One Last Love

By Katheryn Sandoval (FanFiction.net’s hearthandhomeauthor)

 

Feeling the angst caused by the sudden disappearance of my favorite characters from Walker Texas Ranger at the end of season 7 and the short-lived Sons of Thunder series, I took up the challenge to step into the world of the Malloys and Detective Sandoval to continue their journey and write the stories we never got to see...With one exception of course...I put myself in as a character. Katheryn is a pseudonym. After much thought and consideration, I decided to bring my stories to you all via this site. I've enjoyed writing these stories! And I hope you all enjoy reading them. Each individual story plays out like a single episode. And I plan to keep writing in chronological order with the series until the very end and beyond.

How do my stories work? Katheryn first enters the SOT character's lives early on in season seven. From there, all my stories are either weaved into the episodes' storylines or take place before or after each episode. And sometimes both happens. Therefore, my stories are a series within a series of sorts, exploring even more territory than the series did while staying as close as possible to the cannon material and stories.


Part 1


This is the first story of a saga series I will write for as long as possible featuring characters Trent Malloy, Carlos Sandoval, the Rangers and Miss Cahill, the rest of the Malloy family and their new friend Katheryn. This first story takes place just shortly after season seven's episode "Royal Heist."

Katheryn dragged her feet behind her slightly. Her blonde hair rebelliously eased into her soft-complexioned face. She blew at it, causing it to sway this way and that but not accomplishing much. Her feet found their way up the lane of the little cottage where she worked…a home for children of prisoners. Her beige skirt swished against the white picket fence as she opened the gate and secured it behind her. Pausing to take in a deep breath, she walked up the three steps to the veranda and began hearing the beautiful sound of children at play. She assumed the vibrant voices to be coming from the back yard and made her way around the wrap-around porch to see five of the eight young residents at play. Their beaming smiles were no match for the girl's sullenness. Before long, a broad smile played at her own lips.

"Miss Kathy!" little six-year-old Jane Willis shouted as she slid down the slide and scurried to the swing set, sitting proudly in the seat. "Come push me, Miss Kathy!"

"Oh, alright," Katheryn laughed softly and set aside her handbag and sweater that she carried. She hurried playfully past the other children and eased behind the metal swing set, taking hold of the plastic ropes above Jane and pulled back, let them go, and propelled Jane forward with her hands lightly pressing at the young girl's back each time she swung downward.

The little girl called out gleefully, "This is so much fun!"

"I'm glad you approve!" Katheryn smiled as she replied and pushed against Jane again.

Miss Cahill appeared in the doorway of the little home and walked out onto the veranda, shielding her eyes from the sun with a smile.

Katheryn glanced upward and was concerned that she would be reprimanded for not speaking to Miss Cahill before attending to the children and slowed Jane down with each swing. "I will be right back, Jane."

Jane pouted as she nodded.

"I will be back. I promise."

Jane offered a smile. "You promise?"

"I surely do," Katheryn tucked a wayward lock of Jane's pretty brown hair behind the girl's ear before turning up towards the veranda. She penitently lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, Miss Cahill. I should have come to you first."

"Oh nonsense," the woman was quick to ensure, "You seem to fit in well here. The children love you. And…you have my full trust."

Katheryn nodded and continued inside with Miss Cahill.

"Now…I have something to ask of you. I know this will come as quite a surprise. But I have quite a favor to ask of you."

Katheryn's eyes grew wide with concern.

Miss Cahill attempted to relieve her worries with a reassuring smile. But it did little good. "You may have already found out about my connections with the Texas Rangers as the local district attorney?"

Katheryn nodded.

"Well they are in need of someone to go undercover…and I may have suggested you for the job."

The young woman's eyes grew even wider. "Me?"

Miss Cahill looked into her eyes. "If you aren't up for the challenge that is quite alright. But no one they know is as fit for the description of the girl they need."

"I see," Katheryn's eyes lowered. "Is it dangerous?"

"Some. But the Rangers and DPD will not be far from you at all times."

"What was the description of the girl they needed?"

Miss Cahill took a deep breath. "She must be of medium height, blonde hair, around twenty-two years of age, and very knowledgeable in the field of literature."

Katheryn hid a smirk. "Literature?"

"Yes. Literature." Miss Cahill's lips tightened as she kept a chuckle at bay. It did seem like an odd request for someone in undercover work.

"But what about law enforcement experience? I don't have very much to be sure," Katheryn insisted.

"Here's the case," Miss Cahill continued, "There is a bookstore just next door to a location where they suspect a drug ring to be hiding out very well. These bad guys have a history with this store. They have ransacked the place and even threatened to kill the owner if they don't give them what they want. That includes the owner's daughter. They are sending her away into the witness protection program to keep her safe. The drug dealers have never seen her. But the Rangers would like someone to go undercover as her and get captured by the men. They think that they can get the information they need this way."

Katheryn shook her head. "I can't. That sounds far too risky."

"I know," Miss Cahill sighed. "That is what I told them. But I said I would ask you just to be sure. There will also be a police detective going undercover with you as one the bad guys."

Katheryn descended into rather deep thought and crossed over to the bookshelf in the small office. After a brief moment, she raised her head with confidence and sighed. "I'll do it."

##

"So here's the plan," Ranger Cordell Walker began, pointing to a large spreadsheet on his desk at the Texas Ranger headquarters. "Here's the warehouse where Riviera is holed up with his drug cartel." He then slid his finger across the page. "And here's the store where we will have our undercover volunteer. We will have several more officers undercover as homeless men patrolling the street during the day. Carlos, it's up to you to see to the young woman we will have undercover during the night."

Ranger James Trivette nodded in agreement. "It would probably be far too suspicious to see the same homeless guys going up and down the street for multiple hours. We will be putting them on the streets in shifts."

Police detective Carlos Sandoval fastened his eyes on the street layout, memorizing every street name, corner, and landmark. He nodded. "Got it."

"Everyone," Miss Alex Cahill announced as she strode into the large office space, "I would like you all to meet Katheryn. She will be volunteering for your undercover operation."

Rangers Walker and Trivette took turns in welcoming the young woman, extending their hands for a firm handshake.

"It's a pleasure to meet you both." Katheryn offered a smile although butterflies danced with freedom inside her.

"And this here is Dallas police detective Carlos Sandoval. He will be undercover with you." Ranger Walker indicated to the young lady.

Detective Sandoval extended his hand. Katheryn stole a glance of the police officer as she placed her hands back at her side. He seemed friendly enough, she thought to herself as the room darkened. A storm was coming in more ways than one she worried, taking a seat next to the detective in front of Ranger Walker's desk.

"Alright. I'll leave you all to it," Miss Cahill smiled and laid her hand on Katheryn's shoulder. "If you need anything…please don't hesitate to give me or the Rangers a call."

Katheryn nodded and watched as Miss Cahill left the room before turning her attention to the task before her. She tried to listen to everything the authorities before her stated, answering all their questions with honesty and receiving their instructions with the utmost attention. The task before her would not be an easy one. She shouldn't even be here. But by some divine intervention, she was the only one that could aid in the apprehension of the loathsome criminals she was destined to face. She took a deep breath as she listened while all these thoughts consumed her.

Once all plans had been put forward and confirmed by all present, the Rangers took their leave to make a bust on a smaller drug ring connected with the one she would soon meet with. Katheryn shuddered at the thought but loved the idea of a bit of adventure. It was a thrill to think she could be the one to help secure these dealers' demise.

Detective Sandoval rose to his full height and offered a smile, "I am on my way to meet a friend of mine. Would you care to join us? It may give us a chance to get better acquainted since we will spending a lot of time near each other soon."

Katheryn only nodded and for the first time was impressed by the officer.

"After you," the detective courteously stepped aside.

The young lady did not expect such a demeanor from someone in law enforcement. In fact, everyone she had met today seemed so down-to-earth and friendly. Not at all like what she had imagined in the past. It had seemed that the only good cops existed on television. It was becoming increasingly apparent that that was far from the truth.

The twosome arrived at the detective's unmarked police car shortly thereafter. Katheryn paused, looked up and around her at the Ranger's headquarters.

Detective Sandoval hopped in the car and leaned across to open the other door. "C'mon."

"Just a second," she replied, glancing at the US and Texas flags flying high and proud. After a brief moment of admiration, she smiled and opened the door wider to get in.

Sandoval put the car in drive and started forward. He glanced over at the young woman as she sat in thought. "Penny for your thoughts?"

Katheryn stifled a smile. "I'm sorry. I wasn't too obvious was I?"

"Nah. Not at all." He offered a smile.

"So…What do you do?" the girl began, hoping to ease her nervous tension and instantly felt ridiculous. She had already discovered his line of work just moments ago…obviously.

But the detective only leaned his head to one side in thought, comfortably resting his hand on the steering wheel as he drove. "Well, I'd like to think I am in somewhat of the superhero line of work. But it's more mundane than you think."

"Oh, I don't think so," she was quick to reply. "Not just anyone should be in law enforcement. It takes integrity and dedication."

"Well, thank you," Carlos returned. "But I have to stay humbled on this one. It is not fun getting beat up all the time or having to risk your life."

"But I can bet you do it bravely," she offered once more.

"I just do my job," he smiled and turned his attention to the road. Only once did he glance over to his passenger when she wasn't looking but instead gazed at the Fort Worth scenery. He cleared his throat nervously and attempted to change the subject. "We, um, we will be there any moment now."

Katheryn only nodded, but then furrowed her brow. "Wait. Where are we going?"

"Just thought I'd step in to say hello to my friend Trent Malloy. We work together a lot. Been best friends since we were kids."

"I see."

"Here we are," the detective announced as they pulled up in front of a parking meter by the sidewalk. He exited his car and hurried to the other side, inserting some change in the meter before open the door for his passenger.

As Katheryn stepped out of the car, she looked the place over almost immediately seeing the sign that read Thunder Karate. Following detective Sandoval inside, she continued to admire her surroundings. The atmosphere was inviting as a brief burst of air conditioning cooled her face. She was glad to be out of the Texas heat for however long possible.

"Carlos!" a tall young man in his twenties greeted the detective and gave him a brotherly hug. "What brings you by here?"

"Just thought I'd come by and check in on you."

"Right," the other man returned sarcastically yet with a smile. "And this lovely lady is?"

"Oh, pardon my manners. Katheryn, this here is Trent Malloy. Trent, this is Katheryn."

Katheryn extended her hand cordially. "It's a pleasure."

Trent Malloy shook her hand firmly. "The pleasure is mine."

"She will be going undercover with me next week. I'm just showing her the ropes," he glanced hopefully toward her.

Katheryn offered a shy smile.

"Just between you and me," Trent began, pretending to hide his words from the detective and aim them only at the young woman, "I'm much better at undercover work than Carlos is."

"I heard that," Sandoval returned evenly.

Katheryn laughed softly and instantly felt at home with the two young gentleman. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Where are you from?" Trent continued their courteous discourse.

"Missouri. I moved here to work with Miss Alex Cahill at her H.O.P.E. facility. It has been a pleasure."

Trent smiled. "That is wonderful. I hear a lot of good things are going on there. I wish you all the best."

"Thank you," Katheryn nodded her thanks with a soft smile.

"If you'd like to stick around I can show you some self-defense moves I taught Carlos here."

Katheryn did not hide her apprehension and took a step back playfully.

"Aw, c'mon," Trent urged. "I'll go easy on you."

"Well, okay!" she shrugged and set aside her handbag.

Carlos took a seat nearby and only needed a bag of popcorn to make his job as spectator perfect.

Trent handed Katheryn a karate uniform. "This should fit you. The restroom is just down the hall."

Katheryn thanked him and hurried down the hall to change.

The vast karate classroom grew quiet as a dark cloud passed over and dimmed the room for a few seconds. Trent took a seat by his best friend. "So, pretty gal you got there."

"Now, Trent, don't start that again."

"What?" Trent shrugged his shoulders as he stifled his laughter. "You go through a girl a week, bud. I had to at least tease."

"Well you've teased. Now stop it." Carlos was not impressed.

Trent snickered and then sighed. A ray of sunshine peeked through the dreary clouds and highlighted the classroom once more. "What's the deal with you going undercover?"

The detective drew in a deep breath. "A drug cartel ring has a major location in a warehouse not far from a bookstore owner. They've threatened him a lot. Katheryn will be posing as the owner's daughter. I will be playing the part of a shady dealer in need of some company.

"It seems that this gang has been attempting to get more followers. One of the threats being made to Mr. Andrews is the fact that he has tried to keep his daughter out of it all. They have threatened to kill him if he doesn't turn her over."

"That sounds dangerous, Carlos," Trent's face grew concerned with worry.

"It is," Carlos admitted, bowing his head with a sigh. "But our hopes is that if they are able to get the young woman to willingly go, then we may have a chance of getting them to talk to someone who knows the right questions to ask them."

"And you'll be right there just in case anything might go array," Trent finished the thought.

Carlos nodded just as Katheryn made her return. "How do I look?" She stood as straight as possible with a proud smile.

"Perfect," Trent clapped his hands and stood, leading her to the practice mat. He taught her basic stance and movements and introduced practical defense mechanisms to her.

Their ever-willing spectator cheered the two on with a broad smile that said he was more than happy to just watch.

After forty-five minutes, Trent complimented her on a job well done and proceeded to hand her a bottled water. "I must say. I am very impressed. Not many twenty year old girls can handle it."

"That's true," Carlos nodded. "He went harder on you than I expected him to."

Katheryn's chuckle of disbelief was followed by a deep breath. "I should have known."

"But you did splendidly. I would have you back anytime."

The young woman smiled her approval and took a seat next to detective Sandoval. A wayward lock of her hair eased out of her ponytail as she rested.

"Um, here," Carlos lifted a hand to move the hair away from her eyes. For one brief moment, neither person knew what to do.

"I bet you could beat Carlos in some one-on-one, Trent." She teased softly, breaking the silence.

Trent laughed. "You heard the little lady."

"Not a chance, Malloy," Carlos rolled his eyes away from Katheryn to Trent.

"Well prove her wrong," Trent invited, pumping his fists into the air playfully.

"Not today," Carlos rose, gently pointing his finger in Trent's direction, "but soon. I'm meeting my partner Andrea for dinner tonight."

Lightening flashed outside accompanied quickly by a rain shower.

"Oh that's too bad," Trent slapped Carlos on the arm. "Say, Katheryn," Trent turned. "Do you have dinner plans tonight?"

Katheryn was caught completely off guard by the question. "Um, I—uh. No. Not tonight."

"Then why don't you ride home with me. I'm sure momma won't mind setting another place."

"I don't know," Katheryn curled her nose slightly as she spoke. "I don't know if that would be appropriate."

"Nonsense. I insist."

Katheryn stood to her feet. "Thank you. I—I suppose I must go change." She chuckled.

"Of course," Trent nodded.

The young lady made her way once again into her previous attire and met back with Trent Malloy in the classroom. "Where is Carlos?"

Trent was busy straightening the place up to close for the evening. "He told me to tell you he will pick you up first thing in the morning at the H.O.P.E. center. He apologized for not saying goodbye but he was getting late for dinner."

His back was turned away as he explained. Katheryn disappointment showed nonetheless as she gathered her small handbag. "I see."

Trent rose to full height and caught a glimpse of her sullen expression as she turned it into a smile to cover the ridiculous notion. "You'll love my mother's fried chicken. I just know it."

She smiled. "You know, that is one thing I haven't yet been able to master. I am a good cook overall. I guess I am just afraid of the popping grease."

"Haha," Trent traversed the room with several items in his hands. He dispersed of them on the other side of the room and then announced he would return in just a moment.

Katheryn awaited him patiently. She scanned the room and relished the moment of quiet. Closing her eyes against the pounding torrents outside, she sighed deeply. But she was then interrupted as the rain became louder for a short second and then returned to its monotonous harmony. The door had been opened. Footstep was followed slowly by another and then another. It sound like boots with its authoritative fervor. She held her guard and steadied herself for who would appear around the corner.

A tall man in cowboy attire wheeled around and chuckled ruefully at the site he had found. "Well, well. If it isn't a pretty little filly we got ourselves here."

Katheryn had stifled a gasp as her heart continued to pound rather loudly against her chest. "What do you want?"

"Oh, I ain't got a buff with you, little lady. But I'd sure appreciate if you could tell me where that punk Trent Malloy is."

"I'm right here," Trent announced, wonderfully catching the villain off guard.

The stranger wheeled his fist into the air at Trent and was met with a brilliant round-house kick to his face instigated by Trent.

Katheryn smiled.

The stranger attempted yet another assault on Trent only to be met by three punches, one after the other, in the face. He fell on the floor with a thud…cold…and lifeless.

Trent wiped at his bloody lip with the inside of his hand and looked his hand over. He brushed it off as nothing and focused his attention on the young woman. "Are you okay?"

Katheryn nodded eagerly. "Once my heart rate returns to normal, I'll get back with you on that."

Trent couldn't help but smile at her remark. "You sound like Carlos."

"Is that a good or bad thing?" Katheryn's eyes narrowed.

Trent only laughed softly and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed a number quickly and put the device to his ear. "Walker, I've got a man here who tried to assault me and threaten a young woman." He paused as the other party spoke. "Alright. Ten minutes. Thanks." He hung up and sighed. "Ranger Walker will be here in ten minutes to take this guy in."

Trent was perplexed and sat down nearby. He seemed to be talking to himself as he spoke. "Who is this guy?"

Katheryn rose to her full height and crossed to the vast window. "I've never looked into the face of danger before, Mr. Malloy," she spoke as she watched the raindrops fall swiftly and with ease.

Trent raised his eyes towards her.

"I have never known what it is like to look a bad guy in the eyes and fear for your life," she continued. "It's terrifying. But I'm not afraid for some reason. I know you were here. But he could have had his way before you returned."

Trent contemplated her words. "Do you think you will be able to handle that undercover job?"
Katheryn fully turned to face him and cocked her head ever so slightly. "For the first time since Miss Cahill told me about the plan, I actually feel quite confident about it. It still frightens me. But I want to do it."

Trent smiled from the corner of his lips as he leaned forward with his hands clasped together. "That's good. You sound confident. Just still be careful. You never know what a gang like that is capable of."

She nodded in return and sighed deeply, musing over all that had transpired today.

After about five minutes, a large silver Dodge RAM pulled up to the building and the two Texas Rangers she had met previously emerged.

"They're here," she announced and crossed the room as the Rangers entered.

"Everyone alright?" Ranger Trivette looked her way.

She nodded towards Trent. "I'm okay. But Trent's got a busted lip."

Trent waved off her concern. "I've had worse."

"Alright…" Ranger Walker jerked the villain up by the collar, rousing the man only slightly.

Thankfully the rains had since ceased as Katheryn followed with Trent closely behind the Rangers into the open air. Ranger Walker let down the bed of his truck and dispensed of the man there. Her widened eyes eased up to face Trent in disbelief.

"Yep. That's Ranger Walker for you," Trent teased as he locked up the building. "See you later, guys," he directed towards the Rangers before unlocking his blue Mustang. The car beeped loudly just as he reached for the handle on the driver's side and got in.

"Sweet ride," Katheryn complimented as she settled into the passenger seat.

"Thanks," Trent beamed, cranking up the boisterous engine and revving it a couple of times with a smile before accelerating forward.

##

Neither Trent nor Katheryn said very much as they traveled the distance to his home. It was a fifteen-minute drive give or take, Trent had stated as they left the karate school. The young woman only nodded and turned to watch the buildings and foliage pass them by. For some reason she could not stop thinking about detective Sandoval. She flashed a sarcastic smile to herself as she looked away. Trent never noticed her fleeting emotion and continued with his eyes fastened on the long stretch of two-lane highway before them. The road was sparse with traffic and only two or three cars had passed them in the last four miles.

"So," Trent broke the formidable silence. "I must warn you."

Katheryn's eyes grew wider as she lifted her eyebrows, turning to face her driver. "Oh?"

The young man chuckled. "I have a little sister and two younger brothers."

"Oh," Katheryn responded, this time with a smile of relief.

"Not to worry," he continued. "My little sister is the sweetest. And my brothers, well, they can be a handful. But their hearts are in the right place most of the time."

"That's good to hear," she replied flatly.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"Afraid not," she answered with a frown.

"That's unfortunate," he paused. "Although…part of me envies you."

The twosome shared a brief laugh as Trent steered the car to the right as they entered a subdivision.

"This place is very lovely," Katheryn was quick to admire as she watched several lots pass by in a brief moment. "Let see if I can guess which house is yours before we get there."

"If you insist." Trent slowed down as to comply with her wish.

The girl scanned left and right and down the street a ways. "This is harder than I thought it would be," she smiled as she turned again to her right and within a short amount of time noticed a long driveway. The house could only be seen slightly from the road.

As Trent accelerated forward just a bit as to indicate they were getting closer. She noticed the driveway encased by brick columns that led into the large garage entrance.

She nodded and tipped her head to her right as she looked at her driver. "Is this it?"

"You betcha," he smiled and turned into the lane.

"I, um, confess that your little sister and your younger brothers partially gave it away to me."

"Indeed," he waved briefly at his siblings as he passed into the enclosed area beyond the brick columns.

"Trent!" the little girl called and lept into her older brother's arms as he got out of the car.

"Hey there!" Trent embraced his sister and gave her firm hug before letting her down.

"Come on, Trent! Come see the swing set mom helped us set up today. Even HE helped," she rolled her eyes toward her older brother.

The middle child shook his head and turned towards the house.

"Whoa, now, you two. There's someone here you need to meet."

Both younger siblings halted their eager steps and faced Trent's deep blue 70's Mustang. They looked onward, obviously unaccustomed to strange people emerging from their brother's prized possession.

Katheryn eased the door open and slowly emerged, standing to her full height and raising a hand to say hello. She stood awaiting with the door still wide open.

The little girl wrinkled her forehead and slowly turned to her oldest brother and asked in a rather loud, raspy whisper. "Who is she?"

Trent smiled softly and returned her question with an equally raspy whisper, "She's the queen of England."

The other young man belted out a laugh.

"Is she your girlfriend?" the little girl continued, keeping her eyes engaged upon the stranger.

"No, honey," Trent assured. "She's just a friend."

"Right," Trent's first younger brother guffawed and tossed his basketball to the edge of the driveway before turning back towards the house. "Something sure smells good," he tossed over his shoulder as he walked.

The little girl raised her face into the air and sniffed. "Momma's making fried chicken!" With that, the wee one was off in a flash and zoomed past her brother and into the house before he had even know what had happened.

Trent chuckled under his breath, proud of his siblings, as he turned to face his guest. "C'mon. I'll introduce you to mom."

Katheryn followed closely as they entered the large two-story cottage.

Trent's mother greeted her son with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Welcome home, son. And…," she turned to the young lady, "Who is our guest?"

"Mom, this is Katheryn. She will be working undercover with Carlos for a few weeks. I thought she would enjoy some of your home cooking before she is forced to eat all the take-out we can provide her with on the job," Trent looked towards Katheryn as he spoke and then turned to face his mom.

"And right you are, young man," the comely lady nodded firmly with an oncoming smile. She moved closer and took Katheryn's hand in hers gently, leading her into the kitchen. "Come now. I'll get something to drink."

Trent's younger brother came up behind Trent as the two women slowly walked away. "She seemed to be comfortable enough already. Especially with you," he punch his older brother softly in his side.

Trent feigned a defeated groan as he then shuffled around his teenage brother's hair playfully with the palm of his hand.

"Now you three go wash up. Supper's almost ready," their mom called, pouring the young woman a glass of lemonade and handing it to her.

"Sure thing," Trent playfully shoved his brother forward as they both headed for the bathroom.

Katheryn settled herself against the countertop's edge and took a sip of the refreshingly cool drink. She glanced around the room and sighed. "This is a beautiful home, Mrs. Malloy."

The woman beamed as she dished up the fried chicken. "Thank you, hon." She then began spooning up the mashed potatoes.

"I mean it, ma'am. You are really blessed," Katheryn insisted.

Mrs. Malloy paused and faced her directly, squeezing the girl's hand firmly. "If only my husband could hear you say those words."

Katheryn perked up. "Oh, yes. I almost forgot. Will Mr. Malloy be in soon? I am eager to meet him. He has such a wonderful family in you all."

A tear slid down the woman's face as she returned to dishing the food. "He is no longer with us, dear."

"Oh," Katheryn withdrew her comment inwardly, wishing she had not spoken so soon. "I—I'm sorry."

"You had no way of knowing, child," Mrs. Malloy offered comforting words as she hoisted the large bowl of chicken into one hand and the potatoes in the other. She half turned as she balanced the food, "Would you mind helping me out, dear, and bringing that bowl salad. It's just inside the refrigerator."

"Of course," Katheryn beamed and eagerly sprung to her task at hand. Opening the fridge door with one hand, she gripped the salad bowl and set in on the counter, aimlessly glancing the fridge's contents over as she closed the door.

She followed the voices to guide her to the dining room and found the room quickly. It was conveniently adjacent and was bright with its round wooden table and open layout leading to the next rooms beyond. It was a quaint little house. Yet it was cozy, Katheryn had concluded as she smiled satisfactorily and set the salad on the table.

"Oh, you're a dear," Mrs. Malloy thanked Katheryn. "If you'd like to wash up, the bathroom is just down the hall. Here, I'll show you."

Katheryn followed her host down the hall and thanked Mrs. Malloy before taking full advantage of the services before her. As she washed her hands, she eased her hand over the faucet and slowly pushed the handle back to turn the water off as she easily lifted her gaze to meet the eyes that greeted her directly.

This was herself. Her own image. She ignored her dripping hands as she gazed at her features, unsure just how what had transpired today had happened. She had no reason to be among these kind folks. She should go back to Missouri. Why had she left? Had just some whim caused her to pursue life in Dallas working for a charity organization? She was a writer…a news journalist. How had she convinced herself that this was the life for her?

Now…she remained in the middle of a dangerous volunteer operation with the Texas Rangers and police force. How on earth had that happened? How had she been the only one they knew that would fit the bookstore owner's daughter's description. Surely there could have been some else.

Katheryn sighed and surrendered her reverie, remembering her entire afternoon and the kind demeanor of everyone she had met…especially Detective Sandoval. She had never expected a police officer to be so…cordial. Yet he was. He was himself.

His handsome features flashed before her memory as she closed her eyes. His raven-black hair and calm smile.

Her eyes fluttered back open quickly from shame as she tidied up her mess and swiftly found her way back to the Malloy's dining room, pausing once to gather herself before entering the room and being seen.

"There she is," Trent announced. "We were just about to send the posse to find you."

A soft laugh cascaded around the room.

Trent stood swiftly and crossed the room, pulling a vacant chair out for their guest. Katheryn eased into it as he, as any gentleman would, securing the seat beneath her. He reclaimed his own chair and accepted the potatoes as his little sister handed them to him.

Mrs. Malloy was pleased much to Katheryn's relief. She was worried Trent's forwardness of bringing a guest home would not set well with his family members. But on the contrary, they welcomed her with open arms and treated her as family…as one of their own.

Katheryn accepted the chicken from Mrs. Malloy as it was given to her with a smile. She paused, yet everyone continued to tease and carry on with talking about their days and what was on their mind. A smile eased over her face. In that one moment she vowed to make a home like this someday with the man God would place into her life. The atmosphere of a family spending time together who truly loved each other and was dedicated to each other's well-being was something she admired immensely.


Part 2


"Let's see…How should this be worded?" Katheryn crimpled the corner of her blank notebook and chewed on the end of her pen as she thought out loud.

"You know, you don't have to take this that seriously…." Detective Sandoval announced his presence as he stepped out onto the back veranda of the H.O.P.E. center.

Katheryn looked behind from where she sat on the porch steps, her knees crouched near her as they propped up her writing notebook. "I'll have you know, detective, that this is a vital part of the operation at hand."

"Oh?"

"Indeed," she replied quickly. "The young lady I am posing as is a writer…and so am I. I am just keeping my skills sharp."

"I see," the detective replied as he descended the steps, turning to fully face the young woman. "How old are you?" He blurted out.

"Um…twenty-one. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason," Detective Sandoval ran a hand through his hair and sighed as he bent down to be seated next to Katheryn for a brief rest. "Are you sure you are prepared for this operation?"

Katheryn contemplated his question before she spoke. "How could I have been prepared? It was rather surprising to me as well."

"I just want to know if you're prepared…mentally…for the task."

She now thoroughly understood his meaning. Capping her pen and laying it aside, Katheryn inhaled, "I suppose I shall be forced to place myself in the shoes of one of my fictional characters and try my best to play my part well. But…in reality, I—I can't say for sure."

A silent pause rested between them both.

"Well," he stood first, sighing sharply with determination, "They'll be expecting us at the store soon to go over the plan once more with the storeowner."

Katheryn nodded once and firmly with her lips clasped tightly together as she struggled to sort through her own thoughts. She rose and led the way inside the building to gather her things and freshen up before returning this time to the front porch to find the detective waiting for her by his unmarked police car alongside the street. He courteously opened the passenger door for the young woman and crossed to the other side, glancing the street over protectively as he walked. The quiet street provided them ease of speed as the detective put the car in drive and accelerated forward. His police radio issued static followed by a muffled voice alerting him to nearby activity.

Katheryn tried not to be nosy. But she was curious nonetheless as to how the man went about his job. It was fascinating. She made a mental note as she observed his actions that she should write a novel set in his line of work someday. Perhaps even the Texas Rangers could use the spotlight of publicity for good to. The public deserves to know what truly goes on in our law enforcement besides some fanciful picture painted by money-hungry wannabe writers, she concluded with a nod she had hoped was not seen.

More static emanated from the radio. Detective Sandoval wrinkled his forehead as he listened to the report. "Robbery in progress on fifth and main. I repeat. Robbery in progress on fifth and main."

The officer drew up the microphone and sped up as he drove. "This is Detective Sandoval. I'm about five minutes ETA of robbery location."

"Send for backup?" the dispatcher replied.

"Yes," the detective quickly answered as he replaced the device back onto the radio and turned on the lights and siren in his dashboard. "Hang on," he forewarned as he rounded a corner rather quickly. The tires squealed in resistance as he gained control of the car and continued forward.

The passenger remained quiet and on alert while secretly enjoying the rapid evolvement of events.

A gunshot rang out as they descended upon the robbery location. It appeared that the criminals were attempting their escape.

"Get down!" the detective called and flung open his door, crouching down below the window and rising swiftly to return their gunfire.

Katheryn ducked below the dash and remained quiet. All she could do was pray that they would both come out of this all right.

The robbers returned rapid gunfire, one after the other, before all piling into a van and speeding off. The detective nicked one just as the van sped forward, causing him to tumble to the ground. Back-up arrived just then. It was the Texas Rangers who sped forward in pursuit of the van that carried away the other criminals.

Detective Sandoval held his gun steadily over the door as he ceased fire. They were safe for now. He drew his hands back and holstered the pistol. He took a deep breath as he recovered from the ordeal. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the bottom hem of his beige sweater as he sat back down inside the car. "It's all over," he informed the young lady as she raised herself into view.

She sighed. "Are you alright?"

The detective nodded and looked her way. Their eyes met briefly as their concern for one another increased.

A fellow police officer appeared at the driver's open door. "Are you okay, Sandoval?"

Sandoval turned his attention to his comrade and nodded as he got out of the car. "You best follow the Rangers. They'll probably need backup."

"Sure thing." The officer hurried back to his blue and white patrol car and flipped on the siren, leading another patrol unit behind him as he sped away.

The detective stooped down, leaning inside the car and taking hold of the radio microphone. "This is detective Sandoval. In need of an ambulance at fifth and main. One robber has been shot."

"Right away," the dispatcher announced as more static followed.

"You stay here," he lifted his eyes to the young woman. "I'm going to go see to the folks inside."

Katheryn nodded and laid aside her fears as best as she could under the circumstances, breathing a prayer of thanks that neither of them had been hurt badly. The detective had seemed so under control throughout the entire ordeal. So had she, now that she thought about it.

They remained at the scene of the crime for a short while longer as the detective completed his duties and gathered vital information from witnesses and the owner of the business that had suffered the loss.

Katheryn had estimated an approximate twenty minutes passed as she waited. She grew restless at one point and even contemplated following the detective. But she remained obedient nonetheless for her own good. She didn't want to jeopardize her own safety nor her acquaintanceship with the Rangers and the detective. She enjoyed the rush of battle and the heroic rescues. Katheryn chuckled to herself as she continued to wait. Perhaps the thrill was just the storyteller side of her speaking.

Her thoughts nearly roamed onward but were interrupted as she looked up to see detective Sandoval returning to the car.

"Is everyone all right?" she asked with care as the detective got into the car and shut the door.

He nodded. "Yeah. One of the patrons had gotten into a fight with one the robbers in efforts to defend the place. But he will be alright." Sandoval reached a hand to put the car in drive but hovered over the device apprehensively. With a wrinkled forehead and tightened lips, he slowly drew his hand back, unable to complete the task.

"What's wrong?" the young woman grew concerned.

"Um," the detective tried in vain to dismiss the thought as he reached to put the car in drive once again. And again he could not.

A parting in the clouds above allowed a flood of Texas sunlight beam down upon where they sat…helpless to the unknown thoughts at hand.

He sighed. "I just wanted to say I'm…I'm proud of what you did today…."

Katheryn lifted her eyes to meet his as surprise beset her.

"You didn't…shriek…or anything," the detective continued cautiously, scratching his head softly as a diversion.

"Why would I have done that?" she raised her eyebrows playfully.

"It's just," he struggled to find the words, "Not many…women…act that way."

"Act what way?"

"Calm," he quickly interjected but then drew back. "I've yet to know many young ladies who could be calm under fire except those that are in the police force." He concluded with a sigh as if those words had been built up within him for hours.

"I see," she responded, turning her head to look out of her passenger window. She smiled. Little had she known how good of a reflection the window could put off. Her smile faded evenly on purpose as she returned to face the detective. "I must be honest also. My opinion of law enforcement has been blemished too. I used to think that the only friendly kind were the ones on television. That it couldn't exist in real life. I, um, I was wrong about that."

He nodded, absorbing her words as she spoke. "Well, all I know is that if you ever want to try your hand at entering the police force, I won't stop you."

Katheryn chuckled. "I don't know about that." Her laugh faded into a smile. "I think I would best be suited supporting someone else who was in law enforcement…as—as a—as a friend." She tried in earnest, hoping her words had not sounded as what she feared them to have sounded.

"If you say so," detective Sandoval freely put the car in drive and accelerated. A smile played at his lips as they propelled forward. His eyes glanced to his right side only once as admiration beset him.

##

"If only he would just leave me alone, Ranger Walker," the bookstore owner breathed harshly as he paced the open floor of his establishment. He was vexed. His hands were filled with perspiration and so was his forehead. He panted softly, attempting to calm himself. "What if your plan doesn't work, sir. What if they find out I fooled him, a—a—and this girl isn't my daughter. They could kill me!" He shrieked on that last note with his hands outstretched and his eyes wider than the Grand Canyon.

The Ranger placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "It'll be alright, Leo. Trust us. We have everything under control."

"I understand," Leo stammered and let out a deep, vexing breath.

"Atta boy," the Ranger Trivette commended. "Just relax. We have you covered."

"Good afternoon, guys," detective Sandoval announced his presence, keeping the door opened for his "partner" as she entered closely behind with a feigned smile.

"Afternoon, detective," Ranger Walker greeted the officer and began making introductions. "Leo, I'd like you to meet Katheryn. She will be posing as your daughter this week."

Leo extended his hand shakily to the young woman. He found it hard to make eye contact as his nervousness overwhelmed him. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"As am I," she returned, shaking the man's hand confidently.

"And this is detective Sandoval," the Ranger continued. "He will be undercover on the other side."

"I see. I see," Leo mumbled.

"Don't worry," the detective assured. "We will have Riviera behind bars in no time."

Leo nodded numbly and proceeded to stock a shelf with new copies of Kipling and Keats. "Well, girly. If you're gonna be posing as my daughter, ya better know your stuff," he threw over his shoulder.

Katheryn smiled and stepped forward by the man's side. "'To noble heart Love doth for shelter fly, As seeks the bird the forest's leafy shade; Love was not felt till noble heart beat high, Nor before love the noble heart was made.'"

The man relaxed for the first time, turned around, and happily chuckled ever so softly. "You might work out after all."

The Rangers and even the detective managed a smile at the small discourse.

"Now," Leo further relaxed and placed a firm hand atop a stack of books on his cart, "Could you see fit to make sure these find their rightful homes, little lady?"

"I sure will," Katheryn beamed.

"And when you're done," a twinkle formed in the man's eye, "Could you read some Keats with me? My girly always does that during lunch."

She quickly glanced towards the detective, maintaining her smile just as Sandoval answered her unasked question with a nod. "I'll see what I can do," she promised the older gentleman and set about her task. For her undercover work had seemed to have just begun.

"Well, seems like everything is settled here. Carlos, see to it that our volunteer is prepped with the hidden mic just in case," Trivette delegated as the threesome approached the door.

Detective Sandoval turned back, and handed Katheryn a small box.

Taken by surprise, she hesitated.

Sandoval opened the small box himself and extended it.

Her eyes grew a bit larger. "Those aren't real diamonds are they?" There was an emphasis on the word real.

Sandoval nodded as a mischievous smile formed on his face just a bit as he flipped the pendant over. "There's a mic hidden in the back. You should wear this all the time if you can."

Katheryn sighed sarcastically. "And here I thought it was a legitimate gift."

The detective feigned a sad face. "I'm sorry I disappointed you."

Katheryn smiled back at him. "That is quite alright. At this point, a hidden mic is far more valuable than any gem could ever be to me."

"Here, let me," he loosened the necklace from the case and slid around behind Katheryn. She lifted her hair slightly as he slipped his hands around her neck and caught the necklace from the other side. He secured the clasp and then let it fall gently about her neck.

Katheryn let her hair fall back into place.

He delayed a few moments before stepping around her to face her again. "Does that work? I can bring it up some if it's too low."

"No," she was quick to answer with a smile. "It—it's okay."

"Alright then," he reached in his pocket and drew out a slip of paper. "Here's my undercover number. If you need to call, you can."

"But won't you have to keep your cover?" she questioned.

"Trust me," he smiled and started for the door, leaving Katheryn to stand in indifference and watch him leave. She pondered to herself why his leaving disturbed her so. But she brushed all useless thoughts aside, tucking the paper gently in her pocket and pointing her attention to stocking the shelves before her and minding the store.

##

Noon came and went. Before long, dusk descended upon the little store and Leo announced it was time to close up.

"Thank you, girly. You're a mighty fine help," the older gentleman beamed as he stooped to lock the entrance doors from the inside.

Katheryn sighed, catching her breath as she lifted a large stacks of books onto the checkout counter. She attempted a smile. "My pleasure."

"You know, I wouldn't complain none if you still visited me and Darla even after she comes back."

"It would be…." The young lady attempted to reply cordially to no avail as the nearby phone rang vigorously and threatened to come loose from its place on the wall.

Leo's lips turned down as he crossed the small space, muttering complaints to himself. "Yes?" he voiced aloud as he placed the receiver on his ear. Mumbled voices were heard through the small device. Katheryn strained to attempt to hear the voices without being noticed. It was no use. The man's face grew pale as he listened.

"What is it, Leo?" Katheryn whispered quietly. Her voiced was strained against her dry throat. She swallowed hard, attempting to tame her own nervous tension.

"I see," Leo replied flatly, staring into the unknown distance. The voice said something else inaudible before Leo, without saying one word, eased the device from his ear. He moved his hand downward, allowing the receiver to rest on his shaking shoulders.

"Leo?" Katheryn urged in her normal voice. An edge of authoritative caution laced her tone.

"He—he said I got twenty-four hours to hand over my daughter Darla to them…or…or…" he choked up, "he'll burn my store to the ground…and worse." With this, the fragile man buried his face in his free palm and sobbed quietly.

Katheryn moved to his side, putting a hand on his quivering shoulder. "It's okay, Leo."

"No it's not, miss," he insisted. "I don't want a pretty gal like you losing her life just because of my problems."

Katheryn braced her thoughts and carefully chose her words, speaking them in a level and matter-of-fact tone. "I assure you, I will be okay." Yet even as she spoke these words, she questioned them and checked her own heart. Her trust waivered, was for certain, then wavered again.

"I don't know," the man said through his sobs. "Maybe I should just sell the store and move to Canada. I've got relatives there, you know."

"You will do no such thing. This store means everything to you. And those bad guys know it. They want you to run away. Fear is their weapon of choice. It can be more powerful than a bullet or fire ever could. Fear can kill the soul just like a bullet can kill a person. And being afraid clouds your knowledge. From then on you aren't able to discern what your best defense could be. And that is how you fail. Fear will only hinder you from living…truly living."

Leo raised his face from his hand, attempted a nod. "You are wise for your years, girly. That you are."

Katheryn smiled and stepped back, taking three books in her arms. "I'm going to go put these in the back storeroom. Are you alright, Leo?"

Leo took Katheryn's free hand in his and patted it gently as a grandfather would, nodding as he looked into her hazel eyes.

"Great," she returned with a smile and started for the storeroom.

Detective Sandoval stood waiting as she entered the room and turned right. "You are good undercover."

Katheryn accepted his complements with a smile as they both moved to where a small station was set up in a secluded corner of the storeroom. There sat a technician and Ranger Trivette. Before them were two visual camera monitors and audio sound equipment.

"I assume you heard what Leo said?" She turned to the detective as they came to a stop in front of the equipment.

Sandoval nodded. "Yeah. We weren't able to trace the phone call. It was too short. Our best guess it came from an unidentified cell phone inside their warehouse."

Katheryn furrowed her brow in thought. "How come you've never been able to secure a search warrant on these guys? If they've committed crimes before, surely you'd be able to get one."

"We've tried. Each time they've managed to hide their goods so well that we couldn't book them on any charge," he sighed. "But we are hoping that'll change soon."

"What is your plan?"

Ranger Trivette spoke up. "We have received word from a snitch that they plan to do something big tonight sometime after midnight. We have reason to believe that involves arson to Leo's store here since they assume he won't comply with their wishes."

"But in sending me to them like they want, it'll buy some time," Katheryn finished the thought aloud.

Ranger Trivette smiled towards the detective. "Looks like we have a smart girl on our hands here."

"That we do," Sandoval agreed and reached over Trivette for the map that was before them. "Here's where we are. And here is the warehouse. I have scheduled a meeting with them at ten o'clock tonight. They think all that I'm doing is delivering the money I promised to prove my loyalty as a new supplier. But what they don't know is that I'll be bringing you along too."

Katheryn listened carefully.

"By capturing Leo's daughter and handing her over, I prove my loyalty even more."

"But won't they question how you knew about me…or Leo's daughter?"

"Yes. But I'll say that Leo has been a bit of a bother to me also and I forced the information out of him since he was an enemy of theirs also."

"I see. Sounds like it will work," Katheryn replied, still holding her stack of books.

"We are definitely hoping so," Trivette applied with confidence.

"I hope you're a good actor," Sandoval teased.

"Oh? Why is that?" Katheryn questioned.

"Because I am a hard man to be mad at. And you'll have to be afraid of me."

"I see," Katheryn nodded, stifling a smile. "I'll try my best."

Trivette nearly cackled as he pecked a few keys on the keyboard in front of him but managed to keep them at bay and reserved to a simple smirk.

Katheryn looked down at the bundle in her arms and grinned. "Here." She planted them in the detective's arms. "I should go see how Leo is holding up."

Detective Sandoval grunted softly under the weight of the rather large books and nearly dropped them.

"Careful!" Katheryn called over her shoulder as she walked back into the bookstore.

"Haha," Trivette grinned.

"What's so funny?" the detective struggled to keep the load in his arms and finally found his footing.

Ranger Trivette carefully enunciated each word, "She has got you wrapped around her finger already."

The detective did not agree and furrowed his brow. "Um, no she doesn't."

"Yes, she does."

"NO, she doesn't."

"Fine," Trivette threw his hands up, feigning a surrender. "Have it your way. But you know I'm right."

Sandoval shook his head and rolled his eyes as he turned to a nearby shelf and deposited the books with a sigh of relief. "There."

"You really ought to cut the girl some slack," Sandoval insisted.

"Oh?" Trivette remained focused on the monitor before him.

The detective propped himself against the shelf as he thought back to earlier in the day. "She was amazing. Bullets were firing everywhere…and she stayed calm."

Trivette paused, wheeling himself around to face the detective whose thoughts were far from their conversation. The Ranger only stared and took in the pathetic display before him.

"When it was all over, she wasn't freaking out or anything. She seemed…happy." Sandoval lifted his head in surprise as he spoke these words to some unseen party in the room.

Trivette smiled, shook his head, and turned back to his task at hand.

Detective Sandoval looked upward, drawing himself out of his reverie. Embarrassment tempted his actions as he cleared his throat, clapping his hands together one solid time and smiling nervously to himself as he proceeded towards the door. "Well…duty calls."


Part 3


It felt as if every muscle and nerve in her body was tensed as she sat against the broad brick wall, feet extended a foot ahead of her and her knees bent slightly. A cramp seized her left leg and forced her upright, causing her to pace the small area between herself and the cement sidewalk as not to draw attention to herself in any way.

Detective Sandoval stood watch, peering through his binoculars to the next street which lie just around the bend from where they waited.

Their shadow of protection was a small one and secured them both narrowly. Katheryn ambled to the farthest edge and slightly placed her sandaled foot a small measure beyond it and into the light. A train whistle tore into the cool and distant night air and, startling her softly. She jerked back quickly. Her nerves were tightened and tense to be sure.

"Won't be long now," the detective announced as he lowered the binoculars from his squinting eyes and relaxed.

Katheryn spun softly to face him. She nodded nervously and hoped he had seen her do so as she returned to her place against the wall. She raised her gaze to follow the well-worn red bricks upward. It must be an old place, she wondered to herself. "What is this place?"

"Don't know," the detective joined in her interest as he leaned against the building with one hand. He looked over his street-gang attire and sighed. "Not the most flattering, eh?"

Katheryn offered an assuring smile. "At least you're not the one in glittery makeup and two-inch heels."

"True," Detective Sandoval stifled a chuckle. "Are you saying you aren't much into that sort of attire?"

Katheryn shook her head eagerly. "Exactly. I'd much prefer shorter heels and less makeup. I don't mind being girly every once in a while. But this is just too much."

"Well if it helps any, I think it's pretty convincing."

"Thanks," Katheryn's eyes hung low with sarcasm and she responded flatly.

A car engine revved in the distance, causing Sandoval to spring into action quickly. He turned around and narrowed his gaze to the oncoming car around the corner.

Katheryn quickly moved up to behind the detective, staying as close as possible. She flattened her back against the wall and looked upward, breathing a silent prayer into the darkened skies as she looked upon them.

Carlos turned around to face Katheryn, his eyes admitting a bit of nervousness as he looked towards her. For a brief moment, Katheryn could not deny that she may have noticed a hint of concern as he looked her way. And for a brief moment, she could not deny the same in return.

He hesitated….as if he wasn't sure if he'd be able to take on the rough persona necessary for the job. Yet Katheryn's gaze told him she trusted him and that all would turn out okay.

He grabbed her arm, trying not to inflict pain while appearing as legitimate as he possibly could. She resisted almost immediately, jumping into character as if she really was Leo's daughter. Together, they started around the corner, stepping out of the shadow of safety as they approached the waiting car beneath the streetlight a short distance away.

Carlos stood straight, his grip tightened, as he tried to not make eye contact with the girl at his side. Katheryn didn't want to resist. It wasn't in her nature to put on a show or tantrum. Yet she stepped into character as best she could and attempted a successful resistance.

"Let me go!" she yelped and tugged away from the detective's grasp. Her voice was rather loud and alerted the four men that awaited them afar off.

The men were clearly of high-standing in their realm of "business." Two men wore suits and ties while the other two seemed to be the muscle of the group.

"Good evening," the front-most suited man called out to Carlos with a smile. "A lovely evening isn't it?" His evil eyes smirked and sparked with unseen fire and deception.

Sandoval tugged on Katheryn's arm easily as he approached the still-running car, stepping into the headlights' broad shine. "Yes. It has been a lovely evening…if wrangling a brat and waiting an hour counts."

"Our sincerest apologies, Mr. Williams." The man dipped his head forward apologetically and took three steps forward.

Katheryn stilled herself and huffed, following the suited man with fear-filled eyes as he encircled her and seemed to look her over with lustful eyes. She cringed inside. Flying bullets could never inflict as much fear as the piercing glance of this man could.

"Did you bring the goods, Williams?" the man directed Carlos a question while still glancing her over.

Carlos said nothing as he tossed the briefcase onto the hood of the car before him.

"Good," the man nodded. He was pleased…in more than one way.

"And…," he placed his finger on Katheryn's forehead and gently brought it down, cupping his full hand softly around her cheek, caressing her face. "…how did you come by this loveliness?"

Carlos threw back his head arrogantly. "That old Leo Andrews had it coming when I told him I was friends with a notorious bunch that would have his hide if he didn't comply. I forced it out of him."

"Nice work," the man was pleased again. He reached for the young woman's hand and lifted it to his lips nearly kissing it before Carlos gently jerked her away.

The man was not pleased. "What is the meaning of this?!"

"She's mine." Carlos said angrily and sighed.

"Very well!" the man straightened his suit jacket and marched away. "In the limo! Both of you!"

The two bodyguards glared at them and told them everything they needed to know without uttering one word.

Carlos and Katheryn followed closely behind. The detective motioned harshly for her to get in first. He attempted to abstain from using any force this time. He hoped it would not be noticed.

The ride was a quiet one as they remained surrounded by the muscle men of the outfit on either side. Katheryn wanted to talk to Carlos to ask questions and prepare herself. These men were notorious. How were they to be prepared for the hours to come? Yet she could say nothing. She could not even look his way for fear she would break her cover.

##

The darkened warehouse could be seen afar off as the limo moved closer and closer. The hush interior of the limo put forth an atmosphere that could be cut with a knife.

A deep fear encased Katheryn's heart. She wanted to run and was afraid this had quickly become far too much for a novice like herself to handle. Carlos stole a glance at her and attempted to relieve her fears. She could sense his meaning. Although he did not smile and played his part well, Katheryn felt safe…and somehow reassured that they would come out of this safely. Somehow.

The limousine came to an easy halt, and the door swung open. The driver stood outside, never stooping down to show his face as he announced that they could exit the vehicle.

The "leader" pushed his way forward and exited first. "Get out, Williams. But leave the girl." He nodded once with a twinkle in his eye.

"What for?" Carlos retorted with a flash of presupposed anger.

The tall man in suit stooped to glare Carlos in the eyes. "Because…I said so."

Carlos squeezed Katheryn's hand softly as he made his way to the outside of the car.

Katheryn clasped her eyes and mouth shut and took in a deep breath through her nose. It was becoming fairly easy to play the part of a very frightened young woman. The two muscle men climbed out the car and nearly bumped into her rudely as they did so with chuckles lacing their icy cold stares back at her just before the door slammed shut behind them.

Katheryn's eyes jolted wide open and her body jerked as the fierce sound startled her to her core. She was alone. Her eyes scanned her surroundings as she remained frozen and glued to the seat although no seatbelt held her in place.

She strained as she tried hard to hear Carlos' voice. She heard some muffled voices through the well-secured automobile. But none was Carlos' voice. Katheryn wanted to cry. But every part of her resisted the notion. It wasn't like her. Well, maybe it was sometimes. But she tried not to let it become a regularity. When others panicked, she was always the one to insist everyone calm down and make a collected decision with wisdom. After all, freaking out never solved any problem.

Two voices became louder and louder as they seemed to near the car. One was Carlos'. Katheryn smiled softly. Just to know he was near her was a relief.

"Alright then, she's all yours." She heard Carlos' say to the leader of this company. The words sent a chill throughout her. Her smile faded to none. Whatever did he mean by that?

A soft tap on the door…And then the window whirred as it eased downward ever so slowly, allowing a stream of light within. She was shocked that such a warehouse could be so well lit at night and still be hidden from outside sources.

Carlos stooped to look inside of the car. He winked just before he eased back under cover. "You're going to be with us tonight, little lady. And you're all mine for the night before I hand you over in the morning."

Katheryn began to understand his hidden meanings and dared to smile but stopped herself for fear someone or something was watching or listening. Instead she clasped her lips together as the smile nearly came to fruition. It was enough of a signal, she told herself before relaxing.

"Come on," Carlos shouted to the driver to unlock the limo's door. Carlos' tugged on the handle impatiently once…then twice…then finally succeeded in opening it the third time. "Get a move on!" He shouted harshly with a subtle smile to ease any fears the young woman may have.

Katheryn urged herself forward and out of the open car and took in a deep, unseen breath. But her relief was short-lived.

##

A steady light spread inside the little room from the dilapidated lamp in the corner. The shade was layered in ominous dust and the bulb flickered every few minutes. A hazy silence filled the little room where Carlos and Katheryn took shelter in away from the crooks. It was a horrible undercover story that Carlos had devised. But it had worked nonetheless.

"Are you warm enough?" Carlos asked as he peered through the small opening in the door that he had since bolted shut. They were safe for now he had told himself.

"Warm? Any warmer and I may as well bake." Katheryn attempted a smile.

Carlos stifled a chuckle as he bent low beside where Katheryn sat, removing his coat and sunglasses as he settled onto the floor with a sigh. "I hope you don't think of me badly now."

"Why would I think of you badly?"

"Well…," he paused. "Since I had to be that bad guy back there."

Katheryn looked at him directly. "No worries. I understood everything you said. You were only keeping your cover. And for that I am grateful."

Carlos was taken aback pleasantly and settled into his own thoughts, looking away and to the flickering light ahead as he mused.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Katheryn teased, bringing forth the first question Carlos had ask her when they had met last week.

Carlos laughed softly. "Oh, nothing." A frown erased his light-hearted response.

"What?" Katheryn's concerned showed.

"I, um, I was just thinking about," he struggled to finish. "I was thinking about my brother."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. He, um, he got killed awhile back. It was blatant murder."

Katheryn said nothing…only listened.

"When we were kids, he said he always wanted to be in police work. He was the good kid you know. He wanted to save the world." Carlos smiled towards Katheryn as he spoke before returning his gaze to the room around them. "When I fell in with the wrong crowd, he was watching me. I think he was saddened that his brother had gone wrong. Now I'm the one getting the bad guys, and he…and he's not here to see it."

Katheryn could sense his emotions wearing thin. Yet she could not understand Carlos' meaning for speaking of his brother. "I think he can see you now," she offered. "I'm sure he's looking down from heaven and smiling. I think he knows who you have become."

Carlos exhaled. "You are just like him, you know."

Katheryn focused on his words as Carlos spoke.

"The mediator…that he was," Carlos rose to his feet and paced to the door and back, coming to a stop at Katheryn. "He always had the right words…Like you just did."

A shy smile eased from the corner of Katheryn's lips as she looked upwards. Standing to her feet, she sighed. "I don't suppose you could call for room service?" She attempted to pull a smile from Carlos and succeeded.

"I'm afraid not," he chuckled and pulled a couple of protein bars from his coat pocket on the floor. "But I did manage to sneak these in." He handed one to her and she accepted.

A mile away, a "delivery truck" sat in a secluded area by a grove of trees just beyond Leo's bookstore. Ranger Trivette covered his headset's mic, "I am beginning to wonder if putting those two together was really a good idea."

Ranger Walker furrowed his brow. "Why do you say that?"

Trivette stifled a smile. "You know how it's not good to let your emotions get in the way of an undercover job?"

"Yeah."

"Well!" Trivette urged as if his partner should know what he meant.

"Well what?" Ranger Walker teased.

"Well," Trivette sighed. "You could cut the atmosphere with a knife with those two. Sandoval is smitten with that girl."

"No, he's not."

"Yes, he is."

"No, he's not."

"Yes! He is!"

"Okay," Ranger Walker surrendered, aggravating Trivette.

"All I'm saying is, can Carlos keep his head on straight in there?" Trivette reasoned.

"Detective Sandoval is a good cop. One of the best in fact. He'll be okay."

Trivette sighed. "O-kay."

A chuckled surged through the speakers of the hidden mics.

"I know," Katheryn insisted, stifling a chuckle. "That has always bothered me too."

Carlos wiped a tear from the corner of his eye from laughing so hard.

Back in the "delivery truck," Trivette cast a very sarcastic glance towards Walker.

Walker only shook his head. "They're fine, Trivette."

Trivette threw up his heads and feigned a surrender without saying a word.

A loud knock pounded its way upon the large iron door causing the twosome to quiet instantly. Carlos hurried to put his disguises back in place as he moved to unbolt the door. Yet he did not open the door as he spoke. "Who's there?"

"Parker!" a voice barked in return.

"What do you want?" Carlos raised his voice.

"The boss wants to know if the accommodations are all right."

Carlos wrinkled his forehead as he thought through his next words. Katheryn held her ground with caution, watching Carlos as he searched his thoughts. She could tell he wasn't sure what was happening.

"Yeah," Carlos retorted. "Everything's all right if you like dumps. But I wouldn't have it any other way."

The man on the other side seemed to chuckle. "Then you two enjoy yourselves."

"Wait!" Carlos shouted, hoping the man would not walk off.

"What?" the man barked even louder.

Carlos motioned for Katheryn to move away from view as he was in the process of easing the door open. He eased outside.

Parker moved aside. "What do you want?"

"A deal," Carlos nodded once.

"What kind of deal?" Parker wrinkled his forehead.

"Tell your boss that he can only have the girl…on one condition." Carlos eased closer to the man as he lowered his voice.

"No conditions, smart guy. You already dealt with the boss. What he says goes."

"I know. I know," Carlos nodded. "Let's just say, I need a bit more to be convinced to hand the pretty gal over."

"I see." Parker seemed to be interested now.

"Where does your boss keep the good stuff?"

"Now," Parker backed up one step, lifting his hands slightly as if in apprehension. "I can't do that. Besides, you'll get your cut."

Carlos reached a hand and tugged on Parker's collar within his fist. His knuckles turned white. "You sure about that?"

The big man didn't so big any more. "Alright! Alright!" Carlos let him go. "I'll take you to it."

"Good."

"Give me one hour," Parker insisted, dusting off his leather vest.

"No. You'll take me there now." It was far too risky too let this fear-filled man escape into the night with a promise as thin as a shirt string.

Katheryn eased her way to the door, narrowing her focus to listen closely.

Carlos nodded towards Parker, pointing his finger at him. "Wait here." Detective Sandoval returned to the little room and sighed, gathering up the few items there and handing them to Katheryn. He looked her in the eyes directly. "Hang on to these and stay put. I'll try to be quick, get the evidence, and come back in half an hour. Bolt the door when I leave. Wait by the door until you hear my signal. I'll knock three times in a row very gently. Got it?"

Katheryn nodded eagerly and held her gaze as she listened. "And if they come before you do?"

Carlos tried to dismiss the thought. "I won't let that happen."

Katheryn nodded once more although an eerie feeling possessed her for a brief moment as she took satchel from Carlos and watched as he walked back out of the room. She hurried forward to close and bolt the door behind him before any suspicion could be aroused.

"Alright, Parker. Lead the way."

Katheryn pressed up against the door and strained to hear any voices. Two sets of footsteps echoed out of sync and into the distance, getting quieter and quieter until they were no longer noticeable. Her neck soon was tired from the strain, and she reached a hand to massage her neck softly. Panic seized her as she realized her listening device was no longer around her neck. The satchel she held cascaded to the ground as she fell to her knees, searching every inch of the room for the mic. It was nowhere to be found. Yet she breathed a sigh of relief as she found it had fallen into the satchel just moments ago.

Sending a prayer of thanks upward with closed eyes as she clasped the small item in her hands, Katheryn whispered into the mic, using the code words Carlos had told her to use in certain situations. She prayed that they had heard her. For she had no way to know nor no way to hear a voice in return.

Twenty minutes felt like twenty hours to Katheryn although she tried not to be anxious. She had prayed most of the time. And those brief moments of prayer had seemed to make the time pass quicker. One minute of praying seemed to be far shorter that one minute of worry she had estimated.

Three slow and uniform knocks sounded upon the large bolted door, bringing Katheryn to her feet with a broad smile as she crossed to unbolt the door as quick but as quiet as possible. Easing the door open rather swiftly, her smile soon faded from view.

"Expecting someone else?" A smile played at Parker's lips.

Katheryn nearly stumbled upon an answer but could not speak any words as fear seized her. Attempting to remain calm, she tightened her lips together and took a deep, unseen breath. "What have you done with him?"

"Oh," Parker leaned against the opposite wall and toyed with the pistol in his hands. "He's safe…," his eyes turned, narrowing against Katheryn's own eyes. "…unlike young women who play act along with an officer just to get their daddy off the hook."

Katheryn was forced to process each word faster than she would have wished. They still assumed her to be Leo's daughter Darla. But what had they done to Detective Sandoval?

She swallowed hard. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Oh, don't be coy." Parker smiled broadly, his light stubble creasing under the pressure of his deceptive looks. He laughed, "I bet that store's just about burnt to a crisp right about now." He laughed some more.

"What have you done?!" Katheryn demanded.

"Aww," Parker reached a hand, caressing her cheek with sympathy. "Is daddy's little girl upset?"

Katheryn took hold of the hand that rested on her face and secured it tightly in her grasp. She slapped at Parker's face with all her might and dashed forward with all her might only to meet with the boss himself as she wheeled around the corner and to a halt.

"Going somewhere?" the tall man cackled, securing a rather uncomfortable hold on Katheryn's arm. She grimaced as he held her, walking her back to an area she had no knowledge of.

"Carlos?" she cried as she saw Detective Sandoval secured to a chair his hands tied behind his back. He had a black eye to show for his efforts.

"Oh, so that's your real name." The "boss" laughed softly, his steps sounding upon the cement floor of the little warehouse room as he crossed to where Carlos remained. He crouched down…slowly…easing into Detective Sandoval's face. "I don't like being lied to." He was far from pleased.

Parker took hold of Katheryn's arm and nearly threw her across the room. She landed on foot a few feet away, standing behind Carlos maybe three or four feet. Katheryn choked back her fear and tried searching for some of the bravery she was always so sure she had. She remained faceted to her place in the room although no hand held her there. Her necklace! She had nearly forgotten all about it. Surely help would be on the way soon. They had to have heard all that had happened…she hoped.

Katheryn closed her eyes and breathed a silent prayer. A door suddenly slammed shut, causing her eyes to jolt open wide from the surprise. They were alone.

The dank room echoed her voice as she exhaled. Darkness covered the room and was only omitted by a small lamp in the corner much like the one they had left behind. Except this time…they were far from the safety they had taken for granted not a short while ago.

"You remember what you said the other day?" the Detective queried as Katheryn immediately sought to free him.

"What's that?" Katheryn stood to her feet, searching the room for a sharp enough object to cut the ties. She found a pocket knife and prayed it would be sharp enough as she knelt once more, sawing back and forth against the stubborn material.

"You were saying how my line of work was so brave and admirable." Carlos smiled sarcastically, straining slightly to look back at her. "You still think that?"

Katheryn nodded. "Of course. Got it!" The ties snapped, and Carlos brought his hands forward, rubbing at his sort wrists. "Does it hurt?" Katheryn winced.

"No, not at all," Carlos attempted a smile. "Now," he glanced upward. "Time to find a way out of here."


Part 4 (final part)


Katheryn nodded in agreement and began searching for a way out. "Oh no," she stopped short.

"What is it?" Carlos turned around from where he stood, shaking the barred window in hopes of it being just a bit loose.

Katheryn stood to face Detective Sandoval. "The satchel. It—it's still in the other room."

Carlos lifted a hand to calm Katheryn's fear. "Not to worry. I don't think they could get anymore hints about us than they already have."

"But…" she interrupted. "You don't understand. I slipped my little notebook in there before we left Leo's bookstore earlier today. And—and my real name is written inside."

"Oh," Detective Sandoval now fully understood Katheryn's implication. "Well…" he turned back to the barred window. It's frosted panes didn't budge one bit as he pushed on them. He grunted softly and sighed. He felt the hope of getting out of there slipping through his fingers as he jostled the bars yet again. He heaved a sigh and then rested his weary body against the stucco wall.

Katheryn slowly crossed the room to where he stood and reached a hand to his shoulder. "We'll get out of here," she whispered and put her hand back to her side as quick as she had lifted it. She took a step forward and shook the bars herself with both hands. Nothing. She heaved a sigh as well. "The Rangers should be on their way soon though. Shouldn't they have heard everything through my mic?"

"Technically, yes."

"What do you mean?" Katheryn faced him directly.

Carlos gently turned the pendant over on Katheryn's chest, glanced it over, and turned it back. "That's what I thought." He sighed and turned back to the window.

"I didn't want to worry you." Carlos bowed his head and turned back to meet the young woman's gaze. "But…I think the pendant stopped working just before we reached the other room."

Katheryn's heart nearly sank, but she refused to give in to the notion. "But surely…"

Carlos shook his head and turned to the opposite side of the makeshift prison. "But I have every confidence that we will get out of this." He noticed a rug with a corner turned slightly upward resting easily in one corner of the room. "Well, what do you know," he said with light-heartened relief and lifted the carpet to reveal a trapdoor.

Katheryn hesitated as she watched him attempt to pry the latched open. "Detective Sandoval…surely those men would not have left us in a room that had an easy escape."

The Detective sighed and dropped the carpet back over the door. "You're right." He ran a hand through his hair as he thought through what he should do next.

Katheryn's thoughts seemed to drift, taking her away to just days before today when Miss Cahill had introduced her to the idea of going undercover and the task force that would help her along the way. She had never imagined it would lead to this. But somehow she could not picture herself having gone through it any other way. She chided the notion. She should not be enjoying this. She should be frightened and afraid. But somehow all Katheryn felt was peace and safety in the knowledge that God would see them through.

Somehow…she also felt safe with Detective Sandoval. She had come to admire the man in the days since. And it was an odd thing to think of all they had gone through so far in such a short amount of time. Yet they somehow could flow together and put their reasoning together to make a clear, unadulterated thought.

Katheryn shook away her reverie and found herself in a stare. She quickly looked away for fear of embarrassment and went to work. Walking to one side of the room, she began tracing the perimeter of the room, running her finger along the wall as she walked and glancing about herself.

Detective Sandoval also set to work in his own way, examining the door and windows for possible ways to open them both. "You wouldn't happen to have a match, would you?"

"No," Katheryn responded limply as she continued her slow walk. "Anything I would have brought, I quickly put in that satchel so…so we wouldn't lose it." She stifled a broad smile, bringing her hand up to cover her lips.

"It's no laughing matter." Carlos teased.

"Oh, I know." Katheryn freely showed her smiled as she turned back towards the door where Carlos remained. "But I got to do something to lighten my mood."

"True," the Detective grunted slightly as he reached behind for the pocket knife and gently inserted it through a small hole. "Darn it," he exhaled. "It's too big."

Katheryn frowned slightly to herself and ambled to the corner and slid down to the floor. Carlos did the same except from where he remained at the door on the opposite side of the room.

"Nothing like a late night date in a dungeon." Carlos attempted a joke.

Katheryn wanted to chuckle but it would not come as she stared into space, Carlos' voice echoing in her mind while she never could make out the words that he had said.

Five minutes turned into ten and then twenty before an hour had already passed. Katheryn had since surrendered to the drowsiness that overtook her and had leaned against the desk nearby for a bit of shut-eye. Carlos forced himself to remain awake and see that she was safe, all the while reflecting on the young woman before him with admiration. He remembered the words of Ranger Trivette who insisted that she had Carlos wrapped around his finger.

The Detective still disagreed with the statement. But he did think highly of her. Detective Sandoval shook his head in disgust as he smiled, remembering all the dates he had in the past and the damsels in distress he had always insisted upon helping. Well, except the damsel that turned out to be a con-artist. Surely she didn't count in the number of hopefuls he had considered.

For the first time in a long while, Carlos Sandoval reasoned he had seen perfection. Yet he quickly dismissed the thought as just another moment of setting himself up for disappointment. After all, he had done it to himself so many times before.

A loud thud jolted Carlos from his deep thoughts. His sagging posture straightened as the young woman stirred.

"What was that?" she queried.

"I don't know." Carlos wrinkled his forehead in thought before rising to his feet.

Another loud noise.

"That sounded like a gunshot." Carlos' thoughts were focused and his demeanor steadied as he listened. "It's getting closer." Carlos bent down and began working the latch that secured the large door shut, holding them captive.

Katheryn watched closely, her eagerness piqued and her eyes dilated as the gunshots became clearer to hear by the second. "Carlos?" She spoke with a bit of unseen fear edging her voice as her eyes caught of glimpse of a shadow across the frosted window that had denied them exit time and again.

"Carlos?" She spoke once more. But Carlos' focus remained on the lock and getting them out there safely.

The shadow grew darker and darker as Katheryn watched. She took one step back and another as she attempted to get closer to Carlos before the shadow overtook the little window.

Her steps were altered as she nearly tripped. Recovering quickly, she shielded her face from the shattering glass that broke forth seconds later. This time, she actually did trip. Carlos' arms reflexed, catching her as her body fell towards him. She braced herself for the fall but was met by the detective's helping hand.

"Carlos!" a raspy whisper emanated from the now shattered window.

Carlos steadied Katheryn back on her feet, looking her in the eyes. "You okay?"

Katheryn nodded vigorously, catching her breath, as his words could barely be heard amid the distant gunfire.

Carlos hurried towards the voice and strained to see a face. "Trent?! Is that you?"

"Sure is, buddy." Trent beamed. "You got a way out?"

Carlos rolled his eyes sarcastically. "Do you think we'd still be here if we did?"

Trent chuckled and reached towards his back paint waist and drew out a pistol. He slipped it through the narrow opening beyond the window's iron bars.

"Thanks, buddy." Carlos was relieved to have a weapon in hand.

"Just in case," Trent insisted. He lowered his voice, "How's your partner?"

"A bit shaken, but she's a trooper." Carlos hid a smile from the corner of his lips before pressing onward.

"The Rangers are just beyond the door," Trent continued. "They should be here any minute. I'm going to go make sure they don't need my help. You got it here, Carlos?"

Carlos nodded firmly and slipped the gun in behind him just at his jeans' waist at his lower back. He let his black leather coat fall back over it. "You ready?" He steadied himself, listening as the gun fight ensued beyond those four walls.

Katheryn nodded, a brief smile caressing her lips. "Yes. I'm ready." She crossed the room from where she still had stood in shock at the shattering pieces of glass and stood side-by-side with Carlos as they readied themselves for whomever might come through those doors. It wasn't yet a sure thing that a foe wouldn't try one last attempt at their deaths.

The door moved slightly. Someone had slammed into it. And another. Or was it the same person?

Carlos' hand hovered at his side, ready to draw the gun at any moment.

The gun shots continued and rang out amid the silent tension that rested in that small, secluded room. Then they ceased. The door hinge creaked a bit as the door seemed to be being drilled upon. Someone was forcing their way in.

"You hear that?" Carlos relaxed his hand by his side.

Katheryn focused her listening ears on what the detective may have heard. "I do." A small smile played at her lips.

"Hello?!" Carlos raised his voice.

"We'll have this lock undone in no time!" It was Trent's voice.

Carlos smiled broadly and so did Katheryn as they waited. Suddenly the door burst open and small dust cloud gave way to movement as Trent made his way into the little secluded space.

He coughed lightly and was catching his breath quickly. "You both okay?"

Carlos and Katheryn nodded in unison.

"Let's go." Carlos steadied himself and started forward.

More gunshots rang in the distance and set Katheryn on edge as she pushed forward. Trent followed her closely as they made their way through the warehouse. Dark shadows bared down all around them as they ran forward.

"The satchel!" Katheryn sighed roughly as she remembered they had left it behind.

They came to a turn and rounding it were met with rapid fire.

"Down!" Carlos called out as he ducked back and covered Katheryn by near instinct.

"The satchel!" Katheryn called out, searching for his eyes despite the chaos around them.

"We'll have to leave it!" He returned as it quieted down. He eased upward to his feet. He gripped the gun in both hands and rounded the corner, pointing it outstretched. "Clear!" He called over his shoulder.

"Katheryn!" Trent called out and started towards her.

Carlos returned and peered towards his friend. "What is it? Where did she go?"

"She ran off back towards the back room."

Carlos sighed, holstered his gun roughly, and retraced his steps to follow her. "You stay here, Trent."

Trent nodded and remained watchful as Carlos slowed his step, tracing the steps back to that room with careful observation and caution.

"Katheryn?" Carlos called loudly in a whisper. His voiced echoed and returned to him to no avail.

A gunshot rang out yet again. Carlos dove behind some nearby pile of crates and raised his gun over the boxes to return fire. Four shots later…his gun clicked once…then twice.

The villain let out a hearty laugh. Carlos remained hid and focused to hear what the criminal was up to next.

Footsteps pounded against the concrete floors…and came closer and closer.

Carlos devised his plan, stepped into character, and slowly eased to his feet with hands up in surrender. He sighed. "Well…looks like you got me."

Katheryn then suddenly appeared, round-house kicked the leather-backed man high in the back with all her might. Carlos swung a punch at his face. The man resisted as expected and planted one on Carlos' eye. Katheryn kicked high again with an audible resistance. The man circled on his heel and raised a hand to Katheryn. His hand lowered as Katheryn found she could not defend herself. She braced herself for the coming blow.

"Oh no you don't." Carlos drew out his useless handgun and struck the villain on the back of the head. The criminal cascaded to the ground in front of Katheryn with one swift motion.

"Thanks." Carlos sighed as he re-holstered his pistol, still slightly upset with Katheryn for running off. The detective circled the bad guy and jerked both of his hands behind his back, cuffed him, and read him his rights.

The detective stood to his full height and walked towards Katheryn who stood to the side. "You shouldn't have run off." He finally said after a brief inward struggle and instantly regretted how harsh it had sounded.

Katheryn's eyes told him she was disappointed as she couldn't make eye contact with him. She gripped the satchel in front of herself and started forward. "I'm sorry," was all she said, throwing the words over her shoulder as she walked.

The detective sighed, running a hand through his air in distress. He started forward after her. "Wait!" He halted his step as soon as was in front of her. He faced her, paused, and thought through his words for a split second. "I shouldn't be upset with you. I—I just didn't want you getting hurt."

Katheryn nodded…yet still did not lift her eyes to meet his. She understood fully. And she appreciated his coming after her more than she dared admit. But her independent streak had shown its true colors in such a short amount of time.

"Forgive me for being so harsh?" Carlos offered, focusing on the young woman's disappointment which gleamed from her eyes. It tore into him. Yet he could see how much it had meant to her to have helped them. He just wished she would not have put herself in jeopardy. But what is courage without some risk?

She nodded again and raised her emotionless face to meet with his longing eyes. Another smile tempted her expression. "No."

"No?" Carlos was confused and creased his eyebrows.

She smiled. "I would only forgive you if there were something to forgive." Katheryn started walking forward and past Carlos…A wider smile played at her lips this time as she went.

Carlos stood in shock for a moment unable to move as he raised his eyebrows in surprise then furrowed them again in confusion. He shook away the thought and issued a breathy chuckle as he turned around to follow the young woman who had almost already made it back to where Trent waited.

"Pretty quiet this way. You both alright?" Trent updated and asked with concern.

Katheryn nodded, a smile still playing at her features.

Trent was tempted to inquire further but held his tongue. "All right…Let's go." And with that he started around the corner.

Katheryn followed closely as did the detective. Their brisk steps sounded against the concrete. Each one stayed alerted to their surroundings and didn't waver as they went forward in search of the way out. Moments passed swiftly as each step brought them closer and closer to what they prayed would be the morning light.

The forever search came to halting end as sunbathed shadows could be seen as the threesome emerged from the building. Clusters of police cars, Ranger vehicles, and even FBI agents swarmed the little area right where they exited.

The light of day could not have felt any better than it did to Katheryn and the detective after spending the night in that dank place. Katheryn smiled broadly and paused, closing her eyes and inhaling sharply as she breathed in the new day.

"Katheryn!" A voiced awoken her from her reverie.

Miss Cahill approached her swiftly and offered a broad smile. She searched for the young woman's eyes. "How are you? When I heard what had happened, I decided to accompany the Rangers here."

Katheryn returned her smile. "You're too kind. I'm alright. A little shaken. But I am alright." She lifted her eyes and turned to see the detective, Trent, and Rangers Walker and Trivette in conversation. Miss Cahill wrapped a jacket around Katheryn as the brisk morning air swept against them both, causing Katheryn the slightest chill as she glanced. The detective raised his gaze only briefly and issued a reassuring nod to her. She stood emotionless and unsure of what to do as Miss Cahill remained with her. Katheryn turned back to the kind woman and smiled. "Thank you."

Miss Cahill was surprised. "Whatever for?"

"For giving me the opportunity to do this."

"I don't think I'll ever know why, but you're welcome." Miss Cahill smiled.

"Not because of the danger," she continued, "but because of the people. I never knew people like you all were really out there. I had always envisioned law enforcement as distant and nerving. But I was wrong. You guys really care for people. And it shows in everything you do."

Miss Cahill offered another soft smile as she listened and received the young woman's words. "Well I am glad. And you got along with the detective well?"

Katheryn nodded. "I do believe we did. He is a good officer."

"And a good man," Miss Cahill continued.

Katheryn nearly blushed and turned her face away for fear of this.

"Well, I must be going. I'm due in court in about an hour." Miss Cahill placed her hand on Katheryn's shoulder softly. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Katheryn nodded firmly, assuring Miss Cahill of her safety.

Trent excused himself from the group and crossed to Katheryn. "I just wanted to let you know that you are more than welcome to come home with me and freshen up. I think it's closer than your place. And my mother insisted." He smiled.

"I would like that." Katheryn smiled and tipped her slightly, accepting his gracious offer.

"Great. I'll be right back, and we can be on our way."

She nodded once more as Trent turned and weaved his way through two patrol cars and out of sight. Two uniformed officers gripped the collars and handcuffs of two of the criminals they had just defeated and led them to the back seats of two DPD cars that flashed its blue lights onto the area around them. The one names Parker growled her way as he was led to the car. Katheryn shivered unseen and held a straight stare at the man as he passed.

Quickly becoming restless, Katheryn sat on the edge of the unmarked car before her and sighed, looking the vast warehouse over as a ray of sunlight streaked the path before her. She could hardly make sense of it all. How had she survived? How had she gotten here in the first place if not by some divine intervention? It all seemed so surreal. But then it all came sweeping over her again…every moment…every conversation…every encounter…from the past week. It was indeed real. And for some odd reason…she cherished every moment.

Detective Sandoval began walking her way. She bowed her head and cleared her throat nervously.

"I just wanted to say how proud I was to work with you."

Katheryn raised her eyes upward. "Me too. I've never had so much adventure piled in one week."

The detective chuckled softly but then became serious again. "I mean it. I greatly enjoyed your company. You handled yourself well."

Katheryn nodded once and rose to her full height off of the car.

Carlos nervously cleared his throat. "Do you need a ride?"

Katheryn smiled. "Trent offered to take me to his place. His mother insisted."

"I see." Carlos nodded. "Then I'll be seeing you?"

"I hope so," was all the young woman could seem to say through the lump that formed in her throat.

"Me too." Carlos nodded one last time and shifted his step, continuing forward as another officer called his name.

Katheryn turned fully and watched the detective head off in the other direction toward the officers who had needed him. She inwardly warded away the thought that she wished he could have stayed. It was selfish.

Taking a deep breath of the morning air once again as Trent halted his sky blue Corvette Stingray in front of her, she hopped in and situated herself on the comfortable leather seats. Oh how good they felt to her aching back!

Trent finally put the car in drive and they sped away. A bit of exhaust was left behind in the wake of their departure. But that's not all that was left behind. For an entire new future had been awakened in Katheryn's life that day that she had yet to discover in full and would, unknown to her that day, spend the rest of her life discovering in its fullest measure.

##

"I'd like to raise a glass to our newest friend Katheryn. Shoot, heaven knows she's got the gumption to belong with us old hoots."

"Hey! Who you calling old, Big Dog?" Trivette cocked his head to one side with a smirk on his face as he glared at C.D. from in front of the bar.

Soft laughs drifted through the little crowd consisting of Miss Cahill and Ranger Walker besides Ranger Trivette and Katheryn who was surrounded by her new friends at the bar.

"Thanks, C.D." She smiled broadly to the Rangers on one side of her and then Miss Cahill on her other side.

"Here here," Miss Cahill chimed in and raised her glass.

The Rangers did the same in unison.

"Well, look here. Aren't you two a sight for sore eyes?" C.D. announced loudly as Trent and Carlos ambled into the little restaurant.

"Hey, guys." Ranger Walker greeted.

The twosome eased up to the bar next to Miss Cahill.

"We miss anything?" Trent asked, his eyebrows raised.

Carlos slapped the bar playfully. "Yeah. You didn't start without us, did you?"

"Not a chance." C.D. grinned and lifted his mug which half full. "We were just inducting this pretty little lady into our elite group."

"Oh?" Carlos stole a glance at the young woman.

"Indeed." Miss Cahill answered.

"I know I speak for all of us when I say," Trent looked towards Katheryn, "that we are more than happy to have had you with us this week."

Katheryn smiled, her lips tight as she swallowed hard.

"And we hope this isn't the last we'll see of you." Carlos inserted.

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of forgetting my new friends." The young woman meant those words with the deepest sincerity.

"Good! Then that means you'll be able to take my place on the kayaking trip next month?" Trivette spoke up with a broad smile.

The rest of the group laughed at his little notion.

Katheryn stifled her own laugh. "I'd love to come. But you'll have to come to."

Miss Cahill smiled. "She got you there, Jimmy."

"Yeah, yeah." Trivette rolled his eyes playfully.

Katheryn turned and was met with Detective Sandoval's knowing glance. He nodded toward her as if to say he was proud of her. She nodded in return and lifted her mug into the entire group's toast to her and cherished the first victorious moment of many with her newfound friends.