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The Bench

By BlackBear53

Romance / Drama

The Bench

The Pacific Ocean behaved just as its name implied. The water was a mirrored surface with small rolling waves. The sun was warm and a gentle breeze had the palm trees swaying. Venice Beach had much going for it today.

It was noon time and there was a small crowd on the boardwalk. The large crowds came later in the day when the games and beach park opened.

My name is Sara Grandon and I'm in Los Angeles for a vacation. I need to get away from life for a while. Six months before I lost my husband, Mark, to a drunk driver and he was the best thing that ever happened in my life. While I was here I was visiting my college friend, Alan, who I hadn't seen in six years. There were so many sights that I want to see such as Venice Beach, Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood sign. I also want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway.

Call me a tourist.

I'm sitting on a bench, at Venice Beach looking out over the Pacific towards Hawaii. I always wanted to do this and Mark had promised that we would. I wish he was with me and I guess he is, in spirit. I was so enrapt in the moment that I didn't notice someone sit next to me.

He spoke, which woke me up and he said, "Do you come here often?"

I'm sure there was a loud rattle as I did my eye roll. "Seriously? Is that your best pick up line?" I turn and look at him. I should look first and I definitely should learn to not be so flippant. He's attractive and there is an aura of confidence about him. Then he looked at me I notice the most amazing emerald/blue eyes I've ever seen. Needless to say those eyes and he captured my attention.

He laughed and his gorgeous blue green eyes met my hazel ones. "Let me try that again?" "My name is Callen and I come here to think, often." He hesitated a moment. "I don't remember seeing you here before."

"It's my first time here."

"On this bench?"

"No. LA, Venice Beach and this bench." We both started laughing.

Callen kept looking into my eyes. "What are you doing in LA?"

I was mesmerized into answering. "Vacationing, visiting college friends and sightseeing. Why?"

He looked out over the ocean. "No reason."

I turn more toward him to get a better view and to keep my purse further from him. He doesn't seem like a crook but a girl can't be too careful. While turning I notice a really big guy leaning on a car watching us. It gave me the creeps. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"Yep, that is my best friend Sam."

"What's your name?" His gorgeous blue eyes met mine and then flicked away to look out over the white sand. "I told you mine." It was almost like his feelings were hurt or he was shy.

I was leery to tell him. There was the feeling that he was questioning me for some reason, but I couldn't figure out why. His eyes met mine again and before I knew it Sara Grandon magically popped out of my mouth. Why was that happening?

"What are you doing on this bench?" He asked.

I must have smiled. "Looking at Hawaii!"

He lifted one brow and looked at me. "Hawaii is twenty-five hundred miles from here."

I looked at him and proceeded to explain how I had "seen" California from Hawaii many times with my husband and we wanted to see the reverse. "I had always thought that Mark and I would come here someday together. He died last year." His question had caught me off guard and I felt the tears welling up. I looked away and watched the skaters go by on the sidewalk. He must have sensed my reluctance to talk to him about this, so he let the moment pass. We chatted about the weather, the ocean and life in general. Before we knew it, it was time for me to meet Alan and his new wife for lunch. I got up, shook his hand and told him it was nice meeting him. We were both startled by the electrical charge that flew between us.

Callen rose as I walked away and called after me, "Sara, let's have dinner, soon."

It stunned me and I said, "Okay." I don't know why it felt right to me. As I walked away I turned to wave and both he and Sam were leaning against the car watching me.

I was so happy that I didn't realize Callen had no way to get in touch: He didn't know where I was staying.

To: Director Vance From: Operations Manager H. Lange

RE: Stolen armament from Camp Pendleton:

Agent Hanna and Agent Callen have found location of meet and will try to get the Russians to sell the arms to Agent Callen. Will keep you informed.

I met my friend Alan and his lovely wife Kristen at a cute little bistro called the Purple Panda. They served wonderful salads and had a nice collection of teas to choose from. We talked and caught up with each other's lives for over two hours. He and Kristen ran a very successful exercise company in downtown Los Angeles. He was a very lucky man. He married his soul mate while I had lost mine. We chatted about the people we went to school with and what they were doing now. Alan and Kristen also told me they were expecting. A little envy crept through. Time passed quickly and we said our good-byes. We planned to meet again before I went home to Connecticut. All the time I spent with Alan and Kristen I felt watched. I didn't feel the urge to return to my dingy room just yet, so I did some window shopping in hope that I would catch someone following me. I purchased a few souvenirs to take home with me. The feeling of being watched grew stronger with every step I took. Around six o'clock I went back to my apartment, kicked off my shoes and made a cup of tea. It felt so good to sit and sip that tea and read. There came a knock at the door. After the feeling of being followed I was apprehensive about answering the door. I cracked the door slightly and to my surprise there stood Callen. He wore a blue shirt that set his gorgeous eyes ablaze.

I bet I stood there mesmerized for at least thirty seconds before asking, "How did you find me?"

His eyes crinkled when he laughed, "I have my ways."

I must admit I was happy to see him. I let him into the apartment and we both stood there and looked at each other for what seemed an eternity.

"Where would you like to go for dinner?

"Surprise me!"

He did.

Callen let me freshen up a bit before we went out. The night was warm, with a light breeze, but I was going to need a sweater later. The first place we went was an outdoor café called The Tea Cart. He chose that place because they do not use tea bags. All their tea concoctions are made from fresh brewed tea leaves and they were delightful.

We sat sipping the piping hot tea and chatted. "I make my tea like this all the time. I used to drink tea made with tea bags but could taste the paper." I began to wonder where a man would have picked up that information. Obviously someone had taken the time to teach him this talent. We talked about the weather, the beaches in the area and how cold the water is in California. After the tea we then went up to the Burger Bar four blocks up from the beach.

Callen talked about Los Angeles as his home town. I found myself telling him all about Connecticut but mostly about East Hartland where I lived. When we got there he ordered two burgers and we each chose our own toppings. Not only was the food delicious but the atmosphere in the restaurant was fun. There was music and art work for sale. Some of it was very nice. The burger and fries, probably the best I have ever had.

It never occurred to me that I never felt like we were watched.

After we ate we went to a skee ball arcade down the beach where he won the most horrid kewpie doll for me. The winning of said doll took about an hour and a lot of laughing. It was so ugly it was cute, and I believe I will treasure that doll forever.

We walked and talked and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Venice Beach. It got late and I had an early morning the next day, so we walked back to my apartment.

As we entered the lobby Callen surprised me with "This is really a terrible place to live."

I looked about and shrugged "Oh it may be a bit dingy, but it's not too bad."

"I used to live there so I know how bad it is. I have another place for you to live." He hesitated for a few moments and continued with, "Come and live with me."

You sure could have knocked me over with a feather. We kept talking and my mind kept reeling. I looked at his face and knew he meant well. But we just met that day. I didn't know him and was not looking for any relationship. It was six months since I lost Mark. I politely said thank you but, no. The other thing that bothered me was the image of him and Sam watching me as I walked away. What did they want from me? He walked me up to my apartment, said good night and left. He won't be coming back again.

I packed my bag and got ready to leave for my trip up the California coast. The front desk called to tell me about a delivery. I went down to collect it. It turned out to be the most beautiful floral arrangement. I asked who had sent it and the desk clerk shrugged and told me there was no card. Well that's weird. I took them back to my room to enjoy while I finished my preparations for my drive today. It was going to be a long one.

I had a reservation at a bed and breakfast up the coast. It sounded like a beautiful place in wine country. This ride's been calling me since I got off the plane. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most spectacular drives in the world and I couldn't wait to start.

As I left the parking lot, there was the feeling of being watched. Later, even though there was a lot of traffic, I felt that I was being followed. I never found anyone, but the feeling remained.

I finally arrived at the bed and breakfast around five o'clock. The Vintner's Place was beautiful, just like the pamphlet said. It was quiet and tucked away from the highway and the many people that travel it. I wandered around like the tourist I am and took pictures of the owner's lovely gardens and the surrounding buildings. The fields of grapevines were loaded with grapes that would be picked soon and turned to wine. I'd have to purchase some of their wine to take back to Los Angeles with me.

My dinner reservation was for seven and I dressed and went down. I was very surprised when the owner told me my "boyfriend" had decided to join me. Did I say I was surprised? Shocked is probably a better word for it. Sitting at my table was, you guessed it, Callen.

As I walked across the dining room I smiled at him. He rose and helped me to my seat. I sat down and looked across the table at him as he sat down again. "I am very surprised to see you here."

He smiled back and then looked me in the eyes while fiddling with his silverware. "I wanted to see you again and apologize for my suggestion last night. I am sorry that I rushed it. I'm glad that you are not angry with me for intruding on your dinner plans."

I shook my head slowly and counted slowly in my head to ten. "You obviously don't know me. Just because I am smiling, well, it doesn't mean I'm happy." I counted to ten in my head, again, never once losing eye contact, before I lost it. "I- am- pissed. I was counting on this retreat for a little peace and quiet and a little time to think." I glanced around the room before continuing. "What are you doing here?" My feelings were warring with each other. I was feeling cornered and that made me angry. At the same time his coming was a compliment and that pleased me.

"I wanted you to know that I didn't mean anything by my invitation last night, except to get you out of that dingy hotel."

I found myself making the universal sign for a phone. "You couldn't just call? You had to follow me?" I realized I was outraged.

"What? Were you followed?" he asked very seriously.

I just looked at him dumbfounded. "Yes, obviously by you."

He explained himself. "I didn't follow you. I saw the road map on your dresser last night and drove up by myself."

I hesitated and my eyes wandered around the room and back to him before wondering out loud, "Well, what do we do now?"

"Eat dinner?"

We ate a wonderful Beef Wellington and shared a nice chardonnay, grown and bottled by this winery. It was quite good. It ended up being the wine I brought back with me. The food was excellent and I would not hesitate to come back again. After we were done with dinner we toured the property and talked for about an hour. We checked at the front desk to find out if there was another room for Callen. There wasn't. The Inn was full for the night. The ride back to Los Angeles would have taken Callen all night so we opted for him to stay with me. We went to his car and picked up what he called his "go bag".

When we got back to the room he looked at me and our surroundings "I want to apologize for ruining your stay here." He looked like a sheepish little boy who had been caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.

"Don't worry about it." I couldn't be angry with him anymore. Those eyes made me feel cherished and wanted. The problem was one double bed and no couch. He had noticed it too. Needless to say I was a little nervous about this. We had a comfortable friendship starting, but this? I knew I was not ready for that kind of relationship.

Callen had brought the rest of the bottle of wine back to the room. I poured two glasses and we sat in front of the fireplace and talked. He told me about his friendship with Sam and how they were like brothers. I was glad that he had someone in his life to depend on. He asked about me and about Mark. I felt my eyes welling up and I had difficulty controlling my tears while telling Callen about Mark. I told him how I felt honored to be Mark's wife and how I would have loved to have had his children. We had been trying for six years. It never happened. I told him how Mark died and how difficult it has been for me. I explained to him that this trip was an escape for me. He then told me about how his sister died when they were children and that he understood that kind of pain. He touched my shoulder and held my hand so that I could see he felt my pain as well. He had behaved as a gentleman.

"This is a little embarrassing. I have just a small problem. Can I use your shirt to sleep in?" I asked tenuously.

"What?" he asked laughing.

I must have been beet red from embarrassment. "I don't have pajamas." His eyes lit up. "NO ideas Callen!"

"No thoughts, I'm just surprised!"

"Thanks." I sighed with relief. So on my second date with Callen we "slept" together. I was in the bed and he was on the floor with a comforter.

The next morning we woke in tangles. We kind of tiptoed around each other as if we didn't know how to deal with what had happened. Just the staying together, nothing else had happened. At least I didn't know what to do with my feelings. He was climbing in my estimation. He had every opportunity to take advantage and he didn't. He's a rare commodity in the world today.

We had a pot, each, of coffee and tea delivered to our room and just talked for a while. We talked about family and how little of we each had. My mom and dad are gone and I had no siblings. His mom and sister were gone and he didn't know about his dad. He has friends who are his family. I had had Mark.

I still wanted to do a little sightseeing before heading back to Los Angeles. Callen said he knew a couple of places that he would like to show me. I made me happy to have a guide for the day. We got dressed, packed and went down for their gourmet breakfast of apple stuffed French toast and fresh berries. It was delicious and we probably ate way too much. I noticed that since Callen arrived last night the watched feeling was gone. I mentioned it to him and he said that we would keep an eye out today. After breakfast we checked out and went on that brief jaunt to the sites that Callen wanted to show me and the two I wanted to see. Both of the ones Callen showed me were breath-taking views of the Pacific. The coast line with huge rocks coming up from the ocean was spectacular. The roar of the surf, from hundreds of feet below, came up to assault the ears. It was an incredible view and sound. One of the areas made me nervous. I have a fear of heights and we were very close to the edge. Callen must have sensed that I was uncomfortable so he stood close and held me. I felt safe with him.

We stopped back at the bed and breakfast to pick up my car. Before we started our long drive back to Los Angeles Callen told me to stick close to him. We stopped once for gas and another for a quick bite. During lunch, I realized that I was becoming very comfortable with Callen and I was worried about that. I had met him just yesterday and didn't really know anything about him. When alone in my car I suddenly realized that I had done most of the talking last night and the night before. Why hadn't I noticed that earlier? If he showed up again once we were back in Los Angeles I would be sure to ask some questions. I was mighty curious about the man who shared my room with me last night. As I say that aloud, I wonder what has happened to me. I would never have done that in a million years before. Who is he to have this much power over me? He said he worked in securities or security. Which one I wonder and just who is Sam? If he works, why was he on the beach with Sam? See? I have tons of questions.

As we drove back to Los Angeles I never felt like I was watched or followed. But once I returned to my hotel the feeling was back full force.

I opened the door to my room and was immediately horrified. Someone went through my things and destroyed them. My clothes were ripped to shreds, my books were torn apart and my beautiful floral arrangement was scattered all over the room. My bed had been ripped apart and the bedding was everywhere. I grabbed my bag and went back downstairs to the front desk where I had the clerk call the police. I waited in the lobby until the police officers arrived. They asked a few questions and then called in the forensic unit. About that time a detective by the name of Marty Deeks arrived on the scene. I couldn't help but notice he had an uncanny resemblance to Shaggy on Scooby Doo. He asked a few questions and then suggested that I stay somewhere else.

He asked, "Do you have someone to call?"

I said, "Possibly." Callen had given me his phone number so I called him. His phone kept on ringing and ringing. When he finally answered I sobbed, "Callen, I need you."

"I'm on my way."

To: Director Leon Vance From: Operations Manager H. Lange

RE: Russian Arms Deal

We have a suspect. Mrs. Sara Grandon. Agent Callen is running surveillance on the suspect but doubts her guilt. Agent Hanna wants to maintain surveillance for a few more days. Will keep you informed.

Callen arrived at the hotel fifteen minutes later. I ran to him. The tears were slowing down and I was becoming angry now. Detective Deeks had greeted Callen at the door like they knew each other and then took Callen aside and spoke with him. Detective Deeks had been a charming, calming influence during that time. I thanked him for his assistance and he said that he would be getting back to me with information in the next few days. Callen then took my bag and my hand and guided me out to his car. We stopped for a pizza. I had my bottle of wine and we went to his house.

We talked about leaving my car at the hotel and that he would have the rental company pick it up tomorrow. I was confused as to why and he said that if someone was following me, a new car would keep them from finding me. OK. We would go shopping tomorrow for clothing and other things that were destroyed. He would also buy me more flowers.

I was surprised and turned to look at him while he drove. "Why?"

He, honest to god, blushed. "You deserve them, and that's why I bought them for you before."

I hadn't expected that. What a wonderful man. We began talking about what had happened in my apartment and my anger must have gotten the best of me. He stopped the car and pulled me in for a hug.

When we arrived at his house he ushered me inside were I was surprised by the lack of furniture. I figured a man working in securities had to have a beautiful house. That was just one more part of the Callen mystery. He started the fireplace and we sat in front of it to eat. We sat close. I wasn't ready to be too far from him. He said that he had a bed and some clean sheets.

"Where am I going to sleep?"

Callen just smiled. He said that he usually sleeps on a bedroll in the second bedroom and that I would sleep in the master bedroom. He kept that room for the rare guest. "Though, I'm not sure I want you out of my sight."

I didn't know what to say. The thought that he didn't want me out of his sight took me aback but what also surprised me was that I didn't mind that thought. I wanted to stay with him. I felt safe with him. I needed him. Oh, Whoa. How did I get from just meeting the man to needing and god help me, wanting him, in less than two days? Was it a knight in shining armor thing? Was I really falling in love with him? All these thoughts came later. We sat close together, ate our pizza and drank our wine out of his one wineglass. I took one look into those greenish blue eyes and was lost. He leaned in and kissed me and I kissed him back.

I woke up alone in Callen's bed the next morning. I felt the joy of new love, but in my head, I wasn't sure Callen felt the same way. Maybe it was too soon. As I lay there the door opened and Callen came in with a cup of tea. He climbed in next to me and we shared it. He was already showered and ready to head out. We drank the tea and planned our day.

While I got ready to go out, Callen spent time on the phone, presumably with work. When I said I was ready to go he said ok but was a little on the grumpy side. I don't think the call went well. We went to breakfast and Callen called Sam. He must have said things that Callen didn't want to hear.

Callen told me he took the day off to help me out and to spend time together. We went to the mall and while I shopped Callen spent time on the phone again. When we met back up, he was far away emotionally. I sat next to him on the bench outside of Target. "Can we get my new rental now?"

He didn't meet my eyes. He just gazed out over the shoppers in the mall. "Not yet"

"Why?" I was unhappy with that answer. The rental company still owed me for almost a month worth of rental.

He was distant and didn't answer.

We stopped at a Crate and Barrel and bought four place settings of dinnerware. We also bought four wine glasses. While he wasn't looking I made another purchase. At the grocery store he was alert, but quiet, as if he was looking for someone. We drove home in silence and Callen watched the mirrors and our surroundings very carefully. I wasn't sure what was going on but I was sure that when he was ready to tell me he would.

While cooking dinner the "old" Callen made a return appearance. I had washed the new dishes and glassware that we had purchased. He thought it was going to be strange to have dishes in his cabinet and he was… huggy. After dinner I gave him a teapot, two different teas and a tea basket for the pot. That pleased him so much that we had to have tea for dessert. He was just so cute with it. I think I fell a little more in love with him. Now it's been said and it only took two days.

I sipped my tea and watched his face. The behaviors and the conversations today bothered me. I wanted to understand what happened. "What happened today?"

He turned away from me. "What do you mean?"

I went around and looked him in the face. "Callen, what happened on the phone today? You became pensive and quiet."

There was apprehension and pain in those blue-green orbs. "Sam suggested that we not become emotionally involved."

I couldn't believe what I heard. I was totally stunned that Sam was against him having someone in his life. "It's a little late for that. Why wouldn't he want you to be happy and how does he know?"

Callen met my gaze. He took my hand and held it tight. "I was with him when you called last night and then I took off like a shot and it surprised him. He thinks that I am thinking with my heart and not my head. He thinks this is too fast." He kept holding my hand and looked away as if he were unsure of how to say the rest. "There is more. I didn't know how to answer him at first but now I do. I really care for you. I am falling in love. Two days ago I had no idea what I wanted and now I do. You." He looked at me and smiled but I could see the fear of being hurt by his confession.

I was surprised to say the least and happy at the same time. I realized that I loved him too. "Why is Sam urging caution?"

He looked away. "There are extenuating circumstances here that you don't know about."

"Oh?" I waited for the answer. He wasn't answering that question so I changed it to, "Why can't I get another rental car?"

"Detective Deeks thought that would be a mistake until we find out who trashed your room."

We went to bed and fell asleep in each other's arms.

The next few days were calmer. Callen returned to work and I called cabs to take me sightseeing. Callen and I hiked up to see the Hollywood sign on the weekend. At night we spent time getting to know each other. He found out about the death of his sister later in life. They had been separated when they were very young and Callen had been placed in the foster care system. He never knew why. Those were very difficult and painful years for him. I was amazed that he had turned into a loving, caring individual.

He learned that I had graduated from college with a degree in education and that I am an elementary school teacher. We also knew that at the end of the month I needed to go home and neither of us wanted to talk about it. I noticed in my time with Callen that I had stopped having that feeling of being watched. It was heartwarming to see Callen open up and share his life with someone.

Callen went to work for the rest of the week. I spent my time being a housewife. I didn't go on vacation to do that but it felt right. Callen had clean clothes, food in the house and someone waiting for him at home. I have to admit keeping his house was a breeze. There was no furniture to speak of and he only had a few clothes. When I finished with clean up each morning I was free to do more sightseeing. I visited other sites on my "to do" list such as the Le Brea Tar Pits and the Queen Mary. On Sunday, Callen drove us down to Malibu. It is a pretty area and not as fancy as I thought it would be. We also didn't see any celebrities. Bummers. We left to meet Sam for coffee. While the two of them got along fine I had the impression that I could have fallen through the cracks and Sam would not have missed me. What had I done to him?

On Monday Callen left for work at 8:00 AM. I was just getting ready to walk to the corner market when Deeks and his partner knocked at the door. Deek's partner was a knock-out brunette. I didn't catch her name: Special Agent Something or Other. "Was there any news from the break in." I didn't get an answer to my question.

Detective Deeks looked uncomfortable. "Would you mind coming with us. There are a few questions that need to be answered."

I thought that it was odd that we had to go to the station to answer questions. "I will but I have to leave a note for Callen." They both looked at each other and said OK. I wrote the note and we left.

They took me to a boatshed: I was expecting a police station, and no one was there but us. They brought me into a sparsely decorated room with a table, two chairs and a desk to the side. It was very strange. They asked me wait, someone would be in to talk with me. It seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes. I had expected Detective Deeks or his partner but the door opened and in walked Callen.

"What are you doing here?" I was more than a little confused.

"I am Special Agent Callen. I work for NCIS. I have some questions for you about the beach." He sat across the table from me and touched my hand. "Sara, explain to me why you were on that bench, on that beach." His eyes gave a message to me: He didn't want to do this but needed the answers.

While I read his eyes I couldn't fathom why he kept asking the questions. "What about it? I've already explained why I was there. I went there for personal reasons. I was waiting until it was time to meet Alan and Kristen for lunch. I wanted to visit Venice Beach. Why are you asking me these things?" He continued questioning me for a long time. He asked about some Russian arms dealers. I was confused and upset. I didn't understand what our relationship meant any more.

To: Director Leon Vance From: Operations Manager H. Lange

RE: Russian Arms Deal

Mrs. Sara Grandon is not our perpetrator. Questioned and released. The team is in the midst of apprehending our arms dealers. Will keep you informed.

Callen continued to question me and realized that the same answers would always come. I honestly didn't have any others. All this was doing now was making me angry and the fact that it was Callen asking the questions made it so much worse. We spent three hours going back and forth with the questions and answers. He rose and said he'd be right back and we could go home. At that point I was pretty sure I didn't want to go "home" with him. Detective Deeks came back into the room and said that Callen had been called away but would be back soon. I asked the detective to take me home. I was in no mood to be alone with Callen.

Detective Deeks is a good man. He has an amazing sense of right and wrong. "Callen, is a good friend and if he feels that something is necessary he will do it."

He came to Callen's defense time and time again and while it sounded good and even the right thing to do, it still made me angry. There were a lot of emotions to deal with. Was I really that important to Callen or was it all a ruse to get the information he wanted?

I walked Deeks to the door and I sensed that he was uncomfortable with leaving me alone. "Sara do you want me to stay until Callen gets home?

I needed the time to think so I said no. It was nice to get to know one of Callen's friends a little better. Now I also knew why Sam was uncomfortable with our relationship. I was a suspect and you don't get involved with a suspect. Sam was worried that if I were the arms dealer Callen would get hurt. I would never do that to him. I made tea in "our" teapot and sat down to wait for Callen. This was going to be a hell of an evening.

To: Director Leon Vance From: Operations Manager H. Lange

RE: Russian Arms Deal

Arms have been returned to Camp Pendleton. The Russians involved have been detained and are awaiting trial dates.

I sat there in the dark for a long time. I think it was sometime after nine when Callen came home.

He turned on the lights and called my name. "Sara? Sara, where are you?"

"I'm right here." The venom in my voice was evident. The anger hadn't dissipated any since that afternoon. I felt anger towards him and if I had to admit it, towards myself, for allowing our relationship to evolve so quickly. I was also upset at the situation we now found ourselves in. He came to hold me, but I couldn't let him. "Don't!" I didn't want him near me. "Where have you been? Deeks said you'd be right home."

His voice sounded far away, like he was lost. "New intel came in and we got our arms dealers."

I couldn't let it go. My reaction was to not meet his eyes. I turned to look anywhere else but in the end I looked at the man I loved. I still felt angry. "I'm glad that you got them."

He came close and sat at my feet. Those eyes were piercing my soul. "Sara, I had to question you today."

I met his eyes and in mine he saw the pain of not knowing what to feel. "Why today? Why not anytime in the last two weeks?" I looked at the ceiling and felt my anger around my heart like a vice. "I feel like the last two weeks have been a lie. Was it?"

He reached for my hands, lovingly, to hold them. "No, Sara, everything I said and everything we shared was real."

I, however, was not feeling loving and I pulled mine away. I was having a hard time believing anything he said.

Callen looked me in the eye and said, "I wish I didn't have to do that today, but I did. It was important for so many reasons. I wish it could have been different."

"So do I." I could see the pain in his face and I heard it in his voice. I was feeling pain as well but mine had an icy feel to it. In anger my response was hard and I regretted it as soon as I said it.

Callen felt as if someone had dropped a ton of bricks on him and he just wanted to go to bed so he said, "It's late and we need some rest let's go to bed."

"You're right it is late. Your bedroll is in the spare room. Good night." I rose to go to bed.

"Sara?"

"Good night G."

"Good night Sara." Callen sat in his lone chair for a long time trying to figure out how to make this right. He knew what he wanted but didn't know how to go about fixing this. It was not what he was used to. If it needed fixing you walked away or drove the other person away. He didn't want that here. He needed some guidance. About 2:00AM he left the house to find just that.

While Callen was pondering the fate of our relationship I tossed and turned while trying to make sense of it all. There was one thing I was sure of, I loved G. Callen and I wanted to make this right.

I arose early the next morning after spending the night tossing and turning in our bed. I was tired but determined to fix this. I put on the kettle and went to find Callen. He wasn't in the shower or the guest bedroom. I called out thinking that he might be in the garage. He had left the house. I checked his clothes and everything was there. I felt bad that I hadn't been up to talk to him before he left for work. I showered, got dressed and was about to call his cell when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a diminutive woman standing there. She exuded confidence and power. She was impressive.

"May I help you?"

She put her hand out to shake mine. "My name is Henrietta Lange and I am Mr. Callen's boss. I am also a good friend.

I invited her into Callen's home. "What can I do for you Miss Lange?"

"Mrs. Grandon, you can listen. Mr. Callen arrived at my home around 3:00AM in an alarming state. He was in tears. At first I thought he was drunk. Then I realized that the two of you have had a falling out. I have left him in the care of Mr. Hanna. Sam can talk sense into him most of the time. I immediately set out to find you and do likewise. Mr. Callen, when I left, was sure your relationship was over, which, is not what he wants. How do you feel about it?"

Miss Lange is an eloquent speaker and she had my rapt attention. I really wasn't sure how to respond to her at that moment. "I love him and want to try to work it out. Please have him come home."

"One moment Mrs. Grandon, I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation."

"What don't I understand? The man, who said he loves me, thinks that I am a gun runner and then he interrogated me like a common criminal? How about making love to me under false pretenses. Oh please… enlighten me." I realized that those remarks sounded crude and heartless. That wasn't how I truly felt but the wound was still raw and I would rather have had this conversation with Callen. I put my hand up to stop the conversation. "As you can see, I am still upset so…I would like to take a few minutes and calm down. May I offer you some tea?"

Miss Lange looked confused.

"It's made without paper, the way Callen likes it."

Miss Lange smiled. "Please call me Hetty and tea would be fine."

I made the tea and we talked more about Callen and what he wanted from our love.

Just before Hetty left she stopped and looked me in the eye. "One more thing, may I call you Sara?" I nodded my agreement. She continued her thought, "Mr. Callen did not want to question you but he also did not want anyone else to do it either. He felt that the others would have been too…intense. He believed you to be innocent and he questioned you to prove it to me. I am sorry Sara. I do not honestly bother with my agent's lives but …Mr. Callen was so desperate."

"Have him come home, Hetty."

She smiled. "I will have Mr. Hanna return him here shortly. We all need some sleep."

"Thank you so much Hetty."

Hetty smiled and turned to leave, "Oh by the way Sara, you make a mean pot of tea. Put the kettle over for Mr. Callen!"

I thanked her and showed her out. The kettle was put on for a slow boil until Callen returned.

Sam brought Callen home almost an hour later. I did some real serious soul searching in that time. I was so afraid that he had changed his mind and wasn't coming home. When I heard the car door slam I was relieved and a little apprehensive. Sam made sure that Callen got inside.

When Callen went into the spare room, Sam stood by the door and something was on his mind. He opted to just say it. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize what you two have. I should have listened to him. Hetty and I both insisted that you be questioned. I knew he was getting in deep and I honestly thought you were part of the crew we were looking for. He kept telling me and I wouldn't listen. Now I see him messed up like this and I want to fix it."

I told Sam it was alright and we would work it out.

He put his hand on his heart like he was making a promise "I was hoping you were the one we were looking for and it turns out you were the one he needed to find. Just take good care of my partner."

I nodded in agreement.

"Deeks is waiting for me. We'll see you soon, and again, I apologize."

I went looking for Callen and found him sitting on his bedroll in the spare room. He looked like a beaten man. Those gorgeous eyes were red from crying and exhaustion. I sat next to him and put my arms around him.

"Is this what you really want, Sara?" His voice was low and sad.

"Yes, more than you know. I didn't know that you left and when I got up and you weren't here, I was beside myself with worry and angry because I drove you out of your own home." I could use a cup of tea, how about you?" I said.

"A beer would be great right about now, but I'll have tea with you." He said. We went into the kitchen and we made tea in "our" teapot.

When the tea was ready we began to unravel what had happened. The situation we were in was one we had not expected. Callen felt that he could have talked Sam and Hetty out of the interrogation in time, but time was something they didn't have a lot of.

I felt guilty for getting angry with him. "I am sorry I got angry. Men's ways of thinking have always been a mystery for me. There have been men in my life that I fell for and all I was to them was a means to an end. I thought that I was in that category again. Then came Mark, whom I learned trust from. You came on so strong and fast, that you caught me unawares. I have only in the last two days realized exactly what you mean to me. I love you G. Callen and I don't want to lose you."

His reply was something to make any woman cry tears of joy. "I feel the same. I love you Sara Grandon, and I chose to protect you and I understood I could lose you in the process. I just didn't know how much that would hurt. I was so deep in pain that I left here and didn't know where I was until Hetty opened her door. She gave me a shot of brandy and called Sam. I cried because of the pain and because I thought that I had lost you. Sam helped me talk it out. He understands now that what I feel is like what he feels for Michelle, his wife.

He wanted to know how I had sorted my feelings because there is no one here for me. That was a tender thought. I told him that I had a restless night and when I was going to call him, Hetty came to the door. She and I talked and hopefully she understood my feelings and then we had tea. She really came because he was so torn up that it scared her to see him that way and I liked Hetty for that.

We started dinner and talked about his team mates. Sam was known to me and we made our peace. We both cared about Callen.

"Detective Deeks works for NCIS, in what capacity?"

He laughed. "It wasn't my idea but it seems to work. Deeks is the liaison between NCIS and the Los Angeles police department. His partner, Kensi, likes him."

I must've been wearing a quizzical look. "Who's Kensi? Have I met her?"

G looked at me in disbelief. "She's Deeks partner. You've met her."

Recognition came to me. "Oh, she's the gorgeous brunette?"

He chuckled, "Yeah that's the one. She's a sister to me and a damn good agent. I think that those two are sweet on each other even though they won't admit it." It was good to see him laughing again.

A thought came to me all of a sudden. "Hey, Deeks showed up at the hotel the night my room was tossed. Why?"

Callen looked a little embarrassed and looked out of the kitchen window. "Deeks and Kensi were running surveillance on you, so when the call came in he held back a little while and then went in as a detective with LAPD." His gaze came back to me and a hand pushed my hair from my face. It was a small loving gesture. "I was glad that he was close and could keep an eye on you."

"What? It was you guys following me?" I was stunned by this revelation.

"Yeah but only two days. Why?"

"I still feel watched, sometimes."

Callen brow furled and he tried not to show his concern but it was there. "We'll check on it tomorrow. OK?" he said.

I was happy with that response. "That's fine." We ate dinner, cleaned up and went to bed.

We spent the next week as normally as we could. There was no sign of being followed or watched. There was one week left of my vacation and we studiously ignored that. Neither of us wanted to talk about it and I definitely did not want to leave him, however, I had a job that I was expected to return to.

It was raining and in Los Angeles it is an unusual event. Callen came through the door and surprised me with a gift from Sam. I opened it and was amazed. Sam had sent a small packet of Chai tea from India. I have a feeling he talked to Hetty about the choice. It was a wonderful addition to our collection and the rare California rain made it an occasion for reading, sipping tea and snuggling. G had just started the tea kettle when his phone rang.

G had a tendency to turn the phone on speaker when working in the kitchen. "It's me Callen. Kensi and I are stopping by in about ten minutes." Deeks voice sounded odd and for the first time I realized that there was no joy in his voice. That, for Deeks, was unheard of.

"Of course. What's up?" It sounded like G wanted to know if it would be a friendly visit or if there was business attached to it.

"Talk to you when we get there." Deek"s voice was all business. It had a hard, stiff quality to it.

Callen became real quiet while making the tea. They arrived about ten minutes later and he met them at the front door.

Deeks and Kensi both looked up and down the street and around the outside of the door and Deeks said, "Get inside." Both seemed on edge like there was bad news. It was making G nervous and in turn I was becoming edgy.

Callen tensed. "What's up?"

Deeks looked uncomfortable and Kensi looked at G and then at the door they just came in through. I could tell she wanted to be anywhere other than here having this conversation because it was going to be painful.

Deeks looked down and started to speak, "The results from the forensics came back from Interpol today." He hesitated, looked around and then looked directly at Callen. "The prints belong to Vlad Comescu."

Callen's face went white. I had watched his expression go from concerned to hardened in less than two seconds and it made me afraid. I didn't know who Vlad Comescu was but G's reaction painted a vivid picture for me.

Kensi looked positively anxious. "What do you need, Callen?"

"GET HER OUT OF HERE, NOW!" G turned to me. There was grief in his stance and in his face.

What? No. I am not leaving." I began to cry.

Callen pulled me to his chest. "Yes you are because these are bad, evil people and they will kill you because of me." He spoke those words like a love note. The love and the need to protect me swathed us like a warm blanket, but I still did not want to leave him.

Between the tears I asked, "Who is Vlad Comescu?"

He let me loose just long enough to explain that the Comescu family had sworn a blood oath to wipe the earth clean of all the Callens and he alone stood between them and that goal. His eyes were blazing like a white hot furnace. I had never seen him so angry. He saw fear in my face but I still wanted to stay with him. He was having none of it. "I don't want you killed as well. You have to go." I was still crying.

"Kens, pack her things. Make it look like she left me." Kensi nodded and went into the bedroom to pack what little I had there.

By this time I understood the urgency but I didn't want to leave him to them. "I still don't want to go."

He pulled me back to him. I could hear his heartbeat through his chest like the thunder outside. "You have to. I will find you when it is safe." He spoke in a soft lover's voice. "I will find you." He said as he kissed my brow.

Callen said to take our teapot.

I pulled away from him. Sending that teapot with me was like acknowledging that Vlad Comescu would kill him. I wouldn't allow that kind of thinking. "No! That was a gift from me to you. Keep it and bring it when you come."

Callen acknowledged my concern with a nod and he pulled me back into his chest. "You OK?" He whispered to my brow.

"No, but as long as you promise to come for me I'll be…" I felt afraid to lose him and so unsure what I'd be, but I put on a brave face for him.

Kensi hurried back with my things. Callen held me but turned abruptly to bark orders to Deeks and Kensi. "Kens, Deeks – two streets over behind me, we'll meet you in ten minutes."

Deeks and Kensi turned to leave and Deeks responded with an emphatic, "Be there."

Callen pulled me to him in a long hug. It felt wrong to leave him there alone but it was what he said we needed to do and ultimately it was the right thing. We left through the backdoor and went through the hidden back gate. We cut through people's yards and met Kensi and Deeks at the appointed spot. Before I climbed in the car Callen kissed me once more, held me and made Kensi and Deeks promise to keep me safe. With tears coursing down my face, I looked out the back window through the rain, at the man I loved, as we drove away. I didn't know if I'd ever see him again. He stood and watched as we turned toward the highway. Anger flashed in those blue eyes and tears rolled down his stubbled cheeks, mixing with raindrops as he watched us drive away.

Hetty called about fifteen minutes later. She had arranged a safe house in Malibu for the next three days and then I was to be escorted home by Deeks and Kensi. Neither Kensi nor Deeks expected Callen to disappear as thoroughly as he did. It scared me that he could be a ghost so completely. Those three days were tense. I worried and cried and they tried to take my mind off Callen. It didn't work. When they flew me home I was still worried and saddened by the idea that he could be lost. They stayed with me. It was an odd time in my life. It was assumed that Callen would resurface by the end of the two weeks. He didn't. When the two weeks were up, the team went home to California.

Hetty called once a week to talk and see if Callen had gotten in touch with me. He hadn't. I was getting real worried by the continued silence. I could sense by what Hetty didn't say, that she was concerned as well. Even Sam had not heard from him.

The weeks turned to a month. I wasn't sleeping well. I kept trying to feel his arms around me and never could. The nights were full of terrible nightmares of him and the things he couldn't come home from. Because of the lack of sleep I began to not feel well.

The phone calls from Hetty and the team stopped coming. I guess that I was safe enough and that Callen would not be coming for me.

I tried to go on with life. Sleep was scarce and the ailments kept on. It was so bad that my principal finally sent me to my doctor for a check-up. We talked and I told the doctor what my body was doing and how I was not sleeping well. She gave me a knowing nod and a smile. I expected her to tell me to eat better, get more sleep and maybe take some blood tests. She did all that. What she said next was a shock to me. She said I was pregnant. How could that be? I sat there and cried. I was so alone. Where was Callen?

The school year was almost over so I resigned from my job, sold my home and left the life I thought that I knew. I just couldn't do that anymore. Three months pregnant with a new life under my heart and I had to change how I looked at life. I moved to Narragansett, Rhode Island to be near the beach. It reminded me of both Mark and Callen.

I arranged with a nice elderly man, named Luther, to rent a home for a minimal amount each month. All I had to do was clean it up and take care of it. I could do that I thought. I needed something to take my mind off the mess my life had become so I did some hard work. I also thought that just in case the Comescu came after me and the little one, it might help to be prepared. I started a tactical weapon course with an ex-Navy Seal by the name of Dick Roisen. He's a warm and caring man who feels the need to protect me. Nope, I was having none of that. The last man who wanted to protect me is missing and at times I honestly presume him dead. It breaks my heart, but what else can I believe. Dick let me take the course for another two months. He wasn't comfortable with me being pregnant and running through the woods.

Around the middle of September I began to notice men parking at the end of my road. They'd come and spend part of the day and then leave. I asked the sheriff to tell them to leave. He did, but they always came back. Towards the end of the month it became an all-day thing. They took shifts and constantly were there. I kicked it up the ladder to the State Police. They came, asked them to move on and again they did, just long enough for the Staties to go away. My guards started questioning my guests about why they were there. I'd had enough. I went down the road and started yelling to get off my property. One man spoke no English and the other had a thick Slavic accent. I had the answer to the question. They were from the Comescu. My "guards" were there twenty-four and seven now. They let me out for groceries, doctor appointments and trips to the beach, but they followed me everywhere, just like in Los Angeles.

The baby was doing great and in two months she would be here. Since her daddy was not around and giving her the Callen name was a death warrant, I decided to call her Gretchen Grandon. I don't think that Mark would have minded too much. She was moving a lot lately and I told her I would try to call Daddy's phone tonight. I know, I thought he was dead, but there was a part of me that held out hope. I had tried before and the phone hadn't worked since the night we separated, but I still had to try, for Gretchen. I did try and no call went through.

The next morning was a cool beach morning. I was wearing a heavy sweater and didn't look too pregnant (If you didn't know what you were looking for.) I hadn't slept well, gave up trying and got up long before sunrise to get going. I cleaned the kitchen and was feeling extremely tired. I just wanted to take a nap on the couch, when there was a knock at the door. I went to open it.

His voice came to me like a faraway dream.

"Do you come here often?"

I dropped into a dead faint.

I don't know how long I was out but when I woke the most beautiful blue-green eyes were looking at me. I wasn't sure it was real. I tried to sit up slowly. I touched his face to make sure it was him and he was real, but he was all business and would have none of the familiarity. He gently removed my hand and helped me to a sitting position. While I was so happy to see him, he looked tired, worn out actually.

I saw the sun had come up. When I looked out and my Slavic friends were still at the end of the road. "How'd you get past them?"

His eyes never left my face and the response was so typical of him. "I came through the woods in the dark. They never saw me."

I got up to fix him some breakfast. He ate everything I made. "When was the last time you slept or ate?"

I could see he was half asleep. "I don't remember."

I told him to go up take a shower and go to bed.

"Only if you'll come take a nap with me." A cheeky but tired mumble was all I got as he trudged up the stairs.

I had no intention of sleeping. I just wanted to look at him and make up for all the time lost between us. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. After an hour of pure bliss I went down stairs to collect my thoughts and saw "our" teapot sitting on the table. It had come full circle as if it were a commitment from him to me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe he still felt the same. I knew that I did.

Around 5:00PM Callen came down. He had showered and shaved but he still had black circles under his eyes. He could have used a few more hours of sleep but he has never slept more than four or five hours at a time. Dinner was in the oven and would be ready soon. Callen sat down at the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room and he watched me as I made salad. I could tell he wanted to talk but neither of us knew what to say. I wasn't sure if this was the time to tell him about Gretchen. The situation was tense and I didn't want to sway his feelings or his sense of business.

His voice startled me when he began talking. "When we parted, I went home and packed a few things and left. I eventually went and stayed in the boatshed. I had Nell and Eric run surveillance on my house. In four days Comescu henchmen invaded my home and ransacked it. They found nothing. Eric was tasked with finding Vlad Comescu for me. He was still in Los Angeles and left the next day. He flew to Romania to be with his family." Callen looked away as he talked. "How I hated him for that. I waited three days and then I flew to London and then to Amsterdam, to meet fellow agents and get information on the crime syndicate. I stayed for a week. I then flew to Istanbul to help build credentials for my alias. I was there for four days and then I flew to Romania. I watched and followed him for a month. He must have known that I was there because he packed up his family and went to Argentina to visit the other half of the family. I stayed in Romania for another three days after he left. I returned to New York and stayed two days. All the time making sure I wasn't being followed. I travelled to Miami for more intel on the Argentinian part of his family. Then I returned to Los Angeles for discussions with Hetty and Sam. I spent two weeks arranging for back up and making contingency plans in case things went south. I wanted you protected and Hetty arranged for a team to come and get you if something happened to me. She assumed you still lived in East Hartland. I then flew to Houston stayed for seven days to build more credentials, flew into Panama stayed another seven days to meet with information techs and find an arms cache and on to Rio where I stayed for seven more days. I went on to Caracas and I arrived in Buenos Aires eight days later. I spent over a month finding him and watching him. The Comescu are usually a very careful bunch. Vlad didn't realize that we knew about the Argentinian side of his family. He was partying with them and forgot to watch his back. He went shopping in one of the seedier barrios by himself. I followed him in and he didn't come out. Vlad won't bother us again. The rest of the Comescu are problematic. After that I spent a leisurely time getting back to the United States. I couldn't hurry. It would look suspicious. I flew back to Los Angeles and stayed for two days. I picked up the teapot from the boat shed and had Eric find you for me. I have been in this area for about a week. I was watching you, talking to people and sneaking through the woods to get to you. The men at the end of the drive are part of the Comescu crime syndicate. They are here for you."

I started at that comment. I looked up from cutting the cucumber. "Me? Why me?"

He looked down at the counter. "We don't know. Maybe it's a way to get at me. We don't even know how they found you." He hesitated before saying, "The Comescu have been a thorn in my side for years!"

I was in such a daze that I wasn't sure I heard that remark. It didn't bother me that he went after and killed people that were a danger to his family. All of a sudden I heard the word "thorn." I came out of my stupor and put down my knife. "What did you say?"

"The Comescu are a thorn in my side, why?"

I wiped my hands on a towel and pulled him toward the stairs. "Come with me." We climbed to the landing and I opened the door to the room across the hall from the master bedroom and stepped in. Callen had a perplexed look on his face as he scanned the room. He saw rosebud wallpaper and white lace curtains. The rest of the room had all the trappings of a nursery. He looked at me with a confused look on his face. I took his hands and placed them on my belly that had been hidden in the bulky sweater. Gretchen took that moment to introduce herself to her father. His eyes flew open with recognition and wonder. He had a smile that went from ear to ear and a tear in his eye. Callen pulled me into his arms and kissed me. He was the happiest man on the planet. Here was a man who never had a family and had never hoped to have a family of his own. The people in his team are his family. The look of sheer love and delight were beautiful to see in his face.

"I told you now because you said the Comescu were coming for me. You're wrong. They are here to take our child. My doctor's name is Thorne and he speaks with a Slavic accent. He found out about us somehow. I never mentioned your name, so there is no way they should know otherwise."

The glow of new fatherhood turned into a blaze of hatred and him into a determined protector of his family. They would not take his family from him again. "I'm going to need the team. I'm calling Sam."

"I have a spare bedroom and the couch pulls out. We'll need more food." I was mentally making lists.

He started to laugh. "Sara, this won't be a party."

I just looked up at him. "I'm planning for all contingencies. We don't know how long this will last either."

Callen laughed and held me and put his hand down to caress his daughter. This was the moment that I had waited for.

Before Callen called the team I told him about my training sessions with Dick Roisen. I also explained that I had been shooting for years with Mark. I was quite good. Callen absolutely refused for me to be any part of the operation. Dick hadn't thought that I could shoot a man but I proved him wrong. Two months ago a young man had broken into my pistol range in the shed. He wanted ammunition. I wouldn't give it to him and he came at me. I winged him intentionally. If I truly thought that he was going to harm me, he'd be dead. Dick knows that now. I had to convince Callen of this as well. When the team arrived we would have a dinner as a cover, so I was going to invite Dick and his wife to come over. I was hoping that he would talk sense into Callen.

Callen was excited by the idea of seeing the team. Eric and Nell were staying in Los Angeles to run computer assessments and find information for this op. Hetty was a known entity to the Comescu and needed to stay out of the picture. I gathered from Callen that he had not taken any time to really visit the team while at home. He spent the next few days doing reconnaissance and sneaking through the woods to my door.

When Kensi, Deeks and Sam arrived the next day, it was late. I greeted them on the front porch like college friends. Kensi and I were going to have a girl weekend and the guys were there for each other's company.

Kensi smiled as she greeted me. "You could be a pro, acting all happy to see us."

I was bubbling. Not only was I happy to see them but Callen would love having them here. "Not acting, I am happy to see you and just plain happy."

Kensi looked around like she was enjoying the scenery. "He's here?"

I nodded and smiled.

Deeks gave that thousand watt smile of his and hugged me. "You look radiant and so in love."

"I have everything I want, him and his family. Welcome. Come on in."

When we were inside Callen greeted the team. Kensi and Deeks gave him hugs and love.

Sam grabbed him and slapped him on the back, rapper style, "You look like hell, G, but I am so glad to see you, Man." as he pulled him into a huge man hug.

Callen laughed and hugged him back. "Same here Sam." He was a happy man.

When all the greetings were made and coffee had been served Deeks and Kensi set up the computers and communication systems in the den. They called Ops and down loaded all the pictures they had taken on the way in. The two men at the end of the drive were exactly who Callen had said they were. So the Comescu were really here. Hetty came on the line and warned of the dangers of the situation. While we could see the "guards," who was really here running their operation? When the briefing was over Hetty asked to speak to Sam alone. We all left the room for a little down time.

Hetty got that all knowing look and asked "How is everyone doing?"

Sam interpreted it as, "How is Callen doing?" "Hetty, Callen is doing fine. He is rested and seems to be his old self." He had the impression that Hetty would only believe it if she was here and saw it for herself. Sam also told her that Callen was with Sara and she had taken good care of him.

Callen came back into the room just as Sam shut down. "How's Hetty?"

Sam knew he meant, "What did Hetty want?" "She's concerned about you and this mission. She thinks you're too close to it. I could tell you that till I was blue in the face, but I know you, as long as Sara is in danger, you won't back down."

Callen thought for a moment. He finally met Sam's eyes. "She's my life, Sam. I would risk everything for her. I love her and I want to be with her forever. I'm going to ask her to marry me."

Sam got this huge grin on his face. "Well, G, it is about time a woman tamed you. When are you going to ask her?"

Callen thought about it for a second and started to smile. "I'll ask her tonight while we are all together."

Sam seemed to be thinking about something and then he asked, "Why did you tell me, G?"

Callen moved over to a chair and sat down. Before he spoke he wanted to make sure he said it the right way. "I know that in the beginning you didn't want me with her, but she's good for me. I want your support and I want you to understand what I am feeling. The last few months, while we were separated, I was driven by the need to protect her. I still am. When I was emotionally empty, I thought about things that we shared and times that we had spent together and became whole again. When we talked, she said she did the same things. It is the only thing that kept her believing I might still be alive. We're connected Sam, and I don't want to lose that."

His words reached Sam's heart. "Callen you know you have my support and love and Michelle will love her as well because she is the one."

We all sat around the fireplace talking and sharing our lives with each other. Kensi and Deeks were in the beginning stages of their relationship "thing" and it was looking good. Michelle and Sam had just found out they were expecting again. Sam was over the moon. Callen and I just sat there surrounded by love.

Callen was enjoying the new found happiness of his family. He wanted them to understand the changes he was making in his life. He raised his coffee mug and asked for their attention. "After this op I am settling down. I have taken a position at the Naval War College, in Newport, to train new members of NCIS Special Operations." Sam was obviously caught off guard but he nodded his understanding as did Kensi and Deeks. "It's a way for me to keep my family safe. In the last eight months I have found everything in life that I want and need. I know what it feels like to love and be loved in return." With those words he turned and took my hands in his, "Sara, you are my soul mate. You have accepted me with all of my rough edges and the emotional baggage that I carry. I knew that I loved you the moment I sat on that bench. Will you marry me?"

The entire team sat there speechless, waiting for my answer. What else could it be? I responded with, "Callen, the moment I saw your eyes I knew I was lost and that I needed you in my life. I want to be with you for all time. Yes, I'll marry you."

Callen pulled a little black box out of his pocket. "I found this in Buenos Aires and knew it would be perfect." In the box was the most beautiful blue sapphire ring I'd ever seen. It was set in white gold with scallops holding small aquamarine stones. He placed it on my finger and whispered that we would get it sized after Gretchen was born. Sam got up to congratulate us but Callen waved him off. "I have another announcement. We will not just be Mr. and Mrs. Callen and he placed both hands on my belly."

Deeks gave us one of his megawatt smiles and began laughing. "Something else is going on here!"

Kensi looked at him as if to say "what" but then it registered. "WooHoo, baby shower!"

Sam got up to congratulate us. Kensi and Deeks wrapped me in their arms to congratulate me and to thank me for making Callen a happy man. The feeling of joy was palpable in that room that night but it was also tempered by what could happen in the next two days.

Just after midnight Sam left the house and found his way cautiously to the crest of the hill opposite my house. For a big man he moved with great stealth. While he checked the Comescu out, he also timed the climb. It would be helpful for him and Callen to use tomorrow night. It took just under an hour to reach the summit. When he arrived at the site there were two men around a small campfire. They were complaining about the cold and how long they had been on this job. Sam snickered internally at the whining these boys did. Sam circled the campsite to get closer to the tent. From the sounds coming from inside, there were two others asleep inside. They had left their pistols and ammunition just outside. Sam made some calculations as to how much power they had. He softly backed into the woods and away from the campsite. He slowly climbed back down the hill to the house. Callen was waiting for him when he returned. They discussed the possibilities and the probabilities of the operation. There were probably players who had not shown themselves as of yet and the team needed to be prepared for that contingency. This had to be a perfectly timed operation. Callen just wanted to keep Sara and Gretchen safe.

Kensi and I had spent the day at the Providence Place Mall and then stopped at the grocery store on the way home. Deeks was preparing dinner tonight and he had sent us with a list of items that he wanted. Kensi and I both sensed we were being followed but just carried on doing girl things. Kensi was on high alert all the time. She didn't want to explain to Callen why something had happened to his fiancé. When we arrived home Callen wanted to know what we got at the mall. I told him baby stuff and he was OK with that. He was more interested in what Deeks was making for dinner.

Six o'clock came and Dick Roisen and his wife arrived for dinner. Callen greeted them at the door and welcomed them to our home. I think that Dick just wanted to have the conversation with Callen and get it over with, however Callen avoided him like the plague. Sam and Dick ended up in the corner talking about being Seals and you could tell that the conversation had turned to our situation. Sam called Callen over and you could tell the conversation was not going well. I could feel Callen's discomfort from across the room.

Dinner was uneventful as far as conversation went. Everyone thought that Deeks had done a great job making dinner. His piece de resistance was the chocolate mousse that he had made from scratch. It was delicious. After coffee and dessert, Dick and his wife left. Callen had been quiet and finally he motioned for Sam and me to follow him to the den.

Callen started the conversation with, "I don't like this at all." He then continued with, "and I don't want to use Sara at all. I don't want to see her or the baby hurt, now having said that, I don't want her to be a sitting duck either."

Sam agreed but realized that other things needed to be put in place. "G, we need all hands on deck. There is no one left to stay and protect her."

Callen turned those blue green orbs to me. "I know and that is why Sara will put on a show for the Comescu, if they are here." I sat there looking at my husband to be and Callen smiled. He then told Sam and me what we needed to do.

I agreed. It was a good plan.

Just after 3:00AM we all gathered in the living room. The enormous moon lit up the night so we didn't need to turn on the lights. Everything that needed to be arranged had been done before we went to bed. They just needed to pick up and go. Energy levels were high as were nerves. Mine were jangling and I needed a cup of tea but I couldn't make myself prepare it. It was usually a ritual between Callen and me. He was geared up by his nerves and he didn't need it. He had a great deal riding on this mission. He could lose everything, again, or we would be dead. Those were two terrible options. He needed to beat the Comescu at their own game. Callen came to me, held me and placed a kiss on my head.

"You'd better come back, G." Even in the dark he could sense my nervousness.

He took me in his arms with a bit of a laugh. "You're not getting rid of me this soon. Keep smiling, love of mine. I'll be back and we can start that new life. I promise."

I knew that he would try to keep that promise. Now if the bad guys would only behave accordingly. I smiled up at Callen.

I turned and winked at Sam. "Keep him safe, please."

Sam smiled and chuckled. "Yes ma'am. That's what I do all the time."

Callen smirked. "Really Sam?"

Callen and Sam started out first as they had the farthest to go. When they reached the crest of the hill they signaled Kensi and Deeks who went through the woods to the end of the drive. The two henchmen stationed there went down like a ton of bricks. Sam and Callen had no trouble with the four at the top of the hill. They were all rounded up and brought to the shed to keep for the Rhode Island State Police, who were on their way.

Callen looked at the team. "Was this too easy?"

Sam went from foot to foot and looked at Callen. "It seemed like it to me too."

Kensi picked up her rifle and climbed to the hayloft to get a clear shot at the driveway. Deeks and Sam slipped into the woods to hide. Callen waited until a car pulled up the drive and stopped in front of the house. Three men climbed out. One was obviously the head of the operation and the other two, his bodyguards. They proceeded to the front door and let themselves in.

I was waiting inside. The head man was not that big. He was blond and well built, but handsome in a cruel, angry way. He would have held more appeal if he hadn't seemed so angry. Not my type, but some women would like him.

He looked at me and I could sense that I was only so much meat to him. "My name is Anton Comescu and I have come for my bride."

My face must have registered surprise. "And who might that be? I'm the only one here."

He smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "It is you, my beloved Sara!" He didn't care if I bought it or not. I was going.

"I might be interested if I was not already engaged." I countered as I showed my engagement ring.

There was a sharp bark of a laugh and he looked around the room. "Yes, but to a dead man?"

I kept looking at his face while I asked "What do you want with me, Anton?"

Anton had a look of utter disdain on his face. "I don't want anything with you, but I do want Callen's child, to raise him or her like a Comescu. Wouldn't that be complete irony? Take the last Callen and make them a Comescu? Then we would probably leave Callen alive to live with the hate his own child would have for him. Poetic justice don't you think?"

Just a note here: Earwigs are really uncomfortable. I hesitated just long enough to give Callen and the team time to hear and adjust if they had to. "I just don't think that's going to happen, Anton." I said it sort of under my breath.

Anton then motioned to one of his bodyguards to come to take me outside to his car. I picked up my Sig, which was hidden under a towel, and shot him. Anton, who was halfway to the door, was a lot quicker than I thought he'd be. He was back at my side grabbing my gun and slapping me across the face. Callen and the team must be in place now.

As Anton opened the door Callen stepped to the bottom of the stairs. You could see the seething anger in Callen's eyes and hear the danger in his voice. "Going somewhere, Anton?"

Anton was enjoying baiting Callen. "Yes Mr. Callen, to take my fiancé home to Romania."

Callen looked at me and smiled but it was more of a feral look. "My fiancé you mean. Are the Comescu trying to take something of mine again?" There was a ten second silence before he added, "I-don't-think-so." Callen spoke those words in a quiet but even more deadly voice. Anton used my Sig to shoot Callen. My heart skipped a beat and tears began to flow. Anton just shook me and started walking to the car. We stepped over Callen's body and Anton kept me moving toward the car. I heard one shot ring out and the other bodyguard dropped with a hole in the middle of his forehead. He never looked better to me. It was only Anton and me and he was pushing me into his car from the driver side. Another shot rang out and Anton fell to the ground.

Callen got up and stood over Anton's body. "You and your family are not taking my family from me again."

I ran to Callen. "It was so real looking, are you all right?"

"Just a little sore from where the sim hit the vest." He winced as I touched his chest. "Maybe, later, we can help each other take off our vests." He gave me a little wiggle of his brow and a mischievous grin. We both laughed. Sam and Deeks picked that moment to come out of the woods, Kensi came from the shed and the State Police drove into the driveway.

The police took our statements, had the coroner pick up the bodies and took the other criminals away. The police also went up the hill to the campsite and dismantled it and took it away. That would make Luther happy. After they all left, we went to the motel down the road where we would be staying until the NCIS cleanup crew hit my house. We all slept very well that night.

While Kensi and I had been shopping we had found the perfect dress for my wedding. I also found the perfect wedding ring for Callen. It was white gold with three small stones, one was a blue sapphire and the other two were aquamarine. It was a nice match to my engagement ring. I had never seen a ring on him or any other jewelry, except a watch. I hoped he would wear it. When we got home I told Callen I had bought baby stuff and went into the baby's room to put it away in there. I hid my dress in the back of her closet and the ring in the dresser.

Sam and Deeks had taken Callen to find something appropriate to wear. His clothes were back in Los Angeles and were probably too big for him. He had lost some weight while in Romania and Argentina. He looked good though.

We had to wait three days for the marriage license. We also had to wait for Eric, Nell, Hetty and Michelle to arrive from Los Angeles. Callen called a friend from Washington D.C. to come as well. We couldn't get married without the rest of the family could we? Food had to be ordered and a wedding cake had to be made.

Callen's friend arrived at the airport the day before the wedding. His name was Gibbs and I guess they went way back to the early days when Callen worked at NCIS. They had worked in Europe together. He liked his coffee. I didn't know if we had enough in the house. He was a nice man, maybe a little rough and gruff around the edges. Callen was happy to see him.

About 5:00 the boys all left for the hotel down the road. I was guessing that there was going to be a small stag party for Callen.

We ladies opened a bottle or two of wine and Michelle and I had sparkling grape juice. I got to know Nell and Michelle a little. Hetty was her usual eloquent self. Kensi was going to be the timekeeper on this little party. She didn't want either pregnant lady getting tired.

In the morning all of us women took our time getting ready. Kensi wanted to give me a little pampering. She did my nails and combed and set my hair. She was turning into a friend that I could count on. It hurt that she was going to be three thousand miles away. Hetty had brought an old necklace that had belonged to her mom. It was blue so it covered three of the adages, something old, something borrowed and something blue. I had the "new" covered. I had a new dress and shoes. Nell was there with the penny for my shoe. Hetty was in charge as always. She kept the caterers and the bakery on their toes. Nothing was going to ruin Mr. Callen's wedding day.

When the time came, Dick Roisen walked me down the aisle to stand next to the man I would share my life with. Callen's blue/green eyes blazed with happiness. He looked as if he was ready to explode with joy. I was sure he could see the same in my eyes

The Justice of the Peace looked around the room and started the ceremony. "We have been invited here to witness the marriage of G. Callen and Sara Grandon. If there is anyone who has any objections to this marriage speak now or forever hold your piece."

"Callen, would you say your vows to Sara?"

Callen found each of his family's eyes before he started his vows. He ended with mine. "Sara, the last eight months have been a rollercoaster ride of emotions. The one emotion that remained constant was love, our love. There was the feeling of loss, the pain of knowing you were in danger because of me, the loneliness of being apart from you, but through it all I felt your love reaching across the miles to my heart. It is what kept me going.

Today we start a new chapter in our love story, a story with our family around to help us and encourage us with love and guidance.

I stand before you, Sara, with love in my heart, and before my family, friends and God to vow my love and devotion to you. I promise to take care of you in sickness and in health, to cherish and honor you till death do us part."

"Sara, would you say your vows for Callen."

"Callen, as I turned on that bench and met your eyes something told me my life would be forever changed and it has in so many ways. I have found a man who is a true protector, a friend, a lover, a soul mate and a man to be a father to my children. I too, felt great pain and terrible anguish when you were gone. Many days I grieved because I thought you were dead. I have felt fear, and anger at people for trying to hurt you, but most of all I have felt love, our love.

As we begin our life together I want you to know that our home will be a home like no other you have known. Ours will be filled with joy and no pain. Our home will be full of sharing and not solitude. It will be a place to return to, to be rejuvenated, but not just your body but also your soul. This home will have a heart to return to, mine.

I stand here today, before family, friends, and in my heart, God, to vow my love and devotion to you. I vow to take care of you in sickness and in health, to cherish and honor you till death do us part."

The Justice of the Peace talked about the symbology of the ring. How it is an eternal circle of love that goes on forever. He then asked Kensi and Sam to bring him the rings. Handing them to us, he first asked Callen to present his intention.

Callen turned those blue-green eyes on me and started saying, "Sara, I have waited all of my life to find someone to spend my life with. I asked you to marry me and …With this ring I thee wed." as he place the ring on my hand.

"Sara, it's your turn."

I took his ring and took his warm hand in mine and looked into those amazing eyes and started speaking, "Callen, we have the most wonderful and enduring love, so I say yes, I will marry you and …With this ring I thee wed."

"What these two have consented to, let no man put asunder. By the power vested in me by the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. Callen you may kiss your wife." Callen did.

Immediately after the ceremony our friends gathered around to give congratulations and best wishes. Gibbs, in his usual gruffness, said our gift was in the works and would be here when it is ready. Callen's translation was, "He's carving something or making a beautiful piece of furniture."

Hetty's gift was in the back yard. Placed under the trees in the yard was a park bench. Callen looked at her quizzically. "Since it was instrumental in bringing you two together I thought that it would be a good idea for you to have it. I bought it and had it sent here. The finishing work will be done next week."

Callen smiled and took my hand, "Join me on our bench Mrs. Callen?" We sat down and faced each other. These two weeks had been a whirlwind of activity and we had not really talked with each other. We just wanted those few minutes to get our head back into the game. At that moment we looked down at our hands and realized that we had, without knowing, bought each other the same rings. There were two white gold bands, each with a single blue sapphire and two aquamarines. We just looked at each other and started laughing. So, soul mates, single minded? I'd say so.

While we were laughing about how much we were alike, the caterers were putting out the food. So began an evening of food, family and fun. We laughed with each other long into the night.

Gibbs was the first to leave. He had an early flight to D.C. in the morning.

Sam and Michelle were next. Sam pulled Callen into a man hug filled with so much emotion that it hurt to watch. Michelle made us promise to visit soon. Sam came to me and hugged me, but in that hug was a promise to bring Callen back to him "Keep him safe."

How could I say no? "Yes Sam!"

Eric and Nell both looked lost and said good night. Nell was crying.

Deeks and Kensi solemnly approached. Kensi let one tear drop and then she put on her brave face. "Come and visit often, oh, and bring my brother."

I was beginning to get weepy. I hardly knew these people but in the last few days they became my family. I answered with a choked "I will."

They all left together. It was hard to see Callen's pain at watching his family leave without him.

The worst was yet to come. Hetty was the last to leave and this was going to be painful. Hetty has always been the mother Callen lost in Romania. She brought him back to the United States and kept him safe from the Comescu time and time again. I know that this had to be hard on Hetty as well. Callen sat there looking at her and you could see the adoration in his eyes.

Hetty cleared her throat and began to speak, "Mr. Callen, I had hoped that one day you would find someone to share your life with, someone to trust." She took my hand. "You have chosen well. Sara will be your helpmate, your nurse, and your lover. She will walk through this life hand- in- hand with you. Don't, however, forget to nurture the relationship. Let her help you." She then turned to me. "Sara, take care of him. Be a sounding board when he needs it and be the voice of reason when he doesn't want to hear it. Love him for all of who he is, including the lone wolf.

Mr. Callen, you will be sorely missed. I won't have anyone to act the foil to make me think outside the box. You have a new job, to teach new NCIS special operations agents. Train them to be independent thinkers like yourself. Tell them it is OK to think, just not be insubordinate like you."

I felt myself welling up and knew that Callen was on the edge. Hetty then took our hands and put them together. She rose to leave and Callen got up and hugged her. I actually saw tears in Hetty's eyes.

Callen leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Sara and I will be in LA in two months for a conference.

She smiled up at him and winked. "Then we will see you then. Good night." And she left.

The catering crew had cleaned up and left a while ago. There were only a few wine glasses left to pack up in the morning. The house was the quietest it had been since the team had arrived two weeks ago. It felt awkward being alone in the house with Callen. I think he sensed my feelings.

He came up behind me and held me. "It has been a long day Mrs. Callen. Let's go to sleep."

I nodded. I turned off the lights and went upstairs with my husband.

The morning after the wedding was a glorious sunrise. The sun shone so brightly in the bedroom that it woke me. I reached out to find my husband. He was not there. I looked out at the bench in the yard. He wasn't there. The car was still here so he didn't go anywhere. Maybe he had gone for a run. As I went to go downstairs I noticed the door to Gretchen's room was slightly ajar. Callen was sitting in the rocker with something in his hand. I quietly slipped into the room. I didn't want to disturb his thoughts.

He sensed my presence. "I found this."

I walked up to stand at his shoulder and look at what he had. It was the Kewpie Doll he had won for me on our first date.

He gave a small chuckle as he turned the doll in his hands. "You kept it? I thought it was the world's ugliest doll."

I laughed at the remembrance. "I said she is so ugly she is cute, and since Gretchen's daddy won it for her mommy, it's special." I quietly added, "It kept me sane all those months. What's going on in here?"

He looked at the doll and tried to find a way to describe what he was feeling. He had the look of a lost child. He finally met my eye. "I am trying to get use to the idea of being a father. I had never really thought about it before and haven't had time since I got here to think it over. I am, kind of, afraid of the responsibility."

I walked around in front of him, crouched down in front of him as best I could and took his hands in mine. "G, it's Ok to be scared. I'm scared too. We want a life together and this is part of it. We have gotten through so much worse. The Comescu, being apart, those were horrid and yet we made it through. We can do this."

He still had an uncomfortable look about him. "I'm still a little nervous."

He helped me up and we walked out of Gretchen's room. "Well Nervous Daddy, how about we get dressed and go out to breakfast? I know an awesome little diner in Newport."

He smiled and hugged me. "Let's go eat breakfast, Mrs. Callen."

We packed up the wine glasses and put them on the porch for the caterers. We then went to have breakfast. This was a trip to see how long it would take Callen to get to work the following morning. After breakfast we drove over to Sachuset Beach and took a long walk. We played with the seagulls and waded a little. The water was beginning to get icy. There was coolness to the air and a little wind was kicking up. Well it was the beginning of autumn in New England. We cuddled our way down the beach to the car and headed into downtown Newport. Callen wanted to walk on the piers and see the boats. There were some beauties in port at this time of year. They were all getting ready to be put up for the winter or shipped out to southern climes. I could hardly wait for him to see the Christmas Boat Parade in the harbor. It was getting colder and breezier so we opted to head for home. It is nice sharing New England with him like he did California with me.

Monday, Callen started working at the War College. I think that he actually enjoyed it. He came home that night and told me about his students. They seemed eager enough. He had some that he might have concerns with but it was still early. This was a whole different side of Callen. He loved teaching. The Commander on the base appreciated the fact that he had been a team leader in the field and could run an ops center if needed. As Callen became more confident in his teaching he became more confident in life. He was becoming more at ease with life in non-crisis mode. Callen was also becoming comfortable with life in a family and I expected that he would come around to being a dad soon. He spent time in Gretchen's room. He was having a good time trying to understand how to take care of a baby.

It was the middle of November when I called Callen and he said he was bringing dinner home. I was feeling a slight case of cramps. There was another week until Gretchen was due so I wasn't concerned. I lay down on the couch while waiting for him to arrive. We had put together my suitcase for the hospital and it was by the door.

I saw worry in Callen's eyes when he came home. "Is it that time?"

"Maybe. We'll wait a little while." We were both excited by the idea so we ate little. Around nine o'clock Gretchen decided that it was time to come. We drove to the hospital and checked in at the nurse's station.

The nursing supervisor asked to speak to Callen privately. She then proceeded to tell him he couldn't bring his weapon into the hospital.

Callen was annoyed but remained calm. "I am an NCIS agent and we carry portal to portal. That is the rule for NCIS. My wife was a kidnapping victim one month ago. I am protecting her and my daughter."

The nurse's tone was that she was someone whose authority would not be questioned. "I am sorry that happened sir. Our rule is that hospital security shall protect our patients."

Callen kept his cool but again reiterated, "My wife and daughter are a kidnapping waiting to happen. I will protect them."

The nurse called security. When the security guard arrived he just happened to be a student of Callen's. He was allowed to keep his weapon. When Callen walked away, the security guard told the nurse that the people, who might come for us, were way above what the hospital security could handle.

Callen rejoined us in the delivery area and the labor process moved right along. He held my hand, fed me ice chips, and helped me with breathing and focusing. He was a rock through it all. It took about four hours for Gretchen to make her appearance. Callen clamped and cut the cord and measured and weighed "his" little girl. He was a thoroughly smitten man and I fell in love with him all over again. I noticed that he was not nervous any more. He was the doting daddy and his mission was to hold her all the time.

Two days later Callen took us home. It was a partly cloudy, cold day at November's midpoint and there were no leaves on the trees. When we arrived at home G drove up to the front porch and helped me out. Callen then took Gretchen out and turned toward the door when he saw a flash on the hill across the way. He hustled us into the house and came back out to look again. He didn't see any more flashes but thought that he would check it out later. He went back into the house.

Up on the hill, sat a lone figure with a pair of binoculars. This person had spent the day waiting patiently for the Callen family to arrive home. They noticed that Callen had seen the flash and decided to leave, for now, but said to themselves, "Don't worry Mikael, I'll be back for them, soon."

35

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