"Then who is Mike?"
My mind went a complete blank and the desire that had been such a commanding presence a moment ago faded into the background. Reality struck as hard as if it had been a physical blow.
I must have murmured Mike's name while we were…oh, great Heavens. I've never been so caught up that I've said anyone's name in those circumstances, let alone the wrong one.
"Good grief, I am so sorry!"
Embarrassed, I scrambled in the gloom to get to my feet; said feet were tangled in the blankets, but I stood up anyway, completely forgetting in my haste that we were under the stairs.
Chris' warning was quick, but not quick enough to prevent me banging my head. I saw stars for a moment, but my thick hair saved me from the worst of it.
I pushed open the door and staggered out into the hall. Chris followed with what sounded like a lot more grace and crossed to the light switch. Even the dim bulb seemed too bright after sitting in the dark for so long.
"Let me look at your head; you might have cut yourself."
I stood still under his scrutiny, his soft touch delicately probing over my scalp until he found the emerging duck's egg. Despite everything, the backburnered desire still trickled through me.
While I was looking at the floor, with Chris' hands on my head, I answered his earlier question.
"Mike is someone I work – worked – with, before I came here. He's a friend, but we've never dated or anything. He's just a friend."
The hands stilled, then withdrew with that same patient gentleness.
I looked up into the face that was becoming so dear to me. I honestly didn't know why, so what could I tell him?
The truth. Up to a point, anyway.
"I don't know. Though…you do look quite alike."
I was still looking at Chris and could actually see the reserve return to his face. He was distancing himself from me and it hurt like hell.
"Please don't look at me like that. I don't have feelings for Mike; I've never kissed him, I've never even imagined kissing him."
That much was the truth.
Gawd, how did this man manage to convey so much with just a look? The subtlest of movements and his face just said so much.
Without a moment's thought I laid a hand on his arm, trying to plead my case.
"I've been kissed before; more times than I care to remember. But I can tell you that I have never experienced anything like the kiss I just shared with you, Christopher Foyle, before. And it grieves me mightily that I may never do so again. I -"
To my utter horror, I couldn't finish what I was saying. The emotion rushed up to choke me, and I couldn't speak. For the first time in my life I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn't hold it all inside and I gulped out a sobbing breath. Then another. I put both hands on my mouth to contain the awful noise, but it wouldn't stop. This was ridiculous; I don't bawl like a baby; I'm the quintessential Ice Queen.
A distant rational part of my brain was trying to excuse my behaviour as shock, or a result of the bang on my head, but it didn't matter, it was simply happening.
Chris must have seen something of my dismay in my eyes. His whole stance softened and his face moved with sympathy. It was my undoing when he slid his arms around me and simply held me while I cried.
I don't know how long we stood there, but eventually I ran dry and began to feel a little silly. Women in films can cry prettily; lovely clear eyes with tears welling up and trailing daintily down peachy cheeks. In reality, I expect my eyes are red and my face blotchy. I don't even want to think about a runny nose. Chris moved briefly, and once again I found myself in possession of a pristine white handkerchief that was warm and smelled, wonderfully, of him.
"Thanks…I haven't returned your other one yet."
The comforting rumble of his voice was under my ear and my chest.
"Never mind, I have enough to spare."
He didn't let me go, but he pulled back so that we could see each other, and he surveyed my face.
I nodded. Strangely enough, it was true.
"Sorry; I don't do that sort of thing, usually."
"Then you needed it more than most. Come on; let's get you that cup of tea."
Now that we weren't in the middle of a raid, I took the opportunity to take in my surroundings as we moved through the hall to the kitchen. It was an oddly shaped house, but I liked it. It still retained Rosalind's touch, Chris hadn't let it slide away, which was an admirable achievement for a man and a boy left alone so long ago.
I could imagine living in a house like this if it included some of my modern gadgets subtly tucked away.
I sighed, and tried to make it silent. This would become Sam's home and she would be very happy here with her husband, and their children.
Chris made a pot of tea and let it brew while he retrieved the blankets and pillows from under the stairs. He disappeared with them, so I assumed that he was taking them back where they belonged. I heard him moving about upstairs, then the sound of him returning down the stairs. I took two cups and saucers from the kitchen dresser and placed them on the table by the teapot.
Chris fetched some milk from the pantry and then poured out our tea. I didn't bother with my sweetener; this man was altogether more shrewd than his driver.
As I tried my first sip of the still scalding drink, Chris seated himself opposite me at the table, and regarded me evenly. I knew without a doubt that I was about to be asked something I wouldn't want to answer; at least not with the truth.
"How did you know?"
I tried to look innocent.
He gave a single shake of his head, but didn't say anything for a long minute, letting the silence work for him. Finally, he stirred.
"How did you know that we would be safe here in the house?"
I tried to keep my gaze on him, but my eyes wouldn't obey.
"I didn't, not really. I guess I just assumed…"
I hid behind my cup, but the tea was too hot to drink yet. I waited in an agony of anticipation for the grilling I expected, but to my surprise, Chris didn't pursue the subject. That really worried me; he was filing it away for further consideration.
I needed some sort of a diversion.
"This is a lovely house."
Chris knew the distraction for what it was. He raised both eyebrows and inclined his head.
This isn't over.
"Thank you. I like it too."
We took our tea into the front room where Chris had already checked the blackout before putting on the lights. The room was another example of history come to life and it suddenly dawned on me that this wasn't the 'past' or a historical adventure to Chris; this was his life.
And I was the one messing it up.
"I'm sorry, Chris. Really sorry."
He looked mildly amused.
"What for? Kissing me? Or calling me 'Mike'?"
I couldn't bear it if he thought that I was sorry I'd kissed him.
"Like I said, I've never had a kiss like it before and I mean that in a good way. A great way."
A bloody fantastic shagadelic way, if you must know.
"Glad I didn't disappoint."
I hated his tone; it felt to me that he was belittling the whole episode under the stairs as something trivial and meaningless. I opened my mouth to put the record straight, but closed it again with the words unsaid.
Wasn't this what I wanted? I needed to make sure Chris didn't fall for me, like I was falling for him?
Oh leaping lizards; it's true, I'm breaking one of the big rules.
"How long are you planning to stay?"
I must have looked blank; did he mean in the house?
Days, at most.
"I don't know. My…family…usually dictate my movements."
Chris frowned as he looked at me. I couldn't tell what he was thinking because he had chosen not to let me see what he was thinking.
I decided to jump before I was pushed, so I finished my tea in the awkward silence and then went to get up.
I say went to get up, because I never quite made it. I felt a little giddy as I stood, and sort of swayed a bit while my vision went spotty and my hearing faded out. I fell back down rather than sat, but the effect was the same.
I didn't see him move, but Chris was at my side a moment later. Concern was etched on his face and I felt weepy again for what was lost.
"Stay still for a few minutes; it's probably reaction to the bang on your head. Do you have a headache?"
I thought about it. Was it a headache or an aching head?
"Not really. I'll be okay in a moment."
I looked at him. We'd shared the most amazing kiss ever, and I'd ruined his evening. Now I was having a fit of the vapours on his sofa. I needed to be back in my bed so that I could indulge in my new-found hobby of blubbing.
"Are you sure?"
That I want to blub? Oh yeah.
"Yes, thank you, I'm certain. I need to get going anyway."
He did that finger scratch contemplative thing as he looked at me.
"Umm, I…er…don't think that would be wise."
"What wouldn't be wise?"
I braced myself to get up. Chris hesitated and I saw his hand twitch for a split second, as if he was going prevent me getting to my feet.
"You've had a bang on the head; I don't think that you should be alone."
Oh merciful Heavens please don't say things like that! I'm not made of stone. If you come home with me, I'll end up doing something my boss will regret.
I made myself smile reassuringly.
"I'll be fine. You don't even have to come with me; in fact, I'd prefer it if -"
My preferences not only didn't manage to get out of my mouth, but they were summarily overruled anyway.
"There's no question that I would take you home if that was where you were going, but this is a coastal town and, as such, extra security procedures are in place."
I leaned back on the sofa and closed my eyes briefly.
"Oh, please don't tell me that you have a curfew. I need to go home."
When I opened my eyes again I caught a glimpse of a look of…well, the best way to describe it would be discomforted satisfaction. I think part of him was pleased that I was stuck here. I wasn't privy to which part that would be…
"It's past eleven; too late now. I'm sorry."
He didn't sound sorry.
"You're a policeman, a DCI, won't they let you though?"
Chris looked at me with surprise.
"Possibly, if I had movement papers on me. What would be your excuse for being out?"
"I don't know. You've arrested me? I've been very disorderly?"
Chris smiled, possibly despite himself, and weak pushover that I am, I gave up, almost gracefully.
"Oh, all right, you win. I'll stay…"
But I couldn't resist adding cheekily,
"…where do you want me?"
Chris didn't answer, but his expression told me that I was treading on thin ice.
However, as potential seducers go, he was bottom of the class. He showed me where the bathroom was upstairs, and took me along the landing to a large bedroom that faced the front of the house. Two tall windows were blacked out, but a bedside light showed me a big double bed where I had expected a single. I turned to Chris with an inquiring gaze. He didn't bother to misunderstand me.
"You'll be more comfortable here; I'll be in the other room on this floor, next to the bathroom. If you need anything, just call. I'll put out a toothbrush for you; I always have some new ones handy in case Andrew forgets his."
There were many things I wanted to say, but contented myself with a 'thank you' and didn't stop him from pulling the door shut behind him as he left.
I sighed; I seemed to be doing a lot of it lately, and then got up to have a sneaky look around the room. The two tall windows turned out to be doors, possibly going onto a balcony; I couldn't remember seeing one during our hasty arrival. I'd bet that there was lots of light in here in the summer.
The bedside table on the far side of the bed contained a framed picture of a dark-haired woman who was young and pretty. Chris' late wife, Rosalind, I presume.
I moved back around the end of the bed and a floorboard moved noisily as I walked over it. I froze, looking at the door, half expecting Chris to return, but he didn't. Out of my usual curiosity I knelt and looked at the loose plank of wood. It was secured at both ends by flat-sided nails that were old even for this time period. The nail at one end was not doing its job properly and the short plank moved up and down in place, making it squeak slightly.
I got up again. I didn't have the tools to fix it, so I moved on.
Five minutes later I'd seen all that I wanted to. I went to the bathroom and used one of the new toothbrushes, but the toothpaste tasted awful. It made me clean my teeth more thoroughly just to get rid of the taste.
Having finished my ablutions I dawdled back to 'my' room. I didn't see Chris anywhere, so I guessed that he was downstairs. He had been busy in my absence though, as there was a clean pair of pyjamas folded on the bed.
Blast; I'd obviously missed his return visit.
I changed quickly into the Pj's, and hung my own clothes carefully over a chair so that they wouldn't look slept in tomorrow morning. I had to grin to myself. What would the neighbours think about a woman seen leaving the respectable police officer's house early in the morning?
Depends who was watching, I suppose. The blokes would think 'lucky sod, he got a bit last night' and the women would think 'loose tart; how dare she walk out there, bold as brass'.
Both wrong, sadly for me. Still, at least I could honestly say I'd got into Chris' pyjamas.
Just a pity he's not in them.
I slid into Chris' bed, which was surprisingly comfortable. The blankets were heavier than I was used to, which made me feel a little constricted, but I was cold and reluctant to take off any layers.
The bump on my head was quick to remind me that it was still there when I laid my head on the pillow, so that meant I had to lie on my back and it took me ages to fall asleep that way.
I don't remember falling asleep; who does? But the next thing I knew I was being gently shaken awake from a horrible nightmare about being buried in the cupboard under the stairs with tons of rubble over me. I was very hot because a gas leak was burning beside me, but Chris was sitting, quite unconcernedly drinking tea in the front room while his stairs burst into flames.
"Lily, wake up!"
Lily? Oh, that's me. Where am I? Light too bright! Bedroom. Ah, yes, Chris' house.
I requested information in my usual crisp fashion.
Chris was standing beside the bed. He wore pale blue Pj's and a dark blue dressing gown – pleasingly undone.
Get a grip, and not on your companion here.
"You were having a nightmare by the sound of it; screaming that you were being buried and burned."
I realised that I was roasting hot because of the blankets now and I did feel trapped by their weight.
"Sorry; had no idea. Not used to this many blankets."
I watched him look down along the bed and coincidentally, my outline. I mentally drifted; a happy victim of impure thoughts.
"Do you want me to remove one?"
What? Remove what? My clothes? Oh, I thought you'd never ask.
I had the distinct impression that he knew exactly where my thoughts had wandered. He wasn't smiling as such, yet I could tell that he was amused.
"Blankets, Lily, would you like me to take one off the bed. You really are incorrigible."
I grinned lazily, much more awake now, with my panic fading.
"Well, stop incorriging me."
Chris rolled his eyes, pulled back the counterpane and draped it over the footboard of the bed. It was much better.
"Thanks. Sorry to wake you."
"No matter. Will you be all right now?"
Only if you don't go back to your bed. Stay here with me.
"I think so."
He nodded once before turning towards the door. Damn him for being polite and respectful. Why couldn't he give me the opportunity to defend my honour?
Probably because he is of the opinion I wouldn't fight too hard.
He'd be right.
I let him get as far as the door before I said his name. He turned and looked at me, a little warily. I didn't let it deter me.
"Are you tired? Sleepy, I mean?"
Chris kept his hand on the doorknob and his whole body signaled conflict. After a moment, his shoulders dropped into a relaxed position. He let go of the door and turned back to me.
"No, not especially. I'm used to less sleep, I assume. You?"
"Wide awake now."
I looked at him – really looked at him. I could see that he was torn between what might be happening here between us and what was going on in his heart, but his relaxed shoulders told me that he was prepared to face whatever happened and deal with it.
I shouldn't be messing with his head. I ought to be staying out of everyone's way; keeping the lowest of low profiles and not causing waves.
But I kept remembering Sam's diaries. How happy she was, even when things weren't perfect. How much they obviously loved each other. Something had triggered in Foyle the possibility of his affections being returned and he had acted on it. Oddly, I now found that my desire for Chris had sort of stepped sideways; it was still there under the surface, but my sense of duty had superseded it. I think I'm thinking rationally.
I scooted up until I was only semi-reclined on the pillows – keeping my modesty intact at the same time for his sake. I patted the bed covers beside me.
"Come and sit. In fact, pull the counterpane over you, you look a little chilled."
Up went the eyebrow. He hesitated briefly, clearly still torn.
"Erm, I don't think…this…"
"C'mon, Chris, it's okay; I don't bite - unless you insist."
The other eyebrow joined the first.
But he walked around the bed; the floorboard squeaked again, and he got on the other side of the bed. He pulled the cover up to his waist and then he too lay back on the pillows. I was under the bedding and he was on top. We were appropriately and modestly separated, yet intimately placed. It was right for what I wanted to say.
"I want to ask you something, and I would like you to think before you answer my question. Okay?"
It took me another few moments to figure out how to tackle my approach.
"Do you intend being alone for the rest of your life?"
I think I shocked him. He looked at me as if he was trying to figure out whether I was fishing for a marriage proposal or simply being intrusively rude.
When he didn't say anything, I continued.
"You've spoken eloquently about your late wife and I don't doubt for a moment that you still miss her; will always miss her, but do you think that she would want you to be alone?"
Chris found his voice at last, but I could tell that he was uncomfortable with the subject. Possibly it wasn't very tactful of me to be having this discussion while we were both lying in the matrimonial bed, so to speak.
"Rosalind was kind and generous in nature. I think that she would expect me to move on eventually, as I would her, if our positions were reversed. But, as you said yourself, nine years isn't long in the big scheme of things."
"No, it's not."
Except to a nine-year-old.
I could see his point, especially age-wise; would I want to start looking again when I had life on an even keel, no surprises, no shocks or upsets?
But also missing out on all the highs and lows of a new relationship, the excitement, the anticipation?
I needed to tackle this from another angle before I depressed myself.
"Do you go to church?"
Chris looked at me as if to say 'doesn't everyone?'.
"Yes, yes I do."
"You believe in the immortal soul?"
"You understand the concept of 'soulmates'?"
Chris frowned as he thought.
"Yes, I do. The idea that two souls are ideally made for each other; the perfect
"Right. Have you ever thought about how you would reconcile that principle with the idea of meeting another partner or companion after someone is widowed?"
Chris looked a little taken aback. I genuinely think he's never considered the matter.
"N…no, I haven't. Have you?"
"I have, but not with regard to me, because I haven't met mine yet."
At least, not in this life.
Chris gave me a very considering look.
"What did you decide?"
I turned on my side to face him, searching his features, committing them to memory.
"Well, I think that the reason some people marry a particular person, is that they feel very comfortable with them. They fit each other with the familiarity of a foot in a shoe. They feel okay together and their lives tick along nicely and they are happy. Everything has a degree of contentment, even the sex."
Chris had been nodding as I was talking, but gave me an odd look when I got to the last word. I know that there are all sorts of polite euphemisms for the horizontal boogie (it paints such a picture, doesn't it?), but I'm guessing the 's' word is a little blunt for the well brought up ladies of the 1940's. Ah well, it's said now.
If what I suspect is true – and I'm increasingly of the opinion that I am right – then Chris knows on some level exactly what I mean.
"With me so far?"
Chris also turned on his side and propped his pillows up so that he could lean on his left hand as he looked at me.
"Yes. These are our soulmates?"
Ah, thought so!
"Yes and no. If you imagine that a soul enters a body at some point after conception – setting aside the debate about when exactly – and then returns from whence it came after death, then there must be a collective of souls not actually inhabiting bodies somewhere in the celestial ether, right?"
"Yeeess, I assume so."
"Good. Then two souls that were near each other in the collective will 'know' each other and be familiar with each other, like neighbours, if you will."
He nodded dubiously, but also frowned.
"You said 'yes and no'."
I know I'm going to cause him some pain in a moment, but I mean no disrespect to Rosalind. I hope he understands that.
"This is the 'no' option; they are not true soulmates, they are companion-souls, and there's nothing wrong with that at all, especially if you're both happy and unaware of the bigger picture."
Chris was quiet. He rolled onto his back and brought his hand up to rub at his forehead. He looked troubled, but I gave him time to come to terms with it.
His questions were hesitant and quiet, almost as if he were thinking aloud.
"How…do you know…? What difference…? Can you tell…?"
"I can't tell you from personal experience. All I think, from talking to friends back…home…is that there is what I call 'sparkage'; the extra spring in your step, the fizz in your Champagne, the sparkle in the eyes. It was described to me by a good friend when I was doing my training. She met her soulmate. On the one hand, because she had met him when she was so young, she was worried that he might not consider her mature enough for him, as he was fifteen years her senior, but on the other hand, she was thrilled that knew that she had met her mate. Sara had to wait ten years for him, but they're still together now, years later."
"Are they really happy?"
"Giddy. Well, Sara is. Her husband is a little more sedate about the whole thing, but he's never been one that was easy to read, except by her, of course. But when you see them together, well, it's just…magic."
And that's how it will be with you and Sam, my dear Mr Foyle.
I'm sure now that this is at least part of why I had to be here. I didn't think that there would have been anyone here to tell Chris that there could be more to life for him. Sam isn't quite 'old' enough yet to tackle Foyle head on, but this war will mature her quicker than the average young woman in her early twenties.
Chris had been quiet for a while and I wondered what he was thinking. It occurred to me – a little late – that he might take it into his head to think that I might be on about the two of us.
My logic told me that I should chivvy him back to the other bedroom so we both could get some sleep, but my instincts wanted him to stay with me in our chaste cocoon, and let us take the only comfort that our circumstances would allow; that of companionship.
Finally Chris stirred and turned back to me. I had the distinct impression that he had been holding back tears, as his eyes looked a little red, but he didn't cry. Men of their era don't, do they?
I needn't have worried.
"If I have understood it correctly, you are telling me we should look for…magic."
I smiled, but I have a worrying feeling that it was more tremulous that I would have liked.
"Yes. Magic, sparkage, zippitydoodah, you'll hear violins long before the music starts; you'll want to dance all night."
"Magic, instead of comfort?"
"Magic as well as comfort."
"What if I don't recognise it? Or the other person doesn't feel the same way?"
"Sara recognised it, but had to wait for ten years for Gil to recognise it; or at least believe it. She had to wait for him to grow up."
Chris frowned again.
"I thought you said that he was older than her."
"Only in years."
More forehead rubbing followed.
"And you say that you've never experienced it yourself?"
I could see what he was thinking – if we were soulmates, would I recognise him?
I shook my head and prayed that he wouldn't see that I was lying.
"Hmm. Right. Well, thank you, you've given me quite a bit to think about."
Chris looked like he was about to leave. Without trying to look as if I was desperate, I put my hand on his arm, lightly enough that he could shake me off if he wanted to.
He looked askance at me.
"Don't go. If you don't mind, I'd rather not be alone tonight."
Poor man. It was obvious that he was getting mixed signals from me; I'm betting he didn't know what to think now. He sounded a little torn.
"I know, I know. I promise that I'll tell everyone that you were a perfect gentleman and didn't lay a finger on me the entire night we spent together in your bedroom."
Spluttered laughter escaped from my companion.
The mattress dipped slightly as Chris settled back down and pulled the top cover back over him. He faced me and I could see his lips purse with amusement.
"I think I'd prefer it if you didn't tell anyone that I was a perfect gentleman…"
I grinned, and scooted as close as I could with that many blankets between us.
"Okay, I'll tell them you were an animal in bed and I'm exhaust-"
The admonishment was firmer, but still laced with humour.
"Please don't tell them anything. We don't need to even mention that you were here at all. Think of your reputation, for goodness sake."
"That's better – or a start, at least. Now please put the light out, so that we can get some sleep."
I did as I was bid, and we settled together but separately under the covers.
"Goodnight, Lily, sleep well."
Again, I didn't recall falling asleep, but I was perfectly aware when I woke up in the wee hours and found myself warmly embraced from behind, the soft susurration of Chris' breath on my neck. Somehow we had also managed to end up with my left hand in his right, our palms touching and our fingers interlinked.
It was as I suspected and feared.