THE WEDDING VASE (newly revised)

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An ancient Lakota vase. An old Lakota legend. Taze Silverleaf, U.S. Marshal firstborn child of a long bloodline of Lakota descent. Valencia Chase, an accomplished writer who moves to Washington State after the death of both her parents. Razor, a man determined to fulfill a legend.

She stood in front of the display, gazing at the intricate piece. Taking in it's beauty. She wondered how long it took the artist to make it. Never had she seen one like this before. She had a small collection of wedding vases at home, that she'd been collecting for many years. The vases were brought from different tribes during her travels. It was a habit of hers to travel to the places she intended to use as locations or settings for her books.

"Exquisite isn't it," said the deep male voice behind her.

Lost in her thoughts, the unfamiliar voice startled her. Quickly, she turned around to find a very tall, very attractive man standing behind her. Her first thought was, if GQ magazine was looking for a hot, exotic looking man for this month's issue--SHE just found him. His jet black hair cut "Recon" style. His slanted, intense eyes were like burnt dark copper crystals. His skin was a deep tan with a copper hue. He had a chiseled nose and high cheekbones. His lips were perfect in every way and as she continued to stare at him he smiled showing just a hint of perfectly lined, white teeth.

She found herself completely at a lost for words. He smiled at her reaction, and she cursed herself for doing so. He probably was used to making women lose it at the sight of him.

"It's breathtaking," she finally responded after exhaling.

After several seconds of being mesmerized by this man, she tore her gaze away from him and turned back around to the display. When he stepped closer to her, it unnerved her. Her entire body tensed up and she tried to think of what to do to calm herself down. It was so embarrassing, to lose control over a perfect stranger.

"So, what do you like about this...particular piece?" he asked. His voice deep and radiating and each word which seemed to cocoon her.

She looked back at him briefly and smiled. "Look at the perplexing design. So much detail. It's almost like the artist is trying to tell you a story with each cut into the clay. It's very unique. I have a small collection myself and I've never seen one like this. Not ever."

She shivered slightly as she felt the man's hand gently touch the small of her back, as he moved beside her. She glanced up at him, her eyes caught up in his as he stared at her with great intensity.

Suddenly, she felt so hot as if she had a slight fever and as cold as it was outside, her brow broke out in a thin film of sweat.

There was something about him. HIS aura. HIS mannerisms. HIS everything.

He came off as someone important, dangerous, demanding, authoritative and in control. He extended his hand with a charming, seductive smile, "Razor, is my name...and yours?"

She slid her small hand into his. "Valencia. Nice to meet you."

"The pleasure is all mine. If you don't mind my asking Valencia. Why do you collect Native American wedding vases?"

As she started to pull her hand from his, he gently tightened his fingers around her wrist. Her eyes met his again and his eyes danced with hers, as he slowly began rubbing his thumb back and forth across the sensitive spot on the inside of her wrist.

She should have been freaked out, but the motion of his finger, his voice and his hypnotic eyes held her there. Not to mention, whatever cologne he was wearing distracted her with its subtleness.

"I collect them because of the story behind the wedding vase and my respect for the marriage bond. Marriage is a very serious thing, and yet so many treat it as if it is a game. I was raised to believe that marriage is sacred and not to be taken lightly."

"I see. Are you married?" he asked.

"No," she replied, blushing. "No, I'm not married. Although I hope to one day, though."

He raised her hand to his mouth and pressed his warm lips on the back of her hand. They remained there for just a few seconds before he let go.

He unnerved her with his authoritative and yet seductive aura.

"I am sure you'll be married one day. Perhaps, sooner than you think. I must leave, but it was truly a pleasure to meet you."

He turned on his heels, and with long strides and walked away.

She stood there trying to assess all that he said. She turned and looked again as he departed through the sliding doors, before turning back around to the display.

"You're wrong by the way," his voice trailed from the front door of the museum.

She whirled around to look in his direction. "Oh!" Her brows furrowed as she thought, yet once again he had taken her by surprise.

"You said the vase was breathtaking...but, actually you are the most breathtaking piece of art in the room." With that said, he bowed slightly and departed through the sliding doors again.

Valencia smiled and turned back to the display. She'd not had a compliment that made her completely blush in a very long time. It felt nice.

She frequented the Anjon Native American Museum. Mostly because of her friend Cord Anjon. He started this museum a few years ago, which became quite a success over time. He wanted to preserve his Native American heritage and culture, and he wanted to preserve other Native Americans history and culture as well.

He started interviewing tribal members and people of Native American ancestry from all over the world. He collected family heirlooms that were handed down for centuries. He received many donations from various tribes and tribal members.

His museum had become so much of a success that they did an exposé of him and his museum in the New York Daily paper before Valencia moved. In addition, the Board of Education in Washington State praised the museum for the wealth of knowledge presented and the re-enactment videos of tribes in their early days and different marks in history.  Cord's museum was praised for being so informative and factual.

Valencia looked down at her, platform, wedge-heel moccasin boots, and thought about her bestie, childhood friend, Phoenix. Phoenix had become a highly successful Fashion Designer. The shoes were an exclusive creation from Phoenix.

Valencia and Phoenix had been friends since 3rd grade. She missed Phoenix a great deal after moving. Phoenix was vibrant, kind and very independent, but she was also headstrong.

For as long as Valencia had known Phoenix, she was never one to succumb to the demands of others. A person would stand a much better chance fitting an 800 pound man into a tiny house.

Phoenix was there for her through every dark event she went through in her life. When she lost her Dad. Phoenix was there. When her Mom became ill and had to be hospitalized, Phoenix was there.   She had been there for her yet again when her Mom had passed after being diagnosed with stage four cancer. She had a family, but they weren't close. She was an only child, so she had no siblings. Phoenix, was not just her best friend. She was the sister she never had, and her family embraced her into their family circle.

When she spoke with Phoenix several days ago, she told Valencia that she would be coming to visit at the end of the year which was about six or seven months away. Valencia was home sick and told her to make sure that she brought a New York pizza and a Junior's cheesecake when she came.
When her mother passed away, she fell into a state of depression. Her publicist felt a change of scenery would help. He wasn't completely wrong. She rented out her mother's home and left the keys with her friend to watch over things until she went back to New York for a visit.

The couple she rented her late Mom's house to, were a much older couple, so she'd worked out that she would have fewer problems with them. At least she hoped she would.

She picked Whatcom County to be close to the reservation. She wanted to get to know the people there and get to know their customs and culture. A long time ago when she was much younger, her Mom told her that her Grandmother was Chippewa Indian. Every since then, she has been trying to research her Grandmother's people and any other tribe's culture and practices.

She read that this particular tribe in Whatcom County was also known as "People of the sea." There were two things that Valencia loved: oceans and the moon. She also loved fish and seafood, which this part of Washington offered in abundance. The cost of living was affordable and the homes were beautiful and well-kept. From that, she decided that this place would be perfect for new beginnings.

She was also in much need of peace and quiet. That was something that New York City just didn't offer.

She'd only been here just a few months, but was beginning to like it here. She'd even met an older couple from the nearby reservation. They were sweet and invited her to come and visit them and they would take her around the reservation. This would be good for the next book that she was writing. Although it was fiction, she wanted the surroundings described in the book to be real.

The couple did invite her to come to some of the annual festivities. This would give her the chance to become acquainted with some of the local people.

She saw the older couple, mostly at the local coffee shop and occasionally at the grocery store.

She had just walked over to a 100-year old, encased Navajo bow and arrow, when she heard a familiar voice.

"VALENCIA!" Her long-time friend excitedly called her name. Cord Anjon. They would get into silly mischief together, quite often back in college. She was going for journalism and he was going for archeology. She met Cord in college the first day she attended.

She was an awkward young girl, with huge dreams. Cord was the sweetest guy who helped her pick up all the books she'd clumsily dropped as she was heading up the University steps.

She never regretted meeting Cord. He was always in such a cheerful mood. The sky could have been falling around him and she was sure that Cord would still have a smile and his usual "I don't have a care in the world" attitude.

He immediately befriended her and their friendship grew. They always acted like two kids when they got together.

"CORD! I__"

That was the end of her sentence. Cord grabbed her in one of his signature bear hugs, squeezing the life out of her. Her face was plastered into his chest. When he finally let go, "Gee Cord, I missed you too!"

"You're a sight for sore eyes," he exclaimed.

She pulled back to look at him. "So how are you Cord?." She smiled at him and wondered why on earth, no woman had come and snatched him up. Cord was a handsome guy with a personality to match.

"You have no idea how glad I am that you moved here now. Of course I am hoping that you are here to stay, but somehow I can't help but get this feeling that you're moving back to New York. Tell me that you'll stay, please? At least give it a year before you decide to leave."

"Cord, I've rented out Mom's house for a year so I don't have much of a choice. I will have to stick it out for a year. At least I have you to be my tour guide." "Tour guide? I am your everything guide!" He pulled me into his arms again and hugged me tight. "You know all you have to do is call me and I'll be there. I promise you, and you know I don't make promises that I can't keep."

"You are a man of your word," she tells him, before playfully sticking her tongue out at him.

"Of course I am! That is why everyone loves me."

"Oh wow...your humility is so-o-o gone. I bet your Mom would beg to differ." I nudged him in the side with my elbow.

"OW! You always were a firecracker. I should have made you my wife."

"Cord, you're so silly."

"I'm serious. Who else in the world would put up with all my craziness. I'll always kick myself for letting you get away from me, Valencia."

"Wow Cord...that's twice today." He smiled at her and she hugged him again.

"So, I see you're loving my newest display."

"I am."

"It's a 300-year old Lakota Wedding Vase. Almost hard to believe I found it in such good shape. So, I see you're managing to make new friends already."

"Huh?" she responded, somewhat confused.

" 'The Rock' or maybe I should call him something else."

"You're exaggerating Cord. He wasn't that big, although it was quite visible he works out religiously. Now that you mention it...he does look about the same size as 'The Rock'__"

"Valencia, STOP! I just got through talking about I should have made you my wife. I definitely don't want to hear about the muscular physique of some other guy."

"Well you started it," she said.

"No I didn't," said Cord.

"Did," said Valencia.

"Didn't!" Cord spit out.

"DID!" Valencia chimed in smiling at Cord.

"Say it one more time and I swear I'll kiss you square on the lips," said Cord.

That shut Valencia down. She didn't know what had gotten into Cord since she'd moved to Washington. She rolled her eyes and turned to start looking at another display.

"Valencia," Cord called her name softly. "Seriously, have lunch with me. We've got a lot to catch up on. Plus the fact Phoenix made me swear to keep an eye on you until she comes to visit. Consider me your bodyguard, your advisor, your tour guide and...especially and always your friend. Just please, no more talk about "muscle man". Besides, I can't put my finger on it but there is something about him."

"Okay, although I don't need a body guard or babysitter...I will let you take me out to lunch today. Tomorrow offers no promises," she replied.

"So, how are you holding up Valencia? I know it hasn't been easy on you since your Mom passed."

She stopped looking long enough to glance up at Cord. "Honestly, I don't know. Obviously not that good since my doctor and my publicist thought a change of scenery would help." She let out a long sigh. "I discovered that I just can't do this alone. Phoenix has been a rock for me but I can't always lean on her--"

Cord took her hand into his. "Then lean on me. Valencia, we've been friends since college. We have shared everything down to milkshakes. I even confided in you when things weren't going well with my girlfriends. We made a promise to each other that we would always remain friends. Friends help one another in time of need. So, despite my crush on you our friendship comes first. Let me be your rock."

Valencia squeezed Cord's hand. Cord was like the brother she never had. She trusted him with everything. She just couldn't understand why she was having such a hard time trusting him with her emotions. Cord was the last person that would ever hurt her.

"Will you let me do that for you? Please Valencia." Cord was almost pleading with her.

"Yes Cord, I will." She looked at him and smiled.

"Mom has been so worried about you, and Dad...well, you know Dad. He really wanted you to come and stay with them. I had to tell them that as much as I know that they mean well--you're not a college kid anymore and that you've been living on your own since before you graduated from the University."

"Your Dad was always protective over me, especially after my Dad passed. It's okay though, I'm thankful to have someone who cares to that extent."

Once seated and buckled in Cord's car, Valencia stared out the window with wandering thoughts.

"Hey," said Cord when he started up the engine of his Shelby.

Valencia turned and looked at him.
"I have a blast from the past for you. From our college days. Listen..."

He turned on the radio and selected his iPod and touched a selection on the screen.

Valencia smiled as the sound of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" rocked out the speakers of the custom speakers in Cord's mustang.

                                                          *****

The next morning when Valencia woke up, she decided to add some finishing touches to her new home. The beautiful hardwood floors would need some area rugs to protect the wood. Her feet got cold as she tipped to the fridge the night before just to get some water.

As she backed out of the driveway, she smiled as she admired the beauty of the tree lined street she lived on.

Approaching the grocery store, she noticed the multiple blue lights from down the street. As she ventured closer, what she thought was just someone getting a ticket was much more.

She went down to the farthest left entrance as she saw what must have been at least 6 or 8 police cars, marked and unmarked surrounding several guys with their hands raised in the air. Initially, she thought to herself that maybe it wasn't exactly a good idea to go to the store right now. Then her other self (which usually got her in trouble) begged for her to see what was going on. Even if it was just a peek.

A little voice in her mind was telling her to turn around and go back home. The other voice, which got the better of her told her to stay and observe. The other voice, even reasoned with her that she could put this particular experience in her next book.

She pulled into a parking spot closest to the far left of the store. After that, everything happened so fast that she really didn't have time to think.

The plain clothes officer started walked toward her with his gun in his hand. He stopped her heart as he raised his gun at her and told her to get out of the car.

Valencia sat there wide eyed and trembling. The car was still running and she was so scared and shocked that HE was pointing the gun at HER, she couldn't move.

"DID YOU HEAR ME? I said, GET OUT of the car RIGHT NOW, with your hands raised. NOW!!!" he yelled

Valencia continued to stare him. Completely in shock, and she didn't move one inch.

"HEY!!! DON'T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!" he yelled.

Valencia gasped at his words, and as he walked closer to the car with his gun drawn on her she slowly reached for the door handle. She almost fell out the car and peed on herself. She continued to look at the officer, mortified and pondering as to why he was treating her like some kind of criminal.

"KEEP THOSE HANDS UP WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!!!" he barked the command at her as if she'd committed some horrific crime.

Valencia could not contain her emotions any longer. She burst out into tears.

The officer continued to look at her with suspicion. Too many times women had played that trick on him to get his sympathy and to distract him. In his mind, he figured that she had to be with the other guys they had detained in the parking lot. No one else dared to come in the parking lot during the commotion. She was the only one who drove into the parking lot so close to the situation.

Initially the officer looked at her, not trusting the show that he felt was being put on by her. He continued to keep his gun raised on her and told her to keep her hands up in the air. But, when she fell to her knees and continued crying--he questioned if she was still acting. No woman had ever gone to that length before.

He softened his tone and spoke to her, "Miss?"

When she didn't respond, he cautiously put his gun back in its holster, slowly walking over to her. "Miss, are you okay?"

Valencia looked at him horrified and whaled even louder. He stared at her for a few seconds before gently bending down and taking her by the shoulders, pulling her up and into his arms.

He must have held her that way for several minutes before her wretched sobs eventually became shaking sniffles.

She draped her arms over his shoulders, thankful that she had not worn any makeup that day. If she had, it would have been all over her face and his clothes. Eventually, she began to relax as his large hand stroked her back gently.

He was beginning to get the feeling that he had made a wrong assumption about the woman when she pulled up.

For now he would assume that she wasn't with the other men that they had just caught. Just when Valencia was beginning to feel quite cozy in his arms, he gently pulled back and held her at a distance to look at her. She was the most strikingly, attractive female he'd laid eyes on in his line of work. Beautiful brown, slanted almond shaped eyes. A small somewhat round face with a small nose and full lips. High distinctive cheekbones.  Jet black, silky hair which rested over her right shoulder and flowed down to her waist. Her skin tone was tanned and she was wearing some kind of neutral colored lipgloss. What woman could look so good with just a little bit of make up and a teary face.

She was shivering which he assumed was most likely from fear or shock. He'd scared her, but he still had to make sure he wasn't dealing with an accomplice. That thought caused him to put his guards up again. "What's your name?" he asked softly.

She sniffled, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes as she blinked at him. "It's Valencia. Valencia Chase."

That name seemed familiar to him. He searched the files of his brain to figure out why that name seemed so familiar. "Are you a resident here?"

She nodded. "Yes. I just moved here a few weeks ago."

"Where exactly?" he asked curiously.

"I-I moved into the newly built home on Washapputa Lane."

He had heard that the new home which was recently built on that road had finally been brought. He'd wondered who was moving into it.

"I believe I owe you an apology, Valencia. I assumed you were with the men that we have rounded up over there. Anytime you see police activity like that, you shouldn't come near the area until it's cleared. You could have been shot or killed."

She sniffled. "Yea. I know that now... since you almost shot me."

"I'm very sorry. I had no intention of shooting you, as long as you complied. I made a mistake, I had no idea--"

Valencia started to whale all over again and was becoming increasingly distraught. In between her cries and sniffles she said, "I've never even broken the speeding law except once or twice. I'm not a criminal. Do I look like a criminal to you?" Sniffling she looked at him through strands of hair plastered to her wet face. "You scared me to death." She looked at him with a rather annoyed look.

"I apologize." He sighed heavily. Things really could have gone in the other direction, but as a law enforcement officer he could never be too cautious. He reached into his pocket, pulled his wallet and handed her his card. "My cell and desk number is on there. "If you'll allow me to, I'd like to make it up to you."

She took the card from his hand, looking puzzled. "Okay. But how do I know I can trust you?"

Her saying that, definitely broke the ice. He chuckled and Valencia felt his chest rumble as he did. "I took and oath and I'm dedicated to my job."

She frowned and looked directly into the dark grey pools that stared back at her. "Do you expect me to buy that crap? There are a lot of crooked cops out there!"

He laughed again. "Feisty much?"

Valencia broke into a smile. "Sometimes."

He helped her up and walked her around to the open car door, helping her get in. Once she was settled in, he pulled the seat belt over her shoulder and clicked it in place. As he pulled back, in that precise moment both of them were face to face and for a brief few seconds, for the craziest reason he had the urge to kiss her.

It was simply the way that she looked at him in that moment. The way she pushed her chin up slightly and tilted her head to the right. His mind was telling him that she most surely wanted to be kissed.

He noticed her lips quivered slightly. He took the back of his hand and gently brushed her cheek. "Call me later?"

He pulled his long torso from the car and closed her door.

"But we haven't even been formally introduced," she said.

He smiled. "My name is on the card."

She looked at him through long, thick black lashes. "That is so pathetic and lazy."

He chuckled. "I guess you're right on that one. My name is Taze. Taze Silverleaf and United States Marshal at your service."

"HEY TAZE!!!, WE COULD USE YOUR HELP OVER HERE!" yelled one of the guys amidst the crowd of law enforcement.

"I'M COMING!" he shouted out. He turned back to look at her. "I think we have things pretty much contained over there. I don't have to tell you that I much prefer you go home and come back later. One of the guys we were after escaped earlier and we have no idea where he is headed or where he is. Though, something tells me that you are going to go to the store and wild horses couldn't hold you back. Can it?" He looked down at her.

Valencia looked up at him with puppy dog eyes. She needed some food from the grocery store and she needed the rugs for her new home. This was the only shopping center she knew about and the only one that she knew how to get to.

She saw Taze roll his eyes and then he directed her to go out of the entrance she came in and go around the parking lot to the other side of the grocery store. She was able to do so without any hassle, but as she walked down the isles of the grocery store--she thought back to that moment when the U.S. Marshal named Taze had reached into her car to strap her down with her seatbelt. That one moment when they both caught something as they looked at each other.

Valencia thought to herself and smiled, maybe it's not so bad here after all. Of course it wasn't New York but, after meeting Taze...it was quite nice. In fact, it was wonderful! She pondered to herself, that she was definitely beginning to like it here.

                                                      *****

So this is it! She looked at herself nervously in the mirror, trying to determine if maybe she over did it with the dress. After all, it was just a dinner date, right?

She smoothed her hands down over the front of her dress. As she turned to the left and right, seriously examining the fit of the dress she wondered if the cut of the dress made her look slimmer or if it was too form fitting.

As she looked in the mirror at her face, her cheeks grew red as she thought back to the earlier phone conversation with Taze. He was so straightforward with how he wanted to kiss her earlier. He openly admitted that he was attracted to her, even before determining whether or not she was a suspect.

However, he was also open and straightforward on how he'd been avoiding relationships because of his line of work. He said he would never be able to forgive himself if his wife was hurt or killed because of the type of job he had.  He also admitted that it would be unrealistic to remain single or never fall in love because of his job.

"A man needs a mate" were his words to Valencia. Words that he stated his father used to say when he was younger. He talked about his mom and his sister. She could tell by listening to him that he was very protective of both of them.

She couldn't understand why she was so nervous about Taze and the way he was flirting with her and expressing himself. Cord did it all the time. It wasn't a bad thing--but to her, it proved that Cord would never be anything but a friend. She had absolutely no feelings for Cord, in that way.

Even when she dated the one guy, she fell in love with back in college--it wasn't the same. The relationship was awkward from the very beginning, to say the least. The kiss that happened between them, felt meaningless. Obviously whatever she was feeling, she must have been right. When he couldn't get her to go to bed with him --he dropped her. He was done. Just like that!

Now here she was, almost 30-years old, about to go on a date and blushing like some High School Senior on her prom night. Both her and Taze discovered they'd not been on dates for many, many years. It was almost hard to believe that a man as good-looking as Taze had not been dating.

It was also a welcoming thought, because she really disliked man-whores. Taze had even joked about how he may need to consult a book on what is proper when taking a woman out on a date. They both laughed at the idea of reading a book just to be informed on dating.

The conversation between the two of them flowed smoothly with a jolt of lightening betweeen the two of them.  The chemistry was undeniable, and Taze's conversation was both comical and endearing.  She found herself very relaxed with him. They talked for almost an hour as if they'd known each other for year. She had to admit that because he was a U.S. Marshal, she expected him to be rigid and boring. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised.

He on the other hand, was completely taken by the fact that she was a writer. Now he knew why her name seemed so familiar. He'd seen her name on books at Barnes & Nobles, which he frequented from time to time to get Starbucks coffee and read the local paper.

Taze had told her to "wear something nice, but not formal". So, she eventually decided on her Mom's words that she couldn't go wrong with 'the little black dress'. Her Mom always told her that. She had decided on a pair of black patent leather pumps and her black patent leather MK bag. It was big enough for her to fit her iPad, phone, wallet, keys and small make-up bag.

She grabbed the silver lame fringed shawl and went downstairs to sit in the living room until Taze arrived. He had called her back just a few minutes ago to let her know that he would be at her home within the next 5 or 10 minutes.

As she waited for Taze to come get her, her mind went back to what he said about him being very family oriented with high morals and a strong belief in God. He was highly dedicated to his job and that he wanted to settle down and get married one day.

She had assumed when she called him back at first, that he was just going to cancel. Being that he was in law enforcement and because all the TV shows and stories that she'd heard from friends who were married to law enforcement officers --that he probably slept around and ran from commitment. She was so wrong about him. He had even told her that he wanted a child, but not right away.

Once again she blushed, like a school girl at the mere thought of getting romantic with Taze. In her mind played that stupid song from elementary school, only the names would now be Taze and Valencia. Taze and Valencia, sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage; then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

She grunted in disgust of her own silliness, rambling through her head. Why it was only just a day or two ago when she'd bumped into that guy named Razor at Cord's museum. She got all hot and bothered by him. As she gave it some thought, it wasn't so much that she was attracted to Razor in the same way she was to Taze.

With Razor their was curiosity about him and there was an air of danger that emanated from him. He was just as attractive as Taze if not more but there was something --something different about Razor. Something of an enigma. "Oh this is silly!" she said softly to herself

She threw the sofa pillow on the floor and got up and went into the kitchen and checked the stove to make sure it was off. She walked around the house checking ceiling fans and appliances to make sure they were off before Taze got there.

She had just walked back down the stairs when the door bell chimed. She took one last look at the mirror over the fireplace to make sure that her hair which she let hang down freely over her shoulders, instead of its usual ponytail looked okay. When she opened the front door, she was speechless.

As she stood there, assessing how much more good he looked when he cleaned up. He was wearing a pair of black fitted jeans, some very expensive looking cowboy boots a black turtleneck and a tailor fitted lightweight tweed jacket.

He looked even taller than he did when she'd first met him. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail and he looked so undeniably, sexy. When her eyes had finally reached up to his, he slowly backed her into the house as he walked into the doorway closing the door behind him.

Even with the 4-inch heels she wore, she had to look up at Taze. He towered over her by a foot or more. From this she determined that he had to be around 6'3 or 6'4. She was 5'4 and with her heels on, she was pushing 5'8. His eyes were a warm color of brown. He had hair that was a mixture of brown and black. His nose which was well defined with a somewhat high bridge. His cheekbones which were defined and a chiseled jawline which was clean shaven. His lips which she could not seem to keep her eyes from darting to, bore a sexy lower lip cleft.

Taze reached out to slide his fingers through her silky hair. At that moment, she was ready! Ready for his lips to touch hers. They were so close, but what she got was this: "Valencia, don't ever open that door again without asking who it is first or looking through the peephole."

"Huh?" Confused, Valencia stared at Taze. "I-I--"

"You should never open the door unless you know who or what you are opening the door for." He stared at her for several seconds and bent toward her as if he was going to kiss her. Valencia waited yet again. She closed her eyes and her heart was beating so fast that she just knew he could see her the thumping in her chest. She waited for his lips to touch hers and instead he kissed her cheek.

At first she was disappointed, because she wanted Taze to kiss her. On the lips, that is. Although she was disappointed at first, her heart warmed 30 degrees more, as he whispered in her ear "You look absolutely stunning."

A smile spread across her face as he took her in his arms and hugged her. Once again inside the realm of his strong arms and embrace, where she felt protected and safe. She didn't know what it was about some women, and why they love men in uniforms or why they loved the men that spent their life protecting people.

When he loosened his grip and she pulled back to look at him and he caught a glimpse of radiance on her face. When he smiled he displayed a beautiful, white smile. Looking at his teeth, he must stay in the dentist office. Definitely was not a smoker and didn't chew tobacco. Truly, he was just a fine specimen of a man.

"You told me that you loved seafood, so I made reservations at a place I only hope that you will love."

Valencia smiled up at him. "Thank you, Taze."

"Shall we go?" before turning to walk out the door he held his elbow up for her to slide her arm inside. He gently took her keys and locked the front door to her house and walked her out to his Black Dodge Challenger with the smoky grey racing stripes down the hood of the car. Apparently chivalry was not dead. Taze walked Valencia to the passenger side and opened the door for her to slide down onto the seat. She blushed as he walked around to the driver's side, getting in. After closing his door, he looked over at her, and smiled. Then, he reached over her and pulled the seat belt across my chest, clicking it into place.

"This is becoming a habit for you," she told him with a small giggle.

"I'm trying to keep you safe." He winked at her and then turned on the car and headed down the road.

When they had finally arrived to the restaurant, which looked more like a Spanish villa Valencia looked around in amazement. There were gentlemen and women everywhere. The ones who worked there were dressed in black suits, with white steam cleaned and finely pressed white shirts, black bow ties or black neckties and shiny black shoes. A gentleman bowed slightly and showed us the way to the door with a sweep of his hand.

Taz gently held Valencia's hand as they walked inside where a young woman walked up to us and smiled.

"Welcome to Chowder Grill & Fine Dining," the young woman was also dressed in a black suit.

"I called and made reservations, with a request for a private spot toward the back under Silverleaf."

"Yes Sir! I remember securing you a table which we have reserved for you Sir. Please," she said as she motioned with her hand. "Follow me."

When they reached the small section in the back of the restaurant, Taze looked at Valencia and smiled. The romantic little section was separated by a short wall and the opening with an arch which was completely covered with vines, tiny gold hearts and little lights.

Taze pulled out Valencia's chair and waited for her to sit down before pushing the chair up closer to the table and being seated himself. He told her to order whatever she wanted.

"What kind of drinks do you like? Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri? They even have a Key Lime Pie mixed drink."

"I'd like one of those!" she replied quickly.

Amused, Taze asked, "Which one?"

"Key Lime Pie. It sounds interesting."

"I think you'll like it," he said rather confidently.

When their food arrived, her mouth salivated at the sight of the lobster tail, with the scallops and jumbo shrimp on the platter. The salad that came with it had onions, tomatoes, and black olives and fresh spinach with feta and asiago cheese.

Taze told her they "would both have onion breath now...so dig in". Onions, being a complete tabu if ever on a date. .

The mango butter and twisted yeast rolls were superb. As Valencia took a roll, Taze shared half of it with her and they both felt relaxed, as their conversation seemed to flow effortlessly. Even finishing off each other's sentences at times. The connection between them was so intense, sometimes all they could do is catch each other staring and hold their gaze.

"What made you move to Washington State? You mentioned you have no family here," he asked.

"My Mom passed away. I lost my Dad a year before my Mom passed." Suddenly she felt really alone, after telling him about the passing of her parents. She hadn't really grieved for either of her parents yet and to talk about it only reminded her of the two people that she loved most, were really gone.

Taze looked at Valencia and realized from her body language that her mood changed. With recent loss of parents, that explained her breakdown earlier today. If he felt protective before, he really felt the need to be protective now.

"Do you have any siblings?" he asked with much concern.

"No, it's just me," she grabbed her glass and took a huge gulp. Part of which went down the wrong way and she choked.

"Woah there Killer, don't overdo it! Are you okay?" he asked.

After she stopped coughing, she knew her face was completely flushed and she was somewhat embarrassed. "I'm okay," she said in a strained voice.

"I apologize Valencia. Maybe now wouldn't be a good time to talk about your parents. Let's talk about something else, okay?" he asked taking her hand into his and squeezing it. "I'm always here for you whenever you're ready to talk about anything."

"Thank you Taze! Can I ask you a question?" she looked into his beautiful brown eyes.

"Ask me anything," he said with confidence.

"What made you want to be a U.S. Marshall?" she asked. She had met quite a few people in law enforcement and was always inquisitive as to what made them decide that they wanted to protect the citizens of their country. No two officers ever had the same answer or motive.

"My Father. He was a law enforcement officer too. He died in the line of duty, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I've always felt protective over people. Almost like it was my duty to keep people safe. It's something I take very seriously. I only hope that my line of work doesn't keep some one from falling in love with me--" he said while staring into her eyes.

She nearly choked again while sipping her drink. Why would he even tell her that? She put the glass down and averted her eyes to her plate. She gently tugged her hand free of his and started to eat on her stuffed baked potato.

"So I can marry her, and make my house a home." She averted her eyes to his quickly and saw the mischievous gleam in his eye. She blushed a deep shade of red and smiled.

"I'm sure you'll find her one day," she said, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Or, maybe I've already found her," said Taze softly.

Valencia looked up at Taze, suddenly feeling quite nervous and at a lost of what to say or do.

Taze smoothed things over, knowing that he'd made her somewhat uncomfortable. "Share some dessert with me."

"You like sweets," she questioned as if she was surprised. "It's just that I don't meet many men who like or care for dessert.

Taze chuckled. "I love 'em!

"I'll let you choose," said Valencia smiling back at him. The awkward moment completely forgotten.

"I'll surprise you," he said warmly.

"Okay, I'm just going to head to the ladies room will quick and I'll be right back." She asked the young woman who had led them to the table where the restroom was. The young woman pointed toward the back on the other side of the wall where they were seated.

Alcohol always ran right through her. No matter whether it was a mixed drink or straight. Her bladder felt like it was about to burst. As she finished up in the bathroom stall, checking her tights to make sure that they weren't crooked and smoothed down her dress; she exited the stall.

A tall, platinum blond-haired woman was at the mirror fixing her make-up. She briefly looked at the woman and proceeded to wash her hands and dry them on the luscious towels that she pulled from the dispenser roll. As she checked herself in the mirror, touching up her makeup and fixing her hair, the woman spoke.

"I love your bag. Where do buy your bags from, if you don't mind my asking?" the woman asked, taking a step much too close for Valencia's comfort. The woman smiled at her with matted red lips.

"Excuse me," Valencia asked as she stepped away from the woman. She wasn't in New York anymore but New York city training from her parents never left her, "Don't talk to strangers. Don't take anything from them. Don't let them get too close." The fact that the woman had to get so close to her, in a bathroom that was already small made her uneasy.

These days women committed crimes just as often as men did. "Oh honey, I'm sorry" she said with a slight southern drawl. "I was talking about your MK bag. I've got a collection of them, and I found a great store here where you can get them at a discount."

"I actually brought this bag in New York from the MK store. Does he really give a discount on his bags?" Valencia asked curiously.

"I bet you paid way too much if you brought your bag in New York. There is a store right on Chestnut Street. They sell all kinds of designer bags. Don't worry they aren't knock-offs or anything. The lady that sells them there just so happens to know some people and she buys them in bulk and gets a retail discount. Then, she sells them for less. The store is called 'Nice Treasures'. The woman who runs the store, her name is Lisette. You should go and check it out."

"Thank you for sharing that with me. I should go, someone is waiting for me at the table." Valencia walked out feeling still somewhat uneasy. Not by the conversation, but by the way the woman looked at her. Maybe she was overreacting but something about the whole situation felt off.

How she felt must have been all over her face. When she arrived back at the table, still disturbed by the interaction with the blond woman in the bathroom; she sat down not even noticing the tall tower of brownies, chocolate liquor syrup, whipped cream, cherries with strawberry liquor syrup and chocolate fudge dripping down the 6-inch tower.

"Valencia, are you okay?" he asked. She hated the way Taze read her like a book. But, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing. She never could really hide what she was feeling or if she was upset. Not even from her parents. She looked up at Taze and told him that 'she was fine' but she knew he didn't believe her.

They both ate from the 'tower of sin' as she called it. It was delicious. Actually it was beyond delicious. She told Taze it was so good that she couldn't call it heavenly because it had to be sinful. After they were completely unable to eat anymore, Taze called the young woman who led them to the table and gave her his credit card.

When she came back Taze sighed. "Do you have to go back right away? I'd like to show you something, if that is okay with you."

Valencia smiled. She needed something to smooth over the bathroom situation. "It's fine. I would love to go."

Taze took her to the Botanical Gardens, which this one in particular housed the biggest Koi fish pond. Valencia loved fish and she loved Koi ponds even more. At some point one of the fish even came to the surface of the water and she threw some food on the water's surface. She watched the huge Koi fish eat the food, greedily.

Taze took her hand and they walked down the cobble stone lanes, observing the gardens and different variety of plants and trees. They even found a small Bonsai garden. When she started to yawn, that's when Taze cut the tour of the gardens short. Valencia protested.

"We can always come back. It will give me the perfect excuse to take you out on another date. You have my word, but for now I think you need some rest. If you refuse, I will carry you out of here. Valencia scoffed at that idea so she went willingly to the car. For the third time that day, he reached over and pulled her seatbelt and locked it in place.

There eyes caught once again, and both of them stared at each other. Taze wanting to kiss her and Valencia silently wishing he would. After a few fleeting moments of anticipation, Taze finally broke free from her eyes and walked around to the driver's side taking her home. Silently, he blamed himself for not going through with the kiss.

One thing was clear to him. He definitely wanted Valencia, and he was sure that they would have many dates. There would be another time, perfect for a kiss.

                                                       *****

Valencia couldn't think the next morning. The excitement that still engulfed her from her date with Taze was overwhelming. She couldn't think for one minute with out Taze popping into her head. She really needed to get this book finished. She needed to focus and get her mind off Taze. At least for a few hours.

When Taze took her home that night after their first date, he walked her to the front door. The protective U.S. Marshal came out and decided that he needed to check her home first to make sure it was safe before she walked in. She liked that!

She smiled at the thought of how it made her feel. To have someone that cares about you and is concerned for your safety and welfare.

Of course, she knew that her friends, Phoenix and Cord cared deeply for her. They were her best friends. Taze was different. She was attracted to him. She only hoped that he felt the same. She didn't come to Washington State to sign up for a heartbreak.

She decided that maybe a change in scenery would jump start her 'writing brain'. She left the study room and ran upstairs to pull out a pair of blue skinny jeans, a thick knitted, pink sweater which almost came down to her knees, a knitted pink hat, scarf and her pink Dr. Martens.

When she finished getting dressed, she ran back downstairs grabbing her iPad and her Piel leather backpack and headed out the door. Just as she sat down behind the wheel, "It's So Fluffy!" message alert played on her phone. She had a text.

As she unlocked her phone and checked her new messages, she groaned.

Taze Oct 5 10:00AM
I'm thinking about U.

She smiled, but he just wasn't making any of this easy on her. She sent him a text back.

Me Oct 5 10:05AM
I can't seem to get U off my mind either **smiley face**

She laughed at the way he made her feel, so silly and giddy. Hearing from Taze really lifted her spirits. But seriously, how was a girl supposed to concentrate when someone had her emotions all tied up in knots.

She got a call from her publishing company. They wanted to know how her current book was coming along. She had a deadline of two months and so far, she had not even completed half the book. She decided to go to the local library where she could focus more.

Just as she was about to back out of her driveway, a dark colored SUV came speeding around the bend. The driver didn't even slow down as they rounded the curb. She turned her head to get a glimpse of the driver, then frowned. Either she was losing her mind or the woman driving the car was the same woman she saw last night in the bathroom.

What was the coincidence that the same woman at the restaurant, also lived in the neighborhood. She shook it off and continued to back out of her driveway, heading toward Whatcom County Library.

As she arrived to the library, she couldn't help but notice the shiny, brand new, black Corvette that was parked in the lot. It wasn't uncommon to see some pretty high-end cars, since she had moved to this part of Washington State. This car however, stood out more than the others. The smoked out black with red trim on the rims and tires. The sliver and red trim, detailed on the car and inside red leather seats screamed customized, but was tastefully done.

After parking her Lexus, she grabbed her iPad and threw her backpack on her shoulder. She had an idea for her next chapter and she was rushing to get inside the library and get it on paper before she forgot. After the librarian scanned her card, she went into the "Thinker's Room" which was a large, quiet room at the far left of the library.

The room was set aside for those who needed complete silence for studying, concentration or meditation. There were a few people sitting in the multi-colored, plush, lounge chairs. Each chair equipped with a table. As her eyes quickly scanned the room, she had to cover her mouth, to stifle the gasp that would have came from her mouth.

Razor was one of the individuals sitting in the room. He had his head down and appeared to be reading a very large, thick book. She figured if maybe she just found a chair as far away from him on the opposite side of the room, he wouldn't even notice she was there..

She quietly walked over to the chair, gently setting her bag down on the floor. She opened up her Smart Keyboard to which her iPad was connected and propped it up and started typing away. After some time had passed, someone got up, gathering their things and exiting the room. Shortly after, another two persons left the room and only two people remained, besides herself. Razor and a young woman.

She didn't have to glance Razor's way to know that he was still in the room. He hadn't said anything or acknowledged her, so she continued typing. Approximately twenty more minutes passed and then the last person, besides herself and Razor, got up and left the room.

She pretended to be extremely busy and completely oblivious to his presence, by typing away. As she did so, her heart beat faster and she swallowed hard as she tried her best to push Razor's presence out of her mind. It didn't help that she was beginning to form a thin layer of perspiration. The room even seemed to be smaller.

She just couldn't understand, since she liked Taze so much how she could feel this way around Razor. The silence in the room was welcoming, so she could at least focus on the chapter she was working on. However, at the same time it was driving her crazy to be in the same room with this man.

That's it!! The only way that she was going to be able to focus, was to move to another part of the library. She bent down to search inside her backpack for her keys and while doing so, saw from the corner of her eye, that Razor was getting up. She had found her keys but didn't want to make eye contact with Razor so she pretended to still be in search of something in her backpack and waited for Razor to leave the room.

He walked past her, still holding the large book he was reading, and without a word he exited the room.

Phew! After the door had completely closed, she glared at it. She was annoyed that he hadn't even nodded or waved, and to think that she thought he was such a nice guy when she met him. She was seriously considering retracting her compliment.

As she turned around trying to refocus on where she left off at; she noticed that a plain piece of white paper was lying on the desk where Razor had been sitting. For a few seconds, she sat wondering if he'd already left the building or was someplace still in the library.

She walked over to the desk and picked up the piece of paper, but then immediately dropped it back to the floor.

She turned back to look at the door and then bent down to pick up the piece of paper. Maybe now she was beginning to understand why he had the name "Razor."

She sighed as she surveyed the request which was written in a beautiful style of calligraphy:

                                        "Meet me outside...I'll be waiting!"
                                                       "R"

The words etched themselves into her mind. What ate at her now is the fact that Razor knew of her presence all along. Probably when she first came through the door.

She contemplated staying in the library for several hours. To avoid him. More than likely, he would get tired of waiting and leave. Then again he could come back into the library looking for her.

When she first met Razor, he didn't come off as the type of man who would give up on anything easily. Definitely not without a fight.`

She may as well go see what he wants and get it over with. The quicker she did, the quicker she could get back to work.

She picked the piece of paper up off the floor, and headed outside.

As she looked around the parking lot, she didn't see him anywhere. The note couldn't have been a joke. Razor was not the joking type. She began to think that maybe she took too long and he had to leave. Valencia sighed and then started walking toward her car in the library parking lot. She figured she may as well had home and finish her work.

The lights of the shiny, black Corvette blinked on and off three times as she walked by. She looked up and her eyes met Razor's as he sat in the driver's side with a smile and a nod.

He reached over to the passenger side and opened his door. Valencia decided to walk over to the driver's side waiting for him to let his window down.

Today his brown and gold print shirt brought out the color in his eyes and as she looked down at him, she noticed that he looked much like a bronzed god today.

"Valencia."

"Hi Razor," she said with a hesitant smile.

"I know you barely know me...but you don't have to be scared of me. You have my word, I'm not going to drive off. I just want to talk with you about something of importance.

Valencia continued to look at him as he patted the seat beside him in his car. His eyes beckoning her to come and have a seat with him.

"Valencia?" Please come sit with me. I promise you I just want to talk." he asked softly.

"Now days, people's promises have empty weight," she scoffed.

"You are one tough cookie. Would you feel better if I sat in the passenger seat of your car?" he asked.

"Maybe," she responded.

Razor started to open his car door as she backed up to let him out. "Lead the way Princess!"

She walked over to where her car was parked and Razor followed closely behind her. She pressed the keyless entry button twice to unlock both doors. Razor effortlessly managed to get into the passenger seat with his long legs and tall frame.

She put her back pack on the floor of the back seat and then opened the driver's door to get in.

Razor's deep voice hummed, "I wanted to say something to you in there but talking is off limits in that room. Besides, the library was not the right place to say what I have to say to you. You took my breath away when you walked in to the library today."

"You never even looked up," she said accusingly as she looked down at her folded hands in her lap.

Razor observed her for a few seconds before stretching his hand out to caress her face, which startled her, making her jump.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. Your skin. It's beautiful and just as smooth as I thought it would be."

Valencia blushed at his compliment and she was amazed at the gentleness of Razor's hand.

"Valencia, please...look at me," he said in a voice that was soft and sweet but somewhat commanding.

She looked over at Razor, while his hand continued to hold her cheek.

"I need to tell you something that isn't going to be easy to process. I don't want you to be frightened and I would never do anything to hurt you. Do you believe me?" he asked. His dark copper colored eyes with gold flecks peering into mine.

"I don't know..." was all she could say. This man captivated her in a way that she could not explain. She liked Taze and that was who she wanted to be with; but she couldn't deny the fact that Razor was veering for her attention and the magnetism was hard to fight down. She just could not see herself falling in love with someone like Razor. There was something...

In a voice above a whisper he said, "That's an honest answer. You--you are my long lost Princess! I have searched and waited, for so many years."

It was like the needle slid right off the record. "WHAT?!" was all Valencia could say or had the mind to say at the moment.

"Many Indians or as people now say, Native Americans, live in this area. My people are not originally from this area but my earlier ancestors migrated here to start a new and better life. My Great, Great, Great Grandfather was a pottery maker and somewhat of an artist. He made many things, which always had great meaning. One, in particular was a wedding vase. He wanted to preserve the family line because with each line the males in the family became stronger. They also became better warriors, to feed their families and protect them from losing their culture, their identity and subject to genocide. He wanted to preserve our heritage, our ways and our people. With the special vase which tells different stories of how each Chief of the tribe who bore a son -- how his son could find his mate. Our family line was one of royalty so to speak. For each son, there is a chosen one, who would become a princess to the tribe. This was necessary to continue on down for generation after generation."

Okay, this is officially weird. Not to mention, uncomfortable and crazy! Valencia looked at Razor. He's got to be insane. I let an insane man sit in my car. WTH!! Valencia stared at him, thinking of what exactly to say.

If he was mentally unstable, then she wouldn't want to do anything to tick him off. She definitely could not fight Razor off if he overtook her. Razor was too tall, too muscular and too strong for her little 5'4", slim frame. Cord referred to him being like "The Rock."

"Razor, I don't understand," Valencia said in a gentle tone. Choosing her words carefully she said to him, "I can't be your Princess. I'm only part Native American. I'm not even full blooded."

"If you take an orange and a apple and graft them together, does that mean that the fruit grown from the tree will be less of an orange or less of an apple because they were grated together? The lines may have crossed because the tree will bear different fruit but doesn't make it any less a combination of both. People's ignorance toward the truth, even my own people is what makes people think that one must be 100% Indian blood to be a true Indian. Some who believe themselves to be 100% pure blood don't follow the traditions or respect what we once were as a people."

Razor gazed into her eyes with a longing that she had not seen before.

"Valencia, you are the one. The wedding vase in itself, is ugly to some in appearance. My ancestor made it that way on purpose. Most people when they look at someone, all they notice is the outside. People today are so vain. They see with the eye and not the heart or they will see what they lust for. There is no love there if all one does is picture the physical. Beauty starts from within. Most people would ignore the wedding vase because of it's outward appearance and think very little of it. The chosen ones will see a beauty in the vase that only they would take the time to see. You were the first and the only one since the vase was put in the museum that looked at it, observed it and admired it the way you did. Only a true Princess would admire that vase the way you did."

Valencia lowered her eyes as she thought back to the day she met Razor in the museum. She was drawn to the wedding vase; more than any other display. But, she also collected wedding vases so of course it would be of great interest to her. She didn't think the vase was ugly at all. She thought it was intricate, unique and strikingly beautiful.

"Razor I-I collect wedding vases. Don't you remember?" she asked, gazing up into his eyes. "Razor...I" she swallowed the hard lump in her throat as Razor's finger moved from her cheek to her chin. His thumb kept rubbing over it.

"Valencia, you are my Princess. My people need you and I need you." Razor said this with so much sultry and power. Her defenses dropped like the traitor that they were. Razor moved toward her. Close. His lips were only an inch from hers.

"I need you," he whispered as his fingers slid in her hair and he moved closer so his lips were touching hers. Against her lips he whispered, "You belong to me."

No-No-NO. What was she doing? Her first kiss was supposed to be from Taze. She wanted Taze's lips on hers the other night and now here she was in her car with Razor, about to be seduced into a lip-lock. She snapped out of whatever daze she was in and abruptly pulled back from Razor.

"Razor, I can't," she told him rather curtly. After realizing how she said it to him, she was then afraid how Razor would react.

"It's okay. I know it's hard for you to accept. But, the legend says otherwise. You do belong to me Valencia, but I will give you time to think things over." He leaned in and kissed her forehead and without another word he got out the car and walked away.

Suddenly, she had a migraine. She reached in the back for her bag and pulled out her essential oils to rub on her head, temples, pressure points and back of her neck.

This day was the weirdest day yet. She sat back in her seat and rested the back of her head on the head rest of the chair. She closed her eyes momentarily. The loud rang of her cell phone startled her.

She looked down at the screen, but did not recognize the phone number of the incoming call. The call ended. Maybe it was just a wrong number.

She leaned her head back against the seat's headrest and closed her eyes again. The phone rang again. This time she picked up.

"Hello?"

"You cannot deny what is to be your destiny!" the woman's voice whispered and then hung up.

W-T-H!! Am I crazy or is everyone else around me losing their mind? Valencia thought to herself. She sat up and turned the car on. After looking around the parking lot, she zoomed into her rear view mirror, backing out and then heading home.

                                                         *****

The call unnerved her to say the least. The voice wasn't that of a Razor, but a woman.

"Hey, you okay over there?" Taze looked at her with much concern.

"Huh?" Valencia snapped out of her thoughts.

"You haven't really paid attention to anything I was saying. You look a little tired too. Is everything okay?"

Valencia looked over at Taze. He was wearing a fitted black shirt which displayed just how much he worked out, a pair of jeans with his badge clipped on his belt. He had on a shoulder holster for his gun which was hidden under his jacket, labeled: U.S. Marshal across the back of it. She wanted to tell him what happened to her with Razor a couple of months ago and the phone call but thought against it.

She didn't want Taze to overreact. Razor hadn't hurt her in any way so she figured that she could handle things on her own. She had heard about men in law enforcement, and how they could be overbearing at times with their protectiveness.

It was just that what Razor said, really spooked her. Then there the phone call, which was followed by additional strange phone calls. There was also the gifts that someone kept leaving on her door step. That someone she assumed to be Razor. But how come he never knocked on her door? She also had to wonder how he even knew where she lived. All of it was puzzling to her.

"I apologize, Taze. I-I," Don't tell him. Nothing has happened yet. Just be calm. "I'm just tired, that's all. I've got a deadline on my book and I've been up late quite a bit trying to work on it. I have to say, I'm a little worried that I might not meet that deadline."

Taze cocked his head to the side as he observed Valencia. He and Valencia had been talking and going out for a few months now, but he couldn't say for sure yet that he completely knew her. His gut was telling him that she was leaving something out. "Valencia," he said her name softly "you know you can come to me and talk to me about anything, right?"

"Yes," she said and smiled. She never asked him about his work or cases which made it easy for him to connect with her. She knew that there would be things that he would not be able to discuss regarding his job, so she didn't intervene.

Taze told her that he wanted to focus on her. Her needs. Her wants. No man that she had dated in the past, even cared about her needs or wants. It gave her a warm feeling to have someone so tuned in to her.

Last week, they went to see a Captain America movie. She remembered laughing at Taze because he said "he was jealous that the actor who played Captain America had so much of her admiration." She lightly hit him on the arm and called him "silly" and then she hugged him. "You're my only hero" she told him as she breathed in his cologne. He always smelled so good.

Last week, after they came from the movies, Taze did his usual inspection of her home. What he did before leaving is what let her know the extent of their feelings for each other.

He kissed her.
He had reached the door and at the last minute, he turned on his heels, came back to her and pulled her in his arms allowing his lips to melt hers. It was a kiss so intense, it made her knees buckle. Both of them ended up pulling away from each other, short of breath.

But the kiss after the kiss is what reeled her heart in to him. He apologized for the first kiss and then told her that "he intended for her first kiss to be different."

She slowly walked back to him and tenderly touched his face.

She asked him to 'show her.'

The way he looked into her eyes, the way his fingers threaded through her hair. His hand palmed the back of her head, gently pulling her face closer to his. He lowered his lips on hers. His tongue gently pushing its way through her parted lips. He explored her mouth. Pressing his body against hers and for Valencia there was nothing left to do, but to submit to his kiss, completely.

When the kiss ended, she looked up into his eyes. He was so sexy, and it felt so good to be in his embrace and in that moment she wanted more. It was apparent from what she was feeling pressed against her stomach, that he wanted more as well.

She didn't want what was happening between them to stop but she knew she needed to. She gently pulled away from him and backed up to lean against the wall.

He walked over to her and reached out to stroke her cheek with the back of his hand.

She pulled herself out of her daydream and took in a mouthful of salad.

He looked at her, admiring everything about her. She looked like she was deep in thought and he reached across the table and took her hand in his. "Name something that you've always wanted to do but never got a chance to."

"Hmmm. There are quite a few things actually but there is one thing I've wanted to do more than the others. Kayaking." The smile on her face spread at the thought.

"Keep next weekend free. I know the perfect place and I'd love to take you," Taze said before stuffing his mouth full of salad.

Valencia almost jumped out of her seat and squealed her excitement. People at the other tables around them were looking over at her.

She was so excited, that she didn't care. She had always wanted to go Kayaking. "If you only knew how happy you made me right now."

Taze had to chuckle at the reaction from Valencia. It warmed his heart to see her excitement. She looked much like a small child right now. It made him feel good to make Valencia happy.

Every day that Taze spent with her, he learned something knew. Every day he spent with Valencia, he grew fond of her a little more each day. Even his boss teased him about "falling in love" and the guys he worked with goaded him but in a good way. At least three of the guys he worked closely with were all married. One of them married his High School sweetheart.

He asked him once, if he ever wished he had done things different. He told him, "No. I only need one girl to share my heart with. She knows me. She understands me, and she has never not been there for me when I needed her most. I'd give her the world if I could. Besides, who else is gonna put up with me and my sh**!"

Coming from him, that meant a lot. He was one of the hardest and most dangerous guys on the force. Seeing that side of him was comforting. Everyone knew when he got around his wife, he turned into a completely different person. Sweet and sappy. That was definitely a side of him that none of the guys saw when at work. A mini vacation might give Valencia some rest. She looked like she needed some.

                                                         *****

Later on that week, all six men stood in the room looking at the board of the largest case that they'd been working in the history of U.S. Marshals.

Taze went through everything again just to ensure that everyone understood the objective and who they were after. He started with the top most wanted man and worked his way down to the bottom of the board.

"Guys, I just want to make it clear that if you should run into him," Taze said pointing at the man at the very top of the board, "proceed with extreme caution. There is a reason that the FBI has had problems trying to get and keep this man. He is very elusive. He is highly dangerous. Very unpredictable. At times he comes off as being charismatic, polite and very thoughtful. Make no mistake, he's violent, he's fast and he won't hesitate to kill you. "

The team of Marshals all replied with either a head nod or a "got it" response.

"Good! The FBI is working on this too so we will be collaborating with them throughout our investigation and capture. If any of the agents contact or approach you for assistance, give it to them!"

Taze looked around the room. "If we catch this guy, we're all going to take a mini-vacation."

He checked his phone after his team walked away to see if he'd received any text messages or calls from Valencia. His concern for her was growing. As of late she'd been spacey, occupied and she was definitely beginning to show serious signs of a lack of sleep. The circles that he observed under her eyes yesterday were even darker.

He didn't want to pry but, he was concerned. One thing was certain. Whatever was going on with Valencia, she was not going to divulge him with unless he pulled it out of her.

Something else was bothering him. The other day when he went to her home to check on her there was a gift on the doorstep. Normally, he wouldn't pry but then again--who was he joking. He was a United States Marshal who caught major criminals for a living and brought them in for justice.

He pried, investigated and interrogated for a living. The note was short but strange. It was a plant, but not just any old plant. He'd seen this one before. He couldn't remember where or what, but he remembered that it may have been at one of the festivities for the various Indian Reservations he visited throughout the state. The note was what got his attention.

He had bent down to read it. "You Belong To Me."

He wanted badly to discuss it with Valencia but didn't want to make her run. If he pushed to hard she would shut down completely.

Two days later he decided to put Stan on stakeout at Valencia's home to get some intel on what was going on. Valencia was new in the area, and even though she was from "the Big Apple" there were things that happened in the state of Washington that could be quite strange at times.

He was going to pick Valencia up for dinner today after work, he'd try and get her to break then. Maybe then, he could find out what was really going on.

Since they'd been dating he discovered that she'd only had one and half boyfriends in her past. She was old fashioned and even though she was a native New Yorker she was naive about many things She loved to bake casseroles and desserts. She loved to ride horses. She didn't like to club, party or hang out much.

She could be a bit of a recluse at times. She loved going to see movies on the big screen. He learned that she loved to go running on scenic trails and now he also knew about her desire for Kayaking. He also learned that she was an accomplished, known writer. He was never big on reading books but, he had put it on his list to go and buy one of hers and read the book from beginning to end. He was proud of her for her accomplishments in life.

He smiled at the way she did certain things when he talked or when she told him small details about himself. He noticed the way she would twirl a piece of her hair around her finger when he gave her a compliment. It was so cute. He even noticed the way she bit her lip when she was nervous.

The more he spent time with Valencia, the more he found himself becoming strongly and deeply attracted to her. He must have had it pretty bad. He went to his mother to ask for her advice.

She went all overboard, about marriage and kids. His mother pulled out the tapestry and started trying to determine what she should make for her future grandchild. He loved his mother and his sister, but the two of them were such a pain sometimes when it came to his non-existent love life. He knew they meant well.

He was about to go lock up his desk and put files away when Stan called him. Stan was still outside Valencia's home.

"What's good Stan?"

"Strange is the norm here in Washington, right?"

"What's going on?"

"I've been sitting out here for 3 days now. Every one of those days some platinum, blond headed chic keeps leaving what appears to be gifts on the doorstep. Then she gets in her highly expensive ride and leaves. She never knocks or anything. She walks up to the door, leaves the gift and then gets on her cell phone immediately afterwards. Tell me what you want me to do?"

Taze pondered the situation over in his mind. His gut was always right. He knew something was going on with Valencia but he just didn't know exactly what.

The questions were rolling like waves in his mind. Who was sending her gifts? Who was the mysterious blond woman and was she the same woman who was in the restaurant the same day that he took Valencia on her first date? She appeared to be a 'little off' when she came from the rest room. He remembered the blond who came out minutes later. The woman stood out like a sore thumb because there were very few people in that area with hair the color of hers. Who was behind the gifts?

The other thing that had crossed his mind was that Valencia was a writer. He had read and heard of stalker cases before with artists or movie stars. This could be that kind of situation. If it was, that didn't sit easy with him. Stalkers could be potentially dangerous, especially if they were mental cases.

Whoever it was, Valencia didn't seem to be happy or excited about it so he wondered if she was being bribed or harassed even.

"Stay there Stan! I'm getting a feeling about this whole thing that I'm not comfortable with. I'll be there shortly."

"Roger that, Boss!"

Taze grabbed his keys and phone and headed out to his car. He started to call Valencia and tell her he was coming over but then thought it was best not to. If he called her, that would give her time to get her defenses up. In order to get down to what was really going on. He had to catch her off guard.

He pulled up next to Stan's truck and asked him to stay and keep watch while he went inside. Making a U-turn in the road and parking directly in front of Valencia's home.

He picked up the box on the doorstep and put it up to his ear. He wanted to make sure that it wasn't ticking. Whatever the box held, it wasn't heavy. He pulled out the small envelope that was stuck between the large silver bow and the box. The envelope wasn't sealed. He pulled the card from it and read:

                          You belong to me, Valencia.
                          I wanted to give you time to come around.
                          It doesn't look like you will do so willingly.
                          The gift I give you is what we will drink
                          from during the wedding ceremony.
                          You are my destiny, whether you want
                          to be or not. If you will not come around
                          willingly, I will be forced to take other measures.

                                                         -R-

Taze stared at the letter on the card. He'd seen that letter written that way somewhere else. Who did the "R" stand for? Suddenly, he was very glad that he had taken the precautions to have Stan stakeout Valencia's home. Valencia was in danger, but from whom?

He slid the card back into the envelope and put the envelope back in place. He looked back at Stan, and then turned back around and pushed the doorbell. The doorbell chimed loudly and then he heard Valencia coming down the stairs.

When the door opened Valencia smiled at him, but what he didn't miss was how the smile momentarily faded when she saw the box he was holding in his left arm.

"What a surprise! Hi Taze."

Taze bent down to kiss her lips softly. "Hi sweetheart."

"You brought me a gift?"

Taze knew she was stalling. "I wish I had, but not this time. I found this on your doorstep."

Two could play this game and he was determined he was not leaving her house without some answers. "You should open it! Gifts are always a sign of someone's appreciation." He smiled and then eagerly handed the box to her.

He scrutinized her facial expressions and body language. People are usually happy about gifts, but he noticed that she didn't appear to be too excited.

The silence was almost awkward. "Come sweetheart!" Taze walked forward, causing Valencia to take a few steps backward so he could close the door behind him.

"You should open it. I've got a pocket knife if you need me to--"

"I've got it!" she said quickly and then sat on the sofa with a heavy sigh. She pulled the card out and laid it on the table and untied the large silver bow. Then picking up the letter opener, she pulled up the edges of the tape on the box. Once the tape was removed she hesitated for a few seconds before opening the box.

Taze noticed her trembling fingers as she cautiously removed the gold tissue paper from the box and gasped.

Taze walked around and took a look in the box. It was some kind of vase, like the ones he'd seen at the Native American festivals. It almost looked ancient. Taze came over to the sofa and sat next to Valencia. He was always a pretty direct person and he wasn't going to start 'beating around the bush' so to speak now.

He gently hooked his finger underneath Valencia's chin and turned her face to him. He looked directly in her eyes. "Ready to tell me what's going on now?"

                                                         *****

Razor took one more look at his ceremonial wedding outfit. The woman that made it for him smiled as he showed his approval.

He wanted to see how Valencia's dress looked. He looked at the woman as she smiled. Druyen was beautiful in her day but she had not aged gracefully. Her long gray hair looked brittle and dry. Her skin was dry, cracked with many lines and lacked any luster or shine.

However, Razor loved his people. His family. Life as a member of the tribe is all he knew. He made a promise to his Mom that he would take care of the tribe if anything had ever happened to her or his Father. His mother and father separated when he was young.

Mom got tired of the fighting with his Dad, always coming home drunk and spending all the money. Mom would have to go out and get part time work here and there just to make enough money for them to eat. One day his father came home and beat his mother so badly that the EMS had to come and take her to the hospital.

He swallowed hard at just the thought. He remembered being frightened and scared of being alone. He could only hope that his mother would pull through.

But she didn't. His mother didn't make it through the night. He supposed that the many beatings that she'd received from his father...well, that night was just one beating too many. For many years, Razor didn't talk. Social Services threatened to take him and put him in a foster home.

Druyen rescued him. She came forward and told the social worker that she was his Grandmother and she was able to care and provide for him. He knew she wasn't his biological grandmother but kept his mouth shut. It would have been better to be raised by Druyen rather than some outsider who had no idea nor respect for his culture and ethnicity. Not only had she cared and provided for him but she nurtured a fierce love within him for his culture, heritage and his people. She taught him how to be strong and a survivor.

Up until this day that is why he would do anything for Druyen to see to her happiness and comfort. He'd been sending her to a woman for treatments for her hair and for her skin. She was beginning to look so much better now.

In any event, no matter how she looked. He still respected her. She was one of the eldest members of the tribe and before her husband died -- he was a great man who was respect by all the tribal members.

"Can you show me her dress, Druyen?" He watched the elder woman as she walked back to the rack from where she'd pulled his wedding outfit. She reached up with trembling hands to pull a white garment bag. She brought it over to him and unzipped it. Druyen wanted very much to please her leader and was overjoyed that he'd found the woman that he would continue their people's tribe through.

Razor wanted to do it himself and he had to admit that he was impatient with excitement. "May I?" He asked Druyen as he reached for the garment bag.

Druyen nodded, handing the bag over to him. He anxiously pulled the white buckskin wedding dress from the bag. Druyen had done such a perfect job. The fringes, and intricate beaded work on the front and back of the dress was the symbol of their tribe as was the same symbol on the wedding vase he had delivered to Valencia's house.

She would be a beautiful bride. His bride. He would love her and give her anything her heart desired. She belonged to him and he would protect her with his life.

He turned and smiled at Druyen and spoke in their native tribal tongue. He told her that she did a superb job on Valencia's gown. His sister stepped up beside him and handed over over a thick envelope full of $100.00 bills.

Druyen looked in the envelope and then told him in their native tongue that she did not need that much money because he had taken care of her and the rest of the tribe so well. She told him that she wanted for nothing. Despite her harsh tribulations prior to Razor taking on leadership of the tribe she had since prospered and lived quite well.

He told her no and that she deserved more for taking him in as a child and raising him; and for sharing in his happiness with his wife-to-be. He told her that he and his Valencia would have many children.

Druyen smiled, her once tobacco stained and missing teeth, now a beautiful, porcelain white smile with perfectly sculptured teeth. He cherished Druyen and loved her just as much as his own mother. He was sure that in just a few weeks, that Druyen would come extremely close to looking as she did in the picture above her fireplace. The idea of Druyen nursing a few little "Razors" around and miniature "Valencia's" around actually made him smile.

Smiling was something he rarely, if ever did.

Druyen loved children and looked forward to taking care of Razor's future babies. Druyen knew that Razor did many things that weren't good in order to support and lead the tribe. She felt bad about the things she would hear sometimes. At the same time, she knew that he was deeply rooted with the tribe and fiercely loyal to them.

He was a much better man than his Father was; where the tribe was concerned. He really cared for each and every person and their welfare. He made sure everyone had as much as he had and yet he was so sad. lonely even, without a mate.

For that reason Druyen stood behind him and tried to guide him...even if he didn't always listen. She had resolved within her heart that maybe once he was married, things would change. Maybe he would stop his illegal activities. At least, that is what she was hoping for.

Druyen watched Razor as he stroked the soft suede and fingered the fringes and traced the designs of the bead work with his finger tips.

He was smiling to himself. That in itself was something no one ever saw him do.

Druyen hoped that this would be the beginning. Razor was like a son to her and she wanted for him to be happy.

                                                          *****

"...and don't tell me that nothing is going on Valencia! I'm a U.S. Marshal. I am not that oblivious when it comes to people evading my questions."

Valencia looked into his once smiling eyes, now a fierce light brown with sparks behind the emotions of his soul. She had never seen Taze in this state.

When Taze saw the look in her eyes he pulled her into his arms, wrapping his arms around her shoulder and kissing her forehead.

"I apologize for being harsh, sweetheart. I'm worried and you won't open up to me..."

Valencia pulled away from him and leaned toward the table and pulled the small envelope that was attached to her gift handing it to him.

He took it and read it again, even though he had already done so outside. "How long has this been going on?"

"Every since I ran into him at the library about three months ago," she replied.

"Three months ago? What happened?" he asked with furrowed brows, holding back on what he really wanted to say in order to avoid hurting her feelings. He knew better not to. She would only completely shut down. He listened intensively and without any judgment as Valencia poured her heart out about this "Razor" character.

Before she finished, he bent down to kiss her lips, stopping her in mid sentence. He wanted to let her know with that kiss that she was his everything. He wanted to let her know that he cared about her no matter what and he would do whatever it took to look out for her.

When the kiss finally ended, he made it clear to her that she most likely was not safe in her own home and until he found out more about this Razor guy --she was going to need to stay somewhere safe. Preferably at his home or his mother's even.

Taze pulled Valencia in his arms to hold her close to him.

"Taze, I need to at least pack up some things and you can come back and get me in about an hour or two. Please?"

Taze pulled away to look at Valencia. Okay baby, but no more than two hours." He pulled her in for another hug before getting up to walk out the door.

Just before reaching the door he turned around to find Valencia standing behind him so she could lock the door after he closed it behind him.

"By the way, I need you to know that I've been having someone surveil your home. He told me that some blond headed woman came and dropped off that package. I could have sworn that I saw a blond woman head out the rest room when I took you to dinner. Platinum blond, tall and slim."

Valencia's eyes went wide as saucers. She thought back to the day that she met the platinum blond woman in the ladies' room. The woman made her uneasy.

Valencia took a step back, her mind going in a million directions but ending up at the same crossroads. She wondered how the woman even got her address and how was she was associated with Razor. Taze pulled Valencia into his embrace. "Hey! I don't want you stressing out over this. Everything is going to be okay. Stan will stay here until I get back and then you'll be safe at my home. Okay?"

Valencia nodded without a word. "Don't open this door for anyone except for Stan. Understand?" Taze was satisfied with her nod and walked back out the door looking back at Valencia before closing the door behind him.

He needed to get to the bottom of this whole thing. Something about that "R" on Valencia's note bothered him. In addition, he now had to find out who this guy is. Generally, people didn't name their children "Razor" therefore it had to be a nickname that he adopted for himself.

He got on his phone before hopping in his car, and speeding off. Today was about to get real interesting.

Meanwhile, Valencia went upstairs rummaging through her closet, she found a black dress and a white one, a pair of blue skinny jeans and a pair of black skinny pants. She pulled several tops and then headed for her shoe organizers.

"Going somewhere sweetheart?"

Valencia jumped at the deep voice she recognized instantly. She started to scream but he was too quick.

A cloth was placed over her face, quicker than she could scream. The strong odor from the cloth overtook her as eyelids grew heavy and the fight she thought she had--was gone.

                                                             *****

Stan let his window down, just a crack. The thing was, he loved the cold Washington air. The way it would hit his lungs when he breathed in, while doing his 4K run. He loved being fit and he loved working out.

In this day and age, you needed to be as fit as possible. The criminals were practically super criminals with super powers. Stan took his job as a Deputy of the U.S. Marshal's office seriously. He looked at the house and then looked up and down the road. It was quiet today, he thought. Maybe his presence here would stop the perps from showing up at the house again.

Taze had called him and told him that he would be there in about an hour, and Stan told him that he was doing the right thing taking Valencia from the home until he rectified the situation. Taze had been talking to Stan about his pending marriage proposal to Valencia. Stan wasn't sure he could offer the best advice considering he'd never been married and was happy being a bachelor. But, he said yes to Taze's request for him to be the best man.

Taze was his boss but he was most likely the best friend he had, of his small group of friends.

                                                              *****

Razor hated to do this. He had tried to get Valencia to come around. He knew when he first met her that it would take more than good looks for a man to capture her heart. The U.S. Marshal seemed to have her heart, but her heart should belong to him. She was his Princess.

His sister drove down the block behind Valencia's home. When the other carpet crew started rolling out of the van with carpet and tools, he jumped out of the van with the roll of white carpet hanging over his shoulder. He got into Valencia's home by picking the lock to the back door which came in through the kitchen.

He felt some really deep animosity watching her packing her clothes to go with that U.S. Marshal. He had heard everything she said from the bug that was placed inside the plant left on her doorstep. He would not let his jealousy get the best of himself. Valencia was his and no other man would take her from him. She was the hope for his tribe and reservation. He had hoped that she would just fall deeply in love with him and everything would have been so much smoother.

However, things did not go the way he had initially plan. So he had to counteract, and his sister had the best laid plan.

He laid Valencia softly onto the carpet, before rolling her up in it. She was so small and lightweight that no one would notice. After hoisting it back on his shoulder he took leave through the back door, locking it behind him. His sister came down the road in the carpet van labeled "Quality Carpet & Cleaning" which they had painted and fixed up to look legit. It was the perfect cover.

When his sister stopped the van in the middle of the street, he walked to the back and opened the double doors. Carefully laying the carpet on the floor.

He hoped into the passenger seat, and his sister sped off. After they got at least 3 miles from the home she pulled the platinum blond wig off to reveal a mountain of long jet black hair which tumbled to her waist. She looked at him and smiled.

He lightly touched his sister on her back. She was the only child of Druyen and they were grew very close together. She was 10 year older than him but he looked up to her. "Everything ready for the ceremony tonight?" he asked.

She smiled. "All set, big brother," she replied and turned her attention back to the road. The ceremony would be performed tonight. He and Valencia would be married and that U.S. Marshal would never see her again.

                                                             The End

 

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