"How much did you know? All of it? That I'd be shot?"
Mike was shocked out of his silence.
"Dear God no, of course not! All I was told was that you would need an urgent retrieval. I figured for myself that it might involve an emergency, so I back-calculated for every 'day' that you were gone."
Frack, bet that was a lot of work.
"Okay. Thanks for that, at least. What about the rest of it? My convalescence, you taking care of me and...everything."
Mike shook his head, but not in an innocent way. It was more like I'm going to hate you knowing this sort of way.
"It wasn't what you think."
Oh, yeah. There was the crushing disappointment.
"Which means it was exactly like I think. That's why the Chief let you have 'family' leave to look after me."
Mike looked shaken, pale and angry.
"No, it wasn't like that. I offered, I wanted to look after you." He grabbed his jeans and stepped into them quickly. "It's no secret that I love you, even you've been aware of it, though you dismissed it as a crush. But that doesn't alter the fact that I do love you."
I desperately wanted to believe him, but that part of me was being heavily squashed.
"But we were a set-up, or at least I was. How do I know that you're telling the truth? You've had some fun, got into my bed, I bet everyone's laughing at my expense."
I felt perilously close to those fracking tears again.
Mike pulled me back into his arms.
"No-one else knows. The Chief was given his direction, he just followed where the letter led, doing his job. The Powers That Be, as you like to call them, only give minimal information, as you well know. Even I wasn't told that much. A lot of it I pieced together by inference and what wasn't being said."
He pulled back to look me in the eyes.
"No-one, but no-one told me to make love to you, or to tell you that I love you. That was all me. And I sure as hell haven't told anyone about us because that's what you wanted."
Foyle looked at the flowers he held. A small posy of freesias, their scent redolent of hot summers past and Andrew as a young child on the beach. It was odd how a simple fragrance could bring back a memory, complete and so real, if only for a few moments.
Rosalind had picked the flowers from the window box on the balcony outside their bedroom window. That last summer the open window had filled the house with their scent. The following summer she was gone and he hadn't the heart to tend to the little patch of soil.
This year, for the first time in a long while, he had caught the achingly familiar smell when he had opened the bedroom window door during a particularly hot day.
A few small lilac-coloured flowers in the window box moved gently in the light breeze.
Foyle had frowned.
They must have self-seeded.
If he were a fanciful man, he might have taken this as a sign from Rosalind. Was she telling him not to let her go? Or could it be that she was letting him know that it was okay for him to move on?
Foyle didn't consider himself a fanciful man, but he felt a need to take some flowers to Rosalind. It wasn't for the anniversary of her death, or her birthday or their wedding anniversary, or...any other occasion, other than the thought that he should let her know about Sam.
Hence his presence, with the freesia posy, at Rosalind's grave.
I've never told you this, but in the weeks after you...left us...your father asked me if I would ever marry again. I was surprised by his frankness. Surprised, but also angry. You were my wife and his daughter, how could he ask such a question?
I told him that I didn't know.
In my mind I couldn't visualise myself ever loving anyone as much again; I couldn't bear the agony of another parting. I couldn't imagine my life being that perfect again. I saw my life as tainted. You so loved life, yet you were gone. And I was still here.
Andrew has grown into a fine young man, but you will not see him marry, or have children of his own, or share in his achievements. It's the hardest thing to bear; knowing that you will not be there for any of it.
Foyle smoothed his hand down his tie, a nervous tell that he was not so calm as he appeared. He glanced around the churchyard, grateful that he was alone.
I thought you'd like these.
He carefully placed the flowers in the water pot there for that purpose and stood up.
He sighed gently.
My dear Rosalind, I am truly thankful that you were part of my life, and I always will be.
I have come to tell you that I am getting married. I never thought I would take this path more than once, but someone showed me that it was possible to love again.
My love for Sam in no way diminishes the love I had for you.
But, so help me God, I do love her.
Foyle replaced the hat he had removed while tending to the flowers. He rested a hand on Rosalind's headstone and dipped his head once.
He turned and walked from the church yard, his measured steps taking him home.
Sam turned from her position by the cooker when she heard the key in the front door.
"Hello, it's me, I'm in the kitchen."
She heard footsteps out in the hall muffle as they hit the rug and a moment later her 'young man' hesitated in the doorway.
Foyle's eyebrow went up at the very pleasant surprise of Sam's presence in the house.
"This is nice, what are you doing here?"
"I hope you don't mind me using the key you gave me."
"Not at all, it's your key now."
Foyle sniffed appreciatively as Sam pulled the baking tray of buns out of the oven and placed them on the kitchen table before wiping her hands on the tea towel.
"My mother says that nothing calms the nerves like baking, so here I am."
Foyle smiled as she crossed to greet him.
"It's a kind thought, but I'm not nervous."
Sam undid his suit jacket, slid her arms around his waist and thrilled at his reciprocal embrace.
"Yes, but I am, so we have buns. Now kiss me please?"
Nothing loathe, he obliged with pleasure.
He could see that Sam was pink in the face when they parted, but he could tell that it was not from the heat of the oven.
"Now, what are you nervous about? Everything is ready for Saturday, surely?"
"I know it is, but mother is working herself up into a frenzy. I have no idea what she will want me to do at the vicarage over the next four days."
Sam sighed heavily before continuing.
"It's not whether we'll be ready, I'm more worried about you. I know I'm being silly, but you haven't changed your mind, have you?"
Both Foyle's eyebrows shot up in mild alarm.
"Why? Have you?"
Sam looked aghast.
"Good heavens, no! I'm just worried that you'll realise that you don't want to be tied to me ' 'til death do we part'."
Foyle relaxed again.
"I seem to recall someone telling me that it was a personal choice who one was tied to."
Sam grinned at the reminder.
"Just so. Good, that's cleared that up. I shall enjoy the buns far more now."
She settled Foyle at the table and within moments had demonstrated that she had already familiarised herself with the kitchen and its various contents as she placed a plate and knife in front of him and, with another grin, directed him to help himself.
The subtle undertone and the cheeky smile told Foyle more than the words had.
He placed a still very warm bun on his plate and looked at his bride-to-be, his smile carefully hidden.
"Only four more days."
"Oh poo. I thought the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. Alas, you have resisted my feminine wiles."
Foyle's smile escaped.
"If it's any consolation it's been hard, umm, difficult for me, too."
Sam was torn between laughter and thwarted passion. Four days had never seemed so long.
She told him so.
Foyle was entirely sympathetic, but he wanted Sam to have the white wedding she deserved.
He placed a hand over Sam's as he explained and was surprised to feel her hand trembling.
"What's wrong? You're shaking like a leaf."
Sam made a visible effort to gather herself together and gave him a small smile.
"Oh, it's nothing wrong. Mother decided to give me the pre-wedding talk."
Foyle's lip barely twitched but Sam spotted it.
"Oh, don't give me that innocent look; you think it's dreadfully funny that she's so old-fashioned."
"Not at all, I think it's quite charming. Was it...er...helpful?"
Sam flushed. As a brief distraction she broke off a piece of bun and popped it into her mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed.
"Well, I confessed to her that I wasn't entirely without some idea of what goes on, which was just as well as I don't think I could bear that from Mother, no matter how well intentioned she thought to be, so I assured her that I was quite comfortable with the little I did know, thank you, and anything else I needed to know I was sure that you would help me through. She did seem a little relieved."
Foyle imagined that she would be.
He had some of his bun, which was quite delicious, then took a sip of still-scalding tea.
"Good, good. Um...so, the um...trembling? What's going on with that?"
Sam pushed her plate to one side. Mild concern trickled through him; it was not like her to pass on food.
"The thing is, it's the...wanting part of the waiting."
He understood that only too well.
"Desire is a very powerful thing."
"Exactly. Some evenings when we have been...close...I've found it very difficult to stop myself from...from following the desire. In fact, I'm quite certain that you are the only one keeping us on the straight and narrow. I think I'm going to be shaking like this until after the wedding."
Foyle brought the hand under his to his mouth and kissed the palm. Sam's lips parted with a sudden need for more air as she watched him with eyes that begged him to understand.
After a long considering moment, Foyle stood up, Sam's hand still in his.
"In that case, I think we should go upstairs."
Sam stood automatically until she realised what he had said.
His smile gentle, Foyle inclined his head toward the kitchen door.
"Trust me, Sam. You'll still be entitled to have your white wedding."
As she trusted him with her life, this was easier than it might have been, but she was still shaking as she followed him into the hall.
"Are we going up to your room?"
Foyle stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked back at his love.
"Yes, but only if you want to."
The gung-ho grin flashed at him.
"Absolutely. Although, I'm curious about...well, everything, really."
He nodded once.
"Good. Thought you might be."
A few moments later they were standing in the master bedroom. Sam couldn't resist looking around the sun-filled room as she wandered closer, either by accident or design, to the large bed.
Foyle slipped his jacket off and hung it on the back of the dressing chair. His tie followed, then he undid the top button of his shirt, feeling more 'at home'. When he turned to look at Sam he was not surprised to see her looking everywhere but at him.
The picture she presented took his breath away. The light summer dress, pale blue with small sprigs of flowers, was so much more attractive than her uniform and the way it caught the light from the tall windows gave her an ethereal quality as though she were not quite of this earthly plane.
He had expected some trepidation on her part, but he saw only curiosity and desire in her expression when she turned to him.
"Would you like the curtains drawn...?"
She shook her head.
"I don't think we can be seen. Besides, I think it adds to the sense of naughtiness I feel simply by being in your bedroom."
Foyle smiled; he liked the way she thought.
"What am I going to do with you?"
Sam wasn't sure enough of herself yet to touch him as she wanted to, but she was filled with the desire to find out just what he had in mind.
"I'd like to know that myself."
Foyle held her to him, gently, loosely, free to escape if she wanted to.
"There is more to lovemaking than the act itself. I'd like to help you get over your nerves; to help you relax, without compromising you. But only if you want me to."
Sam nodded, her mind already made up.
"I think what I'd like is for you to kiss me and explain along the way. I trust you implicitly. Shall I undress?"
Both Foyle's brows climbed.
God no, I'm not a saint.
He shouldn't have been surprised at her forthright approach, but the combination of innocence and seduction was utterly compelling.
"Um, no, just slip your shoes off for now."
The shoes were kicked off immediately, reducing Sam two inches in height, but it didn't hold her back from slipping her arms around her fiancé and seeking out his lips with hers.
One delicious kiss followed after another and another until Sam was sure her head was spinning with delight. When Foyle guided her back onto the bed she went without a thought to propriety and scooted across to make room for him. Excited and impatient, Sam patted the space beside her and Foyle's lips lifted with fond amusement, though his eyes, like hers, glittered with desire.
More kisses followed, kisses that strayed from the lips and sought the contours of Sam's neck, then the valley between her breasts as far as her dress allowed.
Permission was sought and granted, buttons were undone and Sam wondered how it could get any better than this.
Women are complex creatures. On one hand they want a seductive, masterful man who will sweep them up into the maelstrom of passion, but they also want to feel safe and assured in their arms and to know that they are respected despite their surrender. It is a fine line between hesitancy, seduction and force.
Sam was quite unaware that she was being treated with exactly the right combination of respect and mastery. Like a prima ballerina who must make the dance look effortless, Foyle guided Sam through the awakening of her own sensuality, introducing her to a world quite outside her limited experience.
Kisses that caressed, touches that inflamed, Sam forgot any thought of nerves as Foyle gently encouraged her to learn what she liked him to do. When his hand finally closed over a still-clothed breast it wasn't fear that made her jerk under his touch.
Foyle lifted his head from her throat.
Sam shook her head.
"No, yes, gosh, no. It's so...wonderful. I almost can't stand it."
"Would you like to stop?"
His hand fitted so perfectly over her, like a living support. The heat was incredible but the last thought in Sam's head was to stop.
"No, I don't want this to end. Am I terrible to want even more?"
"Not at all, it's perfectly natural."
"Then...can we...go on?"
"Certainly, but say the word and I shall stop."
Sam looked up at him.
"What if I don't want you to stop?"
Foyle gave her question only brief consideration; although greatly aroused, he was still in command of himself.
"I shall stop regardless."
Sam rolled her eyes with mock dismay.
"I knew you would say that."
Foyle had already resumed the lesson, but indicated that he agreed with her surmise.
Sam gasped as the hand holding her breast brushed against its peaked tip. An outrageous idea leapt into her mind but she wasn't sure if she could ask.
She shifted slightly, accidentally moving Foyle's mouth from her neck to her throat, and then squirmed delightfully against his torso.
"Do you think...you could..?"
Foyle's mouth lifted the merest fraction required for clarity.
"Ask me anything you wish."
She was grateful that he instantly understood her hesitant request.
As Sam was lying on her back and Foyle was lying on his left side, he couldn't comfortably reach to do her bidding, but a minor adjustment to their positions took care of that, though it required him to transfer some of his weight to his right side and his knee slipped all too naturally between Sam's.
Sam felt almost overwhelmed by the sensations clamouring for her attention. When the brief chill of a summer's day was replaced by the heat of a mouth on her body her arms clasped around the man she loved, unwilling to let him go even for a second. The press of him against her hip and his thigh between hers left her on fire.
As Sam gasped for air, Foyle had seen the red flush spread from her neck to her chest. As she clutched at him in abandon, he increased the pressure of his thigh against the unconscious rocking of her hips. He knew that she would be responsive, but he hadn't realised that she would be so sensitive; it was all to the good though, while he was still in control of himself.
So on a quiet summer afternoon four days before her wedding, which would still be white, Sam discovered the ultimate pleasure her body could give her, especially in the hands of a considerate lover.
When the conflagration had finally died back and Sam had returned to earth, she looked at the man beside her with new eyes.
"Does that happen every time?"
Foyle smiled gently.
"Not necessarily every time, but most of the time, yes."
In the drowsy but oddly energised aftermath, Sam marvelled at the prospect of feeling like that again. Double gosh!
When she looked at him again, she felt happy and relaxed and unafraid. Then she frowned.
"But what about you? I had all the fun."
"I can assure you that I enjoyed every moment. Your happiness is mine too."
"Yes, but what about...?"
Foyle kissed her to distract her, then he smiled.
"I'm fine. I can wait. After all, I'm not the one that was nervous."
Sam's grin was wide.
"Oh, I'm not nervous, I was simply over-excited. But you were right, I feel wonderful now. Thank you so much!"
"At least you've stopped shaking."
"Mmm, yes. Now I'm ravenous though. And thirsty. I'll go and put the kettle on again."
She slid off the bed and turned back to Foyle as she buttoned the front of her dress.
Foyle's dry sotto voce comment baffled Sam but she put the thought to one side while she found her shoes and slipped them on.
She turned at the bedroom door and smiled at the image of him lying on the bed. Her former boss, now her fiancé. She sighed happily.
"I'll tell you one thing, though. If it's like that for everyone, I'm amazed that married people ever manage to leave the house."
I don't know if it is over, but I've told Mike I want time to think and I can't do that with him around. I requested a sabbatical from work, which, surprise surprise, was agreed immediately.
I've also moved out of my apartment. Grammas can move mountains, so one tearful great grandchild didn't prove much of a problem. She took one look at me and opened her arms. There's nothing on Earth like her hugs; I swear they have medicinal qualities.
I was kept busy for a couple of weeks, sorting out my legal affairs, dealing with paperwork, moving, decorating, moping, and taking long walks on the beach. Walking in sand is good for leg muscle tone I discovered and much cheaper than the health club.
But eventually I got to a place where I couldn't put things off any longer, there was simply nothing else to distract me. Grammas popped in when I wasn't expecting her and caught me in a weak moment. Obviously I couldn't tell her everything, but I told her I'd fallen for a guy who had lots of lovely qualities, but that we could never be together.
Grammas surprised me again.
"Rubbish. Anyone can see Mike is besotted with you. And you are, with him. Find a way to be together."
Grammas sighed and leaned back in her chair, regarding me silently for several moments.
"Have you been taking in the news pods while you've been busy?"
I shook my head. I didn't like the 'I've got bad news' look on her face.
"Came off his bike."
My brain shut up shop.
When I surfaced I found I was lying on the floor of my living room, covered in a throw. Grammas was seated in a chair beside me.
"Ah, you're awake. How do you feel?"
Everything flooded back. I felt like a hollowed out watermelon.
Mike was gone! Now I could never tell him about...
If he was dead, how was I supposed to 'find a way for us to be together'?
I gave Grammas a glare.
"You lied to me! How could you do such a thing?"
"Years of practice. So, how do you think you feel about Mike?"
"None of your business."
But my tone was soft.
She had one more card up her sleeve though.
"Have you told him you're pregnant?"