Disclaimer: With the exception of Noelle and Cherry, these characters belong to Shoot the Moon and Warner Bros.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is set 2007, not because I'm indulging in sci-fi but because I wanted to have Philip in his mid-30s. Plus, the opportunity to write about Lee and Amanda's 20th anniversary was simply too enticing to pass up:)
Lee Stetson spotted the couple across the crowded restaurant first and groaned. He knew what effect they would have on his wife. So much for a romantic twentieth anniversary dinner.
Noticing his statement, Amanda asked, "What is it?" She followed his eyes and saw them. "Oh, great. That's the third 'Randi-baby' in the last five weeks. When is he ever going to settle down?"
Lee thought of his own long line of 'Randi-babies' and smiled down at his one and only Amanda. "When he finds the right woman," he softly answered as he lightly traced her jawline with his forefinger.
"What if he's already met her and she just wasn't as long-suffering as I was?" Amanda countered playfully. "After all it took you three years to realize it."
"Two and a half. And I doubt Philip is as dense as I was." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Tonight, let's just focus on the fact you and I have had twenty wonderful years of marriage."
Amanda bit her bottom lip in a way she knew would tantalize Lee. "I certainly hope your plans include a whole lot of private time."
Lee whispered against her neck. "Oh, they definitely do, Mrs. Stetson, they definitely do."
Amanda's knees were just about to abandon her when the maitre d' interrupted them. "Mr. Stetson, your table is ready."
Linking her arm through his and earnestly praying that the meal would pass quickly, Lee led Amanda to their table. Two decades had not dimmed his passion for her. Their private time couldn't come soon enough.
Philip noticed his parents dancing a short time later. He had long ago began thinking of Lee as his father. Lee had been more involved in Philip's life than Joe. Joe loved his sons but his work was his life. Lee never made that mistake and Philip loved him for it.
He saw the warm look in his mother's eyes as she smiled up at her husband. Philip turned his attention to his own date. Heidi's eyes were disturbingly vacant as she described her latest shopping expedition to Paris. "I just can't understand why that stupid saleswoman was so incompetent. You would think that a better salon like that would hire people with class and intelligence."
Heidi's monologue continued for several more minutes as Philip returned his attention to his parents. He was bored with what his mother called his 'Randi-babies' and not for the first time envied his parents. They had found each other and were smart enough to hold on to that love fiercely.
"Philip, I declare, you haven't heard a word I've said," Heidi pouted. "I'm beginning to think that I'm losing my appeal." With a small laugh she continued, "Of course, that's certainly not the case, now is it?"
As her shoe moved up his calf, he shifted in his seat. "Heidi, your appeal is the same as always. I'm just a little distracted by work. How about if I take you home? I have a feeling my mood is just going to continue going downhill and you don't deserve that." Rising, he pulled out her chair and led her to the coat room. With a final glance at his parents, he wondered why he didn't approach them. Probably because he was too embarrassed to introduce them to a woman they would not approve of.
Heidi was thankfully quiet on the ride home. When he walked her to the door, she finally spoke. "You're not going to call again, are you?" She genuinely liked Philip but realized he didn't reciprocate her feelings.
Flashing her a somewhat guilty smile, Philip merely kissed her cheek and left.
Four hours later, Philip was in a bar near the Capitol when he noticed her. What caught Philip's notice was the color of her eyes. Even from across the room, the brilliance of the blue shown. Her light brown hair was pulled up in a casual chignon and her skin was peaches and cream. She was wearing a pale pink cocktail dress which was complemented by a single strand of pearls around her slender neck.
She was with an older gentleman and they were arguing. Her lips were drawn in tight line as she shook her head. The man grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her onto the dance floor.
Philip strode across the bar and stepped between them. "The lady obviously doesn't want to dance. So why don't you find someone else?"
The man was incredulous and began laughing. "The lady doesn't have a choice. I paid for her services and I intend to get my money's worth."
Now it was Philip's turn to be incredulous. She was a call girl? He looked down at her astonished face.
Noelle couldn't believe it. This guy was defending her? This drop dead gorgeous man in the double-breasted suit that cost more than her car was taking up for her? Before she could come to her senses, he spoke again.
"Okay, so how much money are we talking here?" Philip suddenly didn't care what she was. No one deserved to be manhandled like that. Besides, there was something in the way she looked at him.
The older man looked from one to the other. "What is this, some kind of scam? You a cop?"
"No. How much money?" Philip's firm voice convinced the man to cooperate.
"Forget it. She's not worth it." Scowling the man walked off to find someone else to amuse him.
Noelle felt like pinching herself. Realizing that her mouth was hanging open, she closed it and swallowed. "Uh, thank you."
Philip stared at her and tried to think of something suave to say. What he came up with was not even close. "Are you a prostitute?"
Taken aback, Noelle's jaw dropped again. "Oh, well, not exactly."
Philip silently cursed. "Look, I'm sorry. It's none of my business. How about I give you a ride home?"
She looked nervous so Philip decided to try another tactic. "Philip King."
"Huh?" Noelle knew she sounded like an imbecile but she couldn't help it. Was this a business proposition or was he just being polite?
Philip saw the confusion in her eyes and felt horrible. "I'm sorry. My name is Philip King. I, uh, I'm not trying to pull anything here. I just thought you needed help." At her silence, he took a step away from the table. "I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone."
Noelle placed her hand on his arm. "Please don't go."
Eyes meeting, Philip covered her hand with his. "Okay. Can I sit down?" He motioned to the seat vacated by her client (he winced at the thought).
Nodding her head, she continued to study him. Despite numerous past mistakes in judgment, she instinctively trusted him. His eyes seemed to reassure her in ways words couldn't express. She was feeling something for him and knew she wanted to find out what it was.
Philip watched as she let her guard down. He could see how nervous she was and tried to make her comfortable. "You know, I usually don't make such a bad first impression. Some people even find me charming. Actually, most people do," he winked at her. "Once again, my name's Philip King and yours is?"
It was the wink that brought her back to reality. Shaking her head and smiling, she held her hand out to him. "Noelle Kincaid. I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not used to knights in shining Armani coming to my rescue." When their hands touched, Noelle felt a wave of desire shoot through her body. Gasping, she pulled her hand away and dropped her gaze to the tabletop.
Philip felt it too and was taken completely by surprise. She was the most alluring woman he had ever seen but he wasn't some school boy on his first date. He couldn't believe how close he was to losing control. Tempting fate, he reached over and lifted her chin to force her to look at him. Neither spoke as they reassessed each other.
Philip cleared his throat and tried to speak. "Um, my pleasure." In more ways than one, he thought. Desperate to regain control of his emotions, he went for casual chat. "So, can I get you another drink?"
Nodding, she too strove for some balance. "That would be nice. Diet Coke, please."
Eyebrows raised, he motioned for the waitress. "I'd like a scotch and the lady would like a Diet Coke."
Something inside her melted when he called her a lady. "I'm not a prostitute." She needed him to know that before they continued.
His eyes swept over her elegant attire and beautiful body once again. "I believe you."
Glowing under his admiring look, she knew she had to clarify her occupation. "I'm not a call girl either. However, I am an escort. Strictly hands off work but not a lot of people understand that." Too embarrassed to meet his look, she fiddled with the small purse in her lap.
Philip was shocked but unswayed. He wanted to get to know her. It was more than physical attraction. He was drawn to her. "That's, uh, that's all right, I guess." So much for smooth ladies' man. "I'm an attorney."
Her eyes flew to his. "Lawyer?" Suddenly she giggled. "Well, a lawyer and an escort. We're quite a pair. The next time some cop misunderstands my job description, I'll be sure to call you."
Philip joined in her laughter. "Better not. I'm a D.A."
It wasn't all that funny but they laughed anyway. It broke the ice. Their drinks arrived and Philip paid the waiter. Several moments passed as they drank and reevaluated each other.
Philip knew her 'career' would complicate things but it didn't matter. She intrigued him.
Noelle knew she should politely send him on his way but she couldn't. He sparked something in her and she wanted to explore the possibilities.
Philip cleared his throat. "So, are you prejudiced against dancing or was it just dancing with the old man?"
"Just the old man. Are you asking?" She was now relaxed and flirty.
Philip could flirt too. "I might be. It's the sort of thing a knight in shining Armani would do, isn't it?"
"Well, when you make up your mind, meet me on the dance floor." With that parting shot, she made her way through several couples and shot him a come hither look over her shoulder.
If Philip had any further doubts, they vanished with that look.
After dancing for a couple of hours, they drove to her Georgetown neighborhood. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea so he asked her to walk with him for a while.
Hand in hand, they made their way around the block. "So, how does a D.A. afford Armani?" Noelle inquired.
"I spent a few years in private practice with a fairly large firm. The money was good and I made some smart investments. Last year, I decided to indulge in the real reason I became an attorney. I want to make the world a safer place and prosecuting is the best way I know how." Philip shrugged his shoulders.
Noelle's heart was in serious danger at this point. "That's great. I always wanted to be a doctor."
"How did you end up...well, you seem to be a long way from M.D." He had put his foot in his mouth again. Why did she have this effect on him?
"Long story, old story. Girl meets boy, gives up her dreams to support his, boy gets all he can and leaves girl with baby and no means to take care of herself." She threw her head back and let out a deep breath. "I could hate him except he have me the most extraordinary gift. Cherry is my life. I do what I do so that I can provide for her."
Philip stopped in his tracks imagining his mother's response to this woman. Noelle was not wallowing in self-pity. She was simply stating the facts. But he could tell her life hadn't been anywhere near as easy as his and she was in need of some TLC. If there was one thing at which Amanda Stetson excelled, it was nurturing. He knew he had to introduce these two women soon.
"Tell me about your daughter," he prodded.
She grinned. "You asked for it. She's three and a half. She's a genius. Knows her alphabet and can count to twenty. She loves to tell stories from her imagination. Sometimes she's a princess and sometimes she's a warrior. She is such a joyful child, always cheering me up. She says when she grows up, she's going to be doctor just for me." Noelle's eyes spoke volumes about the love she had for her daughter as they met Philip's.
He smiled. "I'd love to meet her." Realizing he may have just overstepped his bounds, he quickly said, "I mean, she sounds like she's..."
Noelle placed a hand on his chest. "I think you'll like her."
Philip caught his breath and stared down into her eyes. Giving her time to back away if she chose, he leaned toward her face. Smiling softly she raised her mouth to meet his. Tightly embracing her, he deepened the kiss which she eagerly returned. Later, Philip would swear that he heard bells and Noelle would say that they were the death toll of his womanizing ways.
Over the next several months, Philip grew to know and love both Noelle and Cherry. He introduced them to his family. As he had predicted, his mother took the two in and made them feel like they belonged. Amanda even helped Noelle find a secretarial position with Joe's old law firm.
Every day spent with his two girls was pure heaven to Philip. He loved the way Cherry was openly affectionate and how she responded to the simplest of gestures with delight. He wasn't using the daughter to get to the mother. Cherry was the kind of child every one was drawn to.
Noelle took a little more effort. Philip knew he was falling for her right from that first night. But Noelle had kept a distance between them. In the beginning she seemed to have a line drawn. It took weeks for him to cross it but he was patient. He knew once she admitted her love for him that it would be forever. The turning point came in the least expected way.
Cherry was spending the night with Lee and Amanda. Never having a daughter of her own, Amanda adored the little girl and volunteered to baby-sit on a weekly basis. Philip made dinner at his apartment as a surprise for Noelle. When he opened his door to her, his heart began beating double-time. Noelle was wearing a red dress that on a lesser woman would have been called skimpy. On her, it was sensual and alluring. Philip led her into the dining room and seated her at the table without so much as a peck on the cheek. Unable to meet her questioning gaze, he went to the kitchen.
Her hand on his shoulder surprised him. Having no idea how long he had been staring at the lasagna, he felt slightly ridiculous. "Uh, it's ready. Go on, sit down. I'll serve."
Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Is everything okay?"
"Um, yeah, everything is fine. Just go sit and I'll be right in." Philip knew he needed a few moments to collect himself or the temptation of the nearby bedroom would overwhelm him.
Once again seated at the table, Noelle tried to figure him out. The awkwardness was not all like Philip. He was acting like she had the plague. A painful thought came to her. Philip was breaking up with her. She didn't want to believe it. She and Cherry needed him so much. She loved him and had never told him. Maybe it was for the best. He would break her heart and never know it. She would be able to hang on to her pride, for what it was worth. Swiping at a tear and ordering her heart not to break until she was safely alone in her own bed, she weakly smiled up at him as he sat down.
Philip wasn't sure what the smile meant but the look in her eyes told him it wasn't good. Nervously he served her lasagna and then his own. They ate silently.
At the end of the uncomfortable meal, Noelle spoke. "Philip, this was lovely. I've really enjoyed our time together and I know Cherry likes you. You've changed my life for the better and I'll never be able to repay you. Thank you."
With that she rose and attempted to leave the apartment. Philip grabbed her arm and whirled her around. "That's it? Just thank you very much and good-bye? I thought I meant more to you than that!"
"You're the one with the big farewell dinner plans. Don't try to pretend otherwise. I've seen it all before. A dozen times at least." She was crying and pulling away from him. "I love you and I'm sorry I ever met you and I hope you spend the rest of your life regretting tonight!"
Philip had been angry and confused right up until she said she loved him. "I don't think I could ever regret tonight."
Aghast, she slapped him. He laughed and reached for hand. Kissing it, he used his free hand to pull her into her arms. "I love you. I hate that you got the wrong idea but I'm happy to be able to tell you this. I love you. Forever. Always. Happily ever after and all that."
Noelle felt like dancing. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she did the only thing she wanted to do. She placed her mouth on his and forgot all about broken hearts and past mistakes.
Eagerly he began planning for the future and bought Noelle an exquisite diamond engagement ring. He even bought a child's ring to give to Cherry to make sure the child knew he wanted both of them in his life forever.
Telling them to dress up and making reservations for three, Philip's excitement was contagious. Cherry knew something was up and couldn't sit still all afternoon. Noelle was curious but never dreamed he would include Cherry in the proposal. She was completely unprepared for the events of the evening.
Seated at an intimate table, they talked and laughed as Cherry entertained them with her latest story. This one was about a dragon who wanted to be a king. After dessert, Philip anxiously pulled both ring boxes from his coat pocket and held them out.
Cherry loved receiving gifts and impatiently opened the box. Gasping in delight, she flung her arms around Philip. "Oh, thank you, it's so pretty."
Philip hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "You're very welcome, sweetie. I love you."
"Oh, Philip, I love you too." The little girl kissed his cheek and turned to her mother.
Noelle had not spoken. She had not even opened her box. Unable to make eye contact with Philip and unsure of what terrified her about that small box, she stood. "We need to get you home, honey. It's way past your bed time." Taking Cherry's hand, she walked out of the restaurant and hailed a cab. Tears streaming down her face, she ignored her startled daughter's numerous questions.
Philip sat in the restaurant for over an hour. He couldn't believe she had left. He knew she loved him and Cherry loved him. He already thought of the sweet little girl as his. More importantly, he thought of the sweet mother as his too. Why did she leave?
Not knowing who else to turn to, he drove to his parents' home in Rockville. Knocking on the door, he waited for one of them to answer. Lee soon appeared and greeted him with a smile. "Philip! I didn't know you were coming by tonight. Your mom took your grandmother to that new Mel Gibson movie. She's going to be sorry she missed you."
Philip smiled back at Lee. "That's okay because I really came to talk to you."
Noticing the forlorn look on Philip's face, Lee led him to the den and took a seat in the armchair by the fireplace. "Go ahead, son. I'm listening."
Philip paced as he recounted the evening's events. "I don't know why she left. I thought I had made my intentions pretty clear. I love her, I love both of them. I want to take care of them and have them take care of me."
Lee searched for a way to say what he wanted without completely villianizing Joe King. "I think you just need to hang in there. Your mom was cautious about becoming involved with me. Sure, she knew I dated a lot. That was part of it. The biggest part though was learning to trust again. She needed to know that she wasn't going to be abandoned for a second time. It took us three years, Philip, but it was worth it." Lee coughed, uncomfortably aware of how much Philip was hurting. Eva had broken his heart but Lee knew Noelle was nothing like his treacherous ex-lover. Noelle genuinely loved Philip. It was evident to both Lee and Amanda every time they saw the young couple together.
Philip nodded. "Noelle was left to raise Cherry on her own. She probably feels the same way about being abandoned as Mom did." Philip threw himself down on the couch and ran his hand across his forehead. "This is so hard, Lee, I know she's the one. How do I convince her?"
"You don't. You can't. She needs you to be there. It may take a while but she'll see that you're committed to her and Cherry." Lee paused. "I know you guys still don't understand why we kept our marriage a secret. The danger to you was really only part of it. You and Jamie needed time to get to know me. I needed time to get to know you too. But equally important was the fact that your mother was protecting you from losing another father. I was in a dangerous line of work. I could have been killed or captured."
Lee gave his stepson a hard look. "Noelle lost Cherry's father. She knows it could happen again. Loving someone means risking the pain of losing them. The easiest way to protect herself and Cherry is to break things off with you now. Be patient with her. Keep giving her reasons to put her heart on the line."
Philip stared at Lee as understanding dawned. "Yeah, reasons. I think I can come up with a few. Thanks, Lee."
Two days later, Noelle was still crying. Rejecting Philip had been the hardest thing she had ever done. It had also been the stupidest. Dropping Cherry at preschool, she drove to his office. Disappointed that he was in court, she chose not to leave a message. Words on paper could not make up for walking out on him.
Back at her apartment, she sank into bed and cried herself to sleep. Her dreams were filled with visions of Cherry's father leaving and Philip begging her to stay. She woke feeling more exhausted than before her nap. Deciding to go for a jog, she searched her closet for sweats. The first pair she found were Philip's.
Memories of an afternoon washing his car swept over her. Cherry had been given the all important task of manning the water hose. Both adults ended up drenched much to the little girl's delight. Philip had loaned her the sweats. With a playful leer, he told her he had been waiting for the opportunity to let her into his pants. Swatting his hands away, she had laughed and told him to behave himself since Cherry was just in the other room watching cartoons.
She was standing there holding his sweats and crying when the doorbell rang. Swiping her eyes, she peered through the peep hole. The person on the other side was utterly unexpected.
Speedily opening the door, she welcomed her guest. "Amanda, please come in."
Amanda had been an agent too long not to notice the tears and the sweats. She took in the surprise in Noelle's face and also the pain. "Hello, dear. Before you ask, yes, I know what happened at the restaurant. I'm pretty sure I know why too. What I don't know is what your next move is."
Noelle was caught off guard. "What do you mean?" Was Amanda here because Philip asked her to come or was she here for her own reasons?
Amanda sat down on the couch and motioned for Noelle to join her. "I mean, I know you love my son. He loves you too. In fact he's waiting for you."
Noelle's hopes began to rise. "He's waiting for me? He still wants me?"
"Of course. Noelle, I know how hard it is to depend on someone after you've been hurt. I know Philip has told you about his father and me. When Joe went to Africa, I went through the motions of dating again but never really allowed myself to get that close to another man. When I fell in love with Lee, we took things nice and slow. We didn't even kiss until we knew it was right." Here Amanda took Noelle's hand.
"Lee and I went so slow for so long. When we finally admitted our feelings, I was completely confident in his love. I knew it was forever." With a meaningful look, she continued. "You and Philip moved a little faster and you're scared, right?"
"Amanda, I know in my heart that Philip will never intentionally hurt me or Cherry. But my head isn't so easily convinced. I need more time."
Amanda embraced her future daughter-in-law. "Tell him that. He'll understand."
Noelle pulled back and nodded. "Tonight. I'll go see him tonight."
Philip had spent a long day in court prosecuting a fifteen year old drug pusher. These cases were never easy. This boy had six priors for dealing and Philip knew his future didn't look good. Philip had recommended job training while the boy was locked up and the judge had agreed. The kid was being given a chance and Philip hoped he took it.
Philip's own chances of happily ever after seemed to be drifting away. Each hour that passed with no word from Noelle drained his spirits further. He was fixing himself a can of soup when he heard the knock. Praying it was her, he rushed to open the door and instead found his stepfather.
Lee shook his head at the disappointment on Philip's face. "Sorry, son. Just me."
"Lee, it's okay. I mean, she made herself pretty clear when she left the other night. I'm trying to give her some time like you said but, I gotta tell ya, it's killing me."
Lee figured Philip was as clueless as he was all those years ago and decided to spell it out for him. "Yeah, I said Noelle needed time but I also said you needed to give her a reason to say yes. Have you even tried to talk to her?"
"No," Philip admitted. "I thought about it. Heck, I think about it every minute. But what if I say the wrong thing and scare her even more? What if she doesn't ever want to get married?"
Lee held up his hand. "What if, what if, what if. Get past all that. How can you convince her to take a chance if you won't take one?"
Philip was dumbfounded. "I am so stupid. Thanks, Lee," he called over his shoulder as he raced into the outside hall.
Feeling fairly proud of himself, Lee smirked as he turned off the stove.
Philip was unlocking his car when Noelle drove up. "Hi." Her voice was soft and uncertain.
He opened her car door and helped her out. "Hi." His voice was clear and confident.
She nervously played with a strand of hair. "Philip, I am so sorry. I should have explained. I should have said yes."
"Then you will marry me?"
Releasing her hair, she took his hands. "Eventually, yes, I will marry you."
The word 'eventually' hit him like a bucket of ice water. "What does that mean?"
"It means I love you. You're the man I've been too afraid to even dream of, my knight in shining Armani. But I would like to take a little while longer to just reassure myself. I want to spend more time with you. I want to spend more time with your family. I want to be able to walk down the aisle on our wedding day with all the demons from my past obliterated." She placed her hands on either side of his face. "I want that day to be perfect in every way, Philip King. I love you." Kissing him, she felt his resistance disappear and desire take hold.
Between kisses, he whispered in her ear, "You've got yourself a deal, Noelle Kincaid. I love you."
Later that night, Lee and Amanda Stetson were busy congratulating themselves as they got ready for bed.
"You know, Amanda, I complain a lot about your meddling. This time, however, you were completely right."
"I know." She grinned at him and very deliberately dropped her robe. "Since I'm on a roll, why don't you just let me be your guide tonight?"
That famous Stetson grin appeared. "Well, since you're on a roll...."