

"Then, what are you doing here?" He asked.

"That's what I want to ask you," she started. "Look, the last time you showed up Emily and my dad didn't exactly treat you with open arms."

"Oh great," Aiden scoffed. "You're just like Emily, thinking I'm the bad guy."

"Well, I would say leaking a seventeen-year old's paternity records to the world and trying to rip apart her family, makes you a bad guy." Becca glared at him and folded her arms over her chest. "Just sayin'."

Aiden glanced away from her for a second. Emily had told her Aiden was dangerous, untrustworthy and a liar. That she shouldn't talk to him.

Well, she was going against all of that because she was tired of being in the dark. If someone messed with her family, she wanted to know who they were and ask them why.

"Look, I'm truly sorry for what I did you and your father," Aiden said with a heavy voice, glancing at Becca with…remorse? It looked like he was actually apologizing to her.

"I was only trying to help Emily, but I failed to realize that she had a family already."

Already? What did that mean? Becca sensed that Aiden had deeper feelings for Emily at one point. Maybe they were together before. She thought the way Aiden talked about Emily reminded her of a heartbroken guy.


"What do you mean, already?" Becca pried.

"Emily was my friend at one point," Aiden explained, in a far off voice. "Was something more at another point."

"Is that why you want to help Emily? You know so you two can be friends again?"

"Something like that.”

"Well, my dad and Emily say you're dangerous, and a liar, you can't be trusted." Becca stated bluntly.

Becca wanted to believe that Aiden was telling the truth. But she knew the kind of guy he was, he could be lying to her. But she felt like he was being sincere, that his apology was genuine. She noticed the sliver of regret in Aiden's expression at her words.

"You're really good at listening to them; but what about you?" He questioned. "Do you think I'm a bad person?"

A pit of nervousness twisted in her throat. She didn't know. Everything she knew about Aiden was from Emily and Dad. But Aiden's actions spoke louder than his words and so far she thought he was a bad guy.

"Eight minutes have elapsed," Becca's smart watch announced.

She clicked the little alarm off. She had to get back to the restaurant, otherwise Emily would start to wonder where she went.

"Hey, you're a smart girl, so here's some advice," He started as he threw on his sun glasses. "Don't listen to everything your parents say. Learn to think for yourself. It'll help in the long run."

With that, Aiden peeled out of the parking lot, leaving Becca confused and annoyed as she walked back to the restaurant.

She didn't listen to everything Dad and Emily told her. She had a mind of her own. She wasn't their little soldier or something.

"Hey, you found your purse," Becca announced, as she approached their table.

"Where were you?" Emily asked her.

"The restroom," Becca lied smoothly, sliding into the seat beside her. Emily seemed to buy it. Becca grinned. She was getting way too good at lying. "There was a line and stuff."

"So, Tanya, how have you been?" Becca asked her with a smile.

"Truthfully, I'm drained. It's been a long time since we've had to stay in the hospital for more than a week," she pushed back a strand of her curly hair. "We've practically lived at the hospital."

"That must be challenging," Becca nodded, sipping on her lemon water. She added with a laugh. "I'm sure you're glad to have a break from the hospital food."

Seeing Tanya reminded Becca of that little moment of jealousy she had when Tanya and Jason were hugging at the hospital. She don't know why she felt that way, it didn't make any sense for her to feel jealous. Tanya and Jason were just close friends.

Besides, Tanya was married and had a kid. Becca was just some girl that happened to be crushing on a guy she knew. Becca knew Tanya was in a rough situation at the moment, and recalling her petty attitude, wanted to make an effort to be super nice to the woman.

"Definitely. I'm sick of it, but not Zoe," Tanya smiled at her daughter as she ate some fries. "I swear her diet consisted of ice cream and fries, it's not the best for her." Tanya admitted with a somewhat guilty voice.

She added with a sincere smile. "I was just saying that I'm so glad we could meet you both for lunch. It's the least we could do; after all you've done to help us."

"How is Greg?" Emily asked.

Cheering up, she said. "He's stable now. His LVAD's been replaced and he's breathing on his own again."

Tanya's eyes lit up. "The good news I wanted to share was that we've found a heart donor."

"That's wonderful," Emily smiled.

"That's great news," Becca agreed.

"Thank you. He's scheduled for surgery at the end of the month," Tanya wiped at her eyes with her napkin and let out a happy laugh. "Greg's been in and out of consciousness. Barely staying awake long enough to hold a conversation."

She turned to Zoe, gave her a warm smile, and squeezed her shoulder gently, "We're just waiting for him to wake up."

"When my daddy wakes up, we're gonna watch Iron Man and go fishing!" Zoe smiled at Becca and Emily, hopeful and determined.


After lunch, Zoe decided she wanted to go to the park to play.

Emily and Tanya sat on the bench, watching as their girls played on the seesaw.

"You know, this is the most she's smiled all week," Tanya revealed with a somewhat guilty smile.

"It was a fight to get her to leave the hospital. She was crying and screaming to stay with her dad," Tanya looked back to the playground and waved at Zoe as she laughed happily at her.

"She wants to be the first thing her daddy sees when he wakes up."

"She's a daddy's girl," Emily added with a knowing smile.

She couldn't help but think of herself growing up and how whenever her dad had to stay out late for business and left her with a baby sitter, she would cry, so that he wouldn't leave. That didn't work all the time, and most of the time, David would have to leave her with the sitter. On the nights that he was able to get out of work early, they'd both sit in the living room curled up on the couch, the fireplace roaring, reading a fairytale till she fell asleep.

"Oh she definitely is," Tanya agreed. "There's no doubt."

Just then Zoe raced back to Tanya and Becca followed after her laughing. Zoe ran to her mom and wrapped her arms around her mid-section.

"Mommy, did you see how high I was in the air?"

"I did pretty girl," Tanya pushed wisps of Zoe's curls out of her face. "You were so high you could reach the trees."

Beaming Zoe turned to Becca, "Becca's good at seesawing."

Becca grinned. "So are you, Zoe."

Something beeped. Tanya looked down at her beeping wrist watch. "Baby, we need to get going. We have a lot of errands to run."

Zoe pulled away from her mom with a frown. "But, I want to stay at the park with Becca!" she stepped to Becca's side and grabbed her hand.

"Well, I guess we could stay for five more minutes," Tanya stated. "But then we really have to get going."

"Yay!" Zoe yanked Becca back with her to the playground. "Come on, Becca, you can push me on the swings!"

"Okay, just uh, can I have my arm back?" Becca pleaded.

Tanya and Emily giggled as Becca was dragged off by Zoe.

"I got this in the mail," Tanya pulled the CARE invitation from her purse. "As honored as I am to receive an invite to Catlin's benefit," Tanya said, her words laced with sarcasm. "I'm afraid I can't go. Zoe's much too young to be without a sitter and I'd rather keep my distance from all things CARE and Catlin Tucker."

"Smart choice," Emily agreed.

"Speaking of, how's the case?"

"My team and I plan to write this as a case closed, tomorrow night at the benefit," Emily explained confidently.

She wouldn't let it show that she was nervous for what Aiden could do to mess things up.

Too many things had gone wrong for them already, now that things were starting to pan out, they couldn't afford any more mistakes.

Emily couldn't stand to see Nolan so torn up and depressed again. It was too much. So, she'd do everything in her power to make sure everything went according to plan tomorrow night.

Five minutes were up, Emily and Tanya rose, both grabbing their purses off the bench, as Zoe and Becca made their way back to them.

Tanya and Emily stood outside of their vehicles, chatting in the parking lot.

Becca was sitting in the SUV, playing on her phone. Zoe was already strapped into her booster seat of her mom's grey minivan.

"Thank you, Emily for everything," Tanya smiled gratefully, before giving her a hug. "You and your daughter are truly wonderful people."

Emily smiled and returned the hug, but didn't get a chance to correct Tanya, as she piled into her minivan.

In that moment, Emily couldn't help but wonder what made Tanya think they were mother and daughter. Did they really act that way?

Part of Emily wanted to knock on Tanya's window and say how she wasn't Rebecca's mother.

But the other part of her, the one that she was afraid to let show, the part of her that was opening up, the part of her that was in love with Nolan and adored Rebecca with all her heart, let it slide with a content smile.

Chapter Text

 

Becca sat in the living room, tapping away on her laptop, putting the finishing touches on the presentation that Dad and Emily were going to use at the Veteran’s ball tonight.

 

She finished the last line of code. She grinned, grabbed her orange soda, and sat back from the laptop, admiring her final product. She thought it was her best work.

 

“How do I look?” Dad asked, strolling into the living room.

 

“Wow, Dad, you look like a million bucks!” Becca exclaimed, in awe of his tux.

 

“Just a million?” Dad asked with a laugh, “I was hoping a billion.”

 

Becca simply smiled. She knew next to Emily they’d both look priceless.

 

“So, how’s the slideshow coming along?” Dad asked.

 

“It’s done,” Becca grinned. “Wanna see it?”

 

“Of course,” Dad took a seat next to her on the couch. As Becca was about to start up the presentation, she glanced to his sleeves, golden cufflinks in a familiar shape stared back at her.

 

“Are those Darth Vadar cufflinks?”

 

“Gotta strut my inner nerd,” Dad grinned.

 

“Nice,” Becca turned back to her laptop. “This presentation is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself,” she bragged and played the presentation from the beginning.

 

Becca started to bite her fingernails, as Dad sat forward, with a hand to his chin, watching her work with a critical eye.

 

She’d seen the kinds of things he and Emily made. Making these weren’t all just audio snippets and candid photos. Creating these things took a creative and critical eye. It had to be laid out in a way that would make people stop and look. Becca’d already spent like a whole day making this thing, she thought it was good but, she knew it could be better.

 

Once the presentation ended, Becca stopped biting her nails. She really had to stop doing that. It was gross.

 

Dad humphed and then turned to her. “Great work kiddo,” he smiled.

 

Becca let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. "Thanks Dad," she grinned, "I also sent it to your Nolpad. That way all you have to do is cast it from your tablet onto the computer at the benefit."

 

“Did you post a few clones?”

 

“Yup. I have it set to go out to the governor's office and a few other social media sites, an hour after you show it. You know, just to spread the word.”

 

“That’s my girl,” Dad smiled.

 

Beaming, Becca closed her laptop. She stood up, took a few steps forward and did a lunge. She sighed in relief as her leg and thigh muscles uncoiled. Sitting on your butt for ten plus hours wasn’t a lot of fun.

 

Turning to her dad, she stretched her arms above her head in a mountain yoga pose. “Well, now that I’m done with that I need to get dressed for that party I’m going to with Jason.”

 

“So, you’re excited for your date?” Dad asked.

 

Cheeks burning, Becca said. “It’s not a date! He’s just inviting me to a party.”

 

“Hmm, I don’t think he thinks that.” Dad laughed, “He basically asked me for my blessing. The guy was so nervous.”

 

“Ahah! You realize that you went back on you whole, ‘date a guy when you’re thirty thing’?”

 

“Like you said, it’s not a date,” Dad pointed out, trying to act like he hadn’t done exactly that.

 

“Uh-huh,” Becca chuckled and tried to hide the stupid grin on her face. She thought Jason was a really interesting and funny guy. She was glad her dad thought so too.

 

Her smart watch beeped as she finished her yoga in a tree pose. Becca glimpse at her watch, eyes wide. “Oh man, I gotta get ready; we leave in less than thirty minutes!”

 

She grabbed her laptop and hurried past her dad out the livingroom. Nolan chuckled as she excitedly raced up the stairs. It looked like everyone was having a big night out tonight.

 

“Are we all ready to go?” Ford asked walking into the livingroom.

 

“Just waiting on Emily,” he glanced to his wrist watch. Getting to Arlington would take at least a few hours, they needed to get going.

 

“Might want to see what’s keeping her,” Ford added.

 

“Yeah, I’ll uh, see what’s taking her,” Nolan strolled past Ford and up the stairs.

 

Standing outside of Emily’s bedroom door, Nolan tentatively knocked on it a few times. “Hey, Emily are you ready?”

 

“Come in, Nolan,” Emily said.

 

He pushed the door open. The bathroom door was slightly ajar and in the mirror, Nolan caught a glimpse of Emily doing her makeup, dressed in a plush white robe.

 

“I’m just finishing up my makeup,” Emily called out from the bathroom.

 

“Alright,” Nolan stood in the doorframe, hands in his pockets. He still couldn’t figure out why she was upset with him all of yesterday. He honestly didn’t know what he did wrong. He wanted to know what was up with her and resolve it before they left. They didn’t need to be upset with each other.

 

Nolan cleared his throat, walked further into the room and sat on her bed. He stared at the bathroom door, glad it was closed, so Emily couldn’t see the nervous look on his face.

 

“Babe, you’ve been upset with me since yesterday, did I do something?”

 

No response.

 

With a sigh, Nolan glanced around the room, his eyes fell on that stupid memory book, sitting on the night stand.

 

Why did Emily have that thing?

 

He picked it up. Just looking at the thing made him annoyed.

 

“What’s so great about this book?” Nolan asked himself as he opened it.

 

Flipping through the pages, he was surprised to find the magazine articles were about him. And not only that, but they were about him and his road to success building NolCorp. Even photos of him as a kid, building his first robot and computer at the electronics shop.

 

Polaroids of their family vacations and road trips filled the pages. Nolan laughed at the photo of himself standing proudly beside his beat up Pinto.

 

His father made this book?! There was no way Edward Ross made this.

 

“That’s why I’m upset with you,” Emily said from beside him.

 

Nolan turned around. Emily stood before him in a stunning floor length royal purple gown. Her black heels clicked against the hardwood. The long sheer sleeves of her dress sparkled like diamonds as she moved across the room, to grab her matching purple clutch off the vanity.

 

Her back to him, Nolan noted how the neckline of her dress dipped down a bit, showing a bit of her back and the simple gold necklace around her neck.

 

Emily spun around, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Nolan thought her hair was perfect, liking how her updo looked a bit messy and not perfectly styled.

 

“Rebecca told me you wanted to throw it away,” Emily stated. “That you thought it was trash.”

 

“Well, I didn’t expect to find this,” Nolan simply humphed and when back to looking through the book. Flipping through the pages, he stopped at a Polaroid of him and his mother.

 

He could remember this day clearly. His mom was actually well enough to be up and around and Nolan had gotten to show her the boat he and Ford had built on the lake.

 

“She was beautiful,” Emily said, taking a seat beside Nolan.

 

“Yeah,” he nodded, eyeing the photo with a sad smile.

 

“Your father did care about you, Nolan,” Emily said, with a soft smile.

 

Staring into his mother’s bright blue eyes, Nolan remembered that day for another reason. It was at least ninety degrees that day. And everyone wondered why his mother was wearing long sleeve dress. She’s say it was because she didn’t want to get sunburned. But Nolan knew the long sleeves were to hide the bruises on her arms from the argument she had with Edward the night before.

 

Nolan felt sick to his stomach. This book didn’t prove Edward cared about him, it was just his father’s way of painting a picture that everything in their life was fine, but it wasn’t.

 

“I have a hard time believing my dad made this book,” Nolan scoffed, shooting Emily a frown. “He never was the arts and crafts type.”

 

“Well, Nolan, people change, this book proves that.”

 

"Not my dad. Nothing I ever did was good enough for him. Didn't matter that I earned a full ride to M.I.T. or that I made it on the cover of Forbes. He didn't care.”

 

His father had reasons to be proud of him. But he chose not to.

 

“And you know what that's on him,” He laughed bitterly, “Now, I’m a damn billionaire and what was he his whole life? A poor drunk vet."

 

This book didn’t remove the scars from his mind or on his body. Edward Ross was still a monster.

 

Nolan gritted his teeth. "This book doesn’t change who he was or what he did to me and my mom.”

 

He grabbed the Polaroid of his mother with a shaky hand. The book fell out of his hands onto the floor.

 

Grabbing the book, an envelope slide out of the back, getting caught under the sole of his shoes. Nolan stepped aside, to pick up the envelope. Turning it over to the front he glared and scoffed.

 

“Nolan, I understand how you feel, believe me, I felt the same way about my mother,” Emily said. “But reading that letter will help you understand your father--”

 

“How could you understand, Emily?" Nolan cut in. "You don't know what it's like living with a monster for a father; you didn't grow up fearing your dad, and you never really knew your mother, so forgiving her for abandoning you was easy," Nolan exclaimed, hurt lacking his voice. 

 

Emily blinked, taken aback by his remark, she was speechless.

 

"None of these things will change the past," Nolan stated, dropping the book and letter on the bed, "a letter won't change how I feel about my dad,” he said finally, pocketing the photo and stood up.

 

A tense silence hung between them saying, they were done talking about this.

 

“Are you ready to go?” He asked, voice tight.

 

“Yeah,” Emily said, standing up. She watch with a frown as Nolan strolled out the bedroom.

 

Walking out of her room, Emily felt a tightness in her chest, as Nolan’s words replayed in her mind.

 

That nothing would change how he felt about Edward.

 

Emily knew his hatred and anger and disappointment. Ever since she was a young girl, she’d longed for her mother’s love and affections, but instead felt abandoned and neglected. Didn't her mother want her or love her? Growing up without a mother to guide her and protect her, left her feeling like she didn't belong.

 

Emily hated her mother for abandoning her and her father, but that changed when Kara explain her absence. Kara didn’t leave her motherless because she wanted to, but because she needed to. She did it to protect her daughter from herself. From her illness.

 

Hearing the truth from her mother, knowing her reason why, Emily could honestly say she was willing to forgive her. Not for her mother’s actions but the reason behind them.

 

How could you understand?

 

Maybe, Nolan was right in a way, she didn't know her mother well, maybe that was why it was easier for her to forgive her. Was she being insensitive, in her attempt to help him?

 

Emily hated that she couldn't help Nolan, that she couldn't find the right things to say or do to get him through his anger. Throughout the entire time they'd been here, she had not been able to help Nolan. That was starting to bother her. Emily always wanted to be there for her family and friends. She wanted to be their rock, to be the person they could really count on, seeing that nothing she did or said helped Nolan made her feel annoyed.

 

If she couldn't help Nolan, who or what could?

 

“Ems you look beautiful!” Becca told Emily as she descended the stairs.

 

“Thank you, Becca,” Emily smiled. “You look cute. I see you’re all ready for your night of airsofting.”

 

Becca had changed into Nolan’s RUN DMC sweatshirt with jeans and a pair of black boots.

 

“And I’m prepared to be hit by those plastic bullets,” Becca reached into her small purse, pulling out a pair of black workout gloves. “To protect my hands.”

 

“Nice thinking,” Emily grinned.

 

They walked out of the house. Making their way to the driveway, Emily spotted Nolan talking with Jason.

 

Emily stopped next to Nolan. Becca stood in front of them, grinning with her cellphone out.

 

“Hey, Dad, look over here!” Becca urged.

 

Nolan turned in her direction with a smile as Emily laced her arm with his, smiling at the camera.

 

“You guys look amazing,” Becca gushed, showing Jason the photo.

 

“You two look like a couple of celebrities, ma’am.” Jason added.

 

“Thank you Jason,” Emily said.

 

“Are you ready to go Becca?” Jason asked, standing beside his motorcycle, as he put on his gloves.

 

“We’re going to ride on that?” Becca questioned, eyes wide, pointing to the motorcycle.

 

“Yup,” Jason handed her a helmet. “Justine will be your ride for tonight, m’lady.”

 

Becca warily took the sleek red helmet. “Uh, well, I never rode a motorcycle before.”

 

“Are you afraid to ride?” Jason asked.

 

“Kinda,” she admitted with a nervous laugh. She recalled all those motorcycle statistics she’d read on how dangerous motorcycles can be.

 

“Don’t be. Justine will take good care of you,” Jason petted the handlebars of his bike. “Won’t you girl?”

 

Becca glanced to her dad and Emily with a worried look. Both of them had different reactions; Dad seemed less than thrilled at her riding on a motorcycle. While Emily was calm and encouraged her.

 

“You’ll be fine, Becca.” Emily gave her a reassuring smile.

 

Becca snapped her gaze to Jason, as he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Hey, I promise, I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Rebecca.” Jason said seriously, green eyes warm and smile friendly. “Trust me, you’ll be fine.”

 

“O-okay,” Becca bit her lip and nodded her head. “Let’s get going.”

 

Becca tied her hair back in a ponytail and then pushed the helmet on her head.

 

“I’ll help you fasten it,” Jason said.

 

Becca felt his cool, leather gloved hands underneath her chin as he tightened the strap. She kept looking everywhere but at Jason, feeling like she’d melt into a puddle, if she stared at him too long.

 

The strap tightened around her throat uncomfortably, forcing her to look at him.

 

“Too tight?” Jason asked.

 

“Just a bit,” she replied, her voice sounding like Darth Vader through the helmet. Jason readjusted the strap.

 

“Better?” he asked.

 

She nodded, looking past the dark shield, giving him a thumbs up.

 

Jason grinned and reached a hand out to lifted up the shield of her helmet.

 

“You’ll want to keep the shield down when we’re riding, but leave it up for a minute.”

 

“Okay,”

 

“Now, do you have any gloves or something to protect your hands, it also makes it easier for you to hold onto me while I’m driving.”

 

“Yeah, I do.” Becca slid on her workout gloves.

 

“Great, let’s get going,” Jason strapped on his helmet and lifted the shield of his helmet. Becca stood back, watching as he gestured to the motorcycle.

 

“Watch how I get on, one foot on the foot peg, hop onto the bike and swing your leg back and over to the other side,” he demonstrated, hopping onto his motorcycle.

 

Jason turned his head to her. “You’ll do the same thing, but hold onto my shoulder for support.”

 

She did as Jason instructed and was surprised that she didn’t fall off.

 

“Rest your feet on the foot rests on the sides,” Jason told her.

 

Becca felt the foot rests on either side of her and did so. Wow! That wasn’t so hard. She was actually on a motorcycle! This was kind of like getting onto a bike.

 

She lowered the shield of her helmet and then glanced behind her, to her dad and Emily, both watching with amused grins.

 

“Look at that, you’re a natural,” Jason praised.

 

“Thanks,” Becca grinned like a dummy, glad that Jason couldn’t see her smiling under her helmet.

 

“Alright, I’m going to start her up, now, you'll want to hold onto me, wrap your arms around my waist,” Jason said. “Justine can be a bit, jumpy when she starts up.”

 

Wait, wait, wait; did he say she’d have to hold onto him? She thought chicks in the movies did that for show, she didn’t know that was a real thing!

 

“Uh, oh, uh, okay,” Becca rambled. “Um, uh, a-alright...”

 

Her mouth felt dry. Her hands were locked in place on his shoulders. Even though his black, leather jacket was cool, her fingertips, felt like she was touching red hot fire.

 

She slowly, shyly, moved her hands off his shoulders to his waist. She guessed Jason thought she was already holding onto him because, the engine roared to life in her ears. The motorcycle jumped. Becca’s hands flew to Jason’s waist. She pressed herself against his back, locking her arms around him, as the engine rumbled her seat and shook her entire body.

 

She’d never been this close to Jason. Her face felt hot and stomach knotted into twists. She was literally spooning him because she was so damn afraid of falling off.

 

Why was riding a motorcycle so… intimate looking?

 

Knowing that her dad and Emily were standing a foot away, watching their every move, made this even more embarrassing.

 

“Hear that purr?” Jason yelled over the sounds of the engine. “That’s a good sign, it means she likes you.”

 

“Oh, great!” Becca yelled back, trying to keep her fear at bay.

 

This was NOT like riding a bike.

 

She thought it was kinda weird that Jason humanized his motorcycle. But, if his bike liked her, and wasn’t going to throw her off, she’d roll with it.

 

Jason turned his head to Dad and Emily.

 

“We’ll see you two later!” Jason told them.

 

“See you two later. Drive safe, and call us when you get there!” Dad added concerned.

 

“Yeah, I will, Dad.” Becca assured.

 

“Have fun you two!” Emily smiled.

 

With that, Jason looked forward. The bike shifted a bit as he removed his feet from the ground to the pedals on either side of the bike.

 

“Alright, Becca, I’m going to start moving now,” Jason said. “Just keeping hold onto me like that, alright, you’re doing great.”

 

Oh god, they were going to move.

 

Becca heard the crunch of gravel. She looked beneath her, as the ground shifted under her boots.

 

She took in a breath, the bike picked up speed as they approached the steep, winding exit to the ranch. The sun hung low in the sky, creating a warm glow on the lake. The trees surrounding them cast fractured orange light onto the steep, dirt path ahead.

 

The engine roared again. Gravity forced Becca closer to Jason’s back as they started down the road. She shut her eyes closed and tightened her grip around Jason, the sound of air rushing through her helmet defend her. Her ponytail slapping against the nape of her neck, as they went darting down the road.

 

Becca felt like she was flying through the road. She felt like a bird or a superhero. The wind felt like it was pass through her body.

 

She dared to open her eyes.

 

Becca glimpsed to the left of her. They were on the freeway now. Trees and cars and power lines whisked past in blurs. The lake glimmered and sparkled as the sunlight danced like stars off the water.

 

She remembered reading how motorcyclists felt a sense of freedom and unity when they rode. Becca felt it too. The overwhelming clarity and warmth that came with an adrenalin rush, coursed from her head to her toes.

 

She’d never felt this free and alive and powerful before. Not even hacking or running gave her a high like this.

 

Slowly, her death grip on Jason loosened. The fear in her stomach and chest eased as she took in deep breaths, trusting that Jason knew what he was doing and meant what he said when he’d make sure she’d be safe with him.

 


 

“So, what did you think of your first time on a motorcycle?” Jason asked Becca once they arrived at the airsoft venue.

 

“It was pretty cool,” Becca said with a grin.

 

They walked through the parking lot, past a neon green jeep, and stepped inside the airsoft shop.

 

“Whoa.” Becca gawked at the guns, face masks, goggles and other gear, hanging on racks and lining the walls behind the counters.

 

Display cases holding magazines and other gun accessories were on display near the front. Off to the side, a petite Black girl with dreads, flipped through a rack of camo jackets.

 

The sound of laughter made Becca turn to the counter ahead of her. A group of six guys stood, talking with a pair of guys behind the counter as they showed them a few guns.

 

She followed behind Jason as he strolled over to the guys.

 

“What’s up Chris?” Jason bro hugged a buff guy wearing a black Virginia CAVALIERS sweatshirt. His shaggy brown hair tied back with an orange bandana.

 

“Jason, man, it’s been a while, glad you could make it.”

 

“Guys, this is Rebecca,” Jason introduced.

 

“Sup, guys,” she grinned, waving. She glanced to the large duffle bag resting at their feet. “You guys are really serious about this game huh?”

 

“Damn right, we are,” a Black guy wearing black sweats and a ZEDD snapback exclaimed. “It’s all or nothing.”

 

“No, way, you’re Rebecca Ross?!” A tall Korean guy gushed, offering her his hand to shake. “I’m Dom, I’m a huge fan.”

 

“Oh, really?” Becca said, surprised. Most people only knew her because of her dad.

 

“What are you famous for?” the girl with dreads questioned.

 

“I’m not. I’m just a computer geek,” Becca shrugged. “My dad is; he basically invented texting.”

 

“You’re pretty cool too,” Dom said. “Your typing soda can at the tech awards was great. And so is that GPS software you talked about in WIRED last month. You're totally going places.”

 

“Thanks,” she blushed. “That means a lot.”

 

Becca was used to people comparing her to her dad. No one ever talked about what she was working on or her accomplishments. So it was nice to get some praise.

 

Just then, Jason handed her a clipboard, “You’ve gotta sign up.”

 

She glanced down at the paper, reading the liability clause and signed her name with a pen at the bottom.

 

“It’s just like getting drafted into the Army,” he joked.

 

“I guess there's no turning back now,” Becca laughed, sliding the clipboard across the counter to the instructor.

 

Everyone stood listening to the instructor rattle on about the rules and safety for ten minutes.

 

“I’m sure you’re all bored of me talking,” he laughed. “So, let’s head straight to the lobby to get you all suited up and then we’ll head to the arena.”

 

The instructor walked out from behind the counter and led them down a hallway lined with graffiti and face masks, to an area they could suit up.

 

Watching as everyone else was unloading their gear, Becca felt intimidated.

 

Scopes. Sights. Dual guns! Combined, these guys had an arsenal. They were obviously pros.

 

“So, you ever played before?” Dom asked, as he tied a green bandana around his neck.

 

“Nope. First time.” Becca realized she was doing a lot of firsts tonight. Riding on a motorcycle. Airsofting. What else would be scratched off her list of firsts tonight?

 

“You’re not dragging us down,” the girl with tight braids said, strolling up to Dom. She’d changed into an all pink camo outfit.

 

“Oh, well, I’ll try not to suck too much.”

 

“You can’t be on our team,” the girl started, shooting Becca an annoyed look.

 

“It’s not that you can’t. It’s just that Nisha, Troy and I get pretty intense,” Dom explained.

 

“Hey, you can be on our team, Rebecca,” Chris gestured to himself, Jason and a couple of other guys. “Dom, Troy, Nisha, and Amir are together.”

 

“Whatever,” Nisha scoffed, moving past Becca to the table with her pink duffle bag.

 

Once the rest of the guys and Nisha were suited up, they followed the instructor across the room, to a pair of graffiti covered double doors. Rap music blared from the arena into the lobby, as they filed into the dimly lit arena.

 

Becca finished strapping on a grey mesh face mask, that Jason had let her borrow, and was ready to head out, when Dom walked up to her.

 

“Hey, is it cool if I get a picture with you?” He asked, wiping out his cellphone.

 

“Uh, sure, no problem.”

 

She pushed the goggles up and out her eyes. Dom leaned next to her holding out his phone. He shifted his green bandana, from his neck, covering the lower half of his face. They both threw up a peace sign and the camera clicked.

 

“We look bad ass,” Becca awed at the selfie. “Hope you post that to Instagram.”

 

“You look like a total gangster with that skull mask,” Dom said. He looked up from his phone to Becca with a nervous smile. “Sorry if I’m being annoying or weird. I’m sure you get ambushed by fans all the time.”

 

“No, it’s cool,” she assured. “To be honest, you’re one of the few chill ones.”

 

Everyone else was freaking weird; she’d received marriage proposals via Twitter from guys and girls. Glomped on while walking to Starbucks. And, one day, she was just standing in line at a CD shop, ready to check out, when out of nowhere, this girl walked up to her, and reached out her hand to run her fingers through her hair.

 

On more than one occasion Big Ed had to step in to break it up before things crossed sexual harassment.

 

Obviously no one’s ever heard of a filter. Or personal space.

 

She don’t know what it was about fans and thinking they could just touch her and rattle off facts about her like they were her lover or best friends.

 

Just because there’s was a Wikipedia page about her didn’t mean they know her life.

 

Now she understood why Dad kept fan interactions to a zero. People, unlike technology, were intense and unpredictable.

 

Becca was glad Dad hired Ed as their part time bodyguard. Dad had insisted on Ed being full time but she wasn’t ready to be babysat 24/7. She wanted freedom. Even if that was an illusion, and she knew whenever she went out, Big Ed was trailing her in his Mercedes, sent Dad status reports about her every hour, and was within reach to body slam fans who attempt to kiss her.

 

At first, she thought it was weird, having Ed hanging around her, but she’d gotten used to the ex-marine, and was grateful he was there when she needed him.

 

Ed was all business and never talked much. Becca was fine with that. He was her bodyguard not her friend. She knew he had a job to do and didn’t have time to talk about music or computers.

 

But that didn’t stop her from trying to make the guy crack a smile. She’d get him to laugh at her jokes one day.

 

“What’s the holdup babe? Nisha called out from behind.

 

Becca turned, Nisha walked out from the arena dressed in pink camo gear, matching dual guns holstered to her sides. She stopped beside Dom, possessively placing her hand on his shoulder.

 

“Just getting a selfie with Rebecca. Come on babe, let’s go.” Dom smiled at Becca. “Thanks.”

 

Becca grabbed her gun off the table and walked out the arena doors. She glanced across the lot, plastic barrels and planks of wood were stacked high, acting as cover around the perimeter. An RV covered in graffiti, sat off to the end of the lot.

 

A lookout tower, loomed over the obstacle course. A DJ sat inside, staring down at them through glass windows. EDM music hummed through the lot from speakers mounted outside the tower.

 

This place reminded her of a video game map.

 

Becca glanced ahead, Dom and Jason and everyone else stood a few yards ahead waiting.

 

Jason moved out of line, “Hey, Becca, over here!” he waved her over, to the spot between him and Dom.

 

Walking over to him, Nisha shoved past Becca, stealing her spot. Nisha glanced over her shoulder, sending Becca a glare.

 

Becca rolled her eyes at her. Bitch please. I don’t want your boyfriend.

 

Thankfully, Jason stepped aside, leaving her a space next to him.

 

As Becca listened to the instructor rattle off the rules, she snuck a glance at Nisha. She might totally suck at this game, but she’d try and shoot Nisha as much as she could.

 

She was on the opposing team.

Chapter Text

Stanford, Emily and Nolan walked inside CARE headquarters toward the grand hall. A greeter welcomed them at the door and showed them to their tables.

 

“Catlin sure knows how to impress,” Nolan looked awed at the giant glass chandelier that hung in the center of the dance floor.

 

“I’ll say,” Emily said, following his gaze to the chandelier.

 

She had to admit, the hall looked very much like a ballroom. Warm golden lights were strung from the high ceilings, and ivory drapes hung above the stage, running across the dining tables, stopping at the bar.

 

Nolan and Emily made their way through the crowd of well-dressed people to their table at the front, while Ford along with the rest of the CARE clients seated in the back.

 

Emily spotted Catlin, dressed in a glitzy black off the shoulder gown, chatting with guests ahead.

 

“Catlin!” Emily called out, strolling over to her with Nolan. Catlin turned on her heels, at the sight of Emily, she looked less than thrilled.

 

“Oh, Miss Thorne, what a surprise to see you,” Catlin said.

 

“Everything looks incredible,” Emily added, she looked up at Nolan with a smile. “When Nolan invited me I just couldn’t say no,” she moved a hand from her clutch to squeeze his bicep.

 

Emily could sense that her appearance was threatening to Catlin. She wanted to show Catlin she couldn’t mess with her Nolan anymore.

 

“Thank you,” Catlin forced a smile. “If you’ll both excuse me, enjoy your evening.”

 

The duo turned, watching as the conwoman disappeared into the crowd.

 

“Trying to start a catfight, kitten?” Nolan asked Emily with a grin.

 

“Well, kitten, you wanted her to leave you alone,” she smiled at him. “I think she will.”

 

A server approached them, offering flutes of champagne. Sipping her champagne, Emily took a moment to search for Aiden. She didn’t see him at the entrance or in the crowd.

 

So far, things were going well.

 

The rest of the evening went well. After dinner, everyone broke away from their usual social class, taking an opportunity to mix and mingle.

 

Emily stood at the bar, appearing to look casual as she sipped her champagne. She’d made her rounds ten minutes ago looking for a Detective Lasky. The presentation was going off in less than an hour and there wasn’t any sign of Aiden.

 

Part of her was starting to believe Aiden meant what he said about not interfering.

 

“Ems, I’m backstage in the AV room,” Nolan’s said, his voice tickling the inside of her ear as he spoke through the comm. “Ems, are you there?”

 

“Yeah, I’m here,” she replied after a moment.

 

An assistant had pulled Nolan away a few minutes ago so he could prepare for the presentation. Nolan’d taken that time to find the AV room and sabotage the presentation.

 

Nolan closed the door behind him, stepped inside the dimly lit room, and took a seat at the computer. He grabbed his Nolpad mini from his tux and went to work taking over the computers.

 

“You okay?“ Nolan asked concerned, the click of a keyboard could be heard on his end.

 

“Yeah,” Emily replied. “Why?”

 

“Well, you seemed a bit distracted at dinner.”

 

Did she really? She was doing her best to stay present and have a good time. Emily hadn’t told Nolan that Aiden was in Virginia.

 

She felt bad about not telling Nolan the truth, but she knew she had to keep it a secret between Rebecca and herself.

 

Emily knew the moment Nolan found out he’d do everything in his power to get rid of Aiden. She didn’t want that, not that she didn’t want to see Aiden behind bars or on a flight back in Japan, or Antarctica, pretty much anywhere but here and near her family.

 

She may not be able to help Nolan with his grief, but this situation she could control, keeping Nolan focused and hopeful was worth a little lie.

 

Emily sighed, she had everything under control and soon, very soon, this whole thing would be over and everything would go back to normal.

 

“I’m fine, Nolan,” she said reassuringly.

 

Nolan didn’t feel assured. He could tell something was on her mind, but he knew no matter how much he asked, Emily wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. He knew she would only talk to him when she was ready to.

 

“Good news, the presentation is in place,” Nolan slipped his Nolpad back into his pocket.

 

“Good work,” Emily said.

 

“I’m on my way back to you,” Nolan replied and made his way out the room.

 

“Having a good time, Emily?” Ford asked, joining her at the bar.

 

Emily smiled. “I am, are you enjoying yourself?”

 

“What’s not to enjoy? Tonight Catlin goes down and I get my money back,” he smiled, taking a seat next to Emily. “Though, I gotta say a $200 steak dinner tastes just like the $10 one I eat at the diner.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you’re having a good time,” she said, taking another sip of her champagne.

 

“Why aren’t you?” Ford asked, gently.

 

Was it so obvious how preoccupied she was? Emily appreciated Ford’s concern. Beside looking out for Aiden, part of her was still upset with how things went down between her and Nolan earlier.

 

“Now, I don’t mean to be nosy,” Ford added. “I’ve just been married for 22 years and I can tell when a woman is upset and it’s the man’s fault.”

 

“No, you’re not being nosy,” she slipped into the bar stool next to Ford. She sighed. “You’re right, I am upset with Nolan.”

 

Emily didn’t vent. Call it operant conditioning. Being a ninja of Revenge and growing up in the foster system made her build up defenses that she still held onto. Even with Nolan and Rebecca around her, she was learning how to share her feelings and be more open.

 

She glanced at Ford, behind his strict and tough exterior, he was a very caring and friendly man. Emily felt comfortable talking to him about Nolan. She figured that Ford knew him just as well as she did, maybe even better.

 

“Well, Nolan finally saw the memory book his father made him,” Emily explained. “I thought him looking at the book and reading the letter Edward left, would help him understand his father, get Nolan through his pain,” she sighed deeply, feeling her throat constrict. “Maybe I don’t understand what he’s going through, I lost both my parents when I was young. I adored my dad, so I don’t really understand why he feels how he does with Edward.”

 

“I think you’ve been with Nolan long enough to know just how stubborn and set in his ways he can be.”

 

“Oh, yes,” Emily replied with a small grin.

 

“The Nolan I knew wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to, but Emily, I believe if you didn’t come here to Virginia with him, he never would have come.” Ford smiled, “I’m willing to bet, you understand him better than I do, hell, maybe even better than he knows himself.

 

Emily blushed, “I suppose, you’re right,” she said softly, looking down at her champagne. “If I know him so well, why can’t I help him with his grief?” she asked, feeling useless.

 

“It will take time for Nolan to heal,” Ford sighed. “Being here has brought a lot of pain for him. He’ll deal with his past when he’s ready to, move on when he’s ready, all you can do is just be there for him as he does.”

 

Emily realized that Nolan had been there for her from the start. He gave her support when she’d gotten out of juvie, gave her strength and a shoulder to cry on when she learnt that her father wasn’t a terrorist. When she’d found her mother, he was there, unwavering and ready to help. Nolan wasn’t afraid to call her out on her actions, to be her conscious, when her’s had failed. He was her light at the end of the tunnel when she couldn’t see.

 

If Nolan could be that unyielding hopeful person in her life Emily wanted to be his.

 

“Thank you, Ford,” Emily smiled grateful.

 

“Of course, dear. That’s what family is for.”

 

Just then, the lights around them lowered. Emily and Ford looked around the ballroom, noticing all the lights were dimmed. Groups stood around the dancefloor chatting, the chandelier lit up, sparkling like a star, couples flocked to the dance floor, dancing in time with the slow music that played.

 

Standing, Emily spotted Nolan weaving through the ballroom, searching around, no doubt for her.

 

“Shall we?” Ford asked, holding his arm out to Emily.

 

They strolled through the crowd to Nolan. Just as they got on the dance floor, Catlin swooped in and tapped Nolan on his shoulder. Nolan spun around to the con woman.

 

“Care to dance?” she asked Nolan with a flirty smile, holding her hand out to him.

 

Nolan looked at her hand hesitantly. “Uh, actually, I’m dancing with—”

 

“He’s dancing with me,” Emily stated.

 

The con woman spun around and Emily shot her a glare. Emily released Ford’s arm and strolled over to Nolan.

 

Emily smiled, “Hey, handsome,” she stopped beside him and took his hand in hers.

 

“That’s right,” Nolan said, gripping Emily’s hand tighter. He saw a glint of jealousy in Catlin’s eyes. “Emily’s my permanent dancing partner.”

 

Catlin stood speechless.

 

Nolan turned to Emily, took a step back from her and held out his hand to her, “May I have this dance, beautiful?” he asked, smiling.

 

“You may,” Emily grinned, giving him her hand.

 

Ford watched with a smile as Nolan and Emily waltz to the center of the dance floor, under the chandelier.

 

Ford turned to her Catlin. “Well, I’m free to dance,” he offered.

 

Catlin shook her head no. “That’s quite alright, Stanford,” she turned on her heels, walking off to bother someone else.

 

 

 

 

Nolan rested a hand on Emily’s shoulder, placing the other on her upper back as she set her hands on his shoulders, their feet guiding them along to a slower, lazier rhythm as they slow danced to Taylor Dayne’s  - I'll Always Love You.

 

I'll always love you

For the rest of my days

You have won my heart and my soul

With your sweet, sexy ways

 

“What is it?” Emily asked, noticing how Nolan was staring at her.

 

“You look beautiful,” he replied. He couldn’t help but stare at her, admiring just how beautiful she looked under the light of the chandelier.

 

“Thank you,” Emily smiled. “That tux suits you. Very dashing.”

 

“Gotta dress well for my lady.”

 

They danced, enjoying how close they were. It was their moment to enjoy. Emily let herself relax, laying her head on Nolan’s chest with a smile as she allowed the chatter in her mind quiet down so she could revel in the moment.

 

You gave me hope

When I needed someone near

You bring me happiness

Everyday of every year

 

Nolan loved seeing Emily smile. Her smile always brought a smile to his face. He hoped that he would always make her smile and never make her cry.

 

And I'll always love you

For all that you are

You have made my life complete

You're my lucky star

 

He’d overheard her conversation with Ford. Ford was right, if it wasn’t for Emily being here he would never have come. He wouldn’t have seen Ford again or met Jason.

 

Just Emily’s presence gave him the strength he needed to get out of bed these last few weeks. She helped him the first day they got here and every day after, making sure he ate properly and told him to spent time with Rebecca instead of staying in his room hacking or being depressed. Her words of encouragement helped keep him from feeling like a complete failure when the case went south. Emily was there for him, lending him her strength and courage to get through the hard moments in his life.

 

That’s what they did, pull each other through their tough moments. Lend each other their strength when the other was at their lowest.

 

 Your are the one

That I'd been searching for

You are my everything

Tell me who could ask for more

 

“Babe, I heard what you and Ford were talking about earlier,” Nolan started, Emily moved her head off his chest to look up at him. “I know you were only doing what you thought was best to help me.”

 

“Well, I guess, there are just some things I can’t help with,” Emily admitted.

 

“No,” Nolan shook his head, “Your being here has done more for me than you know. Believe me.”

 

“I just want everything to go as planned tonight,” she said.

 

“With you here, it will,” Nolan smiled warmly, eyes full of hope.

 

Emily prayed for the rest of the night Nolan’d keep that hopeful look on his face.

 

“Well, I guess we’ve both been a bit distracted tonight,” Nolan admitted, earning a look from Emily. “All I can think about is how Rebecca is on a date and how I’m not tracking her every move. The last time she was on a date was at her sophomore prom.”

 

“What, it’s not like you GPS tracked her cell phone or something,” she joked.

 

“Nope, I did one better and tailed her in my SUV the whole night.”

 

“Really?” Emily couldn’t help but laugh. “You know what, I’m not surprised.”

 

“It’s good that I did, she went to prom with a little Casanova. He broke her heart, so I doused him in Liquid N, almost froze the kid’s dick off.”

 

“Are you serious?”

 

“Just ask Becca,” Nolan chuckled.

 

“Well, Jason’s a good young man,” Emily pointed out. “I don’t think we need to be worried.”

 

“I know he is, Ford raised him,” Nolan stated confidently. “It’s just, I can’t help but be worried. Part of me wants to know what she’s doing every second and the other part of me knows I need to let go of the reins and give her some freedom.”

 

Nolan never thought he’d be the kind of parent that was overprotective and hovering. Then again he never thought he’d have a kid.

 

“Tonight’s been the most real freedom she’s had since her paternity was leaked. I’ve got Ed doing double duty as our bodyguard and her personal watchdog.”

 

Hearing himself, Nolan realized he wasn’t just overprotective, he was super-overprotective.

 

“Jesus, I’ve turned into one of those overprotective parents,” Nolan stated.

 

Emily didn’t think he was being overprotective. Okay, well maybe the whole Liquid N incident was a bit too much.

 

She looked up at him with a proud smile. “You’re not overprotective. You both live in the public eye, hiring Ed is a precaution.”

 

“That worry thing, it never goes away, huh?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Huh, I’m guessing my heart palpitations and constantly checking for her texts is also part of the job.”

 

“Welcome to parenthood.” Emily simply grinned.

 

”Have you ever wanted to have kids?” Nolan asked after a moment.

 

“Perhaps in the future, when my revenge is complete, I’d like to adopt.”

 

“So, you wouldn’t want to have kids of your own?”

 

Emily could adopt, she could be a mother to someone broken like herself, provide them with love and stability and a home, but being a biological mother was a different story. 

 

She envied the couples she’d seen with babies of their own. She wanted a child of her own, but babies and children were given to princesses.

 

Emily wasn’t a princess of good heart, she was too impure and broken for a baby, someone so pure and innocent.

 

“No,” she said softly.

 

Nolan furrowed his brows, surprised. “Why do you say that?”

 

“I don’t feel I’m the right kind of person to bring a child into the world,” she admitted.

 

“You think I was when I found out about Rebecca?” Nolan laughed. He was far from ready when she came into his life.

 

“Babe, no matter how much you plan, you’ll never be the picture perfect parent, believe me I’ve tried. You’ll always make mistakes and screw up,” he smiled. “Your kids are the ones that make you a better person and a better parent.”

 

Since Rebecca walked into her life Emily had become a more compassionate and caring woman. She wasn’t as closed off. She smiled more. Even though she wasn’t related to Rebecca by blood, she felt a kin-like attachment to her, something almost motherly.  And that frightened her and made her happy all at once.

 

She was happy she could be a part of Rebecca’s life. She loved the teen and loved how much she was like Nolan — a big hearted, intelligent and caring soul.

 

Emily loved the normalcy,  the three of them had fallen into a routine. She enjoyed the simple life the three of them lead in New York.

 

Some mornings Emily would wake up Becca for work, earning protests from the teen who would barter for another ten minutes of sleep because she was up all night coding.

 

Emily would teach her new karate moves while Becca taught her how to hack. They’d spend lazy Sundays in their pajamas, eating pancakes and watching cartoons.

 

When they talked, Becca confided in her, not as a friend, but as someone with more respect and love.

 

Emily was just a friend to Becca three months ago, how did she move into a maternal role so fast?

 

Now that Emily and Nolan were a thing, and Becca seemed to know they were, she feared the day Becca would call her Mom. Emily wasn’t ready for that right now.

 

“Rebecca isn’t enough for you?” Emily asked, steering the subject back to Nolan.

 

“Rebecca is a handful,” Nolan agreed. “She’s more than enough for me right now.”

 

Emily noticed the lost look in his eyes. “What is it?”

 

“It’s just,” he sighed deeply, glancing to her. “My biggest regret was that I missed out  on Rebecca growing up. I know I can’t ever get that time back and I hate it.”

 

He missed a lot of firsts; birthdays, learning how to walk and talk, first loose tooth, middle school, all the little moments before and after, they’d all escaped like sand through his fingers.

 

With a love to call my own

And I'll always love you

You must know how much I do

You can count on me forever

 

Nolan glanced back to Emily and tightened his grip on her hands. “If I have another kid I’ll be there for everything,” he promised.

 

Emily saw the promise in Nolan’s eyes and felt her heart swell and cheeks blush.

 

Would Nolan really want to have a child with her?

 

She could imagine a future with Nolan and them having a wonderful life together. She could see them having a family, her being a mother to Rebecca, them living someplace where they could have a happy normal life away from her past.

 

That was a beautiful fantasy that she desperately wanted to be a reality.

 

But she couldn’t have it. Not now.

 

“Nolan, you know our relationship can’t be revealed when we go back to New York.”

 

“So, I guess I should hold off on that big announcement I planned in Time Square,” he chuckled hoping she’d like the idea.

 

Emily didn’t laugh.

 

“Be serious, Nolan.”

 

“I am serious,” Nolan challenged. “Nolan Ross and Emily Thorne, the new power couple.”

 

“I still have my mission to complete,” she stated.

 

“What, you’re not enjoying our summer romance, senorita?” Nolan added seriously. “Look, keeping our relationship a secret wouldn’t be too hard.”

 

Though he’d prefer if they didn’t have to hide anything from anyone.

 

“Besides, it isn’t like you’re using Grayson Jr. anymore,” he pointed out.

 

Emily shook her head. “Daniel isn’t the problem. It’s the rest of them.”

 

“I’m not afraid of the Young and the Restless,” Nolan countered. “They’ve never dealt with Nolan Ross before.”

 

Emily knew first hand people could be used, like the Grayson family had treated her parents. She didn’t want Rebecca or Nolan to be their pawns. What Aiden had done, Emily knew the Grayson’s were capable of things far worse.

 

Takeda was capable of things far worse than the Grayson’s. He’d done things Emily had never even imagined doing.

 

While she always saw herself as cold as Maleficent, Takeda was definitely as despicable as Hades.

 

Her mentor was capable of anything. He’d tried to sabotage her plans last summer, for trying to save Jack and had reprimanded her from finding her mother, threatening to abandon her if she did.

 

Pathetic. Emotional. Weak.

 

Maybe she really was all those things.

 

Emily didn’t care about her mentor’s threats, she’d gotten this far without him, but there were codes of conduct, sacred agreements, she promised she wouldn’t break once Takeda had agreed to train her.

 

Don’t form attachments to others. Don’t forgive. Don’t talk about your mission once it’s complete. Don’t fall in love during the course of your mission.

 

She’d broken so many rules already. She didn’t know what the consequences would be.

 

And I will take good care

Of you

I'll always love you

I'm so happy that your mine

 

 

Nolan noted that far off look on Emily’s face; she was in her Emily Bubble. That dark place where she’d hold herself in her mind, thinking of all the reasons why she didn’t deserve all the good things in her life. Why she didn’t deserve him and Rebecca or Amanda and Carl in her life.

 

Nolan hated when she was in her Bubble. He wished she’d see herself like how he saw her, already amazing, beautiful, loving and deserving of unconditional love. While he knew Emily was right most of the time, she was in fact wrong, he believed she’d be an extraordinary parent. He couldn’t think of anyone who’d make a better step-mother to his daughter.

 

He wouldn’t tell her that now. She’d just deny it. So instead, he wanted her here with him enjoying the moment

 

But she needed some coaxing.

 

“Babe, look at me,“ he asked and Emily did. “Just be here with me. I want you here with me.” All he wanted now was her. “This is our night and nothing’s going to ruin our night.” Nolan could see she was about to protest, “Please, Emily for me?”

 

Emily wanted to say what was on her mind, to tell him her fears, but she gave in, resting her head on Nolan’s chest, letting the sound of his heart beat and the music ease her mind.

 

I always love you

Till the end of time

 


 

Ford strolled back to the bar. “I’ll take a sparkling water.” he told the college-age bartender, sliding a few bills across the counter.

 

The room started to spin. He felt like he was going to  fall as a wave of vertigo overtake him. Clutching the back of a chair, Ford quickly sat down. His new medicines were taking a toll on him.

 

The bartender set his drink on the counter. “Here you are, sir.”

 

“Thanks,” Ford grabbed his glass and took a sip.

 

He grimaced at the taste. Damn, what he’d give to have some Scotch or Whiskey right now. Something strong to take the edge off. But he couldn’t do that without causing more serious side effects like ulcers or internal bleeding.

 

With all the medications pumping through his system, Ford didn’t feel like his usual energetic self. He was pretty healthy and active for sixty; except for the lung cancer part. Besides vertigo, he felt exhausted all the time. Which made it difficult for him to spend as much time as he really wanted to fixing up his trucks.

 

“The medications are gonna kill me first, not the cancer,” Ford reasoned dryly.

 

Turning back to the dance floor, Ford watched with a smile as Nolan and Emily danced. He was glad Nolan had found someone as trustworthy and committed as Emily. Ford could see just how happy they made each other and they were obviously good friends who cared deeply for one another.

 

Trust. Commitment. Friendship.

 

Those values were the foundation for a happy and long lasting relationship and strengthened the bond between partners in tough times. It was those values that kept his marriage strong for the past 22 years.

 

Maybe it was too early for him to say but he could see Nolan proposing to Emily.

 

“Just tell me when the wedding is,” he chuckled lightly to himself.

 

“Stanford there you are,” a voice said from beside him.

 

Ford turned, Drake walked up to the bar and took a seat next to him. He hardly recognized the young Deputy Sheriff. He’d changed out of his uniform and into a sharp black suit and white button up.

 

Ford had known Drake for the last seven years and never saw the man wear a suit till tonight. He looked uncomfortable and out of place in the suit. At least he attempted to dress for the occasion. Even if the collar of his dress shirt was unbuttoned and he neglected to wear a tie.

 

Despite Drake’s attempt to blend in with the civilians he couldn’t help but stand out; his alert posture, watchful eyes, even his black work shoes all screamed officer.

 

Though what else did Ford expect? Drake took his job as a Deputy Sheriff seriously. Drake was probably the most qualified and hardest working officer Ford had ever met.

 

Hell, if Drake wasn’t a deputy Ford would have thought he’d make a hell of an Army sergeant or lieutenant.

 

“It’s good to see you made an effort to dress for the occasion. You’re missing the tie.”

 

“You know me Stan. I said I’d wear this monkey suit, but you want me to wear a tie too?” Drake scoffed. “That’s taking it way too far.”

 

“You’re gonna have to get used to it now that you’re running for Sheriff. People will want to elect someone who dresses the part.”

 

“One suit at a time Stan. Anyway, are you enjoying yourself?” Drake asked as he grabbed a handful of salted cashews out of a bowl.

 

“What’s not to enjoy? I’m having a great time.”

 

“Can I get you anything sir?” The bartender asked them.

 

“Yes. A round of Whiskey for me and my friend!” Drake exclaimed, slapping a hand on Ford’s shoulder.

 

“None for me,” Ford replied.

 

“Come on, just one round we’re celebrating!”

 

“No thanks,” Ford said firmly, shooting Drake a stern look. “You know I don’t drink, haven’t in years.”

 

“So uh, is that a yes to the shots?” The kid asked, confused.

 

Drake chuckled. “Nah kid, I’m on duty. Just get me something with bubbles,” he said and slide a few bills across the counter to him.

 

“What are we celebrating?” Ford questioned.

 

“Hey, I’m going to have to go in the back to get some cider,” the bartender announced to them. “Be right back.”

 

Drake waited till the kid was out of earshot before saying with a grin. “Catlin Tucker going off to prison.”

 

Ford scoffed. “Afraid you’re celebrating a bit too early.”

 

“Well, you said your guys were handling things and that Catlin will go to prison tonight. So far I haven’t seen or heard anything.”

 

“They are. It’ll happen at the presentation.” Ford glanced to him noting his impatient scowl. “What’s the rush Drake?”

 

“Look, Stanford, I’m already pulling a lot of strings here.”

 

Ford narrowed his eyes at him. “Don’t forget that you owe me a favor.”

 

“Believe me I know and  I’m paying for it in full tonight,” Drake said, eating another handful of cashews.

 

“Look Stan, if you weren’t keeping me in the dark, I’d have a warrant and an entire team in here in a second, but you insisted on keeping this investigation a secret.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“I’ve yet to meet these mysterious team of yours,” Drake added annoyed. “How did you even meet these guys?”

 

Ford shrugged. “What can I say, I believe in miracles.”

 

He’d purposefully left out the fact that Nolan and Emily were the ones behind this. He didn’t want to risk them being jailed for unlawfully acquiring evidence in a state investigation. Even if they were doing it for the right reasons, most law enforcement wouldn’t see it that way.

 

“Yeah well, I believe in concrete facts,” Drake grumbled. “Look, I’m not big on taking orders from a group of people I don’t know. The only reason I’m here is so that we Sheriffs are the first to open an investigation against Catlin and CARE.”

 

Drake leaned in closer to Ford and said simply. “This place is crawling with police and I will not be second to those pricks on something this big. How do you know they won’t go to the cops first or the FBI?”

 

“Look, Drake I trust them and you should too, Have a bit of faith” Ford ordered, sliding back to his old days as a Lieutenant. “I understand that you're running for Sheriff is important and that this case could be your big break, but you’re going to have to cool down and wait like the rest of us.”

 

Ford could sense how annoyed Drake was with the situation, but he’d have to watch and wait for orders just like him.   Hell even he didn’t know all the intimate details of Nolan and Emily’s plans. He simply knew that tonight’s presentation was going to be the end of Catlin and that he along with Tanya and Greg would get their money back.

 

“I can’t promise that your department will be the one to arrest Catlin,” Ford stated firmly. “But, I will say once this is over the police sure as hell aren’t going to look good in the eyes of the public. They’re gonna want a familiar face to put them at ease, let them know that their safe and protected.”

 

Ford placed a caring hand on Drake’s shoulder. “That’s going to be you.”

 

“Yeah, alright,” Drake nodded, letting the subject drop for now.

 

“Got that cider!” the bartender announced, walking back with a bottle of Martinelli's.

 

Ford eyed the bottle of apple cider. It wasn’t alcohol, but at least it would taste better than plain soda water.

 

“I’ll have a drink,” he told the bartender.

 


  

"Do you want a drink?” Nolan asked Emily as they strolled off from the dance floor.

 

“Sure. Do you mind getting mine?” Emily asked, letting out a small groan as she took a seat at their table. She reached down to massage the heel of her red sore feet. “These heels were not made for dancing.”

 

“You rest senorita. I’ll be right back with your drink,” he smiled, before making his way to the bar.

 

Honestly, Nolan could have kept dancing all night. He’d never had such a great time dancing till tonight, then again he’d never danced with Emily before.

 

Nolan tapped his hands on the counter to an imaginary beat. “Two Cosmos, please,” he told the bartender.

 

“Coming right up,” the bartender replied as he finish preparing another cocktail.

 

Ford said from beside Nolan. “I figured you and Emily would dance the night away.”

 

Nolan turned to Ford with a grin. “Unfortunately, my dancing partner isn’t wearing the appropriate footwear,” he glanced past Ford. “Deputy Garcia, nice to see you again.”

 

“Likewise,” Drake looked between Nolan and Ford then chuckled. “I’m sensing there’s some history between you two; how do you two know each other?”

 

“Nolan’s father and I served in the army together,” Ford explained. ”Were best friends till his last day.”

 

“That’s right, Stanford’s been a family friend since I was a kid,” Nolan smiled. “Great to see him again after all these years. Though I wish the circumstances were different.”

 

“Your Cosmos,” the bartender said sliding the jewel red drinks across the counter.

 

“Thanks. Keep the change,” Nolan said and slapped thirty dollars on the counter. He grabbed his drinks and then turned to Ford and Drake. “Talk to you gents later.”

 

Drake watched as Nolan Ross strolled back to the dining area.

 

“You know he’s practically CARE’s new spokesman.” he told Ford.

 

“What about it?”

 

“It's no secret Catlin’s charity has been growing the last few weeks and it’s all thanks to him. What if Ross is an accomplice of hers?”

 

Ford looked at Drake like he was insane. “Nolan is not an accomplice.”

 

“Alright,” Drake apologized. “Just speculating.”

 

Drake expected Ford would say that. It was typical of a close friend or family member to believe that their loved one wasn’t capable of doing terrible things.

 

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Catlin greeted, standing on stage with a mic in hand. “I hope you’re all enjoying a wonderful evening.”

 

Everyone clapped their hands and cheered in agreement. Drake simply scoffed, not hiding his disappointed scowl behind the lip of his flute.

 

“Excellent. It’s now time to hear from a few of our donors and sponsors,” Catlin smiled to the crowd. “Everyone please give a round of applause for Arlington’ PD — Chief Rhodes!”

 

Chief Rhodes family — his second wife, Kim, and his teen son from his first marriage, Ron — watched with proud smiles as he stood on stage.

 

Drake sighed deeply, the family was innocent. Once they discovered their family man with high morals was really a blue collar criminal, it’d break them up. Rhodes and Kim had just gotten married last spring in Hawaii.

 

What a waste of a wedding. Drake thought dissapointed.

 

“Thank you,” Chief Rhodes smiled at the crowd. “Good evening folks. I’m honored to be a guest speaker for Catlin and share with you all the wonderful things that CARE has done for our vets and their families.”

 

Watching, Drake gripped his flute of sparkling cider with a tight fist.

 

Catlin sat in the front row, clapping with the rest of the crowd.

 

Twenty minutes passed. Drake didn’t know how much more of this he could stand. Now the Governor was on stage talking highly of the charity.

 

The presentation was suppose to happen in less than half an hour. He was waiting in agony for when Stan’s team of vigilantes would strike.

 

Boredly, he glanced back to Catlin, who was approached by her assistant. Catlin stood up and followed her assistant out of the ballroom.

 

Well this was interesting.

 

“I’ll be back.” Drake stood up.

 

He had an opportunity to arrest Catlin and he wasn’t about to sit back and let someone else take the glory.

 

Ford glanced to Drake noticing he was in his deputy mode. “Where you going?”

 

“Restroom.”

 

“I’m not stupid, Drake,” Ford stated. “You’re going after Catlin. You’re not to go after her. That’s an order!”

 

Drake spun around. “I’m not one of your soldiers, Stan. You can’t order me to do anything.”

 

Stan looked like he’d been slapped in the face.

 

“I have a job to do,” he stated seriously. “And I’m going to do it.”

 

Drake turned and walked off, feeling a pith of guilt in his throat for how he’d treated his dear old friend. He shrugged it off.

 

Tonight the only orders he were following were his own.

Chapter Text

Drake raced out of the ballroom. He spotted Catlin with her assistant in the lobby.

"Excuse me, Catlin Tucker, do you have a minute?" He said walking after her.

"No questions, please." Catlin said, walking off with her assistant to the elevator bay. "Wait till after the event for a press conference."

Drake chuckled. "No, ma'am I'm not a reporter. I'm a Deputy."

That caused her to stop and look at him. "You're a Deputy?" she eyed him suspiciously.

"Yes," he flashed his badge with a small grin. "Deputy Drake Garcia. Arlington County."

"No I'm sorry, that won't do."

Drake heard Catlin's assistant. He looked across the hall to the petite brown haired woman conversing angrily on her cellphone.

"Deputy, can we discuss this later?" Catlin requested. "I have a presentation to give in fifteen minutes."

"I can see you're a busy woman," he turned back to Catlin noticing the annoyed scowl on her face. "But I'm afraid it can't wait."

"Alright, what is it pertaining to?" Catlin asked somewhat annoyed.

"You."

"Regarding what?"

"The legitimacy of your charity's funds and your method of acquiring them," Drake smirked. "I don't think you want to wait for a press conference to talk about this."

Catlin looked at him with a cool indifference. Something he'd expect from a con woman like herself. She'd practiced for a situation like this.

"I see," she said simply. "Deputy, let's discuss this in my office, shall we?"

He gestured to the elevators. "Lead the way."

Catlin turned to her assistant, "Kim, get to the next presenter. I'll be back soon."

"Yes, of course, ma'am," she replied as Catlin and the man walked into the elevator.

"Where did Catlin head off to?" Emily asked herself, watching for her as people strolled in and out of the ballroom. It was taking the con woman a while to come back. Just then, Catlin's assistant stepped onto the stage.

"Hello," the woman said nervously into her mic. "Up next we have Purple for Vets. A charity that Miss Tucker has recognized for their exemplary accomplishments. This charity has received statewide and regional recognition, including that of fashion designer and New York Secretary of State's wife, Sophie Bonnard, who is a good friend of Catlin's and an ambassador and longtime member of the charity. Unfortunately, Miss Bonnard couldn't join us tonight, but her presence is still with us as she shares her feelings on this wonderful charity. Thank you."

The assistant walked off. Everyone applauded as the project changed to a video and Sophie's voice played as the presentation started.

"That's not right," Nolan pointed out to Emily. "Catlin's supposed to go next."

"Find her," Emily said. "Something's not right."

"Finding," Nolan shifted through the different security cameras feeds he had access to on his Nolpad. "Looks like Catlin has company."

Emily scooted closer to Nolan, getting a better look at the tablet. A live camera, perched atop the bookshelf in Catlin's office, showed her sitting across from a man in a suit. His back facing the camera, as he sat cockily on the edge of Catlin's desk. Emily couldn't see his face. But he had dark brown hair and a tall stature.

Was that Aiden?

"Ma'am, we have reason to believe you're running a charity scam. We have a trail of civil complaints from your clients about your charity."

Emily realized that the man's voice sounded deeper than Aiden's, but he was a professional at disguises and could change his appearance and accent easily.

"That's all well and good," Catlin stated. "But unless you can produce these so called 'civil complaints', along with a warrant, I think we're done here."

Standing up, Catlin grabbed her clutch and moved to the door. The man sat still, turning his head to the con woman.

"I'm sure Greg Milano would love to file a complaint against you, if he could that is. Would shed some light on why he's in the hospital, after narrowly surviving a beat down by your mercenaries for hire. Or we could get Stanford Shepherd to talk about the gang violence at his repair shop. I could go on…. being friends with the Chief of Police makes those crimes easier to cover up I'm sure."

Catlin stopped at the door. She turned to the man with a venomous glare.

"I could arrest you right now and then everyone down stairs would know all about you and your con. But somethings tells me you don't want that. Especially when there's a bunch of reporters' downstairs. So, I suggest you cooperate and tell me what I want to know."

Emily knew for certain this was Aiden. No law enforcement knew these details.

"Damn it, Aiden," she muttered under her breath.

"Aiden?" Nolan tuned to Emily, confused. "What's he have to do with this?"

Emily glanced to him, trying to keep the guilty feeling in her throat at bay.

"Look, I've been in contact with Aiden. He's been in Virginia for the past few weeks. He knows about Catlin, Stanford, and the Milano's. He claims he's here to help me and regain my trust.…I almost believed him."

"Is that why you were so distracted earlier?' Nolan asked, annoyed. "Because you watching for him? When were you going to tell me all this?"

The confusion and annoyance in Nolan's eyes made her wish she didn't lie in the first place.

"I wasn't."

"Why?" Nolan asked, hurt. Why wouldn't she tell him about this? He thought now they were in a relationship, they would be open and honest about things with each other. Meaning no secrets.

"I wanted you to stay focused on the case and not get distracted. The less you knew the better."

"Right," Nolan scoffed. "Nice to know we're on a new level of trust," he grabbed his tablet and stood.

"Where are you going?" Emily asked.

"I need a minute alone to think."

Emily watched as he walked out the ballroom. She shouldn't have kept anything from him. She should have told him what was going on. She didn't want to lie, but she thought she was doing the right thing by keeping the trouble contained, instead she'd strained the trust between herself and Nolan. Again.

"Damn it," Emily muttered to herself.

"Emily have you seen Nolan?" Ford asked, hastily, stopping at her table.

She turned to him. "Uh, he just stepped out."

"Well, let's find him, I need to talk to you both."

They walked out to the ballroom, just then a young Deputy Sheriff passed them, his walkie talkie buzzed as a command came through.

"I'm on my way," he spoke into the walkie talkie and then made a beeline for the elevators.

"Emily, I'm in the lobby," Nolan said through her comm. "Come quick."

Spotting Nolan standing off to the side off the entrance of the lobby, Emily and Ford strolled over to him.

"What is it, Nolan?" Emily asked.

He glanced up from his tablet to them. "Catlin isn't talking to Aiden; she's talking to Deputy Drake Garcia and he knowns all about her money laundering scheme and charity scam."

"How could he know all of this?" Emily asked, confused.

"Because of me," Ford stated. "I told Drake but didn't give him any of your names and gave him evidence to build a case."

"What?" Nolan glanced to Ford, eyes wide. "Why would you do that? I thought you trusted me."

He couldn't believe this. Why was everyone keeping secrets from him? How could Ford, his uncle, betray his trust like this?

"Son, this wasn't about trust," Ford stated coldly. "I wanted this whole nightmare to be over. Asking Drake to help was the only way I knew how."

Nolan sent Ford a glare. "Well, thanks to your help, you might have just screwed up this entire case."

"Well, all that's left is to arrest Catlin for her crimes," Ford pointed out. "This is good news, right?"

"Not exactly," Emily explained calmly. "We're transferring the money from the charity's' fund as we speak. If Deputy Garcia makes a public case on CARE and Catlin, the feds will freeze the charity's' bank account —"

"And if that happens, we can't touch the money, ergo no one gets paid." Nolan pointed out to his uncle, not hiding his scowl.

Ford felt like a complete idiot. He thought he was doing the right thing. But he'd only made things worst. He didn't mean for this to happen. Thanks to his actions Greg, Tanya and everyone else was screwed.

Emily could feel the tension between Nolan and Ford. She could see how upset and hurt Nolan was. He wasn't even looking at Ford, who had a guilty and sad look in his eyes.

She understood Ford's motives, his intents were in the right place, she just wished he didn't act without telling them.

Well, she wanted to help Nolan, now was the time to step in and do something.

"Stanford what did you tell Deputy Garcia?" Emily asked.

"Everything… and I gave him a black flash drive," Ford glanced to Nolan with a sad expression. "Containing all the evidence Nolan compiled."

Nolan scoffed. "The Price is Right, huh?" he shot his uncle a disappointed look.

"We need to get our hands on that thumb drive," she announced, trying to steer everyone back on track.

"I'll look it up," Nolan said. After a few minutes of hacking through the sheriff's department's database, he looked up from his tablet with a frown.

"Find anything?" Emily asked.

"Nada, there isn't a record of a flash drive in the temp evidence locker."

"Well, then it has to be at his workplace somewhere." Emily figured, ruling out other options.

"Well, tonight's Poker night at the sheriff's department. Everyone will be occupied we can get in and out without much trouble."

Emily shot Ford a curious look.

He shrugged, "I did some volunteering last summer."

"So, what's the plan?" Nolan asked.

"Stanford and I will go to the sheriff's department, find the flash drive and erase what's on it. Nolan you stay here," she glanced to him. "We need to be ten steps ahead of Deputy Garcia. I'll call you once we've found the thumb drive."

"Well that's great, but how do you know Drake won't arrest Catlin?" Nolan stated.

"Because he knows if he takes her in he'll have nothing to convict her of. He'll lose his job," Emily said knowingly. "He's playing this smart. He knows he'll look suspicious that he didn't follow through and file a report. Not to mention all the physical evidence he's withholding in a state investigation. The only thing he's going to do is sit there and interrogate her until WE make a move."

Nolan grinned, "We've got him right where we want him."

Chapter Text

Emily and Ford strolled into the sheriff’s office. Emily glanced around the empty lobby, the only people there being the receptionist who was occupied typing on her computer and the security guard patrolling the hall. He strolled back to the lobby standing guard at the doors of the entrance.

 

“You’ll go straight down that hall,” Ford explained. “And make a left past the trophies. The squad room is on your right.”

 

“And you sure there’s no one in there?” Emily questioned.

 

“Positive, everyone’s in the break room downstairs playing cards.”

 

As if on cue, a deputy strolled out from the double doors, music and laughter blaring from the room he’d came out of. Emily watched as he strolled past her and Ford down the hall and turned right, making his way to the men’s restroom.

 

This would be easy. There wasn’t much in the way of security. She could handle the guard if needed. Emily noticed the security camera mounted on the wall facing them. She glanced back to Ford.

 

“Alright, I’ll text you when I’m done.” Emily walked around the lobby pretending to look interested at the plaques and awards on the wall as Ford strolled up to the receptionist.

 

“Can I help you?” The receptionist asked in a bored tone, glancing up from her computer. “Stanford, what a surprise!” she added with a chuckle. “Back to volunteer?”

 

Ford smiled, “Evening, Margie.”

 

“You’re looking sharp; have plans with Deborah tonight?”

 

“Actually, she’s overseas with her humanitarian group for the summer,” Ford explained. “Just passing through. We’re on our way to the airport to pick up my nephew and have dinner.

 

Emily strolled over to them. “He’s flying in from New York for our anniversary!” she beamed at the receptionist.

 

Margie smiled. “Congratulations.”

 

“Do you mind telling me where the women’s restroom is?” Emily asked.

 

“Sure,” the receptionist pointed towards the hall. “Straight ahead, to your right.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Emily strolled down the hall. Coming to a glass display of trophies she turned left entering another hall. All the offices were dark and vacant. The only sounds filling the space was the click of Emily’s heels and the distant chattering between Ford and the receptionist. Walking further down the hall, Emily noticed a sign on a pair of double doors, SQUAD ROOM. She peered inside, the lights were dim and computers were on but there wasn’t anyone inside the office.

 

With a sigh, Emily glanced up to the security camera and waved at it.

 

“You’re good to go, Ems.” Nolan assured through the comm.

 

Trying the door handle, Emily was surprised to find it was unlocked. She slipped inside. The hum and buzz of computers greeted her. Walking down the aisle of cubicles, she glanced at the name plates, and spotted Deputy Garcia’s cubicle at the end of the row.

 

She clicked on the desk light and started searching the drawers and cabinets, finding nothing but file folders and legal pads, she searched the hutch of the desk, skimming through cups of pens and markers and sifting through stacks