((Again, not for minors. Thanks for sticking with us thus far, though. :D))

Nick couldn't quite believe that had just happened. Well, considering everything that had occurred during the past 24 hours, it wasn't all that surprising that it had culminated in this, but... surprising nonetheless. His eyes gazed at her as best he could. Her sleeping form rested in front of him, his arm wrapped around her waist holding her close. He rested his head just behind hers on the pillow, losing himself in his thoughts.

Lost in her dreams, Steffani's mind wondered. Not back to Aries but actually back to the speedway in LA. She was laying on the asphalt like she had been minutes before Dre had been shot, "Dre?" she muttered out loud in both dream and Reality. In the dream Steffani slowly stood and looked around her. She could see Dre standing as if nothing had happened. "Dre?" She asked, knowing very well what would happen later. "Dre!" She called out again in her sleep her face showing the pain that she couldn't stop what she knew would happen... again.

Nick frowned. At first, he thought it was like the Led Zeppelin song, and the tune quickly popped up to mock him: ‘It's the way you call me another guy's name when I try to make love to you.’ However, he quickly realized it was something else entirely. He shook her strongly enough to wake her, yet gently enough so she wouldn't be startled by the action. "Steff? Darlin', wake up, yer havin' a nightmare. Come on Darlin', come back t' me."

Steffani felt Nick's shaking and woke up with a start. Pulling back she almost elbowed him in the ribs but stopped realizing who it was. "Huh?" She asked closing her eyes again.

He kissed her gently on the shoulder closest to him. "Sorry 'bout wakin' ya like that. Ya had a doozy of a nightmare..." He said, by way of explanation. He didn't say anything more, allowing her to open up to him if she wanted to do so.

Turning to face him, Steffani smiled as she opened her eyes to look at him. "Don't worry about it." She told him softly.

"Hey, if ya couldn't tell by now, I worry 'bout everythin'. So bear with me here," Nick said with a slight grin.

"Trust me this one is a no worry." She informed him. "Promise."

"Okay, if ya say so." He kissed her gently. "Afternoon then, beautiful."

Steffani smiled as Nick kissed her. "Hey cowboy." She stated scooting closer into his arms. Kissing his chest before she rested her head on it, Steffani sighed. "No regrets?" She asked Nick softly.

"With you? None." He said simply, holding her close with his arm.

Nodding, She glanced over at his arm and turned it to look at his tattoo. "Now that's a shocker." She muttered as she ran her fingers over it slowly.

He smiled. "I was 18 and raised in a religious household. Now it's a permanent reminder of my life before law enforcement. What else can I say 'bout it? Yours is far more appropriate t' ya, I think," he said, rubbing her lightly between her shoulder blades where her inking had been done. "Wildcat... I should start callin' ya that," Nick added with a wink.

"Well I'm not sure if it's the best name for me." She replied. "Let's just say mine is more a 'darker' reminder." She let slip.

A frown creased his forehead slightly. "Of what Darlin'?"


"What happened in yer life that's so dark?" Nick asked her gently.

"All right I'm not talking about dark times now." Steffani retorted with a smiled as she pushed Nick gently on the nose with her index finger.

He scrunched up his nose, trying to get her index finger off, then giving up. "Okay, deal. Definitely not the time. Glad I managed t' surprise ya though," he added with a grin.

Steffani bit her lip as she smiled. "Well this definitely qualifies as personal care." She told him not admitting that yeah his tattoo did surprise her.

Nick laughed at her remark. "I'd say so, yeah. Better than a hot bath, I gotta admit. Though I was right, wasn't I? Ya got some rest there."

Steffani smiled as she raised herself up to rest herself on her elbows. "A little." she agreed.

Lying on his side facing her, he started to rub her back then stopped, remembering that she was ticklish. "Although this really hadn't been what I had in mind," he admitted. "Though, as ya say, no regrets. Kinda threw my 'self control' mantra out the window however," he added with a chuckle.

"Carpe Diem." Steffani added. "Don't forget that one."

"Yep. Maybe I should try and replace 'self control' with that before it comes back, huh?" He said with a slight smirk.

"At least with me." Steffani agreed shooting him a glance.

Nick laughed at the thought. "Don't worry, Darlin'. I'm totally yours. No way in hell anyone else'll get *this* personal care from me."

Steffani smiled. "Yeah me." She muttered and lay back down to stare at the ceiling. "What would make you hate me?" She asked seeing if maybe it was safe to tell him all of her past. Yeah she knew it was an odd question but she need to know if everything could be told or her 'jail time' needed to be kept away.

He blinked. "That came outta left field. Umm..." He paused, thinking about how honest to be with her. "Okay, I'm gonna be honest. Nothing short of ya walkin' out that door with next to no explanation as t' why could make me hate ya." He shook his head slightly. "But why are you askin' me that?"

Steffani shook her head. "Cuz I don't want to screw this up." She lied with a smile.

"I doubt anythin' ya say could. Hell Steff, I've withstood bandagin', being tossed against a table, punches, and yellin' from ya." A beat. "I'm still here," he stressed sincerely. "Yer not gonna able t' shake me off that easily anymore."

Steffani smiled. "That's good to hear." She told him honestly.

He matched her smile with one of his own. "Glad t' oblige. But..." he grew serious. "Ya should know that already... Steff, what's wrong?" He asked, meeting her eyes as he propped himself up on his side with his elbow to get a less straining look at her.

"Nothing." Steffani shot at him.

He sighed slightly, falling back on his side. "Okay..." His voice was tinged with disappointment; hurt that despite everything he had done she still didn't trust him.

Steffani looked over at Nick oddly. "Since when does my not wanting to tell you something make you pissy?" She asked sharply, knowing very well that she should have bit her tongue.

"Okay, fine, I'll try t' control myself from showin' my emotions t' ya next time, allright? Dammit Steff," He shook his head. "I don't think before I talk sometimes. Look, ya want me t' be less honest with ya? Less concerned 'bout ya? Fine. I just won't be *me* anymore. But if that's what ya want, I can do that. Go into alpha-male mode and be all, 'Hey Darlin', that was great. Maybe we should do that again sometime,' and roll outta bed, get dressed and find me a beer. That better for ya?" He hung his head, exasperation finally driving out words that needed to be spoken out in the open.

Steffani glared at him for a minute before sitting up, fidgeting with the end of the blanket. "Point taken." She muttered in a detached tone. "Extremely taken."

He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. But it's the way I am. It's one of the reasons I went int' law enforcement. Wearin' my heart on my sleeve is a part of the package ya get with me. I can't change that. Yes, I'll be disappointed that ya don't trust me when you brush me off sometimes. But hell Steff, I do understand why yer doin' it now. We've known each other what... 36 hours? If that much? I can't expect everything t' be a smooth ride with one another but..." He sighed again, rolling unto his back. "I'm rambling again. I'll shut up."

"Well," Steffani retorted. "There are things I can't tell you..." She trailed off. Moment of truth Holland.. Tell him or no.

"Right now? *Ever*? I mean... what's so horrible that you're so reluctant to reveal?"

"Try ashamed...embarrassed." Steffani corrected. "Idiotic, Butt kicked stupidity."

He rolled over to face her again, even though a small part of him wanted to continue to give her the harsh treatment. "Didn't we have this discussion allready? What could *possibly* be so bad? I mean, are ya hidin' a kid from me or somethin'? Evil twin? Husband? What?"

"Now or never." Steffani muttered. Taking a deep breath, she squeezed her eyes closed. "None of the above." She stated backing out at the last minute. "It's just family drama...you know hard nosed brother, convict dad. Always looking for something real."

"Real how?"

"Well, the dad into fake money, bonds, nickels." Steffani continued to cover getting farther from the truth. "Ben is an inflexible little prick."

Nick blinked slightly, shaking his head. "Steff... ya told me this already. There's no way that's what's botherin' ya."

"Forever and always nagging."

"Yes, ‘cause apparently I'm the only one that f**kin' gives a rats a** about this relationship and brave enough t' risk gettin' burned by bein' honest!" He pushed himself up to a sitting position, facing away from her. "I can't *believe* I just said that. Ignore me. I'm not thinking *at all* right now."

Glancing over at Nick, Steffani let tears fall from her eyes. Closing her eyes, Steffani summoned enough courage to get at least some of her dark secret out. "I missed nine Christmases due to being a Blood." She told him in a shaky voice. "Eight because the wildcat-" She stopped to swallow the large lump in her throat. "-was on the prowl of LA streets. And the last one.." She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth as she hardened her voice. "Because she was in a *cage*" She growled at him.

His head snapped back so fast as he looked over his shoulder he thought he got whiplash. "You were in jail?" He asked, the disbelief clear in his voice.

Steffani closed eyes and nodded her head slowly, not knowing what to say.

His shoulders sank, feeling awful for pushing her. "Oh lord Darlin'..." He turned back to her, moving close to her again. "Darlin'... what happened?"

Steffani shrank away from Nick. "I don't want to talk about." She said hoarsely. "Please."

"Okay, allright," he said, almost frantically, not wanting to lose her so soon. "But... Steff..." What could he *say* to make her believe that it didn't matter to him? "Steff, I understand why ya kept it from me, but I love you. That's not gonna change real easily. Even if ya told me you were a fugitive on the run. You can... no, you *have to* trust me if we have any chance with each other."

Steffani looked at Nick. "You love me?" She asked.

He stopped breathing, realizing that he did, in fact, say that out loud to her just then. "I... yeah," he admitted, changing his mind on what to say in mid-sentence. "I really can't pin this down t' magnetism or chemistry or anythin' like that. So... yes. I think I've fallen for you. Hard."

A smile curved the right side of Steffani's lips. "Don't let me go." She begged softly as if asking not to let her travel down the path of loosing herself in undercover work and her past.

He cupped the side of her face as he spoke. "Never. I'd have t' be unresponsive in the extreme t' let ya slip away from me now."

Reaching over Steffani hugged Nick tightly. "I’m holding you to that Nick." She told him softly keeping a god grip on him.

He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. "You go ahead and do that Steff. I won't break my end of the bargain. But I'm holding you t' a deal myself.."

"More deals and bargains." She muttered against his skin.

He lifted her chin up, looking into her eyes. "Please... this is serious..." He pleaded slightly, his eyes blinking back tears.

Nodding, Steffani locked eyes with him. "Okay." She informed him reaching up and taking his hand in hers.

"Don't..." He took a breath to stop the tears. "Don't just walk out on me if you ever decide to end this... I don't think I could ever survive it again."

Cocking her head to the side, Steffani looked at Nick. "Who said I was walking away?" She told him softly as she rested her forehead against his.

He shut his eyes, sighing slightly. "I'm horrified at the very thought of it. But... I was burned before Steff. Obviously, I'm not totally over it. And I'm terrified of the fact that I'm weak when it comes to this."

"You're not the only one." Steffani told him. "Let's live to regret this." She promised him softly.

"Regret what? Pouring our hearts out t' one another?"

"Something like that." Steffani admitted with a cheesy smile.

He didn't regret it though. Like he'd said, it was a part of him. He kissed her gently, not sure if the salty taste on their lips came from her tears or his. "Maybe one day you won't feel like you have to regret this."

"No regrets." She muttered against his lips. Glancing at Nick, Steffani realized that it was a full of crap statement. "Maybe one day I'll feel alive." She added lowering her eyes look at their hands.

"I hope I'm there t' see it." He kissed her forehead, letting out a soft sigh. "This is far too depressing. We both could use some TLC now, don't ya think?" He asked, trying to be light again.

Steffani shrugged as she reached up and rubbed away her tears. "Actually I could go for some serious caramel coffee ice cream with some hard rum." She admitted. "Zone it out..." Steffani added with a semi smile.

He laughed. "I'm afraid I don't have any of that here. So unless yer up t' groceries, yer cravin is gonna have t' hold off."

"I hate shopping." Steffani remarked with a little chuckle.

He smirked. "Never would've guessed." He paused, thinking. "Okay, I got an idea so that we can delay shoppin' for a while longer yet still distract ourselves."

"All ears."

"Asking one another inane, completely useless bits of information about one another. Nothing deeper than 'What's your favorite color?'" He added with a grin.

Steffani nodded. "Sounds painless." She agreed after a minute. "I'm game."

He grinned, then peeled himself away from her reluctantly, sitting against the wall and ducking the lower part of his body under the sheets. "Okay, favorite color?"

Steffani smiled. "Blue." She answered. "You... Fav color?"

He smirked. "Ya read my mind. Blue also. Favorite food? Dish, item, whatever."

Rolling her eyes, Steffani blushed. "Ain't that one obvious cowboy.. We had 'em last night. Spicy polish dogs with everything."

"Okay, yeah, should've been obvious. Chinese food here. Actually, just about anything Asian, really. Sushi though? Eh... give or take," he said with a grin. "Umm... okay, you ask somethin' while I think of some more."

Steffani looked at Nick for a minute. "Favorite...." She chewed on her lip for a minute before continuing. "Sport."

He raised a brow. "Are ya seriously askin' me that? That's more obvious than the food question," he stated humorously. "Football. Baseball's a semi-distant second," he added. "Yours?"

"Well car racing, Pool, and surfing are up there." Steffani told him with a nod. "There's also Hockey.. hell anything with action."

"Table pool? Great! We oughtta play sometime. Surfin'... there're no waves in Houston," he added with a chuckle. "Okay, got one. Movie."

"Anything Steve McQueen." Steffani stated before thinking a minute. "Any one but the Towering Inferno... that's a weak McQueen."

"Haven't seen that one yet. Although, I'm sure my McQueen collection will be jump-started shortly," he said with a chuckle. "Mine... hm... 'The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly,' probably. There's a couple others, but that one stands out."

"Figures a Cowboy movie for the cowboy." Steffani stated with a smile. "Favorite car?" She asked with a raised eyebrow.

He stuck his tongue out at her quickly at the cowboy comment. "Oh, the new T-bird's gorgeous. And... Uhm... That's all I can think of right now," he said with a sheepish smile.

"They’re okay." She caved. "Bullit." She added in a matter of fact tone. "All though Dodge Chargers and Sting Rays are sexy cars too. GT 40's are fast little buggers but the overste- oh. Sorry." She apologized about babbling on and on about cars.

He laughed, delighted at her eager response. "Geez gal! Ya sure know your cars! Should I be honest and tell ya I got no clue what yer talkin' 'bout, or just nod and agree?"

"Maybe one day you'll find out."

He tilted his head at her. "Okay... Hmm... Well, favorite actor seems t' be kinda obvious... ahhh..." He tried to think of something light and appropriate, not wanting to ask 'animal'.

"Well?" Steffani asked looking at him with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm thinkin'! Umm... book?" He said, his body language clearing showing that he was fishing for ideas now.

"Don't read much." Steffani told him bluntly.

"Okay. I'd ask a computer question, but from what ya told me that'd be kinda useless too. Umm... Work-out. What's yer routine?"

"Karate." She told him bluntly. "That would be how I got a six foot man, bent over a desk with out breaking a sweat." Steffani added with a playful wink.

He rolled his eyes. "6'1" actually. Which makes it worse, I'm thinkin'. Ya, not proudest moment of my life there. And in front of George too," he said with a slight cringe. "Guess I'm old fashioned in my routine. Weights and runnin' are 'bout the extent of it."

"Running ain't that bad." Steffani told him. "I run every now and then."

"Well, if ya want t' join me, invitation's open t' ya. Just t' warn ya though, I get an early start most of the time. And from what I can tell you're not a mornin' person," he added with a smirk.

"Have coffee, will run." Steff promised playfully as she scooted over next to Nick. "Favorite type of game show." She asked out of the blue as she snuggled next to him.

He wrapped an arm across her shoulders. "Wheel of Fortune. I'm always yellin' the answer at the screen."

Steffani laughed. "Really. Must be a guy thing then."

He raised a brow. "Why do ya say that?"

"Well most of the guys I've met shout at the TV."

He laughed. "Maybe it is. Though my sister gets the same way. Then again, she was usually yellin' at me for sayin' the answer too fast."

Steffani laughed. "Point taken." She told him.

He nudged her lightly. "What's yers?"

"Well...." Steffani looked up at Nick. "Millionaire is kinda kinky... So is Jeopardy."

He grinned. "Millionaire... another one I yelled at. Jeopardy's good. Though now I'm gonna have that song in my head now. Oh, of course! Music. Bands, songs..."

Steffani was silent. "Take a guess." She replied wondering what type of music he thought she'd listen too.

He stuck the tip of his tongue out, in the habit he had of doing when he thought. "Rock?"

"Unless old Sinatra sings that stuff now a days I think your off totally."

He raised a brow. "Wait. Black and white movies... and 50's era music? Like, the Rat Pack?"

"Girl loves the classics."

"Really? Hmm. Gonna have t' introduce me t' that genre. Sinatra's 'bout the extent of my knowledge. Your turn t' guess my tastes there."

"Hip-hop or techno...Maybe eighties but Country seems to cliché." Steffani stated. "Please tell me it ain't country."

He made a slight face of disgust. "Oh, no, not country. And no, yer off with yer other guesses."

Steffani nodded. "Good then, what is it?" She asked walking two fingers down his chest.

"Move t' the 60's. Classic rock's what I'm all about."

"Yummy." Steffani stated with a smile. "Ice cream and toppings?"

"I'm a vanilla kinda guy. And don't misinterpret that," he said with a smirk. "And hot fudge. Although, I can make a wicked sundae with just about anything."

"That's good to know." Steffani replied her fingers circling his belly button. "Me? Gotta be plain old mint chocolate chip."

His stomach contracted a bit, and he managed not to laugh at her touch. "Oh, that's good too. Hmm... TV Show?" He asked, hoping for a distraction.

"Cop dramas... Gotta see if they get it right." She told him as her fingers walked up his chest. "I used to watch this one show.. it was about this guy that could travel back in time and fix problems before moving on to another person's life. Pity it was canceled."

"Completely with ya on the cop drama's part. Though... Quantum Leap?" He asked.

"Yeah that's it." Steffani told him. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing. I liked it too. Just surprisin'. Figured that was a 'geek' show," he said playfully.

"It was my dessert after watching all those cop shows." Steffani replied shifting to her side and resting her head on Nick's chest.

He stroked her arm with the hand that was across her shoulders. "That was a while ago though. What's you're current dessert show?"

Steffani looked at Nick. "George Lopez." She replied. "The guys a hoot."

He chuckled. "Haven't seen that one yet. Heard good things 'bout him though."

"Funny!" Steffani replied. Glancing up at Nick she smiled and closed her eyes. "Hm....." She mumbled before opening her eyes in little slits before asking her question. "Favorite type of kiss." She asked slowly.

He looked down at her, amused. "I need a favorite?"

"You started the game." She told him slyly. "Remember the favorites game?"

He grinned down at her. "Okay. Just never thought of it before."

"Well you can say, long, passionate, slow, lustful, short or a peck on the cheek." Steffani informed him as she closed her eyes again.

"Guess it depends on the circumstances, Darlin'." He paused, the tip of his tongue making an appearance again. "Long."

Sitting up Steffani looked at Nick for a minute before giving him a long and slow kiss. "Surprise." She told him after she pulled away from him with a smile. He smiled back, shaking his head lightly. "Tease. Okay, what's yers?"

"Depends on the guy." She told him as she laid back on her back this time letting the back of her head rest on his chest. "If it's with a cute cowboy, well, he knows what I like."

He chuckled, wrapping his arms loosely around her waist, pressing her back against his chest, planting a kiss on her neck. "Ya sure know how t' stroke a guys ego."

"I was raised with and by guys." Steffani told him. "How do you think I came out this perfect?" She asked.

Now he laughed outright. "And ya got the opposite flip of the coin with me; only women surroundin' me durin' my childhood."

Steffani looked at Nick. "You got Bettie Crockered, while I got gushing rivers of blood. How fitting."

He scoffed. "If ya want t' call it that. There's a reason *I'm* knowledgeable in cookin'."

"And I know how to cause pain." Steffani muttered softly.

He raised a brow. "Darlin', it's a good memory. Mom was a disaster in the kitchen... Well, it's funny thinkin' 'bout it now. Up 'til I was about 9 we lived on takeout. Then I learned 'bout the wonder known as a cookbook."

"My grandmother felt pity for us after my mom left. So she moved in with us so she gave us food. We didn't ask what it was suppose to be."

He nodded. "Similar to how my situation was, in that sense. No tellin' what she was cookin'."

Steffani smiled. "If I had a drink I’d toast us to our odd and strange family...may we never become like them." She muttered.

"See, *that* I can oblige ya with. I do have sodas... maybe some beers in the fridge, I'm not sure."

"Beer.. the man's drink." Steffani stated getting a crick in her neck. Getting up on her elbows, Steffani rubbed it with one hand but that did nothing to get rid of it. With a pathetic groan she sat up and attacked the crick with both hands massaging it out of her neck.

He took her hands away from her neck and replaced them with his own. He kissed her shoulder when his eyes spotted the scar on her lower back. "So that's why ya got me t' stop," he whispered, not aware that he'd said it aloud as he continued to massage her neck. He cleared his throat. "And you had beer in yer fridge last night, if I recall."

Steffani's eyes darted to look at nick from over her shoulder. "Car accident." She informed him. "And I'm allowed to have beer. You don't look like a beer guy."

He chuckled, kissing her neck. "Just 'cause I don't got a beer belly..." He got a little serious, continuing to get the knots out of her neck, his hands drifting to do the same to her shoulders. "I don't abuse it either, though."

"You better not." Steffani told him. "'Cuz you do...I'm gone." She snapped at him rolling her shoulders with a groan of happiness as Nick worked out her numerous kinks,

"I'd go too, don't worry." He smiled, however, at her groaning, making his way to her back. "Likin' this, aren't ya?"

"It's heaven." Steffani mumbled with her eyes closed and with a little smile due to the tickling.

"Hmm... I can tell. I should stop... let you call *me* a tease." Nick's tone was playful, but he didn't stop as he was joking that he would.

"I happen to like teases." Steffani told him. "You stop, well.. It won't be pretty."

Nick smiled. "And the last thin' I want t' do is piss ya off when I got nothin' t' protect me but the sheets on the bed." He rubbed her shoulder blades.

"Oh har-har." Steffani muttered. "Tis to laugh."

He smirked. "Ya know, maybe I should've gone int' stand-up comedy instead."

"Either that or your own TV show.. I'd watch." Steffani told him leaning back in his arms.

He grinned, slipping his arms around her again, kissing her neck. "Good. I prefer havin' an audience of one."

Kissing his arm's biceps, Steffani smiled. "Always willing to please aren't ya?" She asked him.

"Only a select few," he stated, resting his chin on her shoulder.

Turning her head to look at him she smiled. "For a Wild West cowboy you're just a big teddy bear." She told him.

He laughed. "Shh, don't tell anyone. My reputation would be ruined."

"Secret's safe with me...at least for now."

He smiled. "Great, now yer threatenin' t' blackmail me."

"Just a little."

He chuckled against her back. "Greaaat. Thanks for the warnin', though."

Steffani smiled. "I'm sure you can pay up."

"Oh? And what exactly are your terms, Darlin'?"

"Lots and lots of kisses." Steffani replied wrapping her arms back around Nick's neck. "Think you can cover that Cowboy?" she asked twirling his necklace around his neck slightly.

"Yeah, I can manage that." He leaned in to give her a kiss, a slight shudder running down his spine when he felt her toying with the silver strand he always wore around his neck.

Steffani smiled. "That may keep it hush-hush for an hour." She told him playfully.

He grinned. "Good thin' we don't have any company 'round."

"I bet I could make a few phone calls." She teased Nick kissing him gently. "Maybe."

He kissed her again, gently this time, letting his lips linger over hers after. "Better?" He asked, his lips rubbing over hers as he spoke.

"Getting there." She told him kissing him softly.

"We'll see if I can get closer." Nick kissed her neck tenderly, sliding sideways so that he wasn't directly behind her and lowered her onto the bed. Kissing her deeply, he left her lips, instead leaving a trail of kisses down her neck, past her chest and stopping at her belly button. He lay himself down, resting on her lower body as lightly as possible, resting his head on her flat stomach, kissing it as he looked up at her. "What would ya prefer: That I lavish ya with a lunch, or that I simply ravish ya?" His tone was playful, as one hand slid up her left leg teasingly while the other had molded itself to the side of her waist, his thumb making circular motions on her stomach absently.

Part Four