No matter where I have travelled, I have always been drawn back to the south of England. There is intrinsic beauty in every continent that I have visited, but the combination of flora, fauna and the temperature of a late Spring in England is simply perfect, even in my remote corner.
The Temporal Facilities are located on the south coast of England, in Dungeness, near New Romney. There used to be a nuclear power plant here, many years ago; the land is stable and it's sufficiently remote to lull people into a false sense of security about what we were doing with all that power.
I've always felt attracted to this area for some reason, although now knowing about Chris...Foyle and Sam just a few miles along the coast, it makes more sense, I suppose.
It didn't take long to figure out that we were heading into Hastings. Mike didn't seem disposed to talk and I was content to be silent, though I was thinking rapidly. I wondered if he had figured out that I had bent one or two rules a bit out of shape while I'd been away. Leaving the money behind had been a bit naughty, but I'd already paid it back from my salary since my return; the Boss just assumed that I'd left it behind when I was injured and I wasn't going to disabuse him of that idea. Had Mike figured out what I'd done with it? I hope not; I was laying low about that for a while.
Maybe he knew about the letters I'd left for Sam and Chris.
He would have said something.
A few minutes later Mike pulled into the car park and we both got out (yes, we still have cars, and no, they don't fly; do you have any idea how chaotic it would be with the standard of your average driver? Yeeuch!). The sea air was bracing, salty and familiar. The raucous cawing of the seagulls was making me feel quite emotional; this was the same beach front that had held the large guns used during that air raid and suddenly I was remembering that first kiss. I turned away from the sea and the memory, only to see Mike looking at me. It was an oddly expectant look, almost as if he was waiting for something. Or someone.
The seafront has changed remarkably little. The Victoria is still there and you can still visit the caves under the castle ruins, near the location of the Bofors gun during the war. Several years ago the town was declared a location of historical interest; it was completely pedestrianised and the local planning authority made sure almost nothing got changed or built without shedloads of rules having to be obeyed. It was worth it.
Mike took a path that was very familiar. The bakery was no longer a bakery, but a little tea-shop with tables outside. The Old Town Parish church was still there; we walked past its restored neatness and turned right at the top of Swan Terrace into Steep Lane. My heart was beginning to beat faster and I don't think it was just the incline.
There was a sense of timelessness about the place. If anything the lane looked newer than I remembered, but that was probably due to the lack of the shabbiness of the war years; no-one back then had the resources to paint the houses, let alone the willingness to spend hard earned cash prettifying a building that could be flattened at any moment.
As I knew he would, Mike stopped at the house on the corner. He looked at me with that odd expression again. I know he used to have feelings for me, just as I know he still seems to desire me, but why bring me here? What does he want from me?
Did he want me to tell him again that I wasn't in love with Chris?
Was that even true? I had very strong feelings for Chris; I could even admit to myself that I loved him back then, but I knew he was destined for Sam, and I couldn't afford to fall in love with him.
Even if I had.
But now I love Mike. I know I do, but I don't understand it; am I so fickle that I could so quickly change from one man to another, as if they were shoes?
Fer cryin' out loud, I haven't even kissed the guy!
Perhaps today I'll figure it out, but I simply don't know what Mike hopes to discover here.
I looked up at the house. Its still-beautiful curved façade was an eye-aching, pristine white. Even with the dull, chill weather, it reflected light everywhere.
"Most of the windows are shuttered. Is it empty?"
Hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, Mike shrugged.
"In a way."
"What do you mean?"
Like I didn't know...
"It's not occupied at the moment."
I sighed. Did I have to drag every word out of him?
"What does that mean?"
Mike was looking at me. His brow was creased in thought. Contemplative, not quite a frown, but achingly familiar.
"It's owned by the Lerion Trust. They bought the house the first time it came up for sale; they outbid every competitor."
I made myself look impartially impressed. Look how innocent I am, I know nothing...
"The Trustees are a secretive lot. Won't give out any information other than the fact that they are charged with looking after the property until the owner decides to live there."
I looked over the building, avoiding Mike's gaze.
"When will that be, do you think?"
"Can't say; whenever he or she decides to, I guess."
"What happens until then?"
"Apparently they occasionally rent the house out to strictly vetted clients."
Mike seemed to be waiting for more. I obliged.
"Why are we here?"
For a long moment I wasn't sure that he would answer.
"It's Foyle's house."
"And we shouldn't be here, I know that, so why are we here, exactly?"
Mike looked frustrated and disappointed. I had the distinct impression that he wasn't sure why we were here either.
"I thought you'd know, once we got here."
I wanted to scream.
I took a deep calming breath.
"Okay, you've had your fun, my 'big surprise' is so surprising that I don't know what it is yet, so I'm going back to the car. I'll see you there, hopefully before it gets dark."
I turned my back on Sam and Christopher's home and started to walk back down the lane.
I stopped, I waited. I looked back.
Well, I can honestly say that that was not what I thought he'd say.
I walked back up to him.
Mike grinned reluctantly.
"Anyone else would have said 'yes' or 'no', but not you."
Iain Stewart, prospective father-in-law, had left. A meal of fresh fish, garden vegetables and boiled potatoes had been consumed by Sam, and mostly untasted, by Foyle.
When he had returned from his 'chat' with the Reverend Stewart, he had no chance to speak to Sam in front of her father. Aware that he would try to talk to her after her father left, Sam bustled about, fussing with plates and napkins and cutlery, and by then the meal was ready and it would spoil if they talked before eating.
But he would not be put off forever, and when Sam finally laid down her knife and fork, Foyle shifted in his seat. He opened his mouth to speak, but Sam beat him to it.
"I know, I know. I shouldn't have told my father I was working for you without checking it with you beforehand. I am very sorry."
Foyle looked as surprised as he felt.
"Y'know, I rather feel that you have missed the point, Sam; I think your father may well have thought that working as my housekeeper would have been the lesser of two evils."
He regarded her subdued expression with fond exasperation.
"What were you thinking?"
Sam inhaled; finally the chance to explain.
But in that split second her courage, usually so indomitable, wavered. Could he love her? Did he love her? Should she cast all before him and take a chance? Or would he see her as some silly goose with a childish crush?
The expression that she had seen on his face in that unguarded moment back in April – was it only two months ago? - gave her a measure of confidence, but desiring someone wasn't the same as wanting to be with them forever.
Sam looked at Foyle, trying to decide whether the gamble was worth the possible loss of his friendship, and worse, his respect.
Foyle could see the turmoil that her internal debate was causing. Having set up the 'engagement' to get herself out of a jam, was she now trying to let him down gently, or was there something else she was trying to tell him?
Something she had said to her father must have convinced him that her – their – engagement was genuine. Reverend Stewart dealt with a large parish, surely he must be capable of knowing when he was being lied to? Foyle felt the smallest ember of hope stir in his heart.
"Do you trust me?"
Sam looked surprised that he would even need to ask.
"Of course; absolutely. With my life."
Foyle looked as if the answer was no less than he had expected.
"Then trust me now."
Foyle could see that he had been understood, but he could also see that she needed a helping hand. Her colour came and went in waves.
A sudden disquieting thought popped into his head.
Was she in trouble?
As quick as the thought existed, Foyle dismissed it as irrelevant; it didn't matter one iota.
"Nothing you tell me will upset our friendship, or alter the respect that I have for you. No matter how bad it is, whatever's happened, I will help you as best as I can."
He let the comment hang in the air for a few moments so that it could be absorbed.
"Why did you need to tell your father that you are engaged? Are you in...umm...trouble?"
To his surprise, Sam looked quite startled. And then she actually blushed. Foyle found it quite charming.
"Goodness! No, no, I'm not...I haven't...I've never...no! No, absolutely not."
Sam felt her blush all the way down to her toes. She held her hands to her flaming cheeks. Any thought she had about being worldly wise and sophisticated flew out of the window. Suddenly the few chaste kisses that she had experienced – one actually in front of the man now seated at her kitchen table – seemed woefully inadequate in lending her any degree of poise after the delicately phrased enquiry.
'No chance of becoming PWP still held true.
Foyle's expression was perplexed, his forehead creased in thought.
Sam stood suddenly; the action of someone who must move at all costs because they can't remain still. She reached for Foyle's plate, intent on clearing away, but he was the quicker of the two; he instinctively took hold of her wrist to prevent her flight.
They both froze, equally startled at the contact. It wasn't the first time they had touched, but it was the first time it was not for assistance or in common courtesy.
Foyle recovered first; the powerful jolt of awareness that he had felt when he touched Sam was startlingly familiar. He deliberately made his voice calm, though inside he was anything but.
"I need to know."
The plate dropped unheeded from Sam's nerveless fingers and landed with a muted thud on the table.
The velvet toned statement of his need conjured up feelings that she couldn't ignore, but the tingling warmth spreading from the simple touch of his fingers on her wrist sealed Sam's fate for her. How could she possibly let this pass her by just because she was afraid to lose his respect if he didn't feel the same way about her? She would then always wonder what might have been.
Foyle's heart almost stopped when Sam sighed heavily; her posture shifted as if bending under the weight of her thoughts.
Her dark eyes had been focused on the fingers wrapped around her wrist, but now Sam's troubled - though oddly resolute - gaze lifted to meet Foyle's.
"You too will always have my respect and friendship, whatever the future holds..."
For perhaps the first time in his adult life Foyle could not predict what was going to happen next, but whatever it was, he was quite certain that it would affect him for the rest of his days.
Sam's flushed cheeks had lost all colour and her freckles stood out starkly against the alabaster skin.
"...but...what if I wanted...more?"
We stood facing each other, only a couple of feet apart. People walked past us, some uphill, some down, but the world kept turning.
It would be so easy to say 'yes'; I do love him, more each day now that I really know him. He completes me. When I am with him I feel a sort of excited peace; he excites me, turns me on just by looking at me, but underneath there is this peaceful sense of rightness that makes me feel as if he is the part of me that has been missing up until now. It scares me that if I hadn't met Chris, I would never have met the real Mike.
"I'm not 'anyone else', I'm me. Why do you want to marry me? We've never even kissed, let alone anything...else."
Mike's lips twitched. I think he sensed that he hadn't been turned down just yet.
"You've slept in my bed. In my arms, I might add."
"Emphasis on the word 'slept' as in I was asleep."
Mike wasn't giving up.
"I saved your life; twice, if we're counting. According to some eastern philosophies your life is now my responsibility. I take my responsibilities seriously."
I'm fairly certain that he's enjoying the game as much as I am. I wonder if he's as turned on, too? I kept a straight face.
"You can continue to be responsible for me at work. You are a fine engineer."
Mike closed the gap between us. His voice dropped to a whisper.
"Yes, I am a very fine engineer. And like any engineer worth his salt, I'm good with my hands and..."
Those same good hands, attached to very fine arms, slid around me and hauled me up against him, lighting fires wherever we touched. We were briefly nose to nose until Mike moved his mouth to my ear.
Chest to chest and hip to hip as we were, I could tell his equipment was in fine working order. I think I might have moaned. A remote part of me was aware that this felt oddly familiar.
"Well, suppose I don't want to just take your word for it?"
Mike's blue eyes danced, and then he grinned; it was distinctly devilish.
"I was hoping you'd say that. Now, as I like to maintain the illusion that I am a gentleman, I'll give you a choice."
One of his hands had drifted south and now rested on my backside. I felt his legs shift to settle mine closer, making his arousal grind against me. We were both breathing in shallow, rapid breaths and lust was already fuddling my brains.
"Yep. Your place or mine?"
As we had already shifted up a grade from 'if' to 'when', 'where' seemed quite a logical next step, although I was slightly shocked to realise that we were still standing in the road and not somewhere a little less public.
My inner critic was wailing but he still hasn't kissed you!
I told it to shut up.
Mike's breath was hot against my neck.
"Your place is closer."
More than you know!
It seemed to take us far too long to get back to the car and drive back to my place, but I don't suppose it did in reality. I felt absurdly giddy and young when Mike grabbed my hand and hauled me along behind him as though he couldn't wait a minute longer than necessary either.
It took three goes to open my front door; my hands shook and my blood thrummed through my body as we fell into the apartment. I felt utterly alive.
For about one second we stood apart, staring at each other. Were we sure about this?
With a determined look on his face Mike hurriedly shrugged out of his jacket and left it where it fell. I dropped my bag and shed my jacket. I still had one sleeve caught when Mike's body thrust me up against the front door.
He's stronger than he looks. I've never thought of myself as a fan of caveman tactics, but Mike's making me rethink a lot of things. One of his knees insinuated itself between mine and the pressure is exactly were I crave it. We're face to face and he's suddenly serious.
"Last chance to say 'no', sweet thing; after this there is no going back. You'll be mine and I'll be yours."
I searched his face for any sign of deceit and saw nothing but a desire that matched mine. He hadn't mentioned love, but he had made a commitment of sorts. My eyes flicked from his eyes to his lips and back again.
"I guess it would depend on whether you're any good at kissing. Crappy kisser and all bets are off."
Mike's grin bordered on feral.
"I guess we'll have to find out then, won't we?"
I was half way through trying to conjure up a snappy retort when his mouth pounced on mine; in the ensuing fireworks I gave up thinking and got completely swept up in the sensations. Inside I was exultant – I'd finally found my home.
Mike caressed and teased my lips and I lost the power of rational thought. I've no idea how much time passed, but when we finally came up for air our lips clung, reluctant to part.
My hands had somehow managed to entangle themselves in Mike's hair while I wasn't paying attention. Naughty hands. Not.
He looked as stunned as I felt, but he still managed to summon up a coherent thought.
"W...well, it certainly works for me."
It might have sounded quite arrogant but for the slight stutter, which made it sweet instead. He was obviously just as affected as I was, though if I had been in any doubt it would have been cleared up by the aroused state of the body plastered against mine.
"Mmm, not too shabby at all. 'Course, I'd need a selection of examples to really judge the qual - "
It should be self evident that it is difficult to finish a sentence when someone else has his tongue in your mouth, but I was past caring whether or not it was considered rude to interrupt. There and then I decided Mike could interrupt me any time he liked if this was his method of choice.
I'll probably commit this to my diary later, if I can gather enough of my scattered wits, but Mike is one helluva kisser. The whole of my body was thrumming with desire, there was no other word for it.
In a romance novel I dare say two pages of beautiful prose would describe how we 'cemented our relationship', but it wouldn't do justice to what was going on here. Unanimous in our decided course of action, we saw no point in delaying and skipped the preliminaries. In between kisses I can only label as 'frantic', we pulled and pushed at each other's clothing, intent only on as much access as was necessary.
While one of Mike's hands slipped under my skirt, I yanked at his belt and succeeded in shoving his jeans past the impressive bulge in his shorts. He jerked when I slipped my hand inside and took hold of my prize.
His voice was hoarse as he muttered into my neck.
I didn't want to wait another second, let alone the twenty it would take to get to the bed.
"Later; want you now!"
The draft of cool air when my sodden underwear went south was quickly replaced by the scorching heat of Mike's body. Without preamble he pulled one of my thighs up, considerately lined himself up and plunged straight into me.
I'll draw a respectful veil over the next few minutes to spare the blushes (mine, that is), but suffice to say that I may have repeatedly called out in appeal to the main Deity, requested that Mike continue what he was already doing in a most satisfactory manner but possibly harder, and answered in the affirmative several times. Or a mixture of the above.
In retrospect I can see why people making love usually end up in bed or on the floor, because, quite frankly, after such an earth shattering orgasm the last thing you need to do is try to remain upright, especially on one leg. If Mike hadn't been pinning me to the door, I would have slid to the floor in a boneless heap with the silliest grin on my face.
I could feel the tremble in Mike's legs too, but his grin matched mine.
We kissed again; it said so many things – hello, welcome, thanks, and my favourite, I'm here to stay.
To my surprise, Mike remained hard and kept his place. I knew he'd climaxed too, but he stayed put while we kissed with that post climax delicious laziness.
Apparently I didn't need to say anything else.
"I know, but I've wanted to do this for the longest time and I'm in no way finished yet. So hang on, babe, I've got you."
He lifted up my other leg and I wrapped them around his hips. His jeans were still high enough to let him walk and he picked me up. He was gracious enough not to grunt with the effort. Still buried to the hilt, he carried me through to the bedroom.
We didn't get much sleep.