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3

For Sierra, the funeral came all too quickly. The two days spent at Meredith's house, trying to sort out her life and get herself back under control, came and went faster than the wind and she was once again face to face with the grim reality of her family. Or rather, lack of it. Surrounded by old and young friends of her grandfather, who had been well loved by all who had known him, Sierra still felt distant, alone because they weren't all her friends. Being shy wasn't exactly the problem as much as not having gotten to know many of her grandfather's friends in the time she was with him, something she regretted doing now.

Many seemed to remember her though and came up to her with condolences. Sierra was gracious to every one of them, but after a while the seemingly endless line of well-wishers was beginning to grate on her nerves. Her smile, no matter how small, felt plastered on her face and Sierra was sure someone would see through it. The smile, however, seemed to be convincing enough because people still came, sometimes stopping to talk about their own memories of her grandfather. Not a person who could say "no" easily, Sierra endured.

Sierra's discomfort wasn't lost on Kyle Fletcher, however. Spotting the young woman easily from the crowd around her, he eyed her critically, taking in the red hair, small frame, and short statue with some annoyance. He had been expecting a beautiful woman since only those types of people had ever captured the attention of his best friend and coworker; this woman was simply pretty. Still, Roland, who had reluctantly revealed he'd never met the girl, had not stopped talking about her for the past day. When Kyle had been picked up from the airport, he had been given a full report about this woman's life in full detail, especially how she was the last of her entire family on both sides. Roland seemed interested in that more than the rest, repeating the lawyer's story about how her immediate family had been wiped out in the past two years.

"You really should go up and talk to her," Roland stated, coming up behind Kyle. "At least let her know who you are and what her grandfather meant to your company."

Kyle snorted. "I don't think she can take any more people regaling her with stories about her recently departed grandfather."

Roland frowned slightly. "She seems happy enough to me," he replied.

Kyle sighed quietly, knowing Roland couldn't see what he himself saw. The smile looked genuine, but certain body movements were tell-tale signs. The way she kept switching her weight from foot to foot and the way she cast her eyes about the lawn gave her anxiety away. Frankly Kyle was surprised she'd hung on this long; he would have left the party by now, too annoyed by people to be any kind of good host.

Roland was beginning to get frustrated with Kyle. He'd dragged the man to the funeral to meet Ms. Matthews, yet so far they had not even gotten within speaking distance all day. Of course their coming had also been for him to mingle in with the crowd, let his face be seen, and perhaps recruit some new donors for the charity but that had only been a side concern. "Look Kyle, if you won't go greet the lady, I'll do it for you."

Kyle shrugged. "Be my guest. You're the one that's interested in her anyway."

Roland shot him a What's that supposed to mean look but turned around and left Kyle standing alone. Kyle, leaning against a tree, just stayed there, watching as Roland approached Sierra and engaged a conversation. His mouth turned up slightly as he saw Sierra begin to fidget again, obviously anxious to get away, and Roland standing there completely oblivious. Poor girl, he thought privately, and one eyebrow shot up. It was rare for him to pity someone; in fact, he really couldn't remember when he last felt pity for anyone. But something about this girl seemed to evoke the emotion inside him. The way she seemed to suffer letting people continue to come up to her, her patience and persistent, if slightly phony, smile, sparked a bit of admiration for her. She was carrying on a conversation with Roland, playing a good hostess but obviously wanting to get away. Obvious, at least, to Kyle. Even though this was her own grandfather's funeral, she still managed to put on a good face.

Kyle stood there for a moment more, watching the pair talk as people began to leave the wake, going back to their own lives and families, then straightened up. Maybe he would take Roland's advice for once. It couldn't hurt to talk to the girl; it might even be good for the business if she stood to gain a large inheritance. It was simply a business meeting, nothing else.

"Have you ever been to one of our facilities?"

Sierra shook her head. "I'm sorry, I haven't but I do remember my grandfather talking about it a lot. What was it your company did, provided housing?"

"That was certainly one of our larger departments," Roland stated proudly. "Most of our facilities are mainly trained in construction, but quite a few have adapted themselves to the needs of the area they are at and have integrated food closets, clothing dispensers, and some food kitchens. Several of our facilities also have small clinics that give first aid training and vaccinations."

"Interesting," Sierra replied dully, having lost the conversation somewhere in the beginning. She was starting to get a headache, a migraine by the feel of it, and was trying to find a way out of this conversation so she could take her leave. For once she wished Meredith was around; the outspoken woman would have known what to say to get Sierra out of the situation, but she had been unable to take any time off from her job. She had apologized profusely to Sierra that very morning, swearing about her job, catching herself cursing and apologize, then curse again. Roger had gone to school already so Sierra hadn't had to worry about the boy picking up any more of his mother's language than he already had but by the time she'd gotten to the funeral she had started to feel nauseated. Riding in the old bumpy car that Meredith seemed to love hadn't helped.

Still trying to find a way out of the conversation, she glanced up to see Roland look past her, a surprised expression on his face. She stared at him for a moment, her numbed mind puzzled as to why he wasn't talking anymore, then she turned around to see who had interrupted their conversation.

"Ms. Matthews," Roland intoned, a faint note of disappointment on his face, "may I introduce Mr. Kyle Fletcher, president of the Fletcher National Charity."

If Sierra had been the type, she would probably have been swearing under her breath now. Not another one! She was frankly getting sick of talking, she was tired, and her had was beginning to throb. But still, she had to be nice.... "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fletcher," she stated, reaching out her hand.

He reached out and shook the proffered hand, a bemused expression on his face. "Glad to finally meet you, Ms. Matthews," he said as he withdrew his hand.

Puzzled by the seemingly amused expression on the newcomer's face, Sierra stared at the man in front of her. He could have been a model; his features seemed almost chiseled from stone, with a strong jaw, a perfectly formed mouth, and an aristocratic nose. His very stance shouted that he was powerful; wide shoulders, arms that filled out his sleeves, and his height only reinforced the idea. What caught her, however, were his eyes: they were not green but a hazel, with flecks of amber speckling them around the pupil. Dark hair and a tanned complexion ensured that he was every woman's dream man: tall, dark, and very handsome.

However, at this point all that didn't matter; she could have been talking to the pope and she'd be glad if he left. If he had some aspirin, though, she might have been willing to give him a chance.

"I was just telling Ms. Matthews about our organization, Kyle..." Roland began.

"I believe that Ms. Matthews has had enough visitors for today," Kyle stated matter-of-factly. "Perhaps we should leave as well." Roland shot Kyle a scathing glance so didn't see the relief immediately evident on Sierra's face, nor the look of her own to Kyle that clearly said ‘Thank you'. "Who are you, Kyle, to say how this woman feels?" Roland asked, exasperated.

"Please, Mister Malcolm, Mister Fletcher, don't argue!" Sierra's mind worked frantically to come up with a solution without having to lie. "I really must be going myself; I am staying with a friend and she said she would pick me up at...at..." Unsure of the time, or even when Meredith would get off work, she stated uncertainly, "Four o'clock."

One of Kyle's eyebrows arched and he glanced at his watch. "I'm sure you mean five o'clock, Ms. Matthews, since it is now almost quarter to five," he stated smoothly, earning yet another angry look from Roland.

Recovering from her obvious slip quickly, she nodded. "Yes, I meant to say five o'clock. I am sorry, I'm not feeling well and have a headache the size of an elephant and I'm really tired..." She realized she was babbling and stopped, sure one of them would figure out she was lying.

They seemed to understand, however. "We won't keep you any longer, Ms. Matthews," Roland stated, smiling charmingly. "And please stop by our charity sometime and have a look around. We'd love to have you."

Sierra flashed him a quick smile, so phony she almost winced but Roland just smiled back. Kyle rolled his eyes at his friend's density then noticed that a smile, much more genuine and amused, was directed his way. An eyebrow went up as he wondered if she'd seen his expression.

Before they could get out any more words, however, an old faded mustang came barreling down the street and screeched to a halt in front of the trio. Sierra jumped slightly, bumping into Kyle in her haste to get away from the curb. It was like running into a brick wall; he didn't give a bit, as if he'd been expecting it. He grabbed her elbow not roughly but firmly and placed his other hand on her lower back to stabilize her. She leaned against him for a quick moment, her back to his front, and could feel the heat radiating through the dark business suit. She felt the muscles underneath contract slightly, then felt his breath tickling her ear and tying her stomach into knots.

Skittish as a colt, she scrambled quickly away, her face flushing embarrassedly. Not wanting to look at him, she stared instead at the person who was getting out of the mustang. Relief washed over her as she recognized who it was. "Meredith," she breathed, happy to see a familiar face. Then she paused, and her face contorted into a small, surprised frown. "Meredith?"

"Do not ask," the black woman in the beige suit muttered darkly. "Damned boss said I had to change my images or I was going to be fired."

"Meredith!"

The black woman shrugged hopelessly. "Well, he is, but I won't call him that around you."

Sierra just grinned. Her friend was obviously very uncomfortable in the suit; she kept tugging at the front of the jacket and flapping the skirt around, unused to having a loose skirt. Still, although definitely different, Sierra had to admit that Meredith did look nice; certainly more professional. The beige color seemed to agree with her, brown skin and all, but Sierra was one hundred percent sure that Meredith absolutely detested the attire. More comfortable in the tight, colorful clothing she always wore, having to wear a muted, professional, and colorless suit.

Hiding her mirth, Sierra turned instead to the car. "I really doubt you traded in your metro for this," she stated, her eyes glancing over the old mustang. It looked to be in merely okay condition; there were some dents on the side and fender area, and the paint had long since oxidized into some brownish color.

"No, this is Rosy's car. My metro," this she said angrily, "managed to break down at the office. She let me borrow her car for the day since she was going home with her boyfriend, provided I bring it back to work tomorrow." Her eyes shifting from Sierra, Meredith finally saw the two men behind her friend. Eyes narrowing slightly, she asked, "These friends, baby?"

"Oh! Sorry I haven't introduced you; completely forgot. Meredith, these are Mr. Malcolm and Mr. Fletcher." She motioned with her hand to each as she said their names.

"Pleased to meet you both," Meredith stated, not moving from her position, just staring at them. Both men were handsome, which gave her reason already to not like them. In her experience, handsomeness on the outside didn't always mean handsomeness on the inside; her last boyfriend had been gorgeous, a real charmer but had left when he'd found out she'd had a son. And her son Roger's father had been handsome and had bailed when he realized he was going to be a dad. Both experiences had left her a little cautious on the subject of good looking men.

"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Roland stated after a moment, a little uncertain how to proceed; Kyle just nodded to the woman.

"Well," Sierra stated loudly, breaking the uneasy silence, "maybe we should be on our way."

"Sure thing." Giving another tug at the suit's jacket, she added darkly, "I'm just about ready to change into something a whole lot more comfortable."

Sierra rolled her eyes and got into the car, followed closely by Meredith. "Do you think those men are safe?" Meredith asked Sierra as the ignition turned over.

Sierra, in the process of putting on a seat belt, just shrugged. "They both work at a charity, so they can't be all that bad."

Meredith's eyebrows flashed up now in surprise. "They work for charities?"

"Yep. Some Fletcher foundation or whatever."

"Hmm, never heard of it." Meredith looked in her rearview mirror and started to pull out, then saw Sierra wave at the two they were leaving. "Sierra," she hissed out, "don't do that! Men might think it's a come on!"

"I really doubt that," Sierra replied, grinning, but obligingly stopped waving. "You know, you really do know how to be a spoil sport," she stated, acting grumpy.

Meredith just grinned.

Once the car disappeared, Roland turned back to Kyle. "What did you say to her?" he demanded.

Kyle arched an eyebrow. "Say? On which occasion?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. What did you tell her that made her so jumpy there at the end?"

Staring after where the car had disappeared, Kyle just shrugged. "I didn't say anything, she just got nervous. Probably just a little shaken up." With that he turned around and headed back towards his own car, leaving Roland staring at the retreating form. Roland knew that Kyle had said something to make Sierra jumpy, and really wished he knew what. It was utterly pointless to take up that particular battle however; from the looks of it, Kyle wouldn't ever tell his long time friend what he'd done to the lady. Grumbling under his breath, he started after Kyle, determined not to be left at the funeral parlor.

Kyle was in the car alone for a few seconds, and spent that time pondering his reaction to the girl. His body had definitely responded to having a woman in his arms, even if it was just an innocent rescue quickly over and done with. It couldn't have been the girl herself; she definitely wasn't his type, wasn't worldly enough to even attract any attention from him. Her body had been too small, she'd been more plain than pretty, she was obviously religious judging by the rosary around her neck, something that turned him off.... yet he'd still reacted. It wasn't like he needed a woman at the moment; he was still slightly bruised from his last contact with a very angry one.

Perhaps it wasn't even him who had reacted first. He was sure he'd felt her relax against him; perhaps he had simply reacted to her because it was his nature. It might not have been her he'd responded to, but more her need for him...

The passenger side door opened and Roland plopped down in the seat, closing the door after him. "Where are we off to now?" he asked as he buckled his seat belt.

Kyle thought for a moment, then turned the ignition key. "I'm going to take you home, then go to the office and do some work."

Roland stared incredulously at Kyle. "But it's Saturday! What's so important that you have to spend your time off at the office?"

"Roland," Kyle stated blandly as they pulled out of the parking lot, "what exactly can I do with my free time?"

"Well, you can go work out."

"I've done that seven times this week already."

"You can stay with me."

"And what? Watch TV all day?"

Roland frowned. "I don't watch TV all day." At Kyle's disbelieving glance, Roland ammended the statement. "Okay, maybe I do watch it a little bit. Geez," he exclaimed as if having a sudden revelation, "I have no life!"

Kyle snorted. "You're just now noticing that?"

"Gee, thanks for the support, buddy," Roland remarked dryly, then finally sighed. "Fine, I'll go home. But what is it you have to work on?"

"I want to do a couple of background checks on some of our donators."

"Kyle," Roland stated warningly, "those files are confidential."

"Relax, it's not like I'm going to sell any secrets." Just find out a little more about St. James and his family, he thought to himself. He didn't know what he was looking for, just that he was looking.

Roland frowned, obviously against snooping of any kind, but finally just shrugged. "I suppose that as the boss of the charity you have a right to such things. Just try not to let it get out you do this."

"I won't tell if you don't," Kyle replied smoothly, then was silent for the rest of the drive to Roland's place.

© Sarah Pearson, 1998


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