Disclaimer: The story told within is for entertainment purposes only. The characters from the series "Hart to Hart" belong solely to their original owners. They are used with respect and affection and no copyright infringement is intended.

Stolen Hart

It was going to be a productive morning. Jennifer was at her desk working. Jonathan had left for the office and Max was out running errands. She felt her current project on school violence was going to be one of her best.

As she sketched out her story she found herself thinking of some of the young people she had met during her research. It had taken her a long time to get inside the armor these kids carried around. She was saddened to think how grown up these children had to be at such a young age. Her own priviledged youth seemed far away and fairy tale-like compared with the life of a big city kid today.

She was startled out of her reverie by a knock on the front door. "That's odd," she thought. The gate buzzer hadn't sounded. Wary, she looked through the peep hole and saw Angel, one of the young girls she had interviewed. She looked like she'd been crying. Surprised and concerned, she pulled open the door.

"Angel! Are you alright? What are you doing here? What's wrong?" It was then Jennifer noticed the people standing to either side of the door. She didn't like to judge people by their appearance but these three boys looked like bad news.

One of them pulled a gun and said, "Okay Lady, just do what we tell you and you'll be OK. Otherwise, well babe, we might just have to hurt you." Jennifer backed up against the open door trying her best not to show any fear.

"I'm sorry Mrs. Hart, They made me do it. They made me get you to open the door." Angel felt bad because she had liked the lady who had talked to her at school. She had been nice and had talked to her like she was somebody important, not just a bad kid. It was just about the first time anyone had treated her that way. The admiration she had for this outsider was evident in her excited account of the interview to her friends in the gang. When Nick and Bud had heard of this strange woman they'd wanted to know all Angel could tell them about her. At first Angel had thought they were just interested in something that was going down in their turf. Afterwards, though, she realized they wanted something more from Mrs. Hart than attention. They wanted money. All they could get. They made Angel help them find out where she lived. When they'd told her to decoy them at the door she'd refused at first but after a few blows from Nick's fists she remembered how to obey very quickly.

"Shut up you!" Nick yelled. "Unless you're looking for some more?" He raised his fist.

"No!" Jennifer and Angel said at the same time: Jennifer ordering, Angel begging.

"Did you say something lady?" He grabbed her hair, pulling her head back. "You don't say NOTHING unless I tell you to talk. Got it?" She nodded her head as best she could and he let go of her hair and pushed her toward the living room.

"Buddy, Angel, you guys go upstairs and see what you can find. Remember! Small and valuable, like jewels and stuff. Johnny and me'll take care of the lady and look down here." The two went off and Jennifer could hear them trashing the upstairs. Nick pushed her down into a chair and motioned Johnny to start searching for loot.

"Okay rich lady, where's the good stuff?"

"My name is Mrs. Hart, and we don't keep money in the house."

"Now that would be a real shame, especially for you, since if we don't find any money we're gonna have to get our kicks out of you, y'know? Looking at you that might not be such a bad thing. Now are you sure you didn't forget about anything?"

"My purse is on the table. There is some cash and my credit cards in there. There's a change jar on the counter in the kitchen. That's all." She winced as Johnny knocked over a very expensive vase and it shattered.

"Why are you doing this? I haven't done anything to you."

"Just by being, lady, you are a pain. Strolling around my neighborhood, flashing your money, making my woman think she's got better things to do than be my woman. Giving her fancy ideas. Well I knocked those out of her head real quick and when she sees what's gonna happen to you and your money then she won't think it's so hot to be like you no more!"

There was a yip of surprise from upstairs. Jennifer could only assume that they had found her jewelry box. Good. Maybe if they found enough stuff they liked they'd leave quickly. She didn't know if she should pray for Max to hurry home or hope he was delayed. He would fight these punks and he wasn't as young as he used to be. She was afraid they would hurt him.

Bud and Angel came running down the stairs. He carried a sack and Angel was covered in her jewels. Angel had also taken time to change into one of Jennifer's sleek outfits. Johnny came out of the kitchen. In addition to the stuff in her purse he had come up with the money from the change bottle they kept on the counter and a framed collection of silver dollars from Max's suite.

"Not bad." Nick said, "but I think there's more here somewhere. "Hauling her to her feet he demanded, "Okay lady, give or I swear I'll take you right here and then I'll slit your throat and leave you for the old man to find. That might finish him off too, old as he is." He twisted her arm up and back until she gasped in pain.

"No. No, please don't, don't hurt me. Really, the only other small valuables here are some more jewels in the freezer."

"Get them" He growled at Johnny. "You lied to me before, bitch, and here I was being so nice to you." He released her arm and back handed her across the face. The blow knocked her off balance and she fell, cutting her head on the edge of the end table. She lay there stunned, bleeding from the head wound until Johnny came back with the stash of frozen jewelry. Nick took out his knife and scratched something into the piano top and motioned for Bud to pick her up and follow him.

As they approached the front door Jennifer tried again to reason with the boys "Look guys, if you take me out of here you'll be guilty of kidnapping. Do you know that's cause for an automatic life sentence in California? No matter what else happens you'll be on the run for the rest of your lives. Is it worth it? What good is the money if you are in jail and can't spend it?" Seeing the futility of her argument written in the angry, defiant looks on the faces on the boys and the fear and tears on Angel's face she thought fast about what to do. She needed to leave the police and Jonathan some sort of clue. She started by wiping the dripping blood from her face and discreetly leaving hand and fingerprints on the walls and furniture. As she "tripped" and fell hard against the door she managed to draw a hopefully legible "4" and part of Angel's name before they forced her to her feet. She could only hope it would help as she was forced into the trunk of the kid's old Chevy under the watchful but thankfully hidden eye of the new video surveillance camera from Hart Electronics.

Max came home a little later. He could tell right away someone had been at his kitchen and he didn't think Mrs. H. would have left in such a state. He went into the living room to ask her and stopped short in his tracks. The place was a shambles. He called out to her and when he saw the blood on the rug near the table he knew something terrible had happened. He went out to the car to use the mobile phone to first call Jonathan and then the police.

Jonathan arrived at the house not long after the police and was refused entry to his own home. The officer directed him around back where Max was waiting on the terrace.

"Mr. H! They won't let us in or anything."

"Max, what happened?"

"I don't know Mr H. I went out to do some shopping and run a few errands. She was fine then. She was expecting to be working on her article all morning."

"Was the alarm system on when you left, Max?" Lt. Grey walked up behind them.

"Yes, it was and before you ask, I had to turn it off to get in the gate."

"Really? How could you tell? Doesn't your gate opener take care of both functions? Would you be able to tell if the gate was closed and the alarm was off?"

"Y'know, I can't answer that. I don't know." Max's shoulder's slumped. "All I can say it I did turn it on when I left."

"Herschel, thanks for coming out yourself for this. Have they found anything inside?"

"Yes, Jonathan, they have. It is definitely a kidnap situation. There is a note of sorts."

"What do you mean, of sorts?"

"Why don't you come inside and take a look."

A crime scene technician was still working in the living room when they entered. "If you gentlemen will please try not to disturb anything, we haven't finished the entire room yet."

Lt. Grey led the way over to the piano. He didn't notice when Jonathan stopped following him, his eyes riveted to the blood stain on the floor between the couches and the bloody hand print on the arm of the couch. His heart lurched and his gut cramped and churned. It wasn't a huge amount of blood but even one drop Jennifer's precious blood spilt was far too much for him to bear. Where was she and who had done this thing? Max gently touched him on the arm and nodded toward the Lieutenant. Jonathan continued to the piano.

"Jonathan, we don't know it's her blood yet." Lt. Grey tried to reassure him.

"Either it's hers or she's had to defend herself. I don't like either scenario."

Scratched into the piano lid was

WE GOT HER
YOU PAY
YOU GET HER BACK

"Well, I guess that's it. We wait for a ransom call. You set up the wire tap and I'll call my people about raising some cash."

"Some of my people think it might not have been a planned snatch. The way the house was trashed it might be someone was looking for something specific. As soon as the lab guys finish I'd appreciate it if you guys would go through and see if you notice anything missing. How's business? Have you been stirring up any trouble in the financial world? Also, Max said she was working on a story this morning. Do either or you know what it was about? "

Jonathan nodded. "She had just finished the research for a big article on school violence and gangs. Her notes should be on the desk over here."

"Whew, that could open a whole new perspective on the case. If she was messing with...OK, investigating gangs in this town she could have gotten into big trouble. Some of those animals are deadly serious about their privacy and turf."

"Lt Grey," called a lab tech, "you might be interested in this." The woman was kneeling in back of the front door. As they got closer they could see what had interested her. The number 4 and what looked to be ANG were barely legible, written in blood. "We've found several places where whoever was bleeding brushed against things, always leaving great prints. It looks like whoever did it was trying to let us know they were still among the living as well as trying to drop a hint. Could be there were four attackers and maybe she was trying to name someone there but didn't get a chance to finish." She called the photographer over to make a copy of the message.

"Mr. H! The camera! What about the new camera. Maybe it caught something."

"Of course Max!" Jonathan agreed as he took off to the newly installed security center.

Lt. Grey followed them. "You guys want to tell me what you're talking about?"

"Hart Industries electronics division has developed a new camera. It has sensors that detect motion and turn the camera on. Once it's on the camera tracks whatever is moving as long as it is in range and then after a certain amount of time it will turn itself off. The unit is highly experimental and we've installed it in several places to test it out. Our front door is one of those places. With any luck we'll be able to see who did this on this monitor just as soon as the tape rewinds."

The tape had shown them what they had expected to see. The four teenagers, three male, one female, had overpowered Jennifer and pushed their way into the house. Later, as the group left, it showed them dragging Jennifer with them. She seemed to be having trouble walking and there was blood on her face and blouse. As she was being pushed into the trunk of the car she looked directly at the camera. The camera didn't record sound but Jonathan had no trouble interpreting the look on her face. She was telling him that she was OK for now and that she trusted him to find her before she wasn't OK. Maybe it was just his fear reading meaning into the look but to him her face also told him she was scared and she wanted to tell him how much she loved him in case she didn't get another chance. Not everyone would have seen all that but when souls are intertwined looks and gestures can speak volumes with no words needed.

The good news was that now they had pictures of the kidnappers and they had a picture of the car and a partial license plate number. Better still, the criminals didn't know they'd been spotted. The bad news was that since they were teenagers even if they had a record with the police it wouldn't be accessible. Lt. Grey contacted the juvenile authority officers and had them look over the pictures.

Sergeant Mavis Cooper took one look at the pictures and shook her head. "Oh yes Lieutenant Grey, we know who they are. That's Nick Walton's band of merry men. Small time hoodlums who think they are big time gangsters. What are they up to now?"

"We've got them cold for kidnapping, grand theft and assault and that's just for starters. Of course, even saying that we can find them, being juveniles they'll be back on the street in no time. We just want to get the woman they took back before they realize what they've done and panic."

"Well, the good news on that is that Nick Walton has now turned 18, so if you catch him, you can keep him. Albert "Bud" Wilson, Johnny Riley and Angel Thompson are still on our side of the fence. Kidnapping, though, just might get them some down time courtesy of the county."

"Where do they normally hang out?"

"Over by Brushwood High School. Sometimes they even show up for classes."

"Thanks, Mavis. You'll probably be hearing more about this."

"Lucky me!"

After a terrifying ride in the dark, smelly trunk of the car a disoriented Jennifer was dragged out into a rude new world and displayed like a trophy to a number of other dull-eyed, scruffy looking youngsters. Most of the boys, those that could focus, looked at her with dawning lust in their eyes. The few girls were wary. This new woman radiated an unmistakable aura of Alpha Female. A wave of unease circled among them. They felt threatened, wondering how Nick’s new acquisition was going to interfere with their relationships with their men. The fear made them mean.

Circling their target they pinched, hit, bullied and taunted, putting on quite a show for the boys. Nick sat on his “throne,” the best of the mismatched furniture in the room, and gloried in the heady feeling of watching women fight for his attentions.

Recovering her bearings, Jennifer gathered herself to withstand whatever was to come next. At first she thought she could reason with the girls but her efforts fell on ears deafened by years of abuse and encouraged by the laughter and calls of the men they were trying to keep. Only Angel held back, standing to the side of the room, looking miserable. This did not go unnoticed by her self appointed Lord and Master.

His mood suddenly ruined because Angel didn’t think him worth fighting over, Nick shouted, “Stop! All of you stop!”

The laughter and taunting stuttered to a halt and people moved out of Nick’s way as he approached Jennifer. He walked up to her and ran his fingers along the edge of her jaw and caressed the back of her neck. She stood aloof and stiff, refusing to respond to him, refusing to show him her fear. Anger flared in his eyes and he grabbed her hair and forced her to look at him.

“You wanted to know what you’ve done to me? I’ll tell you. Look at that bitch over there.” He turned her so she could see Angel cowering in the shadows. “That was my best bitch. You come around here spreading ideas about how women got rights and men should respect women. You been giving my bitches ideas and they aren’t smart enough to know that you don’t know nothing! I brought you here to show these women what happens to bitches that act up and don’t know their places. Especially that bitch there. Even after I gave her a real good lesson on how my bitches are supposed to behave she still had the nerve to talk back to me.” Angel whimpered.

“Now, I’m a reasonable man. Even bitches are entitled to one mistake. One, but not two.” He emphasized, his eyes boring into Angel’s soul.

“No! Nicky, I’m sorry! It’ll never happen again, I promise. Please Nicky? Please don’t hurt me again. I love you Nicky. I love you.” Angel begged, knowing better than Jennifer what was coming next.

“Shut up!”

He pushed Jennifer away from him and stood glaring at her. She was different than any woman he had ever encountered before. She stood there staring back at him, almost daring him to hit her again. She made him nervous. Nervous and uncertain was something that no gang master could afford to show to his posse.

Jennifer watched this young barbarian as he strutted and postured for his followers. She could see a nervous sweat break out on his upper lip and saw that his actions were becoming more aggressive. She knew she would have to do something soon or he would work himself up past the point of no return and he would have to something that she knew she certainly wouldn’t enjoy and possible wouldn’t survive. Hoping that Jonathan was close on her trail she sent a quick prayer heavenward and went into action.

“Please,” she began, tears in her eyes and fear in her voice. Her attitude and posture changed completely, “Please don’t hurt me.”

Nick looked at her suspiciously.

“I’m very sorry that I’ve caused you any problems. I didn’t mean to. I promise it won’t happen again. Just please, don’t hurt me anymore.” Jennifer’s spirit revolted at the sniveling creature she had become. Angrily, she pushed the thought back knowing that her groveling might well be the only way she had of saving herself. Her strength had challenged Nick’s authority. She could see that while he was somewhat suspicious of this new attitude it was how he expected women to behave and that was reassuring him.

Even as she watched she could see the tension draining out of his body. A more cheerful attitude replaced the sullen look on his face. Smiling, he grabbed her again, pulling her closer and she cringed away with fear that was not entirely feigned.

“Well! Now you got it! That’s the way Nick Walton’s bitches are supposed to behave.” He brushed hair back from her forehead and she forced herself not to flinch. He pulled her face forward and forced a kiss on her lips. Jennifer’s “No! Please!” was muffled and all the onlookers heard was “please!” They were very impressed with Nick who had this ice woman begging for it with only one kiss.

Nick had Jennifer wrapped in a tight embrace when Lil’ Paulie came sauntering in, pleased with himself. “Hey Children! Candy Man’s here.” He pulled out a paper bag from his jeans and then he saw what everyone was looking at. “Damn! That’s one fine bitch, my friend. Where did you find her?”

“From a big house up in Bel Air. I figure her old man will pay plenty to get her back. After she’s had a few lessons, if you know what I mean.”

“Maybe he won’t want her back after we all’ve taught her a thing or two.” Jennifer’s stomach dropped. The thought of one of them touching her was bad enough but if all of them took turns, God! She didn’t know if she could live with that…she didn’t know if she’d want to. How could she ever face Jonathan again? Revulsion filled her and she felt true fear for the first time in a very long time.

“Sure he’ll want her back. Hell, he should be grateful. We’ll probably teach her a thing or two he will enjoy.” All the kids thought that was hilarious.

Paulie said, “Forget her right now. Come see what I’ve got.” Nick pushed Jennifer into the wall next to Angel.

“Don’t even think about moving.” Glaring at Angel he reached out and pinched her cheek hard. “Don’t you worry Sweet Cheeks. I haven’t forgotten what I promised you.” Angel whimpered again. Jennifer held her close.

Lil’ Paulie had scored some very fine drugs and Nick was anxious to try some of it out. Since he didn’t want to have to worry about anything while he was flying he locked Jennifer in a small storage space and threw Angel into the dark with her for safe keeping.

From the darkness of the closet they could hear the others preparing to party. The music and laughter got louder and sounded wilder by the minute.

Angel was sitting on the floor sobbing. Jennifer slid down the wall to sit next to her. She took the girl’s hand and tried to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, this closet is probably the best thing that could happen to us right now. My husband will be looking for me and just maybe the drugs will keep them distracted long enough for the police to get here.”

“How will he know where we are?”

“He just will, I promise.” Jennifer wasn’t yet ready to trust Angel enough to tell her about the camera. The young girl looked like she would betray anyone to get back on the right side of her “man”.

Angel sniffed. “I’m sorry I got you into this. I really didn’t have a choice. You don’t know Nick. He hurt me bad. I think he’s probably going to kill me now.” Jennifer’s heart broke for the sadness and hopelessness she heard coming from such a young person. “All I wanted was a chance to be a real lady, like you. Now I guess I’ll never get a chance.”

“Come on now, Angel. Don’t talk like that. We’ll get out of this.”

“Huh! You maybe, if your husband will pay to get you back. But I’m finished. You ain’t seen Nick when he’s really mad, or when he’s high. He’s real mean when he’s high. Besides, even if I did get away, where would I go? This gang is all I got.”

“Surely you have a family. Where do you live?”

“Right, I got a family! I live with a foster family who took in a bunch of us kids for the welfare money and that’s all. They don’t care about us, just so long as we don’t end up in jail too often. That happens and the DCFS would take us and the money away.”

Jennifer had nothing to say to that. How alone the child was. No wonder she clung to the gang. As abusive as it was it was they were the closest thing she had to a real family.

The noise level outside their haven got louder and they heard someone fumbling with the lock on the door. Angel was shaking with fear and Jennifer wasn’t far behind her. Holding tightly to each other they waited in fear of what was to come.

The door popped open and Nick stood there in the light, swaying slightly on his feet.

“Come on Jennifer dear! It’s time for your initiation into our little family.” He giggled as he stumbled over the pronunciation of initiation. He bent down and grabbed Jennifer’s wrist and pulled her to her feet and out of the closet.

“You stay in there, bitch. Your turn is coming.”

He slammed the door and pushed jennifer to the far end of the room until she was stopped by a ramshackle pool table.

Nick was smiling at her, laughing at her fear. "This is it babe," patting the hard surface of the table. "Your chariot to paradise. No silk and satin sheets like I'm sure your used to but it'll do. Now strip," he ordered.

"No!" Jennifer cried.

His hand made contact with her face before she had finished.

"Strip!" His hand suddenly was holding a sharp knife. "Don't make me tell you again," he growled.

Jennifer could no longer think logically. The horror of what was coming was worse that the thought of being cut with the knife. She cowered against the pool table, her fear all to genuine this time.

No, please don't. My husband will give you anything you want, just don't hurt me. He won't want me if..."

"It don't matter to me if he wants you or not, bitch," he said visciously. His knife flicked out and her blouse was cut away on one side. One more swipe with the blade and the otherside fell to her waist as well leaving her in just her bra on top. Trying to cover herself with her arms she began to sob. The cuts from the knife that had sliced through her blouse had left corresponding cuts on her shoulder and chest that were slowly oozing blood. Nick reached out and cupped her left breast, kneading it harder that was comfortable. She winced.

"This is a very nice breast. Just the way I like them: firm and soft at the same time. It sure would be a shame for something bad to happen to this breast." He eased his knife blade under her bra strap. Bracing herself for more humiliation, Jennifer turned her face away, tears streaming down her cheeks.

A loud banging was heard at the front of the building. Men burst through both of the visible doors.

“Police! Stay where you are!”

Nick grabbed Jennifer’s arm and pulled her after him as he ran down the hallway to the back of the building. This place had originally been a gas station and he had a car parked in one of the old service bays.

Panic struck teens did their best to evade the incoming police officers. In the resulting pandemonium Nick grabbed Jennifer’s arm and pulled her after him as he ran down the hallway to a rear entrance. The building had originally been a gas station and he had a car parked in one of the old service bays.

“Get in the car!”

“No!” she screamed and held back as best she could.

“Get in the damn car!”

“No! You can’t drive like this. You’ll get us both killed!”

“Bitch! I done told you nobody tells Nick Walton no! NOBODY, you hear?” He swung her around hard and ran her into the wall. She was pulled off balance by the violence of his action and hit the wall hard enough to stun her. He picked up her semi-unconscious body and threw it into the passenger seat. Jumping into the car he hit the door opener and rocketed the car out of the garage directly into the rear of a police car. The momentum swung Nick’s car around and giving it the gas he tore down the road.

He didn’t get far. Another police car blocked his exit at the end of the alley and he tried to swerve past it. He succeeded in getting past the patrol car but the impact left his car on two wheels. Tires squealing, the car crashed into the traffic of a busy street where it was hit by an oncoming car. The added impact flipped Nick’s car into a debris filled empty lot where it rolled over several times before crashing into a wall and bursting into flames.

The policemen and onlookers watched it burn. Whoever was inside had never had a chance to get out.

Inside the gang’s hangout the police had sorted the kids out and begun taking them downtown for questioning. It was obvious that most of them would have to go to the hospital for some sobering up before the Juvenile Division would be able to question them.

Jonathan was frantic. Some of the kids admitted to seeing an older woman here but could give him nothing on where she might be now. One boy talked incessantly about how “Nicky had that old broad begging for it after just one kiss.” No one could tell them where Nick was either. One of the officers found Angel inside the locked closet and brought her to Lt.Gray.

“Angel, we know you were with Nick and the others when they kidnapped Mrs. Hart. Do you know where she is now?”

“How’d you know that?”

“Because I’m a police officer, I know things. Like I know you are going to be in big trouble if you don’t help us out here, young lady.”

“I’m a juvenile, you can’t do nothing to me.”

“Don’t bet on it.”

She looked over his shoulder and saw Jonathan watching intently. “You are her husband aren’t you? Her Jonathan.” Surprised, he nodded. “She said you’d come and save her. She said she’d help me too.”

“We will Angel, I promise you, but we have to find Jennifer first. Can you tell us anything that might help?”

“You’re too late.” Jonathan’s heart plummeted and fear threatened to take him over again. “Nicky took her away. Just before you got here. He was high on some of the new stuff Lil Paulie brought in. He’s mean when he gets high. He said he was going to try and ransom her back to you but that he was going to teach her some things first. I hope she takes a long time to learn because when he’s done with her he’s gonna come back here and kill me.” She started sobbing again. “I never meant for anything bad to happen to her. She was nice to me. Nobody’s ever been nice to me before that didn’t have to.” A female officer took her away to be transferred to the office.

“Now what?” Jonathan asked Lt. Gray.

“We’ll find her, Jonathan.”

An officer ran up and told them about the escaping car. The man said that there had been two people in the car when it crashed out of the garage door and that the one in the passenger seat may have been a redheaded woman. Jonathan and Lt. Gray ran out of the building in time to hear a report squawking from a nearby patrol car’s radio that the fugitive vehicle had crashed. They jumped into the patrol car and were driven to the crash site.

The car was an inferno. The initial explosion had subsided but the flames were still burning too hot to allow for close examination.

“No!” Jonathan whispered almost to himself when he first saw the flames.

No! He repeated loudly as he jumped out of the car and ran toward the wreck.

NO! His scream turned into a howl of denial when the policemen caught him and prevented him from reaching her. He slumped to the ground and stared at the flames in horror.

A fire truck raced up and set about putting out the blaze. It wasn’t long before they had the fire out and called all clear. Jonathan started toward the burned out vehicle but Lt. Gray stopped him.

“Jonathan, you don’t want to see that.”

“I have to Herschel. I’ll never believe it if I don’t.”

“I’m serious, Jonathan. As a friend, I don’t want you to have to remember her that way. As the ranking police officer at the scene, I have the authority to stop you.” Jonathan tried to pull away. “Jonathan, don’t do this. If she’s over there you won’t recognize her. I’ve seen enough fire deaths to know what it's like. Let the professionals do their job. Listen, I’m not even going to look. I don’t want to remember my friend Jennifer that way. You don’t either. You need to remember her like she was this morning. Did you kiss her goodbye this morning?” Jonathan nodded. “OK, and I know she was looking at you with her heart in her eyes. She always looks at you that way. That’s who she was and that’s what you need to remember.” He took Jonathan by the arm and led him away. Herschel didn’t think it would be that easy but Jonathan was lost in the memory of his morning with Jennifer. ( …his last morning with Jennifer, a part of him was screaming)

He had awoken to find her snuggled next to him with her head resting on his chest. He treasured moments like that, when he could hold her without distraction and think about how much he loved her. Once she was awake he didn’t have much time for thinking. She was his biggest distraction. Somehow he always got lost in those gorgeous eyes and then he was helpless and at her mercy. He grinned at the thought. She hadn’t been very merciful this morning. They had given each other quite a workout. When they kissed goodbye as he left for work she had whispered a challenge. If he could get home early she would invite Vern and Edna over for an evening’s adventure. Talk about a distraction! He had spent his day fantasizing about platinum wigs, stiletto heels and feather boas. Poor Marcus and Stanley had had to redirect his attention several times.

Instead he had come home to a nightmare.

Jonathan slumped in the front seat of the patrol car feeling lost and numb and like his world had come to an end. How would he go on living without her?

A young boy came up to them and pulled on Lt. Gray’s sleeve.

“Excuse me, sir, are you a policeman?” he asked.

“Yes I am,” he replied. When the boy just stood there looking at him he continued, "Can I help you with something, son?”

“Yes sir. My name is Michael and I live over there.” He pointed to a building bordering the empty lot where they stood. “My Mama has been watching everything from our window and she sent me to ask you why somebody doesn’t help the person who fell out of the car before it started rolling over and blowing up.”

“She saw someone fall out of the car?” Lt. Gray looked at Jonathan but he didn’t appear to have taken in what the boy had said. “Michael, can you show me where the person is? We didn’t know anybody needed help.”

“Sure thing mister, over here.” He led the way to the fence at the border of the lot. There was a small ditch that had been overgrown with weeds. Lying in it was the most beautiful thing Herschel thought he had seen in a long time. She was very still and who knew how badly she might be hurt but she was in one piece and unburned. He shouted for help and ran to her. She was alive and she was breathing.

He was afraid to move her too much so after checking her for life signs he stopped and waited for the ambulance crew to arrive.

“Michael, you did a good thing today. You and your mama have saved this lady’s life. We didn’t know she was here and she might have died before we found her because we thought she had burned up in the car. You are a hero.” The boy scuffed his shoe in the dirt and blushed. “Would you do me a favor now? Would you go over and ask the man I was talking to before to come over here? He’s very sad right now because he thinks this lady is dead. If you tell him Lt. Gray says Jennifer needs him it will make him very, very happy.”

“Sure, I can do that.” He gave Gray a gap toothed grin and ran over to where Jonathan was sitting to pass along the message. Jonathan didn’t understand at first but when he looked up and saw Herschel waving at him frantically, he began to run.

He skidded to a stop at the top of the rise. "Jennifer!" he cried when he saw her there. He dropped to his knees beside her and was going to pick her up when Herschel stopped him.

“We don’t know how badly she’s hurt, Jonathan. It’s best to not move her." Knowing his friend was right he settled for running his hand over her hair and face and calling her name. After a bit she stirred and opened those beautiful honey brown eyes. When she could see who was next to her a smile lit her face.

“Jonathan,” She breathed. “I knew you would come.”

Jennifer was carefully bundled into the ambulance, which then carried her and Jonathan to the hospital. Lt. Gray stayed to help the Juvenile Division finish up the operation at the gang’s headquarters. All but one of the young people they had arrested there had been underage and would most likely be released into the custody of their parents, providing they could find any parents.

They kept Johnny, Bud and Angel on the more serious charge of kidnapping. It was up to the DA to decide whether the charge would be filed. It was doubtful the full charge would stick since the ringleader and instigator was dead. All three kids were claiming they only did what they were told to do under threat of bodily harm.

Jennifer was kept at the hospital for a week. She had numerous injuries, ranging from minor cuts and sprains to four cracked or broken ribs and some serious deep bruising but had miraculously escaped any more serious injuries. She also had a bad cut from her fall against the coffee table and a concussion from the impact with the garage wall. Tests proved she had not been raped. She didn’t think she had been but since she had been unconscious it was a relief to be certain. More tests were needed to be certain no internal injuries were missed. Physical therapy eased some of her muscle stiffness and pain. Sessions with Dr. Chase helped her with the mental pain and fear.

Once she was feeling a little better she asked Herschel to have someone check into Angel’s foster family. The social services investigation found that her case was one of those few that always seem to slip through the administrative cracks. The children in the home were neglected and poorly cared for. Not all foster care homes, or, even many of them are flawed. Unfortunately, the few who do abuse the system give a bad name to the many families who offer a safe haven to children in need. In Angel’s case all the children were removed from the home and redistributed throughout the California Social Services system. Jennifer’s heart went out to this poor young girl who, if she managed to get out of jail, had no place to call home. She promised herself that she would see to it that the girl was placed in a better situation. She wanted to make sure that Angel had a chance to learn to like herself.

In the days before Jennifer was released from the hospital Max had restored the house to order and the Harts were ready for their lives to return to normal. Jonathan used the time to find out about Michael's family and see how he could best show his appreciation to them for saving the most important part of his life. He also had an innovative new security system installed on the estate. In his mind there was simply no excuse for the fact that a bunch of teenagers had managed to get by the former system.

Max and Freeway prepared a welcome home dinner for Jennifer with all her favorite foods and she was pampered and waited on by her guys all day. When she began showing signs of weariness Jonathan and Jennifer retired for the evening. For all that she was glad to be home and appreciated the welcoming party Jennifer was tired and sore and longed for the luxury and security of their bedroom.

Once inside the doors she turned to Jonathan and kissed him. Holding him close she leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed, “Oh Darling.” She hesitated and didn't finish her sentence, choosing instead to just be held by him and draw on his strength.

Jonathan gently wrapped his arms around her and held her close. He knew she was still dealing with her fears and would be for some time. He had a few fears of his own. He knew he would never recover fully from seeing that car in flames and believing Jennifer was inside. The crippling loss he had felt made him determined to spend more time with her and appreciate her more everyday. He promised himself he would tell her how precious she was to him every chance he got so he would never have to wonder or worry that she didn’t know how much she meant to him.

“Jonathan?”

“Yes?”

“How do you feel about hot water?”

“That depends. Am I taking a shower or getting into trouble?” He felt her chuckle.

“You! Stop it. I’m serious. My doctor recommended hot soaking baths to help with my sore muscles but hot soaking baths are soooo lonely,” she complained.

“Well, we could get Freeway in here and he could keep you company.”

“That’s not exactly what I had in mind.” She answered while slowly unbuttoning his shirt and playing with his chest hair.

“Gee, I wonder who else might be able to help you. Ow!” He put his hand over hers to stop her from twisting the hair. “Oh, you meant for me to keep you company. I don’t know, I’m awfully tired.” He faked a big yawn, grinned and pulled away before she could get to those chest hairs again. “I’ll go start the bath water and then I’ll be back to help you slip into something more comfortable.” He gave her an impudent grin and went into the bathroom.

Laughing, she sat on the bed to wait for him to “help” her undress. As she sat and listened to the bath water start she shivered a little. The reality of what those boys had threatened to do to her would be with her for a long time but she knew she’d have help. Jonathan was so loving and supportive. No one could have a better husband and she’d come so close to losing him.

“Jonathan? What are you doing in there?”

“Preparing a bath fit for a queen takes time, my love.” He swept into the room wearing a very short silk robe and nothing else. "As you see your bath servant must be properly attired.”

“Oh, I see.” Assuming her most regal air she clapped her hands in command. “You there! Towel boy! Assist me.”

He knelt before her and gently removed her shoes and stockings, massaging and caressing her feet and legs as he worked.

“If my lady would stand?” When she complied he reached for her and pulled her close, nuzzling her neck and leaving a short sweet kiss on her lips before he returned to undressing her. She could tell that he was holding back. His touch and the light kisses he rained on her body made no demands. She felt loved and desired but there was no pressure to proceed. He would leave that decision up to her, remaining tender and supportive until she was ready to return to passion.

When she was finally naked he settled her finest silk robe over her shoulders with a flourish and led her to the bathing chamber. The bath was full, brimming with a mountain of fragrant bubbles. Implements of bathing technology: cloths, brushes, sponges and puffs, were laid out within easy reach along with a threesome of rubber duckies. Thick, luxurious towels lay close at hand. Soothing music played softly in the background. It truly was a bath fit for a queen. With another grand flourish he removed her robe and tossed it carelessly into the far corner. Taking her hand, he assisted her up the steps to the tub and settled her comfortably. He then retreated and stood nearby.

“Aren’t you going to join me?” she asked with a little pout.

“If you wish it so, my lady.”

“I do so wish,” she said with a grin.

“It would be my pleasure.” He untied his robe and it fell open.

“Yes, I can see that.” She hesitated a moment and then patted the water beside her. “Come join me,” she requested in a low, intimate whisper.

He slipped into the wide double tub and carefully settled himself beside her. He was disturbed by the bruising he had seen while helping her undress. After a week they had ripened into a rainbow of blue, purple and green. Her doctors had said that some of the deepest ones might last for several weeks. He knew how lucky they were that she wasn’t more severely injured. As it was, it hurt him to watch when she moved. Even though she was putting on a brave front he could tell that her muscles and those ribs were still very sore and moving hurt.

The bath they were in was a new experimental model from the JHI lab. In addition to massaging water jets it had a computer controlled temperature and water level monitors. They could stay in the tub as long as they liked and never had to worry about the water getting cold again.

Jennifer was practically purring as she lay with her head on his shoulder. Her eyes were closed and he could see her relax as the soothing hot water worked its magic on her body. After a few desultory attempts at conversation he gave up and was content just to hold her. Before long he realized she was asleep. Knowing the water was good for her he let her sleep for awhile, then...

“Sweetheart? Jennifer?”

“Hmmm?”

“You need to wake up a little bit now. If we stay in here any longer we’ll turn into prunes.”

“What? Oh, uhm, OK.” He helped her sit up and brace herself against the tub wall so he could get out first. He threw on a robe and then helped her out and wrapped her in a thick bath sheet and dried her with another. The robe he put around her this time was thick and warm and matched his, even down to the matching monograms.

Still groggy and warm from the bath she didn’t resist when he slipped her between the sheets of their bed. He adjusted the covers over her and kissed her forehead.

“Good night my love.”

When he started to stand up she grabbed him and brought him back to her for a proper kiss. A sleepy smile played across her lips as she sank back into oblivion. She was sound asleep again by the time Jonathan reached his side of the bed.

Jennifer whimpered in her sleep. She turned restlessly and fought the covers when she became tangled in them.

Even more attuned to her than usual, Jonathan woke and moved to comfort her. He gently straightened the blankets and drew her closer to him. Her body knew his presence and slowly relaxed into his embrace. All was not well though, small, quiet cries of distress still came from his sleeping wife. When he looked, he saw that she was weeping; tears escaping her troubled sleep and running down her face to dampen the pillow case.

He was about to wake her when she started talking, mumbling really. “Jonathan, please don’t…I couldn’t…he wouldn't stop…don’t…please, I need you…I’m sorry…Oh God, don’t do this…noooo.” That last no came out as a pitiful moan and Jonathan had heard enough.

“Jennifer?” He said softly. Brushing the hair back from her face he continued, “Jennifer, sweetheart, you need to wake up. Come on darling, I need you to wake up for a while.” Jennifer came awake with a start and a cry of “No!” on her lips. At first she was confused by the dream. When she saw Jonathan sitting next to her, concern written all over his face, she gave a little gasp and fell into his arms.

“You’re here!” He could feel the tension draining out of her body as he held her.

“Yeah, I’m here. It’s going to be all right.”

“Just don’t leave. Promise me you won’t leave me.”

“I’m here,” he repeated. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise?” She looked at him, searching his eyes for the truth.

“Promise!”

Taking a tissue from the bedside table he dried her eyes. She took it from him and worked on the rest of her face, half laughing and shrugging when it fell to pieces. He handed her the box.

“Sweetheart, are you okay? You sounded pretty scared.” He picked up her hand and held it, gently massaging her fingers. When Jennifer was nervous or upset she made hard little fists of her hands, sometimes tight enough for the nails to cut her palms. He wasn't going to let that happen this time

“Guess I had a nightmare, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“If it will help you to talk about it, I have a willing ear.”

“I know," she said. "You're always there for me." A big sigh. "I don’t know how to put it into words really. I’m such a mess. The sessions with Dr. Chase helped but I still have a lot of anger. I guess it will take a while for it to pass. The main person I’m angry with is dead. That leaves me without a target.”

“It might be a terrible thing to say but I’m glad he managed to kill himself. Otherwise I might have been tempted to do it for him.” He stroked her hair. “I am so sorry you had to go through that.” She could hear the guilt in his voice and knew he was berating himself for not keeping her safe. She smiled to herself. If she wasn’t careful he was going to wrap her in security and probably saddle her with a bodyguard as well.

“Jonathan,” She said, looking directly in his eyes. “You are not to blame for this. You couldn’t have anticipated or prepared for this attack. After it happened, I knew I could count on you to find me and you did. Just in the nick of time too, if you’ll pardon the poor choice of words. Stuff was just about to hit the fan when you guys started breaking in the doors.” She took a deep shuddering breath, “I was scared.”

"I know." He brought her hand up, unfolded it and kissed her palm then she used the same hand to cup his cheek. Both of them were silent, acknowledging the terror and the healing powers of their love.

“Jennifer, in your sleep tonight you were pleading with someone, me I think, not to do something. Have I hurt you somehow? Something I did? Something I didn’t do? You said you were sorry and begged me not to do it. You sounded so afraid.”

“Leave me.” She said after a tense pause.

“Huh?”

“I was begging you not to leave me.”

“Why on Earth would I leave you?”

“I don’t know if I can explain it." she said, with a little half shrug. "There were so many emotions going on inside me. Anger and fear mostly. I don’t like being afraid. And it was more than simple fear. When they started talking about taking turns and teaching me new tricks that you would enjoy…if I survived the lessons. I was afraid of losing myself. I didn’t know if Jennifer could survive the aftermath of gang rape. I didn’t know if we could survive gang rape. I was so afraid I would lose you."

“Jennifer! I would never…”

She put her hand up and interrupted him. “I know, I know, love. Now I know that nothing change what we feel for one another. Now when I’m here, back in the safety of your arms, back in the sane world, it's different. Here I know that you would never abandon me but then, there in that garage? Logic and rationality had nothing to do with what went on there. We'd all reverted to a primal jungle level. I was certain that once they..." She took a deep breath. "If they did what they threatened...that I would lose you. That you wouldn't want me anymore, that you would hate me.” She stole a quick look at him. The pain in his eyes matched the fear hidden in her heart. He started to protest but she continued. “Because I wouldn't be Jennifer anymore and because I let them use me that way."

“I was ashamed.”

"Ashamed?"

“Ashamed and afraid. I still feel a little of both, even now. The pysch sessions have helped and it will get better but for now you’d probably better get used to nightmares.” She watched him, trying to gauge how he was reacting, how he really felt about her fears.

"Jennifer, you don't have any reason to be ashamed. You are the victim. None of what happened was your fault. As for me not wanting you, I don't know how to address that one. I can't even begin to picture a circumstance where that could happen. All I can say is I love you: now, forever and always. Nothing could ever happen could change the way I feel about you. Don't you know that it would be easier for me to stop breathing than to stop loving you?"

“You never have to worry about losing me, my love. You're stuck with me. You could leave me, go away for years and you would still be the only woman in my life. We're a team: lovers, best friends and partners until death do us part, and hopefully beyond, got that?" She nodded.

"Good!" He leaned in to kiss her; a strong, firm kiss that announced his full desire and love. She reveled in it, drinking him in to the end of her being. In this single kiss felt her world realign. She knew he loved her. She knew that his reluctance to proceed physically tonight was out of respect for her injuries rather than, as she had half feared before, the fact that he was repulsed by her behavior and what had happened in the garage. She knew he was hers absolutely and forever. She knew.

Her lips widened into a smile against his mouth. She threw everything she had into returning the intensity and electric energy pouring through the connection of their lips. Without breaking the contact she pulled him back down onto their pillows and closed her eyes, inviting her lover continue his exploration of her body while her hands and lips sought out his secret places.

The slow sensual pattern of discovery soon had them both needy and breathing hard. Jennifer moaned with desire, encouraging and pleading, her body singing with sensations as he carefully positioned himself over her and then, suddenly, they were joined once more, together again in timeless passion.

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