Shattered Hearts

by Heather Lovins

Carlie Underwood worked hard her whole life. She was a straight A student at Washington State College, finishing up her sophomore year. She was young, vibrant and never dismissed a challenge. She wasn't a party girl but she loved to go to clubs and live the high life. Her parents worked so hard to send her to the best college along with a scholarship she earned in high school. She was just a small town girl from Oregon trying to make it on her own.

Brandy White, Carlie's roommate for the past two years, thought she was crazy to fall for a college professor. Carlie chose not to listen. Carter was tall, gorgeous for a man fifteen years older than her twenty. He talked to her with intellect and maturity, treated Carlie with respect, something she couldn't get from college guys. He didn't care that she was petite with mousy brown hair and a bra size a little higher than the negatives.

They shared romantic dinners together as well as intimate moments after. They went for walks in the park; she went to class lectures that he was giving. Carter sent her little gifts with the card saying from her secret admirer. Carlie understood his reputation was at stake if their relationship was discovered. She agreed they should keep it hidden; besides, it kept a little adventure in her life. The only outside person who knew was Brandy. Carlie was truly happy. She had the man of her dreams. What more could she ask for?

Five months into their romance, Carlie's life came crashing down at her feet. She had all the classic signs: sickness, tender breasts, no period, and fatigue. She went to a drug store away from campus and got an at home pregnancy test. She took it to her room, locked the bathroom door and waited that long three minutes. Sure enough, the stick turned blue. She sank down on the floor by the bath tub and just let the tears flow down her cheeks. What were her parents going to think? What was Carter going to say? The better question remained. What was she going to do?

First thing on her to do list was to tell Carter. Carlie envisioned him taking her into his arms, kissing her on the lips and then asking her to marry him. The love she felt for him right then was phenomenal. She was caring his child. Of course, she would have to take some time off of school towards the end, but surely Carter would take care of her. She got herself put back together, washed her face and applied some fresh makeup, and went off to find her man. She was starting to feel better about the whole mess.

It was four o'clock when Carlie reached his office. She was to excited to knock on his door that she just let herself in. The sight before her however made her stop right at the door. All of a sudden her stomach made its way up to her throat. Carter was working alright, but in a totally different fashion sense. He had one of Carlie's fellow students propped up on his desk with her skirt just above her waist. He didn't even look ashamed of what he was doing. Carlie turned around as quickly as she could. She had to get out there fast. She was certain she was going to be ill.

On the way back to the dorm, Carlie stopped into the dean's office to tell him she was taking some time off. It was almost Christmas break any way. She knew she couldn't stay at school and face Carter. That bastard, she thought. How could he? She made a vow to her self right then. To her, this was going to be her baby. But oh how she loved him. How could he do that to her, after all they had shared?

Brandy had just gotten back from class when Carlie returned. Brandy could tell her friend was in trouble. It was written all over her face, and she had a feeling who was responsible. In the two years she had roomed with Carlie, she had only seen her with two men, neither of which deserved Carlie. Quickly, she rushed over and offered her friend a shoulder. Carlie told her everything; about the baby, Carter. Brandy understood completely about why she had to go. Carlie made a plan to go home to Oregon for a short time to gather her bearings and think about what to do.

Quickly, Carlie packed a few things into a bag. If she hurried, she would still have a couple hours of daylight to drive. It was a day's drive to her parents' so she would stop for the night. She turned to her friend, the two embraced and then Carlie was off. She hurried to her car, hoping to avoid as many people as she could along the way. In no time she was out of the parking lot of the campus and on her way.

While driving, her mind drifted to her parents. How were they going to react? They were traditional people. They still believed people were to be married before conceiving children. She was their only child and they had worked so hard to give her everything. Now she went and messed everything up. How would they treat her child once brought into the world, much less her? How could she go and tell them she was pregnant with no man in her life? A single tear drifted down her cheek.

The weather brought Carlie's mind back to the road. She had only been driving two hours when the snow started coming down hard. She tried to push through it but it was becoming so difficult to see in front of her. All she could see was snow everywhere. This had to be the worst snow storm Carlie had ever seen. All of a sudden, the car went into a full spin. The only thing she could think to do was pump the brakes. Carlie realized she had lost complete control of her car. She panicked. The car kept spinning. She had never been in this kind of situation before. Crash! Carlie's head hit the top of the steering wheel. Thank goodness for the seat belt. She had no idea what she crashed into but at least the spinning had stopped.

Her legs were shaking fiercely as she got out of her car. She looked at the front of the car and saw that she had hit a guard rail. Her car was completely totaled. The front end was smashed in and she must have broken something under the hood for there was steam rising from underneath. Could her day get any worse?

Max Hunter had lived in Washington for all of his thirty years and never had seen it snow like it was tonight. Most nights, he worked extra hours over at the steel mill in the next town just to keep from going home. His wife, Katherine, had been gone for nearly two years and the house still felt as lonely as if she had died yesterday. He didn't know which was worse, the cancer or the medicine she had to take. In the end, the medicine quit working and the cancer had gotten the best of her. Now he was all alone and cold inside. He kept buried in work so he wouldn't have to think, except tonight. Tonight the boss sent everyone home because of the snow.

Up ahead, he spotted flashers on the side of the road and a woman standing beside a car. Quickly he pulled over and got out to see if she needed help. "Are you alright, miss?" He faintly saw her through the head lights. She looked young and frightened.

"I was driving, and the next thing I knew my car was going out of control. Then I crashed." She was so cold she started to shiver. She had been standing outside far too long and she knew it. She had a small gash on her forehead and she could feel a small amount of blood trickle down. She reached up with her glove and wiped it off."It's alright, it's alright. Let's have a look at your car and we can go from there, ok? While I do that, why don't you go sit in my truck and get warm." She looked at him with terror deep in her eyes. "I know I am a stranger, but what choice do you have right now? If you stand out here much longer you could make your self sick."

She thought long and hard and decided he was right. She didn't need to get sick right now. That wouldn't be good for the baby. Carlie turned and walked towards his truck. Maybe he could call a tow truck, she considered.

Max walked around to the front of her car to assess the damage. It was totaled for sure. He couldn't just leave her here. She would freeze to death. With the amount of snow falling, there was no tow truck going any where tonight. He wasn't up for it but she would have to stay with him for tonight. It was the least he could do. He walked over to his truck and opened the passenger door.

"Your car is totaled as you probably know. Because of the snow I can assure you there will be no tow truck tonight."

She thought she was going to cry. How could this day have gone so wrong? She looked at the stranger with despair. "Is there a town near by you can take me to?"

"The closest town is thirty miles or so. There is no way I am driving that far in this weather." He had better say this quick before he changed his mind. "I have a spare room at my house. It isn't far. You are welcome to it if you like."

What were her choices? She had none. What was she thinking, going home with a complete stranger? Tomorrow, she would call and have someone come get her. "Thank you for the offer. I guess right now I don't have much choice. If you don't mind, I would like to get my bags from the trunk."

There was no way he was letting her go back into the cold. Who knows how long she had stood waiting for someone to come along. "I will get them. You just stay here and keep warm." Quickly he grabbed her keys and headed back to the car. Looking into the trunk she had exactly two suitcases. Suddenly, he was curious. Where was a girl like this headed in such a hurry? What was she running from? Had to be something pretty intense to send anyone out in weather like this. He took her suitcases and placed them in the back of his pickup truck. The weather was picking up speed and fast. He had to get home quickly.

"My house is fifteen minutes from here," he said getting into the driver's seat. She didn't look any less frightened. "My name is Max Hunter, by the way."

"Carlie Underwood. I really appreciate all your help. Tomorrow I will call and have someone come pick me up."

"Just so you know, I have no criminal record or anything like that. I am an outstanding citizen," he said using some of his charm.

That brought a small smile to her face. "Thank you for the reassurance." She was still uneasy about this. She was quiet for the rest of the ride.

They turned off the highway and onto a private road. She could see shadows of trees in the distance, outlines of houses. They must be getting closer, she thought; he was starting to slow down. Gradually, as if watching for ice, he turned right into a drive way.

"This is it," he said turning off the engine. "I hope you don't mind dogs. Lucy is a bit big but she is friendly." Max got out and quickly went around to Carlie's side and let her out. He took her bags from the back and they walked to the door. Carlie could already hear the dog on the other side of the door. It must have sensed its master was home. Max opened the door and was greeted by a very large rotwiler.

"Carlie, this is Lucy," he said in between kisses. "Alright, Lucy, go lay down now." He looked at Carlie and instantly knew she was exhausted. "Why don't I show you to the spare room? But first, are you hungry at all?"

"I don't want to put you out." Should she really be trusting this stranger, as kind as he may be?

"I haven't eaten yet either, so if you're hungry than it's no trouble. I can whip up something pretty quick. I'll be right back." Max took her bags upstairs to the guest room. Shortly after, he came back and noticed she was still standing by the door. He cocked his head to the side and took a good look at her. She wasn't bad to look at. She would be a lot prettier if she took that frightened look off her face. But he supposed she had good reason. He was a stranger after all and a good foot taller than her. She had every right to be scared.

He led Carlie to the kitchen but not before she noticed all the pictures in the living room. Who was this beautiful woman staring back at her? Where was she? She must have be very special to have all these photos laying everywhere. It wasn't Carlie's place to ask these curious questions but she definitely was interested.

It was obvious to her Max was a very tidy person. Everything had a place of its own. The kitchen was quaint with just the necessities. When he opened the refrigerator, she noticed it was well stocked with vegetables and juices instead of beer and junk food. Just then her stomach made it known she was in fact hungry. Max turned at the sound and smiled.

"It won't take long. How about a quick pizza. Let me just take it out of the freezer. Twenty minutes tops." He turned around, took out the pizza and popped it into the oven. He went back to the fridge and took out two juices. "I hope this is ok. I don't drink soda so it's this or water."

She knew she shouldn't drink soda any way. She definitely needed to improve her diet. "Juice is fine. Thank you."

"You are most welcome."

Carlie took the time to take a good look at the man who rescued her. He was definitely tall, well built, no tan, but this was Washington. However, he carried a sadness that stemmed deeper in his eyes. Something undeniably hurt this man. Then it occurred to Carlie. He was a widow. Of course, that explained all of her pictures. He was still in mourning. Suddenly, she felt maybe her world wasn't so bad after all.

"Pizza is served." He could tell he startled her. She nearly jumped out of her seat. He quickly sliced the pizza, put it on two plates and brought them to the table. "Sorry I wasn't expecting company or I would've prepared a little better." He was trying to bring a little humor to the table, something to make her less nervous, maybe even smile.

She sat down and placed her napkin in her lap. She looked up at him and said, "That's ok. This is fine." They sat quietly and finished their ready made dinner. When finished, she got up to help him clear the table. Max had never had help in the kitchen. Cooking and dishes were never Katherine's strong suits. "That's ok. I can get this."

"No, I insist. I want to help. It's the least I can do." She took her plate and glass to the sink and rinsed them off, placing them in the dishwasher. She turned and looked at Max, wishing to excuse herself. "Where is the bathroom?"

"Upstairs and to the left. It's also right across from your room."

"Thank you. I think I will turn now."

"Ok, see you in the morning."

She quickly turned on her and headed upstairs. It was a very bad, bad day and she was exhausted. She walked into the spare room and flipped on the light. The room was very well kept and modest. There was a small closet and dresser as well as the bed and night stand. She could tell this man liked to keep things simple and uncluttered, unlike her life; which was now in chaos. Tomorrow she would have to face her parents. They were the only ones who could come get her, and then she would have to tell them the truth. Her father would be angry and disappointed, and her mother, well she would just cry. Suddenly fear struck Carlie. The reality had just sunk in. How was she going to take care of a baby? She couldn't take care of a child and go to school too. What was she ever going to do? Right now, she desperately needed sleep. Tomorrow, she would figure out what to do.

As Max sat in his chair, Lucy jumped up in his lap. He looked around the living room and saw all the pictures of his dead wife. He started to think about the last two years. It's been just him and Lucy. He really missed her. He missed the mess she used to leave in the bathroom, the scent of her after her shower. How he made it thus far he would never know. He ached inside when he allowed himself to feel. He didn't even have the nerve to remove her clothes from their closet. A thought just occurred to him. Was this way of life really healthy for him? Why couldn't he move on?

The next morning, Carlie awoke feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. She looked at the bedside clock and it read 7:00. It was Saturday after all, maybe Max slept in. She instantly got out of bed and found her way to the bathroom. She quickly stepped into the shower, anticipating the warmth of the water. She washed in a hurry as to not take to much time. She didn't want to be in Max's way. She stepped out of the shower, got dressed in jeans and her college sweatshirt, and wandered her way to the kitchen. The smell of coffee lingered through the house and Max was standing over a sizzling skillet.

"Morning. I hope bacon and eggs are suitable," he said smiling. "How'd you sleep?"

"Great. I had no trouble at all. It all smells wonderful. Is there anything I can do to help?" She was looking for something to do. She didn't want him to wait on her.

"You can get some orange juice out of the fridge or there are some juices in that cabinet over there." He nodded to the cabinet over the stove. "Breakfast will be ready in a minute. Carlie, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you."

Oh god, she thought. "Yes?"

"I'm afraid no one is going any where for at least a couple days, maybe even a week."

He's keeping me hostage! "Umm, why not?"

"We have a blizzard right outside. Last night, it snowed at least two feet and then you add in the wind and the snow drifts. It'll take some time for some one to get us out." That frightened look was back. He could see it all over her face. "Look outside if you don't believe me."

She got up and walked over to the window. He was right. They were stuck together. This was a great way to start out the day, she thought. She hung her head down low and sighed. "What am I going to do now?"

Max felt sympathy for the poor girl. He walked up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Look, call your parents and let them know where you're at. I have plenty of food and supplies, so we won't starve. It'll be alright. You'll see."

She turned and looked up at him. She never took the time to really at his eyes. They were the most amazing color blue. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just I so wanted to get home."

"Care to finish breakfast? Maybe afterward, we can take Lucy for a walk."

"Alright." For an instant she gave him a smile that actually went to her eyes. They sat down at the table and ate with light conversation. Afterwards, like the night before, together they cleaned up the kitchen.

This closeness was all so new to Max, something he hadn't experienced in quite some time. It was almost nerve racking. Here was this beautiful young woman standing in his kitchen. When he breathed deep he caught her scent, a sweet smell. She definitely was easy on the eyes. This insanity had to stop. Poor Katherine, he thought to himself. What would she think of these thoughts running through his mind? He didn't even know this woman. He quickly changed his thoughts to the task at hand, dishes.

Shortly after, the task was finished and they gathered their coats to go for a walk, only to find a barricade of snow blocking their path. The two looked at each other and just shrugged. Lucy took off like a shot, running through the yard, with snow coming up to the tops of her legs. Max looked over at Carlie to see her actually laughing. Her eyes were fixated on Lucy and her childlike behavior.

"Listen, I am sorry. I know how bad you wanted to get out of here."

"No need for apologies. If any one needs to apologize, it's me. I am intruding on your space." She titled her head side ways to look at him. "If it wasn't for you, I would have frozen to death. You were my knight in shining armor. Instead of a horse, you had a pick up truck of course." They both burst into laughter.

Max had to admit, it felt great to laugh. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Really, who was this woman who came into his life just twelve hours ago? He was curious indeed about what put that sadness in her beautiful brown eyes. "So, since we are going to be house mates for a little while, tell me about you."

"Well, let's see. There isn't much to tell. I am in my sophomore year at Washington State majoring in Education. My parents live in Oregon. That's where I grew up. Other than that, what you see is all there is."

He could tell she left out quite a lot. There was something that ran deeper, something that troubled her, but he wouldn't push. It was none of his business. "Education, huh? I bet your parents are proud."

Her face just went blank. If they only knew, they wouldn't be so proud. Hastily, she changed the subject. "So what do you do for a living?"

"I work at the steel mill in the next town. It's hard work but it pays decent I guess. I've been there since I was 17. Never finished high school and went straight to work. It wasn't the wisest move I'll admit, but I get by."

"Umm, I noticed the pictures in the living room. If you don't mind me asking, who is she?"

"She was my wife of five years. She died of Cancer two years ago."

She noticed the quick change in his mood. He obviously was still mourning her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

"No, that's quite alright. I know most people would have taken the pictures down a while ago, but I just can't bring myself to do it. You know, it's getting colder. Maybe we should go back inside." He hollered for Lucy and ushered them all back inside. As he took his coat off he asked, "Would you like some hot chocolate or something else to drink?"

She thought about the baby. She hadn't seen a doctor yet. She wasn't sure what would be ok and what wouldn't. "Maybe some juice, if you don't mind."

Juice? That's what she had this morning. She didn't eat much either. Maybe she was ill and just didn't want any one to know. Maybe it had something to do with her wreck. This woman definitely peaked his interest.

"Juice it is then. I think I'll have some more coffee myself. You're a sophomore, right?" she nodded her head. "That would make you what, twenty?" Wow, she was young. He had ten years on her.

What's he doing, sizing her up, she thought. "Well, let's see if I can figure you out. I would say you are in your early thirties. Am I correct?"

"Pretty close. I'm thirty actually."

She needed to call her parents and get it over with. "May I use your phone?"

"Sure, it's in the kitchen on the counter. Take your time."

She took a deep breath, went into the kitchen and dialed her parents' number. Her dad picked up on the other line. "Daddy?"

"Carlie, is that you? Thought you were coming home?" He sounded tired. She must have waken him up.

"I know. I had an accident." Before she could say anything more, he cut her off.

"Are you alright? What happened? Where are you now?"

"Yes, dad, I'm fine. I totaled my car on some ice on the highway. I'm still in Washington."

"So, you're back at school then?"

"No, I never made it back there. The snow got to bad. A man stopped and helped me out, gave me a place to stay."

"You mean to tell me you're staying with a man, much less a man you don't even know. What is wrong with you? Are you out of your mind? He could be an axe murderer for all you know."

Carlie started to roll her eyes. She knew this lecture would come. "What would you have me do, Daddy, freeze to death?"

"Never mind that now. Where are you so I can come to get you?"

"Actually, we're snowed in. You can't get to me just yet. But here is the address anyway." She spouted off the address over the phone, told her father she loved him and hung up. Five minutes was about all she could handle from them right now.

Max looked up from his paper, sitting in his recliner, and could tell it was a stressful call. "So how did your parents take the news?"

"You're not an axe murderer, are you," she asked with a smile.

"Excuse me?" A question like that caught him off guard.

"Nothing. Even though I am an adult, my parents still think of me as a child."

"You mean about you staying here with me. I can see their concern."

"Yes, but for once I wish they would realize how responsible I can be."

He looked at Carlie and just shook his head. "They're parents. They aren't going to. Are you hungry or anything?"

"No, not really, but thank you. I think I'm going to go in my room for a while."

"Suit yourself. I will come get you for lunch."

After she left the room, Max began thinking to himself. He picked up on her attitude after her phone call. It must not have gone well. He was curious yet again to what she was hiding.

Carlie laid down for a short time. Despite the good rest she had last night, she felt tired. After she woke a couple hours later, she sat up and her head started to spin. Suddenly, she put a hand on her stomach and a hand on her mouth. She quickly raced for the bathroom, barely making it. She felt like she was going to die. She looked up to see Max standing in the door way. Oh my god, she thought.

"Are you alright?" He reached the sink to get her a cold wet cloth.

"I think so." She felt like she could erupt again, but she didn't have the energy left.

It all started to make sense to Max, the lack of appetite, this episode of vomiting. He came from a family with two younger brothers and he remembered his mother carrying his brothers. That was her big secret. He bent down so he was on her level.

"So, how far along are you?"

"What?" She gave him a look of complete shock. She had barely known for tow days, how could anyone else figure it out? "How did you know?"

"It doesn't take a genius to figure it out."

Carlie hung her head low. "I honestly don't know. I haven't seen a doctor yet."

"Do your parents know?"

"God no. I just found out myself. They are going to freak out."

"And the father? Where is he in all this?"

Tears started to run down her cheeks. "He's probably off screwing another student."

"Are you telling me he's a teacher?" Her look said it all. That would make this man in his forties at least. What was he thinking? He wanted to string this guy up, taking advantage of a young woman. He had to stay calm because getting angry wasn't going to help matters. "So, what are you planning to do?"

"I don't know yet. How could I be so stupid," she said covering her eyes. "I should've known better."

Max cleared his throat before asking, "Do you love him?"

"I did, or at least I thought I did. After catching him in the act with someone else, I'm not so sure any more. I thought he understood me. He treated me like I was special. I caught him when I was going to tell him about the baby."

He helped her get up from the floor and said, "Why don't we talk more in the kitchen. Maybe you should eat some toast, or maybe crackers, something to help calm your nerves and your stomach."

"Yeah, I probably should have something."

Together they went into the kitchen for lunch. Shortly after, they went and sat in the living room. He sat in the recliner and she sat on the couch. Just then Lucy came running at force and jumped in Carlie's lap.

"Lucy, get down!" Max couldn't believe it. Lucy never acted like this, least of all with Katherine. Those two always came to blows. So many times she had wanted him to get rid of her. He always managed to talk her out of it.

"Oh, she's fine, aren't you," Carlie said rubbing the dog's head.

"You are very good with her. My wife, Katherine, never liked her."

"Do you miss her?"

"Yes. You would think after two years I could start moving on with my life, but I wouldn't know where to begin." Carlie knew exactly how he felt.

Three days had gone by and still no effort was made to plow the roads. Both had managed to make the best of it and together, they worked well to keep each other company.

Late one evening, after they said their goodnights, Carlie laid in bed thinking. She could see the love he had for his wife. It went farther than his eyes. It went to the depths of his soul. Carter never loved her like that, she thought sadly. Would she ever find someone who could love her and her baby?

In the dead of night, there was a knock at the door. She rolled over and looked at the clock. What could he possibly want at one in the morning, she asked her self. She grabbed her robe and went to the door. "Something wrong, Max?"

"The power just went out. That means the heat went too. It's going to get cold in here pretty damn quick."

"What should we do?"

He couldn't believe he was going to say this but it was the only way. "We need to bunk together."


"It's the only way to keep warm. So grab the blankets on the bed and follow me." He started to leave but then remembered something. "Here's a flashlight." With that, he left.

Was he really serious? They were to sleep together? She grabbed the two blankets and quickly followed to his room. This was kind of eerie, sleeping in the bed he shared with his dead wife. Oh, why couldn't they sleep in her room?

Together, they put all the blankets on the bed and got in. In the dark, he sensed her nervousness. "Are you ok?"

"Fine. Just tired." She didn't have the heart to tell him the truth.

"Ok then. Try to get some sleep. Hopefully the power will be restored tomorrow." He quickly rolled over and shut his eyes, praying his wife couldn't see him now.

Morning came with the sun shining through the windows. Max awoke with Carlie snuggling up against his chest. Just the feel of a woman made his lower body instantly react. Look at this beautiful woman, he thought. He reached with his other hand to lightly feel her hair. He knew he shouldn't be doing this or even looking at her. He had the age difference between them to consider, let alone how his wife would feel. However, he couldn't resist looking at this woman lying here in his bed. What he wouldn't give to feel alive again.

Just then she stirred. Carlie opened her eyes and immediately knew where she was. She looked up to see Max staring at her. "Oh my god." She sat completely up and grabbed the blanket. What was she thinking, curling up to this man, and any man for that matter? "I am so sorry."

He was confused. "For what?"

"For being against you like that. I know what you must be thinking right now."

Now he knew. "Carlie, it's nothing to worry about. We were both cold. Nothing more." Trying to reassure this woman of anything was like going to the dentist and getting teeth pulled. This man, this Carter, must have done a real number on her.

Just then the sounds of bull dozers came from outside. Lucy ran into the bedroom and started barking at the sound. Max could also hear the sound of voices coming from the outside. "Come on, Carlie. I think the cavalry is here. Better get dressed." They both quickly got out of bed. Carlie raced to her room and put on her warm sweats. She then went down stairs. At the bottom, she stopped dead in her tracks.

"Daddy, what are you doing here?" And why on earth was he yelling with Max?

Both men were about the same height, but Max was bigger of the two. Also, both were in good shape for men of their ages. "I've come to get you out of here, to see with my own eyes if this man as laid a hand on you."

Max was furious. "Now, wait a minute."

Fury raged through her father. "No, you wait a minute. What would you do if you found out your daughter was shacking up with a stranger?" He turned to Carlie. "And as for you, I thought your mother and I raised you better."

Carlie had never seen her father this angry. "You did, Dad, but when are you going to start treating me as an adult?"

"When you start acting like one." He turned his attention back to Max. He didn't want to let him out of his sight. "I come in here and find you two in your night clothes and what would you expect me to think?"

Max had enough of this nonsense. "Carlie, I'm going out to see the progress of removing the snow." He grabbed his coat and went out the door.

Carlie looked at her father with shame. "How could you come in here and insult this man in his own house? He was kind enough to put me up till the snow stopped. How were we to know we were going to get snowed in? Why can't you just trust me?" Suddenly, she wanted cry.

"You have never been the one to make sound decisions. You have always been adventurous. You have partied too much. Then you go off to college and who knows what you do."

She stepped down off the stairs, went to the living room and sat down on the couch. Her father following close behind her. She turned and looked at her father. "Dad, you're right. This time I have screwed up big, but not in the way you think." She paused, but her father pushed her to go on.

"What have you done now, Carlie?"

"Umm, I'm pregnant...Dad." She looked up and saw the shock on her father's face. Suddenly, the shock quickly turned to anger. "Look, let me explain."

"There's no need. You will get married right away. How could you be so irresponsible, Carlie? Please tell me that."

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. Believe me, it wasn't my intent."

"What's done is done."

"What do you mean, get married?"

Her father looked at her with great confidence. "He is going to take responsibility for what he has done."

Just then, the door opened and Max returned. As he put his coat on the rack, he could tell things hadn't got any better. Carlie was sitting next to her father, crying. He was just sitting there wringing his hands, over and over. He walked into the room and sat down in his chair. Three people, three strangers, sitting quietly, waiting for someone to speak.

Abruptly, Carlie's father rose. He turned and looked at Max. "You will marry my daughter as soon as possible."

"What did you say?"

"You have made her unclean. Her mother will be devastated if this child were born out of wedlock. You need to stand up and take responsibility for this, for my daughter."

This man actually thought he was the father? He and Carlie were strangers until just a few days ago. "Excuse me sir, but I think you have this all wrong."

"Do I?"

"Yes, I think you do."

"Please tell me how." The man sat back down by his daughter. He turned to Carlie. "This is just the sort of thing you'd do. I have always wondered what your mother and I did wrong raising you."

Max thought for a moment. Was some one trying to send him a message, sending him this deranged man and this young, frightened, pregnant woman? He could truly do some good here. "This thing you are referring to? This is our baby, your grandchild and I think it's about time you except it."

Carlie looked at Max with shock. What on earth was he doing? Had he gone mad? She was going to say something, but was quickly shot down with a stern look given by him.

"We are planning on getting married, but were waiting for the right time."

"No time like the present. Why don't we get down to business soon?" She had never seen her father look so relieved. "This girl of mine has always found some way to give her mother and me heart failure. It's good to see she's willing to correct her mistakes. Max, it was nice to finally meet you. Obviously, it's taken someone like you to straighten her out. Carlie, give us a call and we can make plans." Her father rose, grabbed his coat and hat, and walked out the door.

Carlie just sat, feeling like she just had an out of body experience. Max was the first to respond. "Carlie, I wish you would say something."

"Give me a moment and a thought will come to mind. Are you insane? Why on earth would you tell my father that you were the father, not to mention the fact we were getting married?"

"Will you let me explain?"

She sat, hoping he had a very good explanation for this mess he just put them in. "Why can't we get married?"

"Why? Why! Let me tell you why. We don't know each other. We are complete strangers who happened to cross paths one night. And what about our ages? I've been burned before by older men and I don't think I can take that chance again. I can't just lie to my father like this."

"Just calm down and listen for a minute, ok?"

"No, I won't listen to this madness. Have you been drinking this morning? Why are you trying to bail me out of my own mess? This has nothing to do with you." Her head was starting to spin with all the chaos seeping through the air.

"I feel like I need to help and this is a way I can." He came to sit by Carlie, hoping to reassure her, taking her hand in his. "The father doesn't want anything to do with your child. Your father doesn't want you to have this baby without marriage."

"None of this is your concern. What would you be getting out of this?"

"You would be filling a void that has existed for the past two years. You would take away the loneliness that fills this house."

"I just don't know about this, Max."

"It would just be a marriage on paper. That's all. I would care for you financially until such time you want it to end."

"What about school? I took a little time off but I have the intention of going back."

"We'll work that out when the time comes. I work during the day until five, so you would have the whole day to yourself."

Carlie didn't know what to say. "What about the baby, doctor's appointments, things like that?"

"I'll take care of that. We're not that far from town so you won't be trapped here. It's just been so lonely here with just me and Lucy."

"You understand I need to think on this." What the hell was she doing? She must be crazy to even be considering this.

"That's fine. Take your time." Max let go of her hand and got up to walk into the kitchen. "Care for something to eat? All this has got me hungry." She couldn't figure it out. Why was he smiling?

Later that night, while she lay in bed, she seriously gave his proposal some thought. Her baby would have a name. She would have a place to stay. She couldn't very well have a baby in the dorm, now could she? Nor would she have the money for a place of her own. She could take some time off from school, get a job maybe. She would have a chance to save up for a really nice place, a home for her and her baby.

He was offering a marriage on paper only. That's what he said. But how was that fair to him? There was one other issue, his late wife. This house was like a shrine to her. There were pictures every where she looked. Could she possibly live like that? If they were going to do this, there were going to be some ground rules. Quickly, she got out of bed, grabbed her robe, and went to Max's room. Surely, he wasn't asleep already.

She knocked quietly. "Max, are you awake?"

"Come on in," he said from behind the door. Slowly, she opened it. "What can I do for you?" He was lying there, with a book placed ever so slightly in his lap.

"I've come to talk to you about your proposal. Are you still serious about it?" She wished her robe had pockets, someplace to put her hands. She just hung them down to her sides. This was new territory for her and that made her very nervous.

"Yes, I am. But only if you are. I am not going to force you into some thing you don't want to do."

Carlie quickly cleared her throat. "I want to thank you first for what you're offering to do. It's very sweet even though I still can't figure out what you're getting out of it."

He could tell it took great courage for her to come in here tonight. "I hear a but coming on."

"No buts. I just want to set some basic rules before I agree to this."

"Alright. Go ahead."

Once again, Carlie cleared her throat. "Marriage on paper only, just like you said. That means we sleep in separate rooms. If I am to stay here, you have to let me help out with the household chores and things. I also think we should set a time limit on this relationship."

"Ok. How long?"

"Within a year of the baby's birth, we get a small, quiet divorce and go our separate ways. My parents won't approve but we'll just say it didn't work out."

"That sounds fair. Anything else?"

She would deal with the issue of his late wife another time. She was to exhausted to deal it right now. "No, that's it for now."

"Ok then. You know, you left out one thing."

"What's that?" What could she have left out?

"We need to set a date. Tell your parents, my parents, things like that."

"Yes, you're quite right. As soon as possible then." She finally let out the breath she had been holding.

The next morning, they sat at the table for breakfast and decided they should get married within the week. They set a date for the following Sunday. That gave them ample time for all the proper arrangements. They agreed the wedding should be small, inviting only family, and of course Brandy.

Later that afternoon, Carlie called her parents and told them the good news. Her mother just cried. Not only was she gaining a son in law she was also gaining a grandchild. It wasn't quite the way they envisioned things for their daughter, but Carlie was, well, Carlie. Her father however, was still ashamed and disappointed in her.

Max called his parents next. His mother didn't quite understand what was going on but was excited all the same. She was tired of seeing her son alone. She assured Max she would tell his father and find his brothers. Neither his parents nor hers knew the truth of this faade. No one would ever know that he wasn't the real father.

Over the next few days, Max kept himself busy and scarce. He worked extra hours at the mill. His friends were in full support of his wedding. He wanted to give Carlie time to adjust living in the house. For the few moments he allowed him self to think, Katherine came to mind. Would she fully understand why he was doing this? Would she feel betrayed? Or would she be the forgiving wife he knew she was. All these things he wished he knew.

Carlie made all the arrangements. They would drive down and get married in her church back home in Oregon. While Max kept himself busy, she ventured into town looking for a dress. Max left her with his credit card, giving her free reign to spend as much as she needed. She came across this rather unique boutique and found the prettiest dress she'd ever seen. It wasn't quite the wedding dress she envisioned herself wearing but it was beautiful all the same. The dress was an elegant rose color with short sleeves, beautifully decorated with a velvet floral arrangement. It fit perfectly around her middle giving a bit of lift to her bust. It wasn't to be a traditional wedding so a veil wasn't needed. The sales clerk thought it only necessary to have the proper undergarments for her wedding day. She was so excited; she quickly grabbed her purchases and rushed home. Home, would she ever get used to calling it that?

As she arrived back at the house, she was stopped by the picture of Max's wife on the wall. This she could never get used to. It was the first thing she saw every time she would walk into the door. After and only after they were married, she would approach the subject with Max. She quietly went up to her room and put her things away. She was tired so she laid down for a nap.

When Max arrived home later that evening, he noticed the quiet in the house. Where was Carlie? She didn't back out and leave did she? He hung his coat on the rack and proceeded to find her. Lucy was sitting beside his chair waiting for his attention, holding her leash in her mouth. She would just have to wait. He had to find Carlie. She wasn't in the kitchen so he went upstairs in hopes to find her. He quietly knocked on her door.

"Carlie?" No answer. Slowly, he peeked around the door. She lay there, curled up looking so peaceful, sobeautiful. He closed the door as quietly as he opened it. He walked back downstairs to take care of Lucy. He hooked Lucy's leash to her collar and out they went. He always enjoyed the outdoors and loved to take long walks through the fields. He savored the smell of the fresh air. Katherine never enjoyed those things. She had always wanted to move to the city but Max never wanted to. He always thought the city to be too crowded. Despite all their differences, she was the love of his life. He would never understand why she had to go so quickly.

By the time he and Lucy arrived back to the house, Carlie was awake and in the kitchen fixing dinner. As he released Lucy, she went running to Carlie, and she accepted Lucy with a smile and open arms.

"How was your walk," she asked as she knelt down to pet the dog.

"Pretty good. And how was your nap?"

Hastily she stood back up and turned to the stove. "It was nice but I slept to long."

"I wasn't aware there was a time limit. Did you find everything you needed in town?"

"Oh yes and then some. Max, I can't thank you enough for the money, but again, you didn't have to."

"I know I didn't, but I wanted to. Now not another word about the money. So," he said walking up behind her, "what are you cooking?"

"Spaghetti with garlic bread."

"Smells delicious. I'm starving."

The following week flew back quickly. By Sunday morning, Carlie was standing in her parents' bedroom getting ready for her wedding. She couldn't believe she was getting married today. Even though she and Max had agreed nothing would change she couldn't help but feel a little apprehension.

"Do you need help with anything?"

"Oh! You startled me." She was so wrapped in her thoughts she didn't hear her mother come in. Carlie's mother, Beth, was an inch shorter than Carlie, with slightly graying hair, but she looked for her age. Unlike Carlie, she was late having children in life. Her time ran short before she could have any more, making Carlie her only child.

"I'll be damned. What can I say? You look beautiful. Tears started to fall down Beth's cheeks.

"Mom, you promised to cry." Carlie had seen a lot of emotions from her parents concerning her but tears of joy had never been one of them.

"Carlie, I have always dreamed of this day. The circumstances may not be perfect, but maybe now you will finally be happy."

Carlie turned to look at her mother. "Do you think Daddy will ever forgive me?"

"Oh, he'll come around, eventually." Beth took a tissue and wiped her eyes. "My baby's getting married." Just as mother and daughter embraced, Brandy opened the door.

"Well today is the big day. Thought I would get you a little something," she said handing over a wrapped box.

Quickly Carlie did away with the wrapping only to find a very pretty and a very provocative gown inside. Stunned, she looked over at her mother and then at her friend. "Brandy, this is beautiful. You shouldn't have gone to all this trouble."

"Yeah, I should have. We didn't have time to throw you a party so I settled for a gift." Smiling Brandy gave her friend a wink and a hug.

Max's first wedding took several weeks to plan. Katherine wanted it all to be perfect, everything from finding the most expensive dress all the way down to the flowers and the caterer. They went to Cancun for their honeymoon with a perfect view of the ocean from their room. He wanted to give her the very best.

His second wedding took only a week to plan. They wanted to keep things simple. Her mother made arrangements for the church. The couple would say their "I do's", have a small dinner at her parents' and then leave for Washington the next morning.

As Max was fixing his suit in the church vestibule, Carlie's father walked in with a troubled look on his face.

"Yes, sir?"

"Please don't call me sir. You're soon going to become part of this family, so please, call me Charles. I just came in here to make sure you know what you're doing. I love her but that daughter of mine can be a handful."

"I promise you, Charles, I'll care for her."

"Look, I don't know you. But I know what my daughter's like. Do you love her?"

Max didn't like to lie but he started this mess so for Carlie's sake, he held up the lie. "Yes, sir, I do."

"Good. She needs stability, structure."

"I'll see that she get everything she needs."

"Ok then. Well, son, time to go." The two exchanged a look of understanding and walked out to go take their places.

As the music started to play, Carlie began to walk down the aisle. Max couldn't take his eyes off of her. She was absolutely breathtaking. Her hair was simply done up in a bun with tendrils gathering around either side of her face. And that dress! All she had worn the previous week were sweats and jeans. He had no idea she had a figure quite like the one she had in that dress. She looked completely stunning.

"Dearly beloved" the service went wonderfully as family gathered to watch the two wed. As the preacher said "You may now kiss the bride," their eyes met for a single moment. It was just a kiss, right? It was just for show. Yet when their lips met there was an instant spark. How one kiss could carry such energy, Carlie would never know. She wondered if Max felt the same heat that she did. She hastily pulled back carrying a very unsure smile. She quickly reminded herself the marriage wasn't really real. Nothing was going to change.

After the ceremony, everyone gathered at Carlie's parents' home for a small dinner along with small talk and congratulations for the newlyweds. As the evening drew to an end, it was time for the couple to go. Much to her protest, her parents rented a room at one of the finest hotels in town as a wedding present.

"Really, mom, it isn't necessary," she said as they were ushered out the door.

"Of course it is. Now you two go on. Have a safe trip back and Carlie," Beth stopped to clear her throat. "Call me."

"I will, mom." Carlie turned to look at her father. "Bye, Daddy."

He just looked on with no answer. Charles looked at Max and held out his hand. As the couple pulled away, mother and father looked at each other, shook their heads and looked on. The question still remained in their hearts. Could this man, this stranger, give Carlie what she wanted? One could only hope.

Carlie had always admired the outside of the cobblestone hotel having passed by it everyday while in high school. However, she never quite managed to step inside, until this night. The inside was exquisite with an overly large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the lobby. There were fresh, beautifully arranged flowers everywhere the eye could see. Refreshments were placed at every sitting area and there were sliding glass doors leading to the outside courtyard. Carlie was in complete awe. When Max and Carlie reached their room and walked in, they were both taken back. There were rose petals leading from the entrance to the bed. The bed was full of pillows and it had the most beautiful white colored quilt. As Max put their bags in the closet, Carlie ventured into the bathroom. There was a large walk in tub filled with bubbles, rose petals scattered along the top, and lit candles all around. It was calling out her name.

All of a sudden, the emotions of the whole day hit her like a brick. Convenience or not, she was no longer Carlie Underwood. She was now Carlie Hunter. Oh god, what was she going to do? Last week she was hoping for Carter to confess his love and take her away. Now she was married to a man she barely even knew.

Max noticed a change in her demeanor when she came back into the room. The lighting illuminated on her face and he saw fresh tears. "Carlie, what's wrong?" He walked over to her cupping her face in his hands and made her look at him.

"I don't know. It'sthis is all new for me. I've never been a wife. I don't know your likes or your dislikes. What if we made a terrible mistake?"

"Do you really believe that?"

"I don't know." Carlie turned toward the bed. Look at all this. This bed and this room. It was made for two people to enjoy it."

"Who says we can't enjoy it? Carlie, look at me." Quickly she turned to face him. "We can enjoy it for what it simply has to offer. Nothing more. That doesn't mean we have to have sex."

"But that's not being fair to you."

As fresh tears streamed down her face, Max put his arms around her trying to reassure her. "Shh, it's going to be alright, I promise you that. Remember what I said. Nothing has to change." Carlie slowly raised her head from his shoulder and wiped her eyes. "Don't worry about what's fair to me. I can handle myself."

"But what about"

He gave her no time to finish that sentence. "No buts. I don't expect anything from you especially sex. If we were to sleep together it would be because we both wanted it, not out of obligation. So don't' worry about me any more, ok?"

Carlie sighed and looked into Max's eyes reading only honesty and truth. "Ok" was all she could manage to say.

"Now, how about we order some dinner."

Carlie looked behind her at the bed and then back at Max. "What about the sleeping arrangements? There's only one bed."

"Already taken care of." He went over to the closet taking out a spare blanket and pillow. It's only for one night, so I'll just sleep one the floor." Relief rushed over her face. "Now why don't you go enjoy that bath in there till dinner gets here."

She so needed this, she thought to herself as she undressed and slipped into the tub. The tension seemed to have slipped through her body and right into the water. Maybe if she stayed in long enough all of her troubles would just melt. That's wishful thinking, she thought.

Just as she was getting ready to get out, there was a knock at the door. "Carlie, dinner's here," she heard him say from behind the door.

"I'll be out in a few minutes." The only nightgown she had with her was the one Brandy gave her as a wedding present. It was made of the finest French lace and was very sexy. What could it hurt, she thought as she put it on. Not bad, as she looked at herself in the mirror. She took a robe the hotel provided from the hook and walked out.

Max looked up as he was inspecting the food trays. He knew of only a few things she liked to eat so he ordered a variety of things. "Feel better?"

She felt relaxed, calm. "Much better."

Unaware to Carlie, her robe fell open as she sat down on the bed, just a bit, just enough to spark Max's imagination and his libido. What exactly was that material made of? Quickly, he turned his attention back to the food. "Umm" the view was killing him. "I wasn't sure what you wanted, so I ordered a bit of everything."

"It smells fantastic. I'm so hungry."

As she walked up behind him, he caught a faint smell of her soap, a mixture of roses and lavender. Lucky for him, she readjusted her robe. He held his breath as she brushed up beside him getting a plate.

"I bet you can't wait to get home, can you," she asked filling her plate.

"Uh, yeah. I bet Lucy's chomping at the bit." What was the matter with him? He felt his sanity just slipping away. He wanted to reach out and pull her to him, run his hands through her thick brown hair, and kiss those luscious lips. He hadn't wanted a woman like that since his wife died. He had to snap of this dream and come back to reality. He needed a break.

He quickly put his plate back down and turned to Carlie. "I need a shower."

"What about dinner?" She motioned to the food.

"You go ahead. I'll eat later." He walked into the bathroom and slammed the door. He reached into the shower stall and turned the water on to cold.

Carlie stood there wondering what she had done. What was the matter with him? Was it something she said? Oh well, she thought filling her plate.

All was quiet when Max got out of the shower. As he donned on his clothes and walked out, he found her asleep. She must have kicked off the blanket, finding it in a pile at the bottom of the bed. He got a full view of her lovely and very sexy gown. From where he was standing, she looked like a fruit ready to be plucked. How he wished he could be the one to do it. But a promise was a promise, one he made to himself two long years ago.

The trip back to Washington was successful with very little conversation. Carlie could tell something was bothering Max but couldn't quite put her finger on what it was. As they neared the house, Carlie turned to him.

"What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something is wrong?" His eyes never left the road.

"You haven't said much since last night. Is it something I did?"

He really didn't want this conversation right now. "I'm fine. Just anxious to get home is all."

"Hmmok." She knew he wasn't telling the truth but what more could she say? She could just hope he would come around eventually.

Two weeks went by and Max seemed to come around. Lucy was very excited at first to having another person in the house, but she calmed down. Max returned to work, thankful for the few hours he could spend not thinking about the beautiful woman he had waiting for him at home. His heart still weighed heavily on the loyalty he still felt for Katherine. In spite of this, he kept his feelings at bay for the sake of Carlie.

As Max came home one evening he noticed changes all around the living room. There was a mixture of lemon and pine in the air. Fresh flowers were on the mantle and new curtains on the windows. Carlie rearranged everything, all except his late wife's pictures. Wondering if those pictures bothered Carlie, he thought maybe it was time to take them down.

In the background he heard noises coming from the kitchen. As he got closer he realized what he heard was singing. From the doorway, he stood and watched Carlie move as graceful as a swan, swaying her hips to the music coming from her own voice.

I'll be damned, he thought as he watched. She'd done nothing but amaze him over the past two weeks. Since they'd gotten married she had taken over the cooking. Despite his objections, she had coffee ready before he left for work and dinner ready when he arrived home. When she cooked he starved for nothing. Now he's discovered a new secret, her pleasing voice.

"Boo," he whispered in her ear as he snuck up behind her.

"Oh my god!" she exclaimed grabbing her chest. "You scared the hell out of me. You shouldn't sneak up on people." As she turned around, she saw a smile grow from ear to ear. Grinning, she asked, "Wait a minute. How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to enjoy the show." He loved it when he could make her face turn three shades of red.

As he reached above her head for a glass, Carlie caught that familiar scent. The closeness was unnerving. She couldn't quite figure out how any man could work all day and still smell so good. Maybe it wasn't all men; maybe it was just this one.

"Wow! What smells so good?" He stepped aside of her and lifted the lid.

Finally distance, she thought. As he turned to face her yet again, a strand of hair fell on his forehead. She resisted the urge to smooth it back into place. Quickly she had to think of something.

"I had a craving for tacos. Nothing fancy I'm afraid. Hope that's ok."

"Sounds great. I haven't had those in a long time. So, what were you so happy about a minute ago?"

"Oh that. I have my first doctor's appointment the beginning of next week."

"That's great," he said as he set the table.

She brushed past him, setting the food on the table but not before she grazed his backside. A burst of electricity shot right through him. She couldn't possibly have noticed, could she?

"I can't wait. But I'm kind of nervous all the same."

"What's make you so nervous?" he asked as they sat down at the table.

"I know nothing of the father's history. I just have all these doubts going through my head."

He couldn't believe after all that man had put her through; she still had feelings for him. "What kind of doubts? What could you possibly be afraid of?"

"What if I'm a bad mother? What if I do something wrong?"

"I can't see you as a bad any thing. You will do just fine."

"Thank you for the reassurance."

Could it only be for the sake of the baby that she thought of Carter or did she still have feelings for him? All this he wondered but was too afraid to ask. "So, when exactly is your appointment?"

"Tuesday at 3:30." Carlie folded her hands in her lap praying she had enough nerve to ask, "Max, umm, would you consider going with me?" Quickly she added, "You don't have to but"

"Carlie, do you want me there?"

Looking at him she said, "Yes. I really could use the support."

Smiling at her, he realized that asking for his help had to have the hardest thing for her to do. "Alright, then. I'll be there."

"Thank you so much," she said as relief washed over her.

"No problem. That's what I'm here for."

"Also I received a check in the mail today from my insurance company for my car. It's not much, but I should be able to get something reliable." Handing it over so Max could take a look at it, she picked up her fork.

It wasn't much, he thought, but twenty four hundred dollars wasn't bad. "I know a used car lot in town. Why don't we go take a look tomorrow?"

Tuesday afternoon, when Carlie arrived at the Doctor's office the nurse handed her some papers to fill out and wait in the waiting room. They were running just a little behind. While she waited, she began to wonder about the doctor. She knew no one in town, so she just picked a name from the phone book, a Dr. Eleanor Davis. Would the doctor think when she told her she nothing of the father's back ground? Carlie looked down at her watch. It was 3:45 and Max still hadn't arrived. Where was he? Did he decide not to come after all?

Just when she started to give up hope, Max ran through the door. A feeling of reprieve came over her. "I was afraid you weren't coming."

"Sorry. There was an accident on the way here. I was afraid I was going to miss it."

The nurse came around the corner. "The doctor will see you now."

It was a typical visit. While the doctor did the exam, Max waited outside. Doctor's offices always made Max nervous. He had seen enough of them while Katherine was sick. He had gone with her to every checkup and every chemo treatment. On the other hand, this was for life, not death. Carlie was here so she could bring a baby into the world.

When they were done, Dr. Davis invited him back inside. "Well, Mrs. Hunter, you look to be about fourteen weeks. We should get the test results back in about a week for your pelvic and the blood work as well. Any sickness or anything like that?"

"No, not for a while."

"Good. Now lie back so we can have a listen to the baby's heartbeat." As Carlie lay back, the doctor lifted her gown, putting a cold gooey substance on her stomach. Thump. Thump. Thump. "Sounds terrific. A nice healthy beat." Helping Carlie sit up, she asked, "Now, does either of you have any questions for me?" The couple looked at each other and then back at her and shook their heads. "Alright, then. I'll see you in one month." As the doctor left the room, the two just looked at each other, neither wanting to ruin the moment with conversation. This was truly a joyful occasion.

Max was the first to break the silence. "Carlie, what do you say we get out of here and go to dinner?"


"Yeah. There's a new restaurant in town, La Pierre. I've heard it's really good."

"Sounds very fancy."

"It's been a while since you've been able to really get out of the house."


"Hurry and get dressed." He quickly left the room and sat back outside. Suddenly he wanted to do something for her. He'd take her shopping. He had noticed early on in the week her clothes were getting a little snug. Shopping and dinner. He didn't understand why he felt so happy. But thinking back to the sound of that heart beat put a smile upon his face. He was so happy for her. She had the satisfaction of knowing her baby was so far healthy.

The evening was lovely and just what Carlie needed. Much to her protest, Max took her clothes shopping. "Max, really, I don't need you doing any more than you already have."

"I can't let you run around with your pants undone and your shirts skin tight with no room to grow, now can I?"

He convinced her in buying three pairs of maternity pants and four tops, and one striking black dress for dinner that seemed to flow when she walked. Taking a look in the mirror, she couldn't believe how much she had grown. Even her breasts seemed to have gotten bigger. How could she have not noticed? She used the dressing room to put on a little makeup she carried in her purse along with a brush for her hair.

Max waited with anticipation. While she was deciding on clothes, he walked across the street to buy a suit jacket and nice collared shirt. They were going out to celebrate. Why not dress the part. Much to his disappointment, she wasn't quite ready when he returned. He so wanted to see what that dress looked like. Was it wrong for him to lust after this woman? He couldn't quite figure out why but he was some how attracted to her. Despite the ten years, she intrigued him, couldn't wait to get off work just to see her. Could she possibly be attracted to him in the same way? If so, how was he to know?

He held his breath as Carlie stepped out of the little room. That dress was completely stunning. "You look amazing."

God, look at this man. In his jacket, he looked so handsome. He was clean shaven with a hint of after shave. "You don't look bad yourself."

"Well, are you ready to go?" As she nodded, he led her to the check out and they departed. The evening had darkened but they had the street lights. Her beauty just radiated he could barely contain him self. He was going to have yet another night with a cold shower.

Carlie had never been in such a fancy place as La Pierre except for the hotel on their wedding night. They immediately were taken to their table and placed with menus. They had never seen such a selection. The waiter had come to take their drink order as they thought about their main course. Both agreeing, they each ordered a steak dinner with the trimmings and a glass of chardonnay. The doctor had told her earlier one glass of light wine every now and then would not hurt the baby.

In the background there was a band playing soft classical music with low lighting and a small dance. It definitely set the mood, Carlie thought. It took no time at all for their dinner to arrive. After she was finished, she sat watching the man in front of her. There was something about that man that intrigued her. She had never known anyone has generous as he, so caring. Despite the vow she made a while ago, she found her self wanting him. She thought about him often. Was it wrong to want some one who was in love with some one else?

"Dinner was delicious," he said as he wiped his mouth.

"Yes, it was. I don't think I have ever had anything so good."

"You know, I see they have a dance floor. Care to check it out?"

To be in the arms of him? She would be crazy to refuse, but she had to be careful. She couldn't let on what only she knew. "I'd love to."

As he came around to help her from the table, he took her by the hand and led her to the floor. With her arms coming around his neck and his hands around the lower part of her back, they seemed to dance an eternity; each feeling the heat building up inside but too afraid to tell the other.

While the music softly played, Carlie laid her head on Max's shoulder. To her, it felt so right. She felt like she belonged right in the moment, even if it just lasted a second. Slowly, she raised her head making complete eye contact. Every thing she wanted to say she said it with her eyes.

Hoping he read the signals correct, Max bent his head and before he went further, he looked deeper into her eyes. He could tell she wanted him. Surely he could give in to one kiss, he thought. He completed the contact with one sweet kiss, slow and steady. Unexpectedly, one kiss just wasn't enough. He wanted another and then another.

Her heart was beating rapidly as he massaged her tongue with his. She had never been kissed in such a way before. Never before did she know you could make love with just a kiss. Oblivious to the others on the dance floor, her arms went tighter around his neck, wanting so much more. She didn't want the moment to end.

Abruptly, he raised his head, looking with desire at her swollen lips. "Let's get out of here."

"I couldn't agree more." She barely had time to catch her breath as they paid the check and departed. Both knew if they slowed down, they would stop to think about the situation and realize it would be a bad choice. Carlie was tired of thinking and Max was tired of hurting.

In no time they arrived home and while Max cared for Lucy Carlie went upstairs to freshen up. Looking in the bathroom she began to have second thoughts. What was she doing? Had she gone crazy? She had a feeling he would be an excellent lover, without a doubt. She realized then it wasn't really him; it was his wife. How could she sleep with him in HER bed? Realizing the whole thing would be a bad idea she was going to go downstairs and call everything off.

Just as Carlie walked out of the bathroom, Max was right there, anxious as a lion ready to claim his mate. Right away he saw she was distressed about something. The moment was gone, ruined. She changed her mind.

Taking her by the hand, he led her back downstairs. Seating her down on the sofa, he had to know. "Carlie, what's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, I just can't do this. Maybe if things were different, but they're not."

"What do you mean, if things were different? I thought things were going pretty good."

"They were. I mean, they are. I just can't do this."

"You mean you can't sleep with me." He couldn't but feel disappointment. "If that's how you feel, then we won't do it."

"Don't you even want to know why?" She couldn't tell what he what thinking. His face was showing no emotion.

"If you want to tell me."

"Tell me about your wife."

What made Katherine a part of this? Why would she ask such a question? "She was a good wife. She was exciting, fun, and I loved her very much. Why?"

Carlie couldn't look at Max; he had seen enough of her tears. "You never talk about her. I'm afraid you might be disappointed in me because I'm not like her."

Now he had complete understanding. Carefully, he lifted her chin in time to see fresh tears. "Carlie, please don't cry. I wanted you tonight for you, that's all. It had nothing to do with Katherine and I would never try to replace her with you. Please know that."

Carlie looked like she was still unsure. Max licked his lips and very lightly kissed her. He decided if it were to happen it would be at her speed and hers alone. Not wanting to rush things, he stopped. "Is this ok?" Not sure how to respond she just nodded. Gradually, she scooted closer putting her arms around him and deepened the kiss. She could no longer deny herself the pleasure. Little by little he allowed his hands explore, starting at her thigh and working its way upward just below her breast line.

She felt so good in his arms he didn't want to stop. However, he refused to make love to her right on the sofa. She deserved better. Hesitant to stop he knew he must.

Afraid of why he stopped, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"Not a thing. Everything is so right. But we can't do this here. Come on." Taking her by the hand he led her upstairs, coming to a halt at his door. "In here?"

Biting her lip, she shook her head. She still could not face going in there. As if knowing, they walked a little further to her room. "In here," he asked.

"Yes." Determined she wasn't going to stop, she was the first to walk in, Max closely behind her. Shutting the door, he gradually walked up behind her, reaching up to unzip her dress. Letting her dress fall casually to the floor, she turned so he could get a full view.

Standing there in only a black lace bra and matching thong, to him she looked like something out of a magazine. Only as he got closer, could he see the tiny mound her middle was starting to form. Surprised as if not knowing what to do, he couldn't move. What if he hurt her? Was it safe?

She noticed his hesitation. "Max?"

"Are you sure we could do this?" his eyes never left her stomach.

Laughing, she took him by the hand, leading him to the bed.

"Now, who's having second thoughts? Yes, I'm sure this is fine." As if to erase any more doubts, she placed her already swollen lips on his. Not wanting to wait any longer, she deepened the kiss. As he ran his fingers through her hair, he broke the connection.

"No, hurry, remember?" Slowly, he took over. He ran his tongue down her neck reaching her collar bone. His hands went to unhooking her bra and back around again. Instantly, her nipples reacted to the cool air. He took each breast in his mouth, taking ample time with each one.

Carefully, he lifted her up and placed her on the bed. Hastily, he disposed of his shirt and pants, joining her. Slowly, his hands worked their way down paying close attention to her sweet spot. He could already feel her heat. Delicately, he removed the only barrier between them, putting it with the other articles of clothing on the floor.

Sucking in her breath, she couldn't believe the magic of his hands. No one had ever taken so much time when with her, giving her so much attention. She wasn't sure how much longer she could hold on.

Tenderly, his hand found her sweet spot. He wanted to show her what ecstasy was, doubting she had ever really experienced it before. He could tell she was near. Just a little more, he thought.

"Max, I can't"

In one big swoop, he was straddling her, looking at her for reassurance. "Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes." As if to indulge him, she took his manhood and showed him the way. Slowly, he worked his way inside her. Lost in the moment, she gladly met him thrust for every powerful thrust.

"Max! Please, oh please!"

"Just hold on, honey. We're almost there." Together, they rode out the storm.

Morning came way too early. She woke wondering if last night was just a dream. The other side of the bed was made up like no one had even slept there. Hastily, she grabbed her robe and walked downstairs. She couldn't believe he just left without word. All the beautiful things he said to her last night, how could she have been so stupid to fall for it?

There was a note and a fresh flower on the counter waiting for her. She almost missed it. As she lifted the flower to her nose, she unfolded the note. Carlie, had to work early. Can't wait to see you tonight, Max. Here she was jumping to conclusions. When was she going to realize not all men were like Carter?

Not wanting to waste time, she immediately took a shower and started on her day. By noon, she had mopped the floors, dusted, changed the bed linens, and did two loads of laundry. After lunch, she opted for a nice refreshing walk. Fresh air would do her some good. Grabbing Lucy and her jacket, she raced out the door.

Most of the snow had gone, leaving behind small piles here and there. Being on the look out for small holes or uneven ground, Carlie and Lucy worked their way through the field, and down a small back road coming across a quaint house. Despite its size, it looked old. Cautious not to disturb anything, Carlie slowly peeked inside. The inside looked as if it came out of the early fifties.

"Mind telling me what you're doing?"

Turning around Carlie stood face to face with a young red headed girl about the age of five. "Hello. Sorry, I didn't realize any one lived here."

"April, where are you?" Someone shouted from inside. Coming out was a girl no older than Carlie herself. The young woman was definitely stunning even in jeans and a blue sweater along with long blonde hair. "Who are you," she said pulling the child closer to her.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm Carlie Underwood, sorry, Hunter."

"Hunter? You mean Max who lives down the road a ways? Max has a sister?"

She knew Max? "Uh, no. I'm Max's wife."

The woman looked taken back for a minute. "I didn't know he got married." Coming to, she said, "I'll be damned. Sorry," she said while extending her hand. "My name's Sarah Mathers and this is my daughter, April." The young girl smiled and buried her head against her mother's leg.

"Nice to meet you. This is Lucy," Carlie said looking down. Lucy's ears perked up at the sound of her name.

  "If you don't mind me asking, how long have you two been married?"

"Almost a month. I've been so cooped up in that house; I felt I was starting to go crazy."

Sarah nodded in agreement. Carlie was curious. "How long have you known Max?"

Sarah pondered. "About seven years now. As far as I know, he's lived around these parts his whole life, but he moved to this town with his new bride." Realizing what she had said, she drew back apologetically. "I am so sorry."

"No, don't worry about it."

Trying to change the subject, Sarah inquired about her. "So, where are you from and how long have you known Max?"

Carlie blushed, thinking back to last night. She hadn't really known him till then. However, she couldn't tell this complete stranger that. "I'm from Oregon. I was going to college at Washington State. Um, I guess I've known Max for quite a while now." Looking at her watch, she realized she had been gone for more then three hours. "Sorry, but I have to run. Max will be home soon." Standing, she looked at the other woman. "It was so nice to meet you, Sarah."

"Like wise, Carlie. Come by any time. I very seldom have visitors out here."

"I will soon." Grabbing Lucy, the two went back the way they came. Carlie felt exhilarated as she and Lucy arrived home. She needed someone other than Lucy to talk to. As she reached the front door, some ten minutes later, she heard the phone ring.

Trying to catch her breath, she answered, "Hello?"

"Carlie, are you all right?" It was her mother. "I tried calling earlier, but no one answered. I was starting to get worried."

"Everything is fine, Mom." She hadn't talked to her mom since the wedding. "How are you and Daddy?"

"We're fine. How's the baby?" Carlie told her about her first appointment. "Things sound terrific, then. Well, honey, I'll let you go. I love you. My hello's to Max."

"Mom, is Daddy there?" she wondered if her father was still angry with her. Beth's silence was her answer. "Is he going to stay mad at me forever?"

"Not forever. Just for a while. Don't worry about it. He'll come around." After good byes mother and daughter hung up.

Things were awkward in the Hunter house since the two had made love the night before. Neither knew how the other was feeling or what the other was thinking. Even Lucy noticed the tension during dinner.

As Carlie was finishing up the dishes, Max came in to the kitchen. With his arms crossed and one booted foot propped up, he looked directly at Carlie. She continued what she was doing, trying her damnedest to avoid him.

"Are you going to ignore me forever, Carlie?"

Keeping her hands busy, she said, "No, of course not."

"Then look at me." Slowly, she raised her head barely able to make eye contact. "What's wrong?"


He thought for a short moment. "Are you having regrets about last night?" She said nothing. He knew the answer. If she were honest with herself she would've spoke up and said yes. However, she wanted to spare his feelings.

It took some time but she finally spoke. "I know I'm not very good at things like that, so I understand if you were unsatisfied."

"Is that what you're thinking?" her eyes spoke for her. Coming to her, he slowly put his strong arms around her. "Believe me when I tell you I was far from unsatisfied. So why else are you avoiding me? Was I that bad, did I turn into a horrible monstrous beast or something?" There was that incredible smile he loved to see. "Or were we that good together that it scares you that we made the world spin last night? So which is it?"

With half a smile, she said, "Well, you weren't a beast."

Placing a light kiss on her head, he said, "That's what I wanted to hear. My next question to is this. Are you ever going to let me in your bed again?"

She was playing with fire and she knew it. "I don't know."

"I think it would be in your best interest if you did." As if to prove his point, he started to send kisses down her neck.

"You think so," she asked as his embrace got tighter.

"Umm, hmm. I do." His lips went to her mouth while all her worries seemed to just drift away. "You about done with dishes," he asked as his eyes continued t fill with desire.

She could feel his arousal against her thigh. Suddenly the color rose to her cheeks. He knew what made her blush. "Does it shock you to know you do this to me?"

She? She gave that kind of reaction to a man? Quickly thinking back, Carter was never aroused by her alone. He got excited about his career and sex in general. She realized that now.

Coming back to the moment at hand, she felt Max's hand work their way under her shirt. His fingers outlined the contours of her breasts through her bra. Just as her legs started to give way, he picked her up in his arms.

"I think those dishes can wait," he said in a low husky voice. She couldn't agree more.

They lay there afterward glowing in the after effects of making love. Both basking in the newness of their now budding relationship.

Leaning on one arm, Carlie broke the silence. "Max, I have no regrets. But where does this take us?"

He wasn't quite sure. "I don't know, Carlie. Where do you want this to go?"

"I'm not sure. This is all new for me."

What was she expecting from him? "This is new for me too. Carlie, you must know I haven't had anyone since Katherine. What about the rules we set in the beginning? Haven't we over stepped them just a little?"

"I know you said things wouldn't change when we agreed to marry." Quickly she added, "And I don't expect them to. But couldn't weno, never mind."

"Carlie, what is it you want to say?"

She looked at him with desperation in her eyes. "Couldn't we be lovers as well as friends?"

Max chuckled. Bringing her closer to him, he said, "I don't see why not." Again, he took her mouth with his own and kissed away her worries. Rolling her over onto her back, he took her yet again and it was just as good as the first time.

As the weeks went by, Carlie spent more and more time with Sarah. The two women had more in common then they first realized, both having come from small families, and both having been jilted by men who they thought loved them. Because of her ever progressing pregnancy, Sarah thought it best for Carlie to stay at home rather than endure the long walk. She was only too happy to be in agreement.

One Afternoon, as the women sat drinking tea, Carlie looked over at the little girl playing with Lucy. Carlie looked over at Sarah. "She sure is pretty."

"Yeah, she is."

Carlie thought to ask Sarah her age. "I'm only twenty two. I had April when I was sixteen."

"So, um, how is having a baby at such a young age?"

Sarah laughed. "I wouldn't trade April for anything in the world, but there was so much I had to miss out on. My parents didn't approve so they threw me out. I came to live here with my grandma. When she passed away, she left me her house."

Her friend had such a hard life. Carlie considered herself lucky to be pregnant at twenty. Her father might be mad at her right now but who'd say he wouldn't have done what Sarah's parents did. Max was kind enough to rescue her from being alone.

In her eighth month, Carlie grew bigger each day. And she carried it with pride. She had a certain glow about her, Max thought. He smiled as he thought to the other night. They lay there after their love making when he placed his big hand on top of her stomach. As if on cue, the baby kicked. He had never felt any thing so wonderful.

Now that it was getting warmer out, Carlie spent all her free time outside planting flowers around the house. It was remarkable to Max and so hard for him to fathom that any woman would enjoy running her hands through dirt, but that one certainly did. She was beautiful.

He knew deep down he was falling for her and it scared the hell out of him. It wasn't expected and he certainly didn't plan on loving any one else. He thought it best to keep it to him self, doubtful if Carlie felt the same. She cared for him, he knew. She showed it when they made love. On the other hand, he was uncertain she had love for him. That was okay though. Caring was enough, for now.


Coming back to the present, he looked up to see Carlie motioning for his attention. "Coming."

Struggling to get up from the ground she took his outstretched hand. "I'll so happy when I can see my feet again."

"Yeah, but you're so pretty this way."

Carlie just rolled her eyes as Max laughed. "How about we start on the nursery this weekend?"

Unsure, Carlie said, "We don't know if it's a girl or a boy."

"So what? How about we pick some neutral colors that are nice and would be good for either one."

Just then a wave of cramping came over Carlie. Bending over she tried to catch her breath. "Oh, my god. Max, help me into the house."

"Carlie, what's wrong?" Taking her by the hand, he led her inside to the couch. "Carlie, you're scaring me. What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I just don't feel so good." Suddenly, another cramp came on strong and hard.

Max could see her pain. Without delay, he picked up the phone and called the doctor. With instructions to go straight to the hospital, he grabbed Carlie and his keys and headed to the car. On the way there, the pains kept coming and Carlie broke into a deep sweat.

After arriving, a team of nurses took his wife straight upstairs to the birthing floor while he stayed behind filling out papers. When he was finished, he rushed upstairs nearly knocking any one down who got in his way.

When he made it into the room, he saw his wife lying there, hooked up to a stream of monitors, bringing back memories of his first wife. He instantly thought the worst. He instantly turned pale white.

"Max, are you okay," Carlie asked in a weak voice.

Shaken, he said, "I'm fine. How are you? Have they said any thing yet?"

"Nothing." Looking over she pointed to the IV pump. "They have me hooked up to this thing. But the pain has stopped. They took some blood and hooked me up to a fetal monitor, too."

Just then the doctor walked in with a grim look.

Carlie reached for Max's hand. "What's wrong, Doctor Davis?"

"Carlie, you and the baby are fine. You have what's known as Toxemia."

"Is it serious," Max questioned.

"It can be if not treated properly. You came in with slightly high blood pressure, which can cut off the oxygen to the placenta. Have you been under strong amounts of stress lately?"

She thought about the relationship with her father. She had been so worried about that lately. He hadn't talked to her since that first visit to the house.

Holding Carlie's chart in front of her, the doctor replied, "At any rate, high blood pressure cuts oxygen to the placenta. The pains you were having were contractions." Seeing the alarm come over the couple she quickly added, "We are pumping medicine through your IV to stop them."

"What's the treatment, doc?" His nerves were unraveling more and more by the minute.

Smiling, Doctor Davis replied, "A low salt diet, absolutely no stress, and bed rest. We want this baby to stay in for at least one more month."

Carlie looked at Max and then back at the doctor. "I think we can handle that."

"Good. Now get some rest and you can go home in the morning."

The couple looked at each other as the doctor left the room. She could see the stress lines building up in Max's face. She lightly touched his face and he pulled away.

"What's wrong, Max?"

Trying to conceal his thoughts, he put on a smiling face. "Nothing. Just anxious to get you home."

"Me too."

He had to get out of there as quick as possible. He felt as if the walls were caving in on him, the memories from his past haunting him. Standing he looked at Carlie. "I'm going to go home and see to Lucy. You try to get some rest, okay? I'll be back in the morning."

What was bothering him, she wondered. No kiss goodbye, nothing. All of a sudden he just shut her out and walked out the door. Maybe she was reading too much into it. It had been a long day for them both. Now knowing she and her child would be alright, she felt relieved. Allowing herself just a moment of tears, she tried to drift off to sleep.

On the ride home, he played the last few days of Katherine's life over and over in his mind. She had been hooked up to so many machines and tubes. He saw the life slowly leave her body. He couldn't go through it another time. He just couldn't stand to see another woman he loved, especially one as young as Carlie, die. He needed to try and erase the feelings he had for her and her unborn child. Maybe then the pain would wash away.

Max all but kept Carlie prisoner over the following week. As the doctor promised, Carlie was released the next day. When they got home, he sent her straight upstairs to bed.

"Why must I have to stay in here? Why can't I stay in the living room during the day?"

Max was determined she was going to stay in bed. "Bed rest means just that."

"Fine, but will you come with me," she asked with a wink.

"Not right now. You need your rest."

Ushering her upstairs, he got her settled before coming back down. No longer was he going to sleep in the same bed with her. He needed to break away from her and this was his chance to do it.

After only being in bed for one day, Carlie made her way down stairs while Max was working. There was absolutely nothing to do. Max had made sure everything was done before he left. She at least had Lucy there to keep her company.

Carlie was still unsure what was eating at Max. He went back to sleeping in his old room. He used the excuse that she needed her rest.

"Why can't you sleep in here with me?"

"Because the doctor said you needed plenty of rest."

"Yes, but she didn't say mothers couldn't be loved and treated as such either."

"You wouldn't want to cause the baby to come early would you?"

Shaking her head, she didn't understand why Max was ignoring her. He'd barely looked at her since that night in the hospital. Trying to concentrate on her breathing she had to remember no stress. It was he who had the problem, not her.

After two days of sheer boredom, Carlie phoned Sarah. It took no time at all for her newly found friend to come calling. That afternoon, the two women sat on the patio, drinking tea watching April play with Lucy.

Sarah looked at Carlie with troubled eyes. "I heard about your visit to the hospital. Is everything ok?"

"Things are fine." Carlie unsuccessfully tried to conjure a smile that reached her eyes.

"Then why do your eyes tell me you're lying?"

"Oh, I don't know. The baby and I are fine. Then again, Max and I are not." Carlie broke down and told her friend everything. "So you see, things aren't fine."

"Wow. I don't believe it. He offered marriage just to save you from your father." Sarah looked absolutely shocked.

"Things were going so well up until I went into the hospital. We were together, you know, as a couple. Things were coming around. I wouldn't say he was in love with me, but I knew he cared for me."

"Carlie, do you love him?"

Taking a deep breath, she searched her soul and came up with only one answer. "Yes, I do."

"So, what's changed?"

"That's just it. I don't know. We were talking about completing the nursery when I started having contractions. He hasn't wanted to come anywhere near me since the night in the hospital."

Sarah instantly knew where the problem lay. "Do you know much about his first wife, Katherine?"

"No, not much. He doesn't talk about her often." Sitting back in her chair, Carlie braced herself for what was about to come.

"Katherine was a beautiful woman. Max loved her dearly. Then she got sick with Cancer. Max went with her for every round of treatment, in and out of hospitals for nearly three years. Finally, her body couldn't take it any more. She died in the hospital, in Max's arms, hooked up to tubes and machines."

Carlie thought back to that night in the hospital. She should have known he made him uncomfortable, remembering the look on his face when he first arrived. He couldn't wait to get out of there.

"So you see, when you went into the hospital, Max feared the worst. He's afraid to open his heart for fear of losing someone else."

"So what should I do?"

"Give him time. Remember these are his demons, not yours."

Carlie sat there and pondered a thought. Shouldn't there be something she could do to ease his mind? She was his wife after all.

A short time later, Sarah went home and Carlie went upstairs to take a nap. She thought strongly about the advice from her friend. It was his fight, his issues. She had the baby to think of right now. But long could she endure the silent treatment?

Max came home from work to a noisy house. At the front door, he could hear things banging round above the blaring music. As he walked in, he spotted Carlie in the kitchen in front of a hot stove.

Hastily putting down his things, he stormed into the kitchen. "What in god's name do you think you're doing?"

She looked like a child who just got caught sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar. "Max! I didn't hear you come in."

"Are you out of your mind? Have you forgotten about being on bed rest?"

"I was hungry, so I thought Id make me something."

"You could've waited for me to come home."

As he tried to grab her arm, she yanked it free. "Stop treating like I'm crippled."

"I'm sorry for coming on so strong. I'm just trying to look out for you and the baby. I don't want anything to happen to you."

She could see the hurt and worry in his eyes. Reaching to touch his cheek, he quickly turned away. "Max, why do you shut me out? Why won't you let me come near you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You know what I'm talking about. Ever since that night in the hospital, you won't come near me and I can't come near you. What are you afraid of?"

He was getting irritated with the conversation. "I don't want to talk about this right now."

Turning to leave she grabbed his arm. "We need to talk about this now. I need to know and I deserve to know what's going on."

"Like I said, I don't want to talk about it. Now leave me alone." He knew how harsh he came off, but he didn't care.

Her eyes were swelling up with tears. "Max"

He was filling up with rage and was about to explode. "You really want to know?"

"Yes, please," she begged.

"I can't get close to you because I am afraid of death. Katherine died, leaving me here all alone and there was nothing I could do about it. If I lost you too, I don't know what I'd do. I won't allow myself to get hurt again. I can't."

"So, that's it then?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, Carlie."

Turning to go upstairs, she said with great sorrow, "I guess there's no reason for me to stay here any more."

"I'm not saying for you to leave. We still have our original contract."

"Maybe I don't want that any more. Maybe I want more." She walked upstairs to her room and started to pack.

Max was fast on her trail. "Why don't you stay until the baby's born? You still need bed rest."

"I can't stay where I'm no longer wanted. I'll be alright." She said with a broken smile.

"Where will you go?" He wished she wouldn't leave just yet, but maybe it was better this way.

"My parents for now." Grabbing her suitcase, she touched his face on her way out. "Thank you for your kindness." As she started her descent, she quickly said under her breath, "I love you, Max." Poof, she was gone in the night. Saddened to see her go, he knew it couldn't be helped.

Carlie called three and a half hours later to let him know she made it safely. He knew it had to be this way. He felt he was destined to be alone. But still, why did it hurt so much?

When she arrived at her parents' home, they both met her at the door. After a brief embrace, her father led her inside. Sitting in the kitchen, Carlie told them everything, Carter, the baby, and the marriage. Her parents looked on in disbelief, then shock, and finally acceptance; even her father. He had finally forgiven her for her misguidance.

After the last tears had fallen, she went up to her old room for some sleep. How could she live without him? She had come to love him so much. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day. Maybe tomorrow she would figure out how she was going to live without him.

Max was miserable over the next week. His days were spent breaking his back at work and his nights were spent in a drunken haze. Letting go was harder than he thought it would be. He hadn't realized just how much he was in love with her. Getting drunk seemed to be the only way for him to forget, even just for a little while.

"Max? Max?"

Where was he? Opening his eyes, he saw Katherine standing before him dressed in white with a glow around her. "Katherine. You've come back to me." He reached out to touch her. She immediately took his hand and they embraced. "Oh, I've missed you so much."

"I've missed you too," she said. "But Max, I can't stay."

"Can't stay? Why not? I need you so much."

Taking his face in her hands, she kissed him. Drawing back she said, "No you don't. Max, it's time to let me go."

"But I can't."

She gave him a smile that he had missed so much. "Max, take a walk with me." She took his hand and led him through a beautiful garden. Everything, the plants, the flowers, they all looked so healthy and so alive.

"Where are you taking me?" Was he truly dead?

"No where and everywhere. I want to show you how happy I am here. I hurt no more. See all these things around us? See how alive they are?"

"Yes, this place is beautiful."

"I need to stay here and tend to it and you need to go back home and let me go. You have some one waiting for you."

"I'm scared, Katherine. What if I lose her too? I don't think I can do it another time."

"Max, you need to let her come into your heart. Show her the love you showed me once upon a time. I give you permission to just let me go. This is what I want and what you deserve."

"I love you, Katherine."

"I love you, too, Max."

Max woke up in a cold sweat. Looking around him, he was back in his room. It was all a dream, a wonderful dream. Right then he knew what he must do. Getting out of bed, he quickly showered and dressed. Going into the kitchen, he grabbed his keys and walked out the door, hoping to walk back in with his wife.

Max stood in the dead of night knocking loudly on Carlie's parents' front door. Her father hastily answered. "Do you know what time it is?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry for waking you, but I need to speak with Carlie."

Looking serious, Charles said, "You can't, son."

"Please, I know I've hurt her, but I've come to apologize and beg her to come back with me."

Standing there with his arms crossed, Charles said, "She told us everything, Max."

Max looked at him with surprise. "You know I'm not the father then."

"Yes, I do. What you did for her took great courage. She truly loves you and you hurt her."

"Yes, I know I did."

Charles just shook his head. "She's not here, Max. She headed back home, to you."

Max couldn't believe it. After all that he had done and said to her, she was coming back to him. He was so happy he could barely contain him self. "Thank you, sir," he said shaking the older man's hand.

Turning to go, Charles stopped him. "Don't hurt her again."

"Don't worry, I won't." Hurriedly, he got into his car went headed into the direction of the highway. He was going home to his wife.

Driving as fast as the highway possibly allowed, he made it home in ample time. As he pulled into the drive, he saw her, his gift from Katherine, waiting for him on the front step.

Stepping out of the car, he rushed to her, embraced her and just held on tight. He was never going to let go. "Oh, Carlie. I'm so sorry."

Sobbing, she answered, "So am I, Max. I understand if you can't love me. I know you care for me and I can live with that. But I can't live without you."

"Baby, I can't live without you either. I was so lost, but I found my way back. I love you so much."

Curiosity made her look up at him. "How did you find your way?"

"Someone very special paid me a visit."

She knew who. Thank you, Katherine. "Let's go inside."

"How about I take you to bed? You're supposed to be on bed rest, you know," he said with a devilish grin.

She couldn't agree more.


Hope Katherine Hunter was born at two in the morning two weeks later. She decided it was time to come into the world during a barbeque at the Hunter home. Everyone was gathered around the table: Max, Carlie, her parents, and of course, Brandy.

"Oh, my god," Carlie shouted at the top of her lungs. Everyone turned towards her to see what was wrong. "My water just broke." Everyone started to cheer. All except for Max.

Like any expecting father, his first thought was "Got to go to the hospital." Quick as a flash, he raced upstairs for her bag, back downstairs for his wife and out the door they went.

Ten hours and a lot of pushing later, Hope made her presence known. Everyone gathered around to see the baby. Carlie looked at her daughter in exhaustion and happiness combined.

With tears of joy, she held Hope up for her father to hold. "Here's your daughter, Max. Here is our little miracle." Looking down at the little bundle, he knew his world was now complete.

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