Mike glanced at me almost as if he'd forgotten that I was there. He placed the trinket box on the table but continued to look at it. He was still frowning, but he shrugged it off and gave me a smile.
"Nothing. It's a lovely little thing. What's the story?"
I looked at it and remembered. Remembered the real story, not just the family history. I hugged my robe close, feeling goosebumps raise the fine hairs on my arms.
"To be honest, I'd actually forgotten the family heirloom thing. We've had it in the family since the year dot. Rumour has it that one of my ancestors gave it to the man she loved as a gift. They kept it in the family and handed it down through the eldest child, usually given into the care of the women until it is handed on. I hadn't remembered it until I saw it just now. I've not seen it since I was barely walking."
Mike picked it up again, still apparently fascinated.
"And the thing about your aunt?"
"Jaz didn't want it. She was the eldest and entitled to look after it, but she was always a bit of a rebel and hated all that 'sentimental crap' as she called it. Come to think of it, she was the only one who refused to use her full name because she hated that fact that the females were all named after flowers."
Mike huffed a laugh out.
"Yeah, I noticed that when they visited you after your op."
"It's another tradition."
Mike reached out and took my hand, pulling gently but insistently until I ended up on the sofa beside him. He put his arm around me and hugged me close.
"We'll name our girls after flowers too, if you like."
"What if I have a boy?"
I was only playing along, but Mike appeared to give it some thought.
"We'll call him...Phlox."
"Phlox? Are you mad?"
"Means 'harmony'. No? Okay, what about Foxglove? We could call him 'Foxy' for short. Or Gladiolus, it means 'strength of character'."
I couldn't help feeling that I was gaping at Mike. Was he actually serious?
"He'd need it with a name like that."
"Gloxinia – 'love at first sight'. Very poetic."
I started to laugh. Unfortunately he took this as encouragement. He play-wrestled me until I was flat on my back and his head rested on my stomach. He looked at me and grinned.
"Juniper – means 'Chastity', what d'you think?"
"He'd be chased all right, but seldom caught if he's got any sense."
"What about Mugwort! Means 'happiness'."
"Not to any child I cared about. If we have a boy, he'd have to have a better name than Mugwort."
"Warming up to the idea of a baby, umm?"
I didn't say anything, my feelings were still too mixed, but I managed a smile. Mike had no such restriction on his emotions; he bared my midriff and placed a kiss that could only be called 'tender' on my stomach.
"Hey kiddo, looks like you'd better be a girl, your mum hates all my boy choices."
I frowned. Mike wasn't freaking me out, not yet exactly, but the conversation was. My mother told me a long time ago to trust my instincts and right now the bells were beginning to go off.
Time to investigate.
Foyle was a man of his word and now he had proof, not that he needed it, that Sam was a women of hers.
She had taken him at face value when he had asked her to marry him as quickly as she liked; she obviously wanted to marry him a little too quickly judging by the reception he was getting from Reverend and Mrs Stewart.
Their shocked-but-trying-to-hide-it demeanour dismayed Foyle. He should have realised that Sam would be keen to move things forward without necessarily considering the interpretation that might be laid at the door of such haste.
Mrs Stewart fingered her pearl necklace, a nervous gesture revealing her inner anxiety, though her quiet voice barely disturbed the atmosphere of her husband's study.
"Samantha has requested September the sixth, barely six weeks hence. September is such a busy month for the church; and a wedding does take some organisation, I'm not sure there is enough time. One does rather question the need for such haste...?"
The open ended prompt invited Foyle to respond immediately, but he resisted.
"Will there be any difficulty with that date?"
Reverend Stewart glanced very briefly at his wife before he consulted his diary.
"Ah, umm, I thought so. Luck, be it good or bad, depending on your point of view, has it that the Church will be available at 11 o'clock on the sixth. We've had a deferment: the McKay wedding is put back two weeks since poor David broke his leg. He should be out of his cast by the week after the sixth, but his bride doesn't want to risk marrying on the thirteenth, so the sixth is free at the moment."
Foyle nodded, relieved.
"Splendid. Sam will be pleased."
Mrs Stewart wasn't ready to give up just yet. Beneath the soft voice and genteel manner there was a Vicar's wife used to handling parishioners who demanded more of the Vicar than perhaps they ought.
"Such a lot to prepare in such a short space of time, don't you think?"
Foyle's brow furrowed as both eyebrows lifted in polite enquiry.
"Really? Well, I'm sure that it will turn out well. How can it not with two such charming ladies organising it?"
Mrs Stewart accepted the compliment as graciously as she could while also trying to hide her frustration at being unable to pin Foyle down to an answer. Reverend Stewart's expression was suspiciously bland as he awaited the outcome of the subtle battle of wills.
"Yes, thank you, I assure you we will do our best, naturally, but even so, six weeks..."
As she trailed off she looked at Foyle with a quiet desperation that said to him 'don't make me ask you'.
The moment was broken by Sam sticking her head around the door.
"Tea in the drawing room when everyone is ready. I say, what's up? Why the long face, mother?"
Sam entered the room more fully.
"Mother is finding your need for a wedding so quickly a little daunting, Samantha. She feels that it isn't really enough time to prepare, and wondered if perhaps a later date was possible?"
Sam looked at her parents and then at Foyle. He could see the moment the penny dropped and recognised the stubborn lift to her chin.
"Absolutely not, I'm afraid. It has to be as quickly as possible."
Her mother paled and looked aghast. Her worst fears were realised. What would people think?
"Well, it's not my fault. Blame Christopher."
Her father looked taken aback as he tried to comfort his wife, who was now dabbing at her nose with a small handkerchief. His daughter had, to his mind, succumbed to the ills he had been so concerned about when last he visited her in Hastings. He had rather taken a liking to Foyle and had trusted him to take care of his daughter, but this was not what he had in mind. However, it did at least seem that he was willing to do the honourable thing.
"I hardly think that is fair, Samantha..."
Foyle stirred, his sympathies somewhat with his future in-laws. Sam could be very persuasive when she wanted to be, as he knew only too well. He gave his fiancee a chiding look.
"But it is." She turned to her parents. "He's the one making me wait until we're married. Honestly, it seems like an eternity."
Mrs Stewart snapped to attention with the speedy finesse worthy of a sergeant-major. Her tears dried as if non-existent as she frogmarched her daughter from the room. The last her bemused father heard was his wife taking Samantha to task for behaving in a manner unbecoming of a young lady.
Reverend Stewart turned to Foyle, his faith in the man restored.
"Perhaps a small sherry?"
Though Foyle would have preferred a nice malt, he nodded. He thought the vicar probably needed it more than he did.
It had been a very informative week.
Work was nothing out of the ordinary, although one or two pointed comments about Randy Mandy and Mike fizzled out when I didn't rise to the bait. Right now she was the last of my problems.
Remember I mentioned earlier that our life histories are worked out when we start our Temporal careers? We are not privy to our own lives or those of our colleagues, that's too much temptation to resist for the average human being, but the Powers-That-Be have a handle on everything. Or so I've always thought. The whole point of Temporal Control is that history remains the way it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, since we started playing with time, every now and then (sorry, no pun intended) there is a glitch. Or, even worse, a Paradox in the making.
I've been making some under-the-radar enquiries with a friend of mine, who will remain nameless and blameless, and they have admitted after a little pressure (okay, so it was blackmail, but I never told you), that something biggish was in the wind. My Boss knew about it; well, not so much 'about' more like 'of' it. He didn't have details, he was just doing what he was told. That didn't come as much of a surprise to me now; I thought at the time that he'd given in a little easily when I asked to go back to Hastings.
Other things were starting to add up. Mike had already begun the calculations to retrieve me when I was shot, yes, he surely saved my life, but how did he know to do it? I still can't forget the look on his face just as I was leaving. He had looked sad, but there was sympathy in his expression too. I'd never seen him look quite like that before. I've come to the conclusion that he knew I was going to fall for Christopher, and he knew that I would have to leave him. I realise now that if Mike loved me, then he would also have been conflicted about sending me to be with another man.
If he loved me.
Which I'm now not so sure about.
I know I'm supposed to trust my instincts, and they are telling me that he's on the level, but there's a niggling doubt that won't go away.
I sent Mike back to his own place midweek with the excuse that we both had things to do and we each needed some sleep. We had also decided to keep our 'relationship' from our work colleagues for as long as possible, so it was best if he showed his face at home occasionally.
But there are some things I'm keeping to myself for the moment, that is, I'm not telling the Chief yet.
I've been back to see my consultant at the hospital. His Girl Friday kept giving me the run around, but I waited until he eventually had to come back to his office and then I wasn't taking 'no' for an answer.
Bottom line was no big surprise. He eventually admitted that he knew about the implant and that it wasn't functioning. He told me that he thought it would interfere with the stuff they put me on during tissue regeneration, but he'd already shot himself in the foot by saying that it wasn't functioning – how could it interfere if it wasn't working? In the end he shut up, too little, too late, but he said one last thing before I left his office.
"We all have someone we have to answer to."
At least he had the grace to appear apologetic. But then he wouldn't be carrying the can.
I returned to my place and fixed something to eat even though I wasn't hungry. While I was eating I had the trinket box on the table in front of me. The filigree was slightly worn in places, as if more than one hand had traced the silver-work over the years. I remembered giving it to Chris, remembered the cold and the dark, and the sound of his voice, begging me to hold on.
I started to cry. Not big wrenching sob stuff, just the silent sliding tears that rolled down my face and off my jaw. My chest ached with the pain of loss, but I needed this release. It was the first time I really grieved for my loss.
Gawd, I'm so emotional all of a sudden. Like I said to Chris, I don't do all the crying stuff.
I put my plate in the washer and snagged some loo roll to blow my nose on the way to the shower. I stripped off and stepped into the stream of hot water, allowing it to wash away the tears.
New me stepped out fifteen minutes later, full of resolve. If the Powers That Be had a plan there was no point fighting it, like Mike said, 'what will be, will be', but I just wish that they had trusted me with the details. I had to know the truth, and Mike was the only one I could ask.
If he would tell me the truth.
Luckily for me he was home. I'd been stewing all the way over and was in a rare mood for a fight. I had to remind myself that he was probably unaware that I had any idea what was going on; he wouldn't be expecting a confrontation.
When he opened the door, give him his due, he appeared really pleased to see me; surprised, but pleased. I hadn't seen him for a few days, not even at work, and I'd severely underestimated the effect that seeing him had on me.
Even though I thought he'd betrayed me, I still wanted him. Bad.
"Lily, I wasn't expecting you, but this is great, I've really missed you, come on in. Are you okay? Is everything all right?"
Mike stepped back, but I could see he had picked up the difference in my behaviour. He wasn't normally that garrulous.
I moved past him into the place I'd called home during my convalescence. I turned back as he closed the door. When he looked at me I was close enough to hear the hitch in his breath and see his pupils dilate.
He was just as aware of me as I was of him.
I was going to say 'I know', all dramatic intensity and whatever, and then let him bluster his way out – or not – but when he reached out and touched me, I knew instantly that any other stuff would wait until later.
The same fizzing crackle of awareness snapped between the two of us. I could see in the way he moved that this wasn't going to go the way I'd predicted on my way over.
This time it was him who hit the wall when I shoved him backwards, my lips glued to his. Before he could stop me I grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled upwards. The shirt buttons pinged off very satisfyingly and fell to the floor. Mike's expression shifted quickly from surprise to desire, and he was right there for the next kiss. As before, things escalated quickly. I could feel him, big and solid, pressing against my belly. I slid my hand between us, rubbing firmly over his arousal. I felt his moan in my mouth and heat flooded through me. I inwardly cursed that I was wearing jeans instead of a skirt, but I'd been here to confront him, not frack him senseless. I need not have worried though; he was already fumbling at the fly, tugging at the material, dragging the stiff clothing downwards, just as I was trying to do the same to him. Finally he was free, but my jeans were hooked up on my boots. I growled in frustration, but Mike spun me round to bend me over the back of his sofa; the big squashy cushions supported me well enough in the split second I had to consider them before he buried himself to the hilt in me, taking my breath away.
A hand on my hip and the sofa's back held me in place as Mike pounded into me. His other hand slid under my tee, stroking, kneading, and teasing my body until I was a trembling mass of need. Everything felt incredible; the sensations flooded through me, rippling waves pulsing outwards, the glorious blaze rising higher with every stroke. I was almost mindless, I couldn't think of anything, only feel. I felt Mike's lips graze my neck and turned instinctively towards their wet heat, seeking his kiss, but I was utterly distracted by our image in the mirror. The sheer animal need reflected there shocked me with its intensity and moved things up another notch, even though I didn't think it could get any better. He thrust, I bucked, and the world fell away into incandescence; I clamped down on Mike as he drove deeper and faster than ever, riding the waves of my pleasure until the twisting hitch and jerk of his release made me soar again.
It was several long seconds before cold reality returned to me. Mike was my drug of choice and I'm not sure that I want to give him up, even if he doesn't have the answers I want to hear.
With his arms around me, holding me to him, still so intimately joined, his first coherent words surprised me.
So am I, but why are you?
"I'm sorry I was so desperate for you that I couldn't wait for you to get out of your clothes; sorry for whatever it was - or is – that brought you over here so mad at me, though not sorry that you are here, especially right here..."
A lazy thrust reminded me – as if I needed it – where he was.
"...but I'm sincerely sorry for not checking with you first about your...safety."
I didn't look at him.
"No, I won't get pregnant, you're off the hook."
Mike's chin rested gently against my shoulder.
"If I was on a hook – and I assure you that isn't how I see it – then it would be my choice and desire to get comfortable on it, because nothing would please me more than to have a child with you."
I desperately wanted to believe him. He sounded so sincere. But I couldn't think with him so close to me, I just wanted to be swept away from my doubts and for that I had to find out the truth.
I disentangled myself from him and dressed quickly, feeling self-conscious now the sexual nimbus had faded slightly. Mike looked puzzled and a little hurt by my withdrawal.
"What is it?"
I stopped moving and looked at him. It wasn't fair that he didn't look faintly ridiculous standing there in just a shirt with no buttons. He just looked sexy, damn him.
I sighed heavily.
"Okay. Truth time. Did you have any extra knowledge about my one and only mission, that I wasn't told?"
He didn't need to speak, I could see it in his face.
I took a breath.
"You don't have to break your word to anyone by speaking aloud, but did you know that I was being sent to Christopher? Deliberately?"
Mike closed his eyes briefly, but the pain was still evident when he nodded once.
I was expecting his answer, but I didn't expect it to hurt so much.