Shadow Riders

 

Chapter 1

 

“John, I swear to god if you don't stop bitching, I'm going to shove this spatula up your ass!” Caressa growled at her brother, shaking her head, still not believing she took him with her.  Not that he wanted to come, but then again, he had begged her, saying she couldn't live in Texas alone.  Apparently he thought a bunch of creeps and weirdoes lived in the south.  Caressa snorted, unloading more silverware and kitchen supplies from the box, wiping the sweat from her brow.

 

John was East Coast through and through, scowling and pulled off his white beater, using it wipe sweat off his forehead and upper body.  “This place is hotter than hell, not to mention you live in the middle of nowhere!  Haven't you ever seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?” He growled, busy unpacking her dishes and setting them out to be wiped down.

 

“I like my privacy.” Caressa replied simply and rolled her eyes before grabbing another box full of pots and pans.  “And it's like you didn't have to come you know.” She pointed out, smirking when he scowled at her harder, and chuckled.  “Come on John.  You know how much I love the south.  This is a nice change for me and you.” She stood back and pulled her dark tan tank top from her chest, sweat forcing it to stick to her body, along with her blue jean shorts.  “Besides, look at the size of this house!”

 

John just grumbled out of his breath, hardly believing he hadn't been able to talk her out of this...fiasco.  “We'll have to get you some air conditioners.” He said at last, having noticed there were spots for them but none installed.  “One upstairs and down.  Who the hell owned this place?” He demanded, surveying the neutral colored kitchen, already knowing Caressa would be redecorating.

 

“I'm not sure, didn't really look into the previous owners.” She shrugged when her brother gaped at her, rolling her eyes before shutting the cabinet with the pots and pans in it.  “Look John, if you don't like it here than leave.  I can handle it here by myself.  You're paying for your own plane ticket though and when mom and dad ask you why you're back so soon, you can explain to them why you have to take over their space AGAIN.” Caressa snatched the box from him, anger in her fiery golden eyes.  “And this house has central air, it just has to be installed.”

 

“That was low.” John snapped, not believing she had used the parent card against him.  “Besides, if they find out I left their little baby all alone in Hicksville, Dad will murder me.” He had been expressly warned to not let Caressa get into trouble, their parents were seriously over-protective.  “This house is big enough for you to let me stay awhile, you'll hardly even know I'm here.  Mostly.”

 

“Then quit bitching and make yourself useful.” Caressa spat back at him, eyes flashing angrily, knowing how protective their parents were. 

 

That's why she moved away from West Newbury, to get away from them, to start her own life.  She was twenty-five and could clearly take care of herself.  She didn't need big brother here to protect her and scowled at the mere thought before unpacking another box.

 

“What do you think I've been doing?” He growled, tossing the empty box aside and starting on another, smirking when he seen a spider crawling along the counter.  Texas was filled with creepy crawling things.  “Don't they have scorpions here?” He asked casually, beginning to rinse off the plates and dry them before putting them away.

 

“If they do, I hope one bites you.” She stated heatedly, smirking when he just glared back at her. 

 

This was how they got along and Caressa seemed to always get the best of John.  They were five years apart, John being thirty, though they weren't related by blood.  Caressa took after her mother and deceased father with her red hair, which was now dyed a dark blood red, along with her amber colored eyes.  She inherited them from her father, who had died in a factory accident.  It was right after she was born that it happened and soon after, her mother met John's father.  They were married in a small ceremony, John was eight and Caressa was three.  They never got along, each set in their own ways, but Caressa would die for her brother and she knew he would do the same for her.

 

“Good, then I'll die here and rot in this damn heat.  You know, that's probably what happened to whoever owned this place.” John teased.  “Somewhere out in your brand new, dirt backyard is a dead body, stinking in the sun, all because a scorpion got to him or her.” He ducked when a frying pan came flying at his head.  “Close, but not quite-” He groaned when a pot struck him between the eyes, stumbling back into the wall.

 

“I hate you.” Caressa growled before going back to washing the dishes, scrubbing furiously at the pot because her brother refused to leave her alone about her decision.  ‘I should've never brought him with.’ She thought bitterly, slamming the pot in the sink, growling when he wrapped an arm around her waist.  “Don't touch me, John.” She sighed when he simply kissed the top of her head, knowing he meant well, but sometimes he could be so damn overbearing.  She finally turned around and looked at his forehead, shaking her head, glad she hadn't busted him open.  “Stop complaining so much, alright?  This is my decision and I'm sticking to it.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” John said, rolling his eyes.  “I'll TRY to keep my opinions to myself, but no promises.” He flexed his muscles, stepping away from her.  “I'm going to bring in your couch, where do you want it?” Okay, maybe it was more like a loveseat.  Caressa was going to have to get some new furniture when she got settled in because their parents had loaded her ass on old, 'starter' pieces.

 

Smiling at him, Caressa pulled him into the living room and pointed at the space.  “There.  Make sure you bring the carpet in first that I bought because it's going underneath that.” She explained softly, knowing there was no way she could lift the heavier furniture. 

 

Her parents had been gracious enough to give her a few things, but Caressa knew she would have to buy the brunt of it.  She was prepared, having saved up for this since getting out of high school, nearly seven years ago.  She'd seen this house in an ad in the paper, having decided long ago she wanted to live in Houston, Texas.  And now here she was, with an overbearing brother, but her dreams were coming true.

 

“That's why you tolerate me, free labor.” He joked, walking outside. He was gone for a moment before returning with the carpet over one shoulder, not even appearing to care that it was heavy as hell.  “Here?” He dropped it and unrolled it, arching an eyebrow at the look of it.  “What color is that exactly?”

 

“Midnight blue.” She smiled up at him, having been measuring the flooring, and nodded before letting the tape slide back inside the contraption.  “The couch will fit perfect in that spot.  I knew it.” Caressa sighed happily and kissed his cheek.  “Thank you big brother.” She batted her eyelashes at him and yelped when he smacked her ass, returning the favor.  “Okay enough of this. Keep going.”

 

She couldn't believe how strong her brother was, he'd worked out from the time he was fifteen and hadn't missed a day...until now.  Though moving was a workout so technically he wasn't missing anything.  Caressa went back into the kitchen and finished unpacking the boxes for it before starting on the living room.

 

John hauled in her furniture, the sweat glistening off his body, both from the heavy hauling and the hot Texas heat.  He was going to have a heat stroke, he knew it.  Finally, he had everything in the house and just dropped down onto the couch.  The living room was cluttered, but when she told him where shit went, he would move it.  Providing he didn't fall asleep of course.

 

They worked until sundown, in which case Caressa collapsed on the new carpet, right in front of the fireplace.  They had moved every last item, every stitch, and unpacked most of it.  Caressa sighed as she slowly sat up from the floor, her legs stretched out in front of her, seeing her brother was completely exhausted.

 

“So, what do you say we get cleaned up and go into town for some dinner?” She suggested with a sweet smile, causing John to groan, which prompted a giggle.

 

John arched an eyebrow, wondering if she was for real.  Seeing she was, he just nodded, pushing himself up from the couch with a soft groan.  “Give me weights any day.” He joked half-heartedly.  “I need a shower first, I stink to high heaven.  Is there an indoor outhouse in this place?”

 

Caressa wanted to smack him upside his head, but refrained as she stood up, glaring at him.  “Yes moron, there's two bathrooms downstairs and three upstairs.   Take your pick.” She snorted before walking past him up the wooden staircase, knowing she would have to re-polish it and whatnot.

 

Smirking, he opted for one downstairs, not in the mood to go up any stairs.  He retrieved one of his bags from nearby the wall and disappeared.  He shrieked when the water spurted out a yellow-brown color, jumping out of the shower.  The house must have been sitting awhile because the plumbing groaned, the shower sputtering before going clear.  Hesitantly, he stepped back in, really wanting that shower.

 

The house was centuries upon centuries old, Caressa knew that much, which is what attracted her to do it.  Old houses meant everything was settled and used already.  She didn't want a brand new house, there was always something wrong with them.  Sighing gently, Caressa walked inside the door at the end of the hallway and smiled, knowing this was her new bedroom, the biggest in the house.  It was almost the size of her old apartment back in West Newbury, with its own fireplace and bathroom.  She peeled her clothes off on the way inside, not bothering to shut the door, and turned the water on, waiting for the pipes to drain of the muck before stepping in.  It felt great having her first shower in her new home.

 

John made the shower quick, not knowing if he was going to get scalded or frost bitten.  He dried off and pulled on a pair of blue jean shorts and a jersey, glad he had packed for the heat, not that shorts would be of much comfort.  He didn't even like putting on his socks or shoes, they just made it worse.  Grunting, he finger combed his short hair and walked out to wait on his insane sister.

 

Caressa walked downstairs a half an hour later, dressed in a blue jean skirt that went two inches above the knee along with a dark blue halter top, leaving her shoulders bare.  Her hair was pulled back in a tight braid and she had silver hoop earrings dangling from her ears, a silver chain around her neck with an angel pendant attached and white Sketchers on her feet.  She looked like she belonged and smiled at her brother, ignoring his disdain. 

 

“I was thinking pizza, but it's up to you.” She said, walking past him and out the front door.

 

“Pizza is fine, as long as it comes with beer.  Oh wait- this is redneck central, if I don't drink the beer, I might be considered the devil or something.” He mock smacked his head, snorting when she tried to slap him and stepped aside.  “I promise, I'll behave myself.” He said seriously.  “I'll only THINK the comments.”

 

“You are a piece of work, get in the truck.” She ordered gravely, knowing she would have to do some car shopping in the morning, but right now all she wanted was food.  She slid in the driver's side, waiting on her brother, and blasted the country music before heading out down the dirt road.  She glanced back at her house in the rearview mirror, a smile on her glossy lips.

 

John had come prepared with a fully loaded I-Pod and slipped it over his head, bobbing his head to the beat, watching the scenery fly by.  Why did she have to pick a house that was outside city limits?  She could be murdered by some insane redneck and nobody would know for days.  But then again, there were even more rednecks in town and she could just as easily be killed there, only her body would go into the road kill stew and they would all...He shook his head, trying to change his train of thoughts.

 

She could've easily been killed in West Newbury, no place to live was one hundred percent safe as Caressa sang to the radio, turning on the highway that lead to the city of Houston. 

 

Chapter 2

 

It was a good twenty minute drive or so before they finally arrived, seeing trucks lined up, causing Caressa to giggle to herself.  She definitely was in redneck territory and loved it, finding a parking spot and pulled in it.  “We're here.” She chirped and slid out of the truck before putting her purse over her shoulder, looking around, and sighed when John wrapped a protective arm around her, rolling her eyes in return.  This was all she needed as they headed to the pizza place she'd passed the first time she'd came to Houston and saw the house they now lived in.

 

John could only groan.  He wondered if these people had known he was coming and purposely decided to go with the cliché.  Jeans, cowboy boots and Stetson hats.  He seen a few pair of leather clad asses, deciding the women weren't too bad, but apparently the welcome wagon was out to torment him.  He noticed several pair of male eyes examining his sister and rolled his eyes mentally.  Hick nieces and nephews, he could see it now.  Howdy Unca Johnny!  Oh dear god!

 

“Caressa, I think I need to hurl.”

 

Caressa looked over at her brother with a raised eyebrow, wondering if this really was all too much for him to take.  “Knock it off, John.” She ordered angrily.  “I can't believe you're going to ruin my first night in Houston.  Maybe you should go home.” She finally said as they walked inside the pizza place, smiling at the greeting who had blue jeans with a nice black and red shirt on.  “Hi, two please.” She requested sweetly, though it didn't reach her fiery amber eyes.

 

“Alright folks, I'm yer server and my name is Deedee.” Greeted a bouncy blonde in blue jeans and a white tank top with TEXAS embroidered on the front, once they had been seated.  “Tonight's special is the Texan Meat Lover's, which is LOADED with sausage, pepperoni, hamburger and the chef's special.” She handed them each a menu, waiting patiently.  “Can I get ya'all somethin' to drink?”

 

“Whatever is on tap.”

 

“I'll take a Sprite and my numbskull brother here will have a Pepsi.” She replied, wanting to beat the living hell out of John at that moment, but kept the smile on her face.  “What the fuck is wrong with you?” She hissed quietly when Deedee walked away, crossing her arms in front of her chest.  “Look, this is my new home John so you either join in on the adventure and keep your comments to yourself or you can go back to West Newbury with mommy and daddy.” Caressa was livid as she looked at her menu, lips pursed tightly together.

 

John frowned at her, pointing over her head.  “They have beer here, bonehead.” He said coldly, shaking his head.  “So quit overreacting before I decide to go back on my being nice promise.” He smiled sweetly when Deedee returned with their drinks.  “Thank you.”

 

“Not a problem, sugar.” She smiled at them both.  “Yer not the first wife to say no to the beer, don't worry about that.  So, we ready to order yet?”

 

“I'm not his wife, I'm his sister.” Caressa laughed at the look on John's face and actually had to set her menu down, a giggling fit overtaking her.  “I'm sorry...” She gasped out, causing her brother to scowl at her, finally settling down.  “We'll take that Texas meat lover special you mentioned earlier, sweetie.” She smiled at Deedee, who was looking her brother up and down, after finding out she wasn't his wife.  “And he wants a beer.” She added after a second, leaning back in her booth.  Payback was indeed a bitch.

 

John watched Deedee saunter away, deciding there just might be something to these Southern women after all.  He was all smiles when she came back with his beer.  “Thank you again.” He said, his voice dropping lower, smirking when she giggled.

 

“I'll be back shortly with yer pizza.”

 

“I might like it here after all.”

 

Caressa smirked at her brother, a natural flirt, and shook her head before raising her glass of Sprite, clinking them together.  “The only reason why I'm not drinking is because I'm the designated driver.  Next time we come here it's your turn.” She informed him and cleared her throat.  “To OUR new home of Houston, Texas.” She smiled before taking a long swig, the cold liquid feeling wonderful against her throat and sighed in contentment.

 

He didn't quite agree with that, but toasted anyways, trying not to ruin her happiness with his own skepticism.  “To Houston.” He agreed, downing his beer, smiling appreciatively when Deedee winked at him.  “Hmmm...”

 

“Hey darlin'.  You must be new in town.” Greeted a big, burly man, smirking down at the pair.  “Boyfriend?”

 

Did these people not have fucking manners?

 

Caressa smiled up at him with glittering amber eyes, seeing he was being friendly.  “No, my big brother.” She extended her hand as they shook.  “I'm Caressa.  This is John.” She introduced them just as Deedee came with the pizza, licking her lips.  “And this is our dinner, excuse us.” She then immediately dodged for the corner pieces, them being her favorite.

 

John watched with an incredulous look as the man lingered.  “That was your cue to leave, bud.” He said coldly.

 

“Hell son, didn't mean no offense.  Just welcomin' yer sister to the neighborhood.” The man winked at Caressa before walking away.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

 

“Relax, he was just being friendly.” Caressa shook her head and bit into her pizza, suddenly not hungry anymore. 

 

She hated how over-protective her family was, including her brother, though he was nothing compared to their parents.  From the time Caressa sprouted breasts, around thirteen, her parents refused to let her date or go out anywhere, saying it was too dangerous.  Then when she finally went on her first date, at age sixteen, her father had a damn shotgun and pointed it at her date and said if he harmed a hair on her head, he wouldn't be walking for the rest of his life.  Needless to say, the guy never called Caressa again.

 

John shook his head, tearing into his pizza angrily, his appetite not destroyed in the least.  “C'mon, Care, you were nice to him and told him to politely piss off and he still hung around.” He said, chewing and swallowing, gesturing for another beer as he drained his.  “You're too damn nice.”

 

“No, you're just too damn rude.” She shot back defensively, shaking her head sadly.  Caressa wanted this to be her new beginning, a fresh start, and her brother was making it nearly impossible to do so.  “I don't want this town hating me, John so just back off already!” She snapped when he kept ranting, finally having had enough, and stormed out of the restaurant with her purse in hand.  He could walk home for all she cared as the tears stung her eyes, her night completely ruined.

 

Sighing, John threw a few bills down onto the table, chasing after her.  He caught Caressa by the arm, gently stopping her.  “I'm sorry.” He said softly.  “It's just...I don't know, you're right, I hate it here.  But I need to get over it because I'm not in a hurry to go back to Newbury anytime soon.  I won't say any more about this place or be rude anymore, okay?  Forgive me?” He shot her his little boy grin.

 

Caressa sniffled as she looked back at her brother, wiping a few tears away.  “You promise?” She asked softly, showing her vulnerable side, which wasn't often.  Caressa was a badass at heart, loved the wild side of life, which is why she moved to Houston for the adventure.  When he nodded, she smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek.  “The central air will be installed tomorrow.” She winked at him when he sighed a breath of relief and laughed, heading back to the truck. 

 

Once inside, Caressa was driving down the road and suddenly squealed the tires to a halt, pulling over and got out, her eyes widened as the building stood in front of her.  Shadow Riders.  It was a motorcycle shop and her eyes went to the For Sale sign, rubbing her hands together.

 

John followed her gaze in confusion, an understanding expression on his face when he seen what had attracted her attention.  Caressa was insane about motorcycles.  He groaned when she got out of the truck, sliding out his side to follow her.  “What're you thinking?” He asked curiously, watching her approach the For Sale sign and had a real good idea.

 

“I'm going to buy it.” She stated obviously, knowing now more than ever that Houston was the right place to go.  “I'm going to find out everything about this building and call the owner.  I'm reopening this shop.” She looked back at John, the excitement clear in her amber orbs, the biggest smile yet on her face.  Caressa took out a pad and pen out of her purse and wrote down the number before placing it securely in her jean skirt pocket.  “Come on, it's getting late.”

 

John got back into the truck, shaking his head.  “Okay, I know you have an obsession with motorcycles, but do you know anything about them besides how to ride?” He asked curiously.  “Or even how to run a business?  Or is this just something new for you to do?” He wondered just how she was going to manage this one.

 

Caressa sighed exasperatedly, her brother never paid attention to her.  “John, I singlehandedly ran Pete's Motors in West Newbury for two years.” She said patiently, reminding him and smirked when his eyes suddenly widened in realization.  “I know how to run a business and I know pretty much everything there is to know about bikes.  Trust me, that building is a sign.”

 

One thing about Caressa was that when she set her mind to something, nothing could deter it unless something else came along that enticed her.

 

Knowing even if he had wanted to, arguing would be pointless.  As it was, John was glad she had something to occupy her time and mind with, even if he had been completely oblivious to the fact that this had been something she'd been doing for a few years.  He sighed, knowing he'd be looking for a job soon too, he wouldn't be able to stay cooped up for very long.

 

“Hey look, the gym here is hiring.” She pointed out as they headed out of town, a smile on her face, knowing how much her brother loved working out.  “They're looking for an instructor, that would be perfect for you, bro!” She whacked his arm playfully, smirking when he glared at her, and raced down the highway toward home, wanting to sleep in her bed for the first time, sighing wistfully at the thought.

 

“Only if I get to work with hot chicks.” He joked playfully, avoiding her smack and laughed.  When the house rolled into view, he breathed a sigh of relief, exhaustion creeping back in.  Today had been busy and, for Caressa, probably emotionally draining as well.  Though that was definitely his fault for being such a jerk.  He'd try to make it up to her, AFTER getting some sleep.

 

“Home sweet home.” She purred with a smile, turning the ignition off and walked up the steps to the front door, unlocking it.  Caressa just stood there for a moment, tilting her head slightly, not believing this was actually hers.  She'd saved, never splurged, until now.  She knew buying the motorcycle shop would drain most of her account, but she didn't care.  Life was too short to not take risks and she had experience in the field, so it wouldn't be that hard.  She waited for John to walk in before closing the door and locked it, already taking her braid out and headed toward the stairs.  She smiled when he stopped her, staring back into his blue eyes, and kissed his cheek.  “You're forgiven, now get some sleep bro.” She murmured softly before heading up the spiraling staircase, knowing he would get the lights, and went to her bedroom.  After changing into a silver nightgown, Caressa's head hit the pillow and she was out like a light in a matter of moments.

 

John thought he'd drop from sheer exhaustion, his muscles burning now that he wasn't distracted and could completely drown in the pain.  Sighing, he punched up his pillow and dropped down.  He rolled onto his stomach, his left side, his right side and finally his back, just staring up at the ceiling.  He didn't even realize it when he fell asleep, having been busy counting motorcycles in his head.

 

Chapter 3

 

The following morning, Caressa was up bright and early, organizing the rest of the house, dancing to the music that flowed through her stereo.  She had two large speakers so it was thumping the floor.  A celebration was in order because it turned out that nobody was interested in the building, except her, so she automatically got it.  It wasn't as nearly expensive as she'd thought so Caressa was planning on going shopping for a few televisions and whatnot when her brother decided to get up.  She had a lot of work to do and decided she would hire a few mechanics to help her with the shop, knowing she would have the money to back up paying them off until the shop started rolling in the dough.

 

John came down the stairs yawning, grumpy because her shitty music had woken him up.  Nodding at her, he walked into the kitchen, hitching his green pajama bottoms up and scratched his chest, opening the refrigerator door and examining its contents.  He was about to drink straight from a carton of milk, but decided against it when Caressa brought in a carton of her steak knives, getting a glass instead. “What're we doing today?”

 

“We're going shopping.” She informed him, setting the steak knives down, having found them in a different box and set them right beside the fridge.  Her amber eyes were sparkling and her hair was up in a high ponytail that flared slightly along with black cotton shorts and a red tank top.  “You're NEVER gonna guess what happened!!” She sat on his lap after he sat down at the table, wrapping her arms around his neck, grinning.  “Nobody wants that building.  They said the owner died of an accident or something like that.  They sold it to me for five grand.” When John snorted the milk out of his nose, Caressa started laughing as she got up, practically floating out to the living room.  “Can you believe it?!  That didn't drain me after all so we're going shopping for TVs and other necessities for the house and the shop.” Nothing could ruin Caressa's day.  “Oh and tomorrow we have to go put the rest of the boxes we're not unpacking up in the attic.”

 

“Oh boy, the attic.” John groaned, having made the mistake of peeking in there when they had first arrived only to get a head full of cobwebs.  “Thrilling.  Well, I'm happy for you, Caressa.  I can you help you get the place around before I find a job.” He offered, knowing from the looks of that place it had been closed for at least a year.  It would probably need a bit of work done before reopening.

 

“Aww thank you, big brother.” She pinched his cheek, dancing around him with a feather duster, and bobbed her head back and forth, not this happy in a long time. 

 

Caressa had it rough the last few years, starting with her now ex-boyfriend, Timothy.  Things had been going well at first and he treated her like a queen...until he mentioned getting married.  Caressa was not the type of woman who married, it just wasn't who she was, and she never wanted children.  Her spirit was too wild and free for those commitments.  So Timothy had beat her...within an inch of her life, which is why she sported a slash scar on her arm that was in the shape of a star.  He said she was his star and proceeded to prove it by carving it in her arm.  Needless to say, when John and her father found out, Timothy suddenly fled town and nobody had heard from him.  It'd been two years and Caressa was finally becoming her normal self again.

 

“Pinch my cheek again and I'll have to hurt you.” John yawned, getting up from the table and depositing his breakfast dishes into the sink.  He watched her dancing around for a moment, smiling in spite of himself and walked out of the room, knowing he needed to get dressed.  It was nice to see Caressa happy, though he still had a hard time believing she could be happy here.  Then again, he had been wrong before.

 

Caressa stuck her tongue out when John wasn't watching before finishing the dusting.  The house was actually looking livable and like a real home.  She'd spent hours working on it and was slowly started to see the improvements, but knew it would be several months before she got the hang of things.  Sighing happily, Caressa put her feather duster down on the coffee table and rushed upstairs to change so her and John could go shopping.  She knew that would make his day, especially since he would have a TV with his new PS3 she was buying him.  Of course, he didn't need to know that.

 

John counted out his money on the bed, hearing Caressa in her bedroom.  He had drained his bank account in Newbury, having saved enough from his last job to help out and whatnot until he got a new one.  Like he'd rely on baby sister to provide for him?  No.  He'd be a man and do his share or else he was hopping the first flight home.  Of course that would mean finding his own place because he could not bear their parents again. 

 

“Hey, you bout ready?” He called out, tucking his wallet into his back pocket.

 

“Yes, I'm ready.” Caressa called back through his door, heading down the stairs with her purse in hand, wearing a pair of jean shorts, leaving the tank top on and her hair.  It was too hot to really put anything else on as her Sketchers thumped against the hard wood flooring.  She would have that polished and shining in no time as she headed out the door, John right behind her.  As soon as he was in the truck, Caressa peeled out of there and headed toward town again.  She spotted a Wal-Mart and pulled in the parking lot, deciding this was their first of many stops before sliding out, shutting the door.  “I'm really glad you're here John.” She said, wrapping an arm around his waist, resting her head against side.  He got on her nerves to the point where she wanted to kill him at times, but he was also the only one out of their family who understood who she really was.

 

“Yeah, I'm glad I'm here too.” He chuckled, wrapping his arm around her shoulder, nodding at the door greeter.  “You know, it's not too bad here, the air is dry though.” She could have picked Florida and then he'd really of been screwed due to the humidity.  “Yeah, Texas is great.  So what all are we getting?” He asked, grabbing a shopping cart.

 

Caressa smiled, knowing John was saying all of this to make her feel better, and loved him even more.  “I'm glad to see you're coming around.” She said, kissing his cheek, and whipped out a list of over sixty things, handing it to him.  “That.” She grinned when his blue eyes shot open and whistled, going on her merry way.  The first stop being appliances, where they picked up a microwave, toaster oven, regular toaster, dishes -since the one her parents gave them were mostly broken-, an electric can opener and other things.  Not to mention they needed to do some serious grocery shopping to stock that huge kitchen at home.

 

John ticked everything off with a pen as they got it, not believing she had a shopping list for over sixty things, was she out of her mind?  His eyes widened when he realized Caressa was even picking up some things that weren't on the list, knowing they were going to need another cart and sighed.  “I'll be right back.” He said, leaving her with the rapidly filling cart and jogged to get another.  “Women...”

 

Caressa walked into the entertainment place and immediately purchased John's PS3 while he was off getting another cart, a smirk on her face.  She slid it underneath, putting it in the laundry basket, wanting to surprise him with it as a housewarming gift.  She giggled, imagining the look on his face, and picked up three DVD stands along with three TV's, two twenty-six inch and one fifty-two inch for the living room.  She whistled happily, the guys bringing them up to the front when she was finished shopping, and proceeded onto the clothes section. Caressa needed bras and panties in the worst way.

 

John searched up and down for her, finally spotting a well loaded cart and pushed the empty one over, halting when he seen her holding a bra up to her chest.  “Try the green one.” He said in a serious tone of voice, pulling it off the rack and holding it out.  Shaking his head, he rolled his eyes.  “I'll be elsewhere.”

 

Caressa laughed as she stopped him, already having what she needed, five pairs of bras and panty sets.  She was good with that for now and hurried up to follow him.  “You were gone awhile and I figured I do my personal shopping before you got back.” She smiled sweetly at him before they headed to the grocery section and pulled out a new list, handing it to him.  “We have a lot to buy so I hope you got that second cart strictly for food.” She cautioned, though her amber eyes twinkled.

 

“As long as you don't load up on anything else this cart should be fine.” John shot back with a cheeky grin, his head turning to follow a long legged brunette who was walking by, letting out a whistle when she was out of sight.  “They do NOT grow them like that back home.” He said, shaking his head to clear out the thoughts that had been swirling around.

 

“Get your head outta the gutter.” Caressa was thoroughly amused when the brunette turned back around, having heard John's whistle, and blew him a kiss.  “While you go flirt, I'm going shopping.” She cheerfully hummed and walked down the aisles, tossing things left and right in the cart, giggling when her brother quickly joined up with her.  “On the way home, do you want to stop and grab an application from the gym?”

 

“Yeah, sure, uh huh.” John said, standing in front of the other, loaded cart, busy punching a phone number into his cell.  He smiled sheepishly when she clucked her tongue.  “What?  She asked me if I wanted it.” He whistled cheerfully, slipping his phone back into its holder.

 

“My brother, a player.” Caressa snorted before throwing some freezer food in the cart, shaking her head.  She was happy for her brother though, it'd been a long time since he paid attention to a woman, too worried about her to even consider dating.  Caressa hated that she'd been the reason, but after what Timothy did to her, John had stuck to her like superglue.  Maybe he would finally calm down now that they were out of West Newbury and in a new area.  She doubted it as she threw some bagels in the mix with cream cheese.  “Throw whatever you want to eat in, I can't read your mind.”

 

Smirking, he began helping her load the cart, his mind on the brunette.  Her name was Lizzie, he'd never met a Lizzie that could wear a pair of jeans that well.  He groaned when Caressa slapped him upside the head.  “What?  Oh...” He looked down to realize he had just tossed his fifth box of cereal into the cart, all five boxes the same kind.  “My bad?”

 

“Let me do the shopping before you end up buying five of everything.” Caressa replied, snickering at the dazed look in her brother's eyes, and replaced four boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes with different kinds. 

 

After the grocery shopping was done, Caressa finally headed toward the checkout area, seeing her now three carts of things, smiling sheepishly as John just gawked at her.  “What?  We needed everything we bought.  Go bring the truck around please.” She tossed him the keys before beginning to load the groceries on the counter.

 

Shaking his head, John jogged out to the truck, hoping it could hold everything she had bought.  He sighed, realizing he hadn't given her any money and slipped some into the truck's console, knowing she'd probably ignore it, but he'd have to make her take it.  He slipped out of the truck, knowing it wouldn't be bothered and headed inside to help with the three carts, groaning as he seen everything in bags, making it seem like there was more then there was.

 

Once all fifty bags were loaded in the truck, along with the three TV's, Caressa slipped into the driver's side and buckled up along with her brother.  “That was fun.” She giggled when he gawked at the time, seeing they were in there nearly five hours!  Simply smiling at him, she put the truck in reverse and backed out, heading out of there and toward the gym.  “I'll wait outside.” She said when she pulled into the parking lot, patting his shoulder with a nod.  “Go on.” She urged him, shoving him out the door playfully while she turned on some country music.

 

John took his own damn time in there, filling the application out at the counter, flirting with one of the fitness instructors and answering a few questions regarding his qualifications.  His tone and muscular body adding its own testament to his experience with weight lifting.  He walked out of the gym with a smile on his face and a job he would start in six weeks when the normal instructor went on maternity leave with his wife.

 

Caressa squealed before he could even say anything, throwing her arms around his neck, knowing he got the job.  She had no doubt that he wouldn't get it and sighed happily, starting the truck, and decided to go out to eat to celebrate.  “There's an Old Country Buffet down the way.  We could go there...” She giggled when John groaned, knowing he needed some real food.  “How about the Outback Steakhouse then?  You could get a nice juicy steak?” She coaxed, smiling when he agreed, and did a U-turn before going in that direction.

 

Chapter 4

 

This was more John's style, though he had to bite on his lips to keep from laughing when Caressa was called a sheela in what was meant to be an Australian accent, but the man with the southern drawl couldn't pull it off.  He had to excuse himself and duck back outside, finally coming in with sparkling eyes, finding where they had been seated and dropped down across from his sister. 

 

“Sorry 'bout that.”

 

“That's alright.” Caressa replied, completely oblivious as to why her brother had to go back outside, and sifted through the menu, furrowing her brows in thought.  “I think I'm going to get a steak.  I'm starving after all that shopping we did.” She looked up at him, seeing his blue eyes landing on another woman, and groaned inwardly.  A waitress walked up to them as she looked up, smiling softly.

 

“My name is Samantha and I'll be yer waitress this evenin', what can I get for ya two?”

 

“I'll take a beer.” Caressa smirked at her brother.  “And he'll have a Pepsi.”

 

John was a natural born flirt and couldn't help himself from grinning at the waitress, leaning back in his seat, his blue eyes sparkling as she grinned back at him.  He quickly stopped with the flirting when she mentioned her husband had the same jersey, clearing his throat hastily.  “So Care, ready to order?” He coughed, burying his head in his menu.

 

Giggling in her menu, Caressa nodded, deciding on a steak, medium rare, with a baked potato and steamed vegetables, sighing as she leaned back against the booth.  “You didn't see the ring on her finger?” She quipped, smirking when her brother just scowled, and took a sip of her beer the waitress brought back.  It's like she told John, the next time they went out, he was the designated driver as she tossed him the keys across the table.  “My turn.”

 

“Very rarely do I look at their fingers, it's always the smile then the ass.” John shot back, having ordered a steak well done and two baked potatoes, covered in everything.  He pocketed the keys.  “That's fine, but I'm paying for dinner.” He said with a grin.

 

Caressa wasn't going to argue with that as she crossed one leg over the other, looking around the restaurant, seeing how many people had cowboy hats and boots on.  She actually looked at her brother and pictured him with a cowboy hat, immediately starting to giggle at the image.  She wouldn't be able to take him seriously if he ever wore one and snorted in her beer when the image didn't go away, giggling quietly.  “Don't forget, we have to clean the attic out tomorrow.” She reminded him with a sweet smile.

 

John was more interested in what had set her off in a giggling fit, looking back over his shoulder and frowned.  “Okay smartass, what's so funny?” He demanded, disregarding the attic bit, hoping she'd forget sometime relatively soon.

 

“I was just picturing you in a cowboy hat and big bug eyed sunglasses.” She started laughing, smacking her leg, the image implanted in her mind while her brother merely balked at her.  “I would NOT be able to take you seriously in one of those hats.  Don't ever wear one.” Caressa was laughing so hard, tears were stinging her eyes as she lifted her beer and slammed it right back down again, covering her mouth with her hand.

 

“Do I look like the kind of man to wear...a cowboy hat?” John demanded, looking disgusted.

 

“What the hell is wrong with a cowboy hat, son?”

 

John groaned, seeing a blue jean covered crotch in his line of vision when he looked up from the table, knowing this wasn't a woman.  “Mind moving your balls out of my face, hoss?” He asked sarcastically.

 

“Or I might shove'em down yer throat.”

 

Sensing danger, Caressa slowly stood up and smiled at the bald headed man with a smile on her face.  “I apologize for my brother's comments.” She smiled sweetly back at the cowboy, even though he wasn't wearing a hat, her amber eyes glittering back at him.  “We're new to town and trying to get used to things around here.” Her voice was soft and smooth as honey, knowing she was bailing her brother out of a world of trouble.  “Will you accept his apology on my behalf?”

 

“As temptin' as that is, honey, if he's goin' to grow up to be a real man someday, he best be apologizin' to me himself.” He replied, smiling at her though his blue eyes were ice cold as he glanced down at John.

 

“Grow up to be a man?  Are you kidding me, you red-” John came to an abrupt halt when he seen the expression on Caressa's face.  “Sorry.” He grunted lowly.

 

“There now son, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

 

If Caressa could, she would've slapped her brother upside his head, not believing he nearly got himself maimed.  “Thank you, sir.” She politely said before sitting back down at the booth, scowling at her brother while the man walked away.  “You need to keep your comments to yourself!” She hissed angrily before downing nearly her entire beer, needing another one.  She was going to kill him if somebody else didn't get the job done first.

 

“Well, excuse me!” John snapped back just as quietly.  He honestly thought he could have given the Texan a go for his money, but had refrained because of his sister.  “I merely said no chance on the cowboy hat and he had to butt in!  Is it my fault he decided to put his...” He shook his head, unable to even bring himself to say the words.

 

The rest of the dinner was silent, neither speaking to the other, Caressa not believing the audacity of her brother and John being pissed off for having to apologize to a redneck hick.  When they left, Caressa merely got in the truck and crossed her arms in front of her chest, thinking about taking his PS3 back.  ‘Damn fool!’ She thought angrily, not believing he'd almost caused a fight with his mouth.

 

John refused to apologize, sliding into the driver's side.  He hadn't even been mean when he said no to the cowboy hat thing and that stupid redneck dick had to interrupt, with his fucking CROTCH in John's face!  But he was in the wrong?  Snorting, he pulled out of the parking lot, cursing loudly when a dark blue Ford roared out in front of him then off down the road.

 

“John, if you don't drive this truck properly, I'm going to beat the living shit out of you!!” Caressa shouted, having drank three beers with dinner, and wished she could drive, but she didn't want to cause an accident.  Her anger was fueling her sobriety though as she stared out the window, shaking her head.  “Shut up.” She ordered when he started ranting, not wanting to hear it.  Caressa's head was pounding into her skull and all she wanted was a hot bath and bed.

 

He was more than pissed off, wondering just what else would be his fault tonight.  Hmm, apparently him getting cut off by a southerner was him just being stupid.  “Whatever.” He snapped, refusing to talk to her until she stopped being such a stuck-up bitch.

 

As soon as the truck was stopped, Caressa hopped out and stormed over to open the hood, pulling a bag out and thrust it against his chest.  “Thank you very fucking much for moving in with me, you stupid jackass!” She snarled before running in the house and upstairs to her room, trying to keep the tears in. 

 

When John looked down and inside the bag, he seen his PS3 staring him in the face.

 

He was sorely tempted to do two things.  Throw the PS3 away or go apologize to Caressa.  Grunting, he set the bag down on the couch when he walked into the house, heading for his bedroom, not fixing to do either.  He angrily began packing his bag, shoving his clothes in it, glad he hadn't had time to unpack.  He gave up.  He didn't fit in her new little world and he wasn't going to change who he was just to fit in either.

 

Caressa took a shower to calm down, knowing she was out of line with her brother, but he'd been begging for a fight with his choice of words.  Sighing heavily, Caressa changed into a light blue nightgown before laying down in bed, snuggling against her pillow.  After a few minutes, she was fast asleep, knowing her brother was probably packing his bags and all she could think was, 'Maybe it's for the best.’

 

John fell asleep fully dressed on top of his blankets, still angry as hell, but knowing there wasn't much more he could do tonight.  He'd arrange for a way home in the morning, right now he needed to sleep and forget this horrible day.

 

A sigh went throughout the house, the cobwebs in the attic ruffling on a breeze that wasn't there.

 

Instead of going through the attic the following day, Caressa decided to start on her shop while John found a ride to the airport.  She sure as hell wasn't giving him one as she pulled into the parking spot, wearing a pair of blue jeans with holes in the knees and a Harley Davidson tank top that hugged her chest nicely, shoving off a little bit of her abdomen.  Her hair was up, away from her neck as she slid out of the truck and closed the door before walking over to the building she now owned.  Taking a deep breath, she unlocked the door and walked inside, getting started on putting this shop back together.

 

The shop smelled musty, fixed with the scent of oil and a lingering musky scent that was nearly gone after all this time.  Whoever had owned it last, had left everything, nothing had been disturbed.  She was clearly in what was a showroom/office, a massive desk sitting against a far wall, the paperwork covering it dusty and faded.  Dusty pictures lined the wall, some showcasing motorcycles with various people.

 

Her eyes took in the pictures, running her fingers along them, seeing that once upon a time this shop had been run successively.  That thought brought a smile to her face, especially when she seen a picture of Jesse James, the famous motorcycle maker in the country.  “Holy cow...” She whispered in disbelief, deciding she would make a specific room to showcase what the shop once was and what it was going to be with her new pictures.  She smiled and got started, having brought cleaning supplies, and started by dusting everything.

 

John watched from the open doorway as she cleaned, clearing his throat awkwardly and smiled sheepishly when Caressa turned around.  He had made it as far as the airport before deciding he was being as much a stubborn jackass as she was and had turned around.  “Look, I'm sorry, alright?  I shouldn't have said what I did to that guy.” He apologized, staring at her intently.

 

Tears filled her eyes as Caressa dropped the broom and ran over to him, jumping into his arms, and hugged him tightly around the neck.  “I'm sorry too for being such a bitch.” She whispered in his ear, kissing his cheek, and hopped down on her feet before dragging him inside by the hand.  “Look at this John!” She was like a kid on Christmas morning, her eyes sparkling.  “Jesse James had one of his bikes made here!!” That man was her idol as far as motorcycles went.  “And look, Toby Keith and a lot of country stars used to come here!!”

 

John studied the pictures intently, surprised to find he recognized a lot of these faces.  “Hey, isn't this that guy from the steakhouse?” He asked, pulling a picture off the wall and blowing away the dust, holding it out into a patch of sunlight.  “Small world.  Any idea who owned this place, Care?” He asked curiously, seeing all the stuff still here, guessing it must have been included in the sale price, but why so much personal things left behind?

 

“No, I have no idea.  I've looked through everything and the only name I could find was Shadow Riders.” She shrugged when John raised an eyebrow, not about to let it ruin her discoveries.  “Probably some morbid guy who dropped dead.” She stood up after looking at the picture, seeing it was the bald man from the restaurant the previous night and wondered if maybe he owned it.  “Whoever owned this has to either be dead or on America's Most Wanted list.  They left everything, John, including a safe.” Caressa had managed to pull it out of the wall, a secret hiding place, sighing heavily as she kept going through paperwork.  “I can't figure out how to open it though…”

 

John frowned, walking over to examine the safe.  “It needs a combination.” He said finally, looking around the room.  He arched an eyebrow, spotting three sets of numbers carved over the doorway, it looked like a date.  04-25-99.  He pointed to it.  “Maybe the day the shop was opened?” He suggested, not knowing what else it could be.

 

“Hmm...I didn't notice that.” Caressa walked over and ran her fingertips over it, feeling a familiarity overtake her, and nodded.  “John try it.  Try that as the combination.” She ordered, her eyes never leaving the date, and whipped around when she heard a click followed by the safe opening.  Her eyes widened in shock, her jaw dropping, seeing over ten grand in the safe easy along with a bag of diamonds.  “HOLY SHIT!!”

 

John's own eyes were as wide as tea plates, blinking rapidly.  He hesitantly reached into the safe, pulling out the diamonds and set them down on the desk.  “Do you think maybe they were stolen?” He asked quietly, not believing what they had found, raking a hand through his short hair.

 

Caressa couldn't even speak as she stared at the tiny glittering stones on the desk, which was now a deep cherry wood, and picked one up delicately in her hand, holding it in her palm.  “I don't know.” She finally whispered, looking up at her brother, her amber eyes as wide as his.  “Maybe that's why this place was abandoned so suddenly...” She trailed off, saying it more to herself than him, but it was still out loud and in a soft murmur.  “I mean who would leave this much cash and diamonds behind?”

 

John shrugged, his mind clearly wondering that himself.  “I don't know, Care.  Maybe whoever did own this place did up and leave.  You could ask around a little, you know, the history of the shop.  You have an excuse being new in town and buying it.” He suggested, still staring at the diamonds.  “Why don't we put those back until we know what's up with them?”

 

“Are you crazy?” She actually gaped at him, shaking her head, and put the diamonds back in the bag before tying the pouch tightly, slipping it into her purse.  “They're coming home with us.  I'm not asking around about diamonds and money, John.  Do you have any idea what a person would do to get their hands on these?” She referred to the diamonds they just found, blinking and felt a shudder run through her body.  “Nobody is to know about this, alright?  Now come on, help me pull the money out of this safe and put it in a plastic bag.  We can definitely use that to help open the shop more and hire who we need.” She had decided to make him half the owner since he was helping and knew about the diamonds.

 

“I didn't say ask about the damn diamonds, sis, I meant about the shop, people gossip, you know that.” He said, helping her with the bag, almost afraid to touch the diamonds.  He couldn't help, but feeling like they were cursed or something, as silly as that sounded.  “You have to admit, it's damn weird that all this stuff was left behind.  I just meant you could enquire about the previous owner.”

 

“What for?  If the previous owner left money and diamonds behind, there had to be a bad reasoning behind it.  I honestly don't WANT to know who owned this place before me.  The less I know, the better.  Come on, it's getting late.” She wanted to get the diamonds home safely and stopped John when they walked out.  “Not a word and act casual.” She smiled at a passing couple before slipping in the truck, a plastic bag in her hand and her purse over her shoulder, holding the diamonds securely.  In no time flat, Caressa was on her way home with her brother and nearly twenty, tiny diamonds.

 

Chapter 5

 

John was quiet, his curiosity up about whoever had owned the shop.  He couldn't help it!  “What are we doing with them?” He asked, referring to the diamonds, that uneasy feeling still in the pit of his gut.  He was tempted to suggest dropping them in a lake or something, but knew his sister would be very likely to co-cock him for even thinking it.

 

“I'm going to put them up in the attic in a safe, secure place.” Caressa replied as she nearly sped home, going five miles over the speed limit, wanting to get home as fast as possible, but also not wanting a speeding ticket.  “We'll clean it out tomorrow.” She decided, the shop for the most part clean.  Now with the extra money they found inside, she would have that place opened within the next few weeks providing she could find some mechanics who had experience fast.  Houston was a huge city, it shouldn't be a problem.

 

“Why don't we just do it tonight and get it done and over with?” John asked, feeling a bit cold even though it was still hotter than hell out.  “I don't think I'll be getting much sleep tonight, to be honest with you sis.  Unless, you're tired?” He glanced across the seat at her, his eyes checking the speed.

 

Caressa didn't look over at him and simply nodded, her lips dry and she too felt cold.  It was over a hundred degrees out, though the sun was setting, but that didn't matter.  “Tonight then.” She agreed, reaching over to take his hand, hers trembling a little as they pulled on the dirt road that lead to the house.  Whoever had left that money and these diamonds was gone and she wasn't about to put her family in danger or herself for that matter.

 

John seemed to be thinking along the same lines, chewing on his lower lip hesitantly.  “Caressa...what if someone knew the diamonds were there?” He asked quietly.  “What if they knew they were in the shop, but they couldn’t ever find them?  Maybe they'll think you found them after a while or something...” He trailed off, not even sure if he was making sense at the moment.

 

“No because that safe was in the wall and it was almost camouflaged.” She explained, causing John to sigh a somewhat breath of relief.  “I stumbled on it by accident after looking at the pictures on the walls.  If someone knew the diamonds were there, they would've found it by now or torn the place down to find them, John.  Something tells me that safe wasn't meant to be found.” She nearly whispered that last part out as they arrived at the house, instantly stopping the truck, but she didn't turn the ignition off right away.  “We have to hide these diamonds and forget they exist, do you understand?”

 

“Oh yeah, forget we have a small fortune in diamonds hiding in our house.” John replied sarcastically, the sarcasm not aimed at her, just his nerves acting out.  “Here.” He held out his hand for them.  “I'll get them inside, you just...take your time out here, just in case.” He couldn't shake the damn bad feeling, trying to tell himself it was just nerves and maybe lack of sleep.  He smiled awkwardly.  “I think I'm becoming a nervous old woman, Care.”

 

“I have them and nobody is out there.  Come on.  We still have to unload the truck with all of our other things in it.” She hadn't even been concerned with the TVs, though John had been kind enough to save the frozen food from spoiling out in the heat and put it away.  She would have to thank him for it later as she rushed inside, remembering where the attic was and ran up the stairs, taking two at a time.  Her heart was pounding in her chest as she wondered just what happened to the owner of her shop.

 

John began unloading the truck, even though it was light manual labor, it was still manual labor.  He focused on taking his time, examining every bag as if there might be something in it waiting to attack him, carrying the televisions in one at a time and setting them in the living room.  Knowing Caressa would be telling him where to carry them when she had finished stashing the diamonds.

 

Caressa pulled the rope down after having to jump several times to reach it, a flight of stairs coming out and coughed as the dust engulfed her senses.  “Damn!” She gasped out, waving the dust out of her face before pulling the stairs down, seeing they were built securely, slowly beginning her climb.  It took her several minutes, not one for heights, but Caressa finally made it as she covered her mouth and nose with her hand, looking around, her purse securely over her shoulder.  There were many boxes up here, apparently left behind, causing her to slowly run her fingers over them.  “This is interesting…” She murmured, walking further into the attic, her hand reaching up to flick the light and sighed with relief when it worked.  “Now then, where to put you is the question...”

 

Sitting behind a stack of old, molding trunks was a shiny black chest, the gleam barely visible under the thick dust that coated it, but winking at her in the light regardless.  On the lid was a strange symbol etched into the enamel, an attention getter to be sure.

 

John grunted, carrying in the last bag and looked around the cluttered living room, glad he had at least brought in the groceries the night before.  Sighing he began to empty the bags out.

 

Her fingertips touched the chest, running over the unique symbol that looked like an engraved motorcycle replica in it, raising a slow eyebrow before biting her bottom lip.  She didn't know why, but something was forcing her to open this, a powerful force she could not ignore.  With trembling hands, Caressa closed her eyes and lifted the chest lid, grunting at how heavy it was and coughed as more dust flew into her face.  “Christ...” She grunted, seeing items in there and began to sift through them.  Her eyebrows drew together as something wrapped in a white cloth practically glowed at her and reached down, grabbing it.

 

The heavy object in the cloth seemed to pulse excitedly in her palm, heat gently emanating from it in soft waves, growing hotter and hotter though still bearable to the touch.  Then suddenly it stopped, the pulse and heat could have been nothing more than her imagination.

 

Frowning, John looked up at the ceiling and called out, “Caressa?”

 

Her amber eyes seen the object glow through the white cloth, slowly pulling it away and gasped at what she found.  A deep purple amulet was in her hand as she ran her fingertips over it, seemingly in a daze.  She did not hear her brother or anything around her, slowly standing, not believing what a beautiful stone it was.  It was cut in the shape of an oval and glittered in the moonlight that shined in the window, a smile lighting her face.  Deciding not to tell her brother about this discovery, not wanting to scare him anymore than what he already was, Caressa wrapped it back up and set it in her purse before replacing the amulet with the diamonds, closing the chest and started heading back downstairs.

 

John was waiting at the foot of the stairs, sweat glistening on his forehead from the heat.  “Did you...put them away?” He asked softly, glancing past her towards the attic, nodding when she nodded.  “Good.” Out of sight, out of mind.  Hopefully he could distract himself from what was going to be lying over his head every night.  “I'm going to bed, Care, unless there was anything else you needed?”

 

“No nothing at all.  Good night, John.” She murmured before retreating to her room, closing the door and pressed her back against it.  She pulled her purse against her and dug around in it, pulling out the white wrapped stone that she'd found upstairs.  Slowly walking over to sit on the bed, Caressa could only allow it to lay in her palm, the beauty captivating her in ways she didn't understand.  She was keeping this for herself and pulled open her nightstand drawer, laying it gently in there before standing up to take a shower.  It'd been a long, trying day and she was exhausted.

 

Inside her dresser, the purple stone glowed brightly, lighting up the dark interior it was hidden it. It pulsated for a few moments before slowly dimming, the light dying with it. Inside the center of the stone, eerie black flashed once.

 

John needn't have worried because as soon as he laid down, he was out cold, forgetting all about the diamonds and the mystery of the motorcycle shop.  He had been blessed with indifference.

 

~!~

 

Two weeks later, Shadow Riders was officially reopened for business.  Caressa was all smiles, wearing a pair of black jeans with a black and purple tank top, keeping with the colors that the shop came with, loving them.  Her hair was pulled back in a tight French braid, having it professionally done by John's new girlfriend Lizzie.  They had hit it off almost instantly after meeting in Wal-Mart and Caressa thought it was adorable.  She had hired two mechanics, deciding that was plenty, though she didn't realize just how busy the shop was going to be. Everyone was excited the shop had reopened and she'd even made a special room for all the memorabilia, wanting everyone to know about the shop's past and it's new beginning.

 

“Thank you, please come again.” She said to an older couple, who came in to get their truck worked on, deciding to make it both a motorcycle shop and automobile.  She was a business woman after all and grinned before going to check out how everything else was faring.

 

John was busy with a young man who was interested in having an old motorcycle he had bought restored.  He had discovered he could sell quite easily, especially to young fellows who thought a motorcycle was the answer to all their fantasies.  “Of course, if you go with the midnight blue...” He was saying, pointing to a picture in the display book.  “My opinion is that dark colors work best for men, if you follow my meaning?”

 

The young man nodded eagerly.  “So you think it'll make the women like me better?” He asked excitedly.

 

“Oh yeah, sure.  What woman doesn't like a man on a big motorcycle?”

 

“I'll take this one then.”

 

An arm snaked around the boy's shoulders, who couldn't have been more than seventeen years old, and when he looked up he saw the other half of ownership staring him in the face.  “Son, how old are you?” She asked politely, her amber eyes glittering with a soft smile on her lips.

 

The boy swallowed hard and stuttered out, “Gonna be turnin' seventeen in a couple of weeks, ma'am.”

 

“Well then, when you receive your motorcycle license AND you're eighteen, then you can buy that.  Until then, I'm sure your parents are around here.  Go find them.” She watched as the boy nearly zoomed out of the shop, shaking her head at her brother.  “You really need to learn how to check IDs, bro.” She then walked away.

 

John shook his head, smirking slightly.  “Care, permits are given out at 16 here.  He can have that bike so long as he only drives it between specific daylight hours.” He was reciting from memory from the book a local deputy had given him after he had made the error of selling to a fifteen year old first thing in the morning.  He wanted to know what these people fed their kids to get them so damn big and older looking.  It was screwing with his mind.

 

“You know as well as I do that you were trying to get a sell and his parents have already said no.” She pointed to the older couple who came in with the truck, raising an eyebrow at her brother, who looked stunned.  “I overheard him asking them about getting a bike earlier and they said no.” She patted her brother on the shoulder with a shake of her head.  “Just try to sell to OLDER men, okay?” She then walked away to greet other customers with a bright smile, not believing how successful Shadow Riders already was.

 

Sighing, John shook his head, smiling and let it go, knowing he'd do better next time.  Though to his credit he had managed to do quite well for his first day, minors notwithstanding.  He watched as she spoke easily with the customers, hardly believing how well Caressa was doing, though he supposed it shouldn't have come as a surprise.  She loved what she was doing, of course she'd excel in it.

 

Considering she'd had two years’ experience in West Newbury, this was a piece of cake to Caressa.  She saw how shocked her brother was and simply smirked, nobody ever paid attention to her back home.  That's how it worked.  They were all wrapped up in their own lives to even notice what she'd managed to accomplish.  And now here she was, her own motorcycle/auto repair shop and Caressa was in total heaven.  The day passed fast and it was time to close the place for the night as Caressa went over finances in the office. 

 

“You go ahead and head on home.  I'll be along shortly.” She'd bought herself a small midnight blue car to get to and from work, deciding once the business really started raking in the dough, she would trade it in for something better.  “I need to finish up here, go on.  You're exhausted, partner.” She winked at her brother, still not believing they were in business together, though he was still working part time at the gym down the street.

 

“Eh, I'll survive.” John coughed. “I kinda got a date with Lizzie tonight so...don't wait up when you finally get home, eh?” He winked at her, laughing when she just shook her head and walked over to plant a kiss on her forehead.  “I'll see you in the morning, sis.” John walked out with a smile on his face.

 

Chapter 6

 

Twenty minutes had passed since John left when the door open, a heavy footstep signaling a very late arrival, too late to be a customer no doubt.  His piercing green eyes took in the main room, inhaling the scent of motorcycles and the garage in the back, smelling something else mingling with it, a light perfume.  His attention focused on the woman sitting behind the desk.

 

“Hello.”

 

“We're closed, come again tomorrow.” She called out of her office, too busy going over the records and whatnot, a smile on her face at the large figures and sums.  This shop had made near one hundred grand in its opening day!  Caressa knew this is what she meant to do and slowly stood up, bending down to sift through some more papers, finally finding what she was looking for before going back to looking back at the figures.  ‘John is going to FLIP!’ She thought with excitement before beginning to do some filing.  She was going to be her own secretary.

 

“I don't really think I can, darlin'.” Came a smooth, somewhat amused sounding drawl. He stood nearly seven foot tall and was broader than most men, though he was mostly pure muscle. 

 

His long legs were encased in tight black jeans, resting snugly about his lean hips.  An open jean vest revealed a strong chest, black lettering on his abdomen, B.S.K Pride it read.  His long hair was pulled back by a black bandana.  He had a strong face, not really handsome in the tradition manner, but in his own way, very easy on the eyes regardless.

 

Caressa's head snapped up, thinking the voice left, and felt a scream choke back in her throat when she seen a very tall, large and frightening man staring back at her.  Swallowing hard and trying to regain her composure, after giving him a quick sweep, Caressa slowly stood up from her chair, raising an eyebrow.  “What do you mean you can't leave?” She asked curtly.  Of all the times to send John home early, it had to be on THIS night!

 

“I didn't mean I can't leave.” He corrected quietly, his thumbs resting in his belt loops, studying her intently, his eyes a very stunning shade of green, glowing with some inner fire.  “I meant I don't think I'll be able to come back tomorrow.” His tone was almost sad before he shook his head.  “I was just...passin' through and seen the light still on, thought I'd stop. I didn't mean to frighten ya, darlin'.”

 

“Oh...” Caressa felt like an ass at that moment as she smiled back at him, seeing the sadness in his green eyes.  “Don't worry, with how well the shop did today, we'll be open for a long time to come.” She extended her hand to him, her amber eyes warm and friendly.  “My name is Caressa.” She figured she'd introduce herself to this man since apparently he knew the shop, probably from the past.  A frown marred her features when he hesitated in touching her hand, raising a slow eyebrow.  “Are you alright?  My hand is clean if that's what you're worried about.” She giggled quietly.

 

He cleared his throat awkwardly, a smile hitching into place on his lips before slowly reaching out to take her hand.  His smile broadened, tightening his grip ever so slightly so he firmly held her warm hand in his, shaking it.  “I'm Mark.” He said, his teeth flashing as his smile broadened.  “You own this place now?” His green eyes broke away from her to look around.

 

A jolt rushed up her arm as soon as his hand made contact with hers, causing her to nod as their contact broke and she started looking around with a proud smile.  “Yup, me and my brother actually.” She snorted good naturedly.  “What he knows of the business anyway.  It was my idea.  I couldn't very well let a beautiful shop like this keep rotting and rusting into the ground.” She guided him over to where the bikes were usually fixed, seeing the pictures on the walls.  “This place was abandoned about two years ago, from what I've heard from the town people and customers.  I decided to keep the original colors, but added my own taste as well.  I didn't want to detour the credibility since I wasn't the original founder of Shadow Riders.” She blushed, realizing she'd been going on, her cheeks turning a deep crimson red.  “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to babble on like that.”

 

He was smiling gently at her, his eyes encouraging her to go on though when it appeared she was clamming up, he laughed softly.  “Yer fine, I don't mind.  Been awhile since...since someone babbled in front of me, it's kinda cute.” Mark walked around the room, clearly at ease here and studied the walls, smiling at some of the pictures.  “So even though these were...left behind, ya kept them?  Why's that again, darlin'?”

 

“They're part of the history this place brings.  I couldn't get rid of that special part.  Besides, these are world class singers, performers, and not to mention my idol came here once, Jesse James.” She pointed eagerly to the picture, looking like a kid in a candy store.  “God I could stay here forever if it was possible.” She sighed wistfully and twirled around, a smile on her face, not believing this shop was hers and she was fulfilling her ultimate dreams.  “It brings great recognition to Shadow Riders, don't you think?”

 

“Most definitely.” Mark agreed, studying the picture of Jesse James, a wistful smile on his face.  “Good times.” He murmured, shaking his head and stepping away.  “Well darlin', I'm sure yer tired...I won't impose on ya anymore.” He gave the room one last glance, clearly not eager to leave, but ambled towards the door regardless.  “Thank ya for the time.”

 

“Wait!” She called out to him from behind, her eyebrows furrowing together, feeling something drawing him to her.  “I hope to see you again sometime, Mark.” She smiled when he turned around, those piercing emerald orbs locking on her amber ones, causing her breath to leave her body for a split second.  He was beautiful in every way with his long black hair and tattooed covered arms, but the best feature about him were those hypnotic eyes he possessed.

 

He smiled at her, halting at the door, his hand resting on the doorframe, green eyes twinkling.  “I pass this way...nightly, after work.” He said slowly, studying her thoughtfully.  “I'm sure you'll see me again, Caressa.” Her name rolled off his tongue in a sweet caress.  “You always keep these hours, darlin'?”

 

“I just never want to leave.” She admitted softly, her eyes glittering back at him under the fluorescent lights that had been replaced.  “You have a nice evening, Mark.” His name came from her mouth in a honey sweet tone before turning her back, heading back to her office.  Shivers coursed through her body as she quickly packed up, deciding she'd have to get some sleep eventually.  Though she couldn't wipe the smile off of her face even if a gun was pointed at her head.

 

He watched her at the desk for a moment before walking out the door.  Several minutes the sound of a motorcycle roaring to life broke the night's silence, the rumbling shaking the glass windows before fading into the darkness.

 

Caressa arrived at home as she stepped out of her truck and smiled, seeing John hadn't made it yet.  Good.  She wanted a few moments by herself to reflect on Mark, a giggle escaping her lips.  What was wrong with her?  She was like a little school girl with a crush!  Caressa sighed and decided she needed help before entering the house, grinning from ear to ear.  It was finished, the floors polished, the fireplaces cleaned out and working properly.  It looked like a warm, loving home as she shut the door behind her, already beginning to take her French braid out, running her fingers deftly through her soft tresses.  Her stomach growled, forcing her to venture into the dark green and white kitchen.

 

Upstairs the purple gemstone tucked away in her dresser door was glowing more fiercely than ever, almost taking on a life of its own.  Inside the drawer, a sound almost like a heartbeat echoed, the light waning and then flashing with each tiny thud.

 

After making herself a quick plate of spaghetti, leftovers of course, Caressa finally made her way up the newly polished stairs, the creaking sound beneath her feet music to her ears.  She pulled her top up and over her head, tossing it to the floor before removing her pants, deciding she would take a shower in the morning.  Right now, all she wanted to do was lay in her soft bed and think about what a day she'd had.  Before she knew it, Caressa was out like a light.

 

He was in her dreams, the mystery man who told her his name was Mark.  He appeared as he had in her shop, just smiling at her, the sadness still in his eyes.

 

John had gotten home, finally, frowning slightly as he stood in the living room, hearing some faint odd noise then shrugged.  He had to keep reminding himself this was an old house.  He smirked, remembering his date with Lizzie and crept up the stairs, avoiding the third step because it squeaked and went to bed.

 

~!~

 

Caressa frowned thoughtfully the next night while in her shop, running fingers through her hair.  John had left again for another date with Lizzie, which she didn't mind, knowing that would be an everyday thing.  Something was bugging her and she couldn't put her finger on it.  She couldn't get those sad green eyes out of her mind, no matter how hard she tried, and it bothered her.  Standing up from her seat, Caressa walked out and began closing the garages, wearing a blue jean skirt with a light blue tank top that had an Eagle splattered on the front, her infamous white Sketchers on.

 

He was sitting in the parking lot atop a pure black Harley Davidson, his long legs stretched out on either side of him, holding the bike up with ease.  He watched her through narrowed green eyes, taking in her long, beautiful legs as she quickly walked around the office.  His loose black hair was caught in the breeze, fluttering behind him as he waited patiently for her to come out.

 

When the final light was shut off and Caressa had locked the front door, the only entrance to her shop, she turned around and stopped in her tracks at the sight of Mark.  Her eyes glowed in the moonlight, seeing the beautiful Harley he was straddling and felt her heart soar to the heavens.  This man was gorgeous and he apparently rode motorcycles.  What could be better?

 

“Hello again, Mark.” She softly greeted, walking over to him, her purse over her shoulder as her Sketchers crunched against the gravel gently.

 

“Caressa.” He inclined his head at her, his full lips curving into a genuinely pleased smile.  He rested his hands on his thighs, a pair of black sunglasses resting on the tip of his nose as he studied her out of warm green eyes.  He glanced over his shoulder as a truck rumbled by, honking, turning his attention back onto her.  “Know them?”

 

“Customers.” She merely shrugged and finally began circling his bike, her eyes drinking the sight in, refusing to even touch the beautiful piece he straddled at the moment.  “That's a 1989 Custom Harley.” She stated finally, her eyes widening as the realization crashed over her.  “Holy shit, how did you manage to snatch up one of THOSE?”

 

Mark shrugged modestly.  “I know some people.  It was a gift from a, from a friend.” He finished, a pained expression on his face before smiling again.  “You wanna go fer a ride with me, darlin'?  Maybe I'll even let you handle it.” He teased gently.

 

How could she pass up an offer like this, especially from this gorgeous man?  She couldn't.  “I'd love too.” She walked over and straddled the bike expertly behind him, holding onto the seat, not having been on a bike ride in ages. 

 

For some strange, unknown reason, Caressa trusted this man and shivered when he fired up the engine.  It was a feeling of pure ecstasy as her eyes closed, hearing it purr in her ears, and slowly opened her eyes to meet green ones staring back at her.  Her cheeks turned crimson once more as she bit her bottom lip, her blood red hair down to the middle of her back, framing her face delicately.

 

Mark's green eyes temporarily clouded over before smiling slightly, unable to miss the infusion of color in her face even if he had been blind.  Chuckling he turned around, spinning gravel as he peeled out of the lot.  He was pleasantly surprised that she wasn’t the type of woman who had to cling to a man when they rode, impressed with her.  Though he admitted to himself he wouldn't have minded if she HAD chosen to cling to him.

 

Chapter 7

 

Her eyes closed as Caressa's hair flew behind her, the warm Houston night air flowing against her face.  She gently placed her hands on his sides, a smile on her face while her amber eyes took in the surroundings.  She didn't care where they were going.  Caressa felt safe with Mark and she didn't understand why.  She'd only met him the previous night and already she felt this connection that was almost blinding and crumbling.  She laughed out when he picked up speed, enjoying the adrenaline rush that coursed throughout her body.

 

Mark pushed the Harley to its limits, roaring down the open stretch of road, knowing it was highly unlikely they'd be pulled over.  He could hear Caressa laughing behind him and his smile broadened, loving a woman with a spirit to match his own.  Reluctantly he brought the motorcycle to a halt, shifting in his seat to look down at her.

 

“You wanna drive it, darlin'?” He asked, seeing her eyes widening.

 

“A-Are you serious?” She stuttered out, blinking, and seen him hand the keys over to her.  Caressa's hunger shined in her eyes as she took them, their fingertips brushing together and looked back into his green eyes with wonder.  “You actually trust a complete stranger to ride this prize?” Caressa knew she was already falling for this man and felt her heart thundering against her chest, not able to tear amber from green.

 

“Darlin',” Mark chuckled at some joke only he was privy too, his eyes sparkling with good-natured humor.  “Take my word for it, there ain't a damn thing you can do to hurt this bike.” He dismounted easily, scooting her forward with his large hands before settling behind her, his body lightly pressing against hers.  “Come on then, Caressa.” He murmured in her ear.  “You know ya want too.”

 

She shivered against him, his warm breath on her ear, and slowly reached down to slide the key in the ignition, moaning as the bike purred to life once more.  “Beautiful sound in the world.” She looked over her shoulder at Mark, a smirk forming on her lips, and revved the engine before taking off.  His warm body pressed against hers was enough to drive her senses wild, but Caressa knew she had to focus on the road so she wouldn't crash this beautiful motorcycle.  When his arms wrapped around her waist, her insides melted a little more as her hair flew up all over the place.

 

Chuckling softly, he leaned down to rest his chin lightly against her shoulder, effectively keeping her beautiful, blood red hair from blinding him.  His body leaned with hers when she took a curve, knowing this was probably one of the happiest moments he'd ever experienced simply because of her.  The odd thing being they really didn't know each other.  It was strangely comforting how things turned out sometimes.

 

When Caressa finally stopped the bike, they were farther on the outskirts of the city, causing her to inhale a deep breath.  “Wow, what a rush.” She whispered and shivered again, not minding his arms wrapped around her.  It felt so nice being held by someone again that wasn't her family.  “Thank you, Mark.  I will never forget that.” She promised, looking over her shoulder at him, those green eyes capturing her full attention.  What was it about this man that was making her blood run like hot lava through her body, driving her senses mad?  She did not know and at the moment she didn't care.

 

“I would hope not.” He drawled, his breath hot on her ear. He straightened up, looking around where they were and smiled sadly.  “We're a long way from your shop, Caressa.  You need a ride there or would you like me to take you home?” He asked, not wanting this night to end, but also knowing it had to eventually.

 

“Well, if I leave my truck at the shop, then I won't have a ride there tomorrow.  My brother works at the gym every other day and tomorrow is, unfortunately, his day.” She explained softly and turned to stare straight ahead, wondering why he wanted to get away from her so suddenly. 

 

So what if it was late?  It's not like she had a curfew and John was probably staying at Lizzie's tonight.  Sighing, she slowly dismounted the bike and waited for him to scoot forward, really not wanting this night, this time with him, to end.  Still, she knew it had too and cursed mentally before straddling it again, placing her hands on his sides and smiled when the bike roared to life for the third time.

 

Reluctantly, he drove her back to her shop, this time going the speed limit, prolonging the inevitable.  When they finally pulled into the parking lot, he helped his off the motorcycle, his hands lingering on her hips for a few seconds.  “Thank you fer ridin' with me.” He said quietly, staring down at her in the dim light.

 

“Thank you for inviting me, Mark.” She replied softly and seen a single strand of black hair feather against his face, gently reaching out to brush it away, her fingertips lingering on his face before pulling back.  “Where are you from?” She asked softly, searching his eyes, seeing all the mystery that she wanted to solve spiraling through them.  “I'm sorry, I'm just so curious about you.  You're unlike any man I've ever met.” Caressa meant what she said and wanted to reach out to touch his face, his warm skin, but refrained.

 

As if sensing her hesitation, Mark reached out to take her hand, gently resting it against the side of his face, sighing softly and closed his eyes leaning into the touch.  “I'm from around here originally.” He said slowly, his deep voice coming from his chest, rumbling almost.  “I moved away a year or so back, sometimes I lose track of the time.” He snorted, opening his eyes to stare down at her.

 

“That's why you were so familiar with my shop.” She murmured thoughtfully, not removing her hand, loving to feel the warmth of his skin against her palm.  It ignited something within her that Caressa had long forgotten.  “Where did you move too?” She asked, tilting her head slightly to the side, and seen the hesitation in his eyes before sighing.  “I'm sorry, that was rude of me to ask.” The sadness in his green eyes was too much to bare as she slowly moved forward, wrapping her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly against her.  “You are sad.  I wish I could do something to help you.” She whispered against his ear.

 

He inhaled deeply, breathing in the crisp night air as well as the scent of her shampoo and perfume, all three causing him a rush of headiness.  “No, not sad...just...” He trailed off, his eyes focusing on something behind her and shook his head.  “Don't worry 'bout me darlin', I'm just in a mood tonight.” He cupped her chin in his massive hand, leaning down to kiss her forehead.  “Thanks for ridin' with me Caressa, but it's really time I be on my way.”

 

Now it was her turn as the sadness crept into her amber eyes, not wanting him to leave.  “Alright.” She whispered, having to force that word out, but she couldn't pull away from him no matter how much she tried.  “Will I see you again?” She asked softly, staring into those green orbs, searching them, begging, hoping, praying, pleading with him to just say that three letter word.  Even if he didn't mean it, just to give her hope that they would cross paths again.

 

He appeared to consider it, stroking his chin thoughtfully, laughing when her face fell.  “I was teasin' darlin', you'll see me again.  I think.” Mark added as an afterthought, frowning a little.  His head shot up, eyes straying towards the moon.  “I gotta go.” He grunted.  “Time to head home.” He reached out to trace her cheek with his thumb.  “I'll be back, Caressa, promise.” He whispered before straddling the Harley again, glancing at her one last time before roaring out of the lot, leaving her there alone.

 

Closing her eyes and inhaling the air, Caressa smiled and knew she would before turning and getting in her truck.  That ride had been the most exhilarating she'd ever experienced in her life as she fired her car up, John having the truck tonight, and pulled out of there, heading down the highway.  The warm wind blew through her hair as she thought back to Mark, wondering what his last name was, if he had family that lived in Houston.  He'd said he used to be from around here long ago.  Caressa sighed and turned on the dirt road before speeding toward her house, knowing no cops resided out here.  She wanted to feel that adrenaline rush again and already missed Mark's presence.

 

John was home early, Lizzie having an early day the following morning and was sitting on the couch, watching ESPN when he heard her pull into the drive.  Glancing at the clock, John was mildly curious just why Caressa was getting home so late, considering it didn't take that damn long to do the books.  He walked over to open the front door, leaning in the doorway to stare at her.

 

“What?” Caressa demanded, walking past him inside the house, taking her shoes off before going into the kitchen. 

 

If John knew what was good for him, he would not question her about why she was home so damn late.  She was an adult and if she wanted to stay out late at night with a gorgeous man than she was going to do it!  Taking a deep breath, Caressa proceeded to warm her up some leftovers, though she didn't feel hungry.  If anything, she just wanted to sleep and dream of that motorcycle ride, a small smile of the memory crossing her lips.

 

“What kept you?” He asked curiously, watching her, having ate with Lizzie.  He wasn't angry, just curious.  He hoped she was getting a bit of a social life because quite frankly, if all she did was work, she was eventually going to drive both herself and him insane.  “Whoa, not trying to be all protective.” He said when she scowled at him.  “I was just asking, Care, jeez.”

 

“I...met someone.” She finally admitted, that smile widening a bit more as she looked up at him with a dreamy look in her amber eyes.  “Someone very special.  We went out for a while to get to know each other.” That was as far as she was going as she brought her bowl into the living room area, curling up on the couch, and leaned back against it.  She smiled when John joined her and proceeded to tell him about the bike ride and the gorgeous man she'd met the other night on their opening day.  Though it was at night.  Caressa had never in her life talked so much about a man as she did with Mark and it lit her soul on fire.  “Well I'm heading to bed, what a night!” She laughed softly, heading into the kitchen to do her dishes.

 

John sat there in stunned silence, replaying his sister's words in his mind.  Sounded like she had found someone who was completely compatible with her, so miracles did happen after all.  He was afraid that after her loser ex-boyfriend she would shy away from dating, he was pleased to find he was wrong.  He stood up, gently catching Caressa by the wrist.  “Can I meet him?” He asked softly.

 

“If things progress and I see him again.” She said with a smile, kissing his forehead and patted his shoulder.  “Good night, John.” She then walked out of the living room and upstairs, twirling down the hallway on her way to her room, her heart lifted like never before. 

 

Once her door was closed, Caressa took the amulet out of her nightstand drawer and unwrapped it, her eyes loving how it glowed black in the center of the dark purple, running her fingertips over it.  “You are my good luck charm.” She murmured, pressing a soft kiss to it before wrapping it back up and set it back in her drawer.  She then undressed and went to take a much needed shower.

 

The amulet glowed brightly, it's tiny heartbeat thudding erratically for a moment before dulling.

 

John could only shake his head, wondering if this mystery man had given his sister some spiked punch or something because he honestly could not recall the last time he had seen Caressa so...purely happy.  He had seen her in a good mood with a smile on her face, but he didn't believe she was truly happy.  He was seeing that now.

 

Chapter 8

 

Two weeks had passed and Caressa hadn't seen or heard from Mark, causing her to just focus on her shop and building more add-ons to the house.  She'd managed to have an underground swimming pool put in, which John loved, due to how well the shop was doing.  None of it made her completely happy though as she walked throughout her shop, running her fingers over the walls, peering in the rooms to make sure nobody was with her before finally going back to her office.  She was going to go mad if she kept this up, not to mention every time she slept all she saw were those green eyes and felt his touch.  It both enticed and frustrated the living hell out of her.

 

“Hey honey, I'm out for the night.” John said, busy recording his take into the office ledger for her, knowing Caressa would be going over and correcting the mistakes he had most likely made.  “Lizzie and I are going out for a quick bite tonight, you want to come?”

 

In the distance, a familiar roar was slowly coming into hearing range.

 

Her heart began pounding in her chest when she heard that familiar roar and knew instantly who it was.  “Nope, you go ahead.  Tell Lizzie I want to have coffee with her in the morning though.” She'd started making Lizzie her personal assistant since the girls got along so well, plus it paid her double what her other job did. 

 

As soon as John was out the door, Caressa instantly began fixing her hair and makeup, wearing a pair of black jean shorts with a wine colored tank top, her hair up in a messy bun, revealing her tattoo on her left shoulder blade.  It was a blood red heart that had a sword going down the middle, blood drops trailing down her shoulder blade and there was a skull on the sword with glowing red eyes.  She quickly redid her gloss and thin black eyeliner before going back to work, taking a few deep breaths to calm down.

 

A lone headlight shined through the windows, cutting off the same time the engine did.  The gravel crunched under heavy, deliberate footsteps.  A moment later, Mark walked through the door, his hair braided tightly tonight, wearing black skintight jeans and an open black leather vest.  “Hey darlin'.” He greeted, a smile on his face, green eyes lighting up in pleasure at seeing her.

 

His voice sent a tingle down her spine as Caressa slowly raised her head up, the biggest and brightest smile lighting her face as she stood up.  “Hey stranger.” She greeted, deciding the rest of her paperwork could wait until the morning, knowing she probably only had a certain amount of time with him.  “What brings you back to my neck of the woods?” She giggled, doing a horrible southern accent and rolled her eyes when he chuckled at her.  “Sooner or later it’ll come.”

 

“You're what brought me back.” He replied, walking over to lean over the desk, glancing down at the paperwork before her.  “You busy tonight?” He asked, already knowing the answer, a devilish smirk on his face.  “Cause if yer not, I was thinkin' we could go fer a ride…” He trailed off, his green eyes locking with hers.

 

Her heart actually skipped a beat at the look in his green eyes, nodding almost in a trance, though her smile proved she yet had some motor functions left in her body.  “Nope, I'm free.  The paperwork is nearly done, I'll finish it in the morning.” She took his hand, loving the warmth as it practically engulfed hers, guiding him out of her office.  “Wait here.” She quickly locked up everything in record speed before guiding him outside, sighing as the cool night blew across her face.  It was just after a rainstorm too, her favorite.  The fact that she was back with Mark only made it that much sweeter.

 

He smiled, watching her savor the night, appreciating her beauty quietly as she reveled in the darkness.  Mark finally reached out to take Caressa's hand again, gently pulling her against him, pressing her body against his, almost sighing at the feel of her.  “I missed you.” He said quietly, slowly rubbing a hand up and down her back, not wanting to let her go.

 

Caressa buried her face in his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist, and closed her eyes as she nodded.  “I missed you too, Mark.” She murmured, slowly pulling back to stare up into those green eyes that had haunted her dreams for the past two weeks.  “Would you like to come to my house?” She suddenly asked, blinking since the question even surprised her, running her hand up and down his chest that was bare, the vest buttoned, but exposing enough.  “I want to sit down and actually talk with you, get to know you better.” Her amber eyes were pleading with him, wanting to crack this mystery about him that just about drove her into a nut ward the past two weeks.

 

He arched an eyebrow before shrugging.  “Sure darlin'.  You take yer car and I'll follow.” He said finally.  “You live alone?” He asked, smirking when she blushed.  “Don't worry, I won't take advantage of you, yet...” He whispered, leaning down to kiss the top of her head, a chuckle escaping his lips.

 

Her body shivered when he said that as she quickly hopped in her car and pulled out of the parking lot.  Giving up a motorcycle ride with him, Caressa was insane, but she wanted to really get to know Mark and knew this was the only way to do it.  She seen him following her in the rearview mirror and grinned before turning on the dirt road, speeding up a bit.  She couldn't wait to show Mark her huge house and giggled at the thought, finally arriving about twenty minutes later and stepped out. 

 

“This is home sweet home.” She gestured toward it before closing her car door, purse over her shoulder.

 

He idled to a stop behind her, not moving, just staring at the house through narrowed green eyes.  Slowly, he dismounted, walking up the drive to her.  “You live here?” He asked, his head tilting to the side as he took in the front porch, straying up the front of the house, finally meeting her eyes.  “Very nice, darlin'.” He coughed, turning his head away to avoid getting her, clearing his throat.  “Gonna give me the tour?”

 

“Of course.” Caressa smiled at him, seeing the hesitant look in his eyes, and pushed it aside as she grabbed his hand guiding him inside.  John wasn't there as she opened her front door, smiling back at him over her shoulder.  “This is my dream house.  I've cleaned it up really nice and remodeled it.” Proud shone in her voice and she had every right to be before opening the door for him to enter.  “Make yourself at home.” She called over her shoulder, heading into the kitchen to get them both a beer, knowing he could always stay the night since she had nearly six bedrooms in the place.

 

Mark stood in the doorway, his eyes sweeping the living room.  It was all too obvious where she had remodeled, or changed something, the old meeting the new.  He looked down at the midnight blue carpet, finally following her into the kitchen.  “When did you buy this place?” He asked quietly.  “How long ago?” He accepted the beer she held out to him, eyeing it before taking a tentative sip, smiling and taking another.

 

“About two months ago.” When he choked on his third sip, she giggled and slid on the barstool that was in the middle of her kitchen with an island.  “I fell in love with the place as soon as I saw it, dust and all.  I decided to fix it up, kept a lot of the original things and added my own personal touch.  I must say, it didn't turn out too badly either.” She sipped her beer in thought, looking around, still not believing this was hers.  All of it, with her brother of course, but other than that… “You look troubled, Mark.  Are you okay?” She reached across the island and took his hand in hers, her worried amber eyes staring intently into his green orbs, wondering what had him so...tense.

 

“No, I'm fine darlin'.” He said after a minute, apparently realizing she had spoken to him.  “Sorry, mind was wanderin'.  I just...well, I knew the guy who used to live here.” Mark said slowly, studying the island intently.  “He was, a buddy of mine, I guess you could say.  Being here brings back an awful lot 'o memories.” He glanced up at her.

 

“Y-You knew who lived here before me?” Caressa blinked as she set her beer down, not releasing his hand, seeing the pain enter his eyes.  “I'm really sorry for your loss.” She just had a feeling his buddy probably died and felt terrible for him.  “I would hope he would enjoy what he saw if he could come back from the unknown and seen what I've done.” She smiled, trying to get him to lighten up, and slid from the barstool.  “Come here.” She guided him by the hand, her beer in her other, and sat him down gently on the couch in front of her fifty two inch plasma screen television.  She then got on her knees in front of him and wrapped her arms around his neck, just wanting to hold him and take away his pain.

 

“God darlin', don't feel bad for me.” Mark said after a moment, gently prying her arms off of him, looking down at her, holding her hands in between them.  “It was...ages ago it seemed.  How ‘bout you show me what you've done with the place?” He suggested, his green eyes sparkling once again.  “Been a long time since I was here.”

 

Caressa smiled and nodded, setting their beers down on the coffee table before guiding him through the kitchen, which was linked to the living room, showing him the newly installed swimming pool.  “My brother nearly had a field day with it.” She giggled before going back through the kitchen and down the hallway to the winding staircase. 

 

The floors and wood were polished, shining, almost to the point where they could see their blurred reflections staring back at them.  Caressa sighed happily and dragged Mark by the hand up the stairs, showing him the guest rooms she'd redone.  Each one had a color theme and the bathroom matched, finally arriving outside her door. 

 

“This is my room.” She took a deep breath before opening the double cherry oak doors, seeing the midnight blue and silver stand out instantly.  “I love having my own balcony.”

 

“You picked this room out yerself?” He asked, looking amused when she nodded.  “This was my friend's room.” He explained at Caressa's puzzled look.  “I'm sure he'd be damned pleased to know a beautiful woman was sleepin' in here.” He added teasingly, his eyes straying to the bed for a moment before landing on her.

 

“Care, you home?” Came John's voice from downstairs.

 

John had the WORST timing as Caressa looked up at Mark's face, seeing his green eyes widen and smiled before taking his hand in hers.  “I want you to meet my brother.” She started guiding him out of the bedroom, stopping when he wouldn't leave the bedroom, seeing him begin to tremble. “Mark?” She cupped his face in her hands, worry etched in her features and eyes.  “It's okay, it's just my brother.” She soothed, running her hand up and down his chest, biting her bottom lip.

 

“I'm just not so good with meetin' new people.” He explained roughly, refusing to look at her.  “How ‘bout some other time maybe?” He suggested, hearing her brother's footsteps on the stairs.  “Like when I'm not alone with his sister in her bedroom at night?” He suggested with a smirk, snorting when she made a face.  “He's that kinda brother isn't he?” He chuckled when she nodded.

 

“Yeah, but he's getting better and besides, I'm a damn adult.” She laughed when his eyebrow raised, shaking her head, and guided him further down the hallway just as her brother arrived.  “Hey bro, I have company.” She was smiling from ear to ear, feeling Mark's body tense behind her, never seeing a man so nervous meeting people in her life.  “Come say hi to Mark.” She ushered him down the hallway, shooting him a look that said 'don't even start with that big brother shit'.

 

John hesitated a frown marring his brow.  “Mark?” He echoed, comprehension dawning in his baby blues.  “Oh yeah, your night rider!” Snorting, he sprinted up the remaining steps, his thuds sounding throughout the house and popped into her room, frowning when he seen only her.  “Nice, Care.  You know I want to meet this mystery guy and you pull a fast one on me.  Good job.” He patted her head, chuckling and went back downstairs.

 

Mark was standing beside her closet, the door ajar.

 

Her eyes narrowed slightly back at her brother before turning around, sighing with a smile when she saw what Mark did.  “Very well.” She murmured and closed her bedroom door, walking over to him and took his hand in her own, the warmth radiating through her body while staring up into his emerald green eyes.  “I can understand that you don't want a confrontation right now.  My brother can be downright cruel at times, especially to guys I'm interested in.” She guided him over as they both sat on the bed, pushing a strand of black hair from his handsome face.

 

“Maybe another time, darlin'.” He said after a moment, catching her hand in his, lowering their hands down to his lap.  “When I don't look like-what'd he call me?  A night rider?” He snorted, chuckling in amusement.  “I reckon he got that one right, now didn't he?” His voice was low, low enough for her to hear though barely.

 

“I'm making something involving food, want some?” John hollered from downstairs.

 

“He ain't the brightest, is he?  Involvin' food?”

 

“No, nothing!!  Thank you anyway, John!!” She called downstairs, knowing her voice would carry before staring up at Mark again.  “I like you being called a night rider.  It suits you.” She stated, amber eyes sparkling with happiness, knowing her time with him was running out fast.  “Tell me about yourself Mark.” She sat back more on the bed, not releasing his hand.  “What's your last name?”

 

“It reminds me of that ol' comic book, Ghost Rider.” He said flatly, not showing any pleasure in what appeared to be his new nickname.  “Maybe it suits me a little too well.” Mark said bluntly, his green eyes boring into her amber orbs.  Just as suddenly his mood shifted again.  “I thought I told you my last name already, darlin'.” He said, sounding confused as he rubbed the back of his neck, a slight frown marring his face.

 

“I'm sorry.” She whispered, dropping her gaze to the midnight blue bedding, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully.  “I didn't mean to offend you, Mark.” She felt his strong hand reach over, lifting her chin up until their eyes locked again, her insides instantly melting.  “No, you never told me your last name.” Her voice was soothing and quiet, not wanting to scare him away, afraid John's mouth might have done just that.  “Just forget about that damn night rider nickname, okay?  Please?”

 

Chapter 9

 

He looked concerned for a straight minute, finally speaking.  “No darlin', I'm just moody, it's not meant to be personal.  If you and yer brother want to call me that, I don't mind, really.” He assured her.  “Just a little ironic is all.” He chuckled half-heartedly, caressing the side of her jaw gently.  “Calaway, my last name is Calaway.” He added as an afterthought.  “Coulda sworn I told you.  Enough about me, darlin'.  I want to know about you.  Yer accent is East, right?”

 

“We're originally from West Newbury, Massachusetts.” She said, physically relaxing when he did, and squeezed his hand a little.  She was begging to know everything about him, his past, his family, what had brought him back to Houston, to her.  Caressa didn't want to pressure him though, even though the questions burned in her amber eyes, begging to release them and find out the answers.  “You always look so sad.” She murmured, sounding nearly heartbroken and cupped his face in her soft hands, searching those green orbs for the truth.  “Mark Calaway, what torments you so much?”

 

“My own mind.” He whispered, caressing her cheekbone with his knuckles.  “Don't worry about me, darlin'.  I'm fine.” His green eyes slowly closed, sighing contentedly at her touch.  “That feels nice, Caressa.” Mark murmured, a low purr rumbling from his chest.  His lips curved into a smile, a sensual smile.  “Tell me more about yourself.” He requested, not opening his eyes.  “Why're you here in Texas, so far from your home?”

 

“Because of my overbearing family and I wanted a new adventure, a new beginning.” She said softly, not releasing his face, running her thumbs back and forth gently.  “You feel wonderful.” She whispered, pressing her forehead against his, his hair fanning over the back of her hands as she scooted a little closer to him, their thighs now touching.  “This is my home now and I'm starting to love it more and more every time I spend time with you.”

 

He smirked slightly, rising from the bed, towering over her.  “Come on.” He grunted, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.  He walked over to the window, pushing it open.  “Me and my friend would come out here just to sit and drink till the sun came up.” Mark explained, helping her through the open window and sat down on the extending roof that covered the porch.  “C'mere.” He patted the spot next to him with a crooked grin.

 

Caressa didn't need a second invitation and walked out to sit next to him, looking out at the beautiful land she lived on, sighing in contentment.  “So, what else do you want to know about me?” She smirked up at him, snuggling against his side when his arm wrapped around her shoulders, loving his warmth and comfort. 

 

She just wished she could return it somehow, someway, hating to see the sadness that always seeped into his beautiful green eyes.  It broke her heart.  She didn't want him to be sad because then she was.  When Caressa was with Mark, she didn't want to feel sadness.  She wanted to feel happy and accepted, which she did for the most part.

 

“Hmmm...” Mark drawled musingly, pulling her closer to him, his eyes skyward, taking in the beautiful Texas night time sky.  Though admittedly, it had nothing on the woman sitting next to him.  “How come a gorgeous woman like you isn't married or somethin'?” He asked, glancing down at her curiously.  “Or do ya have somebody waitin' on ya back in Newbury?”

 

Caressa actually snorted when he asked her that, followed by a roll of her eyes.  “You're kidding me right?” When his eyebrow rose, she giggled softly and placed her hand on his thigh, rubbing it soothingly.  “I haven't found a man who could handle me.” There was no cockiness in her tone, just pure truth.  ‘Until now.’ She added that as a thought before looking up into his green eyes, her heart beginning to hammer with a harsh realization.  “Are you single?” She mentally cursed herself when she asked that, having not even given a second thought this gorgeous man was already spoken for. 

 

The thought made her eyes flare slightly as she looked up at the glistening stars that shone above them along with the moon.

 

Now the other eyebrow rose, an amused smile on his face.  “Yeah, darlin, I'm single.  I was datin' a gal, but...” He frowned, shrugging.  “Don't really know what happened to her.  Ah well, over and done now.  So...explain what ya mean by handle.” He changed it back to her, looking even more amused.  “You a bit of a wild child then, Ressa?”

 

Caressa giggled as she ran a hand through her blood red hair, her amber eyes glittering back at him with her own amusement.  “I guess you can say I am.  I love motorcycles, I love the rush of adrenaline.  And as far as being handled, well, I haven't found someone to be wild with, who could handle my level of excitement.” She actually stood up and began walking the railing, causing Mark's eyes to widen.  “I love taking risks.  Like moving here was a risk and I'm so glad I did.  I'm away from my overbearing parents, though they forced me to bring my brother along, and I own a motorcycle and auto repair shop.  That's always been my dream because motorcycles are my life.  Everything about them makes me feel alive...” She blushed and suddenly sat back down next to him, looking innocent even though she was anything but.

 

Mark had to fight himself from snatching her little ass off that railing.  He closed his eyes, shaking his head a few times and cleared his throat.  He waited until he was sure he could speak in a steady voice, knowing if he had tried a minute ago it would come out with a quiver, inhaling.  “Darlin', don't ever do somethin' like that in front of me again.” He said sternly, staring down at her intensely.

 

Blinking with confusion registering on her face, Caressa pressed her hand against his chest, feeling his heart thudding and frowned.  “Oh Mark, I'm sorry I didn't mean to scare you.” She sighed heavily and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face in his side, not even realizing what she did until he pointed it out.  “Are you okay?” She whispered, feeling how tense he was and bit her bottom lip in shame.

 

He nodded tersely, slowly relaxing, pulling Caressa into his lap.  “Excitement and the rush of adrenaline is fine and well, just...well, darlin', there ain't nothin' excitin' about being dead.  You understand what I'm sayin?” He asked softly, running his fingers through her long, blood red hair.

 

“Yes of course.” She was straddling his lap, her hands on his shoulders while staring deep into his eyes, not able to pull away.  “I won't do that again, alright?” She wanted him to relax and began to rub his shoulders in a gentle massage, moving down his arms while admiring the ink that covered his arms.  “God I love these...” She whispered, becoming captivated by the beauty they possessed, and ran her fingertips over one that looked like a thinking demon, a slow smile crossing her lips.  He was the perfect man and nobody would be able to change her mind.

 

He watched her in the moonlight, biting back a groan as she traced his favorite tattoo.  “You got any ink on ya, darlin'?” He murmured, fairly certain he hadn't seen any tattoos on her, though he hadn't seen what was underneath her clothes either, she might have something to surprise him with.  He smirked at the very thought, simply unable to help himself.

 

She smirked up at him knowingly before maneuvering herself with ease, her back now pressed against him as she straddled him while facing the lands that outstretched for miles on end.  She moved her hair to lay over her left shoulder, moving her tank top to the side, and looked back at him with a smile as she revealed her tattoo to him.  Her eyes closed when his fingertips brushed against it, sending a shiver to course through her before lowering her head gently.  “I plan on getting more.” She murmured softly.

 

“Hmmm…” Mark studied the tattoo, admiring the skull with ruby eyes especially. He ran one large finger down the sword, taking in the fine detail.  “Did you design this yourself?” He asked softly, gently sliding the strap to her tank top down her shoulder, leaning down to brush his lips against the tattoo, one arm snaking around her waist, drawing her back against him.

 

The breath left her body for a split second when he did that, her eyes drifting shut and nodded, biting my bottom lip.  “Every tattoo I get, I've designed.” She softly whispered and let a moan escape her lips when his soft lips trailed down her shoulder, right on her tattoo, melting back against him, her nails digging gently in his jean covered thighs.  “Mark...” She tilted her head forward and ran her nails back and forth across his tattooed arm, never wanting this moment to end.

 

“Hmm?” He murmured, trailing his kisses up the side her throat, inhaling deeply and buried his face in her hair, groaning.  “Darlin'...I want you.” He whispered huskily, the tone of his voice leaving no room for doubt about what he meant.  He just wasn't sure if it was such a good idea.  “I have to go.” Mark said, gently moving her off his lap and standing up, looking much too big, standing there on the roof of the porch.

 

“W-What?” Caressa managed to ask, shooting her arm out to stop him, her eyes full of confusion and hurt.  Not to mention her neck was on fire from where his lips were mere seconds ago and her tattoo felt like it was burning.  “I want you too.” She cupped his face in her hands and brought his lips down against hers, passionately kissing him, clinging to him for dear life, praying he didn't leave, not now.  Caressa would've given anything at that moment for him to stay with her, including the twenty diamonds that currently sat above them in a trunk.  “Don't leave.” She whispered breathlessly against his lips when she finally pulled back, her breathing heavy, not releasing his face.

 

Mark looked like a man in pain, sheer physical pain.  He cupped her face in his giant hands, leaning down to ravish her lips, molding their bodies together.  “God, I don't want too...” He murmured, his tone tortured.  “I'd love nothin' more than to stay with you here and make love to ya till the sun comes up.  But I can't.” He had to forcibly tear himself away.  “ I have to go, Ressa.”

 

“I don't understand.” She sounded agonized and raked a hand through her hair, eyebrows drawn together.  “Is it me?  Is it something I said or did wrong?” When he shook his head in response, Caressa was even more confused and her temper was skyrocketing.  “You are so distant.  Do you have any idea what I've been through the last two weeks?” She kept her voice down, mindful of her brother, amber eyes suddenly on fire.  “You. You've tortured me with thoughts, dreams, visions.  And then you give me just a little PIECE and then walk away.  What are you afraid of, Mark?”

 

“I'm not afraid of anything!” He growled, green eyes flashing dangerously, his face paling underneath his light tan.  “It ain't you, Ressa, it's me and I wouldn't even know how to explain it, even if I fuckin' could!” He groaned, stumbling away from her.  He knew he had to leave and now, wishing he could take her with him, knowing he wouldn't though, even if it were possible.  “Wait for me.” He whispered, eyes flying open, pulling her against him.  “Hell or high water, Ressa, I'll be back.  They can't keep me away.” His mouth plundered hers for a brief moment before he stepped away, one second before her, the next leaping nimbly over the railing and onto the soft ground below.  He glanced back at her once.

 

Caressa's eyes were as wide as saucers as she ran to the balcony, a strangled cry escaping her lips as she looked down, sighing with great relief when she seen Mark was perfectly fine.  A single tear slid down her face as she touched her burning lips with her fingertips, her other hand pressed firmly against the railing of her balcony.  “I will.” She whispered as a wind picked up, blowing her hair in all different directions, her scent wavering in the air before it rushed to him.  “Mark...” She could only watch as he sped away on his motorcycle and wondered when she would see him again as her heart broke little by little.

 

John came bursting through her door, frowning when he seen the window open and no Caressa.  Fighting back panic, he rushed to the window and stuck his head out, relief causing his body to sag when he seen her leaning over the railing.  “Care?” He asked softly, having heard some sort of odd noise up here and immediately came to investigate.  “Sis, you alright?”

 

“Bad dream.” She whispered, not turning around to face him just as a streak of lightening lit the sky and it began down pouring in gallons.  She didn't care as she stood out there, getting soaked, her eyes not able to tear away from where Mark had once been.  Her tears mingled with the rain, thankful for them, not wanting to worry her brother.  “Go back to sleep, I'm fine.” Her voice was distant as she simply closed her eyes, hoping wherever Mark was, he could somehow feel her.

 

It was all too obvious she was not fine.  John slipped through the open window, moving to stand behind her, staring at whatever it was she was looking at.  They were soaked within seconds.  Sighing, John wrapped his arm around her waist, blinking water out of his eyes. “Caressa,” He began, hesitating then shook his head.  “Never mind sweetie.” He kissed the top of her head, remaining quiet.

 

Instead of shoving him away like she normally would, Caressa leaned back against her brother's chest and slowly pulled her fingertips from her lips, her eyes opening and looking up at the black sky that was currently pouring rain down on them.  What had come over Mark and what did he mean when he said they couldn't keep him away?  Nothing made sense to her and it only fueled her curiosity more.  How could he jump from a two story balcony and land on his feet like a cat? Caressa had seen it with her own two eyes.  He didn't even have a scratch on him. 

 

‘Mark...’ She thought and let more tears flow down her cheeks, hoping she would see him again, knowing her heart wouldn't mend until he returned.

 

Chapter 10

 

“Well hey there honey.”

 

John recognized that voice all too well, looking up from the women he was talking too to find Mr. My Nuts in Your Face strolling in with a grin on his face.  He smiled, forcing himself to resume what he'd been doing, momentarily having lost his train of thought.

 

“I don't know if you remember me, but-” He chuckled awkwardly, rubbing his bald head.  “We met at the steak house?”

 

Caressa turned around and smiled at the gentleman who had been kind enough not to destroy her brother at the Outback Steakhouse those weeks ago.  “Yes I remember you.  Hello again.” She smiled, shaking his extended hand and released it.  “What brings you into Shadow Riders today?” She asked politely, ignoring the scowl on John's face as he went to go help another customer, deciding she'd handle this one and blew a strand of blood red hair out of her face, having it up in a messy ponytail.  She hadn't had time that day to do something with it, honestly not caring.

 

“Just wanted to see how it looked.” He shrugged.  “I'm Steve by the way, Steve Austin.” Steve smiled at her, though his eyes were busy taking in the place.  “I knew the guy who owned this place.” He said, walking over to the wall to examine the pictures, grinning at the sight of him and his custom designed motorcycle still hanging, though it was in a new place.  “I heard the place had been bought and the new owners were makin' a pretty damn good go of it.  I was curious.”

 

A grin stretched across her face as he took in the new and improved shop, walking over with him as they both looked at the pictures.  “Really?” She asked, referring to Steve saying he'd known the previous owner, wondering if she should pry.  “This place was totally abandoned whoever owned it.  I decided to keep some old and add my own personal touch to everything.  I hope it's to your satisfaction, Steve.” She smirked at him, wearing a pair of blue cotton shorts with a navy blue Harley Davidson tank top, too hot for anything else.  The Texas heat was brutal and she both loved and despised it.

 

Steve nodded, looking at her with a peculiar expression on his face.  “You're kiddin' me, honey, right?” He asked, seeing the blank look on her face and sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.  “There was a reason it was abandoned.  I'd even imagine everythin' was left behind.” His blue eyes were unreadable as he stared down at her.  “You really don't know, do you?  Who the hell sold you this damn place, honey?”

 

“City hall.” She answered promptly, not appreciating his tone of voice with her and crossed her arms in front of her chest.  Did this moron have a point or was he going to stand there looking like an ass all day?  Not to mention she had OTHER customers to attend too.  “What should I know about my shop?” She finally inquired when he just stared back at the pictures, seeing the glazed look come over his eyes, knowing she probably shouldn't have pushed the subject.  Caressa couldn't help it though.  Then she thought back to the diamonds and immediately stayed calm, cool and collected, not even HINTING that she knew something was up about this place.  “Because as far as I know, this was just a shop the owner abandoned long ago.” She decided to play dumb, having a feeling those diamonds her and John discovered before opening this place was a HUGE factor in why the owner had left.

 

Steve shook his head, an expression of utmost sadness on his face, sighing deeply.  “No honey, he died.” He murmured, looking around one last time.  “I'm sure he'd be pretty impressed with what ya did with his shop though.  He loved this place.” He patted her on the shoulder.  “Thanks for lettin' me have a look, Caressa.” He said before walking out.

 

John walked up to her, grabbing an order form off the desk.  “What'd cue ball want?” He demanded evenly.

 

The color had somewhat drained from her face as Caressa watched Steve go before turning to her brother.  “He just told me what happened to the owner of this place.” She murmured quietly, taking her brother's hand, and guided him inside her office, closing the door behind her.  “He died, John and I'll bet you anything it had something to do with what we found!” She exclaimed in a hushed voice, not wanting the customers to overhear, her amber eyes widened with both fright and mystery.  “I think I'm going to do what you suggested long ago.  I want to know who the owner to this place was before me and how he died.” When John's eyes widened, Caressa just held her hand up, knowing her mind was already made up.  It was time to do some investigating.

 

“So go find that guy and ask him.” John suggested, ignoring her raised hand.  He couldn't help, but be morbidly curious about all this, suddenly remembering the diamonds and the fact that they were hidden in their house. He ran his fingers through his short, spiked hair, biting his lower lip.  “Did that guy say how the man who owned this place died?” He asked finally, wondering if maybe they were just blowing this entire thing out of proportion.

 

“No.” Caressa simply replied before going to greet more of her customers, selling bikes and fixing them along with vehicles. 

 

When closing time came, Caressa forced John to go on his arranged date with Lizzie, needing to do some researching of her own.  She had a laptop and typed Shadow Riders in the Google search bar, wondering if she could find anything about the owner.  When that didn't work, Caressa began sifting through papers that were in the file cabinets, blowing the dust off of them, knowing there had to be something here with his name on it.  “Damn it...” She muttered, the frustration building rapidly.

 

“What're you doin', darlin'?” Came that slow, oh-so-familiar drawl.  He was leaning in the doorway as usual, a grin on his face as she looked up wide eyed and glanced at the laptop.  “You look like you just saw a ghost.” He teased, chuckling in amusement.  He stepped into the room, the door swinging shut behind him, hesitating for a moment, nostrils flaring before shaking his head.  “You alright, Ressa?”

 

“Mark!” She gasped out, dropping the papers as they went flying everywhere and stood up, amber locking with green. 

 

Not hesitating, she ran and jumped in his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck, and kissed him passionately, feeling him twirling them around.  It'd been two weeks since she last saw him and could already feel the pieces of her heart mending together to become one.  She broke the kiss and hugged him tightly around the neck, inhaling his scent, and sifted her fingers through his hair.  All the thoughts about the previous owner had flown out the window at the sight of him as Caressa closed her eyes, praying this wasn't another cruel dream.  If it was, she never wanted to wake up.

 

He held her like she weighed absolutely nothing, shifting her legs to rest right over his hips, one hand holding her rear, the other the small of her back.  “Miss me?” He said teasingly, knowing just by the way she had kissed him she had more than missed him.  Smiling, Mark leaned in to press his head against hers, inhaling deeply.  “I missed you too, darlin'.” He murmured in her ear.

 

“I missed you so much.” She whispered, not wanting to close her eyes for fear of him vanishing, loving the warmth his forehead brought forth and sighed in contentment.  It had been a long two weeks, one of those in which she'd practically mourned, even though she knew he wasn't dead.  He just had to go away for a while, for whatever reason.  “I'm so glad you're here.” Her hands were gripping his forearms gently while he held her.  It felt wonderful being back in his arms again and she never wanted it to end, not caring about the mess sprawled behind her.

 

Mark just stared down at her, taking in her tired eyes and the pale purple circles that shadowed them.  He ran his fingertips down the side of her almost gaunt face, wondering if maybe coming back had been such a good idea.  If this was what he was doing to her.  “I'm glad I'm here too.” He whispered, rocking her gently against his big body, finally setting her down on top of the desk, raking a hand through his long black hair, clearing his throat and glanced down at the stack of paperwork, green eyes narrowing.  “What're you lookin' for?”

 

“I was trying to find out some information about the shop, who owned it before.” There was no reason not to tell him, she trusted him completely and sighed heavily.  “Unfortunately, I can't seem to find one document with a name.  It's the weirdest thing.” No, finding over ten thousand dollars and a sack full of diamonds was the weirdest thing, but Caressa wasn't going to tell him that.  “This guy Steve Austin came in today and really got my curiosity going.” She looked up at Mark, who had a tense look on his face, raising a slow eyebrow.  “What's wrong?”

 

“Steve Austin was here?” He rumbled, nostrils flaring again, an evil look coming into his now acid green eyes.  “I'd love to get my hands on that snake.” He sighed, looking down at his palms, clenching them tightly then relaxed them, almost as if picturing Austin's head between them.  “So you couldn't find anythin' on the guy huh?” He murmured, glancing back down at the papers.  “Maybe some things are best left unknown, Ressa.” He looked directly at her.  “I knew the owner, he wouldn't want you diggin'.”

 

Caressa actually swallowed at the dark look in Mark's eyes, but her curiosity was burning within her now more than ever.  Mark knew Steve?  She finally decided to drop it, not wanting to ruin their precious time together, and grabbed his hand as she pulled over to stare down at her.  “I know our time is limited and I don't want to spend it with you angry.  So let's just get out of here and go somewhere.” She hopped off the desk and left the mess behind her, not releasing his hand, just wanting it to be the two of them.  Also, she was going to try to find out why he couldn't stay for more than a few hours every two weeks.

 

“Yeah, yeah, let's get outta here.” Mark said slowly, nodding, his gaze returning to the stack of papers before smiling at her.  “Want to take a ride on my Harley?” He asked, knowing she was practically in love with the thing, chuckling when she nodded eagerly.  “Here.” He pressed the key into her hand. “You can even drive.  Where do you wanna go?” He asked, guiding her patiently towards the door, knowing she probably had a million and one questions to ask him, but he'd deal with that as it came up.

 

“Somewhere we can be alone.” She softly replied, backing up toward the door with her heart stopping smile, not believing he was letting her drive his bike again.  They rode for a good hour before she finally pulled over, a small rest area with a picnic table and a restroom in front of them.  “This'll do.” She murmured, not moving since his arms were wrapped around her, and reached her hand back to sift through his black tresses.  So many questions burned within her mind, like how could a man his size jump from her two story balcony, only to land on his feet like a cat or why he only stayed with her a few hours and only at night every two weeks.  It was like clockwork and Caressa didn't understand it.  “How long do we have?” She finally breathed out, opening her amber eyes to look over her shoulder at him.

 

Mark was visibly taken aback by that, his startled green eyes flying to her amber orbs and frowned.  He dismounted the motorcycle and walked a few feet away, running both his hands through his black hair, shaking his head.  “I don't know.” He said in a low voice that carried to her.  “A few hours, maybe.” He spun around to look at her, hooking his thumbs in the belt loops, smirking slightly. “Why?”

 

The longing in her amber eyes was so fierce that nothing could take it away as she stared back at him, taking in the delicious man before her, and slowly dismounted the bike.  She walked over to stand in front of him, running her finger down his chest before heading toward the picnic table and sat down on top of it.  She slipped the bike key down her tank top and into her bra, a smirk adorning her beautiful face.  “If you want it back, come get it.” She challenged, crossing one leg over the other and took down her hair from the ponytail, shaking it a little over her shoulders and down her back.  “Unless you're afraid?”

 

“Woman, how many times do I got to tell you, I ain't afraid of nothin'?” He grumbled, no real annoyance in it as he walked towards her, his eyes locked with her.  Mark halted before her, placing his hands on her crossed legs and gently moved her top leg off the bottom, spreading them so he could nestle himself between her thighs.  His eyes raked down to her shirt, a grin curving his lips.  “You really are a temptin' little vixen, aren't you?” He murmured, trailing his palm down her throat, resting right about her tank top.

 

Caressa giggled softly as she nodded, running her hands up his vest covered chest, loving how the leather clung to him.  He was enough to drive a woman insane, which is what he was doing to her right now.  “Only when I see something I want.” She murmured, her lips mere inches from his, and moaned softly as his caressed hers, running her hands from his vest to his hair, having missed him more than words can say, more than anything in this world. 

 

Caressa knew she was in love with him, it was inevitable.  He was perfect in every way, motorcycles and tattoos, not to mention mysterious.  Her body pressed against his, not breaking the kiss, wanting this man more than the air she breathed, more than her own heartbeat.  She would give all of that up for one night with him, wanting to feel him inside of her, wanting him to take her to places only she knew he could.

 

Teasingly, Mark broke the kiss, breathing heavily through his slightly parted lips, his green eyes glossy as he stared down at her.  Her own swollen lips and flushed cheeks made him grin.  “So now, what was that about seein' something you want?” He asked, running his hands up and down her arms, his thumbs caressing the inside of her elbows in slow circles.  Just by looking at her and feeling the way she had kissed him, he knew exactly what she wanted, but he wanted to hear her say it.

 

Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she gently pushed him back, sitting up and peeled her tank top off, revealing a midnight blue bra underneath, the key to his bike stuck in between her breasts.  She smirked when his eyes darkened to a forest green and slowly took the key out before sliding it in her shorts pocket, keeping it nice and secure.  Caressa was a brash and bold woman as she stood up on the seating of the picnic table, at his height now, and kissed his lips softly, smiling as his arms wrapped around her, pressing her tightly against him.

 

“You.” She breathed out raggedly before kissing him again, this time more demanding.  “I want you, Mark.” She kissed him again almost frantically, not sure how much time they had.

 

Chapter 11

 

Who was he to turn something like that down?  Especially from this woman of all women?  His arms wrapped around her body, pulling her firmly against him.  He groaned at how good she tasted, massaging her tongue with his, feeling her firm, beautiful breasts against his chest, knowing that bra would simply have to go.  Momentarily breaking the physical contact, Mark moved away long enough to rid her of the annoying garment, letting it drift to the ground as he drank his fill of her.  Sliding his vest over his shoulders, Mark let it fall down his arms, joining her bra on the grass.

 

This man was positively gorgeous as she ran her nails lightly down his chest, her eyes a dark gold now as she kissed down his jaw line, being his height as she stood on the bench, wanting to feel him against her.  There was nobody to stop them, nobody to stand in their way, nothing that was going to stop this from happening.  Caressa moaned softly against his rough, yet gentle skin and nibbled on his Adam's apple, her fingers and nails running up and down his sides while his hands gripped her hips, feeling them practically sear. 

 

“Mmm Mark...” She moaned out and began kissing a trail of fire down his chest, wanting to touch every inch and crevice of his beautiful, muscular body.

 

“Hmmm, baby?” He murmured, letting her kiss on him a bit more before catching her wrists in his hand, holding them over her head.  “My turn.” He purred, bending down to start with her earlobe, drawing it into his mouth.  His tongue caressed the shell of her ear, feeling her body trembling against his, wanting to take his time and enjoy her, love her.  Who knew when they might see each other after this?  His mustache and goatee feathered against her luscious skin as his mouth slid down her throat, sucking gently on her pulse point, his tongue flicking out against it, feeling her heart rate going up with each passing second.  “Mmm.” He rumbled, his free hand tracing a pattern just underneath her breasts.

 

Caressa tilted her head back, completely melting against him, loving his touch against her body.  His hand slid up to cup her left breast in his hand, molding it in his palm while his lips continually assaulted her neck.  She was in complete heaven and ran her fingers through his hair, loving how silky and soft it was against her touch.  She moaned when he tilted her back more, her hands now resting on his forearms, her back bent as his tongue trailed down to her chest, her blood red hair flowing in the light breeze that blew across both their heated bodies.  Caressa was moaning uncontrollably and never wanted it to end, knowing she could allow Mark to make love to her for the rest of her days and she would die a happy woman.

 

The wind lightly caressed them both, lovingly as if a part of their love making, sending a tremor through Mark's body as he drew a pert nipple into his mouth, twirling his tongue around the rosy bud in a slow, teasing circle.  He laved attention on her left side before moving to the right, reaching down between them to guide her hand to the waistband of his blue jeans, groaning against her skin when he felt her hand skimming his abdomen, muscles rippling under her littlest touch.  She was lighting him on fire in ways he had never experienced before.

 

“Oh Mark...” She panted, her heart beating a furious tattoo in her chest, her breathing ragged as she ran her nails down his abs, loving how they tensed before relaxing. 

 

A smile formed on her lips when she whipped her head up, hair flying up, her hand gripping the back of his neck while bringing her leg up to rub against his jean covered thigh, her dark gold eyes never leaving his dark forest green orbs.  Sliding her hand further down, Caressa found what she wanted and, with a flick of her wrist, unsnapped the button of his skintight black jeans, dying to find out what was in there.  She moaned and arched her body against him when he pressed against her, his hand clamping on her outer thigh, holding her leg up while balancing her other on the bench, loving being at his height.

 

Mark growled, pulling her across the picnic table so he could rock his hips against her, knowing she could very damn well feel what was in there, eliciting a ragged moan from her, chuckling darkly.  He slid his tongue across his lower lip, tugging on the waistband of her blue cotton shorts.  He lifted her with the hand that was now cupping her deliciously firm ass, slowly pulling her shorts down her lean hips.  Mark kneeled in front of her to finish sliding them off her beautiful legs, his eyes never straying from hers.

 

Caressa's eyes were smoldering back at him as she stepped out of her shorts and matching midnight blue panties, watching him set them aside delicately before taking his chin in her hand, lifting him up to his height again.  She kissed him softly before running her nails down his chest as she bent her knees, her face now making eye contact with his open fly.  Smirking devilishly up at him, her eyes twinkling and clouding over, Caressa took the zipper of his jeans between her teeth and tongue and slowly slid it down, her nails digging slightly into his jean covered thighs.  When it was fully down, her hands slid up from his thighs to his waist and slowly pushed them down, licking her lips at how well-endowed he was, not caring if he broke her in half at this point.

 

Mark hardly dared to breathe as he stared down at her, the only indication he was still alive being the quickening of his pulse, swallowing several times, his throat suddenly dry.  Seeing her undoing his pants with her mouth, well...He couldn't keep a moan of longing from escaping his parted lips.  “Vixen...” He murmured huskily, reaching down to gently touch her hair, his erection throbbing almost painfully, begging for attention.  “See what you've done?” Mark asked, inhaling raggedly, forcing himself to begin breathing.

 

“I'm well aware of it.” Her voice was low and seductive before taking his pulsating erection in her hand, beginning to slide it up and down, hearing him let out another guttural growl.  She smirked before snaking her tongue out, flicking the tip of him, and slowly stood back up while pressing herself against him until her lips met his once more.  She felt the demand and eagerness in his kiss, the passion igniting in her soul as she slowly pulled back before turning around.  “How do you want me, Mark?” She asked in that same tone of voice, pressing her back against him, sliding downward an inch to brush against his throbbing cock before slowly turning around, her eyes meeting his once more, nails digging into his chest slightly.

 

“Tease.” He hissed, his eyes rolling into the back of his head when she had turned around.  His hands shot down to her hips, turning her around none-too-gently and bent Caressa over the picnic table, smirking as that delectable ass of hers was in plain view, feasting his eyes.  Smirking, Mark gripped himself, rubbing the head of his cock up and down her glistening, wet slit.  “Does this answer your question, hmm?” He murmured, brushing his fingers down her spine, leaning over her to kiss the nape of her neck, pressing himself against her core.

 

“Yesss...” She hissed out between her teeth and moved to where she was on her knees on the picnic table, her hands splayed to keep from falling on her face.  Her blood red hair pooled over her left shoulder as she looked back at him, eyes closing instantly when she felt just his tip slide between her folds.  This man was incredible in every way and knew how to please a woman, not to mention he was gorgeous in every possible way.  “Oh Mark!” She cried out softly when he slid what was inside of her out before adding a little more, knowing he was doing this purposefully for all of her teasing.  “Oh take me...” She pressed herself against him and growled out softly, a tremor ripping through her body when his hands gripped her hips, knowing he wanted to keep the control.

 

He wanted to keep the control as well as drive her insane.  Her words were music to him, feeding his already out of control desire for her.  “Patience, Caressa.” He murmured, her name a sweet caress as he withdrew from her again, smirking when she hissed, feeling her grinding back against him and hissed himself.  Gripping her waist with one hand, the other snaked beneath her, trailing lingeringly across her pelvic bone before delving down, cupping her hot pussy in his hand.  Fighting the tremors that were beginning to take over his over eager body, his slid his index finger up and down her slit, finally circling her clit as he inched back into her.  This time he would finish what he had started.

 

Caressa reached down with one hand, having to keep herself up with the other, and began to caress her clit with him, entwining their fingers together and whipped her head back, hair flying as it pooled on her back before sliding back over her shoulder again.  “Mark...” She breathed out, her heart thundering in her chest, a fine sheen of perspiration forming on their bodies.  A sharp cry escaped her when he fully sheathed himself inside her wet folds, feeling her walls stretching to the max to accommodate his massive size.  She pulled her hand back from her pussy and slowly rose up, still on her knees, pressing her back against his chest while he began pumping slowly, methodically in and out of her.  Her arm snaked around his neck, her fingers losing themselves in his black tresses, her head leaning back against his shoulder while his hand traveled up her stomach to cup her breasts.  “Mark, oh fuck...” She moaned out, her free hand sliding down her body to play with her clit again while her head turned as their lips met in a fiery kiss.

 

With her on the table, this position was the best as far as he was concerned, one arm wrapped around her waist, keeping her back pressed firmly to his chest, the other caressing her beautiful breasts.  He tore his lips from hers, green eyes traveling down her exquisite, glistening body to watch her pleasure herself, pumping into her in time with her own administrations.  “You have no idea how fuckin' sexy that is right now.” He growled in her ear, nipping at her throat and shoulder blade.  “Make yourself cum for me, Caressa...” He ordered seductively.  “I want to see you bring yerself off on my dick while I'm fuckin' you, baby.”

 

Caressa couldn't turn down that offer as she slowly began working her finger up and down her clit and swollen bud, pressing herself back further against him.  The feeling of his cock pumping and thrusting in and out of her while she stroked herself was almost too much for Caressa to bare as she gritted her teeth.  She wanted this to last and felt his hot breath on her ear, increasing the speed.  She felt the tingles working their way through her inner walls, the feeling more exquisite than anything she'd ever felt while he held her tighter against him. 

 

“Oh Mark...oh almost there...” She groaned out, beads of sweat forming on her forehead as she squeezed her eyes shut, working herself into a near explosive frenzy with her finger.

 

“Come on, baby, cum for me.” He whispered in her ear, fucking her harder, knowing he would last awhile longer, planning on watching her cum several more times before this night was through.  Mark groaned raggedly, kissing away the sweat that pearled on her neck and shoulders, feeling her quivering pussy beginning to clench around him as her fingers brought her closer and closer to her first orgasm.  He bit down gently on the side of her throat, sucking on her sweet skin in between explorative licks.  “That's it Caressa, I want to feel your juices on me, let go and cum fer me.” He urged, knowing she was just about there.

 

Chapter 12

 

Just hearing his dirty talk in that low, husky southern accented voice was all it took, mixed with the feeling of him sliding in and out of her at a rapid pace.  Caressa tensed as her swollen bud and clit tingled before feeling the juices release on her hand, shrieking out his name as her first orgasm exploded, sending shocks throughout her body as she leaned her head further back against his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut.  “MARK!!” Her breathing was sporadic now as her chest heaved, trying to catch a breath while he kept the rapid thrusting, almost feeling her second release building.  Caressa managed to bring her hand up, the one covered in her essence, and held it to his mouth, moaning when he sucked both fingers in his mouth and tasted her.

 

He swirled his tongue around her fingers, sucking her juices eagerly, the taste of her driving him wild with even more desire, if that were possible.  He knew she was especially sensitive right now and refused to slow down, pushing her towards the fine edge again.  When Caressa came, he had almost came with her, but managed to reign his control back in, determined to make the most of this night.  Reluctantly, he slid from her, gently turning her around so she was facing him, leaning down to capture her lips with his as he guided her back down onto the table, drawing her legs around his waist.

 

Caressa moaned breathlessly against his lips, his kisses always lighting her body on fire as she trembled against him.  It'd been so long since she'd been with a man, but never one quite like Mark.  He was definitely unique in every way, every way that she found incredibly desirable.  Her hand pressed against his chest while the other one wrapped around his neck, their mouths moving in time with the beating of their hearts.  When she felt Mark slide inside of her again, filling her to the core, Caressa cried out against his lips softly, the picnic table surprisingly comfortable as her back made contact with it.

 

He hovered over her, never breaking the kiss, his legs long enough to rest on the ground as he moved inside of her.  Smiling slightly, he took her lips again, parting them with his tongue, exploring every nook and crevice, entwining their tongues together.  He lifted her hips off the table, arching them up in order to brush against her g-spot with every stroke, his tip brushing against her back wall with each thrust, producing sensations in her body he knew she was never likely to feel again unless it was with him.  “You like that, darlin'?” He murmured, watching as her hands gripped the sides of the table.  “Tell me how this feels, Ressa.”

 

“Exquisite, oh Mark don't stop...please for love of all mankind don't stop...” She pleaded with him breathlessly, knowing it wouldn't be long before her second wave crashed over her as her back arched against him, her blood red hair splayed around her wildly.  The sweat glistened on her body from the moonlight up in the sky, but all she was staring at was Mark's eyes.  She would forever remember their color on this night and how clouded over they became.  “Oh yes!!” She cried out, her stomach tightening, but she wouldn't cum without him.  “Mark, let go...” She began moving her hips with his, meeting him for every thrust, her hands reaching out to run her nails up and down his chest.  “Cum for me...oh fuck cum for me, Mark...” Her voice was a soft purr, refusing to give in, refusing to submit without him.

 

He groaned, her words becoming his undoing.  How could he argue when she pleaded so sweetly?  “I'll cum with you.” He promised huskily, his balls slapping against her, the sound echoing around them in the secluded area, slamming against her, flesh smacking flesh joining the chorus of their passionate love making.  One hand wrapped gently around the back of her neck, pulling her up into a half sitting position as he pressed his forehead against hers, green meeting gold as their eyes locked together.  “I'm gonna cum in that sweet pussy of yours.” He whispered, his lips grazing hers as he spoke.  “Cum with me, darlin'.” He ordered, his breathing becoming erratic as his balls began to tingle, knowing he was at the point of no return.

 

“Yes, oh yes Mark!!” She cried out hoarsely, gripping his hair and neck with her hand before whipping her head back as the second orgasm overtook her entire body, coating his hardened shaft with her sweet juices, plummeting her further into a spiral of ecstasy.  “MARK!!” She shrieked out to the night sky, her entire body trembling from head to toe as he released at the exact moment she did, causing it to be twice as intense as the first time.  His seed exploded within her willing body as she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding onto him for dear life, feeling him thrusting until he finally went limp, giving her all of him like she wanted.

 

Mark turned to lean against the picnic table, holding her tightly against his body and buried his face in her neck.  He could feel her heart beating a furious tattoo in her chest, chuckling in between breaths.  He gently swayed from side to side, rocking her as the night crept in around them.  The gentle breeze had picked up, cooling down their overheated bodies and he knew sooner rather than later she would feel cold.  “You alright, darlin'?” He murmured in her ear, rubbing a soothing hand up and down her back.

 

Part of her was alright and part of her wasn't because Caressa knew that before the night ended, Mark would be gone again.  She smiled up at him and ran her finger down his cheek, his emerald gems returning to their original color, and kissed his lips softly.  “Yes, I'm more than fine.” She murmured, pressing her hand against his chest, wanting to feel his warm flesh against her palm.  She didn't want to say goodbye to him, not when they were together again and so soon!  Why did life have to be so unfair?  Why couldn't Mark stay with her and be with her in Houston forever?  “How are you?” She asked softly, pressing her forehead against his, straddling his waist while he sat on the bench, wrapping her arms around his neck, perfectly content with being naked out in the middle of nowhere with this man, the cool air feeling wonderful on her skin.

 

“Perfect.” He murmured, affectionately nuzzling her neck before returning to touching their head together, his hands rubbing her back, his strong arms supporting her weight easily.  “It's gettin' late, darlin'.” Mark said softly, looking up into the night sky, realizing that soon the deep blue would fade away to dark purple.  “You should probably get home before yer brother thinks you got lost.” He smirked slightly, gently setting her back down on the picnic table, stooping to retrieve her clothes for her.

 

“Or so you can leave.” She murmured quietly, staring back at him with those sad amber eyes, and sighed before pulling her panties and bra on followed by her tank top and cotton shorts.  The anger was building inside of her so rapid that Caressa didn't think she could contain it.  “Why do you always have to leave?” She finally blurted out, standing up from the table after slipping her Sketchers back on, pacing back and forth in front of him.  “Why is it that you can't stay with me at least ONE full night?  Why do you come back every two weeks like clockwork?  Do you have a family somewhere, a wife, a girlfriend, a second life you don't want me to find out about, even though we're not technically together?  What?  What is it?  Why can't you just STAY?” She finally stopped ranting and looked up at him, the tears pooling in her amber orbs, the pain and heartache evident in them.  “I find it awfully cruel how after searching all this time, I finally find the man I could potentially see spending the rest of my life with and he's so scared or freaked out or something to not want to be with me!!” Caressa knew she was probably going overboard, but after their passionate love making that linked their souls together, what did he honestly expect her to do?

 

“Goddamn it, woman!  You think I don't want to stay?” He roared back, hastily dressing himself, glaring at her the entire time.  Mark snorted, tossing his damp hair out of his face, the expression in his eyes softening when he seen the hurt look on Caressa's face, the tears spilling down her cheeks and felt his heart break inside his chest.  “There is no one, but you.” He said finally.  “No wife, no girlfriend and no second life.” He snorted angrily, though the anger wasn't directed at her.  “Nobody gets a second life.  The fact is, I can't stay, Caressa.  Don't ask me to explain it because I won't.  Either accept this for what it is and what I can give you or...” He trailed off, not wishing for that option at all.

 

“What does that even mean?” Caressa cried out, grabbing his arms to force him to face her, more tears falling.  “What do you mean you can't stay?” She was begging for the truth as she stared back into his green eyes, sighing heavily when he merely shrugged her off, wrapping her arms around herself.  “I can't do this.” She whispered and took off down the street, her tears flying behind her.  She was so confused, hurt, heartbroken and felt like nothing made sense anymore.  She was done.  She couldn't do this anymore, give her heart to a man who apparently didn't want to be in a relationship or any kind of commitment.

 

Mark went to chase after her, but halted groaning and knew he had to go.  “Caressa.” He whispered, reaching out to her.  Minutes later all that was left of him was the roaring of his Harley fading away.

 

John was in a tizzy, having gotten home at the early hour of four A.M. and no Caressa.  For him that was early, for her that was pretty damn unusual.  Considering they had this policy of letting each other know if they'd be late.  He established that one just in the event she DID go out someday, not wanting to be worrying his ass off over her.  So much for that.

 

When the sun came up over the horizon, Caressa finally seen her house come into view, her face tear streaked, her hair windblown.  She sniffled as she walked across the way before booking it into a run, finally arriving at her front door.  Her legs were burning from her long near five hour walk, but she didn't care.  Mark hadn't come after her and Caressa had decided on her walk that she was done.  She didn't want to see him ever again after that because all he did was give her hope and rip it away just as easily.  She walked through the front door, seeing her brother sleeping on the couch, and headed to the winding staircase before walking up it and to her room, closing the door behind her.  Caressa peeled out of her clothes, which were covered in dirt and sweat before taking a nice, long hot soothing shower to wipe away the night’s events.  When she was done and out, Caressa barely made it to the bed as she collapsed on it, instantly passing out.

 

Inside her dresser, the gemstone pulsed weakly.

 

John had woken up when he heard water running, waiting patiently until she was out before heading up.  By the time he reached her bedroom and peeked his head in, Caressa was sound asleep.  He studied her thoughtfully in the dim morning light.  Even though she had just showered, the fact that she had been crying and crying hard not escaping him.  Sighing, he planted a kiss on her head before walking back out, closing the door quietly behind him.

 

Chapter 13

 

Over the next several days, Caressa remained quiet and refused to talk about what happened that night.  John finally stopped asking when she snapped on him, telling him she was a grown woman and if he didn't like it, he knew where the damn door was.  She was fed up with his over protectiveness and actually glad when he moved out of the house and in with Lizzie.  Apparently they were thinking about getting a place of their own, but Caressa couldn't take John's attitude or his overbearing ways anymore.  She didn't want to talk about it, how hard was that to understand?  So now here she was, two weeks later, going through the documents when something caught her eye.  Her eyebrows drew together as she read out loud.

 

“Hereby courting the ownership to the building on 73rd Street to...” Her eyes suddenly widened as she stood up from her desk, her chair flying back against the wall, tears filling her amber eyes as she began trembling from head to toe.  No...It couldn't be!  It just couldn't be!!

 

The bell over the shop jingled as the door opened.  “Hey Caressa, seen the light still on and-” Steve halted, frowning and stared at her, taking in her deathly white pallor and rushed over to catch her before she fainted or something.  “Honey, you alright?” He asked, concern lacing his tone. He had been driving by, seen the lights on and her car in the lot and figured he'd pop in and see if maybe she wanted to get a drink or something with him.  “What's got you so upset?”

 

Caressa blinked as her head spun, still not believing what she just read, and slowly pulled away from Steve, having registered it was him.  “I-I'm fine...” She managed to get out, folding the piece of paper on her desk, knowing she HAD to get home now.  She couldn't be here as she raked a hand through her blood red hair and nearly slammed her laptop shut.  “Steve, I'm sorry, but something drastic has come up and I really must be going.” She sounded in a hurry, but smiled apologetically at him, stuffing the paperwork in her purse before walking out of her office, closing the door shut and shakily slid the key inside.  She had to stop shaking!  Taking a deep breath, Caressa managed to calm down enough to lock the shop up, escorting Steve out.  “Hey!” She called out before he could get in his truck, seeing his icy blue eyes turn to stare at her.  “The owner of this building before me, what was his name?”

 

Steve frowned slightly, wondering what the hell that had to do with her acting like she was going stark raving mad.  “Mark.” He called back, shaking his head.  “Mark Calaway, why'd ya ask?” His hand rested on the handle of the truck door, staring at her intensely, having assumed she would have found that out by now.  It wasn't exactly a secret around Houston.  Mark had been a fairly well known man, his shop famous.

 

“I didn't know and I'd been curious about it ever since you mentioned it back when you visited the shop.” She replied softly.  “You have to remember I'm new in town.” She smiled at him, adding a wink.  “Have a good night, Steve.” She then slid in her car and shakily put the key in the ignition before peeling out of there, heading toward home.  She was trembling from head to toe, covering her mouth with her hand, and couldn't believe this.  Steve had said the owner had died...there was NO way this was the same Mark Calaway.  It couldn't be, it wasn't possible!  “Oh my god...” She whispered as the tears stung her eyes, turning on the dirt road that lead to her house before putting the pedal to the metal.

 

He was sitting on her porch steps when she peeled into the drive, throwing his hands up to shield his face from the spinning dirt.  Mark slowly stood up, seeing her sitting in the truck staring down at something.  Sighing, he raked a hand through his hair, needing to apologize to her and walked over to the window, tapping on it gently.  “Caressa?”

 

Caressa let out a blood curdling scream when she saw him, immediately backing away from the door, the paperwork in her hand since she'd pulled it out of her purse.  “STAY AWAY FROM ME!!” She managed to get the door open and slid out of the other side, landing on the ground and scrambled up, backing away from him with wide, frightened amber orbs.  She was scared out of her mind as she looked up at the attic momentarily, a thought registering on her face.  “If you want the diamonds, I'll hand them over, just please, please don't kill me!!” She was trembling from head to toe, the paperwork in her grasp.

 

Mark stared at her like she had lost her fucking mind.  “I don't want the damn diamonds.” He said tensely, approaching her, sighing when she scrambled away from him, bending down to pull her to her feet.  “What the hell is wrong with you woman?” He demanded, staring down at her, trying to understand what he had done, then his face landed on the paperwork, tensing.

 

“Y-You're him aren't you?” She couldn't believe this as she backed away from him, both of them now circling her car, him stalking her like a predator dying to catch its prey.  “Mark Calaway, the owner of Shadow Riders who died...or supposedly.  Please, I don't want any trouble.  I'll give you whatever you want, just please don't hurt me.” This was a fine time to be without her big brother, but Caressa knew she could handle this.  She had what the big man wanted, all she had to do was hand them over.  “I swear, I won't tell anyone just please, please don't hurt me.” Tears of pure fear slid down her cheeks as she clutched the paperwork in her hand to the point of nearly crushing it.

 

He didn’t say a single word, his green eyes telling her all she needed to know.

 

Caressa swallowed hard and tore her eyes away from him, Steve's words suddenly replaying in her mind, her eyes widening even more.  “You're supposed to be dead!!” She shouted before rushing past him and up the stairs, crying out when his arms encircled her from behind.  “NO!  LET GO OF ME!!” She shrieked, digging her nails into his arms, the paperwork dropping on the deck as she tried to fight to free herself.  Mark was strong though as she twisted and torque her body to get free, her head thrashing back and forth.

 

“Caressa, calm down, calm down.” He soothed, trying his best not to frighten her, but it was a little too late for that.  “Please, darlin', calm down and I'll explain, alright?” He looked up as headlights flooded the drive, groaning when he seen her brother getting out of the truck, feeling her still thrashing against him.

 

“Caressa, I know you told me to go fuck myself, but I-” John paused mid-sentence to just stare at her, rubbing the back of his neck in confusion, blue eyes crinkling.  “Um, Care, what are you doing?”

 

“LET GO OF ME!!” She screamed and whipped around with Mark's arms still around her, staring back at her brother.  “Don't just stand there moron, get him off of me!!” Caressa shouted, seeing her brother's blue eyes widen to almost the size of plates, causing her to stop, raising an eyebrow at him.  “What the hell John?!  What are you looking at me like that for?!” She broke free of Mark's grasp and snatched the paper off the deck, pointing.  “This is Mark Calaway, the owner to Shadow Riders and he wants the diamonds!  He's going to hurt me if I don't give them up and I'm going too so get in your car and go home, please!”

 

Mark shook his head, sighing.

 

“Caressa?” John sounded scared, staring exactly at where she was pointing, walking slowly towards her, his hand outstretched.  “Honey, there's no one there.” He said calmly.  “You've been workin' too hard lately, sis.  Come on, let me take you inside and we'll talk, okay?”

 

“He can't see me.” Mark said flatly, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“What?!” Caressa exclaimed, her eyes narrowing on Mark before rounding on him, shoving him as hard as she could with her hands.  “What do you mean he can't see you?!  I can see you!  I can touch you!” She slapped him across the face, tears in her eyes.  “Look!  I slapped you!  I felt your cheek on my palm as it burned!  I can feel and touch you and hear you and SEE you!!” Caressa was losing her mind as she gripped her hair in her hands, Steve's words coming back to her suddenly and it was almost as a gush of wind knocked her down because she'd dropped to her knees.  “Oh my god...” She whispered frantically and began heaving as the tears flowed.

 

“Caressa?” John rushed up the steps, pulling her into his arms, beginning to really get freaked out now.  “Honey, there's nobody there.  You're talking to the air.” He said, trying to make sense of what was going on, gently leaning her over the porch railing so she could vomit, holding her hair back for her.

 

Mark watched, the sadness returned to his green eyes as he began to fade away.  “Caressa...” He whispered, the wind carrying his last words to her.

 

“NO!!  MARK!!” She screamed, shoving her brother away as she heard his voice in her ear, shaking her head frantically as she jumped off the porch, groaning as her knee hit the ground hard and began running.  “MARK!!!” She whipped around when John grabbed her arm and punched him in the face, causing him to stumble back.  “DON'T TOUCH ME!!  GO BACK TO LIZZIE!!  I DON'T NEED YOU JOHN!!  I DON'T NEED ANYONE!!  JUST LEAVE!!  LEAVE ME ALONE!!” Caressa ran past him as the sobs threatened to overtake her body, rushing up the stairs and slammed her front door behind her, closing her eyes before flipping the lock on it.  She looked down at the paper and clutched it to her chest, shaking her head back and forth.  It couldn't be true!  Her beautiful night rider, her beautiful motorcycle riding, tattooed covered arm prince was gone and she couldn't do anything about it.  Caressa couldn't take it as she rushed upstairs to her room and slammed her bedroom door shut, flipping the lock on it just in case John somehow managed to get in and went to her balcony doors, opening them.  “Mark...” She sobbed and dropped to her knees, her heart shattering in her chest.

 

John had gotten in all right, he had kicked down the door and sprinted up the stairs, pounding on her bedroom door.  He was a strong man and knew he could break this one down as well, but he didn't want to scare his already apparently insane sister.  “Caressa, please, come out and talk to me!” He pleaded through the door.  “Honey, you're worrying me, please, let's just talk about whatever you're going through, or anything else, you decide, just come out!”

 

She ignored him, just wanting to be left alone.  Caressa finally pulled herself up and walked over as she sat on the bed and pulled her nightstand drawer open, taking the white covered amulet out and unwrapped it.  The green within it –which had formed a few weeks ago after meeting Mark- reminded her of him and that just caused her heart to shatter once more into tiny shards.  “Mark...” She whispered and clutched it to her chest before curling up on her bed, pulling the comforter over her body and proceeded to fall asleep, never releasing the mysterious stone that she'd found in the attic a few months ago.

 

John stayed outside the door all night, eventually falling asleep with his back to it, refusing to leave until his sister came out and talked to him.  She could scream, beat him, do whatever, but he was going to be her shadow until she would just talk.

 

Mark stared down at her sleeping form, his face contorted with pain.  He seen the amulet in her hand, green eyes widening slightly.  He had always wondered what had brought him back from the other side.  Now he knew.  He kneeled down beside the bed, reaching out to brush her hair away from her face.

 

More tears fell down her face as she clutched the amulet to her chest, sniffling as her eyes slowly opened, her mouth covered when she went to scream at the sight of Mark.  She seen him press a finger to his lips and nodded toward the door, causing her to sigh, knowing John was out there.  She slowly pulled his hand away from her mouth and couldn't help doing it.  Her arms wrapped around his neck and pulled him into bed with her, lips instantly meeting each other’s before burying her face in his neck.  She didn't care how much time they had, all that mattered was the here and now as the amulet lay on the bed beside them.

 

Mark rocked her back and forth, soothing her which he found a little ironic since he was the one who was dead.  Finally he sat on her bed, cradling her in his lap and bent down to pick up the amulet, watching as it glowed brightly, pulsing in the palm of his hand.  “You found my trunk in the attic.” He stated slowly, looking down at her.  “You didn't have any idea what this was, did you?”

 

“No, I just thought it was a beautiful stone that I couldn't  toss it away.” She slowly ran her fingertips over it as it pulsed more, wiping her tears away as they slowly subsided, speaking very quietly.  “Is this the reason why I'm the only one who can see and touch you?” She suddenly wondered out loud, biting her bottom lip, her eyes looking back into those hypnotic emerald gems that only belonged to one man, one dead man, Mark.

 

“Yes.” He whispered, watching her stroke the amulet, finally meeting her eyes.  “And if you keep insistin' to yer brother that you can see and hear me, he's going to probably have you committed.” Mark glanced at the door, sighing.  “I didn't mean for this to happen, Caressa.” He said quietly, his tone apologetic.  “One minute I'm just...well, I wasn't alive, then the next thing I know I'm back here.  Sort of in the middle.  Found out you could hear me and touch me...I didn't realize what would happen if you ever found out I didn't have an actual pulse.”

 

“My brother is the least of my worries, Mark.” She slowly stood up from the bed, raking a hand through her tousled blood red hair, not believing this was happening.  “Those diamonds I was talking about, somebody wanted them didn't they?” She slowly turned to face him, seeing the sadness in those green eyes that nearly shredded her heart.  “How did you die?” She softly whispered, not wanting to hear this, but somehow she knew it could unlock the truth about her and John finding that small fortune before Shadow Riders was reopened.  “Please Mark, this is important and there is a reason why you've come back.”

 

“Yeah, because you found and activated the amulet.” He said, snorting, standing up and sighing.  “My best friend...” He whispered, the sadness amplifying for a moment before slowly turning to rage.  “You know him, Steve Austin.  I don't know how he did it, one second we were talkin' the next thing I know, I'm outside my body.  I saw him standin' over me and that's all I remember.” He grunted.  “How he ever found out about the diamonds is beyond me, but he did.  He kept askin' and askin' bout'em.  I told him time and time again they were gone, but he never believed me.”

 

Chapter 14

 

“But why did you keep them if you knew he wanted them so badly?” Caressa was getting over the initial shock that Steve Austin was the perpetrator who had murdered Mark and suddenly wondered where his grave was.  She shuddered at the thought before turning around and staring at the still full lit moon outside.  “How could I have activated the amulet?  All I did was touch it.” Now she sounded confused, her eyebrows scrunched together in careful concentration, trying to piece this all together.

 

“I kept them because- well, because I wanted 'em.” Mark said sheepishly.  “You kept them too, in the same trunk you found that amulet.” He rolled his eyes.  “Things like diamonds have a pretty allurin' side to them.  You should have dumped them in a river the minute ya found them, Ressa.  As fer the amulet, all it needed was to be found I suppose, found and it helped that you felt a pull to it.” He smirked slightly.  “A pull to me.”

 

“I love you Mark.” She started crying, burying her face in her hands, shaking her head back and forth.  “How can I be in love with a ghost?” She whispered and leaned back against his chest as his arms encircled her waist, sniffling softly.  “Life is so unfair.  You're my match and yet, you don't even have a heart to give even though I feel it pounding against my back right now.” She turned and buried her face in his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around him, shivering when a cool breeze blew through the balcony doors.  “I will get rid of the diamonds when I know it's safe.” She assured him quietly.  “I don't want them, I just hid them to keep them out of the wrong hands.  I knew something fishy went down when I first found them and now I do.  I'll also be sure to keep Steve Austin at bay, though he can't stop from coming in the shop.”

 

“God, I wish he could see me.” Mark said longingly, a trace of evil in his tone.  “I would scare that man so damn bad he'd die of a fuckin' heart attack, then I'd haunt his fuckin' afterlife!” Sighing, he calmed himself, resting his chin on her head.  “The best thing for ya darlin' is to get rid of them and forget about me.” He said sadly, his supposedly dead heart breaking.  “It isn't healthy for you to...love me, I'm dead, Caressa.  I have nothin' to give you.”

 

“No matter what happens, I will never stop loving you, Mark Calaway.” Caressa stated softly, but firmly wanting to make it clear to him that he would forever be in her heart and mind.  “A person doesn't die fully and there's always memories to carry with me.” She didn't step away from him, refusing to let him go, more tears cascading down her face like two rapid streams.  Why was fate so cruel at times?  Here was a man who was killed over a small fortune by his best friend and never got the chance to live a full life.  ‘Steve Austin is going to pay.’ She thought vengefully, deciding she was going to get Mark's revenge for him if it was the last thing she did, amber eyes flashing.

 

“Maybe.” He said quietly.  “But eventually, you will forget me and you need too.” Mark stared down at her, noting the amber flash and frowned.  “Don't even consider goin' after him, Caressa.  He's dangerous as hell.  Come on, he managed to take down my huge ass.” He attempted humor, but it fell flat.  Finally, he took her small hands in his, pressing his head to hers.  “Don't do anythin' that'll get you killed, darlin'.  Death ain't what it's cracked up to be, as far as I know, there ain't a shinin' light to take you home.”

 

“I won't forget you.” She cupped his face in her hands and softly kissed his lips, relishing the warmth he brought to her, before slowly pulling back.  “You can tell me anything you want, but I won't listen.  I'm stubborn.” She actually smiled and ran her fingers through his black hair.  “As far as Austin goes, he needs to pay for what you did and I have the diamonds.  I can lure him in somehow to tell the truth...” She bit her bottom lip when Mark glared at her, telling her his answer already.  “Mark, your soul won't be able to rest in peace until that son of a bitch pays for what he did to you.  That's probably why you came back, not just the amulet...” Dear god she'd been watching WAY too much television lately.

 

And he said so outright, “Stop watchin' so much damn TV, it's rottin' yer brain, Caressa.  I don't care if I'm back to wait on that bastard to pay for what he did.  I'll wait an eternity and then some so long as yer safe.  You promised me that you wouldn't do things that were likely to get you killed, remember?” He pleaded.  “Just get rid of the diamonds and get away from here darlin’.  Far, far away.”

 

“Y-You want me to leave Houston?” She actually gaped at him and shook her head frantically, stepping back from his arms, pursing her lips tightly together.  “Nobody is going to run me off!  This is my dream, what I've worked so hard for!  No, I'm not leaving this place, I'm going to stick by and run Shadow Riders better than it's ever been and make the owner proud!  Not to mention I still have ideas to renovate your house.” She walked over to stand on the balcony again, wrapping her arms around herself, closing her eyes.  “I will make you this promise.  I will get rid of the diamonds and I won't go after the man who killed you.”

 

“He could come after you.” Mark said flatly, not pleased with this arrangement.  Firstly, she was in danger as long as Steve was around, simply because Steve would eventually suspect she had found the diamonds if he didn't already.  Secondly, if he was stuck in some sort of limbo, it was going to be harder to keep himself away from her when he was encouraging her to forget all about him.  “I have to go.” He said sadly, reaching out to caress the side of her face, the yearning in his eyes, wishing he could stay, knowing he couldn't.

 

“I have your amulet and I'm the reason you came back.  I don't understand why you can't stay with me.” Caressa sniffled as she slowly felt Mark let her go, turning around to face him, and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.  “I love you and I can't forget about you.  You have my heart, dead or not.” She wanted to make him realize that he was the one for her, no matter if he was the afterlife or not, and kissed his lips passionately.  Her aching body was begging for him to stay, longing for his arms, but she knew deep down he wouldn't for his own reasons and purposes.

 

“That's just it darlin', I can't stay even though I want too.  It doesn't work that way.” He said gently, the pain on her face mirrored on his.  “I'm driftin' between worlds.  I come back when I can, but eventually the other side pulls me back.” Mark looked thoughtful, rubbing his chin.  Since she knew what he was, he didn't bother trying to walk away, he just began to fade out in front of her.  “I think it's because when yer dead, yer supposed to stay dead.  Not get back up and go back, even if nobody can see ya.  It upsets the balance.”

 

The tears flowed harder as Caressa watched him slowly fade in front of her and pressed her hand against his chest, staring into those emerald green eyes.  “Then come back to me.  No matter how long it takes, come back to me Mark.” She begged, trembling from head to toe as the grains ran through her hand, seeing him slowly float out of her balcony door.  Caressa snatched the amulet from her bed and clutched it to her chest, her eyes never leaving the sky, hoping and praying she saw Mark again as her eyes squeezed tightly shut.  It was official, Caressa had fallen head over heels for a man that truly was not available and it nearly killed her.

 

John had woken up, feeling stiff as hell from sleeping upright against a door.  Slowly, groaning, he got to his feet, knocking lightly, having heard Caressa in there talking to herself.  “Care?” He called hesitantly, still ready to be her shadow unless she talked to him, proved to him that she wasn't as crazy as he was starting to think.  “Honey, can I come in?”

 

Slowly turning to stare at her bedroom door, Caressa knew she had to talk to her brother, especially after what he saw.  If only Mark were here, then she could prove she wasn't totally crazy.  Sighing, Caressa walked over and unlocked her door, groaning when John nearly clobbered her with a hug, wrapping her arms around his neck.  “I'm not crazy, John.” She whispered, trembling slightly against him, burying her face in his neck.  “Really, I'm not.” She wanted him to believe her, but knew deep down he wouldn't simply because he couldn't see what she did when it came to Mark.

 

John didn't know what to say right now.  All he could do was hold her against him, rubbing her back soothingly.  Finally, he cleared his throat, gently holding her at arm's length.  His blue eyes peered down at her, worry still very evident in them.  “Care, maybe you're just working too hard.  You've been putting in some long hours lately, sis.  Why don't we go home and visit Mom and Dad for a weekend?  Take a mini-vacation?” He suggested softly.

 

“No!” She shouted at him, suddenly pushing away, wrapping her arms around herself.  “I'm not crazy, John!!  I'm not!!  Mark is real!  He was killed okay?  He was murdered over those diamonds we found in his shop, Shadow Riders!  Look,” She paused, holding out the amulet to his vision, her voice calming down a little more.  “I found this in the attic when I went up there to hide the diamonds, John.  This amulet is the reason Mark came back from the other side.  Because I found it and somehow activated it, I'm the only one who can see him and touch him.” Her eyes closed momentarily before turning away from him. “I'm not crazy.  I know I sound like it, but I'm not.  You have to believe me or you need to just leave me alone.”

 

John wasn't about to leave her alone, the more she insisted she wasn't crazy, the more he believed she was.  “Fine, okay.” He said, shaking his head, rubbing a hand down his exhausted looking face.  “So explain all of this to me again, about the diamonds and...Mark.” He had a hard time saying it, especially since he didn’t want to feed her delusions, but he wasn't keen to set her off on a rampage either.

 

Caressa was breathing heavily as she nodded, sitting down on her bed and patted the spot next to her.  She started from the very beginning with them finding the diamonds, to finding the amulet and replacing the diamonds with it.  She told him the opening night of the shop is when she first saw Mark.  Her eyes closed as she pressed the amulet to her chest, explaining the time her and Mark spent together, including when they made love.  “Now this is what I found at the shop tonight.” She pulled the piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to him, seeing John's eyes widen.  “It all fits John.  Mark was the owner of Shadow Riders and murdered by his best friend because he wanted the diamonds for himself.” She shuddered, not wanting to believe Mark could be that greedy, but when it came to diamonds who wasn't?  “He told me Steve Austin did it, killed him, but he doesn't know how.”

 

Reluctant though he was to do it, John had to admit that certain pieces of her insane story fit.  Though the fact that she kept insisting she had been talking, seeing and apparently sleeping with a dead guy only reinforced the insanity issue in his mind.  “Okay, granted, some things do make sense, Caressa,” He began slowly, staring down at the paper and the amulet.  “But when someone dies, they're dead, they don't come back.”

 

“That's what I thought too until now.  Mark obviously had unfinished business or else he would've crossed over to the other side.” She knew she sounded insane, but Caressa LOVED sci-fi Goth and often read about these types of things happening, spirits living on the earth due to unfinished business.  “Look, I know it sounds insane, but I'm not crazy.  He has emerald green eyes and long black hair.  He's around seven feet tall and has sleeved tattoos.  He wears all black and occasionally has black shades on.  Sometimes his hair is tied back in a ponytail and sometimes it's a braid.  John, how could I know so much detail...” She suddenly had a thought and smiled.  “What if I could prove it to you?  What if I could find a picture of Mark or something?  Would you believe me then?”

 

John hesitated, wondering if Caressa had been watching Casper on repeat again, rubbing the back of his neck again, sighing.  “I would believe you've seen a picture of him before or something. Care.” He said at her exasperated expression.  “Just...try to see this from my side, okay?  If you could prove you've seen a ghost, some sort of intangible evidence.  I'm sorry honey, I want to believe you, I really do.”

 

“But you won't.” She said quietly, standing up, and looked out the window where Mark had vanished into grains of salt, tears in her eyes.  “That's fine, I understand John.” She exhaled shakily and slowly turned around to stare at him.  “I want you to leave.  I want to be alone.” Her amber eyes told him it wasn't up for discussion and if he loved her he would do what she asked.  All she wanted to do was crawl into bed and fall asleep because she knew she would see Mark in her dreams like always.

 

“I'll go downstairs, but I'm not leaving, Care.” John said firmly because he loved her so much was why he stayed, genuinely afraid for her sanity right now.  “Look, why don't we start finding out what we can about Mark?” He suggested, trying to help, trying to believe.  Damn it, he said her story made sense now didn't he?  Could he help it he was apparently narrow minded?

 

“No, I don't want your help on this.  I don't want you here, don't you get that?  I want to be alone, John, completely alone.  Go to Lizzie, she's probably worried sick about you.” When he refused, she finally shoved him as hard as she could out of her bedroom.  “Leave before I call the cops and have them escort you out of here!” She threatened, amber eyes narrowed, refusing to release the amulet that was clutched so tightly in her hand her knuckles were turning white.  “I mean it, get out of here, go!” She slammed her bedroom door in his face and locked it before pressing her back to it, closing her eyes, her chest heavy while her heart thundered in her chest.  When the time was right, she would get rid of the diamonds.  She just had to find a place.

 

She could go ahead and call the cops because he wasn't fucking leaving.  John headed downstairs, calling Lizzie to let her know where he was, not explaining the fact that his sister had apparently lost her ever loving mind, just saying Caressa needed him at the moment.

 

Mark could only watch all this, searing with agony.  He couldn't make himself visible no matter how hard he tried or make Caressa hear him even though he had tried that as well.  He wasn't sure why he was still here, but it was hell since every time he reached for her, his hand went through her.

 

Chapter 15

 

The amulet never left her after that night. 

 

Caressa carried it with her in her purse in a secure pocket, refusing to leave it in her nightstand at home.  It was part of Mark and the only piece she had of him when he wasn't around.  Sighing, Caressa walked inside Shadow Riders, her blood red hair hanging down her back in shiny waves, wearing a black jean skirt with a black tank top that had a devil riding a motorcycle on it.  She loved it and had purchased it at a bargain bin at one of the local shops in Houston.  Unlocking her office, Caressa walked in and stopped when she seen Steve sitting behind her desk, swallowing hard.  Great, what did this jackass want?

 

He smiled at her, holding up a key in the morning sunlight.  “I found this in one of my junk drawer's last night.” He said quietly.  “Mark gave it to me for the nights we'd go out, in case he lost his damn house key.” He pushed away from the desk, walking over to hold it out to her.  “It's a skeleton key.  It unlocks his house and the shop, I figured you’d want it honey.  I don't know if it opens anything else though.  You'll have to try it sometime.”

 

“Oh...thank you, Steve.” She softly replied, taking the key from him, and proceeded to put it on one of her key rings.  “I appreciate you dropping it off, but next time, wait for me to open my shop, alright?” She walked past him and over to her desk, sitting down, placing her purse in a drawer before opening her laptop, acting as if he wasn't even there. 

 

Caressa didn't trust this man and the fact that he'd let himself in her shop unnerved her to no end.

 

“Sorry honey, old habits die hard.” Steve said apologetically.  “I used to do that to Mark too.” He rubbed his bald head, sadness creeping into his blue eyes.  “I'll let ya get to yer work, I'm sure you have a busy day ahead of you.”

 

Mark really wished he could become visible right about now, growling like a mad dog, trying vainly to wrap his hands around the living man's throat.

 

“Is it me or is it a bit drafty in here?”

 

That familiar scent entered her nostrils as Caressa inhaled, sighing gently and knew who it was.  “I don't think it is, but then again I'm used to being here twenty-four seven.” She smiled at him, though it didn't reach her amber eyes.  “Have a good day, Steve.” Her attention went back to her laptop as she began typing in the Google search bar about afterlife and the living dead.  Caressa knew she was crazy and that she had a shop to run, but there had to be a reason why Mark had come back besides the amulet.  There just had to be.

 

Steve hesitated, reaching into his back pocket and pulled out a folded picture, setting it down on the desk.  “I noticed there weren't no pictures of him up in here so I figured maybe you could get this blown up.  Sorry ‘bout me bein' in the shot, it's the only one I could find.”

 

Mark stared down at the picture Steve had laid out, growling dangerously.  It was a picture of them with their hands locked together in a mock fighting stance, both of them grinning like damned fools.  He remembered that day all too well, it was weeks before he was murdered.  “Son of a bitch!” He shouted angrily.

 

Caressa nearly jumped out of her chair when she heard Mark's voice roar in her office, her heart thundering against her chest, knowing Steve was going to ask what was wrong.  “I saw a mouse.  I felt it run across my feet.” She was wearing flip flops that day since it was so hot out, taking in a shaky breath.  “Thank you for the picture, Steve.  I'll have it blown up and placed on the wall.” She took it from her desk and studied it, seeing how happy they were, and wondered how a friendship could be destroyed, how a man could betray his best friend, over a small fortune.  Not only that, but Caressa was planning to show this to her brother, who still hadn't left her house, knowing he would have to believe her after seeing it.

 

“Good.” Steve nodded, his blue eyes combing the wall again.  “He loved this damn ol' place.” He shook his head, feeling cold again and frowned.  “Alright honey, I'll get out of yer hair now.  Just thought you might like that key and the picture.” He smiled warmly down at her before walking out of the shop.

 

Mark was still doing his damnest to beat the shit out of his ex-best friend, howling with rage.  This had to be the ultimate cruelty, watching the man who murdered him TALK about him like they were BEST FUCKING FRIENDS!

 

Caressa waited until Steve left before rounding on Mark, who had materialized before her, and slapped him as hard as she could on the arm.  “Don't you EVER do that again!!” She was still trembling from having him scare the shit out of her, the picture laying on her desk, and stopped him before he could grab it.  “Mark, no!” She grabbed his face in her hands, staring into his beautiful green eyes, glad he was there with her, but now wasn't the time to be happy.  “I'm not going to blow it up, but I need you to do something for me before you leave.  Can you do me a favor?”

 

“What?” He grunted, her slap having not fazed him in the slightest.  He was too damned pissed to care that she had smacked him, though it was an ironic bitch that he could feel it.  His acid green eyes strayed back to the picture, wanting nothing more than to shred it though he managed to restrain himself.  He closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down, returning his stare to her.  “What's the favor?” He asked, wondering just what she was expecting a dead guy to do for her.

 

Caressa bit her bottom lip and slowly released his face, knowing he probably witnessed everything, and raked a hand through her hair.  “I need you to somehow convince John that you're really here so he doesn't keep thinking I'm a complete psycho...” She held her hand up when he started cutting her off.  “The only thing I want you to do is hold a penny.” When his eyebrow raised, she merely smiled at him, having read it online.  Oh the beauty of an internet!  “Can you hold items?” She held out a pen to him, urging him to take it, and grinned when he did, giggling as he rolled his eyes.  “It doesn't have to be a penny, it can be anything.”

 

Growling, he lifted her, drawing her legs around his waist.  “I got a better idea.” He murmured huskily.  “How bout I just toss you-” Here he literally tossed her into the air, then caught her with ease as she came down, laughing when she began screaming at him.  Mark effectively shut Caressa up with a searing kiss, smirking against her lips.  “How bout we do that in front of him, hmmm?  He'll believe in anythin' after that.”

 

Her eyes lit up like stars when he did that, catching her to land in his arms sideways, her arms wrapped around his neck, caressing the side of his face.  “Yeah, that'll work.” She murmured and kissed him again, moving her head from side to side, deepening the kiss and sighed when his tongue began dueling with hers.  Caressa loved this man with all of her heart, her soul, everything about him completed her and she wasn't going to ruin what little time she knew they had, pressing herself against him more.

 

Mark groaned lustily, returning her kisses just as passionately, his hands beginning to roam her body eagerly.  He was breaking his promise to himself.  He had vowed he would stay away from her, wanting Caressa to live a relatively normal life.  Though he also knew that would be impossible for her.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  He quickly sat her down when he heard people outside the building, turning to watch as customers walked in.  Smirking as a wicked idea came to him.  They couldn't see him, but she could.  They couldn't feel him, but SHE could.  This was going to be interesting.

 

“I-I have to go to work...” She breathed out, never seeing him in the daylight until now as she slowly pulled away, moaning when his lips seared hers again.  “Tonight...” She whispered before slowly sliding off of her desk, backing up toward the door, never breaking the kiss.  She moaned when he deepened the kiss even more, delving her hands in his black silky hair, falling even more in love with him.  This was dangerous territory and she knew it, but Caressa couldn't help herself.  “Mark...” She breathed in his ear, just wanting to be with him, but she also knew she had a responsibility with the shop, a smirk forming on her lips.  “Let me show you how I run this place.” She suggested, catching him off guard before walking out the door, greeting the customers.

 

Mark shook his head, following her, enjoying the sunlight.  He watched as she interacted with the customers, impressed somewhat.  He was honestly more interested in tormenting her.  Knowing she couldn't do a thing about it if she didn't want to be locked away with the real crazy people.  “Mmm...” He murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist, for the first time since dying, happy he was dead.  This was just too delicious to pass up.  His thumb ran up her left side, caressing her breast through her shirt, snickering softly in her ear when it peaked under his ministrations.

 

Caressa knew Mark was doing this on purpose, having his fun, and growled low enough for only him to hear as a sixteen year old walked away to join their parents.  “You're asking for it.” She murmured quietly, her lips barely moving, and walked away from him to go check on her mechanics, wanting to make sure they weren't bogged down.  When she felt his hand sear against her side, Caressa groaned inwardly, knowing she couldn't lash out at him or retaliate because she was the only one who could see and feel him.  Life was indeed a bitch at times.

 

Mark had a new pastime.  Tormenting the hell out of Caressa.  When she sat at her desk to do paperwork with a customer, he sat on the floor between her legs, drawing her forward, knowing her lower half couldn't be seen and began to tease her in earnest.  His hands skimmed her thighs, working his way up higher until his fingers were slipping under her black skirt, skimming her panty covered crotch,  chuckling darkly when she jumped.

 

“Are you alright, miss?”

 

“Fine.” Caressa nearly choked out, her amber eyes widened, and smiled at the customer as she took a sip of water.  “Dry throat.” She bit her bottom lip to keep from crying out in ecstasy, not believing what Mark was doing, and handed a pen over to the customer.  “Just sign there and I-I'll take care of the rest...” She actually slammed her hands against the desk when she felt his tongue run up her slit and downed all of her water in three large gulps.  When the customer left with question marks swirling around his head and the door to her office closed, Caressa leaned further back against her chair, digging her fingers through his black hair, losing herself in the moment.

 

Snorting, Mark continued eating her out, though a second later he had banged his head on the desk when he heard a voice bellow through her office.

 

“What the HELL are you doing?”

 

“Fuckin' ass!” Mark bellowed, rubbing his head.

 

John looked over his sister's head, fairly certain he had walked in on her doing something she shouldn't be doing during daylight hours, during business hours.  “Caressa... Please tell me you're sleep walking or something.” He pleaded, blue eyes wide.

 

“Oh Christ...” Caressa was panting, sweat caked on her forehead and neck, rubbing Mark's head where he'd bumped it before clearing her throat.  “Mark decided to um...” She turned four shades of red when her brother gawked at her and lowered her gaze to Mark, shaking her head slowly.  “You are a piece of work, Calaway.” She murmured and grabbed his face in her hands, not caring about her brother's presence, kissing him softly.

 

John felt like crying, watching his sister making out with absolutely fucking nothing!  He could see her fucking tongue doing this wiggling thing and there wasn't anything to wiggle against!  She was getting off on nothing!  FUCKING NOTHING!  “CARESSA, STOP IT, JUST FUCKING STOP!” He roared.

 

“Now who's losin' his mind.” Mark rumbled against her lips, arching an eyebrow.  “Can we scare him now?  He's gettin' on my fuckin' nerves.”

 

Caressa nodded back at Mark, glaring back at her brother's outburst, standing from her chair and waited for Mark to get up.  “Watch.” She ordered John gravely before turning to the love of her life, dead or not, preparing for what he was going to do.  This was the only way to prove to John that Mark was really there, that he truly existed.  Just because John couldn't see him didn't mean Mark wasn't there and they were going to prove it to him right here and right now.

 

Smirking, Mark lifted Caressa into his arms, drawing her legs around his waist and spun around with her, laughing when she shrieked in delight, pulling her head down to press his forehead against hers.

 

All John could do was stand there and stare, his mouth open.  He smacked himself several times, not believing what he was seeing and when it truly struck home, he fainted.

 

“John!” She gasped, jumping out of Mark's arms, and rushed over to him.  He was out cold as she bit her bottom lip, seeing her bottled water on the desk, knowing it was the only way.  Snatching the lid off of it, Caressa poured the water over her brother's head, the ice cold water, and jumped back, bumping into Mark when John came too, bolting upright, coughing since some of the water had slid down his throat and went up his nose.

 

John shook his head, pressing his hand to his forehead to make sure he wasn't running a fever or something.  Finally, he just stared at Caressa.  “It's the water.” He said finally.  “It has to be that well water from the house.  We both drank it...drugs in the water...”

 

“Oh dear Christ...” Mark grunted, lifting Caressa back into his arms and flipping her upside down so her face was right in front of her brother's, her hair dangling on the floor.

 

John looked like he was going to scream.

 

Chapter 16

 

Caressa giggled at the look on her brother's face, rolling her eyes as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.  “Mark, please lift me back up before I get a head rush.” She said patiently, squealing when he did as her hair whipped with her, wrapping her legs around his waist and cupped his face in her hands, kissing him softly.  “There's nothing wrong with the water in that house, John.  I told you I wasn't crazy.” She looked back at her brother pointedly.  “So what do you have to say now, bro?”

 

“That I'm dreaming.” John was grasping straws, shrieking when a stapler suddenly came flying at him, dodging it.

 

Mark was smirking.  He was learning that when Caressa could see him, he had a bit more power to do things then when she couldn't.  “Too bad the jackass can't see or hear me too.” He rumbled gently.

 

“THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS GHOSTS!”

 

“Wanna bet?”

 

“You're wrong John.” Caressa sighed and walked over, snatching a pen off of her desk and handed it to Mark.  She smiled as the pen levitated in the air from him holding it, seeing the color once again drain out of her brother's face.  “John this is real, it's not a dream.  Things like this happen in the world, there are such things as spirits and ghosts.  Mark is proof of that.” Caressa had always believed in the afterlife and reincarnation, refusing to believe a person ever truly died.  No matter what, their souls lived on and Caressa knew that Mark's was stuck here because of his unfinished business.  “I tried telling you bro, maybe next time you'll believe your fruitcake sister, eh?”

 

“I think I'm going to faint again.” John mewled weakly, the color completely gone from his face.

 

Mark had gotten an interesting idea.  He scribbled on a blank sheet of paper, folded it into an airplane and threw it at the poor, ready to drop John.

 

John could only watch with wide eyes as it soared at him.  His blue eyes crossed as it smashed into his nose.  With trembling hands, he unfolded it, red flooding his face.  “Great, the dead guy is also a pervert.” He grunted, not amused.

 

“What did he write?” Caressa snatched the paper and read it, her face turning four shades of red as she smacked Mark lightly in the stomach.  “That is crude and...Damn...” She crumpled the paper and tossed it in the trashcan before looking back at her brother.  “We have to get rid of the diamonds, John.” She was speaking quietly now, feeling Mark's arms wrap around her waist.  “Mark told me that Steve Austin guy, the one who was rude to you at Outback Steakhouse that night we went to dinner, murdered him because of them.” She bit her lip when John paled even more and quickly went to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly to her.  “Shhh it's okay sweetie, it's okay John...”

 

“What's John all freaked out about?” Mark demanded.  “He's big enough to take Steve on, not like Steve's going to try to kill him.” When he didn't get an answer, he wrote it down and held out the paper, impatient with this method.

 

Hesitantly, John took it snorting.  “He could try.  This jackass had his nut sack right in my face the first time I met him.  Hard to believe that clown is a killer.” John blanched when he realized he was talking to something he couldn't see.  “I have lost my mind.”

 

Caressa giggled as she kissed his cheek before walking back over to Mark, snuggling against him as his arms wrapped around her waist, sighing gently.  “I'm really glad that we have this all situated and you two have finally met...unofficially.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.  “We have to find a place to bury those diamonds and I think I've figured out where.” When Mark turned her around to face him, she simply reached up and caressed his face with the back of her hand.  “Your grave.”

 

“Technically, I don't actually have a grave because my body was never officially found.” Mark said gently, kissing her nose.  “The son of a bitch killed me here, took the body somewhere else.” He actually chuckled at her shocked look.  “You really need to start asking about the history of places before you buy them, darlin'.  I have an empty casket in the graveyard if you feel like trespassin' and diggin' it up.”

 

The fact that Steve hadn't even given Mark a proper burial pissed Caressa off to no avail.  She nodded and looked back at her brother, her eyes flashing dangerously, a slow smirk forming on her lips.  “You know, I think it's time Mark got a little payback for what Steve did to him.” She looked back at Mark and crossed her arms in front of her chest.  “You may not be able to touch him, but you can torment him just like you've tormented me, only in a vicious way.  Like throwing staplers and shit at him.” She giggled when Mark's eyes suddenly darkened, knowing he was already getting ideas in his head.  “Let's have a little fun with Mr. Austin before hiding those diamonds, shall we?”

 

“Can I have a knife?” He asked bluntly.

 

“What- what'd he say?” John demanded, seeing the expression on Caressa's face.  “Come on, I can't hear Ghostie so-” He ducked as a pair of scissors came flying next.  “Care, tell him to quit!  I don't care how lonely he is, I'm not dying to keep him company!”

 

Mark growled, reaching for her laptop.

 

“Okay enough you two!” Caressa stated, though the amusement sparkled in her amber eyes at Mark, shaking her head.  “If you want to kill him, go for it.  I'll spot you the knife.” She ignored her brother's protest when he said her name indignantly and hopped on her desk, crossing one leg over the other.  “I've been seeing how Steve's been coming around here lately.  That bastard had the gull to enter MY shop without my consent with a skeleton key he had.” She scoffed, clenching her fists tightly, eyes narrowing.  “I wanted to beat the living hell out of him, but figured that wouldn't bode so well considering how much bigger he is than me.”

 

“That skeleton key also would have opened the small lock on the underside of my safe.” Mark said flatly.  “Providin' you didn't know the combination.  Which, by the way, mind tellin' me how you-” He followed her gaze to the date etched in the shop doorway and rolled his eyes.  “Smartass.  My guess is he was hopin' you’d let somethin' slip.  He knew about the safe, he didn't know where it was though.  He's fishin'.”

 

“Somebody mind telling me what's going on?”

 

“I know and I think we should give him what he wants.” When Mark and John both shouted 'WHAT' at her, Caressa sighed before hopping off the desk.  “Think about this.  We won't give him the REAL diamonds, we'll give him decoys.  I'll tell him to meet me in the graveyard where your casket is, Mark, and that's when you can exact your revenge.  We'll be in a graveyard, nobody else around, and you can finally take care of your unfinished business.” Part of her wanted this to happen and part of her didn't, knowing once Mark got his revenge, which she was guessing was the reason why he came back from the other side, he would go back there.  It tore at her heart strings, but at the same time, Caressa loved him enough to let him go.

 

Mark stared at her thoughtfully, rubbing his goatee, not saying a word.

 

John scoffed, rolling his eyes.  “Caressa, just WHERE are you planning on getting twenty perfect replicas of those diamonds?  Just find a fucking pawnshop and...” He groaned, realizing by her suddenly smug grin he was giving her ideas.  “Are you INSANE?”

 

“I'm with John on this one.  It's too dangerous for you to be lurin' Steve into the cemetery.”

 

“They're not that hard to find.” Caressa rolled her eyes at Mark, shaking her head.  “This is your chance.  You can kill him and we can bury the body for you in your casket.” When John gaped at her, Caressa ignored him.  “That man murdered Mark, John.  He deserves to die, he can't get away with this.  Look,” She walked over and pulled out her drawer, picking a black velvet sack out of it and poured the contents of it out.  “What do those look like to you?  Because let me tell you something, they're not the real deal.” She smirked, proud of herself, when both men just stared at them with wide eyes.  “I won't be alone in the graveyard, you two will be there with me.”

 

“Oh yes because Steve is going to want nothing better than to go on a hot date with a chick and her BROTHER!  Mark, back me up, yo!”

 

Even though it pained him to do so, Mark was STILL in agreement with John.  “Still too dangerous.  He was my best friend and he managed to kill me.  Now darlin', look at the size of me, you know how damn near impossible that would be under the usual circumstances?  You try gettin' him in that graveyard and he'll know somethin' is up.”

 

“This is why I’m not going to ask him on a date.  I'm going to tell him that I found the safe and if he wants his precious diamonds, he'll meet me in the graveyard.  Steve looks like he's the type who will do anything, including killing his best friend, to make a small fortune.” Caressa explained, trying to rationalize with them.  “And I'm not going to lay a finger on him.  That's going to be your job, Mark.” She turned, touching his chest with her hand, staring up into his emerald green eyes.  “This is your unfinished business and your chance at revenge.  I know you want it more than anything and I want to see that mother fucker pay for what he did to you.”

 

Mark fell silent, shaking his head.  “No matter how much I want to kill, Caressa, I'm not goin' too.” He said finally.  “Maybe the reason I don't know shit about heaven and hell is because I have all this unfinished business bullshit yer ramblin' on about.  But what if they do exist and I'm damnin' my soul by killin' him?  Or maybe, I'm not even supposed to kill him.  Maybe he's supposed to get caught or somethin'.”

 

“Can you two please not do that?  I still can't see Casper.”

 

“If I do kill someone, it'll be him first.”

 

“His name is Mark, smartass.” Caressa snorted before looking down at the decoys, putting them back in the black velvet bag.  “Then how do you suppose we do this, Mark?” She finally asked, giving up her idea about the graveyard, even though the REAL diamonds were going in the empty casket.  It was only fitting that since the man died for those things that they be buried with him forever.  “If you want to catch Steve, how are we going to do that?  You know he's not going to confess to killing you.”

 

Glad she was getting off this killing kick, he smiled, staring down at her, ignoring John's curses in the background.  “Let's reenact Ghost.” He said simply.  “I'll scare his ass into confession.  You can either use a camcorder or a tape recorder and record it.” Just to shut John up, he wrote that all down.

 

“You actually are confessing to having watched Ghost?  You are indeed a bold, bold man.” John whistled, shaking his head.

 

“So you want to play games with him until he finally caves?” Caressa giggled softly and cupped his face, standing on her tiptoes, and kissed his lips passionately.  “Let's do it.” She whispered, running her finger down his cheek, knowing the decoys would come in handy should this idea fail.  Caressa was going to make Steve pay for what happened to Mark, even if she had to do it alone.  “If you want, I can just tell John what you tell him so that way you don't have to write it down.” She had a feeling Mark was growing stronger and would be with her longer and hoped she was right.

 

“Be a good idea.  Writin' everythin' is becomin' a pain in my ass.”

 

“How ‘bout you start telling John what he's saying now?”

 

“Actually, John's becomin' a pain in my ass.”

 

“John, you're becoming a pain in Mark's ass, so knock it off.” Caressa ordered, glaring at her brother, before turning back to face the emerald green eyes.  “I have to go assist customers.” She smiled at both of them before walking out of the office, seeing people looking over the new choppers that she'd gotten in a few days ago.

 

He watched curiously as John looked around, apparently trying to spot him and snorted.  Kid wasn't all there, definitely a few cans short a full six pack.  Mark groaned when he began fading, feeling that all too familiar pull, knowing he was about to disappear for a while.  He glanced at Caressa, praying she wouldn't do anything overly stupid, at least not until he returned so he could protect her.

 

“Mark?” Caressa called when she finally made it back into her office, not seeing him anywhere, and closed her eyes as she inhaled the air.  His scent was gone.  “Damn it.” She whispered, raking a hand through her hair, and sighed heavily before closing up the shop for the night and going home.  John had gone to Lizzie's for the evening, after promising her he wouldn't say anything about Mark, much to her relief. 

 

After she arrived home and had a long shower, Caressa changed into a pale blue nightgown before slipping under her covers, clutching the amulet to her heart.  “I love you Mark, wherever you are.” She whispered, letting a few tears fall as the darkness overtook her.

 

John had fielded all of Lizzie's questions, reassuring her everything was fine and then just sat on the couch holding her against him.  She was tangible, something he could see, hear and feel.  Proof that he hopefully wasn't losing his mind.  Sitting there with her made his day seem very surreal and highly unlikely.  Maybe he'd been dreaming after all.  But no, he could still feel the whoosh of air from the stapler flying by his head.  The stapler that hadn't been picked up by anything he could see.  He groaned, knowing his next few days weren't going to be conducive to his sanity.

 

Chapter 17

 

Caressa basically worked, shopped for food when she had too, ate and slept for the next several days, too tired to do anything else.  She'd actually gone to the bookstore in town and purchased every book they had on afterlife and reincarnation, very interested by some of the things they said.  Before she knew it, two weeks had passed and it was raining outside while she was in her bedroom, reading a book, wearing a lavender nightgown. 

 

Papers were sprawled everywhere, documents, anything she could get her hands on along with her laptop, which was currently on a page with a red demon.  For some reason, Caressa had become transfixed on the subject, finding it both fascinating and terrifying at the same time, scrubbing a hand down her face in frustration when she couldn't find a specific answer.  Why was the amulet the key to unlocking Mark's soul from the other side?

 

Mark appeared, sitting Indian style right beside her, instantly reaching for her laptop, snorting when he seen the web page it was on.  “What the hell are you readin' about all this shit for?” He asked, glancing around at the papers, the books and shook his head.  “The answers aren't goin' to be in any of these things, they were written by people while they were still breathin' darlin'.”

 

Caressa had nearly jumped out of her skin as the book went flying, landing on the floor and turned to face him, shaking her head.  “You just LOVE scaring the shit out of me don't you?” She muttered, though no anger shined in her amber eyes.  “It's not just about you, though that is a big part of it.  I just...I'm just wondering how the hell that amulet is connected to you.” She looked into his green eyes thoughtfully and knew they didn't have much time before shaking her head.  “Forget it.  It's not even important right now.” She leaned up and brushed her lips against his, glad he was back with her again.

 

“God, yer one horny wench, aren't you?” He grumbled, chuckling when she just glared at him.  “Hell, I'm beginnin' to think ya want me around fer the sex.  Not that I blame you, I'm pretty damn incredible.” Mark caught the book before it hit him, laughing outright now and pinned Caressa down to the bed, sending papers scattering about them.  “You're so cute when yer riled, darlin'.” He drawled teasingly.

 

“You get me that way.” She replied, loving the feel of his body pressed against hers.  It didn't make any sense how his body could be so warm and his heart beat against her palm, but yet, he was dead, he was merely a spirit.  “I just know our time is short when we are together and want to make the most of it.  And yes, you turn me on with just one look.” She admitted with a smile, kissing his nose. 

 

God she missed him.  She missed him more than anything and felt dead when he wasn't around.  He was the spark in her life when he came around, which was every two weeks.  It was clockwork and Caressa hadn't even realized how much time had passed since that day in her shop.

 

“Yeah, I used to hear that a lot back in my day.” He teased, catching her hand when she tried to smack him.  “Aw darlin, ya know I'm just teasin'.” Mark murmured, kissing the palm of her hand, his tongue flicking out to taste her skin.  “Will I have to worry about yer dumbass brother interruptin' if I try to make love to you?” He asked casually, beginning to kiss her wrists.

 

“No, he's at his girlfriend's for the night.” She softly replied, biting her bottom lip, staring into those beautiful eyes of his and instantly getting lost. 

 

Sensations coursed through her hand and up her arm as he caressed her wrist with his lips and tongue, shivering against him.  They were alone in what used to be his house, in their bedroom, and Caressa wanted him more than words could say as she sank further down into the bedding.

 

“Mmm good.” Mark purred, not looking up from her wrist. He worked his way up her arm, kissing and grazing every inch of her flesh, finally planting a slow, lingering kiss on her shoulder. His green eyes were almost black as he looked into her face, his tongue slowly tracing the contours of his lips, a slow smirk forming.  “I'm plannin' on tastin' every last bit of you tonight.” He informed her huskily.

 

A sensual smile spread on her face as Caressa's eyes slowly drifted shut, the feeling of his lips caressing her tenderly forcing her heart rate to speed up rapidly.  “I can only imagine...” She breathed out, feeling him do the same administrations to her other wrist, arm and shoulder, letting a full body shiver overtake her. 

 

Every other thought about the undead and afterlife flew out the window because, as far as Caressa was concerned, Mark was very much alive.

 

He gently pushed aside papers and books, listening as they softly floated or fell to the floor.  He was going to do his best to keep Caressa's mind off those things, there wasn't anything in those books, but false hopes and bullshit.  “Mmm, imaginin' is half the fun, the other half is findin' out if the real thing is better than the thought.” He teased, running his hands down her ribs, bunching her nightgown in his palms.

 

“I couldn't agree more.” She murmured, running her hands up the vest he wore, beginning to undo the buttons before sliding it off his shoulders and down his arms, moaning softly as his lips plundered against hers. 

 

This was her heaven, being in Mark's arms, not caring about her paperwork or even if her laptop had crashed to the bedroom floor.  He was the only person in the world that mattered to her and Caressa was going to make him see that if it was the last thing she ever did.  Her hands ran up his back, loving how the muscles flexed beneath her touch, and smiled when her fingers came in contact with his hair.  Caressa could honestly see herself being happy just touching him and sighed in contentment, curling her legs around his, loving the jean material against her soft skin.

 

Mark tore his mouth from hers, smiling in the dim light, seeing her lips were red and swollen, loving the almost ravaged look they possessed.  He would ravage her alright...He sat back on his calves, feeling her legs moving with him and drew them to rest on his hips.  “Interestin' choice of night clothes.” He murmured, taking in the lavender garment, his giant hands skimming the outside of her thighs, through the material, loving how it felt against his palms.  “What’d you have underneath it, hmm?”

 

Caressa giggled seductively as she sat up with him, running a finger down his chest, tilting her head to the side slightly with dark passion filled gold eyes.  “You'll have to continue and find out.” She smirked when his eyes darkened to a forest green and knew she had him, slowly standing up after peeling away from his grasp.  “Unless of course, you want me to show you myself?” Caressa had never, in her entire life, felt this bold around a man before and felt her vixen side erupting, running her fingers through her hair as she slowly walked around the back, his eyes solely on her, which she loved.

 

Smirking, Mark laid out on his side, propping his head with one hand, the other gesturing for her to continue.  He wasn't about to deny himself a strip tease, especially if she was in the mood to give him one.  “Go on then, darlin',” He rumbled, his voice husky.  “Let's see then.”

 

Caressa's hand ran down the post of her four poster bed and slowly turned around as the nightgown barely lifted, though it was enough to reveal she definitely had more underneath her nightgown.  Running her hands down her sides, Caressa felt something overtake her and slid one strap down, winking at him over her bare shoulder before turning around, her back to him.  Whipping her head back, her legs parted slightly, Caressa pulled the other strap down as the nightgown slowly slid down her beautiful, curvy body, leaving her clad in lavender bra and panties, her back to him still as she smirked over her shoulder at him.

 

“Shall I continue?” She purred, her hands on her hips.

 

Even though he technically didn't need too, Mark had to learn how to breathe all over again.  He had watched her little teasing performance with narrowed eyes and a dry mouth.  A low groan had even escaped him when the nightgown had pooled at her feet.  Those bra and panties were a nuisance as far as he was concerned and he could only nod, moving to a sitting position, his stare intense.

 

She loved the fact that his eyes were only for her and nobody else, no other woman.  It made her heart skip a beat as her eyes locked on his, reaching behind and unsnapped her bra, clip by clip, running her hands from her hips to her breasts as she cupped and squeezed them gently, her pink tongue snaking out to wet her slightly swollen lips.  She knew she was driving him crazy and removed her bra, swinging it on her finger and giggled wickedly when he let out a small growl.  She didn't dare turn around, enjoying his torment way too much, just as he did those weeks ago at her shop.  Caressa never forgot and payback was in order.

 

Mark groaned loudly, fighting with himself to keep from reaching for this luscious vixen who was immensely enjoying making him suffer.  Hell, on some kinky level he was enjoying it as well.  Anticipation only made everything all the more sweeter.  “Wench.” He hissed, watching the bra join her nightgown on the floor.  His eyes snapped back to attention when her fingers hooked in the waistband of her panties, licking his lips eagerly.

 

Caressa smirked when he called her that, the word coming from his lips sounding erotic.  She began moving her hips back and forth in a gyrating motion, her thumbs inching her panties little by little, but not revealing anything.  Not yet.  She wasn't done torturing him as she placed her arm strategically in front of her breasts before slowly turning around, cupping it with her hand, while running her nail down her smooth, tanned stomach.  Her hand cupped her panty covered sex before slowly trailing back up, letting out a soft moan as her head fell back, hair cascading down her back, feeling her eyes drift shut.

 

Enough was enough.  Leaning forward, Mark grabbed Caressa by those gorgeous hips and pulled her forward, almost snarling as he moved her hand away and ripped the panties off.  A second later he had buried his face between her open legs, licking and biting at her wet folds, his tongue plunging inside of her, her sweet juices coating his tongue.

 

Caressa gasped in surprise when he grabbed her and cried out when she felt his tongue slide up her throbbing clit, the excitement rushing throughout her body.  Bringing her leg up so her foot was planted on the bed while the other balanced her, Caressa's hands buried themselves in his black tresses, whipping her head back when his teeth grazed her bud, trembling in sheer desire.  “Make me cum for you, Mark...” She breathed out, gripping his hair when his tongue slid fully inside of her, feeling herself cling to it for dear life.

 

He was going to make her cum alright, wrapping one strong arm around her waist to keep her on her feet -that one leg was shaking too violently to be sturdy- he braced her, his greedy tongue plundering her.  His free hand moved to caress her throbbing clit while he curled his tongue inside of her, stroking her g-spot, making an almost amused sound from the back of his throat when she pulled on his hair.  Turnabout could be such a bitch.

 

Letting his hair slide out of her left hand, Caressa had to grip the post to keep her from not falling over, arching her hips against his hot mouth.  God she loved his tongue and how it pleasured her.  Soft mewls and moans escaped her lips as Caressa felt his warm hand cup her ass, squeezing it while increasing his pace, driving her further and further to the edge of total insanity.  “Oh fuck...Mark...so close...don't stop...” Her hand left the post to bury into his hair again, knowing he was all the leverage she needed.

 

Now if he truly wanted to be vicious and tease her the way she had tortured him, he would've stopped right then and there, forcing her to cool her pert little ass down.   However...he was enjoying this too much.  “Cum fer me, Ressa.” He murmured, removing his mouth from her aching center long enough to look up at her.  “I wanna taste ya when ya cum.”

 

She nodded, completely surrendering to him as her thighs tightened, along with the grip on his hair and her insides, knowing it wouldn't be long now.  With a few more thrusts, Caressa was cumming in waves around him, crying out his name, feeling him lapping at her juices greedily and hungrily.  “Oh my god...” She whispered, collapsing against him, her forehead pressed against the top of his head.  Her entire body was a mask of sweat, glistening in the dark lighting in the room, her chest rising and falling rapidly, her eyes closed.  “I love you...” She whispered, kissing his forehead, knowing if he wasn't holding her up she would be on the floor right now.

 

“I love you too, darlin'.” Mark whispered back, rolling onto the bed and pulling her with him so she was laying sprawled out on top of his large body.  Running his hands up and down her back in a calming fashion, Mark watched her breathe with sparkling green eyes.  When she looked up from his chest, he deliberately ran his tongue over his lips.  “Mmm.”

 

Chapter 18

 

Caressa's face turned four shades of red as she kissed his lips softly, an evil smirk forming on her lips before beginning kissing down his jaw line to his strong neck, moaning against his rough, yet gentle skin.  “It's my turn.” She whispered when he went to roll her over, pinning his shoulders with her hands, letting her lips and tongue do the talking for her.  “These need to go.” She growled softly, unsnapping his jeans and brought that zipper down, the sound alone soaking her.  Her hand delved inside and wrapped around his pulsating hardened shaft, locking eyes with him.  He was definitely alive right now.

 

In life he had never been a boxer or brief man, always going without, and he was definitely thankful his afterlife was the same way.  “Hmmm, they do indeed.” He moaned huskily, his eyes never leaving hers, arching his hips up.  “Darlin', if yer plannin' on teasin' me...” He let his tone caution her, very, very tempted to turn her over and pound her into the mattress.

 

“Just lay back and relax...” Her voice was warm as honey as she went back to what she was doing, stroking him up and down with her hand a few times before slowly pulling it out. 

 

She then slid from the bed and walked to stand at the foot of it, grabbing his jeans and pulled them off of him, with a little help from him raising his hips, along with his boots.  Caressa stood there for a minute and just admired him, searing every inch of him in her memory.  She didn't know when would be the last time with Mark and took every time that she had with him to the fullest.  Crawling back on top of him, Caressa kissed his lips before kissing a trail of fire down his chest, her hands caressing him as she went.  She straddled his muscular legs, seeing his erected cock in her vision, and smirked up at him before taking just the tip of him in her mouth, letting out a guttural moan.

 

It took every ounce of willpower he possessed to not take a fistful of her blood red hair and pump himself in her mouth.  Mark got the impression she'd bite his dick off if he did and folded his hands behind his head, a soft moan coming from between his parted lips.  “Tease.” He grunted, green eyes nothing, but slits as he watched her, unable to keep his hips from bucking when she took his tip in her mouth, hissing.

 

Her tongue ran across his tip while running her hand up and down him, smirking when he hardened even more if that was possible.  Her nails from her free hand raked down his thigh, feeling him quiver beneath her, and loved feeling it.  She wanted to pleasure him as much as he pleasured her, wanted to give him a fracture of what he'd given her in the past few months.  Her eyes locked on his as she took him fully in her mouth for the first time, deep-throating him, before pulling back only to do it again.

 

“Caressa...” He groaned hoarsely, hands now holding onto the bed sheets, his head tilted up to watch her.  It turned him on all the more, seeing her luscious lips sliding up and down on him, his head dropping back when she took him all in, nostrils flaring.  If she kept that up -no pun intended- he was going to wind up cumming in her mouth.  A mental picture flashed before his eyes, causing him to curse.  “Darlin'...”

 

“Cum for me, Mark...” Caressa encouraged, having taken her mouth away from him long enough to say that before going right back to work. 

 

She wanted to taste him, feel him explode in the back of her throat, moaning at the sheer thought.  It intoxicated her as she began bobbing up and down on his cock, making sure not to use her teeth, thanking the stars above she didn't have gag reflexes.  Her nails raked down his thighs harder and back up before sliding one of her hand to his balls, beginning to massage them, never stopping her administrations on his rock hard cock.

 

That was all the encouragement he needed.  Mark gently buried his hands in her hair, careful not to pull, but unable to help himself anyway.  Her hand massaging his balls just pushed him completely over that edge.  “Fuck, Ressa!” He grunted, bucking once before cumming, eyes rolling in the back of his head as he came.

 

Her mouth accepted his seed as it shot down her throat, swallowing him whole, not letting any drop.  She groaned in satisfaction before slowly sliding her mouth from his shaft, sucking on his tip to get the remainder of it before finally sitting up as she licked her lips.  “Mmm sweeter than sugar.” She smirked, not believing how wonderful he tasted, especially for a ghost.  “Simply delicious...”

 

Foregoing the need for air, Mark grabbed hold of her forearms and hauled her up along his body until their lips met, plundering her mouth, tasting himself on her tongue and growled.  His hands cupped her ass, pulling her into him, letting her feel just how alive he was at the moment.

 

Caressa moaned against his lips as she rested her hands against his chest, straddling his hips and slowly moved her hips up and down, sliding her pussy against his shaft repeatedly.  “Is that what you want?” She purred, tracing his beautiful red lips with her tongue and smirked when he shivered against her.  Stopping him when he tried rolling her over, Caressa planted herself firmly on him and shook her head, her blood red hair flowing down her shoulders and back, having gotten longer in the few months since she'd moved to Houston.  “Tonight is about you.” She whispered softly and closed her eyes before slowly lowering herself on him, crying out at the burning her walls created, instantly devouring him whole.

 

“Christ woman, ya tryin' to kill me again?” He asked, his voice rough with passion as he gripped her hips, running the pads of his thumbs in slow circles against her feverish skin.  “Cause it's workin'.” Mark added through clenched teeth, a lusty moan issuing forth when he felt himself fully sheathed in her delicious body.  All about him didn't sound too bad, but he knew before this night was over, he'd have her underneath him with her beautiful hair splayed around her while she writhed against him.  That brought a smirk to his face.

 

She didn't like hearing that, but hid it well, lacing her fingers with his and pulled him up so their noses were touching, wrapping her legs around his waist, and ran her fingers through his hair before kissing his lips.  “Oh Mark...” She whispered breathlessly against him, feeling his arms wrap around her body, pressing their chests together as their bodies joined as one.  “Make love to me please...” She slowly began moving her hips against him, sliding him in and out of her while her hand gripped the back of his neck, burying her fingers in his hair, moaning uncontrollably.  “You feel so good...so warm and hard...” Her entire body shuddered at the mere intensity, groaning softly.

 

Shuddering from pleasure, Mark lifted her up and down on him, hands on her waist, his lips finding hers again.  This was Heaven, this had to be.  Being in her arms, smelling her sweet scent, feeling her body against his.  Hell was the time whenever he had to leave her, that was Hell.  Mark forgot his earlier thoughts of her on the bed, preferring this position because he could feel her heart beating furiously against him, stare into her eyes as equals, the whole package.

 

“I love you, Caressa.” He murmured against her lips.

 

“I love you too Mark, forever.” Caressa replied through ragged breathing, meeting every one of his thrusts, refusing to move her head from this position. 

 

Her hand pressed against his heart, which was beating rapidly against her palm, smiling.  How could a ghost have a heartbeat?  How could a ghost make her feel so beautiful and loved?  This had to be a mistake, Mark wasn't a ghost.  He was...He was Mark and that's all there was too it.  Caressa moaned out against him, gripping his shoulder with her hand, nodding as her release began to build.

 

He could feel the liquid fire coursing through his veins, knowing it was Caressa who was responsible for that.  He loved her, truly loved her and not because of the sex, though that was mind blowing.  She was perfect, his perfect match, his soul mate.  It was cruel that they had met this way.  Fate was callous, breaking two hearts, one beating and one refusing to succumb to the blackness that awaited.

 

“I want us to cum together.” He whispered, rolling his forehead against hers.

 

Caressa nodded, moving in time with him, losing herself in his body, his voice, everything.  He was perfect in every way, loved motorcycles and tattoos, and had an attitude that matched hers.  They balanced as equals and Caressa hated that she could never fully have him as her own.  Her eyes closed as she hissed out, blinking tears away, not wanting to cry in front of him.  She wouldn't cause him pain during their lovemaking and kept up the pace, the headboard of her bed gently banging against the wall, feeling him brush against her sweet spot repeatedly. 

“I'm close…” She whispered, opening her eyes when the moisture subsided, putting all of her focus and attention into what her and Mark were sharing at the moment.

 

What she couldn't hide was the glistening of her eyes, Mark leaned forward to kiss her eyelids.  “I'm close too, darlin'.” He murmured, trailing his mouth down the side of her throat, fastening on the area between neck and shoulder, suckling gently, wanting to leave his mark for when he was not around.  A reminder that he had been there, would always come back.  His body tensed, knowing the end was here.  “Cum with me, darlin'.” He urged, thrusting into her harder, repeatedly brushing her sweet spot.

 

A single tear slid down her cheek as Caressa wrapped her arms around his neck, softly kissing his lips, and broke it just as quickly when her orgasm ripped through her, shattering against him as her entire body trembled from head to toe, shrieking out his name as her sweet juices coated his hardened shaft.  The feeling of him exploding with her as their orgasms mingled and entwined together made it that much more intense.  The aftershocks rushed through her as she held tightly to him, burying her face in his neck, chest heaving, heart thundering and pulse racing.

 

He could feel himself still throbbing inside of her, though it was weakly, soon going completely limp, but he didn't move, just held her against him.  He smiled slightly at the purplish red bruise on her shoulder, feeling miserable and yet amused all at once, knowing anyone who seen it would know she was a marked woman.  She was his woman.

 

“You alright, Caressa?” He asked quietly, resting his head on top of hers.

 

“Yes.” She whispered softly, nodding her head, and slowly pulled back to stare into his green eyes.  “I want to fall asleep in your arms.” She ran her finger down his cheek, hoping and praying they had enough time to do it just this once.  “Please Mark, I just need to feel your arms around me.” She pressed her forehead against his, gripping his arms gently in her hands, breathing him in as much as she could.  She loved his smell, a mixture of leather, musk and just himself in general.  It was his own unique smell and it intoxicated her.

 

“Alright, darlin'.” Mark nodded, not able to refuse her request even if he HAD wanted too.  He gently laid her out on the bed, snuggling in next to her, smiling when Caressa positioned herself on his chest and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.  “This is nice.” He murmured, staring up at the ceiling, lazily stroking the small of her back.

 

Caressa purred happily, draping her arm over his chest, her ear against his heartbeat.  “Yes it is.” She was in complete contentment, having barely slept in the past two weeks, though her insomnia was a bitch regardless.  Though after the strenuous exercise she'd just endured, Caressa was ready to sleep as she snuggled further against him.  “I love you and I know you'll always be here.” She whispered, closing her eyes, and let the darkness sweep her away, knowing when she woke up Mark would be gone.  For this brief moment though, Caressa was willing to accept that consequence, just wanting to fall asleep in his arms.

 

Mark lay there, listening to her breathe.  He couldn't sleep, he had no need for it.  It was funny how that worked out.  He could feel her, he could inhale and exhale, make love to this beautiful woman, but he had no need for the air he breathed, he didn't need sleep.  Which was a godsend because then he would have missed the expression of pure contentment on Caressa's sleeping face.

 

Chapter 19

 

Her eyes slowly fluttered open the following morning, causing Caressa to stretch and yawn, feeling the delicious ache between her thighs and smiled.  Mark.  She nearly jumped when she felt his arm wrap around her waist and looked over her shoulder that smile forming into a grin.  “You're still here.” She whispered sleepily, rolling over and kissed his lips, having thought he would've vanished during the night.  Apparently Mark was getting stronger or the fates were being kind to them.  She'd slept in his arms all night and Caressa didn't want to leave, snuggling against his chest.

 

“Yeah, I'm still here.” He rumbled, smirking slightly.  He had been expecting to fade out only to find himself still there.  Small miracle, great blessing.  “Nothin' like listenin' to the woman you love snore like a chainsaw.” He teased, chuckling when she rolled her eyes and kissed Caressa lightly on her forehead.  “I'm just pickin' darlin'.” In truth he had stayed up and just watched her.  He had discovered he could watch her sleep for hours without ever growing bored.  “You look... rumpled.”

 

Her eyebrow quirked, wondering what that meant, and yawned as she slowly sat up in bed, stretching her arms over her head, sighing when the doorbell rang throughout the house.  “I'll be right back.” She knew he would follow and pulled a midnight silk robe on, tying it around her waist, raking a hand through her tousled blood red hair before going downstairs.  She was pleased that John had stayed with Lizzie, knowing he needed a dose of reality, giggling at the thought.  When she opened her front door though, that giggling stopped abruptly as icy blue eyes stared her in the face.

 

“Am I interruptin' somethin' honey?” Steve drawled, his blue raking her body lingeringly.  “If yer busy...I can always come back.”

 

“Her eyes are up there asshole.” Mark growled from right behind her, fully dressed in all black, his eyes practically glowing with fire.  “Caressa, get him outta here now.” He wanted nothing more than to personally dispatch this cocksucker to the afterlife, just because the man was visibly checking her out.

 

Caressa had made sure the robe covered her vital parts, though that didn't stop the robe from going to mid-thigh or the silk to cling to her every curve.  “No, I was just getting up.” She ignored Mark for the moment, knowing Steve was here for a reason, yawning loudly.  “What can I do for you, Steve?” She asked politely with a heartwarming smile, though once again, it didn't reach her amber eyes.

 

“Well honey, I was just wonderin' if you’d like to go for a...ride, with me.” He asked, meeting her eyes finally, returning the smile.

 

“No, she wouldn't like to go fer a fucking ride with you.  Ride...could ya get anymore fuckin' obvious?  Caressa, send him packin', NOW.”

 

Steve frowned, looking over her shoulder and shook his head.  “Thought I saw somethin'. Well honey, feelin' up to it?”

 

“Actually, I'm going to have to decline.  I have plans today with my brother.” She lied smoothly, that smile never leaving her face, wondering if this could work to her advantage.  ‘Hmm...This could be Mark's chance.’ She thought, tapping her chin in thought.  “Come in for a minute, Steve.” The wheels in her head were spinning and waited for him to enter before guiding him to the living room.  “Make yourself comfortable, I shouldn't be too long.” She then ran upstairs, knowing Mark was hot on her heels, and winced when he slammed her bedroom door shut.  “Calm down!” She hissed, pressing her hand to his chest, staring into his eyes.  “Just listen to me for a minute...”

 

“Calm down?  That fucking MURDERER is in yer damn house and ya already told him YEH WEREN'T GOING SO WHY IS HE FUCKING HERE?” Mark roared his green eyes livid.

 

Steve looked around the living room, blue eyes narrowed, taking in the changes before glancing up stairs, checking his watch and sighed, tapping his foot impatiently on the floor.  “C'mon already...” He muttered.

 

Caressa waited patiently until Mark was finished, dressing while he ranted, deciding on a pair of dark blue jean shorts with a pale blue tank top, pulling her hair up in a messy bun.  “Are you finished?” She asked sweetly, batting her eyelashes, and smirked when he just growled at her.  “You're not looking at this from my perspective.” When his eyebrow rose, she lowered her voice even more.  “You said you wanted to reenact Ghost.  What better way than to start today?”

 

“That was when yer BROTHER was around to protect yer damn ass!” Mark snarled, not believing she was going to be this damn stupid.  “I've been around for over twelve hours Caressa; chances are that's not gonna last much fuckin' longer!”

 

“Caressa, honey, ya alright up there?” Steve called from the bottom of the stairs, concern in his tone.

 

“You know what?  Between you and my brother, I don't know who's more overbearing and OVERprotective!” She hissed angrily back at him, not believing the way he was acting toward her!  Here she was trying to help him gain a SHRED of revenge and he was spitting it in her face!  “I'm doing this, Mark.  I'm going to get to the bottom of what exactly happened to you even if it kills me in the process.” She gasped when he yanked her against him, staring up into his dangerous green eyes.  “He doesn't know what's happening; he doesn't know I have the diamonds.” She cringed, hearing Steve's voice again.  “Be right out!” She shouted over her shoulder, trying to break free of Mark's grasp.

 

“Guess what, Caressa, I'm dead!  I don't think you'd much like bein' dead too!” He spat at her.  “Go on, be stupid.” He pushed her towards the bedroom door.  “I'm not goin' anywhere, I'm gonna watch this.” And throw something heavy if Steve even LOOKED at her wrong.

 

Steve was getting annoyed now, folding his arms over his chest, ice blue eyes deadly.  If she didn't want to go with him then what the fuck was he doing here waiting on her dumb ass for?

 

Caressa was smirking on the inside as she opened her bedroom door and walked down the stairs, smiling back at Steve.  “I'm so sorry to keep you waiting, Steve.  I had to make a really quick phone call to my brother, telling him I've cancelled our plans for today.” She knew Mark was right behind her as she jumped off the last two steps, her white Sketchers clomping as it echoed throughout the house.  “So what exactly are we going for a ride on?” She inquired, walking toward the front door with her purse over her shoulder, keys in her hand.

 

“My Triumph.” Steve grunted, pointing out the screen door to a deep blue motorcycle.  “I'm assumin' since ya run Mark's old shop you can ride.” He smiled at her.

 

“Ballsy bastard.” Mark hissed, eyes narrowing.  “That's the motorcycle I refinished for his ass as a present.” He was STEAMING.

 

“Don't need a helmet, do ya honey?”

 

What she wanted to do and what she did were two completely different things as Caressa shook her head.  “Nope, not one bit.” She smiled at him before following him over to the bike, admiring the work and looked up at Mark, her eyes telling him how much she loved it.  When Steve offered his hand, Caressa simply rolled her eyes playfully and straddled the back with ease.  “Motorcycles are my obsession, Steve.” She informed him and waited for him to mount in front of her, refusing to wrap her arms around his waist.  Instead, her hands remained on the seat.  “Follow us.” She murmured quietly to Mark, who was standing right in front of her just as Steve roared his Triumph to life.

 

“I was plannin' on goin' to Mark's grave today, ya know...” Steve shouted over the roar of the motorcycle.  “Place somethin' on his tombstone!”

 

“And I'm hopin' it's yer fuckin' head!” Mark yelled after him when Steve peeled out of the driveway.  Shaking his head, he mounted his own Harley, following them, knowing Caressa could probably hear his own engine roaring like something straight out of the pits of Hell, though Steve couldn't.

 

Caressa suppressed a shiver when she heard that as Steve took off out of the yard, spitting grass and dirt as he did, not believing where they were going.  Mark's grave.  She would finally find the spot where she could hide those diamonds.  This had been her original plan and try as they might, John and Mark would not have it.  Though now what would they say if the plan happened regardless and it was out of their control?  Caressa simply leaned back and smiled, closing her eyes, letting the wind whip through her hair, hearing Mark's beautiful Titan right behind them.

 

Steve only slowed down when the cemetery gates came into view, parking outside the stone wall.  “No vehicles allowed.” He grunted, gesturing to a plaque before dismounting, helping Caressa, his hands lingering on her waist a moment longer than needed.

 

“No bodies either.” Mark snorted, now leaning against the wall, his motorcycle parked in the middle of the road.  “Lyin' bastard, gonna visit my grave...” He spat in the grass, eyes narrowed.

 

Caressa slowly moved away from him with a soft smile and looked at the cemetery, taking a deep breath, knowing Mark's gravesite was in here.  She could already feel the moisture building up in her amber eyes and had to fight it, had to fight back the pain, the awful reminder that he really was a ghost and not a living, breathing man.  “Lead the way.” She murmured quietly, following Steve as they passed through the gates, immediately feeling a cold chill run down her spine. 

 

The cemetery looked centuries old, some of the graves actually sinking in the ground.  Did this man have NO respect for his best friend?  Caressa watched her footing, not wanting to trip over one of them or disturb their resting place, feeling Mark right behind her.  She could sense how tense he was, she didn't even have to touch him.

 

Steve led the way to the newer section of the cemetery, finally halting in front of a massive tombstone, resting his hand on the cold granite, his head hanging. 

 

“Yer the bastard who killed me and ya look sad?  You cocksucker.” Mark snorted, crouching down to study his tombstone, having never actually seen it.  “Heh, Best Friend, now that is just overkill.”

 

Steve looked up, refusing to look at Caressa, blinking tears out of his eyes.  “God I miss him.”

 

She was startled by the tears in Steve's eyes, actually seeing the deep sadness, not believing this.  Either the man was a damned good actor or he truly was sorry for what he'd done.  “How did he die?” She whispered softly, seeing the words for herself, running her fingertips over them and blinked more tears away, knowing she couldn't do this now.  She would come back here later on and sob her heart out.  Right now, this was her chance to find out some information from the man who killed his best friend, who was currently the love of her life.

 

Steve inhaled raggedly, hastily wiping the back of his hand across his eyes when she wasn't looking, not needing her to see him crying like a child.  “Murder.” He said quietly.  “He...he was murdered.” His voice actually broke on the last word.

 

Mark was stoned face, watching with an unreadable expression on his face.

 

“Murdered over somethin' incredibly stupid.”

 

“Oh...” She bit her bottom lip, knowing she was going to tread on dangerous territory now, but knew she had to hear his confession.  “Do you mind me asking over what?” Her voice was soothing as they stood across from each other, the stone huge, and Caressa had to press her hand to it to keep from falling over. 

 

She couldn't believe this mother fucker had the AUDACITY to cry over something he did!  Anger flashed in her amber orbs, but she was looking at the stone so he didn't see it, but immediately clouding over into something unreadable again.  She wanted to kill this man for taking the greatest away, from taking Mark away from her, even though she hadn't known them back then.

 

Steve shrugged, pulling a small replica of a 1984 classic Harley from his pocket, kneeling down to set it on the ledge of the tombstone.  “I don't know some stupid rumor.” He seen the confused look on her face and sighed, standing up.  “There was a rumor Mark had a small fortune in precious gems.  Robbed a bank or somethin'.”

 

Mark smirked slightly.  “You wish I had robbed a bank.”

 

“Guess whoever did it thought he'd be carryin'em on him or somethin'.”

 

“Were those gems ever found?” She asked quietly, looking up at him, sadness and pure curiosity shining in them. 

 

She was a master at hiding what she was really thinking when the situation called for it.  Her eyes traveled to the statue of the motorcycle he'd placed on the stone.  This son of a bitch had balls, she'd give him that.  Caressa felt Mark's arms wrap around her waist from behind and leaned back against him, needing his strength to help her get through this.  There was no breaking down, not until she was alone, then she would shed her tears and grieve for the man standing behind her.

 

Chapter 20

 

“I don't know, honey.” Steve murmured, still staring at the grave, finally looking at her, his blue eyes unreadable.  “I reckon so, nobody else was murdered, so either they found the gems or just took off.” He rubbed the back of his neck.  “Mark had a safe supposedly, guess they found it.”

 

“He's tryin' to bait ya, darlin'.”

 

“More than likely, especially if the rumors stopped.” She replied softly, wondering if Mark thought she was stupid or naive because Caressa was neither.  She bent down, extracting herself from his arms, and picked up some dirt in her hands before allowing it to slide between her fingers.  “Whoever killed him should burn in hell for the rest of their life.” She stated heatedly, eyes flashing, before standing up and cleared her throat.  She was getting worked up and had to calm down before she completely caved.

 

“I'm sure he will, Caressa.” Steve said solemnly, nodding his head in agreement, seeing the flash in her eyes.  “You know, I think Mark woulda liked ya, you got spirit, he always did love a woman with some fire.”

 

Mark was pretty sure if Steve told her about some of those past women, he was going to bash the bald fucker's skull in with the tombstone, fairly certain he could rip it from the ground.

 

“It's too bad that I will never get the opportunity to meet the man behind Shadow Riders.  Because of his genius and style, it's creative and different, which draws people to it.  I would give anything to meet Mark Calaway and just thank him for all the hard work and dedication he put into the place.” She meant every word she said and smiled softly when she felt Mark's hand on her shoulder, reaching back to pat it, though it just looked like she was rubbing her shoulder.  “Thank you for bringing me here, Steve.  It means a lot.” She murmured before slowly standing up, the last of the dirt leaving her hand, sighing sadly.

 

“Yer welcome honey.” Steve said with a nod, glancing behind her again, another confused frown on his face before shaking his head.  “How bout we get outta here?  I think I'm startin' to see things.”

 

“You know, I think I cause a disturbance in the air.” Mark smirked, waving his hands right in Steve's face, outright laughing when Steve looked puzzled again.

 

“Are you okay?” Caressa asked, raising an eyebrow, though she knew exactly why Steve was starting to look spooked.  The bastard was scared and she tried her damnest to hide the amusement shining in her eyes, wrapping her arms around herself.  “I think we'd better leave too, I don't feel right here.” She decided to play along, following Steve out of the cemetery, winking over her shoulder at a smirking Mark.  She loved that smirk, it made her heart swell.

 

Once out of the gloom of the cemetery, with the sunlight beating down on them, Steve seemed to revive, smiling again.  “How 'bout a beer, honey?” He asked, clearly not ready to take her home.

 

“Oh yes, let's go get drunk.” Mark snorted sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

 

“Actually, I really have to get back to my house.  I didn't exactly cancel plans with my brother so he's expecting me.” She smiled sweetly at him, deciding Mark had been around this asshole long enough along with herself.  “Some other time, alright?” She patted his arm gently, knowing she had to play the part, and nodded silently at Mark before mounting the Triumph.  Within moments, they were speeding out of the cemetery and down the road.

 

Steve was fuming.  First she didn't want to go with him, then she canceled plans, then it turned out she hadn't canceled.  He pulled off to the side of the road, letting the engine idle.  “You told me you canceled.” He said evenly.  “Why'd ya lie to me, Caressa?”

 

“Oh Christ...”

 

“I told you I cancelled plans with him for today, that does not include the evening, Steve.” Caressa replied just as evenly, crossing her arms in front of her chest, not liking the look that came over his icy blue orbs.  ‘And maybe because I don't want to be around your murdering ass one more second if I can help it.’ She thought bitterly, raising a slow eyebrow up at him.  “Would you honestly decline a ladies request to go home, Steve?  I never took you to be that type.” She wasn't backing down and heard Mark curse behind her, sighing gently.

 

“Course I wouldn't honey.” Steve said instantly, a charming smile on his face.  “Course not.”

 

“Here it comes.” Mark rolled his eyes.

 

“You keep avoidin' me though, Caressa.  Have I done somethin' to piss ya off?”

 

“Besides killing people?  Oh, no...”

 

“Well, actually yes you have.” She ignored Mark's gasp, looking back at this man with narrowed amber eyes.  “You had no business walking into MY shop without me there, key or not, Steve.  That really pissed me off.” She dismounted the bike with ease, running a hand through her hair.  “And the fact that you've treated my brother with the utmost disrespect just because he doesn't know how to adapt to a place like this pisses me off too.” Caressa turned around to face him, her lips one fine grim line.  ‘And the fact that you murdered the love of my life!!’ Her mind screamed.

 

Mark seen the rapidly building anger in Steve's eyes and shook his head.  “You had to do it, didn't ya?” He growled, running a hand through his hair.

 

Steve's feet were already on the ground.  “And I apologized fer both things.” He said coldly.  “So ya held a grudge and are just now tellin' me this shit because?  Besides the fact that yer one mighty cold bitch, of course.”

 

“I'm proud to be a cold bitch, it keeps assholes like you away from me.” She stated heatedly, her cheeks turning a fiery red from the anger that was coursing through her body.  “Look, I'm not interested in you in any way except friendship.  That's it.  I have too much on my plate right now and, quite frankly honey, you're not my type.  Now either give me a ride home or I'll walk.  Either way, I'm not going to have a drink with you.” She wasn't going to let him intimidate her, Caressa had always been one to stick up for herself, refusing to back down from any challenge big or small.

 

“So Caressa, just how does this fit in your overall scheme of me killin' him or somethin'?” Mark asked casually, knowing from the look on Steve's face, he was going to probably let her walk.

 

“Yeah, I'll take you home.” Steve said finally, nostrils flaring somewhat.  “Hurry up, Caressa.  I got places to be this evenin' too.”

 

Mark could only shake his head.

 

“Go ahead then, I'll be happy to walk home.” She raised an eyebrow when he scowled before starting the bike up and peeled out of there, shaking her head as she glared back at Mark.  “That was NOT the right thing to say to me.” She could already feel the tears cascading down her cheeks and wrapped her arms around herself, dropping to her knees in front of him. 

 

Being at that graveyard and seeing his tombstone was a slap in the face of cold, hard reality.  He really was dead, he really didn't have a beating heart, even though his ghost did.  The pain radiated off of her in waves as she slowly looked up at him and took his extended hand, allowing him to pull her up and into his arms.

 

“Darlin, what did you expect to find in that graveyard?” He asked softly, wiping her tears away with his thumb, his green eyes staring down kindly into hers, though he was feeling pain at seeing her anguish.  “I'm not alive, Caressa.  I am a ghost.” He whispered, realizing the reality had finally, truly hit her.  “And there is no bringing me back.” God he wished that wasn't the case!  How could his heart be dead when he could feel it breaking?

 

“T-There has to be.” She whispered, shaking her head slowly back and forth and cupped his face in her soft hands, pressing her forehead against his.  “You can't be dead or you wouldn't be here!  I've been doing a ton of research.  Maybe we have to do something with the amulet.  Maybe...” Her eyes slowly closed as the tears fell, knowing deep down Mark was right, and she hated the fact that he was.  “I'm in love with you...I can't lose you, Mark.” Though she had and she hadn't even been with him back then.  “It's not fair...just a whiff of your scent or the smell of your skin...I-I can't do this...I-I can't breathe!!” She was hyperventilating, her chest heaving, and suddenly collapsed in his arms, her entire body going limp.

 

Mark caressed her back, silent tears running down his own face, glazing in the sunlight.  “Darlin', maybe it'd be best fer you to just move on.” He said quietly.  “God, help me, I love you, but I'm no good fer you.  You can't really live yer life as long as you're mournin' the dead.” He tilted her chin up, looking down into her face.  “Let me take you home, Caressa.”

 

“I love you too, Mark.” She sobbed out, wrapping her arms around his neck, and inhaled his scent closing her eyes tightly shut.  “I can't move on.” She passionately kissed his lips, their tears mixing together, and slowly pulled back to stare into his emerald eyes.  “Take us home.” She murmured, mounting the bike and wrapped her arms tightly around his chest, pressing her hand over his beating heart and let the silent tears run down her cheeks, coating the back of his vest as he took off.

 

The entire ride, all he did was think.  If he was alive, this wouldn't be a problem, he could kill himself.  If he was alive however, they wouldn't even be in this predicament.  He needed to stay away from her and he would.  As long as he was a constant factor in Caressa's life, she would never move on.  He refused to let her literally lie with the dead while she was still breathing.

 

The bike roared to a stop in front of the house, but Caressa wouldn't release him.  “I'm not moving.” She stated gruffly, sniffling as she wiped her tears away, most of them flying behind her during the ride with Mark.  He was the only man who she wanted to share those with, the only man she wanted to make love too, the only man she wanted to breathe in.  “Please don't go away.” She whispered heartbrokenly, pressing her forehead against his back, swallowing past her sobs when he extracted her arms from around his waist. “Mark, don't do this...”

 

“I have too.” He whispered, refusing to let her tears sway his decision.  “I can't keep doin' this to ya, Caressa.  It's not healthy for ya.  And maybe, maybe I'm not supposed to be here at all.  I want you to get rid of the diamonds and the amulet, understand?  That amulet is probably what's tyin' me here and it's not fair for either of us.  You always waitin' on a man who can't truly be with you and me livin' between worlds.  This is how it is, darlin'.  It has to be this way.”

 

“I can't let you go...I'll never do it, no matter if this is the last time I see you.” She promised, slowly dismounting the bike, and turned to face him.  “I will love you forever and for eternity Mark Calaway, no matter what happens.” Caressa cupped his face in her hands, memorizing every feature, his eyes, his nose, his lips, his ears, his hair, every wrinkle in his forehead, which she pressed hers to his at that moment.  “One day you will see me again.” She vowed, knowing she would die sooner or later and then they could finally be together.  Caressa hated seeing the heartache in his eyes and cupped his face in her hands, passionately kissing him, giving him all of her in that one lip lock, never wanting to release it.  Maybe he would suck the air out of her and she would suffocate so she could join him on the other side.

 

He broke the kiss, pushing her away from him, the sadness once again full blown in his green eyes.  “You have to let me go, Caressa.” He said firmly, beginning to fade away.  “You have to live yer life and let me go, darlin'.  Get married, have babies, do everythin' ya always dreamed.  You know I'll be waitin' for ya.” He smiled his crooked smile, mouthing 'I love you' before disappearing.

 

“MARK!!!!” Caressa screamed out and dropped to her knees, the sobs overtaking every inch of her body, burying her face in her hands.  He was gone.  She loved him with all of her heart and he left her.  “No...” She whispered, closing her eyes and inhaled the air, only to find a faint trace of his scent and knew he'd disappeared again, maybe this time for good. 

 

Pulling herself up from the ground, Caressa trudged into the house and shut the door, somewhat in a trance.  When she was in her bedroom, Caressa collapsed on her bed and pulled the amulet from beneath her pillow, clutching it to her chest, knowing she couldn't do it.  She would never get rid of this stone, knowing it linked her to Mark.

 

Chapter 21

 

“Caressa?” John called a few days later, stepping into the house.  He'd made a key after thinking she was having a psychotic breakdown.  “Caressa, honey?” He hadn't seen her at work, nothing.  He'd tried running the shop by himself and while he could make sales, balancing the books nightly was beyond his talents.  When the third day had passed and she hadn't shown up, he was officially worried.

 

Caressa was lying in bed up in her room, the door locked, refusing to come out, refusing to live.  Her entire bedroom was blanketed in darkness, having blocked the sunlight from entering through her balcony door, not wanting to see it.  She wanted to die so she could be with Mark and actually thought about committing suicide.  There was currently a knife in her hand, the amulet in front of her, and heartbroken tears were sliding down her cheeks as she held the blade to her wrist.  She didn't hear her brother's voice, all her mind could focus on was Mark, and hoped death was the answer she was seeking.

 

Don't do it.” His voice murmured in her ear though when she looked, he wasn't there.  Stay alive, I'll wait for you, live.” It was a caress, surrounding her.

 

John was at her door now, twisting the handle, having called her name several times.  “Caressa, if you don't open this door right now I'm breaking it down!” He shouted, worry clearly in his voice.  When he didn't get that answer, he kicked it open.

 

“NO!” Caressa screamed out when she was tackled, the knife flying out of her hand and landing on the floor below, looking up to see her brother's baby blues staring back at her.  “John?” She whispered in disbelief, wondering what he was doing here and how he got in her house.  It didn't matter.  “I don't want to live without him.” She sobbed into his chest, gripping his shirt in her fists, trembling from head to toe.  She didn't care if she sounded completely insane, she was in love with a damn ghost!

 

John stared incredulously at the knife, his grip on her tightening just in case she tried making a grab for it.  “You never really had him, Care.” He said softly.  “You have to move on, sweetie.  You still have a life to live, suicide isn't the answer.” He heard her cries and felt his heart break for her.  “Come on honey, Mark wouldn't want you to kill yourself, we both know this.” He stood up, scooping her up against his chest.  She needed to get out of this house and he wasn't going to take no for an answer.

 

“Where are we going?” Caressa asked an hour later, wearing black jeans with a black long sleeved shirt, refusing to wear color right now.  Black shades were over her swollen red eyes and her hair was flat, hanging down her back, no style to it.  She just didn't have the desire to dress up wherever her brother was taking her.

 

“We're just driving.” John said, gripping the wheel, glancing at her.

 

He had considered taking her home with him, but didn't want to explain to Lizzie why his sister was pining after a guy who just happened to be dead.  Then the thought of Newbury crossed his mind, but there were a few things wrong with that.  First and foremost, Caressa would probably kill HIM if he even suggested it and second, their parents just didn't need to know their baby girl had gone off the deep end.

 

Throughout the drive, Caressa didn't once say a word, her thoughts solely on Mark as the silent tears fell down her cheeks.  She knew John had been running the shop and would thank him for it later.  Right now, all she wanted to do was be with Mark, in his arms, in his presence.  She remembered their night they first made love out in the open country on the picnic table.  Then in her bedroom, which used to be his.  The house and the shop were both reminders of the man who was dead and couldn't give her what she needed.  Caressa loved someone she could never have and it killed her on the inside.

 

John reached across the seat to take her hand, squeezing gently.  “Caressa, you need to get away from the house for a while.  Why don't you stay in town with me and Lizzie for a few days?” He asked softly, fully prepared to battle her on this when she said no, knowing it was coming.  “It’s not healthy for you to stay there all day crying.  I know you...you love him, but...it's time to let him go.”

 

“No!!” She shouted, forcing him to stop the truck as she got out, crying out when he stopped her.  “NO!!  I will never let him go!!  I will never love again!!” She started wailing on him with her tiny fists, the tears streaming down her face, before finally wrapping her arms around his neck, sobbing violently in it.  Caressa knew what she had to do, she just needed that last burst of energy and pain to consume her.  “I-I'm sorry, John...” She sobbed, her voice a heartbroken whisper, refusing to release him.

 

“Sssshhhh...Calm down, Caressa.” John whispered, his blue eyes wide, body trembling at her outburst.  He pulled her over the seat and into his lap, wrapping his arms around her tightly.  “Calm down, sweetie, calm down.” He soothed, knowing that had not been the thing to say, mentally making a note to avoid mentioning Mark and letting go ever again.

 

Caressa cried until she could no longer get up the strength, sagging against her brother, though she wasn't sleeping.  “I'm leaving Houston.” She announced sadly, causing John's eyes to widen even more, sniffling as she wiped more tears away.  “Next week, I'm leaving Houston and going back home.” She hated saying that, but she knew she had to get far away from Texas and away from this place, knowing it was the only way to mend her broken heart.  “Please don't say I told you so.” She whispered, wrapping her arms around herself, silent tears falling down her tear streaked face.

 

“I won't.” He whispered, having never intended too, but secretly relieved she was going back to Newbury.  Maybe she could regain some sort of life there.  “You want me to come with you?” John asked in a soft voice, feeling her hot tears beating down on him, his heart breaking all the more.  “Lizzie's been dying to meet mom and dad.” He said, attempting to inject some humor into his voice.

 

“You're going to anyway.” She pointed out, sighing heavily when John just nodded, rolling her eyes.  “Typical big brother.” She looked up into his blue eyes and kissed his cheek before hugging him again.  “Thank you for sticking by my side through all of this, John.” She murmured softly in his ear, meaning what she said, and knew deep down Houston, Texas wasn't the place she was meant to be.

 

“That's what big brothers are for.” He said gruffly, rubbing his ear down against his shoulder.  “You know I hate that.” He groaned with a slight smile, glancing at her to see if he had evoked a smile from her.  Not surprisingly, he hadn't.  “Just say when you want to leave, Caressa, and we'll go.” He promised softly.

 

“One week from Friday.” She murmured quietly and slowly extracted herself from his arms, crawling over to sit in the passenger seat, wiping her tears away.  “In the meantime, I want to spend as much time as I can in that house before I say goodbye to it.  So please take me back there.” She requested softly and looked out the window.  There were a few things she had to do before she left Houston and closed her eyes against the pain that radiated in her heart.

 

That wasn't exactly what he had been hoping to hear and shot her a pleading look.  “Caressa, I really think you need to get away from that house.” He said, trying to be calm, sighing heavily when she gave him one of her darker looks, gripping the steering wheel tightly, staring straight ahead.  There was nothing he could say that would change her mind once she had made it up.  “One week from Friday?” He asked evenly.

 

“Yes.” She whispered as he started the truck up and turned around, heading toward the house. 

 

Caressa knew she had to do this.  There was no other choice otherwise she wouldn't be able to move on and she would end up killing herself to be with Mark on the other side, wherever he was.  It broke her heart, but Caressa wanted to live.  She wasn't ready to die yet, no matter how much she tried convincing herself.  Her heart still beat in her chest and air was in her lungs.  She could move on from this, she just needed time to heal.

 

Nodding, John started the truck back up, doing a U-turn in the road and headed back towards the house, knowing this was going to be one long hour drive.  His mind was racing as the miles rolled by.  Would Caressa try to kill herself or would she honestly go back to Newbury?  The memory of seeing her holding that knife to her wrist brought tears to his eyes, hoping he wasn't making a mistake by not forcing her to stay with him.

 

~!~

 

It was the night before she was leaving Texas as Caressa stood outside of the cemetery gates, swallowing hard, and knew she had to do this.  She had a shovel in one hand, her purse over her shoulder, tears cascading down her cheeks.  She decided to wear something special for this occasion, sporting a black dress that went down to her knees and it was spaghetti strapped, flowing lightly in the warm summer breeze with black flats on.  She hated heels, never was a fan of them and her hair was piled on top of her head in curls, a few tendrils framing her face delicately. 

 

Caressa made her way through the cemetery, making sure not to trip over the sunken tombstones before finally arriving at her destination.  Tears splashed on the ground as Caressa ran her fingertips over the words of his tombstone and knew this is where the right place to bury both the amulet and the diamonds was.  Slowly, she began her job and began shoveling dirt, digging up his casket.

 

He watched as she dug the earth up, snorting when she reached the casket.  The empty casket no less.  Steve had heard the whispered rumors that Caressa was leaving, her dimwitted brother handling the closing of the shop.  He'd gone to her house, watched her as she left and followed.  He noticed she seemed almost well, almost air headed, as if she didn't notice what was going on around her.  Ice blue eyes narrowed when he seen her set the purse aside.

 

“You know...I never thought in a million years I would ever be doing something like this.” Caressa said as she kept digging up the casket, the full lit moon shining down on her, tears streaming down her face nonstop.  “I mean granted I've always believed in the afterlife coming back and haunting the earth, but never in my life did I think this could happen...” She sniffled, piercing the ground with the shovel and pressed her forehead against the handle.  “But it did and I can't stop my heart from what it feels.  I can't stop loving you, Mark, no matter what.  So I'm leaving Houston.” Caressa sighed as she resumed digging around the casket, taking her time.  “I know you'll always be with me and you probably know all of this already, but I couldn't leave without saying a proper goodbye and giving you what you deserve most, what you died for.  Just know that I will always love you and when I finally pass on and go to the other side, we can ride off in the sunset and be together forever.” She kneeled into the ground, pressing her hand to the stone, and let more tears fall before opening the casket, not surprised to find it empty.  Mark had told her Steve disposed of his body elsewhere.

 

And now she was talking to the dead, more specifically a dead person she had never met.  Steve shook his head, snorting softly, no wonder the woman was moving, she'd done officially lost her mind.  No doubt her brother was forcing her to go back East and seek some therapy or something.  What he had died for?  Steve wound his way quietly towards her until he was standing behind her.

 

“What're you doin' here, Caressa?” He demanded softly, blue eyes narrowing when she opened the empty casket.

 

A scream emanated through the empty cemetery as Caressa spun around, her purse clutched to her chest, amber eyes widened as she tripped over the casket.  She quickly scrambled up until they were standing on either side of the casket, swallowing hard.  She had made sure nobody followed her, hadn't she?  “I could ask you the same thing, Austin.” She shot back, breathing heavily, her heart thundering against her chest rapidly.  What was he doing here?  Had he followed her?  Caressa narrowed her eyes at the mere thought and wanted to rip his throat out with her long black painted fingernails.

 

“I'm usually here.” Steve said quietly, his blue eyes still on the open casket, finally, slowly traveling upwards to meet her amber eyes.  “He was my best friend.  Mind tellin' me why ya dug this up?” He lightly tapped the casket with his toe, not looking away from her.  “Puttin' something in it, hmm?  Somethin' he died for?  Is that what you said?”

 

“I'm burying him with his family's amulet.” She quietly replied, pulling it out of her purse, and showed him the purple stone that no longer pulsated with life.  “He asked me to do it.” She knew she sounded crazy and honestly didn't care.  “I found the amulet when I first moved in and he told me in a dream to bury him with it and to get out of his house.” He probably wouldn't buy the lie, but Caressa honestly didn't care.  If he was getting the diamonds, he would have to kill her for them and bury her in the empty casket.

 

Chapter 22

 

“You dug up a dead man's grave to bury a...woman's necklace?” Steve asked with an angry snort, nostrils flaring.  “A man you've never even met no less, pretty odd to me, Caressa.  Course you know, what yer doin' is a felony right?” He suddenly kicked over the casket, his face red with rage.  “What else did ya find when you moved in, hmmm?”

 

“Nothing.” She answered evenly, holding the amulet as she pressed it to her heart, seeing the danger and rage in his blue eyes.  “He came to me in a dream, told me to get out of his house and told me to bury this with his body so he could cross-over to the other side.  I met him briefly in the dream, that's it.” There was no way Caressa was going to tell Steve everything she'd done with Mark, all the kisses, all the love making because it was none of his business.  She also was clutching her purse like it was a lifeline, knowing if he got the diamonds he would win and it would all be over.  “Why are you constantly around his gravesite anyway?  Don't you find that morbid...unless of course you're feeling guilty over something?”

 

“Oh yeah, sure. I feel guilty alright.” Steve said, nodding his head, his face serious.  “I was his best friend and I couldn't stop him from gettin' killed.  Course I feel guilty.  Course, as for the morbid part, I'm not the one talkin' bout seein' him in my dreams.  Now am I?  So, my little psychic, what else did he tell you in that dream, hmm?” His eyes strayed to the purse she was clutching.

 

“You killed him and to stay away from you.” Caressa took another step back, trying like hell not to make a run for it, knowing she wouldn't get far with the flats she was wearing.  Not to mention the graveyard toward the beginning was too dangerous to run through and she had a task to do.  She had to bury Mark with the diamonds and the only way that wasn't going to happen is if Steve murdered her for them.  “You did it, that's why you're constantly lurking in the shadows, that's why you aren't shocked to find his casket empty.” Tears burned in her amber eyes, hating this man more than life itself.  “How did you do it Steve?  Did you shoot him and what did you do with his body?  Why couldn't you give him a proper burial, you murderer?”

 

Steve did not seemed surprised in the slightest that she knew, a vicious smirk on his face.  “Shootin' him would've been wastin' the bullet, Mark's skull always was too thick for his own damn good.  No, honey, I used a tire iron.  Thick or not, a few good whacks with that sumbitch and he was nothin', but brain batter.” Steve was now standing right in front of her, his blue eyes alight with fire.  “How 'bout you let me have that purse, Caressa, before you get hurt?”

 

“Give him the purse, then run.” Mark ordered from behind Steve, busy lifting the casket into the air.

 

Caressa's eyes widened when she seen Mark behind him, the casket in the air, and clutched the purse tighter to her.  “No.” She stated defiantly, shaking her head as if to emphasize it, taking another shaky step back.  She had to think of something and silently wished she'd brought a weapon to defend herself.  Who the hell would think their life would be in danger in a cemetery though?

 

“Caressa, if you ever really loved me, then listen to me for once in yer goddamn life!” Mark bellowed, tossing the casket aside, leaving a gaping hole in the ground.  Perfect.

 

“Woman, give me that damn purse.” Steve growled, frowning when he seen her looking behind him and glanced back.

 

“Damn it!” Caressa whispered before kicking Steve below the belt, refusing to give up her purse and the diamonds without a fight.  “You'll have to kill me before you get them!” She shouted before taking off away from Mark's gravesite, tears streaming down her cheeks, putting the purse so it was around her shoulder and neck.  Caressa gasped when she tripped over one of the sunken tombstones and looked down, a huge gash in her leg as she slowly scrambled up, needing to keep going.

 

Mark shook his head, wondering just why he loved this foolish woman.  She sure as hell didn't have a lick of sense.  Not to mention she couldn't fucking listen worth a damn either.  Factor in she was about to get herself killed the same way he had, he was fairly certain she had been dropped on her head as a child.  Grunting, he took off after them when Steve finally chased after her.  Steve knew the graveyard better than Caressa did, she was going to die if something didn't happen soon.

 

Ignoring the pain that exploded through her leg, Caressa kept running, not looking back, crying out when she was tackled from behind and hit her head against a stone, a huge gash in the side of her head.  Caressa rolled onto her side, holding her head while the blood ran down her leg, the moon being her only light as she slowly looked up into the cold ice blue eyes of Steve, still refusing to give him the diamonds.  “You'll have to kill me if you want them.” She murmured, her head pounding as the blood ran down the side of her face, tears mixing with it.  The diamonds were no longer in the purse when Steve snatched it, nor the amulet.

 

“That shouldn't be hard you stupid bitch, yer already bleedin' like a stuck pig!” Steve snapped, frowning when he found the purse empty.  “Where the fuck are they, Caressa?” He bellowed angrily.

 

“Right here, jackass.” Mark snorted, clutching them in his fist, the now pulsating amulet in the other hand.  His green eyes narrowed dangerously when he seen the gash on Caressa's head, knowing she needed immediate medical attention.

 

Caressa smiled behind Steve, love shining in her eyes as she stared at Mark, her heart lifting at the sight of him.  “I knew you couldn't stay away...” She whispered amusedly, backing up further as she leaned against an old willow tree, her leg killing her.  “You'll never have them, Steve.  They never belonged to you.” She stated, though her voice was distant as she touched her head, wincing, and looked down at her blood coated hand.

 

“Yeah, you know me and my attraction to suicidal broads who see ghosts.” Mark said dryly, though his lips quirked with amusement.

 

“They never belonged to him either!” Steve snarled, advancing on her.  “Girl, if you wanna make it out of here alive, I-” He trailed off, watching as something glittered in his line of vision, frowning when he realized it was a diamond, floating in the air, by itself.  “What the-”

 

“Oh so now I'm a suicidal broad?” Caressa chuckled as she shook her head, smirking right back at him, her eyes glittering in the moonlight.  “I told you I was crazy and took risks.  You didn't believe me, not my fault.”

 

She smirked when she seen Steve begin to freak out, seeing the floating diamond in his vision, watching him try to snatch it only for it go out of his vision.  This was amusing in a sick, demented sort of way.  She closed her eyes briefly, trying to push the pain away, and opened them to look down at the deep gash in her leg, ripping off a portion of her dress and wrapped it around the wound, trying to stem the blood flow.

 

“There's a difference between being crazy and taking risks from insanity and suicide.” Mark pointed out, clearly enjoying himself, dangling the diamond out of Steve's reach.  “You are on that fine line, Caressa.”

 

“What the FUCK is goin' on?” Steve bellowed, rounding on her, stooping to pick up a heavy, dead tree branch from the ground.  “What the hell kinda game is this you bitch?” He cursed when the branch was jerked out of his hand, spinning to see who had done it.  “Yer fuckin' moron brother here too, bitch?”

 

Caressa was laughing, not able to help herself, the pain exploding in her head, but she didn't care.  “Nah, I'm just a lively woman, baby.” She clicked her tongue when Steve kept whipping around, not moving from where she was sitting.  “And no, Steve dear, my brother doesn't even know I'm here.” She raised an eyebrow when Mark scowled at her, sighing resignedly.  “Did you honestly expect anything different from me, my night rider?”

 

“Night rider?  Who the fuck are you talkin' too?” Steve snarled, aiming a kick at her gashed leg, ignoring her small cry of pain.  He grunted when his shoulder was tapped, blue eyes landing on a nearby tombstone, seeing sparkling coming from the head of it.  Cautiously, he walked over to look down, seeing the diamonds.  His eyes widened greedily before realizing they were spelling something.  “B-0-0?”

 

“Damn right.” Mark said, swinging the branch into the back of Steve's shoulder.

 

“You fuckin' bastard!!” Caressa growled out, her leg throbbing now as the blood began to flow again, knowing she had to somehow manage to get on her feet.  When she tried, Caressa cursed again when she landed on her knees, her blood covering the earth in front of her due to the gash wound in her temple.  “You're in trouble now, Steve.  Because the man you killed is here and he's coming to get his revenge.” She smirked sadistically when Steve's baby blues nearly fell out of their sockets, moving to lean back against the tree, knowing she had nowhere to go right now and felt incredibly dizzy.

 

“Mark is DEAD, you crazy bitch!  He ain’t here cause there ain't no such things as ghosts!” Steve ranted, spinning in a circle, convinced her brother was here somewhere, fucking with him.  That was the only logical, rational explanation.  “MARK IS DEAD!”

 

Mark shook his head.  “Damn he's a smart one.” He spared a glance at Caressa, knowing she needed medical attention immediately before she joined him in an early death.  “Too bad he can't see me, I'd scare him to death.” He rumbled, turning the branch in his hands, green eyes narrowing.