Joel tried to catch Jim's eye -- but Jim seemed to be staring at nothing. So the older detective took the bull by the horns.

"Do you mean that Mrs. Cordell... is an alcoholic?"

Mrs. Weston twisted the edge of her very expensive cashmere sweater and hedged. "I wouldn't say Lisette is an alcoholic, no, of course not -- but she was, she did, I mean, sometimes -- she could drink too much, but don't we all? It isn't a crime, is it?"

Joel answered gently with, "I'd say that depends on a great many things, Mrs. Weston. Are you telling us that Mr. Cordell left his wife because she sometimes drank too much?"

The twisted cashmere got a real work-out at Joel's question; Jim, who'd been immersed in his own whirling emotions, sensed her heartbeat quicken. She was about to lie.

"Look, this is all conjecture, really. I have no idea why he really left, or why he came back. I should just take Lynn and go."

"Mrs. Weston, I suspect," Jim leaned close to her, "you know a great deal about Mrs. Cordell. She is an alcoholic, isn't she?"

The woman stood and straightened her slacks, then ran a hand over her perfect hair. "Like I said, conjecture. I'd like someone to bring Lynn down now."

Jim encroached on the woman's space, his expression carefully controlled, his emotions bubbling just below the surface. "A man doesn't leave because a woman sometimes drinks too much. He doesn't threaten to take her rights away. Does he?"

Mrs. Weston wilted under the implacable gaze. "She was doing better, she was. She joined AA three months ago."

Jim jumped on that. "So she is an alcoholic. Could they have fought over the children? Could she..."


One word and Jim froze. He turned slowly and locked eyes with Sandburg.

Blair had come down, leaving Megan to help Lynn put some toys together to take with her to Mrs. Weston's. He'd walked in just in time to hear the discussion on Mrs. Cordell's drinking problem -- and he knew it was time to help. He hoped his expression told Jim to step back, to take a few deep breaths.

A moment later -- he had his answer. Jim took a literal step back. Blair figured that was both his cue and his permission. He held out his hand and said, "Mrs. Weston, I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm a consultant with the police. I found Lynn."

The woman held out her hand and the two shook, then Blair eased her back until she retook her seat on the couch.

"Lynn is fine and Inspector Connor will bring her down in a minute. Maybe you could answer a couple more questions? Like, do the children have any grandparents we should notify? Mr. Cordell's parents?"

"His parents are dead. But Lisette has a mother. She lives on the other side of the golf course. I should have realized. I need to call... or maybe, yes, maybe you should call after all. She'll probably want to take Timmy and Lynn."

"We'll take care of that. You have her number? Mrs. Cordell's mother?"

"Yes, of course."

"Fine. Do you know where Mrs. Cordell might be now? Who she might be with? Or perhaps she told you where she might be staying?"

"I... I, she was staying with someone she met at her AA meetings, I know that."

Blair didn't need the sudden movement of Jim or Joel to catch the bit of information Mrs. Weston had just released. "Mrs. Weston, how do you know that she was staying with a friend from her AA meetings?"

Her eyes shifted to the right, then to the floor. Blair pushed a bit. "Mrs. Weston, you talked to Mrs. Cordell -- today? Yesterday? Yes?"

"thursday," she whispered, eyes still on the floor.

"She told you about Roger's demands, didn't she? She told you that he'd forced her to leave?"

The woman nodded. "She was, you have to understand, she was destroyed by all of this. She'd been fine, doing fine, honestly. Almost three months sober -- and then Roger, out of the blue, demands that she leave her home, tells her he's going to divorce her immediately and that unless she cooperated, she'd never see the children again." Mrs. Weston looked at Blair, her eyes boring into his as she stated firmly and clearly, "But Lisette didn't do this. She couldn't hurt him. You have to understand her. You know how people say, She couldn't hurt a fly? Well, that was really Lisette. She'd never hurt him, never hurt anyone."

Blair nodded sympathetically and asked, "Do you have the address of the friend Mrs. Cordell might be with?"

"No, no I don't. I don't even have a name."

Blair glanced at his partner, who nodded. "All right, Mrs. Weston. Thank you."

Joel bent over and took her arm, helping her to her feet as he told her, "We're going to need a statement, Ma'am. I'm going to take you over to one of our officers and if you'd give him your number, address, etc, we'll get in touch later. And Lynn should be down any minute."

Drained, Mrs. Weston could only nod. Joel passed her off to Sergeant Wilkins -- then turned back to the living room.

When Joel returned, he found Blair standing in front of Jim, just staring up at him. Jim was gazing back, his expression more vulnerable than Joel could ever remember seeing. Pale blue eyes flicked up, caught his own brown ones and the shutter came down. Jim stepped away from Blair and addressed Joel.

"So, we have a suspect, we have motive."

"And her mother will likely know where Mrs. Cordell's staying," Joel added.

"I doubt that."

Both men looked at Blair, eyebrows rising.

"If she could confide in her mother, she'd probably be staying with her, not with a friend, guys. I'm betting her mother probably won't even admit her daughter has a problem."

Joel and Jim looked at each other and shook their heads.

"He's probably right, Jim."

"I know. Disgusting, isn't it?"

"He's right here, guys." Blair pointed to himself and cocked his head.

Smirking, Jim went on. "You know, if he's not careful, people are actually going to confuse him with a real cop."

"Yeah, I know, long hair or no."

Blair snorted and pushed his way between the two men. "Well, this he's not a cop, Ellison guy is going back to work."

Laughing, the mood considerably lightened, Jim and Joel followed.


Lynn was delivered into the hands of Mrs. Weston, a call was made and a message left at the home of Hermione Becker, Lisette Cordell's mother, and another search was conducted, at Blair's suggestion, for possible AA material that would provide names and numbers.

At the end of an exhaustive search, they had exactly bupkis. The house was taped off, yellow streamers declaring it a crime scene; the garage had been dusted, as had Cordell's car; and his luggage had been thoroughly inspected, the results offering little in the way of help.

As Jim and Blair headed for the station and a day of work that shouldn't have been, Blair kept his gaze on his partner.

"God, I hate it when you do that, Sandburg."


"You know. That look."

"For God's sake, there is no look."

"Oh believe me, there is. So spill before I melt."

Blair hitched himself closer to Jim and said, "Melt? I have a look that makes you melt?"

"Sandburg... I'm warning you..."

"Okay, okay, whatever. It's just that -- you... lost it -- back there."

Jim's hands clenched the steering wheel and he nodded. "I know. I know. It was just too..."


"Yeah, to say the least."

"It's going to be okay, Jim."

"I know."


Grace Ellison watched her friend and felt real worry. This wasn't Lisette.

"Honey, come on, tell me what's going on? What did you do that was so terrible?"

"You mean besides jumping from the wagon of sobriety?"

Lisette Cordell was feeling less rubbery than when Grace had shown up, and with cognizant thought came guilt, shame, and... fear.

Grace nodded and said, "I noticed the bottles. Have you called Reggie?"

"No, I couldn't. Just couldn't."

"Lizzie, that's why he's your sponsor."

"I know, but this is -- this is beyond just going off the wagon. I've done something, Grace."

The noise of the television in the background was driving Grace crazy -- and before settling down and getting to the bottom of whatever was bothering her friend, she asked, "Lizzie, may I turn off the set?"

"Oh, God, yes. I'm sorry, Grace."

"No problem, honey." Grace moved toward the set and as she reached out to hit the off button, Lisette's house popped up on the screen. Both women gasped.

Slowly Lisette stepped toward the set, her eyes riveted to the screen as Grace grabbed her hand and held tight. Both women listened.

"...are giving no details as yet, so at this time, Connie, we don't know if this was a robbery gone bad, or possibly a home invasion. We do know that both Councilman Cordell's children are fine and unharmed. The whereabouts of Mrs. Lisette Cordell are apparently unknown."

Another picture appeared in the right corner, and both women recognized Connie Braxton, the anchor for KCAS news.

"Is she a suspect, Donald?"

"It wouldn't be fair to speculate at this time, Connie. All the police are saying is that they are trying to find her. We'll keep you posted. This is Donald Laramie for KCAS News. Back to you at the station."

The picture went to a full head shot of Braxton.

"Thank you, Donald." The anchor turned to face the center camera and addressed her audience. "To update our viewers -- the body of Councilman Roger Cordell was found earlier today at his home in Glenwood Heights. The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear, and to date, the Cascade Police Department has been unable to give us much information. We'll keep you updated as more information becomes available."

She smiled, switched gears and persona, and said brightly, "When we return from break, Mark Sandoval will have the weather."

A dancing scrub brush filled the screen as both women sank to the bed.

"He's dead, Grace. Oh, God, he's dead."

Grace Ellison gazed at her friend and said, "I take it that means you didn't kill him?"


The children had been delivered into the arms of Mrs. Becker -- and Blair's supposition that she would know nothing of substance regarding her daughter proved to be true. Mrs. Becker had not spoken to Lisette Cordell for over a week and knew nothing of the latest developments in her daughter's life.

Megan and Joel had taken on the task of calling Alcoholics Anonymous and getting numbers of as many meetings as possible. At two in the afternoon, they began their calls. They would also be visiting Cordell's office later.

At three, Mrs. Becker called to ask if it would be acceptable if she went to her daughter's home and picked up additional items for Timmy. She was told it would be fine. At four, she called and said that according to her grandson, at least one item was missing -- his baseball bat. It had been in the kitchen, by the back door.

After receiving the information, Jim immediately called down to the morgue.

"Dan? Ellison. Have you made any preliminary guesses as to the weapon?"

"You mean besides the traditional *blunt* instrument?"

"Ha, ha. Yeah. We just got word that a baseball bat was missing from the scene. Any possibility..."

"Give me another hour and I'll have more, but for now, yeah, it's a real good possibility that a bat was the weapon. The damage is consistent with that."

"We'll be down in an hour."

"Me and the body ain't going anywhere."


An hour later, Blair was girding his loins, or girding whatever, and getting ready to view Roger Cordell's body -- yet again.

As Dan Wolfe pulled the sheet back, Blair's first thought was, wow, I'm getting okay with this and his second thought was, how come bodies actually look worse in the morgue? His third thought came right on the heels of the first two: God, I *am* going to be sick!

He stuffed the bile down, took a deep breath and kept on looking.

"I'd say, Jim, that a baseball bat is right on the money. I found small slivers of wood buried in pieces of his hair. Serena has them now."

"What can you tell us about the blows? Could a woman have done," he indicated what was left of Cordell's head, "this?"

"Believe it or not, only three blows were delivered and all three were very powerful. In my opinion, unless the woman were some kind of athlete, like a tennis player, baseball player or something, and an amazon to boot, I'd say no."

Dan aimed the light at a particularly gruesome lump and said, "See here? This is the first blow -- dead-on to the face, full frontal assault. Killed him instantly, Jim. That's how hard the strike was, how much strength was behind the blow. The smashing of his face sent bone and cartilage straight into his brain. The other two blows weren't necessary."

Blair spoke for the first time. "Is it possible that this isn't Cordell?"

"It's Cordell, Chief."

Blair nodded, knowing that Jim's sight had been able to see through the gore and identify Cordell.

Dan clarified his evidence by adding, "The fingerprints match, and I received the dental forty minutes ago and that's a match. I'm satisfied."

"Care to give us some of your magic, Dan? Like, oh, say, size of our killer? Weight?"

"I'd say you're looking for someone who is at least six-four, and there was a great deal of weight behind the blows. Maybe two-sixty-five?"

"That will help considerably. Thanks, Dan."

The sheet was replaced and the drawer slid back into its slot. With a sigh of relief, Blair followed Jim out.


"You did all right in there, Chief."

"Yeah, didn't throw up once."

"Came close though."

"But no cee-gar!"

Jim chuckled and thumped Blair on the back, then checking that they were alone in the hall, let his hand drift down... to rest momentarily on Sandburg's butt. He squeezed.

"We are getting bold, Detective Ellison."

Jim grinned.

"I still have some mighty fine ass groveling to do tonight. Let's get home so I can begin."

"I love a good plan, a schedule, an agenda..."

"Sandburg? Move it."



They stopped at the Assembly Line, an upscale salad-bar type restaurant, and went through the cafeteria with their to-go boxes. Jim loaded down on pasta salads and Cesar, while Blair tried the Chinese salad, some Tabouleh, carrot salad and the tuna pasta. Both men took a baked potato each, but Jim loaded his down with chili, cheese and onions while Blair made do with sour cream and chives. Jim beat Blair out in grabbing his wallet with Blair muttering that it was his turn to pay.

"You pay next Sunday at Daryl's birthday brunch."

"Oh, sure, Jim. I pay for the brunch at Seaport Landing? Let's see, this cost fifteen and brunch will cost..."

"About fifty. Seems fair to me."


"No, thrifty and fast on the wallet."



While Blair took the dinners into the kitchen, Jim checked the phone messages. As the first message started, he moved back toward Blair but froze when his mother's voice came on.

"Jimmy? Oh, well, guess you're not home. Um, I was wondering, maybe, if you'd, if we, could, I don't know, maybe have breakfast tomorrow? Maybe? Damn, I hate talking to machines... well, anyway, you can reach me at 898-3737."

There was a pause and Jim could hear her breathing, then a sigh, then...

"I've heard Flannigan's is good, I think you and Blair would enjoy, maybe? We can talk, and, well, you know..."

Another pause, then Grace spoke in a rush...

"Call, okay? Anytime you want is fine with me, just call."

He checked the time and found that it had been left not long after they'd headed to Cordell's. He had a moment of thinking of his mother, waiting by the phone, all these hours...

He was about to pick up and dial the number she'd left when Megan's voice startled him. As the message started, Jim waved to Blair, who'd been watching him intently. Sandburg put down the beers and walked to his partner's side.

"...and something interesting came up in our investigation of Cordell. You know about the renovation of the old garment district, right? How they're supposed to tear down and build affordable housing? Well, Joel and I discovered that Cordell put the kibosh on it -- stalled it with the city -- we're still digging, we'll call when we have more."

Blair whistled low and then said, "Gee, I'm not really surprised, are you, Jim?"

Jim hit the tape again as he shook his head and said, "Not in the least. There've been rumors about that whole plan for the new housing."

Megan's voice came on again as the third message played and both men, Blair leaning into Jim, listened intently...

"Well, you're not going to believe this, guys, and I'm sure Blair is listening, right? We found something in Cordell's office, a portfolio with the heading *City Lights* -- and guess what? The map just happens to include the garment district. So what *is* City Lights? A new, upscale entertainment section of town, that's what. Looks like *Councilman* Cordell just sold out his district -- we're going to be hot on Monday, mates! Have a good Sunday."

Jim hit stop as Blair hissed out, "That son of a bitch."

"Yeah, son of a bitch."

For a moment both men stared at the phone as they digested Megan's news. Blair was almost glad that another possible motive for Cordell's murder was in the offing. The idea that little Lynnie might have a mother in prison for killing her father -- he shuddered at the thought. And if honest with himself, he'd made a few non-professional judgments at the Cordell home, one being that Lisette Cordell was innocent of her husband's murder.

Jim reached out and picked up the phone again -- and Blair shook himself out of his reverie to ask, "You calling Grace?"

"Thought I would. What do you think about her offer of breakfast tomorrow?"

"You really have to ask? Although, might be better if you went alone, you know?"

"Ain't happening, Chief."

"So dial already."

While Blair went back to the kitchen for their dinners, Jim did just that.


Grace Ellison let herself into her small apartment, flicked on the light and kicked off her shoes. In her arms she held the two manila folders that Lisette had given her. She hugged them to her as she walked to her couch and sat down.

Could she have been any more paranoid as she'd driven home? Probably not. It had taken her thirty minutes to drive five miles. Talk about a circuitous route. And she still couldn't believe she'd agreed to take the folders. But what she really couldn't believe was that Lisette had stolen them from her husband. Shrinking violet Lisette, sweet mother, confused society matron -- and she'd stolen from her over bearing husband.

Grace gave herself a little shake as she realized she was still gripping the folders like a lost child. She put them down, got up, walked into the small kitchenette, took a diet soda from the fridge, and after popping the top, walked back to her couch. She didn't sit down right away, choosing instead to stare at the folders.

What in God's name had possessed her to take them? And what the hell should she do with them now that she had them? The jangling of the phone brought her back to earth and she quickly silenced it by answering.



"Jimmy? Hello."

"I got your message."

Grace found herself -- struck dumb. She glanced guiltily at the couch.

"Blair and I would love to meet you tomorrow, if you still -- want to?"

Maybe if she didn't need to see him so much, and maybe if the tone of his voice didn't recapture her little boy, and maybe, just maybe if his voice wasn't telling her just how much he wanted to see her -- well, she might have told him everything, but -- she couldn't. Because it was all there.

Grace Ellison cleared her throat, deliberately turned from the accusing folders, and said, "Of course I still want to. How does ten-ish sound?"


Blair speared a tomato wedge and snuck a covert glance at his partner -- who was smiling.

"Looking forward to seeing her tomorrow, by any chance?"

Beaming from ear to ear, Jim said, "Yeah, yeah I am. I really am." He fiddled with a few bow-tie pastas on his plate and grinned wider. "My -- mom."


The dishes were cleared, the kitchen shining and spotless. Jim tossed the sponge down and turned to catch Sandburg reaching up to put the glasses away. He noted the way the younger man's shirt rode up a bit, revealing the small of his delicious back. Jim couldn't help himself -- he dove in.

"AWGOD!" Blair whirled, almost knocking his beer to the floor.

Smirking, Jim straightened and said, "Hey, it was there. And since when did my kisses cause such a reaction?"

Color tinged his cheeks as Blair shook his head. "Sheesh, next time, warn a guy, okay? And your kisses always elicit similar reactions. But let's face it -- you're not usually kissing my lower back while I'm still dressed."

"Good point. But damn, your skin is inviting and that small hollow... shit, what can I say? You move me."

Blair snagged Jim's shirt and pulled until Jim's body slammed into his; then eyes serious, he whispered, "may i move you forever."

Jim's arms went around the shorter man and just before their lips touched, he murmured back, "you will, you will."

They kissed long and deep, hands roving over muscles covered by clothes. Jim's finally ended on Blair's butt, which bought a pause to the kissing.

"Oh, yeah, Ellison, you have some ass groveling to do. May I suggest..."

Jim needed no suggestion -- he grabbed Blair's hand and started for the stairs. "Major ass groveling, coming right up."

Rolling his eyes, Blair followed and muttered, "That's not all that's coming."


He couldn't have said what woke him, but one minute he was sound asleep, and the next -- both eyes open and staring up at the skylight, while beside him, Jim slept soundly, his body curled into Blair's.

Sandburg knew he needn't worry; if anything out of the ordinary were wrong, Jim would be up and at 'em. But still -- something had awakened him.

He let his eyes become accustomed to the darkness and turned enough to look at his sleeping beauty -- and his heart did its usual skip a beat or two as he gazed at Jim. He was just so damn lucky, it scared him sometimes.

Blair skimmed his fingers over Jim's short hair and grinned in the night. Jim might have a thing for Blair's hair, but it was nothing compared to Blair's thing for Jim's bristles. Soft, spiky in sleep and fun to stroke. As he traced a feather light pattern down Jim's temple -- it hit him. What had awakened him...

Fear. Foreboding. Like quicksilver, in, then out, just barely brushing his consciousness. But enough to wake him from a sound sleep.

The fates were holding out a family to Jim Ellison -- a mother, a strengthening relationship with an estranged father and brother -- and the fates could so easily snatch it all back. Would Jim survive another disappointment of such magnitude? Blair slid his arm under Jim's sleeping body and hugged him closer.

And closer still...

No one would hurt Jim again, least of all -- Blair.


In a dingy motel room across town, Lisette Cordell tossed and turned in the lumpy bed. She knew the police were looking for her, that her own children needed her, but she was so afraid.

She had motive -- she could have killed him, and the police were bound to believe that she had.

Ah, God. How had this all come about? Unhappiness was no excuse for drinking herself into oblivion. Disappointment with her husband, no excuse. Fear at the role she'd been assigned to play by her husband -- no excuse. She was weak, weak, weak...

"NO!" her mind yelled. "You're sick, Lizzie girl, you're ill. You need help."

She was sick, yes, that was it. Oh, God, how she needed help.

Thank God for Grace. She'd convinced her to call Reggie, and they'd spent two hours together. And the bottles were gone. She was starting over -- but she was -- sober. For now.

One. Day. At. A. Time.

So what if the police might come knocking at her door any minute? Arrest her... take her away from all that she loved and needed...

As Lisette flipped over and tried to sleep, it never occurred to her that more than the police might be trying to find her...


Grace Ellison reached over and snapped off her bedroom light. She puffed up her pillow, then sank gratefully down into the comfort.

Tomorrow, she'd see her son again. And he was glad to be seeing her, maybe already starting to forgive...

Her son. Jimmy.

Lord, what a special boy he'd been. So quiet and serious, but surprisingly gentle... and what a little worry-wart. She smiled at her memories, held them to her like precious jewels. They were all she had, just a few years of her babies...

And the future -- she had the future -- maybe.



Smiling lips on his bare back.

Blair grinned into his pillow.

"Nice way to wake up, man."


God, Jim was adding -- tongue. Blair arched a bit, he couldn't help it. A hand was planted firmly between his shoulder blades.

"uh, huh."

Right. Stay put. He dropped back down and let Jim do his cat thing. He loved Jim's cat thing. He thought of rising to his hands and knees and doing his dog thing, but decided that was too much trouble and he was doing just fine where he was. Oh, yeah.

Jim was up now, had reached Blair's neck, and was nipping and biting, followed by more kissing and licking. He moved around, slid his way across Blair's jaw -- and Blair obligingly turned enough so that eager lips met. Tongues were exchanged, as was morning breath -- and both men grinned into each other. Women would never understand men and morning breath.

Bair grinned wider and pulled at Jim's tongue, sucked harder, and was rewarded by a Jimgroan.

Two pairs of blue eyes regarded each other and Jim said, "morning."

"uh, huh."

"Smart ass."

"uh, huh." Blair pulled Jim back and turned in the older man's arms so he was on his back, Jim above. "Very smart ass, knows what it likes. And it loves Jimgroveling."

Jim stopped suckling on Blair's sexy adam's apple long enough to say, "And I'm one fine ass groveler."

"Oh, yeah."

"Want some more groveling?"

"To quote Oliver Twist, 'Please sir, I want some more.'"

"Such a polite young man."

"That's me. Now start GROVELING!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"


Their breathing was returning to normal and the sweat was drying, among other things. Jim lay with his head on Blair's chest, his left hand resting possessively on Blair's right nipple. Blair's eyes were closed, but he was awake, stroking the silky bristles of Jim's head.

Eyes still closed, one hand gripping Jim's arm, Blair said, "you are one hell of an ass groveler."

"You have one hell of an ass to grovel over."

"Yes, I do. But until you, it was a perfectly normal, unassuming ass. Now it's got a swelled head."

Jim lifted his head and quirked an eyebrow. "I can't believe you said that."

"Want me to suck you?"

"Such an offer for this swelled head. How can I turn it down?"

"You can't."

"I won't. But give me a few, I'm not as young as I used to be -- fifteen minutes ago."

"Ah, but I am. Hang on to your hat!"


Jim tapped his foot impatiently. He'd just gotten off the phone with Connor -- the investigation was proceeding as planned. Detectives from the weekend shift were trying to track down other council members, but Sundays were notoriously bad days for interviews. Connor and Joel were still checking AA meetings, but so far, nothing. But he wasn't worried. Tomorrow would undoubtedly heat up as people returned from weekends away and business as usual took over. He checked his watch again and groaned, then yelled, "Sandburg! Get the lead out, we're going to be late!"

Blair came down the stairs, tucking his white undershirt into his jeans while at the same time trying to pull his green sweater over his head. Jim held his breath and forced himself to hold back, to keep from rushing forth and guarding Blair's steps. Somehow, unerringly, Blair made it down just as the sweater made its way down to settle on his hips.

"I'm ready, I'm hungry, let's go."

With a disgusted shake of his head, Jim opened the front door and waving his arm, signaled Blair to precede him.


Grace checked her watch. Nine-thirty. Tapping her foot, she said to the phone, "Come on, Lisette, pick up."

In answer, Lisette's voice came on. "hello?"

"Lisette, have you thought about what I said?"

"i need more time, please, grace."

Lisette's voice was small and Grace could hear the indecision and fear in it.

"This is dangerous, honey. We need to take everything to the police. My son is a detective with Major Crime, like I told you last night. He can help, Lizzy."

"'til tomorrow, like you promised."

Closing her eyes, Grace sighed. Damn. She'd been hoping that in the light of day...

"All right. I promised and I'll keep it. But tomorrow, without fail."

"all right."

"Lisette? Call Reggie. Now."

"i'm on my way to a meeting now, gracie."

"Is that wise, honey? Let Reggie come to you today, okay?"

"i *need* the meeting, grace. i *need* it."

Thinking quickly, Grace offered, "Okay, how 'bout this. You have Reggie come over now and I'll be over in a couple of hours and we'll go to his meeting at the shop, all right?"

Safety in numbers, right? She was relieved to hear Lisette answer...

"all right."

"Have you called your mother? Or Holly? Talked to Timmy or Lynn?"

"i can't right now, grace. i just can't."

"I understand." And she did, only too well. "I'll come by around noon or so, all right?"

"yes. thank you, gracie."

"Call Reggie."

Lisette promised and the two women hung up.

Grace had planned to walk the six blocks to Flannigan's but now -- she'd have to take her car.


"There she is, Jim."

Jim turned and followed Blair's line of sight. Spotting his mother, he lifted his arm and waved. She paused, smiled, and -- waved back.

Coming up to her son, Grace looked into his eyes and said shyly, "Good morning."

Jim smiled gently and said, "Morning."

Blair watched the two and finally said with a grin, "Don't mind the short guy."

Grace immediately faced him and without a thought, gave him a hug. Surprised, he found himself returning the gesture.

Taking both men's arms, she led them into the restaurant saying, "You guys are going to love the food here."

They were seated almost immediately, a large booth in the rear. As they sat down and gave the waitress their drink orders, Grace said, "They have a wonderful breakfast buffet." She glanced at her son and gave him an uncertain smile. "They have everything."

"Sounds good to me," Jim said, returning the smile.

"It would."

Both Jim and Grace shot guilty looks at Blair, then Grace, tongue firmly planted in cheek, patted her son's hand and quipped, "But he's a growing boy, he needs his fuel."

"You got that right. And growing is not something Blair is acquainted with, Gra... mom."

No one missed the sudden change in word choice. Grace blushed to her roots -- and to help Jim cope, Blair jumped in. Fingering his hair, he said sarcastically, "On the contrary. Me and my hair have a growing bargain, unlike, say," he let his eyes roam the room abstractly before coming back and pointedly looking at Jim's head, "you and your hair. Oh, yeah, me and growing are on a first name basis."

The next few minutes were a delight for Grace as she watched her son and his Blair trade insults and one-liners. The love was evident in every word. She sighed happily and basked in the small warmth of being even a temporary part of this morning with the two men.

Eventually decisions were made and all three opted for the buffet. Sticking together, they made their way through the various food stations. Grace chose salads and Eggs Benedict, then watched in amazement as her son piled his plate with a little of everything, including an omelet with all possible ingredients, while Blair took helpings of salad, some scrambled eggs, and then surprisingly, two waffles which he loaded down with strawberries and gobs of whipped cream. Catching her saucer-wide eyes, Jim chuckled. "Nobody said he eats healthy all the time. Sandburg can pig out with the best of them."

"Thank God, I was beginning to believe he was perfect."

Blair looked up from adding one last dollop of the sweet white stuff and said, "Oh, I am. I am. But I need to make Jim feel better about himself, so every now and then..."

"You act like a jerk?" Jim supplied helpfully.

Pointing a whipped cream covered finger at Jim, Blair said, "Exactly. Don't want you getting an inferiority complex or anything."

Jim rolled his eyes and sighed the sigh of the forever tolerant as they all made their way back to the table.

The meal progressed as somehow a silent agreement was made to keep the conversation confined to easy subjects. Of the three of them, only Blair went back for seconds -- and did a masterful job of ignoring the looks his partner shot at him. As he slid into his spot, his plate once again full, he quirked his eyebrow at Jim and said, "I gotta feed the hair, man."

"Hey, don't look at me. Pig out, my little oink-oink."

A grape sailed across the table and landed with a thwop against Jim's cheek. It dropped to his lap. With a smile, the man turned to Grace, and ignoring the fruit, said, "Next time, Mom, we don't let the riff-raff sit with us. Next time, they sit at the kiddie table."

Mom. The word flowed over her injured soul like a balm. Sharing a conspiratorial look with Blair, she said happily, "Oh, I don't know, I kinda like the riff-raff."

Jim sighed patiently and said, "I know, me too. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

Waving a fork piled with speared salmon, Blair mumbled through a mouthful of food, "aw, go om wid ya."

Grace and Jim burst into laughter.


The waitress had just taken the check along with Blair's card (after a battle with Jim) -- and as they enjoyed a final cup of coffee, Grace asked, "When is Stephen due back from New York?"

"Wednesday, I think."

"Do you think, I mean, maybe, all of..."

"I think dinner at our place would be a good idea. How 'bout I call him at his hotel tonight?"

With a grateful look, Grace nodded. "Would you? And dinner would be perfect."

"No problem."

As Blair sopped up some remaining strawberry juice on his waffle plate, he said, "You suppose this trip of Stephen's will be a little less... active, Jim?"

"Well, New York City is probably a little shy of pigs, and he is staying at the Regis..."

Both men smiled, and at Grace's bewildered look, Jim said, "I promise to tell you all about Stephen's last business trip, the triplets and the pig, on Wednesday."

"You bet you will. That sounds... interesting."

Blair huffed a bit and smiling, said, "Oh, it was interesting, all right."

Grace glanced at her watch -- almost noon. She looked back up at her son and at that moment, watching him hold his coffee cup, smiling at Blair, then at her, she almost told him. Everything. But Lisette's eyes, the fear that had been swimming in their depths -- held her back. A promise was a promise and Lisette had been betrayed enough to last a lifetime. She would wait -- until tomorrow.

Sandburg put down his now empty cup and his face lit up. "Hey, there's a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum. Maybe the three of us..."

"Chief, I don't..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I've another..."

Mother and son laughed together as Blair tried to look put upon. "I take it the museum is out?"

Controlling herself, Grace nodded. "I'm afraid so. I do have a friend that I promised I'd meet." Then she glanced covertly at her son and added, "But of course, that wouldn't keep you two from enjoying."

Blair snorted and said, "Right. My only chance of this happening was using you, Grace. You were my ace in the hole."

She patted Blair's hand, then grinned slyly. "Oh, I'm sure Jim would love to go," she turned to her son and added, "Right, Jim?"

Jim choked on the last of his coffee.


They stood on the sidewalk outside of Flannigan's -- and it was wonderfully obvious to Blair that neither Jim nor Grace wanted to say good-bye. They were standing close, her hand on Jim's arm, nodding as Jim made the plans for the dinner that would include Stephen. But finally, inevitably, they did have to say their farewells.

In a move that brought quick tears to Grace's eyes, Jim leaned down a bit and kissed her on the cheek.

"I'll call when I've heard from Stephen, okay?"

"Okay. Talk soon then."


But neither moved. Blair held his breath and then expelled it in a whoosh when Grace hugged her son. Then she was walking to her car, waving, and a moment later had driven off.

"That went well."

"Uh, huh."

"You okay, Jim?"

"Uh, huh."

Grinning, Blair took Jim's arm and led him to the car.