And they all lived......?

Well, read on and you'll find out. ;-)

This is way too long to be a proper epilogue; it's more like a whole other chapter, but 55 chapters has a ring to it and an epilogue rounds it all off nicely.

I always listen to music as I write – it helps me fit the mood of the story and I wrote this whilst listening to Peter Gabriel's version of "The Book of Love". It's quirky but beautiful and I felt that it was a perfect match with the end of their journey.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Switching off the hair dryer, Alex took her brush and flicked back the last few errant strands of hair from her face, running her fingers through the fringe that she wore these days to cover up the paper-thin scar that ran up from her right temple into her hairline. It was the only tangible reminder of her ordeal at the hands of Eddie Marsh, but Alex still had nightmares about it sometimes, waking up shaking in terror as she watched Gibbs firing at the car, screaming as it exploded in a ball of flame

She'd never seen Gibbs again. He'd seemingly disappeared into thin air and Alex had wondered if she'd imagined him for a while but Ray had put her right on that score. When she'd recovered sufficiently enough to be interviewed, she learned that Gibbs had been something to do with Special Branch, hence the visit from Chief Superintendent Woodham that Alex had managed to avoid. Woodham had come to visit her in hospital fill in some of the blanks, but Alex still had more questions than answers.

She knew that Gibbs had saved Gene by hiding him instead of putting him the boot of the car and that he'd been responsible for interrupting Marsh's attack on her. He'd also found Ray and told him that Shaz and Tom were being held prisoner at the old power station on Shadwell Basin, but Alex had never been able to find out any more than that although she and Gene both had their suspicions as to what Gibbs really was.

In the aftermath, several officers, including Eckland and Ayres, were removed from their posts and were now awaiting the outcome of disciplinary hearings against them. Whilst publicly, the Met greatly regretted that Marsh had died while attempting to avoid arrest, Alex was of the firm belief that Gibbs had been under to orders to kill him all along. He'd just had to wait until he'd got all the information he'd needed and then had taken the opportunity to make it look like an accident, although she knew that no-one in the Met would ever admit such a thing.. All she really knew was, that whatever and wherever the mysterious Mr Gibbs was, she owed him a huge debt of thanks.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Hearing the sound of voices and laughter from outside, Alex crossed the hotel room to the window, wincing slightly at the soreness of her feet. Serves me right for dancing all night in those heels, she told herself with a wry smile as she knelt up on the window seat and opened one of the small lead-paned windows. Resting her elbows on the broad stone sill, she leaned from the window, feeling the warmth of the bright July morning as she looked down on the wide expanse of manicured lawn that ran from the hotel terrace down the banks of the river Thames. There'd been no expense spared at this wedding, with all the rooms in the beautiful old country house reserved for the principle guests.

As she searched for the source of the laughter, her dress that Gene had flung casually across the seat cushions the previous evening, shifted and slithered to the floor in a rush of silk. Alex smiled to herself, remembering how it had clung to her body as she'd danced with him. She recalled the warmth of his hand though the thin fabric on her back as he'd pulled her close to him for one of the last dances of the evening. The DJ had played "The Long & Winding Road" and Gene had smiled down at her, his eyes dark with emotion. "I love this song," he'd told her gruffly. "Reminds me of how far I've travelled to be wi' you." He'd dropped his eyes from hers as he'd spoken and Alex had known that he'd been awkward at admitting such a thing, even after all this time. She'd said nothing, knowing that he didn't need a reply, nestling closer to him and resting her head on his shoulder as they'd swayed slowly to the music, lost in one another.

She leaned down and retrieved the dress, laying it carefully back over the cushions next to a black tailcoat. She trailed her hand down the coat's sleeve, recalling how utterly delicious Gene had looked, a fierce scowl of concentration on his face as he'd fulfilled his duties as Best Man.

"Never thought I'd see the bloody day" he'd muttered to Alex as he'd walked back down the aisle of the church with her on his arm.

"That's what Ray said about you," she'd whispered back, "and now look at you."

He'd flashed her grin, his whole face lighting up with pride. "Look at us, you mean. Still unbreakable," he'd growled, giving her quick kiss on the cheek, before disappearing out into the churchyard to roar at scores of Ray and Angela's relatives who were all in the wrong places for the family photographs.

Ray, who had long done away with his perm and cropped his hair short, had looked unaccountably handsome in his wedding attire, even though he'd worn an expression of shell-shocked disbelief throughout the entire ceremony. After nearly four and half years of waiting, Angela had finally got Ray to make an honest woman of her and Alex wasn't entirely sure if Ray had come to terms with this fact yet.

Angela had been the perfect "storybook bride" in a fairy tale dress with a huge train and long veil. Alex and Shaz were her two Maids of Honour and the three of them had had a riotous time on Oxford Street one weekend, trying to find a dress that suited them both. As they'd all waited in the church porch for the music to begin, with Angela's father fidgeting nervously beside them, Shaz had caught Alex's eye and smiled.

"Bit different from mine and Chris's wedding, isn't it?" she'd whispered and Alex had nodded in agreement. As Shaz's father had been unemployed for a long time, she'd wanted to spare him the expense of a big white wedding, and so she'd organised it all in her own inimitable style. She'd had a traditional Catholic church service, followed by pie and mash in the pub next door, all topped off with an evening of drinking and dancing at the local nightclub.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The laughter grew louder as the Bartlett girls rounded the corner of the hotel; Kathy was the first to appear, closely followed by Emma and Sarah, all three of them shrieking in mock-terror as they fled across the lawn, with Gene in hot pursuit, his long legs bringing him closer to them with every stride.

He'd almost caught Emma, his hands outstretched to tickle her, when a whirlwind of arms and legs exploded from behind the low yew hedge that boarded the rose beds, and the newly promoted Chief Superintendent Hunt found himself almost felled by his godson Stuart and his constant partner in crime, three year old Grace.

They flung themselves at him, yelling with laughter and Alex watched as Gene swung Grace up into his arms, her blonde hair tangling with his own. "We caught you! We caught you, Daddy!" she shouted in delight, hugging him tightly round the neck. Catching sight of Alex leaning from the window, she waved up at her. "Hello Mummy!" she called in her clear high voice, before turning her attention back to her father, wriggling in his arms as he tickled her.

"Help me catch the others, Gracie" Alex heard him say as he put her down again. Grace set off as fast as she could, looking back at Gene and laughing. "Come on, Daddy……run." Alex watched them both for a while before tearing herself away from the delightful sight of her husband laying flat on his back on the grass whilst Grace and Sarah tickled him. Breakfast was waiting for her and Alex quickly rubbed moisturising cream into her bare legs, nicely suntanned from a week in the south Devon sun, before pulling on black lace underwear and a short-sleeved chocolate linen dress that buttoned all the way up the front. She put the final touches to her make-up and straightened out the wide collar of the dress that framed her collarbones and neck, showing off the heart pendant that she still wore every day without fail, listening to the giggles of her daughter still drifting in through the open window.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

They'd conceived Grace the very first time that she and Gene had made love after the kidnapping, and the experience had been so incredible, so life affirming, that even now the memory of it made her shiver hotly with remembered desire.

Alex had been lucky, she'd managed to get through her ordeal with numerous cuts and bruises but no bones broken. Gene had fared worse than her, with fractures to his ankle, collar-bone and three ribs. They were inevitably the same ribs that had been damaged when he'd been shot, and the doctors had insisted that he stay in hospital for a while to give his twice- broken bones a chance to recover.

Once home, they'd both slept a great deal for the first few days, curled around one another in the middle of their bed, arms and legs entwined, only getting up to eat or sit in the garden for a while in the warm spring sunshine, never leaving each other's side if they could possibly help it.

Alex had been lying awake, gently stroking his chest whilst watching Gene sleep propped up comfortably on several pillows, when she'd heard him murmur one word. "Lower" he'd rasped and Alex had complied, moving her hand down to his stomach. "Lower" came the command again, and Alex's fingers had trailed down across his abdomen to find him ready for her, his cock hot and hard in her hand. He'd let out a groan of desire as she'd wrapped her fingers round him, working him gently.

"Really?.......You're sure?" she'd whispered to him as she'd eased closer, feeling his hand stroking its way along her thigh, his fingers gently slipping inside her, working their magic as always.

He'd opened one silver eye and nodded. "Yes, I'm sure. Just take it easy, though. I don't want you to shag me back into hospital."

She'd laughed, moving over him with slow care as she'd shifted her hips and he'd slid inside her with a low moan. She'd held herself still for a moment, hers eyes locked on his, seeing her own intense feelings of love and desire mirrored in his gaze, before beginning to move, bringing them both to orgasm as slowly and as softly as she could. He'd cried out as he reached his climax, but the pleasure had far outweighed the pain and he'd drawn her down to him, claiming her mouth with his own, making her body his again, banishing all the fear and replacing it with a deep sense of peace.

When Alex had found out she was pregnant, just days before they were married, it had seemed like the perfect wedding gift. She'd seen the joy on Gene's face when she'd told him; she'd seen the fear too, but he'd hidden it well, and Alex had hoped that he'd forget it all in the preparations for their wedding.

The lads had certainly helped in that respect, making sure that Gene was drunk enough to forget everything but his own name on his stag night. Alex had had misgivings about Ray being Best Man, imagining all sorts of horrors, but he'd been really quite restrained and the evening had only involved three pubs, one strip club and a late night-gambling club. Alex hadn't wanted to know any other details; all that mattered was that Gene had been returned to her in one piece the next morning to sleep it all off while she spent the day at a spa with Shaz and Angela. In the evening, they'd dinned at one of Alex's favourite restaurants, Rules on Maiden Lane, and Tom had joined them, as in the absence of any relatives, he was giving Alex away. He'd also been on Gene's stag night and was still feeling a little delicate, but he'd rallied to the occasion and taken them all to Madame Jojo's for champagne after their dinner.

After the ceremony, throughout which Gene's hands were shaking so much that he could hardly slip the wedding band onto Alex's finger, they'd emerged onto the steps of Finsbury Town Hall into a shower of confetti as well as the cheers and applause from the crowds of theatre goers on their way to a matinee at Saddlers Wells.

Their wedding photographs showed them both laughing, an arm around each other, Gene only leaning slightly on the ebony cane that Alex had found for him to save him from putting too much strain on his damaged ankle. She'd had asked him if he'd wanted to postpone the wedding until he was able to walk properly once more, but Gene had been adamant; their wedding was booked for the 23nd of May, and nothing was going to stop him from making her his wife

After a memorable reception at Luigi's, where Ray's speech had reduced everyone to tears of laughter, they'd returned to the peace and quiet of Noel Road, leaving for their honeymoon early the next day. They'd flown to Naples and made their way by car down the Amalfi coast to stay at a hotel owned by one of Luigi's numerous cousins. Angelo had allocated them their very own suite complete with its own private terrace, and he'd obviously been given strict instructions to wait on them hand and foot, fussing over them both for the whole of their stay.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Grace Alice Hunt was born on a bright, frosty day in February of the following year, named, so Gene thought, after the two most influential women in his early life; his mother and his formidable aunt. Alex had been perfectly happy with his choice of names. After all, Gene wasn't to know, but her mother's middle name had also been Alice and Alex drew comfort from the feeling that she was somehow honouring her memory as well.

There was no doubt that Gene had loved Grace from the minute he'd seen her, but to this day he'd never changed a nappy and still retained a infuriating ability to sleep blissfully though any amount of night time disturbance. If she was honest with herself, Alex hadn't expected anything else; he'd been equally intractable about certain aspects of her pregnancy, refusing to attend any form of birthing classes and roundly declaring that he would drive her to the hospital when she went into labour but that was as far as his involvement went. "I'll wait outside," he'd told her firmly. "I can't be doing wi' any of that screaming and blood 'n stuff." When Alex had pointed out that she was having a caesarean, as she'd done with Molly, and so hopefully there would be no screaming, he'd remained resolutely unconvinced and true to his word, had stayed outside in the corridor throughout the whole procedure.

Giving his daughter her last bottle and putting her to bed had been a whole different story though, and Alex had soon realised that it was his favourite part of the day. He'd take himself off to Grace's room when he returned from work, sitting in the rocking chair with her in his arms, talking to her softly in his low growl as she drifted off to sleep. She'd even heard him singing to her on one or two occasions, but she was careful not to mention it to him, leaving him with his gruff and grouchy dignity still intact.

Alex was the first to admit that married life hadn't been all plain sailing. Gene's idea of having children and the actual reality of it differed hugely and he'd taken a while to adjust to his new role. There had been more than one occasion when they'd found themselves having a huge argument about something utterly inconsequential, and they'd both had to reign in their tempers and talk through their problems instead of shouting at one another. Alex was proud of the fact that they'd managed to make it work; no bags had been packed, neither of them had stormed out and Gene had only spent the night on the sofa once in four years and only then because he'd been too drunk to climb the stairs.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After slipping her feet into strappy, brown high-heeled sandals, Alex picked up the room key, and made her way downstairs to the terrace, where she found Chris and Shaz eating breakfast with Dave and Susie, all of them laughing as they watched the children chase Gene. Alex looked around at them all, delighting at the bonds of friendship that still bound everyone together, no matter where they worked.

Ray and Chris were still at Fenchurch East with Dave and Peter while Shaz was a WDC up at Hoxton. She was doing very well indeed, and children, despite Chris's obvious broodiness, were a very long way down her list of priorities, unlike Angela whom Gene and Alex were firmly convinced would be pregnant within weeks of being married.

Alex had returned to work three days a week as a criminal profiler with the Drugs Intelligence Unit. Her job was desk based and although she worked closely with the CDS, she was never involved in anything at "street level." Part of her missed being out there; chasing criminals and making arrests, but Gene had been immovable on the subject when she'd raised the question of restarting her career. He wanted her safe behind a desk, just as he was these days. She was immensely proud of what Gene had achieved at the CDS and his new promotion had confirmed that his senior officers felt that way as well.

As she helped herself to some orange juice, Tom pulled out the chair beside hers and smiled up at the waitress who'd appeared to take their breakfast order. "Tea and toast for me, please," he told her, with a smile so dazzling that the poor girl nearly dropped her order pad. "Same for you, Lexi?"

Alex nodded. "Yes please, and can I also order a full fried breakfast for my husband." She knew that Gene wouldn't settle for just tea and toast. After Tom had gallantly retrieved her pen from under his feet, the waitress wrote down Alex's order, blushing furiously under Tom's gaze.

"You shouldn't tease." Alex reproved watching as the thoroughly disconcerted young girl disappeared back into the hotel.

"It's not my fault. I can't help it if I appear young, free and single," he replied with an exasperated look on his face. "I spent half the evening trying to fend off Angela's cousins, and one of her Aunts as well. It gets exhausting after awhile."

Tom was here on his own this weekend, as he and Luke still felt nervous about revealing their relationship to the world, but Alex knew that they were as serious as about each other as any conventional married couple. Even Gene had mellowed sufficiently over the years for Alex to be able to invite them both to diner and they were always willing to baby sit when Gene felt that a weekend away with his wife was long overdue.

As the waitress returned with their breakfast, Jack Bartlett appeared from the far corner of the hotel. At eleven he was already well on his way to becoming as tall and broad as his father was. It would seem that he also had Dave's patient nature too, as he pretended be a horse, much to the delight of the small, dark-haired girl who clung to his back, giggling with joy as he galloped over to breakfast table.

"No more, Ros. I need my breakfast," he told her, pinching the last piece of toast from his mother's plate.

"Again! Please, Jack, please!" pleaded two-year old Rosalind and Alex leaned down to speak gently but firmly to her.

"No more Ros. Jack wants his breakfast. Come and sit with me," she told her youngest daughter, pushing back her chair and patting her lap. Ros shook her head emphatically. "No, Mummy." she declared. "Want Tom," and with a cheeky grin, she danced over to sit with her favourite uncle instead. Alex sighed and hid a smile at Rosalind's charming stubbornness, wondering how it was possible to have produced such radically different children.

Whilst Grace was happy and good-natured, her blonde hair and wide hazel eyes reflecting her open and sunny personality, Rosalind was as dark and stormy as the night she'd been born. She'd inherited her father's startling silver/blue eyes along with his formidable personality and irresistible pout, all of which combined to make her a force to be reckoned with.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It had come as a huge shock to both Gene and Alex when she'd found out she was pregnant once more, just five months after Grace had been born. Alex, in particular, had harboured grave misgivings about Gene's ability to cope with two small, demanding babies and had worried herself sick over how she was going to break the news to him. When she'd finally told him, he'd been delighted, pulling her close and telling her that everything would be OK, but Alex had seen a flicker of panic in his eyes once again and had started to worry.

She'd even broken down and cried about it when she'd been visiting Ros, unexpectedly dissolving into floods of tears whilst pouring the tea. Ros had been as supportive as ever, encouraging Alex to look at all the positives. "You've been given a gift, Alex; a second baby and a second chance. It's a blessing for you both. I'm sure that Gene will be fine about it."

Alex had shaken her head, unable to share any of Ros's optimism. "I'm just worried I'll lose him, Ros; that I'll get lost in babies and motherhood and he'll lose himself in work, or even find another woman."

"Now Alex, my dear, that's just your hormones talking. He'll do no such thing; he loves you far too much. You'll cope and I'll help in any way that I can. Gene will get used to the idea. He just needs time that's all." She'd patted Alex's hand and her smile had faded as she'd grown serious. "The most important thing to remember is that a man like Gene is essentially still a child himself in many ways. He needs to be constantly reassured of your love. He needs to know that he is still the centre of you world."

"He is!" Alex had wailed, "but how can he be with two small children? I'm exhausted already! Heaven knows what I'll be like by the time the baby's born."

Ros had thought for a while. "You need help at home. It's the only way I managed." She was silent for a moment. "Although, I'll admit it was very different. We had servants for everything in those days and the girls had a nanny each."

Alex laughed. "One nanny for the pair of them would be wonderful, but it's never going to happen. We couldn't afford it, even with Gene's pay rise, and I'm not sure I'd want that either. I'd feel as though I was missing out."

"Well, then, we'll have to think of something else, won't we." She smiled softly at Alex. "Things will work out, you'll see. It will all be OK in the end, Alex. You and Gene are my family now and I won't let anything happen to you."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Alex had remembered her words as she and Gene had attended Rosalind's funeral service only a month or so later. Ros had been hiding that fact that she'd had cancer from them both until the very last few week s of her illness. It had been an immensely sad and difficult time, but as she'd sat in the church, listening to the vicar recalling all of the strength and courage that Ros had shown throughout her life, Alex had felt her unborn child kick inside her properly for the first time. She'd felt the soft, hesitant flutterings of life for a couple of weeks previously, but this had been a hard, insistent demand of acknowledgement. Alex had taken Gene's hand and placed it on her abdomen, seeing his eyes widen in delighted amazement as he'd felt the strength of the life contained within.

When their second daughter had been born, after an emergency caesarean that had seen Gene pacing the hospital corridors, white-faced and shaking with fear for the both of them, it had seemed only fitting that they name her after their friend and confidant, for Ros had done something incredible and had changed their lives forever.

After the funeral, Ros's solicitor had approached them both and revealed that she'd had left them her entire estate. Not only did they inherit the house in Duncan Terrace, where they now lived, with its bright, airy rooms and large garden, but there was also a small cottage on the South Devon coast, near Dartmouth. In addition to the two properties, there was also a considerable amount of money; so much in fact that Alex would have never had to return to work again had she chosen not to.

Her final bequest to them both had been Mabel the whippet, and this time Alex had been perfectly agreeable to keeping her. The girls loved Mabel, and Mabel loved them all, but her heart belonged to Gene and she would wait devotedly in the hall for him to return home from work every evening.

Ros had also written Gene a letter, detailing exactly how some of the money was to be spent, and he'd obeyed her instructions completely. As a result, Mrs Wilks, who'd used to clean and cook for Ros, now came in every morning to do the cleaning and the ironing. During Alex's pregnancy she'd even make a casserole or a pie for dinner if she felt that Alex was too tired and if she hadn't had the time, Gene would often cook instead. He'd been slow and hesitant about it at first, constantly checking with Alex to see if he was doing things correctly, and yet typically refusing to use a cookery book or follow a recipe.

Gene had been unrepentant at getting Mrs Wilks in to help out, soothing away Alex's guilt that she "wasn't doing enough". "It's not a sodding competition Alex," he'd told her severely. "No-one's judging you on how good a Mother you are. Stop bloody well beating yourself up about it, and just relax."

Alex had been brought up short by his words, realising that what he'd said was true. She was approaching motherhood with the same competitive mindset that had governed everything she'd ever done. He'd seen her shocked face and had moved to sit next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, the long fingers of his other hand spreading out protectively over her softly rounded abdomen. "Everything will work itself out, Alex. Ros and I figured that if all you had to do was look after Grace and concentrate on being pregnant, then you'd be OK. Ros told me that if I want you to be a wife as well as a mother, then I have to look after you. I'm trying to, but you're so stubborn, you won't bloody let me. Stop fighting me Alex and just enjoy what we have."

When Rosalind had been born, Gene had once again obeyed Ros's instructions and had made sure that Alex had time to herself to recover. He'd asked Susie Bartlett to help him find someone who would come in and look after Grace and the new baby every afternoon while he was at work, to give Alex a chance to catch up on her sleep.

Susie had worked her magic, and found them Ellen, the twenty-two year old daughter of one of Susie's innumerable relatives. She was bright, funny, devoted to both of the children and she fitted into their life perfectly. Alex could see her now, down by the river's edge with Peter Ellis. She'd come to the wedding with them so that she could look after the girls whilst Gene and Alex concentrated on their duties as Best Man and Maid of Honour, but it would seem that Ellen had found an unexpected bonus in the form of the handsome young DC. Alex saw him slip his hand into Ellen's and grinned to herself; everyone seemed to be pairing off these days.

Gene had rounded all the children up and was making his way back to the terrace, Grace skipping along by his side. He was head to toe gorgeous in jeans and light blue linen shirt, the colour of which had banished any trace of silver from his eyes, turning them a deep aquamarine instead, and Alex felt her stomach contact with lust at the sight of him. She'd been anxious during each of her pregnancies that her libido would disappear as it had done when she'd had Molly, but she'd needn't have worried; although tiredness had taken its toll when the girls had been really small, she still wanted Gene as much as she'd always done.

Rosalind caught sight of them and clambered off Tom's knee, running over the grass to meet them. "Daddy! Daddy!" Gene bent down and scooped her up into the crook of one arm. Grace reached up and took his free hand as they walked and Alex watched with the unfailing sense of joy and wonder that she always had when she saw the three of them together.

Alex had worried that Gene would find being a father to two small girls difficult and his team had teased him after Rosalind was born about trying for a boy next. Some had even commiserated with him that he had no son, as if girls were somehow a disappointment to a man like Gene.

Alex had asked him about one evening as they'd sat in the garden of Ros's old house. They'd been taking a break from decorating and all the windows had been open to let out the smell of paint and new carpets. The late August sun had brought out the scent of the roses that climbed over the old brick walls of the garden. She'd been sitting with his head pillowed in her lap and his long legs stretched out along the length of the old white wooden bench that sat in just the right place to catch the last rays of evening sunshine.

"Do you want a son?" she'd asked him gently, running her fingers through his hair, noting that not all the flecks of grey in it were caused by paint streaks.

He'd opened his eyes and glared up her. "No I do not," he'd retorted fiercely. "And don't you go getting any of that nonsense into your head that my girls aren't enough for me."

Alex had been taken aback by the ferocity of his reply and it must have shown in her face as he'd reached up to take her hand, dropping a kiss on her palm in apology.

"Sorry." He'd been silent for a while before sitting up and reaching out to pluck a rose from the wall beside them. He'd twirled it round and round in his fingers, before beginning to slowly pull the petals from it, one by one.

"I don't want a son. I was bloody petrified each time you were pregnant that it would be a boy." His voice had been low and painful, as the petals had fallen like tears onto the flagstones at his feet. "I was scared I'd make the same mistakes, that the whole sorry story would repeat itself. " He'd looked sideways at her with a slow, beautiful smile. "You and girls have made everything different and I wouldn't change any of it for the world, Alex." She studied his face, seeing the love shinning in his eyes and she'd realised that he was telling the truth, that he was truly happy with his life the way it was now.

He was still Gene; infuriating, domineering to the point of arrogance sometimes, bad-tempered, and foul-mouthed too. To Alex's enduring shame, one of Grace's first words had been "bugger". He still drank and smoked, although not nearly so much as he'd used to. He still bet on the horses, still stayed up late to play cards with the lads and he was still troubled by his demons when his black moods occasionally swept over him, but it was nothing that they couldn't deal with together.

She thought of his fierce pride in his daughters as he watched them grow, the joy on his face as they welcomed him home in the evening with shouts and squeals of excitement, and she knew that he'd finally found a sense of fulfilment both within himself and with his life.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Gene took the seat the other side of Alex, after shifting Rosalind from his arm back onto Tom's knee. Grace climbed up to sit with Alex, wriggling herself onto her lap. Alex wrapped her arms round her, loving the feel of her warm body as she dropped a kiss on her daughters blond curls. Gene reached out a hand and stroked the back her neck gently, making Alex's skin tingle with delight "You look nice" he murmured, leaning over to kiss her neck, his fingers brushing the sensitive skin behind her ear.

"We all had quite enough of that from the pair of you last night, if you please, without carrying on at breakfast too" reproved Tom jokingly. "Honestly, do you two ever stop?" Alex giggled and Gene grinned at him cheekily.

"Oooh toast, Mummy! Can I have some please? With jam?" Grace asked as the waitress returned with their breakfast.

Ros turned round to Tom, patting his chest to get his attention. "Me too! Toast!.......Marmalade!"

"Marmalade, please" Alex corrected her youngest daughter, whilst buttering a slice of toast for Grace.

"Marmalade, please!" shouted Ros, gleefully. "Marmalade!...... Not jam, Tom!........ Please!"

Ever obedient to his god daughter's imperious demands, Tom put back the pot of strawberry jam and addressed her with a serious face. "Marmalade? Really? Are you sure?"

The little girl nodded solemnly as Tom glanced over at Gene for confirmation, who laughed.

"Really. It's my fault. I read her a bedtime story and she's hooked on the damn stuff now." He leaned round Alex to talk to Rosalind. "Tell Fletch why you like marmalade, Ros."

"Paddington Bear," she told Tom with a beaming smile.

"Ahh, now I understand. Well, in that case, Paddington, marmalade it is."

Gene leaned over to kiss Alex on the cheek as his fried breakfast arrived. "Thank you. I knew you wouldn't let me starve."

Grace regarded them both before turning to Tom. "Daddy is kissing Mummy again." she told him with a big grin.

"I know. He does that an awful lot doesn't he, Grace."

She nodded. "Yes, lots and lots."

Tom smiled. "They've been kissing ever since I met them, Gracie, and I don't think they'll ever stop." He leaned over to mock-whisper in her ear. "I think they're in love."

Grace regarded him seriously for a moment and then giggled. "Yes. I think so to."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

An hour later, having waved goodbye to everyone else, including her children, Alex was back in their hotel room, watching Gene as he poured them both a glass of champagne. He handed her a glass and she smiled at him quizzically.

"And we're celebrating what exactly?" she asked, taking a sip.

He shrugged. "Any thing you like. My promotion, Ray's wedding, the fact that you are still as sexy as the day I met you." His hands slid round her waist, pulling her to him. "You choose, Alex."

"OK," she teased, joining the game. "Let's celebrate the fact that the girls have gone home with Tom and Ellen and we're here, completely on our own, until tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh, that's a very good reason" he murmured, taking the glass from her and manoeuvring her towards the bed. "Any thing else?" he asked as he eased her gently down onto the mattress, his mouth at her throat.

"Yum….I'm wearing new underwear?" she told him with a giggle as he knelt over her.

"Another very good reason….. let me see." His hands began to undo the multitude of little buttons at the front of her dress.

Alex shivered as he worked his way down her body, peeling the dress away slowly to reveal her suntanned curves. " You're right… your underwear's fantastic and it most definitely should be celebrated." He gazed at her in wonder for a moment before running his hands lightly over her skin, making her gasp in delight.

"So, we've got the celebrating bit worked out… now, what shall we do with the rest of our day?" he asked, as his tongue traced a path from her collarbone to the curve of her breast."

"Ohhh.. I don't know," she whispered. "Windsor's nearby…. We could always go shopping."

He laughed as he removed her bra, his mouth finding her breast, his teeth tugging at one aching nipple, coaxing it to a sharp point.

"Shopping" he mused. "It's a possibility." He moved his head, transferring his attentions to her other breast, making her writhe as he sucked hard, his tongue flickering over her sensitive flesh. He stopped suddenly, looking up at her. Alex gazed back at him, seeing his pupils were huge with desire. "What else could we do, Alex? Tell me." he demanded as he bent his head again, licking and nipping at her skin as he moved lower.

"Windsor Safari Park?" she gasped as his mouth reached the soft flesh of her inner thigh. He eased his thumbs under the elastic of her lace knickers, pulling them from her.

"Absolutely not. The sodding monkeys will trash the car…. think of something else."

Alex tangled her fingers in his hair as she felt his hot breath against her. "Windsor Castle" she moaned as his mouth covered her, his tongue licking at her clit, making her urge her hips up against him, pulling him closer to her. After he'd rendered her incapable of further speech, driving her to the very brink as he licked and sucked at her, he pulled back with a grin. "I'm sorry? I didn't quite catch that last suggestion."

Alex giggled. "Windsor Castle" she repeated, breaking off abruptly as he plunged his fingers into the hot, oily warmth between her legs. She could feel herself, slick and wet as he slid them in and out, working her gently. "Ohhhh.. Christ.. that's good," she moaned, tipping her head back, her body arching up off the mattress in response to his skilful touch, surprised to find herself spiralling out of control again quite so quickly. Her orgasm crashed over her, every nerve ending on fire, her whole body shaking.

As she lay sprawled across the bed, eyes closed and her heart racing wildly, she heard him say her name. She felt a sharp stab of lust knife through her once more and marvelled at the feelings that his voice alone could induce in her.

Alex?" he growled again. She opened her eyes to find him watching her, wolfishly. "I've got a better idea than all of your suggestions."

"Really? Tell me what it is." she teased, pushing herself up and grabbing the front of his shirt. He fell onto the bed beside her and lay still as she began to undo the buttons, pushing the material back from his shoulders, trailing kisses down his chest.

"Guess" he replied huskily, the breath hitching in his chest as her mouth reached his abdomen and her hands reached the belt of his jeans.

"A nice long walk?" she responded, tugging them off along with his boxers and deck shoes and moving up his body once more.

"Nope… ohhhh fuck, Alex…jesus.." Gene groaned as she took him in her mouth, her tongue curling round the length of him, taking him deep, her lips wrapped around his straining, swollen cock. "Guess….again….." His fingers tangled tightly in her hair. "God….. I'm gonna come in a minute if you keep doing that," he groaned and Alex stopped, crawling back up his body, trailing her tongue over his skin as she went.

"We could watch telly?" She slid herself over him, teasing him, rubbing herself against the length of him. "There's bound to be an old black and white film on BBC 2"

"Telly? No…. what I had in mind was a little more energetic than telly." Gene grabbed her round the waist and rolled her over so that he was on top, shifting his hips and easing her legs apart. She could feel his cock nudging at her slick flesh, hot and hard, ready to push into her and fill her completely.

"I give up" she breathed, pulling him down to her so that she could kiss him, taking his lower lip between her teeth and biting gently. "Tell me how we should spend our day, Gene."

"Well, I think…" he edged forward slightly, opening her up. Alex moaned in delight as she felt him slide inside her "…..that we should stay right here…" he moved his hips, pushing in deeper, inch by maddening inch. "…….and…."

Alex wrapped one long leg round his thigh, pulling him closer, arching her back as she did so. His eyes were fixed on hers, watching her face. "…….shag each other senseless until it's time to go down to dinner."

He thrust all the way into her in one fluid movement, making her cry out wordlessly at the sensation. She clung to him, raking her nails down his back as he held himself still, sheathed within her, his teeth grazing her neck.

"Good… idea…" she groaned, as he began to move in her with long, slow strokes.

"I thought you'd say that," he gasped. Alex watched him, drinking in the sight of him, knowing that she would never tire of the feeling of him inside her. "God, Alex…. you always feel so good….every….single …time" Eyes closed, his head flung back, he abandoned himself to the sensation, thrusting deeper into her, and Alex lost all sense of anything else but him.

She moved with him, as slow ripples of pleasure spread throughout her body. She urged her hips upwards, straining to get as close to him as she could, drowning in ecstasy as she felt the heat building from within. It was perfection; he was perfection, everything she ever needed, for the rest of her life."Ohhh, god…..yes, Gene….yes…now…" He changed pace, his thrusts becoming harder, more erratic. She came, her body convulsing around him, cyring his name as he gave a long low groan, shuddering as he spilled inside her, gathering her to him, his face in her neck, whispering her name over and over,.

They lay breathless, tangled together in the bed covers, the sun streaming in through the windows and bathing them both in its soft golden light.

"I love you, Alex." he murmured, resting his head on her shoulder.

"For ever?" she asked, stroking his hair.

"For ever."

"Good. I love you for ever too." she told him, finding his hand and lacing her fingers through it.

"Good" he growled in sleepy satisfaction.

"Gene?" she whispered. "We're not due back until teatime tomorrow. What shall we do tomorrow morning?"

He chuckled, pulling her closer and kissing her neck. "Good question, Alex…….guess."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Just to say a huge, huge thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read this fic. Thank you also to everyone who has taken the time to send me a review. It's been wonderfully encouraging and I've loved every minute of writing it. I'm sure that I'll be posting more stories, but none of them are very likely to be as long as this one. It's turned into quite an epic and thanks to everyone for sticking with the characters as they travelled the particular paths that I chose for them.