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Author's Chapter Notes:

Sean returns home from Iraq.


Chapter 45 - Coming Home


            "Ugh," Alyssa groaned as she watched Katherine Heigl scream out in pain during the delivery scene of Knocked Up. "I think I'm starting to have my doubts about having this baby. I'm not sure that I want to go through that after all."


            Nick just laughed from his position next to her on the couch of her home. "I'd say that it's probably a little too late for that now."


            "Of all movies to bring over, why'd you have to pick this one?" she asked, her hands on her hips.


            "It's funny. And I thought that you could relate to it being pregnant and all," he honestly replied. It was the Friday after Ian's funeral and Nick was trying to take his new role as platonic friend as serious as possible by surprising Alyssa at her home with Taco Bell (which she'd texted him all day about how she was craving a chicken quesadilla) and a movie. They'd managed to get through most of the film without too many awkward moments and Nick was quite proud of the way that he was handling himself. Don't get too cocky, he warned himself. It's only been about an hour and a half.


            "It is funny," she admitted. "Just a little scary to think how that's going to be in another two and a half months."


            Nick gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sure that they've probably exaggerated it a bit for humor. Plus, weren't you in the delivery room when Izzy had Grace? I'm sure that couldn't have been any worse."


            "It was pretty bad." Alyssa shook her head as the memory of Grace's birth came back into her mind. "Actually, thinking back on it I'm realizing I should've remembered the experience back when I first decided to try getting pregnant," she joked.


            "Well, you'll get through it. I know you will." Before Nick could say another word he was interrupted by what sounded like footsteps coming up the front porch and a rattling noise as if someone was just outside the door.


            "Did you hear that?" Alyssa interrupted looking alarmed. "It sounds like someone is on the porch."


            Nick just nodded as the noise continued. "Are your doors locked?" he asked in a low voice already getting up from the couch.


            Alyssa shook her head fearfully. "No, I don't lock them if I'm home except when I'm sleeping of course." Her stomach sank as she realized just how easily anyone could walk into her house unwanted when she was home alone. There were so many sickos out there that you just never knew.


            "Stay here. I'm going to go check it out," Nick instructed. His eyes frantically searched the room for something to use as a weapon if need be. His gaze fell on an empty vase that was sitting on the coffee table and he grabbed it over his head as he tentatively made his way over the door. He could see the doorknob twisting now. Someone was definitely trying to make their way inside and it was up to him to defend not only Alyssa, but his unborn child as well. He raised the vase higher and braced himself to smash it over the head of the trespasser the minute they walked in from the porch. The door slowly creaked open and Nick took a deep breath.


            "Wait, Nick! Don't hit him!" Alyssa's frightened voice rang out. "It's Sean!"


            Sean? Nick set his arms down only seconds before he was about to bring the vase crashing over Alyssa's husband's head. Now that would be something, knocking him out as soon as he steps in the door. Talk about marking your territory. He shook his head in disbelief as he saw that it was indeed Sean that had walked in the door, dressed in his Marine uniform and he was using a cane to lean his weight on. Oh, shit... Nick realized.


            Alyssa had already sprung up from the couch to give her a husband a welcoming embrace. "Sean, I can't believe that you're really here! How come you didn't tell me that you were coming home? Is your tour finally up? Did they decide to send your troop home?" Her gaze fell down to the cane that he was leaning on and gasped. "You're hurt!"


            Sean just laughed at all her questions as he pulled away, ignoring them for a moment. "It's good to be home," he said, taking in her appearance. "You look beautiful. I didn't think I was going to get the chance to see you pregnant." He placed his two hands over her protruding stomach.


Nick rolled his eyes almost wanting to vomit at the scene in front of him. His blood boiled with jealously, especially at the sight of his hands on Alyssa's stomach. He wanted to scream out, Hands off... That's MY daughter in there, buddy! But he somehow managed to suppress the urge. He didn't like the sight one bit though.


Alyssa just blushed. "No, I don't. I look like crap." She was dressed very comfortably in a pair of ratty looking sweats and a pink t-shirt that Nick had bought her that read, I'm Not Fat... I'm Just Knocked Up on it. Her hair was piled on the top of her head in a messy bun.


            "How's little Katherine doing?" he asked not pulling his hands away from her stomach.


            "She's fine," Alyssa quickly answered, not bothering to explain that ‘Katherine' had been renamed to Zoey behind his back. She could feel Nick giving her a dirty look, but she just did her best to ignore it. Now was not the time to get into the name debate.


            Sean turned around, finally seeming to acknowledge Nick's presence in the room. "Hello Nick," he coolly greeted. "I wasn't expecting to find you here."


            "He came over to keep me company," Alyssa quickly explained. "He thought it would be nice to bring me over some food and a movie."


            "Yea, I've been keeping your wife company a lot lately," Nick couldn't resist throwing in. "You know... Doing all the things that you couldn't do since you've been gone."


            Alyssa shot him a dangerous look warning him to stop right there. "Yea, Nick's been pretty helpful, but so have all my friends. They've really pulled together for me."


            "That's great." Sean turned back towards Nick. "I hate to be rude, but it's been almost eight months since I've last seen my wife. Do you think that you could maybe let us have some time together?"


            Nick bit his lip. He didn't want to leave Alyssa alone with that asshole, but he really didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. Staying could be just as bad. "Yea, I guess," he dejectedly replied.


            "I'll give you a call tomorrow," Alyssa promised.


            They said their quick goodbyes and as soon as the front door closed behind Nick, Sean eyed her suspiciously. "What was that all about?" he asked.


            Alyssa practically gulped. "What was what about?"


            "Nick... I never was a fan of his anyway, but he almost tried to kill me!"


            Alyssa tried not to laugh. "Sean, it wasn't personal. We heard you out on the porch and we thought that you could've been an intruder. I know this is a military base, but you never know... Nick was just doing the noble thing and trying to protect me, that's all. You'd have done it too. So, are you going to tell me why you're using that cane?" she expertly changed the subject making herself comfortable on the couch.


            Sean eased himself down on the couch beside her. "It's shrapnel in my leg," he seriously explained. "From the same blast that killed Ian. I saw Ian get into that truck and I just had this really bad feeling like something wasn't right." His eyes closed at the painful memory. "I started to run towards him to tell him to get out of there, but it was too late... I got hit by some debris from the blast and next thing I know I was waking up in a military hospital."


            Alyssa wasn't sure whether to feel sympathetic and dote over his injury or seem relieved that it hadn't been any worse. "That had to have been scary as hell for you. How are you doing now?"


            "I'm doing fine," he reported. "Really I'm beginning to think that this injury was a blessing in disguise." Alyssa shot him a look as if to ask, how so? "I mean after it really sunk in about Ian the last thing I wanted to do is pretend as if it hadn't happened at all and go on fighting. I underwent surgery to remove most of the shrapnel and my doctors said that I should make a full recovery." He gestured to the cane in his hands. "This is just a temporary thing to help keep some weight off the leg while it heals. It should be gone in another week or so. I was really lucky. There were some guys in the hospital that had both their legs blown off. I think I got off pretty easy with nothing more than maybe a slight limp. And the best part of all is that it's not a life changing injury, but serious enough to get me discharged and home to you in time for our daughter's birth."


            "Yea, that's great," was the only way that Alyssa could think to reply. Thankfully enough Sean seemed to think that she was in too much shock to react with much more emotion. She quickly changed the subject though to ease her own guilt. "How come you didn't try to contact me and tell me what happened? How come you didn't let me know you were coming home?"


            Sean looked away a little ashamed. "I had my reasons. Mainly because I didn't want you to worry about me because I know you would, but also because I wanted to surprise you. Did it work?"


            "Oh, yea it worked all right. I was really surprised." More than you realize, she mentally added.


            His next question caught her completely off guard. "So, you've been hanging out with Nick a lot since I've been gone, huh?"


            Alyssa just shrugged trying to play it off as coolly as she could. "Yea, I guess you could say that. He's been almost like a brother to me. He comes around and helps me out whenever I need a man's strength, but as I mentioned before everyone has been a help. Callie, Kim, and I have formed a little support group, and Izzy is always ready to offer parenting advice. All my friends have helped out in their own little way.


            "I'm glad that you had so many people around to help you out. I felt horrible enough leaving you alone by yourself and then to make it even harder on me, I find out that you were pregnant. I was really worried about you Lyss..."


            Alyssa shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "You didn't have to worry. I was fine." Wanting to break the tense moment she laced her hand into his and jumped up from the couch. "You have to come see the nursery. It's really cute! I did a whole princess theme with crowns and jewels. Everything is purple and yellow. You're going to love it!"


            "I guess I'm going to have to go check it out then," Sean agreed with a laugh.


            Alyssa practically dragged him up the stairs and into the nursery. She wasted no time in launching in a long winded explanation of every piece of furniture in the room. She even showed him the few outfits and things that various people had already bought for her. Anything that she could do to keep the conversation focused on the baby and not themselves. It wasn't long though until she ran out of things to say and she found herself staring up at Sean for a reaction.


            "It's perfect," he told her. "I can't believe that you got this all set up and everything already. Our little Katherine is going to love it."


            At the second mention of the name that Sean had selected for her daughter Alyssa bit her lip. It was to the point that she actually quite despised the name Katherine. "I know we agreed on Katherine before I became pregnant, but just for curiosity's sake... What do you think of Zoey?" The question flew out of her mouth before she even realized she had asked it.


            Sean narrowed his eyes. "Zoey? You want to name our daughter Zoey? It sounds like a dog's name. Not for a little girl. Besides, Katherine is a family name and I thought we wanted to do family names?"


            "Yes, you're right. It was just an idea. I'm sorry I suggested it." His reaction to the name she and Nick had picked out only solidified her decision. Tomorrow morning she was going to have to sit him down and tell him the honest truth. It was sure to be ugly, but it needed to be done.




            An hour or so later the couple was finally ready for bed. Alyssa felt very funny about sharing a bed with Sean under the circumstances, but it would be too suspicious if she didn't. Besides, he'd never hear of her sleeping on the pull out downstairs by herself. She finished brushing her teeth and emerged from the bathroom into the bedroom wearing a pair of boxer shorts and one of Sean's t-shirts. Sean was already in bed staring up at her. "What?" she asked all of a sudden feeling self-conscious.


            "Nothing," Sean replied. "I just can't get over seeing you pregnant. It's like the craziest thing."


            Alyssa just shrugged, the thrill of herself having a belly long gone by now as she slipped between the sheets. "It's not all that amazing. I'm fat and nothing seems to fit right. I feel like a whale..."


            "No, you're beautiful," he assured her as he reached over to brush a strand of hair away from her face. "I really missed you while I was in Iraq." His arms circled around her waist and his lips sought out her neck. "Just thinking about coming back and being able to hold you in my arms again was the only thing that kept me going sometimes."


            Alyssa uncomfortably wrenched herself out of his hands. She knew what he wanted, but she just couldn't bring herself to give in to him. It didn't feel right and she felt little to no desire for him anymore. Besides, she couldn't possibly let herself have sex with him and then the very next morning break it off with him. That just wasn't right. "Not tonight Sean," she told him, scooting closer to her side of the bed. "I'm just really tired and not really in the mood right now."


            "Well, I could change that for you," he persisted, playfully grabbing her arms. "Come on... Is it because you're self conscious about being pregnant?"


            "No, it's because I'm tired like I said," she firmly stated. "And it's not that I'm self conscious, but at this point in my pregnancy I'm not exactly feeling sexy."


            Sean sighed as he rolled over on her back. "Fine... You win tonight, but cut a guy some slack here. I haven't had sex in almost eight months. Do you know what that does to a guy?"


            "Yea, yea... Goodnight Sean." Alyssa rolled over and curled up into a comfortable position, pulling the blankets nearly up to her chin. She had to admit that she was tempted to use the whole, ‘you have a hand, use it' line on him, but she had to be at least another nice. This was his first night home and tomorrow she was going to be hurtful enough to him.


            Tomorrow... As reality sunk in of what she was really about to do, Alyssa began to panic. She had no idea what she was going to say or how she was going to start out. She almost wished that she had come up with a script for herself sooner. Now, as she scrambled to prepare how she was going to tell him in her head, nothing seemed to be very clear to her. Her thoughts were all jumbled up and she realized that she was going to have a very hard time falling asleep that night.


            She tossed and turned for what felt like hours and finally just as she seemed to be drifting off to sleep she was awoken to a start by Sean's voice beside her. She shot up in bed and looked at the alarm clock by her bed. 2:26am, it read. Her eyes zeroed in on Sean who was thrashing around in his sleep as he babbled almost incoherently. "Ian... No... Don't do it... Ian... Don't leave me like this... Come on man..." His arms were moving wildly almost as if he was fighting with an invisible enemy. Alyssa shrieked back in fright when one of his flailing arms came within inches of her face. She'd never seen Sean have a nightmare as bad as this. Hell, she never saw anyone have a nightmare as violent as this. Maybe I should try to wake him up? she wondered. But how? She was too scared of him accidentally hurting her or something.


            Doing the only other thing she could think of to do under the circumstances, she grabbed her pillow from beneath her and slammed it down over his face just hard enough to wake him out of his creepy stupor. Sean's eyes fluttered open in confusion as he sat up in bed, shaking and sweaty. "What the fuck, Alyssa? Why'd you hit me with a pillow for?"


            "You mean you don't realize what you were doing?" she asked in a shocked voice. "You were having a nightmare or something."


            Sean slid a hand over his face. "Yea... I know I was, but did you have to hit me with a pillow?"


            Alyssa looked at him fearfully. "It was more than that Sean... You were thrashing around like you were trying to fight with someone. You nearly smacked me in the face. That's not normal. It was almost like you were having a fit."


            Sean sighed, turning his head away from her. "I'm sorry Lyss. I didn't mean to scare you. I just get these nightmares sometimes about Iraq. I've seen things that would haunt any man for the rest of their lives..."


            "Was it about Ian? You kept saying his name and telling him not to leave you and stuff," she sympathetically asked.


            He nodded. "I've been dreaming about him a lot lately. Pretty much every night since I woke up in the hospital. At least when I was in the hospital though every time I had a nightmare the nurses would run in and jack me up on sedatives or something. Every time I close my eyes all I can do is picture Ian's truck exploding. It plays in my mind over and over and over again on repeat. And every time I find myself frustrated to think that I couldn't do anything to stop it from happening. Do you know what it's like to watch one of your best friend's get blown to pieces in front of your very own eyes? It's probably the most horrifying thing that I've ever had to witness."


            Alyssa placed a comforting hand over his. She wasn't sure how to react or what to say to him after his confession. She hadn't realized just how much of an effect his time in Iraq had taken on him. She knew that he'd be probably a little shell shocked, but she had no idea that he had actually seen Ian be killed right before his eyes. It was in that moment that she knew that Sean had much bigger health issues than just some shrapnel in his leg. How am I supposed to add the shock of telling him that his wife had an affair with her ex boyfriend while he was away, and the daughter that he thought was his, not only belongs to someone else, but he can't have kids on his own? The news would surely send him over the deep edge at this point. Somehow Alyssa got the feeling that she was going to have to put her confession on hold for the time being. Nick would not be happy, but she wasn't sure if she had much of a choice otherwise. She wanted to do all that she could to let Sean down as gently as possible and by telling him now she'd only do just the opposite. She had a lot of thinking to do.


            "You know I think it maybe it might be best if I went downstairs and slept on the pull out," she gently suggested. "I don't want to have to keep waking you up and I'm just a little concerned that you might accidentally hit me or something in your sleep and with the baby and all that's just too dangerous."


            Sean's expression looked crestfallen. "You know that I'd never intentionally hurt you."


            She gave him a weak smile. "I know that, but if you're having a nightmare you can't always control what's going on."


            Sean swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Stay here. I'll sleep on the couch. I'm used to sleeping in uncomfortable places. Besides you need the rest more than I do."


            "You sure?" Alyssa asked uncertainly.


            "Positive." He leaned over her and gave her a light kiss on the lips. "Goodnight baby."


            "Night..." Alyssa watched him leave the room and heard him padding down the stairs to the living room. She sighed as she stared up at the ceiling now more wide awake than ever. All that she knew was that she was now more confused than ever before on what to do about her situation.




            "So are the rumors true?" Callie asked her the next morning as they sat down on the park bench, meeting for their annual Saturday morning walk.


            "What rumors?" Alyssa asked, too tired from lack of sleep to even guess at what Callie was talking about.


            "Kim told me that she thought she saw Sean out in your driveway this morning. I said no, it couldn't be, but you know stranger things have happened..."


            Of course she would be spying on me; Alyssa thought almost rolling her eyes. Some grieving housewife she is. "Kim's right. He came home last night, very unexpectedly may I add."


            "What?" Callie practically screeched in shock. "He's home now? What happened? Is he all right? You only get discharged like that if you're injured."


            "He was... Very minor injury," Alyssa quickly clarified before Callie could interrupt. "A piece of shrapnel was lodged in his leg and he had to have surgery to remove it. It takes a little bit of recovery time, so they discharged him. He decided to show up on my doorstep last night and surprise me."


            "Aww, how romantic!" Callie squealed. "And it's so perfect now because he's here in time for the baby to be born."


            "Yea... I guess." Try as she could it was very hard for Alyssa to feign much enthusiasm towards the matter.


            "What's a matter?" her friend asked, instantly picking up on Alyssa's dull tone. "Is there something wrong? Did you two have a fight?"


            Alyssa just sighed. "Not exactly." For a moment or two she contemplated sharing her unsettling experience with Sean last night. She knew that it probably wasn't exactly the type of thing that he wanted spread around, but if anyone could relate to her in any way it definitely would be Callie. She couldn't get the emotion in his voice out of her head when he spoke of Ian, and she knew that she needed to get all her thoughts out to someone. "I just guess I hadn't realized the effect that Iraq was going to have on him. He's a lot more damaged than I thought he'd be."


            Callie frowned. "What exactly do you mean? How is he different?"


            "Well," she began almost embarrassed to tell the story. She didn't want Callie to think that her husband was a nut case or anything. "Last night he had a nightmare about Ian, only it was almost more than a nightmare. He kept saying his name over and over and talking his sleep. But, the scariest part was that he was thrashing around like he was actually in combat with someone else. He came very close to hitting me. I had to throw a pillow in his face to wake him up. The weirdest part was that he had no recollection of even doing anything. It kind of freaked me out."


            Callie just nodded. "I've heard about things like that happening when a soldier returns back from a war. My Dad was in Vietnam and I remember him telling me stories about how whenever he'd hear a loud noise like thunder or a car backfiring he'd hide under his bed thinking that he was being bombed. It's a hard transition back into civilian life."


            Alyssa shook her head. "It's a little more than that. Do you know that he saw Ian's death right before his eyes? He said that he saw Ian get into the truck and he had this sinking feeling his stomach like something bad was going to happen. He tried to get closer to the truck to tell him to get out of there, but it was too late. He saw the blast happen right in front of him. He seemed pretty traumatized by it all. I mean he sounded close to tears last night and I don't think I've ever seen the man cry in all the time I've known him."


            "He's probably got some form of PTSD," Callie diagnosed.


            "PTSD?" The acronym sounded familiar to Alyssa, but she was unable to recall what the letters stood for at the moment.


            "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," she clarified. "It's very common in people who have been exposed to extremely traumatic situations like war for instance. A fairly large amount of soldiers coming back from Iraq are being diagnosed with it. It's an anxiety disorder. It can affect different people in different ways of course, but common symptoms can be erratic mood swings, trouble focusing, depression, nightmares... It can be pretty debilitating if left untreated."


            Alyssa bit her lip. She had heard of the disorder before although it was a little soon to jump to the conclusion that Sean might have developed it. Still, based on his behavior last night he certainly seemed to fit the symptoms. "How exactly is it treated?"


            "Through therapy and over time. He's going to need all the support from you he can get if this is the case. If you're really that interested I can give you some more information. Or you could just google it and a ton of websites should come up."


            "Thanks... I just might do that," Alyssa told her.


            "If you are really that concerned maybe you can try to talk Sean into making an appointment with a psychologist at the VA hospital. They have plenty of experience dealing with men in Sean's condition. They'll be able to determine if he's suffering from it," Callie suggested.


            Alyssa shook her head. "Sean wouldn't agree to that especially so soon. He's too proud to want help from a shrink."


            Callie gave her a sad smile. "Then the only advice I can give you is to give him time and just stick by his side. Try not to make him feel any more unsettled than he already is. He's going to need your support now more than ever."


            Alyssa looked away guiltily feeling a tear trickle down her cheek. There was no way she had anticipated Sean coming back home so broken and lost. She couldn't possibly shake things up and upset him even more so by announcing to him that he was leaving him for Nick. It sucked because she knew that Nick probably wouldn't be as understanding about the situation as she hoped he would be. Now she was stuck in a more difficult decision that ever. Should she turn Sean's world upside down and just pray that he was strong enough to handle the news without trying to harm himself? Or should she risk losing Nick by once again putting off their plans to be together? Either choice was going to be painful and Alyssa had no idea which path she should chose.




Shayla pressed her foot down harder on the gas pedal of her Mercedes and impatiently tapped her fingertips against her steering wheel as she drove towards her destination. Finally, the day that she had been both looking forward to and yet dreading at the same time had finally arrived. Last night she'd received a message on her cell phone from the private investigator that she had hired to look into the possibility of Nick having an affair. Honestly, she'd began to think that the guy was just a con artist looking to squeeze money out of her. She hadn't heard a word from him since she'd wrote him out that last check. Finally, he'd called her back, apologizing for the delay in any information. (Some shit about the holidays interfering and all that.) He hadn't been able to tell her much over the phone, but he did say that he had found some pretty substantial information and had wanted her to drop by his office today to discuss it. This worried Shayla... If it was substantial it had to mean that he was cheating, right?

       Of course he's cheating, she practically screamed to herself. Even you can't be so blind as to ignore the signs that are right in front of you. Things had progressively gotten worse between her and Nick since she'd hired Detective Harris. There was the whole Christmas Eve fiasco and then of course the extremely awkward sex (if you could even call it that) that they'd had in Vegas over New Years. Something definitely wasn't right and Shayla was desperate to get to the bottom if it so that they could work it out. If he was cheating on her, she could hopefully come up with some way to confront him and remedy the situation. She wasn't the type of woman who was going to let her husband go without a fight. She was determined to set things right between them again, no matter what the circumstances. Everyone deserved second chances, right?

       She pulled into the parking lot of the address that had been printed on the Detective's business card. Parking her car and getting out of the vehicle, she took in the sight of the rundown looking place. It definitely looked a little on the shady side. Not at all the type of place that she'd find herself dead in normally. She supposed though that an undercover detective had to fade into obscurity a little. Taking a nervous breath, she grabbed her purse and headed towards the small building.

       When she entered the office she was met with a middle aged secretary sitting at a desk. "Hi," she tentatively approached. "My name is Shayla Carter and I have an appointment to see Detective Harris."

       "Oh, yes. Mrs. Carter... Detective Harris is expecting you. You can go right in through those doors over there," the woman instructed, pointing towards a set of doors to her left.

       "Thank you," Shayla politely replied as she turned the knob and stepped inside what she presumed to be the detective's office. There was a man seated at a desk who she knew had to be Detective Harris. "Hi, I'm Shayla," she quickly introduced herself holding out her hand.

       The man took it firmly. "I'm Ronald Harris. It's nice to finally be able to put a face to the woman that I've been speaking with on the telephone."

       Cut the crap, Shayla wanted to tell him, but quickly remembered her manners and took a seat in a chair in front of his desk. "Why don't we get right down to business and tell me what you've been able to dig up on my husband."

       "I appreciate your eagerness," Harris complimented as he opened up a large manila folder. "Well, this certainly was an interesting case and I came up with some information that you may find a little bit surprising." Shayla's eyebrows rose with interest, but Harris continued to speak. "The first thing I usually do when I'm asked to investigate someone is I run a little background check on the individual of my own. I look into not only their personal history, but their financial and property history as well. Property history can give a very good indication that there may be some extramarital activities going on because very often a man purchases a separate home for him and his mistress. A home away from home of sorts. Anyway, you indicated to me previously that you and your husband own a home in LA and a vacation home in Tahoe. Correct?"

       Shayla nodded her head slowly. "Yes. Those are the only two properties that I'm aware of."

       "Well, when I did a scan of your husband's assets I came across a third property that he still has ownership of. A condo on the outskirts of the LA area that he purchased back in early 2006. Does this ring a bell to you at all?"

       Shayla frowned. "No, it doesn't. I don't even know why he'd buy a condo. I mean I hadn't yet met him at the time, but as far as I know he had a perfectly nice home out here. There would be no real reason for him to buy it."

       "I thought it was a little strange myself. I mean it could've been perfectly legit. Maybe he purchased the condo to rent out on the side for extra cash, but since this did raise an immediate red flag I decided to check it out for myself to see if anyone was living there. I talked to a few of the neighbors in the area and they reported seeing Mr. Carter coming and going every so often with a small, brunette woman. One of the neighbors said that she was pretty sure that the woman was pregnant. Ring any bells?"

       Shayla gasped. "Alyssa! I knew it! I knew there was something going on between them!"

       Harris narrowed his eyes at Shayla. "So, I take it that you know Mrs. Robinson?"

       She nodded. "Alyssa is Nick's ex girlfriend before he met me. They've had quite the rocky past and it ended up pretty badly. After we were married, she wound up moving out here. Her husband is in the military or something and got transferred. She and Nick have been pretty chummy since. Supposedly they are only friends, but I've had some serious doubts about that as of lately."
       "Well, after receiving this information I decided to hang around the condominium complex hoping to catch sight of the couple," he continued. "It didn't take very long for them to show up. I'd say that it was probably on about my second or third day of visiting the complex. The two of them drove up in separate cars and went on inside within a few minutes from each other almost as if they had set up a prearranged meeting. They were inside together for about an hour or so, but unfortunately all the shades were drawn on the windows, so I couldn't get a view of what was going on. They left hand in hand from the condo and got into his car." He paused and grabbed a black and white picture of the two of them doing exactly what he had just mentioned.

       "That's definitely them. You did trail them from there, right?" Shayla anxiously asked.

       "Of course I did." Harris sounded almost slightly insulted at her even asking. "I followed them to a doctor's office not far from the condo. It appeared to be the office of Alyssa's OB/GYN. I hung out in the waiting room while they were waiting. They seemed to be very carefree and looking forward to the appointment. Pretty much what you might expect from any first time parents. When Alyssa was called, Nick went in with her."

       Shayla wrinkled her nose up in confusion. "Why would he go into her appointment with her? That's kind of weird for him to do. It's not like he's the father or anything." As soon as the words left her mouth she felt the color drain from her face. Was there more going on than she had originally realized? She looked up at Detective Harris, her eyes begging with his to continue. Was this what he meant when he said that he had found out substantial information?

       "There's more," he hinted. "When they came out of the examining room to pay for her visit and to schedule her next appointment, Nick gave them his credit card."

       "He's paying for her doctor appointments?" she cried, starting to lose her calm exterior.

       "Apparently. Anyway I followed them outside and managed to snap some more pictures. I think you might find these pretty interesting." He thrust another few photographs towards her.

       Shayla rifled through the pile feeling herself start to grow more and more upset with each picture she looked at. She began to feel sick as she noticed the way that Nick seemed to look at Alyssa, sharing a smile that could only mean that he was infatuated her. There was one shot of the two of them actually engaged in a liplock, but even that wasn't as painful as the shot of Nick's hands on her pregnant stomach, an amazed look on his face. Since when did Nick "I don't want kids in my lifetime" Carter find the miracle of life so fascinating. Her arms visibly began to shake as she slowly began to connect the dots.

       "Do you by any chance know if this baby is somehow his?" It pained her to have to ask that question, but she needed to know. With all the evidence piling up she was beginning to think that maybe Nick had been lying to her about a whole lot more than just cheating on her.

       Harris sadly shook his head. "From what I've gathered up it definitely seems like he has a very strong interest in Mrs. Robinson's pregnancy, but I haven't been able to locate anything solid confirming that he is the father."

       "Well, get something solid," she told him a low, threatening voice. "And do it quickly. I need to know the truth."

       "It's not that simple, Mrs. Carter," Harris insisted. "Unless I overhear them saying something about it or I get some kind of written proof, there's not much that I can do."

       "I'm paying you enough, aren't I? Can't you somehow tap into his cell phone calls or hack into her medical records or something?" Shayla's voice rose in desperation.

       "Both of which are completely illegal and an invasion of privacy," he reminded her. "I admit that this isn't exactly the most moralistic fields that I am in, but I do have my boundaries."

       "How much can I give you to get you to change your mind?" Shayla was already scrambling for her checkbook and a pen. "Five thousand? Ten thousand?"

       Harris held up his hand to stop her. "I'm sorry Mrs. Carter, but there's nothing more that I can do to help you. You asked me to find out if you're husband is indeed having an affair and I supplied you with that information. You're on your own now."

       Shayla stood up indignantly and swung her purse over her shoulder. "Fine, that's the way you want to play it, so be it. I will find out exactly what I'm looking for on my own. I don't need your help!"

       "I wish you the best of luck."

       She ignored his well wishes and stormed out of his office and out the front door, her high heels angrily clacking on the pavement as she approached her car. The nerve of that man refusing to help her out when she'd been willing to offer him a more than generous sum of money! It was okay though. She had all the information she needed to begin a little investigation of her own. In the meantime she needed a plan to try to throw suspicion off of the fact that she was on to both Nick and Alyssa. Also to show the outside world that even though her marriage was crumbling apart in pieces from the inside, everything was still perfect on the surface. She bit her lip as started up her engine and pulled out of the parking lot. The best way to reach the outside world was through the media and if there was one thing that Shayla was an expert on it was attracting media attention, but how?

       She stopped at a red light and a light bulb went off in her head. A party! She could throw a party! But, not just any party... A star studded, posh, Hollywood bash that would be sure to make all the headlines. Nick's birthday was right around the corner. He would be thirty which would be the perfect landmark age to throw a special surprise party. Clearly, the media would have to believe that everything was well in the Carter house if she were giving him a huge celebration. And of course she could always kill two birds with one stone by inviting Alyssa. It would provide her the opportunity to observe the two of them action and maybe give her the chance to have a little chat with her husband's friend. The more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed, but she'd have to move quickly. She literally had maybe two weeks to throw this all together.
       First thing she would need is a location. Hmm... Where could she find a big enough venue that would be available on such short notice? She'd have to know someone to get a reservation with only two weeks to spare...

       A second light bulb hit her. She vaguely remembered Nick mentioning something about Howie recently purchasing a new night club out in LA. His Orlando night club had been pretty successful, so he wanted to see if lightening could strike twice in LA. So, far the place had yet to open, but Shayla was positive that Howie would be able to pull some strings and get it ready to host Nick's party. He would do anything for his friend, plus who could deny the free publicity that it would get? They'd both make out on the deal. Feeling quite proud of herself if she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Howie's number.

       "Hello, Howie?" she answered when he picked up the phone. "It's Shayla. Listen, I kind of need a favor... I want to do something special for Nick for his birthday because you know thirty is a big year and all. I want to throw him a surprise party and I was thinking that maybe it would be nice if we could throw it at your new club...?"