Samantha Stewart stopped dead and looked for the source of the comment. A young and not unattractive soldier stood in the foyer of the police station. The quality of his uniform and insignia thereon would have marked him as an American even if his voice had not already done so.
"Are you talking to me?"
He looked around and smiled at Sam.
"Don't see anyone else."
"Well, my name is not 'sugar'."
"What is it?"
Sam was mildly irked by the young man's obvious lack of manners, and it, too, was reflected in her tone.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm Joe Farnetti and I'm here to pick up my Captain." He looked Sam up and down in appreciation. "You a cop?"
"No, not really."
"Can I at least know your name?"
The American was persistent, Sam would give him that.
Against her better judgement and possibly her will, she was intrigued.
Farnetti smiled. It was attractive and very white.
"Would you like to go to a movie with me?"
Sam didn't exactly recoil in horror, but those who knew her would have been able to detect the frost from ten feet away.
"No thank you. We don't know each other."
Farnetti didn't seem at all fazed by her reaction; if anything his smile widened, but Sam was not happy with the further breech of etiquette and exasperation coloured her response.
"Are all you Americans like this?"
Farnetti took this as encouragement and asked Sam out again just as her boss approached. Foyle took in the situation in an instant.
Leaving Keiffer with Farnetti, Foyle looked at Sam.
"Everything all right?"
Sam smiled and nodded. She could deal with it.
"Yes, it is."
As the Americans left, Foyle's lips tweaked upwards.
Sam's smile widened to a grin.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt warm and rested. Then I remembered last night and turned to face the other half of the bed. It was empty. Mike had gone. The sheets were cool to the touch; he'd obviously left some time ago, probably shortly after I'd fallen asleep.
Yet again I was aware of my feelings of disappointment that he'd gone. Was this transference? Am I thinking of Mike because he reminds me so much of Chris? It's difficult to think of one and not think of the other. I wonder what Chris is doing now?
The reality of it crashed down on me. Chris isn't doing anything. He is dead and long gone. Just like Sam and Milner and the others.
I turn back over and push my face into the pillow. My tears are silent, but I want to howl out my misery. I daren't do that as I fear that once I start, I won't be able to stop.
I froze when I heard the door to the bedroom open. I wondered if I could get away with pretending to be asleep.
"C'mon, Lily. I know you're awake. Sit up and eat something, you'll feel better. Nothing like food to chase away your fears."
That's so not true.
My voice was muffled in the pillow, but Mike heard me anyway.
"That's a common side-effect of surgery and depression talking. Eat, then we can go out. Get some fresh air."
"Don't want to go out."
A mug clunked onto the bedside table and the amusement in Mike's voice was obvious.
"Now that's your inner four-year-old speaking."
I felt the bed dip as he perched beside me.
"And the quickest way to get a child's attention is through the seat of their pants."
He wouldn't dare, would he?
Just how well did I know him?
"Five seconds, the choice is yours. Four seconds...three..."
"Need I remind you that I'm your boss?"
"...seconds, two seconds..."
I turned over quickly, getting my backside out of range.
"Okay, okay. I'm sitting up."
Mike's smirk was an unfamiliar expression for me; I'd never seen it at work. I looked at my mug instead. Tea, thank goodness, I was really thirsty.
After I had taken a restorative sip, I allowed myself to look at Mike. Would he really have..?
As if I'd spoken, Mike nodded.
I took another sip of tea.
I was in strange territory. Mike was neither boyfriend nor stranger. I knew the work persona well enough, had read his file when he joined the team years ago. He had been living with someone back then, but they had split up within four months and I'd never met the ex. Mike always seemed to be at work and I assumed that she didn't like the hours he was keeping, though they were his choice. Again, it didn't occur to me until now that I'd only noticed his hours simply because I was at work as well.
That time seems a lifetime ago now. I feel like I've been drifting since I returned – not going anywhere, not focused. I felt more alive being chased by bombers in Hastings than I ever have in my real life.
Mike shifted and brought my attention back to the present.
"Lily, stop thinking so hard, you'll sprain something. After you've had something to eat, we'll go out somewhere. I'll even go shopping, I know how women like that."
I pulled a face and muttered into my mug.
"If you could have offered that without the full-body shudder it might have worked."
Foyle made a perfect cast and his fly landed just as he desired.
Occasionally there were the moments like this when the war seemed very far away. It was quiet; except for birdsong and the gentle rustle of the trees, the riverbank was almost silent.
Captain John Keiffer nodded in appreciation of the cast before he made his.
The slightly-built English cop knew his stuff.
Keiffer figured that it was best to keep on the good side of the locals where possible, but Foyle had been one of the few who had actually made it a pleasant task for him. He had enjoyed their first angling session together so much that he 'angled' for another one.
They'd spoken a little and fished a fair piece, though he had been more successful than Foyle in that regard, to his surprise. Although he had only known Foyle a few days, he had picked up the distinct impression that the detective had had something on his mind for much of the morning.
Maybe the fishing would help relax.
The Good Lord knew they both needed it.
Twenty minutes later Foyle tutted under his breath as a good sized beauty slipped away at the last moment. It didn't happen often, but it was galling to have lost such a prize for tea.
"Bad luck, old man."
Keiffer's smile belied the comment and Foyle merely raised an eyebrow, his look telling.
They decided to pack it in for the day and walked back, talking quietly of this and that.
Foyle had been subdued when the Captain spoke of having heard from his family that morning. For the hundredth time he wondered how and where – or, indeed when – Lily was faring.
From his tone, Foyle assumed that this wasn't the first time the Captain had tried to get his attention.
Keiffer smiled and held up his catch.
"I asked if you'd like to join me in making a meal of these guys?"
Foyle looked mildly surprised by the invitation.
"You cook, too?"
Keiffer grinned and Foyle caught a glimpse of the husband and father.
"Only outdoors on hot coals. I'll leave these to the Mess chef. He'll take care of them; he'll give them the respect they deserve."
"In that case, I'd be delighted."
They walked on.
"Family or female?"
Keiffer stopped, forcing Foyle to do the same.
"When a man is so lost in thought he doesn't think about how good his catch will taste, it's either family or a dame that's taking him away."
Foyle looked at him with new respect, but unlike the fish, he didn't take the bait.
"Mmm, well, I was just wondering whether or not American forces catering stretched to a dry white with the fish."
Foyle's barely-there smile offset the cheek of the request; Keiffer wasn't fooled by the misdirection, but allowed it to pass.
"Ah, now there's a man after my own heart. White it is."
They resumed walking. Keiffer thought of home and family.
So did Foyle.
The American's dance evening had been memorable for all the wrong reasons. Having a local girl murdered under their noses was bad enough, but Foyle had allowed his personal feelings to get the better of him.
He had been surprised but pleased when he realised Sam was at the dance. His ebullience lasted until the moment Farnetti had asked her if she would like to try the Jitterbug. While Sam wasn't actively encouraging the American boy, she certainly wasn't trying too hard to discourage him, and his feelings of dismay were further inflamed by the annoyance he felt on his absent son's behalf.
Or at least, that was what he told himself.
Sam and Andrew had an understanding, whether he liked it or not, and he didn't approve of her flinging herself all over the dance floor in such a public display with the American soldier. Even if it gave her some fetching colour in her cheeks.
He had been further embarrassed to admit, however briefly, that he had been relieved that the commotion out in the corridor had stopped the dancing, until he realised that a young woman had lost her life.
Really, it was just too much. He was behaving like a fool, and an old one at that.
So two days later, when Sam haltingly explained to him that Andrew had thrown her over for another girl and had done so before the Dance, Foyle felt like a complete idiot. It was not a comfortable feeling and he knew that he should apologise.
It had been a tough day, but they had finally got Carter to confess to killing Susan Davies and her unborn child. Foyle's quiet satisfaction as he prepared the arrest report was tempered by thoughts of Lily, which often happened when he was trying to type, plus the knowledge that he had yet to apologise to Sam.
He got his opportunity a short time later, just as they were leaving the station. He caught up with Sam and stopped her from leaving. His hat still in his hand, he spoke quietly.
"Listen; I should apologise. I've made, umm...judgements about you, about your personal life, which I had absolutely no right to do and as a result, I, ah, I might have spoken out of turn."
No 'might have' about it.
Sam flushed, embarrassed for a variety of reasons, some of which she didn't wish to examine too closely.
"It's quite all right, Sir. I should have said something earlier."
Foyle wasn't ready to be forgiven yet.
But he can't think of anything to add, except to express his sympathy regarding his wayward son.
"I'm sorry about Andrew."
Sam met his gaze bravely. She shrugged.
"It's the war, isn't it?"
My son didn't deserve you. He had no idea of your worth. A prize above rubies.
"I suppose so."
They moved toward the outer door of the station together. When Sam asked if he would like a lift home, he declined. Foyle didn't trust himself not to say something to her. The time was not right and it would be most inappropriate.
Foyle said that he would walk, and left her standing in the reception area before he could change his mind.
Christ, I could do with a drink.
As if by command, Captain Keiffer's jeep pulled up beside Foyle, and when the offer of Jack Daniels was dangled in front of him, he saw no reason to decline.
I dreamed of Chris again last night.
Some days I don't think of him much at all. Mike keeps me entertained, though I think the word 'distracted' would suit the situation better. It's been over a month now since my return and I'm feeling more like my old self, except for the lingering tiredness and tendency to mope, neither of which troubled me before my assignment. Mike is back at work now that I don't need mothering and I've moved back to my own place, though to be honest, Mike is here so often that it's almost like he's moved in.
Other days I feel the loss of Chris as if it were yesterday.
I went into work yesterday. Not to actually work as such, just to get back into the swing of things, pick up the pulse of the current missions, and see what's what. My team were pleased to see me back, I think. They'd all been out to visit me while I was recuperating, so I didn't feel neglected, and it was obvious from their greetings that Mike had kept them informed as to my progress.
No-one's behaviour was anything other than I would have expected, except for The Boss.
As I've said before, he's a snazzy dresser and great party animal. But as The Chief, and my boss, he's a sod. Runs the department like an accountant and a rude one at that. So when he comes out of his office and asks me how I'm feeling, I confess all I felt was surprise.
I told him I was improving all the time, just a little tired, you know the stuff I mean. He was nodding the whole time, which was weird. And he smiled, which was weirder still. It was quite unnerving. I made a mental note to ask Mike about it later.
That was another thing. Miss Independent here had started thinking things like 'I wonder what Mike thinks about such and such' and 'What is Mike's opinion on blah blah blah'. It was very out of character for me. Correction, for the 'old' me. Most evenings when Mike came over, he'd cook, then we would sit at the table to eat and talk about anything and everything. Last night he had been in the middle of describing his first attempt at Jet-Skiing when he was a little kid; he'd been laughing about some techy hitch that kept dumping him in the water. He was animated and interesting and had me caught up in the tale, making me laugh so much my face ached.
Later in the evening we were talking about stuff we watched on the flats when we were little. No 3D, no neural nets, no quality viewing, but still fun. Mike was demonstrating a salute from some old prog and I just couldn't copy it, much to his amusement.
"No no no! Like this; put that finger there, then this like that, see?"
Exasperated with my puny efforts, he grabbed my hand and moved my fingers into position as he explained, but suddenly I couldn't hear what he was saying any more over the rushing sound in my ears. Believe it or not, it was the first time he had deliberately taken hold of me since that night he held me while I slept. I had a sudden and profound feeling that something important had just happened; something had shifted inside me, as if settling into place, and instead of scaring me witless – which it should have – I simply felt all right.
I must have laughed in all the right places, because Mike didn't appear to have noticed my distraction. I had only felt such a feeling like that once before.