Chapter 146 - Having a Party

Cate’s next few hours flew by in a rush of activity, leaving her slightly dazed and a little tired. After Jon left her office Cate spent the next 45 minutes reading and signing the forms contained in the blue folder presented to her by the Director. It was no easy task, as she was interrupted every few minutes by a friend or colleague as news of her imminent departure spread throughout the Branch.

Mandy called to express her excitement and jealousy and to promise her help in packing for the adventure. Danny came down the hall to give her a teasing “about fucking time you listened to me” speech and a heartfelt hug. Bobby, Steve, George, Brandon, and Troy each stopped by to confirm the news and offer their congratulations.

Finally Cate had to close and lock her office door to stop the interruptions so she could focus on the details of the contract. She needed to be sure she knew exactly what she was getting herself into.

When she finished reading Cate picked up a pen. With a slightly trembling hand she inked her signature on the line, over her printed name. Then with a deep breath Cate closed her eyes and smiled. Done. She was going to Hollywood with Jon.

After securing Floyd’s signature on the personnel forms Cate took the documents to the Human Resources Office in the Headquarters building. She obtained the necessary signatures and approvals there, then was directed to a FAX machine at the back of the office to transmit the documents to the HR office in DC.

As Cate stood waiting for the lengthy contract to finish its FAX transmittal, she gazed out the window, down onto the parking lot three floors below. This was the first moment of quiet she had to reflect upon what was happening to her. Everything had happened so fast; she hadn’t really had time to think anything through.

A little smile touched Cate’s lips as she recalled Danny’s words of warning: “Sometimes you have to just NOT think, you know? Go with your gut…Trust your heart.” When was the last time she had done that? Decades ago. It had been a mistake then, a huge one, to follow her heart. But she was older, wiser, a different person now. Somehow she knew that this time she was doing the right thing, trusting her heart.

Trusting Jon.

Cate’s smile widened as she saw a familiar form emerge from the main floor exit. Jon walked quickly across the lot to his rental SUV, parked several rows back. Even from this distance Cate could see the white flash of his smile and the spring in his step as he strode across the pavement. He must have just left the Director’s office, she thought. And now he’s going back to the villa. She felt a little tingle run up her spine at the thought of meeting him there, the setting for the romantic intimacy they had enjoyed over the past week. She couldn’t wait to see him again.

Cate shot a dirty look at the FAX machine as it slowly fed another page of the contract through the scanner bar. Soon, she told herself. Be patient. You’ll have all the time in the world with Jon. Soon.

She smiled again at that wonderful thought.

It was after five when Cate finally called it a day. Once she had taken care of all the paperwork for her detail she returned to her office to try to gather together some semblance of a continuity folder for whoever would take over the course director duties for the new class. Cate knew she didn’t have to take on the task; all her colleagues were experienced course managers. But she needed to do it for herself, to give herself some closure and to convince herself that this was no longer her job.

After she packed up her range bag Cate paused for a moment by the door as she looked around her office. She would have to come back tomorrow and take care of a few things, but this would be the last time she “officially” left her office for the day. When she came back she would be in a new office, a new building, a new position. This chapter of her life was ending; a new one was about to begin. With a bittersweet little sigh Cate flicked off the lights and pulled the door closed behind her.


“SLICK!” Cate heard Danny cheerfully bellow out her nickname, followed by a chorus of cheers, whoops, and claps from the corner table. With a shy grin she weaved between the red-and-white checked tablecloth-covered tables of Sonny’s front room, making her way toward the group. Jon followed close behind her, wearing his own happy grin.

Jon hadn’t even bothered to try to disguise himself with a baseball cap and dark sunglasses this time. He was too excited, too happy to care if everybody in the State of Georgia knew he was in the bar. He was here with Cate. That was all that mattered.

Jon couldn't resist placing a gentle hand on the small of Cate's back as they approached the table. He saw the corner of her mouth curve upward at the contact. She was so much more comfortable with his touch now than she had been the last time they had entered this room together, a week ago.

Answering the greetings from the group, Jon pulled out Cate's chair for her before settling into the seat beside hers. Danny reached over to pour cold beer from a pitcher into the two empty glasses waiting on the table. "By the way, Slick, your tab's running at the bar," he said with a grin and a wink. "You know the rules."

Cate chuckled. "I know, I know. Pay raise equals open bar." She smiled at Jon. "Good thing you got me that contract. This bunch will drink away my first week's pay in one night."

Jon laughed. "I can float you a loan if you need it," he teased, leaning toward her with a smirk. "And you can repay me with... services," he purred suggestively in her ear, his voice soft enough that only she could hear it.

Cate's blue eyes flashed as she looked coyly at him, returning his smirk. "That I'd do for free," she murmured in reply before turning her attention back to the group gathered around the table.

Jon chuckled throatily and picked up his beer. Damn, he hoped they didn't have to stay here too long. He knew they would have fun here at Sonny's, but there was other fun to be had, back at his villa. He and Cate needed to celebrate privately.

For the next hour the group relaxed, laughed, and talked about work, sports, and families. Jon willingly answered questions from the guys about the movie-making process and about filming action scenes. Not to be outdone, Mandy asked Jon to describe what it was like to film a sex scene. She grinned triumphantly when she succeeded in flustering him as he searched for answers to her pointed, direct questions. Even several of the guys at the table squirmed at her interrogation.

Cate giggled softly and shook her head as Jon shot her a look that said "Help me!" Slipping her hand under the table to gently rub his thigh, she gave him a grin before turning to the gang. "Alright... we need another round?"

"Bet your ass we do!" Steve responded, picking up a pitcher and dumping the remaining beer into his glass. Danny and Troy did the same with the other two pitchers on the table.

Cate felt Jon's thigh tense under her hand as he pushed back his chair and half-stood. Surprised, she turned to look at him and saw him reaching into his front jeans pocket. What the... AHA! Cate grinned and reached into her own pocket, ready to meet the challenge.

Jon pulled out the unit coin Cate had given him last week and tossed it onto the table. "This is how you do this, right?" he grinned. "One one-thousand, two-one thousand...." He started to count down the ten seconds according to the "rules" of this little game.

Jon's challenge was immediately answered by a cacophony of loud "smacks" as the instructors all produced their own coins. Cate was the last to lay hers down beside Jon's on the table, just as he finished counting.

"Looks like the round's on me," Jon announced with a smile, reaching for the empty pitchers. "Be right back."

Cate smiled happily as she watched Jon cross the room to the bar. Not realizing it, she let out a contented little sigh as she admired his strong grace as he weaved between the tables then sauntered across the small dance floor. She turned her attention back to her colleagues and saw every one of them grinning widely at her.

"So when were you going to tell us?" Bobby asked.

Cate's eyebrows elevated. "Tell you what?" she asked, surprised.

Troy let out a little snort of laughter. "Yeah, don't try to play innocent. We all know the nonverbals. Your pupils are dilated, you're flushed, your breathing shallowed out..."

Mandy cut in. "You want him. You're having all KINDS of naughty, sexy thoughts about being his 'Personal Trainer,' aren't ya?" She gave Cate a little wink. "Dirty Bitch."

Cate nodded and grinned sheepishly, grateful for Mandy's rescue. She didn't want to admit it to her colleagues that she and Jon already had a relationship, even though she was pretty sure they already knew. And there was no way she could lie to them outright; they would be able to read her deception in a second.

"Well, Hell yes!!" she answered enthusiastically to Mandy's question. "What do you expect? I mean... DAMN! Just LOOK at him!"

"Oh Jesus. Here we go..." Danny groaned, rolling his eyes. He gave Cate a glance and a little wink as he raised his glass for a drink.

"So Catie, I talked to the Director about getting an instructor on loan from one of the tactical branches until we can fill your position...." Floyd interrupted, smoothly diverting the conversation away from the personal interrogation. "He's going to let me have Joe back for a couple months. It okay if I put him in your office?"

Cate nodded. "Whatever you need, Floyd," she replied. "I'll go in tomorrow and get my personal stuff out of the way so he doesn't have to work around it." She paused for a minute, realizing what she needed to do. "And when I come back in a few weeks with Jon, when he does the PA stuff, I'll get all the rest of my stuff packed up and out so you can reassign the office. I know you need the space."

"No hurries, Catie," Floyd replied with a gentle smile. "You're still part of the team. You're just TDY for awhile."

Cate nodded, a lump suddenly rising in her throat. She really didn't want to leave FTB after she returned from her detail in California. But she had no choice, other than to decline the promotion. She wasn't sure that was something she wanted to do. And she still had to work out what she and Jon were going to do when she came back here and he got ready to go out on tour...

"Here you go. First glass goes to the Woman of the Hour." Jon's voice turned Cate's attention back to what was happening as he leaned over her shoulder and set a full pitcher on the table in front of her. She watched silently as he handed the other two pitchers he had brought back from the bar over to Mandy and Danny, then sank down into his chair. Cate refilled her glass then filled Jon's before passing the pitcher over to George.

Floyd cleared his throat and raised his glass, pausing for the others at the table to follow suit. "To Catie. You're finally getting what you deserve." He grinned as a chorus of chuckles followed his toast. "Congratulations," he continued, his voice softening. "I'm really proud of you."

"Hear, hear," Danny echoed, clinking his glass against Mandy's. Everyone at the table touched glasses before drinking in toast, then looked expectantly at Cate, awaiting her response.

Cate cleared her throat, trying to dislodge the lump of emotion there. "Thanks, Floyd," she answered hoarsely. She smiled as her gaze swept around the table, over the happy smiles of her friends and colleagues. "Thanks everybody. I'm gonna miss teaching with you. You're..." She choked slightly on her words as tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. "You're my family."

She paused for a moment then raised her glass in silent salute, unable to continue. She took a drink from her beer as her friends acknowledged her words with another round of "hear, hears", then she looked at Jon. He returned her smile and slipped an arm around her shoulders, giving her a friendly little squeeze before releasing her.

"Slick, don't you have to get out of here pretty soon?" Danny asked.

"Huh?" Cate replied, startled. What the hell is he talking about?

"You're taking Jon to the airport, right?" Mandy chimed in. "Don't you need to get on the road pretty soon?" She gave Cate a direct look. "I'm sure you don't want him to miss his flight."

"Oh... oh yeah," Cate answered, catching on. She gave Danny and Mandy a grateful smile. Damn, they were good friends, always looking out for her. "Yeah, we have a few more minutes, but then we need to get going." She didn't look at Jon when she heard his soft chuckle, knowing he was on the same wavelength.

Cate sipped at her beer for the next ten minutes while the group laughed and bantered. Finally Jon slipped his hand under the table to give Cate's knee a little squeeze before speaking. "Guys, it's been great, but I have to go," he announced. "Thanks for everything you've done for me -- all of you. I had a great time being part of your world." He gave the instructors a grin. "I look forward to seeing you all again in a couple weeks. Next time, I'm buying."

"Deal!" Bobby agreed enthusiastically.

Jon held Cate's chair as she rose, then both said their goodbyes. Mandy rose and gave Cate a hug, whispering in her ear that she would call in the morning about coming over to help pack. Then she blushed as Jon gave her a lingering hug and a big, smacking smooch on the lips.

Cate laughed at Mandy's reaction, giving her a look that said "See? Not so easy to resist, is it?" After a round of handshakes, Jon guided Cate to the door.

Floyd said his goodnights and followed Jon and Cate out of Sonny's, into the parking lot. He paused beside Cate's car to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then turned to Jon, extending his hand. "Jon. It's been a pleasure to have you here. Come back anytime."

"Thanks, Floyd," Jon replied, firmly shaking the Boss' hand. "Thanks for everything. I mean that." He glanced at Cate with a little smile.

Floyd leaned toward Jon over their handshake, dropping his voice. "Take good care of her, Jon."

"I will," he promised with a heartfelt smile.

With one last grin Floyd turned and strolled over to his beat-up white pickup truck, climbed in, then was gone.

Jon and Cate climbed into her car then turned to grin at each other. Finally. Now it was their time. Just the two of them.

Cate started the engine and guided the Mustang out of the lot and onto the road. When they reached the highway she turned left, headed south away from the Center.

Jon gave Cate a confused look. This wasn't the way back to the King and Prince. "Where are we going?" he asked.

Cate kept her eyes on the road but her lips curved into a gentle smile. "Home," she answered softly.

Chapter 145 - Keep the Faith

… and jumped. “Yes,” she answered softly.

The word made Jon’s heart leap into his throat. His head snapped up and his eyes flew open, his lips parting as he gasped in a surprised breath. The simple syllable from her lips – “yes” – was the most beautiful sound he could imagine. It was the sound of hope.

The Director let out an excited laugh. “FanTAStic!” he exclaimed, beaming. “Thank you, Agent Sullivan. I knew I could count on you.”

“Good call, Catie,” Floyd drawled with a gentle grin. “You’ve made a couple fellas very happy.” He tipped his head slightly and gave Cate a little wink before looking past her.

Following Floyd’s gaze, Cate suddenly realized that there was someone else in the room. Her senses jumped to alert as she turned slowly in her chair to look over her shoulder.

Jon’s gorgeous face was alight with pure happiness. His soft lips stretched across his perfect white teeth, the upward curve at the corners of his mouth dimpling his smooth cheeks. His blue eyes sparkled, the little lines at their corners crinkling happily. And in the depths of those indigo pools his soul danced with joy.

Cate’s heart swelled until she thought it would burst from her chest. She blinked at him for a moment, dazzled by his beauty and stunned by this sudden, radical turn her life had taken, all in the span of ten minutes. Then her lips curved into a gentle smile as she realized this moment was the beginning of many more tomorrows for her and Jon.

Cate dropped her gaze to the folder clutched in her still-trembling hands. Inside the blue plastic sheath were the details of the next chapter of her life, an adventure she could never in her wildest dreams have imagined. The documents in there were an outline for her future.

For her future with Jon.

Eventually Cate became aware of male voices engaged in conversation. Jon and the Director were talking enthusiastically about his return to the Center in several weeks. Cate heard the Director say her name, but she couldn’t comprehend what exactly he was talking about. Her mind was still whirling.

“Catie, you better get a move on,” Floyd’s gentle voice broke into her thoughts, guiding her back to reality. “There’s a lot of stuff in that folder you’ll need to read and sign. When you’re done, bring it back down here and I’ll sign off, then you can take it over to HR. They’ll transmit everything up to HQ.”

He gave her a fatherly smile as she raised her eyes to his ruddy face. “Why don’t you take it back to your office and look it over. You’ll need a little privacy.”

Cate nodded mutely, unable to speak or move the dazed smile from her lips. She rose silently from her chair, turning in response to the sound of her name. The Director again extended his hand and thanked her for agreeing to “take on this project for the Center.”

His voice sounded like it was far away, though he was standing right in front of her. All Cate could hear was her heart beating, and all she could see was Jon smiling at her, over the Director’s shoulder.

Cate turned away and somehow made it to the door, then out into the hallway. She felt like she was floating as she drifted down the long corridor toward her office at the far end.

Danny looked up as he saw Cate’s shadow approach his door. He sat silent at his desk, holding his breath as her form came into view through the frame of his office doorway. His handsome face split into a wide grin at the dazed look on Cate’s face as she wandered by his office, not even realizing he was watching her. Danny chuckled softly to himself, then silently pumped his fist. “YESSSS!” he hissed softly.

Danny reached for his phone, punching in the familiar number. He would give Slick some time to herself before he went to commend her for taking his advice. He was pretty sure she was going to have another visitor to her office in just a few minutes anyway. Grinning, Danny waited until he heard the familiar voice answer after the fifth ring.

“Hey Mandy, we’re celebrating tonight. I’ll pick you up for Sonny’s at five.”


Cate didn’t remember walking all the way to her office. Once inside she took three steps toward her desk and stopped. She looked around the comfortable room, filled with her photos and mementos, with her tools and her books. This cozy office was almost a part of her, her second home.

But after today it would no longer be hers. She was leaving for California next week, and when she returned she would move into some big, airy room in another building to assume the mantle of Branch Chief. Cate let out a sad little sigh at the realization that, even with all the wonderful things that were happening, she was a little heartsick that this chapter of her life was ending.

She sensed his presence before she heard him. Slowly Cate turned toward the door. Jon stood there, gazing breathlessly at her with affection shining in his azure eyes, a tender smile on his soft lips. Without a word he stepped inside, kicking her office door shut behind him as he reached for her.

The folder slipped from her hands as Cate jumped toward Jon, desperate to feel his arms around her. She let out a happy little gasp as he enfolded her in his embrace, hugging her tight against his firm, warm chest in a rush of joy and emotion.

For a long moment they just clung to each other, both speechless with happiness. Then Jon pulled back, just enough to grin down at Cate. “Thank you, Baby,” he said huskily, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I…” Cate choked out the first syllable she had been able to utter since her whispered “yes” in Floyd’s office. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t let you go.” she answered hoarsely, tears springing to her eyes.

“You don’t ever have to,” Jon promised as his lips met hers. Cate sighed and let herself melt against him as his tongue slipped past her teeth to dance with hers. This was the kiss she was never supposed to taste again. God, it was so sweet.

Finally Jon reluctantly pulled away, still holding Cate close but giving her another adoring smile. He didn’t want to let her go, ever. But they both had things to do so they could begin their new life together, and time was of the essence.

“Hey,” he said softly, gently kissing her nose then pulling back from the embrace. “You need to read those contracts and get that paperwork in, so you can blow this joint with me this weekend.”

Cate’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?” she asked. “This weekend… with you?”

Jon grinned wider, nodding. “I cancelled my flight for tonight. We’re leaving Sunday, flying up to Jersey, then to L.A. from there on Monday.” His eyes twinkled merrily as he revealed his surprise.

Jon chuckled softly as he watched Cate’s brow arch with a stern look. There she was, the Cate he knew. She was recovering from her shock, finding her control again.

“You cancelled your flight? That was a bit presumptuous of you, wasn’t it?” she asked accusingly. “You were that sure I was going to say ‘yes?’ That I’d follow you all the way to Hollywood?” Though her tone was stern, she couldn’t hide the affection behind it.

Jon chortled. “Yeah, I was that sure. Rock star ego, ya know,” he joked. “NO, I wasn’t at all confident.” He paused for a moment, giving Cate a gentler smile as his voice softened. “I figured we’d either celebrate or I’d spend the night on my knees, begging you to reconsider.”

Cate drew in a breath at the earnestness in his voice. He was prepared to beg… Her lips curved into a tender smile to match his. “You wouldn’t have had to for long,” she admitted softly.

“I would have forever,” he answered simply.

Jon and Cate smiled at each other for another silent minute, then drifted together for another gentle kiss. When they parted, Cate pulled in and blew out a deep breath. “Okay,” she sighed. “I have to get my shit together.” Stepping away from Jon, she crouched to pick up the folder from where she had dropped it in her rush toward Jon. “Gotta read all this legal crap before I sign it.”

Jon laughed. “I’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed comb. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“There’s nothing in here about my being your indentured servant, or some shit like that, is there?” Cate asked with mock seriousness. “ ‘Cause that’s a deal-breaker, Rock Star.”

“Well, not exactly…” Jon smirked. “Just a tiny, minor, no-big-deal clause about you being my sex slave, that’s all.” He gave her a naughty grin as she again arched a brow.

“Hmmm. Perqs.” Cate purred, without missing a beat.

Jon tossed back his head and laughed at her tease. He felt giddy with relief and excitement. He reached for Cate once again, giving her one last sweet kiss before finally moving toward the door. “Okay, Baby… I have a couple things to do around the Center, some people to thank, then I’m going back to the villa. Will you come over when you’re done?”

Cate nodded. “I don’t know when that will be, but I’ll call. It might take a few hours to get all this stuff together since I’m leaving…” She paused as the realization hit her. “Shit. I’m leaving day after tomorrow.” she breathed. “Holy Hell… how am I gonna…?”

“I’ll help,” Jon cut her off. “And so will Danny and Mandy, I’m sure. Don’t worry, Baby. It’ll all be fine.” He didn’t want Cate spiraling off into a fit of anxiety when they should be celebrating. “So what time do you think you’ll be free from here? I wanna be sure I have the wine chilled and the covers pulled back.” Jon gave her a sexy grin.

“Uhhh…” Cate felt a tingle run down her spine at the thought of spending the evening in bed with Jon and a bottle or three of wine. “Oh. It’s Friday.” She paused, staring at Jon, conflicted.

Jon chuckled. “Sonny’s. Baby, that’s fine. We’ll go. In fact, we NEED to go. Your friends will want to celebrate your promotion.” Jon winked. “I have a feeling you’ll be buying.”

“Yeah,” Cate agreed. Shit. My promotion. She had almost forgotten about that detail. All she could think about was being with Jon. Damn, is that a good thing?

“Tell ya what. Come pick me up at the villa, we’ll go hang out at Sonny’s for awhile, and we’ll duck out whenever you want. We can catch a cab or call a car if we need to.” Jon gave Cate another gentle smile. “Cate, it’s all good. We’ve got all the time in the world. Trust me.”

Cate took a deep breath, then met his gaze. “I trust you,” she answered softly.

Jon’s heart flipped and he raised his hand to his chest, covering it as he beamed at her. “Alright. I’m outta here. Call me as soon as you’re done.” He reached for the knob, then was gone.

Cate stared after him for a moment before moving around her desk. Sinking into her chair and propping her feet up, she opened the folder and began to read.

Chapter 144 - The Offer

Cate paused just outside Floyd’s office door to take a deep breath. Jesus, what’s going on? It seemed like everybody in this damned place was conspiring to add to her heartache, to put her through the emotional wringer. As if this day wasn’t hard enough for her already. Closing her eyes for a minute to try to focus her attention on her work rather than her emotions, Cate reached for the knob.

Jon stood silent in the shadows of George’s office, watching Cate. She was just a few steps away, out in the hall. He wanted so badly to step out from his hiding place, to pull her into his arms and hold her. It was all he could do to restrain himself.

Cate pushed open Floyd’s office door with a light knock. “Hey Boss,” she said tiredly as she stepped inside, her eyes turning toward Floyd’s desk at the far end of the big room. She was surprised to see not only her boss, but her boss’ boss there.

“Oh!” she exclaimed as she recognized the Director. “Sir! I’m sorry… should I come back later?” She didn’t know what she was interrupting, but it wasn’t exactly an everyday occurrence for the Center Director to make an unannounced visit to the Branch.

“Naw, Catie. Come on in,” Floyd drawled, motioning to her with his big hand.

“Hello, Agent Sullivan,” the Director smiled, rising from his seat in front of Floyd’s desk and extending his hand. “How are you?”

“Very well, Sir,” Cate answered respectfully, feeling a little twinge in her heart at the lie. “And you?”

“I’m wonderful.” The Director motioned to the empty chair beside his, in front of Floyd’s desk. “Please, have a seat.”

“Ummm... thank you.” Cate tried to keep the confusion from her voice. Her mind was racing, trying to figure out why the Director was here, inviting her to talk with him and Floyd. She felt a nervous flutter in the pit of her stomach. Oh Shit… what if he knows about me and Jon?

Cate glanced at the Director as he took his seat beside her, and her mind flashed back to last week. Twelve days ago she had walked into this office and found Jon sitting in that very chair. A stab of pain knifed through her heart at the recollection. Soon that memory would be filed away in her mind, with all the other memories of her time with Jon. It would be one of the only things she would have left of him.

Cate settled nervously into her chair, sitting rigidly as if she was ready to spring from her seat and flee. She shot a glance at Floyd and saw he was smiling. The sight relaxed her a little. If Floyd was smiling, this must not be too bad a thing.

“Agent Sullivan, I have some news,” the Director announced. “I am very proud to inform you that you have been selected for promotion.” He broke into a beaming grin as Cate’s jaw dropped in shock. “Congratulations, Agent Sullivan.” Again he extended his hand to Cate.

“I…” Cate was dumbfounded. “I… thank you…” she stammered, accepting the Director’s handshake. “I…. I’m sorry, I’m just… I wasn’t expecting…”

Floyd’s gentle drawl interrupted her floundering. “Cate, you knew there was a promotion in your future. I’ve been telling you that for awhile now. Today’s the day.” He smiled kindly. “Congrats, Catie. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you, Floyd,” Cate breathed, her mind still racing. She paused for a minute to process this turn of events, then realized what this news meant. “But Boss… that means…”

“Yeah. You’re gonna have a new position here on the Center. You won’t be a line instructor anymore.” Floyd grinned proudly. “You’re gonna be a Branch Chief, Catie.”

Cate stared at Floyd, her eyes wide. “A… a Branch Chief?” she stammered again. Even in her shock, her heart sank. She loved teaching. If she became a Branch Chief she wouldn’t get to spend nearly as much time in the classroom. She would have to do things like budgets and staff meetings and personnel actions and curriculum reviews. She would also have to travel more, to Washington DC and to the field offices, to determine the needs of the field for incorporation into her Branch’s training plans.

“Yes, Cate, I’m very happy to tell you that we have the perfect Branch Chief position lined up for you,” the Director continued, his enthusiasm obvious in his tone. “With your background and experience you are the ideal candidate – and my one and only choice – to be Chief of our new Counterterrorism Training Branch.”

Cate couldn’t hold in her little gasp of surprise. The CTB was the Center’s newest, highest-profile project and was scheduled to begin operation at the beginning of the new year. And she was going to be the first Chief. Oh My God…

Floyd chuckled at Cate’s overwhelmed reaction. She really hadn’t seen this coming. He knew why; because her thoughts had been otherwise occupied these past couple weeks. With something much more important, in his estimation. “But Catie, the CTB won’t be up and running for another good six months,” Floyd stated calmly.

Cate nodded. “Oh…. So then I’ll just keep teaching here?” She couldn’t keep the hopeful note from her voice. As wonderful a professional opportunity as becoming the first CTB Chief was, her heart was here in the Firearms Branch.

“Well, not exactly.” The Director answered Cate’s question. He gave her a winning smile as she turned to look at him, a mixture of surprise and wariness in her expression. “There’s something else. An opportunity I’d like to extend to you. I’d consider it a personal favor if you’d accept.”

Out in the hallway, Jon stood staring through the window of Floyd’s office door. He had emerged from George’s office as soon as Cate had gone inside, unable to stop himself from being drawn closer to the conversation behind that closed door. Cate’s back was to him as she sat listening to Paul and Floyd, her head turning toward each man as he spoke.

Jon’s heart ached as he watched her, trying to discern from glimpses of her profile and from her body language what she was saying, what she was thinking. It was killing him to not be in there.

Cate stared at the Director, confused. What? A personal favor? What the Hell is he talking about? She couldn’t say a word as she struggled to comprehend what was happening.

“Cate,” the Director continued. “You know I’ve always had great regard for you, and that I appreciate the work you’ve done with the Public Affairs office. You’re an outstanding Ambassador for law enforcement.” He smiled as Cate blushed slightly. “And these past two weeks, you have come through for us again with your exemplary work with Mr. Bon Jovi.”

Cate blushed more deeply at the compliment. “Umm… thank you, Sir,” she said softly, dropping her eyes to her hands in her lap. Her heart clenched again at the mention of Jon’s name.

“Jon has been extremely complimentary of your professionalism and dedication,” the Director continued. “In fact, because of the impression you have made on him he has volunteered to work with the Center on a recruiting campaign, to begin after he finishes filming his movie.”

Cate nodded slightly. “Yes, Sir, he mentioned that. That he was doing the campaign, I mean. Not … not anything about me.” She looked down again, wondering exactly what Jon had told the Director about her.

“Well, Cate, there is another opportunity that has been presented to the Center, thanks to Mr. Bon Jovi,” the Director stated. “He thinks you are the perfect person for the job.” He smiled as Cate’s eyes snapped up to meet his. “And I fully agree.”

Cate’s pulse raced. Another opportunity for what? And what did Jon have to do with it? She watched, speechless, as Floyd handed a dark blue folder across his desk to the Director. The Director accepted it, settling it on his lap before continuing.

“Cate, the movie Jon is starring in is produced by Imagine Entertainment. They have a number of law enforcement-related projects in works, one of which is a television series to air on a cable network. It’s about a pseudo-military unit that recruits agents for deep undercover work. The series is set at the unit’s training facility.”

The Director paused to give Cate another smile. “The series is being produced by a friend of Jon’s, someone who is a personal favorite of yours, I understand.” He chuckled. “Kiefer Sutherland.”

The Director paused as Cate’s mouth again fell open at the revelation. “Anyway, the series needs a technical advisor. At Jon’s suggestion they have requested we allow an agent to work with their production for a few months. In fact, they specifically requested you.”

Cate’s head was spinning. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening. What was the Director saying? That he wanted her to go to Hollywood? That’s where Jon will be…

“But,” the Director continued. “That project won’t start for a few weeks. In the meantime, Imagine would like to bring you on board for Jon’s movie, where you would serve as his personal trainer as well as an associate to the film’s technical advisors. That would give you a chance to learn the ropes of being a techie.” He gave Cate another hopeful smile as he paused to allow her a moment to process the information.

Jon couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to know what was going on. He had seen Floyd hand the blue folder containing Cate’s contract package across the desk to the Director, and he saw Cate’s shocked reaction to whatever the Director had said to her. A knot tightened in Jon’s stomach as he watched her posture stiffen as she listened to Paul. Hardly able to breathe, Jon reached out and put his hand on the doorknob.

“Agent Sullivan,” the Director said gently, redirecting her attention back to him after a moment. “This is where the personal favor part comes in. This is a fantastic opportunity for the Center. It could really raise awareness of what we do; and it could up the ‘cool factor’ of being a federal cop. Kind of like what the CSI shows have done for the forensic science field. Needless to say, that could be a huge boost to our recruiting efforts.”

He paused again before revealing the catch. “But the thing is, this would be a special detail. Since it involves a for-profit project it would be a violation of federal ethics laws for the government to continue to pay your salary while you worked on the movie or the series. Therefore, you’d have to take a leave of absence without pay for the duration of the projects. You would retain your benefits and continue to accrue time toward retirement, but you would have no federal salary.”

Cate sucked in a sharp breath. No salary? She had a healthy amount put away in savings and in retirement accounts, but she needed her income. She felt her stomach twist as she remembered Jon’s words from just a few days ago, when they had gotten into that awful fight in the mat room. He had told her she wouldn’t have to worry about money, that he’d take care of her if she quit her job to follow him. Is that what he was trying to manipulate her into doing now? Cate felt her anger rising again at his arrogance.

“Catie,” Floyd’s gentle drawl cut into her thoughts. “That’s where Jon helped us out. He got the studio to agree to a short-term contract with you, for your services. You’ll be paid by the studio, not by the government, until you come back to us.”

Cate’s eyes widened as the Director held out the folder to her. With trembling hands she accepted it, staring at its cover.

“This is a copy of the contract. I’ve had my legal and human resources staff review it, and everything is in order.” The Director’s voice was quiet but eager. “I think you’ll find their offer to be very attractive.” He grinned. “Trust me, the money is way better than what Uncle Sam has to offer.”

Cate dropped the folder onto her lap, looking up at the Director. He met her gaze with a hopeful look. “I can’t force you to take this project, Cate,” he said quietly. “But I’m asking you to accept. You would be doing a great service to the Center, and I will personally see to it that this reflects very well on your future career prospects.”

Cate sat speechless, dumbfounded by what she had just heard. Jon had gone to the studio. He had arranged these technical advisor projects. He had requested her services. He had had employment contracts drawn up for her. She sucked in a sharp breath as another thought occurred to her. Did he influence my promotion too?

“Catie,” Floyd said quietly, reading her mind. “This Hollywood thing is just a temporary deal. It would be for a few months, until your new Branch Chief position is funded. You’d go out to California for a little while, have a little fun making movies and hanging out at the beach, then you’d come back here to start your new job.” He smiled. “It would be kinda like a well-paid vacation.”

Floyd gave Cate a little wink as she raised her eyes to his, question and suspicion in her stare. “Catie, your promotion was a done deal a couple months ago. We couldn’t tell you until the Attorney General’s office approved it. We just got that word yesterday.” He gave her another fatherly smile. “Since it will be a little bit until it takes effect, this Hollywood deal would be a perfect fit for you. It’s a good thing, Catie. Professionally and personally.”

Cate found her voice again at Floyd’s words. “But… but Floyd, you don’t have anyone to fill in for me…” she said hoarsely. “The Branch is already understaffed, and my new class…”

Floyd chuckled. “Don’t you worry ‘bout that. That’s easy to fix.” He gave her a direct look, his expression sobering just a bit. “But here's the kicker, Catie. The detail starts next week, when the movie starts shooting. You need to decide right here, right now. If you go, we have to get all this paperwork signed and up to headquarters in DC before close of business today.”

Floyd paused, watching her struggle with the idea. When he continued his voice was gentle. “Catie, will you accept the offer?”

Jon watched Floyd’s lips moving as he spoke to Cate. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe. He had to know. He couldn’t wait any longer.

Of its own accord Jon’s hand turned on the knob. Unable to stop himself, he slipped silently through the door and to the back of the office, behind Cate’s chair. He braced himself against the wall, not trusting his legs to support his weight.

Cate should have noticed Floyd’s gaze shift to the back of the room. She should have heard the quiet click of the door. She should have caught his unmistakable scent, felt his presence in the room. But she didn’t. Her senses and emotions were overloaded as her mind scrambled to make sense of everything she had just heard.

Floyd was telling her to go with Jon. It was okay. Everything had been taken care of – her money, her job, her future promotion… it was all set. All she had to do was say yes.

It was all set because Jon had made it happen. It was his idea; his handiwork that this extraordinary set of circumstances had come into being. Her promotion, her pending new job, his work in California… he had somehow made all of those different factors converge into this neat package. The package that was resting on her lap, wrapped in a dark blue folder.

If she said yes, it would mean months more with Jon. But it would also just delay the inevitable. She would eventually have to leave him and return here, to more work and more responsibility than she had ever had before. Once she took on the duties of a Branch Chief she would have no time for anything else. Not even for love.

She certainly wouldn’t have time to heal a broken heart. And that’s how it would eventually end between them.

Cate lowered her head, her lower lip quivering slightly at the ironic cruelty of this situation. She knew Jon thought he was doing something kind and wonderful for her. She was certain he had no intentions of hurting her. But that was exactly what would happen when she had to leave him. She couldn’t relive this terrible, agonizing day again, months down the road.

She had already said goodbye.

Jon’s heart sank as he watched Cate’s reaction. The slump of her shoulders, the tilt of her head, the slight tremble of her hands on her lap all told him what she was thinking. She was afraid. Jon closed his eyes and prayed. Don’t look back… Let it go…

Cate drew in a deep breath, ready to give her answer. She closed her eyes for a moment, then raised her gaze to Floyd. Her lips parted to speak, but she couldn’t form the words.

“Cate, sometimes you just have to jump off that ledge and trust that Superman’s gonna swoop down and catch you when you fall.”

Fluttering her lids closed to contain the tears that threatened to spill from her swirling sapphire eyes, Cate took a deep breath…

Chapter 143 - Summons

Her entire body trembling, Cate sank back against the ladies’ room wall as she blinked furiously, ordering herself not to cry. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her knees felt weak. It had been all she could manage to walk calmly out of the banquet room. She had wanted to run, to flee before she fell apart in front of everybody.

Jon’s song destroyed her. It was so beautiful, so poignant. Cate flashed back to Tuesday night, when she lay safe in the strong circle of Jon’s arms and confessed her nightmare to him. “I’ll be your Superman, Baby. As long as you’ll let me.”

She remembered the feel of him holding her, the sound of his heartbeat under her ear, and the sense of peace and security she felt in his arms. Cate heard his lyrics again in her mind. “Don’t look back…. Let it go…”

God, she wanted to let go, to be with him. But how could it work? Their lives were just too different.

But Jon would be back in a few weeks. Maybe…

Cate shook her head angrily, raising a hand to wipe away a stray tear. No. She couldn’t let herself hope. She couldn’t lose herself again, trying to change reality into a perfect fantasy. Not even for her perfect fantasy man.

Cate pushed away from the wall and stepped over to the vanity, regarding her reflection in the mirror over the sink. She looked like a woman who was on the edge of breaking. She drew in a deep breath, then again shook her head.

She couldn’t go back to the luncheon. Everyone had seen Jon’s performance. She was positive his feelings for her had been revealed in his song, not just to her colleagues, but to everyone there.

Shit. What was she going to do now?

Cate stared at her reflection for another minute, considering. She felt her Blackberry buzz in its holster and automatically pulled it out. Looking at the screen she saw Danny’s text message.

[12:56p] U ok?

Cate shook her head, but responded in the affirmative.

[12:57p] Fine. Going back 2 office.

She slid the phone back into its holster, swallowing hard. She had to get it together. It wouldn’t be long until Jon would appear in her office doorway, wanting to know what she had thought of his song.

He would also want to know why she had fled. Cate knew she wouldn’t be able to lie to him. Jon had seen it in her eyes, how much she wanted him. Of that Cate was certain.

With a final glance at herself in the mirror Cate turned and headed for the door.


Only decades of performance experience enabled Jon to wrap up his impromptu set without revealing his true emotions. He finished “Wanted” then said a few warm words of thanks and congratulations before strolling nonchalantly back to his table. He carefully packed his guitar in its case, his actions controlled and methodical.

But inside Jon was in turmoil. He wanted to bolt from the room, to go find Cate and drop to his knees and beg her not to end it. He needed to hear her say what he had seen in her eyes as he sang to her, that she needed him.

Straightening up, Jon turned toward his seat. His eyes swept to Cate’s chair beside his, her cloth luncheon napkin draped over the seat. His heart ached at its symbolic emptiness.

Fuck it, he thought, his expression turning stormy. He was done being patient, playing this game, waiting for all to be revealed. He was going to find Cate, to confess everything. He was going to plead with her to give up this life and be part of his.

“Jon.” Danny’s voice was quiet but commanding. Automatically Jon’s gaze turned to him. He saw Danny solemnly shaking his head as he read Jon’s mind. “Don’t.”

Jon pressed his lips together and his jaw tensed. Danny may be Cate’s best friend, but Jon was sick of his do-nothing advice. He couldn’t just stand back and wait for Cate’s answer. The clock had run out. He had made the grand gesture, poured out his heart in his song. Now he had to go to her.

Jon’s eyes narrowed as he frowned at Danny. “Why not?” he challenged, taking a step back from the table.

“Trust her,” Danny replied simply. He held Jon’s gaze, silently adding “If you love her.”

Jon stood staring at Danny for a long minute, his body tensed, ready to turn and stride for the door. But there was something about the calm assurance in Danny’s stare. Something that made Jon’s annoyance at his order dissipate.

Slowly Jon stepped back to the table and pulled out his chair. He sat and turned his attention back to the luncheon program, even though this mind was elsewhere.


Cate sat at her desk, staring out the window as she unconsciously fingered the sterling cross around her neck. She had walked back to the office and gone straight to the locker room, changing out of her suit and into her usual uniform of khaki range pants and a navy polo. She felt more comfortable, more herself in those clothes. She needed to hang on to herself right now. It would be too easy to let go.

After dressing Cate had grabbed a Diet Coke from the break room and returned to her office, determined to bury herself in work. She had a class arriving on Monday, so there was plenty to be done. But it only took her a couple minutes to realize she couldn’t bring herself to start on the long list of tasks. Any minute Jon would be here, and she had no idea what she would say or do when she saw him.

Cate was pulled from her thoughts by a buzz from her office phone. She reached out to press the intercom button. “Yes?”

“Catie, you got a minute?” Floyd’s rumbly drawl was warm and kind, even over the speaker.

“Sure Boss,” Cate answered. Obviously the luncheon was over if Floyd was back. That meant Jon would be here soon, too. “Be right there.“

Cate needed to avoid Jon, at least a little longer. If she was going to fall apart she didn’t want to do it before she had to have a discussion with her Boss, even if he was her second father.


Jon and Danny stepped through the back door of the Firearms Training Branch just in time to see the Center Director enter Floyd’s office. Jon sucked in a breath. “Cate,” he murmured. He looked at Danny. “I have to talk to her first, before she goes in there.”

“No.” Danny rebuked him firmly. “Dammit, Jon. You’ve already done enough!” Departing from his calm demeanor, Danny fixed Jon with an accusing stare. “That song? What the hell do you think that did to her?”

Jon’s stomach flipped. He stared silently back at Danny, unable to respond. His gaze dropped to the floor for a minute, then he looked at the closed door to Floyd’s office. “Then I’m going in there.”

NO, you’re not.” Danny commanded bluntly.

“Yes, I AM,” Jon argued, his blue eyes sparking with challenge. “It’s my idea, my project. I have every fucking right to be in there.”

Danny stared right back at Jon. “The Hell you do. You have no authority here. Floyd is the Branch Chief, Paul is the Director. This is Center business. You are a VISITOR.” Danny snarled the word. “You aren’t stepping a foot inside that office.”

Jon blinked, taken aback by the force behind Danny’s command. He wanted to argue but he knew Danny was right. Just because this was his idea and he had pulled the strings to make it happen didn’t give him any standing in this world.

But he had to be in there when Cate came in. If he was there she would see how much he wanted this for them. If he was there she couldn’t say no.

Danny saw the stricken look flash across Jon’s features and his heart softened just a bit. Damn, he really does want this, he thought. And he’s willing to do anything he can think of to make it happen.

“Listen,” Danny said quietly. “You can’t be in there, and you can’t let Cate see you. Go in George’s office.” He pointed at the small room across the hall from Floyd's half-glass office door. “When she’s in there you can watch through the window.”

Jon considered Danny's recommendation for a moment, then nodded slowly. “Okay,” he agreed. He walked quickly to the office and pushed through the door, disappearing into the darkness of the windowless room.

“Jesus,” Danny breathed, rolling his eyes as he turned away. Jon was as damned high-strung as Cate. They belonged together.

Danny strode quickly up the hall. He needed to talk to Cate before she made it to Floyd’s office.


Taking a deep breath, Cate stepped through her doorway and started down the hall. She was surprised to see Danny hurrying toward her.

“Slick!” Danny greeted her, his voice carrying a hint of anxiety. “Wait a minute.” He moved quickly toward her, their paths meeting in just a few long strides.

“Danny, I’m on my way to Floyd’s office. He needs to see me.” Cate slowed but didn’t stop as she moved toward the wall to go around Danny.

“I know — just wait a damned minute!” Danny exclaimed. He reached out and grasped Cate’s elbow, pulling her into Steve’s empty office. “I need to talk to you before you go in there."

Seeing his serious expression, Cate’s eyes widened slightly. “Danny, is everything okay?” she asked a bit breathlessly, worry creeping into her tone.

Danny nodded curtly. “Yeah, it’s fine. I just need to tell you something.” He gave Cate a direct look. “Listen, Cate... have I ever lied to you?”

“Yes,” Cate responded with a little snort.

Danny exhaled in exasperation. “I mean about anything important. Really important.” He stared at her, his jaw tensed.

Cate felt her pulse accelerate at the look on his face. “No.” she answered softly. “You haven’t.”

Danny took a deep breath. “Cate, listen to me. You’re a smart woman. Hell, you’re one of the smartest people I know. But sometimes you have to just not think, you know? Go with your gut.” His gaze locked with hers, urging her to understand. “Trust your heart.”

Cate felt her stomach flutter nervously. The intensity of Danny’s stare and the barely-controlled emotion in his voice was unnerving her. “What… why?” she whispered. “What’s going on? Do you know what Floyd wants to talk to me about?”

Danny ignored her question, not wanting to lie to her or reveal the truth. “Cate, sometimes you just have to jump off that ledge and trust that Superman’s gonna swoop down and catch you when you fall.” He paused. “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, Cate.”

Cate stared at wide-eyed at Danny, trying to understand what he was telling her. Danny pressed his lips together in a pained smile. He leaned forward and dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Now go,” he said, his voice suddenly husky. “Floyd’s waiting.”

With that he turned and strode out of the office, leaving Cate to stare after him.

Chapter 142 - Private Show

Cate and Jon walked side-by-side to the Dining Hall, followed closely by Danny, George, Steve, and Troy. As they wandered down the sidewalk in the bright sunshine Jon was easily recognized by almost everyone who passed by. Word had gotten out that he would be the entertainment for the graduation ceremony and the guitar case in his hand was an unmistakable clue to his identity, though his blue eyes were hidden behind dark pewter-rimmed sunglasses.

Jon responded to calls from students and staff with smiles and waves, though he didn’t stop to chat. He was eager to get to the luncheon, to enjoy some time with Cate. He was also looking forward to his spontaneous encore.

Cate led Jon into the Dining Hall’s banquet room and they picked out seats at a round table at the back of the room. Jon placed his guitar case against the wall before pulling out Cate’s chair for her. As he leaned forward to push the chair in as she sat, her sweet scent filled his senses. He closed his eyes briefly as he prayed that very soon he would be able to hold her close and breathe her in once again.

Soon the banquet room was filled with beaming new Special Agents and their proud families and friends. The atmosphere was jubilant, especially when the first glass of champagne was raised by Bobby in the traditional instructor’s toast.

Lunch was served and the program got off to a rollicking start with a good-natured roast of Bobby and other selected instructors by their former students. Jon laughed long and hard at the barbs thrown by the graduates and at the instructors’ sarcastic off-the-cuff replies. His enjoyment of the program was enhanced by the melodious sound of Cate’s laughter and the occasional brush of her arm against his as they sat next to each other. He couldn’t stop himself from sneaking sidelong glances at her, his heart twinging with every glimpse of her smile.

After the roast was finished Bobby presented several special awards that were voted upon by the class and by the instructors. He handed out certificates and gag gifts to the former students who were “Most Likely To” shoot themselves in the foot, drop their badges in the toilet, and grow the ugliest moustaches, among other dubious distinctions. He also recognized the peer-selected “Team Player” award, given to the new agent identified by her classmates as the most inspirational member of their group. After the awards, the Class Leader came forward to present the class legacy, announcing that the group would be planting a tree along the Center’s Walk of Heroes.

After the presentations there was a lull in the action while the lunch plates were cleared and dessert was served. Jon saw his chance. “Now?” he asked Cate quietly, wanting to know if it would be appropriate for him to surprise the audience with a song.

“Sure,” she nodded with a smile. “Knock yourself out.”

Jon smiled back but didn’t respond. He rose from his seat and stepped to the back wall. Quickly removing his black Takamine from its case he turned and strolled toward the front of the room.

Danny leaned forward in his seat, opposite Jon’s empty chair. “What’s he doing?” he asked Cate with a little smirk. “Need a little more Rock Star ego-stroking?”

Cate snorted a little chuckle at his comment. “No. He asked me earlier if he should offer to play something impromptu here. I told him to do it.”

“Ah, so this is for you.” Danny gave Cate a knowing look. “One last private show?”

“No!” Cate protested. “It’s for the grads and their families.”

Danny chuckled at Cate’s defensive tone. Sure, Slick, he thought, deciding not to press the issue. He just hoped Cate would be able to make it through this little performance. Though she had relaxed somewhat since the ceremony he knew she was still just hanging on to her composure.

The room filled with excited murmurs as Jon walked slowly between the tables toward the front of the room, chatting briefly with several students along the way. Looking around, Cate saw practically every person in the room scrambling for cameras, cell phones, and video recorders. They all knew something special was about to happen.

When he reached the front of the room Jon turned and smiled at the eager audience. “So…” he said. “Can I have a turn?” He laughed as a chorus of “yeahs” rang out in response. Settling on a chair hastily provided by one of the new grads, Jon strummed a few chords on his ebony guitar. “Well, since you were all nice enough to indulge me at your ceremony and listen to a new song…” he paused. “Did you like it, by the way?”

Again Jon’s question was met with a resounding affirmative response, and he grinned. “Good. Anyway, I thought maybe I’d play a couple things you guys wanted to hear. Any requests?” He paused again with a little twinkle in his eye as he was bombarded with shouted song titles. Laughing, he nodded eagerly. “Okay, okay… let’s kick it off with an oldie but a goodie.” He hit the opening chord.

Tommy used to work on the docks…

Jon led the room in an enthusiastic singalong of “Living on a Prayer” before launching into “It’s My Life.” Cate watched him perform with a bittersweet little smile playing over her lips. It was obvious Jon was in his element, thoroughly enjoying his interaction with the audience. The joy in his smile warmed her soul.

“All right, one more from the jukebox,” Jon announced after finishing the song. He paused to take a sip of water from a glass an attentive waitress had provided. “But first, if you’ll humor me just one more time, there’s a little something I’d like to do.” Jon paused and looked around the room, his gaze finally turning to Cate. His eyes remained on her as he continued.

“Like I said earlier, these last two weeks have been, for me, and awe-inspiring experience. I came here to learn how to pretend to be a cop.” He gave a little chuckle. “And thanks to your tough and talented instructors, I think I can now do that at least halfway convincingly.” His self-depricating comment was met with soft giggles from across the room.

“But let me tell you, as your instructors showed me what all goes into ‘building’ a Special Agent, I became more and more humbled by the fact that young men and women like you, like your teachers, are willing to go out in the world and put your lives on the line every day, without hesitation or expectation. You really are everyday heroes.” Jon nodded as if to punctuate his statement.

“And I know you can all appreciate the bravery and sacrifice of those who have gone before you in this noble profession. I know you all look up to these fine instructors who have given you the training and the tools to carry on the tradition they helped build.” Jon paused and smiled at Cate. “I know I sure as Hell do.”

Jon waited as a wave of spontaneous applause rippled through the audience. “Anyway,” he continued. “I’ve been truly inspired by what I’ve seen here, by the people I’ve met. In fact, these past couple weeks I’ve had these words and this tune running around in my head and I knew I had to get it out on paper before it drove me crazy.” Jon chuckled as he dropped his eyes to his hand on the strings of his guitar. He strummed a few chords, then looked up.

“So, I have one more sneak-preview for you, if you’ll indulge me one more time.” He smiled at the ready agreement from his audience, then looked back at Cate. She was staring at him, wide-eyed, her full lips parted. He could tell she realized what he hadn’t fully revealed, that she was the inspiration for this song. He gave her a tender smile. “This one is so new that nobody’s heard it, not even Richie. It’s still a little rough, but next week we’re gonna record it for the new album.”

Ignoring the excited murmurs all around him, Jon continued to gaze at Cate. “This is a… well, kind of a love song. It’s about giving your strength to someone in need, about holding out your hand and saying 'I’m here'.” His voice softened. “It’s called ‘Superman Tonight.’ “

Cate’s lips trembled as she drew in a surprised breath. She sat stock-still, unable to move as Jon began to play. She recognized the notes that sang from his fingers on the frets as the same ones she had heard him playing at the villa when she had awakened in his bed.

Jon’s voice floated across the room, soft and mournful. Breathlessly Cate gazed at him, her eyes meeting his as Jon offered her his confession in lyrics and melody.

There’s something about you
I want to rescue
I don’t even know you, so what does that mean?

Maybe I’m cynical
Painfully logical
You’re tragic and beautiful
But that’s good enough for me

You’re looking for a hero
But it’s just my old tattoo
Tonight I swear I’d sell my soul
To be a hero for you

Who’s gonna save you
When the stars fall from your sky
Who’s gonna pull you in
When the tide gets too high
Who’s gonna hold you
When you turn out the lights
I won’t lie
I wish that I
Could be your Superman tonight

Jon felt his heart swell as he sang to Cate, only to Cate. Even though they were in a room full of people, she was the only one who mattered. He had to make her understand with this song. He had to make her realize that she couldn’t walk away. He had to convince her that she could trust him with her heart, that he would never betray her. She had to know, so she could believe.

If somebody sent you
An angel to save you
What would you tell him to turn him away?
That your heart don’t break?
That your lips don’t kiss?
That life is just a lie?
That Heaven don’t exist?

Cate’s heart clenched painfully at the words that slipped from Jon’s perfect lips. She heard in his lyrics his frustration and heartache with her attempts to push him away so that she wouldn’t fall for him, so she wouldn’t be hurt. He had so perfectly captured the emotion with just a few brief phrases. She felt her eyes moisten as she sat motionless, hanging on his every word and note.

Who’s gonna save you
When the stars fall from your sky
Who’s gonna pull you in
When the tide gets too high
Who’s gonna hold you
When you turn out the lights
I won’t lie, I wish that I
Could be your Superman tonight

Who’s gonna fix you
The next time you break down?
Stranded alone by the side of the road
It’s your baggage that’s dragging you down
Don’t look back
Let it go…

Jon paused for a moment, letting the melodious chord ring through the silence of the room. His eyes locked with Cate’s and he saw that she understood. Let it go, Baby. All that pain in your past. Please. For us, he begged her silently. Then he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting out a soft wail of emotion before repeating the chorus, strumming furiously on his guitar.

Oh, oh….
Oh, oh ohhh…..

Who’s gonna save you
When the stars fall from your sky
Who’s gonna pull you in
When the tide gets too high
Who’s gonna hold you
When you turn out the lights
I won’t lie, I wish that I
Was that Superman

Who’s gonna save you
When the stars fall from your sky
Who’s gonna pull you in
When the tide gets too high
Who’s gonna hold you
When you turn out the lights
I won’t lie I wish that I
Could be your Superman tonight

Your Superman tonight
Be your Superman tonight

Jon strummed the last chord, then dropped his head as he heard the room erupt with applause and cheers. He smiled gratefully and raised his head, looking around the room with a couple little nods before returning his gaze to Cate.

He watched as she swallowed hard, her lashes fluttering as her eyes sparkled. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue as if to speak, but could only shake her head. The tiny upward curve of her mouth told him she was moved beyond words.

Jon gave her a little nod and a tender smile, then tore his gaze away from her. He had a show to finish.

“So, what do ya think?” he asked, drawing in a deep breath. Jon smiled at the enthusiastic comments and cheers from the group. “Well, thanks. I like it too,” he grinned. “Okay, so I promised you one more from the jukebox…. How about this?” Jon grinned broadly as his fingers danced over the Takamine’s strings, picking out the opening to “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

His gaze swept across the room, noting the grinning faces of the graduates and their guests as they sang along with the first verse of his most famous song. When his eyes returned to the back table, he saw something that made his heart clench.

Cate’s chair was empty.

Jon’s eyes snapped immediately to Danny. Danny arched an eyebrow, then slowly and slightly shook his head.

Jon closed his eyes, continuing to play and sing on auto-pilot. Dammit. She was gone.