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Chapter Ten

June 21, 2014

Sacramento & Yolo, California

"Sweet, my room is huge."

"Do not open the mini bar."

"Why would I open the mini bar?"

"Do I have to remind you about that one time in Houston? 575 dollars in M&M's, Ben."

Ben just grins. "Scouts honor."

"We failed Scouts," Nick bemoans.

The Xanax wore off right before we landed in Sacramento. I was white-knuckled, feet glued to the floor and barely remembering to breathe. The descent had been smooth, but I could have been in the middle of a dismantling plane for the terror it caused to course through me.

I was never happier to have my feet on the ground.

It was refreshing to be in Sacramento. This was my city and I knew it like the back of my hand.

Unfortunately, it now knew me.

"Is that Courtney Ford?"

"That's Courtney Ford!"

"Who is Courtney Ford?"

The last comment had been mine. Nick gave me the two second explanation.

"Your stage name."

I snickered. "That's a little close to Willa Ford isn't it?"

His face showed no reaction. "Who's that?"

I think about his question as Nick goes through a list of hotel etiquette that, judging by Ben's lip synching, he knows by heart. It is obvious that Nick never dated Willa. I slide out my phone. By the time Nick is winding down, I find out he never dated Paris Hilton either.

Nick has spent most of his adult life hung up on me or dating regular girls. Even his drug habit doesn't seem to have been as bad.

Had I bettered his life just by sleeping with Brian?

The thought overwhelms me. I watch Nick wrap Ben in a tight bear hug, his arm looped around Ben's neck. Ben's face folds into a delighted grin. He stumbles out of Nick's embrace and bear hugs me. He smells just like Nick. As he pulls away, I study the smooth skin of his cheek.

My son shaves.

I don't feel old enough to have a teenager for a son, yet I know there are eighteen year old girls (and younger) having babies everyday.

I am a statistic at least until I get to the lab. I suddenly realize this might be the last time I ever see Ben's face. I'm horrified at the tears that come to my eyes. Desperate not to let him see, I lean in and give him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

"I love you," I say softly.

"God mom, you're only going shopping," Ben laughs. He pauses and I feel his lips brush my own cheek.

"I love ya, too."

I am going to be a basket case. I am grateful when Nick grabs my arm. "Be back later! Don't wait up!" he jokes.

"I'll crash when the M&M's run out!" Ben calls to our retreating backs, laughing.

"Don't you dare!" Nick warns, shutting the door behind me. Two large tears fall down my cheeks. "Are you okay?" He asks.

I nod even though I'm not. I don't know what I am anymore.

I'm a scientist.

I'm a mother.

I've dedicated my life to creating inventions to better the world.

I've bettered Nick Carter.

"Just drive fast," I plead.

"Are you--"

"I'm fine," I lie.

He doesn't ask me again. In fact, the only conversation in the car contains directions to the lab. I know the way by heart and I'm comforted that at the very least the surroundings look the same. As we hit a rather long stretch of one continuous road, Nick breaks the dead air.

"I'm terrified."

I glance at him. His jaw is set and his knuckles are as white as mine were on the plane.


"I don't know a life without you," he says, his voice cracking.

"But you do," I argue just for the sake of arguing. To do anything else would be to break more of the wall. "You've married Lauren, you have a tv show coming out, you're going on tour with Jordan Knight in the fall. You don't know who I am and you're fine. That's the real reality. This is some sort of sub-time paradox."

He doesn't answer, but before I can brace myself he turns the wheel sharply and we are on the side of the road. He uncoils his belt and turns towards me, his face flushed.

"I believe in aliens. I believe zombies could be real. I believe there is a heaven and a hell. I even believe this whole thing about time travel. What I won't believe is a world where I don't love you and you don't love me."

"It exists," I say even though I am for the most part speechless. "It's rea--"

I do not get a chance to finish because his hand is on the back of my head and his lips are on mine, hot and hungry. His fingers knead into my hair and against my scalp and his tongue gently pressed against my closed lips. I open them for air, but his tongue is there and I'm pretty sure that in this alternate universe people just might not have to breathe when they kiss. His breath is lightly lemony and I wonder how the hell it could be lemony when I haven't seen him brush his teeth, chew gum, or eat any lemons. Yet, it activates my saliva sensors on my tongue and I am hungrier for this kiss than any other in my entire life.

Including Brian's. Brian's kiss is like a starter chemistry set.

Nick is the explosion.

I am drowning. I grab for the back of his neck. He snaps my belt and I am in his arms. We are the only two people on this lone road and I am against a chest that is broad and strong, my knee pressed into his wide roman thigh. His hands let go of my hair and grab my ass, sliding me straddling against him. It feels so right.

But it's so wrong. I am already the woman who slept with a Backstreet Boy and changed the course of history. I can't repeat the offense. I press my hands into his shoulders and it kills me, but I break free of his mouth of pure liquid desire.

"I can't," I cry. I literally begin to cry. "I've got to get to the lab. This isn't what you really want."

He gasps for a second as if he has crashed back to earth. "Baby, you've always been what I really want. Please--"

I touch my fingers to my lips. As long as I live, I will never forget that kiss. Tears are streaming down my face and my heart is splitting in a million different directions. I clutch the seatbelt strap and hang my head. If he begs again my resolve will crumble.

But he doesn't ask again. There is a moment of adjustment, a seismic shift and then he turns back toward the wheel. We affix our seatbelt and the car is going again. I press my head against my window and exhale. Five minutes later, I speak.

"Right turn. Half mile then go left. It'll be on the left.

The follows the instructions to the letter. No GPS has the lab recorded. It's like a subset of Area 51. I am not important enough to know anything other than Area 51 exists. I'm sure that might change after the time travel fiasco, but I am not enthralled by that potential knowledge.

I don't know how to feel.

In five minutes we are at the gates for the lab. Jim, the guy at the gate, flies out of his station. He is armed.

"What the hell is this?" Nick whispers.

"Get out of the car!" Jim yells loudly enough for us to hear.

We both do as he says. Nick holds his hands up, but I take one small step forward.

"Jim, it's Courtney. I need to talk to Josh and Kal."

"Don't step any closer."

I realize he doesn't recognize me. It's the boobs, I'm sure. "I am an acquaintance of two of your researches, Josh Galante and Kal Strimble. I need to speak to either or both of them. It's urgent to their experiment."

"Josh Galante?" Nick asks. He sounds surprised. I turn to him.


"Court, that's the name of your--"

He doesn't get to finish. Jim actually clicks the gun and I know a bullet has slid into the chamber. "Listen, I don't know what game you're playing, but there is no Josh Galante here."

My heart is thudding wildly. I could be shot, but I can't give up. "Kal Strimble. Please, if she can even come out to us, I--"

"This is government property and I must ask you to leave. If you take one more step closer, I am required to shoot and arrest."

"Court, get back in the car." Nick is already hanging on to his door.

"Tell her it's about her experiment! It's been performed in another continuum and it's gone horribly wrong!"

Jim doesn't answer. He is watching me (well, my boobs). I press my hands together. "Please. She can call my hotel." I rattle off the name and number. "Please give her the message."

His stoic face almost breaks. "If there were someone by that name working here, I would give them the message," he says coldly.

I suck in a breath. I know there is nothing else I can do. I can't even get up to the doors. I reluctantly open my car door. Jim watches our every movement as we get inside and Nick backs up. He wastes no time tearing back the way we came leaving the lab shrouded behind us in a veil of dust. Only when we're a good mile away does he glance at me.

"Josh Galante?" He says. "Really?"

"Yes, really," I say angrily. The lemony kiss reminder is the only thing preventing me from shout at him to release my frustration. "Why, do you know him?"

Nick shakes his head in disbelief. The car swerves to avoid an armadillo.

"Yeah, I know him," he says, clearly annoyed. "We know him."

"That kook is your stalker."