Author's Note: Hello, wonderful readers. I hope everyone in the good ole US of A remembered to adjust their clocks for daylight savings time. (I didn't). At any rate, we have just a few announcements for everyone today.

First, please remember to try and spare a few moments over the upcoming three weeks and VOTE for your favorite authors and stories in the "Profiler's Choice Awards" at "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" forum. You have through the end of November 30, 2010 to let your vote be heard and we want to hear from each one of you. If you don't know much about forums, links can be found through either my profile (ilovetvalot) or my awesome co-author (tonnie2001969). Remember, anyone that wants to help advertise the awards has our unending gratitude and there is also a short blurb you can use on our profile pages.

Second, we also have a new fortune cookie prompt for you at the forum compliments of our "Fortune Cookie Friday post (Sorry, we forgot to advertise it yesterday). And we also have great new interviews with several of our nominees. Today, we are "getting to know" the following: b-mystique, Nagen66, Monkeywand, and Hidge. More interviews are coming soon!

Many thanks to everyone still reading these stories. We really appreciate you. Now, on with the show!


If You're Not Here With Me

Chapter One

The windshield wipers worked furiously against the falling snow as their SUV slowly navigated one of the winding curves of the country roads that supposedly would lead them back into Knoxville. Shaking her head as she stared out the snowy glass, Emily Prentiss tried to suppress her sigh. A nasty wreck on the interstate an hour ago had forced them off the main road and onto one of the sporadic exit ramps. Armed with an out of date road atlas, she and David Rossi had painstakingly made their way in the direction of Knoxville.

At least, they hoped they were. The persistent snow squalls they seemed to constantly run into were hampering progress of any form.

To add insult to injury, it was December 24th. And as if she needed a reminder, the strains of the King and Rock and Roll's Blue Christmas filtering from the radio highlighted the fact. Dave had turned it on half an hour ago while he'd attempted to find a weather report. Of course the grey skies overhead and the snowflakes falling heavily from above were the only indications she needed to know that they were in the thick of it. Even if they somehow, by God's grace, managed to make it to the airport on time, there was no way any plane was departing in this mess.

Blue Christmas, indeed. She was beginning to believe the song should be renamed "Ugly Horrible Grayish Black Christmas".

Jerking her head toward Dave as she heard a telltale ding and his audible answering groan, Emily cringed. "Dave?" she questioned softly, clenching her fingers in her lap. "Does that sound mean what I think it does?" she continued somewhat trepidatiously.

"If you mean, Hark, the herald gas gauge dings, then yes," Dave growled, obviously agitated with current events, his tone as biting as the cold outside the vehicle.

"I told you we should have stopped and filled up when we got off the interstate," she mumbled before her brain could have a conversation with her mouth.

Taking his eyes off the road long enough to glare heatedly at her, Dave asked roughly, "You wanna drive, Prentiss?"

"No," Emily snapped, meeting his glare, "I wanted to get gas."

"You saw the lines back there," Dave retorted, frowning as he tightened his fingers around the steering wheel and turned his concentration back to the slick road in front of them. "If we have a hope in hell of catching our flight, we needed to keep moving."

"Dave," Emily replied heavily, gesturing out her side window. "Have you looked out there? No pilot is going to take off in this weather."

"You don't know that," Dave returned implacably, his eyes once again focused on the whitening road in front of them. "There's still a chance it'll clear off."

"Since when are you an optimist?" Emily snorted, rolling her dark eyes.

"Since I promised my mother I'd be home this year for Christmas," Dave replied gruffly, his words filled with just a tinge of sheepishness.

So, Emily thought with a faint smile, David Rossi was scared of one woman on earth, if his tone was anything to go by. "I think your mother would understand this," Emily said, nodding out the window, a burst of snow emphasizing her point.

"You don't know my mama," Dave said doubtfully, his dark head shaking. "But regardless, if we'd have pulled over then we'd have sat in that line of cars for an hour...an hour we couldn't afford to lose."

"So you'd rather lose your toes..." Emily muttered, her feet shifting against the floor mat.

"Huh?"

"From frostbite," Emily clarified. "You know, when we're left stranded on the side of the road and have to walk in this blizzard to find shelter..."

"I don't remember you ever being quite so theatrical, Prentiss."

"I have a mother, too, Rossi. And a command performance at the UN to complete tonight. While you would have been enjoying eggnog with your family, I would have been pasting a smile on my face in front of a bunch of international dignitaries before Midnight Mass. Believe me, the Ambassador won't be any more pleased than Mama Rossi, albeit for different reasons."

"Sorry," Dave muttered as the gas gauge pinged again, a bright red light illuminating on the dash. "I guess both of our plans are about to be interrupted," he sighed as the engine sputtered.

Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from moaning as Dave steered the dying car to the side of the road, Emily quickly took stock of their surroundings. On one side of the road, they had trees and on the other, they had a field. Just great! Talk about the proverbial rock and a hard place. No sign of a house in sight. Sitting silently beside him for a moment as they both stared out the window, Emily quickly went through their list of options as she checked her cell phone for reception.

Nothing, she thought, looking at her phone and seeing absolutely zero bars. Of course, she thought tiredly. Why should they have any form of service in what had to be the most God forsaken acre on the planet? Glancing at Dave she noticed him doing the same thing. "Anything?" she asked, nodding at the phone.

"Nope," Dave grunted, sighing as he shoved his phone back into his jeans' pocket. "You up for an early afternoon stroll through the snow?" he asked, reaching into the back seat of the SUV and grabbing their coats.

"Are you sure that's our best bet?" Emily asked uncertainly, her eyes jerking back toward the window. "Maybe we should just sit tight for a while and see if we get any reception after the clouds lift," she said, leaning forward to glance up toward the sky out the window. "Maybe somebody will stop and check on us," she said, nodding outside. "This is the South. People are supposed to be friendlier," she said hopefully, her eyes scanning for any form of life.

"We could," Dave nodded calmly. "But the temperature in this car is gonna drop pretty fast, Prentiss. Better to keep moving and keep our blood circulating. Besides, we haven't passed another vehicle for fifteen miles. Anybody with any good sense is staying exactly where they're at."

"Unlike us," Emily grumbled, shoving her arms into the sleeves of her heavy wool coat, digging into the pockets for the gloves that she hoped she remembered to pack.

"Griping is unladylike, Em," Dave snorted derisively, dropping a woolen hat in her lap with a plop. "Wear that. Ninety percent of heat escapes through your head."

Picking up the cap, Emily fingered it as she frowned at Dave. "I'm not feeling particularly ladylike right now, Dave. What about you?" she asked, shoving the unfashionable garment over her head before pulling on her gloves.

"I'll be fine. I grew up in New York. I'm used to this weather. As I recall, you were raised in a desert," Dave replied, zipping his own coat as he pulled the collar up higher.

"Only partially," Emily murmured, uncomfortable remembering those formative years spent trotting the globe after her political parents. Following him out of the SUV, Emily shivered as the cold wind whipped around her, a biting shock after sitting in the heated vehicle so long. Meeting him in front of the car, Emily peered at her partner. "So, which way?" she asked, her lips pursed.

"Well, since we know there's nothing in the direction we came," Dave said, raising his voice to be heard above the rustling trees, "I say we keep heading south," he said, pointing ahead of them.

"Lead the way," Emily ordered, her teeth chattering as she shoved her gloved hands in the deep pockets of her coat.

Somehow, her Christmas journey had become a wild trek into the unknown…with David Rossi.