Never Look Back pt 3

 

Autor: anmodo

 

Downtown Manhattan – 9:00 p.m.

Tracey Simon stepped onto the elevator on the 44th floor. She found herself at the office far too late, once again. As she rode down to the parking level, she thought about the debacle that had become her life. When she stepped off the elevator and headed toward her car, her cell phone rang.

“Tracey Simon,” she answered.

“Hello, dear. It’s your mother. I just wanted to see if you were coming this weekend.”

“I don’t think so, mom. I have work…” she answered as she opened her car door.

“Work? You work too much. I wanted to introduce you to someone…”

“Mom…don’t start…,” she started to answer and then saw a figure come out of the shadows next to her car. At first her breath caught, but then she let out a sigh…before vanishing.

Brooklyn – 3:00 a.m.

Danny lay in the strange bed completely exhausted, but doing his best not to fall asleep. It started at a movie theater several hours earlier. To be honest, it started even before that at the Starbucks across from the Federal Building. Every Thursday, it was his turn to get the good coffee, if they weren’t working on a hot case. And every Thursday, he encountered the same perky barista with short, dark hair, a sweet smile and a sexy butterfly tattoo on the small of her back that he couldn’t help but notice as she reached up to grab their cups. It started with familiar hellos, and then one morning she engaged him in a conversation about where he worked. He participated in the conversation and even guessed that she was one of the many struggling actresses working at Starbucks. She assured him that she had a line on a soap opera gig that she was waiting to hear about. Over the next couple of weeks, they talked and flirted until Danny finally asked her out because he’d been feeling a bit restless. He knew it was dangerous when he felt like that. Usually, he would go to an extra AA meeting, but sometimes he needed more. Sometimes he needed to not feel so alone, especially after a string of tough cases.

Her name was Heather. He and Heather found themselves at a movie earlier in the evening. He couldn’t remember a thing about the movie because she seemed intent on distracting him by nibbling his ear and running her hand up and down his thigh. He gave up on the movie and found himself focusing entirely too much attention on the curve of her neck and playing with her little belly button ring after his hands slipped under her tank top. They ended up leaving the movie half-way through when she whispered in his ear to take her home. He agreed before she told him that she lived in Brooklyn. On their way to her place, Danny already was silently lamenting on how he would get back to his place in time to get ready for work in the morning. He just hoped that he didn’t get any late night work calls.

Things happened fairly quickly when they finally got to her tiny apartment. He got the feeling she didn’t like to waste time, and she was truly the most energetic person he’d ever met. He felt like he was in an Olympic competition. So by 3 a.m., they had already had sex three times, the first time starting on the stairs of her walk-up and ending against her front door. Now she was asleep…draped across his body. Danny was trying to think of a way to slip out. He’d leave her a note, of course…saying he’d call her, but he had to go. As he looked around the room, he came across the reason for her endless energy. He squinted to read the diploma on her wall. She graduated from high school in 2002…making her around 20 years old. Danny sighed heavily. He figured she was young, but not that young. He made a mental note to start checking IDs. He was getting too old for this.

He wanted to find someone to share his life with. He wanted to get married and have kids, but somehow…he always ended up with women who he could never see himself with forever. Heather was very sweet and funny, but definitely not the future Mrs. Danny Taylor. Just as he was pondering the disaster that was his social life, his cell phone rang. Heather stirred above him, and started to wake up. He felt her soft lips and tongue make contact with his chest as he opened his phone.

“Taylor,” he whispered as she started to kiss a path down his chest toward his stomach.

“Hey, it’s Martin. We have a case downtown. A 28 year old account executive never made it to her car after work last night. Jack’s still in D.C. and Viv is on her way to the missing girl’s parents. I’m on my way to the scene, but it will take me an hour. Can you be first on scene?”

“Uh…I don’t think so…” Danny answered quietly knowing it would take him at least an hour to get home and ready for work. Heather giggled when she heard the uneasiness in his voice, but didn’t stop what she was doing.

“You sure? You live right around the corner from this place. It’s the Westmont building.”

“Yeah…I know it, but I don’t think I can be there soon enough. Samantha lives downtown, too. She can do it.”

Martin hesitated and was about to question his logic, but then it clicked. “You’re not home…”

“Not exactly, no. But I’ll be downtown in an hour,” he answered before his breath hitched as he felt Heather going dangerously lower.

“Got it. I’ll call Samantha.”

“Thanks, man,” he said quickly and then closed his phone.

As Danny tried to extricate himself from under Heather, she looked up at him. “Hey…you ready to go again? ” she asked sleepily.

Danny smiled, but moved quickly. “No…I can’t…uh…I…um…I have work, so I have to head out,” he said as he gently moved her off of him and got up from the bed.

“That’s too bad. I had a really good time tonight…even though the movie was a bust. We should do this again.”

Danny was gathering his clothes and trying to make his way to the bathroom. “Yeah…definitely. I’ll…uh…I’ll call you.”

“Sounds good,” she said as she turned over to go back to sleep.

And that was it. That was the one good thing about 20-year olds. Heather wasn’t thinking commitment. A few years ago, Danny would have kept in touch with Heather. She would have been a soft place to fall when he needed someone. But he was really trying to stop doing that. He was trying to take his relationships more seriously and not find himself in shallow situations. As he looked at Heather sleeping peacefully before he walked out the door, he knew he had a long way to go.

4:15 a.m. – Seven hours missing, Westmont Building

Danny made it home and then to the scene within 45 minutes. Samantha was already there talking to NYPD. “Hey,” Samantha greeted him. “Martin said you were going to be later…”

“I got here faster than I thought,” he answered.

“Don’t you live around the corner?” Samantha asked suspiciously as her mouth curved into a little smile.

Danny smirked and shook his head. “Why don’t you just tell me what we have here…”

Still smiling, Samantha gave him the run-down. “Tracey Simon, 28 years old. She’s an account assistant in this building. She left her office at 9:00. Security cameras have her heading to her car. It looks like she sees someone on the tape, and then she walks out of frame. She just disappears.”

“Did anyone see her leave?”

“Nope. According to building security, she was the last to leave. Her mother was on the phone with her as she was getting to her car. At some point, the phone goes dead. Her mother kept calling her back, but there was no answer. She finally called NYPD. NYPD called building security. They found her car door open and thought it didn’t seem right.”

“Nope…it doesn’t seem right. Who does she work for here?”

Samantha looked at her notebook. “Mason Industries…apparently they are big in Manhattan real estate. They own this building.”

Danny tried not to look too shocked at Samantha’s answer. “It’s not they…it’s he…Robert Mason is Mason Industries.”

“Oh…well, I doubt Tracey Simon is really on his radar. She has an entry level job with the company. Listen, I’m going to meet Martin at her apartment. She lives in Queens. Can you stay here and meet with building security? They are going to hand over the security tapes and give us a list of who she worked with here.”

“Got it. I’ll take care of it. Hey…when does Jack get back?”

“This morning, I think. I’m going to call him once the sun comes up to fill him in.”

“Good idea. I’ll collect the evidence here and head back to the office to start background.”

“Sounds good.”

He and Samantha parted, and then Danny went in search of someone from building security. He didn’t see any reason to fill Samantha in on his prior acquaintance with Robert Mason. He figured Samantha was right. Tracey Simon was a little fish in a very big pond, and Danny probably wouldn’t even encounter Mason.

He approached a man in a security windbreaker. “Morning, sir. I’m Agent Taylor with the FBI. My colleague, Agent Spade, said you had some evidence for me.”

“Yes…yes, we do. We called our security chief after NYPD called us. He has the information for you. He’s in that office over there,” the security officer answered as he pointed to a small office by the elevators.

“Thank you,” Danny said as he walked toward the office. He entered the office and called out, “Hello…is anyone in here? Agent Taylor…with the FBI.” Two men came out from an inner office after hearing Danny call out. He immediately recognized one of the men as Tom Williams, Mason’s chief of security. Williams was with Mr. Mason when he threatened Danny with expulsion from Brentland and losing his NYU scholarship if he ever came near Katie again. It was Williams who told Danny to never cross Mason.

As soon as he and Mr. Williams locked eyes, Danny could tell that he recognized him. “Russell, would you give Agent Taylor and me a minute please,” he asked and then his colleague walked out. “Well…Agent Taylor…I gotta say…this is a surprise.”

Danny didn’t want to give Mr. Williams any satisfaction. “I’m looking for the security tapes and any other information you can give me on Tracey Simon.”

“Yeah…I got it right here,” he responded pointing to the desk. “You know, actually, I’m not surprised. Mr. Mason will be surprised…that’s for sure, but I knew back then…you were a smart kid. You listened…so I could tell you were smart.”

“I don’t have time for a trip down memory lane, Mr. Williams. I just need whatever information you have on Ms. Simon.”

Williams handed Danny a box with a couple of tapes and several files. “There is a copy of her personnel file and a list of her known associates here with contact numbers. If you need anything else, just let us know.”

“We’ll need access to the building…once people start filtering in this morning. We’ll need to talk to her co-workers.”

“No problem. We’re prepared to cooperate in any way possible, Danny.”

Danny looked at Williams sharply when he used his first name, and then asked, “Tell me something Mr. Williams, you’re Mason’s chief of security for all his buildings, correct? I mean not just this one.”

“Right. I handle all of Mason’s security for all operations.”

“Then I wonder why you are here? I mean we don’t know what happened with Ms. Simon yet. She could have just wandered off, and yet you come down here at 4 in the morning….for an entry level employee?” Danny asked skeptically.

“Mr. Mason thinks of all his employees as family, Agent Taylor,” Williams answered pointedly.

“So what? Is he domineering and controlling with his employees, too?” Danny asked thinking about the lengths Mason went to keep him and Katie a part.

“Mr. Mason looks out for the welfare of all his employees. He wants the best for them,” Williams answered pointedly.

“Right…well…thanks for the information. We’ll be back in a couple of hours to conduct some interviews.”

“Of course. It is good to see that you are doing well, Danny.”

“Yeah…I’m sure,” Danny responded as he walked out the door.

After encountering Williams, Danny knew he should tell Jack about his connection to Mason, but he desperately did not want to go into it. So he decided to keep it to himself. Besides, he still didn’t think it was probable that Mason would factor into the case.

Twelve hours missing – 9:00 a.m., Westmont building

Danny was sitting in a conference room reviewing notes from his morning interviews when Leslie Jones entered the room. “I heard you wanted to talk to me next,” she said nervously.

“Right, Ms….Jones?” he asked with a reassuring smile.

“That’s me. We’re really worried about Trace. I’ll help in any way I can.”

“Great. I just have a few questions. How long have you known, Tracey?”

“Oh…um…since college. We went to Columbia together. She actually started interning here while she was still going to college.”

“Were you an intern, too?”

“No. I entered Mason’s management training program right after I graduated. Tracey didn’t actually graduate. After she started as an intern, she dropped out of Columbia.”

“Hmmm…that’s strange, isn’t it? I mean…why wouldn’t she finish?”

“Tracey didn’t take college too seriously. We…uh…we call it the MRS degree. She was looking for a husband. We all kind of felt sorry for her. So Katie arranged for her to interview here for an internship…”

Danny looked at Leslie with a sharp gaze, but then softened a little to not look so surprised. “Katie….?”

“Yeah. Katie Mason Mathews…Mr. Mason’s daughter. She was Tracey’s English tutor at Columbia. We all kind of became friends. Katie just thought that Tracey needed some direction. She thought the internship would help her. We never thought Tracey would drop out.”

“So…uh…are you, Tracey and Katie still friends? Do you all keep in touch?” Danny hadn’t thought of Katie in a long time. Hearing about her again was strange, to say the least.

“Not really. It’s kind of sad. We grew…a part…I guess,” Leslie answered hesitantly.

“How so?”

Leslie fidgeted nervously. “I don’t really know. Katie…kind of retreated after she graduated. She’s a typical rich princess. I think Tracey was always a little jealous of her. I mean…Katie married her prince charming when she was 20 years old.”

Danny couldn’t help but feel confused. He couldn’t imagine Katie acting like a typical rich princess. She was never like that when he knew her, but he tried to refocus. “Jealous? You mean jealous that Katie was married?”

Leslie nodded.

Danny was still confused and felt like Leslie was hiding something. “Sois Tracey dating anyone now? Did she find her prince charming?” he asked with a smile.

“Oh…no…I mean…not that I know of…”

Danny watched her skeptically as she fidgeted in her seat. He knew she was lying about Tracey’s relationship, but Danny continued to ask Leslie Jones his list of questions. He ended his interview by saying, “If you don’t mind, I’ll need to come to our office for a more extensive interview.”

“But why?” she asked nervously.

“I just think you could really help. You do want to help us find Tracey, right?”

“Of course. I’ll do anything…”

“Great. Give me an hour to finish my interviews, and I’ll drive you down there.”

After conducting the interviews at the Westmont building, Danny made his way back to the office with Leslie. He settled her into a conference room and then went to Jack’s office. Part of him hoped that Jack was still in D.C., but of course, he was back. Danny lightly tapped on the door and Jack waved him in while talking to Samantha. Danny nodded to both of them and then asked, “Anything at her apartment?”

“Not anything that makes sense,” Samantha answered. “But we did find a receipt for a pregnancy test…but no test. We are still processing the rest of the evidence. How about you? Anything pop from the co-workers?”

“Possibly…I brought Leslie Jones back with me. I know she is hiding something…maybe she knows about the pregnancy test?” Danny relayed and then turned to Jack. “Uh…could I talk to Jack for a minute? I mean if you guys are done,” Danny added apologetically.

“Sure. No problem,” Samantha responded as she gave Danny a quizzical look and then walked out.

“So how was D.C.?” Danny asked wanting to prolong the agony.

“Uh…it was quite boring, actually. Lots of bureaucratic b.s….just to tell us we don’t have enough money in the budget.”

Danny smirked a little. “Right….”

“What’s up, Danny? Did you find something at the Westmont building.”

“Um…I conducted several interviews with her co-worker’s. Most of them said the same thing. They didn’t know her that well. But then I spoke to Leslie Jones, a Communications Manager. She and Tracey go way back. They went to Columbia together.”

“Well that’s good. We should be able to get some good background from her, and hopefully find out what she is hiding.”

“Yeah…we should. Jack, it turns out that they went to college with Katie Mason, Robert Mason’s daughter.”

“That’s an interesting connection. We should bring her in…”

“Yeah…I agree. Listen Jack…,” he started to tell Jack about his connection to Katie.

Jack gave Danny a skeptical expression. “What?”

Danny hesitated. He couldn’t do it. “Um…nothing. It’s nothing. I’ll finish the interview with Leslie Jones…and then maybe Sam can set something up with Katie Mason?.”

“Sure. That sounds fine,” Jack answered uneasily. “Are you sure everything’s okay?” he asked in a concerned tone.

“Yeah…fine. It’s nothing. I’ll keep you posted on Leslie Jones.”

“ Take Sam in with you. She may feel more comfortable talking to a woman.”

“Right.” Danny nodded and then left. He knew he missed his opportunity to be honest with Jack, but he just hoped that Katie wasn’t involved…so he wouldn’t’ have to disclose anything.

Moments later, he and Samantha were interviewing Leslie Jones. Danny started pressing hard. “You know Ms. Jones, while I was talking to Tracey’s co-workers, they said she pretty much kept to herself. Besides you, who was she close with?”

“No one really…”

“Was she seeing anyone?” Samantha asked.

“Um…we didn’t really talk about that stuff…”

“You’re girlfriends and you don’t talk about guys?” Samantha countered.

“I don’t know. I mean I guess there wasn’t much to talk about…”

Danny wasn’t buying Leslie’s denial. “You’ve know her since college, and you can’t tell us anything about her social life? Come on, Leslie. Do we look stupid? What are you hiding? Do you want to be responsible if something bad happens to your friend?”

“Look…I have a lot to lose…ok? I’m doing really well at Mason. I’m one of the youngest executives there. And I don’t know anything for sure…”

“What do you know?” Samantha asked pointedly

Leslie hesitated.

“Tracey’s life depends on what you tell us…” Danny added.

“Look I doubt Tracey is in danger. If you ask me, she just took off. The fire was probably getting a little hot for her.”

“What fire? What are you talking about?” Danny asked annoyed.

“Look…it’s just a rumor…but apparently….Tracey had an affair with Katie’s husband.”

“Eric?” Danny asked a little too quickly. Samantha gave him a surprised, sidelong glance.

“Yeah…Eric Mathews. The rumor is that Katie caught them together.”

“I interviewed ten of her co-workers this morning. Why didn’t anyone mention it?” Danny asked.

“Everyone is terrified of Eric. He’s a real hardass. He’s had people fired for not following the dress code. No one is going to rat out Eric.”

“Mathews is working at Mason Industries?” Danny asked remembering that Robert Mason couldn’t stand Eric and not understanding how he could have a job at Mason.

“Yeah…he started there shortly after he and Katie married. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he's the reason Tracey dropped out of Columbia. She thought she could land Eric if she spent as much time as Mason as possible.”

“How long ago did this rumor start?” Samantha asked.

“The rumor? People have thought there was something going on between Eric and Tracey for years. But from what I’ve heard…Katie didn’t catch them together until a few months ago.”

“Okay…well, that was a few months ago. Why was the fire getting hot now?” Samantha asked.

“The newest rumor…and I really don’t think this is true, but the newest rumor is that Tracey has something going with Mr. Mason.”

Danny ran a hand over his face as he and Sam shared a glance. Their shared glance communicated that maybe Tracey wasn’t such a little fish in the big Mason pond.

After conducting the interview with Leslie, Danny knew he should tell Jack about his past relationship with Katie and the Mason family. From what Leslie said, Katie and her father were their best suspects. And yet for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to tell Jack. He kept rationalizing the situation in his head. He hadn’t thought about Katie in a long time. And their past relationship was really very brief. It had been such a long time since he said goodbye to her in that church that he could barely remember the feelings he had for her, or he just didn’t want to remember. So Danny didn’t tell Jack anything when he and Samantha briefed him and the rest of the team about Leslie’s interrogation.

“Katie Mathews and Robert Mason definitely have a motive. So does Eric Mathews,” Samantha stated as they sat around the conference table minus Viv who was staying close to Tracey’s family.

"Did Ms. Jones know about the pregnancy test?" asked Martin.

"Nope. She know idea, and I don't think she was lying," answered Sam.

“Let’s bring them in,” Jack ordered. “Danny…Martin…interview Robert Mason. Samantha and I will take the happy couple.”

Danny looked up…about to say something to Jack, but then stopped. He didn’t know what to say without going into the whole sordid story. As they got up from the table, Jack continued, “Danny…get a hold of Mason and set up the interview.”

“I’m on it,” Danny replied knowing he would have to talk to Jack before they interviewed Mason. Fortunately, when Danny called Mason’s secretary, she informed him that Mr. Mason had flown to Boston first thing that morning and was flying back as they spoke. At the very least, Danny figured he had some time to figure out how he could get out of interviewing Mason.

Danny spent some time going over Tracey’s co-workers’ statements. He rose from his desk to tell Jack that he thought he should go back to her building to follow-up on some holes in their statements. He thought that would get him out of the Mason interview. As he walked toward Jack’s office, he noticed Samantha getting off the elevator followed by Katie Mason. He stopped dead in his tracks as he watched Sam lead her to the interrogation rooms. Without even thinking, he followed them. All the thoughts of talking to Jack flew out of his head. He waited until they entered the room, and then stood in front of the two-way mirror.

He noticed that Katie looked older, of course, but still youthful. She had a worried, scared expression on her face. Danny flipped the switch on the sound box so he could listen.

“If its okay, I’m going to ask you a few questions about Tracey Simon,” Samantha started.

“Of course. I understand,” Katie replied.

“You met her in college?”

“Yes, that’s right. Um…I started at Columbia when I was 20. I met Tracey through a tutoring program that I volunteered for. She needed help with British lit.”

“You became friends…”

“Yes. Tracey, Leslie and I became fast friends. I’d been married a couple of years….and felt disconnected. I didn’t have any close girlfriends at the time…so they became my friends. I think I needed to connect with people my own age at that point in my life.”

“I can understand that,” Samantha said as she smiled. “ Okay…according to Leslie, you helped Tracey get the internship at Mason.”

“She didn’t have any direction at Columbia. She was really struggling. I just thought if she had some experience…if she knew what she was working towards…she may be able to focus.”

“But it didn’t help her with school…”

“No. She focused…she just focused on the internship instead of her education. So…she flunked out, and eventually she was hired into an entry level job at my father’s company.”

“Leslie also said that you pulled away from them…after you graduated….Tracey, especially. Is that because you sensed something going on between her and your husband?” Samantha asked trying to catch Katie off-guard.

Katie looked at Samantha with a surprised, wounded gaze. “I wasn’t that smart, Agent Spade. I pulled away from them…from everyone…because I was so very unhappy. It had nothing to do with Tracey,” Katie responded as tears filled her eyes.

Danny watched Katie get emotional and his heart ached a little. It still bothered him to see her hurt.

“You were unhappy in your marriage to Eric Mathews?” Samantha asked.

“Yeah…I guess. We just…marriage wasn’t what I thought it would be, and I just…I knew I made a mistake, but I couldn’t go back.”

“Divorce?” Samantha said with a curious expression.

“It’s a long story, Agent Spade…and it has nothing to do with Tracey. I stayed with my husband for 8 years, and then one day I walked into his office when he said he was working late. I caught him and Tracey on his couch.” Katie let out a breath and smirked a little. “If anything…catching them like that…gave me an out. It gave me a solid reason to leave Eric.”

“You left him, but he didn’t want you to, correct?”

“What…what do you mean?”

Samantha lifted a piece a paper from under her file folder. “According to this, you have a restraining order against Eric.”

Danny continued to look on in concern. All the feelings he had for Katie...that he thought were dead…were flooding back.

Katie nodded. “I’m the cash cow. Before we married, my father insisted that Eric sign a pre-nup. When I caught him cheating, he forfeited any claim to my money. I got the restraining order because he wouldn’t leave me alone after I left him.”

“Also, according to the restraining order, you say you feel like you are in physical danger…”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Katie asked quickly.

“If your husband has ever hurt you, then it is very possible he could’ve hurt Tracey.”

Danny’s heart raced as he watched tears fall from Katie’s eyes.

Katie hesitated for at least a full minute. “I…uh…I can’t….”

Samantha interrupted. “I know this is hard, but right now you are a suspect. I don’t think you had anything to do with Tracy’s disappearance. I think you were relieved to find a way out of your marriage. That means your husband is one of our prime suspects. Do you think he is capable…”

“Eric is very careful. Everything is about appearances to him. He never hit me. He never did anything that people would notice. Instead…he would…he would do things to humiliate me. He would make me do things…. Sometimes I don’t even know why I was so afraid of him…I just was. I think Eric is capable of anything. But if he did something to Tracey…you’ll likely never know.”

“Why is he still at Mason? Why would your father let him continue to work there?”

“That’s a great question, Agent Spade. At first, I thought my father was punishing me. He never wanted me to marry Eric. But that doesn’t make sense. My father…for all his meddling….has always tried to protect me. I can’t understand why my father is keeping Eric onor even why he seems to wantme to stay with Eric. It hurts….”

Samantha stood up slowly. “I need to speak with my colleague, but I still have a few more questions for you. Can I bring you something…a drink?” she asked sympathetically.

“No…I’m fine,” Katie replied trying to compose herself.

“I’ll be right back,” Samantha said as she walked out the door. After she closed the door and turned the corner, she saw Danny staring in to the window. “Hey…did you hear? It sounds like Mathews is pretty good suspect. I’m going to tell Jack. He’s about to interview Mathews.”

Danny nodded. “Okay. We’re still waiting for her father to show,” he said as he kept his eyes trained on Katie.

"When I come back, I'll asked her about Tracey and her father." Samantha noticed that Danny hadn't taken his eyes off Katie Mason and seemed distracted. “Are you okay, Danny? You seem…”

“I’m fine,” he replied quickly as he turned to look at Sam.

“I feel sorry for her. It’s strange how someone like her…who has the best of everything…would end up with someone like Mathews…” Samantha said as she walked down the corridor.

After Sam left, Danny slowly opened the door to the interrogation room. Katie was rubbing her temples with her eyes closed. Part of him wanted to walk away and leave this chapter of his life closed, but he couldn’t do it. “Hey,” he said quietly.

Katie looked up startled at the sound of the familiar voice. “Danny…”

“This is the last place I ever expected to see you,” he said in a low voice.

Katie couldn’t help but smile slightly. “I knew you worked with the FBI, but this is quite a coincidence. Are you working on Tracey’s case?”

“Yes. I probably won’t be for long if someone in your family is involved in her disappearance.”

“Its kind of messy, isn’t it?” she said as she stood up and walked toward him.

“That’s one word for it. How long was Eric hurting you?” he asked suddenly.

Katie glanced at the two-way mirror. “You shouldn’t have heard that…”

“Well I did hear. And I want to know…I want to know if it was happening before you married him. Is that why you did it? Because you were scared?”

Katie looked up at Danny with tear-filled eyes. She shook her head, but couldn’t respond. Danny was about to press further when the door opened.

“Excuse me,” Martin interrupted. “Danny…”

Danny looked at Katie for another moment and then walked out with Martin. “I thought Sam was talking to Mrs. Mathews?”

“She was. She’s coming back,” Danny replied defensively. “I was just…it doesn’t matter…what’s up?”

“Mr. Mason’s here. He’s waiting in a conference room.” As Martin headed toward the elevator, Danny hesitated. “You coming?” asked Martin.

“I…um…” Danny knew he shouldn’t go, but part of him desperately wanted to confront Mason. “Yeah…let’s go,” he said as he followed Martin.

FBI Office – 16 hours missing

Samantha re-entered the interrogation room to find Katie more emotional than when she left. “Mrs. Mathews…are you okay?” Samantha asked with concerned. “I’m sorry if I brought up painful memories for you.”

Katie looked up and tried her best to compose herself. She wasn’t crying because Sam made her talk about Eric. She was upset because moments earlier Danny was standing just a few feet from her. Not a day went by in the last eight years that she hadn’t thought of him…that she hadn’t dreamed of him. Seeing him again…being close enough to touch him…was almost too much for her to bear, but she couldn’t tell Samantha that. “I’m okay. Let’s just finish this…”

“Okay. I just have a few more questions for you.”

Katie nodded as she sat back down.

“Where were you last night at 9:00?”

Katie met Samantha’s gaze. “I thought…I thought you said I wasn’t a suspect.”

“I said that I didn’t think you had anything to do with Tracey’s disappearance. I still need to verify your alibi. You do still have a motive, Mrs. Mathews.”

“I was in the Hamptons. I have a house there. That’s where I’ve been staying since I separated from Eric. Uh…we have a caretaker…who’s been with our family for years. He was doing some work around the house until late last night. His name is Isiah Wheeler.”

“I’ll have to contact him.”

“Okay…” Katie responded. “Is that it? Can I go?”

“Not quite yet. Um…I need to ask you…did you know that Tracey might be pregnant?”

Katie looked up sharply. “No…I…I had no idea. Eric never said anything. And I haven’t spoken to or seen Tracey since that night I caught her with Eric. But if she is pregnant…I don’t think Eric is the father…”

“Why would you say that?” Sam asked curiously.

“He didn’t want children, so he had a vasectomy. I found that out two years after we got married. I thought there was something wrong with me…because I wasn’t getting pregnant. It turns out…he just didn’t want me to have a baby,” Katie replied as tears filled her eyes again. "Looking back now...I guess I should be greatful. I thought having a baby would make me happy."

Samantha shook her head. The more she heard about Eric Mathews…the more she couldn’t stand him. She continued. “If Tracey is pregnant and Eric couldn’t be the father, then do you think…do you think your father could have gotten Tracey pregnant?”

“My father?” Katie laughed slightly through her tears. “You can’t be serious, Agent Spade. My father is not sleeping with Tracey Simon. He wouldn’t. His image is everything. He wouldn’t risk it by having an affair with an account assistant. And despite all my father’s faults, he adores my mother…”

“The rumor at Mason Industries is that he is sleeping with Tracey.”

“That place is a gossip mill. My father is capable of doing some terrible things, but I can’t believe he would do that. And he knows…he knows about Eric and Tracey. Why would he have an affair with Eric’s mistress? It doesn’t make sense, Agent Spade.”

“None of this makes sense. Think about it. Why would your father keep Eric at Mason after he cheated on you? Something isn’t right…and I think somehow Tracey Simon got caught in the crossfire.”

As Sam finished questioning Katie, Martin and Danny were about to enter the conference room where Robert Mason was waiting for them. Martin was briefing Danny on what he found when he went through Mason’s phone records. “According to his cell phone records, she called him six times. The longest call was thirty seconds, so they were probably just messages, but maybe she was putting the squeeze on him…if she found out she was pregnant.”

Danny nodded. Before opening the door, he grabbed Martin’s arm. “I have to tell you something before we go in there.”

“What?” Martin asked with a confused expression.

“I know Robert Mason. I…um…I had a relationship with his daughter and he wasn’t exactly happy about it…and it’s a very long story. Suffice it to say…we’re not exactly close…”

“Does Jack know about this?”

Danny shook his head. “No. Of course, he doesn’t.”

“You shouldn’t go in there…if you know him and his daughter…it wouldn’t be right, Danny.”

“Look…I need to do this. It’s important to me. Just give me a few minutes with him. Then if you have to tell Jack…I understand.”

Martin knew it wasn’t a good idea, but Danny had never asked anything of him before. He was torn between wanting to continue building a trust with Danny and doing the right thing for the investigation. “Regardless of your personal agenda…our number one priority is finding Tracey Simon,” Martin said.

“Absolutely. I feel the same way,” Danny agreed emphatically as he opened the door to the conference room. Martin entered first followed by Danny. As they entered, Robert Mason looked up and locked eyes with Danny.

“Tom said you were working on this case. I’m surprised to see you here, Danny,” Mason stated with unflappable confidence.

“We’re here to question you about the disappearance of Tracey Simon,” Danny replied matter-of-factly as he sat across from Mason. Martin stood back against the wall…letting Danny take the lead.

“I’m not sure how I can help you. I barely know Ms. Simon,” Mr. Mason said.

“That’s funny because the rumor around your company is that you’re banging her,” Danny stated as he leaned in and gave Mason an intimidating glare. “What I don’t understand is how you would even keep her employed…let alone sleep with her…when you knew she had an affair with your daughter’s husband. But hell…you kept them both—Eric and Tracey. Your daughter…who you claim to want love and protect caught them screwing in her husband’s office…and you…you just let it go.”

As Danny spoke, Mason’s temper began to flare. “I do love my daughter…and would do anything to protect her. You know that better than anyone.”

Martin looked from Mason to Danny. The hate between them was palpable. He could see that the interview was sliding into very personal territory.

“Then why? Why protect Eric? And what is the nature of your relationship with Tracey Simon?”

“You couldn’t begin to understand…”

“You sure as hell better help us understand…because right now you are looking like a pretty good suspect in my eyes.”

“God…you must be loving this,” Mason responded in an irritated tone.

“You would think so, but actually…it makes me sick. You make me sick. You claim to be this pillar of society. You look down on everyone…yet you can’t keep your hands off the woman who humiliated your daughter. Do you have any idea how much you ruined Katie’s life? All those years ago, you said you wanted to protect her…but look at the job you did…she’s broken…”

“Mr. Mason, Agent Taylor and I need a minute,” Martin said as he opened the door. “I’ll be right back.”

Danny hesitated as he continued to stare down Mason. “Danny…,” Martin called out.

Danny rose quickly and walked out of the room, and then Martin shut the door so Mason couldn’t hear them. “What…what are you doing? Why did you stop me?” Danny asked in an angry tone.

“Because you weren’t asking Mason about Tracey Simon. You were condemning him for being a bad father. That’s not why we’re in there, Danny. Whatever he did to his daughter…whatever he did to you…it doesn’t matter in there. I thought we were clear on that…”

“Danny…”

Martin and Danny both turned quickly at the sound of Jack’s barking voice. As soon as Danny heard the tone of Jack’s voice, he knew. He knew that Jack found out about his relationship with the Masons.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Do you know what just happened? Eric Mathews informed me that you know the Masons rather well. He told me this as I was interrogating him. He also threatened to sue us because he thinks you want to pin this on him because he stolemarried yourgirlfriend. How could you let me go in there not knowing that kind of information?”

Jack was irate. Martin actually felt bad for Danny because he’d never seen Jack talk to Danny like that before. Martin knew the sting of Jack’s disappointment only too well.

“Jack…I…I…,” Danny started.

“Shut up. I don’t want to hear it,” Jack interrupted. “Martin…you interview Mason solo. I’ve got to get back to Mathews…and see if I can salvage a shred of credibility.”

Martin gave Danny a sympathetic glance before re-entering the conference room. “I’m sorry, Jack,” Danny said quietly.

“You’ve completely compromised this investigation…especially if the Masons or Mathews are involved in this. Go home, Danny.”

“Jack…don’t…”

“You’re in no position to argue with me, and you can’t work on this case. Go home.”

Danny knew there was no point in pleading his case, so he just turned and walked away.

When Martin returned to the conference room, Mason looked up with a surprised expression. “Where’s Danny?”

“Agent Taylor is handling another aspect of the investigation.”

Mason nodded. “I can’t really blame him for thinking the worst in me. There was a time when I did the same thing to him. And looking back…considering all that’s happened…I probably made a mistake.”

“This isn’t about you, your daughter or Danny. It’s about what happened to Tracey Simon. What was your relationship with her?”

“I didn’t have a relationship…”

“Then why do your employees think there is something going on?” Martin asked as he opened the file in front of him and slid a piece of paper in Mason’s direction. “And why did TraceySimon call you six times last week?”

“Don’t you need a subpoena for phone records?” he asked defensively.

“As a matter of fact, yes, we do. And we got one, along with a warrant to search your office.”

Mason sighed angrily. “This is…this is…I had nothing to do with Tracey’s disappearance, Agent Fitzgerald.”

“Were you sleeping with her?”

“No…I…I want my lawyer. I should have brought him in the first place, but I never thought you would throw around such wild accusations. I won’t say another word to you until my lawyer gets here.”

Martin sighed knowing there was nothing her could do. “Fine. While you’re waiting, I hope you think long and hard about Tracey. She’s close to your daughter’s age. She has a father…who is worried sick about her. Imagine if Katie was missing...”

Mason raked his hands over his face and hair. “Katie’s been missing from my life for a long time. I need to call my lawyer.”

“Knock yourself out. Phone’s right there,” Martin replied as he rose and walked out the door.

Moments later, Martin entered Jack’s office where Vivian and Samantha had both gathered. “Mason lawyered up. He’s not telling me something.”

“Mathews did as well. There is something going on there,” Jack added.

“On a more positive note, Katie Mason was very helpful, unfortunately…I don’t think she knows anything. She was happy to find a way out of her marriage," Samantha stated.

“I can understand that,” Jack agreed. “Her husband is a real prick.”

“What’s next?” Vivian asked. “And where’s Danny?”

Jack looked up at his team and took a deep breath. He gave Martin a glance and then responded. “The next thing would be Mason’s wife. If he was having an affair with Tracey, then she is a suspect. Viv…call her…get her in here. And Danny…I sent him home. Apparently, he knew the Masons at some point. He failed to tell me that. Mathews, however, didn’t waste any time telling me. DidDanny tell you what the story was?” Jack asked as he looked at Martin.

“Not really. He said that he had a relationship with Katie Mason, but he didn’t say anything beyond that.”

“That’s why he was so interested in watching her interview,” Samantha responded. “He seemed so distracted.”

“I don’t understand why he wouldn’t tell us?” Martin asked.

“Because it’s Danny…” Samantha replied knowingly.

“Look…it doesn’t matter. He’s off this case. Let’s stay focused. Martin…you and I will question Mason and Mathews with their attorneys present. Viv…you get Mrs. Mason and Sam…you stay on the evidence from Tracey’s apartment.”

As the team dispersed, Danny wandered out of the Federal building. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he knew he couldn’t go home. He found himself entering the Starbucks across the street. He figured he’d kill an hour and then head back in to see if he could reason with Jack.

He ordered a coffee and took a seat by the window. He sat there for at least ten minutes just watching people go by on the crowded street. He hated feeling useless, especially while the rest of the team was hard at work. And he hated the thought of letting Jack down.

“Twice in one day…must be more than a coincidence…”

Danny looked up quickly at the sound of the familiar voice. Katie looked down at him with a hesitant, worried expression. “Definitely seems like more than a coincidence…”

“May I sit?”Katie asked quietly.

“Of course,” Danny said as he stood slightly while she took a seat. “If the circumstances weren’t so dire, I’d say it was good to see you.”

“I think I’ll still say it…circumstances or not,” Katie smiled slightly. “I took a polygraph and Agent Spade checked my alibi. She seems pretty convinced that I didn’t kill Tracey in a jealous rage.”

Danny nodded. “I could have told her that. But I can’t be too sure about your father…or your husband.”

“Danny…my father is not capable of that. He wouldn’t cheat on my mother. And he wouldn’t harm Tracey for any reason.”

“If he thought she was any kind of threat to you or your mother, then I think he is capable of anything. I know that better than anyone.”

Katie shook her head. “I think he regrets that now. I think he regrets keeping us a part. But then again, ultimately, he really didn’t break us up, did he?”

“We both made choices.”

“Right…choices…Why is it that I never felt like I had a choice?” she asked with a slightly desperate tone.

“What happened with Eric?” Danny asked not being able to sidestep it anymore.

Katie sat back in her chair and wrung her hands together. “Don’t you have to get back to work?”

“I’m off the case. I have nothing but time. And I want to know how you ended up with him? The last I heard your father was going to tell him about us. He told me that in the hospital. He said that would break you and Eric up for good.”

“Eric already knew about us. He knew that night. He knew that night you came to meet me in the Hamptons. After you left, he and I fought about it. He told me that he could see it in our eyes. He said he could tell by the way you looked at me…that you had sex with me. Part of me was glad that he knew. So, I told him everything. I told him that we…we slept together. And I told him that I was still in love with you. He stormed out. He was so angry. And then you showed up…and I wanted to tell you what happened but you were so angry…and…”

“I was drunk,” Danny responded quietly. His heart sank as he felt the guilt of the aftermath of that night. “Then I really don’t understand. How did you end up marrying him?”

“He came to see me in the hospital. When I woke up, he was holding my hand. He told me that he couldn’t stand the thought of losing me, and he was willing to forgive everything. I was so weak. I didn’t really know what to say…”

“And I was nowhere to be found…” he responded as he remembered feeling like he needed to get as far away from her as possible after what he’d done to her.

Katie looked at Danny with sadness. “After I got my strength back, I wanted to find you again. I knew…deep down…I knew how guilty you must have felt. So I told Eric that I wasn’t sure I could be with him. I told him that I still loved you.”

“And?”

“He showed me…he showed me a security video of our estate in the Hamptons. It showed you getting into the Range Rover at my grandmother’s house, and me getting in the passenger side. It was proof that you were driving the car that night. He told me that he thought I blacked out about you driving that night, and he was just showing me to remind me of what you did. But part of me was scared…I was scared that he would use the tape to get you into trouble.”

“Blackmail…he blackmailed you into marrying him?” Danny asked feeling the anger rise in him. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me that day in the church?”

“What would you have done? You would have turned yourself in. You’d be in jail or god knows where right now. I couldn’t let that happen. It was my fault you got drunk that night. I should have had the strength to tell Eric about us.”

“Don’t…don’t even try to blame yourself. I got drunk that night…and I got in the car…and I should have paid the consequences…not you. Katie…how could you marry him if you didn’t love him?”

“I did love him…not like I loved you, but...I thought I could be happy with him. He didn’t blackmail me, Danny. I thought he loved me. I thought he loved me so much that he would do anything to be with me.”

“That’s it, isn’t it? I didn’t do enough to be with you. I chose to go to school and follow your father’s orders. Eric went to extremes to be with you.”

Anna nodded. “Looking back…I was so stupid.”

“Has he been hurting you?” he asked genuinely concernedbecause ofher comments to Samantha in the interrogation room.

Katie hesitated. “It’s hard to explain. After we got married, he…he changed, or maybe I just didn’t see it before. Eric talked a really good game when we were dating, and he treated me like a princess. And then after the wedding, all of that changed. And he seemed to want to punish me for cheating on him. He stopped caring about me…about my feelings. He made me feel small…and not worth anything. For a long time, I actually believed the way he made me feel. That’s why I stayed so long.”

“Then why would your father allow him to stay at Mason?”

“I told Agent Spade the truth. I have no idea, but I don’t believe my father is having an affair with Tracey. I just can’t imagine…

“Hi, Danny.”

Katie and Danny were startled from their intense conversation. They looked up quickly and saw Heather, the girl who he spent the previous night with. Heather stood in front of them with a lighthearted smile wearing a micro-mini skirt and halter-top. “Hey. I…uh…I didn’t know you were working today,” Danny said sheepishly.

“Oh…I’m not. Just here to pick up my check,” she replied as she looked at Katie. Katie returned her gaze with a polite smile.

Danny had no choice but to introduce them. “Heather, this is an old friend…Katie. Um, Katie…this is Heather…um…my…”

“His new friend,” Heather interrupted as she shook Katie’s hand and then turned back to Danny and bent down to whisper in his ear. “I won’t bother you. I have an audition in about ten minutes. I just wanted to tell you what an amazing time I had last night. I hope we can do it again soon.”

Danny couldn’t avoid giving her a quick kiss on the lips. “Good luck with your audition,” he said awkwardly as she backed away and gave them a slight wave. He took a deep breath as he noticed Katie shift uncomfortably in her seat. “I’m sorry…”

“God…Danny…you don’t have to apologize. I mean…you have the right to date whomever you want,” Katie replied in an understanding, but slightly annoyed tone.

“I know. I just…I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable.”

“Is it serious?”

“Is what serious?”

“Heather…”

Danny smirked. “No…not serious.”

“Have you been serious with anyone?”

Danny looked around awkwardly. “In the last eight years?”

“Yeah….”

“Katie…this isn’t really the time or the place.”

“I know, but I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve thought about whom you would end up with. It’s strange…part of me was worried that you would sell yourself short and end up in empty and ultimately painful relationships like the one you had with Payton. But the other part of me was terrified that you find a nice girl who would adore you and live for making you happy. And you’d shower her…like only you can…”

Danny watched as Katie spoke in an almost dream-like tone. He ached for her because her father denied her happiness with him. And Eric destroyed her trust. And Danny knew he was responsible, too. He was responsible for breaking her heart.

“There hasn’t been anyone like that…in a very long time,” Danny finally responded. “Heather is just someone I met…and we went out, but there’s nothing more there.”

“You deserve more,” Katie whispered as her voice cracked with emotion.

“Seeing you again…remembering what I did to you…I’m not so sure what I deserve. You shouldn’t have protected me, Katie. You shouldn’t have compromised your happiness and put up with Mathews for so long…for me.”

She started to disagree, but before she could respond, her cell phone rang. “Excuse me,” she said. “Hello? Mom…mom…calm down. They just want to ask you a few questions. Don’t worry…of course…of course. I’m right across the street. I’ll come right now,” Katie said and then hung up the phone. Danny looked at her expectantly. “That was my mother. They are bringing her in for questioning. Danny…this is out of control. My parents did not do anything to Tracey Simon.”

“I talked to your father. He’s hiding something. And your mother could shed light on that. And she is suspect. There have been no developments to lead us in any other direction than your family.”

Katie shook her head. “I have to get over there. She’s about to have a nervous breakdown.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“Thanks,” she said as they rose from the table. For a moment, they just stood there looking at each other. Danny turned to head for the door. “Danny…”

He turned back to her as she closed the distance between them. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him to her as he encircled her waist. They held each other for a few moments and then she raised up on her toes and whispered in his ear. “I’ve missed you.”

Danny gave her one last squeeze before pulling away. “I’ve missed you, too,” he replied with a smile. But truly, he hadn’t thought of her in a long time. He pushed her out of his mind like he did so many painful memories in his past. Of course, there were times when he thought of her. Every time he passed her parent’s posh apartment building, he couldn’t help but remember the two weeks they spent together. Anytime, he’d come across a Shakespeare or British literature reference, he would think of her and smile. But he never dwelled on losing her. Hehadn't spentyears pining for her, but he also hadn’t really fallen in love with anyone since her. He didn’t allow himself to feel those kinds of feelings. And if he really thought about it, he never pursued relationships with women who he could fall in love with. Seeing Heather while with Katie confirmed that. They couldn’t be more different. From the moment he started flirting with Heather, he knew she just wanted a physical connection with him. And yet, he still pursued her instead of walking away. With Katie, it was never about the physical. He knew she genuinely loved him, and yet, he walked away from her twice.

Federal Building – 20 hours missing

Danny and Katie walked back into the federal building and he escorted her to his floor. When they got off the elevator, they saw Katie’s mother sitting in a chair outside a conference room.

“Mother…are you okay?” Katie said as they approached her.

Mrs. Mason rose and immediately embraced her daughter. Danny observed that Mrs. Mason seemed more than nervous…she seemed terrified as she clutched her daughter. “Sweetheart…this is awful. I don’t understand why they are doing to us.”

“Just be honest. Answer their questions, and everything will be fine. The agents just want to find Tracey.”

“Why would we have any idea where that girl is? It’s criminal…it’s criminal… interrogating us like this.”

“Mrs. Mason…the sooner we can eliminate your family as suspects, the sooner we’ll be able to find out what really happened to Tracey. Just cooperate and everything will be fine,” Danny chimed in reassuringly.

Mrs. Mason hadn’t even noticed him standing next to Katie. She pulled out of the embrace and looked at Katie. “What’s going on? Why are you with him?”

Katie sighed and rolled her eyes at her mother’s inappropriateness. “He works here mother. He’s just…he’s just…”

“I’m helping Katie any way I can,” Danny interrupted as he gave Mrs. Mason a stern gaze. She still seemed to look down on him even after all these years.

Vivian approached them in the hallway. “Mrs. Mason, I’m Agent Johnson. If you’ll follow this agent, we’ll get your interview underway,” Viv said as she motioned to another agent.

“My daughter…I want my daughter with me,” Mrs. Mason cried.

“Is your daughter an attorney?” asked Vivian with a smile.

“No…she isn’t, but I want her there.”

“I’m sorry. She’ll have to wait here for you.”

Mrs. Mason sighed in displeasure. Danny could tell she wasn’t used to not getting her way.

“Mother…you’ll be fine. Just answer their questions. They interviewed me earlier, and it was relatively painless. I’ll be right here when you get back.”

“Fine, but I want you know up front what an inconvenience this is. We have nothing to do with this,” Mrs. Mason stated as she followed the agent down the hall.

Vivian then addressed Katie. “Would you excuse Danny and I for a moment, Ms. Mathews? There’s a waiting area right down there.”

“Of course,” Katie replied as she glanced at Danny uncomfortably.

Viv then turned to Danny. “You shouldn’t be here. Jack told you to stay away.”

“I have to talk to him, Viv. I might be able to help. I know these people. I know what they are capable of.”

“That doesn’t matter. Jack could barely say your name earlier. You should have been upfront to begin with.”

“I had no idea that Mathews knew I was FBI. I didn’t think Jack would find out that way. I was going to tell him.”

“But you didn’t, and now he’s pissed. Go home, Danny.”

“I told Katie that I would be here for her,” Danny stated with hesitation.

Mrs. Mathews is a possible suspect and, at the very least, a material witness to this. You can’t be an agent in this unit and be there for her, Danny. It doesn’t work that way.”

“I’m off the case, so what difference does it make?” he asked defiantly.

“You know what…I don’t have time to argue with you about this. You know the right thing to do, Danny. You know the right thing is to do what is best for the investigation. Think about that,” Vivian said as she walked down the hall toward the interrogation room.

Danny shook his head. He couldn’t think of the last time when he disappointed both Jack and Vivian in the same day. He didn’t know which felt worse. He looked down the hall into the waiting area. Katie was sitting there rubbing her temples. As much as he knew he should go home, he felt compelled not to leave her. He knew that she would never leave him if he ever needed her. She came through for him so many times in the past, so he couldn’t abandon her now.

Before returning to Katie, Danny found the courage to enter Jack’s office. He was talking on the phone. Jacked looked up as Danny entered and shook his head as he rubbed his forehead in frustration. He ended his call and addressed Danny. “What do you want?”

“I want to explain. I want to try to explain why I wasn’t upfront with you.”

“I told you to go home.”

“I can’t go home, Jack. I need to be here. If I can’t help with the investigation, then I need to be here for Katie.”

Katie? You mean Mrs. Eric Mathews?” Jack replied in slight anger. “What’s the hell is going on Danny? This isn’t like you.”

“I owe her, Jack. I owe Katie…and I need to help her in any way I can.”

“Does that include helping her family? Is that what you were trying to do? Protect her father?”

“No…absolutely not. I only care about her. Her father and her husband…they are capable of anything. I’m sure of that.”

“What’s the deal, Danny? How do you know these people? I seriously doubt you’ve traveled in the same circles as the Mason family.”

Danny took a deep breath and let it out before attempting to explain. “When I was 16, I finally got into a good foster home situation. And I also got a scholarship to this great private school. It was like a new beginning for me. I met Katie at Brentland Academy and we became friends,” Danny said as he sat down across from Jack. “A couple of years later, I was doing well in school and getting ready to graduate when my foster parents split town. By this time, I was eighteen, so social services couldn’t do anything with me. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I was homeless.”

“So what…did the Masons take you in?”

“Not exactly,” Danny said with a slight smirk. “Katie would sneak me into their apartment at night. She saved my life. Before she took me in, I was living in an abandoned building with crackheads and hookers. I stayed with her for over two weeks before they finally found out. And by that time, she and I had become more than friends. So her parents freaked, and her father threatened to pull my Brentland and NYU scholarships if I came near her again. So, I stayed away from her…”

“A real life Romeo and Juliet…how sweet,” Jackresponded sarcastically. “That was over ten years ago. I don’t see how you are still connected to her.”

“Right before she married Mathews, we re-connected. Only…she didn’t seem to want to leave Mathews for some reason, and I couldn’t understand why. I got really drunk and confronted her…and then somehow we ended up in a car. I almost killed her, Jack. Before she collapsed, she switched seats with me so I wouldn’t get in trouble.”

“She saved your life again.”

Danny nodded. “Not only that, but Mathews had a security tape of me getting into the car. He used it to influence her to stay with him. He’s evil, Jack. I’m betting he’s the one who is responsible for Tracey’s disappearance.”

“You could be right about that, but the fact that he has that on you is another reason you need to lay low, Danny. I understand your loyalty to this girl, but you also have a loyalty to this job.”

“I know that. There is nothing more important to me than this place,” Danny said as he looked around. “And I am sorry. It will never happen again.”

“I know…”

“Jack…” Samantha said as she barged into the office. “I have something…” Then she noticed Danny sitting there. Danny stood up and started to head for the door.

“It’s okay, Danny. What do you got, Sam?”

Danny let out a breath...thankful that Jack was giving him another chance.

“The evidence techs came across a small digital video camera in Tracey’s apartment. It was hidden in a plant. Three guesses who is on it?”

“Mason…,” Danny said as he shook his head.

“Exactly. He and Tracey are in a very compromising position. Now he does appear to be a bit out of it, so maybe he’s drunk or they drugged him…”

“They?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, it gets better. Guess whose prints were all over the camera?”

“Mathews…” Danny guessed again.

“Bingo,” Samantha responded. “Tracey did get in over her head. Either things went south with Mathews in some kind of blackmail scheme or…”

“Or Mason tried to cover his tracks by getting rid of Tracey. But then why would Eric stay quiet?” Jack asked.

“Well that must be why he is still at the company,” Danny replied. “Either he’s still there because he’s still blackmailing Mason, or he had something to do with Tracey’s disappearance and he doesn’t want to rock the boat. Maybe he thinks with Tracey out of the picture, he has a shot with Katie again. This is probably all about money for him. Either he gets it through blackmail or marriage.”

“The possibilities are endless, “ Jack said pensively. “I’m going to take a run at Mason with this new information. Then I’ll confront Mathews. Sam…see if we can get a warrant to search Mason's and Mathew's homes with this new evidence. And then let Viv know about the video, so she can drop it on Mrs. Mason.”

Danny sighed. “Mrs. Mason is not going to be pleased.”

“Yeah…well…maybe she already knows…”

Danny nodded. “Is there anything I can do?”

“At this point, you really can’t be involved Danny,” Jack replied quietly and then added, “but you can be there for Katie.”

Samantha glanced from one man to the other curiously before turning and heading out the door. Jack also left. After they left, Danny walked down the hall to the waiting room to talk to Katie. His heart started to beat faster when he observed Eric in the room with her. It looked like they were arguing. Danny quickened his pace and stormed in the door when he saw Eric take hold of Katie’s arms.

With just a few quick strides, Danny had his hands on Eric shoulders as he pulled him away from Katie. “Get the hell away from her…” Danny yelled.

Eric tried to struggle out of his grasp, but Danny spun him around and slammed him into the wall with his forearm. He kept him pinned there as Katie backed away from them in tears. “You’ll pay for this, Taylor. I’ll have you brought up on brutality charges before you can blink. Now let me go so I can take my wife home.”

Danny gave him a sinister grin. “You’ll bring me up on charges? How about violating a restraining order? I’ll arrest you right now, you arrogant prick.”

As the two men were staring each other down, Martin noticed the altercation from the hallway and entered the room quickly. He grabbed Danny’s shoulder. “Danny…let him go.”

But Danny just shrugged Martin off and pushed Eric into the wall again. “I got it, Martin. Mrs. Mathews has a restraining order against her bastard of a husband. I’mjust enforcing it.”

Martin backed off uneasily.

Eric laughed. “Go ahead. I’ll be out in less than an hour. But I’m betting I can make your career suffer for longer than that.”

“You think…” Danny replied with a strained smile.

“Try me. I’ll ruin your life and your career with what I have on you. I have nothing to lose anymore,” Eric said as he glanced at Katie.

“Danny…Danny…let him go. He’s not worth it,” Katie cried.

“She’s right. Let him go. We have to interview him again.”

Danny finally let him go with a violent shrug and then backed away. “I wouldn’t go too far if were you. You’re the best suspect in this investigation.”

“I have nothing to hide, Taylor. I told your boss that. I admit to sleeping with Tracey. When my wife suddenly became a frigid bitch, there was only so much I could do,” he said as he looked at Katie with disgust. “Especially when she used to be so willing…you remember what she was like…don’t you Danny? You screwed her a couple of times when she wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the tracks. She used todo just about anything to get off…”

Katie looked down in embarrassment as Danny lunged at Eric again, but Martin intervened in time and pulled him away. “He’s not worth it, Danny. Come on. Why don’t you take Mrs. Mathews down to the interrogation room. Viv said that her mother is pretty shaken up. I'll escort Mr. Mathews to Jack’s office.”

“What the…” Eric started.

Martin interrupted as he let go of Danny. “Apparently, we’ve discovered your penchant for making home movies, so we have a few more questions for you, but don’t worry…your lawyer is welcome to be there.”

Eric looked down and shook his head.

“Stay away from her, Mathews. I don’t care what you have on me. You’re not going near her again,” Danny stated as guided Katie out of the waiting room.

When they entered the stairwell to go down to the interrogation room, Danny stopped and turned Katie to face him. “Are you okay?”

She nodded but still slightly shook with emotion. “I just…I just want this to be over. I want him out of my life. I want to get away from my family…and I just have to get out of here.”

Danny nodded with concern as he stroked her arms reassuringly. “It’s almost over. And I promise…he won’t come near you again. I won’t let that happen.”

Katie looked up into his dark eyes and felt a sense of calm wash over her. She took a step forward and put her hands against his chest to feel his warmth. Danny’s hands slid to the small of her back to pull her closer.With their eyes locked on each other and their hearts racing, they stood in silence. And then Danny bent down slightly…their lips almost touching. He felt her breathing intensify, but before anything happened he heard a door slam and someone coming down the stairs, so he quickly pulled away.

He nodded to the agent passing them in the stairwell, as Katie took a moment to catch her breath. In that moment, all Katie could think about were the nights they spent together in her bedroom and at his apartment. Their stolen moment in the stairwell was closest thing she’d felt to the excitement and passion of their encounters back then.

“We should find you mother,” Danny finally said breaking the silence.

“Yeah…” was all Katie could say in response as he guided her down the stairs.

As they walked toward the interrogation room, Katie asked, “What did that man mean when he referred to Eric’s ‘home movies’?

Danny stopped walking and sighed heavily. “It’s a part of the investigation. I probably shouldn’t tell you…”

“Tell me what? What home movies? What does it have to do with finding Tracey?”

Danny figured that Vivian already confronted Mrs. Mason with the video and that’s why she was so upset, so he didn’t see the harm in telling Katie. “Eric and Tracey…they set your father up. There’s a video of Tracey and your father…”

“I don’t believe it. I can’t imagine…”

“Look I don’t know much more about it. I haven’t seen it. But I know it exists and I’m pretty sure Eric was blackmailing your father.”

“That’s why Eric still has a job…”

“Exactly. I knew that didn’t seem right. You’re father doesn’t always go about it in the right way, but he always seems to want to protect you.”

She looked up at Danny quickly. “Does my mother know?”

“Probably.”

Katie sighed. “Where is she?”

Danny showed her to the interrogation room window. Katie’s mother and her attorney were sitting in the room. Her mother sobbed uncontrollably. Vivian walked out of the room just as Danny and Katie were watching from the window.

“Mrs. Mathews…your mother…I think she needs you,” Vivian said quietly. And then Katie gave Danny one last look before she turned the corner and entered the room.

Vivian and Danny watched as Mrs. Mason collapsed in Katie’s arms. “I guess Mrs. Mason didn’t take the news too well,” Danny said as he glanced in Vivian’s direction.

“It was strange, though. She didn’t seem as surprised as I though she would. She seemed more embarrassed and bothered that we found it…and that it would become public knowledge.”

“Hmm…” Danny smirked. “Maybe she knew…”

“Maybe…but she stopped talking once her lawyer showed, and she didn’t say much before he got here. Apparently, Mr. Mason called the lawyer when he found out she was here.”

“Makes sense. I guess,” Danny replied and then he turned to Vivian. “I’m sorry about earlier. You were right. And I talked to Jack. I told him…pretty much everything, and I think he understands.”

Vivian nodded as she turned to meet Danny’s gaze with a small smile. “That’s good to hear. It’s not nearly as fun when you aren’t here to work a case.”

Danny smiled. “Oh…believe me, I know you miss me. But, I ‘m still not working on this case. Jack gave me permission to stay here and help Katie through this.”

“She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah…more than I even knew,” he replied quietly as he turned back to look at Katie through the window.

Danny and Vivian continued to watch as Katie consoled her mother and spoke to her quietly. Their attorney stepped out to make a phone call. After a few moments, Katie also left the room and met Danny and Vivian in the hallway. “Can I take her home soon?”

“We’ll have to wait until Agent Malone finishes his interview with your husband and father. There is a major web of secrets going on here.”

“Yeah…um…would you mind if I brought her some tea?” Katie asked hesitantly.

“Sure. I’ll show you where it is,” Danny said and then turned back to Vivian. “We’ll be right back.”

Danny took Katie into a small break room and put a dollar into a hot drink machine. As he waited for the tea, Katie sat down at a table and crossed her arms insecurely around her body. “Can I tell you something…can I tell you something as a friend and not as an FBI agent?”

He turned to her after he took the tea out of the machine. “Sure…”

“I think my mother knows…”

Danny hesitated for a moment to process her statement. “What? Your mother knows about Tracey and your father? I thought we knew that.”

“No…I think she knows what happened to Tracey.”

Danny sat down next her and pulled his chair close to hers. “What? Why would you say that?”

“She wasn’t surprised about the video. She knew about it. If she had just found out about it today, she would have beenirate…angry…but she wasn’t.”

“Viv said the same thing.”

“My father has or he had a genuine concern or stake in protecting me. It’s why he didn’t want us together and why he didn’t want me to marry Eric. He wanted this idealized version of life for me…or what he thought was best for me. He wanted me to seize every opportunity, and he didn’t think I could do that if was with you.”

Danny nodded. “How does your mother relate to this?”

“With my mother…it was always about appearances. She didn’t want me to be with you because she didn’t think it would look right. When I got involved with Eric, she was thrilled, even though my father was angry, because he was our kind of people. With my mother…it’s all about appearances. And if anyone does anything to threaten our image…”

“You think she did something to Tracey to protect your family’s image?”

“What if Tracey is pregnant? If my mother found that out…I don’t know what she would do.”

Danny stood up.

“Where are you going?” Katie asked.

“I have to tell the team. We have to interview your mother again and focus the investigation on her.”

“You said you would listen as a friend…” she said in a hurt tone as she stood up.

“Time is of the essence here and we can’t waste it.”

“But if she did do something, then she’ll…”

Danny interrupted. “She’ll have to pay. And I don’t understand why you are protecting her.”

“She’s my mother…”

“She and your father have done nothing but meddle…and…and…screw up your life. You say you want to get away from them, but now you want to protect them. I don’t understand that. Just like I don’t understand why you stayed with Eric for so long. Is there some part of you thatgets off onbeing controlled?” he asked in an angry and confused tone.

She slapped him as she started to cry. It was quick and not terribly hard, but she just wanted him stop. She wanted him to stop putting a mirror up to her life. As soon as she did it, she stepped back as if she was scared…scared he would hit her back. “I’m sorry…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”

Danny saw the fear in her eyes and immediately softened and his hand massaged his jaw. “It’s okay. This clearly isn’t the time to force you to confront your issues. Look…I have to tell my boss about your mother. I don’t have a choice. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have to go through this, but this isn’t about you. It’s about Tracey Simon. Think about her for a minute. She got caught up in Eric’s web…just like you did. I seriously doubt she wanted to seduce your father. You know what Eric is capable of. You know how cold and hard your father can be. Imagine how scared and confused Tracey is…”

Katie looked down as she wiped away a few tears. “You do whatever you have to do,” she said as she picked up the tea.

And then Danny lead her back to the interrogation room. He left an agent with Katie and her mother while he went to inform the team. He found them assembled around the conference table discussing the strategy of getting the Masons and Mathews to talk. As Danny approached them, he said, “I think Viv is on to something. Mrs. Mason wasn’t surprised to find out about the video. Katie confirmed that. Eric and Mr. Mason…what do they have to gain by making Tracey disappear? I think the only way Mason would do something to harm Tracey is if she somehow threatened Katie. And if that was the case, why wouldn’t he do something to Eric, too? I mean…Eric is really the bad guy here. He’s the one who hurt Katie and blackmailed Mason. Mr. Mason gains nothing from making Tracey disappear.”

“What about Mathews?” Samantha asked. “He gains something…”

“What?” Danny asked as he took a seat. “What does he really gain? So what if Tracey says that she doesn’t want to play his game anymore? He’s got the video. He’s got Mason right where he wants him. He doesn’t need Tracey Simon anymore.”

“So you think Mrs. Mason has the most to lose?” Martin asked.

“Yes. Mrs. Mason would do anything to keep her status up. She probably doesn’t even care that her husband had an affair. All she cares about is ifpeople find out. And what if Tracey is pregnant? That would be Mrs. Mason’s worst nightmare. I can see the headlines now. That would devastate her.”

“That’s a good theory, but how will we get her to talk? I just spend an hour with her, and all I could get was how unfair we were being,” Vivian said in a frustrated tone.

“I’ll get my mother to tell me,” a voice said from behind them.

They all looked back at Katie who was escorted there by an agent. Danny nodded to the agent that is was okay, and then stood up. “You don’t have to…”

“She’ll tell me. If she did something to Tracey, she’ll tell me,” Katie said stoically.

“We’ll have to put a wire on you,” Jack said as he stood up. “Whatever she says to you will be held against her. Do you understand?”

“I know. But this isn’t about her or me or my family; it’s about finding Tracey, right?” she said as she looked squarely at Danny. “I’ll do whatever you want. I just want this to be over and I want Tracey to be okay.”

Samantha stood. “I can get you set up with a wire. Come with me.”

Katie stepped backward a couple of steps holding Danny’s stare with tear-filled eyes until finally turning away to follow Sam.

“Tell Mrs. Mason she is free to go. We’ll tell her that we are finishing up with her husband and ask her to wait with her daughter. Maybe if she feels like she isn’t under the microscope anymore, she’ll feel better about talking,” Jack said to Vivian.

After Vivian left, Danny addressed Martin and Jack. “I don’t know about this…Katie setting up her own mother…,” he said uneasily.

“It’s our best shot. Tracey’s been missing 24 hours now,” Martin replied. “I’m going to go over the security footage at Mason again. Maybe I’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Mason or her car at the Westmont Building.”

Jack nodded as Martin walked away. “She’s a brave girl to volunteer to do this,” he said as he and Danny walked toward his office.

A half hour later, Danny, Jack and Samantha sat in the tech room listening to Katie and her mother’s conversation. They were sitting in the back of a limousine waiting for Mr. Mason in front of the Federal Building.

“How are you feeling?” Katie asked her mother.

“Awful…just awful. This isn’t right. I have a call in to Senator Harrison’s office about this. We’ve been here for hours.”

“They are just doing their jobs.”

“Maybe this is Danny’s way of getting his revenge.”

“Mother…don’t…”

“What? He hated us for keeping him away from you. You were his ticket out of his miserable life…”

Danny shook his head in disbelief as he heard Mrs. Mason characterize his relationship with Katie.

“Shut up, mother. You don’t know anything about Danny. And he’s not the one who ended up with the miserable life. He never hated you. He just loved me. But you and Daddy…and eventually Eric destroyed any chance for me to find happiness with him.”

Samantha’s eyes filled with tears as she heard Katie’s voice crack with emotion and watched Danny look down in disappointment.

“You’ve never understood. Sometimes, I honestly don’t know what house you were raised in, Katie. Your father and I worked too long and too hard to build what we have. We want the best for you because that is the world we live in.”

“I don’t know how I grew up in that house either. Because I listen to you now, and it makes me sick. Mother…we are no better than anyone else. Having money…having material things…that doesn’t make us any better,” Katie said desperately.

Back in the tech room, Jack sighed heavily. “She’s needs to get this conversation on track,” he said as he glanced at Danny. “She hasn’t mentioned Tracey once.”

“She will…just give her a minute,” Danny replied quietly.

Her mother responded. “That’s funny. For all your posturing and righteousness, you’ve never had a problem with using our money…our cars…our houses. You could have run away at any time. You could have given it all up to be with the so-called love of your life, but you never did. Some part of our lifestyle must have appealed to you.”

Katie looked down in frustration. “I would have…I would have given it all up,” she whispered knowing that Danny was listening to every word.

Danny put his fingers on the bridge of his nose as he remembered. He remembered Katie’s willingness to walk away from everything for him. He was the one who didn’t want to give up his future.

“You’re a better person than me, then. I’ve worked too hard to get here…to ever give it up.”

Katie looked up at her mother. This was her way in. “You knew about the video, didn’t you?”

Her mother was silent for a few moments before replying. “Yes. Your father confessed everything to me. He said he was tired of hiding it because it meant being a prisoner to Eric. He wanted to go to the press and come clean, so that he and you could finally be completely free of Eric.”

“But you wouldn’t let him…” Katie responded almost in shock at her mother’s venomous tone.

“No. I begged him. I begged him not to tell the press. We would have been outcasts. We would have lost….”

“What? What would you have lost? People go through these scandals everyday. They admit their sins and then move on.”

“You are so naïve. No one ever forgets, Katie. People would always look down on us…down on me. And it would have been one thing if it was just the video…”

Katie started to feel sick to her stomach. “Tracey…she is pregnant, isn’t she? It wasn’t the video, was it? It was that there would be a constant living, breathing reminder of the so-called scandal.”

“I couldn’t let that happen.”

Katie took a deep breath to try and control her emotions. “What did you do?”

Jack, Sam and Danny all leaned in as Katie drew out the confession.

“I called building security and found out she was still there. I had already turned in for the night. You’re father was working late in his study. He and Camilla thought I was in bed, but I slipped out the back entrance. I took a cab to her office and confronted her at her car. I asked her to go for a walk with me. I...I told her I intended to help her.”

Mrs. Mason took a breath and then continued while Katie hoped her pounding heart wasn’t interfering with the wire.

“As we walked for a few blocks, I told her that I would help her leave town. I would give her a new beginning…money for a new life for her and her child. She’d be free of Eric and your father. She seemed so relieved.”

“Where did you take her?”

“You’re father’s new development on 112th.”

“Why? Why would she go there? Why did she trust you?”

“I told her your father kept cash on hand there at the job site for paying under-the-table wages. I told her there was at least 500,000. She didn’t question it. She didn’t question anything. She was desperate for a way out. She was desperate to get away from Eric…as you can imagine,” her mother said as she looked in Katie’s eyes. “I know what he’s done to you. I know that he’s hurt you…”

Katie cut her mother off wanting to keep the conversation about Tracey. “Please tell me you gave her the money and she is on her way to the South Pacific or something.”

Mrs. Mason looked at Katie square in her eyes. “I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take the risk that she could come back some day. We got to the building site and I told her to wait outside while I went to find the money. I watched her wander over to the edge of the scaffolding. She was standing in the perfect position.”

Back in the tech room. Jack looked up quickly. “Grab Martin and get over to 112th,” Jack said to Sam as she rose quickly and headed for the door.

Danny and Jack exchanged disbelieving glances.

“All I had to do was push her,” Mrs. Mason continued in a dazed tone. “So that’s what I did. She fell into the pit. They laid the foundation today…perfect timing.”

Katie had to stop herself from becoming violently ill. “You killed a woman and her unborn child…my father’s child. Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I saved our lives. I saved what we worked so hard to build.”

“Why didn’t anyone see you? Why didn’t anyone see you on the security tapes or…”

“When I returned home, your father caught me. I’ve never been able to lie to him. So I told him what I did. He called Tom. And Tom took care of it. He made sure I didn’t show up on the tapes and opened her car door to make it look like foul play. You’re father wanted to protect me…just like he’s always protected you,” she answered with a satisfied smile.

“Tom Williams, Mason’s chief of security. I questioned him this morning and wondered why he was already there,” Danny said shaking his head.

“That’s it. I’ve heard enough,” Jack said. “Let’s get down there.” He and Danny headed for the elevator.

Within minutes they were approaching the car. They drew their guns and knocked on the car window. Katie opened the door, and Jack pointed his gun inside. “Michelle Mason…please exit the car with your hands up.”

“What…I…I…don’t understand,” she replied in a startled tone.

Katie got out of the car and stepped behind Danny. Then her mother stepped out. “Put your hands up, Mrs. Mason. Put them up now,” Jack ordered sternly.

“Are you out of your minds? I’ll have both of your jobs,” she said as she raised her hands and glared at Danny and Jack.

“Turn around and put your hands against the car…” Jack continued following procedure.

“I’ll do no such thing.”

“Yes…you will,” Jack ordered. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Tracey Simon.”

Michelle Mason looked at Katie with disgust and then lunged at her. “You ungrateful bitch. How could you?”

Danny caught her before she made contact with Katie and as quickly and gently as possible, he braced her against the limo and cuffed her hands. Mrs. Mason continued to yell at her daughter. “You selfish, spoiled brat. You’ve always wanted your father all to yourself. You selfish whore…”

“That’s enough, Mrs. Mason,” Danny said as he tried to read her rights. But then she attacked him.

“This is your fault, too. If it weren’t for you then Katie never would have married Eric. She only did it to spite her father. None of this would have happened if you just would have known your place back then. You were never good enough for our family and you still aren’t…”

“Yeah…clearly…you’re the cream of the crop…,” Danny replied sarcastically as another agent took over, read Mrs. Mason her rights and lead her back to the building.

Danny turned and walked toward Katie. “You okay?” he asked fighting his instinct to put his arms around her.

She nodded, but he could tell she was in shock.

Jack walked over and addressed. “You did great, Mrs. Mathews. We have agents heading over to 112th right now.”

Katie backed up and sank down onto a bench. She took a deep breath to try and stop her pounding heart from beating out of her chest. Danny sat down next to her and put his hand on her back as he glanced up at Jack uncomfortably. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“She killed her. My mother killed an innocent woman and child, and my father helped cover it up. What…what…I don’t understand how…” she said before dissolving in tears.

They stood there for a few moments before Jack made eye contact with Danny and motioned him away from Katie. Danny gave Katie’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’ll be right back,” he said reassuringly.

He stood up and joined Jack out of Katie’s earshot. “I’m sending an agent over right now to arrest Tom Williams as an accessory. I’m going to head upstairs to place Mr. Mason under arrest.”

Danny took a deep breath. “She’s losing her whole family in one day.”

“From what I’ve observed, she may be better off without them.”

“Yeah…something tells me she won’t feel that way for a long time. If it’s okay, I’m going to take her home…”

“Of course. That’s fine,” Jack replied and then walked backed into the building.

Danny sat back down next to Katie. He could tell she was still in shock, but she finally started talking. “Have they found her yet?” she asked in a dazed, faraway tone.

“No. I haven’t heard anything.”

“What happens next?”

“Um…your mother is being processed. She’ll appear before a judge to set bail. A lot will depend on when and if we can find Tracey Simon. And…um…,”

“What?” Katie asked knowing that Danny didn’t want to finish his statement.

“Your father and Tom Williams will go through the same process…as accessories after the fact.”

Katie took a deep breath. “What have I done?”

“You did the right thing.”

“I’m sending both of my parents to prison. I…”

“Your parents will have the best attorneys on the planet. My guess is…your father will do little or no time.”

“And my mother?”

“Her confession to you sounds like it was premeditated. She’s looking at hard time.”

Danny’s cell phone rang as Katie put her head in her hands. “Taylor,” he answered.

“Hey…we found her. And you won’t believe it, but she is still alive. The construction crew didn’t lay the foundation this morning because of the rain last night. She fell about twenty feet and broke several bones, but right now…she’s alive,” Sam said almost triumphantly.

“Amazing. Was she conscience?” Danny asked as Katie looked up and watched him intently.

“Barely. They’re air-vacing her to a trauma center now. We’ll no more soon.”

“Great. Thanks for calling.”

“Yeah…see you soon,” Sam responded before hanging up.

“That was Sam…Agent Spade…” he said as he turned to Katie. “They found Tracey alive. She has a lot of broken bones, but she has a chance.”

Katie took Danny’s hand and squeezed in appreciation and support. “Thank god. Thank god. What about…what about the baby?”

“I don’t know. She’s on her way to the hospital. We’ll know more later.”

“At least that is one piece of good news today.”

Danny nodded. “Listen…After I wrap a couple of things up here, I’ll take you home.”

“I’d like that,” Katie replied quietly.

They went back upstairs so Danny could file some paperwork and grab his coat. They were headed toward the elevators when Jack stopped them. “Hey…before you go…”

“Sam called. She told us about Tracey…” Danny said assuming that Jack wanted to fill them in.

“Yeah…that was good news, but actually…uh…Mrs. Mathews…your father would like to see you. We have him in a holding area right now,” Jack responded as he looked at Katie uneasily.

Danny looked at Katie with concern. He took her hand and squeezed supportively. And then she looked up at him. “Come with me?” she asked quietly.

Danny glanced at Jack and then nodded. “Sure. I’ll go with you.”

Moments later, they entered the holding room hesitantly. Katie still had a hold of Danny’s hand when Mr. Mason looked up at them. “I was hoping we could speak alone,” Mr. Mason stated.

“I want Danny…I want Danny to stay,” Katie answered. She tightened her grip on his hand as if he were her lifeline. “What do you want?”

Mr. Mason sighed heavily as he met Danny’s disapproving eyes. “To explain…to tell you how this all came about. Don’t blame your mother…,” he pleaded as he shifted his gaze from Danny to Katie.

“I blame both of you for hurting Tracey,” Katie responded. “But you can take the blame for destroying our family.”

“We haven’t been a family in a very long time, Katie,” Mr. Mason said as he locked eyes with Danny again. “A few months before you found out about Eric and Tracey, I was trying to find a way to get Eric out of the company. I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew you were miserable with him, and I couldn’t stand to look at him everyday. I thought if I could get him out of the company, then you would find it easier to leave him…and then we could be a family again. Tom was investigating him, and I guess, at some point, Eric found out. He knew I was getting close. It turns out he was getting kickbacks from some union reps. Before I could get the evidence on him, things started with Tracey.”

“I don’t want to hear this…” Katie said as she started to turn.

“You don’t understand. It wasn’t my intention to have an affair with her. I’ve never cheated on your mother. She was working on an important account with me. Eric must have arranged it. We were working long hours, and she seemed to need me so much…like a daughter would a father.”

Katie looked at her father with disgust. “Oh…god…just stop. This is sick.”

“I missed you, Kate. I still miss you. I miss the way you used to look up to me. I miss feeling like I could do no wrong in your eyes. Do you remember? Do you remember how close we were? We had so many plans…”

“That was lifetime ago, Dad.”

“I know. And I know it’s my fault for messing it up. I made so many mistakes. But one day, when you have a child of your own, you’ll know. You’ll know what it feels like when you feel like your child is slipping away. You’ll do anything to do what is best for her.”

Katie shook her head. “No…I would never do what you did.”

“Maybe not. I guess it doesn’t matter now. The past is the past,” her father almost whispered. “Tracey was working late one night. I was at the Westmont building attending a late meeting. I saw her crying in the hall. When I asked her what was wrong, she said her said her car was in the shop and she didn’t have the money to get it out. She couldn’t afford cab fare and was scared to take the subway. So I offered her a ride home.”

Katie rolled her eyes. “Why wouldn’t you just give her cab fare?”

“You’re right. That is what I should have done, but I guess I was lonely, and I had too much to drink. I felt so guilty for betraying your mother. I stopped it after I found out the reason you left Eric. The next thing I knew, Eric was blackmailing me with the video. I couldn’t do anything…even after you caught them together…I couldn’t fire him.”

“And then you told mother…”

“I thought she would leave me, but she just didn’t want anyone to know. I was trapped. And there was nothing I could do to help you, and that broke my heart, Kate. I hated to watch you suffer and wonder why I wasn’t getting rid of Eric. I wanted to be your hero again, and I couldn’t,” Mr. Mason said emotionally.

“What about Tracey? Did you know she was pregnant?”

“She told me. And I told your mother. I was prepared to support her. I was taking responsibility…”

“And that sent mother over the edge,” Katie said distantly.

“What happened with your mother is my fault. And I’ll do whatever I can to help her. I’m so sorry, baby,” Mr. Mason said as he rose and walked toward her.

Katie recoiled away from him and retreated closer to Danny. “It’s over, Dad. I don’t want to be in this family anymore. I should have done this a long time ago, with or without Danny. I should have had the strength to walk away. Love isn’t about control. And that’s what you and mom did with me my whole life. The one time I tried to do something that deviated from your plan for me, you made me…and Danny pay. It breaks my heart to do this, because when I was a little girl…you were my hero, but not anymore,” Katie said as tears stream down her cheeks. She looked up at Danny. “Let’s go…”

Danny opened the door and Katie walked out. As he turned, Mr. Mason called out. “Danny…”

Danny turned back and could barely look Mr. Mason in the eyes. The man who was always so stoic and self-righteous with Danny in the past was dissolving before him in tears.

“You’ll take of her…won’t you?” Mr. Mason asked.

Danny shook his head. “For the first time in her life, I hope she takes care of herself. But I’ll always be here for her.”

Mr. Mason nodded as he wiped tears from his eyes. Danny turned and walked out.

They rode the elevator downstairs and walked out the front doors of the federal building. It suddenly occurred to Danny that he didn’t know where to take Katie home. “Did you drive here today?” he asked as they stood on the dark street. It was almost midnight.

“No. I used a car service.”

“Oh…well…uh…I took the subway this morning. So I don’t exactly have a car to take you home with…”

Katie smiled sadly. “Actually, I don’t really have a home to go home to. I can’t really denounce my family and then escape to their house in the Hamptons.”

“No…I guess that wouldn’t be making a statement. You don’t have your own place in the city?”

Katie looked at him with a sidelong, embarrassed glance. “I don’t have anything of my own. It’s all courtesy of Mason Industries. Eric is currently residing in the apartment I used to live in.”

“A hotel?” Danny asked as he hailed a cab.

Katie shrugged uneasily as the cab approached and they got in.

“Where to?” the cabbie asked.

Danny looked at her expecting her to rattle off a hotel name, but she didn’t. “Where do you want stay, Katie?” he asked.

“With you,” was all she could say.

Note: I know this seems like an ending, but it's not. There are a couple more to go.

Twenty minutes later, they were entering Danny’s small apartment. He couldn’t remember the last time he was there. It seemed like days at least.

“This is nice,” she said as she entered. “You have a little more room that your studio in college…and it’s not freezing.”

Danny smiled remembering his tiny college apartment. He was surprised she remembered anything about it considering she’d only been there twice. “I almost died from living in that death trap. I caught pneumonia one winter…I thought I’d never be warm again.”

Katie blushed as she remembered she wasn’t cold for long when she was there last. Both times had involved frantic encounters that left them both hot and sweaty. She had only been cold when she had to get up to leave.

Danny stood slightly uncomfortable by the front door as she surveyed the surroundings in his apartment. He watched her stop at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. Her attention focused on his neglected pile of mail. She reached down and picked up a small picture. Danny had forgotten about the picture. His brother’s fiancé, Sylvia, had sent him a picture of their son in his thank you card. Sylvia had sent him a note after he testified at his brother’s parole hearing. She’d included the picture and an open invitation to one of Nicky’s soccer games. He’d received it weeks ago, but hadn’t felt comfortable attending one of them. He still wasn’t sure how involved he wanted to be in his brother’s new life.

“Who’s this?” Katie asked curiously. “He looks like a little version of you.”

“My nephew, Nicky.”

Katie sighed and smiled. “For a second there, I was thinking he was yours. Did you and your brother re-connect? Is that a good thing?”

“Don’t get too excited. He spent nine years in prison. He just got out a month ago. I haven’t seen him since he got out.”

“Then how do you know his son?” she asked holding up the picture.

Danny walked toward her as if to inspect the picture. “His fiancé and son came to see me a while back. She promised me he’d changed and asked me to speak at his parole hearing.”

“And you did…”

“And I did.”

“So I don’t understand…why haven’t you seen him?”

“I don’t know if I trust him. But I know now we both had it pretty rough as kids and maybe he deserves another chance. And I couldn’t look into that little boy’s eyes and deny him a chance to meet his father,” he said looking at the picture. “So I testified.”

Katie put the picture down and put her hand on his. “Well…I hope it all works out. You could probably help each other a lot. He’s the only person in your life who really knows what you went through as a kid,” she said as she lightly traced the scar on his wrist.

Danny had almost forgotten how much he told her. He’d told Katie almost everything he remembered…every painful detail of his childhood…things he never told anyone else. But he just nodded. “We’ll see…”

“You have messages,” she said as she pointed to the flashing red light on the breakfast bar.

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably just telemarketers,” he said as he hit the button. He was standing directly in front of her now looking down in her eyes…their hands still touching. The first message was about some dry-cleaning he’d forgotten to pick up. The second was his landlord saying they still hadn’t been able to fix the leaky faucet in his bathroom. The final message was from Heather. Danny started to hit the stop button, but Katie grabbed his hand.

“Hey…it’s me…Heather. I missed waking up with you this morning. I bet you are fun to wake up with. Maybe we can do that this weekend on our second date,” she said with a giggle. “We can pretend to go to a movie again, if you want. Talk to you soon.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Katie said taking her hand away from his after the message ended. “I don’t want to be in the way, and I don’t want to cause any trouble…” she said as she started for the door.

Danny gently grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. “You aren’t…in the way. I told you…it’s nothing serious.”

“It’s none of my business…but doesn’t she seem a little young for you and extremely perky?” she asked in a slightly mocking tone.

“You’re right. It’s none of your business, but she’s twenty…so don’t worry. And she is in a good mood pretty much all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that…especially after a day like today.”

“You slept with her on the first date?” she asked and then quickly regretted it.

“Katie…” Danny started in an annoyed tone.

“Sorry…I don’t know why I asked that,” she responded suddenly very aware that he was still holding her arm. “She’s a lucky girl.”

Danny looked down uncomfortably and let go of her before changing the subject. “Are you hungry? I probably should have asked that before we got up here, because I’m sure I don’t have anything here,” he said as he walked over to the refrigerator and opened it.

“I couldn’t eat a thing. But you go ahead…”

“Nah…I’m good. But I could sleep for at least a week. I don’t think I’ve had a decent night’s sleep in over a week.”

“Does that have anything to do with a certain perky thespian?” Katie asked in a teasing tone.

Danny smiled. “Nice try. It has more to do with my job.”

At the mention of his job, Katie immediately thought about the day’s events. “Part of me would like to wake up tomorrow and find out this is some kind of nightmare.”

“Just part of you?” Danny asked in surprised as he took some sheets out of a closet to make up the couch.

Her back was to him otherwise she wasn’t sure she would have the courage to make her next statement. “The other part of me wants this to be real because it means getting to wake up with you again,” she answered as she turned to him.

He put the sheets on the couch and sat down uneasily. She came toward him and kneeled in front of him. He put his hand on her cheek. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea…bringing you here.”

“Don’t say that. You know I still think about you…a lot. I think about those weeks we spent together in high school and the nights before everything went so wrong. Do you ever think about me?”

He couldn’t tell her the truth. He couldn’t tell her that he hadn’t allowed himself to think of her in a long time. He had to block those memories otherwise he would end up drowning all his hurt, regret and sorrow. “Of course, I do,” he replied quietly.

She slowly leaned in to him and kissed him for the first time in nearly eight years. Danny quelled the voice in his head telling him to stop by kissing her back. This wasn’t like their two frantic encounters before she got married. This was painfully slow like they wanted it to last forever because they were so used to it having to end.

He maneuvered her onto the couch and leaned her back. In between their deep, sensual kisses and touches, they managed to remove most of their clothes. As he continued to kiss her and touch her, he started to realize that something was different. She wasn’t responding to him like she used to. Even though she seemed willing, her body wasn’t. He stopped kissing her and hovered above her for a few moments searching her eyes.

“What? What’s wrong?” she asked breathlessly.

He shook his head. “I’m not sure. Are you okay?”

She lookedat himas her eyesstarted to fill with tears. “I don’t know. You don’t have to stop…”

He kissed a tear away as it fell down her cheek. He saw fear in her eyes. And then he remembered what she told Sam earlier in the day about Eric, and the way she reacted after she slapped him. “What did he do to you?” he whispered as he took her in his arms and held her.

She laid her head against his chest and tried to control her emotions. She wanted to feel normal again, and she thought she could with Danny, but something didn’t feel right inside of her. She felt his fingers in her hair…stroking softly. She felt scared and safe all at the same time.

He tried to ask her again. “You can talk to me. You can tell me anything,” he whispered softly.

He felt her nod her head. “I know. But it doesn’t matter now. I thought I was ready, but I guess I just need more time. I’ve been talking to this therapist. She’s been helping me deal with it.”

Danny had to mentally stop himself from getting up and finding Eric. In that moment, he wanted to kill him. “I’m glad you’re getting help,” he responded as he held her a little tighter.

They both fell asleep on the couch. Neither of them stirred until the morning when they heard the ring of Danny’s cell phone. He blindly reached for the phone on the coffee table and answered in a sleep-filled, hoarse voice. “Taylor…” he answered.

“Hey. It’s Samantha. Sorry to wake you,” she said hesitantly.

“That’s okay. What’s up?” he asked noticing it was 6 A.M.

“I thought you’d want to know that Tracey Simon made it through surgery. The doctors say her prognosis is good, but she did lose the baby. I thought maybe Katie Mathews would want to know. I tried calling her home, but the caretaker said she didn’t make it home last night. I got a little worried…after everything that happened yesterday.”

Danny looked at the sleeping form next to him. “She’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll tell her about Tracey.”

“Right. I’ll uh…I'll see you later then?” Samantha asked.

“Yeah…I’ll be there in a couple of hours,” he replied sleepily.

They said goodbye and then Danny closed his eyes. He really didn’t want to go to work. He wanted to stay right where he was holding Katie. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes to find Katie looking up at him. “Morning,” she said quietly. “You were just in deep thought.”

“Not so deep…I was just thinking that I didn’t want to leave you today.”

“I’ll second that. I’d like to stay like this a while longer.”

Danny smiled. “Unfortunately, the paperwork after a case can be more time-consuming than the case itself. Speaking of…Samantha called to let us know that Tracey got through surgery okay, but she did lose the baby.”

“That poor girl. She had no idea what she was getting into.”

“Hopefully, she can get some help, and move on from all this. I have the same wish for you,” he said as he ran his fingers through her hair.

“I feel like I already am moving on…being here with you. Or maybe I am just getting back.”

“What do you mean?” he asked curiously.

“I should have left with you that night in the Hamptons…when Eric found us in the driveway. I should have told him the truth right there. Things would have been so different.”

“You can never look back, Katie. We make decisions, we make choices, and sometimes we don’t have a choice at all. We are just dealt a hand. If I’ve learned anything in my crazy, messed-up life, it is that you just have to keep moving forward…hopefully a little wiser than you were before. You have an opportunity for a new life, Katie Mason. You stood up to Eric, your mother and your father. You’re ready to face anything.”

“You think? I’m not sure I’m strong enough. I’ve never been on my own…never…in my whole life.”

“Well then…it’s about time. But you really aren’t alone. I remember a time when I felt more alone that I ever had before. I was so scared because I had nowhere to go, but then you came to me…my lifeline…my sweet Katie. You saved my life. I’m here for you now…just like you were there for me then. I love you, and I don’t plan on letting you go through this alone,” Danny said sincerely.

Katie pulled herself up from Danny’s chest so she was face to face withhim. “I came to life when I met you all those years ago, and I died a little the day I got married because I felt like I lost you forever. I may have saved your life, Danny…but you gave me life. Just like you gave me life again when you held me last night. I love you, too Danny Taylor.”