The Heirs

Please read here https://www.fanfiction.net/~kellyelin. It's more updated. Thank you.

Chapter 1: How It All Started

Candy Candy manga is written by Kyoko Mizuki, Yumiko Igarashi.

ooOooo

CHAPTER 1: How It All Started

Candy, a blonde cute little girl, was busy scrubbing the floor in one living room in the Leagan mansion. She had been doing it for hours. Now, the job was almost done, in a few minutes she'd finish. Her arms were stiff, her hands were hurting, and her stomach was hungry but knowing lunch break would come soon, motivatedly she scrubbed a little harder. She planned to take a walk outside after lunch. Who knows she could meet Anthony and his cousins.

Suddenly, the door slammed opened and she saw Neal and Elisa enter with shoes covered by mud. They laughed devilishly and deliberately walked around the room to make the floor covered by mud. In seconds, hours of her hard work became futile and the floor was dirtier than before she started.

"Mom! Mom!" They yelled and soon ran outside the room, giggled evilly.

Hearing her children call her, Mrs. Leagan entered the living room. She was stunt to see mud all over the floor. Needless to say, she was fuming.

Mrs. Leagan yelled, "Candy! You've been here for hours but look at the floor. What have you been doing?"

Mrs. Leagan rattled trains of hurting words which Candy didn't bother to listen. Knowing there's no use to explain the truth, Candy stayed silent. She felt so desperate, she felt tired already and now she had to skip lunch to redo her job.

A few hours later, finally, she's done re-mobbing the floor. She left the living room and saw Neal and Elisa were looking at her and laughing at her from the far. That did it. As soon as she entered the resting room and closed the door, she just cried to vent all off. Other servants sympathetically listened to her ordeal and tried to comfort the poor little girl as much as they could, but nothing could make her stop crying.

"Take the bright side, Candy dear," said Mary the cook. "You're a beautiful little girl with a golden heart. Who knows one day master Neal would notice that and fall in love with you. He'd regret how bad he was to you, marry you, and treat you much better than anyone else."

Candy stopped crying right away.

"Phew!" she said. "No way! I hate him ! I hate him! I hate him!"

"Love or hate... Our destiny... It's not something for us to decide, dear."

Candy was about to protest but Mary cut her

"I am an old woman, I know more than you," Mary said gently. "Don't cry anymore. Come with me to the kitchen, we baked a delicious cake just now, your favorite. I saved a a piece for you."

Just like any other children, knowing she'll get her favorite cake, Candy forgot about her life problems right away and with a bright smile she followed Mary to the kitchen. Other servants could only watch her with deep sympathy.

She ate her slice of cake happily. And as usual, since the dining table in the servant resting area was too high for her petite body, she had to sit on her little stool to eat. She's tired and hungry. Without bothering to change her clothes and properly wash her hands, she ate heartily on her little stool. It's a touching scene for everyone to see.

After a hearty lunch, Candy felt better and took a walk outside hoping to meet Anthony. She saw him coming from the far with roses in his hands.

"Candy, the Brightons are here. Aunt Elroy wants me to accompany them but I sneaked out to see you," said Anthony with his most enchanted smile. "Look, these roses just bloomed today, I picked them for you."

"Beautiful, Anthony," said Candy. In fact, to her anything from Anthony was superb.

"Bye Candy," he kissed her cheek lightly and ran back to he mansion.

Anthony, I love you, thought Candy, one or two drops of tears trickled on her face. She laughed thinking what Mary told her today. Anthony, I want to marry you when I grow up. Definitely you, you, you! Not Neal! She made faces and stuck her tongue out.

She stood until the boy's shadow disappeared and turned around to go back to the Leagan mansion.

Archie who had been looking for Candy finally found her.

"Candy!" called Archie.

She's alone. This is rare, Archie thought joyously.

"What happened to your hand?" asked Archie worriedly. His sharp eyes caught her hands were extra reddish that day. He gently took her hands and examined them attentively.

Candy told him what happened. While listening he was staring at her face and got sunk deeper and deeper in his emotion.

You are beautiful, Candy. I have to marry you in the future, thought Archie.

Uncontrollable, Archie kept moving closer to kiss her.

"Annie is here, Archie!" He suddenly heard Stear's extra loud voice call him.

Archie stopped right away, taken aback.

"So?" asked Archie. Ignoring Stear he took Candy's hand to take her to somewhere private.

"Nothing, I am just a messenger. She asked me to tell you that she's waiting for you in the piano room."

"Right, I promised to teach her piano today," Archie grudged. He sighed, glanced at Candy one more time.

"Bye Candy, I'll see you later," Archie said.

Archie disappointedly turned around to go back to the mansion with his brother.

ooOOoo

Without anyone knew it, Neal and Elisa saw it all from the far.

"Archie falls for her too!" said Neal. "Disgusting."

"Lucky you don't, Neal," said Elisa.

"My actions are driven by intellects not emotions, sis. No way I'd fall for that orphan," said Neal proudly.

"I'm proud of you, Neal," said Elisa.

"We should find a way to get rid of her, Elisa," said Neal. "Then Anthony will be yours."

"You understand me best, brother. I hate Candy!"

"We'll think of a plan. But in the meantime we could make her less desirable for Anthony."

Neal giggled mischievously and pointed to a pile of logs nearby. Together, he and Elisa ran and kicked the logs so they rolled scattered everywhere across the lawn.

Then he yelled, "Mom! Mom! Can we ask Candy to pick up the logs?"

"Sure, dear," shouted Mrs. Leagan back.

"Hey orphan, did you hear that?" shouted Neal cruelly to Candy. "Stop holding the roses, stack the logs instead."

"Look how dirty and rough her hands are," mocked Elisa.

"It will get dirtier and rougher soon," said Neal with a wicked grin. "Anthony will be disgusted."

Neal and Elisa laughed out loud enjoying torturing Candy. The gardener nearby silently heaved a deep sigh witnessing the girl's little hands picking up the heavy logs. Especially those logs had exceptionally tough and thorny dry skin.

Poor girl, he thought, shaking his head.

-To Be Continued-

Thank you for reading.


Chapter 2: The Party and Aftermath

CHAPTER 2: The Party and The Aftermath

Seven years later

In Florida...

Nichole, a young penniless writer was looking for a publishing company to publish her first novel. But everyone turned her down.

That afternoon, she sat on her desk looking at her bills.

Two more months, then I have to live on the street, she sighed.

She was desperate, her money situation was too dire. Above all, she's disappointed. She always dreamed of being a writer, but it seemed like a dead dream, thus far.

To forget the pain, she took her notebook and pens then went outside to write some more. Writing helped to forget real life problems. The imagination world gave hope and happiness which didn't exist in real life. She went to her favorite spot on the beach, facing the ocean... She rarely spent time writing at home to save the utility cost. Only when outside became dark did she go to a library to write some more.

Disappointed but not broken, she kept writing and trying to have her first book published to pursue her ambition to be a renowned writer.

In Lakewood...

Neal was spending the afternoon thinking what to write for Candy.

"Dear Candy,

Ever since you saved me

... "

No! This is too cheesy. He crossed it and rewrote:

"My love Candy,

I think about you day and night,

..."

But he crossed it, too. This is not good either! How to capture what I feel for her? he thought.

He rewrote and rewrote for hours and came with a sketch of a poem, instead:

.

My Dearest Love,

Beautiful butterfly comes, but soon it flies away

Bee stung hurt, but the pain is gone eventually

.

Shy moon glimmers softly, but disappears when the sun comes

Mighty sun shines brightly, but that too at night disappears

.

Nothing lasts forever nothing stays the same

Except my love to you which will never change

.

Your Forever Love,

Neal

.

Not too bad, Neal thought satisfied to himself.

Neal read and re-read the poem, made some more modification until he satisfied and wrote it down neatly in his notebook. He then opened his drawer to store the notebook and took out a drawing book with gown sketches he designed for Candy...

The dress has to be special and capture who she is. She's independent, kind, strong, brave, and yet the most beautiful woman alive, thought Neal excitedly. There's simply no other woman like her.

He worked on his dress sketches until he heard someone knocking at the door. Hurriedly he hid the sketch book under his desk.

"Come in," Neal said.

Elisa entered.

"You look happy, Neal," said Elisa.

"I'll be engaged to Candy," said Neal blooming.

"What? Why?" asked Elisa, stunt. "You too fell under her spell?"

"Elisa... L-let me explain," Neal stammered.

"Why didn't you consult me first before you make your decision? How dare you get engaged to her," shouted Eliza. "What did mom say? Dad? Aunt Elroy?"

"E-Everyone has agreed," stammered Neal.

"I thought we agreed that we'll work together to topple the Ardlays," said Elisa menacingly.

"We will! We will beat the Ardlays."

"I don't want to work with whoever Candy marries to," she slammed the door and left.

"Elisa...!" called Neal. He ran to the door, kept calling her. But she didn't come back.

Sorry, sis, thought Neal. But, I love her. Sadly he saw his beloved sister disappear in the hallway. This was the first time he had a disagreement with her and chose to disobey her.

That day, Neal ordered the gown he designed to be made for Candy. He also ordered a special bouquet of rare flowers for her. Some of the flowers he picked were green to match the sparkling color of her beautiful eyes. No other women were like her, so the bouquet had to be special too.

ooOoo

Finally the day to summon Candy to tell her about the engagement order came.

At 9 o'clock in the morning the bouquet of rare flowers arrived. With blooming heart Neal stuck the card with his poem into it. He had spent quite an effort to meticulously select the card that matched the content of his poem. Excited and nervous at the same time, he went out to meet Candy.

Candy had just met Aunt Elroy and Neal's mother who coldly told her that she's to be engaged to Neal. In shocked, she left the room, closed the door behind her. Engaged to Neal? What other trick does he have for me?, she thought. I hate you, Neal! Until when do you have to ruin my life? she thought in anger.

Then she sighed desperately lamenting if earth was just another name for hell. There's seemingly nothing but tears here. Terry who left for Susanna, Albert who left abruptly, and now this trouble with Neal. Piles of heartbreaking problem, one after another.

Then she thought of her biggest lost of all, her eternal beloved Anthony...

Anthony, why did you have to leave so soon? I should have been happily married to you, dearest angel, Candy thought.

Her heart felt painful and she was about to cry in exasperation and desperation, but then she saw Neal. As soon as she saw his face, she lifted her head up. She would not cry at his presence!

That orphan must be grateful that I want to marry her, Neal thought over confidently.

As he got closer, however, he saw her face was full of anger and hatred. Nervousness soon rushed in. She certainly didn't look as happy as he thought she should be. Maybe she thought I'm joking, he thought. Time to explain everything to her.

"Candy, could we talk?" asked Neal. He nervously extended his hand to give her the bouquet.

Ignoring the flowers Candy jumped to grip his collars looked at him with so much anger.

"You are one sick man!" said Candy full of hatred.

Her response was unexpected to him. That started it before it had even begun. He had feared that she'd mock and humiliate him as a revenge because he fell in love with her. He didn't want to be humiliated. He's a Leagan, he shouldn't be below anyone, including the love of his love. Instantly, he changed his mind. He decided not to talk nicely and sweetly to her anymore.

"You'll be mine soon, lucky woman. Show more respect" he said haughtily. "Here a bouquet of flowers, my engagement gift. Take it, you don't need to thank me."

She seized the bouquet and picked up the card. The bouquet she threw hard on the floor, crushed it with her foot and deliberately stepped on it. The card with poem she tore into pieces and threw them in his face.

This was another shock to him.

"I want to take you as my wife and this how you thank me?" he squawked. He's hurt and mad at the same time but above all, he's not sure how to deal with her and explain all things that he wanted to explain.

"I will not marry you, do you hear me? Never!" she shouted and ran away.

"You can't escape from me, Candy!" shouted Neal in rage.

He never thought someone could reject him like she did.

He watched the scattered ruined flowers and scattered pieces of paper on the floor, not sure if he's more sad or angry. For sure, things didn't go as well as he thought.

She'll be mine!, he thought determinedly.

He just felt that she's the one. The only woman who, by just thinking about her, made his heart throb as if he just finished running a marathon and made him sweat even if he stood in the middle of blizzard at subzero temperature. The only woman who dared shout at him, trash him but still made him want her.

She would know after a while that his love was real and the past was just... the past. She just had to learn to love him.

ooOOoo

Soon Archie knew too about the engagement arrangement. On the engagement day, he came early to Candy's apartment.

"Candy, run! I bring all money I have, you hide somewhere," said Archie. If I can't get her, he shouldn't get her either, he thought bitterly.

To his surprise, Candy remained calm.

"Don't worry," said Candy. "Uncle William will help me."

At her request, Archie then drover her to the mansion. She went to the waiting room and met Neal there. She rolled her eyes in hatred.

Unlike her though, as soon as he saw her wearing the dress which he designed for her, his heart jumped.

Beautiful! The gown suites her well, thought Neal emotionally. My beloved Candy, you'll be my fiance soon. This is the happiest day in my life.

These past few days he had been thinking what made her not like him. It must be about his past history. He had decided to end the hostility and misunderstanding between them. He'd drop on his knees to apologize for all evil doings that he had made her suffer. He would implore forgiveness and kiss her feet if she refused then explain everything. That girl had a golden heart, he's sure that she'd forgive him.

"Candy," Neal called her softly, ready to apologize.

She lifted up her head, their eyes met and instantly he felt like being electrocuted. Her eyes lit up in full hatred and disgust. From how she looked, it didn't seem that she'd accept his apology no matter how low he knelt down in front of her. Unlike what he had been thinking of doing, he now chose to do otherwise. He shouldn't forsake his pride and made her think that she's winning. If she had the heart to humiliate him and crush his flowers then he could too!

Neal then said coldly, "I'm thirsty. Serve me a cup of tea."

"I don't want to," sniffed Candy.

"You'd better get used to it! You'll be my wife!" shouted Neal.

She turned away to avoid looking at him. No one had ever done that to him. The more he thought that he shouldn't apologize to make her less arrogant.

"Are you deaf? Serve me tea."

"You are that bad, aren't you," yelled Candy. "Fine, here's your tea."

Candy filled a cup with tea and smashed it hard to the floor in front of him.

He grabbed her elbow, ready to slam her. But as soon as he saw her green eyes and his hand felt her soft skin, his heart melted. He felt weak, mesmerized by how he felt towards her.

"Candy," Neal whispered. Oh no, what should I do? Should I dump my pride and tell her about my true feeling?

Sweat beaded on his face as his heart was caught in chaotic turmoil wondering whether he should show her love or trash her. Undecided, he just stared at her, frozen.

While he paused, Candy used the opportunity to free her arm. She pushed and slapped him. She was about to beat him up when the door opened.

"Master Neal, everyone is waiting for you," said one servant.

"You can't escape from me this time!" he said in anger, then added menacingly, "The first thing I want you to improve is your manner!"

They went to the reception hall...

And then, to Archie's relief, Sir William saved the day, Candy's engagement was canceled...

.

ooOoo * THE AFTERMATH *ooOoo

Half an hour later...

Neal was crying in his room. Elisa was accompanying him to comfort him.

"Don't cry Neal. We work to beat uncle William. I hate the Ardlays. They think they can bully us just because they're richer than us," said Elisa.

"I'll kill him. I'll kill him," sobbed Neal.

"We will kill him," said Elisa coldly.

She hated the disgrace Albert caused to the family but most of all, she hated anyone who took side with Candy.

ooOOoo

The Leagan family received a huge setback because of the humiliation. Many took the opportunity to badmouth them to send away their business clients and partners and woo them to be their own. Mr. Leagan grappled to find more business outside the usual Ardlay associates.

But the real heartache was on the son. Neal felt guilty for the damage he caused to the family business. Above all, he missed Candy so much and felt dying that he could not be with her. His pride suffered heavily from the bitter humiliation everyone openly gave him. Everyday he had a nightmare and couldn't sleep at night. After a while he refused to go out to meet people altogether. He spent all day in his room melancholically.

His father rebuked him to bring him back in feet.

"You are good for nothing!"

"You are a Leagan!"

"Neal, she's not the only woman in the world, is she?"

"Dear son, please forget her, find someone else...",

But all were useless. Gradually he became irresponsive. His face became blank, without expression, without nothing. He got paler everyday and suffered massive weight loss. Numbers didn't lie. Finally they believed that the heartbreak was real, all left in him was a severe depression.

His mother was terrified and so did his father considering his son was the designated heir of the massive family fortune. After consultation with doctors, psychiatrist, and other specialists, they decided to send him to far away place, alone, far from everyone he knew to start life all over again. His parents decided to send him far to the south,... to Florida.

The plan was set, he'd continue his study in a university in Florida.

ooOoo

Meanwhile, Albert also suffered a set back from that cursed party. People started to question his motive. Was it really for the best interest of his daughter, Candy, or was it because he secretly was in love with her. The rumor got stronger each day and stubbornly refused to die down.

Aunt Elroy was really mad at him. The last thing she wanted in the family was a scandal, especially a love triangle within the family.

"You could have done it discreetly, in private. You don't need to make a scene out of it in front of everyone," shouted aunt Elroy.

Neal! What a trouble maker, thought Albert in rage while listening to her lecture.

"You turned what supposed to be the most important announcement of your life, to date, into a laughable soap opera," slammed aunt Elroy.

Albert started to feel uncomfortable whenever he met Candy. Soon, he met Beatrice, and surprisingly things moved extra smoothly with her. Soon Beatrice and Albert were married.

Candy faced it all bravely. In fact, she was the one who helped Beatrice's first pregnancy. The baby came so sudden, in the middle of the night. It happened really quickly even before they could go to the hospital. Luckily Candy happened to be in the Lakewood. She helped Beatrice. Aunt Elroy could not be more grateful, she fell in love with her instantly. Albert loved her even more, although it's not that kind of love, and Candy's relationship with Beatrice couldn't be stronger.

-TO BE CONTINUED-

Thanks for reading.

oOo

ELSA: Honestly, I didn't plan to write this story. But I think I should just do one more so I can use one of your lovely pics! :D Thanks.


Chapter 3: Moving On

-CHAPTER 3: Moving On

A few weeks later.

In Florida...

Carrying a letter in her hand, Nichole ran hurriedly to her favorite spot on the beach. Her heart was drumming with hopes as she tore the envelope and read the letter she just received from a publisher.

Too bad, it's another bad news.

Just another letter of rejection..., she thought angrily. No one wants to publish my stories!

She crumbled and tossed the letter directly to the garbage can.

Should just work in the cafeteria. Will make more money washing dishes than writing, she thought bitterly.

She stared at piles of her writing paper in rage. Pieces of junk! She took them all to throw them into the garbage can, but she hesitated a little. They're her precious treasure although no one wanted to publish them. She spent months writing them, some even years. They had her emotion in there, her mind in there, too. They're like her friend, a solitary place for her to escape from the cruel world to get peace. She wouldn't discard a friend!

She sighed. In dismay she looked into the sea direction and her eyes caught a figure of a young man who sat on the dock looking deeply into the sea.

At least, I'm not alone. Happy life only exists in a story book, she thought. Who is he? What is he thinking?

It's been a month that he always came everyday around the same time. He'd sit on the dock, legs crossed in front of him, unmoved for hours. A couple of times she stole a look at his face when he passed in front of her. She's intrigued by the bitter look on his face and the sadness shone from his eyes. She wondered what troubled him. She wondered if she could help.

Of course, he's not the only person who came sitting on the dock with a sad face. She had witnessed many, in fact. But they usually came for only a few days, while this young man had been coming every single day for almost a month! She wanted to come and talk to him. But she wondered how to open the conversation. Could she say, "Hi, I saw you and you looked sad, ..." ? No, he would think that she's weird. What about, "Hi, my name is Nichole, what's troubling you?", or "Hi, what are you looking at?", ... ? She's not sure. Hence, she never really greeted him.

Soon she forgot about her rejection letter, instead she's busy observing this young man. Her creative mind started to imagine all possible ideas which made him look so sad. Suddenly one terrifying idea passed trough her brain.

Is he thinking of committing a suicide?, she gasped imagining all scary things that came with that thought.

A second later, she saw the young man jumped into the water. Half a minute, a minute, a minute and a half and he's still underwater.

He's committing a suicide! He's committing a suicide!, thought Nichole, panic. She looked around and saw no lifeguard. In fact there's no one around at all which was common for that time of the day.

Without hesitation she dashed crossing the sand to the dock and jumped into the water. She used all her skill and strength to pull him out taking his head above the water.

What the hell?, thought the young man startled.

He saw a woman struggling to pull him above water and kept shouting again and again. "Don't drown yourself!" Her face was so panicked.

"Me? Drowned?" he asked dumbfoundedly. "I didn't! I was just spending time underwater!"

It's her turn who looked shocked. At once she released her grips on him and apologized many times.

He climbed back to the dock and gave his hand to pull her out from the water. As soon as she stood on the dock, he recognized her. He saw her sit under the palm tree writing everyday.

"Sorry for..." he said. At the same time she also said "Look, I'm sorry..." Both sentences collided and got disappeared in mumbling background. They stopped talking right away. She laughed heartily. Her head yanked backward, her mouth opened from ear to ear filled with genuinely happy laughter. Seeing her funny face made him smile briefly, followed by a mild grin.

Seeing his smile, she couldn't help to blurt out. "Wow you look charming when you smile!"

He grinned one more time before his eyes returned back to look dull and lifeless. "Thanks for the thought. Sorry to make your dress wet. Get to go now," he said spiritlessly.

"Oh no... wait, don't go yet. I need to apologize first for the intrusion. A proper apology," she said.

"I'm sorry for... ," she paused thinking what's the best way to explain the mishap. "Ah to be honest with you, I've never seen anyone looking... well, so forlorn. Hence I thought you're... you know, trying to drown yourself. Sorry about that."

She told him how panicked she was, how fast she ran, jumped to the water, and everything in great details. He's really not in the mood to chat actually. But she certainly possessed one of those rare skills in using combination of words to make sentences sound fun and interesting. Rather than to cut the conversation, he ended up staying and listening. He even thought she was funny so he grinned again.

She squeezed her wet skirt, smiled at him at the same time. "You're new here aren't you?"

He offered a handshake. "Neal. Neal Leagan. A new student in the university. Just got here for about a month. I often see you under that palm tree."

"Nichole, Nicholette Duran, also a student in the university. A local, have been here since I was born." She smiled widely. "What did you do underwater?"

"Forget things," he said sadly.

His face back to be sad again, tormentedly sad. She was alarmed to see such a sudden change and quickly changed the topic of conversation.

"I'm a writer."

"No wonder I always see you writing!" Neal said. "I love writing too. What kind of writer?"

"Romance writer," she smiled. "I work as a freelance writer to pay my living expenses."

She grabbed some local news paper and showed him some of her writings.

"Look, I wrote this." She showed him some articles with her name on the top, Nicholette Duran.

"Impressive!" he whistled in awed. For a moment she saw his face beaming.

"Freelancing doesn't make money, though. My boyfriend, Derek, has been chipping in to pay for my bills. My goal is to write a novel, to be a nationwide acclaimed writer."

"Sweet!"

"Yeah...," she added gloomily. "Unfortunately, it's not easy to publish my fist book, even locally. I'm unknown with no best selling record and, furthermore, I am still a student."

"I see," he said in sympathy.

"Why do you often look so sad?" Finally, she couldn't help to ask.

Neal told her briefly about his unfulfilled love with Candy. His face turned somber again, deep in anguished. She never saw anyone looking as dejected before except in her imagination when writing a story.

"That's sad," said Nichole. "Don't worry, Neal. I'll teach you how to attract girls." She giggled. "When you go home again, you can use the tricks to win Candy."

He felt so touched by her answer.

If only Candy cared about me half as much as she did, he lamented silently.

He noticed that she looked the opposite of Candy. Straight dark hair, dark eyes, caring smile. He stared at her hair and clothes which were fully wet. She's so nice. Thinking that he was in danger, she didn't mind to jumped into the water to save him. Seeing him sad, she chatted to comfort him. She didn't even ask anything from him in return. No one had ever given him such an unconditional friendship before.

Her offer, above all, was superb. He had wanted to learn more about girls.

Neal replied, "What about this, you teach me how to get a girl friend and I sponsor the publication of your first book." He gave his most enchanting grin.

Nichole smiled didn't think that he's serious. Publish a book? Do you know how much it costs? She looked at him in sympathy. Neal seemed to have a mental problem, he's quite dashing though.

She noticed his face was beaming and he looked happy. She didn't want to ruin his happiness so she nodded and they shook hands.

"Deal," said Nichole.

They were soaking wet, but they seemed to forget all about it. Both absorbed in each other's pleasant company. Although they just met, they felt strong connection like they've been friends all trough their lives. Other than her kindness, her will power and hard work to reach success impressed him. As for her, she never saw someone as intriguing as him. A dashing man who's trying to mend his broken heart, how romantic..., a writer's heart in her crumbled. He seemed just like a character that's being pulled straight out from a romance novel. And his Mid West accent was just so pleasant to the ears.

They continued talking until... she sneezed.

"You must be cold. May I take you home? My car is nearby," offered Neal.

Considering how wet and soaked her dress was, she gratefully accepted his offer.

As they left the beach, they pressed their feet into the sand strongly, leaving deep footprints. Something within them sensed a brand new world awaited ahead of their new formed friendship...

ooOoo

Not long after that, like magic, Nichole found out that Neal's father was a tycoon and he actually did as he said. He financed the publication of her first book.

It was like a dream when her first novel was finally published by a local publisher. Even better, it was a success! Nichole wrote more books and each book brought her to greater success. In no time, she became a well known writer in Florida.

In Chicago...

Candy went out dining with one of her coworkers. When they're done and she was about to get up, the man held her hand.

"Candy, you are beautiful. I've admired you for a long time. I wonder, could I be your suitor?" he asked.

Terry was married, Albert, Archie and Annie, too. Seeing them one by one got married made her want to get married even more. She always wanted to have her own family, have her own children. She wondered if this man would be the one she married to at the end.

Beatrice had been introducing her to men. But, everyone associated with the Ardlay family always entangled in complexity. The etiquette, the gossip, their hidden intention to name a few. Sometimes she's not sure if they genuinely wanted her or they merely used her as a stepping stone to get acquainted to Albert. She couldn't wait to escape such a life. She's been longing for a peaceful life, something a large family as famous as the Ardlays lacked of.

This offer was not at all bad. It came from her coworker, a friend, someone totally not connected with the Ardlay family.

Without thinking far Candy nodded, they kissed. She couldn't wait to start a brand new day with her new boyfriend.

-To Be Continued -

Thanks for reading.


Chapter 4: Just Friends

CHAPTER 4: Just Friends

Three years later

In Florida...

Finally! Yes!

Nichole was excited. A national publishing company was willing to publish her book nationwide and abroad. They invited her to come to New York to sign the contract.

Three years ago, she was penniless. And now, she's in the brink of becoming a nationwide, and probably an international wide, acclaimed author! How exciting! She hurriedly visited her boyfriend, Derek, who's at work to tell him about the offer. He congratulated her with a kiss.

"Let's have dinner outside to celebrate tonight," Derek said eagerly.

"We'll see, tonight I might not be at home," said Nichole.

She kept her eyes on the letter, pretending to be busy putting it back in the envelope. She's on purposely avoiding his eyes so he couldn't see that what she's planning to do.

"Nichole, I love you," Derek said. He could sense that she's planning something.

"Love you too, Derek." Nichole kissed his lips and left before he could ask questions.

She hurriedly went to the biggest mansion in the nearby area. A servant answered the door and she waited in a big luxurious living room that could fit her whole apartment in it. After a while, a stylish young man appeared. He came out with a ravishing blonde leaning smittenly on his shoulder. He made a signal to Nichole to wait and went out briefly with her.

Soon, he came back alone without the blonde.

"Did I interrupt anything, Neal?" asked Nichole bluntly.

"Nope, as you see, I'm fully dressed." He grinned.

She looked at him doubtful. He noticed she held a white envelope in her hand.

"I'm alone now. Share me the excitement," he said

She excitedly showed him the letter.

"New York! Congratulations!" Neal said. They hugged for a little celebration and he showered her with praises.

"I'll go home to Chicago for two weeks this coming midterm break," said Neal after they cooled down.

"Finally, you 'll face your relatives."

He nodded with a grin. "Yup, first time in three years. There will be a big Ardlay party to celebrate Sir William's wedding anniversary. I'm sure I'll meet all of them there."

"Rich family party. I read about it a lot in a novel. I wrote about it too although I never go to see one." She laughed.

"Want to come? You can be my date."

"Oh no... ," she said hurriedly. "I didn't mean that..."

"But why not?"

"Me?" She laughed. "I don't think I belong there. I don't even know what to wear, I mean... What's good enough for the Ardlay party! It's like... wow!"

Nichole knew that the Ardlays and their immediate families were the most prominent families in America.

"You're a renowned author, Nich. Soon you'll be attending many parties too. It'd be an honor to take you to your fist one. I'll help you to get ready."

"But,..."

"I insist. I'll arrange someone to take your around Chicago too. You'll see the Midwest and you could write about it in your novels."

"True, it's useful for my novels! I go. Thank you."

They went to the most exquisite boutique to buy dresses and accessories. He didn't tell how much he spent that day. But by seeing that sparkling diamond necklace and the matching accessories, she estimated the price tag for that only should be around one year of her living expense.

"It's my gift to you to celebrate your brilliant achievement." Neal said calmly. "In addition, as my date, you have to wear the best." He grinned charmingly.

"You spoiled me too much today. How should I thank you?" she asked. She flung one arm around his neck, one hand gently caressing his cheek.

"I'm alone tonight. Want to stay?" he whispered. "I tell you how I want it to be done today." He grinned, pulled her towards him at the same time.

They went to the bed, kissed, took each other clothes. His hand moved expertly to unsnap her bra and went lower to reach her panties. But she stopped it.

"Neal, do you love me?"

This useless question again, why don't they just let me having fun without having to mention the "love" word, thought Neal.

"You know I am not a marrying type, dear," he said kissing her. "You should ask that question to your own boyfriend."

"But why?"

He recited dully the words he's been saying countless of times to girls who asked him a similar question.

"You're the most amazing woman. Beautiful, smart, but I need to focus on school. My career is my first priority, I am not looking for a commitment yet."

"How many times have you said that same lie to other girls?"

"Plenty, to be honest." He giggled. "You know me too well. Does he know you're here?"

"No. Well, perhaps..."

"You probably should go back."

"So you can have fun with that new blonde? Baby, are you that cruel to me?" she brushed her lips teasingly to his. "I want you for myself tonight. Take me, just one last time." She moaned.

"Naughty girl," teased Neal. "You said that too last time. You'll break his heart."

"His fault. I've waited him to propose for years. I will stop seeing you only when he supports his words with a ring, I told him so."

She freed his hand to let him pull her panties. They made love...

That was not their first night together. The first night was a year after they became friends. Neal took her for a ride in his private yacht. They were chatting as usual. At some point, Nichole was telling Neal about her boyfriend who hesitated to propose to her. He listened sympathetically. This wasn't the first time she brought up this problem.

"I want to be a formal Mrs. who's legally married not just a partner in bed," Nichole said frustratingly. The problem was like a thorn in a flesh for her. "How many more years should I wait?"

Then, all of a sudden, she hugged Neal.

"What if you kissed me, Neal," said Nichole.

"Will you break up with him?" asked Neal.

"No. I love him. He loves me too. It's hard to find such a devoted man. He promised he'll marry me. I don't know what's keeping him, though. He knows it hurts me," said Nichole madly. "Kiss me, Neal."

"You won't regret it, dear?" confirmed Neal.

"I'd regret it if I never slept with you," answered Nichole. "The hottest bachelor on campus, probably in the universe. I witnessed all these girls fawned over you. You said because I taught you how to win their hearts? Then why should I only enjoy it from the sideline? Because I have a boyfriend? If he can hurt me, then I can hurt him too. Make love with me, Neal. Let's make him jealous to death."

Thus the first kiss and their first time in bed together.

Somewhere between that day on the beach when they first introduced themselves and the first kiss, they had become the best of friends. They didn't care about the future, how they'd be later on. What matters was as of now, they'd support each other, help each other, be for each other. And when they're together, the quiet dark room never failed to light up and be filled with enviable pleasures...

ooOooOooo

In Lakewood...

Candy lay on his bed fully awake, naked, while her boyfriend slept soundly next to her. Too soundly, in fact.

She couldn't sleep, she's not done yet. He always finished way too soon and left her lay awake half done with scorching heat in her skin wanting to have more. She wanted longer foreplay, longer touch, longer kiss.

This man couldn't even kiss right. As usual she compared kisses to Terry's supreme kiss. That kiss... the benchmark of all kisses which she had been hoping for someone to match. She had changed several boyfriends because of various reasoning. But, after all these years, the benchmark was still left unchallenged.

Blast you Susanna, thought Candy.

She's thinking of the idea of soul mates, wondering if they even existed. Archie and Annie, for example, were they soul mates? Looking for a husband was really not easy, she thought. One way or another, there's always something that made her not happy with the man. She started to wonder if she's becoming too picky.

She felt her head almost exploded hearing his snore. I will break up with him tomorrow. I can't stand this anymore.

The following day she did exactly like what she had planned. They broke up and she moved out from his house.

-To Be Continued -

Thanks for reading.


Chapter 5: The Unexpected

CHAPTER 5: The Unexpected

Two weeks later in Chicago...

Mr. and Mrs. Leagan happily welcomed their son back home. They were happy to see him looking happy, healthy, and handsome. He looked fitter and tanner than ever. The natural tan color on his face was back more gloriously because of the sun exposure. His eyes shone brightly and smiled with the rest of his face. His appearance was a far outcry from being a withered pale walking skeleton as when he left the house three years ago.

"You eat and sleep fine, honey?" Mrs. Leagan asked Neal.

"Oh, he does. Don't worry, Mrs. Leagan. He's fine. He exercises regularly and this year he hasn't been sick at all." Nichole answered her question. She quickly stole a look at Neal with a peculiar little smirk.

His parents saw their eyes met, twinkled mysteriously as though there were hidden secrets they're not willing to share to anyone else but themselves.

"Nichole is a famous author in Florida and on the brink to conquer the USA and the world," raved Neal.

Their chemistry was unmistakable. Mrs. Leagan used to want her son to marry a high class woman. But after the nightmare three years ago, all she wanted was for him to get someone who deeply cared for him.

For this visit, Neal's schedule was somewhat occupied since his father wanted to make sure he participated in many family and business activities in the short visit. Mr. Leagan especially wanted to finalize the legal paperwork to appoint Neal as the legal heir of the Leagans enterprise. Mr. Leagan had been planning to do this since a few years ago but got delayed by his son's depression problem and departure to Florida. Thus, Neal arranged several maids and staffs to assist Nicole to prepare for the party and accompany her for a tour around Chicago and surrounding areas.

After taking care of Nichole, Neal asked about his sister. Elisa had been working actively with Mr. Leagan every day.

"Elisa has been quite busy. Should be in her office," they said. He hurriedly went there to visit her.

"Welcome Neal," hugged Elisa. "How's school?"

"A few months to go then I'm done," he hugged his sister back.

"Let me introduce you. This is Eois, Eois McCallister." Elisa introduced Neal to a man who's sitting in her office.

Eois was a short thin man in the mid forties. From the last name, Neal recognized who he was immediately. His famous father was the head of the council who governed the Ardlay enterprise until the right heir, Albert, was mature enough and ready to lead.

"The famous uncle McCallister's son," greeted Neal addressing him respectfully.

They exchanged friendly greetings and chatted briefly before Eois excused himself.

"Famous person who lives in obscurity as soon as William took over the enterprise." Neal said after Eois left. He looked inquiringly to his sister's eyes."Why are you interested in him?"

"Networking," said Elisa shortly.

"He doesn't have much, does he? Well compared to when his father was the boss."

She shrugged. "One doesn't only talk to those who're richer."

Neal doubted her answer. It didn't at all sound like her. But since he just came home, he didn't feel like debating.

"Exciting. I've been out of contact with this kind of family relations," said Neal.

"Precisely, that's why dad wants you to start to get involved. Soon, you'll work with him full time in the heart of Chicago!"

At doctor's advice, Neal had been living for three years in total seclusion from the rest of the Ardlay family members. He never came home, not for the wedding of Beatrice and Albert or Annie and Archie.

"How's your wedding preparation, sis?"

"Fine." Elisa shrugged off indifferently. "Wedding is what common girls are dreaming for, but not for me. I'm more interested in being a business woman than to be a housewife. I want to beat the Ardlay family and be the richest woman alive."

Neal nodded proudly at her. "Florida has a huge potential, Elisa. I invested some already. I make more money now than dad's allowance. I bought a new Bentley* using my own money."

"Good job, Neal." Elisa said and lifted her glass. "For our partnership."

"For beating the Ardlays," answered Neal.

They cheered.

"Will you be okay in the Ardlay party next week?" asked Elisa.

"I'll look anyone straight in the eyes. All they could was to bully a boy, I'm a grown up man now. "

"What would you do if you met Candy?" asked Elisa.

"Come on, sis. Candy who� I forgot all about that orphan already," he scoffed. He told her about all his girlfriends in Florida.

"Good," answered Elisa. Then, she added persistently, eyes looked sharply into his, "But you didn't answer the question. What would you do if you met her?"

"I'd laugh on her face telling her what a fool I was. I have a hundred Candies in my disposal."

...

ooo-OOO-ooo

For the next few days, Nichole used all her time to get familiar about Chicago and the surrounding areas, the lake, famous sites, and more. She left early in the morning and came back late at night. She enjoyed the trip immensely, she took pens and a notebook with her to take notes and write story ideas she might have during the trips. She rarely met Neal since his father made his schedule fully occupied too with participation in business meetings.

They met again on Beatrice and Sir William's wedding anniversary day. They attended the party together.

"You're stunning, Nich," said Neal.

"I spent all day in a beauty salon," she laughed. "This is surreal... I'm going to the Ardlay's party."

She examined Neal from head to toe.

"Look at you. Extraordinarily handsome!" said Nichole admiring the man. "Your girls are not blind, Neal."

He grinned.

She straightened his bow, adjusted the collars, tap them lightly to remove minute dust particles in his suite giving the last touch preparation to ensure his perfect appearance.

"Lift up your head, we face your relatives," she said with confidence.

He nodded and offered her his arm.

With Nichole in his arm, Neal entered the mansion. He shook hands with Sir William and Beatrice wishing them happy anniversary. Neal secretly examined Beatrice, the woman who made Albert ditched Candy. She looked gentle and yes she's a beautiful woman. Taller than Candy, blonde hair, blue eyes...

Albert cordially hugged Neal as though the scandal in the past never happened.

"Neal! I didn't recognize you," said Albert friendlily.

"William, congratulations!" said Neal equally friendlily.

Neal hugged Albert back courteously too in return as though Albert was his best friend and both exchanging more friendly greetings. Deep inside he laughed sarcastically remembering all the awful words he exchanged with Elisa about Albert just before they came to the party.

One can't live in this family without wearing a mask on their face, thought Neal.

Neal introduced Nichole proudly, didn't fail to mention that she's the most promising rising young writer.

"Oh, fantastic," said Beatrice appreciatively. She gave her a friendly hug. With Albert, they showered Nichole with nice words of praises and admiration.

Neal then mingled with the crowd, bravely lifted his head high meeting everyone who mocked him in the past on his canceled engagement party. One by one... Throughout, he felt grateful to Nichole's supporting grip of his hand.

"Thanks, Nich." He kissed her cheek and took her to the grand ballroom to dance.

After the second dance, they went to the side of the grand ballroom next to the garden to get some fresh air and drink. Neal heard someone calling, it's Archie.

"Neal!" shouted Archie excitedly even thought he's still many steps away from him. "Is that really you?"

To return the friendly sign, Neal walked approaching him and equally said back out loud "Archie!"

"Wow! It's been a while! You're taller than me now," hugged Archie. "This is my wife, Annie, we're expecting our first child."

With Candy nearby he chose to surrendered to Annie! thought Neal.

He congratulated the couple heartily. Uncontrollably, his heart started to beat fast.

When there's Annie, there's Candy, finally the most exciting part of the party is here, Neal thought.

Not that he cared, he hurriedly told himself. He's over her but it'd be nice to tell her how good life was now without her. Unconsciously, he looked around to find the blonde with two buns.

oOo

"Ma'am, would you like to have something to drink?" asked a servant to Nichole.

Nichole was thirsty and since she noticed that Neal was busy chatting, she went ahead to examine the tray trying to make her pick.

"We have more over there," said the servant pointing to the table.

Nichole saw a table full of exquisite food and drink displayed nicely. Many she had never tried in her whole life. Now that she's alone she wanted to study what rich people really drank in their party. She noticed the drink table was not too far, only two steps away. She decided to step out briefly from Neal to study the selection.

oOo

"Let me introduce you to Nic...," said Neal to Archie and Annie. He turned around to get Nichole, unaware that she had stepped aside a few seconds earlier.

*BOOOMM! * Bang! * Bang! *

Suddenly the grand ballroom was filled with a loud boom and sounds of guns fired. From the corner of his eyes, Neal noticed men in black masks entering the ballroom, dressed in tuxedo. They kept firing the guns which made loud noises.

People were screaming, stunt,... dodged in panic. Neal felt a trembling woman hugging his back from behind. Thinking she was Nichole, without checking further, he turned around to hug her, shielding her with his body.

"Silence! Everyone gets down or we shoot," barked one man loudly. "Silence!"

The big hall which was full of noise a few seconds ago suddenly became dead silence like empty.

"Where is Sir William?" the man asked loudly. "We're looking for Sir William."

Almost instantly, a steady voice rang filling the hall.

"I'm here," said Albert. "If I'm who you want, take me, don't hurt others."

He stepped forward bravely.

Neal heard a woman shouted in fear. "William no� William� Come back!" she cried.

"Beatrice, I love you," said Albert, looked at her momentarily. "Stay, please. If you love me, don't move a step." Albert then continued his steps forward.

"No!" his wife screamed hopelessly ran after Albert. "William, come back!"

"Someone, hold her. If she came closer, we'd shoot," said the man.

"Don't shoot her." Aunt Elroy steady firm voice rang bravely. "Someone hold Beatrice! She's pregnant."

The man pointed his gun to closest men to Beatrice. "Did you hear? Hold her."

Then, the man laughed ravenously "The legendary bravery of the Ardlay women is not a joke." He mocked. "How come I don't hear any man's voice here?"

"Let me go...," Beatrice struggled hopelessly. "Give back my William!" Beatrice screamed, her hopeless voice shrieked in the grand ballroom hall piercing everyone's hearts.

But they ignored her.

"William, I love you... " Beatrice cried in desperation again and again as Albert was taken farther and farther away from her.

Neal felt the woman he's hugging struggled and shouted with a daring commanding voice.

"Don't take Albert!" the woman screamed. She couldn't stay still anymore. But since they're outside, in the balcony, her voice got drowned in the midst of Beatrice's loud hysterical screams. The bad guys who almost reached the front door didn't hear her.

Albert she said? Neal was stunt, Why Nichole called him Albert? At about the same time Neal saw Archie looked at his direction. Archie said quietly, "Candy, be quiet!"

Candy? thought Neal and examining the face of the woman in his arms. Gorgeous blonde hair, although without the familiar two buns, mesmerizing big emerald green eyes, porcelain skin, crimson red lips...

Hell!I'm hugging Candy not Nich!

- TO Be Continued -

Bentley: A luxurious car brand

~ Thanks for reading. ~

Sabrina: this is a mystery/adventure story 101.. At least, I'm trying... It's coming...:D


Chapter 6: Car Chase

CHAPTER 6: Car Chase

As soon as he saw Candy, Neal forgot about everything. He thought by conquering as many girls as he wanted he could prove that he didn't need her. He thought by repeatedly convincing himself that he's done with her could make him forget her. He thought he could live just fine without her. No, it didn't work that way. He still wanted this woman, even more than before. Got lost in the confusion, he couldn't help to surrender to his emotion yet again, just like before, right at the point where he tried to leave it.

Beautiful Candy! How is it possible that she gets even more beautiful. William is a fool. I won't trade a hundred Beatrices for one Candy, thought Neal.

Stunt he released his grip. Candy struggled to free herself and ran to chase the gunmen. She ran to the garden direction to make a shortcut to the driveway.

"Neal, hold Candy!" screamed Archie. "It's dangerous, they might shoot her!"

Awaken, Neal hurriedly chased Candy. He held her elbow and repeated what Archie had just said. "Don't go, it's dangerous. They might shoot."

"Neal!" Candy gasped hearing how Archie addressed him. She yanked her arms, gave him a hatred glance, ignored him and kept running.

"Don't take Albert!" she screamed. "Albert!"

"Neal, don't let her go," shouted Archie worriedly.

From the corner of his eyes, he saw Archie ran to chase Candy and pregnant Annie followed from the back.

"Candy, " shouted Archie.

"Archie," shouted Annie.

Neal grabbed Candy's elbow again. This time, he meant it. She couldn't move.

"Let me go," said Candy struggling to release Neal's iron grip. "Albert!"

Archie approached her. "Candy this is too dangerous!" said Archie worriedly. He looked at her lovingly.

This guy still loves her and he married Annie instead!, thought Neal in disbelief.

"Archie, watch out Annie for me," said Candy. "If anything happened, promise to take care of Annie forever. I'll chase them."

"How?"

"With a car."

But you can't drive," said Archie gently.

Candy looked around hopelessly trying to find someone who could help her. But there's no one else there. Suddenly Neal saw her eyes stopped at his, looking piercingly. Without hesitation Candy grabbed Neal's arm and pulled him with her.

"He will drive," said Candy.

"But�," said Archie looking extremely jealous.

Wow Candy�! , thought Neal. It's dangerous. But if that what it took to be with her, he didn't mind to face even death itself. Without thinking twice he agreed.

"Yes, let me do it," Neal said coolly, grinned at Archie. "Archie, call the police. We try to get their license plate number."

They both ran to the driveway to pick a car to use. After looking at a few cars, Neal still didn't enter to any one of them.

"Why it takes you so long? Just get to any car! Hurry!" said Candy impatiently.

"A correct tool is necessary for success. We pick this Bugatti, the newer model ran really fast."

He turned on the engine, held his hands firmly in a "10 and 2" position, pushed his foot on the gas pedal and ready to chase the truck that carried Albert.

"Before we start... Listen! Never ever hug me no matter what," warned Candy.

"Who wants to hug you! You hugged me first!" Neal protested.

"You're much taller. I didn't know it was you!"

"So it's not my fault, is it?"

"Concentrate on your driving. You don't drive fast enough. Our gap is not at all closing," complained Candy.

Neal changed the gear, stamped his foot lower into the floorboard. The gap was narrowing, they could almost see the license plate number, but a squirrel came crossing the street. He dangerously pressed the brake to avoid the poor animal. The car made a sharp swing to the side road dangerously. Then they're back to be losing. Candy moaned. He stamped his foot deeper to the gas pedal, their gap narrowed but then the truck unexpectedly made a turn to a narrow road. Neal made a sudden sharp turn too to follow the truck. The good road ended entering a soil bumpy road. He pressed the brake to reduce the speed drastically.

"Neal, pick the smooth surface road, avoid the bumps. You push the brakes too many times. It slows us down. See our gap is widening!" criticized Candy.

"I know what to do. Also note that I am doing you a favor now," returned Neal.

"Favor? Albert is in danger and you said this is a favor. This is a must thing to do!"

"For you! Not for me. So this is a favor."

Suddenly a big truck carrying hay approaching them from the intersection. Since Neal was busy arguing with Candy, he didn't notice until the last minute. He had to make a sudden break and swing to avoid it, the car almost got turned over.

"Watch out," said Candy.

"Now, chill out! I need to concentrate on my driving or we both die! Get a pen, write down or memorize their license plate number when you see it."

They're gaining, the gap got so closed but then they're approaching a railway crossing. They saw a train coming approaching fast.

"Oh no... Hurry hurry hurry," shouted Candy. She tried her best to read the license plate number.

The truck passed the railway crossing just before the train came, but it's too late for Neal and Candy. They had to stop. When the train finally passed, the truck had gone. They kept following the road hoping to get a glimpse of the truck that carried Albert but the hope was gone as soon as they found a V-intersection.

They went outside to examine the road to see if there's any clue, but it's not at all clear where the truck went to.

"At least we have the license plate number," said Neal. "We go back and let the police take care of the rest. It should be easy."

"Bad slow driver. I can't believe Albert is gone"

"Believe it!" Rude as always, thought Neal. "Remember, I didn't ask to be your driver!"

They went back silently. He dropped her off in the mansion. She walked away without saying anything. He called her.

"Hey, we hadn't met for three years. No greetings?" asked Neal. He grinned. "A short thank you, perhaps?"

"Thanks for nothing," said Candy rudely and walked away

The way she walked, swaying her hips, she's more enchanting than ever. He stood unmoved watching her back.

"You're back, bro." Neal felt someone hit his back. "Anything?"

He shook his head silently, eyes glued to Candy.

Seeing his dumb look and Candy in the far, right away Elisa understood. Candy! He still falls under her spell.

Candy, I thought I was over you!, Neal thought.

oooOOooo

The following morning, Candy was woken up by a bang at her door.

"Come in," Candy said sleepily.

Beatrice entered frantically, crying.

Bad news?, thought Candy. She sat on her bed right away. "What happens to Albert?" asked Candy worriedly.

"Candy, aunt Elroy doesn't want the police to look for William," Beatrice cried hopelessly.

"WHAT? Why?" asked Candy.

"I am not sure," Beatrice sobbed. "Candy, what to do?"

Beatrice was crying her soul out. She sobbed and sobbed. Candy's heart was torn to pieces, she cried together with her.

I have to find a way to save Albert, thought Candy after she cooled down.

Candy hugged Beatrice.

"I'll find out more, Beatrice. Don't worry. Think of your baby," said Candy.

Candy took Beatrice to her room to calm down. She then hurriedly dressed up and went to look for aunt Elroy, ready to fight with her. At the door, she met George.

"George, could you come to my office?" asked Candy.

George nodded respectfully and followed her to the office.

"Why doesn't aunt Elroy want the police to look for Albert?" asked Candy.

"The truck you and master Neal chased yesterday belongs to the Cornwells."

"They tried to blackmail them?" asked Candy.

"I don't know Ms. Candice, I just stated the fact. In addition, we got a note demanding no police search for Sir William or they will kill him."

"What do they want?"

"They want Sir William to resign as the head of the Ardlay enterprise and return the enterprise governance back to the council in a week or he'll be killed."

"Can someone, say, Archie investigate where he is?"

"Not master Archie, because the Cornwells is closely associated with the Ardlays. Most of all, he will follow Madame Aunt Elroy's request, I believe. "

Candy cried. "Poor Albert! Poor Beatrice."

"Ms. Candice, there's someone who perhaps could help you better."

"Who?"

"Master Neal."

"Why him?" asked Candy sharply, thinking that George was making fun of her. "The Leagans are not associated with Ardlays?"

"Not as closely as the Cornwells. But more importantly... ," George stopped briefly.

"Ms. Candice, I have been working in this family for a long time. With all due respect, for the sake of Sir William, grant me the permission to speak freely...," said George. "From what I understood, master Neal is not the kind of person who necessarily obeys what other people say," he said carefully.

"You mean, he might not listen to aunt Elroy?"

"Yes, Ms. Candice. He might not," said George without moving a single muscle on his face. Looking formal, respectful as always.

"Thanks George, that would be all," said Candy.

George nodded respectfully and left.

Neal... !, thought Candy in disbelief.

All memory related to this one man was nothing but the worst. All these years she had try to purge it. She had vowed to never enter the Leagan mansion again for the rest of her life. And George thought she had to go there to ask for Neal's help? He's kidding me, thought Candy got all agitated. Never!

Candy ignored George's opinion and went to Archie.

"Archie, we should do something to find Albert," said Candy.

Archie sighed.

"Yes, we should. What happened to him is just horrible. But, Aunt Elroy just told me not to do the investigation," Archie said.

Candy was about to say something but Archie cut her first.

"That's not the reason why I don't act," he said quickly. "While Albert is gone, aunt Elroy appoints me to do the company's daily operations. With my current position, my action is highly visible to everyone. If I searched for Albert, someone could easily know and the news would spread quickly. It's dangerous for Albert. Furthermore, for the sake of the family integration..."

Candy wasn't listening.

"You know I'd do anything for you, Candy," said Archie finally. "But, this time, ... it's not possible." Archie sighed again. "The consequence might be fatal for Albert and the entire clan. They have an access to our family car, they could breach the security to enter and disrupt the party... Who knows what else they can do."

Candy was disappointed. Archie sensed it.

"Candy, listen to aunt Elroy. Drop your plan. We can't afford the risk," said Archie gently. "Poor Albert... The best thing we can do is to not make the situation worse than it already is."

What Archie said made sense. He's totally right, but Candy didn't care. She's more determined to find Albert! For the sake of Beatrice and Albert, she decided to numb her feeling and follow George's advice to meet Neal.

- TO BE CONTINUED-

Thanks for everyone who are still here to follow the story. I really appreciate it from the deepest bottom of my heart. Hopefully we meet until the end...


Chapter 7: Day 1

NAMES TO REMEMBER:

Nichole: Neal's friend/date at the party

Beatrice: Albert/Sir William's wife

Eois: his father was the head of the council who governed the Ardlay enterprise when Albert was too young to lead, (Chapter 5).

.

CHAPTER 7: Day 1

Candy went to look for Neal, twice. But he wasn't home. At night, when Neal came home, the servant told him that Candy had come twice to look for him.

She came to look for me! Neal thought excitedly. All women are the same. She too can't resist my charm!

That night Candy came again to look for Neal. As soon as she entered the living room, she remembered the unpleasant past. She hated that place even to this day. In that room, things seemed to be locked with unfading memory of never ending suffering and holding back the tears. How irony that she decided to come to this place to meet her old enemy!

Soon, the door opened and a polished tall man in meticulous neat suite entered. For a moment, beyond her control, she admired his look. How much he had grown up!

"Candy, you've been trying to spend time with me." Neal grinned.

Hearing his voice reminded her of who he actually was. The bad bully who she hated so much. He doesn't deserve to be admired, she thought right away.

Neal over-confidently walked closer to Candy. His heart was blooming thinking that tonight might be the night she'd fall for him.

"We need your help to find Albert," said Candy suddenly cutting his daydream. She tried to speak with as normal tone as possible, swallowing all hatred, eyes didn't even look at him.

He stopped walking right away, hit by jealousy. Albert! She came because of him not me.

"Why me?" asked Neal, fuming. "Did you hear aunt Elroy instruct all of us to not look for him?"

"I and Beatrice disagree with her. We don't believe it's wise to follow blindly what his capturer asked. I promised Beatrice to have someone investigate the case independently."

"Bah, William! He's missing? Good. No one wants to find him? So do I. You look for a wrong person."

Neal turned around ready to leave. He hated Albert so much, he lived with Candy and he rejected the engagement proposal, flatly, in public. How rude! He could have done it privately to reduce the impact of shock and humiliation which almost blew him to death. And for William's sake, Candy who never wanted to talk to him especially came to look for him three times in one day.

She called him back. "Neal please... For our friendship sake," implored Candy, dryly. She couldn't believe she had to lower herself to call him a friend.

"Friendship? You called us friends? Since when?" he asked cynically.

He looked at her examining her face suspiciously.

"How do I know that this is not a trap? Are you trying to wreck my reputation by making me disobey aunt Elroy? Or perhaps you actually are an accomplice of the kidnapper? Yesterday you were the only one who dared chase them," said Neal.

That did it. Baseless accusation, Candy started to get mad too. But for the sake of Albert, she tried hard to suppress it.

"Don't think too much! Just help us," she said coldly. "I'll do anything in return." She clenched her teeth in anger.

"Really?" he grinned coldly back. "Be my fiance, then, dear. Sleep with me tonight," he said sarcastically. "Would you? If not, don't bother."

"Albert is your uncle!" she shouted, losing her patience.

"Hell. With. Him," hissed Neal.

"Fine, I ask someone else," said Candy boiling.

"Go ahead. Ask that actor. I am wasting my precious time here. You know where the door is." He walked to leave the room.

Candy soon realized that he's the only one who could help her. No one else knew how to hire and do detective works better than him. Outside people wouldn't know the Ardlay family intrigues as well as him, either. So, she confronted him.

"No kidding! I know where the door is," Candy said undeterred. "I cleaned this room everyday when I was your maid. I rubbed and wiped that door every day. I know about it more than you do! But that's not the issue." She begged, "Help us to find Albert, please."

The "please" was said with a special imploring tone.

For a moment a flash of the past regret when he treated Candy so badly passed trough Neal's mind. He stopped walking right away, then turned around to look at her with an expression which she never saw before coming from him. For a second she thought she saw some tenderness before he's back to be his old self, grinned cynically.

"Fine, I help. But with conditions."

"Say it," said Candy.

"Rule number one, improve your manner. We can do some practice. Serve me tea, two cubes of sugar."

Without any scene, she obeyed instantly. She went to the nearby familiar round tea table, got busy for a while and came back with a cup of tea served nicely on a tray.

Neal was extremely jealous. The last time he asked the same thing from her, she smashed the cup to the floor+. Now, for Albert's sake, she's seemingly willing to do anything including to serve him like a perfectly obedient maid.

Candy, would you care as much if I were the one who's captured? he thought scalded by jealousy.

He held her elbow. "Rule number two!"

Candy froze in fear watching his scalded eyes, shivering in what he'd do and demand next.

"You're trembling? You're afraid of me now, eh? Why Candy? Because you need something from me to help Albert, don't you?"

"What's rule number two?"

"Tomorrow, aunt Elroy will have a meeting to decide the volunteering work. You have to be my partner. Me and you only, no one else."

"Deal," said Candy.

She snapped her arm from his grasp, glanced at him bitterly and walked out of the room.

Neal... I hate him. I hate him!, she said repeatedly to herself.

He heaved a long sigh. Candy... I love her. I still love her.

Trembling, he sank to a chair next to him. He hated himself for always bringing the worst of him to the girl who he loved the most. Haunted by the past he didn't know how to express his love without the fear of being mocked, rejected, humiliated. Was it even possible for him to expect her to return his love after all the things he had done to her? He thought he had learned how to handle women. But apparently not to Candy. The old problem was still there, the same as before.

Candy, if only I knew how tell you how much I love you...

He sat there to cool down and think...

I've got to fight this, he determined. I have less than a week to improve. I've got to win her and take her to Florida with me!

Then, to ensure secrecy he personally called detective Jay directly and asked him to come right away. That night Neal and Jay discussed steps needed to be done to find Albert.

oooOOooo

As scheduled, the following day aunt Elroy had a meeting to discuss the volunteering work. Albert had made it into a routine for the family members to do charity works, rotatingly. They visited local hospitals, read books in orphanages and more.

Aunt Elroy said, "The kidnapper demands that we all should look normal and did our daily routine uninterruptedly. So, for William's sake, we shouldn't stop our charity program to not send bad signals and attract suspicions. Beatrice shouldn't go. She's under stressed and pregnant. You go as usual, Candice."

"Candy goes alone?" asked Archie. "I go with Candy."

"Thanks Archie, but Annie is pregnant too." Candy turned around and said, "Aunt Elroy, could I request something?"

"Yes, Candice dear."

Neal's ear pricked hearing how aunt Elroy addressed Candy then she turned to watch Candy. She's different. She seemed to have mastered all the Ardlays family etiquette. She spoke actively. She looked professional, full of confidence in public, didn't at all look like an outcast girl who sat in the background. Everyone respected her even aunt Elroy seemed to like her a lot. His heart bloomed even more admiring this new look of Candy.

"Could I take Neal with me? He's new and has no partner yet."

"Yes, if you want, Candice." Aunt Elroy seemed baffled for a moment. But, a master of ceremony in all occasion, she managed to pull herself together and didn't show it.

Neal giggled in his heart.

"This is his first time, guide Neal trough it," said aunt Elroy. "Neal, learn as much as you can before you go with Candice."

Neal nodded.

"Could I join them?" asked Archie.

Candy remembered that Neal demanded only he and she, no one else. Hurriedly she looked for an excuse.

"That would be fabulous. But, the hospital which Neal and I will go to is a small one. It'd be overcrowded to have four people going to such a small hospital."

Impressive, thought Neal admiring her eloquence. He loved her even more.

Archie was so jealous.

For the rest of the meeting, they decided where other pairs would go and other things.

"Discussion is closed. Any more question?" aunt Elroy gave the closing remark finally. "If not, then that's all. Candice dear, don't forget to train Neal today."

Aunt Elroy got up and left the room. Neal went out briefly to chat with Elisa. Archie came to Candy.

"I take you home, Candy," said Archie.

"I still have things to do. How's Annie?"

"Should we always talk about Annie whenever we're together? Do I have to be reminded about her all the time?"

"Well, I...," stammered Candy.

"Candy, why you have to be so closed to Neal?"

"Huh?" said Candy speechless.

"You know how I feel about..."

She knew what he wanted to say. Feeling awfully uncomfortable, she thought quickly how to look for an excuse. Luckily, she saw Neal stood waiting in the doorway.

"Ah Neal... I've been looking for you," Candy said abruptly in her most honeyed voice.

Neal had followed Candy and Archie's awkward conversation and gleefully watching Candy try to find an excuse to leave Archie. As always, they never change, Neal thought.

Neal understood that Candy was pretending to be sweet to him as an excuse to leave Archie, so he reciprocated. Unexpected to her, Neal came with arms wide opened to give her a big hug. Soon she found her face buried in his softly scented white shirt. He said lovingly, "Candy darling, me too. Are you ready to go?" He kissed her cheek.

Candy felt her hair all stood up right away. But to not make a scene and use the opportunity to leave Archie, she hugged Neal back.

"Sorry Archie, you heard what aunt Elroy said... I need to train him."

"Let's go," said Neal with the most pleasant tone he could muster, still putting his arm around her shoulder.

Outside as soon as she's sure Archie wasn't looking, she rudely pushed him away. She then swung her arm as usual to slap his grinning face. He caught his wrist.

"Just relaxed, Candy," said Neal.

She said, "Never ever kiss me anymore. Do you hear me?"

She wiped her cheek repeatedly to openly show her disgust.

"Candy, you've used me twice. Once to save Albert and just now to get rid of Archie. Don't you think I deserve some kind of compensation?" He grinned.

She ignored him. Silently with head lifted high she walked to a seat on the deck.

"Have you started looking for Albert?" she asked harshly.

"I have, since last night," he told her about detective Jay.

She nodded inappreciatively. Without more introduction, she started to tell him about their work tomorrow.

"Tomorrow we'll go to a hospital...," she said.

She described in details all things they had to do, clothes to wear and the details of the event.

Finally, Candy said, "That's it any question?" Seeing no response, she repeated again "Neal... Any question?" she asked firmly. She's drumming her fingers on the table to show impatience.

Neal was silent for a few seconds before saying, "To be honest with you, I wasn't listening to a word you said."

"What have you been doing?" she asked.

"Watching you," he said.

She stood up right away, ready to explode. "I'm leaving."

"Repeat one more time. I'll pay attention this time."

"Don't bother! I just wasted an hour of my time."

"At least I help to free you from Archie," he shouted from the far.

He kept standing there watching her until she disappeared. He fell so much in love with her, much more passionately than ever. There's simply no one else like her.

Oh Candy, I have to win your heart this time, he vowed.

oooOooo

Without Candy and Neal knew it two pairs of eyes, a man's and a woman's, were watching them from the far.

"Did you tell Neal about our mission with Sir William?"

"No. He can't be trusted. He still likes her," answered the woman.

"That idiot, did Candy reject him in the past? In front of all of us."

"She did."

"Hopeless man. Life is unfair, isn't it? You work diligently every day, while he's only studying, secluded in Florida. But no matter what, he inherits 100% of the family business just because he's the first born son," he said.

He bitterly sipped some wine from his goblet the continued. "My father was the head of the council who took care of the Ardlay enterprise until Sir William was capable and mature enough. When that day came, he became jobless instantly and William was in full control of the whole company. First born sons. Let them go to hell."

"William is in our hands now. I am tired of being in the background," said the woman.

"Cheers... To our mission," said the man. He raised his goblet, gave her a toast.

"To our mission," said the woman.

- TO BE CONTINUED -

Hugs for everyone who's still following the story :') Thanks for reading.

+: Chapter 2. Candy smashed a tea cup to the floor.

Thanks for the support: Elsa, Sabrina, Ms. Leagan :D I love reading your comments immensely.


Chapter 8: Roses and the Thorns

CHAPTER 8: Roses and the Thorns

Candy went back to the mansion. She non stopped cursing Neal in her mind. At the door she was greeted by many worried servants.

"Ms. Candice, lucky you came. Madam...," they sighed desperately. "We don't know what to do..."

Then Candy saw Albert's and Beatrice's toddler son, William, was alone with the baby sitters from the far. That's odd, at this time usually Beatrice took him for a walk.

"Where's Beatrice?" asked Candy.

"Madam has been crying. The doctor came today saying we should do something. It's not good for her baby. We tried all we could but all were useless. We don't know what else to do."

Candy's heart broke apart. She went to Beatrice's room, knocked and entered. Beatrice was crying alone in the balcony. Seeing Candy, she cried even louder.

"William... I want him back. I miss him so much," Beatrice cried loudly and tearfully. "I doubt he'll come back if no one looks for him." She paused to sob. "My dear William is missing! And no one gives a darn to look for him!"

Beatrice cried and cried. Candy sighed worriedly seeing her desperate pregnant friend.

"Beatrice, Neal will help us," said Candy trying to comfort her. "He promised to help and investigate Albert's whereabouts."

"Will he?" she stopped crying right away.

Candy nodded. "He had started since last night."

"Oh Candy, what would I be without you!" said Beatrice hugging Candy. "Thanks Candy. You're always so nice to us."

"It'll be fine, Beatrice," said Candy encouragingly.

"Oh Neal! Did you hug him for me?" asked Beatrice.

"Er... no," said Candy.

"I should thank him the next time we meet. Thanks Candy," sobbed Beatrice with a smile this time... For the first time since that sad day, her face had some color. "I should tell Willy that daddy will come home soon." She hurriedly got up to look for her son.

Candy felt relieved to see the change.

Neal... Thank you, thought Candy. For once, suddenly she felt grateful to that man. She wondered if she should do something nice to him in return. But she hurriedly waived the thought.

Beatrice's mood improved a lot after that. The following day Candy was happy to see Beatrice was not crying in her room. She was actively decorating the new baby's room. She showed Candy some baby decorations that lay on the table.

"William was supposed to hang these today," said Beatrice.

Beatrice held the baby ornaments in her hands. Her lips trembled trying to fight back the tears.

"I don't want money or power, Candy. I really don't. Give those all to them. I just want my William back."

Candy nodded. She squeezed Beatrice's hand to show support.

"Any development in the investigation?" Beatrice asked.

"Neal will come later to tell me, Beatrice. I'll let you know," promised Candy.

"Thank Candy," said Beatrice movingly. "Oh Neal, my only hope. Such a generous man. I'll tell William to be good to him when he comes back."

Beatrice stopped seemingly reflecting something. "You know Candy, that's what a real friend all about. Not the one who comes only to have fun during party, or due to obligation in meetings. A real friend is one who's there when needed, regardless of any pressure, threat, or what not," said Beatrice. "Just like you and Neal."

Candy felt her stomach twitching to hear all these good praises about that one man. In respect for sad Beatrice though, Candy didn't want to ruin her hope and told the past truth about Neal. Beatrice had never met Neal. Albert met her long after Neal had left for Florida.

"I don't think I heard William talk about Neal at all," said Beatrice. "Why is that? Neal is his nephew too, isn't he?"

"Yeah," answered Candy shortly. "Not sure."

She pretended to pick up a glass and drink to block her eyes from Beatrice's.

"I wonder which one Neal is. Surely I met him in the party," said Beatrice trying to refresh her memory. "How does he look like?"

"Much younger than Albert. Slightly younger than Archie. Tall like Albert and Archie. Brown hair."

"Hmm... Brown hair," said Beatrice. Her face twisted struggling to remind herself of the man. "Too general, many look like that..."

"Tanned skin ...," said Candy.

"Ah, I think I know who he is," Beatrice cut her abruptly. "Yes, I remember we're shaking hands. It's hard to forget such a man." She gave a suggestive smile, giggled mildly.

Candy was stunt. Giggling? For Neal? Why? She thinks he's hot or what?

Candy wondered if Beatrice got a wrong person. Seeing Candy's surprised face made Beatrice embarrass, quickly regroup herself.

"He came with a date," Beatrice said quickly. "He told us about her intelligent profession and admirable achievement. I forgot what, though. Oh, they looked adorable together."

A date? With a brainy woman? Now candy's turn who's surprised. She never knew that Neal had a date let alone with an intelligent woman. Is there someone who really could bear him?

One servant entered telling Beatrice that her son was crying looking for her. Hurriedly she excused herself.

"I should thank Neal," said Beatrice before she disappeared from the door. "Invite him for lunch?"

Candy nodded.

When Beatrice left, Candy sat down thinking about things. She took a deep breath and heaved a big sigh. Feeling funny that someone just said that much nice things abut Neal. She laughed to herself loudly. Then her mind wandered back to Albert.

Poor Albert. How come something so bad happens to such a nice man. This is not fair,she thought.

As Beatrice said the only hope was Neal who was working on the case. Neal, give me good news today, wished Candy. Maybe I should start to be a bit nicer to him? She shuddered and again waived the thought right away.

Candy then waited and waited for Neal to come.

How come he's not here yet? thought Candy.

Her eyes then caught the baby decoration that's lying on the table. Brokenheartedly, Candy picked them up to hang those for poor Beatrice. She climbed the ladder which already was there waiting for Albert to use and hanged them one by one.

She was about to hang the last ornament but the hook was a little bit too high for her. She stretched her body as much as she could, but she still couldn't reach it. Finally she hopped a bit on the ladder. The ornament was hanged successfully, but the ladder got pushed sideways. Candy hurriedly put her foot on the nearby window sill and grabbed the curtain to balance herself.

Wow, she thought. Almost fell.

"That's dangerous, Candy." She heard someone talking. It's Neal.

"How long have you been here?" she asked. Standing on the window sill, she looked down three meters below.

"A while," he said, "Nice scene from here!" He looked up looking trough her skirt that's widely opened seen from below.

She hurriedly brought her skirt together and squeezed it between her legs so he couldn't see anything trough it.

He grinned. "Don't worry. I've seen more than that."

"The ladder, pervert! Give me the ladder."

He's shaking his head with a grimace. "Watch out your tongue, Candy. Remember rule number one."

"Neal, the ladder, please."

He grinned, straightened the ladder so she could climb downstairs.

"Sorry I'm late. Something came up in the office."

"Any news?" asked Candy impatiently. For the first time she felt happy to see the man.

"Jay has been working hard to locate Albert's whereabouts. He had narrowed down to a few potential places of interest. He'll check them more today."

"He doesn't know where Albert is?"

"Not yet," confirmed Neal. "But Jay will have more news to share at lunch."

She cried.

"Poor couple. I am hanging baby decoration here because today is the day Albert promised Beatrice to do so but he's not here. What if he's..."

She couldn't continue.

"He can't be dead at this moment. I can guarantee you that. It's too risky to kill someone as big as Sir William."

She told him how this morning Beatrice was crying on her shoulder.

"They can't outsmart me. Don't worry. I'll solve the case," assured Neal. "It just takes time. Yesterday was only our first day of investigation."

She felt better by his assurance. Without Neal, she honestly knew no one else to turn to.

"Eh Neal, Beatrice invited you to have lunch with us," said Candy. Her mouth curled hesitatingly into a little smile.

"I'll go next time when there's only you and me. Privately," he grinned. "In addition, Jay should be waiting for me."

Jay, she thought. She felt so touched on his dedication to his promise to look for Albert.

"Thanks Neal," she said truly grateful. "I walk you back to your car," she said. Naturally a nice woman, she wanted to do something in return to show her gratitude.

"This way." Candy lead the way.

She took him using a detour to pass some rose beds. She picked up some tools and used them to cut a few roses.

"These roses are a new breed which I worked on with the gardener. It's their blooming season. I give you some."

"Oh, the scent is similar to one of Anthony's roses, but a bit stronger. They are bigger, too," commented Neal.

His intelligent answer delighted her.

"Oh you notice!" said Candy impressed. She excitedly told him more about it. "Anthony named the rose you're referring to Sweet Candy. This rose is a the combination or Anthony's Sweet Candy and some wild roses. Yes, they are bigger, have stronger scent and..."

"Ouch...," exclaimed Neal.

"But unfortunately this breed has unusually many soft thorns," said Candy. "Sorry, I should have warned you first. Let me see..."

She took off her gloves, took his hand to hers to examine it.

Her touch brought electric shock to his body. He had been imagining the sensation of her touch. But, he never thought that the reality was infinitely beyond anything he had ever imagined or felt with other women. His heart almost exploded smelling the sweetness of her hair, seeing it glitter under the sun. He never stood so closed to her before.

She softly patted his hand. "It's fine now, I've pulled the thorn out." She gave him the puppy guilty look which melted his heart.

If only he could pull her towards him and take off her clothes right here, right now and have sex with her on that soft patch of grass next to the scented rose bed!

With him watching, Candy made a bouquet of rose flowers carefully to make it safe for him to carry. She tied her handkerchief to the bouquet as the final touch and gave it to him. He examined the handkerchief remembering the past when she wrapped his hand with one after that car accident*.

"Beautiful," said Neal. "You improved a lot in embroidering."

"You remember my embroidery?" asked Candy.

"Yes," he said. If only she knew that I stared at that every single day...

She smiled.

"This embroidery is beautiful, isn't it? I didn't do it though," she laughed. "Beatrice ordered this set when she and Albert went to Nice."

They parted with he promised to pick her up in the afternoon for the volunteering work. Candy waved and watched his car until it disappeared from her sight. Surprisingly, it's not as hard as what she had thought to be nice to him.

"Did you ever date him before?" Suddenly Candy heard someone talk behind her.

She saw Beatrice coming with her son, little William.

"No," answered Candy shortly.

"Why not? You can't honestly tell me that there's one of your past dates that is hotter than him."

Hot? She certainly never thought about Neal that way and Beatrice had suggested the idea twice today.

Candy sighed secretly and looked at Beatrice's innocent kind eyes. She has no idea how we were in the past!, thought Candy.

"He had not been in Chicago for a long time," said Candy flatly.

Candy carried little William to hide her face from Beatrice. They then entered the mansion for lunch...

-TO BE CONTINUED-

Thank you so much for following the story thus far. I hope you stay until the end.

NOTE:

* Neal's car accident: a scene from anime. Candy wrapped his injured hand with her embroidered handkerchief.

Sabrina: As soon as I saw the review counter went up, I right away thought about you. And that's true. Thanks for coming.


Chapter 9: Chaos of the Heart

Chapter 9: Chaos of the Heart

That afternoon Neal came again to pick up Candy for the volunteering work. Candy had been anticipating his visit, she couldn't wait to hear the news from Jay. She looked outside trough the windows waiting for Neal. When she saw his car coming, she dashed downstairs. She opened the door almost right after he pushed the door bell.

Seeing his appearance, she almost gasped openly, forgot totally about Jay.

He's fully dressed in the most exquisite dark gray suite with a light silver tie. His shoes polished so bright, they shone. The scent of his subtle cologne floating in the air mercilessly knocking her nerve senses.

After awhile she managed to speak. "Er, as I explained yesterday, we're just going to the hospital basement to read a story." Candy gulped, awed, trying to look composed.

"As I said yesterday, I wasn't listening to a word you said," he said calmly. "No time to go back home to change. That's fine. It's better to overdress than under-dress."

"How's Jay?" Candy asked in the car.

"He found an interesting place. An old barn. He's investigating it now. Will tell me more this evening," he answered.

All the time, his eyes looked at her, non stop. She looked somewhere else, feeling uncomfortable.

"You don't comb your hair in piggy tails anymore?" Neal asked.

The way he said it and looked at her made her body stir.

She shook her head.

"Since when?"

"Two years ago. Why?"

"You look more mature this way. It suites you better."

Flirting Neal, she thought blushed everywhere. But, somehow she liked his attention. It's been so long no one did it this well, she thought. The way he flirted was unlike anyone else, it's subtle, pleasant, with a touch of sophistication which made her feel important somehow. Or perhaps it's simply because he's overly breathtaking today.

He grinned and started to tell stories about Florida.

Instead of listening, she's observing the man, trying to find what made Beatrice giggle and think hot. He has a date? She thought curiously and examined him some more. At some point their eyes met. She had to admit that he had grown up to be a handsome man. Devilishly handsome. Breathtaking. Unlike then, now his eyes shone with pride and self confidence. His face was less round giving him the look of a grown up man, shoulders were broader, and he had a seemingly yummy washboard abs under his white shirt.

When her eyes stopped at his large smooth hands, unavoidably, visions flashed from her boiling imagination of how it felt to be touched by them, do the unspeakable with the rest of his body. Yes! She understood why Beatrice giggled. She could believe that he had a date. Not only that, she started to wonder how many girls had surrendered to his touch. He's manly, masculine, every part of him hit high notes in her desire nerves cell.

Then, she realized that his alluring bronze eyes were watching her closely.

"Candy... what are you thinking?" he asked examining her blank face.

She blushed, embarrassed by the improper thought that had been occupying her brain.

"Er... What other important rules I haven't told you about," she said lying.

"Really?" he grinned. "I don't think so. I think you're thinking what I was thinking," he said softly.

"I am not like you," she said blushing beet red."I know how bad you are."

"No you don't," said Neal grinned sinfully. "I doubt you know how bad I can be." His eyes flashed, amused. " On the other hand, I notice with me around, one can get infected quickly."

She felt hot ripple inside her. She felt relieved that they had arrived so she didn't need to reply to him. Quickly she grabbed her bag and went out from the car.

When they entered the big meeting hall, the room was instantly filled with noticeable gasp as well dressed Neal entered. She noticed but pretending to be oblivious.

"This is Neal Leagan," introduced Candy briefly. "He is my partner today."

He kept walking behind her following her and didn't seem to mind at all to be behind her witnessing her in charge of the day activity. He's watching her coordinating the event, seeing her instructing people, greeting everyone, shaking hands and more. Throughout, she could feel that he didn't take his eyes off her. Got embarrassed, she sent him away.

"Now, do your work. I have to prepare to read my story now," Candy said to Neal.

"What should I do?" asked Neal.

"Oh Mr. Leagan, do you need help?" asked one female staff readily.

"Of course he does, today is his first day, isn't it?" said another one, also female. "Over here, we wrap gifts. I'll show you how..."

"No, let me show him," said another female staff.

"I could too," said yet another female staff.

...

Before long, Neal was crowded by female staffs who whisked him away eagerly competing to give him instructions and other things in the most pleasant ways. Candy saw him grin to her from the far. Candy went alone to pick up a book to prepare her reading material. But she could only stare emptily at the pages.

It drove her crazy to watch these girls surrounding him non stopped laughing, giggling, and teasing him. And even though she tried to convince herself that she hated him, somehow she wanted to send all these girls away from him. Thus, she did exactly just that.

Candy approached the crowd. "Today I wrap gift, he will tell stories to the kids." She pulled him to have a private discussion with him. "Read a story that has moral values, remember they are kids."

"No problem. Moral values," he grinned wickedly. "Don't worry."

Candy tried to finish her work as quickly as she could to check on Neal. When she came back, she saw Neal was sitting on a stool, finishing telling his story.

"... Lo and behold, when the frog kissed the princess, the frog turned into a handsome prince... But, guess what, to their surprise, now the princess turned into a frog. They asked the witch why so?" said Neal telling his story.

All the children clapped their hands and roared in laughter. "Why?" they shouted merrily almost at the same time.

Oh no, Neal, Candy thought panicked. Don't improvise, please.

"The witch said, not only the princess had to learn to kiss a frog, to be fair the prince must too," continued Neal. "And so they kissed again and finally the frog turned into the princess. They lived happily ever after..."

The children clapped and ran to surround and hug Neal. Soon he disappeared surrounded by happy children. He got up carrying two smallest girls to save them from being squeezed by others. The two little girls were clinging to his neck and he carried them effortlessly one in each arm. His tall figure was surrounded by happy children who're fighting to hug him. Candy never saw this soft scene of him before.

"One more! One more story, Mr. Leagan!"

"That's for next year," he said with a grin.

"We like your modified fairy tale stories. Will you come again next year, Mr. Leagan?" asked another one.

"I will. Promise!" Neal answered

"Mr. Leagan will you marry me when I grow up?" asked one little girl.

"That...," he glanced to Candy, "... depends on Ms. Ardlay."

"Ms. Ardlay, I think he likes you," whispered the girl to Candy.

Candy blushed. "Alright, children let's open the parcel," said Candy.

Their visit was tremendously successful. The children were overly excited by Neal so they were extra cheerful today. The staffs were very happy to see the happy faces of the little guests in addition to the visit of the charming man who's so delicious to the eyes.

"Where have you been hiding him, Ms. Ardlay?" they kept whispering to Candy as they walked them outside.

...

ooOoo

"They like you," said Candy grumpily to Neal in the car.

"All girls in this planet, except one," responded Neal cheerfully.

"Albert has married. Archie too. Now I know why you haven't got married," said Candy contemptuously.

"Why?"

"Because you enjoy all these female companions a bit too much."

"Wrong. Because my beloved woman isn't ready yet to return my love."

"Really?" she asked cynically. "How many more do you have in Florida?"

"Uncountable. But I'm not referring to them. I'm referring to one woman who's right now sitting next to me," he whispered.

"Whoa! Charmer...," she smiled right away, shyly. Somehow she felt a heavy rock was just being removed from her heart.

"Finally, you smile?" teased Neal. "Were you jealous just now?"

He whispered gently with a certain voice and smile which, from his experience, he knew no girls could resist. He's confident that the time had come to make her surrender to his kiss. He turned sideways, to bring his arm to pull her closer. Finally, he would taste the sweetness of her lips.

But just when he's about an inch away he saw her eyes flashed, a second later a hand flew to his face. He caught her wrist just in time before it hit him.

"Why do you always have to want to kiss me?" she hissed angrily. Her gaze turned chilly instantly.

"Why do you always have to be so violent?" he responded back. His gaze turned defiant.

"Because you don't actually want me. You just want to humiliate me as always. To you, I'm just a poor orphan girl who needs to be mocked," she said, dangerously soft, snapping her wrist from his grip at the same time.

"That's not true," he said. That hurt. The regret of his past hostile behavior came back. It was unbearably painful. He could hardly breath.

"As soon as I give what you want, you'll trash me, mock me. It's the trophy of personal pride that you seek after. It' s not love, it's merely a game," slammed Candy.

"You're wrong. Why can't you see things beyond the past..."

"Could you if you were me? Could anyone?" she exploded angrily. "The reason that I'm with you now is just for Beatrice and Albert. After he's found, I'll stop seeing you, too. Now, back off. Treat me like a mere stranger from now on."

He had wanted to explain it all to make her understand. He had waited for the opportunity to apologize to her. The time, he decided, was now. He debated whether he should shake her and slam her with argument, or say it calmly, or whisper softly in her ears. He chose the second.

"Let me explain...," said Neal using his most professional tone.

"Nothing you say will change my perception about you. Save your breadth," cut Candy. She closed her ears with both of her hands.

"You have to listen," said Neal. He pulled her hands that covered her ears forcing her to listen.

"No, I don't want to listen!" screamed Candy trying to free her hands from his tight grips, in vain. "Release me, bogeyman. I don't like you! Not a bit!"

"Listen to me..."

... Knock knock...

Two staffs were knocking at the car window seemed to want to urgently talk to Neal. Reluctantly he lowered down the window.

"Excuse us, Mr. Leagan. Quiet urgent. We have an information about Mr. Jay. He's in the hospital."

Candy's heart almost stopped beating. Wrong timing, thought Candy. What if he's mad, refused to help, and stopped the investigation.

Neal nodded to his staff.

"I get to go to check what's wrong," said Neal to Candy.

Candy felt extremely relieved that he's willing to move forward with the investigation. Very grateful in fact that she had to suppress the urge to hug to thank him. She hurriedly got off from the car with heart beat so hard and tears were ready to flow. She couldn't stay one more second in that car. All the mixed feeling, hatred of the past and tenderness of the present which started to grow overwhelmingly, was just too confusing.

-To Be Continued-

Thanks for reading. Thanks so much for still being here to follow the story.


Chapter 10: The Barn

REMINDER:

Jay: a detective Neal hired to find William.

Eois: first appeared in chapter 5.

CHAPTER 10: The Barn

In the hospital, Neal found Jay lie unconscious in bed.

Poor Jay, Neal thought. He remembered years ago in the past when he asked Jay to investigate if Candy lived together with someone*. At that time Jay was looking for his first case and eagerly took the job. Neal sighed silently. Who would have known that the man turned out to be William�

"His car was badly damaged, Mr. Leagan," one doctor explained.

Jay's condition was okay nothing too serious but still he's not conscious. According to the nurse he occasionally murmured "barn" in his dream.

Barn? Neal thought. Today at lunch Jay told him where the Cornwells' truck, that's used to kidnap Albert, was found. Jay investigated some places of interest nearby and found a deserted farmhouse and a barn to be the most intriguing. Jay said he'd investigate the barn after lunch.

"The truck is the Cornwells'," said Jay. "But I doubt it means more than what it is. It's even weird. No thieves would want to reveal their identity that bluntly."

From the hospital, on the way home, Neal was thinking about the kidnapper's motive.

Many of William's enemies are bitterer than me, Neal thought. For once he believed that Albert was in serious danger.

Actually, now that he thought about it, many people would benefit if Albert died. Aunt Elroy had more power, Archie got promotion. Many family members, including himself, Candy and especially Beatrice, got a large sum of money from wealth distribution written in Albert's will.

While thinking, Neal was driving to Elisa's office. He wanted to tell her and hear her thought of the mystery since her sharp input usually was worth taking.

As Neal drove to enter the office gate, he saw Eois' car leaving the building. He felt weird right away. Eois again, why would Elisa be interested to someone like him?

Neal understood his sister well. To simply doing business networking with people with less money didn't seem to fit her character. Suddenly Eois bothered him.

"Hi Neal, how's your first time with the children?" greeted Elisa.

"Good. Just came back from one. Did you go?"

"Yes, just came back with Eois."

Probably that's why he's here?, Neal thought. Regardless, he decided not to tell Elisa anything to prevent unnecessary leak of information.

Neal stayed some more time to do some light talking without mentioning anything about Jay, the barn, or Albert investigation in general. He then went home to do some more thinking.

Neal believed he should start by investigating the barn which Jay had been murmuring. It seemed suspiciously important. To be safe, he would do so in disguise. He would take one woman with him for his plan to work. Regardless of what happened this afternoon, the only person he wanted to be with was Candy.

She still can't forgive me, he thought sadly.

He decided to act coolly, treat her just like a stranger as she wanted to avoid further fighting. It's better that way than he couldn't be with her at all.

oooOOOoooo

Candy couldn't be more relieved when Neal came again. As a gratitude for his continuous effort to look for Albert, she tried to look as normal as possible as though their afternoon conversation never took place. But to her disappointment, she noticed he had changed. His teasing manner was gone, his grin was gone too. He behaved so cold, just like a stranger as what she demanded.

"I have some news," Neal said stoically.

He told her what happened to Jay.

"Can you look for a new detective?" ask Candy.

"Yes. But it takes time," he answered blandly. "The screening process to make sure that the person is clean and not connected to the kidnappers would be laborious."

"Oh?" asked Candy.

"The kidnappers seemed to have a connection with the insiders otherwise they couldn't enter to the Ardlays' party and outsmart the tight security protocol. Unlike Jay who I've known for a long time, I shouldn't trust a new one as easily."

Candy nodded. "So what to do?" she asked.

"I'll go to the barn to check what's in there," said Neal.

"I go with you," offered Candy.

"Probably it is too dangerous. Just look at what happened to Jay," said Neal. "But frankly, your presence would be helpful for my disguise purpose."

"Then I go," said Candy. "I'll do anything for Albert's sake."

As soon as she finished saying it, she bit her lips. She knew he's jealous to Albert. But to her disappointment, his face stayed the same didn't show any sign of jealousy. Somehow, she felt disappointed. She didn't think she could bear it if he didn't have any more feeling towards her.

"I have to do some preparation now to prevent what happened to Jay to happen to us. We go tomorrow morning," said Neal.

"Neal, aunt Elroy looked particularly worried today. George said she got another threatening letter from the kidnapper. She didn't say what though."

Neal nodded seriously. "We need to work fast. I don't think we have much time."

He bowed graciously before leaving. After a few steps he turned around. "Try to look for shabby old clothes for disguise tomorrow."

While watching him leave, secretly she's hoping that he'll be back to normal tomorrow...

ooOoo

The following day early in the morning Neal had come to pick up Candy. He looked unlike she had ever seen him before. His beard was unshaved, he used shabby short sleeve shirt carrying shabby backpack in his shoulder.

"A shirt?" asked Candy. It's the first time she saw him wearing such an informal clothing.

"Wear your shabby clothes like me, Candy. We disguise as vagabonds."

After she changed, he took her to his car, a cheap looking car. Worse than the car Albert bought long time ago, thought Candy.

Everything with him was the opposite of his usual luxurious belongings. Surprisingly, he looked much more appealing. He looked roguishly disheveled in his unshaved beard. She shivered seeing his well tone forearms fully displayed with his short sleeve shirt. The top buttons of his front shirt was open displaying part of his chest skin. That tanned skin screamed, soon she found her eyes mindlessly wandering at it.

He took two wigs out from his backpack. He wore one and asked Candy to wear one, too.

Seeing his meticulous preparation, she could only say, "He-eh," shortly to comment.

He's still cold. He was unusually quiet inside the car, not much words were exchanged during the ride. Based on the information Jay had given him, Neal found the dark red suspicious barn relatively easily.

Neal hid the car in the bushes in nearby area which had lots of trees. The car was barely visible from the far. Neal and Candy then walked to the barn on foot. He walked unusually far from her, probably about an arm away, and didn't flirt at all. She regretted for being overly fierce at him. She never thought it's possible to hate someone and want him at the same time.

Soon, they could see the barn from the far.

"Hold my hand," Neal said coldly. "Our presence can be seen clearly now from the barn." He looked serious, without teasing smile and eyes stayed nailed to the barn. "With all do respect, we disguise as a pair of vagabond lovers," he explained in the most gentleman like manner.

"Oh?" asked Candy.

"Romance. Everyone understands, universal language," he explained dryly without any expression.

She complied.

She felt his warm smooth large hands holding her. Right away her brain was flooded with improper thoughts again. She stole a look at him, but he looked composed, seemingly not affected by it. Now that she got what she wanted, he acted like a stranger, she regretted it instead of rejoicing.

Finally they arrived at the barn. They entered and he closed the doors from the inside.

"This barn seemed to be special," he said. He told her briefly about Jay. "We should try to find out why."

They looked around and saw lots of hay, old cabinets, old stuffs, old toys, nothing seemed unusual. They wondered what the connection with Albert was.

Barn, Barn, Neal kept saying to himself repeatedly and walked back and forth.

Candy was busy thinking too. She searched and searched, examining all old toys, opened all drawers in the old cabinet, dresser, and more but there's nothing.

In frustration, Candy took a seat on a stool. Since that short stool was the only seat available in that barn, he also took a seat on that stool next to her. She felt their arms brushed now that both of them wore short sleeve shirts. That fraction second of brush was enough to make her feel breathing difficult. In confusion, she withdrew herself to move farther away from him and accidentally she hit a metal ball�

The heavy ball rolled on the floor. While it's rolling, Neal noticed that it left different sounds on the wooden floor.

"That's strange," said Neal.

Hurriedly he got up, took a wooden log and tapped it on the floor. In some area that's covered by an old rug it had a peculiar hollow sound. Curiously, he lifted up the rug and unexpectedly found a door handle.

"A hidden door!" Neal said amazed.

Candy gasped.

He opened it. They saw a tunnel equipped with stairs on the wall.

"A tunnel!" Candy said astonished.

"Candy you wait here. When someone comes call me," said Neal.

"You're going in?" Candy asked trembling.

The tunnel looked so dark and for the first time she felt afraid of being left alone.

"Yes, who knows I'll find William inside," he grinned. "Imagine if we could take him home today."

He took a flashlight with him and disappeared into the darkness. Candy was frightened. She wanted to pull his arm to prevent him from getting inside but couldn't as though something locked her mouth and froze her limbs. Trembling, she saw him disappear. Finally, after the last glimpse of light from his flashlight disappeared, the tunnel returned to total darkness and silence�

oooOooo

Neal kept walking along the tunnel. It's quite long. After a while, he reached the end of the tunnel. He observed carefully and noticed that the tunnel was surrounded by wooden wall of interesting wood pattern. There's a side door. He tried to open it but couldn't, it's locked.

Suddenly Neal heard voices. His heart almost stopped beating in alarm. After listening carefully he realized that the voice came from above him.

The voice was soft, but after some effort he could catch partly what they said.

"We... - ... slow," Neal heard. The voice was almost like humming.

"We - have... William ...-... long" Neal heard a man said. "-... dangerous ... us."

"I ... - ... move him ...," Neal heard a woman's voice answered.

"Not.. enough..." a man's voice said...

Then Neal thought he heard Candy's voice calling him. He couldn't be sure but he decided to quickly go back to check.

ooOooo

In the barn, Candy was waiting impatiently. Minutes by minutes passed by which seemed like hours to her. After a while she started to get nervous, what if Neal got harmed like Jay or got injured, killed, or perhaps captured together with Albert? She started to regret to pull him to go through all this.

Bah, he's just a despicable man. If not because of Albert, my life would have been ruined by him. He had to pay for making me suffer, she thought. Her heart felt in peace right away.

But after long minutes later, he still didn't come back. This was too long. If anything happened to him, there should be a better way of saying good bye, not after the intense argument they had yesterday. At least she should thank him for his effort to rescue Albert.

He's dead... He's dead, she thought feeling so guilty to herself. She tried to think all wicked things he did to overcome her guilty feeling. But it didn't work. Instead, she remembered his kind happy face when carrying those children yesterday in the hospital and felt guilty even more. Tears ran down like rain.

Summoning all energy she whispered real softly. "Neal, comeback Neal."

But he didn't come back. The silence scared her even more. She walked back and forth, unable to sit still. Worried tears started to build up.

Oh no! Poor Neal. What have I done?

Candy put her head inside the tunnel and called him again and again, louder and louder. At the end she screamed at the top of her lung. But still there's no answer. She promised herself she would count to 100 and jumped into the hole if he didn't show up. At 48, she couldn't take it anymore. She called Neal again, still no response and she was about to jump to the hole following him when she heard some noise and his voice responded.

"I'm coming." She heard his familiar voice coming from the tunnel.

She felt so relieved, probably never be as happy in her life.

"Anyone coming?" he asked as he climbed the stairs hurriedly back to the barn.

Unable to speak, she jumped to hug him tightly. He's alive and safe!

"Anything wrong?" he asked worriedly pushing her away to look at her face. That's when he saw her eyes were swollen with tears.

"You've been crying!" he said surprised. "You are worried about me?" He asked dumbfoundedly, couldn't believe what he saw.

"No, I'm not." But at the same time big drops of tears escaped her eyes rolled on her face. She wiped them frustratingly with the back of her hand.

Suddenly they heard people talking outside.

"Unbutton your shirt," said Neil.

"What?" asked Candy in disbelief. This man never changes, he is just totally...

"Remember our situation, we are a couple of vagabond lovers," said Neil quickly. "Don't forget that."

"But..."

"For William's sake, or probably our own sake, do what I said," urged him as gently as possible.

He ran to close the door of the tunnel back and put the carpet on top of it as before. He just had enough time to put his arms around her and she just had enough time to unbutton the top two buttons of her clothes when the doors were banged opened. Neal saw two men enter from the corner of his eye.

Neal lifted his head pretending to be surprised and interrupted by their presence. Then, he pretended that he didn't care about them and edged closer to Candy as though to continue hugging her back tightly. Feeling her so closed to him, her breasts pressed against his chest made him feel totally dizzy. His blood boiled, heart raced. Unexpectedly to him, he felt her body respond to his.

"There's only a couple of love birds inside," shouted one man to his other colleagues outside the barn.

They went outside, banged the door, and left.

Candy was waiting for Neal to release her, but he didn't.

"Neal, they left," said Candy finally.

"I know," he said.

But to Candy's surprise, Neal still didn't release her. On the contrary, she felt his grip got even stronger.

"Don't hate me, please," begged Neal.

She couldn't believe her ear. It was staggering. Instant heat crippled her. She felt the distance between them narrowed. The air between them got hot. His heavy breath against her ear made her heart beat stronger with each word he said.

"You want me," he murmured tightening his grip. "Admit it...," he said hoarsely.

She trembled instantly.

"No, I don't want you. Let me go," she said without trying to struggle. Her voice wobbled.

"I can't," Neal said. He pressed his face to hers, his hands roamed against her back, slowly, intensely pressing her towards him.

"I love you, Candy," Neal said. "I'm tired of pretending. I don't want to fight with you. I want to love you." He said with unmistakably poignant passion in his voice.

She was on fire and not sure what to do. After all these years, this same man suddenly came again to wreck her heart all over again although in a different way. The tension was so strong unlike anything she had ever experienced. She wondered if she dared confront the past all over again.

While for him, he didn't care of the consequence or what happened next anymore. All he knew was he had to tell her the truth which had been buried inside his heart for all these years. That was he truly loved her madly deeply.

-To Be Continued-

NOTE:

*Jay's idea is loosely taken from chapter 9 of manga, page 18.

My deepest gratitude for all the readers. Thanks for still being here to follow the story :') We're almost done. Please stay till the end :D


Chapter 11: Sudden Idea

CHAPTER 11: Sudden Idea

His lips rested on the side of her throat. She started to be afraid not from him, but from the new feeling that surged within her

"Kiss me Candy. Let me show you everything I've been wanting to tell you," said Neal.

"Oh!" She tried to push him. "You should be ashamed...," she said trying to sound angry. But instead her voice was shaky, she hated it.

"I know I don't deserve you. I'm ashamed of myself." To her though, he sounded more like a man in love rather than one who's ashamed to himself.

She felt her breath surged unsteadily, competing with his. His grip got even tighter.

"Candy," he whispered, "just one kiss."

Her heart beat so hard, her brain started to plunge into chaos. When he slowly moved his lips closer to hers all she could was helplessly let him bury his mouth into hers. Soon she tasted the warmest hungriest kiss she had ever felt in her entire life. It's burning. The longing was both deep and obvious. Her breath raced, her heart pounded as hard has his. She wanted to push him and slap him, he deserved it!

But above all she wanted to pull him closer to feel him and bury her mouth deeper into his. She felt love! Abundantly! It felt so good that she wished time would stop still so she could enjoy it endlessly�

Tap... tap... They heard someone's footsteps.

"Neal they're coming," murmured Candy.

"Yes." He released a soft groan. "I know." He held her both cheeks tightly with his hands refusing to let her go, for him to eat her voraciously just a bit longer.

Bang! They heard someone slam the door wide open. They're back.

"They're still kissing. It's real," said one man.

"Love birds, we'll lock you here until our boss says we can release you." They left and slammed the door closed.

Candy and Neal heard the sound of the door being locked from outside.

They sat awkwardly in silence. He wondered what she'd do next. Would she slam him, would she mock and look down on him for being a jerk, would she humiliate him for falling in love with her?

To his relieved, she didn't ridicule him, instead she said, "Neal, I'm afraid."

He felt so relieved. She had such a golden heat. She didn't make it difficult. He loved her even more.

He took her arms and gently put her on his lap. He hugged her in silence, rested his head on her shoulder, feeling relieved and happy to finally able to have her peacefully in his arms.

"Don't be afraid. Trust me. Just wait for a while."

After a moment of silence, he asked, "Tell me, truthfully. Has anyone ever kissed you like that?"

She slowly shook her head. "No," she answered softly.

Honestly, she never experienced such a convincing statement from just one single kiss. It was the most overpowering kiss she had ever experienced, broke all the benchmark, set a new record high, left all other kisses in the dust.

"I love you, Candy. Do you believe me now?" Neal asked even softlier.

Before she could respond, in a flash, he stiffened and said, "Shh...!"

Neal heard a car coming with a distinct horn sound that made hair on the back of his neck stood up. He understood cars very well. Only a few cars could have sound as familiar as that one.

He sat straight right away. He then heard a woman's voice which sounded equally familiar. It wasn't clear, he couldn't catch what she said. Others might not be able to identity her. Without the sound of the car engine, he might not either. But the voice with that sound of car engine together enabled him to identify whose voice that was.

Elisa...?, he thought in horror.

Candy noticed his face turned white and his warm grip turned icy cold.

"Neal, what's wrong?" Candy asked worriedly.

Suddenly he got an idea of what's going on. Eois who suddenly befriended Elisa, the council..., and William. The ideal appalled him.

My sister, oh good god, he thought to himself. He's so scared thinking about her especially the possible danger and consequence that might fall on her.

"Neal?" whispered Candy again. She shook him a little. "Neal, say something..." His entrenched figure frightened her.

"I have an idea," he said slowly with eyes looked far behind the wall. "But first, we need to get out from here. It's dangerous here. Try to look calm, walk normally just like we're a pair of love birds. Oh Candy, you have to look calm, really really calm. Very calm."

His face was pale, his lips trembled.

"Neal," said Candy gently. "I'm calm alright. You're the one who are not..."

"Yes, I need to calm down. I need to calm down... ," he said.

He didn't look too good, shaken badly. She felt sorry for him. She realized that he's the only one who gave the family hope to find Albert. In sympathy, she reached out to him. She clasped her hands on both sides of his cheeks and kissed him tenderly.

Her action shocked him. The shock sobered him.

"Candy, you're an angel." He hugged her for awhile absorbing her energy to regroup himself. They then heard someone unlock the barn door. Soon there's silence. It seemed everyone outside had left.

"Finally," he said, "We have to go now, hurry."

They walked hand in hand silently trying their best to look like a relaxed couple in love which was not that hard for them. Truly in love, he put his arm around her waist, she leaned her head on his shoulder, and they exchanged kisses a couple of times.

They reached the car, he drove normally, not speeding. Closed at home, he pulled to the side of the road. He pulled her toward him and kissed her tenderly.

"If not because of William, I would have kidnapped you to my room right now," he whispered.

He took off his wig and hers. His hand came to her head, tenderly fixing her hair.

"Will you be alright?" Candy asked.

"Yes. I'll take you home first then I think what to do next. I'm afraid, we are running out of time."

"Neal, this is getting dangerous," said Candy. "I'm worried..."

"Don't worry, I'll save William."

"No, I meant to say, I'm worried about you. I am so worried about you," she cried.

"Candy," Neal said gently. "Are you really?"

She nodded tearfully.

He pulled her and gently kissed her tears away, one by one. "Thank you. But, don't worry, my love. We will be fine, both me and him."

They kissed one more time and he took her home.

oOo

Neal went directly to Elisa's office to confirm his theory. Dearest sister the woman who he never had disagreement with throughout his life, except about Candy, the one who he always supported and listened to. Too bad, now she had to listen to him. He had to make her stop collaborating with Eois and joined him instead.

As soon as he entered her office, he closed the door right away.

"Where do you keep William?" asked Neal directly to Elisa. He fixed his eyes hard on her.

"I don't know what you're talking about," answered Elisa avoiding his stare. Seeing his unusual shabby shirt, she sensed he was up to something.

"You don't know?" asked Neal dryly.

He slowly pulled the wigs from his bag and put them on her table. "Do you know what they are?"

"That vagabond was you?" asked Elisa.

Neal nodded. "You see the connection?"

"The woman must be her, Candy."

He grinned, nodded again.

"You go against me because of her!" shouted Elisa in rage. She banged her desk and stood up right away. If her eyes were fire, he would be burned to dust already.

"No! Because I don't want you to end up in jail," he shouted equally loudly. "This is a conspicuous crime! We beat them using business not crime."

Their eyes looked at one another competing whose stronger. He let go his first with a sigh.

Using a normal voice he asked, "What did they offer you?"

"Be a member of the new council, get 20% of the Ardlays family shares."

"The Leagan enterprise is much bigger than 20% of the Ardlays family share."

"It's easy for you to say. William gets all the Ardlays family shares, dad gives ours to you, while I get nothing. Nothing! Just because I am not the first born son...," Elisa hit the table in front of her again, harder. "How unfair!"

"There's a purpose for that, to prevent the company from breaking apart..."

"I don't care what the reason is. All I know is I want it too!" she screamed loudly angrily wiped several books and the wigs off the table hard to the floor.

"Dear sister, that's beyond my control. It has been outlined legally for generations. But I promise, as long as I live, I will divide all I have with you. I'll help you to make your own company. It will be bigger than 20% of the Ardlays family share."

She looked at him, dubiously.

"Don't believe me?" he asked. "I wish I could explain this in a more appropriate setting. Until then, you just have to trust me," implored Neal.

He sat in the chair in front of her, putting a relaxed calm look. In a tone that are both soft and placid he talked to persuade his younger sister.

"In spite what you think, I don't just hang out with girls in Florida. I study and work, hard." He explained. "I started by doing internship, then I invested using my own money. One and a half years ago, I set up my own company. It did well. Our last name is an asset, for sure. It gives free publication. We got well known quickly and received people's confidence since day one."

He grinned. "Just last month, the county honored me emerging young entrepreneurial award."

Elisa gave no comment. It's hard to believe that her brother was this good. He sensed it.

"All is the truth sis, otherwise I'd have graduated this year like Nichole. I don't, because I work and go on to graduate school." He gave an honest looking face and opened wide his arms as a gesture of honesty.

One thing he didn't tell her was what motivated him to work hard. Seeing how hard Nichole worked made him ashamed of himself. It spurred him to do something more constructive rather than just sitting on a dock looking into the ocean wasting time.

At that time his purpose was to fill time to forget Candy. To his surprise, he became to love it. He had so much fun carving his own career. The success gave him self confidence which he never had in the past. He loved the feeling of success and treasured the respect he earned. It felt different from the kind of respect he got just because he's the son of his father. It's deeper and had pride came with it, the kind that couldn't be bought with money but had to be earned.

"What about Candy? Will she be with you? If so, I don't want to be in the same team with you," Elisa said coldly. "She thinks she'll be a matriarch by marrying you and she'll look down on me."

"She's not that kind of person."

"I hate her."

"I have decided that I'll marry her or nobody else. You should start to accept this fact," he said softly. "We shouldn't become enemies just because of her. I'll make sure both of you never have to cross the same path. You don't need to meet her ever if you don't want to, in any occasions."

Seeing her silence he understood it as she's considering his offer.

"Be on my side, Elisa, before it's too late. If anything harmful happened to William, no matter how much I wanted it, I would not be able to help you." His tone was calm but determined. She had to know that he's not willing to back off and she had to comply with him.

She's silent... Quietness fell on the office room only the sound of the clock ticking was heard.

"Let me take you to meet William," Elisa said, finally.

Neal was relieved. But he didn't show it. He simply nodded, coolly.

Elisa took Neal to drive in the direction of the barn which he went with Candy this morning. They passed the barn a bit and made one right turn after that. Almost like magic a farmhouse suddenly appeared behind the trees. She told him to stop at the farmhouse. The place was actually quite closed to the barn, but it's hidden by natural obstructions. The trees, bushes, the road curve and the lower ground level location made it invisible from the barn.

They got off from the car. Elisa glanced at the spot where Eois and his men usually put their cars. It's empty, there're no cars there.

"No one is here," said Elisa unsuspiciously.

She took a key from her pocket and put it in the key hole to unlock the door. She opened the door. No one was inside.

"No guards here?" said Elisa mostly to herself.

Elisa then entered followed by Neal. Inside, Neal saw a door lead to one room. Elisa went to that door. She was about to put a key to the key hole when she observed that the door was slightly open.

"The door is open!" said Elisa, surprised. Weird!, she thought.

She then turned around to face her brother.

"William is tied inside," said Elisa shortly, grouchily.

Neal moved forward. He knocked at the door gently. "William? It's Neal. Neal Leagan. Could I come in?"

But no one answered. Neal knocked again harder, but again, no one answered.

Finally, Neal opened the door widely, slowly, carefully with full of anticipation. He held his breadth expecting to see Albert inside.

But...

It's empty! What he found inside was just an anti climax, the room was empty. There's no Albert inside.

"Empty!" Neal said. "William?"

"What? Empty?" gasped Elisa. She hurriedly walked past her brother and entered the room to examine it herself.

"Eh? William is not here!" Elisa exclaimed. She paused momentarily. "B-but Eois said he'll move him tomorrow not today. H-he was really here not long ago," stammered Elisa. "I-I saw him."

Elisa looked at her brother. "You heard me outside the barn! That wasn't a long time ago, was it?" she asked.

Neal looked at her not sure if he should believe her or not.

"Don't give me that look," snapped Elisa. "I am not cheating on you, William was taken somewhere else without my knowledge. We can check the barn."

They went to the barn but it was empty, too. No one was there including Albert.

"I-I'm s-supposed to meet William here at one o'clock in the afternoon tomorrow! I'll a-ask Eois," said Elisa, panicked.

"No, you shouldn't," Neal said. "Just pretend you don't know, let it move the way he wants it to be. You go to the barn at one as planned tomorrow."

"Damn, must be Eois. Cunning man! He wants to take all of the Ardlays family shares for himself," said Elisa.

Neal stayed silent, not sure what to believe.

-To Be Continued-

My deepest gratitude to all the readers who are still reading :D It's a super light mystery story just for entertaining purposes. Don't expect a heavy complicated one. Hopefully it brings some adrenalin running, no, I mean crawling� :D


Chapter 12: It's Connected

Please don't miss chapter 11. ( Ch 11 and 12 are published on the same day. )

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CHAPTER 12: It's Connected

At home, Neal lay in bed thinking about "barn" that Jay said repeatedly.

It has to have some significance, thought Neal.

His mind then meandered to the sound he heard in the tunnel that day which he's sure humming William.

Suddenly Neal got an idea. The basement!, he thought.

Probably the farmhouse had a basement too and it's connected to the barn with that tunnel! If Elisa wasn't lying, William was indeed still there when she left the house. He was just moved to the basement! That's why he could be moved that quickly.

With everything that happened today, Neal decided to act fast.

He looked for Elisa to get the key but he couldn't find her. Impatient, he didn't want to wait and decided to go by himself and enter through the windows or by breaking through the door. He took a metal stick with him for the purpose.

That night, alone, Neal went back to the empty farm house�

-ooOoo

Meanwhile, Candy was thinking about Neal.

She wouldn't mind if the father of her children's was that handsome man. He could solve problems! She always liked that kind of dependable and intelligent man. He was an evil when he's young but what a man he had become now. And his kiss� It was unforgettable. By just thinking about it sent ripples inside her body. She wanted more, not only his kiss, but everything his hot body could offer.

She suddenly missed him. She went back to the Leagan mansion to see him that but the servant said he's not home. Instead she met Elisa.

"What do you want to do here?" asked Elisa.

"Hi Elisa, I'm looking for your brother," said Candy. For once she tried to be friendly. Besides she's in love with her brother and had promised to put the past behind her.

Seeing Candy's face only was enough to make Elisa fuming. She hated Candy. Somehow she felt Candy always got the best in life. She was adopted by the Ardlays. Terry and Anthony preferred Candy than herself. Now, she's a fast friend of Beatrice and William. Aunt Elroy adored her too. And most of all, her brother was totally in love struck with her. She who was once the maid of the family now was on the fast track to be the future Leagan matriarch. How disgusting!

"He's on a date with his love. Don't you know that there's a woman from Florida who came with him?" asked Elisa.

Refused to be provoked, Candy simply replied, "Fine, I'll see him later."

Like Elisa, Candy's heart was instantly full with anger and hatred again as soon as she saw Elisa. She had tried to look nice, put a friendly face, but Elisa still stayed the same. What an annoying woman!

As soon as Candy left, Elisa thought, Strange, where's Neal? She thought he was out with Candy, but obviously he wasn't.

-ooOoo

At about the same time, Neal drove back to the empty farm house. The windows were dark, he pushed the door.

It's open! Weird!, he thought.

Neal entered and picked up a broom nearby to use it to knock at the floor. As in the barn, he heard some hollow sound under a carpet. He lifted the carpet and as expected, he saw a door with a handle attached to. Excitedly he put his hand on the handle ready to pull it.

William! I'll find ya!, Neal thought excitedly.

"Hands up!"

Suddenly the room lit up brightly. Neal saw one man come approaching him and some more men walked behind that first man. Everyone had a gun in their hands.

I'm an idiot! Of course� a trap. No wonder, the door was unlocked!, thought Neal in a split of a second.

"You are not a fool, Neal. A worthy son of the Leagans, just like your sister. Too bad you need to face me."

"Eois McCallister�!" murmured Neal.

"Surprise eh?"

"Honestly?" replied Neal calmly. "No."

Eois laughed out loud. The sound made Neal's heart fluttered in anger.

"You guessed it? But do you know why?" asked Eois gruffly.

"I believe so, but entertain me with the whole truth."

"Revenge," he hissed. "My father was a dutiful member of the council who babysat Sir William until he's old enough and ready to govern," he said cynically. "But what did he get in return? Nothing. Just some pitiful allowance. All the family shares belong to Sir William. It's unfair!"

"When you came with Elisa, we were moving Albert," Eois continued. "I have been anticipating for, maybe, you to come again... That's why I left the front door open." He smirked. "To save your effort to have to destroy it�" Eois grinned.

"Smart. You made one mistake, though," said Neal. He grinned back, gravely.

"Which is?"

"For being greedy in a wrong way unlike your father and to personally tell me all these. Your end is coming, you'll end up in jail."

Eois laughed. "Bluffing, aren't you? You see, I'm the one who's holding the gun." He moved closer to Neal. Patted Neal's lower chin with the cold tip of his gun, slowly. "You are the one who's captured," Eois said menacingly.

"Listen to this," Eois said lunatically softly. "I doubt you know this. Recorded secretly of course!"

Eois pushed a button in a recorder. The moment Neal heard it, he thought he had heard it partially this afternoon, accidentally from the tunnel. But the sound quality was better now. Neal could identify the woman's voice easily. It's unmistakably Elisa's.

"

'We've had William for too long,' he heard a man said. 'It's dangerous for us.'

'I can move him tonight,' Elisa said

'To move him only is not enough.'

'You want me to finish him?' Elisa responded.

"

"Enough," shouted Neal. "I get the idea. How dare you. You are black mailing my sister. You'll move William, kill him and claim Elisa did it. You will play a hero and won the family support to be the head of the council."

Eois gave a long loud laugh which stopped abruptly. "Correct," he said shortly.

"The man's voice is not mine, by the way. Another accomplice fool of mine which I'll destroy." He laughed even louder. "Just like your sister�"

Neal gritted his teeth, wanting so much to jump across the room to strangle the tiny man. Without all those guns pointed at him, he would definitely have done so.

"Not only her but everyone who has the same last name as her, the Leagans, your entire family. Soon, the Leagans enterprise will be dissolved. I will use my new influence to control not only the Ardlays family shares but the Leagans too."

"Dad will block your attempt," said Neal.

"What can that old man do? How long more does he have to live?" Eois said with a smirk

"Dad will live for a long time."

"But not forever. And his heir is in my hand!" said Eois.

Eois shouted to call his men.

"Leagan, you want to see the heir of the Ardlay, correct ? I'll show you."

"Take him," barked Eois to his person.

One gunman opened the basement, they took Neal downstairs. Downstairs, Neal saw one door. They unlocked the door and opened it. Inside as predicted, Neal saw Albert. He's being tied up.

"I'll kill both of you tonight after I leave to secure my alibi. Unfortunately, you too Leagan since you know too much. You almost ruined my plan!"

Eois asked his man to tie Neal up. Eois grinned satisfyingly. "Killing two heirs in one night, not bad."

Then they left.

"You too?" sighed Albert.

"Yeah..." said Neal.

"What do they want from you?" asked Albert.

"Candy asked me to find you." Neal explained about their threat letters to aunt Elroy and more. "Was about to find out the entrance but they found me."

"Candy never disappoints me. Thanks Neal. At least I am not alone in my final journey. Sorry that you need to suffer with me though."

But Neal barely paid attention on what Albert said. His eyes quickly recognized the similarity of the wooden wall pattern of the wall in front of him with the tunnel's wall. His eyes quickly scanned the rest of the wall in the whole room. The similarity was striking.

The wall! We could've escaped if we're not tied up.

-ooOoo

Meanwhile in the Leagans mansion...

Where's Neal?, thought Elisa... How come he's not home yet?

She asked her staffs to look for his whereabouts, no one knew where he was but they knew he's not with Nichole or Candy.

He must have looked for William, she thought. Could it be that he went back to that farmhouse?

Elisa got restless and worried. She couldn't forgive herself if anything bad happened to her beloved brother. She grabbed her car key and drove to the farmhouse. Unlike this afternoon, there seemed to be people inside. She saw some light from the windows. She got off from her car, unlocked the front door and got in. She saw many of Eois' men inside.

"Ms. Leagan," they greeted her politely.

"You all are here," sneered Elisa.

She looked at their eyes one by one sharply, coldly, threateningly.

"You moved Sir William outside my knowledge! How dare you! Where is he? Take me to see him," ordered Elisa.

Eois' men looked at one another as if they're debating if they should obey her or not.

"Mr. McCallister said we shouldn't take anyone to see him."

"You dare to disobey me, Jack?" asked Elisa daringly. "Bring me to him, it's an order."

"We need to first ask Mr. McCallister, Ms."

"What make you listen to him and not me? How much does he pay you? I pay double!" said Elisa. She threw a sharp look to everyone, one by one.

Everyone stayed quiet, not sure what to do.

"Next time I see Eois, I'll tell him that you, all of you, refuse to obey me. I'll make sure all of you get fired on spot," said Elisa. "Bring me to William!"

They took Elisa to where Albert and Neal were. She was stunt to see the hidden door to the basement, but she stayed cool and pretended that she knew it too. They took her to the room where they put Neal and Albert were. She saw both of them sitting on the floor. Her heart almost stopped beating with worries seeing his brother being tied up.

"Leave! Now!" shouted Elisa. "Don't make me say it twice."

The guards looked at one another. They remembered Eois told them not to let anyone enter that room. But they didn't dare to confront Elisa.

"Ma'am, could we get your car key," said one man. "Just for precaution." She complied. She threw her keys rudely on the floor.

"Five minutes, Ma'am," said another guard.

They moved to leave and Elisa slammed the door in their face. Ignoring Albert, she ran straight to Neal.

"Neal!" she hugged her brother worriedly.

"Elisa you're looking for me, weren't you? You shouldn't. It's dangerous. "

"Oh Neal, did they hurt you?" asked Elisa

"No," Neal answered. "But, good that you came. Quick Untie me and William! I know how to get out from here."

Elisa untied Neal and hurriedly released Albert too. Since Albert had been tied up for too long, for a moment he couldn't get up. Elisa helped to pull him and support him as he wobbled a bit to get used to stand up and to walk.

Meanwhile, without wasting anymore time Neal was knocking at the wall to look for hollow sound. After a while He found it.

"We destroy this wall here. There's a tunnel behind it," said Neal in a low voice.

"Tunnel?" asked Albert and Elisa at the same time.

Neal nodded and at the same time put his pointing finger in front of his mouth. "Shh!" reminded Neal. "Not too loud. They'll hear you!"

Neal whispered, "Yes, tunnel. You'll see later, no time to explain."

Neal then asked Albert, "William, are you alright? Can you walk? Run?"

"Sure!" replied Albert energetically.

"Then, let's roll!" instructed Neal. "First, we put this dresser behind the door to slow them down."

Together they lifted the heavy dresser and put it quietly behind the door so the bad guys couldn't enter to the room easily later. They then lifted the bed frame crashed it to the wooden wall. The wall was destroyed easily and left a big hole in it.

"Great!" exclaimed Neal softly. "My guess was right!" Delighted, he clenched his fist.

"It's a tunnel!" said Albert surprised.

Elisa gasped.

"We should be hurry, they might hear the noise," said Neal.

Albert dragged the bed and put it behind the dresser to slow down the bad guys even more. Neal grabbed a light on one hand and Elisa's hand on the other. Pulling her sister's hand, he went into the tunnel. Albert followed behind them. After a while the tunnel ended, they saw the stairs on the wall. They climbed up, Neal pushed the door carefully to see if there's anyone on the other side. He peeked and as he had predicted, they arrived at the barn! After making sure it's empty, he climbed up first then Elisa, followed by Albert.

-TO BE CONTINUED-

Thank you for reading


Chapter 13: Free!

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Don't miss chapter 11 and 12, please. They're published on the same day.

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CHAPTER 13: Free!

"This is unbelievable," said Albert stunned. He couldn't believe that he went to another building trough underground tunnel.

"Sly bastard," said Elisa referring to Eois.

They discussed what to do for the next step. Neal watched the barn door to see if it's safe to run outside while Albert watched the basement door.

Soon, one bad guy appeared from the basement door. In a flash Albert gave him a knockout punch at his jaw. The bad guy fell. Albert hurriedly removed him so he couldn't be seen by the next one. Elisa tied him up. Another one soon appeared and Albert delivered a stinging overhead punch to knock him out, moved him, and Elisa tied him up. No one else seemed to appear. They then closed the basement door, put a heavy old dresser on top of it and sneaked outside the barn.

Neal took Elisa and Albert to run to his car but to their disappointment they saw one man stood next to the car. Albert got an idea and whispered his plan to the siblings. Neal nodded, agreed. Neal would allure the man and serve as a bait.

Neal as a bait? Nonsense! Why not William instead?, thought Elisa. But they had left before she could bargain.

"Be careful Neal," whispered Elisa.

Suddenly she's overcome by weird feeling. Worried that this would be her last chance to see her brother alive, she pulled to hug him emotionally. Brotherly, Neal patted her back.

"No big deal," he whispered.

He then pushed her back to the bushes and, she imagined, grinned in the dark.

Hiding behind the bushes, Elisa watched them leaving. Her heart beat so hard, cold sweat permeated all over. Inside her heart, she's busy praying, vowing, making pledges,� anything� telling herself all good promises that she would never do anything foolish anymore for the rest of her life if Neal stayed alive and they could safely go back home together tonight.

Worried stricken, Elisa witnessed her brother and Albert walk cautiously forward. At one tree, Albert climbed up quietly. Albert then whistled like an owl three times as a sign to Neal that he's ready. Neal then came out from his hiding place, pretended sneezing to attract the man's attention.

"Who's there?" brawled the man.

The man shone his flashlight to the noise direction. He saw Neal. Quickly, he lifted his gun, pointed it at Neal to shoot. Elisa heard the clicking sound of the firearm being loaded. She almost collapsed gripped by intense fear. She's so sure that she'd hear something explode soon and then see her brother collapse, dead.

I shou