Matters of the Heart

Chapter One

"Dammit, Lucas," she seethed under her breath, glaring through the door at the Christmas tree that now obstructed her view of what was going on inside Tuscany. "I'm going to kill you."

How dare he gag her and drag her out of her own father's wedding? She had every right to object to this unholy union taking place, and he knew it. His mother was the devil; there was no other explanation for the hideous and vile evil that was Kate Roberts.

How could you be so blind, Dad? she thought bitterly. Marrying the woman who tried to murder your own daughter?

And not just once, but several times at that!

To be fair, Sami knew that her father didn't know the whole story of what Kate had done to her, but what he did know should have been enough to convince him that the woman he was about to marry was not fit to be his wife.

The only thing she was fit to be was in a jail cell.

And if I have my way, Sami thought with a scowl. That's exactly where you're going to end up, Katie-girl.

She had waited years for the chance to get revenge on Kate Roberts, so did it really come a surprise to anyone that she had been willing to frame the woman for the serial killings? Her father had been disgusted and disappointed in her, but what else was new? Besides, it was worth it to make Kate pay for what she had done.

Everyone kept saying that the past was the past, to let it go, but they weren't the ones who had suffered. They weren't the ones who still had nightmares about falling from cliffs, who had developed a fear of needles so strong that she couldn't even hold her own son's hand while he got a shot at the doctor's office without shaking.

No, she would never forgive Kate for what she had done to her. And as for Lucas... well, Lucas was complicated. For a long time all she had wanted was to hurt him, to make him feel the terror of what he'd put her through, to inflict the pain of his betrayal back tenfold. But over the past year that feeling had faded, and what it was replaced by was no less distressing, for she found that she actually enjoyed his company again.

And then, of course, there were the dreams and the kisses and the maddening almost-kisses...

"So not going there," she muttered to herself, rubbing her bare arms to try and keep warm. Something had changed between them over the past few months, there was no denying that, but she didn't have to like it. Never mind that she couldn't fight it, and wasn't even certain if she wanted to, she was never going to admit to the confusing new direction her feelings towards Lucas had taken recently.

Besides, he was the idiot that had locked her outside in the freezing cold without even thinking to grab her jacket off of the seat next to her. Would that have been so much to ask?

"This is ridiculous," she growled under her breath. "Are you trying to make me catch pneumonia, Lucas? It's like the arctic out here."

A noise from behind her interrupted her mutterings, and she started to turn around, half expecting to find Lucas coming out to gloat about his little stunt, when a pair of strong arms grabbed her from behind.

Stiffening, Sami twisted her upper-body around and stiffened in alarm when she found herself face-to-face with none other than the Salem Serial Killer.

A scream rose up inside of her, but a black-gloved hand slammed down over her mouth, muffling her cry. Cold terror washed over her and she struggled to get free, but the arms holding her were too strong, and all her efforts earned her was a sharp twist of her left arm which brought hot tears to the surface of her eyes.

Her heart was pounding so loud she wouldn't have been surprised if the killer could hear it, and yet at the same time it felt unreal. There was no way she was being attacked by the serial killer for the second time, no one was that unlucky, not even her.

But the grip on her arms was too painful not to be real, and she could feel the killer's hot breath against her neck as they struggled, and it was all she could do to swallow back a hysterical sob.

She had faced the killer once before, in the alley behind Salem Place, and she had managed to fight him or her off fairly well, but that had been when she thought that it was just Lucas trying to scare her. As soon as she had realized that it wasn't, that it was real, she had panicked.

Now, though, it was instinct that guided her elbow viscously into the killer's midsection, and the moment the grip on her arms loosened, she stumbled away from the killer. As soon as she regained her balance, she began to stagger forward, trying to put as much distance between herself and the killer as possible.

"Help!" she shrieked hoarsely. "God, somebody help me!"

There was no answer, of course, she hadn't really expected there to be. Even if they could hear her inside, they probably just thought she was making one last desperate attempt to stop the wedding taking place.

The killer caught her before she even made it ten feet. A strong hand grabbed her by the arm and spun her around roughly before flinging her back against the side of the building. Sami moaned, her shoulder blades slamming into the solid wall, and looked up to see the killer advancing, tossing a knife from hand to hand.

"Lucas!" she screamed, hoping against hope that he was still close enough to the door that he might hear her. "Lucas, help me!"

She tried to dodge out of the way when the killer lunged at her, using the wall for momentum, but her high heels made it difficult, and she let out a scream as the killer grabbed her from behind.

Once again a gloved hand clamped down over her mouth, but this time the killer made sure that her elbows were securely pinned at her sides. Sami's eyes widened in terror as she saw the knife flashing towards her, and she did the only thing she could do to avoid being stabbed right through the heart- she lifted one foot off the ground and slammed her high heel down onto the killer's foot with all of her might.

It was a risky move, one that probably saved her from falling to the ground dead right then and there, but it didn't come without a price. The killer's arm jerked downward, and the knife pierced through her black dress as it plunged into her stomach.

Cold anguish filled her belly, and she heard herself scream as the sharp, searing pain tore through her. She doubled over, clutching her abdomen, her knees nearly buckling from under her as the blood began to seep through her dress, staining her hands like crimson paint.

The faceless killer stepped back, holding a gleaming knife coated to the hilt in blood, and a swell of terror rose up in Sami, colder and fiercer than anything she had ever known before. This was worse than the lethal injection she had gotten when Kate framed her for Franco's murder, this was worse than falling off the cliff in Italy, this was worse than falling through the glass doors at the DiMera mansion.

All of those times, she had been able to turn to someone for help. Her family, even Carrie, had been there to support her at her execution, Brandon had been there to save her in Italy, Lucas had been there to take care of her after her throat had been slashed open...

But now she was alone, alone and freezing and bleeding to death with a crazed killer standing over her, while her family and friends, the people who claimed to love her, were inside celebrating.

"Help!" she rasped, every syllable she forced past her lips causing another bolt of pain to rip through her stomach. "Help me!"

It was no use, there was no help coming. Not her father, not her Uncle Bo, not even John. They had left her on the outside looking in, as always, and she was on her own. While she was fighting for her life, they were all inside welcoming the woman who had tried her hand at ending her life on more than one occasion. Not even Lucas would be coming to her rescue this time, because he was inside being happy for his mother.

They were all inside Tuscany, just past the wall behind her, but they might as well have been hundreds of miles away for all the good it was doing her now. Despite her determination not to let the killer see her despair, a cry of utter anguish escaped her lips, and the tears began to come harder than ever.

She was going to die just outside of a restaurant swarming with cops, an event that was supposed to have the security to keep its guests safe, and the irony of that fact was inescapable.

The bastard was smirking behind that mask, she just knew it.

And then, to her absolute disbelief, the killer looked away, as if he or she had just heard something. Straining her ears, Sami heard it, too, now, the sound of raised voices in the distance. A surge of hope swelled within her, for voices meant people, and people meant help. The voices were familiar, but her head was swimming, and she couldn't think straight enough to place them.

"Help me!" she shouted hoarsely, but it was too weak to be heard, and the killer's eyes darted back to her, burning with cold fury that sent a chill down her spine. The knife jerked towards her again, intent on silencing her, but somehow she managed to avoid the blade, and the voices were growing louder, as if they were drawing closer.

Despite the pain, and the lightheadedness that was threatening to consume her, Sami let her lips curve up in a faint smile of triumph. If the killer wasted time finishing her off, he or she would be caught, and they both knew it.

Glancing once more in the direction of the voices, the killer apparently decided self-preservation was more important, and began to backpedal towards the trees, that cold, merciless gaze locked on her own until the hooded figured disappeared into the woods.

A soft sob escaped Sami's lips, and she leaned back against the wall, her breath coming in labored gasps, as she tried to ignore the pain that was racking through her body. She felt weak, much weaker than she had only seconds before, and that frightened her, but not half as much as remembering the icy smugness in the killer's eyes as he or she made their retreat.

The killer, whoever it was under that mask, was confident that they would get another chance to finish the job.

And they had no reason not to be, after all, this was the second time that she had been attacked and the killer was making yet another clean getaway.

Then again, a traitorous part of her mind whispered. The job might already be finished anyway.

Until now, she had been going on adrenaline, fueled by the fight-or-flight reaction that her mother the psychologist was always talking about. Survival had been the only thing on her mind, and since fighting back had been the only way to stay alive that was exactly what she had done.

But now that the fighting was over, now that the killer was gone and the imminent danger no longer present, her strength was faltering. She was feeling weaker now, much weaker than she had been only moment before, and each breath of air that she gasped in felt labored and painful.

And she wondered if she wasn't going to be the killer's next victim despite all of her efforts to prevent it.

So many people close to her family had already been killed... Abe, her father's oldest and dearest friend. Jack, the father of Will's cousin Abby, and one of the few people she had considered a true friend. Maggie, who was not only Lucas' aunt, but his AA sponsor, as well. Her beloved grandmother Caroline, who had never turned her back on her, no matter how childish she acted.

And then there was Cassie.

Cassie, the half-sister that she had never really bothered to get to know. There hadn't been any great love lost between the two of them, in fact they had mostly been at odds with one another, but Sami regretted never making an effort with the younger girl. They'd had more in common than she wanted to admit, and sometimes she wondered if they might have one day been friends.

Of course, it was too late for that now.

Cassie was dead, and try as she might, Sami knew she would never get the image of her half-sister's bloody body falling from the piƱata out of her head. It was one of those moments in life that just burned into your brain, every last horrifying detail perfectly captured and preserved to stand the test of time.

Don't think about it, she ordered herself. Don't think about Cassie now, and definitely don't think about whether or not you're on your way to join her. You've survived worse than this, Sami. Remember Death Row? Remember falling off that cliff in Italy?

Why on earth did she always end up fighting for her life, time and time again? It wasn't even a year ago that she had been in a similar state, after falling through the glass doors at the DiMera mansion. Her memory of that accident was hazy at best, but she distinctly remembered hearing Lucas telling her to fight, for their son.

Oh, God, she thought, a wave of dread washing over her. Will!

Her son, her sweet little boy. She couldn't die, because he needed her. He had Lucas, but it wasn't enough, she knew that now, their son needed both his mother and his father. She knew what it was like to lose a parent, and she refused to let Will suffer that same grief.

Gritting her teeth, she pushed away from the wall, fighting back a scream as the muscles in her stomach cried out in protest. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a few deep breaths to try and still the trembling that had seized her body, but it didn't help. Biting her lip to keep from sobbing, she forced herself to start forward, despite the crushing agony. The voices were coming from just around the corner ahead, if she could make it that far then everything would be okay.

Of course, given the fact that she was fighting off a bout of dizziness that threatened to drive to her knees, that was a pretty big if, but the thought of her son gave her the strength to keep going, keep trying.

Every step was agony, and she felt the tears spilling down her cheeks. The world around her blurred, sliding in and out of focus, and darkness began to close around the edges of her vision. It was taking all of her concentration to maintain movement of her legs as she stumbled forward, and she fumbled desperately for the solid wall of the building to support her weight as her shoes sunk into the snow.

She had the most ridiculous thought that wearing high heels in the snow was a bad idea, and if it hadn't hurt so badly she would have laughed. Lucas had told her as much on more than one occasion, and wouldn't he love to know that he had been right.

Not that she would have told him, admitting that Lucas Roberts was right was not an enjoyable task, at least not for her. Still, she would have been glad to see him right then, even if he did have that stupid smirk on his face. He would have taken care of her, he was good at that, and hadn't he promised right before Christmas not to let anything happen to her?

A surge of annoyance for her son's father hit her, and she cursed him for locking her out of Tuscany, but she decided she wouldn't blame him, not this time. He'd probably just promised to look after her for Will's sake, just like everything else he did.

Despite that, she couldn't help hoping that when she rounded the corner she would find Lucas waiting. Given the circumstances, she would have even been happy to see Kate, and the faraway part of her brain, the part that wasn't foggy and blurry, knew that was never a good sign.

Thankfully, somebody up there didn't completely hate her, because as she turned the corner her soon-to-be-stepmother was nowhere in sight. Maybe she really was about to die, and her dying wish was being granted, not having to see Kate's face ever again.

Instead, she was able to appreciate the irony of the moment, that of all people to stumble across for help, it was two people who she knew weren't terribly fond of her nowadays. Then again, that number seemed to be quite high lately.

Standing less than twenty feet away, arguing in hushed tones, were none other than Brady and Nicole, and at the moment neither of them looked very happy. Although, Nicole never looked very happy, anyway, and from the glossy look on her face, she was probably well on her way to being drunk.

"Nicole, what the hell is wrong with you!" Brady demanded angrily.

"Nothing a little champagne can't cure," Nicole replied, her shrill laughter reverberating inside Sami's head like a ping-pong ball, making her stumble a little as she fought off another overwhelming wave of dizziness.

Nicole was saying something else now, but Sami couldn't make it out. The world around her was starting to spin again, and she knew she wasn't going to be able to make it another step without fainting.

Grabbing onto the wall for balance, she closed her eyes for a moment, trying to conserve her energy, and then opened them again, taking a deep, quaky breath. "Brady," she rasped, her voice too faint to be heard, even to her own ears, so she swallowed hard, taking a ragged breath before trying again. "Bra-Brady..."

Her stepbrother glanced up in her direction, as if he thought he heard something but wasn't quite sure, and an expression of utter shock descended over his face when he caught sight of her. "Sami?" he said in disbelief.

Sami parted her lips to say something, anything, and tried to take a step towards him, but her legs had held out longer than they should have already, and the strain proved too much for her weakened body to take. Her knees buckled under her, and she crumpled to the snow in a heap.

The snow was only cold against her bare shoulders, legs and arms for a few seconds, and then she was past feeling it. Her own shallow breathing echoed around her, mocking her, as she stared up at starry night sky overhead. A spray of snow kicked up by Brady's shoes fell across her limp hand as he rushed to her side, kneeling down beside her, his blue eyes wide in alarm.

"Sami," he cried, his hand coming down to touch her cheek, but she could barely feel it. "Oh my God, Sami, what happened?"

Swallowing hard, she parted her lips, trying to speak, but nothing would come out, and a sharp convulsion of her stomach had her eyes rolling back in her head for a few seconds.

"She's probably faking it," Nicole's voice filled the air, and the other woman's face swam above her, blurry and indifferent.

"Nicole, shut up!" Brady snapped shortly. "I don't- Oh... oh my God..."

"What?" Nicole asked, the tone of her voice suddenly changing, as it took on a hint of anxiety. "What is it?"

"She's bleeding, Nicole," Brady yelled, his voice rising with urgency. "It looks like she's been stabbed. Quick, go get help! Lexie's inside, she's a doctor, she can help!"

"But Brady-"

"Just do it!" Brady demanded, and then he was leaning over her again, patting her cheek with one hand. "Sami, Sami, look at me," he instructed, using that voice of barely controlled panic that men always seemed to use when they were trying to keep it together and failing miserably. "Come on, Sami, you have to stay with me, okay? You've got to fight."

Her groggy mind found it amusing that Brady was showing such concern for her now, when they hardly tolerated each other most of the time anymore. He had been such a sweet little boy growing up, always smiling and laughing, and they had gotten along wonderfully back then.

But that was a long time ago, and everything was different now.

Besides, it wasn't Brady's fault, at least not entirely. She hadn't exactly been a very good stepsister to him in recent years, had she? She should apologize for that, shouldn't she?

Her stomach tightened in pain and she grimaced, dimly aware of the tears on her face, not knowing if they were hers or Brady's, or if they were even really there at all. She couldn't really feel much of anything anymore, and she licked her lips, trying to focus on Brady, because she needed to tell him... what was it she needed to tell him?

She was trying hard to remember, because she knew it was important, when she caught sight of something in the distance.

At first it was just a shadow, a silhouette moving in her direction, but as it got closer the shape began to take on human form. The figure seemed to glow, as if some soft light was shining from behind it, and as it came into focus, a long-forgotten ache stirred to life inside of her.

Dark tresses cascaded down the woman's shoulders in curls, her dark eyes sparkling with warmth, and she silently held out a hand, palm turned up invitingly.

"Isabella..." Sami murmured, her breath hitching as her eyelids began to flutter.

Above her, Brady stiffened, and she wanted to tell him, she wanted to ask him if he could see her, too, but she couldn't seem to keep her eyes open.

And as she gave in to the darkness washing over her, Brady's voice echoed in the nothingness around her, calling out her name.

The last thought she had before she lost consciousness was that she wished he'd be quiet, he was giving her a headache.