Just Falling
By Pretty Pretty


Ray placed his hands on the sides of Rayni's face. She looked up at him with tear filled eyes and smiled. He loved her. Ray kissed her softly on the forehead and gave her a smile. 
"I'm sorry about today. Stella was never much on tact. She was never much on me for that matter." Ray chuckled slightly and pulled Rayni into his chest. 
"She's jealous." 
"You kiddin'?" Rayni took a deep breath and shook her head. 
"I've seen her kind before. She doesn't have you anymore and that pisses her off."
 "Have me?"
 "You still love her don't you?" Ray pulled away and studied her face. She wasn't upset as before. She was simply asking a question. He cocked his head and tried to think of an answer. A month ago the answer would have been simple. Yes, he loved her. But now, looking at the sweet brown eyes of the woman he held in his arms, the answer wasn't there. 
"I...I don't know."
 "You don't know?"
 "Well, not anymore, no."
"That means you're getting over her Ray. I've walked that road before. Once you get to the fork, it's a whole new ballgame." 
"That made no sense." 
"It does, you just don't want to admit it." Ray laughed softly and pulled Rayni into another hug. 
"You're smart." 
"Nah, you're the smart one. I'm just pretty." Ray laughed and picked Rayni up in his arms. He spun her around the kitchen before perching her gently on the counter. He stepped between her legs and kissed her neck as she threaded her hands through his unruly hair. Between kisses he softly whispered to her. 
"So you're not mad at me anymore?" 
"No, it's hard to stay mad at someone so cute." 
"You think I'm cute huh?" 
Ray trailed his kisses along her jaw line. He slid his hands down her back and rested them on her hips. Sliding her toward him, he pressed his body close to hers as she straddled him. Rayni took a quick intake of breath as she felt Ray's obvious desire for her. She moved her hands to his shoulders and was about to push him away when he captured her mouth. Ray grasped her hips firmly and pulled them toward his own. Rayni released a high pitched sound out of shock that quickly turned to the low guttural moans of passion. Her mind was swirling as Ray plunged his tongue into her mouth. The salty taste of him was more than she could stand. She had lost all coherent thought. Her body simply reacted. She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and sucked gently on his tongue and lips as he kissed her. His hands moved slowly across her back and shoulders. He moved his fingertips across the material on her blouse. Rayni felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as his thumb slid across her breast. In an effort to catch her breath, she pulled away from him. She could feel his breath in short bursts on her skin as he stared at her. 
"Ray…" She could barely whisper his name. She tried not to look into his eyes. Those smoldering pale blue eyes would surely void all reason and control she was trying to maintain. 
"Just tell me to stop and I will." Ray tilted his head to look into her eyes. 
"Just tell me it's too soon and I'll go home." * He's it. He's that one guy. That one guy that's going to make me love him forever. * In a breath, Rayni looked at Ray's face. His eyes locked with hers and she knew that no matter what reason or morality told her, she wouldn't say 'no' to this man. She loved him. She loved more than she ever thought she was capable of loving. She just had to hope that he felt the same.

"Just say the words Rayni and I'll go." Ray pressed his forehead against hers. She pushed him backwards and slid down from the counter. His shoulders slightly slumped. She was going to send him home. He knew it was too soon, but he wanted to be with her. He loved her and he wanted to show her how much. As disappointment started to creep in, Rayni could see the dejected look on his face. She slid her hand into his and kissed him gently on the lips. With her eyes still closed she whispered to him, "I love you and I want you to stay." Passion surged through him once more as he pulled her to him. She kissed him and pulled him down the hall. Ray blindly slid along the wall to her bedroom as he kissed her. Pushing the door open, he picked Rayni up and carried her over to the bed. In a moment of coherence, Rayni silently thanked her lucky stars that she had cleaned up the bedroom. Ray placed a knee on the edge of her bed and gracefully guided her on to her back. He slowly lowered himself on to her as he assaulted her mouth. She mindlessly tugged at his shirt as she licked at his upper lip. Desire had engulfed them. Ray was no longer aware of anything around him but Rayni. She was all he thought of; she was everything in his world at that moment. Clothes were discarded with abandon as they fought to have their bodies as close as possible. Ray reveled in the feel of her skin on his chest. She nearly drove him past the point of sanity when she slid her feet down the back of his legs. He had found everything he had ever been searching for in Rayni's soft brown eyes. The look of love she gave him as they connected in the most intimate way possible. She vowed to herself at that moment to never let him go. She would do everything in her power to make him feel loved. And at that moment, Ray Kowalski made the very same vow.

~~~~~~ Chapter 2

Rayni pulled the sheet around her and slipped quietly out of bed. She turned as she left the room and smiled at Ray as he slept. She padded quietly down the hall and into the bathroom. Closing the door behind her, she flipped on the light. She squinted until her eyes adjusted and finished the task she had set out to do. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands. As she dried them on the hand towel by the sink she caught her reflection in the mirror. She smiled at her mussed up hair and slightly smeared mascara. The skin around her lips was slightly red from Ray's stubble on her face. She reached under the sink and pulled a washcloth from the shelf. The warm water felt good on her skin. She washed the remnants of make-up from her face and brushed through her hair. She clicked the light off and padded back down the hall to her bedroom. It was after midnight and she knew Ray had to be at work early in the morning. She had to be at work as well. She walked quietly through the room until her toe met with a very unyielding motorcycle boot. 
"Dammit." She swore under her breath as she hopped on one foot to the edge of the bed. 
"You okay?" Ray clicked on the lamp and reached for her hand. 
"I'm fine. I just stumped my toe." 
"What were you doin'?" 
"I just went down the hall. Did you miss me?" Ray pulled her back into the bed and kissed her neck. 
"Mm-huh. I just figured out I don't like wakin' up and not havin' you in my arms." Rayni slipped under the blanket and spooned next to him. Her bare back molded to his form as he slipped his arms around her and gently kissed her shoulders. 
"That feels nice. You better get some sleep though. We both have to be at work in the morning." 
"Let's call in sick. We can stay here all day." Rayni turned her head and kissed him. 
"I wish we could." 
"I better get on home." 
"Why do you have to leave?" 
"I don't have any clothes over here." 
"Can't you wait and get them in the morning?" Ray smiled and kissed Rayni playfully on the nose. 
"But if I stay, neither one of us is goin' to get any sleep." Rayni rolled onto her back and looked up into his eyes. She traced her fingers across his chest and smiled at him. 
"You promise?" 


Chapter 3

"What are you looking for Ray?"
 "I'll know when I see it."
 Fraser followed Ray into the store and over to the counter. 
"Are you shopping for you or for someone else?" 
"I want ta get somethin' for Rayni." Fraser smiled brightly at his friend. 
"Stop it." 
"Stop what, Ray?" 
"That shit eatin' grin." 
"I don't know…." 
"Don't go dumb on me Frase. I know what yer thinkin'. Yes, I want to get somethin' for Rayni. I want to buy her a present. I want to get somethin' she will like and that will make her happy. There, are you happy now? Geez, Fraser, you are so nosy." 
"Terribly sorry Ray. What type of gift are you looking for? Something practical? Perhaps a gift basket from Basket-o-rama." 
"Nah, I want ta get her somethin' to let her know how….." Ray's thought trailed off as he looked away from Fraser's smiling face. 
"How what?" 
"How I feel, okay?! What?! What do you wanna hear, Fraser? Yes, I love her. I think she's the best thing that ever walked on the planet. I've got freakin' stars in my head." Fraser stood aghast at the outburst. Ray stalked off in the direction of the jewelry store. Fraser followed and muttered as he caught up with Ray. 
"I heard that." 
"I think it's wonderful Ray. It's obvious she is very taken with you." Ray spun around and sheepishly looked at Fraser. 
"Of course. One would just have to see the two of you together. That would explain Stella's….." Fraser stopped and tugged at his collar. He knew he had said too much. He didn't want Ray upset. 
"Stella? What about her?"
 "Nothing Ray. Why don't you look at the earrings? I'm told women like them."
 "Back the truck up. What about Stella?" Fraser sighed as Ray pulled him back in front of him. He could tell by the set of his jaw that he wouldn't let the conversation go. 
"It's why Stella has been acting so, well, not like herself."
 "She's been nice to me."
"Yeah, so why the change?" 
"She's jealous. You're no longer devoted to her." 
"Yes Ray. It's no secret that if Stella had given you the smallest chance you would have jumped at the opportunity to rekindle your relationship. But now, it's obvious how much you care for Rayni. She's certainly enamored with you." 
"Enam….huh? English." 
"Rayni loves you, Ray. Anyone can see that. All they have to do is look. The two of you have become extremely close over the last month and it's apparent how you feel. You're in love." Fraser paused a moment to let his next statement sink in with Ray. 
"You're in love with Rayni, not Stella. That's made her realize she doesn't have your affections anymore. Essentially, she's been replaced." Ray stared at him for a moment. He didn't know what to say. To be honest, he hadn't thought about Stella much since he started seeing Rayni. A small grin pulled at Ray's lips as he looked at Fraser. Fraser cocked his head as Ray started to nod his head. 
"Yeah, she has been replaced, Frase. It's different now. I love Rayni. I love her more than I ever thought I could love a woman, you know?" 
"Yes, Ray. I know." Ray saw a sadness flicker over the usually emotionless face of his best friend. Within a blink, it was gone. A smile had returned to his face as Fraser quickly changed the subject. 
"So what will you buy for Rayni?" Ray walked over to the counter in the jewelry store and leaned over the glass case. 
"I don't know. She wears a ring her parents gave her for graduation." Fraser noticed Ray's eyes drift toward the engagement rings. Clearing his throat, Fraser tapped the glass near the solitaire diamonds. 
"These are nice." Ray blushed and shook his head. 
"Nah, I love her, but I ain't ready for that yet. 'Sides, I've only known her for five weeks and two days." Ray cringed after he said it. He saw the amused look on Fraser's face. *Damn. That sounded gay as hell. I'm counting the freakin' days. Christ! * 
"I see." 
"Can it." 
"Can what Ray?" 
"Let's look at the necklaces." Ray stalked across the aisle to the other glass case. A young woman was leaning against the counter cleaning the glass. 
"May I help you gentleman?" Ray noticed she didn't even look at him. She stared straight at the Mountie. 
"Yeah, I'd like to buy somethin' for my girlfriend." Ray rolled his eyes as the young woman practically had drool on her chin. 
"And would you like something for your girlfriend, sir?" Fraser rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow and began to blush. He looked at Ray for help and was met with a smug smile and a 'serves-you-right' look. 
"Ah, no, I don't have….well, I am….I'm shopping with him, thank you kindly."
 "How 'bout that one there, Fraser?" Grateful for the distraction, Fraser gave his full attention to the plain gold heart pendant Ray was interested in. 
"That's very nice Ray." 
"Can I get it engraved?" 
"Sure, it's $20 extra." 
"I'll take it. How long 'til its ready?" 
"You can pick it up tomorrow." Ray beamed with pride over his purchase. He knew Rayni would love it. He paid for the necklace and for once Fraser was stunned at how he didn't complain about spending a large amount of money.


Chapter 4

Rayni shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun as she sat on the park bench next to her sister-in-law Karen. Her brother Mike and Ray were throwing a Frisbee with Josh. 
"You like this one a lot don't you?" Rayni smiled over at Karen and nodded her head. 
"Yes I do." 
"He seems to feel the same. He's been to Sunday dinner every week for over a month now." 
"Is he wearing out his welcome?" Karen clapped as Josh leapt in the air and caught a high throw. 
"Of course not. I was just wondering when you were going to tell Paul and Eleanor about him." Rayni felt a sudden knot form in her stomach. The thought of Ray meeting her parents absolutely nauseated her. Mike was bad enough as far as over protective big brothers go, but her over bearing father and drippy sweet mother were another. 
"Why should I tell them? I'm sure if Mike steps out when they call, you'll be happy to fill them in." 
"He made we swear not to." Karen laughed. 
"Maybe they can meet him over Christmas." 
"That's nine months away." 
"Too soon?" 
"Rayni." Rayni ignored the look Karen was giving her and smiled over at Ray as he played with Josh. She couldn't help but watch him as he moved. His lean form flexed as he stretched to catch the Frisbee. His sweatshirt was worn and stained, but Rayni thought he looked beautiful in it. Ray caught her watching him and decided to take a break. He trotted over to the bench and pulled Rayni to her feet. 
"Hey doll, how 'bout you and me going for a walk?" Rayni threaded her fingers with his and waved to Karen. The two of them walked down the path and across the ball field.

"So what were you and Karen talking about? You didn't look too thrilled with the conversation." 
"Oh, she was just talking about my folks." 
"She was wondering when I was going to subject you to them." 
"When am I goin' to get to meet your parents?" 
"When do you feel like spending a night in hell." 
"Are they that bad?" 
"No, I guess not. My dad will treat you like crap and my mother will fall all over you." 
"Sounds like half of what I'm used to. Stella's mom and dad treated me like crap." Rayni hung on to Ray's hand and walked along the path. Ray led her over to the swings and started pushing her back and forth. As she slowed in the swing, Ray walked around in front of her and caught her legs. He held her suspended in the air and looked at the joy on her face. She enjoyed life. It was all over her face. It still perplexed him why she chose to date such losers. She smiled up and him as she wrapped her legs around his waist. "I love you Ray Kowalski." His heart skipped as he leaned in to kiss her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her from the swing. She laughed as he spun her around trying make her dizzy.

Karen and Mike watched from the picnic table. 
"I think he's it." Karen smiled as they watched Ray set Rayni on her feet. 
"What are you talking about?" 
"Ray. He's it. She'll marry this one. You mark my words." 
"They just met." Mike watched as Josh ran toward a group of boys playing on the basketball court. 
"They've spent every day together for over a month." 
"So, she was with John for four months." 
"But she didn't look at him like she looks at Ray." 
"That doesn't mean they'll get married." 
"I'm laying bets." Mike rolled his eyes and watched as Ray pulled something out of his pocket and gave it to his sister. * I hope she knows what she's doing. *

"What is this?" Rayni smiled as Ray shyly pulled a small box from his coat pocket. 
"I just want you to know how much I love ya, that's all." Ray opened the box and pulled the gold rope chain with the plain gold heart out into view. Rayni could feel the lump forming in her throat as she held out her hand and lightly held the heart in her fingers. 
"I had it engraved. Look on the back." Rayni smiled and turned the heart over. She read the inscription out loud as her voice cracked with emotion. 
"To my forever doll, Love Ray." Ray started to worry when she didn't say anything. She wasn't looking at him and he was starting to worry. 
"Rayni?" Rayni looked up with tears streaming down her cheeks. 
"You're not supposed to cry!" Rayni laughed and pulled him into a hug. 
"I love it! Oh Ray, you are the most wonderful man. How did I get so lucky to find you!?" Ray pulled back and looked at her. She thought she was the lucky one. 
"You?! I'm waitin' for ya to wise up and figure out I'm a screw up." 
"It's too late. I'm hooked." Ray slipped the necklace from her hands and clasped in around her neck. 
"I love you. I just wanted you to remember that." 
"I'm your forever doll, huh?" Ray felt a blush creep across his cheeks as she tugged at his collar. 
"I like that." 
"Me too."

 ~~~~~ Chapter 5

Rayni sat in the floor of her brother's house and watched a movie with Josh and Ray. Karen was busy in the kitchen while Mike read the Sunday paper. Ray leaned back on the couch with Rayni resting her back between his legs. Josh was lying in the floor with his feet flopped over the side of the arm of the couch. It was a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Rayni looped her fingers through the necklace Ray had given her earlier that day and sighed with contentment. The phone ringing and Josh scrambling across the floor to answer it interrupted her thoughts of Ray. "Hello. Hey Grandpa!" 
Rayni visibly cringed. She loved her family, but she always hated telling them about her life. Her father's retirement to Florida was the best thing that happened to Rayni. To say her father hated every guy she ever dated was an understatement. Her mother wasn't much better as far as Rayni was concerned. Every conversation ended in a lecture on how Rayni should find a nice relationship and settle down like her brother Mike. The thought of her father not liking Ray made her furious and she hadn't even spoken to him yet. She loved Ray and as far as she was concerned, he was the best thing that ever happened to her. 
"We're watching a movie. Daddy, Ray and me went to the park this afternoon. Ray. He's Rayni's boyfriend. He's a cop. A real detective.....Okay, hold on. I'll get her."

Josh scampered across the pile of discarded newspapers and handed the cordless phone to Rayni. *Damn. *

"Grandpa wants to know who the latest victim is." Ray smiled down at Rayni and rubbed her shoulders. He knew her father would give her a hard time. He wasn't in a great rush to meet her parents either. 

"Hey Dad....Ray Kowalski....Chicago PD....no....He's wonderful, so if you don't like him that's your problem....I'm not getting smart. I'm just stating fact. No....Why do you want to talk to him? You're going to say something weird and freak him out and then he won't want to date me anymore. No....fine!" 
Ray could feel her shoulders tense before she shoved the phone at him. Mike tried to stifle his laughter as Ray reluctantly took the phone. 
"Hello. Yes sir....Detective First Class, Chicago PD....No sir, I'm not that kind of cop....I love her sir....Yes sir, I'm sure....Yes, I think so. We haven't discussed it but, yes….. I look forward to meetin' you too. See you then...Yes sir, hold on." 
Ray looked at Rayni and smiled before standing and walking the phone to Karen in the kitchen.
 "Who is it?" 
"Rayni's dad." Karen put her hand over the receiver and whispered, "Oh God, and you haven't run screaming from the house yet?" 
"It'll take more than that to run me off." 
"Good boy." Karen winked at him as she placed the phone to her ear. Ray caught the beginning of her conversation before returning to the living room. 
"Hey, yes. No, he's very nice. Yes, steady job. No he's nothing like the others....." Rayni looked up at him with puppy dog eyes. 
"I'm so sorry." 
"What? I think I can handle your dad. Besides, we'll find out for sure on Friday." Mike dropped the paper to his lap and looked at Ray. 
"What are you talking about?" 
"He and your mom are coming into town on Friday. They're stayin' for a week he said." Ray saw two sets of identical eyes widen and then squeeze shut. He could actually see their headaches starting. Josh on the other hand, leapt from the end of the couch and started jumping in place. 
"Woohoo! Grandma and Grandpa are coming!"

~~~~~ Chapter 6

Rayni threw her purse against the couch and flopped down in the armchair. 
"Why are you in such a bad mood?" Ray walked into the kitchen and grabbed two cans of Coke. 
They just drive me crazy. That's all." 
"Yeah, I can relate. Me and my old man ain't exactly buddies." 
"Don't get me wrong. I love my parents. It's just that....well...." Ray could see the fallen look in her eyes. He recognized the look immediately. 
"Just what?" 
"Nothing I do is right. I didn't choose the right career. I was supposed to be a Biology major. I never dated the right guy. Well, you were witness to that. Now, Mike. Mike's a different story. He's perfect. He was the athlete. He's the great contractor with his own business. He's got the perfect little Betty Crocker wife and family. How can I compete with that? That's why I don't even try." 
"Stop it." Ray glared at her. 
"What?!" Rayni had never seen him look at her with such anger in his eyes. 
"You're not a screw up. I don't wanna hear you talk that way. Ever!" 
"No, I mean it. You're....well, you're the best thing that ever happened to me and I don't like ya talkin' that way." Rayni couldn't help but smile. This was the first time he really yelled at her and it was to tell her how special she was. She walked over to him and slipped her arms around his waist. As she pulled him into a hug, she breathed in the scent of him. She knew he wouldn't be going home tonight. Not if she had anything to say about it.

~~~~~ chapter 7

Cara handed Rayni a can of Coke as she sat down next to her desk. 
"Take a break. You've been working like a dog all morning. What's the deal?" 
"My parents are coming in this weekend."
 "Oh. And you haven't booked a flight to Borneo yet?" 

"They want to meet Ray." Rayni kept digitizing a subdivision plat as she talked. "That's great. Right? Isn't that great?" 

"Great if they like him. I could take them hating Mark or Patrick or John, hell, I didn't even like them that much. But, Ray, he's different. If my dad's mean to him…well, I don't know what I'll do. It makes me mad just thinking about it." 
"Surely your folks will see what a great guy he is. I see it. Hell, I'm jealous. Where's my knight in shining armor? What about that friend of his? The Mountie. Set me up with him." 
"I don't think so." 
"No, terrified." 
"I just want to disappear for a week. No one will notice. Ray and I will just take a little trip." "What does Mike say?" 
"Mike doesn't say much of anything. He likes Ray though. I can tell. I think Karen has already started planning a wedding. Josh just adores him and me, well…."
 "You're hopelessly in love." 
"Pretty much." 
"It's gross." 
"I know." 
"Don't worry about your parents. I'm sure it won't be as bad as you think. Your mom will see how much he loves you and will run interference." 
"Nah, she'll be too busy telling me I need to brush my hair and stand up straight." 
"Sounds like my mom." Rayni leaned her head against her palms and sighed. 
"I just need to run away."

~~~~~ chapter 8

Ray handed the pizza box to Rayni to throw away. He noticed she had been on edge all night. Her parents were flying in tomorrow morning and Rayni was a bundle of nerves. Rayni was sponging down the counter like there was no tomorrow. 
"What are you doin'?"
"It's clean." 
"Not clean enough." 
"Who says? You can perform surgery in here." 
"Not according to my mother. I've got to have this place spotless. I don't even know why I bother though. She'll take two steps in the door and raise her hands in the air and sigh. 'How can such a beautiful girl live in such filth?' Then she'll start pulling money out of her purse. She offers it to me so I can get my vacuum cleaner fixed." 
"Your vacuum cleaner ain't broken." 
"Exactly. Oh, we've got to get all evidence of you out of here too." 
"Huh?" Ray took the broom from the small closet and started to sweep the kitchen. 
"There can't be a trace of you here. When she starts 'cleaning', she starts snooping." 
"Rayni, you're a grown woman."
 "So, have you told your mom you're sleeping with me yet?" 
"Point taken. I'll get my stuff." 
"Don't forget your toothbrush. Oh and the condoms in the nightstand." 
"Hey, you bought those." Ray grinned as he pulled his extra coat from her closet. 
"Yeah, well, you use them. Take them. I sure as hell don't want to explain them."
 "Daddy's little girl, huh?"
 "Bite me." 
"When and where Doll?" 
"Oh Christ."

~~~~~ chapter 9

Rayni pulled the black sweatshirt she had snagged from Ray's apartment over her head. This should really make her dad crazy. She smiled at the thought of the look on his face when she showed up at the airport wearing a 'Property of the Chicago PD' shirt while holding Ray's hand. Ray opened the door of her apartment with his key. 
"Hey Doll! You ready?!" 
"Almost. Find my shoes for me!" 
"Which ones?" Ray called down the hall and walked into the bedroom. 
"Hmmm, hooker boots or flip flops?" Rayni gave him an evil grin as she pulled her hair up into a ponytail.
"Grab the black boots." 
"You gonna wear socks?" Rayni nodded her head as Ray rifled through her drawers for a pair of matching socks. "What time is it?" 
"You've got ten minutes to get your ass to the car." 
"I'll make it. So, you nervous about meeting my folks?" Ray pulled a pair of socks from her dresser and tossed them at her. 
 "Well, you're the love of my life, so don't let them give you any shit."
 "I'll try not to." Rayni pulled the socks on her feet and wrestled with the biker boots she wanted to wear. 
"You look pretty hot you know that?" Rayni smiled over at him and winked as she shoved her foot into her boot. "You're not too bad yourself. Let's just skip the airport and stay here. We'll lock the door and turn the lights out." She leaned across the bed and pulled at his collar. Ray laughed at the sweet look on her face used to convince him of her plan.
 "Nothin' doin'. Get your coat. We're going." 
"You're so forceful. I think I like it."

~~~~~ chapter 10

Josh was wound tighter than a top in anticipation of seeing his grandparents. They always spoiled him with gifts when they came to visit. Mike and Karen sat in the plastic chairs with weary looks on their faces. Rayni knew what the last few days had been like for them. Poor Karen had been cleaning her house like a mad woman. Rayni was thankful her apartment wasn't big enough for her parents to stay with her. Mike would have to endure a week of their dad over-ruling just about every thing regarding Josh. Rayni shared a knowing smile with Karen as they waited for the plane to arrive. As the announcement was made, Josh bounced from his seat and pulled on his Dad's hand. Rayni looked over at Ray and gave him a kiss on the cheek. 
"And now the fun begins."

"Come here sweetheart! Let me look at you! You've grown a foot since I've seen you." Paul Mason greeted his son with a hug and then eyed his daughter. 
"Hey there sunshine." 
"Hey Dad." Rayni was engulfed in a large hug and given a kiss on the cheek. 
"How's my little girl been doing?"
 "I'm great Dad. I want you to meet Ray." Rayni looped her arm in his and pulled him toward a nervous Ray Kowalski.
 "So you're my daughter's latest victim?" 
"Pleasure to meet ya, sir. Ray Kowalski." 
"My grandson tells me you're a detective." 
"Yes sir." 
"Dangerous job, don't you think?" 
"It can be." Rayni knew where this conversation would end up. Why would she want to date a man who could be killed on a daily basis? She could feel Ray tighten his grip on her hand. Eleanor Mason gushed over her grandson and moved on to Karen and Mike. Then she set her sights on Rayni. 
 "Hey Mom." Rayni was pulled into a hug and then as she expected was held at arms length and inspected.
 "What are you wearing? You're not eating are you? Look at how thin you are." 
"I'm eating just fine mom." 
"You could have at least curled your hair." 
"I hate curling my hair. I like it straight." Ray saw the frustration behind her smile. He plastered a smile on his face as well when the attention was turned to him. 
"You must be my little girls new beau." 
"Yes Ma'am. Ray Kowalski." Eleanor looked him up and down and took note of the matching pair of motorcycle boots her daughter and he were wearing. *Must be a hoodlum. God knows what kind of influence he's had on my baby. *

Rayni saw the look in her mother's eyes. * Here it comes. * 
"So, you're a detective." 
"Yes ma'am. I'm with the Chicago Police Department." 
"I see." * There it is. That condescending little 'I see.' God I hate that! *
 "Mom, how long are you and dad staying for?" 
"A week. Will you be going shopping with Karen and I this week?" 
"No ma'am. I couldn't get the time off work." 
"What a shame." Ray shared a smile with Rayni as they all walked to baggage claim. Paul took notice of Ray slipping his arm around his daughter's waist. *Scrawny looking fellow. What's with the hair? They don't teach the boys in blue to comb their hair? *

Rayni leaned in and whispered into Ray's ear as they walked down the concourse. 
"It's going to be a long week." 
"You tellin' me."

~~~~~~ Chapter 11

Karen tried not to scream as Eleanor claimed her kitchen. Rayni was busying herself with the task of filling all the glasses with ice. She felt bad about abandoning Ray in the living room, but if he were to ever stand a chance, he had to learn how to survive. 
"Karen dear, where do you keep the knives? They're not by the sink where they should be." Rayni could see her sister-in-law's blood pressure rise. 
"They're in the drawer by the stove." Eleanor set out carving the roast and basically taking over the preparation of Karen's meal. It was the same every visit. Karen would slave for a week cleaning an already clean house. She would buy all the food her in-laws liked to eat and have to watch as another woman prepared it. Rayni knew it drove Karen crazy. Mike was indifferent to it all. He and Paul would go to the hockey game with Josh and do all the fun things. Karen, Rayni and Eleanor would go on shopping trips and take Josh to the skating rink. Rayni wondered if Ray would suddenly have an important case that needed some extra time. God knows if she had a good enough excuse she'd be on the first train out of there. She looked out into the living room at Ray. *God, he's a beautiful man. * Eleanor caught her daughter's love struck gaze. 
"Rayni, could you help me with the salad dear?"
"Sure." Rayni started gathering the vegetables for the salad when Ray sauntered into the kitchen. Rayni looked up from the carrots she was slicing and smiled. 
"Hey good looking." 
"Hiya Doll. You need some help?" Before Rayni could respond, Eleanor spoke up. 
"Now Ray, you don't need to be in the kitchen. We can handle this. You go visit with the men." Ray could tell by the set of Rayni's jaw that she wanted to scream. He winked at her and gave her a peck on the cheek. 
"Later Doll." 
"It will be ready soon." Rayni sighed as Ray left the kitchen to return to talk of building construction and city codes. Karen busied herself with loading the dishwasher while Eleanor filled the serving bowls for dinner.


Ray sat beside Rayni and held her hand while her father said grace. Josh was squirming with energy as plates were being prepared.
 "So tell us what's been going on in your life Rayni?" Paul looked at his daughter and smiled over the plate of roast beef being passed. 
"Not much really. Same old map stuff." Rayni took a bite of salad and looked around the table hoping someone would say something to take her off the hook. 
"May I be excused? I'm finished!" Josh was about to have a fit because dinner was later than normal. He was going to miss 'Battlebots' if he didn't take some action. Karen smiled over at Josh and shook her head. 
"Not yet. You need to visit with the family for a while." Eleanor frowned at Karen and then winked at Josh. "Nonsense. Sure you can be excused, dear. All this grown up talk must be boring you to death. Go look in Grandma's purse. I've got gum." Josh's smile grew broad as he leapt from his seat and raced from the room. Ray actually thought he heard Karen's teeth grind together. Mike tried not to meet his wife's gaze. He stared intently at his plate and concentrated on cutting up his roast. Paul took a drink of tea and continued talking to Rayni. 
"So how'd you and Ray meet?" Rayni swallowed hard and looked over at Ray. 
"We met on the street. Ray and his partner were going to lunch." Eleanor passed the potatoes across the table to Mike as she entered the conversation. 
"Was this before or after that guy you were dating hit you?" Silence hung in the air as Rayni's face paled. Ray tried to swallow down the food he was chewing while Mike glared at Karen. Rayni finally recovered her voice and managed with a fraction of composure to speak. 
"At least he didn't cause any permanent damage." Ray could tell things were about to hit the fan. Rayni's face went from pale white to rage pink in a matter of seconds. 
"Mike! You promised!" 
"I know I promised! I didn't say a word!" Brother and sister glared at the end of the table. Karen looked at her mother-in-law in shock. In a calm, nonchalant voice, Eleanor spoke. 
"We're your parents dear. We deserve to know. Besides, you know you can't tell Karen anything." 
"Oh don't act shocked. You know it's true dear. That's why I never tell you what I'm getting anyone for Christmas." Ray wondered how he would explain to Welsh why he had to arrest his girlfriend for mass murder. Rayni leaned across the table and shot a look of venom at her sister-in-law. 
"So, Ray do you normally date women you meet in the line of duty?" 
"No sir. First time." Rayni grinned at how well Ray handled her parents. Mike grinned as well. He liked Ray; liked him a lot. He was the best thing he'd seen around his sister in a long time. Rayni squeezed Ray's hand under the table and looked at him as he smiled back at her. Her father saw the look in her face. She loved this man.

~~~~~~ Chapter 12

Ray could see that Rayni was almost to the boiling point. In the course of one meal she had been told her hair was too short, she needed to eat more, her job wasn't important and admonished for allowing a man to hit her. He did feel better in the fact that her mother didn't just pick on Rayni. Karen got a few jabs as well. Mike seemed to be invincible, even to his old man. Ray offered to help clear the table but was quickly dismissed by Eleanor. He wasn't so sure it was a good idea to leave Rayni alone for too long. Rayni made a goofy face at him as he left the room. He couldn't help but chuckle.

Ray sat next to Josh on the couch and watched as he played a game on his Playstation. 
"You want to play baseball with me Ray?" 
"Sure. Just tell me what to do." Mike smiled as Ray took a controller and immersed himself in the game. He and Josh were intently watching pitches and adjusting swings. Each would yell out in victory when they made a hit or got on base. The couch erupted when Josh hit a homerun. *No wonder Rayni likes him. He knows how to have fun. I hope Mom quits giving her shit. It's just not fair. * Karen walked into the room and sat on the ottoman next to Mike. * And you just had to tell mom, didn't you? Couldn't leave that little tidbit of gossip out? Well, we'll discuss this later. You must have never been taught that loose lips sink ships. It's bad enough Rayni can't seem to please mom with anything she does, but do you have to add fuel to the fire? * Karen smiled a guilty grin over at Mike. He stared blankly at her. She knew he was mad and she knew as soon as they went to bed she'd have to listen to about a four hour lecture on how she has a big mouth. Rayni and Eleanor emerged from the kitchen. Eleanor sat on the other side of Josh and cheered as he swung at the ball while Rayni sat in the floor in front of Ray. She stole a glance at her watch and sighed to see it was only 9:30. Josh would normally be in bed by now, but because it was Friday night and Grandpa said it was okay, he got to stay up. Ray made a homerun and Josh groaned and then laughed. Eleanor tried consoled him, much to Josh's annoyance. 
"It's just a game, Grandma. I'm winning anyway." 
"He's such a good boy." Ray looked over at Rayni and saw her rubbing her head. 
"You okay Doll?" 
"I've just got a headache. I'm fine." 
"You sure? You want me to drop you home?" 
"You can stay here tonight dear." Rayni would rather take a bullet to the head than spend the night at Mike's tonight. 
"No, I'm fine. I think it's just my sinuses. You know how my allergies are." That seemed to satisfy her Mother for the moment. Ray could tell she was stressed to the gills. He wondered what plans they had for tomorrow. He hoped he and Fraser were still on to watch the hockey game at Rayni's. After another hour of Playstation, polite conversation and uncomfortable silence, Ray helped Rayni on with her coat. 
"We'll see you on Sunday, Dad." 
"Sounds good sunshine. What are you doing tomorrow night? We're all going to the movies." 
"I've already made plans. I've got a standing date during hockey season. But I'll see you Sunday morning. Ray's partner Fraser will probably be with us." 
"Fraser? That the Mountie Karen told us about?" Rayni rolled her eyes while her Dad laughed. 
"What else did Karen tell you?" 
"Don't worry about it. She and your mother sit on the phone for hours." 
"Great." Paul winked and pulled his daughter into a hug. 
"I imagine after tonight Karen will think twice before discussing you." Rayni looked up at her father and smiled. His toned turned serious as he looked at his daughter's face. 
"Did that man hurt you?" 
"Nothing that didn't heal. I'm fine, thanks to Ray." 
"You love this one don't you?" 
"Yes sir, very much." Ray shifted awkwardly from foot to foot while he was being discussed. Paul turned his attention to Ray and looked at him hard in the eyes. 
"And how do you feel about my baby girl?" Without a moment's hesitation Ray answered. It almost shocked him at the conviction in his tone. 
"I love her more than I thought I ever could love someone." Paul smiled and extended his hand. 
"Good. Don't worry about Ellie. I'll handle her. She's always been hard on Rayni. But, I'm going to put a stop to that." "But you normally agree with her dad!" 
"Well, not in this case. I see how you look at him. I didn't see that in the others." Rayni hugged her father as her Mother and Karen emerged with leftovers in their hands. 
"Here you go, dear. We'll see you tomorrow night." 
"We've already made plans mom. We'll see you on Sunday." 
"Nonsense. You can change your plans." Paul stepped up and put his arm on Eleanor's shoulder.
"Now we didn't raise our daughter to be rude. We'll see her on Sunday at church. She, Ray and Constable Fraser will be joining us for Sunday dinner." Eleanor wanted to argue but Paul gave her a look she knew not to mess with. Sighing loudly she relented. 
"Fine, I guess we'll see you later." She couldn't help but adding one last stab of guilt. 
"I just hope Josh won't be disappointed." Ray saw Rayni's shoulder's slump so he guided her toward the door before she started to cave under the guilt her mother was laying on. 
"We'll see ya on Sunday. Thanks for a great evenin'."

~~~~~~ chapter 13

Rayni melted into her couch and closed her eyes. 
"Still got that headache?" 
"Mm-mm." Ray went down the hall and returned with two aspirin and a can of Coke. 
"You think two is enough? Maybe I need something stronger. Tequila might work pretty good." 
"She drives me nuts!!" Ray laughed as Rayni screamed and waved her arms in the air. 
"You're dad's pretty cool."
 "Yeah, what's up with that?!" 
"You tell me. He's yer dad." 
"Well, he looks like my dad. Maybe he likes you as much as I do. You've won his heart." Ray chuckled at Rayni's joke as he sat down beside her and snuggled close to her. 
"The headache feeling better?" He nuzzled his nose against her neck. Rayni closed her eyes and smiled. 
"A little." Ray lightly kissed her jaw and earlobe. 
"Just a little huh?" He was rewarded with only a small sigh and the feel of Rayni's hand caressing his thigh. She shifted slightly on the couch and faced him. Running her hand along his face she smiled at him. 
"You are a beautiful man." Ray screwed his face up and laughed at her. 
"Beautiful?! Never heard that before." 
"Well, you are." 
"Nah, pretty maybe, but not beautiful." Rayni laughed and poked him in the sides. The sound of her laughter was music to Ray's ears. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her onto his lap. Burying his face in her neck, he kissed her shoulder. 
"You better stop that or you won't be getting any sleep tonight." 
"I'll take a nap tomorrow."

~~~~~~ Chapter 14

Fraser and Dief followed Ray up to Rayni's apartment. For the past three Saturdays they had watched the hockey game together. Fraser liked Rayni. She seemed to like him as well. It was nice to have a new friend. Ray opened the door and was met with a cloud of smoke and the smell of something burning. 
"Doll!? You okay?!" Rayni emerged from the kitchen and smiled. 
"It's fine. No problem. Just a little melted cheese on the burner. Nothing to worry about." Dief whined, as he smelled the air. 
"Who asked you?" Fraser laughed at Rayni as she stuck her tongue out at his wolf. 
"Can I assist you in any way?" 
"Nah, you and Ray get comfortable. I made pizzas and nachos." 
"That's what I smell?" Rayni shot Ray a look and then tossed a dishtowel at him. Fraser settled in the chair and watched as Ray sprawled out on the couch. Rayni was a lot of things, but a chef was not one of them. Fraser smiled as she brought out the bowl of tortilla chips and melted cheese. It did taste good. It was just the process to get it that way that Rayni had trouble with. 
"The pizza should be ready in a few minutes." 
"Sounds great Doll. Come sit down. The game's about to start." 
"I'm coming! Fraser, what do you want to drink? Coke, ginger-ale or juice." 
"Coke is fine, thank you kindly." 
"I'll get it." Ray leapt from the couch and walked into the kitchen with Rayni. 
"Here." Rayni shoved a Coke at him and waited for what she knew would come next. 
"Damn Rayni, what exploded in here?! Martha Stewart would shit gold bricks if she saw this kitchen." 
"I had a little trouble opening that stupid shredded cheese bag." "You let it beat you up?" "I'll clean it up." "You go cheese in yer hair." 
"Just go back in the den and watch the game. Who's playing tonight anyway?" 
"Leafs and Black Hawks."
 "Oh God." 
"Yeah, I know. Fraser's going to be cryin' at the end of the night." 
"I heard that Ray!" 
"Don't yell too loud during the game okay. The neighbors complained last time."
 "What're they gonna do? Call a cop?" Rayni held onto Ray's hand as they walked back into the living room. She leaned over and hugged Fraser as she walked to the couch. 
"Hey you." 
"Hello Rayni." Dief leapt into her lap as soon as she sat down. 
"Dief! Get down." 
"Leave him. He's fine." Rayni rubbed her hands down his sides while his tongue lolled out in delight. 
"You're making a spectacle of yourself." Fraser rolled his eyes at his constant companion. Rayni laughed and scratched harder. 
"Babe, it smells like the pizza's done." Rayni pushed Dief off her lap and ran to the kitchen. She'd never hear the end of it if she burned the pizza. Fraser chuckled at her as she swore.
 "Can I be of any assistance?" Both men smiled as she yelled from the kitchen. 
"Everything's fine! I got it! It's not burned!" Ray looked over at Fraser and handed him the bowl of chips. 
"That's my woman." 
"That she is Ray. That she is."

~~~~ Chapter 15

 "I can see that Ray." 
"Two to one now buddy." 
"It's only the second period Ray. I'm sure Toronto will step up to the challenge." 
"Cujo's not lookin' so good tonight."
 "Leave Fraser alone Ray. It's not his fault his team sucks." 
"Thank y….That's not nice." Rayni laughed as Fraser grinned at her. 
"Sorry, Ben." 
"It seems that your boyfriend has been a bad influence on you." 
"Nah, that took years of sorry boyfriends. This one has actually had a positive effect."
 "Just don't tell anybody, doll." Ray leaned in and gave her a peck on the cheek. Fraser smiled at how happy his friend was. Rayni stood to remove the remnants of the pizza she had cooked. It was gone within a matter of moments once she placed the pan on the coffee table. She dropped the pan in the sink and went down the hall to the bathroom. Ray pulled two Cokes from the refrigerator and handed one to Fraser as the doorbell rang. Ray answered the door and was greeted by Rayni's family. Eleanor entered the apartment first. 
"I thought I saw her light on." Paul followed her inside as Mike and Karen climbed the steps. Josh had already zeroed in on Dief and was enjoying being licked in the face. 
"Ray! Who's at the door!?" Rayni called from the hall as she exited the bathroom. 
"Your family's here." 
"All of 'em." 
"Hello sunshine." Paul kissed his daughter on the cheek and whispered in her ear. 
"Mom, this is Constable Ben Fraser. He'll be joining us for church in the morning." Fraser stood and greeted Rayni's parents. 
"It's a pleasure to meet you ma'am." 
"Is that a wolf? Josh, get away from him!" Eleanor frantically motioned for Josh. Josh however didn't move. 
"This is Diefenbaker, Grandma. He's Fraser's friend." 
"He's a dog right?" 
"No ma'am. Half wolf actually." 
"And he belongs to you?" 
"Not exactly ma'am. Diefenbaker has free will. He chooses to stay with me." Eleanor looked from Paul to Fraser to Rayni. 
"What were you doing dear? Is this why you couldn't go to the movies with your family?"
 "I had made other plans mom. Fraser, Ray and I like to get together on Saturday night and watch hockey." 
"You don't like hockey."
 "How do you know what I like mom? You've never bothered to ask." Before a fight broke out, Paul changed the subject. 
"So you're a Mountie? How does a Mountie wind up in Chicago?" Ray shook his head and waited on the story to start. 
"Well, sir, I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father and for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, I've remained as liaison with the Canadian Consulate." 
"I see. And…."
 "Don't ask Dad. It's a long story." 
"It takes exactly two hours to tell." Paul laughed and patted Fraser on the shoulder. 
"Sorry son, we don't have that kind of time." 
"Do you all want something to drink?" 
"No dear, we've had plenty to drink at the movies." Eleanor started to walk around Rayni's apartment. Mike shared a look with Rayni as their mom walked into the kitchen. Rayni glared at the back of her mother's form as she entered the kitchen and shook her head. 
"Good lord, look at this mess! Same old Rayni. Can't keep anything clean. You always were the messy one in the family." Ray saw the stress flash across Rayni's face. He stepped past Rayni and into the kitchen. 
"Nah, I did this. I spilled the cheese tryin' to open the bag. I just hadn't cleaned it up yet." 
"Eleanor, we need to go and let these kids get back to their game. Come along." Paul took Eleanor by the hand and pulled her from the kitchen. Rayni smiled at Ray and then her father. 
"See you all tomorrow. Goodnight sunshine." Mike lagged behind while his family scurried from the apartment. 
"I'm sorry. She insisted on stopping by." 
"Of course. She wouldn't want to miss out on a chance to make my life hell."
 "I just wish you'd have it out and get it over with." 
"What's the point?" Ray slipped his arms around Rayni's waist as Fraser sat back in the chair. Mike waved from the top of the stairs as Rayni closed the door. Fraser jumped in alarm at the loud scream released from Rayni. 
"Oh dear." 
"Yeah, no shit."

~~~~~~ chapter 16

Ray held Rayni's hand while Fraser held the door of the church. Ray followed her down the aisle and to the pew where her family was sitting. Rayni made a point to put Fraser in the pew first so she could sit in between him and Ray. Fraser knew what she was doing. She wanted a sufficient buffer zone between her mother and herself. Rayni smiled over at him as he smiled back with his shining blue eyes. She looped her arm in Ray's and waited on the service to start.


"That was a lovely service today, don't you think?" Eleanor had cornered Fraser in the living room. 
"Yes ma'am. Very inspired." 
"Do you attend church with Rayni often?" 
"I've accompanied them to services the past four Sundays." 
"I see." Ray had slipped down the hall to put his coat in one of the bedrooms when Rayni grabbed him from behind and stole a kiss.
 "You better watch that. You're gonna get in trouble." 
"So what else is new?" 
"Come on Doll, let's get back to the party." 
"Surely they won't miss us." Rayni slid her hands down his back and gave his backside a squeeze. 
"Hey! Cut that out. You've only got a few more days. Didn't I hear your mom say they were leaving on Wednesday?" "Wednesday at 3:45 pm." 
"Is it that bad?" "She just makes me feel stupid all the time. Mike has diamonds up his ass and I'm the 'messy' one." "I love you though." Ray kissed her and stroked the side of her face. He pulled away quickly and looked at the door in shock when he heard footsteps. Fraser appeared around the corner looking rather harried. 
"You okay, Frase?" 
"Your..ah, mother is….uh…." 
"Yeah, I know." 
"Well we can't hide in here forever. Pitter Patter let's get at 'er."

Eleanor had once again taken over the kitchen and started preparing the meal. Rayni was washing the discarded pots while her mother filled the serving bowls. Karen was off on a mission to find Josh's hockey skates while the men were watching ESPN in the den. Ray and Ben decided to see if Rayni needed some help and were about to enter the kitchen. Just outside the door, Ray heard Eleanor speaking to Rayni. 
"Benton seems nice." Ray stopped short and motioned for Fraser to wait. 
"He's very nice."
 "He's awfully handsome." 
"Yeah, he's very nice looking." 
"Does he have a girlfriend?" 
"Not that I know of." Rayni knew where this was going and it was taking everything she had not to scream. 
"I bet he would make someone a lucky girl." 
"Probably so." 
"Don't you think he's more suited for your tastes?" Fraser felt a knot forming in his stomach as Ray listened intently outside the door. Ray heard Rayni slam the pot she was washing on the counter. 
"No mom, I don't think Ben is more suited for me!" 
"There's no need to act childish. I was just merely stating that Ben seemed like a very dear person." 
"He is a very dear person. He and I will probably be the best of friends." 
"Then what's the problem dear. I'm sure if…." 
"Ben does not crack stupid jokes just to hear me laugh. Ben doesn't buy me green apple suckers just to see the smile on my face. Ben doesn't hold my hand when we walk just to feel the touch of my fingers. Ray does those things mom, and that's why I think Ray Kowalski hung the moon and stars. Ray is the one man that I want to be with forever. Ray is the one man that I want to father my children. Ray is that one man that if he told me to pack a bag we were getting married tonight, I would tell him I could buy more clothes when we get there. Ray is the man I love mom. Period." Fraser couldn't help but smile at the look of sheer joy on his best friend's face. Neither man heard Rayni's dad walk up behind them. 
"Sounds like my little girls laid down the law." Ray looked over and smiled. 
"You can say that again." Paul Mason stepped into the kitchen and was met buy a stunned wife and an angry daughter. 
"Eleanor, you need to back off." 
"I beg your pardon?!" 
"Leave my daughter alone. She's happy and she doesn't need you to butt in."
"What?! How can you say that to me? You're the one that can't stand the men she dates." 
"True, but I like this one. He loves her and she loves him. What more could a father want for his daughter? Besides, she's a good girl. She can make her own decisions."
 "Thanks dad." 
"But she always makes such bad decisions. Look at the last man she dated." Rayni was about to launch another tirade when her father cut her off. 
"What about you Ellie? Jack Parker ring a bell?" 
"Who?" Rayni was confused. Eleanor was livid. 
"Don't bring him in to this. That's why I'm so hard on her. I don't want her to make the same mistakes I did." "Who's Jack Parker, dad?" 
"No one!" Eleanor was turning a strange shade of red. Fraser and Ray stood in the doorway and watched the heated exchange. 
"Jack Parker was your mother's boyfriend before me. He belonged to the….what were they called Ellie? The 'Devil's Deacons'? Yeah that's it. Motorcycle gang out of Detroit."
 "You dated a 'Devil's Deacon'!??" "Engaged to a "Devil's Deacon'." Paul winked at Rayni as Eleanor fumed. 
"Oh my GOD!" Rayni was stunned.
 "He nearly killed you when you broke up with him for me. Sounds to me, like mother like daughter."
 "Are you kidding?! I think I'm going to have a stroke." Rayni leaned against the counter and held her hands to her temples.
 "You've made your share of mistakes. So give her a break Ellie." Silence hung like a cloud over the kitchen. Mike and Karen had heard everything from the den. Mike could barely breathe. Karen was stunned. Ray and Fraser were rendered motionless. Paul walked slowly over to his wife and hugged her. Rayni sat at the counter and stared at the mother she thought she knew. 
"I just didn't want you to make the same mistakes. You always seemed to do the opposite of what I asked you to do." 
"I…but I…I never dated a biker. A criminal maybe." 
"See, that smart mouth is going to get you in trouble one day." 
"It got me Ray mom." Ray walked over and hugged Rayni close to him. Rayni kissed him openly and rubbed her palm down his face. Fraser smiled at the happiness he saw in his friend's face. Paul whispered to Eleanor. 
"You better learn to like this one. He's not going anywhere." 
"At least he's on the right side of the law. That's something I guess." 
"You need to talk to your daughter as well. You've got a lot of fences to mend."

~~~~~~ chapter 17

Fraser waved goodbye as Ray and Rayni dropped him at his apartment. Dief scurried up the stairs ahead of him as he contemplated the events of the day. He was truly happy for Ray. He had found the woman he had always wanted. He clicked on the light in his apartment and placed his Stetson on the kitchen counter. Sighing heavily he shrugged off his coat and started to undress for bed.

As he sat on the edge of his small bed he started to think back to another time. A time when he was with the woman he loved. At time when he held her in his arms and felt the warmth of her body beneath him. He placed his hands over his eyes in an effort to remove the image of her from his mind. How could he still have feelings for her? She tried to ruin his life and the lives of the people he loved. He shook his head and lifted the lid of the old trunk that belonged to his father. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. If he concentrated hard enough, he could still smell the scent of his father in the old journals and photographs inside. Pulling a tattered shoebox from the trunk, he smiled as he lifted the photographs into the light. His father looked so forthright in his uniform. Then his eye caught her picture. Why did he keep it? Why couldn't he let go of this woman? He ran his fingers lightly across the old photo. He felt a sickness in his stomach as he looked at her haunting eyes. It seemed like hours had passed, he was lost in the photograph of her. Dief growled a low and guttural warning to him as tears pooled his eyes. 
"I know. I'm sorry." Dief whined his concern and placed his head on Fraser's knee for comfort. 
"I'm not going to think of her anymore. What good would it do?" 
He rubbed his hand across his wolf's head as he placed the photograph back in the box. He knew he should throw it away but he couldn't. She still had a grip on him that he couldn't explain. Fraser stood and closed the old trunk. He padded into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Deciding he didn't want to wash a glass, he drank from the carton. Dief whined his disapproval to which Fraser ignored. As he stood leaning on the counter with the empty milk carton in his hand, he thought of Rayni and Ray. They had fun together. They laughed, they joked, and they really enjoyed each other's company. He tossed the carton in the trashcan and tried to get his mind off them. Was he jealous? Did he envy his friend his happiness? Maybe. Maybe he just wanted to find love. A love like they shared. He saw the change in Ray over the past month. He was calmer, more confident. He was happy. Was it too much to ask to find happiness? Was it beyond his reach? Fraser pushed away from the counter and walked over to the bed. He uncharacteristically flopped down on his back. His mind wandered to all the women he had met while he lived in Chicago. Would any of them make him happy? Could any of them be his one love in life? Did he deserve love? His thoughts moved to Inspector Thatcher. They did kiss. Fraser brought his arm to his forehead as he stared up at the ceiling. But was she the one? It was a nice kiss, but did it really have the spark that it should? He sighed heavily and pulled his blanket over his legs. What about Francesca? No, she's not my type. She's a good friend though. But she is rather frightening. McKenzie? Maybe. But she thinks I'm an idiot. I should have just given her the one corsage. Fraser rolled onto his side as Dief jumped on the end of the bed. Maybe I'll never find someone. Fraser closed his eyes and prayed for sleep. His thoughts were quickly interrupted by a knock on his door. Glancing at the clock as he walked to the door he realized it was only 7:30. 
"Good Evening Mr. Mustafi." 
"You have phone call." 
"Thank you kindly." Fraser padded in his bare feet and long underwear down the hall to Mr. Mustafi's apartment. "Constable Fraser." 
"You really need to get a phone."
 "Evening Ray." 
"Hey…uh…." Silence hung on the line and Fraser could tell Ray wanted to ask him something. 
"Yes Ray?" 
"You okay?" "I beg your pardon?" 
"It's just that….well, you seemed….you want to come over here tonight and watch TV?"
 "I'm fine, thank you kindly for your concern." 
"You sure? I mean, Rayni….well, never mind. You know how women are."
 "Not really Ray."
 "Yeah, me neither. So you're okay?" 
"Yes Ray." "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow." 
"Night Ray." Fraser hung up the phone and smiled as he walked back to his apartment. Even though love hadn't graced his life once again, friendship had taken root. He closed his apartment door and turned out the light once again. Covering his legs with the blanket his grandmother had given him, he smiled at the thought of how many people cared for him. Within moments, he was asleep.

~~~ chapter 18

Rayni pulled up in front of Mike's house and waited on her mother to meet her. They had decided that the best thing they could do was to start things fresh. They were going on a date. Just the two of them. Mother and daughter on the town. Rayni waved as her mother scurried down the steps. 
"You ready?" 
"Ready. Karen tried to get herself invited, but I wasn't having it. She'd tell everything we did." 
"So you ready to go eat?"
 "Let's go." Rayni pulled into traffic and noticed for the first time in a long while that her head didn't start to pound the minute her mother spoke. Ray was right. Maybe things could be better. 
"What's dad doing tonight?" 
"He and your brother are taking Josh to the Hawks game. I think they were going to call Ray to see if he wanted to go." 
"Great. He loves the Hawks." 
"What about Constable Fraser? I think they were going to ask him. Does he like hockey?" 
"He's Canadian Mom."
 "Oh yes, of course. So where are we going to eat?" 
"Okay, it's this great Chinese place. Don't start the lecture about MSG and junk like that. We're grown women. Let's live life on the edge okay? You should remember how. Right?" 
"Smart mouth. Your father should have never told you that." 
"Why? Because it makes you less than perfect? Jeez, mom. Do you know how shitty you've made me feel over the years?" 
"Rayni! Watch that mouth!" Rayni rolled her eyes. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. 
"No, you're right. I have been a bitch." 
"What?! Oh, so it's alright for you to have a potty mouth, but I say one word and you go righteous on me?!" 
"Go righteous on you? This is way too weird."
"I just didn't want you making the same mistakes I did. I always took the dangerous path. If my parents said black, I said white. I don't know why, I just did. My poor mother was white headed by the time I turned 22. And you are just like me. Do you know how hard that is to deal with?" 
"Why didn't you just tell me?"
 "And have you rebel more?! I'm no fool, Rayni. I know how things are. Now Mike. Mike acts like your father. He's smart, good looking and laid back as all outdoors. But, you. You take life in the fast lane. You plowed your own way. Biology was what we wanted you to do, you took engineering. I wanted you to date Mark Walker. You ride off on the back of Jack Thompson's bike. I couldn't win with you Rayni." 
"Well, you just always tried to make me into this hot-rolled Barbie doll cheerleader. I hate girls like that." Eleanor got a far off look in her eyes as she smiled. 
"Yeah, me too. I beat a cheerleader up once." Rayni nearly ran a stoplight as she whirled around to look at her mother. 
"She was all blond hair and white teeth. Used to make me sick. She tried to sleep with my boyfriend. Well, I wasn't having any of that. So I hit her. Several times." 
"What?! My mother? Mrs. PTA-boy scout troop mom-Eleanor Mason kicked a girls butt!" 
"I wasn't always the soccer mom, Rayni. I did go to high school. Before I met your dad, I was…."
 "A bad ass." Eleanor laughed as Rayni pulled into the restaurant. 
"Well, yes. I think that's what he liked about me." 
"I think I'm going to have a aneurysm. This is just too much." 
"Your father was so handsome. He was all prep and squeaky clean. His mother hated me at first. She didn't want her son anywhere near the likes of me. But, I won them over. After we got married, I worked while Paul built the business up. I took care of the house and the bills. Then Mike was born and they finally had a grandchild. It was like I was candy coated after that." 
"I wonder if Ray's parents will like me." 
"Of course they'll like you! Why wouldn't they? You're smart and beautiful. What more could they want?!" Rayni had never heard her mother talk like this. She was actually bragging on her. "They're supposed to be here next month. I guess I'll find out then."
 "They'll fall in love with you the minute they see you. I'm sure." 
"I don't know. They really like Stella." 
"I told you. Ray's ex-wife." 
"Well, once they see you, Stella will be like a bad dream."
 "Thanks Mom."

Rayni and Eleanor parked the car and walked into the restaurant. Rayni was pleasantly surprised at how the evening went. Her mother had finally loosened up and decided to lighten up on Rayni. Of course she had to make a comment oh her hair, but some things won't ever die.

~~~~~ chapter 19

"Go with us." 
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea. I've got a tremendous about of paperwork."
 "Come on Ben. Please?" Fraser couldn't help but grin at Rayni as she blinked those big brown eyes at him. The smirk on Ray's face didn't go unnoticed when he nodded his head yes. 
"Okay. But, I really should be back early." Rayni smiled broadly and hugged him. Ray chuckled as Fraser was at first startled and then relaxed into the hug. 
"Great! Let's go." Rayni grabbed her purse and headed for the door of the consulate. It was her parents last night in town and they were all meeting for dinner. Rayni knew Fraser would otherwise spend the evening alone with a stack of paperwork if they hadn't asked him along. Besides, he had better get used to being a part of their lives. Ray held the door for Rayni as Fraser climbed in the back seat from the driver's side. 
"I really hope I'm not intruding."
 "Of course not, Frase. You're my best friend, right? Best friends can intrude."
"I suppose so Ray." Rayni fastened her seatbelt and twisted in the seat to face Fraser. Ray smiled as Rayni started gushing to him like he was one of her favorite girlfriends. 
"You'll never guess what my mom said the other night. She actually admitted to being a bitch. Can you believe it?! I nearly swallowed my tongue." 
"I can imagine." 
"She said she was just trying to be the perfect little wife and mother so I wouldn't end up like her." 
"That's understandable." 
"She even took up for me when I talked about Ray's parents." Ray stopped at the light and turned toward her. "What about my folks?" 
"I'm just a little worried about meeting them that's all." 
"After your parents? Mine are a cake walk." 
"You're mom still talks to your ex-wife every week." Rayni shared a look with Fraser. He could see the insecurity in her eyes. 
"I'm sure you'll make a wonderful impression on them." Ray smiled gratefully at Fraser as he pulled away from the light. 
"Yeah, well. We'll see, I guess." 
"Don't sweat it Doll. My old man will love ya." 
"Your old man is not the one I'm worried about." 
"Ray's mother is a lovely woman, Rayni. I'm sure the two of you will get along fine." 
"I hope." Ray reached across the seat and took Rayni's hand. She absently rubbed the sides of his fingers as he steered them into the parking lot of the restaurant.

~~~~ Chapter 20

"Where's Dief?!" 
"I'm sorry Josh. Dief isn't allowed in this restaurant." 
"That's cruddy." 
 "So how was work today, sunshine?" 
"It was okay. I had to make one of the map tech's cry over at Willmar Engineering." 
"Oh Rayni, you didn't." Eleanor smiled at her daughter as she laughed. 
"Hey, if you can't draw a simple lot layout, you don't need to be drafting. I told him he should consider a new career. I gave him the number for Bartending School." 
"Rayni! That's awful."
 "If you saw the plat, you wouldn't say that. Took me two hours to redo it so I could place it on the map. I'm sure his boss will question him once I send the bill over."
 "You're going to bill them?" Karen looked at her with shock.
 "Of course. I spent two hours of my time redrafting a plat that they couldn't do. So, when they get the bill for two hours of contract work at $55 an hour, that should open their eyes."
 "You're brutal." 
"I'm just doing my job." Ray could see that Rayni was actually having a good time. He and Fraser shared a comfortable smile as she told her story. Her mom seemed more relaxed and Paul couldn't be happier. 
"Ray, will we be seeing you this summer?" 
"The family always comes to visit us in Florida. You and Constable Fraser are always welcome." Ray smiled as Rayni squeezed his hand. Fraser's head shot up and looked around the table. 
"Constable, you are welcome as well. Even bring…" 
"Diefenbaker, Grandma."
 "Yes, Diefenbaker. We have plenty of room." 
"Thank you kindly." 
"Sounds nice, eh Fraser?"
 "Yes, Ray. Very nice." 

~~~~ Chapter 21

Ray unlocked the door to his apartment. Rayni ran her hand down his back as she kissed him in the hall. 
"Just let me get my…..mm-mmph….." Rayni cut him off with a passionate kiss as she pushed him onto the couch. 
"Don't you want me to take you back to your place?" Rayni ignored his question as she slid her hand underneath his shirt. Her fingers traced a trail down his chest as she kissed the side of his neck. Reason lost out, when she sucked at his earlobe. He captured her mouth and probed its warmth with his tongue. Rayni pulled and tugged on his shirt until she completely freed it from his pants. Snatching it over his head, she tossed it to the floor. He reacted in kind as he removed her sweater. Pulling away and standing over her he smiled at the look of sheer love in her eyes. Pulling her to her feet, he lifted her in his arms and carried her to his bedroom. An evil grin crossed his features as he stopped just short of the bed. In one swift motion, he tossed her into the air and laughed as she landed in the center of the bed. She giggled wildly as he took a flying leap toward her and landed on the bed beside her. As she lay on her back, he kissed her stomach. She nearly lost her senses when he dipped his tongue into her belly button. She wove her fingers through his unruly hair as he slid his fingers underneath her bra. Within moments, the two of them had shed their remaining clothing. Rayni slid beneath the cool sheets as Ray slipped his arms around her body. As he moved above her, sweat began to pool in the small of his back. Rayni held on to him as the two of them moved as one. She softly whispered in his ear as he kissed her collarbone. Whispers turned to cries of passion as their love intensified. This was where they wanted to be for the rest of their lives. Together. As he looked into her eyes, he made a decision. He knew it was the right one. He just needed to wait for the right time.

~~~~~ chapter 22

Ray pushed another stack of files around on his desk. Fraser was still at the Consulate and the caseload was little to none. Francesca was intently filing. A few more minutes and the manicure would be complete. Deciding he needed more coffee, Ray wandered to the canteen. Before he could make a break in the other direction, Stella walked toward him in the hall. 
"Stella." He looked at her and waited to hear what she had to say. His coldness toward her unnerved her. He used to fall all over her. But, now he didn't seem to even be phased by her presence. 
"I hear Barbara and Damien are coming in to town." 
"Yeah, where'd ya hear that?" 
"Your mother told me." Stella crossed her arms and watched at he cocked his head from side to side. 
"They're visitin'."
 "Are they here to size up your little girlfriend?" Ray gritted his teeth at the tone in Stella's voice. Ragging on him was one thing, but Rayni was another. 
"Watch it, Stel." 
"What's the matter, Ray? Sensitive?" Francesca walked down the hall blowing on her nails. She couldn't help but overhear Stella giving Ray a hard time. *Look at her! She thinks she's so high and mighty. What a bitch! Rayni is the best thing that has happened to Ray since he learned to talk and you have to be around to ruin it. Well, let's see what ol' Frannie can do about that. * Francesca walked past them and into the canteen. Pulling a large YooHoo from the machine, she shook it up and opened the top. 
"Just back off Stella. I don't feel like hearing your shit." 
"My shit?! Do you talk that way around your little girlfriend?" Stella laughed at Ray's growing anger. Before Ray could respond, Francesca walked between them and conveniently stumbled.
 "Oh Stella! I'm sooo sorry." As Stella wiped the sticky chocolate drink from her face and chest she scowled at Francesca. Frannie turned to face Ray and smiled. She leaned in and whispered as she continued past. 
"Now that's a chocolate covered bitch." Ray tucked his head and chuckled as he walked away from a very sticky, very irate Stella.


Chapter 23

Rayni pulled another plat from the slowly decreasing pile. Cara walked past her office and stuck her head in the door. 
"What time do they get here?" 
"Ray said they called from a payphone this morning. They should be here sometime tonight." 
"Why not? They're still in love with his ex-wife. How can I compete with that?" 
"They'll take one look at how Ray looks at you and forget her name." 
"I doubt it." 
"What's Ray say?" 
"He says they'll love me." 
"Somehow I'm not comforted by that." 
"What about Fraser?" 
"I talked to him last night. Poor guy must think I'm a lunatic. I called that weird neighbor of his because Ben doesn't have a phone and babbled on for ten minutes about how I should just paint 'reject' across my chest and be done with it." 
"What did he say?" 
"He told me some story about a Elk, an Eskimo and a chicken. I think it was a chicken. I don't remember." 
"Did the story help?"
 "After I made him explain it, yes. Then he told me I was acting irrationally and that I should relax." 
"My, my, my. All those looks and brains too." 
"Yep, he's an enigma." 
"He's a hottie." 
"Don't get your hopes up." 
"He's got some serious scars on that heart of his. I don't know the details yet. But I can tell they run pretty deep. Ray knows some, but he's not telling." The intercom buzzed and startled the two of them. 
"Rayni, line two." 
"Thanks, Ellen." Rayni waved as Cara disappeared down the hall. 
"Hiya Doll." 
"Hey baby." 
"My folks are about an hour away. You think you can break out a little early?" 
"I think I can swing leaving a little early on a Friday afternoon." 
"Can you do me a favor?" 
"Will you swing by the Consulate and pick up Fraser and take him home? I know I won't have time once they get here. He'll be off duty at four." 
"No problem." Rayni took a deep breath and Ray could tell she was nervous. 
"Calm down. It's just my folks. I met yours." 
"Yeah, but that was you. This is me we're talking about." Rayni smiled at the sound of his laughter on the other end of the phone. 
"I see we're ridin' the 'me' train today." 
"Hey, we all need a turn, right?" 
"I'll see you at my place." 
"Okay. I'll be there. Love you."
 "Love you more." Rayni hung up the phone and smiled down at the receiver. She looked at the clock and rubbed the back of her neck. Two-thirty. *What the hell. * She pushed her chair under her desk and grabbed her purse. 
"Ellen, I've got to go. I've got some family business to take care of. Have a nice weekend and I'll see you on Monday." Ellen waved as Rayni hurried out the door and out to her car.


Chapter 24

Rayni pulled her lime green Volkswagen in front of the Consulate. Fraser stood stiff as a board in front of the large steps. * I wonder what he did this time? * She hopped from the car and stood in front of the broad wall of red. She rested her hand on his arm while she spoke. 
"I talked to Ray. His parents will be here in about an hour. I know you told me I was acting like a crazy person, but I say go with what you're comfortable with. So, I'm going to get my nails done and get fixed up before I meet them. Stella always looks like she's some kind of Barbie doll or something. I look…well, I look like the anti-Barbie. So, I'm going to do as much as I can to look nice for these people. God, I hope they don't hate me. I'll be back by four to pick you up and take you home. So, no crap when I pick you up okay? The only thing I want to hear is, 'My Rayni, you look great.' Got it? I'll see you then. Oh! And what ever you did this time, don't do it anymore. This looks like it really bites."
 She waved as she skipped around the front of her car and over to the driver's door. Playfully honking the horn as she pulled away, Fraser allowed himself to steal a glimpse out of the corner of his eye. To the naked eye, he was motionless. No one noticed the small smile that tugged ever so slightly at the corners of his mouth.

~~~~~~ chapter 25

Rayni looked at her freshly manicured nails and smiled. While she was there she decided to get a haircut. She pulled up in front of the Consulate at three minutes before four. Fraser didn't know it yet, but he wasn't going straight home. Rayni tapped her nails on the steering wheel while 'Guns n Roses' blasted through the speakers. *Finally. * The clock chimed the hour and Fraser stepped forward and opened the passenger door and allowed Dief to hop in the back seat. Closing the door, he tossed his Stetson on the dash and looked at Rayni and smiled. 
"My Rayni, you look great."
 "Smart man." Rayni pulled out into traffic and headed to her apartment. 
"Where are we going?" 
"My place." Dief whined in the back seat. 
"Who asked you?" 
"Why are we going to your place?" 
"Because, I have to pick out something nice to wear when I meet Ray's parents and I need an honest opinion. And since you won't lie, well, you're it." 
"Oh dear."
 "Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you if I'm fat or anything. I'm not a total idiot."

Fraser followed Rayni up to her apartment. He thought it best if he waited in the living room for her to make any clothing recommendations, but she didn't have time for that. She drug Fraser by the arm to her bedroom. Pulling at his collar, he watched as she pulled an armload of clothes from her closet. 
"Okay, I'm meeting Ray at his place and then we're all going out to dinner." 
"How formal is the restaurant?" 
"I don't know. I've never been there." 
"Do you know the name?" 
"Michael's, I think." 
"Ah yes, Michael's. I haven't been there personally, but Inspector Thatcher has been on several occasions." 
"So what do you think?" Rayni started tossing clothes on the bed and sifting through outfits. 
"I think this navy is a nice color on you." 
"I've got navy shoes to match that. Hang on." Rayni buried herself in the bottom of her closet and started tossing shoes in his general direction. A hiking boot came sailing at him. He caught the boot and placed it on the floor in time to catch a black suede pump. 
"Found one. Here catch." Fraser caught one shoe and then the other before Rayni emerged from the closet. 
"You sure this doesn't make me….." Fraser visibly stiffened. Rayni stopped and smiled up at him. 
"Easy big fellow. I'm not gonna hurt you." Rayni poked him in the side and he couldn't help but laugh. She grabbed a long velvet skirt and a burgundy beaded top. 
"What I was going to say is, are you sure this one doesn't make me look too office manager? I like this skirt. It makes my butt look good. What do you think?" Fraser looked at her bottom and then at the ceiling. 
"I uh…." 
"Oh God, lighten up. You're my Ray's best friend. We all have butts Fraser. See, look behind you. There's one!" Fraser looked at her with piercing blue eyes and smiled. 
"Why don't you decide? Dief perhaps could help you more than I." Dief growled at Fraser and then trotted out of the room. Fraser stared after him and muttered. 
"Look, let's do this. I'm going to grab a shower and curl my hair. I'll try on the navy first and then the black. Whichever one looks best, I'll wear. Deal?" 
"Now beat it. There's ginger ale in the fridge for you. And tell Dief to stay out of the cookies." 
"Understood." Fraser opened the refrigerator and helped himself to a can of ginger ale. He knew Rayni bought it mainly for him and that made him smile. He started to unbutton his serge as he opened the can and took a long drink. He heard the shower and chuckled as she yelled at him through the bathroom door. 
"Make yourself at home. Take your coat off and watch TV or something." 
"I'm fine, thank you kindly." He took off his serge and placed it over the back of the couch. He turned on the TV and relaxed his tired muscles after standing sentry duty all day. Rayni had the TV tuned to MTV, so Fraser decided to watch some music videos. In the middle of a rather enjoyable Brittany Spears song, the phone rang. 
"Rayni Mason's Apartment, Constable Fraser speaking." 
"Good afternoon Ray." 
"Where's my girl?" 
"She's in the shower." 
"What are you doing there?" 
"I believe I've been kidnapped. She's rather nervous." 
"Yeah, I know. Tell her I love her and I'll see her at six, okay?"
 "Certainly." "
What's she makin' ya do?" 
"I believe my duty is to help select an outfit for this evening." 
"What's the choices?" 
"There is a lovely navy dress and she's also chosen a black velvet skirt and a burgundy top." 
"Okay, uh….I haven't seen either of those. Who cares what she wears anyway?" 
"She does. She wants to make a good impression." 
"I know. They'll love her. How can they not?" 
"I agree." 
"Okay, tell her they'll be here when she gets here. Take care of my girl."
 "Okay, Ray." 
"Later, Frase." 
"Good bye."

Fraser hung up the phone and returned to the music videos. He was a little disappointed to see a Latin man in tight pants was singing. He didn't even notice the shower had stopped when he went back to the kitchen and helped himself to another ginger ale.

Rayni checked her make up one more time in the mirror. With the hot rollers still in her hair she slipped on the navy blue dress and padded down the hall. 
"What do you think?" She stood in the kitchen, while Fraser stood with the refrigerator door open. 
"That looks lovely." 
"I'm not going for lovely." 
"What are you going for?" Rayni looked at the floor for a second and then at Fraser. 
"I'm going for 'I'm so much better that Stella.'"
 "I'm sure you're just working yourself up over nothing. Rayni, you're a great person. You shouldn't let people intimidate you like this." Rayni smiled and pulled him into a warm hug. 
"I like you. I think I'll keep you." 
"Thanks." Fraser laughed comfortably. Rayni turned to go back to her bedroom. She stopped and turned back to face him as he shut the door to the refrigerator. 
"Can I ask you something?" 
"How come you're not all nervous and terrified looking around me?" Fraser rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow and licked at his lower lip. 
"You're my friend." 
"But, I thought Francesca was your friend. You nearly break out in hives around her. I've seen the difference, Ben." He sighed as he opened the can of soda. 
"I guess I feel comfortable around you. You don't want anything from me but friendship." 
"Relationships scare the hell out of you, huh?" 
"I guess you could say that." 
"Well, let me say this. I didn't know love could be this nice. I mean I had nothing to compare it too. So, one day, you'll meet that one girl that totally blows the curve." Rayni noticed a flicker of emotion cross over his face. She couldn't be sure be she could have sworn it was regret. Before he caught himself, he thought out loud.
 "But what if I've met her and lost her already?" Fraser jolted back to their conversation when Rayni grabbed his hand. 
"Then she wasn't the one. There's someone out there for you Ben. And when you find her, you'll never realize how much more love you have for them." Fraser smiled and nodded his head. He hoped she was right. She scooted back down the hall to her bedroom and changed again. Instead of the long skirt, she found something she liked better in the back of her closet. Fraser was leaning against the kitchen counter sipping his drink when Rayni appeared. She looked at him expectantly and waited for a response. 
"Oh dear." 
"What?! Not good?" 
"No. No…uh…no. You look great." 
"Too much maybe?" 
"I don't think so. I think you look stunning." Fraser looked her from head to toe and smiled brightly at her. Her hair was in loose wavy curls that hung just above her shoulders. She had on black chunky heeled knee boots and a black skirt that fell just above the knee. The burgundy sleeveless top added enough color to bring out her skin tone. 
"You think Ray will like it?" 
"I think Ray will like it entirely too much." 
"It doesn't look too…too…" 
"Not at all. It's…uh….you look…"
 "Are you blushing?" 
"More than likely." Rayni laughed as she pulled her black leather coat from the closet. She took one last look in the mirror and tucked her hair behind her ears.
 "Okay, I guess I'm ready. Let's roll." Grabbing his serge, Fraser escorted her down to the car and held the door for her. Dief whined to Fraser as they walked around the back of her car. 
"When did you learn the word 'hottie'?"

~~~~~~ chapter 26

Rayni pulled up to Fraser's dingy apartment building and waved at him through the open window. Before pulling away from the curb she called to him. 
"Wish me luck! I'll call you tomorrow and let you know how it goes!"
 "Good Luck, Rayni!" Fraser chuckled to himself as he climbed the stairs to his apartment. He prayed Ray's parents would embrace her and not compare her to Stella.

Rayni hurried up the steps to Ray's apartment. She was just about to use her key to open the door when she thought better of it. Knocking lightly, she waited for Ray to answer. She nervously tucked her hair behind her ears when the door opened. Instead of Ray, Damien answered the door. 
"You must be Rayni!" 
"Yes sir." 
"Come in. Come in. Ray, there's a good lookin' woman here to see you. How'd you manage to land this one? Woohoo." Ray was in the kitchen with his mother. He hadn't seen Rayni yet, and laughed at his dad's remark. "Easy pop. You might scare her….." Ray walked around the corner and Rayni. 
"Holy smoly! What is that?" 
"What?" Rayni nervously pulled her leather jacket together. 
"Oh my God, you look beautiful." Ray grabbed her in his arms and kissed her. She smiled and gave him a concerned look while she whispered. 
"Not in front of your parents." 
"Fraser help ya pick this out? I'm buyin' him lunch tomorrow. Jesus." 
"Stanley, what time are our…. Oh you must be Rayni." Ray's mother walked out of Ray's small kitchen and extended her hand to Rayni. 
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Kowalski." 
"We've heard so much about you, dear. I'm so glad to finally meet you." 
"You guys ready to eat. I'm starved!" Damien rubbed his hands together and looked at Ray. 
"Let's go pop. You wanna drive?" 
"Not tonight. I've been driving all day. How's the Goat runnin'?" 
"She's runnin' great. Like a top." Ray held onto Rayni's hand as the four of them walked downstairs. Damien and Barbara sat in the back seat while Ray helped Rayni into the front. Ray put his arm on the back of the seat and lightly rubbed Rayni's shoulder while he drove.

 ~~~~ chapter 27

"So whataya gonna have Doll?"
 "I'm not sure. It all looks so good." 
"This place is fancy smancy Ray boy. You must be doin' good for yourself." 
"I do alright." Ray tucked his head as his father smiled. 
"So dear, Stanley tells me you draw maps."
 "Yes ma'am. I'm a supervisor at the GIS department for the County." 
"That must be a difficult job." 
"Not really. I enjoy it. I like working with the computer system." Barbara smiled at the look on her son's face when Rayni spoke. *He's in love. * Damien nudged Ray and pointed a finger at Rayni. 
"How did you find such a smart girl? You hit her over the head or somethin'?" 
"Just lucky I guess." 
"I'm the lucky one." Rayni smiled sweetly over at Ray as she looked over her menu. The waiter arrived and offered a distraction. Ray could tell Rayni was still nervous. He could tell his dad was hooked. He was hooked the minute she walked in the door. Now if mom liked her, he would be golden. After placing their orders, Ray noticed the music softly playing. 
"This place has a dance floor, you know?" Ray winked at Rayni and held out his hand. She slipped her fingers in his as he helped with her chair. He placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her to the dance floor. As Ray twirled her into his arms she talked softly in his ear. 
"These boots aren't really made for dancing."
 "They look like they're made for something much better than that. How come you never wore them for me before?" "You like these boots, huh?" Ray softly nibbled on her earlobe. 
"So do you think they like me?" 
"I think pop's in love with you." 
"What about your mom? I think she's just being polite." 
"Calm down. They like you. Besides, I love you. That's all that matters right?" Rayni sighed and squeezed Ray to her. "I just don't want them to hate me. Besides, they better learn to like me because I plan on being around for a while." 
"That's my girl."

~~~ chapter 28

Ray smiled over at Rayni as the waiter placed their plates on the table. Everything looked and smelled wonderful. Rayni was starving but her nerves wouldn't allow her to eat very much. Ray tried to keep the conversation light as his parents asked about his work. 
"How's Fraser?" 
"He's good." 
"Stella mentioned he was driving her crazy. She says the two of you make quite a pair." Ray saw the look that flashed across Rayni's face as she took a small bite of her fettuccine. Within a moment it was gone and a new facade was in place. 
"Stella mentioned a big case she was working on. We're you part of it?" 
"No ma, I don't talk to Stella much." Damien could tell that Ray wanted to drop the subject. He knew Rayni must be uncomfortable. 
"So, Rayni, do your parents live here in town?" Rayni took a sip of her water and shook her head as she swallowed. "My dad retired from the construction company two years ago. He and my mom moved to Florida after that. My brother Mike and his family live here still." Ray shared a thankful look with his father. 
"Yeah, Rayni's an aunt. Her nephew Josh is nine. Our first date was at his skatin' party." 
"Skating? That's cute." Barbara smiled over at her son. Rayni took another drink of her water. * Cute. Great. I don't want to be freakin' cute. I bet no one ever called Stella cute. *

The evening was pleasant except for the four times Barbara brought up talking to Stella. Ray reminded himself to talk to his mom when they got home. Rayni felt like crying by the end of the night. Ray held Rayni's hand as they walked up the steps to his apartment. Barbara and Damien followed closely behind. 
Once in the apartment, Rayni excused herself and went to the restroom. Damien leaned over and whispered to Barbara, "Can the Stella chatter." 
"Excuse me?" 
"Ray really likes this girl. I'm sure she doesn't want to be constantly reminded of his ex-wife." 
"But Stella and Stanley are on good terms. They work together." Ray settled himself on the couch and added his two cents into the conversation. 
"Workin' together and bein' on good terms is two different things, Mom." 
"You and Stella aren't on good terms?" 
"Not exactly. Especially since I've started dating Rayni." 
"See, Barb. So lay off. Stella's in the past. I don't know why you still call her anyway."
 "She was part of the family once."
 "She ripped your firstborn's heart out. I say drop her." 
"You never liked Stella from the start."
 "Who could?! Except for Ray. She's….she's….." 
"She takes warming up to, that's all." Ray chuckled at the conversation between his parents. Ray heard the door open and Rayni's light tread coming down the hall. 
"Come sit by me, pretty girl." Rayni smiled at Damien as he patted the couch between him and Ray. 
"Stop hittin' on my girl, pop." 
"Ah, he's just jealous of his old man's good looks." Damien laughed as he put his arm around Rayni. She couldn't help but laugh along with him. Barbara looked at the woman sitting between Ray and Damien and smiled. * Oh dear, I bet I did hurt her feelings. She does love my son. You can see it in her eyes. * 
"Rayni dear, I've got to pick up a few things tomorrow. How about just us girls go shopping?" Rayni looked at Ray and smiled. He grinned at her and then at his mom. 
"That sounds great. I'd love to go."
 "Great. Ray told me he has to work tomorrow. So we can take the boys to lunch. How does that sound."
 "Sounds good." Ray smiled over at his mother. She was one great lady. He knew she would love Rayni.

~~~~~ Chapter 29

"What a cute car." 
"Thanks, Ray's not fond of it."
 "Well of course not dear. It's not the GTO. He and his father practically lived under the thing for a year." 
"He really does love that car. I'm surprised he let me drive it." Rayni saw the look of shock fly across Barbara's face. 
"He let you drive it?!" Rayni laughed as she maneuvered through traffic. 
"Why does everyone give that reaction? I thought Stella was going to fight me when I brought his keys back to the station." 
"Stella what?" Rayni immediately regretted bringing up Stella. 
"It's nothing." 
"Is she causing trouble?" Rayni bit at her lower lip and slowed down for the light. Feeling her hesitation, Barbara pressed on. 
"Tell me what she's done dear. Contrary to the impression I gave, my son's happiness is far more important than my relationship with his ex-wife."
 "Let's just say, she's not fond of me."
 "What does that matter. As long as she doesn't speak ill…." Barbara saw the look on Rayni's face and knew she didn't need to complete her sentence. 
"She's been giving Ray a hard time about how young she thinks I am. He made me promise not to say anything to her. I want to just go up to her and…..sorry. Never mind." 
"I can imagine dear. I've just learned to deal with her over the years. Ray was so devoted to her for so long. It nearly killed his father when they eloped. He never did like Stella."
 "I know the feeling."
 "Well, don't let her worry you dear. I see the way my son looks at you. He's happier than I've ever seen him and that has everything to do with you." 
"I love him, Mrs. Kowalski."
 "Barbara. And that's all I could ask for." Barbara smiled and Rayni felt as if the world had been lifted off her shoulders.

Continued in Part II