(I own nothing.)


Sam stepped out of the elevator onto the task force floor, silently musing that this would be the last time she did so. Her gloomy thoughts didn't linger, however, since the premises were full of agents milling around, having a laugh whilst music was blaring from several points. She headed for Bailey's office, but it was full of agents, with no Bail in sight. She smiled and greeted the agents in passing before moving on, letting her gaze sweep the place.

Finally, she spotted Bailey, John, George and, to her surprise, Nathan standing beside John's desk. As she walked up to the men, George was telling some animated story and they remained intent on listening to the unfolding yarn. Bailey noticed her first and she stepped quietly to his side. He looked at her with a smile and she responded by finding his left hand with her right one and squeezing it discreetly. George stopped his story to accommodate Sam's arrival, and she and Nathan shared a hug.

"It's so good to see you again," she remarked warmly.

"You, too," Nathan responded in kind.

"I don't mean to interrupt. I'll catch all of you later. I'm gonna go find Grace," she excused herself.

"Try the cafeteria," George suggested.

She nodded and turned around, letting her fingertips brush against Bailey's for a fleeting second. Then, she was gone, in search of her friend.

Just as George had said, she found Grace in the cafeteria, mounting various snacks onto her plate. "Hey, Grace," she greeted as she walked up behind her friend.

"Hi Sam, good to see you again," Grace responded and gave her a one-armed hug. "You gonna get anything?" she asked, gesturing to the foods in front of her.

"Nah, I'm good. I'll go get us a table."

"I'll be right behind you."

Sam sat down at a table next to the window wall of the little cafeteria nook and waited for her friend, passing the time by looking at her former co-workers and one in particular. Luckily everyone seemed to be in a good mood. She focused on her pathologist friend when she arrived at the table.

"So, how was your week?" Sam queried.

"Slow," Grace replied. "Not much to do, really."

"When are you flying out to New York?" Grace had received a job offer for a position similar to the one she'd held in the Bureau in the Big Apple. Some of her family resided there, so she was seriously considering the offer.

"Next week's Wednesday."

"When do you have to decide?"

"They're giving me a week to think it over after I've seen the place."

"What's your gut tell you?"

Grace munched on salted peanuts, looking thoughtful. She shrugged her shoulders. "I might end up taking it. But it'll never be this task force." They shared a commiserating smile.

"Did you see Nathan already?" the pathologist asked.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I said hello. It's so great to see him again. What is he doing now?"

"He's moved up to Seattle with Michelle. He's working in the Bureau there, as a liaison for the agents on legal issues."

"Do you know if Marcus is coming, too?" She hadn't spotted their other former co-worker.

Grace shook her head, swallowing down a bite of her muffin. "I don't think Bailey was able to get a hold of him."

"That's a shame," Sam sighed.

Grace looked at her with unconcealed interest. "So, how are you?"

Sam offered her a coy smile. "I'm fine."

"Judging from your tone of voice, I bet you're a little bit better than fine. That and Bailey's mood nowadays," she added to her reasoning.

Sam looked intrigued. "His mood?"

"You know, if I didn't know him at all, I would describe him as approaching giddy," Grace dead-panned.

Sam giggled. "Bailey? Giddy? That would be a sight to behold." She looked at the man in question.

There was no mistaking the meaning of her friend's expression. "I guess everything's finally falling into places for you guys," Grace ventured.

Sam beamed a happy smile. "I think so." She snapped out of her contented thoughts. "Although, he's got a little payback headed his way. Wanna help me?"

She explained the situation to her friend and enlisted her help for one final field training exercise.

The agents had gathered inside the command center, for the time had come to salute their boss and by extension, themselves one final time. Bailey was to give a speech, and there were rumours of a surprise of sorts for the man in question.

Bailey stepped in front of the huge computer main screen to thunderous applauds. He gazed upon his audience with apparent fondness. "On this last night, I want to echo my praise to you from three years ago. Then, I thanked you for your commitment and your great work. Years later, the same thanks are still in order. You excelled at your job, and with your help, the violent crimes task force caught 101 criminals and saved countless innocent lives. Remember your employment here with pride. It's been an honour to lead you. Thank you and all the best to everyone of you," he concluded his speech and raised his glass. The listeners raised their glasses and murmurs of "hear, hear" were heard in every corner of the command center.

After the toast, the agents didn't have time to wonder about the surprise much longer. Sam raised her voice and started heading to Bailey from the midst of the agents. "Excuse me, could I have your attention for a few moments?" The agents were happy to oblige, guessing that now the fun would start in earnest. Bailey looked at her curiously when she reached him, for she looked like the cat who ate the canary. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and whispered to him: "Told you you were in trouble."

She turned to face the crowd and began her address. "Hi everyone. I promise this won't keep you long. You'll be back to your socializing in no time. No worries on that account. How are you all doing?" Her nerves were kicking in and making her go off on a tangent, a fact that Bailey realized. He placed his hand on her back lightly, pulling her thoughts back into focus. She shot him a brief, grateful smile. "Like Bailey, I wanted to express my gratitude to you for your hard work and, of course, for saving my life last year. It was a pleasure to work with you for three years," she declared to the agents. She paused for applauds the crowd was giving her, then held up her hands to quieten them. "Now, the fun begins. One final field training exercise, this time for our boss!"

Bailey's employees clapped with glee, but he hardly took notice of such things, as he was busy bracing himself for some mildly humiliating task. In the end, it wasn't overly embarrassing. He needed to find five pieces of yellow post-its that Grace, Rachel, John, George and Sam had hidden on the premises. Once he'd located the pieces, he had to write out a limerick to fit the words, which were: hook, wasp, tetracycline, ring and icaism.

After the exercise, the party resumed. Sam found out that George would head to Washington D. C. to work in a cyber crimes unit, while John would stay in Atlanta and head up his own unit in the local police department. Rachel would continue in the Atlanta field office as a profiler. Bailey told his closest friends of his possible plans. Concerning work. He remained as discreet as ever with regard to matters of the heart.

All the agents had departed for the after party, which would be held in an upscale bar across the street. Only Sam and Bailey remained in the task force premises. While most of the agents had voiced passionate invitations to the boss and the former profiler to join them in the festivities, none really expected them to make an appearance.

Bailey and Sam regarded each other for a while, sitting on the stairs on the command center. Sam had picked up on something among her former co-workers, so she opted to pursue that for a moment: "Was it just me or did John and Rachel seem awfully chummy tonight?"

Bailey glanced at her, then flashed a dry smile. "So I wasn't the only one. In fact, I think they've been on the fence for a while now."

Sam digested this bit of news, then chuckled to herself. "Well, I wish them well. Still, it seems like yesterday when he had that crush on me." Off his slightly miffed expression, she decided to try and get his goat. "He may have even asked me out to dinner once."

That definitely surprised him. "And how may you have responded?"

Pleased at detecting the slightest bit of jealousy in his voice, she shrugged and smiled conspiratorially: "I may have declined and said something about me already having all the action figures."

That earned a hearty laugh from him, and she laughed with him. They both took a sip from their glasses, feeling a comforting warmth spread through their bodies. Then, they regarded one another soberly.

Finally, she broached a subject that seemed fitting for the setting at hand. After all, they were the only ones left, still toasting the demise of a task force they'd founded together, in part to capture Jack.

"Bailey? I realised something a few days back, at home. Have you ever realised that you, too, are a victim of Jack's? He didn't just happen to me. He also happened to you. And you haven't really taken the time to heal from those seven years." She watched as he considered her words.

She added: "So, seeing as we're in the place we founded together to bring an end to Jack, it'd be a nice bookend to the story to finish it with me lightening your burden."

"How are you going to do that?" He sounded puzzled.

She looked at him with a speculative gleam in her eyes. "I'm guessing that you haven't read the case files of my kidnapping."

He took a moment to respond, then shook his head. "No, I haven't. My reading them felt like... a violation of your trust, somehow."

She had to beam at him. "God, Bailey... I really do love you." He didn't think he'd ever tire of hearing those words.

She took a beat. "Do you want me to tell you now?"

He felt apprehensive, but then his need to know won out. He nodded without a word.

"Okay." She edged up a stair, scooted closer to him, and began her story.

"After you... exited the cabin, I started taking out the groceries. I heard footsteps behind me, so I started to ask you something, I forget what. I turned around to see Newquay, in a white suit, with a bouquet of red roses in his hands." She had to take a slight pause, shuddering a bit. He stretched his right arm around her.

"He started talking about Lucas, how over the top he'd been, that Lucas actually believed himself to be him. That's when I knew for sure, and my next thought was you," she breathed, looking at Bailey in the eyes. They leaned into one another, their foreheads touching.

After a moment, she withdrew, ready to continue her story. "He said that I didn't need you, that he was all I needed and that we'd be together. I ransacked the place, looking for a weapon to use against him, but I couldn't find any, not even cutlery. He must have swept the cabin before we arrived. When he realised that I wouldn't leave you behind and I wouldn't go anywhere with him voluntarily, he shot me with a tranquillizer gun." She unconsciously grabbed her neck, where the dart had hit her almost a year ago.

"I came to on a bed, in a room awash with light. I felt groggy but I got up, looked around the room. Not before long, he came in. I demanded that I be allowed to call Chloe, he yammered on about something and finally brought up the cabin. He..." She had to compose herself. "He said that I should be flattered, because the last word you said on this earth was my name." She chanced a glance at him. "Could that be true?"

He looked puzzled, trying to remember the events. "I think so." She let out a small sob and her shoulders shook a few times. She was trying hard to keep her emotions under check. He pulled her to his side, running his hand down her back. After a while, she steeled herself again and plowed on with the rest of her story.

At the end of her tale, he took her hands in his and bestowed a kiss on the knuckles of each. His act of tenderness was nearly her undoing, but she sniffed and beamed at him with watery eyes instead.

"You wanna lighten my burden?" At his inquisitive look, she added: "Do you want to tell me about the shooting?" He took a gulp of his Scotch, then decided to do as she requested. He closed his eyes, seeing the incident in his mind's eye. "I didn't see anything suspicious as I walked up to the car. I was standing at the open boot when the bullet hit, catching me in the left shoulder. I swung forth and then back, managed to pull out my gun in a haze, but then I... slid to the ground and blacked out. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital."

"That's twice now that you've been shot and I wasn't there for you." She looked agonized.

He countered her words with his own regrets. "That was twice that you were kidnapped by him and I was missing in action." They both accepted the other's grievances without a word, without seeking to absolve the feelings of guilt. They knew that some things couldn't be helped through reasoning or logic.

"Can I see the scar?"

He looked into her eyes and saw that her plea had been earnest. He nodded silently and started to unbutton his vest, only to have her swat away his hands and carry on with the deed herself. She divested him of his garment and started on the buttons of the dress shirt, tucking at its hem to pull it from underneath his pants. When the hem was out, she ran her hands up and slid the shirt sleeve down his left hand. She looked at him, asking for final permission. He gave a little nod and she stretched the fabric of his white undershirt, her cool, gentle fingers ghosting over his skin.

He watched her face intently, witnessing the shock and grief on her face when she located the protruding skin of the scar. She gazed at it for a while, then bit her lip and traced it softly with her fingertips. She covered it with her hands and closed her eyes, as if trying to will it out of existence. He felt compelled to remind her of the present, so he ran his right hand up her back, over her shoulder and along her left arm to reach her hand, still resting over his scar. Her head had lolled to the left when he started the caress, and she opened her eyes when his hand landed over hers.

She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "I'm so sorry," she whispered in a broken voice. Before he could respond, she'd claimed his lips in a soft, sweet kiss, full of an overwhelming desire to comfort, to soothe. She moved her hands from his scar, ghosting her digits over his collarbone, caressing his neck, face, earlobes. All the while kissing him, conveying affection in the loveliest and most pleasurable way imaginable.

She pressed a few kisses on the side of his mouth and cheek, and then he took over, giving her the same comfort she'd bestowed upon him. He brushed his lips along her cheek, chin, neck. She put her arms around him and he reciprocated, their mutual comforting ending in a hug.

"Baby, I'm fine," he whispered into her ear. He felt her move her head, guessing that she'd nodded.

They jumped when the phone console on the command center table peeped an incoming call. Sam disentangled from him and moved back a couple of feet so he could get up and answer the call.

He spoke a few brief words and hung up, smiling at Sam regretfully. "My carriage awaits upstairs. Frannie's coming down as we speak."

Sam looked at his rumbled state and got a hold of his vest, then stood up. "Let's get you presentable, then. Don't want to set a bad example to your daughter, do you?" she joked. Having been reminded of the current state of his clothes, he started buttoning his shirt quickly, then tucked it into his pants. She handed him the vest and he threw it on.

They started heading for the elevator. "You're a very quick dresser! Good to know," she commented flirtatiously. He shot her an annoyed look, signalling that this wasn't probably the best time to be putting those kinds of thoughts into his head. She saw the look and giggled at his exasperation.

They arrived at the elevator just as the doors opened. Sam was surprised at how grown up Frances had become in her two years of college. Gone was the long hair, and in its stead was now a stylish and sleek bob. Apart from the hair, physical changes were scarce, but her air was altogether different from two years ago, more mature, open and self-aware.

Sam watched on as the father and daughter shared a hug. Then, the brunette daughter turned to her and gave her a warm greeting and a hug, too. "Hi Sam, it's great to see you again."

"You too. You look so beautiful and grown up!"

A pleased smile flashed on Frances' face. "Thanks. So, did you have fun at this wake?"

"We had a wonderful time," Sam replied, not realizing that she was speaking for the two of them. When she heard her own words, she hazarded a look at Frances to see how she'd reacted to her phrasing. She found the daughter gazing behind them, at the vacant premises. Her words hadn't merited a reaction from Frances. Sam wondered if Bailey had told his oldest daughter about the two of them. Maybe he would this weekend.

At his daughter's reminder that taxis cost money, Bailey ducked into his office to retrieve his box of personal belongings. Over the years, he'd adorned his office with an assortment of wooden art work, photo frames, paintings and plaques. As he picked up the heavy box, he mused over the last four years, everything that had happened and he'd overseen from this office.

Now, he still didn't have a clue about what his future looked like. Professionally, at the very least. On the personal front, things were beginning to take shape, after a year of muddled feelings and uncertainty.

When he emerged from the darkened office, he noticed Sam watching him carefully, no doubt trying to read his mood. He offered her a small smile and she looked heartened. Frances had taken a brief walk around the premises, looking in through the windows of various spaces. She joined her father and Sam at the elevator.

"Sam, where are you staying?" Frances asked from the blonde woman.

"I'm taking a cab to my friend Angel's farm. My daughter's there, too," Sam explained. The elevator doors opened and they boarded it.

"Will we see you this weekend?" Bailey looked at Sam, quietly pleased that his daughter had asked the question.

Sam looked regretful. "I don't think I'll have time. And I trust you'll have a great time together. Do you have any plans already?"

"None, we'll have to wing it, or as much as my dad is able to," Frances joked.

The elevator reached the ground floor, and Bailey and Sam relinquished their keys and security passes to the front desk clerk. Frances strode to the waiting cab, with the adults trailing behind her. They hadn't spoken about when they'd see one another again or, indeed, how they would proceed from now on. Now wasn't the time for such a discussion, and so both decided to let the matter rest for a few days.

Frances was talking to the driver, and Bailey placed his box on the back seat, then turned to Sam, about to say something when she interrupted him pre-emptively. "I know, the taxi stand's right around the corner," she murmured with a smile on her face. "It was great seeing you, Frances. Let's get together soon, maybe on your summer break."

"I'd like that. Take care," the daughter replied. She slid on to the front seat to give the adults a chance to say goodbye alone. She wanted to afford them privacy, but that didn't stop her from observing them surreptitiously from the side view mirror.

Sam took a good look at Bailey. "You okay?" He raised his eyebrows and nodded, not quite knowing how he felt. She read his confusion from his face and ran her fingers along the lapels of his coat. "You'll be fine." She wrapped her arms around him and they shared a hug. She angled her head a bit and murmured to him: "Love you." He squeezed her tight and responded: "Love you, too."

They broke apart and she uttered her last words: "Have fun with Frannie. I'll call you. Night." He gave her a fond look and wished her a good night. She then turned around and started towards the street corner. He watched her for a few paces and then climbed into the cab.

Bailey and Frances were sitting around the kitchen island, enjoying a late night snack before going to bed. She'd caught him up to speed on her studies and he'd shared the events of the last day of the VCTF. He'd also mentioned that he was considering getting back into training, being careful to stress that it was just an idea at this point.

Setting down her now-empty plate, she raised the issue of his beautiful former co-worker. "I didn't know Sam had rejoined the task force."

Bailey shook his head subtly. "She didn't. I mean, she came back for a few weeks, to help out."

She got up and carried the plates and cups to the sink. "To close cases?"

"Yeah, and to help with Rachel's case," he added.

She filled a large glass with water, to take to her room for the night. "Isn't she a psychologist? Think she might be willing to help me with my major? If I have trouble with theories and such?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't see why not."

"Great! I'll be sure to ask her when she calls here," she commented slyly, wanting to see how her dad would respond to her presumption. He just got up and placed his chair closer to the island. Either it might happen very soon or he was really beat, she reasoned. They called it a night, but not before Frances made her dad swear that he'd sleep in as late as he felt like.

On Saturday, the daughter-father duo spent the day in town, scouring the shops for various objects she'd deemed that her dad needed for his house. They ate an early dinner at Rico's, the restaurant where they'd celebrated her eighteenth birthday, and then returned home to tune up his Harley. The parts he'd ordered weeks ago had finally arrived.

They changed into slacks and them headed for the garage. As he uncovered the bike, they discussed Frannie's plans to visit the center she used to volunteer at on the following day.

"I called the center today. Looks like Dan and Casey will be there tomorrow, so I'm happy about that." She'd become good friends with the pair that ran the center during her community service.

"When will you go over?" He folded the tarp into a neat pile.

"Around two, I think. Hey, there isn't a speck of dust on this thing," she remarked, inspecting the bike.

"Sam insisted that she and I work on it together. Since the parts hadn't come in yet, cleaning was the only thing on the table," he responded, making light of the event.

"She stayed here while she helped you with the cases?" Frances sounded curious.

"Yeah," he replied hesitantly.

Interesting, but not surprising, all things considered. Her dad and Sam always been close friends, a fact she remembered from her childhood. She knew the woman had given him relentless support when she herself was giving him a hard time. And then there was the fact that he'd stayed at her place last weekend and that she'd found them alone at the task force last night. Not to mention the way they'd looked at one another when they'd said good night.

All in all, it was cause for a great deal of curiosity. "So, what's the deal? With you two?" Her dad gave her a wary look. How would he begin to explain that particular story? He bought himself time by fetching the toolbox and beginning to rifle through it.

Frances saw that a little prodding was needed. "From what I've gathered, she was kidnapped by that psycho because of whom she had to live in that fire station safe house, you and Mom had a spectacular crash-and-burn right in the middle of that, Sam was rescued and then she quit the FBI."

"That's about the size of it," he agreed. Minus a few details, he thought to himself.

"And now she's back. In the picture, I mean. But as what?"

"Why are you asking?" He walked to the bike, having found the tools he needed first.

"I'm asking cos you're my dad and I want to see you happy. Plus, I'm plain old nosey," she admitted cheekily. "Well, someone has to get up all in your grill and make sure you're taking care of yourself," she reasoned.

Bailey had to acknowledge that she was right. In the months both Sam and Frannie had been absent, he'd thrown himself into his work and had lapsed into some bad habits, like not sleeping enough and eating unhealthily.

"So, what's the deal?" she prodded yet again.

"We're working on it," he hedged. Laying out the intricacies of his heart was something he wasn't ready to do with his daughter. He feared that it would disrupt the relationship she had with her mother. He already had a contentious relationship with Janet because of his feelings for Sam; he didn't wish for his daughter to be dragged in the middle of it.

"Is that all you're going to say?" she asked, sounding a little annoyed.

"For the time being," he answered in a resolute voice and settled himself on the floor next to the bike.

"Okay, but I'm warning you, we're not finished with this conversation," she issued her final say and handed him the screwdriver.

Frances and Bailey were clearing out the table after a light lunch. She decided that the time had come for a new attack.

"So, you wanna talk about Sam again?" At his perturbed look, she reminded him: "I told you that we weren't done with this."

He knew he had to divulge something. Frances wouldn't let the matter rest until he did. "You know that my relationship with your mom is strained. Well, that's because of this very issue. I don't want to thrust you in the middle of it."

She nearly rolled her eyes. "Dad, I'm a big girl. You don't need to protect me from mom. I'm capable of supporting both of you even when you don't see eye to eye. So... you and mom ended things because of Sam?"

He took a moment, wondering how to best explain the events. "Well, when I came to in the hospital my focus was on finding Sam, nothing else. Your mom decided that she'd had enough and left. I don't blame her. I was nearly killed and still work won out."

"But not just work, right? I mean, it was Sam who was missing. Your closest friend," she pointed out.

"Yeah," he agreed with a sober look.

"When did you realise you loved her?" She turned on the faucet to rinse the dishes.

He handed the plates over to her. "A few days later," he replied in a soft voice.

She thought over what she knew of the events. A few days later would mean that his realisation had happened while Sam had still been missing. She felt for her dad. He must have been devastated during that time.

Luckily, things had turned out for the best. "I'm assuming that she loves you back." At his subtle nod, she asked the million dollar question: "So what's holding you back? Since you're still 'working on it,' as you put it." She opened the dishwasher and placed the plates on the lower rack.

"I... we have to sort out some personal issues," he answered and placed the glasses inside the washer.

She knew better than to try pry it out of him. "Oh. For what it's worth, I think she'd be good for you. She's been good for you as a friend. I don't think that a relationship would change that," she reasoned.

He was touched by Frannie's ready acceptance and approval. Arianna might be a different story, but knowing that his older daughter had no objections to a relationship eased his mind. "Thanks, sweetheart."

They'd loaded the dishwasher, and she turned it on, then looked at her dad. "Sure. You need someone who'll take care of you. Someone who understands you and your job. The toll it takes on you. And, most importantly, someone who loves you for who you are." He offered a subdued smile, wondering when she'd gotten so wise.

She lightened the sombre mood. "There, that concludes my 'Words to Live by' for the day. Think about it."

He listened to the sounds of Frannie's packing as he sat on the sofa in the living room. His eyes happened upon the bookshelves that Sam had rearranged during her stay. A smile flitted across his face when he saw her in his mind's eye, hard at work at her task despite her drunken state.

Once again, he contemplated his discussions with Frannie, like he had over the past two days. More specifically her question about what was holding him back. At the start, he'd declined on account of trying to protect Sam. His own fears had led him to a devil's trap of self-doubt. Thankfully, she'd gotten through to him and had persuaded him to keep an open mind.

He reminisced the weekend they'd spent together. He held no illusions that their life together would stay that harmonious or blissful, but that was the thing: it would be a life. Together with Sam and their families. A month ago, he couldn't have envisioned such a thing.

He also felt more at peace with his feelings. Knowing that Sam knew, welcomed and reciprocated them was like a benediction from above. He didn't have to fight his feelings anymore.

He needed to take the final step and trust Sam. After all, she'd told him that everything else would sort itself out. When the cab honked on the street, he knew where he wanted to go. What he wanted to do.

Frances dashed out of her room, lugging around her suitcase. He jumped up from the sofa and rounded it, taking the suitcase from her. She gave the surroundings one last look, then smiled at her dad and uttered: "I'll be back before you know it."

He walked her to the taxi waiting on the kerb. "Are you sure you have everything?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," she replied, checking her handbag for the essential items.

"Enough money for the cabs and something to eat on the plane?" he checked.

"Yes! I promise I won't get arrested for trying to do a drive-and-dash and I won't starve to death," she shot back. They'd reached the cab.

"Good. Thank you, sweetheart, for your visit."

"No need to thank me. I'll see you in a couple of weeks. I'll call you later." She handed her suitcase to the driver who stowed it in the trunk.

"You should probably call me on my cell phone," he replied cryptically. Meaning that she wouldn't reach him on the land line. She put two and two together.

"I'm happy for you, Daddy," she uttered and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Let me know how it goes, and soon. Bye."

"Bye, sweetheart." He watched on as she stepped into the vehicle, put her seat belt on and waved at him from the departing cab. He waved back and watched the vehicle until it took a left at the street corner. Then, he strode into the house. He needed to pack his things.

Sam tossed aside the book she'd been reading, frustrated at her own lack of concentration. She wondered, not for the first time that day, whether or not she should call Bailey again. She'd called in the morning and they'd talked briefly before he went on a walk around the neighborhood with Frances. She wanted to know how he would pass his evening, now that his daughter had left. She reached for the phone and dialled his home number, but no one picked up. His cell phone was busy. She decided to try again later.

She checked the time from her wrist watch. It was just after eight. She got up, stretched straight her frame and headed for the den, where, sure enough, her daughter was still surfing. "Chlo, your time's up."

"Just another five minutes, please Mom? I'm chatting with Amber."

Sam wasn't persuaded by her pleading tone. "What's wrong with just calling Amber? Close the computer, sweetie."

Chloe heaved a heavy sigh. "Fine. I'll just let her know." She turned back to the screen and typed in a few words. Sam walked away, leaving her daughter to her business.

She ambled to the kitchen, felt a slight pang of guilt at the sight of the dirty dishes in the sink, but pushed it away. They would wait until morning. She took a look inside the fridge, feeling peckish and wanting to see if something would call her name. But she found her appetite to be lacking, so she opted for a glass of water. She grabbed a glass and turned on the faucet, waiting for the water to turn cold.

She let her eyes sweep across the scenery afforded by the large kitchen windows. She froze when she noticed a Harley on her driveway. His Harley. She leaned forward to see him walking to the front door, carrying bags in his hands. She rushed off to the door, the running faucet quite forgotten in her joy at his unannounced arrival. He'd come to stay.

She waited to hear his steps on the porch, and then she threw the door open, her heart making tiny somersaults. He beamed and greeted her: "So I have this vacation time coming up. Many years' worth, in fact."

"Really? So?" she teased him, trying to compose herself.

"And I didn't want to spend it alone," he added with a meaningful gaze under his brows.

"I see," she responded sounding clueless, feigning ignorance at the intended meaning of his words.

He lifted his hands to get her to make note of his bags. "So, here I am. Also, I'm unemployed at the moment, so my stay might end up being indefinite."

"Wow, you're really picking up speed there. How could I refuse an offer like that?" she laughed out loud. She looked at him properly, then backed up to make way for him and gestured him inside. She watched as he stepped closer, her senses prickling at his closeness. He passed her without a kiss and she deflated, feeling disappointed. No grand beginning of their happily ever after.

He set the bags on the floor and she closed the door, chiding him good-naturedly: "Still no hello, Malone. I don't know what I'll have to..." She was silenced by the sensation of being wheeled around and pinned to the door. He covered her body with his and ran his fingers up her sides, then under her arms and over them in a tantalizing friction. His moving hands stopped at her neck, his thumbs angling her head up a little.

He claimed her lips, kissing her gently before applying more pressure and deepening the kiss. A little noise of displeasure escaped from her throat when she sensed that he was disengaging. He smiled against her lips and continued the lovely pressure again, causing her to hum. He pulled back after a while, lessening her disappointment with brief, sweet kisses.

He tucked her hair behind each ear and looked into her dark blue eyes. "Hello."

Sam had to clear her throat to make a sound. "Now that was a proper hello." She placed a gentle kiss on his lips, ready for round two.

Their tender reunion was interrupted by Chloe, who'd ventured into the kitchen unaware of the proceedings at the door. "Mom? Why's the sink overflowing with water?"

Sam's eyes widened, she swore under her breath and hurried to the kitchen, leading a chuckling Bailey by the hand.

The day was the third Monday since Sam had come back into Bailey's life. On the following Friday, it would be one year to the day since Jack kidnapped her and shot him. Out of that day's wreckage would arise a miracle never to happen again: their life together.


(Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the ride. I can't take credit for the 'action figures' quip. I stole that gem from one of the script versions for "Ring of Fire" by Nancy Miller.)