CHAPTER 1

Valerie Harper stood beside a freshly dug grave. Hot tears were streaming down her face. They had been for the past few days. A few people walked over to her to give her their condolences, and she numbly nodded her head.

It had been a tough year for her. Her father was diagnosed with cancer and she broke off a two year engagement with a man who she never really loved. Now here she was, standing next to her father’s grave, which was right beside her mother’s. She had no brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles, and no remaining grandparents. She was all alone in the world.

Valerie looked around and saw that everybody had already left. She slowly turned around and walked towards her car. She knew that it was time to move on. She had buried so many of her loved ones, that she was almost numb to the grief.

She drove herself to her apartment. As soon as she walked through the door, she saw all of her packing boxes. When she had heard that her father was gone, she had quickly quit her job and told her landlord that she was moving. She needed a change. She needed to get away from all of the memories. She wasn’t sure where she wanted to go, so she pulled out an atlas, shut her eyes, and pointed.

When she opened her eyes, she saw that her new home would be Florida. She had gotten on the Internet and rented an apartment in downtown Orlando. Then she looked for a new job. She sent out a couple of resumes and had some promising offers.

Valerie checked her watch and saw that her plane left in four hours. People were criticizing her for leaving the day of the funeral; but the sooner the better. Anybody who didn’t understand why she was leaving, had obviously never lost anybody they loved. Getting away from all the hurtful memories was the most important thing to do during the grieving process. So that she wouldn’t change her mind, she called the cab company and asked her neighbor to help her carry boxes down to the street. She had to get out of there now; while she still could.

By the time she had all of her luggage checked in, and a cup of coffee under her belt, first class passengers were called to board the plane. She took her carry on and walked down the terminal. Being a top-notch journalist for Time Magazine had insured her enough money to enjoy the luxuries of life. She doubted that she would have another job like it. But she didn’t care. Just so she was happy. Working at Time hadn’t been that happy for her. Maybe it was because while there, she had lost her father and her fiance, even though losing her fiance had been her own doing.

She walked to her seat, which was right beside the window, and sat down. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She felt somebody sit beside her, but she didn’t look to see who it was. She didn’t care to talk to anybody at the moment. She was afraid if she talked, she would cry, and then she would have to explain why she was crying. Explaining her emotions was not one of her strong points. Valerie didn’t have to worry about talking, though. From crying so much, the exhaustion took over her body and she was asleep in a matter of seconds.

Valerie awoke a couple of hours later. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes. Her neck had a kink in it from the position she had been sleeping in. She looked out her window and saw that it was dark outside.

"It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?"

Valerie practically jumped out of her seat when the deep voice had spoken. She placed her hand over her heart and took deep breaths. "You scared me half to death."

The young man smiled. "I’m sorry." He held out his hand. "I’m Lance, and you would be?"

She put her hand in his. He had a firm yet gentle grip. His hands were soft, yet masculine. "Valerie, Valerie Harper."

Lance perused her face. "That name sounds familiar. Have we met?"

Valerie shook her head. The way his deep green eyes were looking at her was making her pulse speed up again. "I don’t think so."

"Me either. I’m pretty sure I’d remember somebody with a face like yours."

Valerie blushed and looked down at her lap. "Could you tell me how far we are from Florida?"

"I believe we’re set to land any minute now. You slept the whole ride."

"I guess I was more tired than I thought."

Valerie reached her hand behind her neck and massaged her neck muscles. She jumped when Lance removed her hands and replaced them with his own. "You’re very jumpy."

"What are you doing?"

"I’m massaging your neck. It works better if somebody else does it." He began to slowly knead her tense muscles. He smiled when she softly moaned and her head fell forward. Why he was massaging her neck, he did not know. He was never this forward with women. Never. But this woman, she was different. There was something about her. Maybe it was the way she made little whimpering noises when she slept, or how her brown eyes sparkled when she was startled.

"That feels really good." She shut her eyes and let out a slow breath. Having somebody massage her neck was nice. Even if it was a total stranger. A total stranger. It sunk in that she was letting a total stranger massage her. She removed his hands from her neck and leaned back. "All better, thanks." She looked out the window again, and slapped herself in the head. What had she been thinking, letting a stranger touch her. She was losing it.

Lance put his hands on the tray and tapped his fingers. Her perused her face again. She was a very attractive young woman with short brown hair and brown eyes. No, they weren’t just brown. They were more chocolate. Even chocolate was an understatement. He was an eye man, and she definitely had the eyes. She was sitting, but he would guess she was about medium height. She looked to be about twenty five.

At the same time, Valerie was assessing Lance. He had spiky blonde hair and piercing green eyes. He was wearing a sweatshirt, but she would guess that he was pretty well built. He looked to be taller than her, but not too tall. The one thing that stuck out the most was his voice. It was deep and raspy and sent tingles up her spine. For the first time she noticed that he was staring at her. "Is there a reason that you’re looking at me?"

He smiled and laughed. His laugh was as deep, and as sexy, as his voice. "Probably for the same reason you’re looking at me. We’re attracted to one another."

She rolled her eyes. "Hardly. Don’t flatter yourself." He laughed and patted her on the shoulder. Valerie slid against the window to get away from him. If it was one thing that turned her off from a guy, it was an ego.

When the plane landed, she put her carry-on on her shoulder and walked off. There was a huge crowd waiting outside the terminal. It looked like most of the people were teenage girls. "Great, this is just great." She hated crowds of people. They made her feel uncomfortable.

She pushed her way through the crowd and headed towards baggage claim. She was reaching for a bag when a hand reached out and took it for her. She screamed, and the other hand closed over her mouth. All theories ran through her head. She thought of murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. "It’s me, Lance."

And sexy psychopathic people you meet on airplanes. "What do you think you’re doing?"

He shrugged his shoulders. Valerie noticed that he was wearing sunglasses and a black hat. There was also a rather large man standing right behind him. "I think I may have…"

The light dawned in her head. Oh, she was going to have fun with this. "You’re the person all of those girls are here to see." Lance quickly shook his head no. "You are." She got an evil grin and turned back towards the crowd. "Oh my God, it’s Lance!"

She didn’t think that anything would happen, but she was soon proved wrong. Thousands of girls started screaming and running towards them. Valerie grabbed her bags and ran away fast. "Have fun Lance!" She jolted out of the airport before she got run over by a herd of hormone filled girls. She felt a second of guilt, but shrugged it off. "He deserves that."

She waved down a cab and headed towards her new apartment. Her boxes were being shipped later that day. When she walked into the apartment, she took her first look at her new home. The rooms were already furnished. The couches in the living room were floral print and when she sat on them, she found that they were very comfortable.

The kitchen had what looked to be brand new appliances and they were all black. As she walked back the hall, she looked into the four doors. The first door on the left was the bathroom. There were two sinks, a toilet and a shower. She decided that she’d have to redecorate immediately. Whoever had lived there before had come straight from the sixties.

The first door on the left was a storage closet. It was tiny, but would serve the purpose. The second door on the right was the spare bedroom. There was a twin bed and a dresser.

The final door was the master bedroom. There was a king sized bed, a nightstand, a dresser, and a vanity. The furniture was beautiful, but she’d have to spend time decorating it to her tastes.

She checked her watch and saw that it was almost six in the morning, and she wasn’t even tired. She had two interviews that day, so she decided to lay down and rest anyway.

Jet lag must have kicked in, though, for she fell asleep almost immediately. She woke up to someone knocking on her door. She stumbled out of bed and ran into the wall. She silently cursed to herself, and tried to remember how her new apartment was set up. Thankfully, the sun was shining through the window and she was able to see the door.

There was a man standing outside of the door, and he handed her a clipboard. "You need to sign to get your boxes."

Right. Her boxes. How long had she been asleep? "All right." She signed the clipboard. "Could you bring those in for me?" She smiled sweetly at him and batted her eyelashes.

He immediately nodded his head and went down to his truck to get the boxes. She laughed at herself. She didn’t normally use her looks to get things, but she was starting all over, so why not change her ways a little bit.

She checked her watch and it was almost eleven o’clock. Her first interview as at noon. She would have to hurry if she was going to make it on time. She didn’t know how long it would take to get to whatever street she was going to. As fast as she could, she fixed her hair and touched up her make up. Nothing stunning, but it was good enough for a job interview. Valerie didn’t want to get the job because of her looks, so maybe looking terrible was the key.

She walked back out to the living room and smiled at the man. She shook his hand, and slipped him some money. "I have to go out now, but I’d appreciate it if you would place the boxes here."

She winked at him and he nodded his head. She waved good bye and walked down to the street. Valerie waved down a cab, and gave the cabby the address of her first interview.

As the cab pulled up to the building, Valerie took a deep breath. She pulled her briefcase closer, paid the driver, and walked into the building. There was a friendly looking lady sitting behind a front desk. "Hello, I’m Valerie Harper. I believe I have an interview at noon."

The secretary checked the list. "Yes, go on the elevator to the fourth floor. It will be the second door on the right."

Valerie took the elevator, and mentally ran over important things that she would be asked. More than likely, she would be asked why she left Time. She hated talking about personal stuff. Hopefully she could come up with something believable to tell them. She walked in the door labeled ‘FreeLance Entertainment’. Sitting inside was another secretary, typing away on a computer. Her head perked up and she smiled. "Can I help you?"

"My name is Valerie Harper, I have an interview."

She checked the list. "If you’ll just have a seat, I’ll let him know that you’re here."

Valerie sat down on one of the chairs. A few minutes later, the secretary walked back out. "You can go on in. Very last door at the end of the hall."

Valerie nodded her head and walked down to the door. She rapped lightly on the door. A deep voice instructed her to come in.

She opened the door and just about dropped her briefcase. "You!"

 

 

CHAPTER 2

Valerie could not believe how cursed she was. Sitting behind a large oak desk was none other than the arrogant man from the plane. He smiled and stood up. He motioned to one of the seats. "Why don’t you have a seat?"

She walked slowly to one of the chairs and sat down. Her breath was caught in her throat. If Lance had looked good in a baggy sweatshirt and jeans, he looked even better in a business suit. But she wasn’t there to check him out. She was there to be interviewed. Besides, he was rude, crude, and arrogant. Three things she did not want in a man. In fact, she didn’t want a man at all. She crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap. "I take it you’re the owner of FreeLance."

Lance nodded his head. He noticed that she had changed into a conservative business suit. The skirt came down to her knees, but when she crossed her legs it rose. She had great legs. "Yes I do, but this is just a side gig."

"A side gig?"

He nodded his head. "I sing in a band." Lance could tell that she was racking her brain trying to figure out who he was. "Perhaps you’ve heard of us. NSync?"

Valerie’s eyes widened, and Lance had the satisfaction of seeing the look of surprise cross her features. "Yes, I have heard of you." They sat there, staring at each other. Valerie cleared her throat. "Do you think we could get on with the interview? I do have other appointments."

Lance nodded his head and went back to his desk. He pulled up her resume on the computer. She had excellent references and was very qualified. "I see you worked for Time." Valerie nodded her head. "I also see that you’re only twenty one." At first he had thought she was older than she was. Would she take that as a compliment if he told her? He wasn’t sure, so he decided against it.

Again, she nodded her head. "I graduated high school at sixteen, and college at nineteen. They hired me shortly afterwards."

"Why did you quit after only two years?"

"Personal reasons."

"May I ask why?"

Valerie shook her head. "No, you may not."

"May I ask why not?"

Valerie was becoming aggravated. "Listen, Mr.…"

"Bass, but please call me Lance. We try not to be too formal around here."

"Mr. Bass," she stressed, "I would highly appreciate it if we could just continue the interview."

"Very well. All I need to know is one more thing. When can you start?"

That had taken Valerie by surprise. "Pardon me?"

Lance smiled. She looked even more beautiful when she was surprised. "I knew that you were perfect for this job as soon as I read your resume. Then, when I met you on the plane I knew your name sounded familiar. When we landed, I called my secretary and she told me that I had an interview with you. So, I went back in, highly against my bodyguards wishes, and you sent a pack of girls after me." He chuckled at the memory. He was beating himself up for still wanting to hire her. But he was desperate, and she was perfect. In more ways than one.

Valerie smiled. "I’m not going to apologize for that. I can start whenever you’re ready for me to start." Why she was going to accept this job, she did not know. Trouble would surely ensue.

Lance stoop up and shook her hand. "Tomorrow at nine." Valerie nodded her head and headed towards the door. "Valerie…"

She turned around to face him. "Mr. Bass, I am a business woman and a professional. I would highly appreciate it if you would call me Ms. Harper during business hours."

"And what are you during non-business hours?"

Valerie looked at him. "That’s something you’ll never have to worry about. I don’t mix business with pleasure." With that, she walked out of his office; making sure to sway her hips. She wanted him to look at what he couldn’t have.

She walked out of his office. Lance smiled and started to laugh. "We’ll see about that. We’ll just see." He liked her, he liked her a lot. She was spunky, and he admired that. He also admired how she knew how to get a guy’s attention with her walk. But she was head strong, maybe a little too headstrong. Oh well, it was a challenge. And if there was one thing Lance never shied away from, it was a challenge.

The next morning, Valerie arrived at the office by a quarter to nine. She walked right up to the FreeLance offices. When she walked in, she was greeted by the secretary. "Good morning Valerie."

Valerie smiled at her. "Hello Christine. How are you today?" Christine was a middle aged woman who had brown hair with spots of gray in it. Sitting on her desk were pictures of her children and grand child. Valerie had warmed to her immediately. She reminded Valerie of her grandmother. Before the heart attack took her away.

"I’m good. I suppose you’re ready to get started." Valerie nodded her head. "I’ll take you back to your office."

She opened the door to what was a fairly sized office. It had a desk, a few chairs, and a few filing cabinets. There was another door which Valerie assumed let to a closet. "Does Mr. Bass want to see me to tell me what my responsibilities are?"

"Lance isn’t in today. He told me to tell you that he left a memo on your computer."

"Thank you Christine." She put her coat in the closet and went to her desk. She booted up her computer and sure enough, there was a memo.

"Sorry I couldn’t be there today. Review the old PR’s notes and decide how you want to run things. We’ll have a staff meeting tomorrow at ten. Love, Lance."

"All right." She opened up the filing cabinet and almost passed out from the mess. "It’ll take me all day just to organize these to be able to read them. Looks like it’s going to be a long day. Might as well get comfortable."

She got in the closet and saw that there was a little radio. She plugged it in and found a half decent radio station. She rolled up her sleeves, placed her jacket on the back of the chair, slipped off her high heels, and pulled all of the envelopes out of the first drawer. She began to sort them.

That was how Lance found her a few hours later. She was sitting on the floor, placing papers into piles and belting out the lyrics from LeAnn Rimes. She had a great voice and was obviously enjoying the song. "Are these your usual working habits Ms. Harper?"

Valerie jumped up and turned to face him. "Mr. Bass." She ran her hands through her hair and tried to straighten her blouse. "What are you doing here? I mean, can I help you?" There was nothing more embarrassing than being caught singing by your boss. Your very attractive boss. Your very attractive boss that was checking you out. She blushed, but then remembered how arrogant he was.

Lance laughed. He loved it when he surprised her. And it sure was easy to do. Never had he met anybody who jumped as much as she did. "I just wondered how your first day was going. I take it that it’s going good."

Valerie nodded her head. "I’ve gotten a lot done. I’m almost done organizing the files, and I was just about to read everything."

"That’s good." He walked over to the radio and turned it off. "Can I have a few moments of your time?"

"Sure. I’m sorry if my music was too loud, it just makes everything more fun."

"We’re in the music business, so music is almost required to be played." He motioned towards the chairs. "Shall we sit?" They sat down. "I just wanted to give you an overview of the things you’ll be required to do. Meredith is an up and coming star. People want to see her, people want to see me to talk about her. You have to make sure that what gets said is appropriate, send out statements, normal things for a PR director."

Valerie nodded her head. "As I was going through the files, I noticed a lot of statements went out about a relationship between you and her."

Lance nodded his head. "General public speculation. Meredith and I are strictly business partners."

"When will I meet her?"

"Tomorrow at the meeting." Lance stood up. "I’ll let you get back to work. I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Bye Mr. Bass."

That night Valerie was sitting in her apartment; debating on how she should spend the evening. "I’m twenty one years old damnit, I should go out."

She went back to her bedroom and dug through her boxes of clothes. She found a pair of black leather pants and a black leather halter top without a back. Valerie couldn’t remember the last time she had worn them. She also couldn’t remember why she had bought the outfit in the first place. But who cared? Tonight she was going to live a little. "Guys, look out. Valerie Grace Harper is on the prowl!"

She was standing in line for Jetz an hour later. When it was her turn to show her ID, she showed the bouncer her driver’s license. "You can go on in pretty thang."

Valerie smiled at him and winked. "Well thank you." As soon as she walked in, she was greeted by the sounds of loud music and loud conversations. There were a lot of people on the dance floor and she decided to join them. Crowds weren’t usually her scene, but she needed something different. She needed to break out of her shell and live the teen years she had missed out on. Being twenty one had never felt that good in her whole entire life.

Limp Bizkit’s Rollin came on, and Valerie started to dance. She worked her way to the center of the dance floor. Somebody tapped her on the shoulder and when she turned around she was face to face with an attractive looking man. He had dyed blonde hair, and almost a full beard. He was a real man; not a young boy trying to pretend to be one like almost every other guy she had met. "Feel like dancing?"

"Sure!" They started to bump and grind to the music. "What’s your name?"

"Joey. What’s yours?"

"Valerie. But you can call me Val."

He smiled and put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer to him. "You come here a lot?"

She shook her head and slid her hands up his chest and put them around his neck. "First time."

"How is that possible?" He slid one hand up and down her thigh.

 

"Just moved to Orlando." She spread her legs and put one on each side of his leg. Her knee was rubbing a sensitive area as she moved to the music. He was obviously enjoying their dance.

When the song ended, Valerie moved away but Joey caught her by the arm. "Where are you going? I’m not done dancing with you yet."

She smiled and they danced a few more songs. They made light conversation and Valerie knew that Joey was somebody she could get along with. He was obviously a big flirt, but he wasn’t giving any other girl attention but her. She liked that. She liked it a lot. He was also listening to her as she talked. That was a major plus. "I’m going to get something to drink."

"I’ll come too, and then we can go sit down. Maybe get to know each other a little better." They walked over to the bar and Joey ordered a beer while Valerie ordered a screwdriver. "My friends are over here." He led her to a table where four guys were sitting. "Guys, this is Val."

The four heads turned to look at her, and she nearly dropped her drink. "Mr. Bass!"

  

 CHAPTER 3

How did this keep happening to her? Valerie noticed that Lance was looking her up and down, and she remembered what she was wearing. Once again, she felt that familiar blush creep onto her face. She always seemed to be blushing around her. And he always seemed to be looking into her; not at her. He would look at her eyes, but he looked like he was looking at something deeper. The thought made her shudder.

Lance had been watching Joey dance, and he knew that there was something familiar about his partner. He never would have imagined that it was Valerie, though. She was constantly surprising him. First he saw her in casual clothes. She looked beautiful. Then, he had seen her in a business suit. That was even better. And now he was seeing her in clubbing clothes. His hormones were racing; just like they had when he was a sweaty palmed teenager trying to make a move on a girl.

Joey looked down at Valerie and saw the embarrassment on her face. Her cheeks were no longer crimson from the heated dancing, but from blushing. "So you two have met?"

Valerie tore her eyes away from Lance and looked up at Joey. "Yes, we have. I’m FreeLance’s new PR director. Mr. Bass is my boss."

"We’re not in the office, you could try calling me Lance." He hated it when she said Mr. Bass. She said it almost like it was a poison and she had to get it out of her mouth before it killed her. Would it really kill her to say his first name? It wasn’t hard. Lance. Kind of rolls off the tongue.

Valerie didn’t know what to say, so she just nodded her head. Joey pulled out a chair for her and she sat down. "So, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you all are in NSync." Now that she was up close, she could see why girls obsessed over them. They were five very good looking men.

Joey nodded his head. "You’ve met me and Lance. And they are Chris, Justin, and JC."

She said hello to everyone. JC raised his glass to her before taking a sip. "How long have you been in Orlando?"

"My plane landed yesterday, so almost two whole days." She looked at Justin who was sitting there tapping his fingers on the table. "Aren’t you a little young to be in a club that serves alcohol?"

Justin shook his head and showed her his hand. It had a stamp on it. "They stamp you and then the bar won’t serve you. I can still come in and dance though."

"Then how come you’re not?"

"Too many young girls."

"Well, Joey was out there and the fans left him alone."

Lance grunted. "That’s because you were too busy being all over him. Nobody else had a chance to get close to him."

Valerie glared at him. "I’ll have you know that I didn’t know who he was until I saw you." She looked at her watch and saw that it was nearly midnight. She had better get home if she wanted to be rested for work in the morning. She also wanted to get as far away from Lance as she could. As much as she hated to admit it, he was affecting her. She needed time to think. "Joey, I think I’m going to go home." She handed him a card. "Call me." She kissed him on the cheek and politely said good bye to everyone, then she walked out.

Joey whistled as she walked away. "She is hot!"

Lance shrugged his shoulders. "I hadn’t noticed." Of course he had, but they didn’t need to know that. "That outfit is a lot different than the ones she wears to work."

Joey smiled. "That’s too bad, cause damn she’s working that outfit."

Chris hit him in the arm. "What about Kelly?" Joey shrugged his shoulders. "You’re not going to cheat on her, are you?"

"No way, I love Kelly. Val was just somebody to dance with tonight."

Lance shook his head. "Make sure that Val knows that. I don’t want her to get hurt."

"She won’t. In fact, I’ll call her in the morning and clear everything up."

The next morning, Valerie was running late. She had stayed up really late thinking. She didn’t really think about anything in particular; just a lot of random things. Mainly she had thought about Lance. At first she thought that she should quit immediately. But then she realized that this job was fun. She was good at it. No man was going to run her away from something she loved. When she pressed the button in the elevator to go to the fourth floor, a hand reached in the door and stopped it from closing. Lance stepped in. "Good morning Mr. Bass."

He nodded his head at her. "Ms. Harper. I assume you talked to Joey."

"You assume right."

"I just wanted to tell you that…"

Valerie held up her hand. "Don’t. I don’t talk about my personal life while I’m at work." She also didn’t want him to see how disappointed she had been when Joey explained how he had a girlfriend. He was a great guy, and Kelly was very lucky. She couldn’t wait to meet her when she went over to Joey’s house for that Italian dinner he had promised her. Joey was going to be a very good friend to her; she could sense it.

When the elevator stopped, Valerie walked to her office and shut the door. Lance shook his head and went back to his office. Meredith was waiting there. "Good morning Meredith."

"Hello Lance." She stood up and they hugged. "I suppose there’s a reason you called me here."

Lance nodded his head. "We got a new PR director, and we’re having a staff meeting."

"Sounds fun." Meredith walked over to Lance’s desk and picked up a manila envelope. "Are these my pictures?"

"Yes." He took the envelope from her and laid the pictures on the desk. "They all turned out great."

Meredith scanned the pictures. She pointed to one with her in jeans and a short top. "That one is my favorite."

"I’d have to agree. It looks the most natural. We need to get these sent out so that you can be signed before I go on tour again."

"Do we have any offers?"

"A few." Lance looked at the clock. "It’s time to go meet Valerie. I mean, Ms. Harper." If Valerie had said his name like it was poison, then there weren’t words to describe how Lance said hers. Joey had called her Val. So that’s what she was called during non-business hours. And she had said he wouldn’t find out. He showed her.

They walked down the hall to the conference room. Valerie and Tim were already there. Tim was Lance’s co-owner, and someone he trusted very much. That is, until Lance noticed how Valerie was laughing at something Tim was saying. He had never heard her laugh before. Her laugh was beautiful and made her eyes sparkle. She was very relaxed and at home. He also noticed how she stopped laughing and tensed up as soon as she saw him. Tim walked over and hugged Meredith and shook Lance’s hand. "Are we ready to get started?"

The four of them sat down around the conference table. Tim sat beside Valerie. "Val and I were just talking about a new movie that’s coming out."

Lance was waiting for Valerie to correct him, but she didn’t. That did not make him happy. "That’s good. Meredith, this is Ms. Harper."

Valerie stood up and shook her hand. "Call me Val."

"It’s a pleasure to meet you."

They sat back down. Lance was fuming, but she didn’t let it show. First Joey, then Tim, now Meredith? What was her deal with her damn name? "Now, I’ll be going on tour soon, and there’s a lot that I’d like to get done." He turned to Valerie. "I think it would be a good idea if you listened to Meredith’s demo tape to get a feel for the music before you have to send out statements. I will also need something to go to Mercury, where she has an audition next week."

Meredith’s eyes widened. "Why didn’t you tell me earlier?"

"I wanted to surprise you. Do you think you can have that ready by the end of the day, Ms. Harper?" Valerie nodded her head. "Good. Tim, I need you to get ahold of Mercury and make sure that everything is set up."

He nodded his head. "Consider it done.

"Good. Meredith, we need to work hard this week. Singing, dancing, more singing, more dancing."

"All right. I feel the need to sing and burn off some steam."

Lance smiled. Meredith’s enthusiasm was one of the reasons he had signed her. It reminded him a lot of himself.

Somebody’s beeper went off, and Valerie stood up. "Excuse me, I need to take this call." She walked out of the room.

Meredith smiled. "I really like her. I think we’re going to get along great."

Tim smiled. "Me too. Lance, you did a good job. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some phone calls to make."

He walked out of the room and almost ran into Valerie. "I’m sorry Tim."

"Don’t worry about it. But you can make it up to me by going out to lunch with me today."

"Sounds great." She walked into the conference room. "I need you to sign these papers Mr. Bass."

He looked at the stack in front of him. "What are they?"

"They give me permission to release anything I think is necessary and helpful to Meredith’s career without having to go through you first. It’ll save me some time while you’re on tour, and I thought I’d get it done now."

Lance nodded his head and briefly scanned over the contracts in front of him. "I’ll read them and have them for you at the end of the day."

"I’m going to go get back to work. I guess I’ll see both of you later."

Valerie went down to her office and put the tape in. Meredith had a strong voice. She was going to go places. As soon as the song was done, she prepared the statement to be sent with it. There was a knock on her door. "Come in."

"Ready for lunch?"

Valerie smiled and picked up her bag. "You bet. Where are we going?"

"To the cafeteria." He looked down at his clothes. "I hope I’m not underdressed."

Valerie laughed as his sarcasm. They walked down to the cafeteria and got some food. They sat down at a table. "Did you listen to Meredith’s demo?"

Valerie nodded her head. "She has a great voice."

"That she does. Lance knows how to pick them. Can I ask you a couple of questions?"

"Fire at will."

Tim smiled. "You look pretty young to have a job like this."

Valerie shook her head. "That’s not a question." Tim shrugged his shoulders. "I graduated early."

"Wow, you must have really loved school."

Valerie shrugged her shoulders. "I guess. School just kept me busy."

"Were your parents proud of you?"

"I suppose my dad was."

"Just your dad? Not your mom?"

Valerie looked down in her lap. She whispered, "My mom died when I was a little girl."

Tim reached across the table and took her hand in his. "I’m so sorry."

Valerie wiped away the tears that were threatening to brim over her eyes. "It’s okay. It happened a long time ago." But that didn’t mean it hurt any less. She missed her mom so much it hurt.

Lance walked into the cafeteria at the second that Tim grabbed Valerie’s hand. He felt something inside, but he didn’t know what it was because he had never felt it before. He wondered why she was comfortable around everybody but him. He walked over to their table and was concerned when he saw the tears in her eyes. "Is everything all right?"

Valerie nodded her head and wiped the tears from underneath her eyes. "Yes. I better be getting back to work." She turned to Tim. "Can we just keep this between us?"

"Of course. I’ll see you later."

Valerie walked away and Lance sat down in her vacant chair. He was confused. About her, about the way he was feeling, about everything. He knew one for thing sure, though; she had been hurt in the past and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

 

CHAPTER 4

Valerie was soaking in a bubble bath. The lavendar scented steam rose up around her, and it relaxed her. There were candles burning bright, and she had soft music playing in the background. Her muscles were thanking her for the time to be lax and do nothing but lay there.

Valerie could feel her eyelids shutting slowly, and she forced herself to stay awake. Drowning in a bathtub was the last thing that she needed. She eventually forced herself out of her warm bliss, and wrapped herself in a bathrobe that had been hanging over the furnace making it nice and warm.

She walked into her kitchen and put water on for tea. While waiting for the water to boil, she went back into the living room. Sitting on the end table was the novel she had been meaning to finish. "I will finish it tonight." Just as she sat down her chair, she heard the tea kettle’s whistle.

After pouring herself a nice, hot cup and situating herself in the chair, she was ready for a night of pure entertainment. The book she was reading was a Stephen King. Usually horror novels didn’t keep her interest, but this one did. ‘Dolores Claiborne’ was a novel that she knew would go on her top ten list of favorites.

She wasn’t aware of how much time had gone by. She wasn’t even aware of the pounding at her door until she heard somebody shouting her name. She looked at her watch and sighed. "Who is at my door at ten o’clock at night?" She walked over to the door and looked out the peephole. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" She opened the door. "What are you doing here?"

"Is that anyway to greet the person who signs your paycheck?" Lance crossed his arms. He knew that going to her house would be a mistake, he just hadn’t known how big of a mistake it would be. Seeing Valerie stand there in just a robe was doing things to him that he couldn’t define.

"It is when they’re here uninvited." Lance scoffed and walked into the living room. Valerie crossed her arms. "I don’t remember inviting you in."

Lance shrugged his shoulders, and shut the door when it looked like she wasn’t going to. He walked into the living room and she followed suit. He saw the cup of tea sitting on the coffee table and the book lying open to a page. He walked over and picked up, scanning the page she was on. "Good book?"

"Very, and I would like to finish it. So, why don’t you just go on home, and I’ll see you…"

"No, I don’t think that’s going to happen."

"Excuse me?" Valerie crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows in challenge. She was not going to let him barge into her home and ruin what had been a perfect evening. No matter how sexy he was. No, she was not going to look at his eyes. His eyes were piercing. If she could, she wouldn’t listen to his sexy voice either. It was spine tingling deep. She had always had a weakness for deep and raspy voices.

"You heard me. I’m here to discuss business."

Valerie grunted and sat down in her chair. She took the book away from Lance, and put her bookmark in before setting it aside. "Was there something wrong with the work I turned in today? I am new to the whole public relations aspect, and I was afraid…"

"No," Lance interrupted, "you’re work was fine. Perfect, in fact." He had been quite surprised with what she had done. Not only did her writing describe Meredith’s voice perfectly, but it was done professionally. He hadn’t hesitated in signing over the rights to allow her to sign anything she deemed necessary. He knew that she would not make him regret the choice. "I’m here to talk about your first business trip."

"My first business trip? I hadn’t realized that traveling was going to be part of the job."

"I’m sorry if it’s an inconvenience…"

"No, it’s not, I love to travel. Will I have to make the reservations and take care of the expenses myself?"

Lance shook his head, "That will all be taken care of, courtesy of FreeLance."

Valerie nodded her head, "And my first trip would be…"

"To Nashville, with me and Meredith. She has an audition with Mercury Nashville. Usually only I go along, but I thought it would be appropriate for you to go along as well. I have a good feeling about this, and I’ll need you to sign on as her PR director. Not that I don’t trust whoever Mercury would hire, I would just feel more comfortable with somebody that I hand picked myself."

Valerie could understand that, and she had to admit that she was happy. If she became Meredith’s PR director, that would mean that Lance would have to hire another one to take care of strictly FreeLance. Then even though she was working for him, she wouldn’t necessarily be working with him. The idea was becoming better by the second. "Sounds understandable. When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow, at ten."

The next morning Lance was getting ready for the airplane to take off. Jive’s personal jet was going to take them since NSync had meetings in New York. The plane would drop Lance, Meredith, Valerie, and a bodyguard off in Nashville, and then head up to New York. After the meetings were done, they too would head up to New York. Lance was sitting in one of the chairs, watching what was going on around him. Meredith was talking to Justin. He smiled as he realized that she had come to warm up to the guys. She had been so shy around them at first. Chris and Joey were talking to a few of the bodyguards, probably discussing the game from the night before. Lance had never gotten into sports, and that was one thing he wished he had. JC had his headphones on, and was bobbing his head to the music. Lance was almost positive he was working on a new song.

He checked his watch again and sighed. It was a quarter to ten, and Valerie still wasn’t there. He had told her the night before that even though the plane would wait for her she should be there early. He smiled as he remembered the night before. Her initial shock to him being there was something he knew he wouldn’t forget for a long time.

After going over the details of the trip, she had quickly gotten him out of her house. It was done in a polite way, but it was obvious that she wanted him out of there. He was still confused as to why she was so tense around him, and not anybody else. One thing was for sure though, he was going to come to the end of it by the time they got home.

He checked his watch again, and stood up. He walked over to where Justin and Meredith were standing. He smiled as he caught the end of their conversation. "So you aren’t nervous at all?"

Meredith shook her head, "I don’t let myself become nervous. I know that if I do, I’ll mess up, and where would that lead me?"

Justin smiled at her enthusiasm. He had a good feeling about this, as did everybody else. He knew that Meredith was going to go places, and he also knew that she knew that. She just tried to keep her priorities low so she didn’t get as much disappointment. He saw Lance approaching. "Looks like the boss is coming to take you away."

Meredith looked over her shoulder and smiled as Lance walked up beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. "No, I didn’t come to take her away. I came over to make sure everything was going okay. I don’t want you corrupting my client Justin."

Justin raised his hands and stepped away. "I swear her innocence is still in tact."

Meredith and Lance started to laugh. Lance caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned around. He saw Valerie slowly making her way up to the group. He was going to say hi until he saw her embrace Joey. Justin saw where Lance was looking. "I thought Joey was going to tell Val about everything."

Lance shrugged his shoulders, "He did. Maybe she just doesn’t get it."

Meredith shook her head, "Or, maybe, the two of them are friends. It is possible for a male and a female to be friends you know." She walked over to Valerie, and tapped her on the shoulder. Valerie turned around, and the two girls hugged. "Hi Val."

"Hello Meredith. Are you excited?"

"You know it. I’m glad you’re coming along. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so this will give us a chance to get to know one another better."

Valerie smiled, "I can’t wait!" It was announced that everybody was to board the plane, so she picked up her bag. Joey took it away from her. "What do you think you’re doing?"

"I’m being a gentlemen and carrying your bag." He hefted it up onto his shoulder. He grunted. "Did you pack enough stuff? You’re only going to be gone for four days."

Valerie shrugged and followed him down the terminal. "I packed everything I’d need. Do you think I just roll out of bed this beautiful in the morning? I think not!" The two of them were laughing as they stepped onto the plane. Everybody else was already seated. Meredith had saved the two seats in front of her and Lance for them. Valerie walked over and took the window seat.

"What do you think you’re doing? Who said you got window?" Valerie shrugged her shoulders and smiled coyly at him. "Fine, take it!"

Valerie laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."

Behind them, Lance was about ready to throw up. Did they have to be so public about liking each other? He shifted in his seat, and Meredith looked over at him and smiled. She knew that he had feelings for Valerie. It was obvious to everyone, except for Valerie and maybe even Lance. She turned her attention back to the window and watched the plane take off into the air.

A couple of hours later, it was announced that the plane would be landing in Nashville in ten minutes. Lance, who had been too busy doing paper work to sleep, woke up Meredith. It took him a few tries, but she eventually woke up and began to get her bags ready. He looked into the seats that Joey and Valerie were sleeping in, and felt anger rise up to his face.

Valerie had her head on Joey’s shoulders, and he had his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. They were sharing a blanket, and they both had smiles on their faces. He cleared his throat, loudly, but they didn’t wake up. He reached through the seats and shook Joey. He didn’t even budge. "Great," he mumbled. He tapped Valerie on the head, and she didn’t wake up either. "What, did they take sleeping pills or something?" He grabbed Valerie by the shoulder, and jumped when she screamed. Her scream woke up the entire plane.

"What the hell?"

Lance removed his hand from her shoulder. "It’s just me. The plane is going to be landing soon. I thought I’d wake you up."

Valerie sat up in her seat, and wiped the sleep from her eyes. "Are you going to make it a habit to scare me when I wake up on planes, cause if so, I’m going to make sure to stay awake the next time."

Lance laughed as she continued to grumble. "At least I got her to loosen up," he thought. That was progress.

He wasn’t laughing, however, when Joey kissed Valerie on the lips before she got off the plane. He just pushed past them, and walked down the aisle. Security had the fans pretty well gone, and Tony, his assigned bodyguard, was waiting for them. Meredith was standing beside him, practically jumping up and down. Lance walked up beside them, and they waited for Valerie to finally exit the plane. She came down the terminal. "Sorry if you had to wait long. Joey just wouldn’t let me go."

Lance pretended to laugh along with her. "Yeah, well we need to be getting to the hotel before the fans come. Unless you want to take it upon you to send yet another pack of girls after me."

Valerie stopped walking, and ran her finger on her chin. "Tempting." She laughed, and started to walk beside Meredith. "Tell me, is he always this grumpy? He needs to loosen up some."

Lance growled under his breath. He should loosen up? He thought he was loose enough. And what made her suddenly act this way? Was it Joey? Was it being away from the office? He looked ahead of him and saw Meredith and Valerie pointing at people and laughing. He shook his head, but felt a smile creep up on his cheeks. "Whatever it is that made her loosen up, I like it."

CHAPTER 5

The whole drive to their hotel was very quiet. Meredith was starting to get nervous, and instead of talking she sat in her seat fidgeting. Valerie, who had never been to Nashville, had her face plastered to the window and was taking in all of the sights. Lance sat there, watching the two girls. He only had four days total to get to know Valerie, but he wanted to do it in the two days they would be in Nashville. He didn’t want Joey to be a distraction.

Lance was still confused as to why he was jealous of Joey. Maybe it was because Valerie was more comfortable with him, or maybe it was because Valerie liked him. He wasn’t sure which one it was. He already had a plan. He was going to suggest that Meredith have a few hours alone to prepare and he would show Valerie around town.

The hotel staff was waiting for them when the car pulled up. Security had done a wonderful job clearing out any fans. Of course, the fans knew that NSync would be in New York. They didn’t know that Lance was going to be in Nashville. But, it wouldn’t last long. It only took one fan to say something.

Lance and Tony would be sharing a room, as would Meredith and Valerie. As the girls got comfortable in their room, Lance worked out the plan with Tony. "All I want to do is show Valerie around. I’ll be perfectly fine."

Tony crossed his arms and firmly shook his head no. "You know you can’t go out by yourself. It’s not safe. Lance, do not make me get angry."

Lance laughed, "Tony," he said as he patted him on the chest before walking over to the door connecting the rooms, "you’re as dangerous as a kitten." He knocked on the door, and a very concerned Meredith answered it. "What’s wrong?"

"It’s Val. She’s really sick."

Meredith moved away from the door, and Lance walked into the room. He saw Valerie lying down on her bed, with her hands covering her stomach. She was moaning very loudly. Lance walked over to the bed and sat down beside her. "Valerie, what’s wrong?"

She rolled toward him and moaned, "It hurts so bad."

"What hurts? Where does it hurt?" Lance was very scared. Valerie was in a lot of pain and she could barely talk. She tried to tell him where the pain was, but she couldn’t get it out. "Don’t move, I’m calling an ambulance."

"No!" she shouted, and she sat up. She screamed immediately from the pain.

Lance pushed her back down on the bed. "You don’t have a say in this."

Lance, Meredith, and Tony were sitting in the hospital waiting room. They had been there for almost two hours, and they still hadn’t heard anything. Lance was tapping his fingers on his knee, Meredith was tapping her foot on the ground, and Tony was sitting in the chair, ready to jump if anybody recognized Lance.

A doctor finally came out, and shook Lance’s hand. "Are you Valerie’s family?"

"No, I’m her boss. What’s wrong with her?"

"Well, her appendix ruptured. We had to remove it before the infection spread throughout her entire body. She’s really lucky you got her here when you did."

"When can I see her?"

"She’s a little groggy, but one of you can in now." Lance looked back at Tony and Meredith. They both nodded their heads. Lance walked back with the doctor. "You have fifteen minutes."

Lance went into the room and cringed when he saw Valerie hooked up to machines. He walked over to the bed and sat in the chair that was beside it. "Valerie, can you hear me?"

She moaned, and reached for his hand. "Lance, is that you?"

"Yeah," he took her hand tightly in his. He had been so scared, just sitting there waiting to hear if she was okay or not. He never wanted to go through that again.

"I’m sorry."

"For what?"

"For making you wait here. Meredith’s audition…"

"Is tomorrow. We called and explained everything. They said that we could reschedule. Don’t worry about it, all I want you worrying about is getting better."

"I want to go home."

The way she said it broke Lance’s heart. "We’ll be back in Orlando in three days. Then you can have as much time as you need off. I don’t want you working until you feel like your old self again."

"No," she shook her head. "I want to go home. Back to New York." She started to cry. "But I don’t have a home there anymore. They’re all dead. They’re all gone. I want to die too. I want to see daddy and mom again."

Lance was confused. Valerie wasn’t making a bit of sense. "Valerie, I don’t know what to do." At least now he knew something about Valerie’s past. He just wished he hadn’t found out this way.

A nurse came in and told Lance he had to leave so Valerie could get some rest. He went out to the waiting room and filled Tony and Meredith in on Valerie’s condition. "Poor Val. I hope she gets better soon. This trip isn’t going to be very fun for her."

"No, it’s not. The doctor said she can be checked out tomorrow; so then she can go to New York with us. She’ll get lots of rest there."

"Are you sure she’ll want to go to New York? She might want to go home."

Lance explained to Meredith what Valerie had said to him. She was really groggy, but she was obviously hurting in her heart. Maybe there was something he could for her once they got to New York. Maybe he could help make her feel better, and it turn, she would relax when she was around him.

When Lance and Meredith went back to her room the next morning, they heard her talking on the phone. "I told you, I’m fine." Valerie rolled her eyes at whatever the person on the other end of the line had said. "I’ll see you when I get there." She hung up the phone quickly, and rubbed her eyes. She needed relaxation, and all she was going to get from New York was stress. For the first time she noticed Meredith and Lance in the room. "I take it I can go now."

She jumped out of the bed, and Meredith helped to steady her. "Maybe you should get a wheelchair."

"No," she insisted firmly, "I can walk out of here. When does the plane leave?"

Lance took her other arm to help steady her. He was relieved when she didn’t shy away, but kind of leaned towards him for the added support. "Whenever we get there. Are you sure you want to go to New York?"

"Yes, I have to go."

By the time the plane landed, Valerie was fast asleep. All of the walking she had done had taken its toll on her. Lance gently scooped her up in his arms and carried her off. He quickly made his way to the back entrance, and to the waiting car. Meredith had decided to stay in Nashville visiting her family. She would fly back down to Orlando in a few days. She was nervous about what the record company would say, and staying with family was going to help her get through this rough time.

Valerie mumbled something in her sleep, and rolled towards Lance. He put his arms around her and let her snuggle closer to his chest. He still couldn’t get over how beautiful she was. He also couldn’t believe how strong she was. She had just had a serious operation, and she was already jet setting to another city.

Lance hated to do it, but when they got to the hotel, he tried to wake her up. "Valerie, sweetie, it’s time to wake up."

Before she could answer, the door was thrown open and Valerie was scooped up in somebody’s arms. Lance looked out the door and saw that it wasn’t just somebody; it was Joey. He was gently stroking her hair and cooing softly in her ear. "Val, you had me scared to death."

Lance got out of the car and patted Joey on the arm. "Let’s take her into her room."

They started in, and Joey went straight to the elevator. "She’s sharing a room with me."

Lance nodded his head, and got in the elevator. Then, what Joey had said finally sank in. "What?" he shouted. The word echoed in the tiny box, and it brought Valerie out of her sleep, but only for a second. She snuggled more in Joey’s arms and went right back to sleep. "What the hell did you just say?"

"You heard me. I don’t want to leave her alone in a strange place."

Lance crossed his arms, and turned away from Joey. He didn’t want him to see the look on his face. It was a mix of anger, embarrassment, and the slightest hint of jealousy. "Why you?"

"Why me?"

"Yeah, why you? Why not Chris or Justin or JC or even me?"

 

"You? You two go as well as oil and water. And she’s not even friends with the other guys. The only one she knows and likes here is me, so deal with it!"

Lance watched as Joey carried Valerie to his room. Lance just stood in the elevator in complete and utter shock. What had gotten into him? This wasn’t like him at all.

He went to his own room, and laid down on his bed. He fell asleep, and started to have a dream. In it, Valerie was in pain again; only this time it was her heart and not her stomach. He watched as Valerie’s heart shrunk as more people walked away from her. Finally, somebody he recognized walked up to her. Joey said something in Valerie’s ear, and Lance watched as her heart completely disappeared while Joey walked away.

For the first time, Lance could move. He walked over to Valerie and pulled her into his arms. He started to kiss her, and with each brush of his lips, her heart got bigger. It grew until it was back to its normal size. It had hands, and they reached out and grabbed Lance’s heart. It joined the two together.

Lance woke up with a start. He was drenched in sweat and his heart was going as fast as a racehorse just out of the starting gate. He placed his hand over his heart. The dream had been so real; he could almost feel Valerie’s heart joined with his. He lay there, looking at the ceiling, trying to make sense of it all. "What am I going to do?"

 

CHAPTER 6

Lance was pacing back and forth in his hotel room. His dream kept replaying in his head, and he didn’t understand what it meant. It had been full of symbolism, and understanding that sort of thing was not one of his strong points.

He decided that he needed to relax, so he put on his swimming trunks. Hopefully, nobody else would be there and he could swim and clear his head.

When he walked out to the courtyard, he saw that he indeed was going to be alone. He laid his towel on one of the lounge chairs, and got into the pool. The water was heated, and Lance could feel his tense muscles relaxing.

He slowly swam back and forth, using long and lazy strokes to cut through the water. After a few minutes, Lance got out of the water and made his way to the hot tub. He laid his head one of the head rests and was quickly asleep.

Valerie woke up with a scream. Joey was right there to comfort her. She cried on his shoulder, and he let her cry out all of her frustration. She was so young, and she had been so hurt in her life. He wished he could say something to make her feel better, but he understand that sometimes silence was best.

"And now I have to go see Stanley."

"Who’s Stanley?"

Valerie sniffed, and wiped the tears from underneath her eyes. "My ex-fiance. I called my friend from the hospital, and she told him about my operation. He called me, and the only way I could get him to hang up the phone was to agree to meet him for dinner."

"Do you want to go?" Valerie shrugged her shoulders. "I can go with you if you want me to."

Valerie shook her head, and got up from the bed. "You don’t have to. I think I’m going to go down to the pool for a while."

Valerie opened the door to the courtyard and was pleased to see that nobody else was there. The pool looked inviting, but her heart was set on the hot tub. She walked over to it, and laid her towel on one of the chairs.

"Good evening Ms. Harper."

Valerie jumped up, and sent the lounge chairs flying like a domino rally. "Lance, do you enjoy scaring me?"

Lance laughed, "You’re jumping skills make it worth my while." Valerie stood beside the hot tub. She wanted to get in, but not with Lance in there. He must have seen the look on her face, because he pointed to the empty space beside him. "Are you getting in or not? The water is great."

Valerie slowly walked into the water. She had to admit that the water did feel good, but her muscles were too tense to relax. Her muscles always seemed to be tense when she was near Lance. "You were right, this does feel good."

Lance nodded his head. Having Valerie in the same hot tub was doing things to his sense. Of course, seeing her standing outside of the hot tub in a bikini wasn’t doing kind things to his body. "Did you have a good nap?"

"Yes, until my dream."

Lance sat up. Valerie had just given him information of her own free will, and he didn’t want her to stop. "What kind of dream?"

Valerie shook her head, "I don’t feel like explaining it again. Joey helped me deal with it."

Lance could feel himself getting redder, and was glad it could be dismissed by the temperature of the water. "Joey helped you deal?"

Valerie could sense the disdain in Lance’s voice, so she choose her next words carefully. "Yes, he did. He comforted me."

Lance was overcome with jealous. He wanted to be the one to comfort her. "You and Joey don’t have a thing going on, do you?"

Valerie would have blown her top, but she didn’t want to ruin her first few blissful moments in days. "Joey loves Kelly very much. I am not the type of person who moves in another woman’s boyfriend. I thought that you thought more of me than that."

"I do, it’s just…"

"Joey and I are just friends!" So much for not blowing her top. "Do you have a problem with us being friends?"

"No, of course not. I…"

"I mean, I happen to have a lot in common with him. Are you mad that I don’t get along with you or the other guys as well as I do with him? Let me tell you something, you have been reading way too many fanfics if you think I’m going to become friends with each and everyone of you."

Lance’s face was red again, only this time from embarrassment. "Look, I’m sorry. I just don’t understand why you can’t be open with me. Have I honestly done something so wrong to make you hate me? Because if I have, I’d love to make things right."

"I don’t hate you," she mumbled softly.

Lance scooted closer to her, and was relieved when she didn’t move out of his way. "Then what is it? Please, tell me."

Valerie shook her head, "It’s a long story. And maybe, someday, I’ll tell you. I want you to know that it’s nothing against you personally. In fact, I was very attracted to you when we first met."

"I was attracted to you then, too. In fact, I still very much am."

The temperature of the water suddenly got even hotter. "What are you saying?"

"I’m saying," he said as he slid closer to her. He gently cupped her face in his hands, and absently brushed her cheeks with his fingers. "I’m saying that I want to kiss you."

Valerie rested her hand on one of his hands. The other she rested on his finely sculpted chest. Her breathing became heavy and her whole body was overcome with anticipation and need. Lance’s lips were hovering right above hers. "Then what’s stopping you?"

Lance moved his lips so that they finally touched Valerie’s. He gently massaged his lips back and forth on hers. He wanted to get to know the texture of her lips before he went any further.

The light contact of Lance’s lips on hers was making Valerie’s senses go wild. She could smell only the scent of his cologne mixed with the smell of need and heat in the air. She could taste only his lips, which had the faint flavor of coffee on them. Her fingers roamed over his chest and hands. Both were hard and muscled, and made Valerie crave more than just the gentle brushing of his lips.

Valerie turned her mouth to more of an angle, and opened her lips wider. The mood became urgent with need. Lance tilted his head and his tongue matched and mated with hers. Her hands slid up his arms and around his neck. He shifted so that her body was pinned under his.

The kiss lasted a few more minutes, until they broke apart for her. Lance’s hands continued to stroke her cheek, and Valerie’s arms remained around his neck. He kissed the tip of her nose. "I’m going to go now. While I still can."

Valerie laughed, "Okay."

Lance got out of the hot tub and dried himself off before wrapping the towel around his waist. "Good night Ms. Harper."

Valerie smiled, "Good night Lance. And by the way, it’s Val."

"So you two kissed?" Valerie nodded her head. "What was it like?" She shrugged her shoulders. "Come on Val, tell me. If you don’t, I’ll just go ask Lance."

Joey started out of the door, and Valerie grabbed him by the arm. "No, don’t go ask him." He sat down on the bed and Valerie let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, it was just a kiss. Nothing big."

Joey nodded his head, "Yeah, and that’s why you came in here all red last night." Valerie felt her face flush and Joey laughed. "Don’t worry Val, your secret is safe with me."

"When do we sign?" Lance was on the phone talking to the CEO of Mercury. They wanted to sign Meredith. "And you’ll be down in Orlando when? Great, I’ll see you then."

Lance hung up the phone. Meredith was going to die when he told her. They would be in Orlando in one week to go over the contracts. Val. Mercury had agreed to let her sign on, but now Lance wasn’t so sure. After the kiss they had shared, things were looking up. She even said to call her Val. Things were definitely getting better.

He walked out of the hotel room, and saw JC and Justin heading toward the elevator. "Hey guys, wait up." He jogged over to them. "What’s up for today on the schedule?"

JC and Justin looked at each other, then back at Lance. "You don’t know the schedule? JC, is hell freezing over and why weren’t we notified?"

The two of them laughed. "So Lance, what’s on your mind that you don’t know the schedule? Must be something big."

Lance shrugged his shoulders, "Meredith. Mercury agreed to sign her." JC and Justin congratulated Lance. "Thanks. Have either one of you seen Val? I want to tell her the good news."

Justin slapped JC, and he grabbed his arm. "I think she’s in Joey’s room."

Lance nodded his head and walked away. Just as he was about to knock on the door, Valerie opened it and they collided into one another. "Sorry Lance."

"No, I’m sorry. It was my fault." Lance’s heart began to race. Valerie looked beautiful in the morning. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

"Lunch, or brunch I guess it’s called. Joey was going to go, but Kelly called. I told him that he should stay and talk to her."

Lance nodded his head, "I’ll go with you."

Valerie looked up at him. She regretted ever bringing it up. She had finally agreed to let Joey go with her to see Stanley, but she did not want Lance to go. "You don’t have to…"

"But I want to." He put his arm around her waist and let her to the elevator. "I know this great little place…"

"Actually," she interrupted, "I already have a place picked out. It was my favorite place to eat while I lived here."

"Okay, lead the way."

The two of them entered the small café, and Valerie was pleased to see that it hadn’t changed one bit since she had last been there. She sat in her usual corner booth, which hid her from most of the other customers.

"This is a very cozy place. I can see why you like it so much."

Valerie smiled and took a drink of the lemonade she had ordered. "Thank you. Listen, Lance, we need to talk about last night."

"What about it?"

Valerie sat her glass down and began to fidget with her straw wrapper. "It was a nice kiss, and I can’t deny that, but it can’t happen again."

Lance felt like somebody had punched him in the gut. "Why?"

Before Valerie could answer, a young man walked to their table and kissed Valerie on the cheek. "I missed you Val." He saw Lance and turned to him. He held out his hand, "Hello, I’m Stanley. Val’s fiance."

 

CHAPTER 7

Lance shook the guy’s hand. Fiance? Where the hell did that come from? Valerie never said anything about being engaged. She sure hadn’t kissed him like she was engaged. Lance looked at Valerie and saw a mix of emotions swarming in her eyes. There was anger, embarrassment, and if he wasn’t mistaken, guilt. Was there guilt because she had kissed him while she was engaged to another guy? "I’m Lance Bass, Val’s boss."

"Right, I’ve heard of you, even though we don’t cover you much over at the Times." Stanley was a little taller than Lance, but didn’t have anywhere near the same body build that Lance did. His eyes were a plain brown, as was his hair. It was cut short, and styled neatly. He had a dark complexion, probably from a tanning bed. He didn’t look like somebody Valerie would like as a person, let alone fall in love with and marry.

Valerie was sitting in her seat, with her head in her hands. She didn’t even want to know what Lance was thinking. Bringing him along had been a big mistake. She needed to get Stanley out of there, and fast. What she needed was some time alone with Lance to explain things to him. "Stanley, I agreed to meet you here because you needed to tell me some things. Could we please get this over with?"

Stanley pulled a chair up to the booth. "Fine." He had hoped for a few minutes alone with Valerie, but it looked like that Lance guy wasn’t going anywhere. "I want you back, Gracie. At the Times and with me."

Valerie didn’t say anything, but looked down into her drink. Tears were welling up behind her closed eye lids. Lance hoped and prayed they weren’t from happiness. He didn’t want her to leave him. "Stanley, I thought we already covered this."

"You covered it, I didn’t. The only reason I went along with it was because I thought you’d get this crazy notion out of your head."

"It wasn’t a crazy notion!" Valerie shouted. Anger now replaced the tears in her eyes. That gave Lance a spark of hope in his heart. "It was my decision. My final decision. Now, leave me to finish my meal with Lance in peace."

Stanley stood up and angrily tossed the chair onto the ground. Patrons turned from their meals to watch the scene that was unfolding in front of them. "Fine! But if you think I’m giving up without a fight, you are clearly mistaken." He turned to Lance. "As for you, if you’re the new guy, I pity you." And with that, he stormed out of the restaurant.

Lance looked up at Valerie, who had tears streaming down her cheeks again. "Val?"

She shook her head and put her hand up in the air. "Don’t, just don’t. I’m sorry for the way he acted."

"I’m more concerned about you. Are you two really engaged?" Lance choked out the last word and hoped he sounded nonchalant.

Valerie shook her head no, and held up her naked ring finger which Lance began to gently stroke. "We were a while ago, but I called it off."

"Why?"

"It’s a long story."

"I’ve got time."

"All right, but let’s go somewhere else. Somewhere more private."

 

The house sat all alone on the hill. In the busy city of New York City, it was rare to find a single home with a big yard. But it was there, standing in all of its magnificent glory. The outside had been painted white a few years ago. The blue shutters stood out proudly. A cozy fence outlined the yard. Valerie stood at the gate. The gate that, once was open, would open up memories she’d kept locked away.

Lance stood behind her: far enough away so Valerie didn’t feel crowded, yet close enough so she didn’t feel alone. He had a sense that his wasn’t going to be easy for her to do, and he had a great deal of respect for her at that moment.

The two of them stepped into the yard. Flowers lined the inside of the fence and there were a few small bushes along-side the sidewalk that led to the front door. Valerie slowly turned the key in the lock. The door creaked open, and Valerie turned on the light. Dust particles were present in the air. Obviously, the cleaning service she had hired hadn’t been doing their job.

The furniture in the living room was still covered in plastic. She could see the logs still sitting in the fireplace. Valerie couldn’t remember the last time there had been a roaring fire burning there. "This was my house as a child."

Her words had come out of nowhere, and startled Lance. He was busy looking around the room. It had the potential to be a very beautiful home. "It looks like it would have been a wonderful place to grow up in."

Valerie sniffed back the tears. "It truly was." She grabbed his hand and led him up the stairs. There were four doors at the top, and each one was closed. She opened the first door to the left. In it there was a double bed with a pink comforter on it. An oak desk, night stand, and dresser were lined against the wall. "This was my room." She sat on the bed that had housed many of her childhood nightmares.

Lance slowly sat beside her. When he looked in her eyes, he didn’t see the same person he had begun to get to know. They were distant, like she was physically there with him, but emotionally she was off somewhere else. He wanted to speak, but he knew that she needed to get all of this out without him interrupting her.

"When I was five years old, my mom died. She had breast cancer, and it was her time. I don’t remember much about her, but there are a few things." She reached in the night stand sitting beside her bed and pulled out a framed picture of a woman who looked a lot like Valerie did. "I remember she used to sing Amazing Grace to me every night before going to bed. And she always smelled like lavender. I guess that’s why I find those two things so relaxing."

She carefully pressed the picture to her breast, and felt the tears fall down her face. "My dad was a preacher. He was so wonderful. He gave me everything he possibly could. He spent a lot of time working, though. You know, visiting sick congregation members, traveling, so I was very lonely. I really got into schoolwork. That’s how I graduated early."

The next thing Valerie pulled out of her drawer was her high school diploma. Her father had framed it, and had hung it up in his office where everybody who entered could see it. "I went to Syracuse University on a full scholarship. And graduated at the age of nineteen."

"That same year my father was diagnosed with cancer. He moved out of the house and got a room in the hospital, but neither one of us could bare to sell the house. I had a little apartment I was staying in."

"One day at the hospital, I ran into Stanley. We began to date. It was going great. Until I went to the Times for an interview. Stanley was there. Of course, it was a shock to both of us. After he interviewed me, he hired me." She paused and took a slow and steadying breath. "To this day I still wonder if he hired me because of my credentials or because we were dating."

Lance tightly grabbed Valerie’s hands in his. Those little pieces of her past made things so much clearer. He now understood why she had been so warm at first, but had then become distant when he became her boss.

"He proposed, and I said yes. Not because I loved him, but because I was afraid that if I said no, I would be fired. Daddy was slowly getting worse, and he died. I called off the engagement with Stanley the exact same day. Then I flew down to Orlando. And here I am."

She stopped talking, and sat there. She had never told anybody all about her past before. Not Stanley, not Joey, not anybody. The fact that the first person was Lance scared her. She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. "I know, I probably scared you."

"No, you did nothing of the sort. If anything, I want to get to know you even more." He pulled her closer to his body. She wrapped her arms around him and cried onto his chest.

 

When they got back to Orlando, Valerie was more than ready to get back to work. She wasn’t ready for her meeting with Lance her first day back onto the job. "What do you mean my job is being changed?"

Lance smiled. He had thought about this long and hard, and he knew that it was the right move to make. "I don’t need you as PR director anymore. I want you to work directly for Meredith. As her personal secretary assistant type person. Do you think you could handle that?"

"Sure I could, but are you sure you want me to?"

"Positive. You and Meredith get along so great, I think it would be good for both of you."

"Well thank you, I feel quite honored. Meredith is a great person. It’s going to be a lot of fun working directly with her."

"It’s also going to be good for me."

"How?"

"Well, for two reasons actually. She’s going to be joining us on tour soon, so I’ll get to see you while I’m gone. And you technically won’t be working for me anymore, you’ll be working for Meredith. So you’ll no longer be mixing business with pleasure. So to speak."

Valerie smiled and leaned down and quickly kissed Lance on the lips. That was something she had never done in the office before. "Thank you."

"You’re more than welcome. But here’s the hitch. Before Meredith starts recording, I want her to get away for a while. I rented a cabin in Montana, and she’s going to spend the next five days there. I was wondering if you’d be willing to go out there with her. She seems to really like you, and I think it would be a good experience for the both of you."

"Sounds fine to me. I can’t wait."

 

Valerie got out of the car she had rented. She had decided, after hours of self debating, that she should drive up to the cabin. She needed the time to herself. True, it took her two more days, but it was worth it. She had time to think about her life, her work, her relationship with Lance. If it could be considered a relationship. Valerie was thankful she would be with Meredith. They could have a couple hours of girl talk, and things would surely be straightened out.

The cabin was situated in the middle of a clearing in the woods. Trees stood up tall, and there was a gentle breeze blowing through them. In the distance, she could see a lake glistening in the sun light. It had been so long since she had swum in a lake, she was very excited.

She carried her duffel bag up to the front door, and just as she was about to knock, Meredith opened it. "There you are! I’ve been waiting!" She stepped back from the door so Valerie could step in. She was in a very spacious kitchen. "Isn’t this place great?"

"From what I’ve seen so far, yes it is. The area around it is breathtaking. I can’t wait to go swimming in that lake. And cook in this huge kitchen." She put her bag down beside the door. "Well, show me the rest of our home away from home."

Meredith showed her the living room, with it’s big screen TV and comfortable couches. The dining room with a table that could seat twelve. There were three bedrooms that were decorated with the same wood the cabin was built with. There were also two bathrooms, both of which had a toilet, shower, and sink. Plus plenty of storage space for all the things girls needed.

"Wow! This sure is some cabin!"

"I know. It’s nothing like the dingy little things we used to get on Lake Erie when I was a kid."

Valerie turned to look at Meredith. "You used to camp at Lake Erie?" Meredith nodded her head. "Me too! That’s it, go change into your swimming suit. We’re going out to that beautiful lake to get a tan and talk. We have a lot more in common than I thought!"

For three hours, Meredith and Valerie laid out on the dock, talking about their high school experience, guys they used to like and date, and what they hoped for the future. "I’m not saying I wouldn’t consider ever becoming engaged again," said Valerie, "but I want it to be with a guy I truly love."

Valerie had broken down and told Meredith about her past. After the relief she had felt after telling Lance, she was convinced that if she told more people, she would begin to heal. Meredith had been as understanding as Lance had been. "Well, maybe you already have met the guy."

Valerie slid her sunglasses down her nose, and turned to look at Meredith. "I hope you’re not talking about the guy I think you’re talking about." Meredith laughed and nodded her head. "Mer, I know you mean well, but come on now. I just met Lance for Pete’s sake! There’s no way I’m in love with him yet."

"Yet is the key word here Val. Give it time! I have never seen Lance look at anybody the way he looks at you."

Valerie shook her head and looked at her watch. "Oh my gosh, we’ve been out here for three hours! I’m most likely a lobster by now. I think it’s time we went in." The two gathered their stuff, and went back into the cabin. "Do you mind if I take a shower? I can feel the burn already."

Meredith laughed and shook her head. "Not if you don’t mind if I cook dinner."

"Cook away!"

 

A half an hour later, Valerie stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her body. The cold water felt good on her burned body. Sure, she had gotten some tan, but it was mostly burned. She should have known better than to lay out that long for the first time. Or to at least wear stronger sunscreen.

A wonderful smell slowly drifted into the bathroom. Meredith was making something that smelled really good. She had obviously out-done herself. Thinking nothing of being wrapped in only a towel, she made her way to the kitchen. She nearly dropped the towel, however, when she saw that it wasn’t Meredith in the kitchen cooking the wonderful meal.

It was Lance.

 

CHAPTER 8

Lance turned when he heard somebody gasp. His eyes bugged out of his head when he saw Valerie standing there wearing nothing but a towel. He had not expected that. Not at all. However, he had expected the surprised look on her face. He cleared his throat, and hoped that his voice sounded half normal. "Did you have a nice shower?"

Valerie just nodded her head and gripped the towel tighter. "What? How? When? Why?"

"I love it when you stutter, Val. Very sexy."

She shook her head and cleared her throat. "Where’s Meredith? I know she was here earlier. At least, I hope that was Meredith laying out with me." Valerie’s mind was reeling. What was Lance doing cooking in the kitchen? And where was Meredith? Maybe the sunburn was making her hallucinate.

Lance chuckled. "I guess I owe you an explanation. And before I begin, I just want to say that this was all Meredith’s idea. She suggested that me and you needed some time alone together. She also knew that you wouldn’t come, so she made up the idea of needing time here. This is where her parents are from, so she’s staying with them. I, however, rented the cabin. I hope you don’t mind."

Valerie let it all sink in and process. Then, she turned from the kitchen and ran back to her bedroom. She shut the door and locked it. She slid down the door and put her head in her knees and began to cry. She heard Lance come after her and knock on the door. "Val? What’s wrong? Please, let me in." He meant that in a couple of ways. First, to let her into her room. Second, to let him into her heart. She was already in his.

Valerie stood up and unlocked the door. Lance didn’t come in though. He stood there, looking at her, waiting for her to say something. "I’m sorry, it just startled me, that’s all. I’m glad you’re here. There’s some things we need to talk about." She stopped talking, and instead, grabbed his hands. "But talking is not what’s on my mind right now."

 

A few hours later, Valerie and Lance were sitting at the counter in the kitchen. The food had been burnt to a crisp, so they ordered a pizza instead. It wasn’t nearly as romantic as the food Lance had been preparing, but the hours before sure had been. Valerie was still beaming. It was during those last few hours that she had realized something. Meredith was right. She had fallen hopelessly in love with Lance.

Lance casually perused Valerie’s face. The last few hours with her had been the best ones of his life. He had never felt anything like that before in his life. "Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you or anything did I?"

"Nope. I can’t thank you enough for that. My sunburn was killing me and I really needed somebody to rub aloe into those hard to reach places."

"It was my pleasure. And I’m very thankful for the massage I got as payment. Though, I also enjoyed rubbing the aloe into your back."

Valerie laughed and took another bite of pizza. Lance reached over and wiped her mouth with the napkin. "Thanks," she said with a mouthful of pizza. She normally would have better manners, but she figured that if she was in love with him, she had to be completely comfortable around him.

"So you said before that we needed to talk. What about?"

Valerie swallowed her food, and looked at him. "Well, what I was going to say before is now null and void."

Lance frowned. "Oh really?"

"Yeah."

"In that case, can I tell you something?"

"Go right ahead."

"I think I love you."

Valerie nearly choked on the food that she had already swallowed. Hearing him verbalize it was too much. True, she had just admitted to herself that she loved him, but she wasn’t ready for this. She wasn’t ready for being in love again. For having somebody in love with her. "You think? Or you know?"

"I know." He leaned in and kissed her. Valerie responded, and held back all the tears she could. "Val? What’s wrong?"

"I’m just," she paused. Should she tell him the truth? She was going to, but then she saw his eyes. His eyes that always seemed to be looking inside her, not at her. "I’m just so happy."

 

That night, Valerie woke up with a start. She had just had the weirdest dream. In it, all of these guys she had been involved with were standing there and leaving her. As each one left, her heart shrunk. Joey even left her. Then Lance came over and kissed her and her heart grew. It grew so big. It had hands and it took Lance’s heart and joined the two.

There was so much symbolism in it, that she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what it meant. She didn’t know anything except she had to get out of there and fast. She was sleeping in the same bed as Lance, and he had his arms wrapped tightly around her. She slowly got out of his grasp, and thankfully, he stayed asleep.

She put all of her clothes into her bag, and was just about to leave when she thought that there was one last thing she had to do. She got a piece of paper and a pen and sat down at the table and began to write:

Dear Lance,

I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this. Meeting you gave me something extra special in my life. Something that I wasn’t looking for, but I found it anyway. I will cherish the fact that you love me, no matter how much I don’t deserve it. I want to tell you that I love you too, but I can’t deal with it. Every person I’ve ever loved has died, and I don’t think I could handle watching you die. I don’t know if this will make you feel better or not, but you will always have a special place in my heart. A special place that nobody else could ever touch. I even had a dream about our hearts having hands and joining themselves.

Love always,

Val

p.s. I can no longer work for you or for Meredith. Please give her my regrets and tell her that she has been the best friend I’ve ever made.

Quietly, she slipped back into the bedroom. She laid the note in the spot she had been sleeping so Lance would find it when he woke up. Then, she reached out and gently traced his lips with he fingertips. Then, as quickly as she had walked into his life, she walked out.

 

Lance was sitting in his office three days later. He hadn’t shaved or showered since the morning he’d woken up and found the note from Valerie. He had spent every waking moment on the phone, trying to find her. Each time he had a lead, he’d fly to wherever it was, but she was never there. Even Joey didn’t know where she was.

His heart had never felt so empty since he had found that note. The tears were still there. He also hadn’t cried that much since finding that note. That note. He had come to refer to it as that note. That note that he couldn’t stop reading, no matter how much he tried. The one line that he couldn’t stop reading was "I even had a dream about our hearts having hands and joining themselves". He had had that exact same dream. If that wasn’t saying something, anything, his name wasn’t James Lance Bass.

He heard a knock on his door, and looked up to see Meredith standing there. She had been crushed too. She felt partly responsible for what was going on, but Lance didn’t blame her. He blamed himself, he blamed Valerie’s past. It was ironic how he didn’t blame Valerie. That must be what love meant. You could find nothing wrong with the person you loved.

"Lance, have you seen the Times yet?"

Lance shook his head. He hadn’t seen any newspaper in days. He hadn’t watched the news in days. He had barely talked to anybody unless they might have information on Valerie. "Why?"

Meredith laid the magazine on his desk, with a page open. There was a small section circled. "I think you might want to read this." Then she slowly stepped out of the room. She didn’t want to be anywhere near him when he read it. And she silently said a prayer for anybody who was.

Lance rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them. He hadn’t taken his contacts out in so long, they were very fuzzy. However, he was able to make out a small wedding announcement:

TIMES EDITOR TO BE MARRIED: Stanley Krepton will marry long-time girlfriend and fiance, Valerie Harper on Saturday. Valerie also works for the Times. The couple will be married in St. John’s Cathedral on Oakland Street in downtown New York City.

Lance felt his heart stop. She was marrying that jerk? She didn’t love Stanley! As soon as he stood up, he sat right back down. It made sense. She didn’t love Stanley, that was exactly why she was marrying him. But that just wouldn’t do! Valerie wasn’t going to marry anybody. Except him. He would make sure of it!

 

Valerie was standing in the bathroom of St. John’s Cathedral that Saturday. She was wearing a simple white dress. It wasn’t as fancy as she had hoped her wedding dress would be, but it fit the purpose. The person she was marrying wasn’t everything she had dreamed, but like the dress, he fit the purpose.

She had been crying ever since she had gone to Stanley and told him she had reconsidered and would marry him. And she wanted her job at the Times back. He, just like Lance, had assumed the tears were from happiness.

Lance. Just thinking about the name brought tears to her eyes. She wondered what he was doing at that very moment. If he had been upset when he found the note. If he maybe still loved her. She knew she loved him. She loved him so much, that it threatened to choke her. But she wasn’t marrying the man she loved. She was marrying Stanley.

Somebody knocked on the door, and Valerie opened it. One of Stanley’s sisters, she couldn’t remember her name, was standing there. "Everything’s ready. Time for you to get married."

Valerie nodded her head and wiped her eyes once more with the tissue before throwing it away. She followed her make-shift maid of honor to the sanctuary. There were so many people there. People she didn’t know, people she didn’t care for. But they were there, sharing in what was supposed to be the happiest moment of her life. How ironic life was.

The music began to play, and slowly, Valerie made her way down the aisle. Stanley was standing at the end, smiling from ear to ear. Valerie closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she was able to imagine Lance standing there. Lance was the one she was marrying. Lance was smiling from ear to ear, with love for her spilling out everywhere.

Then, her eyes got misty, and she had to blink the tears away. And it was no longer Lance. It was back to Stanley. After what seemed like an eternity, she was standing there and he was holding her hand. She barely heard anything that was said throughout the entire ceremony. She silently said her vows and prayed for the preacher to speed up.

"If there’s anybody here who thinks these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace."

It was all Valerie could do not to say something. How would that look? The bride stopping her own wedding. But she didn’t have to. Somebody else did.

"I do!"

A gasp was heard throughout the entire crowd, and everybody turned to look and see where the two simple, yet powerful, words had come from. Valerie felt her world spin when she saw who it was.

Lance.

He walked up the aisle to where Valerie and Stanley were standing. "I do," he repeated. He took Valerie’s hands in his. "Val, what are you doing?"

She didn’t say anything, just shook her head. Stanley, however, spoke up. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?! You can’t just walk in here and interrupt my wedding!"

Lance turned to him. "The hell I can! And unless you want to walk out of this place with a few broken bones, I suggest you shut the hell up!"

"Gentlemen, please, not in God’s house," said the appalled preacher.

"Sorry," both men said with embarrassment.

Lance grabbed Valerie’s chin in his and held it up so he could see her eyes. "You don’t love this man. What are you doing marrying him?"

"How can you say that to me?"

"How can you leave me like you did?! How can you tell me you love me, then walk out of my life? Did you think I wouldn’t do anything? Did you think I would just sit around and twiddle my damn thumbs?! I THINK NOT!"

Tears began to fall from Valerie’s eyes. "Lance, please, don’t do this to me."

Tears were also in Lance’s eyes. "I’m sorry, Val, but I can’t. I love you too much. Nothing you can say or do will stop that. And I know that we’re meant to be together. Do you know how?" She didn’t say anything. "I had the same dream. I dreamt that our your heart was shrinking and when I kissed you it grew. It had hands and it joined mine with it."

Valerie gasped. "How did you know that?"

"BECAUSE I HAD IT! Val, we had the same dream. We’re meant for each other."

"Lance, I don’t know what to say. What to do."

"I do." He got down on one knee. "I’m sorry I don’t have a ring or anything, but this is kind of a spur of the moment thing. Will you marry me?"

Valerie was going to stay something, when Stanley kicked Lance in the gut. "You son of a bitch!" Valerie, as well as everybody else in the church, screamed. "Where the hell do you get off?"

Lance rolled over and groaned in pain. He looked up and saw the fear in Valerie’s eyes. He stood up and before he knew it, he punched Stanley right in the nose. Blood gushed out everywhere. He had never before turned to physical violence. And damn it felt good! "Here’s my piece of advice to you. Stay away from me and mine. And that includes Val!"

He took Valerie’s hands and began to drag her away. But Valerie was resistant. "Wait! How do you know that I’m not going to say no?"

Lance turned to her and shrugged his shoulders. "Are you?"

"Nope," she said with a smile.

"That’s what I thought."

 

EPILOGUE

Never in all of her life did Valerie think she could be as happy as she was at this very moment. All of her dreams were coming true. Her job as Meredith's personal assistant was going great. The two girls were as close as sisters. Having a sister was something that Valerie had always dreamed of. This was even better. And Meredith was even Valerie’s maid of honor.

Her maid of honor. Valerie was finally getting the wedding she had always dreamed of having. Even though her father wasn’t there to give her away, Joey was the perfect substitute. She was wearing the most beautiful dress that she had ever seen. It was a creamy white that billowed around her. The train just touched the ground, and her veil was placed firmly in her hair. But the best part wasn’t who her maid of honor was, or who was giving her away, or what her dress looked like, or even the fact that she was being married in the backyard of her childhood home. The best part was who she was marrying: Lance Bass.

The two of them had come a long way together. The story of how they came to be husband and wife would surely be a good one to tell their children someday. Maybe even grandkids. Valerie wanted to have a baby right away, and had even convinced Lance of that. However, she had stuck firm to her beliefs, and told him that she wanted to wait for their wedding night to make love with him. As soon as Lance had been told that, the wedding day had been rescheduled for a few months earlier. So finally, after all of their planning, their wedding day was upon them. Within the next hour, she would become Mrs. James Lance Bass.

 

Lance was fixing his tie. Or at least attempting to, anyway. His hands were shaking rapidly. Finally, he was marrying Val. She was going to look so beautiful. Not that she didn’t normally. It seemed that no matter what she looked like, she too his breath away. He knew that it would be that way forever. Mentally, he ran through what he would say for his vows. Everything seemed so cheesy, and he wanted it to be so perfect. As of right now, he would settle on singing This I Promise You to her, but he knew that she deserved something original. Something that came straight from his heart.

There was a knock on the door, and Joey, Justin, Chris, and JC walked in. They each hugged and congratulated Lance. They were extremely happy for him. The first of the bunch to get married. Not a single one of them had expected it. When they had first met Valerie, they could see her obvious distaste for Lance in her eyes. That had changed, though, and they couldn’t have been happier. Lance had never been so energetic, and so full of life before.

Joey took Lance aside to offer him some words of wisdom. "As Val’s stand in father, I feel it’s my duty to talk to you." When Valerie had asked him to give her away, he had been shocked and honored. He knew how much she had loved her father, so he had just expected her to walk down alone. After telling her that, she explained that even though she wished her father was there, Joey was her best friend. Since she couldn’t have him as a maid of honor, she wanted him to walk her down the aisle. "She’s a real winner, Lance; the cream of the crop. Her heart belongs with you, and you better treat it delicately. If not, I’ll lay the smack down on ya."

Lance laughed and hugged him. "You have nothing to worry about." He had no intentions of hurting Val. And he knew better than anybody that her heart belonged with him. His heart belonged to her. Their mutual dreams had said so.

Justin, too, had some advice. "Remember, I want to become Uncle Justin soon."

Lance smiled. "I think I can manage that." He couldn’t wait to start making children with Valerie. He had agreed with Valerie on waiting, but he was only human. And he was marrying the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. One more cold shower, and he was ready to throw her over his shoulder and drag her to Vegas so that they could elope.

Chris shook Lance’s hand. "Val’s great. You two are going to have a long life together."

"Thanks. Well, JC, what do you have to say?"

JC smiled brightly. "I think everything’s been said. Joey gave you his fatherly pep talk. Justin told you something with a sexual innuendo in it. And Chris did the normal thing for once, and said something sappy instead of comical. So what does that leave me? I guess that leaves me with the duty of making sure you want to go through with this. Telling you that it’s not too late to back out, and that we can have you out of here within five minutes."

Lance laughed. "I don’t think so JC. I’m not going anywhere unless Valerie’s with me. As my wife." The five of them continued to laugh as they walked towards the door to the house. It had been Lance’s idea to get married at Valerie’s old house. Seeing the look of happiness on her face would forever keep a smile on Lance’s heart.

When he thought that he couldn’t wait a minute longer, the music finally began to play. Standing beside him was Chris, Justin, and JC. Since he didn’t have any brothers, and this was a close family and friends only wedding, he had to choose between his four best friends to be his best men. Luckily, Joey had already gotten a part in the wedding. So that left three. The only fair thing to do? Draw straws. Justin had been chosen as the best men, and JC and Chris were grooms men.

As he looked down the aisle, he saw Britney and Bobbee walking towards him. Valerie didn’t have any sisters, any cousins, or any relatives in general, so she had asked Justin and JC’s girlfriends to be her bride’s maids. He smiled brightly when he saw Meredith walk down. He was so pleased that the two of them were so close. He knew that Meredith considered her place as Valerie’s maid of honor a true gift. She would cherish it.

And then he saw her. His future wife. The most beautiful creature to ever walk the Earth. He didn’t see anybody else, or hear anybody else. All he saw was Valerie walking towards him. He saw Valerie kiss Joey on the cheek and stand beside him at the altar in front of the priest. He felt her hand grasp his, and saw her bright smile that was laced with tears falling from her eyes. He saw her lips move as she said what she was told, and miraculously he knew when to talk, even though he barely heard the priest. He did, however, hear when he was to say his vows.

"Val, I had something planned out to say to you. But then I saw you, and you took my breath away. You took my memory away. All there is is you. All there’ll ever be is you. I love you so much, and I want to forever remember you as you are right now."

Valerie sniffled, and shook her head so that some of the tears would go off of her face. She had hoped that she wouldn’t be a bawling wreck and actually look beautiful. But Lance had made her feel like the most gorgeous person in the world, with the tears and all, so she didn’t mind shedding them. "Lance, I know that I wasn’t very nice to you when we first met. And I’m sorry. But something happened. I had a dream, and it scared me. But I’m here now. And I’m not going anywhere. You filled a place in my heart that I thought would be empty for the rest of my life. I have never felt this complete before. I am truly honored that you want me to be your wife, and I will do everything in my power to make you proud."

The two of them stood there, holding hands, gazing into each other’s souls. They heard the priest say, "I know pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your bride."

Lance smiled and lifted up her veil. "I love you," he whispered softly.

Valerie smiled and whispered back, "I love you too."

And with thunderous applause in the background, Lance Bass kissed his beautiful bride.

 

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