Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas

"It's so beautiful here."

The petite brunette turned a gentle smile on her companion, her hazel eyes dreamy. At her glance he returned it, sliding a hand into hers and squeezing it tightly.

"So are you, Sian." He murmured softly. "And that's kinda why I chose this spot. It's all so peaceful and private - just us. I like that."

"Just us." Sian dimpled, leaning up against him with a contented sigh. "You feeling crowded, Robin? Too many people here for you?"

"No, just a lot of people who know everything about everyone." Robin shrugged his shoulders. "And not a lot of change."

"You and change." Sian looked amused, tapping him affectionately on the nose. "Sometimes it's better the devil you know, honey. Carrowville's quiet, sure - but it's safe."

"Perhaps." Robin leant back on his hands. "But still, I like it when there's just you and me and nothing else in sight but grass, lake and sky."

"I see." Sian pursed her lips. "Is that how you see it being, Robin? Just you and me?"

"You know it is." Robin grinned. "S'why I bunked off work this afternoon. It's our anniversary and I had somethin' to speak to you about."

"And what might that be, tough guy?" Sian leant over to kiss him. "I never said you should lose your job on my behalf, you know. All I said was it'd be nice to spend our anniversary somewhere nice and simple this year, that's all. One of these days Sam'll put two and two together and fire your overly romantic ass. Then what'll we do, huh? Can't hardly pay rent and the household bills without your salary. Not since I've been laid off and all. Till I find something else, we need your paycheque."

"And you'll get it." Robin assured her. "Sam likes me. Besides, you're worth it. I told your Pa I'd take care of you, if we got a place together. I'm not going to blow it."

He gestured to the surrounding landscape. "And this is simple and pretty. Not expensive. No charge for the view. It's perfect."

"You ever think about leaving Carrowville, Robin?" Sian raised quizzical hazel eyes to her companion. "I mean, seriously. Do you?"

"Sometimes." Robin nodded. "You know when you're a kid, you want to see everything - and do everything. Carrowville's all right, but it's not the world. Sometimes I wonder what's outside...don't you?"

"Well, so long as I got you, sugar, I'm happy right here." Sian admitted. "Scenery ain't bad. Company's better. And we could leave Carrowville - even leave Arkansas. But we'd still have the same problems with payin' rent and bills wherever we'd go. And you have a good thing going with Sam at the grocery. It ain't a bad wage. Better that than nothing at all."

"I could sing." Robin said playfully. "Dig out my guitar. Play some songs at the roadside. We could work our way north - what do you think? Live by our wits and out of a motel."

"Please!" Sian let out a peal of laughter at this. "You're crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah, I know." Robin agreed, tucking a lock of thick dark hair behind his ear. "But that's why you love me."

"Guess it is." Sian nodded her head. "You always have a different way of putting the world. Carrowville is never boring when I never know what you're gonna say next."

"Well, that brings me to the thing I did want to say." Robin said slowly. "Something we've not had time to discuss - but I think it's time we did."

He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small black ring box, and Sian let out an exclamation as he opened it to reveal a sparkling engagement ring.

"Robin Sheppard! Are you tellin' me that you finally started listening to Mom's hints? You want to make an honest woman of me at last?"

"Your Ma had nothing to do with it." Robin assure her. "But I love you, if you hadn't guessed it already. So, Sian Mulhavy - will you marry me?"

"Silly question, Mr Sheppard." Sian laughed, putting her arms around his neck and kissing him. "Woulda done it a long time ago if you'd bothered asking. It's a good thing for you that I'm a patient woman!"

"Well, I had to get the ring." Robin said good-naturedly. "You're worth more than a cheap rock, and I wasn't quite sure what I should get. And then I had to speak to your know, make sure he don't mind me marrying his favourite daughter."

"I'm not his favourite daughter." Sian objected. "And why should he mind? He's always liked you. He stood up to Ma when we wanted to shack up together and he's never been bothered by it. Thanks to him, the whole town quit talking about us like we were about to be cast down to Hell...why would he mind?"

"I wanted to do it properly." Robin winked. "And marryin' the Mayor's daughter is a big deal in a small town."

He took the ring from the box, gently sliding it onto her finger. "There y'go. It's all official."

"So it is." Sian glanced at it, watching the sunlight glinting gently off the diamond. "Rob, it's beautiful. Real pretty. I love it."

"Well, Mary Jane helped me to pick it." Robin looked sheepish. "I know - lame, askin' my sister's advice for your ring, but jewellery is not my area of expertise."

"I should hope not." Sian scolded playfully. "Mary Jane has good taste, anyhow. Tell her I approve."

"Will do." Robin nodded. "She already wants a blow by blow account of how you took it."

"I hope we'll be married as soon as we can, you know." Sian snuggled up against him as a chill wind whipped across the lake's still water. "It feels like forever since we finished High School and everyone else in our class seems to be married already. Chessy Parker has a baby, and she's only two months older than me. I want us to be a proper family, Robin - with kids and all that. And, well, we can't rightly do that if we aren't, you know...hitched."

"Not in Carrowville." Robin agreed ruefully. "I know it. I swear some of the old biddies round these parts still whisper about my Ma behind her back. Didn't matter that she married Dad when Mary Jane was two...they still frown on it."

"Your Ma is one of the best, though." Sian got to her feet, pulling her fiance up with her. "And she's always been strong. That's why I love her son so much as I do - he's just as strong as she is, and he knows what he wants. Even since your Pa died, she's never faltered. If we can have kids that have that courage and fire inside of them, I'll know I chose my husband well."

"I hope there are other reasons you'll know that, honey." Robin teased. Sian dimpled.

"Those things I already know." She said, gripping his hand in hers. "But come on. Let's go by Ma's place. I want to tell her that you finally popped the question. It'll make her week - something to discuss at her church group other than how young people's morals in this town have fallen apart."
"Well, if one more person tells me I ain't good enough for you, I think I'll punch him out." Robin laughed.

"I think you're good enough for me. Whatever they think of your Ma and whatever they think of my Dad being Mayor." Sian told him reassuringly. "It's not their business."

"No, in this town, everything's their business." Robin shook his head. "But sure. I'd like to see your Mom's face when we tell her, anyway. I could almost see wedding dresses flashing in her eyes when your sister got married - and I know this won't be any less. We won't get away with a small ceremony, that's for sure."

"I wouldn't expect any less." Sian shrugged her shoulders philosophically. "A girl shouldn't want a small ceremony for the happiest day of her life."

Prologue: Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas
Chapter One: Memory
Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets
Chapter Three: Jack
Chapter Four: Flashback: The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville
Chapter Five: Margot's Plan
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven:Flashback: The Wedding Reception
Chapter Eight: Fallout
Chapter Nine: Advice
Chapter Ten: A Friend In Need
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: Flashback: Sian's News
Chapter Thirteen: Ambush
Chapter Fourteen: Reconciliation
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback: Farewell
Chapter Sixteen: The Curse

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