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Six Weeks of Grace Pt. 10

This is the final installment of "Six Weeks of Grace". I was taken to task for my misspellings and improper word usage. So I thank "nthusiastically" who volunteered to help with the last few parts. I was surprised that some thought that just because an author makes a mistake, he must be stupid and not know better, I found that accusation quite presumptuous! The reality is, in typing 60 -- 70K words, a few do end up sideways, and I'm sorry for that.

There were also some great comments that really made me think, especially one about wanting more conversations between Don and Grace, I had thought of that but I mused that some would find that too "sweet". Maybe . . .

I learned a lot from this story, mainly that you can't please everyone, some hated the short parts and cliffhangers, some loved it. Some thought it was slow, some loved the characters going through the many circumstances that they went through. Some thought it was too much of a cliché but really, aren't almost all romances? Some claimed that the characters should have figured it all out sooner, but remember written in third person, it gives the reader more information than the characters have. Plus it's always easy to second guess what people should have done . . . I damn sure wouldn't have gotten on the Titanic, everyone knows icebergs are dangerous! So in the end, if I had to do it over, I probably would have made it 3 or 4 parts, without the cliffhangers, but it was a great experiment for me as a new writer. Please forgive me that decision!

But one universal theme was that everyone loved Grace, and that was truly my wish when all this started, because if you, the reader don't fall in love with Grace than the rest of the story won't draw you in. I know this from the volume of emails and comments I received that threatened me with death and dismemberment if something happened to Grace! Just kidding . . . kind-of!

So thank you for your patience with us here in Grace's world! Now, the conclusion of "Six Weeks of Grace".


*****

"What?" Anne blurted out, stunned by his words.

"Look around, do you see her?" He said quietly.

Anne spun her head around, frantically searching for the little girl that she had grown to love so much.

"That's right, Mrs. Bell has her tucked away."

Anne stared back at him. "There's no way she's involved in this." She sputtered out, her voice filled with disbelief.

"Oh Anne, of course she isn't, but she knows of Duncan, so it was easy to persuade her that Grace needs protection."

"What?"

"That's right, I have a pager in my pocket, one misstep from you and she is on orders to hand her over to someone who she believes will protect the girl."

"Oh my God," Anne whispered out, stunned by what he was implying. "You wouldn't?"

Looking straight into her eyes he answered defiantly. "If you screw this up, no matter what happens to us, that brat will be dead before you leave this room, understand?"

Anne could only nod and stumble to her seat, her heart breaking as she realized that she was now totally out of options.

Bobby watched the exchange and looked at Bryce quizzically but he shook his head to indicate he noticed also, but couldn't hear the conversation.

"All rise!" Ben Roberts began. "This court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Joseph P. Baker presiding."

Don stood with everyone else as the Judge entered and took his seat.

"Be seated everyone." Judge Baker said firmly as looked around the courtroom.

"Mister Winters?" The Judge started and the smartly dressed attorney immediately rose to his feet. "I am surprised by the attendance of all three of the senior partners of your firm."

"It's an important case, Your Honor." He answered back smoothly.

"Hmmm, a child custody case demands all of this attention?" The Judge asked cryptically.

"Ah . . . our firm takes its responsibilities seriously, Your Honor." Mark Winters answered with a bit less confidence.

"So I see." The Judge concluded with a smirk that made all three of the partners worry.

"And Mister Duncan, how are you?" He asked with a huge smile and a friendliness that was not lost on his opponents.

Rising to his feet slowly, still feeling the effects of the weekend, Don answered carefully. "I'm fine Your Honor."

"Better dressed today I see." The Judge asked with a grin. This was the first time he was laying eyes on Donald Duncan since that day in his office. He couldn't help but notice the well-groomed and impeccably dressed young man sitting where a violent criminal had sat only a few weeks ago.

"Yes, Your Honor, it's a very important day for me." Don answered with a nervous smile.

The Judge returned the smile and motioned for him to sit back down.

"All right everyone, this is not a trial but simply an informal hearing to determine the permanent placement of the minor Grace Warren. I am ready to hear your argument Mister Winters."

Winters was a bit caught off guard by the Judge's comment and jumped to his feet. "Yes Your Honor. Ah . . . we do not believe that placing the girl with Mister Duncan is in her best interest."

"Is that so, Mister Winters?"

"Yes, Your Honor." Winters replied, his nervousness increasing with the Judge's obvious attitude towards him.

"Mister Winters, I'm confused. I gave your associate very specific instructions to contact me in the event of any and I meant any problems with the girl being in Mister Duncan's care; is that right?"

"That's right, Your Honor."

"Well, Mister Winters, if she has not contacted me in six weeks, why would your firm suddenly argue that Mister Duncan is not capable of taking care of the child?"

Mike Duncan smiled to himself as he listened to the exchange. While he and Bobby had been very careful not to say anything to the Judge that would be considered out of line, it was obvious that the old boy had read between the lines.

For Don, his heart was beating wildly, he had tried to catch Anne's eye but she seemed to be avoiding him. The fight, kissing Anne, had he screwed up? How could he have been so stupid?

"Well, Your Honor, there have been some recent developments that have called into question whether Mister Duncan can be trusted with a child. It seems that his violent nature has resurfaced and put the child in danger. We feel that if he has custody, it will only be a matter of time before she is hurt." Mark Winters explained.

"YOUR HONOR!" Don was back on his feet now and furious. He was not going to allow this asshole to claim he would ever harm his daughter.

"Mister Duncan, SIT DOWN!" The Judge said to him loudly and Don sank back in his seat.

"As you can see Your Honor, Mister Duncan is obviously unable to control himself." Winters said calmly, delighting in how easy it was to bait the big man.

Don sat in his seat stewing, he could not believe that he had walked right into that. Gripping the sides of his chair, he vowed to stay calm no matter what happened today.

"Mister Winters, what developments are you speaking of." The Judge asked with obvious curiosity.

"Well, Your Honor, Mister Duncan was involved in a fight this weekend that resulted in a man's death, I would think the court would consider that significant grounds to end his contact with any child."

Once again, Don felt the adrenalin pumping through him and he started to jump up before he caught a glance from the Judge. For some reason it instantly calmed him and he wondered if he had more of an ally than he realized.

"Mister Winters, I appreciate the suggestion of what the court should do but I believe I am capable of making my own decisions."

"Of course Your Honor." Winter replied sheepishly.

Don couldn't help but smile a bit as he realized that his decision to stay in his seat was a good one, obviously the Judge had things well in hand.

"Now as to the matter of this weekend's events," the Judge stated firmly, "I will admit to learning of it from the news. Because of this hearing I felt I needed to be briefed on the circumstances. I have a report before me signed by the Chief of Police, the County Sheriff, and the District Attorney."

"Your Honor, the Sheriff is Mister Duncan's cousin, hardly an unbiased source." Winter's spat out.

"Mister Winters, if you have evidence that you wish to present that shows that the Sheriff has colluded with the Chief of Police and the District Attorney to present a falsified report to this court, I will hear it now." The Judge said sharply.

"Ah . . . no Your Honor, I have no evidence to that."

"Then I suggest before you make any further allegations, you have your evidence handy!"

Winters looked around at his two partners before facing back to the Judge. "Yes, Your Honor." He answered solemnly.

"Now as to this report, I have entered it into evidence and it states that three men, known felons, attacked Mister Duncan, your Associate Anne Summers and the child Grace Warren with the intention of kidnapping the girl. Both Miss Summers and Mister Duncan responded to the attack. In the course of that defense, one attacker was killed and two others were severely injured."

The Judge paused and seemed to sort through the report for a moment. "I have here a statement from the District Attorney, that although a formal coroner's inquest has not been held, he feels that the actions taken by Mister Duncan were clearly in defense of himself, Miss Summers and Grace Warren. His findings are backed up by the Sheriff, the Chief of Police and over twenty witnesses."

"So Mister Winters, what I have before me is a report that says that Mister Duncan and Miss Summers risked their own lives to save the little girl from kidnapping."

"Your Honor, a man is dead because of Mister Duncan." Winters pointed out smugly.

The Judge just shook his head. "Mister Winters, is it your contention that Mister Duncan would be a better candidate for fatherhood if he had allowed his daughter to be kidnapped, than if he fought to save her from that fate?"

"Well no, Your Honor."

"Then what exactly is your claim?" The Judge asked quickly.

Mike and Bobby were enjoying watching the attorney squirm as the Judge kept hammering him. But just when they thought things were going well, Winters changed tactics.

"Your Honor, we have more information that has been provided to us by our Associate Miss Summers. At this time we would like to have her provide testimony."

The Judge seemed to consider his request for several seconds before finally agreeing. "Miss Summers, please be sworn and take the stand."

Don was shocked as he took in Anne's appearance as she walked up to the stand. She looked tired and rung out, her face filled with despair.

Ben Roberts administered the oath and Anne seemed to hesitate before answering. After a long pause she finally did so and took a seat on the witness stand.

Mark Winters strode up to the stand confidently. "Miss Summers, do you believe Mister Duncan should have custody of Grace Warren?" He asked.

Anne's head hung down and she seemed not to hear the question. "Miss Summers?" He asked again.

"No," She said weakly.

Bobby and Mike looked at each other at the same instant, stunned by her answer.

"Hold on here, Miss Summers." The Judge said, his voice full of surprise. "I don't understand, I gave you instructions to contact me if the girl was not being cared for. Are you saying she was not?"

Again Anne hesitated before answering. "Yes, Your Honor."

"Your Honor, if I may?" Mark Winters interjected.

"Proceed, Councilor, because I want to know what is going on here." The Judge said, obviously unhappy with the situation.

"Miss Summers, can you explain why you did not come forward until now."

"I . . . I was afraid of him." She answered quietly.

"Miss Summers, speak up." Winters told her forcefully.

Anne just looked back at him, seemingly fixated on him. "I was afraid of him." She answered louder this time.

"Can you explain that?"

"He . . . he threatened me."

Bobby quickly turned to his dad. "She's lying!" He hissed out under his breath.

"Yeah, but why?" Mike quickly shot back.

Bobby just shook his head until he remembered the exchange he watched when she came in. "They must have something on her, blackmailing her!" He whispered.

"What?"

"I saw Winters talking to her when they came in, she didn't look happy."

Mike shook his head. "No, I don't believe it, she would never protect herself over Don and . . . damn!"

What's wrong?" Bobby asked as he saw his dad's head spin around.

"Grace isn't here!" He whispered out at Bobby as they both looked around trying to find the little girl.

Suddenly he grabbed his son and pulled him close to him. "She would die to protect Grace, I know it. They must have her, but she can't be far . . . you have to find her now!"

Bobby nodded and sprung to his feet. Bryce noticed the movement and swung his head around. Bobby caught his eye and motioned for him to follow him out.

After the doors closed behind them Bryce blurted out. "She's lying!"

"Dad and I realized it too. He thinks they have Grace and are threatening her!"

"Fuck!" Bryce exclaimed.

"Look, we don't have much time. Grace has to be here, they wouldn't have taken her far in case the Judge wanted to see her."

Bryce nodded his understanding. "Makes sense."

"You take from the top floor down, I'll start at the bottom and go up. There's probably only twenty or so conference rooms, she probably wouldn't be in an office but quick check them. Radio me if you find her!" Bobby told him and then headed for the elevators as Bryce turned and ran towards the stairs.

Inside the courtroom, Don sat stunned. He wanted to jump up again but he couldn't even summon the energy. He just slumped back in his seat as he listened to the woman he thought he loved talk about how bad of a father he was. The worst part was she was lying and the thoughts he had long ago came rushing back to him.

She wanted Grace! That had to be it, if she could convince the Judge that he was a bad parent, then she could get custody. He just hung his head as he realized that he had been taken in by her.

"So Miss Summers, you have testified about the many times that Mister Duncan failed to act properly as a father, what can you tell us about how Grace feels about him?"

For the first time Anne took her eyes away from her tormentor and glanced over at Don. She could see his head was down and she knew what her betrayal must be doing to him. She could feel her eyes were wet and she was struggling to hold in the tears.

Finally she steeled herself, she couldn't let them kill Grace no matter what she had to say. "She is afraid of him."

"Your Honor, in view of Miss Summers' testimony I ask that the minor child Grace Warren be placed back into the care of our firm." Mark Winters said smugly as he concluded his questioning.

Turning to Don, the Judge addressed him. "Mister Duncan, do you have any questions for the witness?"

"Your Honor, I object, it is obvious that Miss Summers is frightened of Mister Duncan, we feel it would be too intimidating to have him question her." Winters threw out quickly.

"Mister Winters, she is going to have to just hold up because he has every right to question some of the things that are being sworn to here today." The Judge answered with obvious cynicism in his voice.

For Don, his initial thought was 'what's the use' but then he decided that he wanted to know why she was lying!

"Mister Duncan?" The Judge asked again as Winters returned to his seat, getting sly grins from the other two partners.

"Yes, Your Honor, I do have some questions." Don stated flatly as he stood up and approached Anne.

"Miss Summers, why are you lying?" He spat out at her.

"Objection Your Honor!" Mark Winters yelled out as he came to his feet. "The question is argumentative and he is obviously trying to intimidate her into silence again."

"Your Honor, I'm not an attorney and I made no objections to Mister Winters' questions. I ask for a little leeway here." Don pleaded.

"Mister Duncan, you can have a bit of leeway, but your questions must be about events or circumstances that the witness would have knowledge about."

"Yes Your Honor." Don said quietly as Winters sank back into his chair.

"Miss Summers, did you ever accompany my daughter and me out in public?" Don asked.

"Yes," Anne replied carefully, her head still down.

"Well Miss Summers, if you were afraid of me, why would you go out with me?"

"I . . . I . . . you said I had to." She finally stammered out.

"Or what Miss Summers?"

"You would hurt me."

"But Miss Summers, once we were out in public, didn't you have a chance to just walk away?"

Anne hesitated as she tried to come up with an answer. "I was afraid to tell anyone." She finally said softly.

Don just stood silently as he wondered what to do. It seemed like he was already out of questions and it was obvious that he really had nowhere to go, as long as she was willing to lie, he knew he would never get to the truth.

Finally he shrugged his shoulders and started walking back to his table.

"Are those all your questions Mister Duncan?" The Judge asked Don, obviously surprised.

Don stopped and turned back around as another memory came to him. "Miss Summers," he began forcefully. "Did you ever stay the night with Grace and me?"

Anne finally looked up. "Yes"

"Why?"

"Ah . . . I was sick." She answered quietly, trying to figure out where Don was going with this so she wouldn't get trapped.

"Where did you sleep?"

"Objection, relevance, Your Honor?" Mark Winters quickly threw out.

The Judge just shook his head. "Overruled, proceed Mister Duncan."

"I . . . slept in the guest room." Anne finally replied.

"With who, Miss Summers?"

Anne hesitated again, analyzing the question, trying desperately not to get tripped up. "With Grace."

Don moved closer to her. "While you were in bed with Grace, did you ask me to tell you a bed time story?"

"Your Honor!" Winters bellowed out.

"Sit down, Mister Winters." The Judge said quickly, cutting him off before he could raise his objection.

"Yes, I did." She answered carefully.

Don stepped closer and was only a couple of feet in front of her now. "What was the story?" He asked carefully.

"Your Honor, I don't think the court has time to waste on a bedtime story." Mark Winters blurted out.

The Judge looked oved at the three partners seated at the table and smiled. "This court has plenty of time Mister Winters. Was it not you who said that this was an important case?"

"Ah . . . yes Your Honor." He answered sheepishly.

"Well, then we have time to get this important case right." The Judge said firmly as he glared at them.

"Yes, Your Honor." Winters said as he slumped back in his seat and gave his crew a nervous look.

"Proceed Miss Summers, I enjoy a good bedtime story." The Judge said with a grin.

"Well," Anne began as she looked up and saw Don staring at her. "The story was about a beautiful princess in a small kingdom."

Don kept his eyes locked on hers as she started to tell the story. But when he caught her eyes in his, he was surprised that he didn't see deceit.

"She was sad even though she lived in a big castle. She was looking for a prince to marry but there were none around." Anne said as she looked back at Don.

"But in the valley there lived a huge and evil man." She continued, but as she spoke something started tickling at her.

Don watched her carefully as he tried to understand what was in her eyes, then it hit him. It wasn't deceit, it was fear. She was scared, but of what he wondered. He refused to believe it was him. Then if not him, what?

"The huge man was in love with the beautiful princess." She said as she looked at the man before her. "He . . . he decided to change himself into a prince in order to get her attention."
Anne paused as she told the story, realization was starting to seep in. "The man changed how he looked and his evil ways. Then one day they met up and the princess and the huge man got to know one another."

Don watched her carefully and he could see her trying to remember the story.

"That's all I remember." She said nervously.

"Try Miss Summers, try to remember it all." Don asked, urging her on.

Anne looked back down and she focused on that night so many weeks ago. She was so sick, it was so hard to remember, but like the proverbial light bulb it clicked and her head shot up.

"They spent time together, fell in love and got married." She said and then stopped as she gazed back into Don's eyes. The shy smile was on his lips as the last line of the story came to her. "And they raised a little princess of their own and her name was --"

Anne gasped out as the recognition came to her. Grace! And her name was Grace; that was the last line of the story. Looking at the man she loved so much, it came to her, they were the story. He was the evil man who changed, he loved her!

Fat tears rolled down her face as she realized she was trapped. She tried to hold it in but she couldn't. "Grace," she whispered out.

Suddenly the back doors of the courtroom burst open. "Daddy!" Grace yelled out as she saw her father standing at the front of the room.

Bobby had found her in a conference room on the floor below and after talking with her nanny for only a minute, he knew she had nothing to do with the plan. She told him another man was going to take Grace if Winters contacted her. Bobby wondered who that could be but then decided the best course of action was to get Grace to where she had the most protection.

Worried about what was happening in the courtroom, he radioed Bryce and then decided to just barge in and see what happened when the lawyers learned their plan had failed.

"Daddy!" Grace yelled out again trying to get his attention.

"THEY WERE GOING TO KILL HER!" Anne shouted out as she realized that Grace was safe.

"ORDER!" The Judge yelled, but Anne was not to be quieted.

"Your Honor, they threatened me with killing Grace if I didn't lie. They stole her money, they tried to kidnap her." She said, her voice rising.

"FUCK!" Brett exclaimed as all three of the partners leapt to their feet. They realized that their plan had caved in and the only option they had now was to save themselves. Quickly they ran to a side door, Brett Langeman got to it first, but upon throwing it open they were confronted by Bryce and two uniformed deputies waiting on them.

"HOLD THOSE MEN!" The Judge shouted out as the deputies grabbed them and pushed them up against the wall.

Don was stunned by Anne's outburst and it took a moment for what she was shouting to filter through. But then, it all came to him, the men at the zoo, the others at the park, but his emotions exploded as he remembered the sight of his little girl screaming while she was being carried away from him. These three had tried to kidnap Grace!

An anger swept through him that he had never felt before as he looked over at the three men being controlled by the deputies. Suddenly, as if his rage reached the point that his mind could no longer contain it, Donald Duncan lost the control that he had worked so hard to maintain all these weeks. With an animal like growl, an unstoppable force started towards the men who had conspired to kill his little angel!

Mike was momentarily distracted, as was everyone else in the courtroom when the partners tried to make a break. Quickly though, he looked back towards the front of the courtroom and saw Don's expression changing. His face was registering wonderment but it was obvious that the wheels were turning and Mike was horror-stricken as Donald Duncan's expression transformed into a scowl, then to hatred and then finally to one of absolute fury!

Jumping to his feet, Mike looked over at Bobby, who was still in the back of the room. "Oh my God, no!" he blurted out as he realized that there was no one between Don and the officers attending to the three lawyers.

"BOBBY!" he yelled at him to get his attention. "GET DON!"

But as Bobby looked up, he knew it was too late. Don was already moving and the expression on his face said it all, he was going to kill these three bastards and no one was going to stop him!

Two officers quickly moved to intercept him but they were thrown aside as if they were rag dolls. Another attempted to grab him but he was no match for the seething Donald Duncan and the overwhelmed officer quickly found himself flat on his back. Don was like a runaway freight train and he was determined to get to the men who had threatened his little girl!

"BRYCE!" Bobby yelled out as he saw that his deputies had their backs to him and would have no chance to stop him.

Bryce turned around at the sound of the commotion behind him and his name being called but it was too late as a storming Donald Duncan was right before him. "DON, NO!" He yelled as he felt himself being lifted in the air as Don grabbed him and prepared to throw him aside.

Bobby felt helpless as he saw two more officers start to draw their sidearms and he knew they were all just seconds away from carnage. Desperate, he did the only thing he could think of. Sweeping Grace off the floor, he pulled her against him. "Grace, yell as loud as you can for Daddy!" He told her with a smile that belied the terror that he felt inside.

"DADDY . . . DADDY . . . DADDY!" Grace yelled out at the top of her lungs, laughing at the game they were playing.

Through the chaos of shouts and noise came Grace's voice and Don instantly froze. Dropping Bryce back onto his feet, he seemed to be trying to figure out what he heard when Grace called out again, "DADDY!"

Slowly the sound seemed to filter through to Don and the calls of his daughter caused him to pause as the rage faded from his face.

"Don . . . Don!" Bryce said to him, gaining his attention. "Don we got 'em, go take care of Grace. Let us take care of these guys."

Don looked back and forth between Bryce, the three lawyers up against the wall and Grace.

"Go get her Don." Bryce said firmly, finally breaking though to him.

Don nodded and started towards Bobbie and Grace. A collective sign seemed to go through everyone in the room as Don walked over and took her from Bobby. Don hugged her to him and Grace wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his massive shoulder. The two just stood there silently as Don reveled in the feeling of holding her in his arms, all he could think of was how he had almost lost her again.

"Daddy, you're squeezing me too tight," Grace said as she wiggled in Don's massive arms.

Don loosened his grip a bit as he struggled to hold back the tears. "Sorry sweetie, I just love you so much," he whispered to her.

Laying her head back against him, she snuggled back into his embrace. "I love you too, daddy!"

"Sheriff get with the Police Chief and get them locked up on my order. Once I get things settled here, we'll attend to them!" The Judge yelled out across the courtroom.

"And get someone over to their office and secure it, no one goes in until I issue a search warrant," he added quickly.

Bobby nodded to the Judge and went to help Bryce, glancing around the room and catching the eye of his charges who were starting to relax after the few seconds of terror that had just unfolded. He motioned them to assist as the partners were handcuffed, read their rights and escorted from the courtroom.

Anne still sat in the witness stand, quiet during all the craziness. The tears were still running down her face as she worried about all the consequences of the last few minutes.

After most of the law enforcement officers left the courtroom, Don moved to set Grace down on the table where he had been sitting and then took up a position in front of the Judge.

"Miss Summers," the judge finally addressed her and she turned her tear stained face towards him. "Is there any reason I should not award full guardianship of Grace to Mister Duncan?"

Shaking her head, Anne answered quickly. "No, Your Honor, absolutely none."

The Judge looked back at Don and raised his gavel. "I order that full custody of the child Grace . . ."

Don was staring at Anne as the Judge questioned her. He knew she was shattered as her head was down and he could hear her softly crying. Slowly she looked up at him and their eyes met. With huge tears rolling down her cheeks, Don saw her mouth the words 'I'm sorry' and it all clicked in his mind.

Her head dropped again as he turned back to the Judge. "Hold up, Your Honor!" Don yelled out, startling the Judge and everyone else left in the courtroom.

"I'm not finished Your Honor!" Don said after interrupting him.

The Judge looked at him quizzically with his gavel still in the air. "Don, it's over," he said to him softly.

"No Your Honor, I haven't finished my questioning." Don replied with a nervous smile.

The judge looked at him for a moment before he addressed him again. "Mister Duncan, I am about to award custody of Grace to you."

"Judge, I have another question." Don said quickly.

The judge looked around the court and caught Mike's eye. He gave him an inquisitive look but Mike just shrugged his shoulders.

"All right, Mister Duncan, you may ask your question." The Judge said, clearly bewildered with the situation.

Moving directly in front of the witness stand, Don stared at Anne. She was a mess, the lack of sleep and the emotions of the day made her look like hell, but that wasn't what he saw. The woman he saw was the one cuddled in bed holding his daughter, the one who risked her life to save her and the one that looked up at him as he pulled her in for that fateful kiss.

"Anne?" he said as she softly cried in front of him.

Looking up slowly, she saw Don standing before her, his face showing a look that she had never seen. It took her a second to realize it but then it came to her, fear. Through her tears she stared at him as she tried to understand what in the world would ever scare Donald Duncan!

Standing in the courtroom, six foot four, two hundred and fifty pounds of strength and power, Donald Duncan had faced down everything from massive linemen to snipers. Yet, deep inside he felt something that he had never felt before, sheer terror!

"Anne?" he asked again, his voice shaky, a mere shadow of what it was only minutes ago.

"Huh?" she said at barely a whisper.

"Anne . . . the evil man has changed . . . but now my daughter and I need a princess." He said haltingly, his voice registering the trepidation he felt inside. Was he making a huge and embarrassing mistake, he wondered.

"What?" Anne asked, wondering what he was talking about.

"Anne . . . you're my princess . . . and . . . I love you . . . so does Grace . . . will . . . will you marry me?" Don asked, struggling to control the deep apprehension he felt.

The Judge raised his eyebrows and looked down at Don in amusement.

Anne just stared at him, unable to believe what she just heard.

Don waited for a few seconds and then turned to the surprised Judge. "Your Honor, would you please direct the witness to answer the question." He asked nervously, desperately praying the Judge was the ally that Don thought he was, because he sure needed one now!

The Judge startled chuckling as he looked over to the befuddled witness. "Miss Summers, answer the question."

Anne looked at the Judge and then turned back to the man in front of her. As their eyes met, she remembered the word, the one he spoke just before he kissed her. That word, the one word that meant everything, everything she had ever dreamed of, everything she ever wanted in her life, and now that everything was right there in front of her, that word, that wonderful word, family!

"Anne?" he asked again nervously.

Jumping to her feet, Anne suddenly bolted from the witness stand and threw herself into the huge man's arms. Don caught her in the air and hugged her in tight against him.

"Yes" She whispered into his ear as she squeezed him tight. "Yes, I love you both so much!"

"Daddy, what about me?" Grace said with a giggle as she watched the two most important people in her life embrace in the middle of the courtroom.

Don pulled back from Anne and walked over and picked up Grace. Stepping back to Anne, the three shared a group hug which caused peals of laughter from the little girl. The three of them laughed even more as they randomly exchanged kisses between them.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The sound of the Judge's gavel rang through the room. "Mister Duncan!" The Judge said to the startled trio.

"Yes, Your Honor!" Don answered, looking up to the judge but not letting go of his girls.

"Are you finished with your questioning . . . NOW?" The Judge asked with a snicker.

"Ah . . . yes, Your Honor," Don answered, his arms full of his own dream, his family!

"Then I order that Mister Donald Duncan be granted full custody of the minor child Grace Warren." Judge Baker bellowed out with a huge smile. He slammed down his gavel and looked over at Mike who gave him a thumbs up. The old friends exchanged a smile and a knowing wink as the court session came to an end.

Epilogue:

When Anne's family arrived from across the country, they were immediately brought into the Duncan clan. Upon meeting him, Anne's parents were initially hesitant about Donald Duncan, but they soon realized what he brought to them, a precious Granddaughter, and once that bond was formed, any doubt was gone forever.

As the weeks passed and the trials for the partners were held and completed, the Duncan's were always there for Anne's family and made sure that during their visits to be with her, they had a place to stay and all the support they needed. Once the lawyers were put away and Grace's money returned, the two families turned to the task at hand.

Grace couldn't contain the huge smile that spread across her face as she watched her mommy and daddy kiss. It was such an exciting day and she had been really, really good just like she promised. She knew that they would all be going to a big party later and then she would be staying with Grampa Mike for a little while.

This was going to be a day she would remember for the rest of her life. Uncle Bobby teased her this morning that she would fall asleep and miss the whole thing but she was going to try really hard to stay awake. Besides, she was ALMOST seven years old now!

Standing there dressed in a pretty white dress that was a miniature version of mommy's gorgeous gown, her young mind drifted to a time not long ago when her daddy told her a story. As she watched the two people she loved so much turn around and everyone start clapping, it suddenly came back to her and she couldn't stop her giggling.

So the day came that the whole Kingdom turned out to attend the grand event. There in the castle, in the center of the land, and in front of all of their family and friends, the once evil man and the beautiful princess were married. They settled down in wedded bliss and together raised a wonderful little princess of their own.

Everyone in the Kingdom came to love the little princess as she was the most special in all the land, and because she was so special to all, she had a special name, and her name was . . . . . . Grace."

weeks   six   grace  

May 12, 2018 in romance

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