IN FOCUS

By Patricia Brown


SEVEN


"You did good with them," Lance commented as they left the Harless house a few hours later and headed for the car arm in arm. They stepped down the steps in unison and began to do a crooked walk like the Monkees did, stepping in front of each other for no apparent reason.

They'd spent the morning hanging around in the large basement entertainment room with the others, watching movies and playing with Justin's two younger brothers, but as it neared eight o'clock everyone started to get tired and Lance announced that they were going to head out. His announcement got a few catcalls from the others and had made Willa blush furiously at the thought that they'd realized what had gone on after they'd left the party last night, but she knew that they deserved a little bit of razzing about their early departure.

After the morning of bonding with the other girlfriends and the guys Willa was sad to leave them. She'd been stalled a little by saying all her good-byes and thank you's to Justin's parents, but knew that she couldn't pass up leaving considering that she would be able to spend almost the next two days alone with Lance before she flew back home. She was completely scared of what was going to happen in the next few hours, but the treat of being in the same room as Lance overpowered a little of her fear.

"I did?" She asked squinting at the sun that now seemed high in the sky compared to when they'd arrived that morning in the dark. "I should have brought my sunglasses."

Lance laughed a little.

She made a face at him knowing that he was laughing at the way she was pouting in the bright light. She couldn't help it. A few days before she'd been in the rainy weather of Seattle and before that she'd been in the snow of New York City. The sun of Florida was a shock to the system after spending most of the last month or two in bad weather.

"Lynn liked you and you and I didn't fight for an entire morning. Now if that isn't a miracle then I don't know what is." He smiled at her, taking her hand to lead her down to the curb.

"What? The part about Lynn liking me?" Willa joked as he opened the car door for her. They'd been joking all morning and wanted to keep that comedic tone as they left.

He held the door open for her, not saying a word.

For a moment she thought he might be mad about her comment, but then he just smiled at her with a toothy grin. "Whatever you say honey." His voice came out rough as if he was trying to show that it was hard for him to get the message out. He kissed her before shutting her in the car so that he could go around the driver's side. She watched his forced smile as he walked around the front of the SUV and came to the driver's side door.

As Willa sat in the car she nervously remembered the night before. They'd had a great time together both at the party and alone at his house, but she wasn't sure how the rest of the day would go. Her sexual relationships with previous boyfriends had never been too romantic, sure when the person was in the moment they were all hearts and flowers, but she'd never had, other than Brennan, anyone who'd stuck around to long. She now was facing one of her worst fears: the day after.

Her morning with him had been pleasant, funny and even relaxed, but only because they had been with other people. She wasn't at all against being alone with him, but she feared that things would be strange between them now. Sex always seemed to complicate things for her.

The companionship of the others had given her a safety net to fall back on by providing an audience for all their conversations. The gathered group, especially the audience of Justin's younger brothers, left it impossible for them to mention the events of the night before, although she was sure it wasn't far from either of their thoughts. She'd caught him staring at her a few times with the look of lust in his eyes, but the situation made it impossible for them or for anyone else to mention the subject of their sleepover, but now as they left to go and be alone with each other she wasn't sure how calm she was going to be able being alone with Lance.

"Fred are you ok?" He asked looking at her. He squinted his eyes a little examining her face much like she'd seen doctors do when giving a person an eye examination. He studied her almost too closely, almost looking through her instead of at her.

Willa forced a smile onto her face. She didn't want to alarm him too much. She had seen the way he'd over reacted about the whole security issue and she guessed that he'd fly in some counselor or psychiatrist if he thought she was even a bit mentally stressed out. Not that a little voluntary counseling wouldn't help her or anyone who had to deal with getting criticism on a daily basis from the associated press, but she really didn't think that it should be a mandatory thing, the way she thought Lance would want it to be. "Ah, yeah, just thinking..." She shook her head and tried to clear her thoughts. "...plus I'm tired."

"Well I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go back to bed."

Willa tensed at that thought, gripping the door handle so hard that her knuckles began to turn while. Her hands hurt from the force of her grip, but it was the only thing that she could do to keep herself in her seat. When she thought about it she wanted to run away, not away from Lance really, but from the tension that came along with sharing a sexual relationship with someone.

"Are you sure you're ok?" He started the engine and looked at her for a moment before he made the move to put it into gear so that they could pull away from the curb.

"I'm fine." She tried to repeat that to herself silently to keep her nerves in check, but it wasn't working too well.

Lance pulled the car away from the curb and drove across town, back to the house, without another word to her. The silence was strangely nice. It gave her a chance to try to plan out how she was going to keep herself calm for the next two days.

When they got to the house Lance parked the car in the garage and they went into the house through the kitchen door. It was a quite a homey little scene, them coming home to the huge house. She'd imagined living like that, coming home to him at night, while she'd been in Europe, but the real thing seemed a lot more nerve wreaking than her day dreams.

Once inside Lance slid out of his jacket. The nylon rustling against itself made a noise that in the quiet house, sounded twenty times louder than it probably was. He shook it a little, getting it to fall a certain way then he hung it over a chair then went to check the answering machine for messages. "Home sweet home," he mumbled, "I don't usually get this sentimental about things, but God I love this kitchen."

Willa watched him stare at the machine for a minute from where she'd been standing after they'd entered the room. He didn't notice her nervousness. He was staring at the message machine with his finger poised just over what she thought would be the play button looking as if he was debating whether to listen to the waiting messages.

He finally seemed to notice her stuck in her position and walked over to her. "Fred, you can take off your jacket and stay a while. You're flight doesn't leave for about thirty-six hours."

"I know," she said softly suddenly feeling stupid for standing in the middle of the kitchen like she was. She slowly slid out of her jacket. She hung it over the back of the chair where Lance's jacket was, pausing to grip the chair-back for a moment, turning her knuckles white again. When she felt her fingers starting to go numb she let go of the chair to slide into the seat at the small breakfast table.

"Are you going to be like this for the rest of your visit?" He asked in a half sarcastic tone. He put his hands on his hips in an accusing manner, as if she was choosing to be difficult with him.

"Like what?" She looked up at him startled at his observation of her behavior. She hated to be difficult, but she was feeling completely out of place. She usually could bullshit her way through uncomfortable positions, but not in this case. Lance knew her too well and she knew he'd call her on it if she tried to pull her attitude with him.

She watched Lance looking at her with frustration showing on his face. She knew that she was being a little difficult, not telling him everything that was on her mind, but she couldn't help it, she couldn't express for the moment what was scaring her. There were so many things that seemed to be putting pressure on her, half of them being invented in her own mind by her past experiences.

He rubbed his forehead and sighed. "You're all quiet and it's freaking me out. I don't like--"

"Sorry." She cut him off with her apology, something she thought he wanted to hear. She lowered her eyes from his direction.

He studied her for a moment. She couldn't see him really, she was staring at his shoes, but he wasn't moving and she could tell that he didn't plan to.

"Are you tired or something?" He asked. He then turned and mocked the questions she would always ask him when he was being difficult over the phone. "You aren't getting sick or something are you?"

She nodded that she wasn't getting sick, but didn't look up to meet his gaze. She had a feeling that he already knew that she was lying. He knew that she wasn't good at making things up like that.

"Willa, look at me for a second."

"What?" She asked and didn't look at him.

"Willa look at me."His commanding tone on his second request made her comply to his request.

"What?" She asked again. She looked back in his direction, but didn't make eye contact with him. She didn't know how she was going to get through the next two days with him and she didn't want him to see that she was scared to be there with him alone.

"Fred, what's wrong?" He kicked out of his shoes, throwing them towards the back sliding glass door then came over and put an arm around her and hugged her to him as she still sat in the chair. Her face was buried into his stomach near his belly button. She pressed her cheek against him, holding him close, and breathed deeply trying to take her mind of everything.

Somehow in his arms things didn't seem to be as bad. The night before, when they'd been in bed, she hadn't thought about all the drama that would be waiting for her when she woke up in the morning. He'd taken away all her worries and her few hours of sleep with him had been the most restful she'd had in weeks.

"Nothing," she said.

"Willa you're a terrible liar." He pushed her away from his body so that he could look down at her to show her some sympathy with a crooked smile. "Tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing," she said weakly.

"Are you having regrets?" His tone was the most serious she'd ever heard it be. She'd seen him act serious before, but his tone was a bit scary. She hated serious conversations like that. She just wished that things could be simple for them, but she knew that simple would never be a word that would describe their relationship.

"No."

He sighed heavily and squeezed her close to him. "Then what is it?"

She moved back again to look up at him. The fear wasn't hidden from her eyes. She didn't even try to mask her feelings. How could she hide now that he knew something was wrong? "I'm just unsure--"

"Willa if its regrets just tell me." He leaned down to place a kiss on her forehead. "I'm not going to get pissed or anything, even if you do have them."

"No, no." She shook her head to show him as well as tell him her feelings. "Last night was great and I wouldn't take back any of it." She quickly tried to mend whatever she'd broken with her initial remark.

He let out a breath. "Good, my ego can stay in tack."

She smiled then let her smile fade. "What worries me is how we're going to be together now."

Lance sucked in deep breath of air and let it out almost as if he'd been waiting for this topic to come up in conversation. He pulled her up from her chair and led her into the living room. He sat her down on the couch like a child then sat across from her on the edge of the coffee table. He looked down at the ground for a moment, as if to gather his thoughts then looked up and made eye contact with her, his serious expression setting the tone for what he was about to say.

"Willa you and I..." His voice was soft as he began. He paused for a moment and watched her. "Well you and I are never going to have a quote normal relationship. I mean we've seen that in the last weeks trying to get together isn't easy, but we're trying to spend time together, which for the moment is all we can do. Whatever we do make of this relationship has to be done together. Only you and I really knows what goes on between us and that's something we need to protect, but we also need to rely in that bond. You need to trust enough in me so that you can come to me and tell me what's on your mind and I hope that I can do the same with you."

She nodded. "The stuff between you and me is the easy part."

"So what is worrying you?" He asked, "Specifically."

"Last night...at the party..." She wrung her hands together and tried to breathe deeply. "...Amy and Brennan and a lot of the stuff they had to say about us was true. I mean the reason we got together in the first place was fake." She paused. "I never should have agreed to that...I never should have...People are going to keep bringing that up."

"Who cares?"

"I do," she said and tears came suddenly to her eyes. She didn't want to, but she felt as if she needed to defend herself and her relationship with Lance twenty-four hours a day. "I know that the beginning was rough for us and I want to get past that. I don't want that to stand between us or cheapen anything that we might have together. I don't think I could handle the press picking up on that story. They'll rip me apart in the press if they found out the real story."

"Fred you need to ignore them." He took her hand and held it, rubbing the back of her hand gently with his thumb. "Honey, if you and I know why we're together then it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks. In the beginning it was a little strange, and I'll admit that was my fault, but you and I are together... at least I think... because we love each other. It just happens to be that our relationship is going to keep our names in the news, but that really isn't the reason that I'm dating you. If that was the reason, I'm sure I would have dumped you a long time ago..." He let out a bit of a laugh and rubbed his cheek with his hand. "...probably when you smacked me that one time." Willa let out a small laugh and wiped her eyes with her free hand. "It just worries me that Brennan and Amy seemed so hostile towards us, which is completely unwarranted. They both know the real reason that we got together and some how in the pit of my stomach I feel that they aren't going to let that go."

Willa's hand shook in his.

"You don't need to be paranoid," he said in a soft voice.

"I'm not paranoid!" She snapped at him then closed her mouth and watched him. Tears came to her eyes again, but this time she let them fall as the real pain of the insults of last night finally sunk in. "I just don't understand why Amy could side with Brennan like that. She is-" She choked as the thought hit her. Back stabbing in the modeling industry wasn't at all uncommon, but it had never happened directly to her before and she never would have guessed that Amy would be the one to do it. They'd formed a bond, a friendship, in the midst of all that drama and had always been the dynamic duo when dealing with the industry and all that came with it. "She was my friend."

"With friends like that..." Lance commented with a sarcastic tone, "...who needs enemies?"

Willa put her hand up and let it fall into her lap in a frustrated manner. She was tired of all the drama that had found its way into her life. It had weighed on her before, but now that things had gotten complicated with Amy and Brennan, it was taking a more personal toll on her.

Before, when rumors had circulated about her, she'd been able to defend herself, but now she wasn't sure how she was going to handle the attacks from the outside world on the two of them. With Brennan and Amy teamed up they could destroy her in ways she didn't want to even think about.

"I understand why Brennan is upset." She stopped and took a breath as the emotions hit her full on. "He thought I cheated on him, but Amy...Amy has no reason to be upset and no reason to say what they said."

She took a deep breath as she remembered the remarks. The night before they'd slid off her protective armor, but today they had sunk in. "They practically yelled out that I'm a prostitute!"

Lance pulled her closer, across the space between them and settled her sideways in his lap then held her in his arms, rubbing her back and petting her hair trying to calm her as she cried into his shoulder.


EIGHT


It was almost a half hour before Lance and Willa moved from their perch on the edge of the coffee table. He'd wanted to move for a while, but hadn't mentioned it to her. He wasn't sure if she was done with her crying and he didn't want to rush her if she wasn't done.

By the time his cell phone began to ring, causing a need for both of them to move, Lance's feet were tingling from being asleep. He didn't complain or even mention that to her, but when he got up he felt sharp pains as he tried to walk and she couldn't help but to notice the way he limped across the living room.

He caught her looking at him strangely. "What?"

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"My feet are asleep," he said with a shrug then reached and pulled the phone to his ear. "Hello?"

"Hey LB," the voice said.

"Dave is that you?" He asked.

"The one and only." His friend's cheery voice was startling to hear that early in the morning.

"What are you up to?"

"Running around in circles."

"How's the business going?"

"Good. Good." He sighed. "I've been so busy that I've been out of circulation for a while. What's this I hear about you being hitched?"

"No hitched," he said and reached for Willa, who curled herself automatically into his arms, holding herself against him as he spoke into the phone. "I've got someone in my life at the moment."

"She hot?"

Lance let out a laugh. "Yes she's hot."

Willa looked up at him. "Who are you talking to?"

"One of my buddies from high school," he whispered.

"She's there right now?" Dave asked.

"Yeah, want to say hello?" Lance said.

"No that's ok."

Willa looked at Lance as if she was ready to take the phone away from him to talk then pouted. "No love for you then."

"Oh so that's how it is?" Dave asked Lance.

"I guess so," Lance teased.

"Well I'll let you go be with your woman. I'll give you a call next week. I'm going to be back in the states for a while and I'm planing a trip down south."

"I'm going to be in New York in a few days," Lance said.

"Really?" Dave sounded excited to hear his news. "What days?"

"From the 5th to the 10th."

"I'll be there on the 7th. Wanna catch lunch?"

"Sure," he said, "I'll have to check the schedule and all, but maybe you can meet up with me and the guys for an hour or so."

"Sounds good, give me a call back before you leave town."

"Ok."

"And be careful with that woman of yours. I heard she's a real hellcat."

"Where'd you hear that?"

"I read it in some newspaper."

"I told you not to believe what you read in the papers about me."

"Well there was that one time when I read about you being the southern version of Dirk Diggler...want me to forget that part too?"

"No," Lance said with a laugh.

"Ok then, see...you can trust some things you read in the paper."

"I'll see you in a few days Dave."

"But of course," he said with a laugh and a moment or two later they both hung up.

"Who was that?" Willa asked.

"Dave," Lance said with a smile thinking of his friend. He hadn't seen the guy in a while, but their long friendship wouldn't suffer from the time away. They always seemed to pick up where they left off when they found each other again. "He and I went to high school together and he just graduated from college and moved to England to work for an advertising agency in London. I haven't seen him in about six months."

"Wow, you're still friends with people from back home?"

"You're not?"

"I lost track of people. I traveled around a little more than you did."

"That would surprise me."

"I went to fourteen different countries the first two months I was working."

"Whoa. Maybe you do beat me," he hugged her. "So who do you hang out with now? Other than me of course."

"Well I see Elena a lot and before this whole New Years fiasco Amy and I were like the double-mint twins, but now I don't know what I'm going to do. Amy was the first person in New York I met. We were like sisters, which is why it really amazes me that she would go and hang out with Brennan."

Lance listened to her talking, but at the same time he couldn't ignore the tingling pain in his still asleep foot. He shook his foot a little trying to get the circulation going.

She turned and looked at her bottom. "I didn't think my butt was that big to cut off the circulation to your legs."

"Yeah," He swatted at her bottom with a laugh then winced when he went to take the first step up the stairs. He leaned down and rubbed his calf with one hand. "Owe."

"Oh leave it alone you big baby," she teased.

"But it hurts," he sneered.

She put a hand out and tried to comfort him. "Are you ok?"

"I'll be fine," he said pushing her hand playfully off of him. He pointed towards the front of the house where the stairs were. "Naptime missy."

"Whatever you say DAD."

"Oh no...don't call me THAT."

"Why not? I thought all guys' dreamed of being called BIG DADDY."

"Not quite."

With a smile and a kiss to his cheek she took his hand and led the way to the stairs and eventually to his room.

Once inside his room he let go of her hand and moved to the side of the bed, flopping down on the bed with a thud. "I need a nap," he groaned. He hadn't realized how tired he was. He usually was used to partying all night and working the next day, but for some reason he was more tired than he thought he would have been, not that he was complaining about WHY he was tired.

Willa followed his lead and made herself comfortable next to him, moving his arms out and around her again.

"We're too old to be staying up all night like that."

"Are you complaining?" He asked.

She leaned and kissed him. "No," she said, "We just don't need to be getting up at four am after staying out until one. That seems reasonable."

He nodded. "I'll remember that."

"You do that," she said with mock seriousness.

*****

[[The next morning]]

"I don't want to go," she whined leaning her cheek flat against his chest, near his heart, tipping her chin up so that she could see his eyes with hers.

He tipped his chin down and looked at her sad hound-dog face she was making for his benefit. He made eye contact with her and smiled. It was almost the hundredth time she'd repeated her opinion on the current situation which only made him want to roll his eyes at her. The two of them were laying in bed, him on his back, bare-chested, and her cuddled against him, after a long afternoon of cuddling and kissing and talking.

Willa was wearing only a huge T-shirt that she'd stolen out of his drawer after she'd taken a shower when they'd returned from being out shopping and he was in a pair of basketball shorts that she'd thrown to him when he'd stepped out of the shower himself.

"Well Fred," he said running his hand along her cheek and threw her hair, moving the part from one side of her head to the other. "I'm not the one who says you have to go. I'd keep you here forever if I could." He pulled her against his chest tightly, trying to mask the real pain he had in his chest with the weight of her body against his.

Willa maneuvered her body up so that she was face to face with him when his arms lightened their hold on her. "Good then I'll stay."

Lance moved his lips away from her when she leaned and tried to kiss him. It didn't seem to stop her, she leaned and kissed his cheek instead, then moved and nuzzled his neck. "Oh no you will not," He made a face at her hoping that it would make her smile. "Do you think that I have a death wish?"

"No." She laughed. "Honey, Elena won't be mad."

"Maybe not at you...you're the golden child, but she's not making any money off of me, which means she'll have no problem killing me."

"You're over reacting."

"You wanna bet?" he said.

Willa sat up a little. "How would you know?"

Lance looked up at her, pushing her hair out of her eyes. "I know. Believe me. I know. That woman is scary enough listening to her over the phone. I know she'll come after me if I cause her little girl to miss work."

"I can just call Elena and say that I'm sick."

"Well don't just do anything until I'm out of the country. Not at least until I find a hideout. I'm sure she'll be blaming me if you don't make that shoot."

"Whatever," she laughed and hugged him.

Their lips met and they kissed a comfortable kiss. Lance had been nervous about them getting more physical with each other and there had been a little resistance at first, but now it was almost second nature for him to lean and kiss her. He'd done it so many times in the last two days that he couldn't imagine being away from her for two days and not being able to do it.

"Are you worried about going back to New York, Fred?" He asked.

"Right now I'm worried about being out of this house without some kind of protection. Actually Amy should be afraid of me being without someone around who will pull her off of me."

"Get her girl!" Lance let out a bark and a growl teasing about her sudden fierceness.

Willa sat up next to where Lance was on his back and sat Indian style, tucking the shirt around her so that her underwear were covered. "I let that girl get to me, but at the time there wasn't much I could do. I'm not going to start a brawl with her in the middle of a huge party like that. I'd look like the bitch and I'm not messing up everything just because she's got a little chip on her shoulder."

"Ok, what did you do with Willa who was here last night and yesterday and when is she going to be back?" Lance asked. He knew that she loved to confuse the hell out of him, but this was ridiculous.

Willa picked at her fingernails with a nervous energy. "That girl may have said a few choice words to me at the party, but believe me, this is far from over. I have a few choice words of my own to say to her and believe me, she'll hear them sooner or later."

Lance put a hand on her knee that was closest to him, patting her skin, as if he was patting her on the back for her efforts. His hand finally rested on the skin of her leg. "Just don't go picking any fights ok slugger?"

"I won't." She motioned that she was crossing her heart with her promise. "At least not without Spanky around to pull me off of her when she's had enough."

He reached and messed up her hair. "Whatever Fred."

Willa automatically smacked at his chest. "Don't patronize me!"

"Owe," he said and covered the stingy skin of her bare chest with a hand.

"Oh," she gave him a patronizing look. "Did I hurt the big bad pop star?"

A smile spread across his face. He hadn't seen that bluntness, that boldness, since before New Years and he was relieved to have her back. "There's my girl."

She put her hands on her hips. "I'm offended. I didn't go anywhere."

"Sure you didn't honey," he said.

"I was thinking...you know...planning...I wasn't dead or anything."

A smile formed on his face as he watched her search for words. It was laughable to see her struggling for the confidence that had gotten her in trouble a million times with him in the past.


NINE


The sun was nowhere in the sky when Willa's plane touched down in the middle of a blizzard at JFK airport. The storm that had blanketed most of the Northeast with snow over the New Years weekend was still hanging on causing delays. For a while, as they circled the runway for the fourth time, Willa began to worry about making her shoot on time. Up until then it had been the last thing on her mind.

"Willa!"

She turned to the sound of her name being called out and found Spanky. It was only three am and she was surprised that she had to look through a crowd to try to find him. She wouldn't have thought that so many people would be out in the middle of the night, but it was New York after all. She wanted to get into the car and get to Conneticut before she decided that she needed to be home in bed rather than earning a pay check. The shoot was for a new line of athletic clothing, which Willa had thought was stupid to shoot in the winter, but they were looking to release the line in early spring meaning that the shoot would be done in a studio. She wondered why the shoot had been taken out of the city, but Elena had just said that the photographer wanted it that way. She couldn't argue with the whole set up so she was prepared for her car ride out of the city.

"Willa!"

She turned at the sound of her name and saw Spanky standing off to the side of the waiting area. He had on a huge black winter coat and a scarf, and a wool hat another harsh reminder of the blizzard outside and the sunny weather that she'd left behind in Florida.

"Hey you," she said trying to force a smile on her face. She gave him a half hug while she gripped the handle of her suitcase for dear life. "How was your New Years?"

"Good," he said with a nodded and reached to take her bag from her. "I don't want to rush you or anything, but we need to hit the road. I'll tell you about New Years in the car."

Willa nodded and followed him out to the parking garage, pulling her heavy jacket tightly around her when they met with the frigid air just outside the doors. With the windchill it must have been in the low teens outside, a far cry from the semi-summery weather that they'd been blessed with in Florida. For a moment Willa regreted not getting out to the beach while she'd been down south. Lance had suggested, but she'd prefered to stay around the house. At the time, venturing out to the backyard seemed like a big enough adventure. Her breath caught in her throat for a moment when the icey air hit her lungs, but Spanky didn't leave her time to really recover or react to the weather. He seemed to be on a mission, marching across the crosswalk to the parking garage and Willa had to practically run to keep up with him.

A few moments later Spanky quickly got Willa settled in the front seat and her luggage settled in the back of the Ford Excursion then came around and got in the driver's side. Once inside he slammed the door shut and shivered. "I'll have the heater on in a minute."

"No trouble," she said. Her smile only faded when her teeth began to chatter. She figured that the car had gotten colder than he'd thought it would because he'd had to wait around longer than he'd thought for her flight to come in.

"Poor girl, I let you out of the city limits for a few days and you got all soft on me," Spanky said with a smile reaching to take her hands in his. He rubbed them together for a moment then let her go and started the engine.

"I'm not soft," she said continuing to rub her hands together to get them warm. "Its freezing outside if you handn't noticed."

His low rumble of a laugh filled the small area of the car. "So how was Lance's house?"

"Good," she said with a smile, "The partying was great, but I could have done without some of the people there."

There was a silence for a moment as Spanky pulled the car out of the parking spot and they made their way out to the road. "Lance called me and warned me about that."

She turned and stared at him with her eyes wide. "Warned you about what?"

Spanky flipped a few switches in the car and moved the vents so that the heat was pointed towards her. "He said that you two ran into Brennan and Amy at the party."

"I wish he wouldn't do that," she said with a sigh.

"Do what?"

"Be so over-protective." She rubbed her forehead and ran a hand through her hair, tucking it behind her ear. "I mean I was upset about seeing them, but really, I feel like a baby as it is with you hanging around." She looked out the window for a moment then realized that her comment must have sounded rude. "No offense or anything."

"No, don't worry about it. I know what you mean. You're old enough to take care of yourself Willa, but believe me, the first time someone harrasses you, I mean really harrasses you, you'll be glad to have me around."

"I don't doubt that at all," she said, "Let's just hope it doesn't happen though. I'd rather not test that theory."

"Me neither."

"So how was your New Years?" She asked. She made a face. "Did you miss me?"

"Of course," she said with a sarcastic tone. "It was ok."

"Just ok? It was New Years in New York City, how can that be just ok?"

"I worked."

"Oh. Where?" Her face began to burn a little from the hot air being blown on it, but she didn't dare turn the vents away just yet.

"At Viacom Studios for two days."

"MTV?" She asked.

"Yeah, I had to guard some actress girl or something," he said with a sigh. "I hate Hollywood types. Dealing with music people is bad enough."

"Wasn't a good job?" She asked.

"The job was fine, I mean I got to hang out at the studios and see the ball drop in Times Square, but running around after this drunk girl wasn't something that I would consider enjoyable. She went to this huge party and kept disappearing on me."

Willa patted him on the shoulder. "Poor guy."

"At least I don't have to worry about you running away from me. You may not want me here, but at least you're not rebelling against the fact that I'm around."

Willa knew that she'd done it now. She hadn't meant to be rude in her comments concerning the security detail that was assigned to her. She just didn't think that she could ever get used to having someone assigned to follow her around. She was too independent for that. "I didn't mean to sound--"

"Don't worry about it Willa, really, I'm used to it," he said. He gave her a sympathetic look, as if he really knew how uncomfortable she was with having him being there to follow her around.

"Well I'm sorry that you had such a bad time for New Years."

"Thanks," he said. He steered them out of the maze of airport roads. "You'd better get a nap in before we get to your shoot or Elena is going to kill me."

A sigh escaped her lips as Willa tried to make herself more comfortable in her seat. The heater had already made the small space of the car bearable, but all she needed now was to recline a little and kick off her shoes so she could relax. "She called you too?"

Spanky nodded as he concentrated on the road.

Willa looked out of the window for a moment and thought about what her parents would say about this. They knew that her life had been thrown into overdrive now that she was connected to Lance, but she wasn't sure if they knew how complicated her life was becoming. One thing was sure. They would definitely approve of hacing someone look after her. She wouldn't think because of the safety issues that would come up, but just because she wasn't alone. That seemed to be their biggest fear for her when she moved away from Seattle.

"You know one of the reasons I decided to model was so that I could get away from my parents, but it looks like all I've gotten is more parents to look after me."

Spanky threw her a smile as he payed a toll, letting in cold air as he rolled the window down.

When Willa's phone began to ring a smile formed on her face. It had only been a few hours and she was surprised to find that she was already missing Lance. She hadn't thought that they would get so close so quickly, but now that she was there without him she missed every little thing about the way that they acted together. A happy little laugh escaped her lips when saw that it was Lance's number before she picked up. She didn't even say hello when she finally did click the "call" button. "Calling to check up on me?" Her tone was accusing. She wanted him to know that he was in trouble for meddling in her business. She didn't mind him being concerned about her, but at the same time she wasn't used to someone being so involved like that. Brennan had been the long-distance type of worried boyfriend. If she didn't show up some place or didn't call he'd call her, but he never seemed to make an effort to check up on her if he figured that she was just running late or that her cell phone battery had run down.

Lance let out a laugh. "How'd you know?"

"Just a guess," she said looking at Spanky.

Spanky made a face at her, warning her that she was in trouble for letting Lance know that he'd talked to her about the whole thing.

"You with Spanky?" He asked.

Willa shivered as she watched the snow coming down against the window. "Yeah. Thank you very much for telling him to be worried about me."

Spanky turned a little and reached into the back seat and pulled a blanket out for her, dropping it into her lap before he returned both hands to the steering wheel.

"Thanks," she said softly as she balanced her phone on her shoulder and unfolded the blanket, tucking the blanket up to her neck as if she couldn't get warm.

"I WAS worried," he said. There was a pause for a moment as if he was thinking. "Shouldn't I be rewarded for that instead of punished?"

"Sure." Her sarcasm was hard to hide.

"I'm hurt," he said in a shocked voice.

"Sure you are," she said in a playful manner.

"I am," he said softly and faked a sniff to show that he was crying.

"Whatever," she said and rolled her eyes.

"Ok, enough joking..." He let out a sigh. "Hows the weather up there?"

"Horrible," she said, "It's dark and snowy and gross. It looks like something out of a Stephen King novel. My paycheck for this damn shoot better be big."

A laugh filled the phone line. "Well I'm glad to know that you're just in it for the money."

"I'd rather be in Florida. The visibility on the road is like two feet."

"Well that makes me feel better," he said with a laugh.

Willa watched the snow again. "What?"

"Well, I was worried about your flight not being able to land and now I'll be worrying that some accident is going to happen on the way to Conneticut."

"Bite your tongue Lance!" Willa said with a laugh. "I'll show you an accident when you reach the city limits."

"Whatever Fred."

"You better go knock on some wood or something. God forbid we get in an accident."

"Ok, ok," he said, "I'm on my way to church right now."

"Sure you are," she laughed.

Spanky looked over at her and she smiled at him.

"So when are you going to come up to visit?"

"The countdown is on. Only forty-eight hours," he said, "I'll call you and tell you the flight time."

"Ok," she said and listened to him. "I'll try to come with Spanky to the airport."

"You'd better."

There was a short pause.

"So what are you up to?" She asked, "Going to sleep soon?" She pictured him pacing the house with the phone balanced between his ear and neck. She figured he had the lights off in most of the house, maybe he had on the Christmas Tree lights on his room.

As if on cue, Willa could hear him yawn. "I have some paperwork to look over. I'm trying to get one of my artists signed with Mercury-Nashville and the contract got Fed-Ex-ed to me so I have to look it over and talk to the lawyers about the deal."

"Now?" She asked.

"Well I would have done it the other day, but I got..." Another yawn escaped his mouth. "...distracted."

Willa felt guilty for keeping him away from his work. She wanted to spend time with him, but didn't want to impose on his work. She hadn't expected him to drop everything because she was visiting, but it seemed, at the time, that he didn't have any other activities going on so she hadn't really left his side for most of the days that they spent together.

"Well I'll let you go," he said letting a yawn escape.

Willa yawned in reaction to his yawn. "Bored of me already?"

"Never," he said, "You sound tired yourself."

"I'm not," she said stubbornly. "Everyone yawns when someone else yawns in front of them."

"Oh," he said softly. "I should go though."

"Why are you running off?"

Lance let another yawn escape. "I'm tired," he said with a playful whine to his voice, "Someone kept me up late the last few nights. I think maybe I'll try and catch a few hours of sleep then try and get my homework done."

She blushed and looked over at Spanky. She was glad that he hadn't heard that. She wasn't exactly sure how close she should be getting to her assigned security, but talking about her sexlife with him sitting there didn't seem to be the appropriate conversation to be having. "That distraction wasn't all my fault."

"Sure it wasn't," he said, "You just happened to fall into your Christmas present, no planning or anything."

Willa laughed at that comment. He'd been the one who'd insisted that she wear the new garment, then he was trying to blame her for what happened in reaction to her wearing it, as if she should have a caution sign on her when she wore the stupid thing. "You were the one who bought it for me," she countered.

"Well next time we should pace ourselves."

Willa smiled and looked out the window rolling her eyes at his comment. "Sure honey, I'll remind you of that the next time we see each other."

"Shouldn't you be taking a nap or something?"

"Nice transition," she commented.

"Thank you," he said, "So are you going to take your nap?"

"I promised Elena that I would," she said.

"I'll let you go then." He yawned again. "Give me a call when you get home tonight, k?"

"Sure thing." She yawned again in reaction to his yawn.

"Love you," he said.

"Love you too," she said.

They hung up their phones and Willa snuggled down into the covers that Spanky had provided her with. She spent the next few miles of stop and go traffic watching the lights of the other cars thinking of Lance and didn't realize that she'd fallen asleep until she heard Spanky telling her to wake up.

*****

"What an ass!"

"Language Willa," Spanky laughed. "Does your boyfriend know that you swear like a trucker?"

Willa nodded. "I haven't been that bad."

"That's the third ass in the last half hour and you've used the word fuck as a noun, verb, and an adjective."

"Thank you for the fucking grammar lesson." Her eyes rolled automatically with her sarcasm.

"Anytime time," he gave her a salute with his free hand and pulled her bag up the steps with his other hand. "Why does everyone always have to live upstairs."

"For the view." She smiled sweetly. "You really don't have to walk me up here."

He nodded. "Yeah I do."

"Let me guess...Lance?"

"He's the boss."

"Fuck!"

"Fuck what?" He said.

"I could kick myself for not remembering the WHO'S THE BOSS theme song."

"Whatever girl."

"You have to admit though. That photographer was on something."

Spanky let out a laugh. "Yeah. Look at me Willa. Show me sweaty!" He puckered his lips and tried to look stuck up like the photographer she'd been working with all day.

Willa made a face and turned a little playfully in the hallway as they left the staircase to reach her door.

"Beautiful!"

"Thank you," she said and did a little curtsy when they reached the door.

"Come on you." He knocked into her a little playfully. "I'm sure your man has left you a million messages by now."

"It's not my fault that my cell phone battery ran down."

"I told you that I had a charger in the car, but as if I remember correctly you didn't want to use it."

"Ok DAD!"

"No offense to your father," his voice was fairly low, "but I'm glad I'm not him."

"Sure you don't," she said and began to search for her keys.

When she finally got them out Spanky laughed at her trying to unlock the door. She missed three times before she got the key in, half from tiredness and half from laughing as he hurried her with little comments like "come on Willa" and "hurry up I gotta pee."

Pushing the door open Willa looked back at Spanky and made a grand gesture of presenting her home to him. "Home Sweet Home!"

The shock that registered on Spanky's face when he looked in the door caused her to turn around to stare at what he was looking at.

"Kinda messy don't you think?" He asked.

Willa held her hand to her forehead as she let her eyes move from his face and return to the living room, carefully recording the scene in front of them. She scanned carefully from one end of the room to the other, taking it all in, the couch on its side, the table tipped over, and the strange paperwork, paperwork she didn't even know she owned, that littered the floor, while trying not to let out the scream that was building in her throat.

"Stay here." Spanky left her by the door with the luggage. She watched him check the place out, slowly moving around and checking behind all the different corners to see if anyone was there. It was kind of ridiculous, him sleuthing around the place like some 007 character.

"The door was locked Spanky. No one is in here." Her blunt remark echoed in the quiet room.

"So they unlocked the door, trashed the place, then locked up the door again?" He matched her sarcasm with some of his own and added some eye rolling for effect.

Willa looked around and helplessly sighed. "I don't know."

"I'm calling the cops," Spanky said finally. Willa wasn't sure what kind of experience he had with this kind of thing, but from his reaction she got a little more scared. She had always hoped that in a situation like this, well not like this, but something serious like this, that he would be her rock and keep her safe. She didn't doubt that he could save her in a crowd or keep some of the nagging reports away, but this incident hit home, literally, and even he seemed to be upset by the event.

He reached for his phone and began to dial.

"NO!" She grabbed the phone out of his hands with both of hers. Despite his size he seemed to let her take the phone because it was clear that with his size that he could have kept her hands away from him.

"Willa, this place is...this place is trashed." He looked around with the same wide eyes that Willa knew were gracing her own face. "Give me the phone." He waved his hand at her trying to get her to hand it over. She'd never heard him sound so serious about anything and she wasn't sure if it was that or the actual trashing of her place that got to her more.

"No," she said. She slid his phone into her pocket, patting it through the material just to make sure that it was secure. "Just...just help me clean up, please."

"Willa," he said in a very slow stream of words. "You need to call the cops. Its one thing to keep things from Lance, but you need to file a police report."

"No." She moved across the room and began to restack a pile of magazines that she'd had on the coffee table. When they fell again after she'd stacked them tears came to her eyes. "It'll get in the newspaper and I don't want that."

Spanky sighed. "Its good to get things like this in the paper."

"NO!" Her tone was firm and she prayed that he would just obey her wishes and not cause her to cry. She hated crying and didn't want to start crying at the drop of a hat. She was a tough girl, or had been before she started dating Lance and she wanted to keep it that way.

"This is crazy," Spanky said walking towards where her phone was laying off the hook. "I'm calling Lance." He kept an eye on her as he reached to dial the number. "Maybe he can talk some sense into you. This is too serious for you to handle on your own. You need the cops involved."

"NO!" She grabbed the phone away from him before he could pick it up. "You ARE NOT, and I mean YOU ARE NOT going to tell Lance about this."

Her hands began to shake as she turned to put the phone back into its cradle. The tears that had been at the back of her eyes a few moments later began to collect at the edges of her eyes and when she blink they blinded her for a moment. "Spanky I'm tired and I need a nap and right now I don't want to hear Lance lecturing me about how he thinks I need to get another one of you goons to follow me around." She stopped and stared at him. Her comment had been more than rude, but he seemed to not have noticed.

"Well if you don't call the police and you don't call Lance, you're gonna let me stay here tonight." He went over and set the table upright. "I'm not letting you stay here alone. Lance would kill me if he found out that I did that."

Willa put a hand to her forehead. "I don't need this drama right now Spanky. I can take care of myself."

"In normal cases I'm sure that you can, but at the moment you need someone here." His tone was firm in its instructions, but at the same time sympathetic. "Why don't you go and take a nap. I'll start getting this cleaned up and I'll make some calls."

She stared at him for a moment, with a half angry look crossing her face. "Calls?"

"No police. No Lance. I promise," he said crossing a hand over his heart as he swore his word to her. "All I'm going to do is call about getting a security system put in. You may not be taking this seriously, but I'm not going to stand by and watch something more than this happen to you."

Willa nodded finally. "Fine."

Her head was swimming and the fatigue of the last few weeks was definitely catching up with her now that she had a moment to stop and think about what really was going on in her life.

Her bed was calling her name and as soon as she got to her room she flopped onto the bed, fully clothed, and curled up with a pillow pressed to her chest. It was a poor substitute for a sleeping partner, after being with Lance for the last few nights, but she would have to settle for the pillow for a while.


TEN


With a half-smile on his lips, Lance pushed his chair back and put his feet up on the edge of his desk, resting one ankle over the other so that he had a place to lean the files in his hand against his thighs to view the pages. If he'd been at home in Mississippi his mother would have killed him for putting his feet on the furniture. He could see her literally having a heart attack if she noticed that he had SHOES on the bare wood. But he wasn't at home with his mom, normally this was a slightly depressing realization, today though he enjoyed the utter satisfaction of knowing that no one was going to scold him for relaxing while he worked.

Red pen in hand, he was readied himself to amend and revise the contract that was now resting comfortably on his lap. He'd been putting off the revisions since before Christmas, but knew that it was time to get down to business. With Willa back up in New York and a feeling of great euphoria left over from her visit, he could finally focus on the task at hand.

Wiggling around, shifting his weight from one side of his body to the other, Lance patted the armrest of the leather reclining chair. He'd bought the seat a few months before, but this was the first time he was really getting to use the thing since he'd been gone for so long.

"Good choice Lance, good choice."

He let out a laugh when he realized that he was talking to himself. He'd been doing it all day, he suspected because he missed talking to Willa. She'd been gone for only a few hours, but he was already missing her immensely. He didn't know how to explain it, but he was really thinking that he was falling in love. He'd said those words before to girls, but this time there was an intense meaning behind what he felt for Willa.

When the sound of the phone ringing filled the room Lance leaned forwards and hit the tiny red speakerphone button. In a quick thought of laziness he almost wished he had a remote control so he wouldn't have to move.

"This is Lance. Speak to me."

He tried not to laugh at himself as he waited for the person on the other end of the line to answer his greeting. It would be yet another thing that his mother would yell at him for if she knew about it. He knew better than to be that arrogant on the phone, especially if he didn't know who was calling.

A cough came from the tiny speaker then the low rumble of a voice came out at him. "Its Spanky." The tone was serious and Lance stared at the phone for a moment tense as he waited for the rest of the message to come to him. He knew that it was probably something fairly important if Spanky had called him, because normally Lance called Spanky.

"What's up?" Lance asked when the ceiling didn't fall on his head as he almost expected it to. His pen ran over the sentences on the page in front of him. He automatically and subconsciously, scratched out a few words and replacing them with the words that would guarantee his new artist's family the right to be at every public and private event that she would be attending that next year.

"Lance your girl needs you up here in New York," Spanky said, "A-S-A-P."

His tone sounded half-serious and half not. He smiled imagining Willa in one of her moods again. She could picture her having him running all around like a chicken with his head cut off since she was nervous about the whole Amy and Brennan thing. He too was worried about the situation, but he'd told himself that Spanky wouldn't let anything happen to her.

"Whatís going on?" Lance asked trying to stay calm just in case it was something more. "Is she beating you up?"

"No Lance." Spanky inhaled and the sound of his breath being forced into and out of his lungs echoed a thousand miles away in Lance's Orlando office. "Her apartment got trashed--"

Somehow Lance's feet slipped off the edge of the desk hitting the hardwood floor with a thud and he almost bit his tongue with the force that rocked his body. The precious paperwork that a moment before had been the sole focus of his attention fell and slid underneath his chair and desk with a swooshing noise, complimented by the sound of the pen hitting the floor and rolling underneath the edge of the desk.

Spanky must have heard the noise because he paused to ask, "What was that?"

Finding it hard to express the worry on his mind, Lance stared at the phone then reached and picked up the receiver and pushed it at his ear as his anger boiled over. "What the hell happened?" he demanded.

"Calm down."

"Calm down?" Lance asked raising his voice he slid his chair forward and heard a crunching noise so he stopped. "You just said--"

"Willa is fine. Don't you think I'd have called you sooner if she hadn't been."

Lance leaned down and began to collect the paperwork that was being run over by the wheels on his chair. He threw them carelessly onto the desk and stared at the television screen across the room. He could see his reflection in the glass of the silent appliance and he didn't like the worried look he saw in his own eyes.

"Where is she?"

Silence greeted him. He listened to the silence for a moment, drumming his fingers against the tabletop in a random pattern.

"Where is she?" he repeated. His fist automatically hit the desktop.

"She's--"

"Where the hell is she?" Lance could feel the phone digging into his ear, but he didn't care. If he could have jumped through the phone he would have. "Get her on the fucking phone."

"She's in the middle of a photo shoot right now which is why I'm calling." He spoke in a soft voice as if he didn't want anyone to hear the conversation.

Lance took a deep breath and sat back in the chair trying to calm his breathing and relax the tension out of his neck and back that had formed when he'd heard the news of Willa's adventure in New York. "What happened?"

"We came back last night and the place was trashed."

"It got broken into?" Lance's heart rate went through the roof. He'd always been the over-protective type

"Everything in the place was turned over and all of her things were strewn aroundÖnothing seemed to really be broken, just moved out of its normal place."

Lance pressed the heel of his hand into his right eye socket trying to suppress the headache that was forming above his eye. "Was the door kicked in or something?"

"No, the door was locked when we got there."

Lance moved his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment letting out a long breath. "Locked?"

"Someone must have had the key because I checked the door and it didn't look like the lock had been picked."

"They key? The fucking key!" Lance stood up and his legs automatically pushed his chair back. It hit the wall with a thud as he switched on the speakerphone again, dropping the receiver onto the desk top he began to pace around his desk staring all the while at the phone. "Someone has the fucking key to her house."

"Don't over dramatize it," Spanky said taking a breath, "I stayed with her last night and I plan to stay tonight and I've got a call into a buddy of mine to get a security system in. She'll be fine for another night, but I think that you need to talk to her about this when you get up here."

Automatically his finger found it's way into his mouth and he began to chew nervously on his ring-finger fingernail as he stared at the ring on his finger that his grandfather had given him for his high school graduation. He'd thought that he'd conquered this bad habit, but every once in a while, usually in times of stress he found himself biting his nails again.

"Did you call the cops?" Lance asked nervously. He would have called in the FBI if he'd been there. It was one thing for a normal person to have their place broken into, but in his line of work a break in could mean a whole array of things.

Stalking immediately came to mind.

"She didn't want to." Spanky sighed and lowered his voice again. "She didn't want news of this to get out."

Lance paused for a moment and looked around his office. He tried to think clearly but the thought of Willa being up there in New York without him in this kind of a mess was a little hard to get passed. What would she have that someone would want to steal? He'd seen the place and as much as he loved her, Willa's apartment was lacking many of the finer things in life. It was definitely far from an electronic Mecca.

"Was anything stolen?"

"From what I can tell nothing was taken. I don't think it was a theft. I think it was just to scare her." Spanky took another deep breath. "It really did the trick. She's got her eye on me right nowÖ" He suddenly sounded like he was in a tunnel and Lance guessed that he was covering the phone so that Willa wouldn't try to read his lips or something. "Now I know what it's like to be watched all the timeÖanyway she hasn't let me out of her sight since we left her apartment this morning."

"She hasn't?"

"Nope," he said, "I told her I wouldn't call you, but I thought you'd want to know about all of this."

There was a sound in the background and Lance could hear Willa's voice.

"Who are you talking to big guy?" Willa asked.

"Just my friend Jay from back home," Spanky said.

"Hi Jay!" she said loudly.

"Are you taking a break?" Lance heard Spanky ask.

"Yeah. We're almost done." Lance could hear her voice being interrupted by some noise. He figured she probably was eating or something. "I want to get out of here."

"I know what you mean hon," Spanky said with a caring voice.

"I haven't heard from Lance today and I want to call him before he gets busy."

"That guy seems pretty busy."

"He is, but he loves me so it's ok."

Lance smiled at the thought of her thinking about him. It wasn't every day that a person got to hear such love in someone's voice when they didn't know the other person was listening. It gave him a little sense of peace knowing that she knew he wouldn't let anything bad happen to her while he wasn't there.

"Anyway, I should give him a call sooner or later. I'm sure he has some kind of meeting tonight since they're going to be New York again." Her voice sounded tired, yet the excitement of talking to him couldn't be masked.

"Well let me finish up with this call and we're going to get out of here. You need to get some sleep before your man gets here."

Lance normally wouldn't have liked to be eavesdropping on the conversation, but at this point he was glad to hear that she was still in a joking mood with Spanky. It gave him hope that she was going to be ok while he wasn't with her.

"Hey, you still there?"

"Yeah," Lance said and took his seat again.

"Look. I'll take care of things up hereÖjust get your butt up here as soon as you can."

"I'm going to book Willa a spot at the hotel for the week that I'm in New York. Can you get that security system put in during the week that she's out of the apartment?"

"Yeah I'll make the plans for it and get those guys in and out before she'll get back into the apartment."

"And tomorrow you'll bring her up to TRL?"

"Of course. She has a meeting in the morning, but it's downtown so I'll bring her over after that."

"Thanks Spanky," Lance said.

"No trouble," Spanky said.

Not letting the silence fill the room after they hung up, Lance immediately dialed the number to get Willa booked into a room with him.

"Hey Tally," Lance said into the phone with a smile.

"Don't call me that sweetheart."

"Whatever," he said with a laugh thinking about how Sally had automatically become Tally when the movie "Up Close And Personal" had come out. He loved to tease her about it, almost as much as he liked to tease Willa about being named Wilfred. "Anyway can you book an extra person at the hotel in New York for me?"

"Is Fisher coming out to visit?" she asked.

"I thought Fisher was working or something or other. Besides, JC would book him his stuff, or Melinda," Lance said, "I need the room, well the space, for someone else."

"So what's the name of the person?" she asked.

Lance took a breath and prayed that Sally wouldn't give him a hard time about booking his girlfriend a room. "Willa Marviani, but book it under the name Fred."

"Oh, honey I'm so glad you're gonna spend time with your girlfriend."

"Thanks," he said with a laugh. It was funny. He'd never really met the travel agent that worked with the group, but she knew more about his life that he probably did. She did all the travel arrangements for everyone, which meant that she knew who all was where and what they were doing.

"I'll make sure everything is set. I'll have security passes waiting and transportation for the day will be bumped up so that Fred can go with you."

"Thanks," Lance said then paused. "Make sure that you book something for her bodyguard."

"No trouble."

"Oh, and can you book her in to go to the spa with Bobbee and Melinda in a few days?"

"Sure can," she said with a bubbly tone.

"Thanks a lot," he said and hung up the phone.

Turning to face the silent television Lance stared at his reflection again. He looked tired and stressed all of a sudden and the thought of trying to get the contracts together for his new artist was making him feel strained.

When the phone rang again Lance jumped a little then pushed the speakerphone button and sat back in his chair. He put his hands over his face. "This is LanceÖwhat can I do for you?"

"Lance?" He sat up straight when he heard her voice come through the speaker. "Lance, take me off speakerphone."

"Ok," Lance said. He rubbed his face for a minute then picked up the receiver. "Sorry about that, I was working."

"You must have been working hard," she said, "You sound tired."

"I am."

"Well you better rest up. I'm sure that you're not going to get much rest when you come up to New York."

Lance smiled and tried to play along like nothing was wrong. Thinking that her last comment could have been taken with a sexual tone he laughed. "I'm not going to get much rest when I come to visit? Should I be taking that as a bad thing?"

"Oh stop," she said and let out a giggle. "You know I love you, but I wasn't talking about that."

"Sure you weren't," he said. He gathered the papers on his desk together and stacked them into numerical order. After he got off the phone with her he intended to get his work done.

"Oh my gosh Lance. Should I call your mother and tell her how nasty you're being. I've only been gone a few hours and I feel like you've turned into a pervert on me."

"Whatever Fred."

He tried to keep his mind off of the fact that he wanted to ask her if she was ok. He knew she was putting on a good front, but he knew that this had to be eating her up inside.

"Hold on a second honey. I'm going to put you on speakerphone and I have to run into the kitchen for a minute."

"Ok," she said.

Lance pushed the button again. "I'll be right back."

"Ok." She laughed and if he didn't know her better he might have guessed that she had been drinking or something. "I'm going to sing to you." She started to hum.

"For real?" He stared at the machine for a minute. She was sure in a mood. Not one of her normal bitchy self-protective moods, but one that made him think that she'd just given up and didn't care about anything anymore. If he didn't know better he would have guessed she was drunk. "I don't think I've heard you sing before."

"There is a good reason for that," she said with a laugh. "I know not to go up against the professional."

Lance laughed. "Oh. Are you talking about me?"

"Yes silly."

Lance ran into the living room and came back with the cordless. He wanted to be able to walk around the house so he wanted the cordless. He figured it would be better to pace with the phone with him instead of keeping her on speakerphone.

She was just finishing up a verse of some song he didn't recognize when he got back to the office.

He clicked on the cordless phone and flipped off the regular phone.

"Hello?" he said into the cordless phone.

"Hey honey," she said in a whispery voice.

"Now who's being the pervert?" he asked.

"Me?" she laughed. "Never."

"Let me guess? You're an angel." He spoke softly.

"Of course," she said.

"And I bet you're making a halo over your head at the moment."

"Of course," she said with a giggle.

Lance smiled at himself in the reflection across the room. "Well I'm glad to hear that you're in a better mood."

"Why wouldn't I be in a good mood?" she asked suddenly.

Lance's stomach flip-flopped. He thought quickly knowing that he didn't want her to know that he'd talked to Spanky since Spanky had told him about everything confidentially. "It's just that you seemed a little upset when you left Florida."

"Oh," she said. He could almost hear her sigh a sigh of relief in not being caught in a lie.

"Hey, Fred, do you want to come and stay at the hotel with me when I get to New York?"

"Yeah!" she said in a loud voice that made him cringe away from the telephone receiver.

"Whoa there turbo. You miss me that much?"

"No, but if I don't stay with you I won't be able to see you while you're here."

"You didn't miss me?" he asked.

"Of course I do," she said. He could hear it in her voice with that one that she wasn't as strong as she was acting. Her voice wavered so slightly that the normal person wouldn't be able to tell that something was wrong, but he'd heard the difference in her voice before and it didn't slip past him.

"How's work?" It was an excuse to ask her how she was without asking her how she was.

"Tiring." She sighed. Again he heard that things were a hundred percent with her.

"Well I booked you into the hotel with me in the city so you can go to the spa and hang out all day if you want."

"Go to the spa?" she asked.

"Yeah. I think Melinda, Bobbee and my friend Fisher are going to go to the spa. I'm sure you can go too."

"He?"

"Yeah, he and Melinda are like brother and sister and God knows why, but they like to bond over going to the spa. Don't ask meÖthat's just their thing."

"Oh."

"So do you want me to call and set that up for you?"

"That does sound good, but I want to spend time with you."

"You will. All night," he let a smile form on his face. "While I'm out earning the money you can get all relaxed and all beautiful so we can spend the night together."

"Oh really? Are you planning to spoil me then take advantage of me?"

"Something like that," he said playing along.

"Really?"

"Believe me. I'm going to be in town for a weekÖthat means five nights of going to sleep with you in my arms and five mornings of waking up with you."

She was smiling. He could tell by the tone of her voice. "That sounds like heaven."

"Doesn't it though?" he said.

"SO are you going to be busy all day when you get up here?"

"For most of the days I'm there I'm going to be working. We have two afternoons off and our nights off, but I'm sure we can figure something out on how to spend time together."

"Just as long as we spend some time together things should be good."

"Good."

Lance checked his watch. If he didn't get off the phone he wasn't going to get his work done in time to pack and get to the meeting at the compound that night.

"Hon, I hate to cut you off, but I have to get some work done. Can I call you later on tonight?"

"Sure," she said.

"Why don't you go home and take a nap?" he suggested. "You sound like you could use one."

"I could, and I think I will."

When Lance hung up the phone a few moments later, after a quick and painless goodbye, he had a smile on his face. In only a day he'd be with her again and at the moment, with the moods they were both in, he knew the reunion was going to be a sweet one.


ELEVEN


"Wait up girl!"

Turning her head at the sound of the request, Willa threw a wide smile back at Spanky. He was lower on the steps than her, watching her from inside the hood of his jacket. She had never really had him mad at her, but this was as close as she wanted to be. He had a scowl on his face, watching her with narrowed eyes as if he was really upset with her.

"Canít keep up old man?" She asked as they merged with the automatic spinning door of the hotel as they walked into the lobby. There had been a few people on the street milling around, which Willa had skillfully rushed passed after the taxi had dropped them off, but sheíd momentarily forgotten that Spanky was with her. It was something she hadnít done in a while, but the thought of seeing Lance that day was making everything else seem insignificant.

Luckily Spanky seemed to understand her rush, or at least he had before theyíd left the apartment that morning. When sheíd practially pushed him out of the door that morning heíd only laughed at her and told her to "Go get your man."

"Iím sorry," she said impatiently, "I just want to get there fast."

"I know, I know," Spanky chuckled. He put a hand out and pushed her so that the door didnít hit them. "Youíre too much."

"Nope," she said leaning towards him with a laugh, "Just wait until you hang out with the guys for more than five minutes. Iím definitely not the most hyper of the group."

"I bet those guys are tired after this morning," Spanky commented as they pushed through into the lobby.

"Yeah," she said looking back again, "Lance was supposed to call me, but I think they got too busy. The rounds at the morning shows are always hard and Iím sure they threw in a million different things for them to do in between shows. You should have seen when the Sports Illistrated Edition I was in came out. A bunch of the models from that did the rounds together. Gotta love six models at four in the morning. Iíve never seen so much make up in my life."

"Iím sure that they were all excited."

"Yeah right. Fun isnít the word to describe it. Wait until you have to go with me to do press stuff. Elena said I have to do some in the next month. Youíll hate it."

Spanky made a face that made him look like heíd eaten something sour. "And like I donít already hate being with you?" Heíd been teasing her a lot in the last few days since the break-in. Sheíd cherished those moments. She and Spanky werenít exactly what someone would consider friends, since he did work for her, but at the same time they got along well enough to be pleasant to each other and entertain each other.

Willa was in the process of slipping out of her black pea-coat while balancing her purse in one hand when she heard his comment. Her free arm snaked out and hit at him playfully before he could get away. She covered up the quick action by smoothing down the fluffy fabric of the red cashmier sweater sheíd chosen to wear that day. Sheíd chosen to dress fairly nicely that day knowing that the press would be around. It wasnít anything fancy, just jeans and a sweater, but she looked nice enough to have her picture taken and put in the magazines or newspapers. Sheíd become more conscious of that since the reporters had started to follow her around more.

"Ok, ok," he said, "Iím sure youíll make it completely enjoyable."

Willa hit at him again when she saw him roll his eyes. "I try," she said with a smile.

Once inside the lobby Willa dug through her backpack-looking purse to find her phone. She flipped two buttons and found Lanceís pre-programmed number then hit the "send" button to call him. She knew that hotel security was tight and even though she knew that she had reservations to stay with him that night, she thought that she should call him and get escorted to their room instead of trying to deal with the hotel staff. It wasnít their fault, but she figured after being bugged for so long by fans trying to sneak up to the guysí floor it would just be easier to get Lance down to the lobby then her up into the upper floors of the hotel.

"Hi honey," he said when he picked up. She could hear noise in the background and wondered what was going on in the background. From the sound of it a WWF wrestling match could have been going on behind Lance, although he didnít seem to be affected by it.

Willa smiled at Spanky who was distracting himself by flipping buttons on his own cell phone while digging in the pocket of his heavy winter overcoat for something. It made her wonder what he did all day long while she was working. Heíd been with her almost twenty four hours a day for the last few days and she hadnít really paid much attention to what he did while she worked. Hopefully he wasnít too bored waiting around for her.

"Gotta love caller ID," she said with a laugh making herslef pay attention to Lance again.

"Where are you?" He asked. She love the way his voice made him sound like he missed her. Sheíd never really heard that from Brennan. Heíd always asked where she was, but Lance had a way of saying it so that she felt like heíd been wondering where she was when she wasnít with him.

"Iím down in the lobby. I tried to call you earlier, but I kept getting your voicemail."

"Oh, yeah," he said, "I had to turn off my phone while I was in an interview. You should be glad you caught me. I was about to turn off my phone again."

"Thatís ok," she looked around for a minute, "I know that Iím allowed to just come up and see you, but can you come and get me or send someone? I donít want to get into a discussion with the staff over me going upstairs. There arenít that many people here, but I still donít want to--"

She tried to make it sound like she wasnít being all girly and helpless, but in a situation like that it was hard not to sound that way.

Lance coughed and turned his head away from the phone. Willa heard him say something into the room he was in then he turned back to the phone. "Iím sending Wes down to get you. Iíve gotta sign some papers and do another interview in about five minutes, but heíll bring you up to the room."

"Ok," she said with a sigh. She looked at Spanky as he wiped his nose with a tissue and suddenly wondered if Lance was getting sick. She knew how traveling around could take its toll on a person and she wondered if heíd caught something on the flight up from Florida.

"Are you ok?"

"Iím fine," he said and coughed again, "I just have a tickle in my throat."

"A tickle?" She asked with a laugh.

"Hold on a sec." He coughed again. She then thought she heard him drinking something. "Yeah. It happens when I get interviewed a lot. My mouth gets all dry and my throat starts to get raw from talking."

Willa looked around the lobby. She thought she recognized a few people from the last time sheíd hung out with the whole group, but she wasnít sure so she didnít make eye contact. "So are you going to be busy all day?"

"Not all day, but most of it. After the interview I have in a minute we can grab lunch in the room, ok? Iíll have to check the schedule for this afternoon, but I made sure that I had lunch completely free. The afternoon line-up has been changing all day and it might have changed again since I last checked."

"Ok," she said with another sigh.

"You ok?" He asked.

"Yeah," she said in a soft voice. "I just hate having press people around. I feel like I have to act differently around you. I mean first it was that I had to pretend to like you and now it seems like I have to pretend not to like you too much."

"Donít worry, a half hour of public time for me then you and I will send Spanky and Wes to get their own lunches and weíll hang out for..." He paused for a moment and she wondered if he was looking at his watch, "Weíll have about an hour or so." He sounded like some spy planning an attack on an unsuspecting theif, not a guy trying to get some free time with his girlfriend.

"That sounds good," she said with a laugh.

"I canít promise you great food, but at least the company will be good," he said.

"I donít care about the food. I just want at you," she said with a smile.

"As dangerous as it might be, I think I might like to be attacked by a fan like you," Lance said.

"Oh really?" She asked sensing the sexual tension that was heating up between them.

She heard someone in the background laughing. She figured that it was one of the guys or Melinda or someone. "Donít get me started," he said, "Iíve gotta go, Melinda is waving for me to get off the phone. Wes is already on his way down to get you."

"Ok," she said with a smile, "Iíll talk to you in a minute then."

"Bye sweetie. I love you."

"I love you too," she said and then stuck out her tongue at Spanky who was rolling his eyes at her.

"This trip is going to make me sick to my stomach," Spanky said sarcastically as she hung up. "You two are way too in love with each other. Who would have known that a few months ago."

"Oh shut up you," Willa teased, "You arenít supposed to be paying attention anyway."

"Itís hard not to notice..." Spanky paused for a moment then began to mock the tone sheíd used with Lance on the phone, "I love you..." Spanky made a kissing face.

Willa laughed and looked around the lobby for Wes. It was a big room. She imagined that this one lower room covered an entire city blockís worth of area and she wondered if heíd be able to find her.

"Thereís Wes," Spanky said a moment later.

Willa watched carefully as Wes aproached them. He was working. She could tell not only because he was wearing his staff polo shirt, but also from the look on his face. His eyes were narrowed and he looked on alert as if he was lying in wait for something to happen. She wondered if Spanky ever had that expression on his face. Sheíd seen him being attentive and cautious of their surroundings, but there was something in Wesís intense gaze that scared her almost as bad as the break-in had. She didnít know if this guy was going to mug her or protect her from the look on his face.

"Hey you two," Wes said. His face broke into a smile for a moment as if he knew he had to reassure them that he wasnít going to bite their heads off. "Ready to go on up?"

Willa nodded.

"Arenít you going to stay with us tonight?" Wes asked Willa. He looked around her then at her hands as if he was looking for bags or something.

Willa avoided making eye contact with him. She wasnít sure how this was all going to work. Being at his house in Orlando had been one thing. Sheíd been visiting him, but this time it was different. She was in her home town, but she wasnít staying at home. She stuck her hand into her pocket and nervously grasped the quarter that she found there. "Yeah."

Unexpectedly Willa saw Wes with a huge smile on his face. "Praise Jesus! Finally, someone in the group who has a woman who packs lightly!"

Spanky laughed along with Wes as they took in the comment.

"Not quite." She stifled a laugh. "Iím probably going to be the worse of all of them. Iím a model rememeber? Clothes are my life." She pointed over her shoulder at her backpack. "This is just my purse. Iím going to go get my bags when you all go to tape TRL this afternoon."

"Just donít expect me to be carrying the bags for you."

"Never," she said with an innocent smile. If she was more of a comedian she would have put her hand over her mouth and let out a giggle to show that she wasnít being serious with him., "Wouldnít want you to strain a muscle or anything."

"Of course not," Spanky said.

As if they knew through ESP, both men curled their arms up and flexed, making a manly grunting noise as they posed for her.

"Fine, fine. Letís get on the road," she said, "Youíre big and strong. I never said you werenít."

"Say it Willa."

"Say what?"

"Say: My what big muscles you have."

Willa looked at them for a moment then thought quickly for her response, "My what big egos you have."

Wes cracked up with that comment. "Girl, are you sure youíre dating Lance? That was a Joey comment if Iíve ever heard one."

"No. I went out with Joey once. It wasnít pretty. Weíre too goofy for each other."

"Too goofy?" Spanky said.

"And like HOLLYWOOD is more grounded?" Wes asked.

"Hollywood?" She asked.

"Lanceís new nickname. Heís kissing babies and shaking hands all over the place. Thatís really a grounded guy youíve got there," Wes joked, letting a laugh out.

"Whatever," she said, "Can we just go?"

"Are you in need Willa?" Wes asked with a smile.

"In need of what?" She asked.

"A little loviní?" Wes asked with a funny accent.

"I think youíre the one in need," she said half agrily-half jokingly, "In need of an ego check."

"Ok, ok," he said, "Iíll stop."

"Can we go now?"

"Yes."

After pointing the way, the two bodyguards escorted Willa to the elevator. She almost laughed aloud when she caught their reflection in the shiny inner walls of the elevator doors. She felt like an oreo cookie between the two men as they guarded her from the left and right.

"So did you guys have a fun morning?" Willa asked Wes. She hated the quiet of the elevator. The two men were definitley intimidating when they just stood and stared straight ahead..

"Fun isnít the word Iíd use. Actually fun isnít ever the word Iíd use," Wes said rolling his eyes, "But yeah, nothing major happened so at least it wasnít too hectic. We had a few hundred people meet us at the airport then there was a huge crowd at the Today show looking through the windows, but since weíve gotten to the hotel all has been quiet."

"Knock on wood," Spanky added.

With smiles on their faces, they both reached and knocked on the wooden siding that lined the elevator walls.

She took a breath. Maybe this trip would be quiet. She and Lance could just enjoy themselves instead of worrying about fans. "Thatís good."

"What about you?" Wes asked, "Lance said that you were doing some huge photo shoot or something a few days ago?"

"Yeah," she said, "I was shooting some print ads for a designer. Modeling is really boring."

"I bet that was a riot," Wes said, "At least the pay is good."

"Thatís definitely not the word Iíd use," she said, "But yeah, it pays the bills."

"And Iím sure the phone company thanks you. It seems like you and Lance have become attacked at the cellphones. Iíve never seen anyone talk on the phone so much."

"Whatever. I tell him to stop calling me, but he keeps on with it," she said trying to act as if the phone calls sheíd gotten from Lance were a bother, even though that was about as far from the truth as it could be.

"Youíre the worst liar," Spanky said. "You should see her face when that damn thing rings. She lights up like a Christmas tree and chats about a million miles a minute before she gets off the phone then calls him back and does the whole thing over."

"Youíre just jealous because Wes is the only one who calls you."

"Hey!" Wes said with a frown, "Thatís no way to make friends and influence people."

"I wasnít trying," she said with a laugh.

"See what I have to put up with? One of these days Iím going to let one of those teeny-bopper chicks have their way with you." Spanky reached out and playfully hit her arm.

"Yeah right, Lance would shoot you if you did that."

"No he wouldnít," Wes said defending Spanky.

When the elevator got to the floor that they wanted Wes stepped out before them then stopped a few feet into the hallway. "Oh," he said turning around. He handed them two laminated passes. "Security passes for you. You lose them and Lance definitely will shoot you."

"Thanks," Willa said and slipped her pass around her neck. She watched as Spanky did the same thing.

"Lance is down in room eleven-fifteen, but he told me to have you wait for him in his room down at the end of the hall. Heís going to be in that interview for a while and figures that you donít want to get involved with the whole thing so staying out of sight is a good thing."

Willa nodded, "That sounds good to me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought Iíd have to hide from publicity. That seems so backwards, yet so right at the same time."

They walked down the hotel hallway and Willa noticed how almost every room had itís door open. She caught site of almost all the guys in separate rooms doing interviews. She waved and caught a smile from a few of them, but the others were too busy to notice.

When she passed room eleven-fifteen she paused for a moment. She saw the back of Lanceís head as he faced a reporter and spoke. She watched only for a second afraid that the reporter might see her and draw her into the room. As much as she wanted to see Lance, she didnít want her welcome back to involve some reporter watching them.

"So whatís this trip for?" Willa asked.

"Just the normal press stuff. The guys are going to announce later on in the trip that theyíre going to try to get a movie deal together. They keep hinting about it with the reporters here, but they arenít really going to announce the whole plan until Friday. They have a big press conference planned."

Willa turned and looked at Wes. She didnít really know the guys that well and since Lance hadnít mentioned it to her, this was all a surprise to hear. "A movie?"

"Yeah," Wes explained as he pulled the room key out for her. He unlocked the door. "Justinís already been in a movie for Disney, Joey filmed a bit-part in Toronto a few weeks ago, and Lance is going to start filming a romantic comedy for Miramax in March."

"He didnít tell me that!" Willa said as she followed him into the room.

"He hasnít really told anyone about it. The last time he got a semi-romantic part on a television show the guys ripped on him about it for months afterwards. He told me that he doesnít want that to happen again."

"Oh."

"Iím sure heíll tell you about it," Wes stopped in the middle of the room, "This is it"

The room was humungous, way bigger than anything sheíd ever stayed in. She had good taste when it came to travel arrangements, but this was really more than one person could take advantage of on their own. "This is Lanceís room?"

"Well itís the living room for Justin and Lance. Wes pointed to the open double-doors of the room on the right, "Lanceís room is over there and Justinís is on the far side. The other guys are in the suite next door."

Willa looked around for a minute then took her jacket and the small backpack she was using for her purse and set them down on the couch.

Wesís pager went off and he grabbed it off of his waste-band. "Iíve gotta head out. Have fun."

Willa waved, "Thanks Wes."

"No trouble." He looked at his watch. "Lance should be back in here in about twenty minutes."

Willa smiled and wondered for a moment if she should tip the guy. She hated situations like that. She always felt that she was doing the wrong thing even when she was doing the right thing. "Thanks."

Her phone rang just as Wes was turning the corner back into the hallway.


TWELVE


When Lance reached the door almost out of breath, after practically running away from the reporter after the interview. Heíd shook hands with the reporter and had done all the things that were expected of him, but heíd rushed out of the room as soon as he possibly could have. Now, trying to catch his breath, he cracked the door open and tried to look for Willa. He wanted to sneak in and surprise her, but all he found was Spanky sitting on the couch staring at the television.

A moment later, instead of being greeted by Willaís smiling face, he was met by a harsh voice, one that he almost didnít recognize as hers. It made him wince even before he was totally in the room. He took a breath, hand still on the doorknob, and tried to figure out what was going on. He could hear the stress in her voice as it boomed through the room, but couldnít see her and for a moment he wasnít sure if she was talking to someone in the room or someone on the phone.

"I donít give a flying fuck who released the information Elena! No, I never said I thought it was you...Why would you think that?...No, I KNOW exactly who released it....Yes that would be just like Brennan to do that. Heís just a spotlight whore that he canít stand that Iíve gotten popular without him being at my side...That doesnít matter. I just... Yeah... No... You need to get a rebuttal or something out to the press now!"

He could only hear her half of the conversation, but some of it made sense. She was stressed over something that he was sure Elena had called her to tell her about, probably some new rumor that was out and running around in the press. Stuff like that was like wildfire. Lance had played the gossip game TELEPHONE when he was little and the media scene seemed to be just a bigger version of the game. Someone would make a comment, then the next person would repeat it and add something to it, and soon the one little comment turned into a controversy that fans took as the gospel instead of gossip. Heíd had it happen to him in the past and he knew heíd face it in the future. There was no way to keep yourself out of the game when you were as famous as Lance and the others were.

"I never said that... no there was something that happened at New Years... It was Lance, Me, Amy and Brennan...no..." There was a long pause. "He never did that!...No, of course Iím not! Iíd tell you first if I was...or at least youíd be the second to know if something like that happened...I donít believe this shit! Where do they come up with this crap?"

"Whatís going on?"

Lance jumped at the sound of the voice behind him. He turned to find Wes standing behind him looking in the doorway.

"She isnít in there beating the crap out of Spanky?" Wes asked putting a hand on his shoulder to get him to move out of the way so that he could see into the room.

"No," Lance said with a laugh. "Iíll figure it out. Iím sure it's nothing huge."

"You sure?"

"Itís probably some model thing. You know...whereís my latte and all that?"

Lance turned his head back just as she appeared from the bedroom that Lance had taken for the trip. She was pacing, holding the phone in one hand against her ear, while rubbing the back of her neck with her other hand. She looked gorgeous in her outfit, it was just jeans and a sweater, like his own outfit, but he hadnít seen her in a few days and he suspected that sheíd look good in just about anything at that point.

"No, I want you to release a statement that explains the situation. None of what was released is true."

The sour and almost pained look on her face and the way she was pacing nervously, showed that there was a lot on her mind. Lance began to worry when she flopped down in a chair then a moment later was up and pacing again. Heíd never seen her this angry before. Sheíd gotten angry with him a million times in the past over little things and heíd thought that her attitude was bad then, but this was worse than anything heíd ever seen. Her hands were shaking and it was as if she let herself sit still that sheíd go crazy. Whatever it was, it was big and it wasnít going to be able to be taken care of quickly.

"Yes, Iím staying calm..." Lance heard her hit something. He hoped that it wasnít something breakable or that she didnít hurt herself doing it. "Yes Elena THIS IS CALM!"

Spankyís spontaneous laughing filled the otherwise silent room.

"No, heís not here yet...I donít know...Heís probably still in some interviews. No, I donít know if he knows. I doubt it or he would have mentioned it to me. Heís been in those interviews all morning and Iím sure if this had gone public earlier they would have been asking him about it and he would have asked me about it."

Lance pushed the door all the way open with his elbow and let himself quietly into the room while he tried to figure out what was going on. He didnít want to interrupt her call, but he wanted to know what was going on.

"Elena called with some bad news," Spanky said looking over.

"I can tell," Lance said, heavy sarcasm coated his response.

"From what I can tell that Brennan guy and that Amy girl are giving her hell," Spanky said, "Someone released something to the press that involves the four of you. Did you all get into a fight on New Years?"

Before Lance could answer Spankyís question Willaís voice filled the air again. "Damn it Elena!"

Lance looked over to where she had her back to him. "How long as she been on the phone like this?"

Spanky sighed. "Since we got here. Iím surprised she hasnít lost her voice yet. Sheís been yelling like that for almost fifteen minutes."

Willa turned, he guessed at the sound of the other voices in the room, and stared at Lance for a moment. Everything in the room wound down into slow motion. He watched her blink three times before she really seemed to recognize him. He could see the tiredness and the slight fear and sadness in her eyes and it formed a lump in his throat and send his stomach spinning. Willa was normally a tough girl, but she looked to be at her wits end with this one. Whatever had happened, it was serious.

As soon as they made eye contact, he saw tears well up in her eyes. He wished that he could make it go away. She didnít deserve this and he felt a little like it was his fault that she was going through this. If he hadnít made that comment on TRL a few months ago she wouldnít have to have gone through any of this mess. Heíd been selfish to do it and he was starting to feel even worse than he had a few weeks ago about the mess of his life and her life were becoming.

She walked towards him and as soon as she was close enough to him she took the phone from her ear and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face against his shoulder. "I hate this Lance," she mumbled, "I hate it. Just when I think things are getting under control the whole world blows up under my feet."

Lance hugged her as her body shook from her tears. He reached his arms around her, pulling her tightly against him and holding her there trying to show his support for her. He took a breath and for an instant things felt ok, but then he heard her sniff and once again was reminded of her pain. "Willa, whatís going on?"

After holding herself in his arms for a few moments, Willa leaned back from him a little to put the phone back to her ear. She sniffed hard and wiped her face a little, "Elena? Yeah, he just got here..." She turned to Lance, "Elena says hi."

"Hi Elena," Lance said loudly.

"Yeah, Iíll tell him. Iím going to tell him about it right now. Can you please release something?...No, Iím not going to ignore this...I know that I should ignore it, but I canít...No...I donít want to hear anymore about this...Iíll call you in a little while."

When sheíd hung up her phone she threw it angrily onto the couch where Spanky was. Spanky moved out of the way, even though her throw wasnít at all near him. "Hey!"

"Sorry," she said then curled back into Lanceís embrace. "This is horrible."

"Willa, tell me whatís going on," he prompted as he held her close.

Willa took a deep breath and reached and wiped her eyes more. "Elena said that someone released some crazy information to the press about us. There was a report about an incident that happened at New Years."

"Amy and Brennan?" He asked.

"I think thatís who did it." She sighed, "Iím guessing thatís who did it. I canít think of anyone else who would have even known what went on during our little conversation that night."

Lance tried to stay calm, but he was losing his patience. First the break-in and now this. It just seemed like they didnít want her to get comfortable. Even though she didnít know that heíd heard about the break-in, she looked horrible. The worry had gotten to her. Normally she had a twinkle in her eyes when he saw her, but today she looked tired, dead tired. "Whatíd they release?"

"Not only did they tell everyone that we had been faking our relationship for a few months, they said that Iím pregnant with Brennanís kid and that at the New Years Party he was trying to talk to me and you decked him because you were jealous."

"What the hell?" Lance said, "I never touched that son of a bitch."

Slipping her hand into his, Willa walked over, pulling Lance behind her, and plopped down onto the couch, "Elena said that the word on the street is that Brennan is going to go to court over it all."

"But you arenít even pregnant..." He looked at her closely, "Are you?"

"No. Of course not." Willa leaned against Lance, "Why canít they just leave me alone?"

"I donít know Fred," he said rubbing her back, "Donít worry though, weíll take care of this." He looked at Spanky with a worried look. Spanky had warned him about her losing it and that she needed him, but this was more than heíd expected from her. She was shaky and crying. This wasnít his Willa.

Spanky pushed himself up from the couch and came over to where they were standing. "Iíll leave you two alone for lunch, just give me a call when you have to leave, ok?"

"Yeah," Lance said over Willaís shoulder. Sheíd clamped onto him and he wasnít sure that she was going to let go anytime soon. "Ok."

Willa looked over at Spanky, "Have a good lunch."

"Calm down Willa," Spanky said, "For my sake as well as your own. I donít like to see you this worried."

"Iíll try," she said.

With Spanky gone, Lance pulled back from Willa. He looked her in the eyes, then moved her hair from her face. "Are you ok? I mean other than being pissed off, are you ok?"

She nodded, "Iím just glad that youíre here."

"Well Iím glad that youíre here too," he said. He looked around for a minute. "I hate to do this to you, but I need to grab lunch. Let me order room service then we can talk."

She nodded. When Lance got off the couch to go get the phone Willa followed him. "Iím gonna go lay down. If Justin comes in here I donít want to have to explain my--"

"Donít worry about it," he said. He leaned and kissed her. She turned the kiss into a deep one, wrapping her arms around him tightly, "Iíll be in there in a minute."

She nodded and disappeared into the bedroom, closing the door slightly.

Lance had just picked up the phone when Justin came into the room.

"Hey, whereís your girl?" He asked.

Lance moved his mouth away from the phone, "Sheís laying down."

"She ok?" Justin asked.

"Yeah, itís just been a long day for her," Lance said. He pointed at the phone, "You want anything?"

"Get me a burger, fries and a coke."

"Ok," Lance said, "Only if you answer the door."

"Sounds good to me."

A moment later Lance had lunch ordered. He ordered burgers for himself and for Justin and threw in a sandwich for Willa. He wasnít sure if she would eat it, but he thought sheíd probably pick at it if he got it for her.

Justin was sitting on the couch in front of the television with his shoes off watching some basketball game. "Iím going to go and sit with Willa."

"Iíll call you when the food gets here."

"Is Brit coming over?"

"Not until tonight. Her flight up from home doesnít get in until four or so. Robbles and her are going to be here before we go and do the Letterman show."

"Ok," he said.

Lance made his way into the bedroom and found Willa with her shoes off lying on her side curled up with a pillow. She looked calmer, but he could tell that things werenít over for her. This was just the beginning of a long battle for her. He knew that he was just as involved in the situation, but he was a veteran at dealing with the press. He just hoped that he could keep her from getting too upset about it.

He kicked off his shoes and crawled across the bed to where she was laying. Without a word to her he curled up behind her resting so that her back was against his chest and his arms were holding her.

"I ordered you a sandwich," he said softly.

"Thank you," she replied.

"Are you ok?" he asked kissing her exposed neck.

"Uh huh," she said sleepily, "I just hate that they won't leave me alone."

Lance's mind went into overdrive. He needed to ask her about the break-in. He needed her to know that he understood why she was so upset. "What are you talking about? Leaving you alone? This is the first thing they've done...right?"

"Well," she said softly.

"Willa tell me," he said. He squeezed her against him. "Tell me."

"Spanky called you and told you about the break-in...didn't he?" she said.

Lance sighed, "Yeah. That's why I wanted you to stay in the hotel with me this week and why Spanky spent the night at your place."

"I wanted to tell you," she said. He could feel her start to shake a little, "I just wasn't sure--"

"It's ok," he held her close, "I'm not mad. I just wish that you would tell me about this stuff."

"I didn't mean to--"

"Look it doesn't matter now," Lance said sitting up. "Just next time tell me about stuff like that."

"Ok," she said.

"You promise?"

"I promise."

"Good, now cuddle up. I've missed you and I only haveÖ" he looked at his watch, "Öforty more minutes until I have to leave."

She gave him a smile and momentarily he thought she might be ok.


[[†Next ]]


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