“I’m relieved this episode is over,” Ava Whittaker said. “It’s been a painful and trying period for all of us.”

“True, but if Ally continues to work at the DA’s Office,” Matt put in, “I guess we should all be prepared if she runs into another nut willing to take matters into his own hands.”

“Speaking of which, how long do you intend to keep going at the DA’s Office, Ally?” Noah asked.

Connor felt Allison tense next to him and saw Quent and Allison’s parents exchange looks.

“You know, Allison,” Ava said gently, as if knowing this was a sensitive subject, “you are at the point in your career when a lot of the Assistant DAs would be starting to think about their next job.”

James Whittaker cast his daughter a sober look. “And, under the circumstances, you might want to think carefully about that.”

“What circumstances, Dad?” Allison asked. “This was an isolated case of one disturbed individual attempting to intimidate and harass me.” She shrugged. “It’s not as if it hasn’t happened to other prosecutors.”

Quentin cleared his throat and spoke up. “We were all worried sick about you.”

“Anyway, it’s not as if the Assistant DA’s job is the only potentially dangerous one in the world,” Allison went on. “Mom is a family judge, but I don’t see anyone here worried about one of the parties in her cases coming after her.”

“That’s because it hasn’t happened,” Quentin replied. “Whereas someone was firing bullets at you just a couple of weeks ago if you’ll recall.”

Connor sensed that Allison was reining in her temper with difficulty. “Maybe I want to rise through the ranks at the DA’s Office, has anyone thought about that?” she demanded.

He wasn’t known for his diplomacy, but Connor nevertheless decided it was probably time that he stepped in. “Maybe we’re not giving Allison the credit she’s due.”

Allison turned to look at him, the expression on her face saying she was wondering whether she’d heard him correctly.

Not glancing at her, he added, “I know I haven’t.”

“Thanks,” Allison said from beside him, her tone tinged with surprise.

He addressed himself to all the Whittakers, who were exhibiting a range of emotions from quiet amusement to unmasked interest. “I’ve been with Allison night and day for the past several weeks,” he said, hoping the Whittakers didn’t take the “night and day” part too literally. “I’ve seen how tough she can be when the circumstances call for it.”

Noah guffawed. “I’ll say. And not just when the circumstances call for it, either.”

From the corner of his eye, Connor saw Allison purse her lips.

Noah gave a mock shiver. “I rest my case.”

“The truth is,” Connor continued, “she refused to be cowed by the threats and she’s certainly got the guts to be a prosecutor.”

He looked at Allison, who was regarding him with questions in her eyes. He took a deep breath. “So, if Allison has set her sights on rising through the ranks at the DA’s Office, I say more power to her.”

Maybe it was because he’d finally acknowledged to himself that he loved her, but suddenly he was seeing the Whittakers through Allison’s eyes. Her family knew she’d been performing a tough job well at the DA’s Office, but none of them, it seemed, could get past some protective instincts where she was concerned.

And he’d been the most guilty of all. He’d unfairly been lumping her together with all the spoiled little rich girls he’d come to know, both through his security business and as an eligible and wealthy bachelor. It had been, he acknowledged, an easy way to keep her at an emotional distance and fight his perverse attraction to her.

Allison’s brothers and sister-in-law looked thoughtful, while Allison’s parents appeared similarly reflective.

Matt was the first to speak. “Connor has a point. We’ve all been thinking of Ally as someone we love and want to protect. Maybe that’s blinded us to how tough and resilient she really is.”

“We just wanted to make sure you didn’t get hurt, sweetheart,” Allison’s father said. “Our intention wasn’t to stifle you, but things may have gotten a little confused along the way.”

“Yes,” Ava agreed. “I’m sorry if we’ve come across as a bit heavy-handed sometimes, Ally. It’s only because we love you.”

“I guess if we’re handing out apologies,” Quentin added, “I should say ditto for me.”

“If continuing to be a prosecutor is really what you want to do, we’ll support you, of course,” Ava said, looking at her husband for his concurring nod. “Naturally, the decision is yours. All we wanted was to make sure it was a well thought out decision.”

Allison smiled at her mother. “Thanks, Mom.”

Connor caught the quick look she sent his way before she added, “And try not to worry too much. Thanks to Connor, I’ve learned that maybe I should have been paying more attention to my personal safety.”

She’d learned that, had she? Connor took some satisfaction in that. It would help when he was out of her house—and out of her life—again.

As the last of the guests were leaving, Allison was in the kitchen of her parents’ house, packing up some food that the caterers had left behind. She looked up as her sister-in-law Liz approached.“Hi,” Liz said, picking up her purse and diaper bag from the kitchen counter. “Quentin and I were just about to depart.” She stopped, giving Allison a searching look. “You look miserable.”

“Thanks,” she said wryly. She opened the refrigerator door and put some plastic containers inside.

Liz cocked her head as if contemplating something. “Which is surprising when you think about it. I mean, Kendall has been caught. You should be ecstatic.”

She should be, but she wasn’t. She almost felt sorry for Kendall. She supposed the embezzlement allowed him to maintain a high-flying lifestyle. Having been born into a wealthy and connected family, however, she could have told him that wealth and fame could sometimes be a gilded cage.

But what was really bothering her was Connor. He’d helped catch Kendall. He’d defended her to her family. And now he was getting out of her life.

She should have been thrilled. Wasn’t that what she’d told him she wanted?

Yet, Liz was right. She was miserable.

“And, because you look miserable, let me return a favor,” Liz continued.

“What?”

“Last year you helped me realize that I shouldn’t give up on Quentin, that Quentin loved me and all I needed to do was push a little more.” She smiled. “So, I’m trying to return the favor.”

Allison shrugged. “Thank you for making the effort, but, much as I hate to tell you, this is a whole different kettle of fish.”

Liz laughed. “No, it’s not. You just think it is because you’re too deeply involved in it. You’re exactly where I was last year.”

Allison stared at her friend for a second. Last year, after some prodding, Liz had admitted that she was in love with Quentin.

Liz was right. She herself wasn’t just in danger of falling in love with Connor. She was head-over-heels, irrevocably, no-holds-barred in love.

Yet, Connor had announced that he’d be moving out of the townhouse this weekend and she’d just nodded mutely. If he loved her, would he be leaving?

She’d discovered that he’d insisted on not being paid for his security services. And he’d stayed by her side despite her attempts to get rid of him and despite the fact that he had no obligation to do so. She wanted to believe that meant something…but was she reading too much into it?

Quentin walked into the kitchen. “There you are,” he said, giving his wife a gentle peck on the lips. “I’ve been looking for you. Are you ready to go?”

Liz smiled. “Yes, sorry to keep you waiting. Allison and I were just having a heart-to-heart.”

“Oh, yeah?” Quentin asked. “What about?”

“Connor,” Liz said simply.

“Ah.”

“What do you mean ‘ah’?” Allison asked. “And why did Connor insist on volunteering?”

Quentin looked amused. “That would be the million-dollar question, wouldn’t it?” he quipped. “God knows why. Maybe he’s a glutton for punishment.”

Allison gave him a nonplussed look.

In response, Quent just looked at her consideringly. “Why don’t you ask him?” he suggested finally.

“If I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t have asked you, would I?” she returned tartly.

Quentin grinned. “Chicken.”

She tossed her hair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you?” Quentin replied as he headed back toward the door. “I’ll be outside trying to pry the baby out of Mom’s arms so I can get him into his car seat.”

Soon after, Liz and Quentin departed the party, but not before Liz leaned in to whisper in her ear as they said goodbye, “Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”

On the drive back to Boston with Connor, Quentin’s words sounded in Allison’s head. Why don’t you ask him?

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