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Chapter 8

After listening to good-natured ribbing from her husband and son about her movie choices, Maddie suggested that they play cards instead. This was met with a good deal of enthusiasm from the parents, but Trixie looked at Jim with a small grimace.

"All right, you two, you are excused from canasta. We're better off with four anyway." Maddie took the cards and handed them to her husband to shuffle.

Helen had noticed Peter giving Jim the "daddy death glare" any time Jim touched, held, or kissed Trixie. She also saw him make numerous trips with Matt to the bar in the corner of the room.

While their parents were busy playing cards, Jim booted up his laptop and showed Trixie the photos and videos of their trip to Colorado. They were deep in discussion about the pros and cons of the school Jim had visited, when Peter's voice seemed to grow louder.

"Do I need another drink? No Helen, I don't need another drink, but Lord knows I want another drink," Peter said, slightly slurring his words as he walked across the room to the bar to refill his glass with Jameson. "Matt, would you like another?"

"Well, as long as you're up," Matt said, holding his glass out to his dark-haired neighbor, smiling at Peter's uncharacteristic behavior.

Peter was negotiating the crystal decanter when his daughter came to his rescue. "Dad, you're about to spill thirty-year-old whiskey on the carpet. Can I help?" Trixie said, taking the lowball glass from his hand. "Don't you think you've had enough?"

"Not nearly," he said as he glared across the room at Jim.

Trixie kissed her father on the cheek. "Daddy, you're getting drunk. That is very unlike you. What's up?" She filled the tumblers with a heavy dose of water and a splash of the amber whiskey.

"Most wonderful boy in the world. I should have said no, that's what I should have said when you asked if you could go on that trailer trip," Peter said to Trixie, tapping her on the nose with his finger. "Then I wouldn't be watching my baby getting pawed by that red-headed lothario."

Trixie laughed out loud. "Red-headed lothario. Seriously, Daddy, no more whiskey for you after this one, OK?" She took the two glasses back to the table where her parents were playing cards. "I think it's your meld, Dad."

"I think your father has lost the right to meld, sweetheart," Helen said glowering at her husband.

After placing the first glass at her father's seat, Trixie handed the second glass of Irish whiskey directly to Matthew Wheeler. "Here you go, Mr. Wheeler."

"Matt, please, Trixie, or Dad, if you'd be more comfortable with that." Matt smiled brightly and crooked his finger at her and whispered, "I've been watering his drinks all night. He's not as drunk as he thinks he is. I suspect this is more jealousy than Jameson's."

"Matthew Wheeler, you are a very astute observer of human nature. Are you sure you never worked for the FBI?" Trixie whispered back and gave him a wink.

"Hey, Dad! Stop trying to make time with my girl," Jim called from the couch, having seen Peter's scowl deepen as he watched the interaction between Matt and his daughter. Better to put the heat back on me, I'm an acceptable target, Jim thought to himself. He got up and crossed over to the game table. He leaned on the back of his mother's chair and bent over to take a good look at her hand. "Too bad you all aren't playing poker," he teased.

Trixie walked around the table to her father's chair and leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek. "You'll always be my first love, promise," she said softly, just for her father's ears and wrapped her arms around him.

"I love you too, pumpkin. I'm just not sure that I love that, that…" Peter trailed off trying to find the right word.

"Red-headed lothario?" Trixie taunted softly and kissed him again. She stood up, placed her hands on her father's shoulders, and patted a few times. Speaking in a normal voice, she said, "But you should be thanking Jim for all the trouble he's kept me out of over the years."

Jim looked up and gave a wry smile. "Tried, Trixie. I tried to keep you out of trouble. You still managed to find it, Shamus."

Trixie stepped back a bit from the table and looked at the adults who had worried about her growing up. "Seriously, Dad. Think about it. It was Jim who pulled me out of that sinkhole in Bob-White Cave. Jim is the one who got me out of that tunnel in Rosewood Hall. And if wasn't for him, Honey and I would have been goners during that flood in Iowa and also on our trip to St. Louis and down the Mississippi." She grabbed Jim's hand and pulled him back across the room to the deep leather couch and sat back down. Over her shoulder she said, "You should be thankful for all the attention he's paid to me."

Although Trixie was making light of the situation, Peter was now deep in thought about how his baby had been in danger all those times. How he hadn't been there to save her, but Jim had.

"Peter, I think we should finish this hand and go home. Especially if you plan on going with Jim and Trixie in the morning," Helen suggested, watching the wheels turn as Peter processed his latest thoughts.

"I guess you're right, Helen," Peter grunted. Looking at his cards to pick one to play, he stated, "Trixie, get your things together and go home with us. I think you should stay the night at the farm with your mother and me. I don't want you wearing out your welcome here."

As Peter returned to studying his cards intently, Helen looked at Maddie and rolled her eyes. Maddie giggled as Matt covered it with a fake cough.

Blonde curls appeared over the arm of the couch. Trixie was blushing, having been caught cuddling. "But, Dad, I have my bag out in the car. I can just spend the night in Honey's room again. I want to be here when Mr. Reynolds arrives."

"Trixie, your mother and I hardly get to see you and Sherlock. You can come back in the morning in time to meet Mr. Reynolds. I want you to come home with us," Peter stated as he put down a card.

Trixie was about to protest when Jim placed his hand over her mouth, stifling her reply. "You're so right. We've been hogging Trixie for days. We need to learn to share. It makes perfect sense for her to go to Crabapple Farm tonight. I'd be happy to help you all get home," Jim said from the comfort of the leather couch.

"Good. Glad to see one of you is thinking straight," Peter said, folding his hand and laying it on the table. "Helen, are you ready to go home?"

She looked at her long-time friends, her china-blue eyes merry with amusement. "Yes, Peter, I'm ready. Trixie, are you ready?"

During this exchange, Trixie had taken advantage of Jim's hand over her mouth. She had managed to capture his index finger with her teeth and was now subtly sucking on his finger. Trixie was silently laughing to herself as Jim's eyes rolled back in his head as he tried in vain to remain focused and coherent.

Not getting an answer, Helen asked again, "Trixie, are you ready to call it a night?"

With a final nip and suck on the tip of Jim's index finger, Trixie replied still holding onto Jim's wrist, "Yes, Moms, I'm all done here." The double entendre wasn't lost on the supple redhead as he pressed her more deeply into the couch, running his free hand up her ribcage.

He whispered, hoarsely, "Oh, so you think you're done, do you? Well, let me assure you, when you mess with the bull, you get the horns, sweetheart."

"Once again, promises, promises, Frayne." Trixie finally let go of his finger, with a last firm nip to the tip.

"Ouch! Be careful, Belden. Revenge is sweet…saccharine sweet," Jim assured her, standing up but making sure to caress every inch of her possible along the way. He reached down and held out his hand. Trixie grasped his hand and allowed him to help her up.

"Moms, do you want to walk home, or would you like Jim to give us a ride?" Trixie asked, wiggling her brows at her boyfriend.

"Gosh, driving seems silly, we're minutes away. I think we can walk, don't you, Peter?" Helen asked her husband.

Unfortunately, Peter was still deep in thought, giving serious consideration to how Jim had looked after his baby since she was thirteen. Although it looked like he was now fascinated with the design on the cut-crystal tumbler and he didn't seem to hear her.

"Peter? Peter! Should we walk home or have Jim drive us?" she asked again.

"Huh? What? Where are we going?" Peter stammered. Blinking, he looked at his wife with wide, dark eyes.

Helen thought her husband looked a bit like an owl but she wisely kept that thought to herself. "Peter, Jim and Trixie are going to take us back to Crabapple Farm. Then Sherlock and Trixie will be staying the night," she reminded him, swallowing the laughter that wanted to bubble up. "I was asking if we should have Jim drive us, or should we walk."

"Oh, that would very nice."

"Heavens, executive decision, we're walking. Peter, you can you walk, can't you?" Helen asked as she walked around the table to assist her husband. Jim rushed to her side and was there, just in case he was needed. Jim silently communicated to Helen that he had everything under control. With one last rise of her blond brows, Helen thought to herself, Are you sure, young Jedi? "Trixie, I'll get our coats. Meet you in the foyer."

"Well, this evening was very fun, I'm so glad you were able to come for dinner," Maddie said, putting the empty glasses on the bar and motioning to Sherlock. Maddie and the puppy walked out of the room.

Jim stood next to Peter, not really sure how 'take charge' he should be. "Umm, Pet…, Mr. Belden, umm, can I help you?"

Peter stood up, a bit unsteadily, but under his own power. "Thank you, James, I think I've got it."

"Daddy, are you ready? Moms is getting our coats and is waiting for us at the front door," Trixie said, laughing silently to herself.

"Splendid, let's go home. Where is Sherlock?" Peter asked, wide-eyed.

"I believe, sir, that Mother took Sherlock out for one last romp before we leave for Crabapple Farm," Jim replied, a little intimidated by this version of Trixie's father.

"Well, Matthew, splendid evening as always. Delicious whiskey! You do stock the best bar in Westchester County, I always say." Peter stuck out his hand and weaved only slightly.

"Peter, as always, it is such a pleasure having you and Helen over," Matthew said, taking his neighbor's hand and shaking it emphatically. "We'll see you tomorrow."

Jim looked at his father and winked. "Dad, I'm going to walk Trixie and her parents home."

"Have fun, son. Be careful." Matthew finished collecting the cards from the table and he was smiling as Jim and Trixie tried to gather Peter up and get him moving without seeming to herd him out the door.

Trixie took her father by the hand, taking pity on Jim, and led the way to the foyer. Helen and Maddie were standing there giggling together as they watched Sherlock chase her tail. "Ready to go, Moms?"

Helen hugged Maddie and put her coat on. "Yes, here's your coat," she said, handing Trixie's coat to her. She crossed over to Peter and Jim with their coats.

Trixie took her coat and put it on. She turned to watch Jim and her mother try and wrangle her father into his double-breasted black trench coat. She turned back to Maddie and gave her a big hug. "Thanks again for everything. It was a lot of fun staying here. And I can't thank you enough for taking care of Sherlock while I was at work. I hate to crate her for so long."

Maddie hooked her arm in Trixie's and turned the younger woman so they could both look at Matthew, who was kneeling on the floor by the den rubbing Sherlock's belly. The dog was wriggling in delight. "Yes, it was quite the chore for us to watch our granddog. Clearly we don't really care for her," Maddie said sarcastically, squeezing Trixie's arm. "It was a joy having you two here." She kissed Trixie on the cheek.

There was an audible "Oof" that caused the two women to spin around to see Jim clutching his stomach. Helen was standing back, wide-eyed, her hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh. Peter was standing there with his left arm in his coat, but the right sleeve was twisted and he was doing his best to try and force his arm through the tangled sleeve. It was obvious that his efforts to power his way into his coat had resulted in him hitting Jim in the midsection. "Are you OK, son?" Maddie asked her voice full of laughter.

With a cough and deep breath, Jim stood up to his full height and narrowed his eyes, glaring at his mother. "I'm fine, thank you. Just caught off guard, I wasn't expecting to be socked in the stomach."

"Got it!" Peter shouted to the sound of rending fabric. He stood in the foyer with a look of delight on his face. Trixie couldn't help but smile at her father because the silly grin on his face was so reminiscent of the impish look Bobby perpetually had on his face when he was a preschooler. His trench coat was finally on. Unfortunately the lining of the right arm was now hanging out of the sleeve. "What are we waiting for? I thought we were going home?" Peter looked around the foyer at the others who were still gaping at him.

After a few seconds of stunned silence, Maddie, as tactful as her daughter, broke the stillness. She was standing with her hand on the doorknob. "Trixie, why doesn't Sherlock stay here tonight? I suspect you may have your hands full." But before anyone could blink, the puppy had managed to wiggle out of the small crack Maddie had created when she turned the doorknob.

"Sherlock! Get back here!" Trixie called out. Maddie stepped out of the way just in time as Trixie ran out the door after the puppy.

Jim heard Trixie's shout, quickly pulled on his coat and was out the door after his two girls. Helen and Maddie looked at each other and burst into hysterical laughter. "Oh, Maddie, thank you for dinner and the wonderful company," Helen said, smiling and hugging her friend.

"Well, we have to thank Peter for providing the entertainment," Maddie whispered, causing another round of laughter.

"Ladies, I think we have a problem. I went back into the den to get Sherlock's leash and as I came back, I believe I saw Peter leaving. Did you know he was leaving?" Matt asked.

"Crap!"

"Helen!" Maddie looked at her long-time friend, shocked by her outburst. "I don't think I've ever heard you say that before. Even when Bobby shaved off his eyebrows before class pictures in sixth grade."

"Drunk Peter is worse than Bobby on his worst day. I'd better go catch him. Thanks again for a lovely evening!" Helen said as she hurried out of the door.

Looking around quickly, she saw no signs of Peter. She did see Trixie and Jim down the front lawn a short way, having captured Sherlock. "Trixie! Jim! I need your help. Your father escaped and I don't see him. Can you two help me find him?" She called out to the young couple as they walked up the snow-covered lawn.

"Escaped? What do you mean, Moms?" Trixie asked, trying to hold a squirming puppy in her arms and walk across the semi-frozen ground in her heels.

Helen whirled around. "Escaped, ran away, fled, broke out…whatever you want to call it, he's gone and I don't know where he is. He probably headed home. Just help me find him! Please!!"

Jim, not wanting to waste time, swung Trixie up into his arms with the squirming puppy and carried them to the sidewalk. Carefully placing on her feet he said, "You give Sherlock to mother and I'll check the side yard." Jim squeezed her arm and took off at a run to look for Peter.

Quickly, Trixie rushed Sherlock inside the Manor House. She placed the puppy on the floor and turned to Maddie. "Jim's gone around to the side yard to look for Dad. Did you see which way he went?"

"No dear, I wish we had. Your mother and I were hugging and laughing and we didn't even notice Peter leaving. It was Matthew who saw him walk out the door," Maddie explained. "He's gone to turn on the perimeter lighting. What would you like us to do?"

"Well, if you could stay here and keep an eye on Little Miss Trouble Maker, I'll go out with Moms and Jim and find my father," Trixie suggested, gesturing to Sherlock who was sitting on her rump looking up at the two women.

"If you're sure. I'm positive Peter is right down the driveway, don't you think?" Maddie said hopefully.

"Probably. We'll let you know when we find him," Trixie said as she walked out the door.
 
With the outside lighting on, the grounds were almost as bright as day. It didn't take Trixie long to find her mother coming up the driveway. "I thought he might have started down the driveway, but no such luck. No footprints in the snow, so I turned back," Helen said, shaking her head.

"Moms, wow…looking for clues, Honey and I would be so proud, if this wasn't so silly," Trixie teased. "Have you seen Jim?"

Before her mother could answer, the still night was broken by 'bob-bob-white, bob-bob-white.'

"That came from the stables. Jim must have found something," Trixie said taking her mother's hand and heading up the driveway. They were just outside the open doorway when Jim came out.

"What's the reward for finding one missing husband and father?" he teased. "Peter is inside. I think he's talking with Susie, believe it or not."

"You're kidding me?" Trixie and Helen said in unison.

Jim smiled, "The door to the stable was open and I know Regan would never leave it open, so I went inside and, voila, there he was. He's just sitting on the stool, but I would swear I heard him talking when I came in."

The three of them went into the stable and to Trixie's surprise, her father was, in fact, sitting on the stool outside of Susie's stall and seemed to be talking with the sweet black mare. She walked to the shelf and opened a canister and removed a horse treat. "So, Dad, are you having a good chat with Susie?" she asked, feeding the treat to her favorite mount.

"I was trying to find you and Jim so we could go home, but somehow I got turned around. I did find the horses and I know how much you always wanted your own horse. So I stayed here. I knew you'd come sooner or later," Peter explained, looking around. It made perfect sense to him. "She's a very pretty horse, your Susie is." Peter reached out to gently scratch Susie's muzzle, the ripped lining dangling from his sleeve.

"You're right, Dad, she is a pretty horse. Are you ready to go home now?" Trixie slipped her arm through her father's. She couldn't help but smile at her father getting "losted".

Peter stood a bit unsteadily but didn't have to sit back down. "Yes, sweetheart, I am. Are you all ready? Where is your mother?"

"I'm right behind you, Peter. Honestly, dear, I am rather mortified. I cannot believe you'd get drunk and then disappear. What are Maddie and Matt going to think?" Helen said shaking her head.

"Mother and Dad are fine, Mrs. B. Trust me. They've gone to dozens of black-tie affairs where someone acts like it's a fraternity party. Last spring, Dad was even groped by a wife of one of the board members. Mother was not amused over than one." Jim was trying to make the situation more humorous. He didn't want the Beldens mad at each other. Peter drank so much because he's upset with me, Jim thought to himself. He felt responsible. "Are we ready to head to Crabapple Farm?"

"Yes, but let me run in and tell your folks we found Dad," Trixie said, passing her father off to Jim and walking briskly out of the stables.

Helen sighed deeply and shook her head. "Jim, why don't you and Peter start down to the farm? I'll wait for Trixie. We'll be right behind you."

"If you're sure. She shouldn't be long," Jim replied.

"Jim, it'll give me a chance to calm down a little more," Helen admitted. She patted the young man on the shoulder and gave him a motherly kiss on the check. "Thank you, dear. And Jim, call me Helen or Moms, please."

"Guess we'll be off then, Mrser, Moms, umm, Helen. Ready to go, Pet…Mr. Belden?" Jim asked, gently guiding his girlfriend's father out the door. He waited for Helen to follow them out and he secured the stable door. "We're going to get you home now, sir, how does that sound?" With that statement, the two men headed down the driveway and out of earshot.

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Helen was pacing back and forth at the end of the sidewalk, waiting for Trixie. She didn't have to wait long, Jim was right. Trixie was back in less than two minutes. "What did you tell them?" she asked, hooking her arm through her daughter's.

"I just told them Jim found him by the stable. We'll let his late night conversations with Susie be his little secret, for now. I might need to use it for blackmail in the future if he continues to give Jim and me a hard time," Trixie admitted. She wasn't above a well-placed blackmail, if it was for a good cause.

"Thanks for telling the Wheelers. It's going to be a few days before I think I can face them without dying of embarrassment. It was bad enough your father got drunk, but then he disappeared," Helen said, shaking her head.

They started down the driveway. "Well, Moms, if you think about it, I've disappeared on them lots of times and they still love me." She rolled her eyes at her mother, which brought out the laughter Trixie wanted to hear. "I wonder what Daddy and Jim are talking about."

"That should be an interesting conversation. Poor Jim, what we Beldens put him through," Helen said.

"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Jim's just getting stronger, right?" Trixie said. "I hope."

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When Trixie and Moms got to Crabapple Farm, they entered the kitchen to find Peter sitting at the large table and Jim just pouring steaming coffee into a second stoneware mug. He turned, smiling at the pretty women who, in his opinion, could have been sisters. He placed the coffee in front of Peter, "Here you go, Peter. Ladies, can I get you some coffee?"

"Thank you, Jim," Peter said, picking up the coffee and taking a deep sip. "It is delicious, thank you."

Trixie was staring, open mouthed at this exchange, as Moms took off her coat and hung it on the hooks next to the door. "No, thank you, Jim, I'm good. Trixie, honey, take your coat off and stay awhile. I think we can assume all is well," Helen said to the room in general.

"Think I'll head up to bed. Helen, are you coming?" Peter stood up with his coffee in his left hand. He crossed the kitchen and shook Jim's hand. "Thanks, for everything, Jim. Have a good night. We'll see you tomorrow." With that, Peter took Helen by the hand and led the way up the stairs.

Two sets of eyes followed the couple up the stairs. Without turning to look at her, Jim said, "Trix, close your mouth, you're gaping." He put his coffee cup in the sink.

"I don't believe it. Just 'good night, thanks'…what the hell happened, Jim? Did Daddy fall and hit his head?" Trixie crossed the kitchen to her boyfriend and looking questioningly at him.

"Shamus, my love, if I knew what happened, you know I'd tell you." Jim took her into his arms. "One second I'm holding him by the elbow, making sure he doesn't fall and the next second he's got his arm around my shoulder, telling me how grateful he is that I've always been there for you. Baby, it was surreal." He kissed her on the temple. "I just hope he remembers this part tomorrow. You're shivering. I think you need to put on something warmer than this beautiful blue shirt."

"We're not as smart as we think we are, handsome. We left my bag in the car, at your house!" Trixie teased.

"Well then, I can't let you freeze to death. You know the best way to keep warm right? Body heat," Jim said, waggling his eyebrows. "Come on, I'll build you a fire and we can snuggle on the couch."

"That sounds like a wonderful plan. So glad you're an experienced woodsman. All those lifesaving techniques you may need to use." Trixie twined her fingers with his and started out of the kitchen, looking over her shoulder. "Mouth to mouth, keeping my pulse rate up, raising my body temperature. I'm sure you're up for it."

He allowed himself to be pulled out of the room and into the den. Trixie settled onto the couch, pulling the fleece throw around herself. Jim crossed to the fireplace and in a few minutes, he had a fire warmly burning in the grate.

"My hero," Trixie teased, lifting the corner of the blanket so Jim could cuddle with her.

Jim moved her gently and sat with her nestled in his lap, leaning against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and took her hands in his. "Baby, your hands are like ice." He rubbed them together and held them to his mouth where he blew warm breath on them. Recalling what she did to him earlier, he started to nibble on her knuckles. He looked at her, his eyes hooded with desire.

Trixie twisted so she was more on her side, looking at him. Pulling her hands free, she leveraged herself so they were now laying face to face, her body on top of his, having pushed him back into the pillows. Threading her fingers through his hair, Trixie kissed Jim hungrily.

Pulling her deeply into the embrace, Jim captured her body by wrapping his legs around her. They explored one another, his kisses sending spirals of ecstasy through her.

Burying her face in his neck, she breathed a kiss there. Jim's hands were running up and down her back, finally reaching under her shirt. Trixie leaned up on her elbows, turned a bit so she was lying more on her hip than on top of Jim. His hand still traced patterns under her shirt. Trixie purred at his touch.

As much as he was looking forward to the day when he and Trixie were completely intimate with one another, he had never given any thought to what it would be like to someday watch her experience pleasure. This was something he hadn't considered. Jim continued to caress her and watched as she closed her eyes and her breathing became rapid.

Trixie felt a tingling throughout her entire being. She wanted Jim to touch her everywhere at once. The sensations coursing through her body were electric. She wanted to touch him like he was touching her, but her muscles were tense and liquid all at the same time. She couldn't move. She had never felt this way before; she felt it all the way down to her toes. If Jim felt this way every time they kissed and touched, Trixie could finally understand why he kept saying he couldn't wait much longer. She couldn't wait much longer. She reached up to unbutton her shirt.

Jim, thoroughly engrossed in watching the emotions cross Trixie's face, barely registered the sound of footsteps coming from the hallway. Quickly, he stilled Trixie's hands from unbuttoning her blouse and pulled her onto his chest, as if she was resting there.

Seconds later, Helen stopped in the doorway and said softly, "Trixie?"

She waited a beat, trying to calm herself and sound normal. "Yes, Moms?" she answered.

"I realized that we left your bag up at the Manor House. So I put some pajamas, a bathrobe and a sweater for you for tomorrow on your bed. Don't stay up too late. Good night, you two," Helen said, smiling to herself. Ah, young love. Those were the days. I wonder if Peter is still awake. Let's see if we can give these two a run for their money in the romance department, she thought to herself as she went upstairs.

Jim hugged Trixie tightly, wrapping her hands in his. "Shamus, what do you say as soon as we figure out what the key goes to, we take a long weekend away? Just us. Mother and Dad can watch Sherlock and we can go away with no phones, no email, and no parents!"

"That sounds perfectly perfect," Trixie replied and kissed him deeply.

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AUTHOR'S NOTES

We wouldn't post without the 'holp' of our editors, BonnieH, Donnis, Mylee, Pam (ps9906) and WendyM. Thank you all very much!! Any boo-boos are purely Jenny and Jo's.

BonnieH is fantastic and originally hosted us and this story. {hugs}

Header photo is of Jo's grandma.

Background and dividers are from All Free Backgrounds.