Hey guys this isn't my fic but I loved it so much I just had to share it! It's by my sister Elise. All characters from Phantom Stallion series except the ones I make up

Aislinn- Pronounced A-s-leen, the a and e standing on their own.
Ruark- Pronounced the way it looks.

Women:
Kirtle: An under dress, often made of silk or linen
Gunna: The gown worn over the kirtle, often wool or velvet
Girdle: A cord or belt worn around the waist

Men:
Chausses- Tight garment for the legs…pants, basically
Jerkin: A short, close fitting jacket, almost always sleeveless

Forster Living Room

"So let me get this straight. You're spending two weeks at these old castley things and to see how they lived when they didn't have all the stuff we have now and learn skills you'll never need?" Jen asked between sips of coffee and bites of ice cream.

"Pretty much," Sam agreed, taking a bite of her own ice cream.

"Wow, how pointless is that!"

"Ranks among 'let's buy Deer Path Ranch and do nothing with it," Sam agreed.

"Totally a waste!" Jen's head bent while she fished around for more chocolate chunks.

"Yep."

"So why do you want to go again?" Jen turned her head to look at Sam in bewilderment.

"Because it's extra credit that's important and if I don't do so great on finals, this'll bring me grades back up."

"Oooh, so when time for finals rolls around, you'll be more fun and spend less time with your father and Jake on the Range?"

"No, this is a just in case. I'll still TRY to do good on finals."

"Wow, I SO do not benefit from this!"

"I know."

"Sam, it's right after Christmas! You're still supposed to be on break! You REALLY want to spend your so called Christmas break on a GBC field trip?" she tried reasoning. Man, if Sam was gone for two weeks, she'd be bored! GBC was looking reeeeeally long for her!

"I know," Sam sighed, turning serious again, "but if it helps with my photography for the Darton Paper," she saw Jen roll her eyes, "my future goal," she added, "then it's a good thing. Besides, it's the END of the break. Just these last couple of weeks. We've had our time together and Cody and Lilly (Cody's little sister- Brynna's dead) will already be back at school."

Jen heaved a large sigh, determined that if Sam could be mature about going on this trip so could she "Ok, so I still get you this weekend, right?"

"Yep, I leave on Monday."

"Question."

"Answer."

"If it's not required, how do you know who's going?"

"That's the down side. I don't."

"What. Oh!"

"Yeah, for all I know Protector (Jake) and the ones I hate Penelope and Louise will ALL be there, but other than that I'll have to wait and see."

"Can you call home?"

"Yes, on weekends."

"Your college teachers suck!"

"You used to date one before you and Bryan hooked up," Sam pointed out.

"Yes, and look where that led-NO WHERE! So, I repeat: they suck!"

Sam chuckled. True, Colin hadn't been perfect for Jen, but she'd known that ahead of time. Ok, on to more junk food and crappy movies. If she was going to be tortured for two weeks, she deserved this time with her Best Friend!

Monday Morning

Sitting on the bench outside of the dreaded GBC's main entrance, Sam sleepily sipped her coffee and slumped back.

"Ahh, Brat, you wanted to come and spend two weeks with me outside school and not on the range! How sweet."

Sam rolled her eyes at the voice. "Go away. It's early, I'm tired, I'm going to be stuck with people from GBC for two weeks instead of finishing my vacation with Ace, Jen and family, so leave me alone and most of them I don't like."

"Well, at least you aren't bitter," the note of amusement in his voice only served to irritate her more. Springing off the bench, she reached forward and slapped his chest in an attempt to push him away. Jake stayed where he was and laughed as she scowled darkly at him. "Tired?"

"Excellent deduction, Sherlock!" Sam flopped back into her seat and took another sip of her coffee.

He shook his head and sat down next to her. "It's 8:30, you should be more awake by now."

"Yeah, well, you try staying up until 4:00 in the morning watching movies with an over caffeinated working woman-"

"You qualify for that description sometimes," Jake cut in.

"And then get up at 6:30 for a overly dramatic and drawn out goodbye with said caffeinated working woman and the rest of an entire Ranch and see how chipper YOU are!" she huffed.

"Relax, Brat, I was just making an observation."

"Jake, can't you wait until I'm more awake to start an argument?"

He chuckled and reached to stroke her hair back from her temples. "Fine. I'll be nice."

"Thank you," she sighed in contentment.

"So the entire Ranch?" he asked, slipping back into their easy friendship.

"The ENTIRE Ranch," she confirmed. "But hey, Gram gave me three cups of coffee without me having to beg!"

"I'm going to have to get to know the Ranch hands and your family a bit better," he shook his head.

"So who is going?"

"That you know?"

"No, I wanted the names of complete strangers cause the names will mean nothing to me and I will effectively gain no new knowledge."

Jake patiently decided to let that one go on account of how tired she was, "You know my friend Pete?" he waited until she nodded, "he's going, his girlfriend's going, some of his-" he paused, looking for the right word.

"Groupies?" Sam supplied.

"Yeah," he laughed, "but I don't think you really know them."

Sam nodded in acknowledgment, knowing that "I don't think you really know them" was simply code for "none of them speak to you."

"Everyone please board the buses now," a woman called.

"Let's go," Jake stood and watched while she shuffled toward the bus. When she looked like she was about to topple over, he reached a hand out and grasped her arm. "Come on. We've GOT to get you more awake!" Sam grunted in reply. "There's a Starbucks at the airport," he tried.

That did it. Sam perked up and her legs began to carry her faster toward the bus. Jake let go of her arm and followed, a grin spreading across his face. This should be interesting.

That Afternoon

Sam climbed out of the bus and stretched her legs. Their flight had been tedious and two buses had met them at the airport to carry them the remaining two hours. Ugh! Her aching limbs were stiff!

"Talk about getting into it," Jake's voice sounded beside her.

"What?" Sam asked. Jake nodded his head to direct her attention to directly in front of them and waited as she gasped in surprise. Standing majestically in front of them was a….a castle. Sam shook her head. No. They'd said that the students were to experience life in the time of William the Conqueror, but this was too extravagant, even for GBC.

"Everyone, this is the Flight of Fantasy Castle," one of the teachers told them.

Nope, she was wrong. Apparently NOTHING was too extravagant for GBC. A castle…here, where she was staying. No, other way around. She was staying at a castle. Jen and Gram are NEVER going to believe this!

"For tonight, we'll have the gentleman staying here-"

"And we'll be…where?" one of the girls asked.

"There is a manor through the woods where the ladies will be quartered for tonight. Don't get too comfortable with your accommodations, everyone will be shifting around and will have a chance to stay in both the castle and the manor."

"What's a manor?" this time a guy spoke up.

"If you will remember from your class," the teacher said sharply, "a manor is the home of a lord."

"I thought that's what a castle is."

"No, a castle is the home of nobility, the king and such."

Jake sighed dramatically and whispered, "And here I was hoping we'd be staying close to each other. Oh, well, maybe we will be in a few days."

"You JERK!" Sam sputtered as she turned and slapped him hard against his chest. Not used to her actually putting force in her slaps, he stumbled back a step.

"Miss Forster, Mr. Ely, is there a problem?"

"No, ma'am," Jake quickly answered for them both, unless you can stop her hitting me he thought to himself. Pete smothered a chuckle as he shot Jake a look. Rory saw a girl standing next to him smile broadly and turn abruptly away. She was….Claire. Aha! She remembered her name. Having met Claire a few times when Pete had come to intervene in the quarrels between Jake and Sam, she had come to the conclusion that Claire was a friendly face and far less venomous than most GBC students. As the two struggled to subdue their laughter, the teacher instructed that everyone should enter the castle. Shooting Jake an implacable glare, Sam marched ahead and was sure to put distance between them. Undaunted, he smirked and followed her at a leisured pace. Sam paused inside the massive doorway. The front hall was spacious and open, a wooden table standing in the center of the room and the fireplace grandly imposing along the wall. Parallel to the table was a massive staircase. The floor, walls and ceiling were made of stone, as was the exterior of the building, and several animal rugs covered various areas of the floor to ward off chill. Weaponry and tapestry hung on the walls, the only decoration they were graced with. Opposite the front door a wooden door led to what Rory assumed to be the kitchen.

"Oh my…" she breathed in awe. The place was amazing. She'd never seen anything like it! There was no sign of modern living and she felt like she had stepped into a eleventh century epic.

Someone gently nudged her back and she allowed Jake to prod her further into the room. "Nice, isn't it?"

"Up for the understatement of the year award?" she asked him in disbelief. "It's beyond amazing!" she corrected, the note of awe having re-entered her voice.

"Now, up these stairs are the bedchambers, towers and other necessary rooms. This is the main hall where meals are taken and evening entertainment is offered. On most nights, we will all gather here while people read, talk, women sew, men take care of their weaponry, etc. Everyone will be allowed to choose their own name, men are lords, women are ladies. During the day, you will learn to ride horses, bake bread, sword fight, sew, and generally live without the luxuries we have now."

A girl raised her hand and the teacher nodded that she was allowed to ask her question. "What about plumbing? I mean, toilets, showers?"

"Although we wanted to give you the FULL experience, the bathrooms are very modern and the kitchen is equipped with many of the things we now use. When the young ladies are taught to cook, however, those utensils will not be used."

"What about electricity?"

"It will be replaced by candles."

"Wait! It's freezing and this place is stone! What about heating?"

"The heat will be kept on low, but you will mostly have to rely on yourselves to build proper fires. There are fireplaces in every room and that's what you will want to focus on. Ladies, each of you will have your own young man to assist you. You will take your riding lessons together and when you need help with things beyond your own capability, you will turn to them. Gentlemen, when your lady comes to you, she is your first priority. Help her to the best of your ability."

"What kind of things are they supposed to help us with?"

"Keeping the fires in your rooms stocked, carrying heavy objects, etc."

"You want us to traipse back and forth through the woods at night to add wood to the fire?" one of the guys asked in shock.

"No. We will be diving the castle and the manor in half, each gentleman will be housed in the same building as his lady, they are to have twenty-four seven access to you. Until your ladies are assigned, however, they will be staying at the manor and while they are there, they are on their own at night. During the day, I suggest that you try to be as helpful as possible. Remember, if your lady dislikes being bound to you, it will not be out of range of her capability to torment you."

"How are we going to decide who gets who?" Jake asked.

"You don't 'get' us," Sam pointed out while several girls agreed with her. "You want us, you earn us!"

The guys groaned as the girls backed Sam, but ultimately it was the teacher who gained their attention. "Miss Forster is absolutely right. Tomorrow, each man will be able to lay a claim on the woman he wants. If another man protests, we'll have a duel."

"What if the woman protests?" Claire asked.

"I'm afraid the women don't get choices," the teacher admitted sympathetically. Groans could be heard from the girls while the guys laughed and high fived each other. "Ok, ladies, follow me and I'll take you to the manor. Gentlemen, if you're smart, you'll offer to bring the luggage."

That Night

"Anyone tries to take Claire and there'll be one hell of a duel!" Pete told them. The girls had declined to join them and they were now sitting around the grand fireplace.

"So all the girls except Forster and Wilson are claimed?" another guy asked as he counted off his fingers.

"Oh, no, no," Pete protested with a grin. "Somehow I think Forster's taken." He turned to look at Jake and the other guys cheered and slapped his back.

"So that leaves me Wilson?" Rob asked.

"Unless you want Ely here to kick your ass, that'd be my guess," Pete agreed.

Jake cut his eyes over to tell him of his disapproval of the subject, but Rob silenced him saying, "Wilson it is."

The Next Morning

Scurrying across the cold stone floor to reach the rug in front of the fireplace, Sam knelt down and added more logs to the fire. Pulling the fur blanket tighter around her front, she silently cursed herself for letting the fire die down so much.

"Sam?" a girl called from the other side of her door.

Gritting her teeth against the chill, Sam went to open her door. Claire was standing with a sly smile on her face and a long white gown covered her beautifully. "Hey, what's up?"

"Jake's downstairs. He came to see if you wanted to go for a ride."

"I don't want to ride right now let alone in the saddles they have to."

"He'll help you," Claire shrugged.

"I thought our 'lord' was supposed to help us," she persisted skeptically.

"Yes, but until we HAVE one, any guy can try for us."

Sighing, Sam nodded slightly. "Fine. I'll be down in a minute." Claire smiled in satisfaction and turned to go, but Sam again halted her. "Wait! The outfit-do we all have to wear that? Where is it?"

"Hey-could you tell Jake to hang on and Sam will be down in a minute?" she asked a random girl going down the hall.

"Ely?" the girl asked.

"Yeah," Claire said absently as she turned back to Sam.

"Waiting for Forster?" the girl was either dense or purposefully posing as such.

"Yes, Jake's here for Sam. Tell him she'll be down in a few minutes," Claire barked at her before crossing the threshold and closing Sam's door behind her. "Ok, over here in the coffer are our outfits. First you put on the kirtle and then you put on the gunna. You have a choice of either slippers or riding boots, you'll want the boots for this morning."

"I can't believe we have to wear these things!" Sam complained. "Especially to go riding."

"I know. It sucks!"

"Ok, well, I guess for riding the everyday kirtle under the blue woolen gunna."

"Good choice."

20 Minutes Later

Slowly descending the stairs, Sam halted abruptly. She was torn between the urge to burst out laughing and stand and gawk at the sight before her. Leaning against the main door was Jake, his profile presented to her. Clad in woolen chausses, chainse, boots and a leather jerkin, he seemed himself and yet an entirely different Jake. This Jake was more rugged, brawny. She had always known Jake was muscular, it was obvious to anyone who had ever seen him. THIS Jake, however, was more than muscular. He was a formidably Herculean god whose mere presence warned others of the danger in crossing him. Having yet to notice her, he remained in his casual stance and Sam remained in her observing pose. He lifted his arms to cross them over his chest, an action she had come to recognize. He usually did it when he was distracted with some particularly troublesome subject, but not unapproachable. Knowing that staring at him any longer would eventually lead to trouble, she resolutely resumed walking down the remaining stairs.

Hearing her delicate step, Jake turned his head toward the stairs. The soft curves of her body were masked in a flowing blue gunna. Her long auburn hair was pulled back with a blue ribbon and secured in a low ponytail. Her gaze flitted over him and danced quickly away. Sure that his close scrutiny of her was only serving to embarrass her, he pushed away and came forward to meet her. "Believe me when I say that eleventh century gowns suit you well."

"Yes, well, I'll go ahead and return the compliment, but I doubt a sleeveless jacket will be of much use to you."

"It's fashionable," he argued with humour.

"Oxy-moronic," she countered. He smirked down at her and she sighed heavily. "No, seriously, you'll be freezing."

"Which is why I brought a mantle," he smiled now, sure that the blush covering her cheeks hinted at something.

"Ok, well, let me get my cloak," she turned to go but again he halted her.

"You mean this one?" he held up the garment and waited as the surprise flickered over her face before she concealed it again. Wanting to hurry the process and thus get her out the door, he abandoned all thought of playing mind games with her and said simply, "I had one of the girls bring it down for me."

Sam nodded and turned her back to him as he laid it over her shoulders. Her fingers trembled slightly as she clasped it and when she spun back around he was standing with his mantled secured in place and his hand on the door.

"Shall we go?" he merely asked.

"May as well."

Claire came to stand at the bottom of the steps as she watched them leave. Yep, Pete was right! When he'd first claimed that Jake had actually fallen for a girl she laughed in his face. As she'd had a chance to observe him and Sam, she started to believe it. Now, having witnessed this encounter, she was left with no doubt. She laughed lightly to herself. Either Jake had warned the other guys away from her or he was going to beat somebody senseless with the Ely Hammer Fist.

"You can't be serious!" Sam said stubbornly.

"About which part?"

"I'm riding side saddle on that horse?"

"Believe it or not, yes. Ladies don't ride like men. Surely you must know that, being as proper as you are." Sam cut her eyes over to give him a look and he shook his head slightly his mustang eyes laughing. "Whatever. Come here."

"Why?" she asked suspiciously.

"So I can get you up there."

"Can't you just….I don't know…."

"Sam-"

"I can do it myself!"

"Really?"

"Yes."

"How?"

She paused in consideration. Standing next to the horse, she tried to put her foot in the stirrup and still remain in a position that would easily be switched to side saddle. After a few moments of no progress, Jake mumbled something about stubborn women and lifted her by the waist. Sam immediately protested by smacking his arm, but he already had her sitting on the horse. Proceeding with his instructions, he placed the reins in her hands and swung up into the saddle of his own horse. Leading her out at a slow pace, he missed the small smile that flit across her face.

45 Minutes Later

"Can we stop?" Sam asked, breaking the peace and tranquillity that had settled over them.

"Tired?" he asked, slowing his horse as hers stopped.

"A little," she admitted. "Where are we?"

"Close to the lake"

"The lake?"

"Yes, the body of water," he said patronizingly. Sam's brows lowered as she glared playfully at him. Grinning devilishly, he decided to push for another minute. "You haven't been exploring, have you?"

"Let me think. No idea where I'm going, wearing a dress, not great at the riding a horse side saddle thing-"

"You seem to be getting the hang of it."

"And when we left, it was just barely time to get up."

"Not a morning person, are you?" he chuckled

"Not without coffee, no," she admitted with a shrug and a smile

"Ok, well, there's a lake about a quarter of a mile from here, the castle is about a mile from here-"

"We're going to the lake?"

"I thought we might." Sam shivered involuntarily and pulled her cloak tighter around herself. "Want me to take you back?"

"No, I'm ok. Let's go. It's not like it's different from the lake at War Drum Flats"

Jake nodded and turned his horse to resume the pace. After another few moments, he pulled his horse to a stop in the midst of a clearing.

"Wha-why are you stopping?" Sam asked as she came behind him. Bringing her horse up beside his, she stopped short as she stared at the sight that greeted her. The clear blue water of the lake reflected the pine trees standing around it and seemed to stretch out before them.

"Like it?" Jake smiled, noticing how long she was taking to say anything.

"It's gorgeous," Sam breathed. Turning back to look at the water, she heard more than saw Jake hop from his horse and come to stand next to her. As his hands reached her waist, sending shock waves down her spine, she dropped her hands to his wide shoulders. "When did you find this?"

"This morning," he shrugged.

"What time did you get up?" she asked in astonishment.

"I don't know. It wasn't light when I got here."

"Why are you the early morning type," she commented as she moved closer to the water.

"Yeah, well, you don't seem like the flirtatious type, either," he mocked. He knew she wasn't flirting but they'd been getting along this entire ride and it was time for some of their much loved banter. Unfortunately for him, he picked a bad subject.

"I'm not being flirtatious!" she told him defensively.

A gust of wind whipped her gown against her as her hair blew around her face. The sight that most intrigued Jake, however, was the fire snapping in her eyes. Note to self; make sure she's had coffee before dragging her out on early morning rides! He thought to himself. Still, getting her riled up was one of his favourite pass times and he wasn't about to pass up this opportunity. "Ah, come on, Brat, you know you want me! I mean, I hauled you out of bed and without coffee-WITHOUT COFFEE," he stressed, "and you actually came."

"And you're a obnoxious jerk!" she flung back.

"Tsk tsk," he admonished lightly. "You're only proving me right."

Sam stamped her foot in frustration and whirled away from him. "Trust me, Ely, you're far from right. If you want to go down this path, you'll only regret it."

He chuckled softly at the ridiculous threat. "You really think you can beat me at this game?"

"Why not?" She shrugged nonchalantly. "It's not like I'm an idiot."

"No, just sweeter than I am and nowhere near as strong," the trademark smirk returned.

Sam smiled coyly. If it came to kindness and might, she wasn't so sure she'd lose. Only one way to find out, "I'm only warning you once, Jake, don't get in over your head."

Deciding to show her how frail her threats were, he reached to lightly grasp her wrist and pulled her toward him. "This proves the strength. If you could have, you would have resisted that. As for the sweetness… a few years of GBC have had some effect on me and none on you."

Sam struggled and shoved against his chest. He remained obstinately still and pulled her tighter to him. "Let me goo-" Unfortunately for Sam, her burst of energy coincided with his release of her and she fell back to the ground. Jake immediately reached a hand down to help her to her feet. She glared back at him and refused the hand, instead pushing herself off the ground. Stomping over to her horse, she pulled him closer to a log and used it to hop back into the saddle.

"Where are you going?" Jake asked in some amusement.

"Back to the manor!" she spat, still angry that he'd provoked her and it had ended with her on the ground.

"And you know how to get there?"

"I'll FIND it!"

Quickly swinging back into his own saddle, he pulled his horse in front of her. "Just let me show you how to get back."

"I don't WANT your help, Ely. Go away!"

"You won't do yourself any good getting lost," he pointed out logically. The rest of the ride was silent and as soon as the manor came into view, Sam kicked her horse into a gallop and sped ahead of him. Flinging herself off the horse's back, she tossed the reins down and flounced into the manor, flinging the door closed behind her.

"Of all the insufferable-oooh!"

Claire looked up from her book and resisted the urge to laugh at the exasperation on Sam's face. "What did he do?"

"Aside from being his usual annoying self, he tried to insist that just because I went riding with him, I was flirting with him. I got frustrated, he grabbed me-"

"Really?" Claire asked, the smile making its way across her face now.

"YES! And when I tried to get away, I ended up falling on the ground!"

"You have GOT to be kidding me?"

"You'd think!"

"His brother's would have loved it"

"Quinn would, he likes anything about me and my butt" Sam said.

"So what are you going to do?" Claire asked curiously.

"What do you mean?"

"You weren't going to leave it at stomping in here, were you?"

"Have a better idea?"

"Well, he was trying to bait you, obviously, so give him what he wanted. Catch him off guard. Do something he wouldn't suspect, strike while the iron's hot and throw him for a loop."

"Like what?" Sam asked. Her interest pricked.

Claire shrugged. "I don't know. It just seems to me that if you show him underestimating you is a mistake, he'll get the point quicker." Sam sat in silence for a moment before Claire got up and made her way to the door saying, "I'm going to go see Pete. Just think about it."

15 Minutes Later

Standing behind Pete where he sat on a bench and a half a dozen other guys, Claire was surprised when Sam came through the kitchen door of the castle. For one thing, they all used the main entrance, and for another, she hadn't thought Sam would choose to come over this soon. Whatever she had planned, however, Claire hoped it was good!

"Hey, Sam!" Pete greeted. "What brings you this way?"

"It was boring over at the manor, so I thought I'd come see what was going on over here. Hey, is Jake taking a nap?"

"No, he's taking a shower. Why?"

At that moment, the cook came through the kitchen with a large bucket in both her hands. "Here's the ice water you wanted, Miss Forster, though I'm not sure why you needed this much."

They watched in amazement as Sam silently strode forward. "Oh, you wouldn't," Pete said in shock. Sam looked at him with raised brows as she took the bucket from the cook and made her way to the stairs. As she reached the first landing, she looked down at the cold water filled with ice. This was cruel! Pushing back the brief feeling of guilt, Sam squared her shoulders and crept down the hall to where steam was coming under the bathroom door. Relieved to find the door unlocked, Sam balanced the bucket on her knee while she quietly cracked the door behind her. Creeping over to the shower, she mustered all her strength to lift the bucket up to the top of the shower and poured. She knew she had hit her mark when Jake screamed in surprise at the sudden icy water contrasting with the scalding water he had been using. Dumping the rest of the water, Sam spun around to beat a hasty retreat. If Jake decided to come after her, she'd rather be out of there before he stepped out in the altogether. His swearing followed her and was only drowned out by the frantic beating of her own heart. Stumbling down the stairs, she ran to the other side of the large table and whirled to await his arrival.

The other occupants of the room had waited in silence until Jake's initial scream had been heard before practically falling out of their chairs. Having regained their composure seconds before Sam reappeared; they bit their lips and dug nails into their palms to maintain a look of calm in the coming moments. Jake didn't disappoint. Mere seconds after Sam reached the table; he flew down the stairs with a towel held around his waist. His eyes immediately found Sam and saw the triumphant smile on her face.

"Cold?" she asked innocently.

"So help me, Brat, I'll get you back for that!"

"Payback's brutal, isn't it?"

"You do realize this means war, right?" he asked tolerantly.

Laughing softly and waving one hand daintily to the side, she dismissed his threat, "I suggest you dress, milord, the room is rather chilly and even the STRONGEST of men can be affected."

Jake caught the inflection and knew her revenge had been won. As Sam swept across the room, Claire kept her eyes trained to the floor and raised one hand. Sam slapped it as she passed and was gone.

"I think you've met your match," Pete commented with humour.

"And strength can't always beat it," Claire needled.

Jake nodded in acknowledgement of what they had said and turned to make his way back up the stairs, grudgingly admitting to himself that Sam was right and the chilly room was affecting him.

That Evening

Glancing through the gunnas hanging in her coffer, Sam sighed in exasperation. Getting dressed up to be claimed? How chauvinistic could these guys get! Jen wasn't going to believe this! Sam chuckled as she thought about the phone call they'd have this weekend. Hearing a knock on her door, she went to open it and smiled as she saw Claire standing there.

"Now THAT was good!" Claire praised. "Even I didn't expect that from you!"

"Neither did I," Sam admitted. "I was literally shaking when I came back here, If his brother's had of seen it they would have teased him for days. Actually I might call them this weekend and tell them"

"I want to see that when it happens. Do you mind if I get changed in here? I thought we could do the whole hair and make-up thing."

"Not a problem," Rory stepped back to let her in the room. "You should know I'm not great with hair and hardly ever wear make-up."

"Nor do you need to. Now," she held up two gunnas with their respective kirtles, "which one?"

One Hour Later

Sam stood back and surveyed their work. She was wearing a deep red velvet gunna that dipped low enough to show the top of the slightly lighter red silk kirtle. Her hair was piled on top of her head in intricate curls with a thin red ribbon weaved through it. True to her word, Claire was a master at make-up and the subtle colouring complimented Sam's already flawless skin while bringing out more pink in her cheeks and brown in her eyes. Her lipstick was a daring red to match her gown and her red silk slippers fit perfectly. She looked to where Claire was pulling the sleeves of her gunna up and went over to button up the back of it. The gown was a pale yellow velvet that did much for the blonde hair and blue eyes. Her hair, though less intricately arranged, was also swept away from her face. Standing in front of the mirror, they both smiled at what they saw.

"Ready?" Claire asked.

"As I'll ever be!"

20 Minutes Later

As the girls made their way into the hall, Jake immediately saw Sam. Though she usually wore paler colours and pulled them off beautifully, she looked beyond exquisite in the bold red and her cheeks were flushed from the cool air and she had obviously been laughing.

"Ladies," he said smoothly as he reached Sam and Claire.

"Knave," Sam replied just as smoothly.

"And your name would be?" he asked with a grin.

"You mean you've come to realize it's not 'Brat'?" she needled with raised brows.

"You can call me Lady Emily," Claire cut in, hoping that this would prevent them from spitting like cats.

"A beautiful name," Jake complimented as he bent at the waist. Turning back to Sam, he waited the question obvious. When she didn't concede, he needled her further, "Lady Brat?"

"Lord Idiot?" her pert stance told him that she was ready to match him taunt for taunt.

"Lord Alexander, actually, but call me whatever pet name you like."

"Two beautiful women left alone with Ely! This is never good!" Pete greeted them as he came to kiss Claire briefly.

"And who might you be, kind sir?" Claire asked sweetly.

"Lord Cameron at your service," he bowed. "Beautiful women certainly suits you both, but what might I call you so there's no confusion?" he asked glibly.

"Lady Emily."

"Lady Kathleen," Sam knew Jake was listening, but she'd have to tell him her "name" eventually.

"Exquisite name to match an exquisite woman," Jake cut in.

She turned to retort, but the teacher calling them to the centre of the room saved Jake. As Pete was already escorting Claire away, Sam was forced to allow Jake to tuck her hand into the crook of his arm. "Gentleman, you may now lay claim to your ladies, but be warned that another man may wish to fight you for her."

Of the eleven boys, eight of them had laid their claims with only one dispute when Jake's name was called. Stepping forward, he shocked Sam when he declared his intention to claim the Lady Kathleen. As the other guys respectfully held their silence, he reached to take her hand and pulled her to his side without dispute. They stood in silence with the other couples until everyone was successfully paired off.

"What just happened?" Sam asked at the end.

"For all intents and purposes, you're my betrothed for the next two weeks," the roguish smile warned her. "You're room will be next to mine and we'll be practically inseparable!"

"Oh, God!" she groaned.

He leaned down to kiss her temple quickly, for self-preservation, and whispered, "I'm going with Pete to get your and Claire's stuff. Be back in a minute….Sweetie." With a smirk and saunter he was gone.

Sam stood in shock at the turn of events as Claire joined her. "I cannot believe I have to act like Jake and I are in love!"

"How far off can it be?" Claire asked a smirk of her own threatening to cross her face.

"Very," Sam knew what she was looking for, but there was no way she and Jake would ever-nope. They wouldn't! She wouldn't let them. They had managed to build a comfortable friendship filled with banter and the occasional caustic remark that led to a day or two of bitterly avoiding each other, but that didn't mean it would ever lead to anything more. It couldn't. They were friends. Simple.

"If you say so," Claire shrugged, and then added as an afterthought, "Of course, I WAS right before."

"You were?" Sam asked, not sure WHAT she was talking about.

"Yeah. I told you none of the other guys would challenge Jake when he claimed you! They all want to live."

"They just weren't interested in me. Jake only chose me so he could harass me without having to go too much out of his way."

"Don't sell yourself short. Any of those guys would have taken you if they thought they could. Besides, you forget I'm dating Jake's best friend and Pete pays attention to things," Claire reminded her. They looked up as the guys came back with their stuff and Sam caught the twinkle in Jake's mustang eyes. He hadn't brought up the water thing, but she was sure he would….or he'd find a way to get her back. Either way, she was in for an entertaining time.

The Next Morning

Her eyes fluttering open, Sam took in her surroundings. Her new room in the castle had a large window overlooking the courtyard and her fireplace stood directly opposite her bed. Pulling the fur blanket up under her chin more, she rolled to her side. Great. Jake's room was right next to hers and he'd yet to make a move to get revenge for the-ahem, water incident. She wouldn't mind so much if he just did something and got it over with, but OH NO! He was going to torture her with the waiting. She sighed. Ok, ok, granted, he'd only "claimed" her last night and she'd gone to bed as soon as she could get away, but still. If she woke up to some horrid creature staring her in the face, she'd feel better. As it was, she was leery about what was going to happen. Something would probably jump out and her and make her die a thousand deaths or something large would drop on her head or-ugh! She rubbed her hand across her eyes. This was stupid-this was JAKE! There was no way he'd beat her at this. They were even, she got him back, end of story. Still trying to convince herself of this, she pushed the blankets back and shivered as she climbed out of bed. Going over to her coffer, she opened it and saw that her kirtles, gunnas and slippers were already neatly placed in there. Pulling out a woolen kirtle and cream coloured gunna, she quickly slipped into them, regretting that she had to take off her cloud pyjamas. They were soft and comfortable, though the teachers had warned that soon they would start having to wear the bedclothes worn by people of the eleventh century. Brushing her hair out and tying a ribbon around it, she slid her slippers on and opened her door. Wishing she HADN'T showered last night and waited until this morning to feel the warm water, she hugged her arms to herself and made her way down the drafty staircase. As she entered the common room, she saw several couples sitting around the room.

"Sleep well?"

Sam turned to see Claire beside her and smiled. "As well as can be expected."

"I thought the beds were comfortable," she commented, knowing perfectly well the beds had nothing to do with Sam's discomfort.

"Right, Sherlock," Sam shot her a tolerant half smile, "the bed was what I was referring to."

There was a pause before Claire nudged Sam's shoulder with her own. "Soooo?"

"Soooo I have to act all in love with Jake Ely and be around him ALL the TIME-"

"What's the matter with that?"

"He calls me Brat, infuriates me, picks fights, torments me-"

"And you love it," she chuckled.

Sam cut her eyes over to her friend briefly before murmuring, "Unfortunately."

"Well, he and Pete went out hunting-"

"They what?" Sam cut in.

"It's required. Men hunted back then. Just be thankful we only have to sew. Anyway, they'll be back in another half an hour or something."

"Thrilling," Sam rolled her eyes. "I'm going to get something to eat. You coming?"

"I already ate. Speaking of sewing, we have to meet in the common room of the manor for lessons at ten o'clock."

Sam nodded in acknowledgment as she moved away. At least she'd get to avoid him for the morning.

1:00 O'clock

Leaning back to arch her spine and stretch her arms, Sam curled and uncurled her fingers. She'd sewn before, true, but that was using a sewing MACHINE; this was much harder on your fingers and back. Her tapestry WAS off to a rather good start, she admitted to herself, but geez, did they have to do it for such long periods of time in one sitting. Pete and Claire were just leaving to go Lord knows where as Sam stood and took in a deep breath. Coffee! She hadn't had any since breakfast and she was SURE that was part of her problem.

Flight of Fantasy Courtyard

Ok. She wasn't in the common room, she wasn't in her room, she wasn't at the manor…. Jake pulled his mantle closer to his sides and decided to check the castle one more time. There was really nowhere else she could be. Pushing open the heavy oak door, he quickly scanned the occupants of the room. Nope. Not here. He strode to the staircase and leapt up the stairs two at a time. He briskly walked to her door and rapped his knuckles on it. After a lengthy pause, he knocked again. When he admitted defeat, he did so with a sigh. She must have gone off with Claire or something. The two had only met on a few occasions before this trip, but seemed to be getting along really well. He admitted to himself that she might be avoiding him out of annoyance because he claimed her, but even so, she couldn't avoid him forever. Making his way through the common room again, he headed to the kitchen in search of a snack. As he came into the room, he stopped in amusement. There, sitting on the counter, was Sam, complete with an oversized mug and a nearly empty coffee pot sitting next to her, ready to refill her mug when it became empty.

"I should have known."

Sam's head snapped around at the voice. There, standing in the doorway, was Jake. "What?"

"I've been looking everywhere for you; I should have known you were where the coffee is," he smirked in amusement.

"It had been three hours since I had any! I was in desperate need!" she told him defensively.

"You're incredible," he shook his head as he came forward.

"Why were you looking for me?" she asked suspiciously. He glanced to where she sat. To the average person she seemed perched casually, but in truth she was ready to flee should he make a move to exact his revenge.

"Just wondering where you were," he shrugged nonchalantly and glanced through the cupboards to see what looked good. He knew she was waiting for him to do something to her, but he was having immense fun torturing her. He'd get back, true, but not yet. This game was too fresh.

"Well, now you know."

"Yes, I do."

"How was the hunting?"

"How was the sewing?" he countered.

"Ugh!" she rolled her eyes. "My fingers, my back, my arms!"

He laughed. Her gunna dipped down low and in her present position, it was moulded to her beautifully. She lifted her cup and inhaled her heavenly drink. Finishing it off, she poured the remainder of the drink from the coffee pot into her mug.

"No, no no," he moved toward her and reached for the mug. "This is just wrong!"

She jerked her arm back and tried to place it behind her. "Get away! It's mine. Make your own."

"Brat, that's an entire coffee pot!"

"Your point being?"

"That it's too much," he reasoned while reaching again for the mug. Like a fairy sprite, Sam hopped from the counter and dodged under his arm. He turned in time to catch her arm and she twisted to try and get away. "Brat, come on. An entire coffee pot?" he asked in amazement.

"I've had more than that before. A coffee pot is a morning thing for me," she tried this new tactic.

"Brat-" he tried to break into her tirade.

"I've been deprived here. I'm just making up for lost coffee. You wouldn't really want me to go into coffee withdrawal, would you?"

"Brat-"

"It's dangerous! The headlines will read 'Mad woman goes through streets ploughing people over to reach coffee, destroying all in her path."

"Just drink the damn coffee," he finally laughed as he released her arm.

Sam happily sipped her coffee and smiled pertly at him. "If you'll excuse me, I want to be anywhere other than here."

"Well, that was sweet," he commented.

Sam shot a wary glance his way before going through the door. He was leaning against the counter where she had been moments before, seeming harmless and devilish all at once. Why couldn't Jake Ely be easier to figure out?

That Evening

Opening her door to the rapping, Sam saw Claire standing with two gunnas draped over her arms. "Ok, this one looks really; really good on me, but this one is Pete's favourite colour on me. Which one do I go with?" she asked in a fake chirpy voice.

"Come on in."

"Thanks," her voice dropped considerably to display the agitation of her mood. "I swear, you are the only other GBC student I've met, as far as girls go, that I can stand being in the same room with for any extended period of time."

"What did they do?" Sam asked with a knowing grin.

"I was putting this dress on," she held one up, "and then two girls came to borrow some hair ribbons from me and were all 'oh, you're not wearing THAT are you?' and 'Pete likes THIS colour on you'. I finally threw them out and decided that since they made me doubt my own opinion, I'd ask the only other girl here with sanity what she thinks."

"Want some water?" she simply asked when Claire was done with her tirade.

"That'd be great, thanks."

Sam turned to the tray with two glasses and a pitcher of water that was constantly on her dressing table and poured some water before handing the glass to Claire. "I think that the first one would look great on you and you wore that colour yesterday, so don't wear it two days in a row."

"So you think I was right in my first opinion?" Claire asked before taking another sip of her water.

"Yep, those girls were idiots."

"Typical."

"Uh huh."

"So what were you doing?"

"Waiting for the axe to drop," Sam grumbled before taking a sip of her own water. Going over to her coffer, she glanced through her gunnas trying to find one to wear to dinner.

Claire smirked. The chemistry between these two was thick enough to cut with a knife.

43 Minutes Later

Claire had gone back to her own room and Sam was just putting the finishing touches on her hair when she heard another knock on her door. "Hang on, Claire," she called. "I'm glad you're here, I need help with these buttons," she flung the door open to reveal Jake leaning against the doorframe, trademark smirk in place.

"Buttons? I'd be glad to help."

"I'll bet," Sam chuckled, backing up to a chair where she grabbed a blanket and draped it across her shoulders. "What do you need?"

"I got done early and came to escort you to dinner, though now I just want to assist you with those pesky buttons."

"Forget it. I'll be down in a few minutes. Could you send Claire to me?" she turned her back to him and wandered over to her dressing table to sort through her hair clips and make-up.

"Sorry, no," was the only answer she received.

"What?" she whirled to face him.

"I can't." He moved to the chair by the fireplace and flopped into it.

"Why not?" She asked, exasperation creeping into her voice.

"She went out with Pete. There were going riding, I believe."

Sam sighed. Great! This was just great! "What about another girl?"

"Otherwise occupied."

"A Professor?"

"Directing the otherwise occupied."

"Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not going down to dinner with the back of my dress undone!"

"I never said you should," he pointed out.

"And you won't help me."

"Sure I will," he countered.

"Great! Go get a girl."

"Sorry, none available."

"See, none helpfulness!"

"Turn around."

"What?" her eyes widened.

"Turn around. I can't button it this way."

"Jake, you are NOT buttoning this dress."

"So you ARE going down to dinner with it undone?"

"No."

"Then, what?" He waited while she tried to find another option. After a moment of silence, he leaned forward to grasp her arm and pulled her between his spread knees. "Brat?"

"Ely"

He smirked. "If you go down there like this a stubborn and sassy will be added by all who see you."

She glanced over her shoulder and smiled slightly. Leave it to him. "Fine, button it." She unclasped the robe and reluctantly let it fall to the ground.

Jake felt his breath catch at seeing her semi-bare back. Come on, Ely, think Cow! Damn! There were over a dozen tiny buttons. His fingers moved to the bottom one and worked it closed. He felt Sam tense in front of him and reached to touch her arm lightly. "Relax, Brat, I'm not gonna do anything to you, but my brothers might" he felt her loosen up.

Sam smashed her foot into his left shin. "Watch it, Cowboy!"

Jake bent to rub his shin and clenched his teeth. "Bitter Brat!"

"Lecherous lout!" she smiled at the pained expression he wore. "Aah, poor wittle Jake! Did the girl hurt you?"

His eyes shot up to meet her beaming eyes and scowled. "You just LOOK helpless!"

"And you look charming. Never judge a book by its cover."

"Charming, eh?" he moved back to continue buttoning the dress.

"I said LOOKED! You are not by any means charming!"

"Says you."

"Says anyone who's been cursed with seeing the real you."

He chuckled. She played this game well and he loved every minute of it! "And to think, up until the water incident, I thought you were this sweet, helpless wisp of a woman who couldn't defend herself."

"Idiot," she mocked.

"And then you interrupted my shower."

Sam began to squirm nervously in front of him. Ok, letting him button this was a bad idea! Oooh, the things he could do to her right now!

Jake sensed the change in her demeanour and smiled briefly. This was too much fun! He hadn't had this intimidation hold over her since her first day at GBC. Of course, he knew by his brothers that the feeling was brief and soon enough she'd match him for control…or gain the upper hand all together. Not tonight, though. "Done. You ready?"

"Almost," Sam breathed a sigh of relief as she moved away from him. Picking up a pair of sterling silver earring with a tiny gem in the center, she put them on and felt them dangle as she moved her head. "Ready," she told the man standing waiting for her. He simply reached a hand out and without hesitation Sam, accepted it and allowed him to escort her down to the common room.

The other couples were just gathering and a few girls turned long enough to glare at Sam before turning back to flirt mindlessly with their dates. A guy Sam barely recognized came over to Jake and the two engaged in small talk while Sam tuned them out and focused her attention on the other people in the room. The long table was set and all that was wanting were the platters of food to be brought out momentarily. Claire was standing with three other girls laughing, but Pete didn't seem to be anywhere in sight. That was unusual for them. Jake squeezed her hand and she turned to find him watching her inquisitively.

"My lord?" she queried softly.

"I lost you for a minute there. Something wrong?"

Sam shrugged. "Just watching people. I noticed Claire's here without Pete."

"Maybe he had something to do," he suggested evasively. "Would you like something to drink?"

Sam nodded and he left her side for a moment. When he returned, he had a large goblet in his hand. "What is it?"

"Poison," he responded simply. When she refused to take the goblet, he laughed and elaborated, "Its water. I told the cook to bring you coffee at dinner."

Sam's eyes lit up. "You're a god!" She noticed something strange flicker across his eyes before he smiled and handed her the goblet.

"Here. They've offered to let us have wine, too, since it was common in the time, but I figured you wouldn't want any."

"Mmm. Good guess." The teacher motioned that dinner was about to begin and Sam let Jake lead her to the table. He held her chair for her before taking his own seat. Pete and Claire were seated across from them and the two girls exchanged happy smiles while Jake smirked at his friend, who seemed strangely uncertain about something.

Thirty Minutes Later

They were half way through the meal when the cook brought a mug out for Sam. She smiled appreciatively as she tried to answer a question the girl next to her had posed. Trouble was, the girl was a complete airhead and made no sense. When she turned back to her boyfriend to continue her constant stream of "So anyway, like you know…." Rory breathed a small sigh of relief and reached for her mug. She distantly registered that Jake was smirking as she did so, but was intent upon finding relief in her mug…it never came.

"Ewww…what the-?" she jerked the drink away from her face and heard Jake chuckling beside her. She turned to him and cut her eyes in a glare.

"Your face is adorable, you know that?"

"What is that?" she asked with an accusing gesture to the object in question.

"Tea."

"No, it's not," she protested.

"Uh, yeah it is," he insisted.

"No, it's not. Amazingly enough, I know what tea tastes like and that's not it," she again pointed to the mug.

"Well, it's HERBEL tea, but still."

"Doesn't taste like it."

Jake was about to reproach her about her lack of knowledge in the taste of different forms of tea, but stopped when he felt a sharp kick to his shin. He looked up in time to see Pete incline his head down the table to where two guys were smirking and joking amongst themselves, occasionally looking their way. Jake looked back to Pete who shrugged. He reached for Sam's mug and she placed her hand on his arm to stop him. "What are you doing?"

"I want to see your drink."

"Why?"

"Because, according to you, there's something wrong with it and I want to check it out." Sam released her hold on his wrist and he took a sip. Damn them….He turned back to Pete and nodded once. Pete sighed in frustration and leaned back against his chair.

"What?" she finally asked.

"You were right."

"About?"

"Something being wrong with your tea. Don't drink it."

"You mean something other than the fact that it's not coffee?" she saw him crack a smile. Good! "So? What is it?"

He cocked his head to look at his goblet while he traced his finger over its rim. He opened his mouth to tell her when dinner was dismissed. He assisted her out of her chair as they all moved about the room. Taking her just outside the doorway so they were alone, he gently pushed her close to a nearby wall and standing directly in front of her to block others from seeing her reaction, he again began to tell her. "There was brandy in it."

Sam stood dazed for a moment before asking loudly "What?!"

He glanced over his shoulder and shushed her. "There were two guys. Idiots actually. Pete thought they were up to something, you said there was something wrong with your drink, they were watching us, I put two and two together-"

"WHO DID I-" she started to yell. Jake bent down and smothered the angry words in a way that refused to be ignored. Sam started to jerk away from him, but he followed her pursuit to the wall and backed her against it. She pulled her lips away and he softly kissed the skin of her neck. She relaxed against him and when his lips returned to take hers, she met him halfway. Parting her lips and deepening the kiss, he felt the velvet of her gown beneath his fingers as he pulled her closer to him. For Sam, this was having an earth shattering effect as she laced her fingers through his hair and her other hand clutched his back. Much to her amazement, it was Jake who first broke away.

He looked down at her flushed face and struggled to control his breathing. If she had any idea-nope, time for a cover-up! "Now will you be quiet and listen to me?"

Sam, for one, was furious that he had used that tactic to get her attention. Ok, so she started out humiliated because of the way she had responded, but that had quickly matured to full blown anger. That stupid war! THIS was how he chose to get back at her? In a spiteful fit of temper, she kneed him in the groin and flitted away, dodging his grasp by a mere inch.

"Now do I have YOUR attention? This WAS your revenge, wasn't it?" she asked tauntingly.

"Malicious wench!" he managed to grit out. Straightening suddenly, he reached out and his fingers closed over her wrist before she realized she was trapped. "Damn it, Brat that hurt!"

"Good! It was supposed to," she remarked flippantly. His hold on her tightened and she fought against him.

After another glance down at her furious face, he realized how futile this was and anything else would only serve to fan her fury. "I'll deal with the idiots," he told her simply as he released his hold on her. Like a fabled nymph, Sam turned on her slippered heal and sprinted back inside. Jake followed soon after and was informed by Pete that she had immediately disappeared upstairs, the enraged look still on her face.

Two O'clock in the Morning

Wearing jeans and a long sleeved black shirt, Jake was wandering restlessly. He was, at the moment, sitting at a table in the kitchen, but knew he wasn't destined to be there for long. After the little incident with Sam, he'd spent these last few hours trying to figure everything out…with no success. Hearing a noise in the common room, he pushed his chair back and headed in there.

Sam shivered as she debated what to do. Having been furious with Jake, she hadn't asked him restock her wood, which had already been low. Now, at 2:00am, her fire was completely out and there was nothing to use to restart it. Stubbornly refusing to go wake him up and admit she needed his help, she pulled a large blanket around herself and closed her door behind her. Careful not to make too much noise, she crept down the drafty staircase to the common room. Ah! The large fireplace had a roaring fire. Strange, considering the time, but Sam wasn't about to complain. Settling in front of the warmth, she didn't hear anyone enter.

Jake stopped and assumed a cocky stance at the sight before him. Sam was sitting on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, shivering. "What are you doing?" he asked as he came closer to her.

She twisted enough to see who it was and scowled at him. "Getting warm, if you don't mind."

"Is the fire in your room out?" he asked. Too cold to talk, she simply nodded her head. "I'll rebuild it," he moved toward the stairs.

"There's no wood in there," she called after him.

He stopped and came back to stand above her. "Why didn't you tell me that earlier?" When she refused to look at or answer him, he nodded to himself in understanding. "Go on up. I'll go get wood."

Sam hesitantly made her way back to her room. She felt bad making him go out in the middle of the night, but she really couldn't help it. Well-yes, she could. If she had told him earlier, he'd have already done it. ….No! That was his fault. Just then he entered the room and moved to stack wood along the wall before disappearing again. He returned with more wood and started making a fire, feeding it until it was roaring and giving off satisfactory heat. Sam moved to sit in front of the large fireplace and he moved to sit behind her. She felt him against her back and immediately jerked away from him. He gently but firmly pulled her back, whispering, "Brat relax, I'm just trying to get you warm." She let him pull her back against his chest and sighed. Great, this was just what she needed! She was trying to ignore him and instead was forced to cuddle in front of a fire with him. His left hand began rubbing up and down her arm while his right hand lightly stroked her hair. She moved her head away slightly, but he persisted and it wasn't long before she was leaning into the calming motion. Laying back against him more, she let him wrap his arms more firmly around her as her eyelids began to droop.

Jake saw her start to fade out and smiled slightly. Even when they were fighting, there was this connection between them. His smile turned to a slight frown when he remembered why her fire had died out in the first place. He didn't know what ticked her off more: him kissing her, or her thinking he kissed her for revenge. The truth was revenge had NOTHING to do with it! She sighed in sleep and buried her face into his neck. The smile returned as he stood with her in his arms and moved to the bed. Gently laying her down, he pulled the blankets over her. Getting the extra blanket from the shelf in her coffer, he briefly wondered if it was too tall for her to even see it. He covered her with it and watched as she turned on her side. His hand reached to brush the hair from her face and he leaned down to brush a kiss across her cheek. Going over to the fire, he added a few more logs before softly closing the door behind him. In her bed, Sam smiled in contentment as dreams of her knight danced through her head. Tomorrow was going to be interesting….for both of them.

The Next Morning

Jake was surprised to find Sam sitting by herself at the main table when he descended the next morning. She was contentedly reading a book and sipping what he assumed to be coffee. It was past nine, so he was sure the others had already come and gone.

"Morning," he called as he came forward.

"Look who finally decided to rise and grace us with his presence," Sam quipped, only raising her gaze to him briefly.

"Where is everybody?" he asked as he settled in a chair near her, careful not to get too close and tempt her to move.

"Being the hard working people that they are," she watched as he flashed an annoyed glare at her, "they were up hours ago. They left about 45 minutes ago."

"In a group? Why didn't you go and why didn't anyone wake me?"

"As my 'lord', it was my choice whether I wanted to wake you or just wait 'till you got up. I didn't see any need to rush my own torture and they didn't go in a group, each pair went out on their own. We're supposed to have a riding lesson after you eat."

"I'm not hungry."

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

"I don't want it."

"It sets your energy level for the day."

"I'm not hungry, Brat," he insisted, more than a little frustrated with the conversation.

"It's for your health," she pointed out, equally stubborn.

"This from the girl who has pop-tarts for breakfast at College."

"A perfectly healthy meal which also includes sugar that jump starts your energy level."

The first signs of a smile twitched his lips as he regarded her. "And you've already argued this with…?"

"Gram."

"There's a shocker. Anyway, I'm not eating; I don't want to, when will you be ready to go riding?"

"I'm ready."

"Fine, let's go." Standing and holding the door for her, he followed as she made her way to the stables. She was talking to him, yes, but seemed to be holding herself aloof. The kiss. It had to be the kiss. There were two possible reasons for why she was mad about it, but he couldn't figure out which one it was. Sam, for her part, was struggling to keep up any pretence of anger. He had, in her eyes, redeemed himself by going to all the trouble of rebuilding her fire in the middle of the night, but he still couldn't use her emotions against her and get away with it, so punish him she must. She waited in silence while he brought the now saddled horses out and led her mare to her.

"Are you going to deck me-or worse, geld me, if I try to lift you up there?" he queried with upraised brows.

Sam had the grace to blush as she stepped closer to the horse. "Funny, very funny."

He took that as permission and set his left hand on her stomach to gently nudge her back a few paces. When her back was almost to the horse, he moved both hands to her waist and easily lifted her up, noting again how narrow her waist was and how slender she was overall. Walking to his mount, he swung himself into the saddle and turned to lead the way.

"My brother's would have thought so" Jake said smirking.

"Well you can tell them everything on the weekend" Sam replied

"So, what exactly are we supposed to do?" he asked as he slowed his horse to match hers.

"You've got to teach me how to ride in this saddle."

"And you're doing what….?" his eyes moved from her face down to where she was sitting side saddle on the horse's back.

"Yeah, but this is barely the riding I'm used to. I can't gallop, ride normally, jump-"

"I'm not teaching you to jump in that saddle," he interrupted.

"Why not?"

"Uh, it's dangerous in that saddle and I'm not getting in one," he offered, as if it were the most logical answer in the world.

"Not if I'm a good rider in this saddle."

"Yes, even then."

"Come on," her voice was close to a whine and Jake cut his eyes over to her. "If you don't, I'll just do it myself or get someone else to teach me."

"Has anyone ever told you how stubborn you are?" he asked good naturedly.

"You have," she smiled innocently at him. He wasn't going to hold out, he already had the smirk in place.

"Well, I was right. Ok, you want to-"

Three Hours Later

Helping Rory down from her horse and taking the reins, he watched her disappear into the castle before returning the animals to the stable. Tom Cornell was grooming his horse and Jake asked him about the two idiots from the night before. Having immediately gone riding with Sam, he hadn't made an effort to seek them out yet, not wanting Sam to be any more involved with them than she already was. The tranquillity of the morning was replaced by his returning anger as he followed Tom's directions to find them. It didn't take long. The first guy, Rick, was on his way to the manor when Jake caught up to him. Going up behind him, he grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved him, causing him to fall to the ground.

"Well? Want to tell me what the hell you were thinking before I make it difficult for you to do so?"

Rick turned to look at him. "What're you talking about?"

"Sam Forster. There was brandy in her drink and I want to know why," Jake bit out as he stood over him.

Rick sighed and lowered his head as he shook it in sudden understanding. "I had nothing to do with that."

"And I'm supposed to believe that," he laughed angrily.

"Ron thought it would be funny to get the good girl a little drunk. Make her easier for you. I didn't know anything until AFTER he had done it, I swear!"

"He did it WHY?" he shouted in disbelief.

"Well, you want her, she's all virginal and innocent, he just thought she'd be more responsive to your uh," he smiled, "advances, if she was less than herself."

"Why would I want to do that to my best friend and neighbour? Try that again and I will rip your spine out and wear it as a hat. Now where can I find your little friend?"

"He's over by the manor stables-feeding the horses, I think," Rick sat up and watched as Jake stormed away. This should be interesting.

Finding Ron where Rick said he would, Jake's eyes blazed as he confronted him. "So, you decided to get a girl drunk, possibly ruin her life?"

"I wasn't planning on touching her," Ron objected with an insipid smile. "You, however, were going to have free reign to. What happened after that was out of my hands."

"Your plan was to get a girl drunk so a guy, doesn't matter who, could sleep with her without her fighting him even though she normally would. You see a problem with that?"

"Not really, no."

"It's the same as a date rape drug, jackass. She would have been affected by a substance she wasn't even aware she was having and would have made a mistake she'd regret the rest of her life!"

"Yeah, why'd you take it from her? She was a step away from being putty in your hands."

"Maybe I don't want to take advantage of her," Jake shot back, the muscles in his jaw tightening dangerously.

"Why the hell not?" Ron laughed. "I mean, come on! She won't give it up any other way and there's no reason all men should be deprived of her. I mean, have you actually LOOKED at her? Those GBC clothes she wears don't exactly disguise those curves, they really are quite-"

He was cut off as Jake launched the Ely brother's hammer fist at him and he fell back into a stall. The horse nervously backed away and Ron pushed himself into a corner to avoid being stepped on while holding his nose.

"Try anything like that again, say anything to or about her, or lay a hand on her and I will finish this. You won't be able to stand when I'm done with you!" With that last warning, he banged his fist against a pail and sent the horse hastening away. Hearing Ron being pushed against the wall with a loud grunt, Jake smirked to himself. As long as Sam didn't hear about this, it should be ok.

That Evening

Gathering her cloak around herself, Sam clutched her over-sized mug in one hand as she sought Jake out. It was bitingly cold, she was wearing a dress and hadn't used a phone in days. To top all that off, she was willingly going looking for Jake for companionship. She had actually turned down Claire, the cook and a room full of people for….him. Following the path down to the old cottage, she saw him picking up a log, setting it on a larger log, and then raising an axe to split it in two. He was again clad in boots, woolen chausses, and a leather jerkin. Ok, she knew that the jerkin was used in the time, but the things were SLEEVELESS. She was wearing a velvet gunna, wrapped in a fur cloak and freezing cold. What was wrong with him? Stopping to observe him, she watched the way he casually held the axe in one hand while he leaned down to pick up another log. The muscles in his arms flexed which each move, and when they raised above his head to bring the axe down on the wood, Sam couldn't help but smile. He didn't miss. He always hit his target. Walking briskly down the rest of the path, she watched as his eyes raised to see her before he chopped another log.

"I bet this is a good stress reliever," she commented before taking a long sip of her coffee.

"I bet that's ten more cups than you should have had," he returned as he tossed the smaller log onto the pile.

"Whatever," she shook her head as she moved to the fence. Gathering her skirt in one hand, she tried to tuck the handle of her mug in with the folds of velvet and use her other hand to balance while she stepped onto the lowest rail of the fence.

"Would milady like some help?" Jake offered gallantly.

"No," she told him shortly. He raised his eyebrows, but otherwise stood still while he watched her. She tried stepping backwards onto it and swiftly pushing up, but it only took a moment before she turned back to him, defeat grudgingly written on her face, and admitted it with a small, "Yes, milord."

Jake let the axe fall from his hand as he moved toward her. Determined not to make him do all the work, she reached her free hand up to brace it on his shoulder as he swung her up. Holding her balance with a hand on the rail, she noted that he waited to assure himself that she had it before moving back to what he was doing. There was a temporary silence as she watched him effortlessly chop log after log.

"So, what brought you out here?" he finally asked with a glance at her.

"I was bored," she shrugged.

"Where's Claire?"

"In the common room."

"What didn't you just talk to her?"

"I dunno. Thought I'd come keep you company."

"Aw, Brat, you missed me! I'm truly touched."

With a roll of her eyes, she shook her head slightly. He'd never change! "So, why the sudden need to chop wood?"

"First," he brought the axe down on another piece, "it's not sudden. Second, the supply was running low."

"Huh. Good reason."

"I thought so."

"I'm bored."

He smirked. "So I noticed."

"So entertain me!" she demanded.

"As much as I'd love to, and I really would, I can't."

"You can and you will. I'm in a dress without use of a phone or any other form of contact with my family, I haven't seen Jen in days, these people don't eat pop-tarts and there's nothing to do! Come on. Dance or sing or something."

Deliberately misinterpreting her request, his smirk spread. "Why, Brat, are you asking for a strip show? I'm flattered. All ask my brothers to do another one when your over next time"

Sam rolled her eyes. "Shut up," she said having another swig of coffee. Her voice regaining its whining tone, she continued, "Come on! I'm serious. I'm bored!"

"Ok, enough coffee for you," Jake swiftly reached up and took her mug, setting it on the ground next to the fence. Her jaw dropped at his movement, but she waited to see what he was getting at. "Walk with me?" he asked, holding a hand up to her.

"Where?"

"Does it matter? It's something to do."

"Guess not. If I see any weapons flying at me, though, I should warn you I'll beg the teachers to let me switch guys and give you some dumb blonde," Sam placed her hand in his before his other hand reached to her waist to help her hop down.

Jake couldn't resist a chuckle at the threat, frail as it was. "Come on, Brat. Somehow I think having you for a betrothed is far more interesting than any blonde."

Twenty Minutes Later

Grasping Jake's hand a little tighter, she let him hold a branch out of her way as she followed him through a clearing. They'd managed to go this entire walk without being at each other's throats too much, but she wasn't sure how long that would last. He paused to help her reach his side and pulled her cloak a little tighter around her. He'd donned his own mantle was worried that she was getting a little chilly. Sam, a little surprised by the courteous move, stood quite docile while he assured himself that her cloak was providing her the most warmth that it could. When he felt sure that she was warm, he again began leading her down the steep path.

"Where are we going?" she finally asked.

"In a circle, basically. We're taking a long route back to the castle."

"It's dark, you know," she tried again.

"I know."

"Late, too."

"Yep."

"We have a curfew."

"You think they actually check to make sure every person is in before they go to bed? We'll be fine," he promised, holding back another branch and letting her precede him.

"I thought you said we were going to the castle," Sam smiled as she looked at the moon shining off the lake in front of her.

"We are. Just consider this a slight detour." Coming to stand next to her, he chuckled at the serene look on her face, "I take it the detour is acceptable to milady?"

"I love seeing the moon reflect off of water," she admitted with a bright smile. "When dad married Brynna, she was always there for him when I needed her and her help she didn't let me so I went to the water".

"You two really aren't all that close, are you?" he cast a glance askance to her and was rewarded by the broadening smile.

"Yeah. In a lot of ways, it's like having an evil step-mom, an evil step-sister and Rachel, all rolled into one person."

"Are you SURE we're talking about your step-mom, here?" he asked, a note of doubt masked by a slight laugh.

"She only plays the nice good parent when dads around. We don't do anything that Jen and I would do together"

"I take it the coffee thing comes from her or Louise?"

"Her. For the first month she let me drink it, the she got pregnant to Cody and nobody could drink in case she got cravings"

"I can only imagine the trouble the two of you get in when you're on a coffee high and stubborn and your dads no there!"

"Gram says we're the most dangerous criminals, because we both look cute and tame, and then we slam each other" another laugh before she continued. "He'll tell you the best answer in anything concerning us is 'no'."

"Wise Grandmother!" Jake praised, sure he knew what Grace was talking about.

"She thinks so," she agreed, turning her head just enough to smile at him. A small breeze caused her to shiver involuntarily.

"Come on, let's go back," he remarked, catching the slight movement. They walked back in silence, Jake's warm hand encompassing her smaller one as he led her through the woods and into the castle courtyard.

"Ok, NO sign of anyone being awake!" Sam remarked, the first signs of a smirk crossing her face.

"You're very happy with yourself, aren't you?" he asked, fighting to keep a smile from his own face.

"Hmmm, let me think. I was right, you were wrong….yep, I'm happy with myself!" the smirk took full steam and she turned to face him more. Jake simply smiled in returned and pulled her toward the kitchen door. Opening it quietly, he shoved her in and followed.

"So, have fun on your little midnight rendezvous?" laughter heavy in the man's voice cause them to immediately jerk around…and find Pete and Claire sitting at the table with slices of buttered bread in front of them. Claire lifted her glass and took a sip, keeping the glass held up to hide her grin. Pete, on the other hand, simply leaned back in his chair and regarded them quizzically. "I knew Sam had gone out earlier and not come back, so I decided to wait up and make sure she got in alright. I was terribly worried for her welfare!" he placed his hand over his heart in mock concern.

"How kind," Jake quipped, closing the door behind him.

"I went to keep Jake Company while he was chopping wood," Sam explained, coming to lean against a counter close to the table.

"Yeah, hours ago," Claire pointed out, ever helpful.

"We went on a walk," she insisted.

"Where to?" Pete inquired.

"The lake," Jake said shortly with a warning look at his friend.

"Claire and I love to go there at night."

"Yeah, it's so pretty and peaceful," Claire needled further. "Did you two enjoy it?"

"Ok, so, why are you two still up?" Sam prayed they'd let her change the conversation.

"Like I said, waiting for you to get back. Claire was kind enough to keep me company."

"Great, well, I'm back, I'm ok, mission accomplished."

"So, nice walk?"

Sam shot a cautious look at Claire, wishing she'd drop it. "Yes, it was."

"What did you two find to talk about?"

"Stuff."

"Vague much?"

"Only when she has to be," Jake cut in.

"Touché!"

"Kathleen, methinks you have quite a protective knight."

"Roguish, you mean," she quipped.

"Hey, looks who's talking. I have a hot-tempered stubborn vixen," Jake said with a disbelieving look at her.

"You're the one who started the whole torment thing," Sam reminded him, her voice remaining calm and amiable.

"You dumped ice water on me!" his own voice was carefully kept gentle and a smile plastered on his face.

"You earned it!"

"When are you going to stop being such a challenge?"

"When are you going to be man enough to control me?" she asked with an innocent smile of unerring sincerity.

"Uh, I'm going to bed," Pete said with a low chuckle.

"Walk me to my door?" Claire asked. He took her hand and the two shared knowing smiles as they left the kitchen.

"I'm a challenge?"

"I'm not man enough?"

"I've accused you of seeing me as a challenge hundreds of times since I started GBC and yet you ALWAYS insist I'm wrong."

"Different meanings. You're not docile, you CHALLENGE me on everything I say and do. That's all I meant," he assured her.

"Uh huh."

"Not man enough?"

"To make me docile, obviously," she lowered her eyes briefly and felt him move closer to her.

"I'm not sure God Himself is man enough for that job," his voice sounded close to her as he stood directly in front of her, blocking her escape as his arms reached to rest on the counter behind her.

Sam's eyebrows went up as she looked up at him. "That's blasphemy," she reminded him, lightly kicking his shin.

The lack of force behind the kick allowed him to hold his ground as he moved in closer. "I seem to recall another recent event when I was this close to you, kind of blocking you in, in fact, and yet you aren't putting up a fight against being put in that position a second time. I wonder why," he taunted smoothly.

"I seem to recall that ending in you doubled over, praying you'd still be able to have children one day," she remarked flippantly. "Just because I've yet to wound you," she smirked, "doesn't mean I won't."

"No need for physical abuse, fair maid, you wound me with your words."

"Jake Ely is sensitive about the words of me?" she taunted in turn.

"You spill blood with yours."

"What would you do in a relationship with Penelope?" she wondered in feigned horror. "A week with her and the loss of blood would lead to your death."

"Your concern in touching, truly," his mustang eyes sparkled mischievously. "Although I seem to recall you once saying she would be a good person for me to date."

"I take that back, you're not man enough for her either."

"Kathleen, I beg you, pull the claws in! I've done nothing to deserve this abuse!"

"Ah, yes, Lord Alexander a.k.a. Jake Ely, innocent as a lamb," she paused, "and now I'm going to go sit outside and look for UFO's."

"Ouch! That one hurt," he laughed.

"Score one for Forster, Ely zero," Sam clapped for herself and skipped to the pantry.

"What are you doing?"

"The teachers have a stash of pixie sticks. Want one?" she asked, tossing one to him.

"And you knew this how?"

"The cook told me," she shrugged.

"Note to self: Buddy up with the cook!"

"Always a good idea, I'm going to bed. You?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Need any wood before I go to bed and you let the fire die out?"

"Hey, that wasn't my fault!" she said defensively, throwing the wrapper in the garbage.

"I know, I know. Without me, you just can't keep the fire going!" Knowing that her friendship with him had made her more perceptive of the double meanings often hidden behind his lewd remarks, he wasn't surprised when she turned and slapped his chest, indignant look firmly planted on her face.

"Watch it, Ely! There's nothing to say I won't take up calling you 'Protector' again."

"I didn't know you stopped."

"Well," she seemed to consider it for a moment, "I at least TRY to remember not to use it in front of you…unless you call me 'Brat'."

"Duly noted."

"To bed," she stated, turning toward the door.

"I said," he added. She stopped and turned to give him an inquisitive look, prompting him to release the laugh he had been suppressing. "Come on. It's past one."

"You're kidding?" her eyes widened.

"Didn't realize just how long we can banter, huh? Well, in all fairness, you were probably just so thrilled to be spending time with me that you didn't notice the clock on the wall in front of you."

"We really need to do something about that ego," she commented.

"So you've said….since you were five years old when you first met me."

"I'm right."

"And YOUR ego isn't a problem?" he cocked his head, waiting for a response.

"If there's a problem with it, it's due entirely to spending excessive time with you."

"Which you just can't resist," he prodded.

Having reached her door, Sam dropped her head against it and groaned. "You really are in love with yourself, aren't you?"

Pushing her door open, he chuckled as his eyes raked her fire supply. "You should be ok. Good night, Kathleen." He kissed her forehead and quickly backed out of the room, taking two steps to his own room and quietly shutting his door behind himself.

Sam shook her head and closed her door, shedding her gunna and climbing to bed in her kirtle. Jake Ely had more mood swings than she and Jen when they were P.M.S'ing.

The Next Day

The next day passed quickly for them. While the guys were being instructed in the duties of lords and care givers, the girls were being trained to be lady of the hall, betrothed, wife, etc. etc. Sam had heard rumblings about the incident with Jake and Ron, but decided to let it go and trust his judgement…for now. That evening they were all being taken to a dance held for several nearby colleges. Mrs Coley had made a gorgeous dress for Sam, who couldn't have been more troubled by the prospect of a dance. Their "lords" were serving as their escorts, but really they were free to dance with whomever they wanted. The banquet hall was only half an hour away and the guys somehow managed to leave on time….while the girls ran a little late. Claire had helped Sam curl her hair into ringlets and it now hung loose around her shoulders. Her deep blue dress swept the floor, the top being a lighter blue that sparkled in the light and ended below her chest. The dress hugged her sides closely, seeming almost like a second skin to her waist. The skirt had plenty of movement in it without being poofy, for which Sam was grateful. Her simple silver earrings dangled from her ears and the dainty silver chain of her necklace held a small blue amulet that rested delicately against the smooth skin below her throat. All in all, she was breathtaking.

None of them could understand why they would insist on taking the guys and girls in separate buses, but assumed that they must want the appearance of the girls to be a surprise. Now they were stepping off the bus and Sam held her satin blue shawl closely to her shoulders. As the girls descended, the guys stepped forward and claimed their ladies to lead them inside. Before she even had a chance to glance around, Jake was by her side taking her hand. He smiled slightly and led her inside. The room was showered in flowers and a small orchestra was playing a waltz. She felt her breath catch in her throat as she let her eyes roam over the other couples. As there were students from several other colleges there, the room was packed with festive teens laughing and dancing together.

"Nice, isn't it?" Jake asked.

"You could say that."

"Do you want something to drink?"

"No, I'm good."

"Are you going to stop watching long enough to participate?" he asked as his lips quirked into a smile.

Sam blushed as she realized she had been staring and glanced briefly at him. He stepped forward and tugged on her hand to get her to follow him. Around the dance floor, tables set for four was decorated with candles and flowers. Having already found their table, he deftly wove his way through the crowd and held her chair out for her. Smiling gratefully, she slid into the seat before he took his own seat. The two other occupants of the table, students from another school that they had never met, were either dancing or talking, but either way, they weren't there.

"It's nice to take a break from the role playing!" Sam declared with a bright smile. "It's so annoying to have to incorporate their vocabulary into ours."

"I don't know, calling you a 'Brat' sits just fine with me!" he pointed out, watching in amusement as she cocked her head at him, a movement she had been trying to avoid on this field trip. He was used to it, though. In the course of their friendship, he had discovered that that was a common action when she was annoyed or amused with him.

"Calling you a 'rogue' isn't too far off, either."

"True," he admitted as he took a small sip of his water.

Sam leaned back in her chair to regard him. "What? No witty banter or biting remark?"

"Not when you're right, no."

"There are MANY times when I'm right and you still come back with something."

Jake shrugged and kept his eyes from meeting hers, knowing she'd see his game if their eyes met. Throwing her off was tricky to do and by switching tactics, he was hoping to accomplish that.

"So….no answer?" she prodded.

"Nope," he again shrugged. "Care to dance?" he asked as they began playing a stereo with actual music on it.

Only mildly surprised by the sudden change in topics, and the fact that shy Jake Ely had asked her to danced, Sam hesitated as she glanced at the floor. It was filled out nicely, true, and it wasn't like people were going to be watching them, but-

"I won't step on your toes, I promise," he grinned.

"I know that. You who spend most dances; buying rounds for your brother's or don't go at all. It's just-"

"Just nothing, Come on," he stood and held her chair for her and she slowly came to her feet. Guiding her out into the middle of the floor, he pulled her against him. She lifted her arms to twine them around his neck, refusing to meet his eyes as he pulled her closer and their bodies came into close contact. Jake smirked at her bent head as they slowly swayed to the music. The soft notes soon began to relax Sam as she leaned against him more and her head dropped against his shoulder. His face rested against her hair as he tightened his hold on her.

Sam felt him pulling her closer and sighed. No, she couldn't be doing this. Being friends with her neighbour, yes, but falling for him…that was just wrong! They'd been on decent terms and managed to maintain an air of civility around each other-ok, they had fallen into a relaxed friendship-but anything more was just insane. They were completely different and from entirely different worlds; worlds that didn't mix. Feeling his cheek against her hair, she closed her eyes. The events of the past week passed through her mind, causing her to smile. Remembering the look on his face after she'd dumped the water on him, she bit her lip to stop the giggle that rose to her lips. Ok, so some things were really good!

Jake, for one, was in heaven. Feeling Sam slowly relax her muscles and lean into him he pulled her closer. Content that she didn't stiffen or pull away, he leaned his face against the silky curls. The scent of lavender filled his head and he briefly closed his eyes. The feel of her, the fresh clean lavender scent and the sight of her was intoxicating! He couldn't believe it, but she was causing him to bend his brother's rules. Jake Ely wasn't supposed to fall for anyone. He was a shy boy never looking at woman, always had been….that is, until Sam Forster entered his life at college. She'd been like a breath of fresh air in the stuffy GBC halls. Now, so close to graduating, he knew that her presence had helped him survive the morbid building. Hearing the song end, he reluctantly loosened his hold on her and allowed her to pull back slightly. Again leading her through the crowded floor, he placed her by the flowers and went to get her a drink. Coming back, he found a guy talking to her…and was disgusted to see her smiling and chatting animatedly with him.

"Jake Ely," he told the guy as he stood close to Sam and handed her glass to her. His arm slid around her waist possessively as he glared at the newcomer.

"Jonathan Green," the boy returned, holding his hand out. Jake shook it briefly before pulling Sam a little tighter. "I was just getting acquainted with Sam. She's quite beautiful."

"I'm sure she appreciates that," he said shortly as he attempted to steer Sam away. Sam was appalled by his rudeness and held her ground, her hand on his chest keeping him there, too.

"May I have this dance, Sam?" Jonathan asked her, ignoring the daggers immediately shot his way by the man holding her.

"No, you can't," Jake answered for her.

"Jake," she hissed quietly.

"I'm sure she can answer me for herself."

"Maybe so, but she's too naïve to know what you want and too sweet to say 'no'."

"Jake!" she growled.

"A dance is all I want," Jonathan insisted.

"Oh, please. You can fool her, but there's no way that'll work with me."

"Ok, you really need to-" Sam started, but neither of them was wise enough to pay attention to her.

"Who's to say I'll try ANYTHING on her?" Jonathan asked.

"Why else would you want to dance with her?"

"Why would you?"

"Look, you're not dancing with her, that's it, and excuse us."

Jonathan cast another glance at Sam before seeing a teacher watching them. Deciding to avoid a scene, he nodded once and moved away. The teacher lost all interest in the situation as the boy left, but it was far from over.

Flinging his arm off of her, Sam thrust her drink into his hand before storming out. Going out onto the terrace, she leaned against the rail seething. Who did he think he was? Like there was NO WAY that guy could simply want to dance with her! He must want something…more.

Hastily setting the drink down, Jake followed her out. Damn, he had messed this up. It wasn't entirely his fault, though! That guy was…going to try……something. He could tell. His body language was-and she was clueless-and-he walked onto the terrace and saw her by the rail. She turned her head to see him before shaking it furiously and turning back to look at the lawn again. Stepping forward, he reached her quickly and leaned against the rail next to her.

"What is the matter with you?" she yelled after a moment of tense silence.

"Me?! What the hell's wrong with YOU?"

"He asked me to DANCE, Ely! Nothing more."

"Yet," he snorted, obviously disagreeing with her in that one word.

"What makes you so sure he wasn't some nice guy?"

"Oh, please. He just wanted to get you into bed!" he shouted, furious that she was being so naïve.

Sam felt tears spring to her eyes. "Ah, yes, because no guy could ever want me for me. They just want to use me. I forgot."

"I didn't say that," he told her irritably. "It's just that he-"

"Is just like your brother's, right?" she spit out as the tears burned her eyes. "Right? Cause the only reason they would want me or any other girl is the get her into bed. Or You" Jake looked like he had been slapped, but it didn't stop him from replying

"Oh, yes, I'm the biggest asshole who uses girls and then throws them away. Please, spare me the speech. I know what you think but that doesn't change what just happened in there."

"What happened in there is a guy asked me to dance!" she cried defensively, knowing that he was being unreasonable…which he was.

"What happened in there is that you were willing to play into some guy's hand-some guy you don't even know. You play the role of woman as if you created it, sashaying around, smiling coyly, batting your eyes, refusing to even let me kiss you, then some stranger makes a move on you and you want to play along!"

The tears spilled down her face as she used all the force she had to slap his cheek. "How dare you! You know perfectly well that I don't play the tramp and try to lead guys on, but the second one asks me to dance, you want to accuse me of trying to entice him into bed or something?! Get over yourself! I don't let you kiss me, true, but that's only because I know you're probably far more experienced and I don't want to get in over my head. Go back in! Go back in and find a girl who's willing to deal with you, but never again accuse me of playing the tramp!" Blinded by tears, she turned and fled down the steps and disappeared in the shadows under the trees.

Jake stood stunned for a moment before following her. Seeing her holding onto a tree for support, sobs wracking her slender body, he stepped forward and used her shoulder to gently pull her around to face him. Her brown eyes sparkled with tears as she regarded him with contempt. He cocked his head to the side and gently raised his hand to wipe the tears from her face. She shook her head slightly and refused to meet his eyes with her own. The heated words of moments ago were fresh and all the hurt and anger still shone brightly in both pairs of brown eyes.

"Sam, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that, I-I know you weren't leading him on…and I overreacted about that guy. He probably was a really nice guy. I just-don't want to lose you. Not like I ever had you in the first place." When she still refused to look at him, he pulled her closer. "Sam please, I'm sorry. Really, I am."

"What did you mean?" she asked softly.

"What?" his confusion was genuine.

"What did you mean 'you don't want to lose me'?"

He ducked his head before lifting it again to meet her eyes. "Whatever claim I have on you, and I wish it was more, I don't want to lose. Seeing another guy touch you-" he sighed, "brings out the worst in me."

Sam raised her eyes to his. Brown on Mustang Brown. "Why?"

He hesitated, knowing what she was looking for, what she expected-knew was coming. It had been a long time coming. But just as surely as she knew it was coming, he knew he risked losing her all together. "Because I love you," he told her honestly.

"Do you insult all the girls you love and call them tramps?" she persisted stubbornly.

"There's only one I love, and I know she's nowhere near a tramp, she just witnessed my possessive temper at its worst."

Another tear slid down her cheek as she hung her head, unable to believe what she was hearing. Seeing the tears-the tears that he had caused, Jake shook his head in disgust with himself. Circling his arms around her, he again wiped the tears from her face, smiling slightly when she leaned her cheek into the palm of his hand. She sniffled and lifted her eyes to his, a happy twinkle having replaced the pain that had recently resided there. Needing no other assurance of her returned feelings, Jake gently threaded his fingers through her hair. Reaching the base of her skull, he pulled her forward until she fell against him before lightly pressing his lips to hers. Feeling her respond, he deepened the kiss and pulled her closer when her arms twined around his neck. When necessity required that they pull away and breathe, he leaned his forehead against hers.

"Methinks the Lady Kathleen and Lord Alexander has found a way to live harmoniously."

She laughed lightly, "And here I thought I got a night away from that vocabulary."

"I'm sorry," he whispered close to her ear.

"Methinks the Lord Alexander has found a way to please his lady," she teased, cuddling back against him. His lips immediately found hers, an air of contentment enfolding them.

His hand was warm as it rode on the small of her back, gently guiding her back into the dance room. An eager Claire was looking for the couple and smirked to herself at the looks they both were wearing. Signalling to Pete, she leaned back to whisper to him, "Am I the only one who thinks something happened?"

He looked over her head and saw his friend possessively walking Sam back to their table. Grinning slightly, he replied, "You know, it's been at least 20 minutes since I talked to either of them. Shall we go see how they're enjoying themselves?"

She took the proffered arm, "Oh, absolutely! After all, we wouldn't want two of our best friends to think we're neglecting them…especially when they're SO unhappy at having to be here together."

Sam took a sip from her glass as her eyes met his over the rim. "Uh oh. We've got company."

"What?" Jake simply asked. When she nodded for him to look over his shoulder, he turned slightly to see Pete and Claire approaching him. Sighing, his lips quirked into a grin as he ducked his head to study the table cloth.

"No blood, no broken glass…there's not even knocked over dinnerware!" Claire surveyed.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say that you two are spending an evening together without carnage," Pete added.

"You know what they say, never kill your fiancé with so many witnesses," Sam commented. Jake's head remained ducked, but his eyes rose to meet hers, the twinkle betraying his amusement even as his lips remained in a frown.

"Oh, please, allow me," Claire said helpfully. "If you're looking for privacy, I know of a few rooms that are unused where you could finish each other off."

"Really? Lead the way," Sam leaned back as if to rise from her chair.

"Need to stop in the kitchen to get a knife or something of the sort?" Claire pressed.

"Actually, I was thinking of suffocation," she assured her. Jake choked on his drink and the two girls, along with Pete, turned to grin at him. "Go down the wrong way?" Sam asked innocently.

"Something like that. Although, suffocation would be my favourite way to go," he smirked at her and delighted at the rosy blush that suffused her cheeks. The fact that so simple a statement from him could cause her to blush made a sense of masculine pride swell inside of him.

"Starting to think getting them a room could be a bad thing," Pete whispered to Claire.

"Heard that," Jake informed him as he titled his head to give his friend a reproachful look.

"Heard what?" Sam asked, being the farthest away from Pete and unaware that he had even spoken.

"Nothing," Jake and Claire said simultaneously. Sam and Claire exchanged a look while Jake gave Pete a warning glare. Sam may not be as naïve about some things as she was when she first met him, but she was still innocent and he wanted her to stay that way…well, except for the innuendoes he threw her way.

"Ook, I just totally missed something. What time is it?"

"Uhh, 10:30," John told her, deciding to follow Jake's silent request-ok, demand-and making small amends for his comment.

"Well, before the ball is over, may I have this dance?" Jake asked suavely as he pulled her chair back for her.

"Absolutely," Sam smiled softly, placing her hand in Jake's and following as he pulled her to the dance floor with him. The music, a soothing malady, calmed them as Jake turned to face her and tugged her hand forward until she bumped into him. Satisfied that they were as close as they could get, he wound his arms around her waist to rest on the small of her back while she reached up to fold her arms around his neck. They swayed to the music only a few minutes before Sam emitted a contented sigh and leaned her cheek against his shoulder. Jake immediately laid his own cheek against her hair and tightened his hold on her delicate body. Sam's eyes closed to allow her sense of feel to take over, completely trusting that Jake would guide her through the steps with little to no effort on her part. When they drifted open again, they found Pete and Claire, sitting close to each other, exchanging warm smiles as they talked in hushed tones. Standing on her tiptoes, she whispered in her knight's ear, "You really should check out our little Cupids."

Jake expertly manoeuvred their bodies so he could see the two and chuckled to himself. "Funny how sweet they are to each other when they think nobody's watching." He felt Sam nod against him.

She sighed audibly, "You realize, don't you that they're never going to let us live this one down?"

"I know. They'll give us hell."

"You?! What about me?"

"I know," he laughed. "And I just sat back and enjoyed the show. I mean, come on, we all knew you were going to fall for me. I'm irresistible."

"Egotistical is more like it," she snorted derisively.

"Hey, hey," he tugged her closer, "I resent that."

"I'm sure you meant 'represent' that," she flung playfully.

"Whatever you say, Brat," he kissed her forehead. "I don't feel like fighting with you right now." The peaceful silence again descended on them as the song ended and another started up. Thankful that it was another slow one, Jake kept his hold on her, only loosening it slightly when she suddenly laughed. "What?"

"Oh, God! I just realized I'm going to have to tell Jen!"

He stiffened. "And that's a problem because…"

"Jen has been saying 'He has a thing for you' since sophomore year at high school and 'You two are going to end up together' almost as long."

His posture loosened again as he chuckled. "Don't punish your best friend just because she's smart and figured it out before you….around the time everyone else got it."

"Oooh," she groaned, "that's right! I have to tell Brynna and Gram, too! Man, Brynna will ground me, Dad won't even care. And I'm sure Jen and Gram have had a betting pool on when and how it would happen!" She felt him laughing and buried her face in his neck. "This isn't funny! I HATE being wrong…and Jen! Oh, wow, does she like being right! The only thing she likes more is when she's right and I'M wrong! Every time your name is even mentioned, she and Gram grin and look at each other." More laughing on his part as her face burrowed deeper into his shoulder. "And all the times I said 'We're just friends!'…..they're going to eat me alive when they find out!"

"Well, at least you admitted that we were 'friends'. That has to count for something," he tried to assure her.

"Not with them! They saw something before I could-or would-and they'll never let me forget it! Every time something reminds them of you, let alone your presence, all I'll hear is, 'Ah, yes, Protector or Jake, the guy Sam vehemently claimed to just be friends with and swore she would NEVER let it come to anything else!' They'll snicker and ask a thousand questions, that they already know the answers to, and then they'll laugh, make a few comments, and start the merry go round all over again!"

"Please let me be there for this," he smirked down at her.

"You-YOU should have to go through this too," she declared, lifting her head up to glare into his face, exasperated that he could make light of her…well, torture was an exaggeration, but still. She was complaining and he was laughing. He was supposed to be helping her come up with a way to turn the tables on her all knowing mother and friend, and instead he was impishly mocking her. The song ended and he took her hand, leading her to the refreshment table. "There HAS to be someone who knew this before you, someone who could rub it in your face like they'll rub it in mine!"

His shoulders shook as he turned to hand a drink to her. He was fighting valiantly to refrain from laughing, knowing it would irritate her and they shouldn't be bickering so soon after they reconciled themselves to what was going on, but come on. She was being ridiculous.

Sam took the drink from his hand and daintily sipped from it. He was being silent. Worse yet, he was being silent and trying to hide a smirk…ah, yes! There was laughter in his eyes, too. Great! Just what she needed. "That's helpful."

"Kathleen," he said with a slight chuckle, "will they be upset about it? Does your step-mom think you shouldn't date guys because of their background?"

"Yes" she admitted in a low voice.

"Does Grace think you shouldn't date now because you should be focused on finals?"

"No" another low acknowledgment.

"Will Grace and Jen do anything other than their usual taunts, only in the form of 'Jake and Sam are together!' instead of mocking your GBC clothes and study habits?"

"No," she huffed petulantly. Leave it to him. And Gram HAD been bugging her more about those GBC topics lately…she'd have to get on to her about it later.

"Well, then," they wandered onto the balcony, "I think you'd do well to just be thankful that they'll be happy for us. Besides," he leaned his back against the rail, Sam hopping up to perch precariously on it, "you tend to keep ME in my place. I'm sure you can handle it."

"Sure, if you want to look at this rationally, it's just fine," she rolled her eyes. A hand was lifted to tuck her hair away from her face and she leaned into the touch with a slow smile. He knew how to get off the hook with her and that could be a disaster in the future!

6:00am the Next Morning

A large weight crashed down next to her legs, jostling her awake and sending her arms flailing to bring her pillow over her face. When the bulk shifted around and got more comfortable, it then set about removing the pillow from Sam's head.

"Ok, so I was laying in bed trying to figure out where the new Romeo and Juliet had gone last night and a new thought struck me," Claire paused dramatically, "I will go down in history."

Sam peeked one eye open as a familiar scent reached her. Claire was sitting cross legged, hair messily falling around her face, bright blue eyes sparkling mischievously, with two mugs of coffee, one balanced on each knee. Weakly extending her arm to receive the mug, she groaned as Claire held onto the life saving ambrosia and continued as if she hadn't noticed anything.

"I will. I will go down in history. People will be sitting, much like we do, in their classrooms, years from now, hearing about me. My name will be famous. I have been a part of something previously thought impossible."

Sam propped herself up on one elbow. "I give, I give. Hand over the coffee and you can tell me all about our miraculous performance."

Smiling happily, Claire handed one mug to her and settled herself back in. "I helped to get Sam Forster and Jake Ely to wake up and smell the-" she was about to say coffee, but knowing that Sam needed NO help smelling coffee, she broke off. "Ok, bad analogy. You guys-"

"I get the point, Claire," she smiled at her exuberant friend. "Trust me, I have a tribe of people back in Darton County just WAITING to rub this in my face, you really don't have to trouble yourself."

"No trouble. My pleasure, really," she assured her. "And oh, my gosh, ALL the times you tried to ASSURE me that you and he would NEVER end up together. You weren't flirting! No, no, you were simply 'bantering', right?"

"Really? Who told you that?" sarcasm was just dripping from her voice. Man, this was nothing compared to what Jen was going to do, so she really needed to sharpen her skills before then, cause her usual wit was failing her now. Must be too early. Yeah, too early and not enough coffee. Given time and more coffee and she'd have the tables turned!

"And to think, a romance that started with the dumping of ice water! How romantic," Claire chortled before the pillow came to whack her.

"Cut me some slack! You're the one who suggested I get back at him!" Sam punched her pillow back into position and leaned against it.

"Yeah, but I never mentioned-" a knock on the opened door stopped her. Both girls turned to see Jake, again clad in the clothes of the time, leaning against the doorway watching them.

"How long have you been there?" Sam asked with a frown.

"Not long."

"Be vaguer."

"That's for me to know and you to never find out."

"Were you just passing by, or shall I leave her to you?" Claire piped up. She, of all people, knew that these two could go at it for hours.

"Don't let me interrupt," he assured her, knowing he was doing just that.

"Don't worry about it. I was just about to head down, anyway. She's all yours."

"Gee, thanks," Sam tilted her head and let her voice convey her sarcasm.

"You're quite welcome," her friend smiled as she backed out of the room, closing the door on her way out.

"What?" He was smirking-again-and that wasn't a good sign.

"Oh, I was just thinking about your first day at GBC," he shrugged, watching in amusement as she groaned and buried her head in her pillow. He sat down on the edge of her bed and made himself comfortable as he continued, "You were so scared, it was written all over your face! And Penelope…I could tell she was going to make your life hell," a genuine smile broke out over his face as she laughed and raised her eyebrows in agreement. "But you held your own. True, you were meek when I intimidated you in the hallway, they way my brothers were proud of' he smirked.

"Yeah, well that's cause you don't have any" Sam started humorously, propping herself up to adjust her pillow. Jake immediately arranged it behind her back and helped her lean against it. "I wasn't about to become one of the Ely brother's conquest"

"And?" he prompted.

"And I didn't," she admitted, locking her eyes with his intensely brown ones.

"You also didn't believe me when I told you. You weren't a conquest that was going to be taken by me."

"At first I was."

Sam smiled and reached a hand to cradle his cheek, "Yes, the lamb has tamed the lion and its brother's and all is right in the world."

He growled at the thought that he was tamed, but it was true. Turning his head, he kissed her palm and pushed himself off the bed. "I'm going down. Get dressed and come down for breakfast. I'll meet you there."

Sam waited until the door was closed before allowing the small smile to spread across her features as she pushed the covers off of herself. Ok, they still had one week left, she was his "betrothed" for that time, and in reality they were-well, dating, it seemed. Sam sat down heavily on the bed. She and Jake Ely were dating. Who would have thought? Well, her Gram, Jen and Maxine seemed to suspect something…ok, everyone but her would have thought. Jake wasn't the only one who remembered her first day, though. She vividly recalled hearing him call for "Brat" as he followed her down the hall. She'd told him that her name was "Sam", but he'd simply continued calling her, her special name choosing to ignore her normal name.

20 Minutes Later

Jake was distractedly running his finger around the rim of his goblet, causing a whistling noise, when a snowy white hand covered it, effectively stopping all motion.

"You're fidgeting," she chided as she slid into her own chair.

"I didn't have much else to do with the amount of time you were taking," he shot back, knowing she hadn't taken that long at all.

"You try showering, dressing and putting up soaking wet hair and see how you like it! Besides, it was twenty minutes, tops."

His eyes sparkled mischievously as they took in her appearance. Her hair, mostly dry thanks to a very fluffy towel, was in a loose bun, framing her ivory face. While it was truly ivory, the rosy blush of her cheeks complimented her light brown eyes and softly pink lips. The deep blue of her velvet gunna clung to her as the flowing sleeves came to a point around knee length. A gold girdle rested around her waist, a lone strand falling down the side of her right leg. Gold cords provided the trim around the low neck, along the sleeves and at the hem. Wearing only pearl earrings for decoration, she was a true beauty. "Well, I must say, your wet hair deepens your eyes, makes them a shade darker. Of course, I can think of other ways to accomplish that," the leer reaffirmed the innuendo

"By irritating me until I'm fuming?" she scowled in annoyance and propped her elbows on the table, staring with cocked head at her goblet of coffee as she slid her finger over the rim, much as he had been doing upon her arrival. Lord, she was starting to pick up on his habits! He wreaked havoc on her senses, and she realized that over time, her enemy had captured her heart.

"That works, too," he remarked easily, watching as she copied his motions of moments before. When she didn't smile, he added, "Not only have you done exactly what I wanted, but now you're even becoming like me."

"Right," she snorted derisively, "I check out all the bimbos I can find give them to your brother's, aim to become reigning king of GBC, and don't love coffee."

"If I check out all the bimbos I can find, and I'm with you-" he began with carefully masked mirth.

Sam stuck her fingers into her water and flicked them playfully on him. "Not funny!"

He laughed and got rid of the excess water now sitting in droplets on his face. "Little vicious, aren't you?"

"Sure I am." Their meals were placed in front of them and a comfortable silence settled as they ate.

2 Hours Later

"You are so very incredibly out of your mind!" Sam declared adamantly, stamping her foot to reaffirm her point.

"I'm out of my mind?" the man in front of her questioned incredulously. "You believe that Shirley Temple was actually a mini demon sent by Satan to encourage the style of tight curls and tap dancing and I'M out of my mind?"

"Not to mention singing little diddies and giggling like a school girl," she added with quirked brow.

"Brat."

"She couldn't have been human! Anyone who curled their hair that tightly, that close to their head, would not have survived their necks being snapped by the curling iron!"

"She was a kid!" he laughed in the child star's defence.

"A mini demon POSING as a kid," Sam corrected. This may be pointless, but she was Wyatt Forster's daughter and she would NOT admit defeat.

"What exactly got us started on this?" Jake now asked, his brow furrowed as he tried to remember the conversation that had prompted their ridiculous argument.

"I'm not-sure," the tiny woman conceded, her own face mirroring her deep concentration. "I think we were discussing the supposed greatest movie ever made."

"Right, and you don't think 'The Godfather' is it," the light bulb went on and he was back in the game.

"Oh, please. It's a guy movie. The greatest movie implies that ALL would agree on it."

"For argument's sake, what's your pick?" he inquired as they resumed their walk down the slope.

"Ummm, I'm not sure I have one. Maybe 'Gone With the Wind'."

Jake spun on his heel as he looked to Heaven for help. "It's a CHICK FLICK!"

"It's about a war!" The argument was back in full swing.

"It's about a woman finding love in a war!"

"And conquering everything that's happening."

"Right," he rolled his eyes. "She had how many husbands?"

"The movie didn't even show all of them!"

"But the story was about her love life with a small side story line that, just so happens, had a war in it!"

"As opposed to the Godfather, which was about a mob, crime, shooting people-"

"Have you ever seen it?" he asked as she struggled to find certain points to fault.

"Kind of."

"Kind of?"

"Well, it was a while back and Jen and I were busy playing Truth or Dare while we watched it."

"You haven't seen it," he smirked triumphantly. "You can't argue this with me until you've seen it." He moved forward until she had backed into a tree. Catching her hands and intertwining their fingers, he pinned them against the tree, on either side of her. She looked back defiantly at him and as his head lowered, he had the vague feeling that she had been smirking at him. His attention not really focused, however, he was surprised when his lips moved to meet hers and encountered her cheek. Ready for the challenge she had obviously set forward, he held her cheek in one hand cocked his head down toward her. Her lips were parted in a smile and he took advantage of that and captured them in a fervent kiss. Her hand left his to reach the back of his neck while he tightened his grip on her hand and smiled against her lips. He had won. Maybe not the argument, but the kiss on the cheek hadn't ended there, either.

Curious as to the cause of the continued silence, Sam queried, "Lord Alexander? Are you perhaps displeased with your lady?" she said with an air of absolute sweetness…which her smirk entirely betrayed.

"Displeased?" he repeated, pressing closer and looking above her head as their hands again found each other and he pressed them closely to her sides. "No, the Lady Kathleen is found to be MORE than adequate."

"Then what? Lord Alexander, King of Obnoxious," delicate brows again arched as she craned her neck to keep her gaze on his face when he pressed her back flush to the tree and kept their bodies in contact.

"Just thinking," he murmured lowly.

"Thinking," she mimicked, her voice holding a teasing note as she nodded, their faces close to each other. "Sure, you can. I believe that. So tell me, Lord Protector," she saw the self satisfied smirk and decided to knock him from his self made perch, "were you trying to remember the names of prior conquests that your brother's gave you a little less trouble over?" He stiffened against her slightly. "I mean, yes, they fell for your brother's and your charms though you never act on them, but then you had to go through the trouble of explaining that you don't like affection, girl who aren't like me-"

"Entirely uncalled for!" he declared, tickling her side until she squirmed against him. "Ok, granted, some of my brother's old," he saw her giving him an expectant look and nearly laughed, "friends of the female persuasion," he must be out of hot water since she smiled happily, "were absolute ditzes, but it's not really my fault."

"They didn't HAVE to date them, and you could have stopped them" she persisted.

"Sure they did, and nobody can stop my brother's looking at other woman" he countered. She opened her mouth to vehemently deny this, but his hand covered her mouth and kept her silent as he continued, "Because there was only ONE girl I was seriously interested in and she burned me every chance she got, and my brother's new it so they made me hear about their dates."

"And when we settled our friendship?"

"Thank god they stopped a few months ago."

"Good boys," she praised, reaching on tip toes to kiss him quickly before pulling away. "Now we have GOT to get back to the castle. It's freezing out here-" she saw his smirk and knew what was coming, "and before you even THINK of making some lewd comment, just forget it!"

He laughed and allowed her to pull him closer to her as they started back. Helping her up the final step of the slope, he kissed her temple, whispering, "The Flight of Fantasy seems to be living up to its name so far." The scarlet blush he received was all he needed.

The Great Hall:

Rubbing her hands up and down her arms in an attempt to warm them, she heard him close the door behind them before his hand came to rest on the small of her back. Nudging her further into the room, he steered her to a place in front of the great fireplace. Shaking his head at the shivers covering her slender body, he laid his fur cloak on the floor and shoved her gently into a sitting position.

Sam sighed in relief as the warmth gradually seeped into her limbs. She and Jake had stayed out longer then she had intended and the chattering of her teeth was just beginning to subside. When a weight settled next to her and a steaming mug was held in front of her, she smiled gratefully and took a long sip. "Thanks, Alexander."

"Warming up at all?" he asked as she leaned her shoulder against him.

"Starting to," she nodded. The others seemed to have all gathered in the hall and the noise was deafening. Several of the girls were laughing, no doubt at something their betrothed had said, while the cook wove her way around the crowd with a platter of bread and cheese. "Ugh. Bread and cheese for a snack," Sam shuddered. "Hadn't they ever heard of chips and dip?"

"Lady Kathleen?" a feminine voice asked above them.

Sam and Jake both craned their necks to see a girl with long dark hair and equally dark eyes looking down on them. "Yes?"

"I'm Natal-err, Lady Cecilia. Some of the other girls were planning on having a sleepover of sorts and we thought you might like to come."

"What do you mean?" she asked as she pushed away from Jake a little to sit up more. He shifted behind her and braced his hands behind himself.

"Well, Lady Isabella was thinking that it would be great if we could all just sit up late and compare notes. You can leave and go back to your room to sleep if you want."

"Uh, yeah, sure," Sam stammered. The girl smiled and left, but Sam's brows remained crinkled. What was that all about?

"What was that all about?" a masculine voice asked behind her. Apparently he had the ability to read minds.

"I have no idea. I mean, I've seen Nat-Lady Cecilia in school, I think we even have a class or two together, but we've never spoken."

"Maybe being around you has had some effect," Jake shrugged, more than a little puzzled by the sudden change. "You don't have to go if you don't want to."

"No, it'll be fine. Besides, I can leave when I get tired." She settled again with her back partly against him and her head by his neck. There was a brief silence before she asked, "Do you think Claire will be there?"

Three Hours Later:

Sam shifted against the bedpost as she sat on the floor and listened to the chatter going on around her.

"So? Nat, is Rick a good kisser?" one of them asked Natalie, who was sitting next to Sam. A chorus of ridiculous giggles followed the question and the dark eyed girl smiled mischievously.

"Better than most, not as good as some," she responded vaguely.

"Sam?"

"Hmm?" her head snapped up.

"Jake?" the girl prompted. When she saw Sam wrinkle her brows, she elaborated, "We can all guess he's an amazing kisser, but still. How great?"

Heat instantly swept across her face at the memory of him backing her against the wall outside the castle. The memory of the amazing kiss under the trees at the dance didn't help to calm her down, either. "Uh, well," she stammered, to the amusement of all. When Natalie elbowed her lightly, she tried again. "You see-he's-"

"Absolutely none of your business," the voice from the open door stepped in.

"Hey, Claire! Just in time," the girl feigned happiness at Claire's arrival and plastered a fake smile on her face.

"To hear you try to invite yourself in to hear the details of a relationship she obviously doesn't want to divulge? Yep, I seem to be in time for that." She closed the door behind herself and came to take a seat on the other side of Sam. The grateful smile tossed her way almost made her laugh out loud. If only these other girls knew! They all assume that Jake and Sam kissed, but there was so much more to it than that!

"We're not asking to hear whatever sweet nothings he whispers to her, just the basic rating of kissing abilities."

"Use your imagination, cause you're not forcing her into anything," Claire said in defence of her friend before shifting the attention to other matters. "And besides, since when do you ask about other guys? Haven't you tried them all out at some point or another?"

The other girl seethed. "As opposed to your friend who skipped all the other guys, and went straight for the King of GBC with his good looks and great brother's?"

"Oh, save it, Theresa," Claire waved her hand. "You may want him, but you can't have him. His heart is firmly entrapped in Sam's hand and his horses hoof. Moving on to less catty topics-actually, ARE there any non-catty topics?"

"We could play Truth or Dare," Natalie suggested, praying the dispute between the three girls would end.

"I'm thinking it's time for me to go to bed," Sam spoke up, gathering her shawl tightly around herself before moving to the door. "You can all do whatever you want to."

"You sure?" another girl spoke up.

"Yep, I'm whipped. Good night, guys. Night, Claire."

Choruses of "Night, Sam" and "Night, Kathleen" rang through the room from all but Theresa.

The Next Morning:

Contrary to its busy activities the night before, the great hall now seemed to have a hush over it. The fire was burning low and the only sounds that could be heard came from the two men sitting at the table eating.

"Claire said Theresa gave Sam a hard time," Pete said bluntly.

"Why?" Jake asked in confusion. After all, they'd never met before the trip.

"You, I suppose. After all, Theresa's been working to stay popular since grade school. Moving up the line with the guys she dated. She was about five away from the most popular, you, when a new girl came, gained your attention, and now she's earning popularity. Basically, she's usurping Theresa without even trying-hell, without even KNOWING."

"And she wants to blame SAM for that?"

"Apparently."

"Hmm," was Jake's only response. Girls could be so hard to understand and deal with when they started using such twisted logic. He took a deep sip of water before another thought hit him. "Uh uh. That's not the only thing."

"What?" Pete asked, racking his brain for another reason for someone-anyone-to not like Sam.

"She's dating Ron," Jake pointed out as he ran his finger over the rim of his glass.

"As in tried to get Sam drunk and you punched him Ron?" Pete leaned back in his chair with sudden understanding. No wonder she didn't like Sam. Ron was working on her.

"Great, just what I need," Jake sighed. He leaned his right elbow on his arm chair and propped the side of his head against his hand.

"You think they'll cause her trouble?"

"I don't know. I just-don't know," he admitted with another small sigh.

"Good morning," Sam chirped as she skipped down the final step. "I thought I'd be the first one up, but I see you two beat me."

"Yeah, we're going hunting soon," Pete said.

Sam shuddered and scrunched her eyes briefly. "Please, don't tell me. I'd rather NOT think of him," pointing to Jake sitting next to her, "going out and killing those sweet little animals, I have enough of it when he and his brother's get the okay for hunting season."

"So, if I asked your opinion about which cloak I should take with me-" Jake started teasingly.

"We'd have our very own 'My Cousin Vinnie' moment," she concluded with emphatic nodding of her head.

"Complete with multiple uses of less than proper words coming from you?" he dared asked with a smirk.

"If provoked into defence of 'de poor wittle dees'," Sam flawlessly quoted Marissa Tomei, "then, yes. I absolutely will break my own rules to berate you."

"There's something new," he rolled his eyes in mock shock before lifting his glass for a long swallow.

"Ok, guys, break it up," Pete intervened with an amused look at the pair. "I swear, the two of you bicker-"

"Banter," Jake corrected casually as he met Sam's eyes with a twinkle in his own.

"Whatever," he waved his hand through the air. "The two of you-BANTER-more than anyone I know."

"Yes, well, that's what makes us unique," Sam admitted with a bright smile. Jake smirked triumphantly at his friend who merely shook his head tolerantly at them. Other students were beginning to stagger into the room with muffled yawns, prompting the cook to carry the breakfast platters in. Finding themselves the only bright eyed, chipper ones in the lot, the three simply remained where they were and continued with their private small talk. "Uh oh," Sam breathed softly as she, too, began tracing the rim of her mug with her finger. Jeepers, if she didn't stop picking up Jake's habits, she'd land herself in a world of trouble.

"What?" Jake asked, turning away from Pete.

"That-girl," Sam used her mug to gesture at the one she meant. Both guys followed her direction and saw a girl with white blonde hair flowing halfway down her back. Her green eyes snapped in annoyance as she surveyed the scene before her.

"What about her?" Pete asked with a cautious look at Jake.

Sam ducked her head to the side as she began studying her mug. "We just met last night. Apparently she doesn't like me very much."

"Her loss," Jake spat bitterly as he watched Theresa find Sam with her slanted green eyes and fix a glare upon her. "Forget her, Sam,. Theresa's always been more interested in obtaining social prestige than living. She's not worth your time."

"I just-" she shifted in her seat, "hate having disputes with people. It's easier when we can all be civil to each other."

"Oh, she'll be civil, all right," Pete assured her. "She wouldn't dare to go against the almighty Jake Ely and his brother's by digging her claws into you."

"And every moment of thought we give to her is a moment too much, so let's change the subject." Sam gratefully accepted Jake's idea and allowed him and Pete to steer the conversation to other matters. She kept her attention focused on her mug, which the cook constantly refilled, and leaned back in her chair. They were right. Theresa was no concern of hers.

One Hour Later:

"Gracefully! I know your parents taught you not to flop. You've all been sitting in chairs your entire life, this shouldn't come as anything new," the teacher reprimanded as she circled the long table. The girls all groaned and stood for what they knew was coming. "Try it again."

Holding one sided of her skirt in one hand, Sam eased into her chair and demurely crossed her ankles. Her back was kept straight and her hands rested on the arms of her chair, the tips of her fingers just draping off of the front of them.

"Much better, ladies. Lady Leslie, try to remember that you're not a sack of flour being dropped from a loft. Graceful. No, no, don't cross your knees. ANKLES, ladies. There! Improvement. Now, use the proper utensils and begin your meal." Sam and the others girls picked up the utensils and began eating. The teacher continued to circle them and correct tiny matters. Sam, for her part, was bored to tears. Sure, it was easy enough to do, but what it fun? No need to dignify that with an answer.

"Good gracious! There's no need to scrape your knife across your plate like that! The point isn't to announce to the room that you've begun cutting your meat!" She moved down only three chairs before stopping again. "Tiny portions, girl. Tiny! You're a lady and this isn't a race." Only another pause. "Slowly! Eat small portions and do so SLOWLY!"

Sam bit her lip while the girl rolled her eyes at the teacher's orders. They'd been at this for forty five minutes and frankly, she thought the girls getting it right should be dismissed! There was only so much one girl could eat. She sighed. It could have been worse. Jake was out hunting and she'd rather eat a thousand slow meals than have to do that.

"Stop! You may now rise." The girls pushed their chairs back only enough so that they could rise and step to the side before moving back. "You were all given duties to perform, you know what they are. The men should be back soon and then you'll pair off with your betrothed."

Waving to Claire before leaving, Sam took her cloak and a large basket before whisking out the door. Her assignment, much to her relief, was to engage in "ladylike exercise" and "gather flowers for the hall". Simple enough. Letting the breeze whip her hair back, she closed her eyes and breathed it in. That lesson in table manners had been gruellingly boring and the fresh air was a welcome reprieve. Pausing in indecision, Sam glances down the common path and then through a hidden path through the woods. Taking the path through the woods, Sam followed it down to the cottage where she had watched Jake chop firewood while sipping her coffee on the fence. Moving behind the cottage, she smiled at the field of wildflowers in front of her. This should be fun!

An Hour and Twenty Minutes Later

Wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, Jake moved around the cottage. He was hoping to take a slow walk after exerting himself and pushing his own limits, but rounding the corner, he decided on a different form of relaxation. The sight was stunning. Sam, wearing a baby blue velvet gunna, was stooped among flowers and gathering them into a basket. Smirking to himself, he moved forward.

Sam couldn't believe how many kinds of flowers actually grew in winter! She and Jen, killing most of the things that they planted, had never been big on gardening. She'd always assumed that flowers were strictly spring and summer things, but obviously she was wrong. An hour and twenty minutes, she sighed in contentment. As much as she was enjoying this field trip, she really wished she could talk to Jen…and Gram...and her dad…and Maxine. When an arm snaked around her shoulders to pull her back against a firm chest, she felt her heart leap to her throat and let out a strangled cry.

"Relax, Brat, it's only me," a deep voice chuckled close to her ear.

She sighed and ignored the smile trying to force its way out. "Is Milord Alexander TRYING to make me die a thousand deaths?" she leaned her head against his shoulder and nuzzled her face to his neck.

"How can the dear Lady Kathleen even CONSIDER such a possibility? By no means do I wish her any harm," he assured her as his eyes closed in response to her nuzzling her face against him.

"Well, considering that he was responsible for me falling on the ground-" the tone was instantly teasing.

"Oh, quite the opposite. I think only of her safety and welfare, as evidenced by my watchful eye over her wood supply as activities of choice."

"Alright, alright, alright," Sam allowed the smile to take over her face as she untangled herself from him and stood up. "I got it. Enough with the vocabulary. I swear, I'm just dying to call Jen and use all of our short hand words just to shrug this off. So, in the interest of giving me a little break from the insanity, how about you use English to tell me how your morning was?"

The smirk turned to a low laugh as he also stood and they began walking back to the cottage. "Well, Pete and I went hunting, as you know, but of course there was the small problem of Pete's horse not wanting to cooperate with him." Jake watched as his audience turned her full, expectant attention on him. "He threw him into the lake and he had to climb through the bog to get out."

"How many languages can you say 'Eww' in?" Sam asked between giggles and looks of disgust.

"I'm sure you'll let me know by the end of the day," he assured her.

"Nah. Too many chores of being a lady to deal with."

"How'd the whole 'This is how you sit and cross your ankles' lesson go?" he asked with a sideways glance at her. She immediately rolled her eyes and looked disgusted, annoyed and weary all at once.

"About as well as can be expected. We sat, we crossed our ankles, we ate-WITH the PROPER utensils, we sipped daintily, we waved the cook down whenever we needed something. It was fantastically boring!"

"Aww, poor Brat!" he chuckled as he pulled her closer to him and kissed her temple. She sagged listlessly against him and dropped her head to his shoulder. "Come on, Little Minx. I've got my horse and you can ride back."

Sam exerted herself to place a quick peck on his neck in response. "Thanks, Lord Protector. I'm ready to fall asleep as I walk."

Taking his cue, Jake bent to sweep her into his arms and crossed the short distance to his horse. Placing her in the saddle, he swung up behind her and let her lean back against him before pulling his cloak to shield her from the wind. Yes, the trip had been very beneficial to him.

One Hour Later

Happily sipping her coffee, Sam leaned back against her chair and sighed. After dropping her off at the castle, Jake had been sent back out on other various errands and, therefore, she had a few free hours. Her immediate response was to go straight to the kitchen for coffee. Since it was so early and dinner was served close to eight, the cook was nowhere to be seen and the delightfully quiet kitchen was a perfect haven for the exhausted girl.

"For someone who's been played so well, you seem content," a malicious voice sounded behind her. Sam twisted in her chair to see Theresa standing just inside the closed door with a viscous smile marring her exquisite face.

Leaning back and again facing the wall, Sam sighed and strove to remain polite. "Hello, Theresa. Nice to see you, too. Now, if you're done with the cryptic act, it's obvious you wanted to see me for something. What is it?"

"I surrender," the girl drawled with a soft, innocent voice. Her hands held up, she moved to stand in front of Sam. "I don't really know you and don't see a reason to dislike you, but I'm afraid there's something about Jake I should tell you."

"Which is?" she asked in slight irritation.

"I don't really know how to say this," Theresa wrung her hands in quite a convincing act of discomfort. "You see, my boyfriend, Ron, found out that Jake spiked your drink the other night, and when Jake realized that Ron knew, he took the drink from you. Ron was going to just let it go, but he saw Jake the next morning and decided to ask him about it." Taking a deep breath and putting every ounce of her conniving acting into effect, she delivered her news. "Jake was trying to drug you to win a bet."

"Very funny," Sam shot a withering glance at the girl and started to rise, but a gentle hand on her arm stopped her.

"Sam, I'm sorry. I know this is hard to hear and I hate having to be the one to tell you, but Jake made a bet with a guy named Rick that he could bed you before the trip was over. When the drink didn't work, he turned the charm up. Ron says he thinks he's won you over, but I wanted to be able to tell you before he could proceeded to….well, his purpose-bedding you."

Sam sunk back into her chair before she burst out laughing. "I've known Jake my whole life, he's the most shyest guy I know the only reasons he's popular is because of his brother's with the girls so go try whatever your trying on somebody else" Sam said with force.

"I'm sorry, I thought it would work" the simpering voice smiled at the bent head, "but you will stay away from Jake or something bad will happen and I don't think you would like that" Theresa said before picking up her hand and slapping her hand across Sam face with such force she thought only weight builders had.

"Ow" Sam aid putting her hand to her face. "Don't you ever talk to Jake again, and if you tell him about this conversation he will get hurt". Theresa laid a hand on her shoulder and smirked as she watched the girl turn and flee out the kitchen door. Going to the wide open door, she watched her stumble to the woods before smiling and closing the door.

Holding onto tree branches as she passed them, Rory felt the hurt leave to be replaced by a blinding anger. She could never live without Jake she just couldn't, just like forever. He was the was the one thing in her life she could rely on bar the Phantom.

He'd played her for a fool and she'd taken his every cue! God, she could just imagine him counting the score every time she nuzzled her face against his neck-kissed his cheek-snuggled against him for warmth…oh, the list was endless. He'd been a pro at it and she was a silly farm girl falling for the experienced player who's brothers tired of his other women and wanted someone new to sport with. She felt like the hapless, naïve girls of the old movies. The ones who blushed whenever a man glanced their way and giggled at every kind word. How could she have been so stupid?! Yes, she, Samantha Forster of Darton County, had snagged the heart of the all mighty Ely Brother's brother Jake Ely! Yeah, he'd give up his strings of women for his little "Brat". New and refreshing, she'd do for a month, maybe two. Storming into the old cottage, she slammed the door until the tiny house shook. Glancing around and seeing a staircase, she turned and stomped up them. There was a long hall with doors on either side. Not knowing which one to go to, she went to the last room on the left and closed the door behind her. Dropping the bar firmly into place, she nodded in satisfaction and hoped the lock was sturdy. The room was bare with only one small window and a rocking chair. Looking out the window, she was greeted with the sight of the fence where she had sat to watch him chop wood. Feeling a smile at the memory, Sam shoved it back and yanked the curtain closed. It had been a lie. He'd been playing her that whole time. Well, the game was up. Walking back to the rocking chair, she flopped petulantly into it and pulled her knees against her chest, waiting for the darkness to fall, battling tears and anger.

The Castle

Having put his horse in the stable, Jake wearily walked back into the hall. He looked up to see Claire's worried eyes watching him. Pete was talking to another guy who nodded when Jake came in. Pete twisted around enough to see him before squaring his shoulders and making his way to his friend. Jake met him halfway.

"What's wrong?"

"It's Sam," Pete told him slowly.

"What happened? Is she ok?" the concern was obvious as he stepped closer to Pete and his eyes widened.

"Not exactly. Seems Rick and Theresa decided that they each hated you two, put their venom into action." He held his hand up as Jake started to interrupt. "Natalie overheard everything and told Michelle, who told me, but this story will take a minute and you have to hear the whole thing before flying off the handle. Theresa cornered Sam in the kitchen and told her-" he took another deep breath before looking Jake in the eyes and finishing, "she told her that you and Rick had a bet going on whether or not you could bed her by the end of the trip. Sam didn't want to believe it, but Theresa was convincing and-Sam's gone. I've looked, Claire looked. We're hoping there's somewhere special to you two…maybe you know where she'll go better than us."

Throughout this, Jake had remained deathly quiet. The fire snapping in his eyes, however, was all the evidence anyone needed to know how furious he was. The shaking of his fists was another sign. "I think I do. I'll be back," he said shortly before flying out the door again.

The Cottage

Sam heard the thundering of hooves outside and held her body rigid as her name was frantically called. The voice circled the surrounding area before coming back to the front.

Jake circled the cottage and came to stop by the chopping block again. She was here. She had to be. His eyes wildly searched for any sign of where she was. Walking a short difference away, he turned in a circle. The curtain. He didn't remember ever seeing any curtains before. Hell, he'd never been IN the cottage before. But Sam had. She was apparently in there and blocking him out. Running back, he pushed the door open. There was a staircase and he took the stairs two at a time, going straight to the last door on the left. That was where the curtain had been and it was the only door that was closed. His hand sought to open the door even as he pushed against it. It didn't budge. She barred the door. She actually barred the door against him. "Sam!" he called, banging his fist against the door. "Sam, open the door!"

Sam turned her head enough to glare at the stalwart door before turning back to stare straight ahead. Let him bang on it!

"Come on, Sam, you have to talk to me! Theresa lied to you, you know she did." He paused and waited for any sound, any sign that she was relenting. Met with a deathly silence, his heart raced and he again beat the door. "Dammit, Brat, let me in!"

She wished fervently that she had something to hurl at the offensive door, but settled for letting him seethe. He had no right to be mad at her, anyway. A tiny voice tugged at her heart and reminded her that it was entirely possible Theresa had been lying, but she shoved it aside as a single tear trailed down her cheek.

Jake, on his part, was becoming increasingly worried. She still hadn't made a single sound. He expected her to yell, scream, tell him to leave her alone-anything but this. Smacking the flat of his hand against the door once more, he turned and leaned his head against the wall behind him. Pulling himself together, he turned back and tried the lock one more time. "Open the damn door, Sam, or I will!" Irritated to his wits end, he took one step back before slamming his shoulder against the door, thankful to hear the wooden barrier split as the portal swung open. Sam stood before him, looking as friendly as a wet cat.

Sam leapt out of her chair as he forced his way into the room. It was typical of him and she told him as much. "How fitting that you should find something not available to you, so you FORCE your way in. Can't have something you want, take it by force?" she spat.

"SAM, you KNOW I didn't-" he started, worry and fury each struggling for control of him.

"I KNOW?!" she cried in disbelief. "WHAT do I know? I know you're the crowned King of GBC, because of your brothers and you always get what you want and don't care what it does to anyone else. I know your brothers wanted me as a conquest when I first came to GBC, I know you have me now. There are a few facts left out of that, but forgive me, I'm still coping with them!"

"Let me-"

"Oh, no, no," she laughed humourlessly, waving a hand to stop him. "That's what got me into this mess in the first place. LETTING you do things, LETTING you weasel your way into my heart." The tears now flowed freely down her cheeks, but Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and this was one woman who had been scorned severely. "Why me? Because I'm a small town girl who doesn't know the ways of men like you? Because I was just too easy to play and you couldn't resist the temptation? Congratulations! You wanted me, you got me. You played me and I fell at your feet. That's what you wanted, right?"

"NO!" he finally shouted. "I don't want you to fall at my feet, I want you to stand beside me." He ran a hand through his tousled hair and stared at the tear streaked face of the beauty before him. He was ready to wring Rick and Theresa's necks! "Would you just be reasonable about this and think of who you're listening to over me? We've been on good terms for years now and you yourself told me that Theresa didn't like you."

"DID YOU MAKE THE BET?" she yelled, stamping her small foot once for effect.

"NO!" he yelled back. Calming slightly, he continued, "Sam, I told you in your room, you weren't a conquest for long. I fell for you because you were YOU! I fell in love with you, not the idea of winning a bet about you! You have to believe me. If it was about a bet-"

"You'd know you'd lost it and not bothered to come looking for me," she continued in a small voice, sniffling once or twice.

Jake sighed as she acknowledged his truth, watching her wipe a few of her tears away, even as fresh ones poured over her cheeks. There was some doubt in his mind that she'd welcome comfort from him, but feeling so helpless watching her cry, he risked being pushed away and stepped forward to take her in his arms. She stiffened slightly, then melted into him as the tears turned to tears of relief.

Clinging helplessly to his tall frame, she folded her arms around his broad shoulders and let him hold her up while she remained almost limp. Jake leaned down to kiss away a tear off her cheek. She tightened her grip in response and he ducked his head to kiss a tear off of her chin. Brushing his face against hers, he moved to her other cheek and performed the same procedure, from her eyes to her chin. Reaching her chin, he moved back up. Coming to her lips, he was surprised when she turned her head and met his lips. Carefully keeping the kiss gentle and letting her set the pace, he almost smiled against her lips when she allowed him to deepen it. Cupping her cheek in his hand, he wiped away the remaining tears even as his other hand traced small circles over her back. Pulling back slightly, she stood on tiptoes to wrap herself closely against him.

"I love you," she whispered in his ear. "I can't believe I listened to that conniving-"

"Bitch," Jake said bitterly. "Forget her. Her boyfriend spiked your drink and I beat him up for it. I'd say they got their revenge."

"Forget them both," she murmured softly. "I trust you, we have each other, and they aren't worth our time."

"I love you," he breathed, watching the twinkle in her eyes.

"You better," she smirked as she leaned in to kiss him.

That Weekend

Standing around the corner, Jen watched as a tall Blue-Black haired man, with a great build, she noticed, held her best friend tightly in his arms and leaned down to kiss her passionately. Protector had won her heart….FINALLY! Smiling at the looks they both wore, Jen stepped back, watched as Jake's Truck left in the opposite direction, and waited until an unsuspecting Sam rounded the corner. "Caught in the act!" she proclaimed, wrapping her arm around her best friend as they walked toward Sam's Gram's Buick.

"The act ooof?" Sam played along and she returned the one armed embrace and took the cup of coffee Jen handed to her. They climbed in the car and sped off at record speed.

Jen gasped. "You dare play dumb after committing the offense of fraternizing with The King of Darkness?!"

"Sorry, an after effect of excessive exposure to him."

"Sooo, you and Protector are-"

"Ohhhh, you're already starting!" Sam groaned.

"Together. Oh, oh, what month is it? I won, I won, I won! Grace and Maxine owe me! Gram called February and Maxine called March, I got January! I can't wait to tell her. And Wyatt! Oh, Miss Coley!," she proclaimed as they entered Darton County, giving her another thought. "It'll be on the Darton County web-site, in the paper, through the gossip chain. They'll mark it on all future calendars, declaring it a national holiday. A statue of you two will be erected in front of Clara's to prove that miracles are possible and children will surround it for years to come, praising it for its 'Cinderella' type story."

"JEN!" Sam cut in.

"And are you gonna make your Gram happy! Answer: Yes! But anyway you and a Ely, a man of 'good breeding and marriageable age'," Jen said mockingly as she pulled into Sam's driveway.

"You're going to tell her the second we get to the house, aren't you?" Sam asked in disbelief as they got out of the car.

"Oh, yes," Jen shook her head and slammed the car door behind her. Waiting until Sam had breathed a sigh of relief, she said, "Why wait when there's 'No time like the present'?!"

Sam raced after Jen as the girls ran into the house trying to beat each other to the office. Their shrieks of laughter filled the house and proved that time, age, and changes in lives could never change the unique sister bond between Sam and Jen.

The End